Thanksgiving was always about Climate and Adaptation: Let’s Make it Green Again

By Juan Cole | —

The popular story about Thanksgiving is an environmental parable that we would do well to remember today. It was a harvest festival in 1621, participated in by the 50 (out of 100) survivors at Plymouth Plantation and 90 Native Americans. Some of these latter, such as Squanto, had shared with the undocumented aliens arriving in Wampanoag territory their local techniques of fishing and corn farming. In some subsequent years there were droughts that threatened the colony.

The pilgrims faced a harsher climate than had Leif Erikson when he came to North America during the European medieval warming period. From 1550 to 1850, temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere fell by an average of about 1.3 degrees F (1 degree C.). This fall in temperature was exacerbated in the 1500s and 1600s by a slight decrease in atmospheric carbon of 6 to 10 parts per million. Stanford University geochemist Richard Nevle has argued that the great die-off of Native Americans, who were exposed to European diseases for which they had no antibodies, contributed to this decrease of carbon dioxide and fall in temperature. They ceased burning trees for fuel, and the forests recovered, with millions of new trees absorbing CO2.

Science News explains:

“By the end of the 15th century, between 40 million and 100 million people are thought to have been living in the Americas. Many of them burned trees to make room for crops, leaving behind charcoal deposits that have been found in the soils of Mexico, Nicaragua and other countries.

About 500 years ago, this charcoal accumulation plummeted as the people themselves disappeared. Smallpox, diphtheria and other diseases from Europe ultimately wiped out as much as 90 percent of the indigenous population.

Trees returned, reforesting an area at least the size of California, Nevle estimated. This new growth could have soaked up between 2 billion and 17 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air.”

That is, the cold winters that challenged the English immigrants (and which they played down in their letters back home) had in part been caused by the very European influx of which they were a part!

From about 1750, however, Europeans started substantially increasing their burning of wood and coal so as to drive steam engines and make the industrial revolution. In that year, there were roughly 278 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and it was relatively cold. Today there are over 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere and it is on average over 2 degrees F. (1.5 degrees C.) warmer now than then.

If the Pilgrims faced Coldworld and its weather and agricultural challenges, today we face Hotworld. Just as they looked to the Native Americans for cues on how to survive in that cold environment, we should look at indigenous peoples’ current environmental initiatives to understand how to avoid heating the earth more than the further nearly 4 degrees F. that we already certainly will. (4 degrees F. is a global average, including the oceans, and some places will experience a much greater increase in heat than that).

Native Americans in Canada largely oppose tar sands oil extraction, which is highly polluting and ruinous of water supplies. The Sioux in South Dakota are saying that the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil must not run through their land, by treaty with the US.

I wrote last year:

The Moapa Paiutes are celebrating the advent of solar power and the beginning of the end of coal power in southern Nevada.

They are having a solar plant built on tribal lands, which will allow them meet their own needs and to sell electricity to Los Angeles. Best of all, they can envision the closing of the dirty coal plant that has given them respiratory diseases.

“Southern Nevada’s Moapa Band of Paiutes are calling for the closure of the Reid Gardner coal plant and a transition to clean renewable energy future for Nevada. On Earth Day 2013, they organized a 16-mile “Walk from Coal to Clean Energy”. The walk celebrated the tribe’s efforts to retire the polluting Reid Gardner coal plant that adjoins their tribal lands, and also their success in developing the largest solar project on tribal lands in the nation, which will begin construction later this year. The walk began at the coal plant and ended at the solar site – a powerful symbol of change for Nevada and the nation.”

The Sioux and the Paiutes are our modern-day Squantos, teaching us how to live sustainably in a North America they have inhabited for thousands of years longer than have Euro-Americans. The Pilgrims, despite their conviction of European superiority, were humble enough to learn what they could from the natives, which was the only way they could survive. Can we be as humble, today?

We can make our Thanksgivings greener and greener in coming years.

We can make sure our homes are insulated, which will cut down on our fuel costs and carbon production, and will make them more cozy for guests.

We can put solar panels on our homes to generate electricity to run the television and other appliances for our family and guests.

Those who go to church, synagogue or mosque on Thanksgiving can make sure that their religious edifices are powered by solar panels. A temple that burns fossil fuels is paying dues to the devil, not glorifying the God of wisdom who commands good stewardship of earth.

We can drive to the homes of our family and friends for the dinner in electric cars or plug-in hybrids, fueled from the rooftop solar panels (which are falling steeply in price). If we fly, we can buy carbon offsets or eat vegetarian often enough to make up for it (solar-powered and biofuel-powered airplanes are around the corner).

We can lobby our electric utility to turn to wind turbines, as Iowa and Texas increasingly have, which supplements the solar generation. 27.4% of Iowa’s electricity comes from wind. Not all states are equally blessed with its wind resources. But Michigan, e.g., does have promising wind generation areas in the Thumb and on the Lake Michigan shore, which it has quite shamefully done almost nothing with.


We can avoid beef, the most carbon-intensive protein (not so hard, since who eats beef on Thanksgiving?) and can try to buy local produce to prepare the meal.

Some will say these steps are not enough; but they are more than most Americans have undertaken and would be a good start.

Thanksgiving in the American popular tradition hasn’t only been about being thankful for food abundance. It has been gratitude for survival and adaptation in an alien clime. We are all now entering an alien clime, of a warming globe– a world hotter than it has been since the mid-Pliocene some 3 million years ago, when the seas were 25 yards/ meters higher and the northern hemisphere 10-20 degrees hotter than now (it had 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere too). Survival and adaptation require us now to change a lot of habits and become sustainable, and ASAP. Like the Pilgrims, half of whom died in their first year, we face an emergency.

Race inequality between US Whites and African-Americans by the Numbers (Again)

By Juan Cole | —

With regard to employment, African-Americans got hit harder by the Bush Depression than did whites, and jobs have not come back for them at nearly the same rate:


This vast difference between Euro-American and African-American rates of employment holds true regardless of educational level; college-educated African-Americans are also twice as likely to be unemployed as whites with the same level of education:


Among Americans born in the US, nearly 40% of all tuberculosis cases are in African-Americans. They are only about 13% of the US population:


On the other hand, although African-Americans are disproportionately likely to be poor, they are only a quarter of Americans living in poverty; whites make up about 41% of the poor. (If the distribution were proportional, whites would by 70-some percentage of the poor and African-Americans would be 13%). Those white Americans who don’t want to help the poor because they’d be helping people of another race are actually screwing over white people big time.


And here are some other unfun facts from a posting I did earlier this year:

Most death sentences are handed out for killing white people, even though African-Americans make up 50% of murder victims (they are only 12% of the population).

So if an African-American male had fired ten shots into the SUV of some white suburban kids playing their music too loud, killing one of them, I think we all know there would have been a murder conviction and almost certainly a death penalty imposed.

In case of conviction for murder, African-Americans are 38% more likely to be handed the death penalty than members of other racial groupings.

reprinted graphs: :

88% of African-Americans in a 2013 Pew poll said that there was “a lot” (46%) or “some” (42% ) discrimination against them.

Only 57% of whites agreed, and only 16% of whites said there is “a lot” of discrimination against African-Americans:

Average household net worth of whites: $110,000.

Average household net worth of African-Americans: $5000

The wealth gap between white and African-American families tripled between 1980 and 2009, according to the Century Foundation:

1 in every 15 African American men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men

Or consider it this way

As SecDef Hagel Exits, an Iraq Daesh/ISIL Scorecard

By Juan Cole | —

Mosul rose up in alliance with Daesh /ISIL against the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on June 9 of this year, sparking a crisis in Obama administration foreign policy. Obama had been open to keeping some troops in Iraq, but the Iraqi parliament did not want that, and Obama acquiesced in the legislature’s decision. (Obama is criticized for giving in, but it is not clear how he could have kept troops in Iraq over the objections of the Iraqi parliament without exposing them to war crimes trials in Iraqi courts whenever anything went wrong on the battlefield.)

It is not clear how central Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was to crafting a response. But he must have been intimately involved in aspects of it. I don’t see anyone talking about how that response has gone. Here are what seem to me the major outcomes of the new Defense Department involvement in Iraq:

In mid-June, Daesh (what Arabs call ISIL or ISIS) made a move toward Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and initially defeated lightly armed Peshmerga national guard troops.

The Obama administration, of which Hagel was a key principal, decided to use the US air force in the response. Obama has an aversion to getting too deeply involved in Iraq, but he could not afford to run the risk that the siege of, e.g., Iraqi Kurdistan would turn into a rout and result in large numbers of people killed.

The air intervention pushed Daesh back from the Kurdistan capital. It improved the morale of the Kurdistan paramilitary, the Peshmerga, so that it began taking further territory after an earlier collapse of esprit de corps. That intervention to save Kurdistan has to be pronounced a success so far.

Threats that Daesh might go on down and try to take Baghdad itself receded.

The US military hoped also to stiffen the backbone of the Iraqi army (which had collapsed in June), retrain Iraqi army troops and to help them deploy to stop the march of Daesh on Baghdad and points south.

Whether the US is responsible or not, the Iraqi military and allied Shiite militias and the Kurdistan paramilitary, the Peshmerga (one who stands before death) have now taken territory back away from Daesh.

The Iraqi forces loyal to Baghdad have had some successes. The Shiite militiamen appear to have taken the lead in Jurf al-Sakhr, where a Sunni town of 80,000 that had thrown in with Daesh a couple years ago, was subjected and Daesh and expelled. Jurf al-Sakhr was a radical Sunni base from which attacks on Shiite interests in the south were launched. The political fallout of Shiite militias taking a Sunni town is probably negative, but in purely military terms this was a success; Daesh no longer has a major base south of Baghdad.

Iraqi troops and militiamen, along with Sunni Arab tribal levies, also took back the oil refinery in Beiji in Salahuddin Province, which they had previously relinquished to Daesh. Crude oil is not valuable and cannot be smuggled, whereas refined petroleum products like gasoline can be sold to other countries. Without the refinery, Daesh may not be able to make as much by gasoline smuggling.

Just on Monday, the Kurdish town of Jalawla in Diyala province fell to a mixture of Iraqi forces, including IA, Peshmerga and Shiite militias. Diyala is a mixed province but the northwest had begun falling to Daesh in June and ripostes had earlier been ineffective. Now Daesh is losing towns there.

So in Diyala and Salahuddin Provinces, Hagel and his allies have had some success.

In contrast, Daesh has strengthened its positions among Sunni Arabs in Al-Anbar Province, and no progress has been made toward dislodging it from the populous Ninewah Province in the north.

It is a mixed bag of a story, but the long and short of it is, that Hagel at Defense has some genuine achievements, or at least that counter-Daesh strategy on the ground has, with Hagel’s DoD providing close air support in many instances. Whatever the reasons for Hagel’s departure, it is hard to see how this record in Iraq, where Daesh has largely been contained and even slightly rolled back, can be it.


Video added by Juan Cole:

Kurds Ambush ISIS Near Sinjar, Iraq

cheers Juan

Israel and Mississippi: Racist Plans for 2nd Class Citizens and Religious Legislation

By Juan Cole | —

The Guardian reports that

“A controversial bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people has been approved by cabinet despite warnings that the move risks undermining the country’s democratic character.

Opponents, including some cabinet ministers, said the new legislation defined reserved “national rights” for Jews only and not for its minorities, and rights groups condemned it as racist.

The bill, which is intended to become part of Israel’s basic laws, would recognise Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalise Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation and delist Arabic as a second official language.”

Netanyahu’s measure is much worse than that of Mississippi fundamentalists who want to declare Mississippi a principally Christian state and want to celebrate the white-supremacist Confederacy as part of the state’s heritage.

I wrote earlier of this kind of development when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was planning it out:

“So either way Netanyahu defines Jewishness, it disenfranchises substantial numbers of self-identifying Israeli Jews. If it is a matter of maternal descent, it leaves 300,000 or so out in the cold. If it is a matter of belief and observance, it leaves nearly 2 million Israeli Jews out of the club.

In addition, of course, 1.7 million Israelis, about a fifth of the population, are Palestinian-Israelis, mostly Muslim but some Christians. They are, in other words, a somewhat greater proportion of the Israeli citizen population than Latinos are of the US population (Latinos are about 17% of Americans). If current demographic trends continue, Palestinian-Israelis could be as much as 1/3 of the population by 2030.

Saying Israel is a “Jewish” state in the sense of race would be analogous to insisting that the US is a “white” state and defining Latinos as “brown.”

And saying Israel is a Jewish state in the sense of observant believers would be like asserting that the United States is a Christian state even though about 22% of the population does not identify as Christian (roughly the same proportion as non-Jews in Israel). The point of the US first amendment is to forbid the state to to “establish” a religion, i.e. to recognize it as a state religion with privileges (the colonists had had bad experiences with Anglicanism in this regard). While we can’t stop other countries from establishing state religions, we Americans don’t approve of it and won’t give our blessing to it, as Netanyahu seems to want. In fact our annual State Department human rights report downgrades countries that don’t separate religion and state.

While some countries have a state or official religion, that is different from what Netanyahu is demanding. Argentina’s constitution says Roman Catholicism is the state religion. But Argentina is not a “Catholic state” either in the sense of being mainly for people of Catholic religious faith (only 20% of Argentines are observant) or for being for persons descended from traditionally Catholic populations. Indeed, Argentina has about half a million Muslims, who are not discriminated against in Argentine law the way Palestinian-Israelis are discriminated against (their villages not ‘recognized’) in Israel. Anyway, as I said, in the U.S. we don’t approve of that part of the Argentine constitution. If all Netanyahu wanted was that Judaism be the ‘state religion’ of Israel, that could surely be achieved by a simple vote of the Knesset. He wants something much more, something that requires that outsiders assent to it.

Netanyahu’s demand is either racist or fundamentalist and is objectionable from an American point of view on human rights grounds either way (and I’m not just talking about the human rights of Palestinian-Israelis).”

Elsewhere I pointed out that Israel is moving in the opposite direction from Morocco, Tunisia and other more successful Middle Eastern states, which have new constitutions affirming citizen equality and freedom of conscience and avoiding specifying Islamic law (sharia) as the main source for law, in the way this new Israeli measure specifies Jewish law (halakha) as the inspiration for Israeli legislation. Netanyahu’s Israel looks more and more like the Muslim Brotherhood Egypt of now-deposed President Muhammad Morsi.

“Netanyahu is also moving in the opposite direction from the more positive developments in the Middle East itself. Iraq’s old Baathist Arab nationalism (qawmiya) had racialized Arabness (which is really just a linguistic group) and had excluded the Kurds, who speak an Indo-European language, from full membership in the Iraqi nation. Interestingly, many Arabic-language news items on Netanyahus speech translate his use of “national” by the Arabic qawmiya, which has overtones of extremist nationalism of a racist sort. The new Iraqi constitution rejects that kind of racist nationalism. It recognizes Kurdish as a national official language (and Turkmen and Aramaic as provincial ones). Without denying the Arab or Muslim identity of the majority, it recognizes the right of the minorities to their own ethnic identities within the nation. It doesn’t say that Iraq is only a homeland for the Arab-Shiite majority.

And Morocco suffered deep political divisions between its Arab majority and Berber/ Amazigh minority in earlier decades. But its new constitution finally recognizes Berber/ Amazigh as an official language and celebrates Amazigh identity as one of the key heritages of all Moroccans, including Arabic speakers. The constitution does say that Islam is the religion of state, while guaranteeing freedom of belief and religion to the country’s Jews and adds:

… the Kingdom of Morocco intends to preserve, in its plenitude and its diversity, its one and indivisible national identity. Its unity, is forged by the melting together of its Arab-Islamic, Berber [amazigh] and Saharan-Hassanic components, nourished and enriched by its African, Andalusian, Hebraic and Mediterranean influences.”

So could we really expect Netanyahu to say that Judaism is the religion of the Israeli state and that:

… Israel intends to preserve, in its plenitude and its diversity, its one and indivisible national identity. Its unity is forged by the melting together of its Jewish and Palestinian components, nourished and enriched by its Hebraic, Arab and Mediterranean influences.”

No. Netanyahu is talking of an indivisible national identity, but its unity is achieved by exclusion, not by melting and inclusion. He does not celebrate Israel’s Arab heritage, but wants to exclude it from any claim on the national homeland, wants to make it lesser. (Arabic is an official language of Israel, but Netanyahu’s rejection of the idea of a binational state makes it clear he thinks it is very much a de facto and unfortunate component of Israel, not something to be celebrated).

Interestingly, the Israeli left has a different objection. They mind the idea of Israeliness, of the Israeli national identity (akin to the Moroccan national identity in the constitution, quoted above) being demoted in favor of a Jewish identity. Haaretz’s Hebrew edition wrote on May 5:

“Yesterday Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu explained why he is promoting a new Basic Law: ‘The Nation State of the Jewish People’: ‘Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people is not given sufficient expression in our Basic Laws, and this is what the proposed Basic Law is meant to do’… For 66 years now ‘Israeliness’ has attempted to gain recognition and win independence, and has been rejected repeatedly by the establishment. It has been described as the ‘slivers of people-hood’ whose existence has not been proven, while at the same time, no one seeks to enact a law that will define and protect it. Again and again it is forced to bow before its ‘big sister’, the Jewish state… The creation of Israeli literature, Israeli art, Israeli music, Israeli theatre, Israeli humour, Israeli politics, Israeli sports, an Israeli accent, Israeli grief – are these not enough to speak of an ‘Israeli people’…?” [From [Hebrew language] editorial of left-of-centre, independent broadsheet Ha’aretz]. – [Trans. via BBC Monitoring]


Related video:

Newsy World: “Israel Weighs Formally Declaring Itself The Jewish Homeland”

Jerusalem: where religion divides but lives are entwined

By Wendy Pullan, University of Cambridge (The Conversation)

The latest violent episode between Palestinians and Israelis has prompted Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to assert that Israel is in the midst of a “battle for Jerusalem”.

This is a city divided along many lines, and while the latest attack has caused outrage and hostility, it also offers an insight into just how intertwined the lives of the people who live there actually are.

The attack took place in West Jerusalem, where two Palestinians entered a synagogue and killed four worshippers. A policeman involved in the fray also died later from his wounds. Outraged Israelis have since warned that a religious dimension has been brought into the wider conflict in the country. In their eyes, the dispute has ratcheted up significantly as a result of the incident.

On the other hand, the word on the Palestinian side of the street is that nothing is new here. With the frustration of years of occupation and the failure last spring of American sponsored peace talks, there remain few options for change and even fewer expectations.

In a city like Jerusalem, contested by three major faiths, religion has always been at the forefront of conflict. Murder in the act of prayer – as has happened this week – certainly provides a chilling symbolism of the rifts. But religion colours many aspects of everyday life and identity in Jerusalem.

Community ties

The synagogue attack has illustrated how closely the communities are linked, whether they like it or not. The dead policeman, Zidan Saif, was not a Jew but an Israeli Druze, a distinct branch of Islam whose members often serve in Israel’s police or armed forces. His funeral was attended by the President of Israel and a large number of ultra-orthodox Jews. One of the Palestinian attackers worked in a supermarket near the synagogue.

The primary flashpoint in Jerusalem is the sacred compound in the Old City, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The religious topography there is meaningful for the current conflict. Islamic structures stand on the Haram today and are used on a daily basis. The Jewish holy places exist primarily in archaeology and memory. Worship focuses on a remaining fragment of the Second, or Herod’s, Temple, known as the Western Wall. A fragile modus vivendi has existed since 1967 that enables Jews to pray below at the Wall and Muslims above on the esplanade.

At times of unrest and tension, Palestinians, usually men under 55 years of age, are banned from prayer at the Haram. At the same time, militant Jewish groups push for prayer on the mount. Some of the most radical would like to see the temple rebuilt. This would entail the demolition of the Islamic holy places there. Such a scenario would obviously be met with great anger and hostility by the Muslim world, creating a downward spiral with extremely dangerous global consequences.

If recent violent events in Jerusalem demonstrate how far apart the Israeli and Palestinian camps are from each other, the closely intertwined cultures of the holy places demonstrate how much they overlap.

The fissures in Jerusalem take place at a micro-scale that can easily escalate into problems of world significance. It is a city of fragments and paradoxes that exceed any simple divisions and elude attempts for settlement. It is a city that has been at war with itself for many years. The recent incidents constitute just the latest sad chapter in what is a long, violent history.

The Conversation

Wendy Pullan has received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). She is co-author of The Struggle for Jerusalem’s Holy Places (2013).

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

Wendy Pullan is Director of the Centre for Urban Conflicts Research at University of Cambridge


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: “Muslim prayers at Jerusalem Al Aqsa calm despite tensions”

Iraq: Daesh/ISIL executes 26 Sunni Tribesmen in Campaign to Take Ramadi

By Juan Cole:

Daesh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS or ISIL) has mounted a major offensive in a bid to take Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar Province in western Iraq. Ramadi is due west of Baghdad past Fallujah. Iraqi eyewitnesses told the al-Arabiya satellite news channel that Daesh had taken over some of the neighborhoods in the center of the city. The police chief of al-Anbar Province, Lt. Gen. Kazim al-Fahdawi, on the other hand, maintained Saturday that Iraqi security forces had blocked the offensive. Me, I believe the eyewitnesses.

DW reports that Daesh executed 25 members of the Albu Fahd tribe for having fought it during the attack on Ramadi. The bodies were found when Daesh was pushed back during a counter-offensive in the city. Daesh last month killed hundreds of members of the Albu Nimr tribe for having opposed its take-over of al-Anbar Province, most of which it has held for the past year.


Related video:

PressTV: “Iraqi army, ISIL militants fighting to capture neighborhood in east Ramadi”

Fahdawi maintained that Iraqi security forces aided by a (Sunni) tribal levy, had blocked what was so far the biggest attack of Daesh on Ramady to date after it broke through into the Sijariya district in the east of the city. He added that a force from the 8th and 10th divisions of the Iraqi army, supported by police and tribal fighters, are now surrounding and besieging the Daesh elements in Sijariya. He explained that neither the Iraqi Air Force nor coalition fighter jets had flown any missions against Daesh since the offensive against Ramadi began.

Al-Arabiya called Ahmad Abu Risha, the head of the Awakening Council, who said that new rural Sunni clans had joined the defenders of Ramadi, including Albu Mahall, Albu Suda and Albu Ghanem. Abu Risha asked for urgent air strikes in support of the tribesmen fighting in Amiriyat ul-Falluja, Habbbaniya, Haditha, and the center of Ramadi. He said that the tribes are determined to finish off the terrorists of Daesh and to cleanse al-Anbar Province of them.

Top 6 Green Energy Good News Stories, November 2014

By Juan Cole

1. There has been a lot of reporting and angst over the possibility that India will turn to coal to electrify the country (many in India still lack electricity). While the government may well initially deploy coal in a kind of ‘all of the above’ strategy, the fact is that solar photovoltaic electricity generation is already cheaper than that from imported coal. And the price of solar panels in India is dropping. The good news is that India’s solar energy production has crossed the 3 gigawatt threshold. Installations are expected to double next year, i.e. to increase by 1.6 gigawatts. Some investors were waiting to see how the parliamentary elections turned out, while others were eyeing the government’s coal policy. With the strongly pro-solar BJP government now in power, the sector is expected o experience good growth next year. The government wants 100 gigawatts of solar energy (nearly 3 times solar leader Germany’s current capacity) to be produced annually by 2020.

2. India has 7 times as much wind energy, so far, as solar, with 21.6 gigawatts. But by the end of next year, wind will be generating 25 gigawatts, and by the year 2020 it is expected to be generating 50 gigawatts. Wind is so attractive as a way of making electricity in India that there is a virtual gold rush of private investment in it. The major Indian corporation Tata alone expects to add 0.3 gigawatts of capacity annually for the next few years. Wind turbines have been getting bigger and more efficient in recent years.

3. France, which had lagged in renewable energy, is making big plans for it now. It only has 5 gigawatts of solar-generated electricity, compared to 37 gigs in Germany. Solar accounts for 1% of French electricity, compared to 7% of Germany’s. But French firms have determined that new solar installations can generate electricity more cheaply now than new nuclear installations (a development that had not been expected until 2020). Neoen just broke ground on a 300 megawatt solar PV facility near Bordeaux, the biggest in Europe!

4. In the first nine months of 2014, Germany got more electricity from renewables than from any other source, including nuclear or coal, at 27.7 percent of demand. Its carbon emissions will fall in 2014, in contrast to the dirty-energy US. Although some complain that Germany has spent $130 bn on its Energy Switch since 2000, that is less than $9.2 bn a year in a rich country of 82 million people ($113 per capita per year, or about 2 Starbucks lattes per person every month every year since 2000). At least one day this year German electricity generation produced more money than it cost, which is the future. In contrast the US spends between $10 bn and $50 bn a year on fossil fuel subsidies, which are damaging our health and our planet’s health, so Germany obviously has the right idea in comparison. By 2035, Germany expects to more than double the share of renewables in its energy mix, to 60%. On present evidence it is likely to get there sooner.

5. South Africa is not resting on its laurels. Having brought the 98 megawatt Jasper PV solar power plant on line already, it is planning a 100 megawatt Redstone concentrated thermal plant, which will be the largest in Africa. South Africa is presently heavily dependent on coal, but plans to import 2.6 gigawatts of hydroelectric power from the Congo and to increase use of renewables.

6. A new technical breakthrough at UC San Diego could make concentrating solar power plants like Jasper in South Africa 30% more efficient (which is to say, allow them to generate electricity much more cheaply). If you take into account the damage fossil fuels do, solar and wind are already much cheaper for society. But increasingly they will be less expensive even if you don’t count externalities, because the pace of technological innovation in renewables and in battery storage is accelerating rapidly as more government and venture capital money pours into this sector. Already, French energy firms are admitting that a new solar plant makes more economic sense than a new nuclear one. In a decade, it will be crazy to build anything but a renewable power plant, just purely on the competitive price. But all it will take is a few obvious climate disasters (a rapid rise in sea level e.g.) for the public to start demanding a ban on fossil fuels, making it even easier and faster to implement renewables. We’re going to warm the world more than 3.6 degrees F., which is sad. But we don’t have to warm it all the way to 10 degrees F., which we will do if we run through all the coal, oil and gas in the world as we presently plan on. An increase of 10 degree F. might not be survivable for the human race, which evolved in substantially colder conditions.


Related video:

From last year,
Wind and solar energy is growing in India
Greenpeace Australia Pacific

Top 5 Ways Obama Punked the GOP on Immigration; and the 2016 Campaign

By Juan Cole | —

The 2016 presidential election will be very different from the 2014 congressional midterms just held. In the off years, turnout is low (this time it was less than 36 percent) and the people who come out to vote are disproportionately older, well off, and of northern European heritage. That is why the Republicans did so well; it was mainly Republicans voting. Only 21% of youth turned out to vote. It was in essence a series of local elections in which core Democratic constituencies couldn’t be bothered to come out (or in some instances faced trouble voting because of GOP voter suppression). In India, the poor vote; in the US, they don’t, in part because of GOP voter suppression and in part because they’ve been given the impression they have nothing at stake.

The 2016 election will be a national election, and the electorate will be very different. A majority of the eligible voters will vote. In a national election, the minorities are key. African-Americans are nearly a quarter of the Democratic Party. The Latino vote for Republicans will likely fall from 36% to only 30% in 2016, while the percentage of Latinos who vote Democratic will likely rise from 62% to 68% overall (what it was in 2012). Obama got a whopping 71% of the Latino vote versus 27% for Romney.

Obama’s freeze on deportations for certain classes of undocumented immigrants (those who have been here all their lives, having been brought as children, and parents of US citizens born in the US who have lived here as law-abiding residents for at least 5 years) throws a pigeon among the cats in several important ways.

1. Obama’s steps certainly matter to Latinos, some 2/3s of whom say that new immigration legislation is important or very important to them. There isn’t any doubt that the Democratic Party just picked up a lot of support in this demographic.

2. As Jonathan Chait and others have argued, Obama is enticing Republicans representing angry white men to denounce angrily and loudly his deportation freeze. The more they cavil against the executive order, they more they signal that their party is unsympathetic to Latinos.

3. Indeed, some Republicans have already been so crazed by the president’s action, which echoes that of Ronald Reagan, that they have gone beyond mere caviling and spoken of the possibility of violence against immigrants. Retiring Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn did this, effectively turning the GOP into the party of skinheads in the eyes of minorities.

The Young Turks: “GOPer Practically Begging For Violent Reaction To Obama Immigration Speech”

4. Florida has a lot of immigrants, and Obama has just shored up the 2016 Democratic position in that state, where people were glued to the television Thursday night and weeping with joy. Many undocumented immigrants have citizen relatives, who can vote and who now have reason to be grateful to the Democratic Party. (Hundreds of thousands of people move to Florida every year, and it is about to overtake New York in population, so it is a very, very different state from the one that existed in 2000).

5. Latino voters have relatively low rates of turnout. In part this is because so many have come relatively recently and they have not developed a sense of civic commitment to US politics. They are working several jobs and busy establishing themselves and their communities. In some instances, they may be chary of having anything to do with the Federal government even if they are citizens and eligible voters because they have undocumented friends and/or family and don’t want to draw attention to themselves. That skittishness may decrease now in some instances, and likely to the Democrats’ advantage.

The Historical Drivers of Modern Day Developments in Iraq (Cole Interview)

By Juan Cole, interviewed by Bassam Haddad | –

Bassam Haddad, a prominent Syria specialist at George Mason University, interviewed me this fall for the new web radio program Status Hour , on the Middle East. Do check out the range of important interviews already up at the site.

My own audio interview is here. For those who like to read, I am mirroring below the transcript kindly made by Zachary Cuyler at Status Hour.

Juan Cole, Interview Transcript

Transcribed by Zachary Cuyler

Bassam Haddad (BH): Good afternoon. We have with us here Professor Juan Cole, who has been able to give us some time during his lecture tour—which seems to be consistent and constant. We would like to ask Professor Cole about a few things that are happening now in the media and in the region, starting with the question that is on everyone’s mind, and that is: What is happening in the region right now, in terms of the basic drivers—what would you consider are some of the basic drivers that are producing the outcomes we are all watching on television and listening to on the radio, and so on?

Juan Cole (JC): The post-war governments of the Middle East tended to be Arab nationalist governments. They were deeply influenced by the Soviet model, even though they were not communist regimes, but they called themselves socialist. There were enormous state sectors, public sectors. You know, it was not to the extent of the East[ern] bloc. A place like Hungary probably was ninety-five percent state-owned, the economy. Egypt was probably half, Syria more. In comparison, Nehru’s socialist India was never more than twenty-five percent of the economy, [the] public sector.

So these were socialist states, and their premise was that the colonial powers and often indigenous rulers in cahoots with the colonial powers had produced extremely unequal societies, and had produced societies that were not characterized by healthy social statistics. They were largely rural, villages, they were largely illiterate, the countries lacked infrastructure, they lacked very much in the way of factory production. They were still, for the most part, agricultural and dependent on primary commodities. And these post-war, anti-colonial, anti-imperial states attempted to bring their populations forward. They established mixed school systems, they established high schools, universities, and they really did succeed in making most of the population, at least of the younger generation, at least literate.

And then they did state-led industrialization: they committed resources to making sure that there were factories producing things, substituting those locally-made commodities for international imports.

And then the 1990s came, and the Soviet model collapsed, and Soviet patronage disappeared, and enormous pressure was applied by Washington, London, and Paris on the states of the Middle East to privatize their economies and reduce the size of their public sectors. And in the process of privatizing, new billionaires were created, so it was a little bit like the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of the oligarchs in Russia. And neoliberal policies where market mechanisms were instituted, started to substitute for some of the public sector enterprises. But, as we know from Eastern Europe, there are right and wrong ways to privatize, and in the Middle East the state elites engaged in insider trading, they used their advantages to create crony billionaire classes, and because the state elites were not representative. Typically, they were what is called in the Middle East a shillah, or a clique. The inequalities that grew through the 1990s and 2000s excluded often the majority of people living in the country, and those inequalities—regional, ethnic, sectarian, and so forth—they hurt people, they hurt the ability of young people to get jobs, their futures seemed blocked. So you had a lot of regional protest, a lot of labor protest, and what seemed as though they were sectarian protests. But I am arguing that sectarianism was really invoked as a way of objecting to the concentration of wealth in a few hands of a particular social group.

BH: Thank you. Surely, this is not what you would hear in mainstream circles, whether media or academia, sometimes, regarding these political economy factors that are drivers. How do you think someone might respond to this and say, no, this is strictly a cultural issue and what you’re saying is some [. . . sentence ends]. They might even say some Marxist, leftist jargon from a time gone by.

JC: If it is cultural, the culture hasn’t changed that much, so why were these ethnic and sectarian conflicts not big in the 1950s and 1960s? If you go back and read the US State Department cables about a place like Iraq, Shi’i Islam almost doesn’t appear. And concerns about instability owing the Sunni-Shi’i conflict is almost completely absent from those cables of the 1960s and 1970s. The big concern is the strength of the communist movement, the ways in which there were conflicts between poor peasants and big landowners. Now, it may be that sometimes the poor peasants were Shi’a and the big landowners were Sunnis, but that was not ethnicity that they were fighting about, it was the distribution of land and wealth. We saw in Iraq in the 1950s enormous numbers of landless laborers had grown up and maybe 2-3,000 families owned the lion’s share of the good land in Iraq. So the big conflicts were over political economy and I think that has continued.

But whereas in the 1960s and 1970s, it was unusual for those conflicts to be reworked into sectarian or other kinds of primordial identity conflicts, over time this became a fruitful tactic for entrepreneurial politicians. Once you have two groups that are fighting over distribution of material goods—for jobs and resources—it becomes an advantage for politicians if they can mobilize one of the groups against the other on identity grounds.

I think the reason that political economy is not taken into account is that you have to know something fairly serious about economics to understand it, you have to know something serious about the history of these societies in the last fifty years. And, frankly, a lot of our journalists are not trained either in economics or history, or certainly of this region.

And so what is easiest is to fasten upon surface characteristics, though we have the trope of the age-old hatreds. They did this in the Balkans when the Croats and the Bosnians started fighting with each other in the 1990s and the journalists in the United States often attributed it to age-old ethnic hatreds. But the fact is that there is very little difference among the languages. Serbo-Croatian is basically a single language and the big difference among them was religion—the Croats were Catholic and the Bosnians [Muslim] and the Serbs are Eastern Orthodox but almost nobody practices religion so that cannot possibly have been very important. And, in fact, if you look at the history of that region, there was some trouble in the mid-19th century, but for the last hundred years or so, there really had not been much in the way of ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia. So there is a tendency to essentialize, to see primordial identities as somehow eternal, unchanging, and then as productive of constant conflict, whereas none of those things is true. So I think there is a lack of attention to history, to the fluidity of identity over time.

BH: Thank you. What about, if we want to move from some of the internal dynamics to the external arena, or at least the influence coming from the outside, or the intervention, or the invasion, or the manipulation, what have you, starting with the Iraq-Iran War, which was certainly something that was also in the interest of external powers, and then moving on to the First—or Second Gulf War, according to the people of the region, [the] First [Gulf War] in the United States—then the sanctions and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Can you tell us how these events in this sequence might have produced what everyone is concerned about today—or what many people are concerned about today, especially in the mainstream media—which is that word, ISIS? And how can we put it in a broader context?

JC: Personally, I—with the exception of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which obviously turned that society upside-down in very unfortunate ways—I do not think that the imperial interventions in the region are primarily responsible for these changes. I see them as indigenous. I know that there is a kind of trope out there that Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980 at the behest of the Carter administration, but I have talked to members of the National Security Council at the time who deny this, and who say that it came as a surprise to them. Knowing the policies of Jimmy Carter, the idea that he called up Saddam and said “Hey, why don’t you invade Iran” seems a little unlikely. I think later on in the Reagan administration they did send Donald Rumsfeld out, when he was CEO of Searle, to see if Saddam would be willing to do a deal with the United States, and found that he was. So I see the US-Iraqi relationship as close in the 1980s, but I think it really started in 1983.

I think that the invasion of Iran was all Saddam Hussein’s idea, and there were internal reasons for doing it. Saddam was ambitious and he wanted Iranian Khuzistan, which is where the oil is, and wanted to make Iraq a very major player on the world stage. Then, after their revolution in in 1979, the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini went on radio and called upon the Iraqi Shi’a to rise up and overthrow the Ba’th party in Iraq. So the Ba’th party felt that the best defense is a good offense and… I do not think that the Iraqi Shi’a would have paid much attention to Khomeini if Saddam had not invaded Iran. And in fact, people say it was a million man army, the Iraqi army, [and] apparently only about forty thousand Shi’i Iraqis defected to the Iranian side. The vast majority of Iraqi Shi’a fought their Iranian co-religionists on behalf of the Iraqi nation. This is why it is so inaccurate for analysts today to see all signs of Shi’i activism as somehow making them cat’s paws of Iran. In fact, a lot of Iraqi Shi’a or Shi’a elsewhere in the region resent Iranian dominance and see themselves as Arabs first or as having local economic or political interests. So I think that while the Americans were drawn into the Iran-Iraq war, I think its impetuses were primarily local, though to some extent the Iranian Revolution itself was a reaction against US imperial dominance of Iran, so the US had a role there.

As for the [Second] Gulf War, that was really a status quo war and in some important respects it was an Arab League war against Saddam Hussein. His invasion and occupation of Kuwait alarmed all of the other states in the world. State elites are very good about protecting the prerogatives of the state, so it was not hard for George HW Bush to put together a coalition that was truly vast. I mean, people now forget that it included Argentina. There was an Iraqi [who was] interviewed who had a sense of humor, who said “Our leader Saddam is very great. He has provoked the entire world—even Argentina is against us.” But the Arab League joined in, [and even] Syria and Egypt were both allies of the Western powers in restoring the sovereignty of Kuwait in that war. So I do not see it as [ . . . sentence ends]. And in fact, it should be remembered that the Bush administration was a realist administration. Realists in foreign policy think you should follow national interest and think that you should not get so worried about injecting morality into politics. James Baker, the Secretary of State at the time, I think genuinely was uninterested in who controlled Kuwait. He thought the oil would be pumped no matter whose hands it was in, and it does not affect the United States’ interests. So, I think that there was resistance to getting involved. It was still the post-Vietnam era: having a war was not popular in the United States.

So I see that whole episode around the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait not in terms of imperial politics, but as, an important part, in a regional response to aggrandization on the part of a “barracuda state”—I think Iraq under Saddam Hussein was what Immanuel Wallerstein calls a ‘barracuda state.’ He [Wallerstein] thinks that those kinds of aggrandizing smaller states that want to become great powers are typical of being on the semi-periphery of the world capitalist system. These are states that are in some way locked out of certain opportunities and resources, and so resort to violence, invasions, big militaries and so forth, and the grabbing of other people’s resources in order to build themselves up to the point at which they could challenge the international system. In the case of Iraq, this barracuda strategy failed because it was too open, it challenged the world system too directly, and it provoked such a powerful, united response—from not only the international powers, but the regional ones—[so] that ultimately Iraq was contained and put under sanctions and its middle class was destroyed.

There, the aftermath of the [Second] Gulf War, I think, is one that was very unfortunate, and for which you could blame US policy, because it was quite ruthless. The sanctions that Iraq was put under by the United Nations and by the United States in the 1990s were the most severe sanctions that had ever been applied to a country up until that point, and they were applied to civilians. And so, since chlorine can be used to make weaponry, it was interdicted as an export to Iraq. But chlorine is essential to water purification. Sewage is such that people’s waste goes into the rivers and we drink from the rivers. Without water purification, the water of the Tigris and the Euphrates became extremely unsanitary, full of bacteria. While adults can survive that kind of thing, they might develop some gastrointestinitis, the children—toddlers and babies—die very easily of bad water. So you probably have excess mortality among toddlers and infants on the order of 500,000 Iraqis who died in the 1990s because of the interdiction of chlorine. That seems to be clearly a war crime, and it was the result of not just US but United Nations sanctions, so the extent to which the world system was willing to go to punish the Iraqi regime spilled over into punishing the Iraqi people.

And that has been a major generator of radicalism in the region. Nobody can stand by and see 500,000 children murdered in this way. You know, a lot of the radical groups mention this as a reason for their anti-US actions, including al-Qa’ida. What al-Qa’ida did is unforgivable, it is a crime, it is a major war crime, but US imperial policy did help to provoke some of this radicalism.

BH: And [as for] the last stage in this series, which is the 2003 invasion, what has been its impact on creating the context in which what we have been observing in the past twelve years or eleven years or so, been? Including ISIS, but not necessarily just ISIS, because as much as possible I think we should probably look beyond [ISIS] because we do not want to fall for this media trap of just being colonized by just talking about ISIS as if there are not other effects or problems.

JC: Yeah, it is quite remarkable that nowadays the only subject that anybody wants to talk about is this formerly small terrorist group, which is only one of a large number of Sunni resistance groups. The Shi’i ones are not being spoken of because they are allies of the United States, even though some of them are quite radical.

I think Iraq was, as a modern state, constructed by the British Empire. There was a set of provinces of the Ottoman Empire constituting Iraq. Occasionally, the Ottomans ruled it as a single province. More frequently they divided it up into several, but the US came into this situation where the Saddam Hussein regime had difficulty keeping the country together. [Phebe] Marr has argued that the Ba’th parties policies in the last part of the twentieth century were really an attempt to make Baghdad and its hinterlands the core of the state. So the state did not have much authority or popularity—and it had none of course after the no-fly zone was established—and it was widely challenged in the Shi’i south and Basra, and so forth. And again, there were also Sunni rebels against the regime. Fallujah had become a center for the Salafi movement under Saddam already, in part under the influence of Jordan. The story is that Jordanian truck drivers, because of sanctions, used to smuggle things in from Jordan. They would stay the night or a few days in Fallujah. Some of them had come under Saudi influences and had become Salafis, so then they spread this ideology to Fallujah. Saddam Hussein’s regime had mixed feelings about this rise of religious politics. On the whole, the Ba’th party did not approve of religious politics, and tried to crush fundamentalist movements. On the other hand, these people became potential constituencies for the state, and so some officials like ‘Izzat Duri, one of Saddam’s vice presidents, actually reached out to some of the religious groups and tried to make them a power base—the Naqshabandi neo-Sufi revival, in Mosul, this was his vehicle. So these [sentence ends]… Iraq was already beginning to be riven by some of these regional and provincial disputes over the distribution of resources. And of course resources had declined enormously over the 1990s because of the restrictions on Iraqi oil exports.

And the US came in and reversed Saddam’s policies. So the late Ba’th tried to insulate the high Ba’th officials and their constituencies from the sanctions, but those were disproportionately Sunni Arabs who were being insulated from the worst effects of the sanctions, so the full brunt of the sanctions were being felt by Basra, Hillah, and the Shi’i districts of Baghdad. In fact, you could tell [that] when the US invaded in 2003, they were expecting the Iraqi middle classes to be allies, and they found there were no middle classes to speak of. This is why you get the rise of radical religious politics—because most people were reduced to slum-dwelling, and those kinds of social and economic situations are not conducive to liberal democracy.

The US favored the Shi’a in exactly the same way that Saddam had begun favoring the Sunni Arabs, and so they engineered not just a political revolution, but a social and provincial one. The Shi’i south became powerful, and expected to be the recipient of the oil money, and the infrastructural improvements, and the political patronage. The Sunni north and west was disenfranchised, for the most part. The US abolished the state factories because they do not believe in state factories, they expected the market and the magic hand of entrepreneurism to replace the state factories, which of course did not occur because nobody knew how to do that, and so they let the state factories be run into the ground after they took over. They acquiesced in the Shi’a nationalists’ program of what they called de-Ba’thification, which was a way of making sure that people who had been in the Ba’th party were excluded from politics and from state employment. So they fired the Ba’th party members who taught in high schools and they brought in Shi’a to replace them. They seem to have fired 70-100,000 people, many of them Sunni Arabs, at a time when there were no private sector jobs, so if you lost your public sector job you were simply unemployed. So the US policy in Iraq was extremely punitive toward the Sunni Arabs, and was openly allied with Shi’i irredentist parties who had a grudge against the Sunnis, and it was allied with the Kurds, who felt that they had been attacked and even gassed by the Ba’th regime, and were also in a mood to punish.

So when they had the first elections in 2005, almost no Sunnis were willing to participate in them, and very few got elected to parliament. One of the ones [Sunnis] who was elected to parliament had a brother who had been in the Ba’th party and there was discussion about whether he should be kicked out of parliament because of guilt by association. That was the mood under which the US oversaw the crafting of the constitution, which the Sunni Arab community overwhelmingly rejected. All three Sunni majority provinces voted against the constitution of 2005, and you could begin to see the origins of a kind of civil war right there.

Again, the issues over which they protested were not primarily sectarian—there was nothing, so much, about theology in the constitution, but the constitution recognized Kurdistan as a super province and gave it all kinds of prerogatives and control over new resources found, and allowed for the creation of a Shi’i super province in the south. In the end the Shi’i public did not vote for that, but there were people who wanted it. And the Sunnis, at the time, were strong what is called in the Middle East “federalists”—they mean by federalism a strong federal government. And so they objected to the extreme decentralization of Iraq implied in the constitution, which went beyond, I think, the situation in Canada where Quebec has certain prerogatives. And many of them were afraid that it would break up the country, so they protested on behalf of the entire nation against what they saw as a regionalist constitution.

In many ways, US policy in Iraq, once they had occupied it, did everything wrong that the South Africans did right after their change from Apartheid. So the wealthy and the powerful Afrikaaners were not expropriated by the African National Congress when it came to power. They were allowed to keep their wealth. They had to share more, and so many African businessmen were brought into the magic circle, and indeed many African National Congress members became junior partners of the Afrikaaner big businessmen in Cape Town, but they were not expropriated. They still have their nice, big houses, and they still are an economic elite. And all of their talents and resources are then invested in South Africa. While it has not by any means been a perfect process, it has been night and day from more punitive and vindictive countries like Zimbabwe. And, in essence, the United States really behaved in Iraq much more like Robert Mugabe behaves in Zimbabwe then like Mandela behaved in South Africa. As for punishing people who genuinely had done something wrong, the South Africans let them off if they would confess, so the truth and reconciliation process was a matter of stating for the public record things the person had actually done wrong, the crimes against humanity that were committed. But then amnesty was granted in return for those confessions. And while there are critics of this policy, I think in South Africa, on the whole and by and large, it worked. In Iraq, instead of having the high Ba’th officials properly tried and confess to their crimes and then maybe rehabilitated or at least allowed to live out their lives under house arrest or something, they were publicly executed or tracked down by militias and shot, or the entirety of their clans was excluded from public office and driven into unemployment and poverty.

The US policies in Iraq, it seems to me, in cooperation with some hardline Shi’a politicians and Kurdish ones, really drove Iraq to the brink over time. It was the legacy that the US left behind that led to our current crisis.

BH: In your answer, you moved past the actual war, the actual invasion quickly to get to the thicker narrative. Is there an independent effect for the actual invasion, the actual war, and its immediate and medium-term outcomes that sort of created the context for all of this, whether it is the chaos or the vacuum or things of the sort? The war itself as a traumatic experience, for all sides, but mostly of course for the Iraqis. What effects, in your opinion, did it have?

JC: The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 in many ways had an effect similar to the Israeli defeat of Egypt in 1967. Many historians see 1967 as a great turning point when pan-Arabism and socialist Arab nationalism was abandoned by a lot of Arab thinkers in favor of a turn toward fundamentalist religion. Having been shown to be helpless in front of Israel and US might, people turned away from the Abdel Nasser kind of—Gamal Abdel Nasser was the president of Egypt in the 1960s—and they turned away from his kind of relatively secular-minded Arab nationalism. And in the same way, the opinion polling and what we know about the people of places like Mosul and Tikrit—the great Sunni Arab centers of northern and western Iraq—suggests that on the whole and by and large, they were secular-minded people. They were nationalists rather than religious fundamentalists. That does not mean that they did not go to mosque or that they did not have religion, but religion was not their ideology, for the most part. And by destroying the Ba’th party and showing how easily the Ba’th army could be defeated and then installing a largely Shi’i and Kurdish government, the United States set in train a similar process whereby many Sunni Arab Iraqis turned against secular socialist Arab nationalism, and turned toward a more primordial kind of identity, went toward religious fundamentalism. There is some opinion polling evidence for this turn.

It [the effect of the 2003 invasion] was not permanent, because people have gone in and out. They have become disappointed with the performance of fundamentalism by the time you get to 2007, 2008, after it provoked a kind of civil war in Iraq. But now, those more secular-minded Iraqis, ex-Ba’thists and so forth, made an alliance even with the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, to throw off the Iraqi government, which was largely Shi’i and was seen as oppressive and marginalizing of the Sunnis and as not providing not only services and resources, but it was humiliating them.

But, I think… Mosul is a city of some two million, it is a great cosmopolitan city, a city of culture and learning, and great traditions. And the kind of simple-minded extremist fundamentalism—almost Taliban-like—of ISIL, had very little appeal there, until they were pushed to the brink by the conditions that the United States and the Shi’a allies had set in train.

BH: So, if someone asks at this point, “What do you think are the origins of ISIS?” or if someone asked the flip side of this, and that is, “Do you think it is a fleeting or ephemeral phenomenon?” how would you answer, by way of closing this chapter based on this historical analysis, which I [. . . sentence ends]. As I shared with you, I would like you to expand on without interjection, because we want to hear the full story. And maybe we will have another take and maybe we will ask you to respond to it, and have two people respond to each others’ narratives.

JC: Sure. Well, with regard to the future, it seems clear that this kind of Taliban or ISIL ideology develops in reaction to imperial interventions. So the Taliban come out of the maelstrom of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. People forget how horrible it was. It was, then in the 1980s, like Syria today. There were sixteen million Afghans, three million were forced abroad to Pakistan, two million to Iran, and two million were internally displaced, a million were killed, three million were wounded. So eleven million out of the sixteen [million] had drastic things happen to them. Enormous numbers of widows and orphans were created, and out of those social dislocations, the interruption of family traditions, the large numbers of orphans, you get the rise of the Taliban. People want order back in their lives. The young men had been brought up in very extreme conditions and resorted to a kind of extreme ideology.

I think the situation in Iraq and Syria also contributed in similar ways to the strength and the rise of ISIL. I do not think therefore that US bombing of Syria is likely to destroy the phenomenon, because I think it is these imperial interventions that encourage it in the first place.

And I think that, however, as a government, this so-called Islamic State of this self-proclaimed caliph, Ibrahim al-Samarrai, does not have a future. Nobody wants it there in the region. The Iranians do not want it there, Damascus does not want it there, the Russians do not want it there, the Kurds do not want it there, the United States does not want it there. I mean, if you have that many enemies . . . [sentence ends]. The likelihood is that these guys will be dead in five years.

That is not to say that the phenomenon will go away, because of course the process of killing them will produce a reaction, and I am really afraid, Bassam, that these various forces I have mentioned will do to Mosul what was done to Homs in Syria in the course of “defeating” the so-called Islamic State. I think that the Sunni Arabs of western and northern Iraq are going to feel the brunt of this campaign, and I think that their cities and dwellings are in extreme danger.

But, at the moment I do not see a good way for them to avoid this fate unless they can themselves throw off ISIL, because it their continuing to have a mini-state between Aleppo and Mosul is unacceptable to the regional powers and the international powers. I have compared it to the Zenghi state that preceded Saladin. There was for a time, in medieval Islamic history, a statelet that included both Aleppo and Mosul, so this is not the first time in history that such a conjuncture has been achieved. But it also fell by the wayside and I do not think that those two cities can sustain a state in the long run without all of the trade routes and international cooperation that would be necessary.

BH: Thanks very much. Last question, which is also by way of an intervention, and it is a bit of an analytical, pedagogical question. In your responses you focus on two factors: internal factors, in which you spoke about political economy, or at least favored these kinds of causes over more sectarian, culturalist causes; and then, another set of factors or causal factors you subsumed under imperialism of one sort of another, or one act or another. How do you see the interaction between the two? And what might you say to someone who might say where you are not seeing imperialism playing a role, there is actually imperialism playing a role, though not direct? And with the question of political economy, is it also something that is independent of, say, regional factors, if not larger external international factors? So how do we see—how do you see the relationship between those two strands of causes?

JC: I certainly think that the international great powers have had enormous impact on the political economy and ideologies of the region. The Arab world would have a much stronger left if the US had not connived at destroying it across the board. So we know that in 1963 when there was a Ba’th coup in Iraq, the US had gathered all the names of the members of the communist party and they handed them over— because many of them were covert—they handed them over to the Ba’th party, which then arrested them and tortured them and began the process of the destruction of the Iraqi communist party, which had been a very major party in the 1950s and early 1960s. And this similar kind of thing happened throughout the region in Iran and elsewhere. The US has used its industrial and other might to intervene in the region and shape it so as to keep it alienated, in the Cold War era, from the Soviet Union and to make it a place amenable to international investment in the interest of US corporations.

That was their goal, I think that largely failed, but that was their goal and, indeed, it seems to me that if we look at China, had they left the region alone it is likely that it would have done much better and that US corporations would have had much better grounds for investment and profit in the region than is the case now. With these very heavy kinds of intervention they have pushed the region to the far right, in many ways. So I do not want to deny that in many ways, imperial interests played a large role in shaping the region.

On the other hand, I find it odd that people neglect in their analyses the great macro social movements of the area. So, for instance, it strikes me that what we have seen in the past fifty years in the Middle East has been massive urbanization. Coming out of the colonial period – because the colonial powers, if they did not actively interfere with industrialization, they at least did not promote it—they were much more interested in extracting primary commodities from the region at the cheapest price possible. So, coming out of the colonial period, and after World War Two, the region was largely rural, ninety percent rural, villages. It is now everywhere at least majority urban, and in some countries overwhelmingly urban. By the way, Saudi Arabia and Libya are both overwhelmingly urban now.

When people move from their villages in the countryside to the city, it is extremely alienating. They lose all of the social frameworks that had guided them, and they are in search of new religious identities often, new political identities. They are open to the blandishments of certain forms of extremism because they are unmoored from their regional context. So I think that this process of urbanization can be extremely alienating and destabilizing. And is it really an accident that, say, between 1870 and 1945, Western Europe was in constant turmoil? You had the Franco-Prussian War, you had the Paris Commune, you had revolutions, you had the rise of radical movements like the communists and the nihilists, and you had two world wars. I mean, between 1870 and 1945, the Europeans seem to have polished off on the order of 100 million people in Europe. And then the Belgians probably killed about half of the Congolese in their colony out there, and so forth. There were endless trouble, those Europeans, during this period when they were urbanizing and industrializing. Is it really an accident that now that these same processes are occurring in the Middle East, that there should also be the rise of ideological extremism of various sorts, and enormous dislocations of people, etc.?

I think that people, because Europe has been relatively calm under a pax Americana and, to some extent, in the east, Russian influence since 1945, they have started to forget how turbulent the continent was during its social transformation. And that, if I am right, would also suggest that once the transitions are done and urban industrial (and maybe post-industrial) society becomes well established in the region, it will also find a footing for a more stable kind of politics. But I think that people do not realize to what extent the several hundred million people of the Middle East really have been on the road, in various ways, involved in massive social dislocations, for the past fifty years.

BH: Before we release you, as we say, I would like to ask you to recommend to us, besides your books, which we will note in your bio, what would be good books on the various topics that you shared with us. Two or three books that you would recommend.

JC: I cannot, however, avoid mentioning my new one, which is The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East, which looks at the secular and left-of-center very large youth movements in the west of the Middle East in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, which I think is a good corrective to what I see as the kind of over-concentration on religious extremism in the east of the Middle East. But Toby Dodge has a good recent book out about Iraq of the last few years. He is a British scholar at the London School of Economics, and I recommend his work. There is a scholar who wrote about the Syrian business classes, Bassam Haddad, who I think for the political economy of the background of the current struggles in Syria is really—I am not just complimenting you—it is a really important study and I think addresses exactly some of those kinds of issues that I think have been neglected in the analysis. I recommend the various [International] Crisis Group [reports on] the region. This is an NGO that I think does very serious studies of these societies, and often takes account of information and movements that are not highlighted in the mainstream US press.

BH: Is there anything that you would like to leave us off, that is either optimistic or pessimistic, that is about, say, Iraq for now?

JC: Well, Iraq is going to get worse before it gets better, but I do not think that those people who have argued that its breakup is imminent or inevitable are necessarily correct. I think that the centrifugal forces in Iraq are not completely gone. I think it has had very bad governments, and it has had governance of a sort that has pushed people away rather than bringing them together. But the extremeness of the current crisis I think is a turning point in the history of the nation. Either it will throw up an elite that can pull back from the brink and rescue the nation as a unit, or relatively sectional and selfish elites will finish the job of pulling it apart.

BH: Thank you very much, Professor Cole. This was really wonderful and it went by quite quickly. I think it almost went an hour. We would love to speak with you again, and thanks for your time.

JC: Thank you very much.


Related book:

The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East

3rd Possibility: Coming Civil War in West Bank/ Jerusalem?

By Juan Cole | –

Observers of the evolution of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians have long argued that there are only two likely outcomes of the alternating violence and diplomacy between the two sides that has gone on nearly 70 years now. One is a “two-state solution” wherein Israel accepts a rump Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. That possibility has by now been more or less forestalled because of the massive land theft and colonization drive of Israeli squatters on Palestinian land in the West Bank. (The UN General Assembly partition plan of 1947, whatever one thinks of its legitimacy, awarded the West Bank to Palestine). The other is a “one-state solution” wherein Israel bestows Israeli citizenship on the stateless Palestinians. There is no obvious path to such a decision on the part of what are essentially fascist ruling parties in Israel and it is hard to imagine a scenario in which such a thing happens.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have another ending to the story in mind. And that is the “transfer” of Palestinian-Israelis and of Palestinians in the West Bank to some other country, probably Jordan. This crackpot plan of uprooting and moving 5 million people is also not very likely on the face of it.

But there is one scenario in which “transfer” (i.e. ethnic cleansing) could occur. That would be a repeat of the 1947-48 civil war in British Mandate Palestine, which eventuated in the ethnic cleansing by Jewish militias of 720,000 Palestinians out of a pre-war total of 1.2 million. Jewish terrorist organizations such as the Stern Gang simply mowed down Palestinian villagers with machine guns to scare their neighbors into fleeing their homes, which the nascent Israelis then usurped. After Israel was established, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion simply locked the Palestinians out of their homeland for good, creating a massive refugee problem in the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon that has never really been resolved to this day (only Jordan gave the Palestinians citizenship, and even there it is sometimes revoked).

Israel conquered the West Bank in 1967 and militarily occupied it, then contravened the Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of occupied populations by flooding Israeli squatters into the territory. It also illegally annexed part of the Palestinian West Bank and awarded it to the Israeli district of Jerusalem, which is roughly 35 percent Palestinian. It also has gradually forced many Palestinians in East Jerusalem to depart, confiscating their property, and is building Jews-only squatter settlements all around Jerusalem with an intent of turning Jerusalem into a Jews-only city.

The Israeli government has now put 600,000 Israeli squatters into the Palestinian West Bank (including Palestinian Jerusalem), among nearly 3 million Palestinians. There is constant Israeli construction of housing on usurped Palestinian land. Squatters dig their wells deeper into aquifers and cause the wells in Palestinian villages to go dry. There is a low-intensity struggle between the incoming squatters and the indigenous Palestinians. Israelis have attacked mosques and villagers. Palestinians have killed Israelis whom they view as land thieves.

These two populations are not separate from one another in the West Bank. Nothing would be easier than for tit-for-tat killings to spiral out of control. Then you’d have a war on the West Bank, which of course the Israelis would win, being very well armed by the US and very well organized.

In the course of this coming civil war in the West Bank, Israeli squatter organizations would seek to repeat the Stern Gang’s achievements in 1947-48 of making the Palestinian population flee its homes for Jordan. Jordan, a country of 6 million, would suddenly be a country of 9 million.

On past experience, no one would do anything about such an ethnic cleansing of the West Bank Palestinians, who would end up penniless and living in tents in the desert. The spokesmen for Western governments would say they regret that it happened and maybe offer some aid money. The Arab publics would be outraged but the governments would do nothing. Some European governments might slap ineffectual sanctions on Israel. Others would praise the Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign.

The fascist parties in Israel would lock the Palestinians out of the West Bank permanently and flood in more settlers. They might even “transfer” the Palestinian-Israelis, stripping them of their citizenship and making Jordan 10 million, half of them in refugee tents in the desert). They would give press conferences where they regretted that the Jordanian government did not treat its new citizens well enough.

The Jordanian state likely could not survive being almost doubled in population overnight overnight, with most of the newcomers hostile to the Hashemite monarchy. There would likely be a republican revolution in Jordan against King Abdullah II. Extremism would flourish and an ISIL- like state in Jordan would not be impossible. The ethnic cleansing would be extremely destabilizing for the Middle East for decades to come and Israel’s security environment would deteriorate drastically. Eventually reprisals with things like small rockets would create such a sense of crisis that gradually Israelis might begin emigrating abroad in fair numbers, a process that could snowball.

The killings at the Jerusalem synagogue yesterday and the spate of Israeli killings of Palestinians in the West Bank are all small harbingers of this coming civil war.


Related video:

Chronology of Israeli-Palestinian Violence