7 Things to Know about Mosul

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Iraqi government has announced that the campaign to take the large northern city of Mosul back from Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) has begun in earnest. The Iraqi Army, the Peshmerga (Kurdistan Regional Government national guard), Sunni Arab tribal levies, and Shiite militiamen from the south are all likely involved in this push, which may take weeks. It is being spearheaded by the Iraqi Army 9th Division.


So what is the significance of Mosul as a city?

1. It is a large city in Middle Eastern terms. Before Daesh took it over, its metropolitan population was probably about 2 million, compared to Baghdad’s 6 million and Basra’s 2 million or so. Since Daesh took over, hundreds of thousands of residents have fled, so I figure likely the population has fallen to between 1 million and 1.5 million. That’s still a fair city. Only 4 American cities have 2 million or more population, and the fifth is Philadelphia with 1.5 million. So Mosul under Daesh has gone from being Houston to being something between Austin and Philly in population size.

2. Mosul is the later successor to the ancient city of Ninevah, which was in the same area. It was was first settled around 8000 years ago, and by 5000 years ago (3000 BCE) was an important urban center. Ancient Iraq was a font of civilization, with writing, art, sciences like astronomy, and bureaucracy. In the 700s BCE Ninevah became the capital of the rising Assyrian Empire under Sennacherib (d. 681 BCE), which invaded Babylon and Palestine. It became a magnificent metropolis in that century. It was to Ninevah that the biblical prophet Jonah was sent, to denounce its big city sins (he at first thought that this was a very bad idea and tried to sail to Tarshish, in the opposite direction, to get away from this divinely commanded task, hence his encounter with the whale). Ninevah was conquered by the Neo-Babylonians and Iranians in in 612 BCE, and was reduced in importance thereafter in the ancient world.

sarakkad Sargon of Akkad, 3rd millennium BCE

3. Mosul was incorporated into the early Muslim empire from the 600s CE, and was ruled by the Umayyads and Abbasids. It was a center for Arabic music, with the compositions of one of its famous performers, Zaryab, being a favorite all over the Arab world as far as Muslim Spain. The muwashahat form of bilingual lyrics were influenced by Syriac Christian church music. (Christians formed a significant population in Muslim-ruled Mosul). Mosul was a power base for the eleventh and twelfth centuries, CE, medieval state of the Atabegs, founded by Nur al-Din Zangi. It fought with the Crusaders but couldn’t take back Palestine (that was left to the Ayyubid Salahuddin). I pointed out after the fall of Mosul to Daesh in summer of 2014 that the Daesh ‘caliphate’ had an interesting geographical resemblance to the Zangid state, which also held both Mosul and Aleppo but not Damascus.


4. Mosul was on a major world trade artery from the Indian Ocean up the Persian Gulf and the Tigris river valley to Syria’s Aleppo and thence the Mediterranean at Lebanon’s Tripoli or at Alexandretta. Historian Peter Sluglett says that in the second half of the 1500s when the Portuguese came to control the Indian Ocean, overland trade routes from India via Afghanistan and Iran revived. Caravans would come down to Safavid Baghdad via Kermanshah and then wend their way north to Ottoman Mosul and then Aleppo. The caravans carried pepper, Yazdi and Indian cotton cloth, and Iranian silk. Gallnuts were used for dyeing cloth, and Mosul sent 12,000 camel loads of gallnuts to Aleppo and thence to Europe every year in the early 1600s.


5. After World War I, it wasn’t clear which of the countries emerging out of the collapsed Ottoman Empire would get Mosul. At that time it had some petroleum, which spurred the competition. But it also had a mixed populations, with some Turkmen and Kurds along with the majority Sunni Arabs. Independent, republican Turkey would have liked to have Mosul. The French, who conquered Syria, wanted it. And the British wanted to append it to Iraq. The League of Nations even did a survey about Moslawi identity and found the city diverse and multilingual and cosmopolitan. Britain managed to convince the French to give it to London’s new colony, Iraq, and succeeded in making an argument to the League of Nations that Baghdad needed Mosul economically to be viable.

6. In 1939, Iraq’s King Ghazi died in an auto accident. Whether it was actually an accident or whether it was an assassination remains controversial. At that time, Iraqi crowds believed that British secret agents had arranged the accident. When the British consul in Mosul, Consul, George Monck-Mason, came out to try to explain that his country was not responsible, the crowd turned ugly and an assassin killed the consul. Mosul was a hotbed of Arab nationalism, and this incident was not an isolated one. Not only had Britain ruled Iraq, and Mosul, in a brutal colonial manner, depending in part on massive and routine bombing raids, it was involved in giving away the Mandate of Palestine with its over 1 million Palestinians to Jewish settlers. Many Palestinian teachers who could not or would not work in British Palestine went to Mosul to get jobs in the schools, and influenced their students. The consul’s death thus was a symptom of popular anger about British hegemony in Iraq and the region. 19 years later, in 1958, a popular revolution in conjunction with a young officers’ coup ended British influence in Iraq, with the British-installed prime minister killed and dragged through the streets.

7. In recent decades, Mosul residents went from Baath Party rule (1968-2003) under an Arab nationalist, secular, socialist one-party state dominated by Sunni Arabs to American occupation (2003-2011) to rule by the Shiite-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. Then in 2014 the far right fundamentalists of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) took over. These changes would make anyone’s head spin. Recent rulers of Ninewah Province, of which Mosul is the capital include:

1979-2003: Appointees of Saddam Hussein of the Baath Party.

2003-2004 Gen. David Petraeus (w/ Ghanim Sultan al-Basso).

2004 Osama Kashmoula

2004-2009 Duraid Kashmoula

2009 Atheel al-Nujaifi (Sunni Arab nationalist)

2014 – “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of ISIL (Dr. Ibrahim al-Samarra’i) – hard line Muslim fundamentalist


related video:

PBS Newshour: “Why capturing Mosul is a critical step toward defeating ISIS”

ISIL’s loss of Dabiq: It was never about Armageddon, but Weak States

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Albawaba has an interview with political scientist Khalid Rif`at of the Tayyiba Center for Political Studies, saying that the forced withdrawal of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) from the town of Dabiq in northern Syria on Sunday under heavy Turkish army bombardment and in the face of advancing fighters of the Free Syrian Army has a religious symbolism that is fatal to the organization’s esprit de corps.

Retreating from Dabiq, he said, is considered a major defeat by Daesh fighters, since they were expecting to engage in an apocalyptic battle there at the end of time. This is despite the Daesh leadership’s attempts to play down the significance of the loss so as to quieten down the rank and file.

The battle was over in only 24 hours, even though it had been thought that Dabiq’s religious symbolism would cause the brutal guerrilla’s of the world’s most notorious terrorist organization to fight for every inch. The Syrian Observatory had been told by its sources on the ground that Daesh on Friday had sent 1200 reinforcements to the town from surrounding villages and from as far away as Homs, with the bulk of them being foreign fighters who had been assembled in the Daesh capital of Raqqa and then dispatched to defend Dabiq.

The real Daesh exper, Will McCants, explains that Abu Musab Zarqawi, the progenitor of Daesh, had found a medieval Muslim prophecy that 80 nations would gather at a meadow outside Dabiq to fight the Muslims, who would win and go on to conquer Constantinople. Daesh did not play up the prophecy till it took the town and much territory in eastern and northern Syria as well as northern Iraq in 2014.

Constantinople was called Rome or the New Rome by the Byzantines, and this diction was adopted in Arabic. But nowadays Constantinople is the largely Muslim city of Istanbul. So Daesh interprets the medieval apocalyptic saying as indicating that they will take the Rome in Italy and with it, Vatican City.

I find millenarian thinking in religious groups really interesting and have written a lot on the subject academically. But I also think that Daesh was really good at hyping its vision of armageddon and making itself seem way more important than it is.

Eric Hobsbawm argued that modern millenarian movements in places like Italy and Spain were forms of resistance in rural village settings to the onslaught of modern capitalism. He also noted that many of those small catholic sects ultimately tended to get absorbed into socialist parties in the 20th century.

Daesh doesn’t seem to me to be so much a protest against capitalism as a protest against imperialism from abroad and against authoritarianism and economic stagnation at home.

Daesh not only was never likely to have anything to do with Rome (though it did set off a couple of bombs in Istanbul, harming hapless tourists), it wasn’t even likely to keep Dabiq or indeed to keep any of the territory it took.

Daesh’s apocalyptic dreams were always irrelevant except as propaganda. Daesh itself is largely irrelevant. It is a symptom, not a positive force in its own right (i.e. what the ancient Greek philosophers would have called an epiphenomenon).

The organization is symptomatic of state collapse in Iraq, Syria and to some extent Libya (though even fractured Libyan society was strong enough to root it out). That is, from the point of view of a social historian, the central character in the drama of Daesh is not Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the nom de guerre of the minor academic Ibrahim al-Samarra’i, who I don’t think could have gotten tenure in our Near Eastern Studies Department).

The central characters here are Syrian strongman and president for life Bashar al-Assad and George W. Bush and former Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki (in office 2006-2014). In turn they stand in for the social forces that have weakened the state in Syria and Iraq, from imperialism in Iraq’s case to seedy police state in Syria’s.

Police states pretend to be strong, but they are brittle and fragile. People in the west blame the Arabs for not accomplishing more democracy with the Arab Spring, but they misunderstood what the youth had wanted. They wanted an end to the police state. And they succeeded in Tunisia and Libya (though in the latter case at the cost of a fair amount of violence and social disruption, though I don’t know any Libyans who don’t think it was worth it). The police state saw them coming for it in Egypt, Bahrain and Syria and made countercoups (Egypt votes with Syria at the UN in recognition of this commonality). In Yemen the situation is too murky to describe easily, but the Houthi militia that took over the capital in fall of 2014 has police state tendencies. I can’t tell whether the Mansour Hadi government in Aden does as well, or not. Certainly the al-Qaeda pockets in Abyan and elsewhere do.

So Daesh was a side show, a sign that the Syrian and Iraqi states couldn’t get their act together and actually control their own territory. In part this failure derived from their unwillingness or inability to incorporate large swathes of their populations (in Syria, small town and small city rural areas were especially alienated, in Iraq it was more sectarian and regional– the Sunni Arabs of al-Anbar, Salahuddin, Ninewah and Diyala were not incorporated).

War is bloody and brutal, but it sometimes does have incorporating effects. The southern states were brought into a new relationship with Washington after the Civil War.

So the big story here in my view is that the Syrian and Iraqi governments have an opportunity, as Daesh is rolled up, to replace its fevered imaginings of global battle with a much more banal and mundane reality. In Iraq, the Baghdad government is trying to incorporate the Sunnis in a more meaningful way, though it isn’t clear it is succeeding In Syria, in contrast, Damascus has learned nothing from the civil war and just wants to crush the rebellion and return to the status quo ante (impossible given their moth-eaten army of at most 50,000, down from 300,000 before the civil war).

So despite the fall of Dabiq in Syria, I expect more long years of conflict, because Bashar al-Assad and the powerful regime figures around him are incapable of learning from history and incapable of genuine power-sharing.

I am not as pessimistic about Iraq, but a lot depends on how politically powerful the Shiite militias become and remain, since some of them are not about national reconciliation. In Iraq as well, a lot depends on whether the Sunni Arabs are capable of self-reflection and of seeing the mistakes they made in radicalizing and militarizing their relationship with the state. Some old Mosul bourgeois families even preferred Daesh rule to that of Baghdad, which is c-r-aazy.

The last 250 years have seen many millenarian movements who though the End is Nigh and who mobilized sometimes to fight outsiders. The Sudanese Mahdi in the 19th century started such a movement. There were lots in West Africa. Sayyid Ahmad Rai-Bareilly had those tendencies in mid-nineteenth-century India. All of them were crushed and few have much of a legacy. Epiphenomena.

The story here is still the story of the resilience of the state or the lack thereof. And that story is the one that will unfold in Iraq and Syria after Daesh has been demoted from caliphal state to small terrorist organization setting off pipe bombs in playgrounds.


Related video:

Aljazeera English: “Analysis: Significance of Turkish-backed Syrian rebels taking Dabiq from ISIL”

The Vanity of the Billionaires: Circuses and no Bread

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Rome was a republic until between 40 and 27 BCE, when the generals overthrew it. Military dictator Gaius Octavius put the nail in the coffin when he made himself Augustus Caesar on the latter date. The later satirist Juvenal, to whom we owe the phrase ‘bread and circuses,’ is clear that it was the transition away from the republic that required the bribing of the plebeian class in this way. He says it used to be they were bribed for their votes, but with the coming of dictatorship they had to be provided bread to keep them from rioting and cruel public spectacles to divert their attention from the reigning tyranny.

The US government offers a little bread in the form of welfare, but not much and much less than it used to. Most working people haven’t recovered from 2008. Mostly nowadays we are being offered circuses by the billionaires who now rule us.

Whereas in the old days it was the gladiators who were torn limb from limb to satisfy the bloodlust of the masses, in today’s America other sorts of diversions are on offer.

The pressing issues facing what’s left of the republic (I guess we are in year 41 — you have to count backward in this analogy) are these:

1. Our tax code is allowing 3 million mega-rich to take home 20% of the country’s yearly income (since the 3 million include children, it is probably actually 1 million adults that get the one-fifth of everything Americans earn annually). Tax policy could be used to redistribute that wealth over time, but it has been so blunted that it is useless. So if we have a hundred people in a circle, and we distribute a thousand bananas in this unequal way, Person Number One, let us say, the Billionaire, will get 200 bananas out of the 1,000. That should leave 8 apiece for the other 99, but Person Number Two, the multimillionaire, gets another 100. Some of the other 98 will only get 1 banana. A lot of the rest of the people will only get that black part at the bottom of the skin. And if you do it that way every year the Billionaire, will end up with piles of bananas and the people with the black pieces at the bottom never will get even one banana.

Tax policy produces the class structure over time. In the 1950s, the top 1% owned about 25% of the privately held wealth in the US. Now it is close to 40%. What changed is mostly the tax structure. Inequality is measured by the gini coefficient. High economic inequality is bad for the economy. Rich people only need so many refrigerators, and if the masses can’t afford a refrigerator, the then refrigerator factories close and the workers lose their jobs and it all spirals down. Having just a few people with big piles of money doesn’t make the economy work well, it shuts it down.

2. Worse, a high degree of inequality ruins democracy. We ordinary mortals who count our annual income in thousands of dollars can’t compete with people with billions of dollars to buy campaign ads and campaign workers etc. Some crazy rich people have even proposed that they should have more than one vote, because they are “stakeholders” in America in a way the rest of us are not. With Citizens United and other laws and rulings, we can’t even trace who is the puppet master behind the campaign funding.

3. Climate change via spewing carbon dioxide into the the atmosphere.

4. a crisis of educational spending.

5. A crisis of basic infrastructure.

But none of these subjects is being broached anymore, now that the crowd-sourced Bernie Sanders has been sidelined. Hillary Clinton, worth a paltry few tens of millions, depends on a handful of billionaires for her campaign funding, and her policies are shaped by them (she waxed indignant at the very thought in the primaries, but who was she fooling?)

Trump has fewer billionaires (he doesn’t have none yet), but needs fewer because he probably is at least almost one himself.

But if the billionaire oligarchs won’t any longer give out bread, they will gleefully supply circuses. And since the news is itself corporate, they win both ways– they keep the mind of the public off important crises that might cause them to end up with a smaller share of the national pie, and they make money off of higher viewership of their diverting media.

So Juvenal tells the story of Sejanus, the head of the emperor’s imperial guard, who becomes so popular with the mob that they are ready to make him caesar. But abruptly the emperor Tiberius becomes suspicious of the power he had amassed and has him executed in 31 CE, and then the crowd suddenly can’t remember his name.

We have lots of victims to throw to the lions in the media. The poor women who were assaulted are now one by one being brought into the arena, where gladiator Trump is trying to eviscerate them. The old alarms about the threat of the Persian hordes in the East still works, though the Parthians are long forgotten.

Anything to avoid talking about the issues above. The mobs around Trump are mostly riled by the very inequality and injustice and lack of government services that he is campaigning to worsen, but have been fooled into thinking he is a populist by his swagger. And of course the Clinton campaign is inadvertently the beneficiary of these circuses as well, since otherwise its relationship to Wall Street and other centers of power and wealth would be headlines.

Juvenal remarked,

“And would you like to be courted like Sejanus? To be as rich as he was? To bestow on one man the ivory chairs of office, appoint another to the command of armies, and be counted guardian of a Prince seated on the narrow ledge of Capri with his herd of Chaldaean astrologers? You would like, no doubt, to have Centurions, Cohorts, and Illustrious 14 Knights at your call, and to possess a camp of your own? Why should you not? Even those who don’t want to kill anybody would like to have the power to do it. But what grandeur, what high fortune, are worth the having if the joy is overbalanced by the calamities they bring with them? Would you rather choose to wear the bordered robe of the man now being dragged along the streets, or to be a magnate at Fidenae or Gabii, adjudicating upon weights, or smashing vessels of short measure, as a thread-bare Aedile at deserted Ulubrae? You admit, then, that Sejanus did not know what things were to be desired; for in coveting excessive honours, and seeking excessive wealth, he was but building up the many stories of a lofty tower whence the fall would be the greater, and the crash of headlong ruin more terrific.”

The operator of a circus, in an oligarchy can abruptly himself become the circus. The next Tiberius can always become Sejanus (wait for it).

But that won’t put food on the table of the plebeians, it will just be one more diversion from the decadence and penury into which we are descending.


Related video:

The Ring of Fire: “What’s Missing From 2016 Election? Discussion About Real Issues”

Were Kansas White Terrorists Self-Radicalized? or was it Trumpism?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Tim Potter and Amy Renee Leiker of The Kansas City Star report that 3 southwest Kansas men were arrested Friday after an 8-month FBI investigation of their terrorist cell, the Crusaders.

The men had allegedly stockpiled arms and explosives and had considered attacking churches and “city/county commission meetings, local public officials, landlords who rent property to Muslim refugees, and organizations providing assistance to Muslim refugees.”

Ultimately, they are said to have decided, however, to attack the Somali-Americans themselves by detonating explosives at an apartment complex in Garden City, KS. Their attack would, of course, have killed dozens of children, women and innocent men. It is interesting that they targeted the Somalis, presumably because the latter are both African and Muslim and so have two markers of identity for the white supremacists to hate.

They allegedly staked out the Somali-American neighborhood and engaged in highly obscene catcalls at the Muslim women (remind you of anyone?)

One thing to remember is that all Americans are immigrants, even if a little while back, and these residents of Garden City are hard-working Americans. One of the Somali-American women, toward whom those alleged terrorists had hurdled abuse, was profiled in the press recently:

““This is my home. I want to become American,” said Abshiro Warsame, a Somali woman who works the late shift at the nearby Tyson beef packing plant.” Warsame came to the U.S. seven years ago, after her husband was murdered. A U.S. flag hangs in her small, shared flat. She’s studying English and Spanish.”

And she was marked for murder in our society just as her husband had been marked for murder in East Africa.

But let me just underline another point. Like the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, whose favorite reading was Islamophobes like Pamela Geller and Daniel Pipes, these creeps initially were apparently going to attack other white Americans with whom they disagreed.

They considered assassinating local public officials! That sounds like terrorism to me. In fact, since they clearly had a political motive in wanting to shape public policy, and since they clearly intended to harm innocent civilians and even local or state officials, they fit the textbook definition of terrorism. (They weren’t charged with terrorism, because the law is written to make it hard to lay that charge against domestic terrorists; but they were charged with intent to use a weapon of mass destruction).

They considered blowing up a Sunday church service of white Christians who were following Jesus’ teachings, e.g. Matthew 25:

41 . . . ‘Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”’

What with being a hate group and all, I guess they skimmed over that passage.

The FBI was forced to move on them because one of the three broke up with his girlfriend and she went to local police with her concerns about her former boyfriend’s extracurricular activities. Of course, we don’t know full details, but if she had kept her suspicions to herself as long as he was a meal ticket, and only contacted the authorities after he kicked her out, that is pretty disturbing.

The Kansas City Star notes that there were 794 hate groups in spring of 2015 that operated across the US. In the past 18 months that number has risen to 892, an 11% increase.

Gee, I wonder who has been spewing racist hate for the past 18 months that might have encouraged these groups to expand and become more active?

While we had hate groups and attempted bombings in the past, Donald J. Trump’s encouragement of them and his unsubtle cues about which groups they should be terrorizing, has almost certainly made the problem worse.

That’s right. I’m saying Trump’s call to prevent Muslims from coming to the US or his tagging of Latinos as a criminal element function to single them out for violence at the hands of the white extremists. Trump is a more subtle and canny Anwar al-Awlaki of the American far right.

Of course we will be spared all the cliches about terrorism in the case of these men, since although they are terrorists if what is alleged of them is true, they are white. So no one will ask if they are self-radicalized, or if they were influenced by radicals when they visited home, and no one will suggest that their family members should be watched closely or expelled from the United States.

All this is so despite the fact that since 2002, white extremists have killed more Americans than foreign terrorists.

Related video:

CBS News: “Feds make domestic terror arrest”

And here is the FBI news conference:


Dylan, the American Left, and What We have Lost

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Bob Dylan would no doubt be as distressed as the American corporate media to see an ideological interpretation of his 1960s anthems that helped win him the Nobel Prize in Literature. Especially after his 1966 motorcycle accident and retreat to Woodstock and domesticity, Dylan turned inward, exploring an internal life of ethical values and love and rejection of political cynicism (as with “ All along the Watchtower“). But the early ’60s were a different matter.

Since the mass media won’t tell you Dylan was in his youth a leftist or that some of his greatest work came out of a critique of our corporation-dominated, unequal, militaristic and racist society, it is important to underline it lest the celebration of his masterpieces become merely maudlin and sentimental (and he would hate that outcome, too).

After a brief stint at the University of Minnesota, the small town Midwestern youth arrived in NYC’s East Village in 1960 and joined the coffeehouse scene. That scene had been the incubator of the Beats (Jack Kerouac’s post-War “Beatitude” movement influenced by Be-Bop and jazz and Omar Khayyam). It was also a scene for jazz. But in the late ’50s coffeehouse performers began turning to folk, and Dylan arrived in New York during that transition. As Brian Lloyd* has argued, he brought with him a blues and rockabilly sensibility gained from listening to music drifting up from the Delta. (Elvis was a much bigger influence than most observers realize).

Lloyd writes that in Greenwich Village, living with his leftist girlfriend Suze Rotolo, Dylan came under her influence and came in contact with organic intellectuals who turned him on to books. He says, “Suze Rotolo, his lover during this period, introduced him to art galleries, off-Broadway plays, New Wave films, Living Theater productions, Brecht and Rimbaud — and to the world of civil rights and ban-the-bomb activism (Rotolo 199 – 213, 233 – 35; Dylan, Chronicles 268 – 70).” It is important to underline Rotolo as his intellectual guide in this period. It wasn’t just guys who made the counterculture.

The profound influence on him of the Left (Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “Pirate Jenny” was a revelation to him) and of the American Left (Woody Guthrie had strong Communist ties even if he wasn’t a Party member and his song “This Land is My Land, This Land is Your Land” is a Marxist hymn) cannot be disregarded. Pirate Jenny from the Threepenny Opera is about a maid’s imaginary revenge on the class system that oppresses her. Other influences were Pete Seeger, who was hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee and Dave von Ronk, a Trotskyite. Ron Radosh+ has argued that when Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, Seeger was distressed because he interpreted it as a bid to enter the market of capitalist consumerism. But he was hurt precisely because Dylan had been his protegé. Anti-war beat poet Allen Ginsburg on hearing Dylan is said to have been satisfied that the counterculture would continue into the next generation.

Dylan, being on the left, attacked the far Right John Birch Society in a song (the Society was an incubator for the Goldwater campaign and then the rise of the New Right). In 1963 he was booked to appear on the enormously influential Ed Sullivan Show (“The Voice” of its day), but when he was forbidden to sing “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” he walked out rather than accept censorship.

Now I am going to do a riff on one of Dylan’s more radical songs, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” updating it for 2016. Because I don’t think it can be read by this generation as it was intended– the context has changed too much. The US had demobilized after the Korean War, and the looming Vietnam War was not viewed by the Left and by youth as normal (we now have a set of standing wars, so 60s anti-war sentiment–as an insistence on return to normalcy– can’t even be imagined anymore). African-Americans still lived under Jim Crow and people were arrested for sitting at “white” lunch counters. Dylan’s strong sense of social justice, imbibed in part from his close-knit Midwestern Jewish community (ancestors came from Odessa and Turkey) and from the Hebrew Bible, and in part from the influence on him of the New York Left intellectuals, spoke to my generation viscerally, because we could read his poetic metaphors as allusions to a real set of crises. I know the below is too on the nose, and you shouldn’t mess with a classic, but just hear me out and maybe weep a little for how far backward we went from Dylan’s youthful vision of a better future.

“Blown in the Wind” (with apologies to Bob Dylan):

How many roads must aliens walk down
Before they become citizens?
How many seas must a white dove sail
’till peace in Afghanistan?
Yes, and how many times must the unmanned drones fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Yes, and how many years can our seashores exist
Before they’re washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can women exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

You get the idea.


Peter, Paul and Mary – Blowing in the Wind


* Brian Lloyd (2014) The Form is the Message: Bob Dylan and the 1960s, Rock Music Studies, 1:1, 58-76, DOI:

+ Ron Radosh, “The Communist Party’s Role in the Folk Revival: From Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan,” American Communist History Vol. 14, Issue 1. Date: 20/15/1/2/ Pages: 3-19.

US Goes to War with Houthis in Yemen (Openly)

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The US Navy in the Red Sea fired Tomahawk missiles into Yemen early Thursday morning, taking out three radar stations. Those facilities had allowed the Houthi rebels who control North Yemen to target US destroyers in the Red Sea on several occasions in recent days (they missed each time).

The Obama administration has backed the Saudi-led war on the Houthi government of north Yemen since it began in March of 2015, offering logistical support and even help in choosing targets for airstrikes. Presumably the Houthis were firing at US destroyers in an attempt to take revenge on the US for its involvement in the war on them.

The US Navy said that the Tomahawk missile strikes were defensive, without noting that the US has been deeply involved in helping plan the bombing of Yemen for a year and a half.

Last Saturday a Saudi airstrike hit a funeral, killing some 160 civilians and wounding over 500.

The Saudis and their partners in the war have often bombed urban areas indiscriminately, destroying some of historic downtown Sanaa. Even when advised by the US military against striking some bridges and other key infrastructure (because they are needed to get staples to civilian populations), the Saudis and their allies have nevertheless struck them. The US has on several occasions announced that it is becoming uncomfortable with the war on Yemen, but continues to be deeply involved behind the scenes.

The war has killed 4,125 civilians and left 7,207 wounded, and made over a million Yemenis out of 24 million food insecure.

The US is concerned with Yemen for geostrategic reasons, since about 10 percent of world trade goes through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, and Yemen is in a position to disrupt that ship traffic. Also, some southern provinces of Yemen are bases for the radical al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is stalking the United States. (The Houthi Shiites hate al-Qaeda, and so could potentially be allies for the US against it. The Saudis have not seemed overly concerned with taking out AQAP, putting all their efforts into rolling back the Houthis instead. This course of action has left the US less secure).

Yemen joined in the revolutions of 2011 and by January of 2012 the president for life, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was forced to step down. In February of 2012, there was a nationwide referendum in which 80% of voters cast their ballots in favor of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, Saleh’s vice president. Mansour Hadi formed a government of national unity and pursued a political settlement, involving a new constitution and elections for a permanent parliament. These arrangements were proceeding along, too slowly, but proceeding, in September of 2014 when the Houthis abruptly marched into the capital of Sanaa and staged a coup.

By January and February of 2015, Mansour Hadi and the rest of the UN-recognized government had to flee, and the Houthis took over entirely. They they fought their way down to Aden in the south and conquered it. (They’ve since been pushed back up to Taiz).

The Houthis derive from the Zaydi branch of Shiite Islam and are based in northern tribes of Saadeh. They formed a guerrilla movement to protest the increasing influence of Saudi Wahhabi Islam on Yemen, writing refutations of Wahhabi doctrine and practice and at some points vowing to see the Saudi royal family overthrown.

Saudi Arabia is enormously wealthy because of its oil, while Yemen is among the poorest countries in the world, so the Houthi animus toward an expansionist Wahhabism is a protest of the poor and not just theological.

The Saudis justify their intervention on the grounds that the Houthis are Shiites and allied with Iran. However, Zaydi Shiism has no ayatollahs and is in no particular like the Shiite Islam of Iran and and Iraq. There is no evidence of any significant Iranian support for the Houthis; perhaps Tehran sent them a few million dollars. The Houthis are an indigenous Yemeni movement. Houthi weaponry is largely American, looted from Yemen military storehouses after they took over. The Houthis are allied with the section of the Yemeni army still loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, the deposed dictator, who seems to be trying to use the Houthis to come back to power.

In my view, the Houthis were wrong to make a coup against the government in fall of 2014, and they have derailed the country’s political process. They have ruled in an authoritarian manner. But apparently the Saudi airstrikes have made them relatively popular with many people in Sanaa, and they are now seen as a national force (this was not true in 2014). In August hundreds of thousands came out for them in Sanaa.

On the other hand, the Saudis and their allies are wrong to have launched an air war on Yemen. For one thing, you can’t defeat a guerilla movement from the air. The Saudis and others are not committing ground troops in more than token numbers, and the Sunni Yemenis of the south and east are not motivated to fight into Zaydi North Yemen. But aside from the practicalities, the Saudi air force has hit Yemen so indiscriminately that it stands accused of war crimes.

My guess is that the Houthis and the Saudis will eventually find a political settlement (brave little Oman has been trying to negotiate one).

My advice to the Obama administration would be to dissociate itself from the Saudi war and to open its own lines of communication to the Houthis. Seeing the latter as Iranian proxies is a form of geopolitical paranoia, and failing to recognize that Wahhabi proselytizing is a cause of a lot of the problems in the Muslim world is shortsighted on the part of the US.

The Saudis want to install a government in Sanaa that is in their back pocket, just as they tried to buy the Egyptian government and just as they are backing Salafi Jihadis in hopes of taking over Syria. Saudi Arabia is a small country of some 20 million citizens with a small army but a well-equipped air force, and is trying to punch above its weight in seeking to establish hegemony over the Middle East.

For the US to back this dangerous adventurism is foolish, and this week’s events demonstrate that the Yemen misadventure could eventuate in yet another American war in the Middle East.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Missile Attack Targets U.S. Navy Ship Off Yemen For Second Time | NBC Nightly News

Clinton brings back Gore, talks Green, but still Opposes Carbon Tax

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton campaigned in Miami with Al Gore, attempting both to shore up her credentials with both environmentalists and Millennial youth. Gore, Bill Clinton’s vice president, very narrowly lost the 2000 election to George W. Bush, mainly because of a disputed Florida count. Gore won the Nobel Prize in 2007 for his later campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of man-made climate change via his film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” The Democratic crowd chanted “you won, you won” when Gore took the podium. Gore, alluded to the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush, who launched a war of aggression and long military occupation of Iraq and allowed the economic practices that caused the 2008-9 crash. He reminded the audience of the extreme importance of voting and implied that voting for a third party was a bad idea when the stakes for the country are so high.

The event became an opportunity for Clinton to stress her own bona fides on the climate change issue, which are patchy and extremely recent. She spoke of the dire threat to Florida (among the more vulnerable of the 50 states) of the various effects of climate change, from rising seas to extreme weather events to the spread of disease.

She said, “The impact of climate change goes beyond severe events like hurricanes, it’s a daily reality in Miami. In streets in Miami the ocean is bubbling up through the sewer system. If you need proof climate change is real, there you go . . . . At the rate we are going, one in eight homes in Florida could be underwater by the end of the century. . . We can’t afford a candidate who doesn’t accept climate change . . . Maybe he’ll listen to our military leaders who say climate change threatens our security . . . We need a president who believes in science and can lead America in fighting this threat, creating jobs and, yes, saving our planet.”

Southern Florida is at particular danger for sea level rise because it rests on limestone, through which the ocean can bubble up. There’s no way to keep it out with e.g. dikes. Likewise a lot of the aquifer water in Florida is in the south and is in danger of salinization. We’ve already put so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that Florida is in grave danger over the coming decades and centuries. Warm water also makes hurricanes more violent and causes them to last longer.

Sec. Clinton pledged to adopt policies that would lead to the installation of 500 million more solar panels in the US by 2021. That sounds like a big thing, but it is only a first step.

I couldn’t find out with a quick search how many solar panels are in the US now. There are 1 million solar “installations,” but I don’t know how many panels are in each. They generate 27.2 gigawatts of solar power capacity, enough for on the order of 6 million homes. There are 124 million or so households in the US.

At 27 GW, solar in the US is puny. Some 285 gigawatts of our power production is coal, 440 gigawatts is natural gas, and 74 gigawatts is wind.

Germany and China both have over 40 GW of solar power, much more than the US. Germany gets over 7% of its electricity from solar, while the US only gets 1% of its from that source.

In any case, 500 million more solar panels, while welcome, are by no means enough. Our house has 16 panels and in sunny months they cover most or all of our electrical needs. So 500 million panels could do that for 31 million family homes. I figure, though, that there must be 74 million or so privately owned homes in the US, so it would only be half of those, leaving out all the apartment dwellers and businesses (businesses consume a lot of electricity). She did say she wanted all homes to be powered by renewables by 2030. But electricity generation for homes is only part of the carbon problem and we need to move the business and manufacturing sectors over, too. And, what about switching to electric vehicles?

We also of course need much better and cheaper storage.

Sec. Clinton appeared to pledge that Gore would be one of her advisers on climate policy.

Admittedly, Politico’s review of what the leaked Clinton campaign emails tell us about her energy circle turned out not to be very alarming. One of her advisers wants a carbon tax rather than a solar tax rebate, on the grounds that the former would equally benefit nuclear. Personally, I think that solar and wind are dropping in price so fast that nuclear plants are likely to be left in the dust, and besides the US public doesn’t like them and not many are being planned. But, nuclear is low carbon. In any case, a lot of climate scientists think that a carbon tax is the only thing that will save the planet, so that suggestion isn’t dire or anything.

Unfortunately, Clinton has already rejected the idea of a carbon tax, and some think it is because her hedge fund backers have big investments in gas and oil.

Up until 2016, it wasn’t clear that reduction of carbon emissions was a significant issue for Clinton, and she was big on new pipelines. She wanted to increase natural-gas exports, which involves increasing carbon emissions.

So her sudden adoption of Al Gore as her energy (or maybe only her environmental) guru comes against a backdrop of insouciance or even obstruction on this issue.

Frankly, I don’t trust her on carbon issues. I think she’s deeply in debt to the hydrocarbon industries, and that she will go much slower than is required, even if it is true that she will take some action.

We’ll have to do a lot of protesting whoever is elected. But likely one of the candidates will give us longer jail terms for the protests.


Related video:

CBS: “Al Gore and Hillary Clinton address climate change in Miami, Florida”

Russia and Turkey Make up: What implications for Syria, Kurds?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Turkey on Monday for direct talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, in a bid to further normalize relations between the two countries. Russian-Turkish trade and diplomatic ties were stress late last fall when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet hitting rebels in Syria, which Turkey maintained had made an incursion into Turkish territory. Turkey is backing the Syrian rebels while Russia is standing behind the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad. So in fact, Russia had chased Turkmen guerrilla clients of Turkey in Syria’s Latakia province north into the mountains and interfered with the guerrilla plan to take the key Mediterranean port of Latakia.

The shoot-down resulted in a trade and tourism freeze from Russia’s side, which deeply harmed some Turkish economic sectors, especially tourism. It also put on hold a Russian company’s plan to build four nuclear reactors to provide Turkish industry with more electricity. Further, a Russian gas pipeline was delayed. Yesterday’s meeting was intended to built on a normalization process that began last summer.

Turkey has attempted to keep at least correct relations, including economic relations, with Russia and Iran despite their support for al-Assad in Syria. This approach contrasts with that of Saudi Arabia, which has poisonous relations with Iran in part because their proxies are fighting and killing each other in Syria.

Those correct relations were disrupted by the shoot-down. But Erdogan is now blaming that incident on the secretive and cult-like Gulen movement, which he maintains had infiltrated the police, judiciary and military, and which was responsible for the coup attempt in mid-July.

Since the failed coup, Turkey appears to have scaled down its ambitions in Syria. It wants to make sure the Syrian Kurds do not create a contiguous territory and declare it independent. The Turkish military went into Jarabulus in Syria to create a Turkish-held pocket for the Free Syrian Army that would prevent the leftist Kurdish YPG from taking that territory and uniting the western Afrin Kurdish canton to those of Kobane and Jazeera. But Turkish efforts to overthrow the regime by, e.g., having its proxies take Latakia, have subsided since this summer’s failed coup.

Putin and Erdogan are said to have agreed that civilian humanitarian aid should be allowed to reach the rebel-held East Aleppo pocket. Reuters says that Erdogan said, “We discussed … how we can cooperate on this matter, especially on humanitarian aid to Aleppo, what strategy can we implement so people in Aleppo can find peace . . .” In fact, the Syrian government is besieging and bombing the 250,000 civilians in East Aleppo, and Russia is helping. If Putin’s pledge to Erdogan really is implemented, that is huge.

Russian sources suggested (and I would take this with a grain of salt) that Erdogan and Putin had made a secret deal with one another whereby Russia has taken a neutral stance on Turkey’s incursions into Iraq to strike at the separatist PKK Kurdish guerrillas based there, who come over the border to hit Turkish security forces and sometimes to engage in terrorism. In return, Erdogan has ceased regularly demanding that Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad immediately leave office.

If this report has any truth to it, then Turkey may have begun acquiescing in the survival of the Syrian government, which would be huge for the Syrian crisis.

BBC Monitoring translated from the Russian Gazeta.ru website:

“As for Russia, it is not going to interfere with Turkey’s actions against the Kurds at this time, Gazeta.Ru learned from another source, associated with the Turkish direction of the Russian diplomacy.

“There is information that Putin has made concessions on the Kurdish issue and Erdogan on the issue of recognizing Al-Assad’s regime. For as long as Russian and Turkish interests in Syria do not clash and there is no open confrontation between the Kurdish forces and the Turkish Army, Moscow will close its eyes to our intelligence on the Kurds,” the source said. “At the same time, Erdogan is changing his rhetoric towards Al-Assad, whose deposition he used to demand.”

Gazety.Ru’s source noted the Turkish leader’s address at the UN General Assembly on 21 September. Erdogan did not say a word about Al-Assad during his whole 30-minute address. . .

In the evening of 5 October, several hours after Baghdad’s forceful statement against Ankara, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart discussed the “issues of the Syrian crisis” on the phone, the Kremlin’s press service reported.

Source: Gazeta.ru website in Russian 6 Oct 16″


Related video:

Euronews: “The rocky relations of Russia and Turkey”

Die-Hard Trump Supporters want to *be* Trump

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Back in the 1960s when the James Bond craze hit the US and even President Jack Kennedy revealed that he liked Ian Fleming’s thrillers, I remember reading an interesting essay on the reason for the character’s popularity.

After all, James Bond is not in fact very likeable. The books are horribly misogynist. Bond is a grim bureaucrat who has no life apart from his grisly work. Even his occasional forays into glamour or trips abroad are actually work. He is a licensed serial killer. In the films, he has had 52 lovers, 2/3s of whom tried to kill him.

Why in the world, the essayist wondered, would people want to spend time reading about this character or watching him on screen.

The perspicacious conclusion was that people (probably meaning men for the most part; it was the ’60s) did not want to be friends with James Bond. They wanted to be James Bond.

And after all that is often the role of a celebrity, to create a persona for others to imitate (i.e. to engage in cosplay).

Donald Trump is no James Bond, lacking the latter’s courage or patriotism; and although Bond was horrible to women he wasn’t as bad or as vulgar as Trump.

But I nevertheless think that the men who back Trump no matter what are doing so because the celebrity real estate speculator and name-licenser provides them with an opportunity for ego inflation. By backing Trump , they are participating vicariously in the wealthy businessman’s persona. They can imagine themselves in the stretch limousine, they can imagine themselves putting China’s Xi Jinping in his place, they imagine never again paying taxes, they can imagine themselves having cocktails with models in the penthouse, perhaps the most despicable of them wish they could assault women with impunity.

Although among general voters nearly as many want Trump to withdraw as want him to stay in the race. But among the Republican rank and file, 77% say they want him to stay in the race.

They can’t possibly want to go for a beer with Trump. They can’t possibly find him likeable. They are engaged in cosplay. They want to *be* Trump. The men, especially, aren’t bothered by the video in which Trump speaks vulgarly of women and talks about kissing and fondling them without their permission. In a very dangerous way, Trump is modeling for them what white male privilege means to him.


Related video:

AFP: “Trump fans at Wisconsin rally undeterred by lewd comments”

How Far will Americans take anti-Muslim Hate? Making them wear Green Stars?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The de facto criminalization of being Muslim or speaking Arabic, which is contrary to every core American value and contradicts the First Amendment, is proceeding apace. The number of anti-Muslim attacks in the US is up by 80% since Donald Trump announced his proposed Muslim ban last fall. The article just linked to concerns a Muslim man who was sitting in a parked care in Washington DC when a passer-by threw a fire-bomb into it and said, “Take that, Muslim!” The victim is in hospital.

In early September, a 32-year-old Brooklyn woman punched, kicked and tried to rip the veils off two Muslim women pushing baby carriages. She shrieked, “This is the United States of America, you’re not supposed to be different from us … You don’t belong here!”

Then in mid-September, a man came up to a traditionally-dressed Muslim woman in a department store in New York city, and used his lighter to set her blouse on fire. She didn’t notice him at first but felt the heat and patted out the fire.

Two veiled Muslim women were kicked off a Jet Blue flight by a flight attendant who said she did not like the way the women were “staring” at her. The airline maintained that the real reason the passengers were removed was that they had filmed the “sensitive in-flight activities.” If airlines are going to make it illegal to take phone videos of one’s flight, which lots of tourists and first-time flyers do, then they have to announce that policy beforehand.

A young UC Berkeley graduate was kicked off a Southwest Airlines plane at LAX for making a quick pre-take-off call to his uncle in Baghdad, at the end of which he used the phrase “inshallah” or “God willing” in Arabic. The young man said he had lived under Saddam Hussein in Iraq and recognized discrimination when he saw it. I guess he’s liberated, now.

Something like 400 million people in the world speak Arabic at home, and it is a liturgical language for 1.6 billion Muslims. It is spoken also by Lebanese and Egyptian Christians and by Moroccan and Tunisian Jews.

It is worth explaining “inshallah.” It is the same as in Christianity. Consider James 4 from the New Testament:

“13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” 14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes [Ean ho Kyrios thelēsē], we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.”

Muslims feel just as the apostle James did, that you shouldn’t be overly proud and make plans for the morrow when we are mortal. There is an Omar Khayyam poem in which he says we don’t even know if we will live to expel the breath we just took in. So to mark that humility before God, Christians say about the future, “God willing.” And Muslims say the same thing, “inshallah.” In fact the sentiment behind the word is contrary to the attitude of terrorists from any religion, who try to take destiny in their own hands.

In September, a Trump-inspired felon allegedly set fire to and destroyed a prominent mosque about an hour’s drive north of West Palm Beach. His slogan? All Muslims are radical. Not even professional Islamophobes would say that. There is a long history of white supremacists destroying Black churches. The mosques have joined that fate.

If you follow all these disturbing incidents around the country, it is extremely alarming and shows the United States going in a very disturbing direction. Muslims comprise about 1% of the US population, about 3 million people. 99.999% of them are law-abiding, kind and generous citizens. A significant proportion of our physicians are Muslim. Only 100 Americans have died in terrorist attacks done by people of Muslim background in the past decade, and most of those were in the Orlando nightclub attack, which surely was more about conflicted gay identity than Muslim radicalism. You can’t criminalize 3 million people over the actions of a tiny fringe. At a time when the Alt-Right is boasting of being a Trump constituency, it should be remembered that the white far right kills far more Americans in terrorist attacks, but no one discriminates against white people on that basis.


Related video:

RT America: “New York City launches ad campaign against Islamophobia”