A New Yalta? Can France Craft an alliance of Putin & Obama against Daesh/ISIL?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

French President Francois Hollande is seeking a new relationship with Russia after the attacks on Paris by Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) and the Russian conclusion that a bomb downed a Russian airliner in Egypt’s Sinai last month.

Le Monde reports that France and Russia have agreed on a “coordination of efforts” in the unfolding war. Vladimir Putin ordered Russian naval vessels in the Mediterranean Sea to enter into “direct contact” with the aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gualle and to “cooperate “French allies.” The Charles DeGaulle will set out from Marseilles on Thursday for the eastern Mediterranean.

Hollande will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 26 in Moscow, after visiting Barack Obama in Wahsington on Nov. 24. Hollande says he wants to construct a “great and unique” coalition against Daesh.

France and Russia both launched airstrikes against the Daesh capital of al-Raqqa in Syria on Tuesday. While some damage can be inflicted on Daesh from the air, especially if its oil smuggling infrastructure is damaged, it cannot be defeated without a land force on the ground. France went to the European Union on Tuesday to seek a declaration of collective security.

The overtures came as French police arrested 5 men in St. Denis near the soccer stadium that was attacked Friday night. A sixth person, a woman, detonated her suicide belt and blew herself up early in the raid on an apartment where three of the men were holed up.

On Tuesday, the business newspaper Vedomosti published an op-ed by Nikolay Epple and Pavel Apteka on “Common Threat and Response Options. Will Terror Threat Lead to Real Rapprochement of Russian and Western Positions?” according to BBC Monitoring

The authors note that in the wake of twin attacks, Sinai and Paris, Moscow and Paris are reaching out to one another.

The editorial wonders, however, about the limits of a grand alliance, similar to the US, British, and Soviet coalition against Nazi Germany. In Feb. 1945 at the Yalta conference in Crimea, Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill jointly decided to fight on till Hitler’s defeat.

The authors say that Europe is still open to a Ukraine in NATO, which worries Moscow. Some sort of settlement still has to be made about Russian claims on Crimea and its sphere of influence in eastern Ukraine. The piece suggests that one price of rapprochement is that Putin will have to allow Ukraine to recover control of its eastern border..

With regard to Syria, a grand alliance is probably only possible, they say, if Russia gives up its project of saving Bashar al-Assad per se. Otherwise, they think Syria is the most promising arena for Russia’s reentry into world society. They caution, however, that Daesh is no Hitler and that the Russian Federation is not as powerful or important as the Soviet Union had been. The motivations for the alliance on the part of the West are therefore less powerful this time around, they say.


Related video:

Reuters: “Russia steps up air strikes in Syria”

Top 10 Reasons Governors are Wrong to Exclude Syrian Refugees

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Some half of US governors have announced their opposition to their states taking in Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks. Although they can bother refugees, they can’t actually dictate to people who are here legally where they can live. But anyway, here are the reasons for which these announcements are a form of political hysteria and not grounded in any rational policy considerations:

1. The attackers in Paris were European nationals. The Syrian passport found near one of them was a fake. So are the governors opposed to Belgian immigration into the United States?

2. The attackers were not refugees. They were born in Europe. Refugees are poor and lacking in knowledge or resources about their new environment. The attackers knew exactly where everything was that they wanted to assault and were hooked in with arms smugglers and other hard-to-discover criminal networks.

3. There is no rational reason to bar Syrian refugees but accept refugees from other conflict areas. The US already admits 70,000 refugees every year, but only took in about 400 Syrians last year. Most refugees are fleeing conflict situations or oppressive governments, and if you wanted to be paranoid about them you could fear them all on the same grounds that the GOP fears Syrians. The US has accepted a former child soldier from the Congo (might have skills). In 2014 the US accepted 758 refugees from Afghanistan; how are they different from Syrian refugees? And here’s the kicker: the US accepted 19,651 refugees from Iraq last year! It is completely irrational to single out Syrians if you are going to take in Iraqis.

4.These refugees undergo at least 18 months of background checks, contrary to what Sen. Mario Rubio (whose parents were Cuban immigrants to the US) has alleged.

5. The Economist points out that since 2001, the US has admitted roughly 750,000 refugees and none, zero, nada have been accused of involvement in domestic terrorism aimed at the US homeland (2 Iraqis were accused of trying to help a terrorist organization back in Iraq).

6. The need is urgent. Of the some 22 million Syrians, a good half are homeless. About 7.5 million have been displaced within the country and some 4 million have been forced abroad. Little Jordan (pop. 6 million) has taken 800,000. Little Lebanon (pop. 4 million) has taken 1.2 million. Turkey (pop. 75 million) has taken 2 million. Sweden is accepting Syrian refugees without announcing limits. Germany is taking tens of thousands (though probably most of the refugees Chancellor Angela Merkel has accepted are not Syrians). Winter is arriving and the refugees have no proper shelter, clothing or nourishment. The US has to step up in the face of one of the world’s great humanitarian crises.

7. Syrian refugees are not guerrilla fighters or terrorists. They are fleeing the oppression of the Bashar al-Assad government or the brutality of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) or al-Qaeda. The are the victims of America’s enemies.

8. The US owes these refugees. Without the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, there would have been no al-Qaeda in that part of the world, and no al-Qaeda offshoots like Daesh/ ISIL. Why do the governors (most of whom supported the invasion of Iraq) think the US can go around the world sowing instability and being responsible for creating the conditions that lead to millions of refugees but then can avoid the responsibility of ameliorating those broken lives?

9. Some US politicians, such as Ted Cruz, have spoken of taking in only Christian refugees. That step would be unconstitutional. But let’s remember that such a policy would have excluded Albert Einstein from coming to the US in 1933, after the Nazis seized his property in Germany. You wonder without such refugee intellectuals, would the US have fallen behind Nazi Germany on, e.g., constructing an atomic bomb?

10. Cruz’s call for Christian refugees to be given special privileges reminds us of the the racist Chinese Exclusion Act, which derived in part from Christian American dislike of those they called “heathens.” Religion is often an element in the construction of ethnicity, so the privileging of Christianity has a long history of being a stealth form of racism.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

AJ+: “After Paris Attacks, Roughly Half of U.S. States Say No To Syrian Refugees”

Whether Jewish Refugees in ’30s or Syrians today, USA Falls Short of own Ideals

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Reprint ed., slightly revised.

More than half of US governors have abruptly announced that they will not welcome Syrian refugees. Governors cannot actually tell people in America where they can live.

Germany, a country of 80 million, will take in 800,000 refugees this year, many of them Syrians. That is 1 percent of their population. It would be like the USA taking in 3 million refugees in one year.

The US takes in 70,000 refugees a year. Last year it accepted about 400 Syrian refugees.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003, which led to the creation of roughly 4 million Iraqi refugees out of the then some 26 million Iraqis, or nearly 1/6th of the population. That would be like 50 million Americans displaced. The US took in only a few thousand Iraqi refugees after causing all that trouble. The US invasion radicalized Iraq’s Sunnis and drove them into the arms of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which morphed into Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) at camp Bucca and then took much of Syria, contributing to making 11 million of 22 million Syrians into displaced persons. 4 million have been forced abroad, to Jordan, Lebanon & Turkey, and now thousands are trying to get into Europe.

The US politicians who voted for the Iraq War say we can’t let in Iraqis or Syrians because they might have been radicalized.

This grim landscape of racism, religious prejudice, blaming the victim and racial exclusion from immigration is deja vu all over again. In the 30s, it was the Jews that the troglodytes didn’t want.

It turns out that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not responsible for America’s refusal to take more than a few thousand Jewish refugees during the 1930s. He wanted to spend $150 million to distribute millions of Jewish refugees among 10 democratic countries. His failures were imposed on him by a Congress that wouldn’t act and a foot-dragging State Department. By 1940 it was too late, as Europe became a fortress.

But the US in the 1930s did betray its ideals as a refuge for people yearning to be free. The episode of the SS St Louis, a ship full of 900 Jewish refugees that got close enough to Miami to see its lights before being turned back to Europe, epitomized this failure. A third of the passengers were later murdered by the Nazis.

One Jewish refugee the US did take in was Albert Einstein. How would we not have been better off if we’d had more like him?

The bad economy of the Great Depression was one reason for fear of immigrants. Politicians and labor leaders worried that they would take jobs from workers already in the US. Racism was rampant. In 1924 Congress passed a basically Nazi immigration law that limited immigration on the basis of country — i.e. racial — quotas. The Semitic countries like Syria should, according to this law, keep their people (I recollect that the annual quota for Syrian immigrants was 400– even though tens of thousans of Syro-Lebanese had come from about 1880, including famed writer Kahlil Gibran. All the Norwegians could come who wanted to.)

There was a Chinese exclusion Act, i.e. zero Chinese were wanted.

So simple Aryan racism was partially responsible for the exclusion of the Jews. If the US had thrown open its doors, the 200,000 Jews who went to Palestine in the 30s would have come here and there never would have been Arab-Israeli wars or 7 million Palestinian refugees.

Jews were also seen by some US Neanderthals as having socialist tendencies and so were kept out as radicals. There was talk of the Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy. (Hatred of Jews was irrational, so that they were blamed for being bankers [they were less than 1 percent of bankers] at the same time they were excoriated for being Marxists). There was also the Society for the Defense of Christianity, so fundamentalists did their part.

All the same arguments against letting in the Jews are now being deployed to keep out the Syrians. Not Christian. Alien ideology. Would take jobs. Nobody is openly saying they aren’t Aryan but the Trumpists might as well be.

IRA / terrorism supporter Rep Peter King, of Irish descent (i.e. refugees taken in by Protestant America from famine), warned against letting more than a handful of Syrians in. He isn’t worse than most of us, unfortunately. (The Irish discontent was justified, but terrorism never is; and King is a hypocrite.)

Steve Jobs’s father was an immigrant from Syria. We need more like him, and we need fewer children washing up dead on beaches. If we’re going to bomb Syria, we need to take care of the displaced.


Related video:

CAIRtv: “Video: CAIR-Chicago Rep ‘Outraged’ at Governors’ Rejection of Syrian Refugees”

Is Daesh/ ISIL a modern Raiding Pirate state?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Some analysts trying to understand Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) had suggested that it differs from al-Qaeda in its emphasis on taking and holding territory, thus becoming a state– something that al-Qaeda was largely uninterested in. They expected the self-proclaimed “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to concentrate his resources on local statebuilding.

The Daesh attack on Paris, assuming that was what it was, contradicts the state-building model and looks more like the tactics of al-Qaeda. How to understand this paradox?

Al-Qaeda from the late 1990s had scattered cells in numerous countries but held no territory on its own. It had a doctrine that terrorist strikes could initiate the popular overthrow governments or make them withdraw from the fray. It thus put its efforts into hitting the “far enemy” (i.e. the United States) rather than the “near enemy,” since it had tried striking local states but found them propped up by the US. Thus, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad of Ayman al-Zawahiri joined the Islamic Grouping to assassinate Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat in 1981, hoping the act would lead to a popular uprising on the model of Iran. But the US was giving Egypt $2 bn. a year after Camp David and helped stabilize it. When al-Zawahiri joined Usama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda in northern Pakistan, he was convinced of the “far enemy” strategy. Al-Zawahiri succeeded Bin Laden after the US killed the latter and is now the head of core al-Qaeda.

The contrast between the state-building model and the terror-cell model can easily be exaggerated. The some 5,000 Arab al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan became the 55th Brigade of the Taliban after 1994, and so were in a way a part of a state. But they sacrificed the Taliban state for the opportunity to hit the US and draw it into what they were sure would be a ruinous war in Afghanistan, on the model of their anti-Soviet holy war of the 1980s.

And, Daesh has routinely conducted bombings and other acts of terrorism in Baghdad and elsewhere, as an adjunct to its standing militia and state-building in al-Raqqa and Mosul, attempting to weaken its enemies through terrorism.

Even so, the Paris attacks are clearly a dangerous tactic for a state with territory and a return address (al-Qaeda’s cell structure meant that it did not really have a return address, despite its bases in southeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan). How to think about Daesh’s current strategy?

I would argue that Daesh is analogous to the pirate enclaves of the early modern period. Al-Raqqa, Palmyra, Mosul, Falluja and Ramadi function for it as desert ports, as Tortuga and Port Royal did for pirates in the Caribbean and St. Mary’s on Madagascar did for pirates in the Indian Ocean. It is easy to be misled by the organization’s language of “state.” It is a militia of some 25,000 fighters who conduct raids. They don’t actually do much governing of the places they dominate, and mainly extract resources from them. Tribal raiding states in it for the loot have been common in Middle Eastern history, as with Nadir Shah in the eighteenth century. Looting one city pays for the raid that lets you loot the next. They even make the people who want to emigrate and escape their rule pay a sort of exit ransom.

Pirates liked island strongholds, as Louis Sicking has argued. He says that they used them to shelter their ships from storms, to take on food and water, as dwelling-places, especially in winter, as points from which to intercept cargo ships, as places to store and hide their looted treasure, and as places to keep hostages for ransom.

If we think of the armored vehicles, humvees and other conveyances Daesh captured from the Iraqi army at Mosul as analogous to pirate ships, and of the towns they have taken over as island settlements, we can see that Daesh functions as desert pirates. They captured oil refineries and smuggle gasoline and kerosene (black gold) to Turkey. They take hostages for ransom and store them in their desert ports until they receive payment. With regard to foreign hostages, if they aren’t paid, as is typically the case with US hostages, they execute them very publicly so as to increase the likelihood of payment for the next hostages. They actively seek hostages as a means of money-making. They also capture young women and engage in human trafficking and forms of sex slavery, just as the pirates used to. And, they loot conquered populations, just as the pirates did.

Pirates primarily preyed on the shipping trade, but as an organized naval force they could be enlisted in para-military actions on occasion, as with Pierre Lafitte’s participation on the American side against the British in 1814 as part of the War of 1812. Barataria Bay in Louisiana was Lafitte’s al-Raqqa. It had a population of as many as 1,000 marauders. Since the US population is about 80 times greater today than then, this is like a population of 80,000 in today’s US. That is roughly the pre-Daesh population of al-Raqqa in Syria, the organization’s current capital. Barataria Bay was deployed as a base to attack British vessels coming from Jamaica with the intent of overwhelming New Orleans. It is not so different for Daesh to use its desert ports as bases from which to attack sovereign states like Syria, Iraq and France.

It might be objected that pirate strongholds were typically dens of iniquity whereas Daesh is running a hyper-puritan state. But pirate captains often imposed puritan codes of behavior on their crews. And, the actual behavior of Daesh fighters, who capture, buy and sell slave girls for sex, and loot households, is less puritan than hedonistic, despite their religious slogans.

Seen through this lens, the Daesh attack on Paris was similar to a pirate raid in the past. Modern transportation networks open inland cities to such attacks. Although it was not a direct act of theft in the way most pirate raids would have been, it did have material benefits for the phony caliphate. Daesh leaders hope that such horrific spectacles will help in recruiting foreign fighters with some military experience, the most valuable fighters on Mesopotamian battlefronts (and for whom it has to compete with the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, the Support Front or Jabhat al-Nusra). Its wealthy Salafi oil tycoon supporters in the Gulf are also likely to send it more money if it is seen as actively taking on the Christian imperial powers of the North Atlantic world. To some extent, the attack was expected to attract men and money, just as a pirate raid of the past would have. Pirate raids often involved forms of brutality and the infliction of humiliation on the adversary. These actions intended to make royal navies chary of frontally attacking the pirates. Likely the Paris attacks also were intended to function as the Madrid bombings of 2004 did, pushing a country out of the Middle East (Spain got out of Iraq after that).

The analogy, as with all analogies, is inexact. But seeing Daesh as a set of raiding pirate strongholds rather than as a conventional state makes sense of its various activities, which include local brigandage, oil and drug smuggling, human trafficking, and raids abroad. The policy implication of this way of viewing it is that President Obama’s containment strategy won’t work. As a raiding state, Daesh can’t be contained. It has to be rolled up, and political concerns about the image of Kurdish or Shiite allies of the US on the ground conquering Sunni Arab populations simply have to be set aside.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Vox: “Why ISIS would attack Paris”

Dem Candidates reject War Talk, Islamophobia in wake of Paris Attacks

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

At the CBS Democratic Party debate on Saturday night, the Paris attacks dominated as a concern.

Unlike the Republican field, which is somewhat divided on the necessary response, the Democrats agree that all-out war is undesirable as a response. (In the GOP, Rand Paul is cautious about overseas war, Donald Trump wants to hand Syria to Russia, and Ben Carson wants to commit genocide).

Asked about the fight against ISIL, Sec. Hillary Clinton emphasized teamwork with allies and explicitly said, “it cannot be an American fight.” Interestingly, she was frank in saying that the US is working with the Kurds in northeast Syria, instead of using the name of an umbrella group (this US-YPG cooperation angers NATO ally Turkey).

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, John I think that– we have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network. It cannot be contained, it must be defeated. There is no question in my mind that if we summon our resources, both our leadership resources and all of the tools at our disposal, not just military force which should be used as a last resort, but our diplomacy, our development aid, law enforcement, sharing of intelligence in a much more– open and cooperative way– that we can bring people together.

But it cannot be an American fight. And I think what the president has consistently said– which I agree with– is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS. That is why we have troops in Iraq that are helping to train and build back up the Iraqi military, why we have special operators in Syria working with the Kurds and Arabs so that we can be supportive. But this cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential.

Bernie Sanders, asked about this issue, blamed climate change and the Bush Iraq War for destabilizing the region, with the latter point being an obvious dig at Sec. Clinton for voting for that war. Sanders emphasized the need of regional nations to take on ISIL and defend themselves.

“BERNIE SANDERS: Absolutely. In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism. And if we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say you’re gonna see countries all over the world– this is what the C.I.A. says, they’re gonna be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops. And you’re gonna see all kinds of international conflict.

But of course international terrorism is a major issue that we’ve got to address today. And I agree with much of what– the secretary and– and the governor have said. Only have one area of– of disagreement with the secretary. I think she said something like, “The bulk of the responsibility is not ours.”

Well, in fact, I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely. And led to the rise of Al Qaeda– and to– ISIS. Now, in fact, what we have got to do– and I think there is widespread agreement here– ’cause the United States cannot do it alone. What we need to do is lead an international coalition which includes– very significantly– (UNINTEL) nations in that region are gonna have to fight and defend their way of life.

At another point in the debate, moderator John Dickerson quoted Sen. Mario Rubio that the Paris attacks show that the US is at war with “radical Islam.”

Sec. Clinton declined to use that formulation, because it has “Islam” in it and she wanted to avoid labeling a whole religion:

“HILLARY CLINTON: I don’t think we’re at war with Islam. I don’t think we at war with all Muslims. I think we’re at war with jihadists who have–

JOHN DICKERSON: Just to interrupt, he– he didn’t say all Muslims. He just said radical Islam. Is that a phrase you don’t–

HILLARY CLINTON: –I– I think that you can– you can talk about Islamists who– clearly are also jihadists. But I think it’s– it– it’s not particularly helpful to make the case that– Senator Sanders was just making that I agree with that we’ve gotta reach out to Muslim countries. We’ve gotta have them be part of our coalition.

If they hear people running for– president who basically shortcut it to say we are somehow against Islam– that was one of the real contributions– despite all the other problems that George W. Bush made after 9/11 when he basically said after going to a mosque in Washington, “We are not at war with Islam or Muslims. We are at war with violent extremism. We are at war with people who use their religion for purposes of power and oppression.” And yes, we are at war with those people that I don’t want us to be painting with too brand a brush.”

Sanders likewise refused to be drawn into using the term “Islam” in connection with the radicals:

“BERNIE SANDERS: I don’t think the term is what’s important. What is important to understand is we have organizations, whether it is ISIS or Al Qaeda who do believe we should go back several thousand years, we should make women third-class citizens, that we should allow children to be sexually assaulted, that they are a danger to modern society. And that this world with American leadership can and must come together to destroy them. We can do that.


BERNIE SANDERS: And it requires an entire will to come together including, in a very active way, the Muslim nations.”

Although, since Islam is only a little over 1400 years old, fundamentalists don’t want to take us back “thousands of years.”

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley used the phrase ‘radical jihadis’ rather than ‘radical Islam.’ But then he went on to insist on avoiding Islamophobio or stereotyping Muslim-Americans:

“MARTIN O’MALLEY: I believe calling it what it is, is to say radical jihadis, that’s to call what it is. But John, let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that all of our Muslim-American neighbors in this country are somehow our enemies here. They are our first line of defense.

And we are going to be able to defeat ISIS on the ground there as well as in this world– because of the Muslim-Americans in our country and throughout the world who understand that this brutal and barbaric group is perverting the name of a great world religion. And now like we never before– we need our Muslim-American neighbors to stand up and to– and to be a part of this.”

The Democrats obviously see the Muslim-Americans, like Latino Americans, as a constituency they want for the Democratic Party. Muslim-Americans can be part of a swing vote in a few states– Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey and Florida. Since in these states, the electorate is often evenly split, a few thousand Muslim-American votes can be crucial to victory.

So the Dems want to look strong on foreign policy and condemn violence by fundamentalist vigilantes, they want to avoid slamming Islam per se and so risk losing a potentially important constituency. On problem with O’Malley’s terminology is that for many Muslims the term ‘jihad’ has a positive connotation, of giving one’s all for the faith. It is therefore better not to give the word away to radicals.

There was a fair amount of unanimity on key points, even though it would not be admitted by the candidates.

The keywords were avoidance of war, deploying international coalitions, reliance on regional allies, and respectful language about Islam. This language was designed to appeal both to Democratic voters on the left mauled by Bush’s wars and to Muslim-Americans wary of GOP Islamphobia and racism.


Related video:

Metro News: “Democratic Debate CBS 11/14/15 Democratic presidential Debate Clinton,Sanders, O’Malley pt 1”

Terrorism and the Other Religions

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Reprint edn. slightly revised.

Contrary to what is alleged by bigots like Bill Maher, Muslims are not more violent than people of other religions. Murder rates in most of the Muslim world are very low compared to the United States.

As for political violence, people of Christian heritage in the twentieth century polished off tens of millions of people in the two world wars and colonial repression. This massive carnage did not occur because European Christians are worse than or different from other human beings, but because they were the first to industrialize war and pursue a national model. Sometimes it is argued that they did not act in the name of religion but of nationalism. But, really, how naive. Religion and nationalism are closely intertwined. The British monarch is the head of the Church of England, and that still meant something in the first half of the twentieth century, at least. The Swedish church is a national church. Spain? Was it really unconnected to Catholicism? Did the Church and Francisco Franco’s feelings toward it play no role in the Civil War? And what’s sauce for the goose: much Muslim violence is driven by forms of modern nationalism, too.

I don’t figure that Muslims killed more than a 2 million people or so in political violence in the entire twentieth century, and that mainly in the Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988 and the Soviet and post-Soviet wars in Afghanistan, for which Europeans bear some blame (the secular nationalist Young Turks also committed genocide against the Armenians during an invasion of eastern Anatolia by Russia).

Compare that to the Christian European tally of, oh, lets say 100 million (16 million in WW I, 60 million in WW II– though some of those were attributable to Buddhists in Asia– and millions more in colonial wars.)


Belgium– yes, the Belgium of strawberry beer and quaint Gravensteen castle– conquered the Congo and is estimated to have killed off half of its inhabitants over time, some 8 million people at least.

Or, between 1916-1930 Tsarist Russian and then Soviet forces — facing the revolt of Central Asians trying to throw off Christian (and then Marxist), European rule — Russian forces killed an estimated 1.5 million people. Two boys brought up in or born in one of those territories (Kyrgyzstan) just killed 4 people and wounded others critically. That is horrible, but no one, whether in Russia or in Europe or in North America has the slightest idea that Central Asians were mass-murdered during WW I and before and after, and looted of much of their wealth. Russia when it brutally conquered and ruled the Caucasus and Central Asia was an Eastern Orthodox, Christian empire (and seems to be reemerging as one!).

Then, between half a million and a million Algerians died in that country’s war of independence from France, 1954-1962, at a time when the population was only 11 million!

I could go on and on. Everywhere you dig in European colonialism in Afro-Asia, there are bodies. Lots of bodies.

Now that I think of it, maybe 100 million people killed by people of European Christian heritage in the twentieth century is an underestimate.

As for religious terrorism, that too is universal. Admittedly, some groups deploy terrorism as a tactic more at some times than others. Zionists in British Mandate Palestine were active terrorists in the 1940s, from a British point of view, and in the period 1965-1980, the FBI considered the Jewish Defense League among the most active US terrorist groups. (Members at one point plotted to assassinate Rep. Dareell Issa (R-CA) because of his Lebanese heritage.) Now that Jewish nationalsts are largely getting their way, terrorism has declined among them. But it would likely reemerge if they stopped getting their way. In fact, one of the arguments Israeli politicians give for allowing Israeli squatters to keep the Palestinian land in the West Bank that they have usurped is that attempting to move them back out would produce violence. I.e., the settlers not only actually terrorize the Palestinians, but they form a terrorism threat for Israel proper (as the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin discovered).

Even more recently, it is difficult for me to see much of a difference between Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Baruch Goldstein, perpetrator of the Hebron massacre.


Or there was the cold-blooded bombing of the Ajmer shrine in India by Bhavesh Patel and a gang of Hindu nationalists. Chillingly, they were disturbed when a second bomb they had set did not go off, so that they did not wreak as much havoc as they would have liked. Ajmer is an ecumenical Sufi shrine also visited by Hindus, and these bigots wanted to stop such open-minded sharing of spiritual spaces because they hate Muslims.

Buddhists have committed a lot of terrorism and other violence as well. Many in the Zen orders in Japan supported militarism in the first half of the twentieth century, for which their leaders later apologized. And, you had Inoue Shiro’s assassination campaign in 1930s Japan. Nowadays militant Buddhist monks in Burma/ Myanmar are urging on an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya.

As for Christianity, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda initiated hostilities that displaced two million people. Although it is an African cult, it is Christian in origin and the result of Western Christian missionaries preaching in Africa. If Saudi Wahhabi preachers can be in part blamed for the Taliban, why do Christian missionaries skate when we consider the blowback from their pupils?

Despite the very large number of European Muslims, in 2007-2009 less than 1 percent of terrorist acts in that continent were committed by people from that community.

Terrorism is a tactic of extremists within each religion, and within secular religions of Marxism or nationalism. No religion, including Islam, preaches indiscriminate violence against innocents.

It takes a peculiar sort of blindness to see Christians of European heritage as “nice” and Muslims and inherently violent, given the twentieth century death toll I mentioned above. Human beings are human beings and the species is too young and too interconnected to have differentiated much from group to group. People resort to violence out of ambition or grievance, and the more powerful they are, the more violence they seem to commit. The good news is that the number of wars is declining over time, and World War II, the biggest charnel house in history, hasn’t been repeated.

Paris at Midnight: Attempt to push France out of anti ISIL coalition in Syria?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Update: Daesh (IS, ISIS, ISIL) has said they were behind the attack.

Paris was hit by at least two well-trained and -equipped terrorist cells in a coordinated attack on 6 or 7 soft targets on Friday night. The attack that took the most lives, over 120 according to a high French official, was the assault on the audience for a musical performance by the Eagles of Death Metal (not actually a death metal band) at the Bataclan concert hall. Four assailants shot down audience members with machine guns, then when police went in after midnight, three detonated their suicide bomb belts. A fourth was shot dead, but then when he fell, his bomb went off anyway. But the cowards also shot up a Cambodian restaurant, set off bombs outside a soccer stadium and committed carnage elsewhere.

Regular readers know that I grew up in part in France; I had a fellowship at the Nouvelle Sorbonne a couple of years ago in Paris, a city I absolutely adore, and this news hit me viscerally. I can only express my support and profound solidarity with the brave Parisians.

A radio and television professional who was at the Bataclan and survived reported “I clearly heard them say to the hostages, ‘It is [President Francois] Hollande’s fault, it is the fault of your president, he should not have intervened in Syria.’ They also spoke of Iraq.”

If this report is accurate, then the attackers were likely members of, or sympathizers with Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), which holds territory in Syria and Iraq, and against which France began flying missions in September. Another possible culprit is core al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates, such as the Support Front (al-Jabha al-Nusra) in Syria. The Support Front does not, however, have territory in Iraq, and France has not specifically targeted it in the west of Syria, as opposed to hitting ISIL in the east.

When I was in France in mid-October, I was told by a former diplomat that President Hollande had decided to begin flying missions against ISIL in Raqqa, Syria, last September because French intelligence had learned that ISIL was planning to hit France. It is estimated that there are some 3,000 radical French Muslims fighting in ISIL (though remember that this number is proportionally tiny, since there are on the order of 3 million French Muslims, some 5% of the population– and the majority of them is not religious).

This operation may, then, have been planned even before France was militarily involved in the campaign against ISIL in Syria, and the terrorists’ assertion that it was revenge for that intervention of the past two months has things backward.

The French air force has been inflicting substantial damage on ISIL in Raqqa and its hinterlands. On Tuesday, AFP reported that France launched a fourth wave of airstrikes on Daesh targets in Syria, targeting the oil infrastructure that is a source of much of ISIL’s budget.

But AFP says, “The two previous waves targeted training camps for foreign jihadists who were suspected of preparing attacks in France. Hollande said on Thursday last week operations would be expanded to include “all those sites from which terrorists could threaten our territory”. The president also said France would deploy its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier — the flagship of the French navy — to boost operations against IS in Syria and Iraq.”

So France tried to forestall an attack on French soil by ISIL from last September by disrupting its training camps and hoping to disrupt the planning and logistics. But if the plot were more advanced than French intelligence knew, and ISIL operatives were already in France and gathering up the arms, bombs and ammunition they needed for a terrorist strike, then bombing training camps in Syria would only have stiffened the terrorists’ resolve.

I underline that we don’t know who exactly ordered and carried out Friday’s attack. But the circumstantial evidence is that it was the work of, at the least, sympathizers with Daesh.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had told AFP Tuesday that the French military had intensified its bombing campaign against ISIL oil infrastructure. Le Drian said, “We struck again twice last night in the Deir Ezzor region, firstly on an oil distribution station and secondly on a gas separation plant.”

President Hollande closed French land borders, declared a state of emergency, and deployed 1500 troops in the streets of Paris. Schools and universities will be closed on Saturday, and all school field trips have been canceled. The Schengen rules allow member countries, who had removed visa requirements for each other, to reimpose border controls across the board in an emergency.

Some fear that these strikes will spell the end of Schengen open borders and will negatively affect the refugees that have come to Europe in the thousands recently.

The terrorists may have been attempting to replicate the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which also aimed at soft targets, and which convinced Spain to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Likely, however, the perpetrators have stiffened the resolve of the French government to intervene even more robustly against Daesh. In 2013, [pdf] France sent in an expeditionary force to Mali, and stabilized that country. France also intervened in the Ivory Coast. Will it send in an expeditionary force, say a brigade of 3,000 men, to Eastern Syria?


Related video:

Paris Attack | Bataclan Hostages Leave

Top Ten Ways Islamic Law forbids Terrorism

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Reprint edn. (Slightly rearranged & revised):

1. Terrorism or hirabah is forbidden in Islamic law, which groups it with brigandage, highway robbery and extortion rackets– any illicit use of fear and coercion in public spaces for money or power. The principle of forbidding the spreading of terror in the land is based on the Qur’an (Surah al-Ma’ida 5:33–34). Prominent [pdf] Muslim legal scholar Sherman Jackson writes, “The Spanish Maliki jurist Ibn `Abd al-Barr (d. 464/ 1070)) defines the agent of hiraba as ‘Anyone who disturbs free passage in the streets and renders them unsafe to travel, striving to spread corruption in the land by taking money, killing people or violating what God has made it unlawful to violate is guilty of hirabah . . .”

2. Terrorism is above all murder. Murder is strictly forbidden in the Qur’an. 5:53 says, “… whoso kills a soul, unless it be for murder or for wreaking corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and he who saves a life, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind,” Qur’an 6:151 says, “and do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct, save lawfully.” (i.e. murder is forbidden but the death penalty imposed by the state for a crime is permitted).


3. If the motive for terrorism is religious, it is impermissible in Islamic law. It is forbidden to attempt to impose Islam on other people. The Qur’an says, “There is no compulsion in religion. The right way has become distinct from error.” (-The Cow, 2:256). Note that this verse was revealed in Medina in 622 AD or after and was never abrogated by any other verse of the Quran. Islam’s holy book forbids coercing people into adopting any religion. They have to willingly choose it.

4. Islamic law forbids aggressive warfare. The Quran says, “But if the enemies incline towards peace, do you also incline towards peace. And trust in God! For He is the one who hears and knows all things.” (8:61) The Quran chapter “The Cow,” 2:190, says, “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggressors.”

5. In the Islamic law of war, not just any civil engineer can declare or launch a war. It is the prerogative of the duly constituted leader of the Muslim community that engages in the war. Qur’an 4:59 says “Obey God and the Messenger and those in authority among you.” Nowadays that would be the president or prime minister of the state, as advised by the mufti or national jurisconsult.

6. The killing of innocent non-combatants is forbidden. According to Sunni tradition, ‘Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, the first Caliph, gave these instructions to his armies: “I instruct you in ten matters: Do not kill women, children, the old, or the infirm; do not cut down fruit-bearing trees; do not destroy any town . . . ” (Malik’s Muwatta’, “Kitab al-Jihad.”)

7. Sneak attacks are forbidden. Muslim commanders must give the enemy fair warning that war is imminent. The Prophet Muhammad at one point gave 4 months notice (Q. 9:5).

8. The Prophet Muhammad counseled doing good to those who harm you and is said to have commanded, “Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong (even) if they do evil.” (Al-Tirmidhi). It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: It was said: O Messenger of God, pray against the idolaters! He said: “I was not sent to pronounce curses, rather I was sent as a mercy.” (Narrated by Muslim [2599])

9. The Qur’an demands of believers that they exercise justice toward people even where they have reason to be angry with them: “And do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness.”[5:8]

10. The Qur’an assures Christians and Jews of paradise if they believe and do good works, and commends Christians as the best friends of Muslims. I wrote elsewhere, “Dangerous falsehoods are being promulgated to the American public. The Quran does not preach violence against Christians.

Quran 5:69 says (Arberry): “Surely they that believe, and those of Jewry, and the Christians, and those Sabeaans, whoso believes in God and the Last Day, and works righteousness–-their wage waits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow.”

In other words, the Quran promises Christians and Jews along with Muslims that if they have faith and works, they need have no fear in the afterlife. It is not saying that non-Muslims go to hell– quite the opposite.

When speaking of the 7th-century situation in the Muslim city-state of Medina, which was at war with pagan Mecca, the Quran notes that the polytheists and some Arabian Jewish tribes were opposed to Islam, but then goes on to say:

5:82. ” . . . and you will find the nearest in love to the believers [Muslims] those who say: ‘We are Christians.’ That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not proud.”

So the Quran not only does not urge Muslims to commit violence against Christians, it calls them “nearest in love” to the Muslims! The reason given is their piety, their ability to produce holy persons dedicated to God, and their lack of overweening pride.

(For a modernist, liberal interpretation, see this pdf file, “Jihad and the Islamic Law of War.”