Shock & Awe In Syria: It never Works

By Juan Cole

The London pan-Arab daily “Hayat” [Life] reports this morning on the air strikes conducted on ISIL positions in Raqqah, Syria, by the United States and several Arab allies.

The Syrian government acknowledged that the US gave fair warning it would bomb Raqqah to the Syrian ambassador to the UN. That is, the US may not militarily be coordinating with Syria, but it does inform the regime of enough information to avoid a shoot-down.

Not only ISIL positions but also some targets of the Jabhat al-Nusra or Succor Front (the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria) were struck by the US and its allies. Once you enter a war, it doesn’t stay limited.

The US deployed not only fighter jets but also drone strikes and Tomahawk missiles, presumably fired from a destroyer from the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. It targeted suspected arms depots, the mayor’s mansion (used by ISIL as its HQ in Raqqah), and checkpoints, among other things. Dozens of ISIL fighters were said to be killed and more wounded.

Jim Sciutto tweeted,

Louisa Loveluck also weighed in:

Apparently “backed by” does not mean “joined in the bombing” in the cases of Bahrain and Qatar. Qatar may have flown escort, but word is that it didn’t actually drop bombs.

Some 80% of Raqqah’s 240,000 inhabitants, i.e. about 190,000 people, are said to have remained after ISIL took over the city, despite its harsh and arbitrary rule. It is inevitable that US and allied bombing on important Raqqah military targets will kill a certain number of civilians. That is, Raqqah is roughly the size of Grand Rapids, Michigan or Salt Lake City, Utah. Imagine if fighter-jets were dropping bombs on targets within those small cities?

The some 22 sorties flown on Monday will have killed some ISIL terrorists, blown up some weapons warehouses, and destroyed some checkpoints. But ISIL are guerrillas, and they will just fade away into Raqqah’s back alleys. The US belief in air power is touching, but in fact no conflict has ever been quickly brought to an end where US planes have been involved.

The ISIL guerrillas will fade away, perhaps inside the city, where you can’t bomb them without killing a lot of civilians (and they will video the victims for you). Then there will just be occasional drone strikes of the sort that were relatively ineffectual in Afghanistan and FATA in Pakistan.

The US dropped enormous numbers of bombs on Iraq since 2003, and in the end its sponsored government lost 40% of the country to ISIL. Bombing positions in Syria in the absence of an allied ground force is highly unlikely to be decisive in and of itself.

——

Related video:

CBS Evening News: “U.S. begins airstrikes against ISIS inside Syria”

CBS Evening News [Verified]

NYC Climate Demo: Top 5 Massive Rallies that had no Effect

By Juan Cole

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for demonstrating and admire everyone who came out in New York City on Sunday (some 400,000 according to Time magazine) to demand that world leaders deal urgently with climate change.

But I just do have to point out that holding large rallies doesn’t always result in political change. It is by organizing at the district level, walking neighborhoods, and putting pressure on those running for Congress that we would get real legislative change. Some activists are such purists that they sniff at giving political contributions. Likewise, disinvestment from oil and gas companies is a great symbolic gesture but it doesn’t stop global warming.

More actual carbon would be taken out of the atmosphere if all homeowners put solar panels on their roofs and get an electric car.

In the end, a single-issue Climate PAC, if well-funded, would make far more difference than standing in the street. Much climate action will have to be done or coordinated by politicians, and at the moment most of those in Washington are owned by Big Oil, including by the Koch brothers.

Here are some very large rallies that were ignored for all practical purposes:

1. On February 15, 2003, several hundred thousand demonstrated in New York and London against the building Iraq War. The police chief of NYC played them down as only 100,000. The Bush administration invaded and occupied Iraq a little over a month later.

2. Nov. 15, 1969 half a million people gathered in Washington DC to protest the Vietnam War. Nixon and Kissinger deliberately prolonged it until 1973.

3. On January 27, 1991, some 75,000 protesters rallied in Washington, DC, against the Gulf War. The Gulf War nevertheless continued to be prosecuted, ending on 28 February after Iraqi tanks fled the capital (many were massacred from the air by the US Air Force as they tried to flee.)

4. Some 100,000 demonstrated in Madison, Wisconsin, against the plan of Gov. Scott Walker to remove bargaining rights from public sector workers. Walker’s actions were upheld this summer.

5. On Nov. 18, 2011, thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters gathered in NYC and other cities to protest the lack of accountability for big banks and investment firms who had caused the 2008-2009 economic meltdown. It is still the case that almost no one was prosecuted despite clear signs of illegality, and fines have been a slap on the wrist.

Having marches and promoting divestment are great activities and build esprit de corps in the movement. But if people hold a big demonstration and go home, it has no effect. The next stage has to be competing for our Congress representatives and senators against entrenched and very wealthy hydrocarbon industries. The gerrymandering that has produced a structural Republican majority in the House means that climate activists need to find GOP challengers who are deeply concerned about global warming and who are willing to primary the incumbent.

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ANTIWAR PROTEST IN NEW YORK : Half a million protesters

The Arab Political Crisis: It isn’t a Matter of Civilization and it isn’t Unique

By Juan Cole

Hisham Melhem has a piece on what he calls the collapse of Arab civilization.

The piece is riddled with contradictions and fuzzy thinking and with all due respect to Milhem, who is a knowledgeable and experienced correspondent, I am going to disagree with it vehemently. I think he is arguing that Arabs bear a moral burden for the atrocities being committed in the region, and that they cannot duck it by blaming regional problems on European colonialism or the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Let’s take the 22 Arab League members (which include for political reasons non-Arabic-speaking countries like Somalia and Djibouti). There is nothing wrong with their civilization.

In the past 50 years, Arabic-speakers have gone from being perhaps 80% rural to being 80% urban. (There are still some significantly rural Arab countries like Egypt and Syria but even there the urban-dwellers are a majority). Even Saudi Arabia, which a century ago had a lot of pastoral nomads, is now as urban as the United States. They have gone from being largely illiterate to being, especially at the level of 15-30 year-olds largely literate. The proportion with high school and college educations has skyrocketed. They have access to world news through satellite television. Civilizationally, the average Arab today is way ahead of her parents and grandparents.

Obviously, the states of the Arab world are undergoing important transitions and some have collapsed. But state collapse is not the same thing as civilizational collapse, nor caused by it (whatever “civilization” is).

Why the states are collapsing is a good question for social science, but it isn’t the moral failing that Milhem makes it out to be, nor is it unique. I’d look at the following:

1. Demography. The Arab world is full of states that have had relatively high rates of population growth for 150 years. I have a hypothesis that this population boom is related to global warming, which also began in earnest about 150 years ago, and which may have reduced pandemics in the region which we know were common and cyclical in the medieval and early modern period (“plague”). Tunisia underwent a demographic transition and began leveling off, but most of the rest continue to have high birth rates (Egypt began to level off in 2005 but apparently the instability of the last three years has caused a new baby boom). High rates of population growth can contribute to instability if there aren’t enough jobs for the waves of young people coming on the job market every year. Gross Domestic Product is a matter of long division. So if the population grows 3 percent in a year, and the economy grows 3 percent, the per capita increase in GDP that year is … zero. Go on like that for decades and you’ll have economic and social stagnation. This is why China’s one-child policy was so smart. You couldn’t have had the post-1980 take-off in the same way if the rate of population growth had been like Egypt’s.

Is it an accident that the two countries that began undergoing a demographic transition in the 1970s, Tunisia and Turkey, are the two more stable ones in the region?

2. Productivity. Most Arab states were under European colonialism in the 19th and until the mid-20th century. No colonial administration was interested in promoting industrialization (in contrast, e.g., to Meiji Japan, which was independent and cared about Japan’s place in the world). Arab countries after WW II were mostly agricultural and poor. Some 80% of Iraqis were landless laborers and 2500 families had the best land, and a lion’s share of it, in 1958. While there has been some state-led industrialization, about half of Syria’s population is still rural. Farming has low rates of productivity gain. And most urban workers are in services, which also aren’t characterized by much increase in productivity. High population growth plus low productivity growth equals economic and social stagnation.

3. The distortions of the oil economies. Urbanization in Egypt, e.g., may have stalled out since the 1970s because workers that might have gone to labor in factories in Egyptian cities instead went to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE. When and if they returned with savings, they often returned to their villages and opened a shop or other small business. The oil economies of the Gulf also drew off the more enterprising teachers and engineers. Oil economies have hardened currencies because of the value of their primary commodity, which makes made goods expensive and harms handicrafts, industry and agriculture because export markets like India can’t afford these goods if they are denominated in a hard currency. (This phenomenon is known as the Dutch disease because the Netherlands suffered from it in the early 1970s when its natural gas industry took off). Also, having small but enormously wealthy and authoritarian states like Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the region is destabilizing. They spread money around to support their factions, who then fall to fighting and have the wealth to buy good weapons.

4. Aridity and climate change. The Arab world lies in a longstanding Arid Zone stretching from Morocco to the Gobi Desert. Much of this region cannot engage in rainfall agriculture and depends on irrigation. But climate change is producing increased aridity over time, with long-term droughts. The collapse of Syria is certainly caused in some important part by climate change. Egypt also has a water crisis, and in villages in Upper Egypt protests over insufficient water were part of the unrest during the 2011 revolution and after.

These sorts of causes have contributed to the difficulties the Arab world faces, not moral or civilizational deterioration. Of course, state collapse can create a social maelstrom in which horrific groups like ISIL can grow up. But they are typically caused by the other factors and attendant instability and displacement. They aren’t the original cause of anything themselves. Nor are the Arabs alone even in the region. The brutality and disproportionate force deployed by the Israeli army in Gaza is another form of barbarism.

Singling out the Arab world is unfair. Spain came to be ruled from 1936 by a fascist military dictatorship, which lasted into the 1970s. The exemplar of civilization, the country of Goethe and Schelling– Germany– went fascist in the 1930s. Italy likewise had a fascist government from the 1920s, and it was overthrown by an American invasion, not by Italians alone. Even in the past decade, Italy was demoted by Freedom House from being a first-tier democracy because of the corrupt and authoritarian practices of PM Silvio Berlusconi (journalists working for his media, and he owned a lot of it, were coerced to report positively on him). It is not at all clear that Europe would have ended up democratic, or would have done so quickly after the War, if left to its own devices. What we think of democratic practices were imposed on Western Europe by the US.

Southeast Asia had its own difficulties transitioning from being agricultural and colonial to being independent, urban and industrial. Indonesia polished off hundreds of thousands of –some say a million– Communists in 1965. Vietnam was in turmoil for decades and then turned to one-party dictatorship, remaining desperately poor. Laos and Cambodia were destabilized by the American war in Vietnam. Of the 7.5 million Cambodians in 1975, about 25% were murdered in the Khmer Rouge genocide, i.e. about 1.88 million.

There isn’t any Arab country where a percentage of the population (25%) has been killed, similar to Cambodia. The Algerian Revolution (1954-1962) cost between 500,000 and 1 million lives in a population of 11 million, but a large proportion of these were killed by French troops. The Lebanese Civil War probably killed about 100,000 out of 4 million, or 2.5 percent. The Iran-Iraq War probably left 250,000 Iraqis (some say twice that) dead, out of 16 million, with similar numbers of Iranian casualties. The Arab-Israeli Wars, horrible as they were, were relatively low-casualty affairs as wars go– with casualties on the Arab side in the tens of thousands. Tunisia wasn’t involved in a war after WWII. The US invasion and occupation of Iraq, which destabilized that country, resulted in excess mortality of between 200,000 and a million, in a population of 30 million since 2003 (and despite Melhem, I think we know whose fault this latter was).

One could also compare to Africa. I won’t go into the massive destabilization and loss of life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose destabilization began with Belgian policy that killed half the population. Over 5 million have died because of instability (and related disease) in DRC since 1995.

The fact is that European colonialism and neocolonialism has had a demonstrably destabilizing effect on the region. But Milhem is right that there are lots of other contributing causes. They aren’t, however, the ones he points to. Population growth, the shape of the economy, and resource-poverty (especially in water, which he mentions with regard to Yemen but only as a jeremiad) are all implicated.

Melhem’s piece stands in a very long tradition. After the fall of Baghdad in 1258 to the Buddhist and animist Mongol armies, many Muslim intellectuals concluded that God was angry at the Muslims for having become decadent, and so delivered them into the hands of the infidels from the East for punishment. But the Mongol invasions were not a moral failing of the people of Iran and Iraq. They resulted in some important part from the sophistication of Mongol warfare.

Don’t beat yourself up so much, Hisham.

By the way, some of this is explained in my new book:

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

Changing US-Iran Relations: Kerry: Iran has a Role in Defeating ISIL Militants

by Juan Cole

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that Iran has a role to play in defeating ISIL. Addressing a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, he said that the military alliance put together by the US and its allies is only one part of the task, and that the other is political. He seemed to suggest a role for Iran in that political settlement. He mentioned that the Iranian Foreign Minister was present.

On Monday, Kerry had ruled out military coordination with Iran.

In addition, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke admitted on Friday that Washington discussed the Iraq situation with Iranian representatives on the margins of the conference about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. The two sides talked about the threat ISIL poses.

The Obama administration’s willingness to talk to Iran about some sort of joint effort in Iraq against ISIL is historic. In this regard, the administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and that of Obama are not talking like enemies but rather like some sort of ally.

US hard liners in Congress and Iranian hard liners in the Revolutionary Guards continue to use the old rhetoric of enmity, and may attempt to find ways of sabotaging any budding thaw in Washington-Tehran relations. But it seems increasingly clear that Obama and Kerry think some sort of opening to Iran is both necessary and possible at this juncture.

The relationship is complicated because while the US is de facto an ally of Iran in Iraq against ISIL, in Syria the two sides are backing different victors (Iran favors the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad while other donors have settled on .

On Thursday, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif explained that the US alliance in Syria with rebels against the Baath government of Bashar al-Assad was the reason Iran could not ally with the US. Mr. Kerry is nevertheless courting Tehran.

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Related video added by Juan Cole

Reuters: “US: There is a role for Iran in tackling Islamic State militants”

Education, Health, and Global Warming: Top 5 Reasons 45% of Scots Wanted to Leave the Right Wing UK

by Juan Cole

The US media coverage of the Scottish referendum is oddly lacking in any reference to actual politics. As usual, the corporate media concentrates on issues in ethnicity to cover up issues in social class and social policy. The “Washington consensus” of Neoliberalism, substituting blind so-called “market forces” for good governance, has been adopted with alacrity by the English ruling elite (including much of Labour). That this way of proceeding produces bad public policy and increases wealth inequality, damaging democracy, is seldom considered. But the Scots have Neoliberalism’s number, and they’re also aware that it is unlikely to be dislodged from Westminster any time soon. They are worried about the welfare of the average person under this elitist regime.

1. Scots are on the whole substantially to the left of the current government of the UK, with 64% unsatisfied with the performance of Conservative prime minister David Cameron. The Conservatives only have one member of parliament from Scotland.

2. Scots overwhelmingly favor renewable energy, especially wind power, over nuclear and hydraulic fracturing of natural gas. Mr. Cameron favors fracking.. Scotland has pulled out all the stops in promoting green energy and gets over 40% of its electricity from renewables, aiming for 100% by 2022. England in contrast is a carbon hog.

3. Scots believe in higher education and are afraid of the consequences of Cameron’s deep cuts to university and research funding, which have plummeted the UK to the bottom of the G8 in this regard.

4. Scots overwhelmingly support the National Health Service even if they criticize it for delays. But they are afraid that right wing England will completely privatize it.

5. Scots believe in government redistribution of wealth from the wealthiest to those less well off. Mr. Cameron and his Conservatives want to use the government to make society even more unequal.

The majority of those who voted in the referendum chose to stick with the United Kingdom, but the referendum showed very substantial dissatisfaction with Conservative policies that deeply affect the quality of life of the average Scot, and not for the better.

Channel 4 News: “Interview with Jonathan Shafi of Radical Independence Campaign”

Shiite Militias of Iraq Reject US Return, Threaten to Attack US Forces

By Juan Cole

The pan-Arab, London-based daily, “Al-Sharq al-Awsat” (The Middle East) reports that the major Shiite militias of Iraq are denouncing Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi for welcoming US air support in the fight against the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Prime Minister al-Abadi himself rejected conventional US ground troops for Iraq on Wednesday, even as Gen. Dempsey said that they might ultimately be necessary. The militias are going further, saying Yankees go Home altogether.

Hamza Mustafa reports from Baghdad that Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Iran-backed Badr Corps, warned that the American plan is to take credit for the victories of the Iraqi armed forces and the popular militias. He called for a rejection of the plan and dependence solely on Iraqi military and paramilitary to defeat ISIL. The Badr Brigades are the paramilitary arm of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), led by Shiite cleric Sayyid Ammar al-Hakim. Al-Hakim condemned the exclusion of Iran from the international coalition opposing ISIL. The new foreign minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari also objected to the exclusion of Iran . His party, the National Reform Trend, is close to al-Sadr.

The Bloc of the Free (al-Ahrar) led by Shiite cleric Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr called on al-Abadi to reject the US plan. Muqtada al-Sadr warned the US against trying to reoccupy Iraq and threatened, “If you return, we will return.” This was a reference to his Mahdi Army, which had subsided in importance after the US withdrawal. Muqtada boasted that the militia had inflicted heavy casualties on US troops and forced the US out. He also said that if the Mahdi Army “Peace Brigades” discovered an American presence in any province where they were fighting ISIL, they should immediately withdraw from the fight. (For the US Air Force to give close air support to Iraqi troops, there have to be US Special Operations forces on the ground to paint lasers on the targets and to coordinate with the Iraqi Army).

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq (Gangs of the People of Truth) also condemned al-Abadi for welcoming foreign intervention.

The Shiite militias appear to have been key to the breaking of the siege of Amerli, where ISIL had planned to massacre the 20,000 Turkmen Shiites living there. The US did give close air support to them and the Iraqi Army, which they didn’t seem to mind at the time. But now they are all rejecting any US involvement. It is not clear that the Iraqi Army, which suffers from low morale, bad training and corruption, can do the job against ISIL by itself, without the aid of the militias.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports an anonymous Iraqi politician as saying that former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki made a mistake when he continued to rely on the militias and did not take advantage of the fatwa/ religious legal ruling of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in favor of the regular Iraqi Army to build it up and take recruits away from the militias.

It is difficult to tell how serious these militia leaders’ pronouncements are, since they might be attempting to save face with their followers even as they benefit from the US air cover. On the other hand, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq actually did in the past kidnap US troops, and the Mahdi Army fought them tooth and nail in spring of 2004, inflicting high casualties on them. Since President Obama’s air campaign requires Special Ops forces like Navy Seals or Green Berets to be on the ground with the Iraqi Army, they should apparently watch their backs. The people they are trying to help against ISIL don’t seem to appreciate their being there. And many of them seem to prefer Iran’s help.

——

Related video

from a couple of months ago: The Telegraph: “Iraq Shia militias mobilise in face of threat from Sunni-led jihadists ”

Should US policy toward ISIL be Containment?

By Juan Cole

The US launched air strikes on Tuesday on ISIL targets, south of Baghdad and also in the north. The ones south of Baghdad were in support of the Iraqi Army, for the first time since the ISIL crisis broke in early June.

US close air support to the Iraqi army and the Kurdistan Peshmerga shouldn’t be necessary. The Iraqi military should be able to deploy helicopter gunships for its own defense. For reasons that are unclear, it apparently cannot, leaving Baghdad open to attack by ISIL. But the most effective campaigns in which the US air force has been involved have been more or less defensive. It helped the Kurds take back territory west of Erbil and around the Mosul Dam. It helped break the ISIL siege of the Shiite Turkmen town of Amerli, averting a massacre of thousands.

The problem is in going beyond stiffening Iraqi government and Kurdish resistance to the ISIL onslaught. For that, in Iraq, the US either needs to enable the invasion of Sunni Arab cities by largely Shiite and non-Arab (Kurdish) forces, or needs to stand up Sunni Arab national guards in the three major Sunni Arab provinces, and support them against ISIL. This latter task is complicated by the feelings of betrayal still suffered by Sunni Arab fighters who fought al-Qaeda in 2007 but were not rewarded with a government job, and whose lives were in danger after the US campaign wound down (al-Qaeda minds when you target them).

President Obama’s speech last Wednesday was a strange mixture of counter-terrorism and warmaking. Counter-Terrorism involves things like strategic precision strikes to foil terrorist groups. A war, in contrast, is a set of campaigns aimed at conquering and holding territory.

Obama even adverted to a bombing campaign against ISIL on the Syrian side of the border. This widening of the war, however, is not necessary, and in my view it is probably illegal in international law. It will be coupled with a $500 million training program for “vetted” “moderate” rebels in camps in Saudi Arabia. This latter program is too small to do much good; insofar as there will be heavy Saudi influence on it, it could do a great deal of bad.

A minimalist, defensible position for the US could have been to say that the US will intervene aerially to ensure that Erbil and Baghdad don’t fall, but that recovering the Sunni Arab areas that Nouri al-Maliki had alienated was up to Iraqi politicans and forces. And a minimalist strategy could have simply ignored the Syrian side of the border. It is true that ISIL has a big base in Raqqah and uses its Syrian assets to support its operations in Iraq. But ISIL successes in Iraq were in any case not mainly military but rather political.

Since this is so, the military position of ISIL in Syria isn’t really so central to its taking of Mosul, Tikrit, etc. Nor would holding Raqqah help it to hold Mosul if Mosul turned against it.

The US was very good in the Cold War at containing Stalinism but very bad at defeating a guerrilla group like the Vietcong. It was the former that mattered in the end.

Unfortunately, the logic in Washington usually ratchets toward the macho and the simplistic. Obama at first admitted that the US could only degrade ISIL, not destroy it. But then on Wednesday the chorus of critics pushed him to say that his goal is eradication of the organization. But the tools he announced for his effort, including Yemen-style drone and fighter-jet attacks, were not sufficient to the task of eradication. Containment is doable. It isn’t clear that an air war is.

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Euronews: “US general says ground troops an option in Iraq”

Must Muslim Americans Condemn ISIL? Must Turkish Jews Condemn Gaza War?

By Juan Cole

During the recent Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, a controversy broke out in Turkey about whether Turkish Jews were required to condemn Israel’s actions, as some pro-Palestinian Turks suggested.

Turkish Jewish intellectuals wrote in an open letter to the newspaper Hurriyyet ["Liberty," Istanbul]:

“”Israel’s latest attack on Gaza led, once again, to cries of ‘Why does the Jewish community remain silent?’ A campaign was even launched that claimed that the Jews of Turkey bear responsibility for what Israel does in Gaza.

“No citizen of this country is under any obligation to account for, interpret or comment on any event that takes place elsewhere in the world, and in which he/she has no involvement. There is no onus on the Jewish community of Turkey, therefore, to declare an opinion on any matter at all.

“It is anyway not possible for a community of 20,000 to declare a unified opinion. No human community can be monolithic and the Jewish community is not. Its members include people of all kinds, with a great variety of views.”

Many Jewish organizations stigmatized the demand as Antisemitism.

Asking people to take stances based on their ascribed identity (what they were born into most often) rather than on the basis of their individual choices in life goes against everything that modern human rights thinking stands for. It is like forcing all Russian-Americans to say publicly what they think about Vladimir Putin.

So if all this is correct, and it certainly is, why do right wing Americans continue to demand that Muslim-Americans condemn Muslim extremists in the Middle East? They have nothing to do with the latter and aren’t responsible for them. Some of the inhabitants of the American Southwest in the early modern period were secret Muslims from southern Spain who had been forcibly converted to Catholicism by the Inquisition. My birthplace, Albuquerque, is an Arabic word (al-Barquqi). Some 10% of the some 4 million Africans kidnapped and trafficked to Southern landowners as slaves in the US before the slave trade was abolished were Muslim. Hundreds of thousands of people practiced Islam in North America long before there was a United States. The White House was built with slave labor and likely some of that was Muslim labor. Some of the founding Fathers likely owned Muslim slaves. As late as the 1930s, elderly ex-slaves reported in interviews that they remembered their mothers bowing toward the east at dawn. Some Arab-American Muslims can trace their family roots in the US back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The religion is an American religion, deeply interwoven with American history and Muslim-Americans are not responsible for developments in the contemporary Middle East.

So they shouldn’t have to, but they do:

VOA: “US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State”

Top 5 Contradictions in Obama’s Emerging ISIL Strategy

By Juan Cole

In the past week, Secretary of State John Kerry has marshaled support of some sort from both European nations and from countries in the Middle East for the US push against ISIL. Unfortunately, the resulting coalition is riddled with contradictions that may well cripple it. Here a some of the more important obstacles to a smooth alliance or coherent war plan.

1. Kerry deeply wanted buy-in from Egypt, the most populous Arab state and the most important military power among the Arabs. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, however, insisted that the strategy be wider-ranging than just a push against ISIL He wanted a campaign against “terrorism” in general. Al-Sisi’s government has declared devotees of political Islam, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood, to be terrorists. Al-Sisi believes he can “turn” Obama, getting him to stop criticizing Egypt for the overthrow of the Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood) government, and that the US need for him gives him a trump card in this regard.

2. There are hundreds of guerrilla groups fighting in Syria. Some of them have given fealty to the the so-called Islamic State. Others have joined a rival organization that is more Salafi in coloration, the Islamic Front (strong in Aleppo). The National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army are yet another force, heavily dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and now much weakened. So if Obama agreed with al-Sisi to pursue a global ‘war on terrorism’ together, he would be in the difficult position of opposing the Free Syrian Army and of agreeing to help crush the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood– among the major opposition groups to both ISIL and the Baath regime in Damascus.

3. That is, Obama’s desire to support a “moderate” opposition will lead him to back to the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria. But Saudi Arabia, one of Obama’s major partners, has declared the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, and they have the money to make that stick. With Egypt and Saudi Arabia against the National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army (because of their Muslim Brotherhood ties), Obama by allying with them is basically allying with the murky Islamic Front, which has some al-Qaeda elements and now has turned openly anti-democracy and anti-rights for minorities.

4. Saudi Arabia will provide training camps for the rebels of the “moderate” opposition. But it is rumored that the Saudis are behind the splinter group from the Free Syrian army, the “Islamic Front.” It rejects democratic elections. The Islamic Front is full of people who have continued to have rigid religious views but who are trying to find new allies. The Saudis will be training people, in other words, very much like the Islamic State fighters in their fundamentalism, but who are less hostile to Saudi Arabia and perhaps slightly less openly brutal. That’s a “moderate” Sunni opposition?

5. Iran is a much more promising ally for Obama But because of hardliners in both countries, Obama won’t be able openly to ally with Iran Still, operations by the Jerusalem Brigade of Iranian special forces such as the one to break the ISIL siege of Amerli are at least effective. The downside is that that will look like a Christian/Shiite crusade against Sunni Arabs. Effective militarily, perhaps, but poison politically.

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole

Aljazeera International: “Egypt wants wider ‘anti-IS’ campaign Al Jazeera”

Media, Politicians should stop Letting ISIL Manipulate them

By Juan Cole

Ever since George W. Bush invaded Iraq and created the circumstances under which al-Qaeda could take root and flourish there from 2003 forward, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (which later styled itself the “Islamic State of Iraq”) has taken captives and has beheaded them on film. It was doing this in 2004

These acts of public brutality against a helpless individual are intended in part to announce that despite their military superiority, Westerners are not 10 feet tall and can be cut down to size. They announce leadership and encourage angry young men to join ISIL rather than one of its many rivals. They also push Western publics to demand reprisals. Reprisals in turn can be used by the radical group as proof to its followers that it really is being unjustly targeted by the big bad superpower. It is a passive aggressive form of terrorism.

For these reasons, I don’t typically talk about kidnappings or beheadings of captives at this blog. It is an artificial phenomenon carried out precisely for people to talk about ISIL.

In the UK, the killing of the aid worker David Haines by ISIL comes at a time when the government is divided. Foreign Minister Philip Hammond had said last week that the UK army military would not be aerially bombing ISIL. The PM David Cameron heard about this and contradicted it publicly. This show of disunity on the part of a prominent America ally is the sort of thing the “Islamic State” group is going for. Syria could actually be bombed in part because of ISIL’s barbarous action.

It seems to me that editors should refuse to play along with this sick game.

The fact is that almost no news organization covers the killing of American troops in Afghanistan any more. If it happens it is on page 17, and this had been the case for years. So let’s get this straight. The Taliban can actually kill US troops without our headlining the fact. But the slaughter of an innocent captive is front page news. These are editorial decisions, not acts of nature.

Related video:

RT: “‘ISIS killing far more Muslims than they can admit’