Archive for December, 2015

TERRORISM 101

Everyone talks about stopping terrorism. But to do that, we must understand what terrorism is. That will help us make rational, as opposed to emotional, decisions about what might work and what won’t.

To begin, terrorism is not a lone wolf or a pair of gunmen with a grudge who shoot up a school or movie theater. That’s criminal insanity and subject to another discussion. Terrorism constitutes a tool—acts of violence or the threat of violence to further an ongoing political or religious cause. Today’s most aggressive and pervasive such cause is Islamism—the desire of some Muslims to impose their fundamentalist tenets on the Muslim world now and the rest of us later.

Islamists know that military conquest of the West isn’t possible. But for now at least they have no intention of conquering us. Instead, they utilize terrorism on a relatively small if murderous scale to sow fear. This they hope will produce enough turmoil to lead to civic unrest and induce Western governments’ withdrawal from engagement with the Muslim world. Weak Muslim nations then will be easy prey.

How do you defeat terrorism? Terrorism, I repeat, is a tool. Intelligence services and military forces can uncover terrorist plots and strike at perpetrators, planners, supporters and advocates. But terrorism cannot be eliminated without discrediting its underlying ideology.

Truth helps. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did the United States no favors by talking about a War on Terror for fear of offending Muslims. Mr. Obama finally used the word “Islamism” in his recent speech from the Oval Office. This was long overdue. Sadly, he often has failed to communicate with candor and anything approaching the passionate resolve Americans expect.

At the same time, many of the steps he has taken have been correct if limited. And Mr. Obama understands that Islamism will not be obliterated without the assistance of the Muslims it directly threatens. Yet obtaining that assistance won’t be easy. According to a July 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center, “The Middle East is the sole region where anti-Americanism is both deep and widespread. Eighty-five percent of Egyptians and Jordanians and 73% of Turks voice a negative opinion of the United States. Only 10% of Egyptians, 12% of Jordanians and 19% of Turks have a favorable view.” Fortunately, the numbers are slightly more favorable than a year earlier.

Still, Donald Trump wants to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. Ted Cruz calls for carpet-bombing Raaka (Syria), ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital, killing masses of civilians along with ISIS fighters and administrators. Both acts will alienate our own Muslim citizens and Muslims abroad who might work with us.

Statesmanship must play a major role in combating ISIS. It demands carefully chosen—but not misleading—language. This means not backing other Muslim nations into a corner while retaining our strong resolve. I recall a newspaper article from years ago. A teacher in a Chicago high school encountered two combative students. One had a gun. The teacher never threatened. Instead, he said, “Let me hold your gun.” The armed student—called out but not cornered—yielded the weapon.

I ask Republican candidates to think before they speak—a tall order. And I ask our government to acknowledge reality. Both rabblerousing and disingenuousness only make the problem worse.

The blog will take a break during the end of the year and resume on January 8. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and to all, best wishes for a happy, healthy, rewarding New Year.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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THE “C” WORD

American standard bearers regard certain words as inappropriate or offensive. One prominent “bad” word begins with the letter “C.” But we’re adults. We know that people frequently use this word, often in polite company. I refer, of course, to Christmas.

Should I feel guilty for mentioning this word during the Holiday Christmas Season? I don’t. Christmas is a fact of life. True, it’s not my holiday. For that I offer another “C” word: Chanukah. But according to a 2014 Pew survey, 71 percent of Americans identify as Christians. Another 23 percent claim no religious identity, although many probably have Christian backgrounds and celebrate Christmas in some manner. That’s why “Holiday Season” and “Happy Holidays” strike me as lame. Worse, they’re deceitful.

One example: An automobile company sent me a card. The photo on the front displays five of their vehicles parked on a snowy meadow. Each has a tree tied to its roof. The copy line says, “Happy Holidays from BMW.” Oops. I spilled the beans. But here’s the point. There’s no such thing as a Holiday tree. If by “Happy Holidays” BMW means both Christmas and Chanukah—and perhaps Kwanzaa (Devali was November 11 this year)—then the automaker has insulted me. Christians and some non-Christians who just like Christmas decorate trees. We Jews light candles in chanukiahs (menorahs have seven lights, chanukiahs nine). And don’t let anyone BS you about “Chanukah bushes.” They represent attempts to alleviate fears of feeling different (obviously we are in some ways) and being left out or even shunned.

“Happy Holidays” doesn’t cut it. While the term suggests inclusiveness, it totally ignores the holidays of non-Christians. That’s because “Holiday” symbols abound, all suggestive of Christmas. Like the decorated trees in malls, department stores and even public spaces, such as San Francisco’s Union Square. And the carols you hear at malls and in retail districts. Not to mention images of evergreens, snowflakes, snowmen and, of course, Santa Claus.

And how about “winter vacation” from school? As a kid and college student, I was off for Christmas vacation. It interrupted, not concluded, the first semester. Would schools close around December 25 if Christmas fell during the summer? Has anyone suggested moving “Winter break” to January? Government offices, banks, corporations, small businesses—almost everyone—close on Christmas. They don’t close on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur or on Muslim feast days, such as Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. But Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others all manage.

Yes, religious minorities also get Christmas off. Unless we volunteer to work at necessary jobs and free others to celebrate. One Christmas at Fort Sam Houston I filled the post of Officer of the Day so another officer could enjoy his holiday. I was glad to help someone out. Moreover, the Army never interfered with Jewish holidays. Unfortunately, some Jews outside the military still have a hard time taking off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur even if the pressure on them remains covert. I doubt “Happy Holidays” will change that.

So if you celebrate Christmas—Merry Christmas! Jewish? Happy Chanukah! African-American? Happy Kwanzaa if you do that. In fact, it’s time to bring other “C” words out of the closet. Because life is complex and political correctness only makes us hypocrites.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

SAN BERNARDINO

In a way, San Bernardino in Southern California’s Inland Empire has become America’s Paris and also its Jerusalem.

Why Paris? The City of Light symbolizes Western enlightenment and respect for human rights—values Islamists deplore. Why Jerusalem? The capital of Israel—even if the United States maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv—represents another symbol deplored by Islamists. It’s the power of Jews to direct their own future in the Middle East no longer subjugated, and periodically persecuted, under Muslim rule.

Why San Bernardino? While major cities across the nation guard against Islamist terrorism—New York and Boston have been there—“San Berdoo” in Southern California’s Inland Empire proved a target of opportunity. A Muslim couple—local residents—appear to have chosen to make a statement: No one is safe anywhere in America.

Much investigative work remains before conclusions can be drawn about whether the couple—he American-born, she Pakistani-born and raised in Saudi Arabia where they met—constituted a sleeper cell of ISIS or one of the Al Qaeda groups. But they seem to have become radicalized at some point, possibly years ago. And the military-style clothing, body armor, automatic weapons and remote-controlled bombs hint at long-term planning indicative of much more than a workplace confrontation.

Here, I want to go back to Israel, the Islamist mindset and Western perceptions. While Paris has been tense but thankfully quiet for the last few weeks, Jerusalem and all Israel continue to face what some term the “Knife Intifada.” Many dozens of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians—women as well as men—have attacked Jewish civilians, soldiers and police. Most have used knives. A few have used vehicles. Some attackers have killed Israelis. Many attackers have been killed as Israelis defended themselves.

The West was riveted by Paris. Now, the American media understandably devotes much time to San Bernardino. Yet while Frenchmen and Americans are up in arms, the story in Israel arouses little ire. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry appear to see these as “small” political attacks divorced from Islamism and anti-Semitism. Mr. Kerry initially suggested the “logic” of disillusioned Arabs in Israel and on the West Bank expressing frustration with the failure of talks to establish a Palestinian State.

When it comes to Israel, the media often skews the situation. On Wednesday, the San Francisco Chronicle’s World section headlined: “Israeli troops kill 2 Palestinians after stabbing attempts.” Imagine running the headline, “California police kill 2 Muslims after shots fired in government building.”

That said let’s not lust after simple solutions. Fighting a totalitarian pathology like Islamism—Muslim but not to be confused with Islam—represents a complex undertaking. We’ll likely see more U.S. military muscle in Syria and Iraq during 2016. That’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Regrettably, we’re also likely to see more anti-Muslim paranoia. That’s both wrong and foolish. As Haider Ali Hussein Mullick, a Navy reserve officer and teacher at the Naval War College wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, “If we don’t want to play into the hands of Islamic State propaganda that America is at war with Islam, we must stand up against Islamophobia.” As rhetoric heats up may cool heads prevail.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.