Archive for the ‘MIDDLE EAST’ Category

CHEMICAL ATTACKS AND CRUISE MISSILES

Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad’s April 4 Sarin gas attack on the city of Khan Sheikhoun drew a quick response from President Trump. U.S. naval forces rained down 59 cruise missiles on Shayrat air base, destroying or damaging 23 Syrian planes. Many Republicans—far-right conservatives were opposed—Democrats and allied governments found the action intoxicating. It’s time to sober up.

I neither support nor condemn Mr. Trump’s decision. But I caution that the matter is far from simple—and far from over. Mr. Trump’s response certainly stands in contrast to Barack Obama’s setting a red line regarding chemical attacks, looking to Congress for approval to take military action, finding none then accepting an offer by Russia’s Vladimir Putin to negotiate the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Some of which apparently were held back.

Mr. Obama’s mistake was not withholding American force, which may or may not have accomplished much while possibly igniting a political firestorm at home. It was declaring a red line publicly rather than privately notifying Assad, Putin and Iran that using chemical weapons could provoke a U.S. military response.

Mr. Trump chose to make a “statement.” Despite the initial chest-thumping, it likely will prove meaningless. After our cruise missile delivery, several of Assad’s planes took off from Shayrat—whose runways were left untouched—to again bomb Khan Sheikhoun. Assad made his own statement. While feeble, it was backed by Russia’s military presence in Syria.

Frederic C. Hof, a Syria policy maven at the State Department under Mr. Obama, who later became an Obama administration critic, stated that Assad “now counts on the West again to leave him free to kill as long as he does so without chemicals” (The New York Times, 4-9-17). The Pentagon later suggested that barrel bombs may cross another “line.” So what?

Take Mr. Trump’s mention that “many lines had been crossed” by Assad’s latest chemical attack. Apparently, no lines were crossed when Mr. Trump assumed the presidency ten weeks earlier. Syrian helicopters continued dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods. Syrian and Russian artillery, mortars and conventional bombs maintained the slaughter. The mass killing of civilians seemingly crossed no lines for Mr. Obama, as well. The Syrian death toll reportedly stands at or near 500,000.

Are we going to war? Despite the brutality, many Americans, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, exhibit no desire for the U.S. to get deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, particularly given the risk of a miscalculation with Russian forces. This represents not cynicism but pragmatism (see Iraq: Invasion of).

Referencing Frederic Hof, is it wrong to kill 87 civilians with Sarin gas but okay to kill 150 with run-of-the-mill ordnance? If half-a-million deaths doesn’t cross a line spurring concerted United Nations action—impossible with a Russian veto—is a line demarcated at 600,000 deaths? A million?

I’ve written that violence in the Middle East will continue for years and probably decades until the people of the region—not America—have had enough or totally exhausted themselves. While that position jeers at our humanitarian values, it remains valid lacking a truly global will to intervene and the ability to restore not only order to the Middle East but also civility. Honesty, no matter how gut-wrenching, will guide us more wisely than political showmanship.

Check out the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t attend? Contact me or go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

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ISRAEL’S “UNTOLD” STORY

Two days ago, Israel experienced bad news and good news. Sadly, most of the world will focus on the bad. But the military court verdict regarding #SergeantElorAzaria must be noted for the good it presents about a nation so often maligned—and blindly so.

Last March, Sgt. Azaria shot dead a Palestinian man—one of two knife wielders in the West Bank city of Hebron. The other Palestinian had already been killed. Israeli troops have the right to defend civilians and themselves under attack. The problem lies in Sgt. Azaria having shot Abd Elfatah Ashareef eleven minutes after another soldier had shot and “neutralized” him.

The court determined that Ashareef had posed no danger and convicted Sgt. Azaria of manslaughter. Many Israelis support Sgt. Azaria. Many Israelis adhere to the law and do not. Yesterday police arrested two Israeli Jews for inciting pro-Azaria violence on social media. Here we need to recognize that Israeli law remains as impartial as it can be in trying times, holding all Israelis—Jews and non-Jews—responsible for appropriate conduct.

This is not the first time an Israeli court—military or civilian—has found a Jew or the government liable for criminal or civil actions. True, not all court decisions are balanced. But Israeli Arabs and Palestinians often achieve legal victories because the law—with support by Israeli Jews—recognizes that they are in the right.

Imagine the same scenario in a military court elsewhere in the Middle East. Would a soldier killing someone who acted against his government face legal—let alone public—discipline? If you can say yes, you know something about the region that I don’t.

Would a court in Russia or China try one of their soldiers who killed someone bearing a weapon with deadly intent after that would-be killer had been neutralized? Would journalists be allowed to report on the case? Would government leaders, pro and con, discuss it? Would those who incite violence on Moscow’s or Beijing’s behalf be arrested? If you can say yes, you know something about Russia and China that I don’t.

Yet these two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council voted to condemn as illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. (I wrote last week that those settlements are wrong and provide the Palestinians with another excuse to avoid negotiations.) Russia and China hardly stand as advocates for human rights.

Finally, can you imagine Hamas or the Palestinian Authority bringing to trial Palestinians who assault or murder Israelis? I can’t; it doesn’t happen. The killers are praised. If they’re killed, massive funerals celebrate their martyrdom.” Cash payments go to their families.

Israel survives in a region filled with hostility flowing in all directions. The country can and should present a better image to the world, starting with a halt to settlement building. But Israel stands head and shoulders above its neighbors as a nation where law has real meaning, where Israelis of all religions—and Palestinians—can call on the courts with a reasonable, if still imperfect, expectation of justice.

The matter of Sgt. Azaria constitutes a painful story. Still, it must be told and seen in context. Hopefully, American law will remain as respectful of justice.

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JERUSALEM, RAMALLAH & WASHINGTON

Once, a man stacked up piles of dried grass, sticks, branches then logs in a heat-baked land. A friend asked, “What’s with all this fuel? One spark could set the whole area ablaze.” The gatherer said, “Maybe the weather will turn cold. But relax. I certainly won’t start a fire now.” The friend shook his head. “It’s not you starting a fire I’m worried about.”

One week ago, the #UnitedNationsSecurityCouncil condemned #Israelisettlements in the West Bank, 14-0. The United States abstained rather than vetoing the measure. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu lashed out at the Obama administration. “Friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.”

I love Israel. Which is why I say, “Friends don’t let friends stack up fuel for someone else to set on fire.”

On Wednesday, Secretary of State #JohnKerry spoke about new settlements preventing a two-state solution between Jerusalem (yes, the capital of Israel) and Ramallah (capital of the Palestinian Authority). Washington supports a two-state solution. I do, too. An Israel encompassing the West Bank ultimately cannot be both a Jewish and democratic state. A one-state solution eventually will lead to Palestinians lighting a match and possibly causing a major conflagration.

Bibi, in turning to Israel’s far right for political support, continues to kick the can down the road. The can makes an increasingly explosive noise. The world community—hypocrites that so many nations are—will become even more antagonistic towards Israel. Yes, Israel is forging ties with India and China (the latter a member of the Security Council), African and Latin American nations, and Russia (also a Security Council member). It’s renewing ties with Turkey and creating “under the table” relationships with Sunni Arab states. Those are all positives. But Bibi keeps gathering fuel and painting Israel into a corner.

Am I bashing Israel? No way. Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is non-negotiable. Moreover, while the Israeli right remains intransigent about holding on to Judea and Samaria, it’s the Palestinians who turned their backs on a meaningful (read that negotiated, not dictated) two-state agreement. In 2000 and 2008, Jerusalem offered Ramallah East Jerusalem along with modified West Bank borders compensated with land from Israel proper. The Palestinians walked away.

In 2014, Kerry offered what we can surmise to be a similar plan. Jerusalem—read that, Bibi—expressed willingness to talk. Ramallah—P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas—never responded.

Ramallah will continue to avoid making necessary compromises—Israel also will have to compromise—to achieve a Palestinian state and peace. Moshe Yaalon, former Israeli Defense Minister and military Chief of Staff, presents a sad but cogent reason in Foreign Affairs (Jan./Feb. 2017). “Rejecting Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people means that the conflict is not about borders but about Israel’s very existence.” The Palestinians’ “chief objective has been not to achieve their own national community but to deny the Jews theirs.”

It’s in Jerusalem’s best interest to halt settlement building inside the West Bank and hit the ball squarely into Ramallah’s court. Let the Palestinians find another lame excuse for avoiding negotiations and take the blame they deserve. Removing all that highly flammable fuel will help Jerusalem keep from burning down its own house.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And Happy New Year. May 2017 bring us all meaningful steps toward healing and peace.

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ALEPPO REVISITED

Two months ago, I wrote about the battle of Aleppo pitting Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, Iran and Russia against a hodgepodge of rebels, from secular to Islamist. Despite the horrific violence, I thought major U.S. involvement unwise: “Only the peoples of the Middle East can create lasting peace for themselves.” The battle’s over. I haven’t changed my mind.

The Syrian bloodbath didn’t occur because President Obama foolishly drew a red line in the blood-soaked sand then backed off when Assad used chemical weapons. (True, he did.) It started well before and increased in ferocity when Russia and Iran tilted the battlefield towards Assad.

Are Americans aghast at the slaughter and destruction in Aleppo? Yes, and rightly so. But using American military power to halt the ghastly actions of appalling political leaders sometimes runs deep risks.

Would Russia and Iran have withdrawn so we could roll over Syria’s military and depose Assad? I doubt it. If they did? We’d have won a short-term victory then been saddled with overseeing the formation of a new government.

Once again, American troops would have to protect a government lacking widespread support. We’d also have to build a trusted Syrian security force while American troops faced insurgency and terrorism from many quarters. We’d suffer casualties. And all with no guaranty of Syrian stability once—whenever that might be—we left.

Some Americans might say, “We have to project American power in the face of inhumanity. Freedom isn’t free.” They can afford that stance. I agree that freedom’s not free, but they don’t pay the price. Ours is a military of courageous volunteers. Many Americans encouraging the nation to throw its weight around have no skin in the game. Their children don’t serve. They never served.

Is America toothless? Hardly. Should we withdraw to Fortress America? No. The U.S. plays a special role in helping keep peace—where strategic considerations are most critical. An evolving geopolitical climate demands that we understand military power’s limits.

Reality is, we’ve never ruled the world. That’s why I was taken aback when the New York Times’ Roger Cohen wrote that the Pax Americana—the global peace guaranteed by the United States—is over (12-16-16). Pax Americana represents a semi-myth.

Yes, we kept the former Soviet Union from overrunning Western Europe. We prevented China from expanding in Asia, although China never sought to invade other countries; it seeks to co-opt them economically. We helped protect South Korea but at the cost of over 50,000 U.S. lives. North Korea eventually developed nuclear weapons. Vietnam proved a debacle with 58,000 American lives lost. Genocide ravaged Rwanda, Darfur and the Balkans on “our watch.” Our 2003 invasion of Iraq didn’t remake the Middle East in our image. It destabilized it. Witness Syria and Libya. (Yemen had been fractured earlier.)

We court disaster when our hubris exposes our troops to the physical and emotional hazards in lands whose cultures we don’t understand and whose people reject us. The folly grows when many of our most enthusiastic proponents of using force talk the talk but fail to walk the walk. American power takes many forms. Military force is one but not always the wisest choice. That’s a hard lesson to learn. We’re best off learning it.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And do enjoy a Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa or whatever the holiday season means to you. (If you’re into Bah, Humbug!, that’s cool, too.)

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ALEPPO

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson infamously responded to a question about the tragic war in Syria with “What is Aleppo?” I’ll answer. You won’t be comforted.

Aleppo—not the capital Damascus—was Syria’s largest city and business hub with 2.1 million inhabitants (2004 census). Since the Syrian civil war started in 2011, nearly 500,000 have been killed nationwide. Aleppo’s population has dropped. What is it? No one knows.

What we do know is that Aleppo, the Syrian civil war and widespread violence in the Middle East present a conundrum. The United States is damned if we do get more involved, damned if we don’t.

Start with refugees. Turkey hosts 2.6 million, Lebanon one million and impoverished Jordan over 628,000 (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees). Eastern Europe hasn’t the resources, ability or will to accept many—if any. Germany takes the lead in the West. It accepted over one million asylum seekers in 2015. That’s dropped to 220,000 in 2016 (Deutsche Welle). Germans said, “No more.”

Regrettably, Western Europe long has done a poor job assimilating Muslims. In counterpoint, many Muslims have resisted integrating into Europe’s secular culture. America does much better, but no matter how many refugees we accept, we won’t come close to meeting existing needs.

Militarily—despite Donald Trump’s assertions—we also face limits. In Syria, U.S. weapons, training and airpower have failed to oust President Bashar al-Assad. (ISIS will soon be driven underground.) Diplomatic efforts face intransigence by Vladimir Putin. Inserting traditional American ground forces into Syria risks a violent clash with Russia. No one will win.

In Iraq, we see progress. The crucial battle for Mosul is underway. It will be long and bloody. Clearing Mosul of booby traps and rebuilding will take decades. Estimates place 5,000-6,000 American trainers, advisors, forward air controllers and special operations personnel on the ground. The U.S. could send in 25,000 or more traditional combat troops. But Washington probably would face massive protests at home, particularly with many Americans embittered after a nasty presidential campaign. We’d also see protests throughout the Middle East.

What if we send in combat troops anyway? Following victory, Iraqis will demand we leave. If we stay, we’ll face a new insurrection featuring improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and sniper attacks. After we go, Iraq will descend into renewed chaos with no dominant indigenous force controlling the fragmented nation.

Feeling conflicted? Who isn’t? Recently on TV, a Syrian man asked how the West could let such brutality continue. Another Syrian man interviewed some months earlier presented another perspective: “Nothing good ever comes from the West.”

We are witnessing a war within Islam between those who accept the twenty-first century and those who long for the seventh. Throw in nationalist/sectarian (Sunni-Shia) and tribal conflicts, as well as political thuggery, and we’re left with a witches brew too toxic to consume.

Limiting our response seems inhumane but reflects reality. Only the peoples of the Middle East can create lasting peace for themselves. This may not happen until the middle or later stages of this century when they’ve been exhausted by death and destruction. It may not happen at all.

What is Aleppo then? A final two words: frustration, angst. I suspect you can come up with many more.

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MUSLIM BASHING AND ANTI-SEMITISM

Does anti-Muslim rhetoric relate to anti-Semitism? Yes, according to my friend Claudia Hagadus Long, an attorney and fellow novelist. Claudia has authored a trilogy about colonial Mexico—Josefina’s Sin, The Duel for Consuelo and (late 2016 or 2017) Marcela Unchained. Given her family’s challenging Jewish history, an undercurrent of anti-Semitism runs through all. Now, Muslim bashing has her on edge.

Claudia’s parents were non-observant Jews, her American-born father militantly so. Her mother was one of the few in her family to survive the Holocaust. When Claudia was a child, her parents, sister and brother moved from Pennsylvania to Mexico City. Her father’s sister had married a Mexican Jew, and the family practiced Judaism in Guadalajara. Claudia’s Mexican friends were Catholic. She and her sister often accompanied them to church. That was okay with her mother, who’d been protected by nuns in Poland and elsewhere. “They helped her survive.”

As a youngster, Claudia was unaware of her family’s history and attitudes. Anti-Semitism remained “the bear in the living room no one spoke of.” Eventually she learned of her mother’s Holocaust experiences. The story proved so painful, she has not been able to write about it.

But writers find ways to deal with pain. Calling on her early years in Mexico—the family eventually returned to New York, and Claudia attended Harvard—she began writing about conversos. These “secret Jews,” along with Catholics once Jewish, are pursued by the Inquisition. Josefina, heroine of the first novel, is introduced to poetry by a Jew, whose brief appearance lays bare his precarious position in the New World. Consuelo, protagonist in the second, is a converso’s daughter. Her mother and grandmother light candles on Friday night—in secret.

It’s hardly surprising that Claudia is finely attuned to anti-Semitism today. Terrorist acts against Jews throughout the world, she says, are reported with a yawn. Otherwise-thoughtful people and self-proclaimed anti-racists happily vilify Jews. Claudia sees much anti-Semitism in attitudes towards Israel, particularly on campus. She cites a vocal minority of students who consider themselves liberal seeking to exclude Israeli scientists or poets from being part of activities because of their country’s policies. “This allows for a refusal to look at an individual’s contribution to the greater good simply because he or she is Jewish.”

Claudia doesn’t always support Israel’s policies but distinguishes Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora from the Israeli government. Non-Jews are treated differently, she points out. No one seeks to exclude Egyptians, Syrians, Saudis or Iranians from international conferences and forums, although their nations’ policies often raise eyebrows. The United States has committed its share of violence, yet vocal students seeking divestment from companies that do business with Israel never say a word about divesting from American companies.

So how does anti-Semitism connect with Muslim bashing? We’ll always have bigots, says Claudia, but people “who should know better” are jumping on the anti-Muslim bandwagon. It’s now okay for them to be against a particular religion. That being so, anti-Semitism also becomes acceptable. It’s widespread in Europe and openly so.

Where might Muslim bashing lead the United States? While the U.S. offers “unbelievable freedom,” Claudia fears the tide may turn. “If it’s okay to be anti-Muslim then it’s okay to be anti-Semitic—the easiest anti of all.”

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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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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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.

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PARIS AND BEIRUT

Last Friday’s terror attacks in Paris continue to dominate the news. Not everyone thinks that’s good. Lebanese commentators ask why Paris eclipses ISIS suicide bombings that killed 41 in a southern suburb of Beirut. That was a horror. But there are understandable reasons why the West cries for Paris.

Yes, the City of Light represents the West. Beirut is Arab. But here’s what really impacts Western sensibilities: Following the barbarity of World War Two, Europe reinvented itself. The Middle East—allowing for colonial and post-colonial influence—did not. The region failed to address its underlying religious, tribal and political conflicts.

Take Lebanon’s civil war. From 1975 to 1990, multiple factions slaughtered each other and innocents. Christian, Muslim—Sunni and Shiite—and Palestinian militias went at it. Syrian, Iranian and Israeli forces—as well as a multinational force—entered the country. Deaths are estimated at 150,000.

Now look at failed Arab wars against Israel despite the United Nations partition of Palestine, the assassination of Egypt’s president and peacemaker Anwar Sadat, and the bloody aftermath of the Iranian revolution. Add in the Iran-Iraq war in which at least half-a-million troops perished. Consider the brutal dictatorships of Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Muammar Qaddafi (Libya) and Syria’s Hafez al Assad, who in 1982 repressed the Muslim Brotherhood by flattening the city of Hama and killing from 10,000 to 20,000 people.

Tragically, there was more: Taliban savagery in Afghanistan. Jihadi attacks in Pakistan and India. Al Qaeda and 9/11. Saddam’s sacking of Kuwait. Iran-backed Hezbollah taking over southern Lebanon. The Arab Spring that produced Arab Winter. Hamas’ attacks on Israel that brought great destruction to Gaza. Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel and resultant suffering in Lebanon. The death cult of ISIS perpetrating such cruelties as the slaughter and sexual enslavement of Yazidis. Then there’s the Syrian civil war and more than 250,000 deaths.

Beirut didn’t disappear from the headlines because the West devalues Muslim lives but because Islamists and so many Muslim leaders do. The West is far from perfect. Colonization was wrong. But that was yesterday. Much of the Middle East so dwells on the past that it can’t focus on the future. (Sidebar: Only twenty years after the Holocaust, Israel established diplomatic relations with West Germany.)

When bombs explode in Lebanon—or elsewhere in the Middle East—the West takes such violence in stride. Sadly, bloodshed will continue as the norm until the region re-imagines governance beyond religious tyrannies, military dictatorships, royal families and corrupt faux democracies.

And this: On Tuesday, Islamist suicide bombers killed 32 people in northeastern Nigeria. The online edition of the Daily Star, Lebanon’s English-language newspaper, provided no coverage on its home page. I had to click on World News then scroll. Way down. In fairness, today’s Daily Star home page reported deadly terrorist attacks in Bamako, Mali and in Baghdad. Ongoing coverage remains to be seen. Lebanon, like the West, has its own issues.

So let’s mourn the deaths in Beirut. Let’s also see Muslims worldwide stand up to the hatred in their midst—the only hope for permanent change. Some are doing so now. I salute them. As the 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

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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EUROPE AND THE SLIPPERY SLOPE

American politics often seizes up atop the slippery slope. When common sense dictates compromise, Democrats and Republicans refuse to take a first small step. They reason that a tiny compromise will lead to larger compromises eroding their core principles. Europe, too, faces a slippery slope in regard to refugees fleeing the Middle East and South Asia.

We’re all familiar with rickety boats crossing—or sinking in—the Mediterranean. Refugees come ashore in Greece and Italy then go on. Hungary, a way station to prosperous Germany, closed its border. Croatia, another way station, will no longer offer refuge. Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said of refugees, “They will get food, water and medical help, and then they can move on… We have hearts, but we also have heads.”

Many Europeans are welcoming. Others fear the slippery slope. Let some refugees in and the inflow will become uncontrollable. Resources will dwindle. Moreover, as more Muslims gain a foothold in “Christian” Europe the Continent as we know it will cease to be.

How do you look into a child’s eyes and tell a family to return to a land of violence? For now, Europe doesn’t want to do that although it lacks a coordinated refugee strategy. Germany announced plans to host 800,000 refugees over the next year. The flow increased. Germany raised its target to one million. Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledges German wealth and organizational skills. She also recognizes the moral issue confronting Germany, which slaughtered six million Jews and millions of others.

So we can all feel good, right? I think not. I’d love to believe that generosity of spirit always leads to universal peace and love. I can’t. Europe has done a poor job of assimilating millions of Muslims already settled within its borders. The Germans hold their large population of Turks, many native-born, pretty much apart. In turn, Turkish Germans remain aloof. They welcome German jobs. They’re uncomfortable with liberal Western culture, including equal rights for women and people with a range of sexual orientations. Across Europe and in the U.K., Muslim communities often find themselves at odds with mainstream society because of differing religious and cultural norms.

Maybe I’m prejudiced—influenced by the plight of Europe’s Jews. Young friends in Sweden (see “Should Jews Leave Europe?”) believe they cannot bring up Jewish children in their homeland because of Muslim anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attitudes. Parisian Jews visited my synagogue this summer. They want to come to America because Jewish life in France is perilous. French Muslims make it so. Several years ago, a film producer in London told me that the Jewish community is terribly frightened of Muslim hostility and influence. Yet it’s difficult for these Jews—educated and successful—to get into the U.S.

If Europe were as capable as the United States in assimilating people from different cultures, I’d encourage it to take in large numbers of refugees. Europe is not, and I can’t. Of course, the decision is Europe’s. But even now, European nations are taking a closer look at the challenges they face.

Still, even if Europe eventually closes off immigration, it will have ingested a significant number of Muslims. The conundrum—and it’s particularly upsetting at this time of year—is whether Europe can digest them.

I wish all who observe a peaceful, healthy and happy New Year. May you be sealed in the Book of Life.

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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