Posts Tagged ‘ISIS’

TRUMP’S RESIGNATION SPEECH

Jan. 20, 2018. President Donald J. Trump resigned today on the one-year anniversary of his inauguration. His resignation came three weeks before special investigator Robert Mueller will release his report on alleged collusion between Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. Leaked highlights of the report have produced negative reactions from Congressional leaders and the media. A transcript of Mr. Trump’s remarks follows.

“My fellow Americans. Real Americans who know what’s made America great again. Me! I’m sad. No one can be sadder than Donald Trump. Because the witch hunt… So witchy. But I’m glad. Because I’m rich. They hate that. And you know who they are.

“You keep hearing all that fake news from the so-called media. Terrible. So terrible! But the real news is, I’m here to celebrate.

“Donald Trump is celebrating the greatest presidency in the history of the real United States. Except those phony states on the coasts. I mean, the coasts north of swampy Washington D.C. Not the South. Not the Gulf out there somewhere. And California. California could drop into the ocean—the Pacific, right?—nobody would care.

“Please, don’t applaud. Not yet. Okay. Go ahead. I deserve it. In just one year, Donald Trump has made America great again. So great! That’s why I’m going to let a younger man carry on and keep America great. Not as strong a slogan as make America great, but there’s only one Donald Trump. Except for Donald Trump, Jr. But he’s a junior, right?

“I hear crying out there. So many people crying. You miss me already. So sad. I mean, one of the greatest presidents in history, right? Washington. Lincoln. Reagan maybe. Kind of Hollywood. And Trump! No. Hold the applause. Okay, don’t. I mean, you name a great thing, I’ve talked about it. Like telling Congress to cut taxes to stimulate ten percent growth. Four? I said four? Details. And keeping Muslims out of our country. That screw-up’s on the so-called courts. Pardon my French but they’re just like Congress. No balls!

“And China. I had Xi Jinping for dinner at Mar-a-Lago. I let him see how we handle our business. Now he knows. And those new islands China’s building in the South China Sea? Great development opportunities for American companies. Jobs, jobs, jobs. You’ll see the Trump name everywhere.

“North Korea? They only launched a dozen missiles during the past year. Not even. Something like eight. Maybe fourteen. Details. Doesn’t matter. Know why? The kid with the funny haircut, he’s scared. Of me. Syria? Very peaceful now. Very little fighting. Great opportunities for American companies to rebuild some of those ruins. A Trump golf course in Damascus? Beautiful! That’s how you kick ISIS’ ass. And Iran’s.

“Sure. Applaud. I earned it. That’s why starting today, I’m going to spend more time with my family. Who knew being president would take more than three days a week? Four in a crisis? And if President Pence needs me, he can call my villa outside Moscow. Or text. But not tweet. Donald Trump doesn’t follow tweets. Facebook, maybe.

“No worries. My portrait in the Oval Office? It’ll inspire him. The steely eyes. The iron jaw. All those emeralds and rubies set in a gold crown. Za zdarovye!”

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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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MANY PEOPLE SAY…

Where do you get news? I find print, broadcast and most online sources to be inaccurate and biased. Cover-ups abound. So I turn to common wisdom. That said, let me share some important stories you might not have seen.

Many people say President Obama is a Hindu. But wait! Isn’t he a Muslim? And wasn’t he born in Indonesia? That’s all a smokescreen spread by Mr. Obama himself. Actually, he was born in Mumbai and venerates all those gods with multiple arms because you need a lot of hands to toss around such traitorous untruths as, “I am a loyal American, and I root for the Chicago Bulls.”

Many people say Hillary and Bill Clinton were models for a character on the hit TV series “Breaking Bad.” If you saw the show, you know that a major New Mexico drug lord owned a string of fried-chicken restaurants. It all makes sense. Chicken is a bird. So is an eagle. Eagles fly high. The Clintons had $100 million dollars in gold flown in a Saudi plane to a safe house in the Swiss Alps should they ever need to flee the U.S. The transfer was coordinated by the State Department.

Many people say Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton founded ISIS. Fact is, ISIS is a phony Islamist movement bankrolled by Hindu India to keep the West off balance while India competes with China for dominance in Asia then the world. Just think about this: Why do we see so few clear photos of ISIS’ top leaders? Because most are Indian Hindus. Like Obama. And like Hillary, who was born Jewish—Hilda Rodhamsky, not Hillary Rodham—but fabricated her origins. Hillary became a Hindu after eating at an Indian restaurant in New York while enrolled, she says, in Yale Law School. (She attended law school at Brooklyn College. Check her emails.)

Many people say the world is 6,000 years old. That’s rounded off, since the coming Jewish New Year will be 5777, according to the dating established by the Rabbis of the Talmudic era almost 2,000 years ago. What about scientific evidence that the Big Bang brought the universe into existence as long as 14 billion years ago? And that the earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old? Most Jews think traditional dating is metaphorical, but many Christian evangelicals know that science is not to be trusted. Witness the sin of inoculating children against diseases such as polio. How do we know science is bogus? Just check out truth-telling websites on your laptop, tablet or cell phone. Computer science? Just one more lie.

Many people say that Donald Trump will win 80 percent of the popular vote but lose in the Electoral College. No question, Mr. Trump is wildly popular with the American electorate. Mr. Trump says so. But the election is rigged, folks. Really. If Mr. Trump wins, well that’s only natural. If Mrs. Clinton wins, there’s probably a Hindu hand (see above) pulling the leavers. More than one hand, actually.

Now you know the truth, which puts a heavy responsibility on your shoulders. But not to worry. When you try to set people straight and they seem skeptical—if not downright hostile—declare your objectivity. Tell them, “I’m just saying what many people say. Me? I don’t know.”

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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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DESTROYING HISTORY

Last weekend, Carolyn and I visited friends in Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We saw the classic musical Guys and Dolls. (I played Nathan Detroit in summer camp.) We also toured Ashland’s historic Railroad District. As we strolled, I couldn’t help thinking of the barbarians who seek not to preserve history but to destroy it.

American gold-seekers settled Ashland in the early 1850s. Timber and wool products contributed to the town’s growth. In 1887, the Southern Pacific Railroad joined Portland and San Francisco in Ashland where a golden spike was driven. The old SP Depot, repurposed as a commercial building, stands at 5th and A Streets, a hundred yards from its original site.

All this brought to mind the Syrian city of Palmyra 120 miles northeast of Damascus. Known as Tadmur to Syrians and Tadmor in the Hebrew Bible, Palmyra boasts ruins dating from before the Assyrian Greeks. They include a stunning Roman theater of the second century CE. But not everyone finds them thrilling.

Islamic State (ISIS) now controls Palmyra. ISIS and all Islamists abhor ancient cultures. After conquering Mosul, Iraq in 2014, ISIS used sledgehammers and electric drills to destroy Assyrian and Akkadian statues in the National Museum. Last summer, ISIS claimed to blow up a site said to be the burial place of the prophet Jonah. In March 2001, the world watched in horror while the Taliban destroyed two giant sixth-century stone statues of Buddha in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

Religious and secular totalitarians seek to obliterate history. It’s simple. People exposed to past cultures enjoy the opportunity to appreciate, compare and think about their own. Ideologues find critical thinking threatening. Reason undermines rigid doctrines built on blind and often ignorant faith.

The past also chips away at our often-inflated egos. The glories and vainglories of history remind us that while technology changes, the human psyche does not. History confronts us with the fact that we are not the first humans; we are not all that original. It challenges us to realize that our place in the chain of events doesn’t grant us moral superiority by default.

At this writing, the treasures of Palmyra survive—at least those not stolen for sale on the antiquities black market. But as long as ISIS remains in the city, Palmyra’s rich history stands in peril. Human beings already have met horrible fates. Last Tuesday, ISIS shot twenty men in Palmyra’s amphitheater.

How long will ISIS maintain its hold on Palmyra? How long will this vicious “caliphate” and similar Islamist groups bent on forcing their “truth” on Muslims and non-Muslims alike continue to rape, pillage and plunder? John M. Owen IV, writing in the May/June 2015 FOREIGN AFFAIRS (“From Calvin to the Caliphate”) believes that the West cannot produce an outcome to our liking. “But just as the Ottoman Empire, the Muslim superpower of the time of the Wars of Religion, could not resolve the strife among Christians in the sixteenth century, no outside actor can pacify the Middle East today. Only Muslims can settle their ideological war.”

This may take a long, long time. We may not like the outcome. Still, they say you can’t kill an idea. Not that Islamic State isn’t trying.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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IT’S ISLAMISM

The Islamic State’s recent beheadings of two Japanese and burning of a Jordanian Air Force pilot bring reminders from Washington that we’re engaged in a “war on terror.” Nonsense.

Terror is a strategy, sometimes a tactic. We face an aberrant ideology. It’s Islamism, which seeks to impose by force its version of Islam and legitimizes any form of violence to do so. Islamism doesn’t represent all of Islam or all Muslims. But despite President Obama’s refusal to utter its name, Islamism is a form of Islam. Yesterday the President acknowledged ISIS’ religious roots at the National Prayer Breakfast, stating that, “no god condones terror.” ISIS’ version of Allah does.

It’s all about scriptural interpretation and human agency. Take Judaism. Exodus 15:3 states that God “is a man of war.” Deuteronomy 20:13 instructs that if a town refuses to negotiate terms of peace (surrender and forced labor) “you shall put all its males to the sword.” Yet centuries after these texts were written, the Rabbis rejected such violence. Yes, losing wars and risking Roman reprisal helped create that view. Yet three-dozen times the Torah calls for the death penalty regarding Jewish matters. The Rabbis made its implementation virtually impossible.

Muslims call Islam a religion of peace. It is—for those who interpret the Quran that way. The Quran* binds Muslims with Jews and Christians. “Our God and your God is one” (29:46). It promulgates religious freedom. “There shall be no compulsion in religion” (2:256). Further, “Believers, Jews, Christians and Sabeans—whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does what is right—shall be rewarded by their Lord…” (2:62).

Yet the Quran sees Jews and Christians departed from the monotheism of Abraham. “The unbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans shall burn for ever in the fire of Hell. They are the vilest of all creatures” (98:7). How should Muslims respond? “Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends… Allah does not guide the wrongdoers” (5:51). Many more verses excoriate Jews and Christians.

Weighty questions confront Islam, although there is no single Islam as there is no single Judaism or Christianity. Can the Quran be read as metaphor? Can 1,400-year-old laws and customs be adjusted to co-exist with modern views in the 21st-century world? Is religious freedom acceptable?

Blood spilled for centuries before the West embraced the Enlightenment and religious pluralism. Yet many people cling to “one truth.” At yesterday’s National Prayer Breakfast—an interfaith event—retired NASCAR driver and keynote speaker Darrell Waltrip told attendees that if they’d never gotten on their knees to ask Jesus for forgiveness, “You’re going to hell.” In Cairo, the moderate Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb of prestigious al-Azhar University, holder of a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne, expressed revulsion at the Islamic State’s barbarism: The perpetrators, he said, should be “killed, or crucified, or their hands and legs cut off” in accord with Muslim law.

In the ancient Middle East, to know someone’s name was to hold a measure of power over that person. May naming Islamism bring us a new honesty that opens hearts and minds worldwide.

*The Koran: Translated With Notes by N.J. Dawood, New York, Penguin Books, 1978.

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ROSH HASHANAH, CHINA AND ISIS

Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, worshippers filled Congregation Sherith Israel’s awe-inspiring sanctuary for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (5775). This told me a lot about what’s going on in China and the Islamic State.

Let’s start with the synagogue. Most Friday-night Shabbat services draw 50–75 worshippers, Saturday mornings fewer. A guest cantor, musical group, speaker or bar- or bat-mitzvah may attract 100–200 people—a fraction of the Rosh Hashanah crowd. So if most congregants rarely attend Shabbat services, what draws them to the High Holy Days?

I suspect they are “touching base”—reminding themselves that they share a heritage with generations present, past and future. They may drift away during the year, but they return annually. They engage in a natural human tendency to seek meaning in life beyond the material.

China’s population mirrors that desire. Over the past 40 years, China has developed a large middle class. It’s not exactly America’s middle class, but hundreds of millions of Chinese live above the poverty level and enjoy disposable income. China’s upper crust flaunts fabulous wealth. But this doesn’t seem to be enough.

In the current issue of foreign affairs, John Osburg reviews Evan Osnos’ book, Age of Ambition. It seems that many middle-class Chinese remain dissatisfied. They want more from life. Osburg writes, “Perhaps the most significant response to the perceived moral and spiritual crisis has been a surprising flourishing of religion.” In China, that religion is in great part Christianity. Because religion offers alternative ways of thinking, it disturbs the Communist Party.

Which brings us to the Islamic State. A number of ISIS fighters come from the West—Europe, the U.S., Australia and so on. Many were born there. They have access to education and prospects. Yet they’re drawn to ISIS, which does not promise the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

Now, I don’t think that Islamists like those of ISIS, Al Qaeda and their offshoots are anything but twisted in their religiosity. Most have little or no Muslim schooling. Granted, some verses in the Quran offer a basis for hatred of others. Likewise, so do some verses in the Torah. However, 2,000 years ago the Rabbis reinterpreted or rejected troubling narratives and commandments. They moved forward. Islamists want to go 1,400 years backwards.

ISIS’ Western fighters and supporters seek higher values they feel they can’t find at home. Young, impressionable and testosterone-fueled, they succumb to a concept of universalistic religion—Islam isn’t just right for them, it’s mandatory for everyone. Moreover, only their version of Islam is acceptable. They choose the path of Eric Hoffer’s “true believer,” preferring the simplicity of unswerving faith and incredible brutality over the often-messy business of questioning, debating and even changing positions every so often.

The quest for meaning follows many paths. Islamism proves grotesque in its bloodthirsty righteousness. It’s not that ISIS’ followers aren’t human. It’s that their religious choices forsake basic humanity.

May each of us in this New Year advance our own quest for meaning in the direction of peace, recognizing that we are all children of the same Creator and all deserving of the same respect.

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CANCER IN IRAQ

Medical science has helped many cancer patients extend their lives. Further, it’s inching towards cures. Military science has been far less effective in fighting religious cancers, such as ISIS—the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (aka ISIL, the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant). The United States might take that into account as Iraq faces dismemberment.

We toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. Then Iraq disintegrated thanks to a virtually nonexistent post-war plan for rebuilding a shattered country. A troop surge in 2007 brought bubbling hot spots down to a simmer but never extinguished the fire. Fuel and matches remained abundant. We withdrew in 2011. Now the lid has blown. Again.

Let’s get real. And that includes you, Dick Cheney! We can’t remake the Middle East. The cancer of Islamism—Islamic fundamentalism as distinct from Islam—has eaten away at the region since the Sunni-Shiite split in the Seventh Century following the death of Muhammad. We can retard its spread in some places, but a cure will come only from within. Whether it will be found in this century remains to be seen.

Is the cancer metaphor overblown? While all peoples praise peace, justice and freedom, Islamists and many others in the Muslim world define these principles differently. Peace means planting your boot on the neck of your enemy. And you always have enemies. Justice equates with revenge rather than ending the conditions that contribute to hostilities. Freedom, in terms of the caliphate, entails living as you believe God dictates—and dictating the same conditions to everyone you overrun. In The Clash of Civilizations (1996), Samuel Huntington posited that different civilizations/cultures possess different values and goals. Some are malignant. He was right.

What now? Use may be made of American air power in Iraq. But American boots—aside from Special Forces advisors and small, covert special operations units—will not hit the ground. We could stay there for a hundred years, and the same religious and tribal hatreds would remain while we slowly bled ourselves. So we won’t try to cure the cancer of Islamism. We’ll attempt to contain it. This will involve a web of complex, often unsavory, political relationships to stabilize the disease’s periphery.

Turkey will work with Kurdistan. (They’ve been coming to terms for a while.) The vicious Assad regime in Syria will receive more support from Iran, the rebels little from us. The U.S. and Iran will engage, although how remains unclear. We’ll try to drag Saudi Arabia to the table, although the Saudis hate Iraq’s Shiite, Maliki-run government—which we’ll try to change. We’ll quietly prop up Egypt’s military-run government and continue working with Jordan’s King Hussein. We’ll stand by Israel as a counterweight to Shiite Islamist ambitions in Lebanon—again while working with Hezbollah’s patron Iran. Hopefully, Mid-East first aid will stop the bleeding then prompt ISIS to cannibalize itself.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” goes a well-known Arab saying. Many enemies may accommodate each other until this crisis ends. But once ISIS is dealt with, allies joined under duress will turn on each other yet again.

The blog will take two weeks off. Look for the next post on July 11.

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