Posts Tagged ‘Islamism’

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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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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A MISLEADING QUESTION

Yesterday’s Opinion Pages in The New York Times asked, “Can the United States stay engaged with modern democratic Middle Eastern countries that have sizable anti-Western populations?” The answers by the chosen debaters were reasonable. The question was misleading.

Modern democratic Middle Eastern countries don’t exist—with the exception of Israel. Now let’s be clear: Millions of people in the region want their nations to move into the category of “modern democracy.” But millions more don’t share that desire. The recent attacks on American embassies in Egypt and Yemen—and the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya—reflect real differences with the modern democratic West that can’t be papered over. Kings? In the Middle East, they rule as well as reign. Ayatollahs? They run Iran. Autocrats? Syria’s makes headlines daily. Elected presidents? Yes, even those—but men ruling over fractured states where the rule of law has yet to be established let alone extended to all citizens.

Emotions in the U.S. are raw now. That’s understandable. So it’s time for a reality check, which I’ve reduced to three salient points (although I welcome you to add more).

1. Societies in the Middle East really do have different worldviews. Take free speech. In the U.S., we cherish it. Sometimes we abuse it, but still we uphold it even when we fault the abusers. The Middle East? Someone—not Washington—made a hateful film about Muhammad. Most Americans condemn and dismiss it. Egyptians and Yemenis stormed our embassies. Sudanese forced their way into the German embassy. In Tripoli, Lebanon, one person has been killed in a protest. These stories are still unfolding. Political dissenters? I can yell “Screw Obama!” ‘til the cows come home. In the Middle East, dissenters face intimidation, imprisonment or death. Iranians and Syrians, among others, can tell you.

2. American power to foster change is limited. (Read Slick! for a satirical take on that.) The world is not a machine that can be repaired by a competent mechanic. In part, our options are restricted precisely because the Middle East is not like us. What we believe to be rational, progressive arguments often fall on deaf ears. Moreover, we’re condemned when we don’t step in (Egypt) and reviled after we do (Libya). Does anyone really want to send U.S. troops into Damascus?

3. The Middle East will remain a political and religious powder keg for a long, long time. Europe experienced centuries of bloodletting before achieving peace. The horrors of World War Two and the Holocaust are less than seven decades behind us. In the Middle East, the forces of Islamism (by which I mean theocratic dictatorship, not Islam) battle those seeking modernity, with or without a Muslim flair. Add to that Islamists battling among themselves. And stir in age-old clan, tribal and ethnic animosities. Can you say “Iraq?” With prudence, we can contain the fire. But only the people of the region can extinguish it.

Should we then turn our backs on the Middle East? No. The world is far too interconnected. Moreover, those of us who support Israel’s right to exist cannot risk a second Holocaust through disengagement. Let’s hope those in power or seeking power in Washington will adopt both perspective and patience. Because as we also saw this past week, a shot from the hip often lands in the foot.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.