Monthly Archives: March 2015

Germanwings, Terrorism and God

The crashing of a commercial jet into a mountain apparently by a pilot apparently suffering from depression is, to all but the most depraved, a tragedy. (My thoughts and sympathies go to the families of the victims, and hope they can find peace in the aftermath of their loss.)

Let’s break that down. The fear experienced by the passengers, doomed over the course of eight minutes to believe their fate, is well-described by the word “terror.” For the pilot, who had more than an inkling of what was happening and when, “terror” would be an understatement. But this is not “terrorism” in the sense we use it today. A Patheos piece goes into this in more detail, but it is worth stating plainly: the pain of a person in dire mental distress, and their fear of staying alive one moment longer, and even their fear of dying as the pilot in this case committed self- and mass-murder, is in no way related to terrorism. (Delusionally believing he’d make a mark in history, but not terrrorism.)

Terrorism is the concept of generating fear in others to attain power. To use fear to control the actions (or words) of others. And terrorists are not above using the events of others, or those of random events in nature, to their advantage. Rabbis have used tragedy like the terror attack in Ma’alot in 1974 to prove the results of irreligiousity (in this example, fairly “centrist” Orthodox Jewish leaders). Christians have often called out events as “signs” that people weren’t towing the line they’d drawn: Hurricane Sandy, local tornadoesheck, ANY wind! . Makes me wonder why the Westies are singled out for their acts of idiocy. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists… everyone’s got the “believe or god will smite you” groove going.

So… every religion has adherents, not always at the extremes, who are terrorists: scaring people into doing what they want or be smote by god in a random meteorological or criminal event.

Somewhere, there’s a crazed religious ‘enthusiast’ counting the number of victims and going through a dog-eared text of their religious persuasion to “prove” that they died because heathens (or co-religionists — it works either way) did something wrong. And, as terrorists wont, using the fear of further violence or mayhem if the world around them doesn’t bend to their delusional ways.

Caliphatonoma

CaptureDAESH has sent recruiters to Afghanistan. It urges attacks in its name, and claims what it can in Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere. Where is this caliphate DAESH is so passionate to build? In the middle of the desserts and cities of Iraq and Syria? The desserts of Libya? In the desserts and cities of Tunisia?

Cartography doesn’t seem to matter much to them: it’s a nation-state with no intended borders. It’s a state of mind. Of terror. The comparison between cancer and terrorism is almost trite, but the damage of DAESH, the organization that styles itself as ISIS, is similar to the disease that’s killed several of my friends, and assuredly will kill more.

Cancer are body cells gone insane. Islam, nationalism, tribal pride, ethnicity, culture: all these have an honored place in defining a people in a place and at a time. Like the top of the picture, these are large numbers of people living in (relative) harmony with one another. Those self-same components of cultural or ethnic identity, removed of reason or rational breadth become the death not only of those healthy around them and, ultimately, all culture, ethnicity, nationalism and even tribal identity. Where people stood, persons act out, displacing the normative for the insane. And where DAESH walks, all but the conquerors cower. And the conquerors can come from any nation, culture, or ethnicity — so long as they can spread the disease of fanatical, fatal extremism in the name of selfish, personal power over others.

They must have been very scared when they were children. I wonder what would these men be had they been raised with love, peace, acceptance and cultural and family identity?

On Lies and Liars — and Truth

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu helped up his voting by doing what rulers across the world have always done before elections: scare the electorate right before the election, then walk their fearmongering back once they’ve got the mandate. The day before elections Netanyahu spoke of the Right being in danger, that “the Left” was busing Arab voters to vote. That so long as he was in power, there would be no Palestinian state.[1][2]

The day after the elections Netanyahu blithely and without any shame walked back that latter statement. While he might see this as something completely normal, it’s raised worries even among staunch Israeli supporters. As well it should: lies and fearmongering are a hallmark of a “sick” politican movement, one that believes it can’t rely on truth and facts to make its case.

Of course, in Israel, things are more complicated. While this author very much wants two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side, with _all_ of Jerusalem as their joint capital, currently this is not possible. Throughout the ’90s and 2000s any “moderates” in the Palestinian camp have been eradicated[3][4][5], leaving populists like Abu Mazen and non-negotiators like Hamas holding the reins of power in with West Bank and Gaza Strip. I don’t trust Netanyahu to act in good faith, but I certainly don’t trust terrorist groups who’ve vowed to destroy Israel to honestly participate in the creation of a two-state solution.

But the current situation should not be the basis for blanket statements, and Netanyahu, in making a blunt (and, for once for him, honest) statement about a two-state solution, showed his true colors. Even if an Abba Eban, a Mohatma Ghandi, a Mother Theresa were all to arise from within the Palestinian leadership, he would not reach out to create peace. An that is more dangerous to Israel and the entire Middle East than someone who is willing to honestly deal and honestly speak. Dancing the sidestep might look pretty in a movie, but a person’s word is their bond. Break that bond enough times and there’s not even an empty, angry suit left.

Tunisia & The Homicidal ex-Boyfriend

domestic violenceIf I can’t have you, I’ll beat/kill you so no one can have you. This is the insane rationale of men who beat or kill their ex-girlfriends (real or imagined). (If you are in a situation like this, please click here to get help.)

DAESH thrives on fear and chaos, believing their “order” would be preferred to the horrors of random violence.

Tunisia, and all normatively functioning countries, have an invested interest in creating a diverse market of products and services to generate foreign currency: tourism, agriculture, manufacturing. Even if the country is totalitarian, the need for money and trade is critical. The Filipino government depends on foreign remittances from their citizens serving in household and other endeavors in countries around the world. The Mexican economy depends in many parts of the country on those selfsame remittances from illegal immigrants to the United States, sending home money to support their families.

Broken and failed states are only interested in their self-preservation, inhabitants be damned. North Korea exports cohorts of slaves from its prisons (where “crimes” are frequently manufactured, and entire families are sentenced for the purported sins of a single family member) to work in Middle Eastern countries as construction workers. DAESH steals and loots from people that have run from their terror, extorts money for passage into, on, and out of its controlled territory and sells oil to the open market. There’s no real commerce, no industry: there’s only money into DAESH’s bloody pockets.

Depriving a country of legitimate revenue, like killings tourists, gives DAESH and other “angry boyfriend” terrorists a venue to increase their power. For where there is no economy, no markets, high unemployment, fear and anger, DAESH, like a lethal fungus, can take root.

Sunshine (transparency) and cleanliness (rule of law, fairness) are the cure for these situations. But it’s up to governments and rulers to invest in their people, in their businesses and industries, and schools to keep the population involved and interested in keeping the empty hatred of DAESH and its ilk at bay.

 

 

But What of Tikrit?

DAESH is slowly, painfully, being pried out of Tikrit. Instead of America’s fanciful and impossible-to-execute idea of strengthened Iraqi battalions of mixed-sect soldiers with “Coalition” support, it’s a Badr/Sadr/Iranian action with a boisterous Iraqi tagging along. This is how it seems to me, an outsider in faith and geography. But it’s clear to me, with my military background, that Americans can’t be much in play, not if they’re busy not talking with Iranian forces led by a general who’s made life miserable for the West, thwarting plans of Israelis and Americans alike in the Syrian debacle.

skull_maskNow comes the test of Iran as a nation-state: how will they treat the Iraqi citizens of Tikrit. Yes, it’s Saddam al Tikriti’s home town. And yes, it’s a pure Sunni city. Will this turn into a revenge trip, continuing the cycle of violence? Or will the Iranian military take the moral high ground and truly free the city, and not merely conquer and subjugate its inhabitants. The telling of that story will determine whether this is Iran’s honest attempt to behave more like a nation of laws, or whether it’s yet another defilade in its pure power war with the Sunni and moderate Islamic Middle East — and the West. And General Qasem Soleimani holds the key to Iranian’s future in its dealing with the West.

On Being the Will of the People

15 March update: Elections in Israel are less than a day away, and it looks like the Joint List with Meretz is an attractive alternative in the Israeli-Arab “street” to not voting, or joining a large party. Check out one of the charismatic candidates from Haifa in this CNN story.

Israelis go to elections this week. All Israelis have the right to vote (if they are in-country on voting day). I’ve always been proud of the fact that ballot boxes are sent to military bases, prisons and hospitals to sweep up every last vote. Israel’s parliamentarian system is amazingly imperfect, yet it is better, at this point, than even the American system. It’s easy to buy a politician: it’s a bit harder to buy a party, each with its own internally-ranked list of possible Knesset members. That said, the baldly stated positions of these parties need little camouflage to attract the money, in contrast to the amorphous “Republican” or “Democrat” label in America, which by virtue of the breadth of the label, makes indiscernible the true views of the politician beyond their carefully crafted, handled, managed, spun sound bites.

It’s an ugly election where the true views and opinions of its citizens are brought bare for a popularity contest. And given that there are voting percentage thresholds preventing tiny (and usually fringe) parties from getting in, the simpler and more populist the message, the better the chances of that party getting sufficient votes to represent its ideological constituents.

Gerrymander_fullThis means that Israeli Arabs, if they want any say in obtaining a legitimate portion of the economic pie, must lump themselves together either into an oleo of communist, religious Muslim and ethnically Arab proponents — and achieve much thrashing with little concrete, usable policy or power, or vote with one of the left-leaning parties, and hope that said parties won’t forget their Arab voters once they get a say in government. This is akin to the American concept of gerrymandering, without all the trouble of reapportioning voters to geographies. And Israeli Arabs will lose here, as they have in almost all previous elections. But the y have the vote, and access to the laws of the land, and their courts. And slowly, incredibly slowly, their representatives are able to bring the resources their constituents need home to them.

At least in Israel Christians and Muslims have the right to vote, and, on paper if nowhere else, are full citizens of the country. And that’s the point: the minority in Israel has rights courts have reaffirmed countless time.

A democracy isn’t required to be run with the will of the people: the Hussein dynasty ruling Jordan has done an incredible job of providing a place at the table for Arabs of all faiths and sects. And while there is a Parliament which ostensibly runs the country, the real power is behind the throne and the Hussein dynasty. King Hussein rules because he considers the will of his people, and at the very least acknowledges it.

But a country run by those ignoring the will of its weak people (demographically or politically speaking) is not a true country: it’s a swath of land where those with power rule, and those without bend, hide, or die. A place like DAESH’s ephemeral domain. Or Iraq. Or Burma. Or any number of Emir/Calif/Prince/King -ruled places.

Living Life in Color, Not the Black and White of Absolutism

حياة

DAESH lives in a crisp, black and white world: Semahat or Haram — allowed or forbidden. So do Neo-Nazis, apparently. Extremists see the world with few hues or shades outside their world view. Many things influence someone to reach that point, and intervening with that person, their family and their community is a proven way to disrupt this path. The BBC profiled Hayat this week: It’s an organization that works to intercede on behalf of friends or families of someone on the path to radicalization. (If you want to read a detailed of how their program works, here you here.)

Hayat is based directly on another very successful program in Germany called Exit, which has helped hundreds of people leave the neo-Nazi movement. According to Daniel Koehler, who runs the program, relief from family and neighborhood violence, exposure to moderate voices of religion (his group makes no attempt to change a person’s choice of belief) all combine to leach the fear and anger from a person, emotions that would otherwise send them down extremist — and violent — paths.

American interest in funding mental healthThis solution would never work in America today. Eliminating violence from the home and community requires investment is education, mental health and community-based solutions to violence. In the current extremist congresses in many states, money to do good is trumped by the need to build prisons and turn even minor criminals into sources of revenue at the local, county and state levels. And the levels of extremism for which Hayat was founded to defray is the same level in many right-wing political and religious groups firmly embedded in many American politicians at the state and federal levels.

Until Americans decide that “home improvement” is a worthwhile action, we’ll continue to empower the radicalization of our most disenfranchised citizenry.

The Caliphate of “V”

DAESH might be trying to carve a totalitarian, landlocked (in fact and intellectualism) space to call home. American extremists are no less rabid in using fearmongering to gather strength and constituents. The (obvious) difference is that here we have folks who own the media, and buy the politicians needed to advance our cause: no need for actual weapons (except to arm said constituents to assuage their fears). At the present time it looks as though they’re trying to carve out chunks of the American Southeast as their homeland, safe from concepts and realities clashing with their religion-warped world view.

I’d just bought a few boxes of Girl Scout cookies outside a bustling restaurant on a Friday night but stopped on my way home to chat with a mother trying to calm a baby clearly past the end of its tether. She glared at my box and asked if I knew that the Girl Scouts of America funded abortions. I decided she’d been radicalized by extremists and didn’t contest her insane claims. Which probably made her feel more correct, but I wouldn’t have changed her “mind” no matter how persuasive my rebuttal.

While V for Vendetta is a fictional story, it has all the subtlety of Orwell’s 1984 in its threat: religion plus fear equals control. And whatever lies need spreading to further the goal, it’s all in the name of god. The reality is that in America, just like in “V,” the powers that be might use religion as a tool, but the real goal is pure, controlling power.

One of the weapons used vigorously by both DAESH and their American extremist counterparts is the mentally ill. Sane, balanced people can become suicide bombers, suffused in their zealotry and firmly directed and aimed. But these are like cruise missiles: the bulk of suicide bombers are Katyusha rockets: unintelligent, unguided, but shoved in the approximate direction of the enemy. In America we have the social and medical capability to analyze a perpetrator, to determine whether her or his motives were sound. I argue that extremism (religious or not) is a kind of insanity, but that doesn’t mean a person is of diminished capacity. For every “Islamist” terrorist there are literally tens of millions of Muslims who define the norms of a healthy society. And for every American believing, for example, that killing doctors who perform abortions is part of a holy war, there are tens of millions of Christians that cringe at the thought that a person like that would be a member of their congregation. So yeah, they’re nuts: but the kind of nuts that’s inexcusable in societies with (even somewhat) functional governments.

They’re not that different, DAESH and the Koch brothers and their puppets in the media and behind pulpits: both want to create “perfect” societies in which the rulers make… (drum roll)… the rules. One uses a circus mirror of Islam, the other a similar mirror of Christianity, with the oxymoronic melding of Ayn Rand’s love of only oneself through Objectivism.

The take-away is that religious extremism locks a person’s world view into a monochromatic focus: it’s right or wrong. They’re in, they’re out. Eliminate — or be eliminated. At least in America the fighting[1] is sporadic[2] at the moment[3][4][5] (and mostly[6] non-violent). But it has a great potential for violence against those in any shade not white.

Netanyahu and his High Horse

I’m taking a (short) break from Peace as a concept to focus on the real here and now. I’ll be back to discussing issues surrounding Daesh next week.

Colonel Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu א”ש. Died rescuing kidnapped civilans a continent away from Israel.

Bibi the Blowhard (Benyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister) blew into office on the strength of his commando brother Yonatan’s brand identity, as said brother died rescuing kidnapped Jews held in Entebbe, Uganda. His command of English, his ability to bend and twist with the political wind, all combine to make the perfect empty suit. He’s the rich white guy that makes Christians in America feel oh so comfy, and his dismissal of everything to his left and fear-mongering keep the Israeli equivalent of the American Focks Gnus sycophants cheering.

pistachio+vector+LARGEYou don’t negotiate for peace with friends: you do it with enemies. The time is _never_ right, and the leadership and circumstances are always sub-par. Unlike the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in Iran we have a political and governmental entity with whom treaties (and embargoes) work. And the fruits of such a peace are sweet, and filled with fistukim (pistachio nuts, an Iranian export). The price Israel (and Egypt) paid for peace was high, and continues to have a cost. But it beats having a state of war and a frighteningly long border, something even total French Jewish immigration wouldn’t help.


Even if Netanyahu is right and it’s a 10-year hiatus for Iran to “get ready to start again,” that’s ten years to change minds and hearts of entire countries. Give peace a chance. Or, to use Nasreddin‘s parable, over that time perhaps the horse might sing!