Posts Tagged ‘usa’

It is rumoured that the hard heads in the GOP have already given up any hope of Donald Trump winning the Presidential election in November and are casting their minds to 2020 with increasing attention. They were hardly helped by the laughable plagiarism scandal of Donald’ Drumpf’s poor wife reading a speech written for her that was in part lifted holus bolus from a previous Michelle Obama speech – really, who is running this shambles? – but today’s appearance by beaten candidate Ted Cruz was a killer.

Just look at this:

 

We are by no means fans of Cruz. We just honestly don’t think he’s an awfully nice guy, and he’s a few light years to the right of our own opinions. Mind you, it was hard to disagree with any of the platitudes he delivered in this address. And watching a bunch looney-tunes red-necks booing him for sympathising with the child of a dead Dallas policeman was not the most edifying thing we’ve ever seen.

But today the chickens came home to roost as he very obviously did NOT endorse the equally loathsome Trump as the GOP’s candidate, ripping any semblance of party unity to shreds. Hardly surprising when Trump attacked his wife on a very sexist and personal basis during the campaign and also dubbed Cruz “Lyin’ Ted”. Probably a bit much to expect them to kiss and make up, although the managers of the GOP obviously lived in hope. If we had been running this convention we would have given all of Trump’s critics inside the party a week’s free vacation somewhere without Twitter or journalists, but hey, what do we know?

Anyhow, as you can see in the video, he was booed off stage at the Republican National Convention in Oklahoma after failing to endorse newly elected presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Now Cruz has been accused of ‘snubbing’ Trump during his speech, after finishing in second place in the primaries. And while his speech initially began with a standing ovation from the audience, the mood quickly changed after Cruz noticeably neglected Trump from his address.

 

Ted Cruz took the stage at the Republican convention. Photo: Getty

“I want to congratulate Donald Trump for winning the nomination last night. And like each of you, I want to see the principles our party believes prevail in November,” Cruz began.

But that was the first and last reference of Trump’s name.

So as he continued, an increasingly restless audience began to realise an endorsement for their leader was not on the cards.

“We want Trump! We want Trump!” fans shouted out over Cruz, as he reminded everyone to vote in November.

 

Cruz was jeered off stage after he failed to endorse Trump. Photo: Getty

“If you love our country and love your children as much as I know you do, stand and speak and vote your conscience and vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the constitution,” Cruz went on.

The final minutes of his speech were virtually drowned out by booing and chanting, leaving him to simply smile ironically and wave as he made his way off stage.

A reporter for CNN said other members of the Republican party were infuriated by the speech.

“The anger is boiling over. So much so that I am told by a source, who was in a donor suite, when Ted Cruz walked in after he said his speech, the people were so angry at Cruz that they were calling him a disgrace to his face,” reporter Dana Bash said.

 

Donald Trump looked unimpressed as he stood at the back of the arena with his family. Photo: AFP

“A state party chair was yelling at him so angrily that he had to be restrained. That gives you a sense of just how intense the anger is now on the floor.”

And Cruz’s wife Heidi had to be escorted from the audience after her husband was jeered off stage, while US Political media site FiveThirtyEight labelled the speech as a “giant middle finger to Trump”.

During the end of Cruz’s address, Trump appeared at the back of the stadium where he waved to his fans before being seated with his family.

Pass the popcorn. This party is unelectable. Not only will Clinton beat Trump hands down – a remarkable achievement for a women who has been ruthlessly pursued, pilloried and calumnised for years now, and as a result is toxically unpopular with vast swathes of the population – but it’s very likely Republicans will lose seats “up and down the ticket”. Exactly how this will play out nationally is as yet indistinct, but it’s an effect that scares Republican grandees and candidates mightily. They will lose good people, vital if the drift of their party to the wilder outreaches of the political wilderness is to be resisted.

And frankly, more fool them. After years of pandering to the “anti-politics” mob in their own party, (of whom Cruz was a leading light), Republicans have been warned again and again and again that they are converting their once great party into a basket case, and effectively transforming America into a one-party-dominated country that is bitterly – very bitterly – divided between “everyone else” and the beaten down, angry, marginalised white working class, the lower middle class, and the elderly.

The Republicans are eating themselves. It’s going to get uglier before it gets better, if it ever does.

Errorists – Blair, Howard, Bush.

Wear your beliefs. Change the world one shirt at a time.

Those who forget history are fated to repeat it. Don't let people forget. Buy the shirt.

Those who forget history are fated to repeat it. Don’t let people forget. Buy the shirt.

 

Head to http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.431431250

We also urge you to read the Guardian’s editorial on the Chilcot enquiry. It encapsulates the total betrayal of the West by its then political leadership perfectly.

At least 500,000 dead. At least 1 million displaced. The entire Middle East thrown into chaos. Decades of misery ensured. The rise of ISIS.

Head to http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.431431250. Wear the shirt. Don’t let people forget.

#iraqreport #iraq #chilcotreport #chilcot #auspol #uk #usa #australia #war #peace

A US mum is seeking $133,000 compensation after her disabled teen daughter was allegedly beaten, and jailed for a day, by airport security. Reporting (which we pass on here) certainly doesn’t reflect well on the airport, although we have not contacted them for comment and there may be another side to this story. If that comes out in coming days we will report that, too. In any event, it’s an ugly incident.

 

Hannah Cohen after being detained. Picture supplied.

Hannah Cohen after being detained. Picture supplied.

 

We all know that airport security is important in these troubled times, and staff are understandably a bit jumpy. But when a partially blind, deaf and paralysed teenager flying home from brain tumour treatment was slammed to the ground, received a bloodied face and was thrown in jail when she became startled going through airport security, we have to ask whether this anxiety has gone too far, or whether security staff are given adequate training.

As the story is being reported, Hannah Cohen was 18 when she was returning with her mother Shirley from Memphis International airport to Chattanooga in southeastern Tennessee on 30 June, 2015 – a trip Shirley says they have done many times before without incident.

The young woman set off a metal detector at a security checkpoint and became confused when armed agents approached her and grabbed her arms, startling her, the Guardian reported. The girl’s mother was waiting at the other side of the security gate, wearing a mobility boot to nurse a broken foot, when she saw the harrowing incident unfold.

She said she hobbled to a security supervisor and told them: “She is a St Jude’s patient, and she can get confused. Please be gentle. If I could just help her, it will make things easier.”

Security agents told Hannah they needed to take her to a “sterile area” to do a further search. She said she was afraid, and, (very sensibly, in our opinion), suggested she remove her sequined shirt which appeared to be triggering the alert, as she had another top underneath. But officers allegedly laughed at her and instead called for backup.

When armed security arrived, Hannah became afraid. Her mother said the brain tumour left her partially deaf and blind in one eye, so she was startled easily.

“I tried to push away,” Hannah said. “I tried to get away.”

Her mother alleges the guards then detained Hannah and slammed her body to the ground, with her face hitting the floor, leaving the teen “physically and emotionally” injured.

“They wanted to do further scanning, she was reluctant, she didn’t understand what they were about to do,” her mother told Memphis TV station WREG3. “She’s trying to get away from them but in the next instant, one of them had her down on the ground and hit her head on the floor. There was blood everywhere. Another guard pushed me back 20ft, in my boot, and told me I couldn’t be nearby,” the girl’s mother told the Guardian.

Shirley said she quickly grabbed her phone from the security conveyer belt and took a photo of her distraught daughter on the ground.

The terrified young woman was then arrested and taken from the airport in handcuffs to jail, with blood dripping from her face. She was released 24 hours later.

Her family has filed a $133,000 lawsuit against the US Transport Security Administration and Memphis-Shelby County airport authority claiming Hannah was not given adequate accommodation to be screened, and alleging she was discriminated against her because of her disability.

Unbelievable: it looks like the slide to authoritarian behaviour by some security staff and police in America continues apace, or at least that’s how it appears from the way the story is being reported. At the very least, a PR disaster.

Jo

 

At Wellthisiswhatithink we have often bemoaned the brutalisation of politics. The way “anti politics” has become the new norm. A politics which is little more than cynicism, mistrust, name-calling and sloganising. It is seen most clearly and more than ever in the mindless forwarding of memes that brook no discussion, because no discussion is possible.

Those with an agenda to drive will accuse this blog of descending into vitriol on occasion. We reject that accusation. Politics is a serious matter, and you cannot “do” politics without disputation. Indeed, disputation – the contest of ideas – is the very core of freedom. And if we have, and it can be demonstrated, then we will recant and apologise.

But there is a difference – a gulf – between healthy disputation and hatred. And hatred has become the new normal, and relatively recently, too.

Whether it is in America, France, Denmark, Norway, the UK or Australia. Whether it is a discussion of guns, of racism, gay rights, of female emancipation, the European Union, or, most obviously, immigration, refugees and specifically Islam. The attitude that “you are with me, 100%, or you are evil and worthy of whatever abuse I choose to throw your way” has taken deep root. With the ascension of Trumpism, most obviously, we see how the inchoate mass rage generated by mindless sloganeering translates into political power, and then political violence. Democracy is a fragile flower, and it is wilting.

This article discussing Jo Cox’s assassination – for that is what it was – says it better than we can. We strongly recommend you read it. Because hatred is never funny. Hatred is never smart. Hatred is never right. Hatred is never appropriate.

Sure, “politics is a contact sport.” It doesn’t have to be murder.

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/06/a-day-of-infamy/

In slightly better news, #ThankYourMP is trending in the UK. Many people simply saying thank you to their MP, whether or not they vote for them. Well done, whoever thought that up.

"And we should put all the long haired ruffians in the army, too, that'd wake em up ..."

“And we should put all the long haired ruffians in the army, too, that’d wake em up …”

One of the things that drives us into a blue billy-oh state of mouth-foaming rage is that oft-repeated moment where people cheerfully announce “I’m not a racist, but …” and then proceed to say something effortlessly racist and dumb, because you just know they’re going to say something to emphasise someone else’s perceived otherness.

So today, this made us laugh.

Actually laugh out loud, not just typing lol, but really, you know – lol.

We hope it does you, too.

 

I'm not a racist

 

PS Dear Reader – and you know who you are – the next time you feel moved to pronounce “I am not a racist, but …” you are almost certainly about to say something racist. So don’t.

“Awa’ an bile yer heid”

Bundy

 

It looks like the feds are going to throw the book at the Bundy bird refuge occupiers. And the book keeps getting bigger.

The group was already facing the charge of “conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from the refuge occupation”.

A number of them were also facing charges relating to the 2014 Bundy Ranch Standoff, including “conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, conspiracy to impede or injure a federal officer, weapon use and possession, assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal law enforcement officer, obstruction, extortion to interfere with commerce, and interstate travel in aid of extortion.”

Yesterday, new charges were added against several of the defendants. Penalties for conviction on the charges range from five years to life in prison.

  • Ammon Bundy: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Ryan Bundy: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence and theft of government property”
  • Jon Ritzheimer: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence and theft of government property”
  • Ryan Payne: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Brian Cavalier: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Shawna Cox: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Jason Patrick: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Dylan Anderson: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Sean Anderson: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence and depredation of government property”
  • David Lee Fry: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities and use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Jeff Wayne Banta: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Sandra Lynn Anderson: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Kenneth Medenbach: “Theft of government property”
  • Wesley Kjar: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Corey Lequieu: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of firearm in relation to a crime of violence”
  • Jason Charles Blomgren: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Darryl William Thorn: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Geoffrey Stanek: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Travis Cox: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”
  • Eric Lee Flores: “Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities”

It’s the charge of “carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence” that carries the life sentence. Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with seven others were charged with that offense.

Kenneth Medenbach’s theft charge stems from his taking an Agency Ford pickup. Ryan Bundy and Jon Ritzheimer stole cameras valued at more than $1,000.

I suspect they’re all starting to wish they’d simply stayed home. Our opinion? If they’d done what they’d done and been Muslims or inner city African Americans they’d all be dead as doornails now, so they should count their blessings.

If convicted – and we are all for due process, and let us state categorically they are currently innocent – then one hopes the powers-that-be will throw the proverbial book hard and accurately.

141026_sabato_goldwater_gty

 

If you want to understand the Trump phenomenon, just look back 50 years.

Barry Goldwater was an American politician and businessman who was a five-term United States Senator from Arizona (1953–65, 1969–87) and the Republican Party’s surprise nominee for President of the United States in the 1964 election.

Goldwater is the politician most often credited for sparking the resurgence of the American conservative political movement in the 1960s. He also had a substantial impact on the future libertarian movement.

Goldwater badgeGoldwater was a touchstone for the wilder vestiges of the conservative tendency in the Republicans – very much the precursor of today’s Tea Party insurgency: not so much in terms of its politics, but in terms of its rejection of “the way things are done”, and annoyance at the tacit agreement in major policy planks that had hitherto existed between both major parties.

Goldwater rejected the legacy of the New Deal and fought through the conservative coalition against the New Deal coalition.

In a heavily Democratic state, Goldwater became a successful conservative Republican and a friend of Herbert Hoover. He was outspoken against New Deal liberalism, especially its close ties to unions which he considered corrupt.  Goldwater soon became most associated with union reform and anti-communism: his work on organised labour issues led to Congress passing major anti-corruption reforms in 1957, and an all-out campaign by the AFL-CIO to defeat his 1958 re-election bid.

save americaHe voted against the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954, but in the fevered atmosphere of the times he never actually charged any individual with being a communist or Soviet agent.

Goldwater emphasised his strong opposition to the worldwide spread of communism in his 1960 book The Conscience of a Conservative.

The book became an important reference text in conservative political circles.

Goldwater shared the current Trumpian disdain for central government and immigration. (Although it should be noted that Cruz and Rubio have also moved to harden their position on immigration, it is Trump who has made it a current touchstone for the current Republican Party with his populist and incendiary language, especially in the South.) His “Save America” theme had a populist edge that we see strongly reproduced in the apocalyptic pronouncements of the current front runners.

 

quote-to-disagree-one-doesn-t-have-to-be-disagreeable-barry-goldwater-11-26-18

 

But Goldwater was no mindless demagogue. He was more circumspect. In 1964, he ran a conservative campaign that emphasised states’ rights. The campaign was a magnet for conservatives since he opposed interference by the federal government in state affairs. Although he had supported all previous federal civil rights legislation and had supported the original senate version of the bill, Goldwater made the decision to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

His stance was based on his view that the act was an intrusion of the federal government into the affairs of states and that the Act interfered with the rights of private persons to do or not do business with whomever they chose. In the segregated city of Phoenix in the 1950s, however, he had quietly supported civil rights for blacks, but would not let his name be used publicly.

All this appealed to white Southern Democrats, and Goldwater was the first Republican to win the electoral votes of all of the Deep South states – South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana – since Reconstruction (although Dwight Eisenhower did carry Louisiana in 1956).

He successfully mobilised a large conservative constituency to win the hard-fought Republican primaries and in doing so became the first candidate of Jewish heritage to be nominated for President by a major American party.

He swept aside the Republican Party’s anointed son, wealthy philanthropist and liberal four-term Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, in the first such example in the modern era of the Republicans failing to have “one of their own” confirmed against an insurgent, although some would argue that Ronal Reagan was a similar example.

At a discouraging point in the 1964 California primary campaign against Barry Goldwater, his top political aide Stuart Spencer called on Rockefeller to “summon that fabled nexus of money, influence, and condescension known as the Eastern Establishment. “You are looking at it, buddy,’ Rockefeller told Spencer, ‘I am all that is left.” Rockefeller exaggerated, but the irretrievable collapse of his wing of the party was underway. His despair finds its echo in the current desperation of the Republican organisation and establishment at the increasing likelihood of a Trump nomination this year.

But in what may well be a precursor to Trump’s national election performance should he secure the Republican nomination in 2016, Goldwater’s vote on the Civil Rights Act proved devastating to his campaign everywhere outside the South (besides “Dixie”, Goldwater won only in Arizona, his home state), and the Democrats won states they did not expect, like Alaska, contributing to a landslide defeat for the GOP in the general election in 1964.

Trump’s offensive remarks about Latinos may now cruel him in exactly the same way – Latino voters are now a key constituency that appear currently ironed-on supporters of the Democrats, and it’s one that that the Republicans must appeal if they are to have any chance of winning nationally. With their enthusiasm for “small business” and entrepreneurism the Latino community should be fertile territory for the Republican Party. That they are clearly not is a measure of how desperately far behind the eight ball the Republicans currently are with their populist campaign.

Goldwater’s conservative campaign platform ultimately failed to gain the support of the electorate, but he didn’t just lose the election to incumbent Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson, he lost it by one of the largest landslides in history, bringing down many other Republican candidates around the country as well.

The Johnson campaign and other critics successfully painted him as a reactionary, while supporters praised his crusades against the Soviet Union, labour unions, and the welfare state. This, however, mainly piled him up support with people who would support a Republican candidate no matter what, (an effect that has been seen in election losing performances by the Labor/Labour parties in both Australia and the United Kingdom in recent years) and may even have lost him crucial support with conservative working class voters who didn’t want their bargaining power reduced.

His defeat, however, and the Republicans swept away with him, allowed Johnson and the Democrats in Congress to pass the Great Society programs, and a large enough Clinton or Sanders win in November would similarly embolden the Democrats to continue with the cautious reform programmes instigated under Obama in health, possibly focussing on making further education more affordable than it is currently. Such an outcome would be seen by many who are alarmed by Trump’s rise as deliciously ironic.

On the other hand the defeat of so many older Republicans in 1964 also cleared the way for a younger generation of American conservatives to mobilise which contributed to a growth in the party’s influence.

goldwater reaganAlthough Goldwater was much less active as a national leader of conservatives after 1964 his supporters mostly rallied behind Ronald Reagan, who became governor of California in 1967 and the 40th President of the United States, in 1981.

Indeed, with Reagan’s accession to the Presidency, with an emphasis on low tax and low spending rhetoric (which was not followed through in office) one can argue that Reagan was Goldwater’s legacy to America.

Reagan also successfully brought the evangelical Christian movement into the mainstream Republican fold in a move which continues to resonate to this day, especially in the candidacy of Ted Cruz. However that move also offended more moderate Christians, some Roman Catholics, and secular independents.

(As an aside, Trump’s record would hardly endear him to today’s religious conservatives, except for his decisive rejection of Muslims – interestingly his thrice-married history has its echoes in the rejection of Nelson Rockefeller, who was damaged by his divorce and re-marriage – but then again, if he is the nominee where else can they go? To what degree the religious right falls in behind Trump or simply stay home out of a lack of enthusiasm could also be an important factor in the Republican’s overall result.)

Goldwater, for all that he was a precursor to the anti-establishment Trump, was a man of some gravitas. In particular, unlike Trump, who avoided being drafted in the Vietnam war and has been criticised for doing so, he had a proud and distinguished military career.

With the American entry into World War II, Goldwater received a reserve commission in the United States Army Air Forces. He became a pilot assigned to the Ferry Command, a newly formed unit that flew aircraft and supplies to war zones worldwide. He spent most of the war flying between the U.S. and India, via the Azores and North Africa or South America, Nigeria, and Central Africa. He also flew “the hump” over the Himalayas to deliver supplies to the Republic of China.

Following World War II, Goldwater was a leading proponent of creating the United States Air Force Academy, and later served on the Academy’s Board of Visitors. The visitor center at the USAF Academy is now named in his honour. As a colonel he also founded the Arizona Air National Guard, and in a move that goes to his more nuanced attitudes to race than some, he would de-segregate it two years before the rest of the US military. Goldwater was instrumental in pushing the Pentagon to support desegregation of the armed services.

Remaining in the Arizona Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve after the war, he eventually retired as a Command Pilot with the rank of major general. By that time, he had flown 165 different types of aircraft. Goldwater retired as an Air Force Reserve major general, and he continued piloting B-52 aircraft until late in his military career.

Meanwhile, with his successes on “Super Tuesday” behind us, The Trumpinator rolls on seemingly unstoppably. We are on record as saying we didn’t think he could secure the nomination, but like many others it appears we completely under-estimated the populist rejection of “Washington” that he represents on the right (echoed by the success of Sanders on the left), and we now we suspect we were wrong.

We still find it hard to believe, but the Republican Party now appears to be entirely in thrall to an anti-establishment far-right insurgency that is essentially, at its core, simply “anti” politics and not in the slightest interested in serious policy outcomes.

It is perfectly fair to say that any one of dozens of idiotic pronouncements Trump has made would see him disqualified from holding high office in any other democratic Western country in the world, but the right in America seem to have wilfully suspended disbelief in their visceral hatred of the “liberal”, centralising, “socialist”, “Statist” conspiracy that they see represented by the Democrats and alsi now by many in their own party. However at the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we do confidently believe (and fervently hope) that this most “dumbed down” of Presidential campaigns cannot ultimately prevail.

Like Goldwater, Trump and his clumsy and oft-expressed bigotry may merely usher in another crushing Democratic victory, which would, surely, be the ultimate reward the GOP receive for abandoning good governance in their obtuse Congressional obstructionism against Obama, and in fleeing the centre ground by refusing to confront the Tea Party with better and more timely arguments and greater political courage.

Of course, Trump would never agree with us. In fact, no doubt, he would flip out one his standard insults, to cheers and applause from his acolytes.

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 11.56.34 am

 

If you, like us, were starting to feel left out by not having been personally insulted by this obnoxious populist just head to The Donald Trump Insult Generator.

Hours of innocent fun for all the family.

See also “Trump. The man who got memed.”

On this basis alone, Rubio should be ejected from the race for President. Only in America could such blatant lyign and hypocrisy be laughed off.

On this basis alone, Rubio should be ejected from the race for President. Only in America could such blatant lying and hypocrisy be laughed off.

 

Marco Rubio And his family lied about escaping Castro in the 1950s — it simply never happened. What follows is from “Addicting Info”.

Marco Rubio’s staff had to exit the building they were working in when the senator began smoking from the trouser region. Alarms and sprinklers were set off, leading to an investigation the fire chief was able to dismiss as a self-inflicted “liar, liar pants on fire” moment.

The incident happened when Rubio, who tells a wonderful story about how his parents came to the United States to escape the Castro regime, meaning they would have come in 1959.

Unfortunately, records have proven, and Rubio has himself admitted, that the actual date his parents migrated to Miami was 1956. In 1956, Castro was still living and plotting from Mexico. He wasn’t even in Cuba yet.

So why the discrepancy? Rubio says he was passing along the family’s “oral history.”

Yes, oral history. That’s when you don’t like your family’s actual history, so you make something up. That’s like someone’s antecedents landing in New Hampshire, but since nobody cares about anything in the 1620s but Plymouth, saying they’re now a direct descendent of the Mayflower … according to oral history. Phew … that was easy.

Rubio’s ridiculous answer fits in with the motif of the Republican party of lies, beat ups and exaggerations. WHat Carly Fiorina, before her political demise, called “politics is a fact free zone”. Or if something doesn’t make sense, ignore it until it just goes away.

Rubio comes along with his “I appeal to Latinos” mentality, some of which is a direct result of the lies he told. But how much will those same Latinos respect his “plight” when they learn Rubio’s parents came here voluntarily, not on a raft as refugees escaping life in prison or worse.

How will it fit the GOP’s virulently anti-immigrant ethos when they work out that the Rubios the country and asked to start working and were shown a straighforward path to citizenship.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with that story. It’s a similar story to almost every family if you go back to their first generation. But for some reason, Marco Rubio and his family needed to add things that never happened to their lives for effect.

At Wellthisiwhatithink, we suspect people will increasingly be asking him why.

PS Once you start digging, it’s interesting what you find. According to Mother Jones things get even messier: According to a Rubio biographyby Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia, Rubio’s grandfather Pedro Victor Garcia was an illegal immigrant to the United States.

Disillusioned by his financial prospects, Garcia reportedly left the United States for Cuba two weeks after Fidel Castro took power in 1959. He flew back to the States two years later without a visa…and was booked by a US immigration official, who stated: “[Y]ou do not appear to me to be clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to enter the United States.”

Garcia was ordered deported, but instead he hung out illegally in Miami, resurfacing in 1967 to petition for permanent residency. Even though Garcia had been in the US since 1962, “The form he filled out then states that he had been a Cuban refugee since February 1965,” according to Roig-Franzia.

Hmmm.

trump hands

In a move which once again encourages us as to his credentials, the most fearless Pope in living memory has questioned US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s Christianity over his oft-repeated call to build a border wall with Mexico.

With admirable bluntness, Pope Francis said “a person who thinks only about building walls and not of building bridges, is not Christian”.

The New York businessman also supports deporting nearly 11 million un-documented immigrants.

But calling himself a “proud Christian”, Mr Trump blamed Mexico for the Pope’s remarks, calling them “disgraceful”. Mr Trump has previously alleged that Mexico sends “rapists” and criminals to the US.

Pope Francis made the comments at the end of a six-day trip to Mexico.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” he said.

He declined to say whether Americans should vote for Mr Trump, who is leading the Republican race for president.

“I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and I will give him the benefit of the doubt,” the Pope said.

Over here at the Wellthisiswhatithink religious affairs desk, we think Trump is a solidly evil individual with hateful views that are (take your pick), mindlessly triumphalist, quasi-fascist, racist, anti-female, and typically moronic in their presentation and content. We don’t actually think he’s the Anti-Christ, but then again anything’s possible. Popularity is one of the signs of the Anti-Christ, after all. And as it now looks like it wasn’t President Obama, well … (Hang on a sec while we adjust our tinfoil hat.) 

Frankly, we think Il Papa let the New Yorker off easy. We miss the good old days when Popes excommunicated leaders.

pope-francisAnyhow, addressing a rally in South Carolina, Mr Trump responded to the Pope’s comments.

“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian,” Mr Trump said. “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

Which is an interesting commentary on the role of a religious leader, really. What role they have other than to question everyone else’s religion and faith is hard to discern. The mobile toupe then went on to say “[The pope] said negative things about me. Because the Mexican government convinced him that Trump is not a good guy.”

Of course, in God-fearing South Carolina – the next state to vote in the primary process – to have the Pope say that he is un-Christian is potentially very damaging. On the other hand, many US protestants are also rabidly anti-Catholic, so who knows exactly how it will play in the South.

Over the course of the campaign, the billionaire property developer has been at pains to prove his religious credentials, appearing at rallies with a copy of the Bible that his mother had given him as a child. He has also said the Vatican was the so-called Islamic State group’s “ultimate trophy” and that if it attacked, “the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened”.

Two of Mr Trump’s Republican rivals, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, both Catholics, wimpishly said they look to the Pope for spiritual guidance, not political direction.

Referencing Mr Trump’s much vaunted wall between America and Mexico, Mr Rubio said the US has a right and an obligation to control its borders. Mr Bush told reporters he “supports walls where it’s appropriate” and that “Christianity is between he and his creator. I don’t think we need to discuss that.”

cleansing temple giorJerry Falwell Jr, the president of the conservative Christian Liberty University and a Trump supporter, told CNN that the Pope had gone too far. “Jesus never intended to give instructions to political leaders on how to run a country,” he said. Funnily, Mr Falwell appears to have forgotten a few of Jesus’s more choice comments about the Jewish rulers the Pharisees and Saducees, not to mention dear old King Herod. And his attitude to rapacious capitalism was pretty clear, too. Of course we should never let our political bias get spoiled by a few facts even when commenting on religious matters.

The war of words between the right-winger and the Pope has been going on for a while. Earlier this month, Mr Trump called Pope Francis “a very political person” in yet another interview with Fox News, aka Trump Central.

“I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border we have with Mexico,” Mr Trump said. An alternative reading is that the Pope perfectly well understands the situation – which is, if course, essentially economic in nature – and doesn’t think Mexicans are automatically a danger to Americans who need to be forcibly kept out of the country by forceful measures.

American Roman Catholics are seen as an important voting bloc in US elections. Many traditionally support Republican candidates because of their opposition to abortion and gay marriage. This might well be why Mr Trump has responded so abrasively to the Pope’s comments, especially as he has been courting the evangelical Christian vote, often successfully, despite his fellow Republican rivals trying to argue that his religiosity is not sincere.

There is another interpretation of course. Which is that Trump is actually not any type of Christian at all, despite his public protestations, and that the truth hurts.

Meanwhile, in more religious trouble for the hotelier/developer, Ted Cruz’s campaign is now running an advertisement featuring a 1999 television interview Mr Trump gave in which he said he was “very pro-choice” when it comes to abortion.

In January, Mr Trump faced ridicule after flubbing a Bible verse when giving a speech to a Christian university in Virginia. The thrice-married businessman has also said he is a Presbyterian Christian but has had trouble recalling his favourite Bible verse when asked.

We think Mr Trump needs to stop sounding off and consider this:

Trump table

Neither should you. Share it far and wide.

 

regardless

 

Don’t blame us. It’s Friday here. And we never claimed to be unbiased.

OK, well, Ted Cruz just beat Donald Trump, especially supported by country voters and died-in-the-wool conservatives, as we proposed was a possibility.

If there is one area where we could consider our prediction lacking it is that Trump’s result was really rather poor by expected standards, and given his demeanour afterwards, lower than he and his team expected. Whilst Cruz was always a possibility to win, Trump looked the more likely until perhaps a few hours ago. Clearly there’s been a late swing against Trump, possibly because Cruz’s “ground game” was better. Cruz actually criticised Trump’s “fly in fly out” campaigning recently, and it looks as though those comments have been justified.

It may also well be the case that skipping the last GOP debate has counted very badly against Trump, with his decision seen as petulant and whiny.

Moving along … third place getter Marco Rubio IS the story of the night as we predicted. The charismatic young man can genuinely claim to be the real winner on the night having been a long way behind the front runners until recently. Clearly the “oxygen” of publicity has done him no harm at all and his vote is right about the upper limit of where we suggested it would be. The charismatic, good looking Floridian is determined and will appeal to Latino voters (as will Cruz, but less obviously) which marks him out as attractive to the GOP establishment, who know they cannot win a general election without Latinos. We have been predicting Rubio to take the nomination for some time now, and nothing that has happened today persuades us otherwise.

Hillary-AngryThe Democrat race is incredibly tight between Clinton and Sanders. Possibly within 1%. We did predict Clinton shading it, although in all honesty before publishing we deleted the word “just” before “shading it” as we thought the Clinton’s ground game would see her home, as well as Democrat supporters being concerned that Sanders cannot win a general election.

In one incredible event Clinton and Sanders tied 61 votes each in one precinct – the result, going to Clinton, was settled by a coin toss. How interesting THAT might be in an incredibly close race. Watch the video of that most unusual – and completely legal – event here: https://twitter.com/FernandoPeinado/status/694345745420320768?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

As we write – right now – apparently both Clinton and Sanders are about to declare victory, which would be closer than even we imagined. Our money’s still on Clinton.

Whomever finally stumbles over the line, such a tight result cannot be considered good news for Hillary Clinton, and New Hampshire looks an awkward test for her with Sanders polling well there. The Democrat race may trundle on for some time yet – but we still believe Hillary has a lock on the nomination because of her support from the party establishment, super delegates already committed and so on.

Mind you, if a week is a long time in politics, then a few months is an eternity.

cruz2Ted Cruz, who was not favoured to win Iowa just a few months ago, is delivering his victory speech.

“God bless the great state of Iowa,” he said. “Tonight is a victory for the grassroots. Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa and across this great nation.”

Amid cheers of “Ted! Ted Ted!” he said his win was a victory for “millions of Americans” who have “shouldered the burden” of seven years of Barack Obama’s policies.

In a comment which will cause raised eyebrows amongst just about anyone but the religious right, he commented: “Our rights come from our creator, not any political party”, he said, citing Bible passages.

Given the determination of America’s founding fathers to create a SECULAR state, those words seem odd, even comical. but there’s no doubt they play well with evangelicals.

Whether they play as well with independents and those Cruz needs to lock in both the nomination and election is a different matter entirely.

This might be the most interesting thing we have heard about Rubio since the results have come out, from David Wasserman at 538.com:

DAVID_WASSERMAN
Remarkably, it looks like Rubio may end up winning five of Iowa’s 10 largest counties, and ZERO of Iowa’s other 89 counties. Yet this urban coalition may be his blueprint for victory nationally.
An interesting point, well spotted and well made.

 

cruz2We have an enduring fascination with trying to pick election results before they happen.

And we are nearly always spot on, or at the very least, very close.

So here we go.

Turnout will be very high, and will be the first news story of the night.

A high turnout might suggest a sudden last minute surge for Sanders in the Democrat primary, but we believe the Democrat primary will be won by Hillary Clinton, shading the insurgent Sanders. Thetrump hands more overblown predictions of a Sanders victory will, we think, be shown to be wishful thinking by his supporters and progressives generally, as enough Iowans consider who can actually defeat the Republicans in a general election.

In this, Donald “Bogeyman” Trump and the perennially unpleasant Ted Cruz are actually helping the Democrat establishment to encourage people to coalesce around Clinton.

Hillary-AngryBut Sanders will do well amongst students and young people particularly, and cannot be counted out entirely yet.

Of course last time round she got a nasty shock when she surprisingly got beaten by Barrack Obama.

With Iowans, anything’s possible, but the talk afterwards will be, we think, of how the Democrats folded in behind Hillary when push came to shove. Sanders will, however, fight on, so that the Democratic nomination isn’t just a coronation.

On the Republican side we expect Trump to beat Cruz. That said, Cruz will poll more strongly in the evangelical and country areas where a lot of Iowans live, and where caucusing is a particular social and well-regarded event. So don’t discount a win by Cruz, even though we think Trump will do better. You might see a city/country split between these two, which would be interesting in its implications for the whole Republican race and the ultimate general election.

We expect the big story of the night on the right, though, will be a better than expected showing by Marco Rubio, who we think (have thought for some time) has an excellent chance of being the party’s eventual pick. We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him poll 15-20%, or even, at a pinch, higher. And interestingly Cruz has turned to criticising Rubio in recent days, perhaps a reflection of a calculation that he is leaking votes to him while Trump’s supporters are staying mainly true to him. But this will be the day that Rubio really “arrives”.

And Trump and Cruz? What would they take out of the night when one of them wins?

Well, just ask Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee how much significancesanders2 winning the Iowa caucuses really has.

Anyhow, that’s our best guess.

We’ll see if we were right soon enough.

Pay close attention to Bremer County. This particular collection of 24,000 Iowans have chosen the right President in the last 9 Presidential elections.

There are any number of good ways to follow the results as they come in, if you are a fellow election tragic. This is one of the better ones, and not being American it will hopefully be a bit less biased and a bit more informative.

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2016/feb/01/iowa-caucus-results-live-county-by-county-interactive-map

The current GOP race is something of an un-reality show, frankly.

The current GOP race is something of an un-reality show, frankly.

Aaaaand … we’re back.

Happy New Year everyone, and yes the holiday was lovely, thank you. Will write more on what we saw – and the conclusions we drew – soon.

Meanwhile. So. Here we go.

Deep breath.

Welcome to a year of trying to save America from itself.

Beginning with:

Trump

 

No apologies whatsoever for posting partisan stuff.

We will seek to make our political commentary and predictions unbiased, but any sane, rational person must surely campaign against the current crop of Republican candidates.

They are universally awful. Even the RNC is terrified of them.

Even worse, for the health of public discourse, it means that Hillary (and almost certainly it will be Hillary, although Bernie Sanders will have a couple of creditable early results) will have a coronation rather than get elected on her merits or otherwise, and that ain’t good for America, or anyone who respects democratic debate and the great contest of ideas.

Oh, and you heard it here first. Trump will NOT be the Republican nominee. But if by some miracle we are wrong, he simply cannot win a general election. Demographically, he has simply no chance.

Mind you, what damage he will do to both the Republicans and the broader American body politic along the way is another matter.

Of course, the only hell-toupee fake tan machine ever to run for President is generating some good jokes. Our current favourites are:

What is Donald Trump telling Barack Obama supporters? Orange Is The New Black.

What plane does Donald Trump aspire to fly on? Hair Force One!

Why are Muslims worried about Trumps immigration plans? Once you deport Juan you deport Jamal.

Trump supporters’ new campaign slogan? “We shall over-comb.”

And then one we actually wrote ourselves:

Donald Trump. Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow.

We feel a t-shirt coming on.

OK.  That’s enough Trump for now – Ed.

Trumps wives

 

The internet’s ability to throw up genuinely funny and relevant commentary is one of the joys of living in today’s age.

Meanwhile, a petition to the UK Parliament asking that Mr Donald Trump, has now passed over 370,000 signatures, meaning that it will have to be considered, at least, for debate on the floor of the House of Commons. he has also been sacked as a business ambassador for Scotland by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

The candidate has issued a statement on the British petition to ban him from the country:

QuoteI have done so much for Scotland, including building Trump International Golf Links, Aberdeen, which has received the highest accolades, and is what many believe to be one of the greatest golf courses anywhere in the world. Additionally, I have made a significant investment in the re-development of the iconic Turnberry Resort, which will have massive ballrooms, complete room refurbishments, a new golf course and a total rebuilding of the world famous Ailsa course to the highest standards and specifications of the Royal & Ancient. If they were going to do this, they should have informed me prior to my major investment in this £200 million development, which will totally revitalise that vast region of Scotland.

Something of an un-reality show, frankly.

Something of an un-reality show, frankly.

The UK politicians should be thanking me instead of pandering to political correctness. In fact, in an article out today, many police officers in London have come forward to confirm their fears of terrorism.

I only said what needed to be said, and when I am elected no one will be tougher or smarter than me.

I will work very hard and effectively to defeat terrorism.

(Note: no British policemen has been killed by a terrorist act in the last five years.)

I have respect for the Muslim people and have great friendships with many Muslims, some of whom I do business with – but they themselves admit there is a major problem with radicalisation.

As President, I will work with Muslim representatives to determine a solution to eradicate the terrorism that has plagued the credibility of the Muslim community.

Furthermore, as the definitive front runner (with large leads in every poll) in the race to become the Republican nominee for President of the United States, and as the person leading in the polls head to head versus Hillary Clinton, my focus is to Make America Great Again!

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph in London reports that supposed arch anti-terrorist Trump has been mired in fresh controversy after footage emerged showing the Republican front-runner attending a Sinn Fein fundraiser in November 1995.

Mr Trump was also seen shaking hands with Gerry Adams at the function at the Essex House hotel in Manhattan.

Four months later the Provisional IRA unleashed a terror attack in London’s docklands,SouthKey_bombing_-_9.2.96 killing two people working at a newsagent and destroying a building at South Quay, just under a mile away from Canary Wharf.

This was despite the IRA having declared a “cessation of military operations” on August 31 1994.

The footage emerged with the controversy still raging over Mr Trump’s call for all Muslims to be denied entry to the US because of the terrorist threat. John Major, then British Prime Minister, was incensed that Mr Adams had been granted a visa to speak at the dinner, where guests paid $200 (£131) each to attend. At the time Mr Adams was regarded by many as an apologist for the IRA, Sinn Fein’s military wing.

Trumps upcoming visit to Israel also seems sure to cause yet further controversy, as dozens of MPs plead with Prime Minister Netanyahu to keep him out of the country. Netanyahu has also condemned Trumps attack on Muslims.

Have you had enough yet, Republican Party?

Meanwhile, as this well researched article points out, and as we have always said, Trumps current opinion poll standings may well mean nothing at all come the actual primaries.

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/datablog/2015/dec/09/donald-trump-polls-past-elections-republican-nomination

So if not Trump, who? At this stage, we think Marco Rubio is the likely GOP pick. Telegenic, apparently not entirely mad like most of the other GOP contenders, young, and will appeal to the Latino vote. Calculations will be made that he can carry the key swing state of Florida, although recent boundary changes actually make that more difficult for the Republicans. Rubio’s ascent currently depends on a number of factors, including whether the father of four survives rumours about infidelity. The possible genesis of those allegations and rumours is discussed here. Thus far, the matter is unresolved.

There’s no doubt that fellow Floridian Jeb Bush – who has been distinctly underwhelming thus far – is taking Rubio on head on. As with the unsubstantiated affair rumours that helped derail Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speaker of the House, the mere existence of this gossip plays a role in the GOP race behind the scenes. Look at this slide from a Bush campaign presentation to donors, which was obtained by David Catanese of US News in October — and note the last bullet point in particular:

 

Politics. You gotta love it. Pass the popcorn.

 

trump dogs

 

According to Mr Donald Trump, an extreme toupe who is running for President in the USA, police in London are terrified for their lives right now due to the terror threat.

By his logic I’d hate to think how Americans feel about their dogs right now.

Daesh

 

What you find below is an expanded version of a comment we made elsewhere, Dear Reader, and we’d be really interested to know what you think.

Our "Collateral Damage Is People" t shirt is consistently one of our most popular.

Our “Collateral Damage Is People” t shirt is consistently one of our most popular.

As you know, we are profoundly against the current bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, believing that the cost in innocent civilian casualties will be too high. We have long raged against the sanitisation of civilian casualties being sanitised as “Collateral Damage”. Collateral Damage is people, as the t-shirt says.

But everyone with half a brain supports preventing Daesh from behaving as they do. And people often ask, quite reasonably, “What else can be done besides bombing them?”

Well, there are no neat solutions, but here are some we should surely consider:

Stop selling arms and ammunition to Daesh – and to those who on-supply them to them. If we starve the group of armaments then they will find it harder to terrify their local population, and eventually become much easier to defeat with local forces.

The problem with this solution is we are not entirely sure who IS arming Daesh. Certainly they have some heritage armaments supplied to them by the West when they were fighting Assad and before they morphed into what they are now. These may have been supplied to them directly, or to other rebel groups that they have since defeated or subsumed. They may have been supplied through Saudi Arabia.

The study by the London-based small-arms research organisation Conflict Armament Research documented weapons seized by Kurdish forces from militants in Iraq and Syria over a 10-day period in July. The report said the militants disposed of “significant quantities” of US-made small arms including M16 assault rifles. It also included photos showing the markings “Property of US Govt.”

The report further found that anti-tank rockets used by Daesh in Syria were “identical to M79 rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the so-called “Free Syrian Army” umbrella in 2013.

Iraqi Army soldiers fleeing Daesh attacks literally dropped most of their weapons. These weapons have now become part of the Daesh arsenal. The largely Shia soldiers were not well trained by US, and this duly led to their wholesale retreat from the rampant Sunni Daesh. Clearly, local forces need to be better trained, and above all armaments must not be allowed to fall into Daesh hands.

Lastly, criminal gangs of armament suppliers are illegally supplying Daesh with weaponry. A much more concerted effort needs to be made to cut off this supply chain and prosecute those involved.

Cut off their financial support.

Daesh receives money from a variety of sources in the Arab world, even from Western allies such as Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This is because these countries see them as a bulwark against Shia influence in the region, specifically Iran. This financial support is not official, but nor is it officially interdicted effectively. Heavily leaning on our “allies” to stop having a bet each way as far as Daesh is concerned is long overdue.

There have been continual allegations that countries such as Turkey are profiting from an illegal trade in Daesh-controlled oil. (Which is why the first UK bombing attack was on an oil field.) It should also be noted Turkey denies these criticisms. But Daesh is selling their oil to someone … and that trade needs to be interdicted urgently.

But the simple fact is that many of the things we find so objectionable about Daesh – the subjugation of women, cruel executions for things we do not consider crimes, and a badly organised and chaotic legal system – are also features of much of the rest of the Arab world. Little wonder they do not seem as distressed about those matters as the West is.

Make the price of our trade and engagement with the Arab world that they take concrete and meaningful steps to sort out their own differences.

The Sunni v Shia conflict is a very old one. It flares up, it flares down. Yet Sunni and Shia Muslims have lived peacefully together for centuries. In many countries it has become common for members of the two sects to intermarry and pray at the same mosques. They share faith in the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed’s sayings and perform similar prayers, although they differ in rituals and interpretation of Islamic law.

As the Council on Foreign relations said:

Islam’s schism, simmering for fourteen centuries, doesn’t explain all the political, economic, and geostrategic factors involved in these conflicts, but it has become one prism through which to understand the underlying tensions. Two countries that compete for the leadership of Islam, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, have used the sectarian divide to further their ambitions. How their rivalry is settled will likely shape the political balance between Sunnis and Shias and the future of the region, especially in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Yemen.

The dispute is currently in a “hot” phase, largely driven by the Wahabist philosophy that has held sway in certain parts of the Sunni Middle East since the 19th century, exported by Saudi Arabia.

We need to make it clear that we expect the Aran world to sort it’s own troubles out. That will not happen while we are always half-pregnant as regards military involvement in the region, veering from full-blown invasions to dropping a few bombs from on high.

We also need to make it clear that we will not engage, as if they are the same as our estimation of a state, with any state that places religious belief or theocracy above basic civil rights.

So, for example, we would maintain cool but not aggressive relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia and so on until they internally reform and cease their mutual jaw-boning.

If the Arab world wants to live in a medieval manner and a semi-permanent state of conflict then that’s their business. We will simply wait it out as best we can. Eventually, all conflicts exhaust themselves.

Developing our own energy independence – as the USA has now done – and improving our investment in non-fossil-fuel technologies would be a good start.

What is certain as of today is that Daesh wishes us to bomb them, know that we will slaughter civilians – gay and straight – in the process, and that we could do nothing better to help them recruit and maintain control in their areas. There are other courses of action, even though they might be more complex, more difficult to organise, and slower to take effect.

Nevertheless, they deserve serious consideration.

Please consider these arguments as you see Western bombs raining down on innocent civilians, or witness the next terrorist outrage on Western soil. We are being conned. By Daesh, by the countries of the region, and by our own short-sighted and incompetent political leadership.

Well done, Mr McClure, whoever and wherever you are. Well done, that man.

 

Well done, Mr McClure, whoever you are. Well done, that man.

To be utterly frank, Dear Reader, we do not even pretend to fully understand the current Middle East crisis and have even less idea what to do about it. It is times like this that we are very pleased we no longer pursue politics as a career.

This map, for example, purports to show Daesh’s view of a future Caliphate. It suggests that its ambitions stretch at least as far as the historical spread of Islam. The white lines, incidentally, do not relate to modern boundaries, but to Daesh-suggested administrative boundaries, as Daesh does not recognise modern nation states.

Daesh map

Anyhow, in the search for clarity, we reproduce in full below a long but scholarly article which first appeared in New Statesman in early March this year, and then in New Republic, because to us it has the smack of good research and commonsense.

It is a trenchant and thorough re-evaluation of the by-now famous article in The Atlantic (which we were impressed by at the time, and which we believe still has value, as regards, at least, the leadership of IS) which argued that IS – or as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius now urges us to call them, Daesh – is an eschatological “end times” cult that wants nothing more than to provoke a wholesale invasion of Syria and Iraq by the West to usher in the return of Christ and thus the end of the world.

Both articles appear well researched and credible, revealing again (as if we really need to have it reinforced) that this is a highly complex issue that does not succumb to simplistic explanations.

In any event, we urge you to read this article as well, because it goes to the motivation of people to join Daesh and it squarely argues that it is NOT an Islamic movement, and, indeed, that labelling it as such is aiding its existence and even growth. Given recent events worldwide, that analysis is more pressing than ever.

What’s more, as the leader of the “free world” this is a live issue for President Obama, in particular, who is enduring considerable criticism for his nuanced and oft-expressed view that Daesh is not an “Islamic” or “Islamic terrorist” problem. It may be that his reasons for doing so are simply too subtle for many social media readers and posters, especially those who detest Obama anyway, but if this article is credible then his attitude thus far is completely justified.

What is more important is that this is a discussion that every community in the Western world needs to have, as non-Muslim and Muslim communities seek to live peaceably together.

Whatever the precise truth of the situation we now face – and like all situations, there are layers upon layers of meaning and evidence – this article places the responsibility for the radicalisation of Muslim and recent-convert Muslim youth absolutely specifically to the aftermath of the Iraq war, and the subsequent bias and incompetence of the Shia government in Baghdad.

And it asserts – with compelling evidence from experts working in the intelligence field – that grievances in Western societies (poor housing, perceived racism, lack of opportunity, and a desire for belonging and meaning, above all) are all merely exacerbated by the echoes of 2003 and afterwards.

In effect, the article is saying that the war in Iraq never really ended, and that it is now conflated to include Syria.

We might also note that the next domino to fall, in this regard, would be Lebanon, which puts last week’s murderous bombing in Beirut into a critical context.

Please. Take the time to read this article.

UnderstandingWe believe it is an important contribution to current discussions, and should be taken into account as we examine what on earth to do next.

And if there is ever to be peace in the Middle East, we have to start somewhere.

In that regard, understanding what is going on seems a good place to start.

Article begins:

It is difficult to forget the names, or the images, of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning and Peter Kassig. The barbaric beheadings between August and November 2014, in cold blood and on camera, of these five jumpsuit-clad western hostages by the self-styled Islamic State, or ISIS, provoked widespread outrage and condemnation.

Liberation newspaper journalist Didier Francois who was freed after 10 months in captivity.

Liberation newspaper journalist Didier Francois who was freed after 10 months in captivity.

However, we should also remember the name of Didier François, a French journalist who was held by ISIS in Syria for ten months before being released in April 2014. François has since given us a rare insight into life inside what the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood, in a recent report for the magazine, has called the “hermit kingdom” of ISIS, where “few have gone . . . and returned.”

And it is an insight that threatens to turn the conventional wisdom about the world’s most fearsome terrorist organisation on its head.

“There was never really discussion about texts,” the French journalist told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last month, referring to his captors. “It was not a religious discussion. It was a political discussion.”

According to François, “It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Quran. Because it has nothing to do with the Quran.” And the former hostage revealed to a startled Amanpour: “We didn’t even have the Quran. They didn’t want even to give us a Quran.”

The rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been a disaster for the public image of Islam – and a boon for the Islamophobia industry. Here, after all, is a group that calls itself Islamic State; that claims the support of Islamic texts to justify its medieval punishments, from the stoning of adulterers to the amputation of the hands of thieves; and that has a leader with a PhD in Islamic studies who declares himself to be a “caliph,” or ruler over all Muslims, and has even renamed himself in honour of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr.

The consequences are, perhaps, as expected. In September 2014, a Zogby poll found that only 27 percent of Americans had a favourable view of Islam—down from 35 per cent in 2010. By February 2015, more than a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) were telling the pollsters LifeWay Research that they believed that life under ISIS rule “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like.”

Yet what is much more worrying is that it isn’t just ill-informed, ignorant or bigoted members of the public who take such a view. “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” wrote Wood in his widely read 10,000-word cover report (“What ISIS really wants”) in the March issue of Atlantic, in which he argued, “The religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

Bernard Haykel of Princeton University, the only scholar of Islam whom Wood bothered to interview, described Muslims who considered ISIS to be un-Islamic, or anti-Islamic, as “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion,” and declared that the hand-choppers and throat-slitters of ISIS “have just as much legitimacy” as any other Muslims, because Islam is “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts.”

Many other analysts across the political spectrum agree and have denounced the Obama administration for refusing, in the words of the journalist-turned-terrorism-expert Peter Bergen, to make “the connection between Islamist terrorism and ultra-fundamentalist forms of Islam.” Writing on the CNN website in February, Bergen declared, “ISIS may be a perversion of Islam, but Islamic it is.”

“Will it take the end of the world for Obama to recognise ISIS as ‘Islamic’?” screamed a headline on the Daily Beast website in the same month. “Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behaviour and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder?” asked Sam Harris, the neuroscientist and high priest of the “New Atheism” movement.

So, is ISIS a recognisably “Islamic” movement? Are ISIS recruits motivated by religious fervour and faith?

The Analyst

“Our exploration of the intuitive psychologist’s shortcomings must start with his general tendency to overestimate the importance of personal or dispositional factors relative to environmental influences,” wrote the American social anthropologist Lee Ross in 1977.

It was Ross who coined the phrase “fundamental attribution error”, which refers to the phenomenon in which we place excessive emphasis on internal motivations to explain the behaviour of others, in any given situation, rather than considering the relevant external factors.

SagemanNowhere is the fundamental attribution error more prevalent, suggests the forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman, than in our navel-gazing analysis of wannabe terrorists and what does or doesn’t motivate them.

“You attribute other people’s behaviour to internal motivations but your own to circumstances. ‘They’re attacking us and therefore we have to attack them.’” Yet, he tells me, we rarely do the reverse.

Few experts have done more to try to understand the mindset of the young men and women who aspire to join the blood-drenched ranks of groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda than Sageman. And few can match his qualifications, credentials or background. The 61-year-old, Polish-born psychiatrist and academic is a former CIA operations officer who was based in Pakistan in the late 1980s. There he worked closely with the Afghan mujahedin.

He has since advised the New York City Police Department on counterterrorism issues, testified in front of the 9/11 Commission in Washington, D.C., and, in his acclaimed works Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad, closely analysed the biographies of several hundred terrorists.

Does he see religion as a useful analytical prism through which to view the rise of ISIS and the process by which thousands of young people arrive in Syria and Iraq, ready to fight and die for the group?

“Religion has a role but it is a role of justification,” he tells me. “It’s not why they do this [or] why young people go there.”

ISIS members, he says, are using religion to advance a political vision, rather than using politics to advance a religious vision. “To give themselves a bit more legitimacy, they use Islam as their justification. It’s not about religion, it’s about identity . . . You identify with the victims, [with] the guys being killed by your enemies.”

For converts to Islam in particular, he adds, “Identity is important to them. They have . . . invested a lot of their own efforts and identity to become this ‘Muslim’ and, because of this, identity is so important to them. They see other Muslims being slaughtered [and say], ‘I need to protect my community.’” (A recent study found that converts to Islam were involved in 31 per cent of Muslim terrorism convictions in the UK between 2001 and 2010.)

Sageman believes that it isn’t religious faith but, rather, a “sense of emotional and moral outrage” at what they see on their television screens or on YouTube that propels people from Portsmouth to Peshawar, from Berlin to Beirut, to head for war zones and to sign up for the so-called jihad. Today, he notes archly, “Orwell would be [considered as foreign fighter like] a jihadi,” referring to the writer’s involvement in the anti-fascist campaign during the Spanish civil war.

Religion, according to this view, plays a role not as a driver of behaviour but as a vehicle for outrage and, crucially, a marker of identity. Religion is important in the sense that it happens to “define your identity”, Sageman says, and not because you are “more pious than anybody else.” He invokes the political scientist Benedict Anderson’s conception of a nation state as an “imagined political community”, arguing that the “imagined community of Muslims” is what drives the terrorists, the allure of being members of – and defenders of – the ultimate “in-group.”

JJ“You don’t have the most religious folks going there,” he points out.

ISIS fighters from the west, in particular, “tend to have rediscovered Islam as teenagers, or as converts”; they are angry, or even bored, young men in search of a call to arms and a thrilling cause. The ISIS executioner Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John” – who was raised and educated in the UK – was described, for instance, by two British medics who met him at a Syrian hospital as “quiet but a bit of an adrenalin junkie”.

Sageman’s viewpoint should not really surprise us. Writing in his 2011 book The Black Banners: the Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, the Lebanese-American former FBI agent Ali H Soufan, who led the bureau’s pre-9/11 investigation into Al Qaeda, observed: “When I first began interrogating AL Qaeda members, I found that while they could quote Bin Laden’s sayings by heart, I knew far more of the Quran than they did—and in fact some barely knew classical Arabic, the language of both the hadithand the Quran. An understanding of their thought process and the limits of their knowledge enabled me and my colleagues to use their claimed piousness against them.”

Three years earlier, in 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was obtained by the Guardian.

It revealed: “Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.”

The MI5 analysts noted the disproportionate number of converts and the high propensity for “drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes”. The newspaper claimed they concluded, “A well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.”

As I have pointed out on these pages before, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar, the two young British Muslim men from Birmingham who were convicted on terrorism charges in 2014 after travelling to fight in Syria, bought copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies from Amazon prior to their departure. Religious novices, indeed.

Sageman, the former CIA officer, says we have to locate terrorism and extremism in local conflicts rather than in grand or sweeping ideological narratives – the grievances and the anger come first, he argues, followed by the convenient and self-serving ideological justifications. For example, he says, the origins of ISIS as a terror group lie not in this or that Islamic book or school of thought, but in the “slaughter of Sunnis in Iraq.” He reminds me how, in April 2013, when there was a peaceful Sunni demonstration asking the Shia-led Maliki government in Baghdad to reapportion to the various provinces what the government was getting in oil revenues, Iraqi security forces shot into the crowds.

“That was the start of this [current] insurrection.”

Before that, it was the brutal, US-led occupation, under which Iraq became ground zero for suicide bombers from across the region and spurred the creation of new terrorist organisations, such as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

ISIS is the “remnant” of AQI, Sageman adds. He believes that any analysis of the group and of the ongoing violence and chaos in Iraq that doesn’t take into account the long period of war, torture, occupation and sectarian cleansing is inadequate—and a convenient way of exonerating the west of any responsibility. “Without the invasion of Iraq, [ISIS] would not exist. We created it by our presence there.”

The Spy

BarrettLike Marc Sageman, Richard Barrett has devoted his professional life to understanding terrorism, extremism and radicalization.

The silver-haired 65-year-old was the director of global counterterrorism operations for MI6, both before and after the 11 September 2001 attacks, and he subsequently led the Al Qaeda and Taliban monitoring team at the United Nations between 2004 and 2013.

Unlike Sageman, however, Barrett partly sympathises with Graeme Wood’s and Bernard Haykel’s thesis that “the Islamic State is Islamic”. He tells me that some ISIS followers “are clearly convinced they are following Allah’s will” and he insists: “We should not underestimate the extent of their belief.” However, Barrett concedes that such beliefs and views “will not be the only thing that drew them to the Islamic State”.

The former MI6 officer, who recently published a report on foreign fighters in Syria, agrees with the ex-CIA man on the key issue of what motivates young men to join—and fight for—groups such as ISIS in the first place. Rather than religious faith, it has “mostly to do with the search for identity . . . coupled with a search for belonging and purpose. The Islamic State offers all that and empowers the individual within a collective. It does not judge and accepts all with no concern about their past. This can be very appealing for people who think that they washed up on the wrong shore.”

Whether they are unemployed losers or well-educated professionals, joining ISIS offers new recruits the chance to “believe that they are special . . . that they are part of something that is new, secret and powerful.”

While Barrett doesn’t dismiss the theological angle in the way that Sageman does, he nevertheless acknowledges, “Acting in the name of Islam means that, for the ignorant at least, the groups have some legitimacy for their actions . . . They can pretend it is not just about power and money.”

LouiseThis irreligious lust for power and money is a significant and often overlooked part of the ISIS equation.

The group—often described as messianic and uncompromising—had no qualms about demanding a $200m ransom for the lives of two Japanese hostages in January; nor has it desisted from smuggling pornography into and out of Iraq, according to Louise Shelley, director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Centre at George Mason University in Virginia. (Shelley has referred to Isis as a “diversified criminal operation”.)

Then there is the often-ignored alliance at the heart of ISIS between the so-called violent Islamists, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist regime – an alliance that Barrett has referred to as a “marriage of convenience.” If ISIS is the apocalyptic religious cult that Wood and others believe it is, why was Baghdadi’s deputy in Iraq Abu Muslim al-Afari al-Turkmani, a former senior special forces officer in Hussein’s army? Why is Baghdadi’s number two in Syria Abu Ali al-Anbari, a former major general under Hussein? (Welthisiswhatithink note; al-Anbari was reported killed in Libya in June.) 

“The Ba’athist element was certainly very important . . . as it gave the Islamic State military and administrative capability,” Barrett says. “It also made it possible [for ISIS to] take Mosul so quickly and cause defections and surrenders from the Iraqi army. There was and continues to be a coincidence of interest between Islamic State and other anti-government Sunni groups.”

Here again, it seems, is the fundamental attribution error in play. We neglect to focus on the “interests” of groups such as ISIS and obsess over their supposedly messianic and apocalyptic “beliefs.” The “end of times” strain may be very strong in ISIS, Barrett warns, but: “The Ba’athist elements are still key in Iraq and without them the Islamic State would probably not be able to hold on to the city of Mosul.”

Baghdadi’s appointment as leader of ISIS in 2010 was orchestrated by a former Ba’athist colonel in Hussein’s army, Haji Bakr, (killed in January 2014) according to another recent study produced by Barrett, in which he noted how Bakr had “initially attracted criticism from fellow members of the group for his lack of a proper beard and lax observance of other dictates of their religious practice”. Nevertheless, pragmatism trumped ideology as Bakr’s “organisational skills . . . and network of fellow ex-Ba’athists made him a valuable resource” for ISIS.

Apparently, Baghdadi’s supposed caliphate in Iraq and Syria was less the will of God and more the will of Saddam.

The Theologian

Perhaps the most astonishing achievement of Isis has been not the sheer size of the territory it has captured, but the way in which it has united the world’s disparate (and often divided) 1.6 billion Muslims against it.

Whether Sunni or Shia, Salafi or Sufi, conservative or liberal, Muslims – and Muslim leaders – have almost unanimously condemned and denounced ISIS not merely as un-Islamic but actively anti-Islamic.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti.

Consider the various statements of Muslim groups such as the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, representing 57 countries (ISIS has “nothing to do with Islam”); the Islamic Society of North America (ISIS’ actions are “in no way representative of what Islam actually teaches”); al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most prestigious seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world (ISIS is acting “under the guise of this holy religion . . . in an attempt to export their false Islam”); and even Saudi Arabia’s Salafist Grand Mufti, Abdul Aziz al ash-Sheikh (ISIS is “the number-one enemy of Islam”).

In September 2014, more than 120 Islamic scholars co-signed an 18-page open letter to Baghdadi, written in Arabic, containing what the Slate website’s Filipa Ioannou described as a “technical point-by-point criticism of ISIS’ actions and ideology based on the Quran and classical religious texts.”

hannityYet buffoonish right-wingers such as the Fox News host Sean Hannity continue to refer to the alleged “silence of Muslims” over the actions of ISIS and ask, “Where are the Muslim leaders?” Meanwhile, academics who should know better, such as Princeton’s Bernard Haykel, insist that the leaders of ISIS “have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

MuradLegitimacy, however, “comes through endorsement by religious leaders. If Sunni Islam’s leaders consider ISIS inauthentic, then that is what it is,” says Abdal Hakim Murad, who teaches Islamic studies at Cambridge University and serves as the dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, which trains imams for British mosques. The blond-haired, 54-year-old Murad is a convert and is also known as Timothy Winter (his brother is the Telegraph football writer Henry). Murad has been described by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan as “one of the most well-respected western theologians”, whose “accomplishments place him amongst the most significant Muslims in the world”.

The religious world, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian, is “packed with fringe and fundamentalist groups that claim the mantle of total authenticity,” Murad tells me. To accept those groups’ assertions at face value is “either naive or tendentious.”

He continues: “Just as Christianity in Bosnia 20 years ago was not properly represented by the churchgoing militias of Radovan Karadzic and just as Judaism is not represented by West Bank settlers who burn mosques, so, too, Islam is not represented by ISIS.”

Contrary to a lazy conventional wisdom which suggests that a 1,400-year-old faith with more than a billion adherents has no hierarchy, “Islam has its leadership, its universities, its muftis and its academies, which unanimously repudiate ISIS,” Murad explains. For the likes of Haykel to claim that the ISIS interpretation of Islam has “just as much legitimacy” as the mainstream view, he adds, is “unscholarly,” “incendiary” and likely to “raise prejudice and comfort the far-right political formations”.

As for ISIS’ obsession with beheadings, crucifixions, hand-chopping and the rest, Murad argues: “With regard to classical sharia punishments, the religion’s teachings in every age are determined by scholarly consensus on the meaning of the complex scriptural texts”—rather than by self-appointed “sharia councils” in the midst of conflict zones.

Many analysts have laid the blame for violent extremism among Muslims at the ideological door of Salafism, a regressive and ultra-conservative brand of Islam, which owes a great deal to the controversial teachings of an 18th-century preacher named Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and which today tends to be behind much of the misogyny and sectarianism in the Muslim-majority world. Yet, as even Wood concedes in his Atlantic report, “Most Salafis are not jihadists and most adhere to sects that reject the Islamic State.”

Salafists tend to be apolitical, whereas groups such as ISIS are intensely political. Even the traditionalist Murad, who has little time for what he has deemed the “cult-like universe of the Salafist mindset”, agrees that the rise of extremism within the movement is a consequence, rather than a cause, of violence and conflict.

“The roots of ISIS have been located in rage against . . . the 2003 occupation of Iraq. Before that event, Salafist extremism was hardly heard of in Syria and Iraq, even though the mosques were full in those countries,” Murad says. “Angry men, often having suffered in US detention, have reached for the narrowest and most violent interpretation of their religion they can find. This is a psychological reaction, not a faithful adherence to classical Muslim norms of jurisprudence.”

In the view of this particular Muslim theologian, ISIS owes a “debt to European far-right thinking.” The group’s “imposition of a monolithic reading of the huge and hugely complex founding literature of the religion is something very new in Islamic civilisation, representing a totalitarian impulse that seems closer to European fascism than to classical Islamic norms.”

The Radical

Raised in Toronto, the son of Indian immigrant parents, Mubin Shaikh went from enjoying a hedonistic teenage lifestyle involving drugs, girls and parties to embracing a militant and “jihadist” view of the world, full of hate and anger.

CSIS and RCMP informant Mubin Shaikh at his Toronto home on February 6th, 2007. Shaikh's information led to the arrest of dozens of terror suspects in the summer of 2006.

CSIS and RCMP informant Mubin Shaikh at his Toronto home on February 6th, 2007. Shaikh’s information led to the arrest of dozens of terror suspects in the summer of 2006.

He felt as though he “had become a stranger in my own land, my own home,” Shaikh told PBS in 2007, referring to an identity crisis that helped spark his “jihadi bug.” After 11 September 2001, he wanted to fight in Afghanistan or Chechnya because: “It felt like the right thing to do.”

It is a familiar path, trodden by the likes of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon, as well as Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the Charlie Hebdo attackers in Paris. (A former friend of Chérif said that the younger, pot-smoking Kouachi “couldn’t differentiate between Islam and Catholicism” before he became radicalized by “images of American soldiers humiliating Muslims at the Abu Ghraib prison”, as the New York Times put it.)

Yet Shaikh eventually relinquished his violent views after studying Sufi Islam in the Middle East and then boldly volunteered with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to infiltrate several radical groups in Toronto.

The bald and bearded Shaikh, now aged 39 and an adviser to Canadian officials, tells me it is “preposterous” to claim that the killing of Christians and Yazidis by ISIS is rooted in Islamic scripture or doctrine. If it was, “Muslims would have been doing those sorts of things for the past 50-plus years. Yet we find no such thing.”

YAZIDIS(Wellthisiswhatithink insert: This becomes a particularly trenchant comment as a mass grave believed to contain the remains of more than 70 female members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority has been recently discovered east of Sinjar town after Kurdish forces claimed victory over Daesh militants in the area, the mayor and locals have said.

The insurgents overran the Yazidi heartland of Sinjar in north-west Iraq in August 2014, systematically killing, capturing and enslaving thousands of its inhabitants in what the United Nations has said may have constituted attempted genocide.

The mayor of Sinjar and local Yazidis who visited the site of the mass grave said last Saturday that they saw clumps of hair, bones, money and keys which they believed belonged to older women from the village of Kocho, whom the militants separated from younger women during their onslaught.)

Shaikh offers three distinct explanations for why ISIS should not be considered or treated as an “Islamic” phenomenon. First, he argues, “The claim that ISIS is ‘Islamic’ because it superficially uses Islamic sources is ridiculous, because the Islamic sources themselves say that those who do so [manifest Islam superficially] are specifically un-Islamic.”

He points to an order issued by the first and original Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr, which declared: “Neither kill a child, women [nor] the elderly . . . When you come upon those who have taken to live in monasteries, leave them alone.”

Takfiris are those who declare other Muslims to be apostates and, for Shaikh, “It is the height of incredulity to suggest that they [members of ISIS] are in fact ‘Islamic’ – an opinion shared only by ISIS and [Islamophobes] who echo their claims.”

As for Baghdadi’s supposed scholarly credentials, Shaikh jokes, “Even the devil can quote scripture.”

Second, he argues, it is dangerous to grant ISIS any kind of theological legitimacy amid efforts to formulate a coherent “countering violent extremism” (CVE) strategy in the West. “It is quite possibly a fatal blow in that regard because, essentially, it is telling Muslims to condemn that which is Islamic.” It is, he says, a “schizophrenic approach to CVE which will never succeed”.

Third, Shaikh reminds me how the former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld often included verses from the Bible at the top of the intelligence briefings that he presented to President George W Bush. “Could we say [Iraq] was a ‘Christianity-motivated war’? How about verses of the Bible [reportedly] engraved on to rifles for use in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars?”

The former radical points out that highlighting only the role of religion in the radicalization process to the exclusion of, or above, other factors is short-sighted. “Fear, money . . . adventure, alienation and, most certainly, anger at the west for what happened in Iraq . . . [also] explain why people join [ISIS],” he tells me.

Shaikh therefore wants a counterterrorism approach focused not merely on faith or theology, but on “political, social and psychological” factors.

The Pollster

What Dalia Mogahed doesn’t know about Muslim public opinion probably isn’t worth knowing. And the former Gallup pollster and co-author, with the US academic John L Esposito, of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, based on six years of research and 50,000 interviews with Muslims in more than 35 countries, says that the survey evidence is clear: the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims reject ISIS-style violence.

DaliaGallup polling conducted for Mogahed’s book found, for instance, that 93 per cent of Muslims condemned the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

The 40-year-old Egyptian-American scholar tells me, “In follow-up questions, Gallup found that not a single respondent of the nearly 50,000 interviewed cited a verse from the Quran in defence of terrorism but, rather, religion was only mentioned to explain why 9/11 was immoral.”

The 7 per cent of Muslims who sympathised with the attacks on the twin towers “defended this position entirely with secular political justifications or distorted concepts of ‘reciprocity’, as in: ‘They kill our civilians. We can kill theirs.’”

It is thus empirically unsound to conflate heightened religious belief with greater support for violence. Mogahed, who became the first hijab-wearing Muslim woman to hold a position at the White House when she served on Barack Obama’s advisory council on “faith-based and neighbourhood partnerships”, says that she was “surprised” by the results, as they “flew in the face of everything we were being told and every assumption we were making in our counter-terrorism strategy.”

As for Haykel’s claim that Islam is merely “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts”, Mogahed is scathingly dismissive. “If Islam is indeed ‘what Muslims do’, then certainly numbers should be a powerful factor dictating which Muslims we see as representing it,” she says.

“ISIS is a tiny minority whose victims are, in fact, mostly other Muslims.

“By what logic would this gang of killers, which has been universally condemned and brutalizes Muslims more than anyone else, get to represent the global [Muslim] community?”

The former White House adviser continues: “Any philosophy or ideology, from Christianity to capitalism, has normative principles and authorities that speak to those norms. Each also has deviants who distort it to meet political or other goals. If I deny the existence of Christ but call myself a Christian, I’d be wrong. If I say the state should usurp all private property and redistribute it equally among citizens but call myself a capitalist, I would be wrong. Islam is no different.”

Echoing Murad, Mogahed points out, “Islam’s authorities have loudly and unanimously declared ISIS un-Islamic.”

Because of this, “Making a claim that violates normative principles of a philosophy, as defined by those with the authority to decide, is illegitimate.”

What about Haykel’s claim that ISIS fighters are constantly quoting Quranic verses and the hadith, or traditions from the life of the Prophet, and that they “mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion and they do it all the time”? Why do they do that if they don’t believe this stuff – if it isn’t sincere?

“The Quran [and] hadith according to whom?” she responds. “As interpreted by whom? As understood by whom?”

Mogahed, who served as the executive director of the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies until 2012 and who now works for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) and runs her own consulting firm based in Washington DC, argues that ISIS uses Islamic language and symbols today for the same reason as Palestinian militant groups used the language of secular Arab nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Any organisation uses the dominant social medium of its society,” she says. “Today, the dominant social currency in the Arab world is Islam. More than 90 per cent of Arab Muslims say religion is an important part of their daily life, according to Gallup research. Everyone, not just IS, speaks in Islamic language, from pro-democracy advocates to civil society groups fighting illiteracy.”

For Mogahed, therefore, “a violent reading of the Quran is not leading to political violence. Political violence is leading to a violent reading of the Quran.”

In a recent despatch from Zarqa in Jordan, birthplace of the late AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and “one of the country’s most notorious hotbeds of Islamic radicalism,” Foreign Policy magazine’s David Kenner sat down with a group of young, male ISIS supporters.

“None of them appeared to be particularly religious,” Kenner noted. “Not once did the conversation turn to matters of faith, and none budged from their seats when the call to prayer sounded. They appeared driven by anger at humiliations big and small – from the police officers who treated them like criminals outside their homes to the massacres of Sunnis in Syria and Iraq – rather than by a detailed exegesis of religious texts.”

It cannot be said often enough: it isn’t the most pious or devout of Muslims who embrace terrorism, or join groups such as IS. Nor has a raft of studies and surveys uncovered any evidence of a “conveyor belt” that turns people of firm faith into purveyors of violence.

Religion plays little, if any, role in the radicalisation process, as Sageman and countless experts testify.

It is an excuse, rather than a reason. ISIS is as much the product of political repression, organised crime and a marriage of convenience with secular, power-hungry Ba’athists as it is the result of a perversion of Islamic beliefs and practices.

As for Islamic scholars, they “unanimously repudiate” ISIS, to quote Murad, while ordinary Muslims “universally condemn” Baghdadi and his bloodthirsty followers, in the words of Mogahed.

The so-called Islamic State is, therefore, “Islamic” in the way the British National Party is “British” or the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) is “democratic.”

No serious analyst considers the latter two entities to be representative of either Britishness or democracy; few commentators claim that those who join the BNP do so out of a sense of patriotism and nor do they demand that all democrats publicly denounce the DPRK as undemocratic. So why the double standard in relation to the self-styled Islamic State and the religion of Islam? Why the willingness to believe the hype and rhetoric from the spin doctors and propagandists of ISIS?

We must be wary of the trap set for us by Baghdadi’s group – a trap that far too many people who should know better have frustratingly fallen for. A former U.S. State Department official who has worked on counterterrorism issues tells me how worried he is that the arguments of the Atlantic’s Wood, Haykel, Bergen and others have been gaining traction in policymaking circles in recent months. “It was disconcerting to be at [President Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism summit in February] and hear so many people discussing the [Atlantic] article while the president and others were trying to marginalise extremist claims to Islamic legitimacy.”

Mogahed is full-square behind her former boss’s decision to delink violent extremism from the Islamic faith in his public pronouncements.

“As [Obama] recently remarked, giving groups like IS religious legitimacy is handing them the ideological victory they desperately desire,” she says. This may be the most significant point of all to understand, as politicians, policymakers and security officials try (and fail) to formulate a coherent response to violent extremism in general and IS in particular.

To claim that IS is Islamic is egregiously inaccurate and empirically unsustainable, not to mention insulting to the 1.6 billion non-violent adherents of Islam across the planet.

Above all else, it is dangerous and self-defeating, as it provides Baghdadi and his minions with the propaganda prize and recruiting tool that they most crave.

Potentially deadly.

Potentially deadly.

Dungeness and rock crabs in California have been found to contain toxic levels of an acid that can kill.

The authorities in California are advising people to avoid consumption of crabs contaminated by a natural toxin that has spread throughout the marine ecosystem off the West Coast, killing sea mammals and poisoning various other species.

Kathi A. Lefebvre, the lead research biologist at the Wildlife Algal Toxin Research and Response Network, said on Wednesday that her organization had examined about 250 animals stranded on the West Coast and had found domoic acid, a toxic chemical produced by a species of algae, in 36 animals of several species.

“We’re seeing much higher contamination in the marine food web this year in this huge geographic expanse than in the past,” Ms. Lefebvre said.

She said that the toxin had never before been found in animals stranded in Washington or Oregon, and that there were most likely greater numbers of contaminated marine mammals not being found by humans.

The guilty algae’s growth has been exponential recently, largely because of record temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. Warm water causes the toxic algae to divide more rapidly and to outcompete other species in the water. The algae then becomes a more prominent element of local plankton, a kind of marine trail mix made up of tiny particles that various species of aquatic wildlife subsist on.

The California Department of Public Health recently advised people to avoid consumption of certain species of crabs because of potential toxicity. Razor clam fisheries in Washington have been closed throughout the summer for the same reason.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the California department said that “recent test results” indicated dangerous levels of domoic acid in Dungeness and rock crabs caught in California waters between Oregon and Santa Barbara, Calif.

Domoic acid is a naturally occurring toxin that in severe cases can cause excessive bronchial secretions, permanent loss of short-term memory, coma or death in humans, according to the California department’s statement. Milder cases can result in vomiting and diarrhea.

A release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries specified that “commercial seafood remains safe and state public health agencies monitor recreational fisheries for algal toxins.”

Pseudo-nitzschia, the type of algae that produces the acid, is a single-celled organism consumed directly by marine wildlife like anchovies, sardines, krill and razor clams. Those species are then eaten by larger predators, and the acid makes its way up the marine food chain.

This summer, the West Coast experienced the largest algal bloom that scientists have on record. Ms. Lefebvre said that though there was not a lot of monitoring for species that had consumed domoic acid in Alaska, it was likely that the blooms reached the Alaskan coast as well.

Michael Parsons, a professor of marine science at Florida Gulf Coast University, said there were several hypotheses for why Pseudo-nitzschia produces acid.

“We’re not sure exactly why they do it,” he said. “Maybe it’s meant to keep things from eating them. It might be a result of stress.”

If acid secretion is meant to deter predators, it is clear that it is a failing strategy on the part of the algae. Ms. Lefebvre expressed concern that the acid poisoning of sea life would continue to spread.

“My concern is that we’re going to see an increase in the number and geographic range of marine mammals being affected,” she said.

Or in other words, global warming is killing the seas, and now it can kill you too. And that’s before we even return to the topic of ocean acidification and its affect on our food chain. Or how this news will affect commercial fishers, and restaurants.

But don’t worry, everyone, go back to sleep, go back to sleeeeeeep ….

(NY Times and others)

Dramatic stills and videos have emerged of dozens of IS hostages – some covered in blood – being freed from an IS compound in a daring joint-operation raid in Iraq.

This is unashamedly good news for the hostages and their families and friends, not to say the world in general.

But what needs to be said immediately, however, is that a highly decorated US commando died rescuing people he didn’t know, from countries other than his own. He died utterly unselfishly, to prevent a great and murderous wrong.

The world is quick to criticise clumsy, inept or morally questionable US use of force, and so it should be. The lumbering giant of a nation often gets it wrong.

It should be equally fast to praise America and Americans’ preparedness to put their own lives on the line to help others, and, if necessary, to make the ultimate sacrifice.

This is the dramatic moment prisoners were freed from an Islamic State-run compound, just hours before execution. Photo: Euro News

US Special Operations Forces and Kurdish forces stormed the IS-run prison freeing some 70 captives who were apparently facing imminent mass execution.

How that could be known by the US is not clear, although aerial reconnaissance had shown what it was surmised was a newly dug mass grave at the prison, and it was believed that the hostages were to be killed on the morning after the night-time raid.

How that fact was established, however, was unclear, and we speculate that it was probably the result of “on the ground” intelligence, which in itself would have been gathered and transmitted in an incredibly courageous manner.

Of the prisoners freed, more than 20 were members of the Iraqi security forces. Five IS militants were also captured and several others killed, the Pentagon said.

Very sadly, the raid resulted in the death of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, the first American death fighting ISIL and the first to die in Iraq for some years.

 

 

His body was returned to his family on Saturday in Dover, Delaware.

Pentagon chief expects more anti-IS raids after captives freed

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said he expected more similar raids targeting the Islamic State group.

The raid marked an apparent break with the stated role of US forces, who are in Iraq to support government forces but do not directly engage in combat in line with Obama’s “no boots on the ground” policy.

But Carter said it was likely not a one-off, noting that a “significant cache” of intelligence had also been retrieved.

 

Defense Secretary Carter

Defense Secretary Carter

 

“I expect we’ll do more of this kind of thing,” Carter said. The significance of this statement cannot be over-estimated.

“One of the reasons for that is that you learn a great deal because you collect the documentation, you collect various electronic equipment and so forth. So the sum of all this will be some valuable intelligence.”

 

Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, was the first American serviceman to die in action in Iraq since 2011.

 

“This is combat, things are complicated,” Carter said in discussing the circumstances of Wheeler’s death.

This sort of operation has been extremely rare ever since the vast majority of US forces left Iraq. America is supporting the Kurds with both equipment and training as the Peshmerga have proven to be the most effective fighting force against ISIL in Iraq.

The implication that more raids like this will occur may reflect a belated realisation that ISIL will not be defeated – nor those it persecutes rescued – without the interpolation of American “boots on the ground”, and also that America’s proxies in the area are not necessarily competent in either training, personnel or materiel to effect such actions successfully on their own.

If so, it represents a significant policy change for President Obama, delivered via his Defense Secretary, as the American Government has struggled manfully to avoid further employing American troops in combat to battlegrounds having achieved a near total pull-out from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The extent to which the success of this raid will spark others, whether for hostage rescue or for so-called “decapitation” attacks against key IS personnel, is as yet unclear.

Anyhow, as we contemplate this apparent policy change, and what it might mean for American troops and troops from other Western nations, let us also pause for a moment and think about Sergeant Wheeler. For the real story of this raid is surely his story.

As has been reported, he hailed from a thinly populated, economically struggling patch of eastern Oklahoma.

Joshua L. Wheeler had a difficult childhood and few options. The Army offered an escape, but it turned into much more. He made a career in uniform, becoming a highly decorated combat veteran in the elite and secretive Delta Force.

“In that area, if you didn’t go to college, you basically had a choice of the oil fields or the military,” said his uncle, Jack Shamblin. “The Army really suited him; he always had such robust energy and he always wanted to help people, and he felt he was doing that.”

That protective instinct was evident from grade school when, as the oldest child in a dysfunctional home, he was often the one who made sure his siblings were clothed and fed. And it was on display on Thursday, when Master Sergeant Wheeler, 39, a father of four who was thinking of retiring from the Army, became the first American in four years to die in combat inIraq.

A father of four. Let us remember their sacrifice too. Let us ponder the pain in their hearts this day.

When Kurdish commandos went on a helicopter raid to rescue about 70 hostages, the plan called for the Americans who accompanied them to offer support, not join in the action, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said on Friday.

But then the Kurdish attack on the prison where the hostages were held stalled, and Sergeant Wheeler promptly responded.

“He ran to the sound of the guns,” Mr. Carter said. “Obviously, we’re very saddened that he lost his life,” he said, adding, “I’m immensely proud of this young man.”

A former Delta Force officer who had commanded Sergeant Wheeler in Iraq and had been briefed on the mission said that the Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga, tried to blast a hole in the compound’s outer wall, but could not. So Sergeant Wheeler and another American, part of a team of 10 to 20 Delta Force operators who were present, ran up to the wall, breached it with explosives, and with typical disregard for their own safety were the first ones through the hole.

“When you blow a hole in a compound wall, all the enemy fire gets directed toward that hole, and that is where he was,” said the former officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the operation.

Sergeant Wheeler was a veteran of 14 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan – count them – 14 – with a chest full of medals.

His honors included four Bronze Stars with the letter V, awarded for valor in combat; and seven Bronze Stars, awarded for heroic or meritorious service in a combat zone. His body was returned to the United States on Saturday.

He died far from his roots in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma, just across the state border from Fort Smith, Arkansas.

So what made Sergeant Wheeler an instinctive hero? We will never know precisely the confluence of his youth and how it affected him.

His mother, Diane, had two marriages to troubled and abusive men, both ending in divorce, said her brother. She had two sons with her first husband and three daughters with her second, and outlived both men. She died last year at age 60.

One of Sergeant Wheeler’s sisters, Rachel Quackenbush, said her parents were “mentally gone.” Family members said that they often got by on some form of government assistance. Later in life, their mother, who was part Cherokee, like many people in the region, received help from the Cherokee nation.

Joshua as a student, and as a soldier.

Joshua as a student, and as a soldier.

It was her brother who held the family together, making sure the younger children ate breakfast, got dressed and made it to school — even changing dirty diapers. On his own initiative, Mr. Shamblin said, he held a variety of jobs, including roofing and work on a blueberry farm, to bring in a few crucial extra dollars.

Sergeant Wheeler’s grandparents, now in their 80s, often took care of the children. “They were the only really stable influence,” Mr. Shamblin said.

Ms. Quackenbush, 30, recalled one of her brother’s first visits home from the military, when she was still a child. He noticed that the pantries were bare, retrieved a gun and left. “He went out and he shot a deer,” she said. “He made us deer meat and cooked us dinner.”

But at Muldrow High School, where he graduated in 1994, people saw no sign of the turmoil at home.

“He was always funny, even mischievous, but always the guy who seemed like he had your back,” said April Isa, a classmate who now teaches English at the high school. “Most of our class was cliques, but he wasn’t with just one group. He was friends with everyone.”

Ron Flanagan, the Muldrow schools superintendent, was the assistant principal at the high school when Sergeant Wheeler attended classes there. “The thing I remember most clearly is that he was extremely respectful to everybody, classmates and teachers,” he said. “He was a good kid who didn’t get in any trouble.”

Mr. Wheeler enlisted in 1995, and in 1997 he joined the Rangers, a specially trained group within the Army.

From 2004, he was assigned to Army Special Operations Command, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., which includes Delta Force, the extremely selective unit that carries out some of the military’s riskiest operations. He completed specialized training in several fields, including parachute jumping, mountaineering, leading infantry units, explosives and urban combat.

“He was very focused, knew his job in and out,” said the former officer who had commanded Sergeant Wheeler. “It is hard to describe these guys. They are taciturn, very introspective, but extremely competent. They are “Jason Bournes”, they really are.”

Joshua had three sons by his first marriage, which ended in divorce. He remarried in 2013, and he and his wife, Ashley, have an infant boy.

“He could never say much about where he went or what he did, but it was clear he loved it,” Mr. Shamblin said. “And even after all that time in combat, there was such a kindness, a sweetness about him.”

On visits home, either to Oklahoma or North Carolina, he focused on his boys and his extended family. Ms. Quackenbush said that when he would have to leave on another deployment, he would claim it was just for training, which she understood was untrue.

“He was exactly what was right about this world,” she said. “He came from nothing and he really made something out of himself.”

And then, last Thursday in the dusty dark of Iraq, Josh’s luck ran out.

We should all consider how lucky we are that men like him are still looking after the weak, the displaced, and the threatened. It is easy to be cynical, or even to resort to a sort of knee-jerk anti-Americanism, when we seek to unpick the news, or to make sense of the geo-politics. But as we today contemplate a family in mourning, even as we gaze in distress as the seeming never-ending morass that is the Middle East, let us also state this simple, shining truth.

One man died last Thursday, but 70 were saved from certain death.

Memorial+Soldier

Sleep well, Sergeant. We will not forget you.


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