I had planned to post on other topics this weekend – obsolete states’ rights, Krugman re Trump and economics – but this fiery Guardian article about Memorial Day has stopped me in my tracks. Here are two core paragraphs from it:
Trump has said he “will be so good at the military, your head will spin”. Sure, how hard can it be? This rich man’s son who was never in the military, who in fact used student deferments (four) and a case of heel spurs to avoid Vietnam. He did, however, attend a military-style prep school in his teens, and therefore “always felt that I was in the military”, while sleeping around during his bachelor days, risking venereal disease, was “scary, like Vietnam” and “my personal Vietnam”. Senator John McCain, former combat naval aviator who nearly died in service and was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for over five years, repeatedly refusing offers of early release in order to stay with his comrades, is not, according to Trump, much of a soldier, whereas he, Trump, according to Trump, is the “most militaristic man in the room” whose yet-unspecified plans for taking on Isis would draw the approval of such lions as General Douglas MacArthur and General George Patton. And so on.
In your informative description (on this blog here) of Jessica Stern’s talk about Isis, she asserts that the Isis leaders are not genuine Muslims. Rather, she says, they are criminals, indeed I’d say, psychopaths, who have chosen the trappings of Islam to gain supporters. She says that she differs in this from Graeme Wood, who wrote the excellent article in Atlantic that you reference.
I don’t claim to be an expert in this issue, either the question of who is a Muslim or who is any other particular religion. I tend to take people’s word as to what they are and what they believe. Many religious people consider who is or isn’t a genuine member of their own religion to be a serious issue, and history shows that they are willing to kill one another over this question. Indeed, the rise of ISIS involves just such a question, within Islam. The ISIS murderers assert that they are genuine Muslims and other people who live within their grasp who claim to be Muslims are false Muslims or apostates. Of course, those Muslims say the same about the ISIS thugs.
Last evening I went to a talk by Jessica Stern at the Concord MA bookshop. She and J. M. Berger have a new book titled ISIS: The State of Terror. I bought a copy which she signed. Upwards of 50 people were there.
Jessica Stern grew up in Concord MA. She lectures at Harvard, has authored four books of which three are on Mideast terrorism, is an associate at the Hoover Institution, and advises the US State Department on what to do about terrorism.
She described how today’s ISIS was already present in Iraq 10 years ago, beheading people and filming it, but all of it done very crudely at the time. The precursor was run by a common street criminal who became a “born again” pure Muslim. Bin Laden couldn’t tolerate him at first.
She said the US State Department, middle-aged and with good intentions, hasn’t a clue about how to use social media to counteract ISIS’s highly skilled use of media; young knowledgeable people need to be enlisted for that. Further, the word needs to get back out about what ISIS is really like – for example, recruited “jihadi wives” are actually shuttled from man to man, not wed to one jihadi. She said that ISIS is very much like identity Christianity.
Thomas Friedman describes the bloody chaotic situation in the Middle East, but he neglects to mention some important matters.
One of these is that he has been a strong supporter of the policies that he says have led us and the locals to this mess. For example, he was a big supporter of Pres. George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq. There were plenty of people who opposed that invasion, such as Friedman’s colleague at the Times, Paul Krugman.
Another matter he omits to mention is that President Obama’s foreign policy in the region is similar to what Friedman urges. But why does he write as if he is proposing some new good idea? Why not credit President Obama, who is refusing to invade Iraq again to get rid of ISIS on the same grounds as Friedman urges: the locals have to want to defend their own societies in order that our, outside help can be effective.
Thomas Friedman’s May 27 New York Times op-ed Contain and Amplify captures almost all of what I think about the Middle East.
My comments on it: The European nations, principally the UK, drew straight lines in the sand some 100 years ago to create, for their own benefit, most of these now-chaotic Middle Eastern “nations”. The US with help from the UK decapitated Iran in the early 1950s. Since then the US has unilaterally corrupted Saudi Arabia, invaded Afghanistan in revenge, invaded and decapitated Iraq, and decapitated Libya, all in blatant violation of our covenants with the United Nations (and all in disregard of Christian values). Not to say that other nations have been angels in the meantime; consider for example which among them are selling arms and ammunition to ISIS today.
In sum, much of what we fear and fight today was of our own predatory and lawless making starting decades ago. Who is the US then to condemn or dismiss the Middle Eastern people for lawlessness, chaos, and the desperate violence that we reflexively label “terrorism”? Could there be any more powerful statement of powerlessness and hopelessness than suicide bombing?