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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Battling ISIS, Not Islam

After my last posting on San Bernardino, Donald Trump went ballistic, declaring that all Muslims should be denied entry into this country.  They say timing is everything and I missed that one by about an hour!  This led me to research some facts about Muslims in this country and around the globe.  It also pushed me to think again about parallels with Nazi Germany, as Trump’s speech in South Carolina was eerily similar in too many respects to a Nazi rally of the 1930s.  

Like the Nazis of old, Trump seems to have a penchant for coming up with scapegoats to blame, to harass, and eventually to eliminate (what other interpretation can we put on his claim that he will eliminate jihadists in this country by deporting all the Syrians and blocking immigration of all Muslims?).  Further scapegoating and harassment are seen in his prior remarks that Mexicans coming across the border illegally are nothing but rapists and criminals; and, that all Muslims should be on a database, and tracked by electronic means.

This is one example of a fascist tactic for dividing and conquering:  coerce the people into finding one group despicable, then use that hatred to bring forth the basest motives and attitudes of the general population toward that group and toward others, making sure that “outside” groups are seen as a threat because induced “fear” is also a major fascist tactic.  Division, hatred, and vengeful acts against one group lead to a chaotic situation in which a “strong man” is needed to restore sanity and order (or, the “final solution”).  Hitler, Trump, Cruz, or Fiorina, even Huckabee fit the bill to some degree. There have even been declarations that the final solution could be the use of atomic weapons in Northern Syria.  Is there no end to Republican solutions that have such dire and deadly consequences?

Let’s begin today by taking a look at some historical and demographic context.  What is the real situation?  What are we talking about – this War with ISIS/ISIL, Al Qaeda, the Taliban?  As usual, 

Wikipedia sums it up quite nicely:
“ISIS or ISIL:  The group refers to itself as the Islamic State since it proclaimed a worldwide caliphate in June 2014, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi being named its caliph.  As a caliphate, it claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide" (similar to the supposed extent of the Third Reich for Germans).

 The group's adoption of the name "Islamic State" and the concept of a caliphate have however been widely criticized, with the United Nations, various governments, and mainstream Muslim groups rejecting both. It also is not a state, because it lacks any international recognition.  Still, as of December 2015, the group has control over vast territories in Iraq and Syria with population estimates ranging between 2.8 million and 8 million people, where it enforced Sharia law.  ISIL affiliates also control small areas of Libya, Nigeria and Afghanistan and operate in other parts of the world, including North Africa and South Asia.

ISIL gained prominence, when in early 2014 it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in its Western Iraq offensive, followed by the capture of Mosul (and the Sinjar massacre), prompting a renewal of US military action in Iraq.   The number of fighters the group commands in Iraq and Syria, was estimated by the CIA at 31,000, with foreign fighters accounting for around two-thirds. Amnesty International has charged the group with ethnic cleansing on a "historic scale" in northern Iraq.
 
Around the world, Islamic religious leaders have overwhelmingly condemned ISIL's ideology and actions, arguing that the group has strayed from the path of true Islam and that its actions do not reflect the religion's real teachings or virtues.  The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the European Union and its member states, the United States, India, Indonesia, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and other countries. Around 60 countries are directly or indirectly waging war against ISIL.

The group originated as a Jihad in 1999, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and participated in the Iraqi insurgency following the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by Western forces. Joining other Sunni insurgent groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council, it proclaimed the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in October 2006. In August 2011, following the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, ISI, under the leadership of al-Baghdadi, delegated a mission into Syria, which under the name al-Nusra Front established a large presence in Sunni-majority areas including Aleppo provinces. The merger of ISI with al-Nusra Front to form the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), as announced in April 2013 by al-Baghdadi, was however rejected by al-Nusra and al-Qaeda, who subsequently cut all ties with ISIL by February 2014.” ((From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Apparently, the problem Trump intends to address is the risk of Islamic extremist (ISIS) terrorist attack upon the United States.  It is not quite clear whether he believes this to be akin to the well-planned and coordinated 9/11 attacks, or the scattered attacks on Paris or the homegrown individualized attack on the complex in San Bernardino.  The point he makes, I venture, is that we do not know how this attack will occur, but that one possibility is that some radical jihadists could be holding false or special (fianc√©) visas, and easily sneak in and attack us.  Since Syria is where ISIS is based, he apparently believes we need to prevent this kind of attack by calling a moratorium on Syrian refugees until we can “figure out what’s happening.”

For a businessman and self-proclaimed negotiator extraordinaire, Mr. Trump falls short on several important fronts. 
1)      The definition of the problem is off-target.  Is an attack on America really the essence of the problem?  It’s certainly one aspect of the problem, but I submit that the primary problem is more an ideological one, similar to the clash of democracy/capitalism and communism, or the clash of Catholic and Protestant interpretations of Christianity.  It is an attack by a splinter group on the very essence and existence of the religion of Islam (and certainly against both Judaism and Christianity).  Not unlike other splinter groups, this one believes it is the true way; that the original base of Islam has gotten away from being the true Islam.  The sticking point for practically all of us is that this cult advocates atrocities of rape and murder of innocent people as a tactic for coercing others to support their tenets.  
2)      Trump’s strategy of preventing all Muslims from coming into this country does not begin to solve the major problem of an ideology clash nor that of violence as a tactic.  Instead, we should be doing what President Obama called us to do: enlist Islamists wherever possible to speak and act against this splinter group and their beliefs.  And, we need to put our support behind their efforts.  Maybe a “Voice of Islam” (similar to the Voice of America during the Cold War) is called for rather than a prevention of Muslim immigrants. 
One aspect of an attack on the ISIL terrorists that is lacking any real clout is that of reverse propaganda – an unrelenting campaign of ideas and truth against a world view of force, brutality and unlimited power.  The disconnected and chaotic tactics of Trump and other candidates do not constitute a long-range plan and do not speak decisively against a protracted war.
3)      Trump’s tactics are all wrong because wanting to bar all Muslims from this country and promoting fear of attacks is equivalent to supporting ISIL in its mission.  It does ISIL’s work for it – preparing fertile ground for recruitment by affirming by actions and words what ISIL is already teaching and propagandizing.
4)      Trump’s strategy and tactics lead to consequences, some unintended, for this country and for American Muslim citizens.  Those consequences are already becoming all too evident: attacks on mosques, attacks on individual Muslims, abandonment of Syrian refugees, and the emergence of hate speech directed toward Muslims.  The actions of some Americans, based on fear and discriminatory attitudes, are hurting America already as other nations decry our obvious bigotry. 
But that’s not all, for these harmful attitudes and actions put our armed forces in greater danger, especially in Muslim countries.  We are inviting retaliation and revenge taken out on our own people who serve abroad as diplomats or as members of our armed forces. 
Moreover, nations within the Coalition against ISIL are becoming somewhat nervous about the rhetoric coming out of the United States. Some British members of Parliament have expressed such dismay openly; and Canada has openly sided with Syrian refugees by publicly welcoming them to Canada.
5)      Finally, Mr. Trump is doing what all demagogues do – he is juicing-up the numbers so that the threats will seem larger and the stakes much higher than they are.   The numbers are difficult to verify.  The total of Islamic jihadists in both Iraq and Syria ranges from 30,000 to 50,000!  But the demagogues who use fear to control people, are most apt to use the higher numbers and to then add numbers of jihadists in other countries. 

Nonetheless, here are a few more statistics related to ISIS that might be interesting to you as well as instructive:
  • The number of militants fighting with the Islamic State, according to a 2014 estimate by Dr. Hisham al-Hashimi, an expert on the group, is 30-50 thousand.  (Huffington Post).   ISIS is now thought by some to have over 50,000 ideologically-fueled fighters at its disposal in Syria. (Wikipedia)
  • The approximate value of the Islamic State's cash and assets, according to estimates from terrorism experts is somewhere around $2 billion, including looting hundreds of millions of dollars from banks in Mosul, acquiring hundreds more in military assets from the Iraqi Army, and their relatively new dealings in stolen artifacts.
  • The estimated daily revenue of the Islamic State is perhaps $3 million from its control of oil and gas fields across northern Iraq and Syria.  It “now controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations,” according to Janine Davidson of the Council of Foreign Relations.
  • In a broader context, according to another study in 2015 Islam has 1.7 billion adherents meaning Muslims constitute the world's second largest religious group. Islam is the dominant religion in the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and some parts of Asia.  Large communities of Muslims are also found in China, the Balkans, India, and Russia. In Western Europe, Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity, where it represents 6% of the total population (Wikipedia)
The U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data on religious identification. Various institutions and organizations have given widely varying estimates about how many Muslims live in the U.S.  A Pew Research Center report for 2014 on American religion found that Muslims accounted for:
§  0.9% of American adults, up from 0.4% in 2007, due largely to immigration.
§  There were 2,106 mosques in the United States as of 2010, and the nation's largest mosque, the Islamic Center of America, is in Dearborn, Michigan.
§  According to the 2000 United States Census, the state with the largest percentage of Muslims was Michigan, with 1.2% of its population being Muslim. New Jersey had the second largest percentage with 0.9%, followed by Massachusetts with 0.8%.
§  By city: New York City had the largest number of Muslims with 69,985.   In 2000, Dearborn, Michigan ranked second with 29,181,   Los Angeles ranked third with 25,673;
§  Sunnis and Shias are two subgroups of Islam, just as Catholics and Protestants are two subgroups within Christianity. The Sunni-Shia divide is nearly 1,400 years old, dating back to a dispute over the succession of leadership in the Muslim community following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632.
§   In the U.S., 65% identify as Sunnis and 11% as Shias (with the rest identifying with neither group).
§  Recent surveys show that most people in several countries with significant Muslim populations have an unfavorable view of ISIS.  People in countries with large Muslim populations are as concerned as Western nations about the threat of Islamic extremism, and have become increasingly concerned in recent years.
§  Generally, Muslims mostly say that suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are rarely or never justified.
§  In the United States, a 2011 survey found that 86% of Muslims say that such tactics are rarely or never justified.
§  The Pew 2011 survey of Muslim Americans found that roughly half of U.S. Muslims (48%) say their own religious leaders have not done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists.

Is Mr. Trump – and too many of the other alarmists running for the Republican Nomination -- swatting at flies with what amounts to multi-billion-dollar fly swatters.  Deploying troops, conducting stepped-up bombing (including atomic), deporting Muslims, checking for Muslims, registering Muslims, and continuing to carry special ops operations against this faction will cost our nation a heavy burden of tax money.  It certainly indicates the incompetence with which these ill-prepared candidates would conduct foreign policy.  It adds up to another nefarious Republican scheme that would be paid for by America’s middle class thinking they are getting something (leadership?) for nothing which is far from the truth.

Instead, perhaps we could take some intelligent steps (that would constitute a PLAN) to keep these cultist terrorists from our shores, and to ultimately discredit their ideology.   The Obama administration has already formulated a basic 4-item long-term Plan which is criticized by most Republicans (who themselves have offered most of the same or similar thoughts), mostly because the Plan avoids sending in our own ground troops.  The way Obama sees it, however, what the U.S. needs isn’t a change in policy, but a strengthening of resolve in the face of a long struggle—something that isn’t easy to sell, regardless of the backdrop.  Here’s the Plan in brief:
1. U.S. airstrikes: Obama said such attacks have already been successful against al-Qaeda in Iraq, Yemen and Somalia.
2. Support to foreign ground forces: He vowed to send 475 more U.S. troops to Iraq to support local security forces as well as provide military equipment and training to Syrian rebels.
3. Counterterrorism: The U.S. will work with allies on intelligence and programs to prevent foreign fighters from joining ISIS.
4. Humanitarian assistance: Aid will go to Muslim, Christian and religious minorities in danger of being driven out of their homes by ISIS.
Ever since the deadly assault in Paris last month and the San Bernardino attack, polls have shown a deepening fear in the U.S. about more attacks at home. Such fears are driving support for Donald Trump, who says he would prevent Muslims from entering the U.S. The polls also show less than a quarter of Americans believe Obama has a clear plan to deal with ISIS militants.
The public’s skepticism is likely due in large part to the slow progress Obama’s military campaign has achieved and the constant drumbeat of Republican criticism of his strategy, which his critics have called “too little, too late” to score a decisive victory over the militants.  Yet when it comes to alternative proposals for an anti-ISIS strategy, most Republican presidential candidates have approaches that are similar to what Obama is already doing. Like the president, most GOP hopefuls rule out a large U.S. ground force and support the use of airstrikes and special operations forces. Aside from rhetoric, the only discernable differences between most of the GOP candidates and the president: the pace of operations, which some Republicans say should be faster.
Since the military campaign began in August 2014 the President said on Dec. 14th: “U.S. warplanes have carried out more than 9,000 airstrikes, while local ground forces have recaptured 40 percent of the populated areas that ISIS has seized in Syria and Iraq. But he also acknowledged that wasn’t sufficient to defeat the militants anytime soon. “We recognize that progress needs to happen faster,” he said.
In recent weeks, Obama ordered some 200 U.S. special operations forces to Iraq, where they’re assisting Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces in targeting for U.S. airstrikes, training and conducting raids against ISIS. There are 3,500 U.S. military trainers in Iraq, as well as another 50 members of U.S. special operations forces in Syria, where they are assisting a combined force of Sunni Arab and Kurdish fighters who are closing in on ISIS’s self-declared capital of Raqqa, in eastern Syria. (NEWSWEEK)

So let us try to formulate a few common-sense conclusions about this situation, notwithstanding the outrageous rhetoric of the non-productive and non-definitive Republican candidates.
1)      Actions speak louder than words.  The President is following a plan that none of the Republicans seem able to improve upon.  And, in essence, their words are all they have got because they do not hold office, and if they did, would not be able to initiate any more because they would have to move a whole bureaucracy which does not happen in the kind of lockstep that they are promulgating.
2)      This is a long-term war effort, not a short term battle.  Our leaders from both parties should be calling upon the American people to show greater patience and resolve, as we bring about the defeat of the Islamic caliphate and its fascist-like ideology.
3)      One of the things we do not need is another protracted Middle East War, especially over ideological disagreements and divisions that have been around for thousands of years in these Sunni or Shia dominated countries.
4)      “U.S. airstrikes, a short-term answer compounding a long-term problem, may temper the momentum of ISIS, but bombs, no matter how accurate or plenty, will not eradicate the threat of the radical Islamic insurgency.  And that is particularly true of “carpet bombing” which has turned out in several places (such as Vietnam) to be a failed strategy.”  (Michael Kay, BBC News).  Hillary Clinton added a similar sentiment in a recent speech: “Promising to carpet bomb until the desert glows doesn’t make you sound strong – it makes you sound like you’re in over your head,” Clinton said, referencing a comment made by Republican senator Ted Cruz of Texas. “Bluster and bigotry are not credentials for becoming commander in chief.”
5)      “Defeating ISIS will only be a viable option if the West has the access and acquiescence of regional partners to strike at the heart of Baghdad’s organization.”  (MICHAEL KAY, BBC News)
6)      The Democratic candidates had little to add in their debate, but a few points did make some sense:
a.       Arming everyone vs. gun control - guns won’t save us from lone wolf terrorists or any other kind
b.       lone wolf attacks not all preventable
c.       must work with Muslims in America to form coalitions with them
d.       cannot react in fear because then we give ISIL terrorists just what they want – a weakened defensive nation
e.       encryption – bring tech leaders together to work on ways to break terrorist database and message encryption

Michal Kay has essentially the right conclusion for this posting:
“Countering the external threat to Western cities and populations is complex, and tracking the organic threat from within is resource-intensive.
Bombs and bullets alone cannot target the ISIS ideology, but a collaborative, coherent and holistic strategy led by the U.S. across the gulf states, along with improved intelligence targeting, collection and processing at home, may be able to treat the ISIS cancer before it spreads.”

My own conclusion is:  This battle can’t happen overnight, and the ‘Trumpettes,’ as well as the general public need to take their heads out of the sand and stand up together for a long-term fight against this mode of terrorism (which happens to keep morphing into other shapes and forms).