Tag: Islamism

The President and ISIL

With recent pushes into Kurdish territory and the beheading of 21 Christians in Libya, there is a growing fear that ISIL is growing more and more powerful. The President has asked for an authorization for the use of military force (finally). I’ll get to that in a moment. But my first concern is that he’s been making the argument, yet again, that ISIL doesn’t represent “real” Islam, even dragging out the old arguments about the Crusades as a moral equivalence.

The thing is that ISIL doesn’t agree with him. They are not like Al-Qaeda, which was an amorphous terrorist movement dedicated to bringing about the caliphate but operating within the modern world. ISIL wants to create the caliphate right now and the caliphate they want to create is violent, barbaric, medieval and based heavily on old-school Islam and literal interpretations of the Koran:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

(You really should read that entire article. Think Regress has posted a lame response that basically ignores Wood’s point: that while many Muslims don’t take the Koran’s more violent texts at face value, organizations like ISIL do.)

When the President says that violent extremists like ISIL are not the real face of Islam, he is both right and wrong. The face of Islam can be one of tolerance and peace. But it can also be one of intolerance and violence. Islam has gone through periods of enlightenment and gone through periods of horrific fundamentalism. At this point in history, it hangs in the balance caught between hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims and violent sects that, while a minority, wields enormous power and influence. We’ve seen in pre-war Afghanistan and in the ISIL-controlled territory what these people want: beheadings, slavery, crucifixion, stoning. Their ideology recognizes no authority other than “pure” radical Islam. Whether they represent a minority or not is beside the point. The Nazis were never a majority in Germany. The Communists were never a majority in the countries they ruled with an iron fist. But they were able to control massive parts of the world and enormous armies through violence, intimidation and bloodshed.

The “most Muslims are good” argument, while based in truth, has no practical meaning. Most Germans are good people. We still had to defeat them in two wars. Most Russians are good people. We still had to fight a dangerous and tense Cold War against the Soviet Union. Most Japanese are good people. We still had to drop two atom bombs on them. It doesn’t really matter what the vast majority want when the monsters have the floor. The problem is that while most people are good, they are also easily persuaded or coerced to do bad things or stand aside while bad things are done. This is true of everyone in the world. There is not a religion or country that isn’t capable of doing horrible things. The question is: who is in charge? We’ve seen what happens when people like ISIL are in charge: entire regions of the world become unspeakably violent.

The President has finally asked Congress to recognize the semi-war we’ve been fighting for a while. I think they should do so, but with some limitations. A land war is not necessarily going to solve ISIL (although letting them overrun Baghdad or Kurdistan — as they’ve threatened to — would be a disaster). In fact, it could play right into their apocalyptic prophecies. But I do know that we can not disengage. It’s important that we keep ISIL and AQ from reconciling (which the President’s rescue attempt threatened to do). The longer ISIL survives and the more territory they conquer, the more legitimacy and power they will accumulate in the eyes of radical Muslims. Stopping them might mean air support, training, weapons and/or money to the forces opposing ISIL. If that means what we end up propping up one side in a bloody decades-long struggle for the soul of Islam … well, that’s what it means. We have a national interest in preventing the rise of ISIL to a real caliphate. The only way it will end is when this supposed peaceful majority rises up and ends it.

The Face of Terror

Yesterday, we watched as a homicidal nut took hostages in Sydney. In the ensuing action, two hostages died and the gunman was killed. While the gunman proclaimed his allegiance to ISIS, there were no official ties. Furthermore, he had some serious criminal issues going on. He was complicit in the murder of his wife, who was stabbed 18 times and set on fire. And he was being charged with 50 counts of indecent behavior and sexual assault. Why he was not sitting in a jail cell is a bit of a mystery to me.

There have been some attempts to divorce his actions from his Islamic fundamentalism, to say that this was just about a crazed nut. Well, the Taliban reminded us yesterday that this is what Islamists are like:

Pakistani Taliban gunmen stormed into a military-run school in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, killing scores of teachers and schoolchildren and fighting an eight-hour gun battle with the security forces, officials said.

At least 145 people were killed, more than 100 of them children, in a siege that lasted more than eight hours before the last of the nine attackers were killed, government and medical officials said.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said his group was responsible for the attack and said it was in retaliation for the military’s offensive against militants in the North Waziristan tribal district.

So, yeah, this guy helped murder his wife and sexually assaulted women. That makes him pretty much your basic Islamist. That’s practically a job application for Al-Qaeda. These radicals murder children, they shoot teenagers in the face, they throw acid on women and girls, they kidnap women and force them into rape marriages. They engage in honor killing and behead innocents. This is what they do. Why are we acting like this guy in Sydney was unusual?

Whither Turkey

I’ve been a bit pre-occupied this week but have spent part of today trying to catch up to the Turkish situation. I think Fareed Zakaria makes the best case scenario that this is essentially a collision of two backlashes. The first was against the extremely secular government that Turkey had for a long time (veils were forbidden in public places, for example). The second is response to Erdogan’s rather authoritarian approach to bring more Islam into the public space and the natural fears that this will lead to fundamentalism.

I’m not sure how this will play out but I’m more optimistic about this than I was about the Arab Spring. For one thing, Turkey already has an established democracy and a secular society. There isn’t really anything like the Muslim Brotherhood to step in and start to assert true Islamism.

Still, it’s critical that we keep an eye on what’s going on. Turkey is our most critical ally in the region (non-Israel division). What happens in Turkey is far more important than what happens in Syria, Libya or Egypt.

Beheading in the Streets

I’ve been tinkering with a post on yesterday’s cold-blooded murder and attempted beheading of a UK soldier by two Islamic men. But what is there to say? It was senseless, pointless, barbaric and brutal — everything we have to expect from Islamism. And while the video of these men speaking is horrific, I’m glad that people will get to see these men literally soaked in the blood of an infidel while they shout Islamic slogans. Maybe they’ll quit pretending Islamism isn’t savagery.

Some Good News out of Mali

LIke me, I’m sure you were angered to hear of Islamists torching thousands of ancient manuscripts when they left Timbuktu (if you’re like me, this came after saying, “There’s a real place called Timbuktu?”). Well, there’s some good news:

Abba Alhadi has spent 40 of his 72 years on earth taking care of rare manuscripts. The illiterate old man, who walks with a cane and looks like a character from the Bible, was the perfect foil for the Islamists. They wrongly assumed that the city’s European-educated elite would be the ones trying to save the manuscripts, he said.

So last August, Alhadi began stuffing the thousands of books into empty rice and millet sacks.

At night, he loaded the millet sacks onto the type of trolley used to cart boxes of vegetables to the market. He pushed them across town and piled them into a lorry and onto the backs of motorcycles, which drove them to the banks of the Niger River.

From there, they floated down to the central Malian town of Mopti in a pinasse, a narrow, canoe-like boat. Then cars drove them from Mopti, the first government-controlled town, to Mali’s capital, Bamako, over 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from here.

“I have spent my life protecting these manuscripts. This has been my life’s work. And I had to come to terms with the fact that I could no longer protect them here,” said Alhadi. “It hurt me deeply to see them go, but I took strength knowing that they were being sent to a safe place.”

It took two weeks in all to spirit out the bulk of the collection, around 28,000 texts housed in the old building covering the subjects of theology, astronomy, geography and more.

There was nothing they could do, however, for the 2,000 documents that had already been transferred to the new library, to its exhibition and restoration rooms, and to a basement vault. Cisse took solace knowing that most of the texts in the new library had been digitized.

Some texts were still lost. But tens of thousands were saved thanks to this man and others. I don’t know what award this make him eligible for but, whatever it is, he should get it. I’d say a Nobel, but I’d prefer an award that still has some meaning.

A License to Kill

Goodness me, that President Bush is evil. How could he possibly assert that he has the exclusive power to … oh … it’s President Obama? No way!

Yes way.

A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.

The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.

They also killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son for reasons that remain nebulous. Greenwald:

What has made these actions all the more radical is the absolute secrecy with which Obama has draped all of this. Not only is the entire process carried out solely within the Executive branch – with no checks or oversight of any kind – but there is zero transparency and zero accountability. The president’s underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president – at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as “Terror Tuesday” – then chooses from “baseball cards” and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark.

There are many problems with this outline (which is a reduced version of a much longer and still classified policy). The determination that someone is a “senior” Al-Quaeda leader and poses a threat is made entirely by the White House in total secrecy. We’re currently having an argument in the S&P thread about Obama using the power of the justice department to get his enemies. Do we trust them with this power?

Second, the statement that this applies only to senior terrorist leaders who pose an imminent threat is garbage. Once you look past the Orwellian language, the memo eviscerates those headline requirements, noting that there is no minimum requirement. They don’t have to be a senior member. They don’t have to pose an imminent threat. Awlaki’s son was neither. The White House just has to decide that … well … this person needs killing.

In other words, this is not a memo that narrowly defines the President’s power to unilaterally kill those that he considers threats. It massively expands it. It declares it to be essentially without bounds. He can order the killing of anyone anywhere in the world for reasons that can remain secret indefinitely.

Now maybe this sound fine to a lot of people. But Sullum reminds us of something critical:

The problem is that to accept this position, you have to put complete trust in the competence, wisdom, and ethics of the president, his underlings, and their successors. You have to believe they are properly defining and inerrantly identifying people who pose an imminent (or quasi-imminent) threat to national security and eliminating that threat through the only feasible means, which involves blowing people up from a distance. If mere mortals deserved that kind of faith, we would not need a Fifth Amendment, or the rest of the Constitution.

Exactly. If we trust the government with the unaccountable power of life and death, why shouldn’t we trust it with the power to decide what speech is acceptable? Why not dispense with the commerce clause and trust it to only regulate commerce when necessary? Why not save money on all those jury trials and just trust that anyone they arrest is guilty of something? Actually, given the explosion of laws, we probably all are guilty of something.

We spend a lot of time on this blog attacking Obama’s policies and competence. We accuse him of using the Justice Department to attack his enemies and advance his agenda. But we trust him to only kill the bad people?

(Ironically, as all this is going on, we’re delivering F-16’s and M-1 tanks to Egypt. So while the President is assuming unlimited authority to kill Americans over possible dangers, we’re giving weapons to a national leadership that poses a much more serious and real danger. The Egyptians have promised to be nice. I think.)

No President should have this power. Not Ronald Reagan. Not George Washington. Not Abraham Lincoln. Not Franklin Roosevelt. And certainly not Barack Obama. I can concede, perhaps, that in the global terrorism theater, it’s necessary to use drones for targeted killing. I can even accept, perhaps, that an American might be the recipient of this. What I can not accept is that this designation happens in complete secrecy with no accountability whatsoever. That we have to trust that our government won’t mix up a name (as they do with the no fly list), get bad intelligence (as the did with Iraq) or just got it completely fucking wrong (as they did with Maher Arar). Or that they won’t abuse that power to kill someone who really isn’t a threat but is, in some way, inconvenient to them.

I don’t trust government. That’s one of the roots of my fundamental conservatism. If I’m not going to trust government to run my healthcare, why on Earth would I trust them with the power to secretly and unaccountably kill my fellow citizens?

Update: Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of the few liberal Obama supporters who gets it:

I don’t want to be thick-witted here. I understand that on some level a democracy generally elects human leaders who will not abuse the spirit of the law. I think Barack Obama is such a leader. That is for the historians to determine. But practically, much of our foreign policy now depends on the hope of benevolent dictators and philosopher kings. The law can’t help. The law is what the kings say it is.

Lee described the Bush Administration as using “star chamber justice”. Bush had nothing on these guys.

The Fight Moves to Africa

The big news last week was the expansion of the War on Terror in Africa. The conflict against Islamists in Mali — remember when everyone laughed at Mali coming up during the Presidential debates — spilled over into Algeria with a hostage situation which was … eventually … resolved with about 50 of the hostages killed in the process.

US involvement, so far, has been thankfully minimal. I’m not sure that there’s much we can do. At this level, we are really talking about a gang of Jihadi Whack-A-Mole, with attempted revolutions and terror acts popping up in random parts of the globe. I do appreciate that we don’t want Mali to fall to Islamists. But can we defend every weak regime in the world? Should we?

Drone Groaning

Young Master Poosh asked me yesterday to check out a new study on the wisdom and effectiveness of the US’s use of drone strikes in Pakistan and other places.  I had my doubts because it sounded like something a Soros-affiliated group would come up with, but I’m always up for a good read.  Or even a bad one (send me shit!  I need ideas!).

Anyhow, I was right.  It’s a left-wing academia thing assisted by Reprieve, known to me as a progressive grievance group.   But that got me more interested in reading it, not less.  After all, the Left has been pretty quiet about US tactics in the Global War on Terror (whatever that is) since, uh, well, I’m not entirely sure when they lost their curiosity about the appropriateness of our methods.   Weird.  At any rate, these fine liberals decided to start asking some questions that Congressional Democrats and their news media aren’t.

You can read all about it in this PDF called Living Under Drones.  It’s lengthy, but the major points are:

1. Drone strikes are killing civilians

2. They are terrorizing the civilians who don’t get killed

3. They don’t really work that well

4. They’re probably illegal

I think their research is actually quite good, assuming that their anonymous sources aren’t lying or fabricated.  I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt though.  At any rate, I am pleased to see that Obama and the press aren’t getting a pass from the same people who used to scream about Bush doing things like this.  On that basis alone, I take it on good faith.

If I have one problem with the report, it’s that it offers no alternatives to using drones to hunt militants in Pakistan.  The entire report criticizes their use, but spends no time saying what (if anything) might work better.   What they ironically failed to note is that the same reasons why drones are the only option for knocking off militants in Pakistan are the exact same problems that hindered their own research for the report.

Primary research in FATA is difficult for many reasons.

First, it is very difficult for foreigners physically to access FATA, partly due to the Pakistani government’s efforts to block access through heavily guarded checkpoints, and partly due to serious security risks.

Second, it is very difficult for residents of Waziristan to travel out of the region. Those we interviewed had to travel hundreds of kilometers by road to reach Islamabad or Peshawar, in journeys that could take anywhere from eight hours to several days, and which required passing through dozens of military and police checkpoint stops, as well as, in some cases, traveling through active fighting between armed non-state groups and Pakistani forces.

Third, mistrust, often justifiable, from many in FATA toward outsiders (particularly Westerners) inhibits ready access to individuals and communities.

Hmm.  It’s almost as if an area where the host government is uncooperative, road travel is insanely difficult, and the populace loathes outsiders might be ideal for covert, unmanned air operations.

What the authors really want is more transparency on this program, so they say.   How are targets being selected?  Who are we really killing?  How did the Administration come to the conclusion that this was allowed by international law?  Good questions, but there’s no way that either the Obama Administration or Pakistan’s government can answer those questions and still have the program work effectively since we’re officially not really doing it to begin with.

The drone program is one of those few things that the Obama Administration has done that I like.  When you blow the bad guys up, you get no messy problems that go with capturing them like indefinite detention, interrogation, and trials.  The same people who complained about those activities were either unaware of or willing to accept the fact that killing suspected terrorists on sight was the only thing that could be done if we were to keep the GWoT going.

Unfortunately, this method may be too perfect for the US government, you know?   Total secrecy, no risk of losing any pilots and having to explain why one is on Pakistan television with a gun to his head, no explanations of who was killed or why; just an assurance that “he was a militant and we totally didn’t kill any innocent people.”   Note that this has even been done to an American citizen (and total dirtbag, but still).  I don’t think we should give the Administration a complete license to kill on the soil of countries we’re not at war with (yet) with so little accountability or oversight.

Above all, I’ll say that the report has me convinced that the drone strikes probably have killed plenty of innocent people and are both legally and ethically questionable.  However, I don’t think we’re anywhere close to being able to stop doing them.  Americans approve of drone strikes–and the rest of Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy–in principle, like it when al Qaeda and Taliban guys get zilched out, and see no risk in doing any of it.   But at least somebody’s asking questions.  Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what we’re hoping to accomplish over there and how we’re doing it.  When you ask me to believe that this Administration should be trusted on terrorism matters, remember that Benghazi has shown us that it simply cannot.

Libya Rises

Well, this is promising:

Ten days after four Americans were killed in their Libyan city, hundreds marched in Benghazi and took over the headquarters of a radical Islamist group tied to the attack.

Thousands of protesters had taken to the street earlier Friday, loudly declaring that they — and not those behind last week’s deadly attack — represent the real sentiments of the Libyan people.

“I am sorry, America,” one man said. “This is the real Libya.”
In the evening, an offshoot of several hundred people then headed toward the headquarters for Ansar al-Sharia, a loosely connected radical Islamist group.

As militia members fled, the protesters torched a vehicle and took over the group’s building without firing a single shot. Some of those involved claimed to have freed at least 20 captives held inside, and expressed their intent to assume control over other Ansar al-Sharia buildings.

The Libyan government has also been arresting people left, right and center. The Libyans know what Obama is finally, after more than a week, kinda sorta being forced to admit: that the September 11 killing was a planned attack, not a spontaneous eruption.

I’m trying not to get my hopes up too far. This is the Middle East after all. But it would be ironic if, after all this year, Libya became the most reasonable country in the region.

Yemen and Tunisia

A small protest outside our embassy in Tunisia. Other in Morocco and Sudan. Flag burned in Gaza (but that could just be because it’s Thursday). Large violent protests in Egypt and Yemen. But Libya seems to be trying to stay on the sane side and there are indication Libyan government forces fought to defend our ambassador (although security seems to have been generally inadequate). And the supposed offending film keeps getting more mysterious.

But I’m beginning to think the film is a red herring. This seems to be more of a generalized anti-US sentiment spurred by radical Islamists.

Updates as events warrant.