Thursday, April 30, 2015

Zakaria GPS shows chilling footage inside Mosul from German filmmaker, "I've never seen people like this"

Sunday, Fareed Zakaria presented a short clip by a German filmmaker about life in Mosul, Iraq under ISIS, link here .

The journalist (Jurgen Todenhofer) says he was allowed to get out alive because ISIL wanted to show a western journalist that it really has a “state”.
The journalist said, “I have never seen people like this before”.  The young recruits, like members of a cult, seem to be having the time of their lives. 
The entire documentary (“Blindsided: How ISIS Shook the World”) will be aired Monday May 4.  Its airing seems to have been postponed by the events in Baltimore.

Update: May 11

In another clip May 10, Todenhofer suggested that some Sunni businesses in Mosul say they are better off under ISIS than they had been under Iraq's Shiite-influenced government. Oddly, ISIS did provide services for the disabled.
In preparation for Zakaria's film tonight, take a look at this article, where he draws a parallel between ISIS and Stalinist-style communism, here.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Conservatives note that single moms want favored treatment in asylum process

Stephen Dinan has a significant piece in the Washington Times, “Single moms get easier path to US asylum”, link here

There is considerable debate as to what should be viewed as a quasi-immutable characteristic that singles someone out for persecution or violence in an overseas country.  In some Central American countries, according to the article, some single mothers fear that their situation makes them targets.
On the other hand, conservatives feel that mere economic hardship, social unrest or political hostility alone should not qualify someone for asylum.
In the 1980s, as I recall, there was even talk that some Cuban refugees would be sent back if they didn’t find sponsors.  That hasn’t really been said publicly this time around. 
Conservative commentators also fear that terrorists could compromise the asylum process and get into the country.
By the way, I do have a bone to pick with the Washington Times site.  It is overloaded with bloat and popups, and the article doesn’t come up (at least in Google Chrome in Windows) until you respond (at least “No”) to a survey. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

What makes extremists tick? Is religious extremism different from political?

One of the most shocking aspects of terrorism today is the way extremists look at civilians as “fair game” and appear to view “ordinary civilians” as morally culpable personally for what their government has done or what others do. 
I could say that this sounds related to political attitudes in the past that supported the military draft (for men in the US, and for everyone in some countries like Israel).  It speaks not of victims but of casualties.  It views life as essentially dangerous and requires everyone to share the risk or be labeled with cowardice. This was a common style of thinking in the 1950s.
It’s also simply historical fact over the millennia, that civilian populations are attacked.  However, the acts associated with radical Islam and most recently ISIS are indeed processed as shocking.
And with the Internet comes a new existential problem, the idea of (associational) targeting, especially by unstable people prodded by the Internet, as addressed in a story about Twitter today (main blog).  In theory, anyone could be singled out (“persecuted”) for professing simply a non-Islamic religion online, as could associates.  This could raise psychological warfare in western countries in a way that seems unprecedented, although varieties have occurred in the past.

I looked up a few links on the psychology of extremism.  A piece in Psychology Today seems to stress, that with groups like Al Qaida, Boko Haran and ISIS, it really is about religion.  It seems incredible and illogical to us, but some people really do believe that their creed requires them to kill in its name.  In the distant past, this was more common.  There were elements of this in the Crusades, in tribal Arabia at the time of Muhammad, and in Old Testament history as the “Jews” struggled to survive as a “chosen people” scattered into separate tribes.  The group was everything. College students learn about this in History 101 and answer exam questions on it, and then forget it.
I listed a few other sources on extremism, on Blogger by John Sanidopoulos (“Mystagogy”), and a couple of psychology sites (“Intractability” and Laird Wilcox).  Generally, my experience is that extremist criminal behavior is a continuum related to inequality.  The “privileged” are seen as “having it coming to them” if they didn’t earn what they have.  This was a common rhetoric from the radical Left in the 60s and 70s.  Some left wing commentators like Noam Chomsky see a continuum between ordinary violent crime, war, and terror.  In my own DADT-3 book, I argue that individualism and at least temporary inequality are linked and essential to innovation, but on the other hand when the “privileged” don’t give back, indignation and then instability result.  Disadvantaged young males (in the US, often black and Latino) see little point in “playing by the rules” which are ignored anyway.  Furthermore, an individualist society requires certain cognitive skills which well-off teens  learn from parents (how to be productive and provide what other people will pay for) but those in less intact backgrounds don’t get. 
Still, this theory doesn’t explain why some well-off young men become terrorists, or why some less advantaged first turn to Islam and find some kind of peace with it and then later turn to violence.  What really went on in the mind of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (as with “Jahar” tweeting here     The next-to-last tweet, after the attack, is rather interesting and disturbing (as is April 8).  And remember in his “Manifesto” inside the boat, he saw himself as a cell in a group mind. 

Picture: weapons case, and combat scene, from the Airborne and Special Operations Museum near Fort Bragg, Fayetteville NC. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Migration crisis for Europe is getting huge

Anthony Faiola has a big article in the Washington Post today  about the migration crisis in Europe, as illustrated by the hundreds of deaths at sea after an emigration from Libya.  The link for the story is here. He calls it a “New Exodus”.  As reported before, some call on the US and Canada to do more. 

European countries probably don’t have the capacity to house the refugees or deal with the security problems.  No one is discussing the “radical hospitality” issue, that this should be a moral responsibility of churches or even private citizens.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

U.N. wants western nations to give asylum and support to Syrian refugees, raising "policy" questions

Somini Sengupta has a front page story in the Saturday New York Times, “Tides of refugees, but the West isn’t welcoming” in print, “U.N. calls on western nations to shelter Syrian refugees”, link here.  The Pope is also reported to have made similar comments. The issue had been introduced here March 20, 2015. 
The article reports that the U.S. would be concerned about the possibility of terrorists posing as refugees. But the US may accept about 2000 this year, compared to a total of 700 so far.  There are some Syrian communities scattered around the country that might “want” to host them, as has been reported before.  But asking American private citizens to take in or sponsor refugees would be unprecedented in recent times, although this situation happened in 1980 with Cuban refugees.
A similar issue can exist with asylum from anti-gay countries, including Russia now.  

Update: May 2, 2015

Of course, the Tsarnaev case reminds one of an implicit danger in taking in asylees.  That will be covered in more detail later.  

Monday, April 13, 2015

Israel's settlement policy is inconsistent with a democratic future

Vox media has an analysis by Max Fisher, “Israel’s Dark Future: Democracy in the Jewish state is doomed”, suggesting that Israel’s maintenance of settlements on the West Bank contradicts democracy within Israel and tends to lead to more authoritarian, security-related measures within the country. There is even the attitude that a large portion of the population is more concerned about its religious identity and collective future as a “people” than with individual freedom.
I have had the liberty of living in a culture that, in the final analysis, values individualism and that leave religion to the personal experience of the individual.  I don’t respond to collective calls of religious unity.  There is no authority for faith without the individualized experience.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cherry Blossom festival in Washington offers a "Japan America Friendship Mural"

At the Cherry Blossom Festival near the Tidal Basin in Washington DC, there was a “Japan America Friendship Mural” where people (mostly kids) could make drawings to be sent to kids in Japan.
The entire Cherry Blossom celebration, based on a gift from Japan in 1912.  Subsequent history is tragic, and often forgotten during the festival. We had no idea of what would happen in WWII.

Then, once again Japan becomes an economic powerhouse and trading partner (most of all in electronics) before is own economic decline. And it has an aging population with a low birthrate. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Denmark trying to use sex education to raise the birth rate

Danny Hakim of the New York Times now writes that in Denmark, sex education is turning to the issue of encouraging more births, in large part because of falling birth rates of people of European origin, link here. Birth rates still sag below replacement levels for non-immigrant populations despite increased benefits for families like mandatory paid maternity and paternity leave.  How would this instruction apply to gay populations?
Wikipedia attribution link for Copenhagen picture by Thue, p.d. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

CNN weighs in on whether extremism is fundamentally part of Islam, and says it is not

Haroon Mohgul has a piece in CNN, “How to prevent more Tsarnaev’s”, link here.
Moghul discusses the book “Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, where the author argues that extremism is caused by the religion itself. Mohgul says, she is wrong. 
The New York Review of books has a related piece by Malie Ruthven, “The Map ISIS Hates”, link here. The article notes a map of the Middle East where the damage done to Islam was due to European colonialism, but the map really notes a natural division between Sunni and Shiite, which led to the establishment of separate states.
So the author of the first piece talks about the need to educate the Muslim population about the abuses of its own leadership.  But it is also true that the West is seen as having exploited the natural resources of the area (as did the Soviet Union, of course), and then as having promoted personal values that hide from people their unwitting benefit from supposed exploitation.  But of course, that sounds a bit like the old secular complaints of Marxism.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

NY Times piece notes disturbing meaning in Shabab attacks

A New York Times article Tuesday by Jeffrey Gettleman, “Somali fighters learning to kill on a shoestring”, link here accompanied by maps of Kenya, is chilling enough.  As Al-Shabab (unlike ISIS) has lost sources of money, it has adjusted because its previous activity seemed to be directed at other Muslims.  Now the attention seems to be, on one level, religious persecution (of Christians), but what seems more apparent, activity motivated by resentment of class and privilege in Kenya or other areas accessible from Somalia.  This sounds like a religious version of Marxism from the past, something that would probably provoke comments from Noam Chomsky who sees this sort of thing as “war”, not just terrorism or crime. 
Local churches have sent missionaries or aid groups to Kenya in the past, but, like with Nigeria and Uganda and other countries, this seems much more dangerous today than it did a decade ago.
Picture: My Lai from Vietnam, Smithsonian.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Religious people have more children and tend to support "collectivist" political and moral systems

The Pew Research Center, with a report “The Future of World Religions”, reports that Islam will be the fast growing religion in the World in coming decades, according to an NBC News story here.   Pew’s own link reports also that people with “no religion” will drop as a share of the world’s population, here

The increase in Muslim population comports with the fact that Muslims tend to have more children, and are more likely to send money home when they emigrate.  There is a big cultural gap, with people in richer countries and cultures wanting individualism, and the right to set their own goals, compared to people in poorer cultures, who remain emotionally loyal to the long-term goals of the group.
The combativeness of some parts of the Islamic world in imposing its beliefs on others goes beyond ISIS and is demonstrated by the horrific raid by Al-Shabaab at Garissa University n Kenya, as reported by Josh Levs and Holly Yan, with video, here.  Local churches have sent volunteers to Kenya before! Then two women were arrested in NYC for an Al-Qaida-conceived plot involving devices inspired by the Boston Marathon incident, possibly involving propane tanks; the women had communicated their plot to undercover officers, WABC story here
Picture:  Draftees being inducted during the Vietnam War (Smithsonian).  But I was inducted Feb. 8, 1968 at an AFEES in Richmond, VA.