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Updated: 23 hours 55 min ago

Israeli forces re-open Holy Aqsa Mosque compound after heavy clashes

Thu, 25 Sep 2014 - 12:33am

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Hundreds of Palestinian Muslim worshipers were allowed to access the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem on Wednesday at noon after being prevented from entering the Muslim holy site the day before and in the morning.

Director of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, told Ma’an that Israeli police reopened some of the gates of the compound, allowing Palestinian worshipers of all ages to enter the compound.

The change in the Israeli authorities’ policy followed heavy clashes with security forces in the morning that left 15 Palestinians injured by rubber bullets and shrapnel from stun grenades.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Twitter that five police officers were also wounded, while three Palestinians were detained in the clashes.

Palestinians were protesting not only the fact that they were barred from the compound, but also the presence of Israeli housing minister Uri Ariel, a right-wing extremist who has called for the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock and the construction of a Jewish temple in their place.

Sheikh al-Kiswani said that during clashes earlier on Wednesday, Israeli troops smashed some of the Al-Aqsa Mosque’s windows and doors and fired hundreds of stun grenades and tear gas canisters inside the mosque.

Israeli officers, he added, attacked dozens of worshipers with pepper spray as well.

The ban on Muslim worship inside the Temple Mount was reportedly imposed on Tuesday morning at dawn ahead of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the Jewish New Year.

Because of the sensitive nature of the Al-Aqsa compound, however, Israel maintains a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls it to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area.

Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to the site, leading to tension with Palestinian worshipers.

The compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque and is the third holiest site in Islam.

It is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place as it sits above the site where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.

Al-Aqsa is located in East Jerusalem, a part of the internationally recognized Palestinian territories that have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.

Mirrored from Ma’an News Agency


PressTV: “Nearly 20 worshipers injured as Palestinians clash with Israeli troops”

Hidden Camera Reveals Chilling Life Under ISIS Control

Thu, 25 Sep 2014 - 12:09am

The Young Turks:

“”A mother, with an AK-47 slung over her shoulder, walks her child to a playground. A man driving a car orders a woman to cover her face: ‘God loves women who are covered.’ A woman in an Internet cafe, in flawless French, tells her mother that she won’t be coming home: ‘I did not take the risk by coming here to go back to France.’

“The world got a rare glimpse at life inside the ISIS-controlled city of Raqqa thanks to an intrepid, unnamed Syrian woman who wore a hidden camera under her niqab as she walked around the northern Syrian city, which fell to ISIS militants 18 months ago.”

The video report was commissioned by France 2 and posted to YouTube.“ *

Ana Kasparian, John Iadarola (TYT University) and Jimmy Dore (The Jimmy Dore Show) break it down.”

The Young Turks: “Hidden Camera Reveals Chilling Life Under ISIS Control”

Syrian Media Hail America as Damascus Ally, Support UN Ban on Foreign Fighters

Wed, 24 Sep 2014 - 11:13pm

by Juan Cole

Aljazeera Arabic reports on the reaction in Syria to US air strikes against ISIL, which included attacks on Wednesday on their oil installations, an important revenue stream for the terrorist organization. It turns out that the Damascus press is giving President Obama an uncomfortable embrace.

This kind of talk is deadly to the political mission Obama is embarked on, and there is already talk of anger at him among the Syrian rebels for not striking at key government buildings.

The newspaper “al-Watan” (The Nation), which is close to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, quoted Syrian diplomatic sources as saying that “The US military leadership is now fighting in the same trenches with the Syrian generals, in a war on terrorism inside Syria and on its eastern and southeastern borders.” This is true, the Syrian diplomats said, even though Washington and Damascus cannot acknowledge the cooperation for internal political reasons.

They added that “the Syrian Army will certainly benefit from the American air strikes, especially since it is the strongest force on the ground, possessing both power and flexibility in the way it moves around in the field. It is the one that will benefit from the air strikes.”

The Syrian ambassador to the UN was also delighted that the UN Security Council has adopted a resolution condemning the trafficking to Syria of a wide range of would-be guerrillas.

Obviously there are forces in Damascus who feel that the American intervention is a positive for President Assad.


ABC News: “US, Allies Hit Islamic State, Al-Qaida Affiliate in Syria”

Is this Iranian the most powerful man in Iraq?

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 - 11:42pm


“Gabriel Gatehouse reports for BBC Newsnight on the secretive Iranian General described as the most powerful man in Iraq.”

BBC Newsnight: “Is this Iranian the most powerful man in Iraq? – Newsnight”

Apocalypse Now, Iraq Edition

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 - 11:34pm

By Peter Van Buren via

I wanted to offer a wry chuckle before we headed into the heavy stuff about Iraq, so I tried to start this article with a suitably ironic formulation. You know, a déjà-vu-all-over-again kinda thing. I even thought about telling you how, in 2011, I contacted a noted author to blurb my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, and he presciently declined, saying sardonically, “So you’re gonna be the one to write the last book on failure in Iraq?”

I couldn’t do any of that. As someone who cares deeply about this country, I find it beyond belief that Washington has again plunged into the swamp of the Sunni-Shia mess in Iraq. A young soldier now deployed as one of the 1,600 non-boots-on-the-ground there might have been eight years old when the 2003 invasion took place. He probably had to ask his dad about it.  After all, less than three years ago, when dad finally came home with his head “held high,” President Obama assured Americans that “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” So what happened in the blink of an eye?

The Sons of Iraq

Sometimes, when I turn on the TV these days, the sense of seeing once again places in Iraq I’d been overwhelms me. After 22 years as a diplomat with the Department of State, I spent 12 long months in Iraq in 2009-2010 as part of the American occupation. My role was to lead two teams in “reconstructing” the nation. In practice, that meant paying for schools that would never be completed, setting up pastry shops on streets without water or electricity, and conducting endless propaganda events on Washington-generated themes of the week (“small business,” “women’s empowerment,” “democracy building.”)

We even organized awkward soccer matches, where American taxpayer money was used to coerce reluctant Sunni teams into facing off against hesitant Shia ones in hopes that, somehow, the chaos created by the American invasion could be ameliorated on the playing field. In an afternoon, we definitively failed to reconcile the millennium-old Sunni-Shia divide we had sparked into ethnic-cleansing-style life in 2003-2004, even if the score was carefully stage managed into a tie by the 82nd Airborne soldiers with whom I worked.

In 2006, the U.S. brokered the ascension to power of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia politician handpicked to unite Iraq. A bright, shining lie of a plan soon followed. Applying vast amounts of money, Washington’s emissaries created the Sahwa, or Sons of Iraq, a loose grouping of Sunnis anointed as “moderates” who agreed to temporarily stop killing in return for a promised place at the table in the New(er) Iraq. The “political space” for this was to be created by a massive escalation of the American military effort, which gained a particularly marketable name: the surge.

I was charged with meeting the Sahwa leaders in my area. My job back then was to try to persuade them to stay on board just a little longer, even as they came to realize that they’d been had. Maliki’s Shia government in Baghdad, which was already ignoring American entreaties to be inclusive, was hell-bent on ensuring that there would be no Sunni “sons” in its Iraq.

False alliances and double-crosses were not unfamiliar to the Sunni warlords I engaged with. Often, our talk — over endless tiny glasses of sweet, sweet tea stirred with white-hot metal spoons — shifted from the Shia and the Americans to their great-grandfathers’ struggle against the British. Revenge unfolds over generations, they assured me, and memories are long in the Middle East, they warned.

When I left in 2010, the year before the American military finally departed, the truth on the ground should have been clear enough to anyone with the vision to take it in. Iraq had already been tacitly divided into feuding state-lets controlled by Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds. The Baghdad government had turned into a typical, gleeful third-world kleptocracy fueled by American money, but with a particularly nasty twist: they were also a group of autocrats dedicated to persecuting, marginalizing, degrading, and perhaps one day destroying the country’s Sunni minority.

U.S. influence was fading fast, leaving the State Department, a small military contingent, various spooks, and contractors hidden behind the walls of the billion-dollar embassy (the largest in the world!) that had been built in a moment of imperial hubris. The foreign power with the most influence over events was by then Iran, the country the Bush administration had once been determined to take down alongside Saddam Hussein as part of the Axis of Evil.

The Grandsons of Iraq

The staggering costs of all this — $25 billion to train the Iraqi Army, $60 billion for the reconstruction-that-wasn’t, $2 trillion for the overall war, almost 4,500 Americans dead and more than 32,000 wounded, and an Iraqi death toll of more than 190,000 (though some estimates go as high as a million) — can now be measured against the results. The nine-year attempt to create an American client state in Iraq failed, tragically and completely. The proof of that is on today’s front pages.

According to the crudest possible calculation, we spent blood and got no oil. Instead, America’s war of terror resulted in the dissolution of a Middle Eastern post-Cold War stasis that, curiously enough, had been held together by Iraq’s previous autocratic ruler Saddam Hussein. We released a hornet’s nest of Islamic fervor, sectarianism, fundamentalism, and pan-nationalism. Islamic terror groups grew stronger and more diffuse by the year. That horrible lightning over the Middle East that’s left American foreign policy in such an ugly glare will last into our grandchildren’s days. There should have been so many futures. Now, there will be so few as the dead accumulate in the ruins of our hubris. That is all that we won.

Under a new president, elected in 2008 in part on his promise to end American military involvement in Iraq, Washington’s strategy morphed into the more media-palatable mantra of “no boots on the ground.” Instead, backed by aggressive intel and the “surgical” application of drone strikes and other kinds of air power, U.S. covert ops were to link up with the “moderate” elements in Islamic governments or among the rebels opposing them — depending on whether Washington was opting to support a thug government or thug fighters.

The results? Chaos in Libya, highlighted by the flow of advanced weaponry from the arsenals of the dead autocrat Muammar Gaddafi across the Middle East and significant parts of Africa, chaos in Yemen, chaos in Syria, chaos in Somalia, chaos in Kenya, chaos in South Sudan, and, of course, chaos in Iraq.

And then came the Islamic State (IS) and the new “caliphate,” the child born of a neglectful occupation and an autocratic Shia government out to put the Sunnis in their place once and for all. And suddenly we were heading back into Iraq. What, in August 2014, was initially promoted as a limited humanitarian effort to save the Yazidis, a small religious sect that no one in Washington or anywhere else in this country had previously heard of, quickly morphed into those 1,600 American troops back on the ground in Iraq and American planes in the skies from Kurdistan in the north to south of Baghdad. The Yazidis were either abandoned, or saved, or just not needed anymore. Who knows and who, by then, cared?  They had, after all, served their purpose handsomely as the casus belli of this war. Their agony at least had a horrific reality, unlike the supposed attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that propelled a widening war in Vietnam in 1964 or the nonexistent Iraqi WMDs that were the excuse for the invasion of 2003.

The newest Iraq war features Special Operations “trainers,” air strikes against IS fighters using American weapons abandoned by the Iraqi Army (now evidently to be resupplied by Washington), U.S. aircraft taking to the skies from inside Iraq as well as a carrier in the Persian Gulf and possibly elsewhere, and an air war across the border into Syria.

It Takes a Lot of Turning Points To Go In a Circle

The truth on the ground these days is tragically familiar: an Iraq even more divided into feuding state-lets; a Baghdad government kleptocracy about to be reinvigorated by free-flowing American money; and a new Shia prime minister being issued the same 2003-2011 to-do list by Washington: mollify the Sunnis, unify Iraq, and make it snappy. The State Department still stays hidden behind the walls of that billion-dollar embassy. More money will be spent to train the collapsed Iraqi military. Iran remains the foreign power with the most influence over events.

One odd difference should be noted, however: in the last Iraq war, the Iranians sponsored and directed attacks by Shia militias against American occupation forces (and me); now, its special operatives and combat advisors fight side-by-side with those same Shia militias under the cover of American air power. You want real boots on the ground? Iranian forces are already there. It’s certainly an example of how politics makes strange bedfellows, but also of what happens when you assemble your “strategy” on the run.

Obama hardly can be blamed for all of this, but he’s done his part to make it worse — and worse it will surely get as his administration once again assumes ownership of the Sunni-Shia fight. The “new” unity plan that will fail follows the pattern of the one that did fail in 2007: use American military force to create a political space for “reconciliation” between once-burned, twice-shy Sunnis and a compromise Shia government that American money tries to nudge into an agreement against Iran’s wishes. Perhaps whatever new Sunni organization is pasted together, however briefly, by American representatives should be called the Grandsons of Iraq.

Just to add to the general eeriness factor, the key people in charge of putting Washington’s plans into effect are distinctly familiar faces. Brett McGurk, who served in key Iraq policy positions throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, is again the point man as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran. McGurk was once called the “Maliki whisperer” for his closeness to the former prime minister. The current American ambassador, Robert Stephen Beecroft, was deputy chief of mission, the number two at the Baghdad embassy, back in 2011. Diplomatically, another faux coalition of the (remarkably un)willing is being assembled. And the pundits demanding war in a feverish hysteria in Washington are all familiar names, mostly leftovers from the glory days of the 2003 invasion.

Lloyd Austin, the general overseeing America’s new military effort, oversaw the 2011 retreat. General John Allen, brought out of military retirement to coordinate the new war in the region — he had recently been a civilian advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry — was deputy commander in Iraq’s Anbar province during the surge. Also on the U.S. side, the mercenary security contractors are back, even as President Obama cites, without a hint of irony, the ancient 2002 congressional authorization to invade Iraq he opposed as candidate Obama as one of his legal justifications for this year’s war. The Iranians, too, have the same military commander on the ground in Iraq, Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’s Quds Force. Small world. Suleimani also helps direct Hezbollah operations inside Syria.

Even the aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf launching air strikes, the USS George H.W. Bush, is fittingly named after the president who first got us deep into Iraq almost a quarter century ago. Just consider that for a moment: we have been in Iraq so long that we now have an aircraft carrier named after the president who launched the adventure.

On a 36-month schedule for “destroying” ISIS, the president is already ceding his war to the next president, as was done to him by George W. Bush. That next president may well be Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state as Iraq War 2.0 sputtered to its conclusion. Notably, it was her husband whose administration kept the original Iraq War of 1990-1991 alive via no-fly zones and sanctions. Call that a pedigree of sorts when it comes to fighting in Iraq until hell freezes over.

If there is a summary lesson here, perhaps it’s that there is evidently no hole that can’t be dug deeper. How could it be more obvious, after more than two decades of empty declarations of victory in Iraq, that genuine “success,” however defined, is impossible? The only way to win is not to play. Otherwise, you’re just a sucker at the geopolitical equivalent of a carnival ringtoss game with a fist full of quarters to trade for a cheap stuffed animal.

Apocalypse Then — And Now

America’s wars in the Middle East exist in a hallucinatory space where reality is of little import, so if you think you heard all this before, between 2003 and 2010, you did. But for those of us of a certain age, the echoes go back much further. I recently joined a discussion on Dutch television where former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra made a telling slip of the tongue. As we spoke about ISIS, Hoekstra insisted that the U.S. needed to deny them “sanctuary in Cambodia.” He quickly corrected himself to say “Syria,” but the point was made.

We’ve been here before, as the failures of American policy and strategy in Vietnam metastasized into war in Cambodia and Laos to deny sanctuary to North Vietnamese forces. As with ISIS, we were told that they were barbarians who sought to impose an evil philosophy across an entire region. They, too, famously needed to be fought “over there” to prevent them from attacking us here. We didn’t say “the Homeland” back then, but you get the picture.

As the similarities with Vietnam are telling, so is the difference. When the reality of America’s failure in Vietnam finally became so clear that there was no one left to lie to, America’s war there ended and the troops came home. They never went back. America is now fighting the Iraq War for the third time, somehow madly expecting different results, while guaranteeing only failure. To paraphrase a young John Kerry, himself back from Vietnam, who’ll be the last to die for that endless mistake? It seems as if it will be many years before we know.

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A Tom Dispatch regular, he writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Peter Van Buren

Mirrored from – where you can read Tom Engelhardt’s important introduction.


Related video added by Juan Cole

AFP: “Small boats lifeline for jihadist-besieged Iraq area”

Will Shiite Houthi grip on Yemen’s capital Provoke al-Qaeda Response?*

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 - 11:29pm

SANAA, 23 September 2014 (IRIN) – With northern rebels claiming the capital Sana’a and Al-Qaeda militants increasing their attacks in the south, Yemen’s security crisis is likely to continue, experts believe. While a new agreement between the Houthis rebels and the government may have temporarily reduced fears of all-out civil war, the country’s political, security and economic crises are unlikely to ease, leading NGOs to fear increasing humanitarian needs.

The Arab world’s poorest country has been beset by insecurity since a 2011 uprising that eventually unseated long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Houthis, based in the north along the Saudi Arabian border, have historically pursued claims for greater autonomy but of late have entered the national political sphere, while the southern-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have been resurgent in recent months.

Houthi fighters, who between 2004 and 2010 fought the Saleh regime in what was, in effect, a civil war in the north of the country, have this year won successive military victories against tribal and Sunni Islamist militias in the province of Amran, which separates Sana’a from the Houthi heartland, Sa’dah.

Since 18 August, Houthi supporters have been flooding into Sana’a following a speech by their leader, Abdelmalek al-Houthi, calling for the government to stand down and a reversal of a decision to reduce fuel subsidies, which led to a spike in prices by up to 95 per cent. Fighting with tribal and Sunni Islamist militias broke out a month later, with President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Saleh’s successor, appearing unable to control his capital.

On 21 September, in a deal welcomed by foreign powers, representatives of the government and the country’s political establishment signed an agreement with the Houthis. The agreement was initially aimed at removing Houthi encampments set up in the centre and outskirts of the city, and latterly came to call for the group to remove its militias from Sana’a and neighbouring provinces. The Houthis agreed to the main body of the deal, which would see fuel prices brought down and give the Houthis a bigger role in selecting a new government. However, they refused at the last minute to sign one part of the deal outlining plans for successive withdrawals and disarmament, leaving it unclear if and when their forces will pull back from the capital.

While the agreement has calmed fears of an all-out civil war after several days of violence, it leaves a highly efficient and heavily armed militia in control of Sana’a. Likewise the peace deal has not addressed fighting between the Houthis and rival militias in the northern provinces of Mareb and Al Jawf – a situation that has humanitarian consequences.

“In the short term, continued fighting in Al Jawf and Marib means more families displaced, schools occupied and children dragged into fighting,” Julien Harneis, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative in Yemen, told IRIN.

Fertile ground for Al-Qaeda

For the beleaguered government, the knock-on effects of the turmoil in Sana’a for their fight against AQAP in the south of the country could be significant. In recent months the group, the virulent local franchise of the extremist organization, has been stepping up its activities and rhetoric, with at least 20 people killed in attacks on military outposts by the group in August.

Earlier this year the military launched a major campaign against AQAP, but it has struggled to make gains; the offensive has not been able to significantly weaken the group, which has even expanded its presence in the eastern province of Hadramawt.

There are also fears that the Houthis’ power play could encourage the Sunni Islam AQAP to increase violence in Sana’a as they seek to fight back against the Shia group.

In mid-September a regional leader of Ansar al-Sharia, an AQAP offshoot which does much of its work on the ground, announced that the group was increasing its presence in Sana’a in preparation for a fight with the Houthis.

Government officials say the standoff and fighting with the Houthi rebels distracted the military – which is both weak and divided – from the fight. “I think the Salafists and Al Qaeda will use the opportunity to strengthen their presence in Sana’a; that would be logical for them,” said a senior government official. “Al Qaeda are attacking the army and the PSO [intelligence agency]… This is a good environment for Al Qaeda.”

Ibrahim Sharqieh, a Yemen and conflict resolution expert at the Brookings Institution in Doha, thinks the dynamics of the country’s crises are getting more complex and harder to solve.

“We are currently generating a number of new causes and deeper crises in Yemen, which changes the context,” he said. “Conflict escalation where mistrust is very deep and the partners are escalating would change the relationships from collegiate to more adversarial which would change the dynamics in Yemen, which would make it difficult to resolve.”

A worsening humanitarian situation

Further violence will only worsen already severe humanitarian needs. In 2011 the economy contracted 10.5 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund, pushing unemployment and poverty levels up to above 50 percent, where they have remained stubbornly stuck ever since. As such, pre-existing humanitarian needs have worsened; child malnutrition levels are among the highest in the world.

“In short, if the current crisis continues, there are short-term humanitarian problems and long-term development ones,” UNICEF’s Harneis said. In the short term, he added, the government’s slow progress on addressing humanitarian needs must be addressed.

“The crisis is also slowing down the government’s work on the many reforms that Yemen needs,” he said. “For example, the government’s Social Welfare Fund [SWF] provides a small allowance to most of the 60 percent of the population living below the poverty line. It is a proven tool that helps families put food on the table and keep their children at school. However, many of Yemen’s poorest are not yet covered by the SWF.”

“We are working with the government and World Bank to extend the coverage of the Fund but with the current crisis it is difficult to keep the spotlight on this vital issue. That said, government is trying its best,” said Harneis.

* This article was amended on 23 September 2014

Mirrored from Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Related video added by Juan Cole

“Yemen’s Shi’ite Houthi fighters tighten grip on the capital Monday after seizing much of the city in a lightning advance. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.”

Reuters: “Houthis tighten grip on Yemen’s capital”

Syrian regime Propaganda coup as Israel Downs Syrian Plane over Golan

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 - 11:07pm

By Juan Cole

Israel shot down a Syrian MiG fighter jet on Tuesday, saying it had penetrated into Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights.

The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad took little time to imply that the Israelis were thus protecting the al-Nusra Front, instead of joining in the fight against al-Qaeda offshoots. The regime wrote that the attack came “in the framework of [Israel's] support for the terrorist [ISIL] and the Nusra Front”.

The Golan Heights is a Syrian territory that overlooks Israel, most of which was occupied by Israel in 1967. A bit of the plateau is still under Syrian Government influence. The boundary between Syria and Israel on the heights is patrolled by a United Nations force of Irish, Filipinos and Fijians. The al-Qaeda affiliate, the Succor Front (Jabhat al-Nusra), took the Syrian Golan this summer and took the Fijian troops hostage. They were finally released. The Succor Front demanded that the Filipino troops surrender, but they deployed their arms to defend themselves and ultimately escaped back to Manila; there are no plans for them to return to the Golan. The Irish have just decided to return to the Golan, but are hinting that they will only do so if the soldiers can freely defend themselves from al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda’s control of a territory directly abutting Israel is unprecedented, and some Israeli officials are uneasy about it.

The US bombed Succor Front sites Tuesday in its effort to roll up extremists in northeast Syria

I can only guess, but I presume that the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus was flying surveillance over the Golan, keeping an eye on the al-Qaeda affiliate, when the pilot strayed into Israeli territory and paid the ultimate price.

Bashar may have thought the Israelis would not mind him finishing off the extremists. But by shooting down the plane, Israeli much strengthened Bashar. His claim that Israel behind the scenes supports the Muslim extremists is wild and implausible (or maybe reflection theory– he is accused of the same thing) to most people, but one-party Syria is a fertile ground for conspiracy theories.

Now among many Syrians the hated Bashar, who has committed many atrocities, is suddenly a hero ranged against Israel and the latter’s alleged allies, al-Qaeda. The more the West intervenes in Syria, the more the regime can depict itself as innocent victim of foreign plots.


related video:

Euronews: “Israeli PM defends shooting down of Syrian jet over Golan Heights”

Climate Protesters Flood Wall Street – And A Polar Bear Is Arrested

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 - 12:21am


“Hundreds of people attended the #FloodWallStreet demonstration to protest the role big business plays in fueling climate change. The protest was largely peaceful, but police arrested a number of people by the end of the night, including a polar bear.”

AJ+ : “Protesters Flood Wall Street – And A Polar Bear Is Arrested”

Student Debt Factories: The Scandal of For-Profit Colleges

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 - 12:04am

By Astra Taylor and Hannah Appel via

Imagine corporations that intentionally target low-income single mothers as ideal customers. Imagine that these same companies claim to sell tickets to the American dream — gainful employment, the chance for a middle class life. Imagine that the fine print on these tickets, once purchased, reveals them to be little more than debt contracts, profitable to the corporation’s investors, but disastrous for its customers. And imagine that these corporations receive tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to do this dirty work. Now, know that these corporations actually exist and are universities.

Over the last three decades, the price of a year of college has increased by more than 1,200%. In the past, American higher education has always been associated with upward mobility, but with student loan debt quadrupling between 2003 and 2013, it’s time to ask whether education alone can really move people up the class ladder. This is a question of obvious relevance for low-income students and students of color.

As Cornell professor Noliwe Rooks and journalist Kai Wright have reported, black college enrollment has increased at nearly twice the rate of white enrollment in recent years, but a disproportionate number of those African-American students end up at for-profit schools. In 2011, two of those institutions, the University of Phoenix (with physical campuses in 39 states and massive online programs) and the online-only Ashford University, produced more black graduates than any other institutes of higher education in the country. Unfortunately, a recent survey by economist Rajeev Darolia shows that for-profit graduates fare little better on the job market than job seekers with high school degrees; their diplomas, that is, are a net loss, offering essentially the same grim job prospects as if they had never gone to college, plus a lifetime debt sentence.

Much of the American public does not understand the difference between for-profit, public, and private non-profit institutions of higher learning. All three are concerned with generating revenue, but only the for-profit model exists primarily to enrich its owners. The largest of these institutions are often publicly traded, nationally franchised corporations legally beholden to maximize profit for their shareholders before maximizing education for their students. While commercial vocational programs have existed since the nineteenth century, for-profit colleges in their current form are a relatively new phenomenon that began to boom with a series of initial public offerings in the 1990s, followed quickly by deregulation of the sector as the millennium approached. Bush administration legislation then weakened government oversight of such schools, while expanding their access to federal financial aid, making the industry irresistible to Wall Street investors.

While the for-profit business model has generally served investors well, it has failed students. Retention rates are abysmal and tuitions sky-high. For-profit colleges can be up to twice as expensive as Ivy League universities, and routinely cost five or six times the price of a community college education. The Medical Assistant program at for-profit Heald College in Fresno, California, costs $22,275. A comparable program at Fresno City College costs $1,650. An associate degree in paralegal studies at Everest College in Ontario, California, costs $41,149, compared to $2,392 for the same degree at Santa Ana College, a mere 30-minute drive away.

Exorbitant tuition means students, who tend to come from poor backgrounds, have to borrow from both the government and private sources, including Sallie Mae (the country’s largest originator, servicer, and collector of student loans) and banks like Chase and Wells Fargo. A whopping 96% of students who manage to graduate from for-profits leave owing money, and they typically carry twice the debt load of students from more traditional schools.

Public funds in the form of federal student loans has been called the “lifeblood” of the for-profit system, providing on average 86% of revenues. Such schools now enroll around 10% of America’s college students, but take in more than a quarter of all federal financial aid — as much as $33 billion in a single year. By some estimates it would cost less than half that amount to directly fund free higher education at all currently existing two- and four-year public colleges. In other words, for-profit schools represent not a “market solution” to increasing demand for the college experience, but the equivalent of a taxpayer-subsidized subprime education.

Pushing the Hot Button, Poking the Pain

The mantra is everywhere: a college education is the only way to climb out of poverty and create a better life. For-profit schools allow Wall Street investors and corporate executives to cash in on this faith.

Publicly traded schools have been shown to have profit margins, on average, of nearly 20%. A significant portion of these taxpayer-sourced proceeds are spent on Washington lobbyists to keep regulations weak and federal money pouring in. Meanwhile, these debt factories pay their chief executive officers $7.3 million in average yearly compensation. John Sperling, architect of the for-profit model and founder of the University of Phoenix, which serves more students than the entire University of California system or all the Ivy Leagues combined, died a billionaire in August.

Graduates of for-profit schools generally do not fare well. Indeed, they rarely find themselves in the kind of work they were promised when they enrolled, the kind of work that might enable them to repay their debts, let alone purchase the commodity-cornerstones of the American dream like a car or a home.

In the documentary “College Inc.,” produced by PBS’s investigative series Frontline, three young women recount how they enrolled in a nursing program at Everest College on the promise of $25-$35 an hour jobs on graduation. Course work, however, turned out to consist of visits to the Museum of Scientology to study “psychiatrics” and visits to a daycare center for their “pediatrics rotation.” They each paid nearly $30,000 for a 12-month program, only to find themselves unemployable because they had been taught nearly nothing about their chosen field.

In 2010, an undercover investigation by the Government Accountability Office tested 15 for-profit colleges and found that every one of them “made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements” to undercover applicants. These recruiting practices are now under increasing scrutiny from 20 state attorneys general, Senate investigators, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), amid allegations that many of these schools manipulate the job placement statistics of their graduates in the most cynical of ways.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an organization that offers support in health, education, employment, and community-building to new veterans, put it this way in August 2013: “Using high-pressure sales tactics and false promises, these institutions lure veterans into enrolling into expensive programs, drain their post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits, and sign up for tens of thousands of dollars in loans. The for-profits take in the money but leave the students with a substandard education, heavy student loan debt, non-transferable credits, worthless degrees, or no degrees at all.”

Even President Obama has spoken out against instances where for-profit colleges preyed upon troops with brain damage: “These Marines had injuries so severe some of them couldn’t recall what courses the recruiter had signed them up for.”

As it happens, recruiters for such schools are manipulating more than statistics. They are mining the intersections of class, race, gender, inequality, insecurity, and shame to hook students. “Create a sense of urgency. Push their hot button. Don’t let the student off the phone. Dial, dial, dial,” a director of admissions at Argosy University, which operates in 23 states and online, told his enrollment counselors in an internal email.

A training manual for recruiters at ITT Tech, another multi-state and virtual behemoth, instructed its employees to “poke the pain a bit and remind them who else is depending on them and their commitment to a better future.”  It even included a “pain funnel” — that is, a visual guide to help recruiters exploit prospective students’ vulnerabilities. Pain was similarly a theme at Ashford University, where enrollment advisors were told by their superiors to “dig deep” into students’ suffering to “convince them that a college degree is going to solve all their problems.”

An internal document from Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (owner of Everest, Heald, and Wyotech colleges) specified that its target demographic is “isolated,” “impatient” individuals with “low self-esteem.”  They should have “few people in their lives who care about them and be stuck in their lives, unable to imagine a future or plan well.”

These recruiting strategies are as well funded as they are abhorrent. When an institution of higher learning is driven primarily by the needs of its shareholders, not its students, the drive to get “asses in classes” guarantees that marketing budgets will dwarf whatever is spent on faculty and instruction. According to David Halperin, author of Stealing America’s Future: How For-Profit Colleges Scam Taxpayers and Ruin Student’s Lives, “The University of Phoenix has spent as much as $600 million a year on advertising; it has regularly been Google’s largest advertiser, spending $200,000 a day.” 

At some schools, the money put into the actual education of a single student has been as low as $700 per year. The Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee revealed that 30 of the for-profit industry’s biggest players spent $4.2 billion — or 22.7% of their revenue — on recruiting and marketing in 2010.

Subprime Schools, Swindled Students

In profit paradise, there are nonetheless signs of trouble. Corinthian College Inc., for instance, is under investigation by several state and federal agencies for falsifying job-placement rates and lying to students in marketing materials. In June, the Department of Education discovered that the company was on the verge of collapse and began supervising a search for buyers for its more than 100 campuses and online operations. In this “unwinding process,” some Corinthian campuses have already shut down. To make matters worse, this month the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced a $500 million lawsuit accusing Corinthian of running a “predatory lending scheme.”

As the failure of Corinthian unfolds, those who understood it to be a school — namely, its students — have been left in the lurch. Are their hard-earned degrees and credits worthless?  Should those who are enrolled stay put and hope for the storm to pass or jump ship to another institution? Social media reverberate with anxious questions.

Nathan Hornes started the Facebook group “Everest Avengers,” a forum where students who feel confused and betrayed can share information and organize. A 2014 graduate of Everest College’s Ontario, California, branch, Nathan graduated with a 3.9 GPA, a degree in Business Management, and $65,000 in debt. Unable to find the gainful employment Everest promised him, he currently works two fast-food restaurant jobs. Nathan’s dreams of starting a record label and a music camp for inner city kids will be deferred even further into some distant future when his debts come due: a six-month grace period expires in October and Nathan will owe $380 each month on Federal loans alone. “Do I want to pay bills or my loans?” he asks. Corinthian has already threatened to sue him if he fails to make payments.

Asked to explain Corinthian’s financial troubles, Trace Urdan, a market analyst for Wells Fargo Bank, Corinthian’s biggest equity investor, argued that the school attracts “subprime students” who “can be expected — as a group — to repay at levels far lower than most student loans.” And yet, as Corinthian’s financial woes mounted, the corporation stopped paying rent at its Los Angeles campuses and couldn’t pay its own substantial debts to lenders, including Bank of America, from whom it sought a debt waiver.

That Corinthian can request debt waivers from its lenders should give us pause. Who, one might ask, is the proper beneficiary of a debt waiver in this case? No such favors will be done for Nathan Hornes or other former Corinthian students, though they have effectively been led into a debt trap with an expert package of misrepresentations, emotional manipulation, and possibly fraud.

From Bad Apples to a Better System, or Everest Avenged

As is always the case with corporate scandals, Corinthian is now being described as a “bad apple” among for-profits, not evidence of a rotten orchard. The fact is that for-profits like Corinthian exemplify all the contradictions of the free-market model that reformers present as the only solution to the current crisis in higher education: not only are these schools 90% dependent on taxpayer money, but tenure doesn’t exist, there are no faculty unions, most courses are offered online with low overhead costs, and students are treated as “customers.”

It’s also worth remembering that at “public” universities, it is now nearly impossible for working class or even middle class students to graduate without debt. This sad state of affairs — so the common version of the story goes — is the consequence of economic hard-times, which require belt tightening and budget cuts. And so it has come to pass that strapped community colleges are now turning away would-be enrollees who wind up in the embrace of for-profits that proceed to squeeze every penny they can from them and the public purse as well. (All the while, of course, this same tale provides for-profits with a cover: they are offering a public service to a marginalized and needy population no one else will touch.)

The standard narrative that, in the face of shrinking tax revenues, public universities must relentlessly raise tuition rates turns out, however, to be full of holes. As political theorist Robert Meister points out, this version of the story ignores the complicity of university leaders in the process. Many of them were never passive victims of privatization; instead, they saw tuition, not taxpayer funding, as the superior and preferred form of revenue growth.

Beginning in the 1990s, universities, public and private, began working ever more closely with Wall Street, which meant using tuition payments not just as direct revenue but also as collateral for debt-financing. Consider the venerable but beleaguered University of California system: a 2012 report out of its Berkeley branch, “Swapping Our Futures,” shows that the whole system was losing $750,000 each month on interest-rate swaps — a financial product that promised lower borrowing costs, but ended up draining the U.C. system of already-scarce resources.

In the last decade, its swap agreements have cost it over $55 million and could, in the end, add up to a loss of $200 million. Financiers, as the university’s creditors, are promised ever-increasing tuition as the collateral on loans, forcing public schools to aggressively recruit ever more out-of-state students, who pay higher tuitions, and to raise the in-state tuition relentlessly as well, simply to meet debt burdens and keep credit ratings high.

Instead of being the social and economic leveler many believe it to be, American higher education in the twenty-first century too often compounds the problem of inequality through debt-servitude. Referring to student debt, which has by now reached $1.2 trillion, Meister suggests, “Add up the lifetime debt service that former students will pay on $1 trillion, over and above the principal they borrow, and you could run a very good public university system for what we are paying capital markets to fund an ever-worsening one.”

You Are Not a Loan

The big problem of how we finance education won’t be solved overnight. But one group is attempting to provide both immediate aid to students like Nathan Hornes and a vision for rethinking debt as a systemic issue. On September 17th, the Rolling Jubilee, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, announced the abolition of a portfolio of debt worth nearly $4 million originating from for-profit Everest College. This granted nearly 3,000 former students no-strings-attached debt relief.

The authors of this article have both been part of this effort. To date, the Rolling Jubilee has abolished nearly $20 million dollars of medical and educational debt by taking advantage of a little-known trade secret: debt is often sold to debt collectors for mere pennies on the dollar. A medical bill that was originally $1,000 might sell to a debt collector for 4% of its sticker price, or $40. This allowed the Rolling Jubilee project to make a multi-million dollar impact with a budget of approximately $700,000 raised in large part through small individual donations.

The point of the Rolling Jubilee is simple enough: we believe people shouldn’t have to go into debt for basic needs. For the last four decades, easy access to credit has masked stagnating wages and crumbling social services, forcing many Americans to debt-finance necessities like college, health care, and housing, while the creditor class has reaped enormous rewards. But while we mean the Jubilee’s acts to be significant, we know it is not a sustainable solution to the problem at hand. There is no way to buy and abolish all the odious debt sloshing around our economy, nor would we want to. Given the way our economy is structured, people would start slipping into the red again the minute their debts were wiped out.

The Rolling Jubilee instead raises a question: If a ragtag group of activists can find a way to provide immediate relief to even a few thousand defrauded students, why can’t the government?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s lawsuit against Corinthian Colleges, Inc. is a good first step, but it only applies to specific private loans originating after 2011, and it will likely take years to play out. Until it’s resolved, students are still technically on the hook and many will be harassed by unscrupulous debt collectors attempting to extract money from them while they still can. In the meantime, the Department of Education (DOE) — which has far greater purview than the CFPB — is effectively acting as a debt collector for a predatory lender, instead of using its discretionary power to help students. Why didn’t the DOE simply let Corinthian go bankrupt, as often happens to private institutions, and so let the students’ debts become dischargeable?

Such debt discharge is well within the DOE’s statutory powers. When a school under its jurisdiction has broken state laws or committed fraud it is, in fact, mandated to offer debt discharge to students. Yet in Corinthian’s opaque, unaccountable unwinding process, the Department of Education appears to be focused on keeping as many of these predatory “schools” open as possible.

No less troubling, the DOE actually stands to profit off Corinthian’s debt payments, as it does from all federally secured educational loans, regardless of the school they are associated with. Senator Elizabeth Warren has already sounded the alarm about the department’s conflict of interest when it comes to student debt, citing an estimate that the government stands to rake in up to $51 billion dollars in a single year on student loans. As Warren points out, it’s “obscene” for the government to treat education as a profit center.

Can there be any doubt that funds reaped from the repayment of federally backed loans by Corinthian students are especially ill-gotten gains? Nathan Hornes and his fellow students should be the beneficiaries of debt relief, not further dispossession.

Unless people agitate, no reprieve will be offered. Instead there may be slaps on the wrist for a few for-profit “bad apples,” with policymakers presenting possible small reductions in interest rates or income-based payments for student borrowers as major breakthroughs.

We need to think bigger. There is an old banking adage: if you owe the bank $1,000, the bank owns you; if you owe the bank $1 million, you own the bank. Individually, student debt is an incapacitating burden. But as Nathan and others are discovering, as a premise for collective action, it can offer a new kind of leverage. Debt collectives, effectively debtors’ unions, may be the next stage of anti-austerity organizing. Collective action offers many possibilities for building power against creditors through collective bargaining, including the power to threaten a debt strike. Where for-profits prey on people’s vulnerability, isolation, and shame, debt collectives would nurture feelings of strength, solidarity, and outrage.

Those who profit from education fear such a transformation, and understandably so. “We ask students to make payments while in school to help them develop the discipline and practice of repaying their federal and other loan obligations,” a Corinthian Colleges spokesman said in response to the news of CFPB’s lawsuit.

It’s absurd: a single mother working two jobs and attending online classes to better her life is discipline personified, even if she can’t always pay her loans on time. The executives and investors living large off her financial aid are the ones who need to be taught a lesson. Perhaps we should collectively demand that as part of their punishment these predators take a course in self-discipline taught by their former students.

Hannah Appel is a mother, activist, and assistant professor of anthropology at UCLA. Her work looks at the everyday life of capitalism and the economic imagination. She has been active with Occupy Wall Street since 2011.

Astra Taylor is a writer, documentary filmmaker (including Zizek! and Examined Life), and activist. Her book, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age (Metropolitan Books), was published in April. She helped launch the Occupy offshoot Strike Debt and its Rolling Jubilee campaign.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Hannah Appel and Astra Taylor

Mirrored from where you can read Tom Engelhardt’s important information.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Late Show with David Letterman: “Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the Bank Bailouts and Student Loans”

The Syrian Maelstrom: How Repression, Drought & Climate Change Drove the Civil War

Mon, 22 Sep 2014 - 11:31pm

By Tareq Ramadan

Long before March of 2011, when Syrian demonstrations calling for reform and in some cases, regime change, morphed into a full-blown military conflict that has transformed into a supranational bloodbath, the economic and political policies of Bashar Al-Assad’s Baa’thist regime undoubtedly fomented major discontent among various segments of Syria’s population. While both formal and informal opposition to the current regime has been active since Bashar Al-Assad took power via presidential referendum in 2000 after the death of his father and late President Hafez Al-Assad, events in the south-Syrian bordertown of Dera’a would forever change the socio-political dynamics of a nation ruled by the iron fists of the Al-Assad clan for more than four decades. Upon assuming the mantle of power in Syria, Syrians hopeful of political and economic liberalization under the modern, western-educated ophthalmologist-turned-president Bashar Al-Assad were mainly met with disappointment.

However, in a nation where the mukhabarat (secret police informants/intelligence agents) have long infiltrated all segments of society and institutions, a general aura of fear, suspicion, and paranoia persisted well into Bashar’s reign. I witnessed this first-hand when I visited and stayed in Dera’a for a few days with family friends several years before the uprising and recall the kind of vexing stares I received from some of those whom I attempted to raise the issue of Syrian politics with. I was a bit naïve and so I, more than anything, wanted to know if the stories I had heard about Syrian fears of the regime were legit. They were.

During the same year Bashar Al-Assad took power, ninety-nine Syrian intellectuals, writers, and critics crafted and signed the “Statement of 99” calling for an end to emergency rule/martial law that had been in place since 1963, for the state to pardon political dissidents detained, imprisoned, deported, or exiled by his father’s regime, formal recognition and implementation of freedom of assembly, press, and expression, as well as an end to the surveillance of its citizens by the secret police and security forces [1]. The movement behind the statement was composed of both anti-regime hardliners as well as moderates who collectively sought political reform. The result of long-festering political and economic dissent among Syrians, the “Statement of 99” was a brow-raising announcement that, at minimum, made the regime slightly uncomfortable. The formation of various think-tanks, organizations, and social and political ‘parties’ coincided with Bashar’s takeover of Syria- all of which were critical of the regime’s political and economic monopolies on the country caused the regime to crack down on dissenters. The following year, in 2001, one thousand academics, critics, and activists launched the “Statement of 1,000” which expanded on the previous statement’s tenets and called for a multi-party democracy to supplant the one-party Baa’thist state. This was met with another, albeit harsher, government crackdown [2].

The rise of social media was particularly worrisome for the regime as many officials viewed it as a possible platform for dissenting Syrians to collectively voice and spread their opposition to fellow citizens around the country. In 2007, in an attempt to thwart such possibilities, the Assad regime banned Facebook from Syria but on the grounds that social media could be manipulated by the Israelis for subversive purposes [3]. Facebook was joined by frequent bans on Microsoft Hotmail and other internet services that the regime deemed to be potential conduits for engaging in and propagating political dissent [4]. Government control over the media was incredibly tight under Assad who, in 2001, passed the Press Law that which subjected all (even posters) printed media materials to government censorship and control which was condemned in a memorandum to the Syrian Government by human rights groups (Decree No. 50/2001: Human Rights Concerns) [5]. Clearly, the regime was desperate to quell unfavorable opinions about the regime in any and all forms and was willing to undermine civil society for ‘national security’ concerns through their unreasonable policies- policies which only increasingly infuriated Syrians. A 2006 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) placed Syria among the top-ten most censored countries in the world, as did a 2006 report published by Reporters without Borders who claimed that it was common for Syrian security forces to arrest, interrogate, or try individuals for attempting to either view, download, or write on forbidden topics or issues (e.g. uploading or sharing images of police brutality or criticizing a regime official or regime policy) [6].

Nonetheless, while civil rights were systematically and successfully suppressed by the regime, the Syrians also faced an intolerant dictatorship that was inefficient and corrupt. The continued kleptocratic behavior of regime officials and relatives of the president had begun to exacerbate Syrian resentment towards the regime. For example, individuals like Al-Assad’s maternal cousin Rami Makhlouf, one of Syria’s most powerful men as well as being its wealthiest, with an estimated worth of $5 billion, and who has stakes in and in some cases, a monopoly over, some of Syria’s key economic sectors including telecommunications, oil, real estate, duty-free stores, and television and is believed to control a large portion (some say up to half) of country’s economy through an array of lucrative business dealings [7/8]. For many Syrians, Makhlouf was the quintessential graftocrat, using his family ties to build a fortune while most Syrians struggled to make a living. The U.S. even placed sanctions on him three years before the start of the Syrian uprising, accusing him of ‘public corruption’, which although a politicized move, was still rooted in some reality [9]. Tarnishing his image even more, he claimed he would relinquish some of his holdings and donate some of his wealth to Syrian charities to help the displaced, which according to many Syrians was laughable considering where the money came from in the first place [10]. Before the war, about 30% of Syrians lived in poverty despite having an unemployment rate under 10% [11].

Moreover, the regime’s disastrous mismanagement of water resources during a drought between 2006 and 2010 compounded Syrian economic woes and led to increased gaps between socioeconomic classes in Syria as farmers were unable to make a living due to the desertification of their agricultural lands [12]. Agriculture made up 22% of Syria’s economy before the uprising and subsequent war, and therefore had a wide-reaching impact on the country as a whole when farms began to vanish [13]. This led to frustration with the regime, who then initiated the cancellation of important subsidies which facilitated farming as well as social unrest for the inhabitants of rural communities who had to leave and find work elsewhere, according to Dutch environmentalist Francesca de Châtel [14]. 1.5 million Syrians (mainly from farming families) were forced to find work, at times, far away from home [15]. While the drought was obviously not the fault of the regime, its past policies and lack of foresight contributed to the crumbling of one of its most viable economic sectors which led to major financial stress for millions of Syrians.

All of these grievances began to fester when anti-regime protests began in early 2011. While initially limited to small demonstrations calling on the lifting of the Emergency Laws and better economic policies, the government was able to contain them with relative ease. When they grew as they did in Dera’a in March of that year, the government’s crackdowns intensified and greater numbers of Syrians became disillusioned by the regime’s insincerity in addressing and implementing political, social, and economic reforms. The zero-tolerance policies of the Assad regime only sought to radicalize some already, economically and politically disenfranchised segments of the Syrian population, some of which had been subdued by his father in previous years and had since been boiling with discontent.

Frequent political miscalculations by the regime alongside growing internal dissent caught Al-Assad by surprise as he and his party were unequipped and unprepared for the situation that ensued. It is on these grievances and frustrations that not just Syrian, but regional and extra-regional actors sought/seek to bank on and exploit Syria’s political fragility. When it was realized that the indigenous uprising was not going to lead to regime change, several local and global powers (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait, the U.S., and militant organizations like I.S.) maneuvered to increase the pressure on Al-Assad by providing money and arms as well as technical and logistical support to Syrian and non-Syrian armed factions, groups, organizations, and militias to upset the balance of power. On the other side of the equation, Syria’s allies including Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, and Iraq have been actively involved on the side of the regime in an attempt to preserve the status quo- that is, to maintain power through a corridor of states whose regimes (or major non-state political actors) share economic, geo-political, religious and ideological ties and interests. Today, and as a result of politico-economic competition and hegemonic ambitions by a number of regional and more global powers , Syria is politically fragmented and partially decentralized, its population splintered, and its borders blurred as it continues to burn in an uncontrollable proxy war that has fomented major regional instability and has led to the deaths of nearly 200,000 Syrians and counting [16].

Tareq Ramadan is a PhD Candidate specializing in Arab and Islamic Studies and teaches courses on contemporary Arab society and Middle East political history.


1. Inheriting Syria: Bashar’s Trial by Fire Flynt Lawrence Leverett, p. 91 (2005)

2. Inheriting Syria: Bashar’s Trial by Fire Flynt Lawrence Leverett, p. 207 (2005)















Tareq Ramadan is a PhD Candidate specializing in Arab and Islamic Studies and teaches classes on Middle East History and Contemporary Arab Society at Wayne State University in the U.S.

Related video added by Juan Cole

Reuters: “Islamic State fighting rages in Syria as world heads to United Nations”

13 Years after US started Bombing it, Afghanistan Still Unstable

Mon, 22 Sep 2014 - 11:26pm

News Analysis: Afghan Deal Leaves Room For National Disunity

By Frud Bezhan via RFE/RL

After months of wrangling and high tension, Afghanistan has finally named a president-elect. 

Ashraf Ghani's name was officially entered into the books as the winner of the highly contentious, fraud-marred contest, shortly after he and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, signed a power-sharing deal. 

The developments signal an important breakthrough and spell the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history. But important questions remain over the mechanics of the compromise deal.

Who Gets What?

Abdullah, or his choice for the post, will assume the position of chief executive under the agreement. The newly created role has been compared to that of a prime minister, and the agreement allows for a possible parliamentary system in the future, but for now power ultimately rests with the president.​

Under the terms of the power-sharing agreement, the new government will have a cabinet — including the chief executive and his two deputies. Emphasis is placed on "parity" when it comes to deciding on leadership positions in ministries relating to security and the economy. The two sides will be "equally represented at the leadership level." 

Lower-level appointments will be "equitably" distributed, meaning there will not be a one-for-one handout of jobs. This could be a source of disagreement, seeing as Ghani has stressed a "merit-based" mechanism for appointing officials.

Srijoy Bose x

Srijoy Bose

"A merit-based system would be one effective way to undo the present clientelist system — and it is precisely for this reason that key actors will be apprehensive," says Srijoy Bose, a researcher at Australian National University who served as an international observer during the June 14 runoff. "They will continue to coerce their patrons into acquiescing to their demands. The challenge, then, will be how the president and CEO accommodate each other's vast networks without coming to blows."

Technically, the president will lead the cabinet, while the chief executive will oversee its implementation of government policies and will be "answerable to the president." The chief executive will also chair regular meetings of a new "council of ministers," which will take care of the day-to-day administration. 

While an agreement has been signed, details must still be sorted out. Upon taking office, Ghani must issue a presidential decree outlining the specific "responsibilities, authorities, and honors" of the chief-executive position. With the president having final say over the extent of the chief executive’s authority, there is much room for disagreement over the interpretation of the document. 

In that event, the president and chief executive are committed to working out their differences in the spirit of "partnership, collegiality, collaboration, and most importantly, responsibility to the people of Afghanistan."

What Comes Next?

The chief executive is intended to be a temporary fix, eventually giving way to a prime minster. A Constitutional Loya Jirga, a traditional gathering of tribal elders, would be convened in about two years to hammer out the details.

As president, Ghani can create the post of chief executive by decree, but the constitution would have to be amended to establish a prime-minister position that has teeth and cannot be dissolved by the president. The Constitutional Loya Jirga would have to define and ratify those changes, after which parliament would need to sign off.

Here, the current presidential system carries significant influence. The president has the ability to hand-pick attendees of the jirga, potentially shaping the outcome of the gathering and helping determine what powers are conceded to the prime minister. 

Complicating matters is that a Constitutional Loya Jirga can only convene when there are elected district councils. In the document signed by Ghani and Abdullah, both committed to holding elections that would establish such councils "as soon as possible." 

Can They Coexist?

The big question is whether Kabul is big enough for two powerful figures. 

The international community has expressed hope that the compromise deal will usher in stability in the country. Washington said that "respect for the democratic process" was the only viable path forward for Afghanistan, while regional heads of state offered votes of confidence about the agreement and the end of the election crisis. 

The Taliban, meanwhile, slammed the deal as a "sham."

"Installing Ashraf Ghani and forming a bogus administration will never be acceptable to the Afghans," Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said in a statement e-mailed to journalists. 

The reaction of election-weary Afghans was muted. There were no large-scale celebrations on the streets of Kabul, but there were no orchestrated protests either. 

Anger was evident, however, over the failure by election officials to release the final results — reportedly out of concerns that doing so could inflame ethnic tensions. 

"It signals that people's votes do not actually matter and highlights the fact that politics in Afghanistan is about deal-making and negotiations," Bose says. "As one expert has put it, allowing the votes to be 'discarded' not only robs the candidates of legitimacy but also ensures that such crises will recur in the future."

After millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats to cast their ballots in April and June, the murky outcome raised questions of whether their votes had counted. 

Mirrored from RFE/RL

Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

PBS NewsHour: “Will Afghanistan’s power-sharing deal last?”

Shock & Awe In Syria: It never Works

Mon, 22 Sep 2014 - 11:05pm

By Juan Cole

The London pan-Arab daily “Hayat” [Life] reports this morning on the air strikes conducted on ISIL positions in Raqqah, Syria, by the United States and several Arab allies.

The Syrian government acknowledged that the US gave fair warning it would bomb Raqqah to the Syrian ambassador to the UN. That is, the US may not militarily be coordinating with Syria, but it does inform the regime of enough information to avoid a shoot-down.

Not only ISIL positions but also some targets of the Jabhat al-Nusra or Succor Front (the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria) were struck by the US and its allies. Once you enter a war, it doesn’t stay limited.

The US deployed not only fighter jets but also drone strikes and Tomahawk missiles, presumably fired from a destroyer from the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. It targeted suspected arms depots, the mayor’s mansion (used by ISIL as its HQ in Raqqah), and checkpoints, among other things. Dozens of ISIL fighters were said to be killed and more wounded.

Jim Sciutto tweeted,

Saudi Arabia, Jordan and UAE all taking part alongside US in air strikes tonight against #ISIS in #Syria No European nations

— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) September 23, 2014

Louisa Loveluck also weighed in:

#pt US officials say airstrikes not unilateral – backed by coalition of Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

— Louisa Loveluck (@leloveluck) September 23, 2014

Apparently “backed by” does not mean “joined in the bombing” in the cases of Bahrain and Qatar. Qatar may have flown escort, but word is that it didn’t actually drop bombs.

Some 80% of Raqqah’s 240,000 inhabitants, i.e. about 190,000 people, are said to have remained after ISIL took over the city, despite its harsh and arbitrary rule. It is inevitable that US and allied bombing on important Raqqah military targets will kill a certain number of civilians. That is, Raqqah is roughly the size of Grand Rapids, Michigan or Salt Lake City, Utah. Imagine if fighter-jets were dropping bombs on targets within those small cities?

The some 22 sorties flown on Monday will have killed some ISIL terrorists, blown up some weapons warehouses, and destroyed some checkpoints. But ISIL are guerrillas, and they will just fade away into Raqqah’s back alleys. The US belief in air power is touching, but in fact no conflict has ever been quickly brought to an end where US planes have been involved.

The ISIL guerrillas will fade away, perhaps inside the city, where you can’t bomb them without killing a lot of civilians (and they will video the victims for you). Then there will just be occasional drone strikes of the sort that were relatively ineffectual in Afghanistan and FATA in Pakistan.

The US dropped enormous numbers of bombs on Iraq since 2003, and in the end its sponsored government lost 40% of the country to ISIL. Bombing positions in Syria in the absence of an allied ground force is highly unlikely to be decisive in and of itself.


Related video:

CBS Evening News: “U.S. begins airstrikes against ISIS inside Syria”

CBS Evening News [Verified]

Largest Climate Rally ever in New York City, other World Capitals

Mon, 22 Sep 2014 - 2:09am

By Deirdre Fulton,

Global mobilization is exceeding expectations on Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets demanding action on climate change on the eve of the UN Climate Summit. In addition to the massive action in New York City, People’s Climate demonstrations took place in cities and towns across continents, from rural villages to major urban centers.

According to a press release sent out by and the global civic organization Avaaz, people in more than 156 countries joined 2646 events and rallies—in India, Tanzania, South Africa, Brazil, Germany, and Taiwan, among many others—in solidarity with the People’s Climate March happening in Manhattan on Sunday.

“We’re starting today in New York with already thousands upon thousands of people having marched around the world,” global communications director Hoda Baraka told Common Dreams, pointing to sizable events in Melbourne and Jakarta. “There’s so much happening at the same time, it’s quite breathtaking and moving and powerful, to be honest. It is, at the end of the day, a global moment. It’s a global issue. All these different constituencies coming together for climate action—that’s a really a very important and telling turning point for the climate movement.”

A particularly urgent call came from the Pacific Islands, which given its elevation above sea level, is at the frontlines of the fight against climate change. There, from Tonga to Tuvalu to Tokelau, people rallied calling for ‘Action, Not Words,’ to protect their homes and livelihoods. In rural Papua New Guinea, students from a primary school marched to a nearby lighthouse, which has recently become semi-submerged due to rising sea levels.

“We’re not waiting for politicians to move,” said Seia Mikaele Maiava, Pacific Climate Warrior from Tokelau. “This is a matter of survival for us. We’re not drowning, we’re standing up and fighting for our homes.”

Organizers see Sunday’s demonstrations as just the beginning of a series of actions that will continue in the lead up to the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris. For example, people all across the Pacific are preparing to send 30 Pacific Climate Warriors with their canoes to block the world’s largest coal port in Australia in October. A global day of action against fracking is also planned for next month.

“With hundreds of thousands marching in more than 2,500 protests worldwide, this is by a long way the largest climate mobilization in history,” said Ricken Patel, executive director of Avaaz, in a statement. “It’s a wake up call to politicians that climate change is not a green issue anymore, it’s an everybody issue. The public has heard our scientists that everything we love is under threat, and we’re prepared to fight for the only solution—a world powered by 100 percent safe, clean, sustainable energy.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CCTV America:
Largest rally held in NY ahead of climate change summit

I lived to see the Day when thousands of Kurds take Refuge in Turkey

Mon, 22 Sep 2014 - 12:44am


“About 60,000 Syrian Kurds flee into Turkey in the space of 24 hours, a deputy prime minister says, as Islamic State fighters seize dozens of villages close to the border. Sarah Toms reports.”

For anyone who knows the history of the Turkish government’s dirty war against Kurdish separatists in the 1970s and 1980s, it is a startling reversal to see Syrian Kurds flooding for refuge into Turkey. The influx was not smooth and Turkish security did at points try to stem it. But actually Turkey has something like a million Syrian refugees already. – JC

Reuters: “About 60,000 Syrian Kurds flee to Turkey as Islamic State advances”

“Operation Ice ISIS”: ‘Anonymous’ Hackers take on Extremist Group on Social Media

Sun, 21 Sep 2014 - 11:47pm


” This week #TECH24 brings you an EXCLUSIVE interview with Anonymous on why (and how) the collective decided to join the fight against the ‘Islamic State’ Group.”

France24: “Anonymous Vs ISIS”

Heresy & Superheroes: Broken legs, death threats and fatwas: the trials and tribulations of THE 99

Sun, 21 Sep 2014 - 11:32pm

By Naif Al-Mutawa

Many years ago, I was the volleyball counsellor at a summer camp in New England. It was 1990 and I was fit for five minutes. It seems there’s always an injury I can blame my (lack of) fitness on. That summer was no different.

Running into the lake, I slipped. My hands instinctively shielded my face from hitting the lake bottom and my elbows jerked back and got caught in the sand, sending my right shoulder out of its socket. I popped it back in. It was painful. I had to rest for a week before seeing a doctor. And then, on the way to the clinic, I had a terrible car accident that meant I completed my journey to the hospital in an ambulance. I’ve had my share of car accidents. Two of them were not my fault. This was one of those. It involved being shunted by a Mack truck while I was stationary at a traffic light.

At the hospital I was told that my shoulder had popped out again and that the boot of my car had been compressed to within inches of my head. I was lucky.

It was there I met an ambulance chaser, which was a first. I got his card. I got his pitch. I told him there and then not to bother: if the lorry driver who had written off my car had money, I reasoned, he would have had brakes too. I also told him I did not want to live my life by taking something away from someone else. I wanted to create rather than destroy. I did not want to be associated with a bottom feeder.

A few weeks later, a six-year-old boy sneaked up on me while I was brushing my teeth and said: “You don’t have a country … you don’t have a country …” A fellow counsellor who had roughly the same intellect as the young boy was hiding behind a tree. He had put the child up to it. It was surreal.

I called my father in Kuwait and he casually explained to me that Iraq’s invasion was a routine matter that would solve itself in a matter of days. It didn’t. The things fathers say.

Now, many years later, I have spent the summer recovering from another painful injury (giving me another excuse to explain away why I’m still not fit).

Last summer, as I was leaving my children’s summer camp in New England, I missed a step on an outdoor staircase and got my leg caught between a step and a tree root. I went in one direction and my leg in another. I broke my leg so badly my bones came out of my body for a breath of fresh air. My surgeon referred to my fracture as Humpty Dumpty. It took several surgeries and months of physical therapy to start to feel normal again.

While I recovered, another bottom feeder made his way into my life, this time forcefully. A man whose view of reality is narrow and violent, sued me for heresy and went around submitting false accusations to various institutions asking for a fatwa on my work with THE 99, a super-hero cartoon series I created based on the 99 attributes of God.

Sadly, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and the ministry of Islamic affairs in Kuwait did not do their homework and issued fatwas condemning THE 99 based on false accusations and misstatements provided by this ambulance chaser. This is after THE 99 had been broadcast daily for two years all over the world.

The United Nations, the World Economic Forum, world leaders including president Barack Obama, the emir of Kuwait and many others endorsed my work for bridging cultures and tolerance.

In fact, THE 99 has been approved by the ministries of information in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and was funded by a Saudi Islamic Investment Bank with its own Sharia board.

This accusation opened up a Pandora’s box and led to an avalanche of extremists each trying to outdo one another. It led to fatwas and more recently death threats from Twitter accounts linked to ISIL and Al Qaeda.

You can imagine the call I had with my parents and my children when the front page of Kuwait’s leading daily newspaper quoted various death threats. Look on the bright side I told my parents. This shows the impact of THE 99.

My son, who is a summer camp counsellor this year, called me in a state of panic. His friends told him I was dead or that I was going to jail. I tried to allay his fears by telling him it was routine. The things fathers say.

But that is not the end of the story. The early 1990s witnessed Disney releasing their smash hit Aladdin. The opening lyrics of the song entitled Arabian Nights were: “Oh I come from a land, from a faraway place, where the caravan camels roam, where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face, it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”

Having released it on the heels of Desert Storm, Disney thought they could get away with the lyrics. They couldn’t. Protests led to changing the lyrics on the video and DVD versions. I was among the protesters.

Last week I took my children to watch Aladdin the Musical on Broadway. And as I sat in the audience I couldn’t help wonder should those lyrics have been changed? Should I have protested against them? Isn’t someone trying to cut off my head because they don’t like the way I think?

As I write this I am considering going to Kuwait to answer charges of heresy. The ministry of information has turned a number of production companies over to the public prosecutor for violating the audio-visual media law.

May God bless Kuwait and may the forces of darkness not muffle innovation and creativity. And may the ministries start to understand that in the name of protecting our culture they are responsible for killing it by scaring off the content creators and the content investors.

Why would anyone invest in media content if the producers can be sent off to the public prosecutor’s office and potentially serve jail time. Isn’t it just easier to keep dubbing Turkish, Mexican and American dramas?

And if we keep doing that, aren’t we diluting our culture? And if we do, then whose fault is that? Perhaps the ministries were not set up to protect our culture after all.

Naif Al-Mutawa is a Kuwait-born, U.S. educated psychologist who created “THE 99,” a comic book about a group of superheroes based on Islamic archetypes. See


Related video added by Juan Cole

IIP CONX: “Superheroes@State”

Iraq: Are Sunni Arabs of Kirkuk Province Turning on ISIL?

Sun, 21 Sep 2014 - 12:26am

Ahmad Mohammed | Kirkuk | via

Sunni Muslim extremists continue to kidnap, execute and otherwise impose their authoritarian rule on locals in the areas they control, such as in southwestern Kirkuk. Slowly but surely though, local resistance against them is growing. Tribal leaders suggest an organized, salaried force is in development.

On the 12th day after the Sunni Muslim extremist group known as the Islamic State, or IS, took control of southwestern parts of the province of Kirkuk, some of their fighters paid a visit to the house of a local tribal leader.

IS group fighters looted and destroyed the home of Sheikh Anwar al-Assi in the village of Arumel, south west of Kirkuk city. They did so because the sheikh had refused to swear allegiance to them.

 The attack came despite the fact that al-Assi heads the Abid tribe in the area and that this tribe is one of the major Arab tribes here, and also has members in other parts of Iraq.

Al-Assi then left his village and went to Sulaymaniyah, inside the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is controlled by the Iraqi Kurdish military – he had word that next the IS group planned to kill him.

“The IS group kidnaps and executes anyone who doesn’t cooperate with them as well as those they have doubts about,” al-Assi told NIQASH. “Those who don’t swear allegiance are accused of working for the government or of trying to form militias to fight against them – all grounds for execution, in the IS group’s opinion.”

“Lately fighters from the IS group have been kidnapping a lot of local people,” al-Assi says, adding that the fighters are becoming more and more violent and unjust. “Not even women have been spared. Fighters kidnapped four women from their homes in the Hawija district recently.”

This kind of behaviour is starting to get stronger reactions from local people. Currently the IS group control the centre of the Hawija district as well as five other Kirkuk neighbourhoods.

On June 31, IS fighters killed a woman in the Zab neighbourhood in Hawija because they said she had insulted the IS group. The woman was a housewife and had a son who used to serve in the Sunni Muslim militia known as the Awakening or Sahwa forces, that fought against Al Qaeda; her husband died in 2007.

“This kind of behaviour is creating resentment toward the IS group,” al-Assi explains. “even those who welcomed them at first are no longer happy with them. And there have been some incidents in Kirkuk that indicate how annoyed people are with the IS group.”

For example, on Sept. 4, one of the IS group’s distinctive black flags was set alight by an unknown person in an abandoned lot near Tal Ali village in western Kirkuk. After this a large number of IS fighters stormed the village and kidnapped 50 of the local men. Thankfully after two days, all of the men were released again.

And on Sept. 12, three tribal leaders from a clan that was part of the Abid tribe were killed by the IS group; they also kidnapped 20 people from within the Rashad district. The locals were kidnapped because the IS fighters said they were conspiring to form a militia to expel the IS group from their areas.

“Even individuals who were cooperating with the IS group when things began in June have started turning against them now,” Ahmed Askari, an Iraqi Kurdish member of Kirkuk’s provincial council and head of the security committee there, told NIQASH. “They have started contacting security forces in Kirkuk to inform on them and tell them where the IS group are located.”

Many locals are also fleeing the hell that is IS,” Askari added.

A source inside Kirkuk’s military says that they also have information from locals who feel they were manipulated by the IS group but who have now realized that IS fighters are committing violent acts and behaving badly. Many of these locals have also fled their homes.

There is also communication between the central government in Baghdad and the heads of tribes in Kirkuk about the formation of a properly organized armed force to fight the IS group in Kirkuk.

Al-Assi confirmed this, adding that the decision to form such a force is now pending government approval. But, he said, the approval should be sped up. “The delay in liberating these areas from the IS group is a continuous source of misery for the people who have to live under them, live with their mercy, their policies and their mistreatment,” al-Assi said.

Al-Assi outlines the plans for the formation of organised troops. The training, payment, arming and administration of any such force would be the responsibility of Baghdad. The tribes’ role will be to supply the troops with “trusted and honest” forces and to help them avoid infiltration by “armed groups or individuals acting in bad faith”.

Despite all of this though there have not apparently been any real, organized efforts against the IS group in Hawija yet. People are upset with them, says one local inside Hawija contacted by NIQASH, who could not be named for security reasons, but up until now, most acts of resistance have been limited and individual.

“There are rumours about tribal leaders setting up forces to fight the IS group but there is no organized resistance yet,” the local said.

Most organized resistance by locals against the IS group seems to be happening in the Ninawa province at the moment, where the IS stronghold, the city of Mosul, is also located.

Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole:

A Sunni Tribe that fights ISIS

How The Koch Brothers Corrupted Florida State University (+163 Other Colleges) (Young Turks)

Sat, 20 Sep 2014 - 11:30pm

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks

“In 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered giving millions of dollars to Florida State University’s economics department, the offer came with strings attached.

First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller.

Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would at least partially control which faculty members Florida State University hired.

And third, Bruce Benson, a prominent libertarian economic theorist and Florida State University economics department chairman, must stay on another three years as department chairman — even though he told his wife he’d step down in 2009 after one three-year term.”

Read more from The Center For Public Integrity report here: 2014/09/12/15495/ koch-foundation-proposal-college-teach-our-curriculum-get-millions

The Young Turks: “How The Koch Brothers Corrupted Florida State University (+163 Other Colleges)”

Climate Marchers join Alarmed Scientists against “Drill-Baby-Drill” Corporations & Politicians

Sat, 20 Sep 2014 - 11:22pm

AJ+ interviews Naomi Klein

“As people gather in New York City for what organizers are billing as the largest climate-change protest in history, AJ+ asks Naomi Klein about her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate. She tells us why the planet is doomed if we don’t change course. And why it’s up to a new generation of climate-justice activists to see that we do.”

Capitalism Vs. The Climate – Why Is Climate Activism Important? (AJ+ Asks)

The Arab Political Crisis: It isn’t a Matter of Civilization and it isn’t Unique

Sat, 20 Sep 2014 - 11:05pm

By Juan Cole

Hisham Melhem has a piece on what he calls the collapse of Arab civilization.

The piece is riddled with contradictions and fuzzy thinking and with all due respect to Milhem, who is a knowledgeable and experienced correspondent, I am going to disagree with it vehemently. I think he is arguing that Arabs bear a moral burden for the atrocities being committed in the region, and that they cannot duck it by blaming regional problems on European colonialism or the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Let’s take the 22 Arab League members (which include for political reasons non-Arabic-speaking countries like Somalia and Djibouti). There is nothing wrong with their civilization.

In the past 50 years, Arabic-speakers have gone from being perhaps 80% rural to being 80% urban. (There are still some significantly rural Arab countries like Egypt and Syria but even there the urban-dwellers are a majority). Even Saudi Arabia, which a century ago had a lot of pastoral nomads, is now as urban as the United States. They have gone from being largely illiterate to being, especially at the level of 15-30 year-olds largely literate. The proportion with high school and college educations has skyrocketed. They have access to world news through satellite television. Civilizationally, the average Arab today is way ahead of her parents and grandparents.

Obviously, the states of the Arab world are undergoing important transitions and some have collapsed. But state collapse is not the same thing as civilizational collapse, nor caused by it (whatever “civilization” is).

Why the states are collapsing is a good question for social science, but it isn’t the moral failing that Milhem makes it out to be, nor is it unique. I’d look at the following:

1. Demography. The Arab world is full of states that have had relatively high rates of population growth for 150 years. I have a hypothesis that this population boom is related to global warming, which also began in earnest about 150 years ago, and which may have reduced pandemics in the region which we know were common and cyclical in the medieval and early modern period (“plague”). Tunisia underwent a demographic transition and began leveling off, but most of the rest continue to have high birth rates (Egypt began to level off in 2005 but apparently the instability of the last three years has caused a new baby boom). High rates of population growth can contribute to instability if there aren’t enough jobs for the waves of young people coming on the job market every year. Gross Domestic Product is a matter of long division. So if the population grows 3 percent in a year, and the economy grows 3 percent, the per capita increase in GDP that year is … zero. Go on like that for decades and you’ll have economic and social stagnation. This is why China’s one-child policy was so smart. You couldn’t have had the post-1980 take-off in the same way if the rate of population growth had been like Egypt’s.

Is it an accident that the two countries that began undergoing a demographic transition in the 1970s, Tunisia and Turkey, are the two more stable ones in the region?

2. Productivity. Most Arab states were under European colonialism in the 19th and until the mid-20th century. No colonial administration was interested in promoting industrialization (in contrast, e.g., to Meiji Japan, which was independent and cared about Japan’s place in the world). Arab countries after WW II were mostly agricultural and poor. Some 80% of Iraqis were landless laborers and 2500 families had the best land, and a lion’s share of it, in 1958. While there has been some state-led industrialization, about half of Syria’s population is still rural. Farming has low rates of productivity gain. And most urban workers are in services, which also aren’t characterized by much increase in productivity. High population growth plus low productivity growth equals economic and social stagnation.

3. The distortions of the oil economies. Urbanization in Egypt, e.g., may have stalled out since the 1970s because workers that might have gone to labor in factories in Egyptian cities instead went to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE. When and if they returned with savings, they often returned to their villages and opened a shop or other small business. The oil economies of the Gulf also drew off the more enterprising teachers and engineers. Oil economies have hardened currencies because of the value of their primary commodity, which makes made goods expensive and harms handicrafts, industry and agriculture because export markets like India can’t afford these goods if they are denominated in a hard currency. (This phenomenon is known as the Dutch disease because the Netherlands suffered from it in the early 1970s when its natural gas industry took off). Also, having small but enormously wealthy and authoritarian states like Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the region is destabilizing. They spread money around to support their factions, who then fall to fighting and have the wealth to buy good weapons.

4. Aridity and climate change. The Arab world lies in a longstanding Arid Zone stretching from Morocco to the Gobi Desert. Much of this region cannot engage in rainfall agriculture and depends on irrigation. But climate change is producing increased aridity over time, with long-term droughts. The collapse of Syria is certainly caused in some important part by climate change. Egypt also has a water crisis, and in villages in Upper Egypt protests over insufficient water were part of the unrest during the 2011 revolution and after.

These sorts of causes have contributed to the difficulties the Arab world faces, not moral or civilizational deterioration. Of course, state collapse can create a social maelstrom in which horrific groups like ISIL can grow up. But they are typically caused by the other factors and attendant instability and displacement. They aren’t the original cause of anything themselves. Nor are the Arabs alone even in the region. The brutality and disproportionate force deployed by the Israeli army in Gaza is another form of barbarism.

Singling out the Arab world is unfair. Spain came to be ruled from 1936 by a fascist military dictatorship, which lasted into the 1970s. The exemplar of civilization, the country of Goethe and Schelling– Germany– went fascist in the 1930s. Italy likewise had a fascist government from the 1920s, and it was overthrown by an American invasion, not by Italians alone. Even in the past decade, Italy was demoted by Freedom House from being a first-tier democracy because of the corrupt and authoritarian practices of PM Silvio Berlusconi (journalists working for his media, and he owned a lot of it, were coerced to report positively on him). It is not at all clear that Europe would have ended up democratic, or would have done so quickly after the War, if left to its own devices. What we think of democratic practices were imposed on Western Europe by the US.

Southeast Asia had its own difficulties transitioning from being agricultural and colonial to being independent, urban and industrial. Indonesia polished off hundreds of thousands of –some say a million– Communists in 1965. Vietnam was in turmoil for decades and then turned to one-party dictatorship, remaining desperately poor. Laos and Cambodia were destabilized by the American war in Vietnam. Of the 7.5 million Cambodians in 1975, about 25% were murdered in the Khmer Rouge genocide, i.e. about 1.88 million.

There isn’t any Arab country where a percentage of the population (25%) has been killed, similar to Cambodia. The Algerian Revolution (1954-1962) cost between 500,000 and 1 million lives in a population of 11 million, but a large proportion of these were killed by French troops. The Lebanese Civil War probably killed about 100,000 out of 4 million, or 2.5 percent. The Iran-Iraq War probably left 250,000 Iraqis (some say twice that) dead, out of 16 million, with similar numbers of Iranian casualties. The Arab-Israeli Wars, horrible as they were, were relatively low-casualty affairs as wars go– with casualties on the Arab side in the tens of thousands. Tunisia wasn’t involved in a war after WWII. The US invasion and occupation of Iraq, which destabilized that country, resulted in excess mortality of between 200,000 and a million, in a population of 30 million since 2003 (and despite Melhem, I think we know whose fault this latter was).

One could also compare to Africa. I won’t go into the massive destabilization and loss of life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose destabilization began with Belgian policy that killed half the population. Over 5 million have died because of instability (and related disease) in DRC since 1995.

The fact is that European colonialism and neocolonialism has had a demonstrably destabilizing effect on the region. But Milhem is right that there are lots of other contributing causes. They aren’t, however, the ones he points to. Population growth, the shape of the economy, and resource-poverty (especially in water, which he mentions with regard to Yemen but only as a jeremiad) are all implicated.

Melhem’s piece stands in a very long tradition. After the fall of Baghdad in 1258 to the Buddhist and animist Mongol armies, many Muslim intellectuals concluded that God was angry at the Muslims for having become decadent, and so delivered them into the hands of the infidels from the East for punishment. But the Mongol invasions were not a moral failing of the people of Iran and Iraq. They resulted in some important part from the sophistication of Mongol warfare.

Don’t beat yourself up so much, Hisham.

By the way, some of this is explained in my new book:

The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East