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Top 5 Things More Americans will die of than Ebola this Year, including Guns

Sat, 25 Oct 2014 - 11:03pm

By Juan Cole

The odd hysteria about ebola is being driven more by a media frenzy than the actual public health risks. Ebola is not the sort of disease that is likely to turn into a pandemic, becoming really wide spread. It is too hard to contract (it doesn’t spread by infected persons just breathing on others) and kills too many of its victims (diseases don’t survive well if neither do their hosts). Moreover, countries that are relatively well-governed, with good public health systems are not at high risk from this sort of disease. Even Senegal and Nigeria in West Africa have dealt with small outbreaks professionally and right now have no ebola cases, in contrast to countries ravaged by years of civil war like Sierra Leone and Liberia (wars, by the way, in which former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi played a major and cynical role).

You never know whether corporate media spread such panics to make money off the news (the definition of corporate media) or to take working peoples’ minds off more important issues, such as how American Neoliberal capitalism is increasingly screwing them over.

But here are some things that will kill more Americans this year than ebola.

1. Largely unregulated, often military-grade firearms in the hands of civilians will typically be deployed in 11,000 homicides and nearly 20,000 suicides every year in the US. Background checks at gun shows for all purchasers, including from private sellers there, would much reduce this toll, but this measure has been blocked by the gun manufacturers (a.k.a. the NRA). It would be fairly easy to address this enormous public health debacle, but bought-and-paid-for American politicians play down the issue, in contrast to the ebola hype, which they have tried to tie to immigrants and have used to promote Islamophobia.

2. Smoking will kill on the order of 430,000 Americans this year. The US government allows corporations to spray extra nicotine and other addictive substances on the tobacco leaves so as to addict youngsters who experiment with smoking and make it difficult for them to quit. Nearly half a million people killed a year should cause a panic, especially since most of us have a loved one or close friend who smokes, but there is no pressure at all on government to stop the corporate promotion of nicotine addiction for the express purpose of making money off killing working people.

3. The public seems to want government to make the investments necessary to dealing with infectious diseases such as ebola. But too many Americans mind Obamacare, which has added millions to the rolls of the insured. Back in 2009, it was estimated, some 45,000 people died every year just from not having access to health care. Now that number will decrease significantly.

4. Burning coal to produce electricity directly kills some 12,000 people a year, in addition to helping cause 200,000 heart attacks annually. Coal’s release of mercury into the atmosphere also causes fatalities and disabilities, since mercury is a nerve poison. And of course, burning coal causes rapid and disruptive climate change, which will kill far more people than ebola ever will.

5. An analysis of the food combinations available on the menus of 34 restaurant chains that offer children’s meals showed that 50 percent of the meal combos came to over 600 calories, while 430 calories is a more ideal meal for children. These restaurants are clearly contributing to the obesity crisis in children and youth. Being obese in childhood is highly correlated with being obese in adulthood. Some 300,000 Americans die every year from conditions associated with obesity. As for children, the CDC reports,

“Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.1, 2
The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.1, 2
In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

Just demanding that American restaurants offer less toxic meals to children would save many more lives than will ever be taken by ebola in the US. But it would mean standing up to the food corporations.

Whether it is the lobbyists for Big Coal who want to go on spewing poison into the atmosphere, or the NRA lobbyists for the four major corporations that manufacture hand guns or the restaurant lobbyists who want to evade regulation and want to be able to kill their customers with 4,000-calorie meals, or the cigarette manufacturers and distributors who are, like 007, licensed by the government to murder, the common denominator here is that our corporations are often much worse for our health than a mere infectious disease outbreak. But these health deficits are almost never reported on in the media owned by the corporations. Instead, we’re encouraged to think about something else while our pockets are being picked– say, an exotic disease.


Related video:

The Big Picture RT:The Big Threat of Coal Ash to Your Health?

WWI: Remembering how Europe Blockaded Lebanese Civilians & Killed 200,000 with Famine

Fri, 24 Oct 2014 - 11:38pm


“Unknown to many, a third of the Lebanese population [then West Syria] died of famine and disease during World War One. BBC Arabic’s Carine Torbey recounts the horrifying story of the Famine of Mount Lebanon.”

The famine of Mount Lebanon during WW1 – BBC News

Note: Contrary to what Ms. Torbey alleges, the Ottomans entered WW I for defensive purposes, being afraid of Russian expansionism, not for aggressive ones. -JRC

Are US Drone Strikes in Pakistan War Crimes? Only 12% of those Killed are Known Militants

Fri, 24 Oct 2014 - 11:33pm

By Rozina Ali

Drone Strikes: The numbers don’t lie, except when they do
By: Rozina Ali

At a time when President Barack Obama has likened his new military strategy in Iraq and Syria to his drone programs in Yemen and Pakistan, disturbing new information has surfaced that damn drone strikes as indiscriminate in their effect on non-combatants and probably constituting war crimes.

After a lull in drone strikes in Pakistan—marking what some thought was the beginning of the end of attacks in Pakistan—the United States has amped up attacks this month. Regarding one attack on October 7th, Reuters reported “at least 8 suspected militants” were killed; the New York Times and Washington Post republished Associated Press reports, which quoted an “official” saying “at least 10 militants” were killed. According to the scenario framed through media reports, U.S. counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan are successful. But this is a distorted perception.

A comprehensive investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that only 12% of those killed in Pakistan by drones over the past ten years were militants. Al Qaeda members—the original intended targets of the drone program—constituted only 4% of those killed. Civilians aren’t just collateral damage, they are the overwhelming victims of drone strikes. It’s a major challenge to a government who repeatedly insisted that drone strikes occur with “surgical precision”. Now that the U.S. is repeating the program in the Middle East and Somalia, we need to be able to understand just how effective drone strikes are, not just in eradicating terrorism, but simply killing terrorists.

What makes TBIJ’s estimates unique is that it went through the laborious process of identifying the dead through open-source reports and leaked Pakistani government reports. This isn’t possible for media who have to report events immediately. Out of 2,379 victims, TBIJ has identified 704 so far. Of those, they found that only 295 were militants and 84 were Al-Qaeda fighters. These numbers are staggering. If we take the total as the base, then effectively, nearly nine in ten people that U.S. drones have killed in Pakistan were not part of a militant group.

Compare TBIJ’s findings to numbers from New America Foundation, another reputable organization that has been diligently tracking drone strike victims. NAF offers estimates of victims killed in ranges. For example, they calculate the total to be 2,169-3,539. Calculations based on the higher number in each range find that militants made up nearly 82% of those killed—significantly higher than TBIJ’s 12%. Even if we compare this to the ratio of militants (295) to just identified victims (704) in TBIJ’s database, militants still make up only 40% of victims, half as many as those suggested by NAF.

Why such a huge difference? NAF’s estimates are based solely on media reports, which often have to rely on U.S. officials for information. Journalists have little access to Waziristan and the CIA offers limited information about attacks and their victims. But such limited information is dangerous: the U.S. is using media to distort the perception of the effectiveness of drone strikes, to make them appear as a viable alternative to “boots on the ground” to battling terrorists. The discrepancy between TBIJ and NAF’s numbers underscore just how big a blind spot the U.S. drone program is in media and public knowledge.

It’s not difficult to ascertain how we might be killing so many civilians. A 2012 New York Times report revealed that under his drone program, President Obama’s “kill list” effectively considers men of military age as legitimate targets. So, the U.S. can theoretically be hitting targets with “near precision”, if those targets are simply young men.

We also know that the U.S. government will consider victims civilians if there is “explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” But there is little incentive to prove their innocence. U.S. doesn’t have boots on the ground in Pakistan. Waziristan is a remote area with a strong presence of militants, and unsecure for reporters. The Pakistani government has a vested interest in keeping U.S. operations in Waziristan going, but it doesn’t like admitting its complicity in drone strikes. When there is no one looking, it’s easy to cover up the aftermath.

Drone strikes are becoming the new modus operendi in the next stage of warfare. The U.S. launched drone strikes last month in Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS. The repercussions are apparent: one strike killed nearly 12 civilians in Syria. But according to Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby, determining if victims are “civilian” or “combatant” is a moot point: “We hit them. And I don’t think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are the bad dudes.”

We just have to take the government’s word that those killed are “bad dudes”.

Rozina Ali is Senior Editor at Cairo Review of Global Affairs and was formerly Deputy Editor at The Economist Intelligence Unit


Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: Half of US Drone Strike Victims may be Non-Combatants

US Negotiator: All the Components of an Enrichment Deal with Iran are on the Table

Fri, 24 Oct 2014 - 11:29pm

By Golnaz Esfandiari

The top U.S. negotiator in nuclear talks with Iran says Washington will not allow Tehran to obtain nuclear arms.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman warned that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons could lead to an arms race in the region and create further instability and danger.

Sherman said the United States prefers to achieve its goal through diplomatic means.

But she added that “Iran will not, shall not, obtain a nuclear weapon.”

Sherman also acknowledged that the negotiations are controversial, with some — she did not specify who — hoping for success while others for failure.

Sherman spoke ahead of the November 24 deadline for Iran and six major world powers to reach a lasting agreement to the crisis over Iran’s sensitive nuclear work.

She said the U.S. administration has consulted regularly with members of the U.S. Congress and allies, including Israel and the Persian Gulf States, to allay their fear regarding a potential deal.

Sherman called on Iran’s leaders to make the right choice.

“If Iran truly wants to resolve its differences with the international community — and facilitate the lifting of economic sanctions — it will have no better chance than between now and November 24,” Sherman said.

She said now is the time to finish the job.

However, she added that she didn’t know if a deal would be reached by the target date.

“I can tell you that all the components of a plan that should be acceptable to both sides are on the table,” she said.

Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes and denies it is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Sherman also said that on the margins of the nuclear talks with Iran, she and other U.S. officials had raised concern over the status of U.S. citizens detained or missing in Iran.

She said former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Pastor Saeed Abedini, and “Washington Post” reporter Jason Rezaian should be allowed to return to their families.

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

Democracy Now!: “Former Weapons Inspector in Iraq Raises Skepticism over Claims Iran Is Hiding Nuclear Weapons Tests”

Is Egypt’s Sinai going the Way of Syria? 30 Troops Killed by Militants

Fri, 24 Oct 2014 - 11:09pm

By Juan Cole

The Arabic newspaper Ilaf reports that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has declared a state of emergency for 3 months in parts of the province of North Sinai after two attacks by Muslim radical groups in that province left 30 Egyptian soldiers dead. Ilaf says that al-Sisi is blaming Egypt’s intelligence services for not forestalling these attacks.

Egypt’s government also closed the border checkpoint with Gaza at Rafah from Saturday on, until further notice. Egypt’s government blames Hamas in Palestinian Gaza for radicalizing the clans of the Sinai.

These steps came after a car bomb attack on an army checkpoint near El Arish in North Sinai that killed at least 30 troops, in which a large quantity of high-powered explosives completely destroyed the small garrison. The checkpoint lay between El Arish and Rafah on the border with Gaza.

A few hours later, in a separate attack, militants shot at another checkpoint south of El Arish, killing an officer and wounding a soldier.

The Egyptian military is using Apache helicopters to monitor North Sinai.

Muslim radicals in Sinai blame the military for overthrowing the Muslim fundamentalist president, Muhammad Morsi, on July 3, 2013. Though, to be fair, the militants were active against the Egyptian army during Morsi’s tenure as president, as well. The last big attack of this sort, in December 2013, left 14 police dead, in the wake of the coup against Morsi.

You’ll be Surprised which Congressmen get Most Campaign Money from War Industry

Thu, 23 Oct 2014 - 11:36pm


“War is a big industry in the United States, but who profits from it? AJ+ breaks down how much money was contributed by defense contractors to members of Congress in 2014 and exactly who got the bulk of that money.”

These Congressmen Made A Lot Of Money From War – AJ+

Iraq: Are Senior ISIL Commanders already Defecting in Mosul & Tikrit?

Thu, 23 Oct 2014 - 11:33pm

By Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | via

Senior members of the Sunni Muslim extremist group, the Islamic State, have disappeared from Mosul and Tikrit. Sources suggest they defected for a number of reasons: they fear the end is nigh for their group, the threat posed by unhappy former allies who have already assassinated some of their number and because of promises of money and safety.

Last week was a tough week for the Sunni Muslim extremist group known as the Islamic State, or IS. It had incurred serious losses of manpower in strongholds in both Syria and Iraq.

Figures released by the Iraqi Ministries of Defence and the Interior suggest that the IS group lost around 400 fighters in Iraq and reports from Syria say as many as 500 IS fighters have been killed there, particularly around Kobani where there is fierce fighting but also in strongholds like Raqqa, where airstrikes by an international coalition are having an impact.

And it seems that some of the leaders in the IS group now feel that the writing is on the wall and that the IS group won’t be able to hold onto power for much longer.

Confidential information from inside Iraq military intelligence obtained by NIQASH says that several senior leaders in the IS group have disappeared from areas the group controls – most particularly from inside Mosul, the northern city the group considers it’s Iraqi capital, and from parts of the Salahaddin province.

NIQASH’s source inside Iraqi intelligence says that most of the IS group leaders who disappeared are field commanders, men responsible for administration of combatants and territorial sectors. Most of them are Iraqis too – they are not from among the IS group’s Arab or foreign fighters. And apparently the group of defectors also includes one Ali al-Hamadani, who is thought to be very close to the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as well as another senior leader whose name is unknown as yet but who was allegedly responsible for al-Baghdadi’s personal protection.

Asked as to why these senior members may have defected, the source told NIQASH that it was down to the success of local and foreign infiltration into the organisation. The senior members had been promised money and protection, their future safety guaranteed if they left the IS group and gave up information about the group’s plans and movements.

It is also thought that the senior leaders are leaving because they fear that the IS group will not last much longer in Iraq and that they might eventually be killed. If they are caught though, they will also be killed as the sentence for betraying the organisation, as decreed by its leader, al-Baghdadi, is also death.

There has also been a rumour that al-Baghdadi had been moving a large amount of money around, smuggling it out of Iraq and investing it with friendly businessmen in the Gulf States in order to ensure that the IS group has financial stability – in case, one imagines, they lose the money-making territory they currently control.

After rumours about the defection of these senior leaders began to circulate, the IS group held one of their traditional demonstrations of strength and power, organising a parade of vehicles and manpower through Mosul’s streets.

Locals say that other senior members of the IS group –including the group’s spokesperson, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the IS-appointed governor of Mosul, Abu Bakr al-Khatouni, and the group’s military leader in Tal Afar, Abu Ala al-Afri – all returned from Syria to take over the posts left empty by the deserters.

After the IS group’s military parade ended, there was a wave of arrests in Mosul, during which many of the former police and military men still living in the city, who had repented for their past jobs, were taken away. They are apparently now being held in former government buildings that the IS group uses as prisons there.

One of the other reasons for the defections are the ongoing threats presented by armed groups inside Mosul, says Zakaria al-Hattab, who leads one of the anti-IS group militias working inside the city. There have been a number of IS members assassinated by unknown assailants in the city.

“Armed factions in Mosul are not yet able to confront the IS group openly,” says al-Hattab, who is currently in Erbil in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. But, al-Hattab, adds, he and a group of others are forming militias to try and do exactly that.

The majority of the IS leaders responsible for Mosul’s security and services are Iraqis and possibly also longer-term residents of the city. “Everybody knows them and everybody hates them,” al-Hattab explained to NIQASH. “And the tribal leaders in Mosul who are against the IS group have already made threats against the group’s senior members, saying they will chase them out of the city and kill them once IS is defeated. That’s what has scared these men and they’ve decided to leave before it’s too late.”

“The IS group leaders who defected left because they realized that the whole world was waging war against them,” suggests Rashid al-Samarrai, a local security expert. “They also know that the international coalition is going to benefit hugely from information they’re gleaning on the IS group’s plans and its hiding places.”

Additionally, al-Samarrai says, a lot of the most recent recruits to the IS group in Iraq are locals and former members of Saddam Hussein’s army and intelligence services. Many of them undertook religious training only after, or shortly before, they joined the IS group.

“Senior leaders in the IS group are military personnel who have been trained in warfare,” al-Samarrai says. “They only embraced radical religious thinking a few years ago and their belief in this system is actually fairly weak when compared to the core membership of the IS group, who have embraced radical religious ideas since they were young. The latter group would find it much harder to betray the organisation because they truly believe in it.”

Mirrored from”


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: “Deal lets 200 join fight against ISIS

Double-Edged Sword: Can US overcome its Feelings of Exceptionalism?

Thu, 23 Oct 2014 - 11:27pm

By David Bromwich via

The origins of the phrase “American exceptionalism” are not especially obscure. The French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville, observing this country in the 1830s, said that Americans seemed exceptional in valuing practical attainments almost to the exclusion of the arts and sciences. The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, on hearing a report by the American Communist Party that workers in the United States in 1929 were not ready for revolution, denounced “the heresy of American exceptionalism.” In 1996, the political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset took those hints from Tocqueville and Stalin and added some of his own to produce his book American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. The virtues of American society, for Lipset — our individualism, hostility to state action, and propensity for ad hoc problem-solving — themselves stood in the way of a lasting and prudent consensus in the conduct of American politics.

In recent years, the phrase “American exceptionalism,” at once resonant and ambiguous, has stolen into popular usage in electoral politics, in the mainstream media, and in academic writing with a profligacy that is hard to account for. It sometimes seems that exceptionalism for Americans means everything from generosity to selfishness, localism to imperialism, indifference to “the opinions of mankind” to a readiness to incorporate the folkways of every culture. When President Obama told West Point graduates last May that “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” the context made it clear that he meant the United States was the greatest country in the world: our stature was demonstrated by our possession of “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known,” uniquely tasked with defending liberty and peace globally; and yet we could not allow ourselves to “flout international norms” or be a law unto ourselves. The contradictory nature of these statements would have satisfied even Tocqueville’s taste for paradox.

On the whole, is American exceptionalism a force for good? The question shouldn’t be hard to answer. To make an exception of yourself is as immoral a proceeding for a nation as it is for an individual. When we say of a person (usually someone who has gone off the rails), “He thinks the rules don’t apply to him,” we mean that he is a danger to others and perhaps to himself. People who act on such a belief don’t as a rule examine themselves deeply or write a history of the self to justify their understanding that they are unique. Very little effort is involved in their willfulness. Such exceptionalism, indeed, comes from an excess of will unaccompanied by awareness of the necessity for self-restraint.

Such people are monsters. Many land in asylums, more in prisons. But the category also encompasses a large number of high-functioning autistics: governors, generals, corporate heads, owners of professional sports teams. When you think about it, some of these people do write histories of themselves and in that pursuit, a few of them have kept up the vitality of an ancient genre: criminal autobiography.

All nations, by contrast, write their own histories as a matter of course. They preserve and exhibit a record of their doings; normally, of justified conduct, actions worthy of celebration. “Exceptional” nations, therefore, are compelled to engage in some fancy bookkeeping which exceptional individuals can avoid — at least until they are put on trial or subjected to interrogation under oath. The exceptional nation will claim that it is not responsible for its exceptional character. Its nature was given by God, or History, or Destiny.

An external and semi-miraculous instrumentality is invoked to explain the prodigy whose essence defies mere scientific understanding. To support the belief in the nation’s exceptional character, synonyms and variants of the word “providence” often get slotted in.  That word gained its utility at the end of the seventeenth century — the start of the epoch of nations formed in Europe by a supposed covenant or compact. Providence splits the difference between the accidents of fortune and purposeful design; it says that God is on your side without having the bad manners to pronounce His name.

Why is it immoral for a person to treat himself as an exception? The reason is plain: because morality, by definition, means a standard of right and wrong that applies to all persons without exception. Yet to answer so briefly may be to oversimplify. For at least three separate meanings are in play when it comes to exceptionalism, with a different apology backing each. The glamour that surrounds the idea owes something to confusion among these possible senses.

First, a nation is thought to be exceptional by its very nature. It is so consistently worthy that a unique goodness shines through all its works. Who would hesitate to admire the acts of such a country? What foreigner would not wish to belong to it? Once we are held captive by this picture, “my country right or wrong” becomes a proper sentiment and not a wild effusion of prejudice, because we cannot conceive of the nation being wrong.

A second meaning of exceptional may seem more open to rational scrutiny. Here, the nation is supposed to be admirable by reason of history and circumstance. It has demonstrated its exceptional quality by adherence to ideals which are peculiar to its original character and honorable as part of a greater human inheritance. Not “my country right or wrong” but “my country, good and getting better” seems to be the standard here. The promise of what the country could turn out to be supports this faith. Its moral and political virtue is perceived as a historical deposit with a rich residue in the present.

A third version of exceptionalism derives from our usual affectionate feelings about living in a community on the scale of a neighborhood or township, an ethnic group or religious sect. Communitarian nationalism takes the innocent-seeming step of generalizing that sentiment to the nation at large. My country is exceptional to me (according to this view) just because it is mine. Its familiar habits and customs have shaped the way I think and feel; nor do I have the slightest wish to extricate myself from its demands. The nation, then, is like a gigantic family, and we owe it what we owe to the members of our family: “unconditional love.” This sounds like the common sense of ordinary feelings. How can our nation help being exceptional to us?

Teacher of the World

Athens was just such an exceptional nation, or city-state, as Pericles described it in his celebrated oration for the first fallen soldiers in the Peloponnesian War. He meant his description of Athens to carry both normative force and hortatory urgency. It is, he says, the greatest of Greek cities, and this quality is shown by its works, shining deeds, the structure of its government, and the character of its citizens, who are themselves creations of the city. At the same time, Pericles was saying to the widows and children of the war dead: Resemble them! Seek to deserve the name of Athenian as they have deserved it!

The oration, recounted by Thucydides in the History of the Peloponnesian War, begins by praising the ancestors of Athenian democracy who by their exertions have made the city exceptional. “They dwelt in the country without break in the succession from generation to generation, and handed it down free to the present time by their valor.” Yet we who are alive today, Pericles says, have added to that inheritance; and he goes on to praise the constitution of the city, which “does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves.”

The foreshadowing here of American exceptionalism is uncanny and the anticipation of our own predicament continues as the speech proceeds. “In our enterprises we present the singular spectacle of daring and deliberation, each carried to its highest point, and both united in the same persons… As a city we are the school of Hellas” — by which Pericles means that no representative citizen or soldier of another city could possibly be as resourceful as an Athenian. This city, alone among all the others, is greater than her reputation.

We Athenians, he adds, choose to risk our lives by perpetually carrying a difficult burden, rather than submitting to the will of another state. Our readiness to die for the city is the proof of our greatness. Turning to the surviving families of the dead, he admonishes and exalts them: “You must yourselves realize the power of Athens,” he tells the widows and children, “and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honor in action that men were enabled to win all this.” So stirring are their deeds that the memory of their greatness is written in the hearts of men in faraway lands: “For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb.”

Athenian exceptionalism at its height, as the words of Pericles indicate, took deeds of war as proof of the worthiness of all that the city achieved apart from war. In this way, Athens was placed beyond comparison: nobody who knew it and knew other cities could fail to recognize its exceptional nature. This was not only a judgment inferred from evidence but an overwhelming sensation that carried conviction with it. The greatness of the city ought to be experienced, Pericles imagines, as a vision that “shall break upon you.”

Guilty Past, Innocent Future

To come closer to twenty-first-century America, consider how, in the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln gave an exceptional turn to an ambiguous past. Unlike Pericles, he was speaking in the midst of a civil war, not a war between rival states, and this partly explains the note of self-doubt that we may detect in Lincoln when we compare the two speeches. At Gettysburg, Lincoln said that a pledge by the country as a whole had been embodied in a single document, the Declaration of Independence. He took the Declaration as his touchstone, rather than the Constitution, for a reason he spoke of elsewhere: the latter document had been freighted with compromise. The Declaration of Independence uniquely laid down principles that might over time allow the idealism of the founders to be realized.

Athens, for Pericles, was what Athens always had been. The Union, for Lincoln, was what it had yet to become. He associated the greatness of past intentions — “We hold these truths to be self-evident” — with the resolve he hoped his listeners would carry out in the present moment: “It is [not for the noble dead but] rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

This allegorical language needs translation. In the future, Lincoln is saying, there will be a popular government and a political society based on the principle of free labor. Before that can happen, however, slavery must be brought to an end by carrying the country’s resolution into practice. So Lincoln asks his listeners to love their country for what it may become, not what it is. Their self-sacrifice on behalf of a possible future will serve as proof of national greatness. He does not hide the stain of slavery that marred the Constitution; the imperfection of the founders is confessed between the lines.  But the logic of the speech implies, by a trick of grammar and perspective, that the Union was always pointed in the direction of the Civil War that would make it free.

Notice that Pericles’s argument for the exceptional city has here been reversed. The future is not guaranteed by the greatness of the past; rather, the tarnished virtue of the past will be scoured clean by the purity of the future.  Exceptional in its reliance on slavery, the state established by the first American Revolution is thus to be redeemed by the second. Through the sacrifice of nameless thousands, the nation will defeat slavery and justify its fame as the truly exceptional country its founders wished it to be.

Most Americans are moved (without quite knowing why) by the opening words of the Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers…” Four score and seven is a biblical marker of the life of one person, and the words ask us to wonder whether our nation, a radical experiment based on a radical “proposition,” can last longer than a single life-span. The effect is provocative. Yet the backbone of Lincoln’s argument would have stood out more clearly if the speech had instead begun: “Two years from now, perhaps three, our country will see a great transformation.” The truth is that the year of the birth of the nation had no logical relationship to the year of the “new birth of freedom.” An exceptional character, however, whether in history or story, demands an exceptional plot; so the speech commences with deliberately archaic language to ask its implicit question: Can we Americans survive today and become the school of modern democracy, much as Athens was the school of Hellas?

The Ties That Bind and Absolve

To believe that our nation has always been exceptional, as Pericles said Athens was, or that it will soon justify such a claim, as Lincoln suggested America would do, requires a suppression of ordinary skepticism. The belief itself calls for extraordinary arrogance or extraordinary hope in the believer. In our time, exceptionalism has been made less exacting by an appeal to national feeling based on the smallest and most vivid community that most people know: the family.  Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, in his keynote address at the 1984 Democratic convention, put this straightforwardly. America, said Cuomo, was like a family, and a good family never loses its concern for the least fortunate of its members. In 2011, President Obama, acceding to Republican calls for austerity that led to the sequestration of government funds, told us that the national economy was just like a household budget and every family knows that it must pay its bills.

To take seriously the metaphor of the nation-as-family may lead to a sense of sentimental obligation or prudential worry on behalf of our fellow citizens. But many people think we should pursue the analogy further. If our nation does wrong, they say, we must treat it as an error and not a crime because, after all, we owe our nation unconditional love. Yet here the metaphor betrays our thinking into a false equation. A family has nested us, cradled us, nursed us from infancy, as we have perhaps done for later generations of the same family; and it has done so in a sense that is far more intimate than the sense in which a nation has fostered or nurtured us. We know our family with an individuated depth and authority that can’t be brought to our idea of a nation. This may be a difference of kind, or a difference of degree, but the difference is certainly great.

A subtle deception is involved in the analogy between nation and family; and an illicit transfer of feelings comes with the appeal to “unconditional love.” What do we mean by unconditional love, even at the level of the family? Suppose my delinquent child robs and beats an old man on a city street, and I learn of it by his own confession or by accident. What exactly do I owe him?

Unconditional love, in this setting, surely means that I can’t stop caring about my child; that I will regard his terrible action as an aberration. I will be bound to think about the act and actor quite differently from the way I would think about anyone else who committed such a crime. But does unconditional love also require that I make excuses for him? Shall I pay a lawyer to get him off the hook and back on the streets as soon as possible? Is it my duty to conceal what he has done, if there is a chance of keeping it secret? Must I never say what he did in the company of strangers or outside the family circle?

At a national level, the doctrine of exceptionalism as unconditional love encourages habits of suppression and euphemism that sink deep roots in the common culture. We have seen the result in America in the years since 2001. In the grip of this doctrine, torture has become “enhanced interrogation”; wars of aggression have become wars for democracy; a distant likely enemy has become an “imminent threat” whose very existence justifies an executive order to kill. These are permitted and officially sanctioned forms of collective dishonesty. They begin in quasi-familial piety, they pass through the systematic distortion of language, and they end in the corruption of consciousness. 

The commandment to “keep it in the family” is a symptom of that corruption. It follows that one must never speak critically of one’s country in the hearing of other nations or write against its policies in foreign newspapers. No matter how vicious and wrong the conduct of a member of the family may be, one must assume his good intentions. This ideology abets raw self-interest in justifying many actions by which the United States has revealingly made an exception of itself — for example, our refusal to participate in the International Criminal Court. The community of nations, we declared, was not situated to understand the true extent of our constabulary responsibilities. American actions come under a different standard and we are the only qualified judges of our own cause.

The doctrine of the national family may be a less fertile source of belligerent pride than “my country right or wrong.” It may be less grandiose, too, than the exceptionalism that asks us to love our country for ideals that have never properly been translated into practice. And yet, in this appeal to the family, one finds the same renunciation of moral knowledge — a renunciation that, if followed, would render inconceivable any social order beyond that of the family and its extension, the tribe.

Unconditional love of our country is the counterpart of unconditional detachment and even hostility toward other countries. None of us is an exception, and no nation is. The sooner we come to live with this truth as a mundane reality without exceptions, the more grateful other nations will be to live in a world that includes us, among others.

David Bromwich teaches English at Yale University. A TomDispatch regular, he is the author most recently of Moral Imagination and The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: From the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s just published book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2014 David Bromwich

Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole:

WBGH: “Andrew Bacevich – Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism”

Why Can Europe have Climate Targets but not the US? Corruption

Thu, 23 Oct 2014 - 11:08pm

By Juan Cole

The European Union climate summit has agreed to cut emissions by 40% by 2030, after hard bargaining by Poland and the UK failed to derail an agreement.

The 28 nations of the EU also agreed to improve energy efficiency by 27% over the next decade and a half, and to ensure a continent-wide proportion of at least 27% renewable energy market share.

In contrast, the production of carbon dioxide in the US increased in 2013, from roughly by 2.5 percent at a time when scientists are frantically signaling the need to significantly reduce that output. The US produces about 5.5 billion metric tons of CO2 a year. In 2014, the world crossed the symbolic barrier of 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, up from 270 in preindustrial times. Archeological examination of ice cores that show past atmospheric composition demonstrates that such high levels of CO2 in prehistoric times (then caused by volcanic activity rather than human) were correlated with higher sea levels and a third less land area, with megastorms, and with tropical climates throughout the planet.

US capitalism trumpets itself as efficient and agile, able better to deal with social and political crises than government policy because of the magic of the market. But the structures of markets are themselves produced by government policy, which plutocrats in the US have bought. In fact, US capitalism is acting like an ostrich, hiding from the biggest social and economic crisis — rapid human-caused global warming– that the human species has ever faced.

The Guardian notes that Tony Robson, the CEO of Knauf Insulation, complains that an increase of 27% in energy efficiency over 15 years is just about what people are doing anyway in Europe, where fuel prices are typically higher than in the US. So that isn’t exactly taking climate change as an emergency.

A goal of 27% renewables by 2030 is also not very ambitious. Renewables (including wind, solar and hydroelectric) have produced nearly 28% of Germany electricity this year, and German goals are far more ambitious than the EU overall. Renewables produced 42% of Spain’s electricity in 2013 and it reduced its carbon emissions by nearly a quarter.

Why are even center-right governments in Europe so much better at this than is the United States?

Europe is less politically corrupt. Although corporations play a big role in politics in Europe, private money is much less influential. In the US, we are to the point where it is all right for our politicians to be bought and sold sort of like slaves, and where 400 or so billionaires are the ones doing the buying and selling. If you are an American taxpayer and you think John Boehner represents you, you have another think coming. Big oil and big coal can just purchase speeches on the floor of the House that would be laughed off the stage in Europe, and European journalists are far more ready to ridicule flat-earth claims like climate change denialism.

Europe isn’t perfect. Poland’s coal addiction watered down the summit’s achievement (Poland would actually make money going into wind and solar instead of coal over the next 15 years, but coal mining owners and workers are vetoing economic common sense). And small businesses are afraid of higher energy costs (in fact, renewables are at grid parity in most of Europe). Also, Europe is afraid that China, India and other nations with already-lower labor costs will drag their feet on moving to renewables, leaving Europe less competitive in industrial production and exports.

And some of the impetus to reform comes from geopolitical considerations. Europe is not happy at being so beholden to Russia for natural gas, especially given Vladimir Putin’s thuggish behavior over it and the Ukraine/ Crimea crises. Russia supplies about 1/3 of European natural gas. Qatar is also a big player in that market and some European states are viewing it with increased unease because of its alleged backing for Muslim radicals in Syria and Libya.

But for all these powerful considerations, the EU was able to set significant carbon reduction goals, and many European countries have demonstrable avoided the production of billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide over the past decade– CO2 that would have warmed the earth even faster and produced even more climate disruption– disruption that will cost far more than the $100 bn the German consumers have paid since 2000 for the push for renewables. (At 82 million Germans over 14 years, it isn’t really even that much money– $82 a year per capita or so, less than most Americans spend on lattes).

In the meantime, US emissions are the biggest per capita of any major industrialized country and after a fall because of increased wind energy and a turn to natural gas, went back up last year.


Related video:

Euronews: “EU leaders mull climate targets for 2030″

Renewables & the Future of India: IT Center Bangalore goes Solar to avoid Brownouts, High Electricity Bills

Wed, 22 Oct 2014 - 11:33pm


“The city [of Bangalore] is struggling with frequent power cuts. Those who were smart enough to invest in solar energy are the only ones coping with it. We take you through a few places in Bengaluru [Bangalore] that entirely uses solar power. Thanks to solar energy, for these smart cookies, it’s no hassle of electricity bills or the annoying load shedding!”

NEWS9: Solar so good!

Climate Treaty Follies: How Inaction is Endangering the World

Wed, 22 Oct 2014 - 11:29pm

By Tom Giesen

“To be quite candid the idea of a 2°C target is largely out of the window.”

Sir Robert Watson, former IPCC Chair. 2012

Since the late 1990s, the stated goal of world governments has been to hold average global warming to no more than 3.6 degrees F. (2 degrees centigrade). However, many doubt that the goal can be met – it has taken us too long to begin reducing emissions.

The fundamentals are that there is clear scientific evidence that long-wave energy emitted from our sun-warmed earth heats greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, etc.) in the atmosphere and thus causes warming over the entire planet. That process (the greenhouse effect) has been relatively stable; without that process the earth would be much cooler.

However, by burning huge amounts of fossil fuels, we have greatly added to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Concentrations of CO2 alone have grown from 280 parts per million in about 1850 to about 400 or so today – a 42% increase. More greenhouse gases mean more rapid and more total warming.

Scientists have long warned us that rising greenhouse gas concentrations have exposed us to substantial harms – planetary warming, extreme weather, forest fires, crop failures, floods, sea level rise – the list goes on and on.

Next year, the nations of the world will gather again to try to create an emissions-reduction treaty. So far, they have failed abysmally at that task. The long-standing goal is to hold average global warming to 3.6 degrees F. above pre-industrial levels. 3.6 degrees F. is the limit because it was thought to be the maximum average temperature rise before we encounter “dangerous climate change”.

By “dangerous” they mean that the earth’s climate system could be altered so that we have, e.g., megastorms that are hard for human populations to survive or a massive die-off of marine species (many humans depend on fish and other marine life for their protein). Worse, scientists tell us that risks to the planetary ecosystem have greatly increased since the 2 degree C / 3.6 degree F. limit was formulated, and that rates of emissions have increased as our energy use has risen – so now we face extra-dangerous change. In the US, emissions were up 2.6 percent last year alone. That is, the rate of greenhouse gas emissions is still increasing today. The likelihood that we can meet the 3.6 degrees F. limit is very low – many scientists say it is now impossible.

Fossil fuels are finite. We will stop using them eventually – the only issue is timing. We could cushion our withdrawal from fossil fuels with a massive switch to renewables, but there is no sign that is happening, save in a few EU nations. Renewables in 2013 were a piddling 4.5% of US energy.

A lot of fossil fuels will eventually be left in the earth, because at some point, it will take more energy to extract a barrel of oil from the earth than can be gained from it – the shorthand is EROEI – energy return on energy invested.

But humanity’s choice, so far, is to continue burning fossil fuels without restraint – a self-destructive decision. Global meetings to reduce emissions are held, hopeful words are spoken – but the emissions continue to rise. We are trashing our planet to facilitate fossil fuel energy uses which end in unimaginable losses of resources.

If our history of fossil fuel use is a guide, we will try to burn all of the remaining accessible fossil fuels – in spite of the global warming that burning those fuels will cause. We are choosing to have our GDP decline later and larger, and in much more difficult circumstances.

The discovery of fossil fuels has furnished us with a short-term, 200-year bonanza; an occasion for an energy orgy; a final fling before the morning-after, when we take a sober look around at the planetary chaos we have caused.

It is likely that we’ll see a hot, depleted, polluted, flooded, overpopulated and essentially alien planet.

Tom Giesen


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: ” Greenhouse gas levels hit new high, says UN”

Could ISIL be Put on Trial? Challenge for International Law

Wed, 22 Oct 2014 - 11:29pm

DUBAI (IRIN) – The international outcry to the openly advertised atrocities committed in Iraq by the jihadist group calling itself Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS or ISIL) has led to calls for investigations and punishment, with US President Barak Obama saying “justice will be done” after the killing of journalist James Foley.
This has provoked a direct reaction in terms of air strikes by the US, and the assembling of an international coalition to fight the group. But beyond this rough military “justice”, what mechanisms exist to turn investigations into court cases that formally bring IS leaders to account? What exact crimes are IS fighters committing, and perhaps more crucially, what chance is there that the group’s fighters will be held to account?

Who is carrying out investigations?

Several teams of investigators are reportedly looking into evidence of atrocities, including the International Commission of Inquiry for Syria, a UK government-supported investigation team (covering Syria), and proposals are being considered in Washington and London for an Erbil-based IS investigation team.
Separately, on 1 September, the UN Human Rights Council agreed to send an 11-member investigations team to Iraq, a decision that came just days after it published a report (27 August 2014) linking ISIS members to mass atrocities and acts “amounting to crimes against humanity” in Syria in the first half of the year.
Other efforts to investigate recent atrocities in Syria and Iraq include the Syrian Commission for Justice and Accountability (SCJA), the Syrian Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC), and the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, headed by Canadian investigator William Wiley. 

What crimes are we talking about?

IS critics accuse the group of a long list of crimes including public executions, beheadings, kidnappings, torture, forced conversions, sexual abuse, killing captured soldiers and putting communities under siege.
Many of these atrocities – openly advertised by the group on the Internet – would be against the Iraqi legal code, which continues to be served by functional criminal courts (in government-controlled areas). Though IS may claim otherwise, most would accept that the alleged crimes are taking place on Iraqi territory normally under the jurisdiction of Iraqi law.
However, with IS controlling around a third of the country, national investigations or prosecutions are not realistic for the moment. And, with Iraq currently in a state of armed conflict, certain violent acts that are forbidden during peacetime become permitted under international law, so IS lawyers could claim that peacetime rules no longer apply.

What about war crimes?

It has become increasingly commonplace to accuse IS of war crimes: global crimes which are technically defined as serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) – sometimes known as the law of armed conflict. As an example, on 2 September, Amnesty International published a briefing paper entitled Ethnic Cleansing on a Historic Scale, accusing the group of war crimes as well as other atrocities. 

The rules of war are set out in instruments such as the four Geneva Conventions (1949) and the two Additional Protocols (1977), and in customary practice.
For IHL to apply, the violence needs to be legally considered as either an international or non-international armed conflict, technical categories that assessments by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) go a long way to establish.
According to ICRC, there is a current non-international armed conflict in Syria (in laymen’s terms, a civil war), which means a range of violent acts in the country, even away from the frontlines, may be counted as war crimes.
The laws apply to the conduct of IS forces, and provide for protection to civilians under their care, whether IS accept the rules or not. Without this legal recognition of the armed conflict (as opposed to other types of violence), war crimes prosecutions would not be possible.
In neighbouring Syria where IS also operates, ICRC made public for the first time in July 2012 that it judged the situation an internal armed conflict, meaning IHL applied to regime forces and IS activities there.
Such judgments are based on two criteria – the intensity of the fighting and also whether the parties to the conflict are organized groups.
The last 12 months have seen IS evolving from a loosely organized military group, to a would-be state-builder. This has lifted IS above the sort of lower level terrorist activity elsewhere in the world.
Of course, if the armed conflict was legally categorized as an international armed conflict, a greater range of war rules would apply (although in recent years differences between the two categories have lessened), including formal protection for prisoners of war. International armed conflicts require two different states to be involved. IS see themselves as a state (in their terms “Caliphate”). However, the lack of any international recognition undermines their claims for the moment.
There is an undoubted (and growing) international element to the fighting. IS territory straddles significant parts of both Iraq and Syria, where it is fighting against both governments, as well as more recently, an international US-led coalition involving more than 50 countries. However, at least in ICRC terms, despite being internationalized, the conflict would not be considered international until it involved recognized states on both sides.
Beyond war crimes, the group’s fighters would also have a good chance of facing accusations of crimes against humanity, such as ethnic/religious cleansing, and even genocide, given the apparent attempts to wipe out communities like the Yazidis. The 1998 Rome Statute defines crimes against humanity as “odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings” which “are part of a widespread or systematic practice”.

But will the crimes be prosecuted?

The investigation work going on is obviously not meant to be an end in itself. The work of bodies like the Syria Commission of Inquiry, the UN Human Rights Council, Western-government supported teams and human rights group like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch could all provide the material needed to establish atrocities in court, and importantly the links between reprehensible acts and those at the top of IS’s command structure, most notably the self-appointed Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The challenge of a prosecution team would be to establish a connection of culpability between leading commanders and the atrocities committed by their subordinates. Past experience has been that although the conflict period is crucial for collecting evidence, the slow process of prosecutions generally needs to wait until after the conflict has finished.

National courts

The investigations will provide not just the case material for trials, but the impetus for them as well: Under the principle of universal jurisdiction state signatories have a duty to prosecute grave breaches of IHL even if they did not take place on their territory or involve their citizens.
For some countries though, prosecutions will very much involve their own citizens, given the international make-up of IS forces, with estimates of up to 11,000 foreign fighters from at least 74 countries.
In the UK, London mayor Boris Johnson proposed jihadi fighters (not necessarily with IS) be presumed guilty until proved innocent, and the government is concerned that British jihadists returning from Syria/Iraq will carry out terrorist attacks.
Prosecutions would be under anti-terrorism offences (e.g. travelling abroad to plan or commit terrorist acts) rather than related to specific atrocities under IHL. The majority of Western fighters with IS are thought to be focused on menial tasks because of their lack of military and religious education, although a British citizen does seem to have played a prominent role in the beheading videos of Foley and other foreigners.

How about the International Criminal Court?

The International Criminal Court (ICC) would be the most obvious place for prosecutions. Not yet two decades old and still finding its feet, it has a mandate to prosecute war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression.
But neither Iraq nor Syria has signed up, meaning an investigation would require a referral from the UN Security Council. In 1998, when the Rome Statute setting up the ICC was adopted, Iraq was one of only seven countries (including USA) to vote against. Neighbouring Syria signed the statute on 29 November 2000, but has yet to ratify it.
Nevertheless, in Iraq the ICC prosecutor did initially open preliminary investigations – allowed where crimes potentially involved citizens of states that have accepted the jurisdiction of the court. These investigations were closed on 9 February 2006 because a lack of sufficient evidence, but then reopened on 14 May 2014, although reopened investigations seem to concern allegations against British officials rather than IS. 

Former UN prosecutor Carla del Ponte has called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the ICC, but this was vetoed by China and Russia in May 2014. The court has yet to launch full investigations into any situation outside Africa.
In some ways, a case against IS would echo one of the ICC’s earliest cases: that against the leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda, which committed (and continues to commit) horrific acts of terror against civilians in the region. Leader Joseph Kony is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, though is still at large. Investigators may also follow up on allegations of atrocities committed by non-IS forces, including state forces in both Iraq and Syria.
Given that neither Iraq nor Syria have formally signed up to the ICC, ad hoc courts might be another solution. Iraq notably set-up its own Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal to try a similar series of crimes (committed by Iraqis between 1968 and 2003). National courts are generally less remote, bringing a greater visibility and proximity to trials.
Other recent precedents, this time established by the UN (either alone or with states), include the International Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for Khmer Rouge crimes and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Would it be worth it?

Although hugely expensive and long, prosecutions could help to expose and delegitimize IS and perhaps even act as a deterrent to others. Prosecutions seem a long way off, and perhaps unrealistic, but this is a young and developing field and cases frequently look unrealistic when first tabled.

Mirrored from The Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), the humanitarian news and analysis service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs


Related video added by Juan Cole

RT: “Chopping limbs, electric shock & chemical burning – just some ISIS atrocities”

Understanding Islam: Kecia Ali on ‘The Lives of Muhammad’

Wed, 22 Oct 2014 - 11:25pm
Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville


The life of Prophet Muhammad has inspired the development of a vast body of literature over the centuries. Kecia Ali takes a look at this diverse literature in her new book, The Lives of Muhammad (Harvard University Press, 2014). She points out that “among Muslims and among non-Muslims, various approaches to the Prophet’s life story coexist.” This is the heart of her fascinating study. “In the twenty-first century,” she argues, “it makes no sense to speak of Muslim views of Muhammad in opposition to Western or Christian views. Instead, the images of Muhammad that contemporary Muslims hold fervently and defend passionately arose in tandem and in tension with western European and North American intellectuals’ accounts of his life.”

For an excerpt from The Lives of Muhammad, focusing on The Prophet’s wife Aisha, see here.

Ali is an Associate Professor of Religion at Boston University who writes on early Islamic law, women, ethics, and biography. In addition to her newest book The Lives of Muhammad (2014), other books include Sexual Ethics and Islam (2006), Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam (2010), and Imam Shafi’i: Scholar and Saint (2011). From time to time she blogs at,, and

Here’s an exclusive Q & A with Ali:

What inspired your interest in how Muhammad has been portrayed over the centuries?

Kecia Ali

My first two books (linked above) focused on Islamic law, with a lot of attention to marriage. In doing that research, I came across quite divergent portraits of Muhammad as a husband in early texts compared to modern ones, which started me thinking. Then I wrote a biography of the ninth-century jurist Imam Shafi‘i, which got me interested in biography as a genre: what does it mean to tell the story of someone’s life? It was a natural progression to start looking at biographies of the Prophet. Once I started, I was fascinated with how authors rejected, recycled, and reworked earlier material. A twentieth century Indian author references—without apparent irony—a seventeenth-century English polemicist. An Egyptian author plagiarizes a French biographer, while simultaneously lambasting Orientalists. The way that Muslim and non-Muslim writings about Muhammad have become inextricably intertwined says a great deal about a shared turn to ideals of objectivity, historicity, and fact.

Do you think Muhammad has received more or less scrutiny than other religious leaders, such as Buddha or Jesus?

Both Muhammad and Jesus have engendered countless attempts, by believers and non-believers, to grapple with their lives, their examples, and their natures. (There has been less Buddhist interest in the facts of the Buddha’s life, however important his example has been.) Muhammad’s life has undoubtedly been the focus of more hostile attention, since Christian authors for centuries focused on him as exemplar and cause of Muslim depravity, though until fairly recently these criticisms were not overly concerned with factual accuracy. On the other hand, Muslim criticisms of Christians and Christianity exempt Jesus, considered a prophet, from attack. What struck me most in doing this research was the post-Enlightenment trend to compare all “founders” of religion as instances of a larger phenomenon and, more recently, to focus on the creative spiritual lives of Muhammad, Jesus, and the Buddha.

How will your book help readers to appreciate the enormous diversity of Muslim accounts of Muhammad’s life?

Muslim authors in every genre have written about Muhammad. Qur’anic commentators and jurists use examples from his life to explain otherwise obscure scriptural passages or argue in favor of particular rules. Ethicists give advice based on his conduct and precepts. Mystics derive elaborate symbolism from his Night Journey and Ascension. These ways of talking and thinking about Muhammad continue to resonate, and of course veneration of Muhammad remains central to many Muslims’ piety. Yet on the whole, even as they differ in their approaches and emphases, most modern biographers downplay spiritual and miraculous elements of Muhammad’s life in favor of arguments about the benefits to humanity of Muhammad’s mission. Instead of Muhammad, beloved of God, we have Muhammad the consummate leader, Muhammad the ideal husband, or Muhammad the social reformer. In some cases it is impossible to discern from the contents or tone whether a biography is written by a Muslim or a non-Muslim, since the criteria for evaluating what makes a life matter are largely shared.

Could you give some examples of medieval polemics against Muhammad and Islam?

Medieval authors were unhampered by the idea that they had to be fair or objective, or that they had to base accusations on trustworthy documentation. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim writers alike used bodily processes—digestion, elimination, sex, death—to evoke disgust. Thus, in polemical texts Muhammad died of drink, or poison, or even (mixing sex and death) was murdered by a husband he cuckolded, after which his putrefying corpse was devoured by unclean animals. Another theme was the falsity of his revelation: he faked his miracles, or was possessed by demons, or suffered from epilepsy. In some versions, which gained prominence with the early modern emphasis on Muhammad’s deliberate imposture, he invented the story of revelation to explain his epileptic seizures so that the wealthy widow Khadija would marry him anyway.

Do today’s critics of Islam echo the same themes from the medieval past?

Sex and violence are perennial themes for hostile biographers of Muhammad. Critics have insisted that Muhammad used violence too easily, and that Islam spread by the sword – which we know to be seldom the case. Many of these accusations emerged from the need to explain the “enemy’s” worldly success: If God is on your side, why have you lost territory? As for sex, accusing one’s enemies of sexual misconduct is a time-honored tradition. What’s striking is not that this continues to be a theme but rather how the accusations have changed. For medieval and early modern critics, it was Muhammad’s general debauchery and lustfulness that were problematic. For nineteenth century Christian authors, it was his polygamy and oppressiveness to women. In the late twentieth century, Aisha’s age became the focus of criticism. In other words, the fears authors project onto Others have changed radically over time.

How does your book challenge “a timeless clash between Islam and the West”?

There is nothing timeless about the content of accusations directed at Muhammad. What is positive about him in the eyes of his adherents has also changed: rather than his closeness to the Divine, it is the success of his worldly mission that is lauded. And there is not now, nor has there ever been, a neat civilizational divide between a unified Christianity on one side and Islam on the other. To take just one example of intra-Christian division, Protestant polemics often linked Muhammad and the Pope, using the connection to Islam to denigrate Catholics. (ex. Jonas Otterbeck, “The Depiction of Islam in Sweden: An Historical Overview.”) Or, a slightly different point: non-Muslim doesn’t necessarily mean Western. In the complex religious scene of nineteenth century India, emerging Hindu religious identity was a key context for the formation of Indian Muslim ideas about Muhammad.

Could you recommend a few biographies of Muhammad by contemporary authors?

I like Eliot Weinberger’s spare Muhammad (2006), which reports the miraculous in a matter-of-fact tone. Lesley Hazelton’s The First Muslim (2014) is a readable, politically-oriented account. Tariq Ramadan’s In the Footsteps of the Prophet (2009) is devotional and thematic. Though the English translation is out of print and hard to find, The Wives of Muhammad by early twentieth-century Egyptian scholar Aisha ‘Abd al-Rahman is a useful counterpoint to Muhammad Husayn Haykal’s more widely read biography The Life of Muhammad (2005). Omid Safi’s Memories of Muhammad (2010), Tarif Khalidi’s Images of Muhammad (2009), and Marion Holmes Katz’s The Birth of the Prophet Muhammad (2007) combine biographical narrative with exploration of Muslim thinking about Muhammad across time and place. Michael Cook’s Muhammad (1983) gives a flavor of the trouble one will have in trying to write a life of Muhammad. Finally, though it’s not a biography, Jonathan Brockopp’s edited Cambridge Companion to Muhammad (2010) is scholarly but accessible, and a good place to start for those interested in the full range of approaches to Muhammad’s life.


Joseph Richard Preville is Assistant Professor of English at Alfaisal University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. His work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Tikkun, The Jerusalem Post, Muscat Daily, Saudi Gazette, and Turkey Agenda. He is also a regular contributor to ISLAMiCommentary.

Julie Poucher Harbin is Editor of ISLAMiCommentary

This article was made possible (in part) by the Transcultural Islam Project, an initiative launched in 2011 by the Duke Islamic Studies Center — in partnership with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies — aimed at deepening understanding of Islam and Muslim communities. See and for more information. The Transcultural Islam Project is funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author(s).

Mirrored from IslamiCOMMENTARY

The end of National Sovereignty in the Middle East? Iraqi Kurdistan sends troops into Syria

Wed, 22 Oct 2014 - 11:05pm

By Juan Cole:

Al-Manar reports that the legislature of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (a super-province of Iraq) has voted to send Kurdistan forces to the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobane to help it fight off a concerted attack by ISIL. The vote opens the way for Iraqi Kurdistan to intervene in the Syrian civil war. Turkey is alleged to have agreed to let the Peshmerga cross Turkish territory which is quite remarkable.

I am linking to the al-Manar article on all this because it is the organ in Lebanon of Hizbullah, the Shiite party-militia that has also intervened in the Syrian civil war, on the side of the government of Bashar al-Assad.

One of the peculiarities of Syria is that it is seeing paramilitaries of sub-state governments getting involved in its war.

Does this development tell us something about the contemporary Middle East? In global law since the Peace of Westphalia, states are supposed to rule specific territories and to be inviolable in those territories. Max Weber, writing in the early 20th century, saw the state as having a monopoly on the use of force.

But in Lebanon the government and its military are dominant only at the national level, whereas Hizbullah is recognized as the national guard of the south of the country (to forestall further Israeli occupations.) Hizbullah intervened in Syria at Qusayr, without any consent from the Lebanese government.

Likewise, the Iraqi constitution recognizes Kurdistan as nearly autonomous (but not quite). It has its own armed forces, the Peshmerga, and it forbids central Iraqi government troops from setting foot on the soil of Kurdistan. Now the Kurdistan paramilitary plans to fight in a hot war in a neighboring country, with no authorization from the Iraqi government.

Moreover, there are multiple layers of governance in Syria itself, such that these sub-state interventions are even possible.

So the states of the Middle East have substates, and these substates are semi-autonomous in their international decision-making, and are virtually autonomous in their military interventions.

It would be like Montana sending National Guard units over into Canada to stop a feud there.

National sovereignty is severely challenged in the region today, with semi-autonomous regions and even political entities fighting in other countries’ civil conflicts.


Reuters: “Homesick and horrified – Syrian Kurds watch Kobani burn”

Top 4 Things we can learn from War on Terror in “War on Ebola”

Tue, 21 Oct 2014 - 11:38pm

By Karen J. Greenberg via

These days, two “wars” are in the headlines: one against the marauding Islamic State and its new caliphate of terror carved out of parts of Iraq and Syria, the other against a marauding disease and potential pandemic, Ebola, spreading across West Africa, with the first cases already reaching the United States and Europe. Both wars seemed to come out of the blue; both were unpredicted by our vast national security apparatus; both have induced fears bordering on hysteria and, in both cases, those fears have been quickly stirredinto the political stew of an American election year.

The pundits and experts are already pontificating about the threat of 9/11-likeattacks on the homeland, fretting about how they might be countered, and in the case of Ebola, raising analogies to the anthrax attacks of 2001. As the medical authorities weigh in, the precedent of 9/11 seems not far from their minds. Meanwhile, Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has tried to calm the country down while openly welcoming “new ideas” in the struggle against the disease. Given the almost instinctive way references and comparisons to terrorism are arising, it’s hard not to worry that any new ideas will turn out to be eerily similar to those that, in the post-9/11 period, defined the war on terror.

The differences between the two “wars” may seem too obvious to belabor, since Ebola is a disease with a medical etiology and scientific remedies, while ISIS is a sentient enemy. Nevertheless, Ebola does seem to mimic some of the characteristics experts long ago assigned to al-Qaeda and its various wannabe and successor outfits. It lurks in the shadows until it strikes. It threatens the safety of civilians across the United States. Its root causes lie in the poverty and squalor of distant countries. Its spread must be stopped at its region of origin — in this case, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in West Africa — just as both the Bush and Obama administrations were convinced that the fight against al-Qaeda had to be taken militarily to the backlands of the planet from Pakistan’s tribal borderlands to Yemen’s rural areas.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised then that, while President Obama was sending at least 1,600 military personnel (and the drones and bombers) to fight ISIS, his first response to the Ebola crisis was also to send 3,000 troops into Liberia in what the media has been calling an “Ebola surge” (a reflexive nod to the American troop “surge” in Iraq in 2007). The Obama administration’s second act: to beef up border protections for the screening of people entering the United States (a move whose efficacy has been questioned by some medical experts), just as the authorities moved swiftly in the wake of 9/11 to turn airports and borders into massive security zones. The third act was to begin to trace points of contact for those with Ebola, which, while logical and necessary, eerily mimics the way the national security state began to build a picture of terror networks, establish watch lists, and the like.

The next step under consideration for those who might have been exposed to Ebola, quarantine (that is, detention), is controversial among medical experts, but should similarly remind us of where the war on terror went after 9/11: to Guantanamo. As if the playbook for the post-9/11 response to terrorism were indeed the playbook for Ebola, Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy, questioning Dr. Frieden, noted that, without putting policies of surveillance, containment, and quarantine in place, “we still have a risk.”

While any of these steps individually may prove sensible, the ease with which non-medical authorities seem to be falling into a familiar war on terror-style response to the disease should be examined — and quickly. If it becomes the default template for Ebola and the country ends up marching down the road to “war” against a disease, matters could be made so much worse.

So perhaps it’s time to refresh our memories about that war on terror template and offer four cautionary lessons about a road that should never be taken again, not in developing a policy against the latest non-state actors, nor in pursuit of the containment of a disease.

Lesson One: Don’t turn the “war” on Ebola into another set of programs that reflect the national security establishment’s well-developed reliance on intelligence, surveillance, and the military. Looking, for instance, for people complaining about Ebola-like symptoms in private or searching the metadata of citizens for calls to doctors would be a fool’s errand, the equivalent of finding needles in a field full of haystacks.

And keep in mind that, as far as we can tell, from 9/11 on, despite the overblown claims of its adherents, the surveillance system they constructed has regularly failed to work as promised. It did not, for instance, stop the Shoe Bomber, the Times Square bomber, or the Boston Marathon bombers. Nor did the intelligence authorities, despite all the money invested since 9/11, prevent the Benghazi attack or the killing of seven CIA agents by a suicide bomber believed to be an American double agent in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009, or predict the rise of ISIS for that matter. Similarly, it is hard to imagine how the usual military might, from drones and special ops teams to those much-discussed boots on the ground, will help solve the problem of Ebola.

In the post-9/11 era, military solutions have often prevailed, no matter the problem at hand. Yet, at the end of the day, from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to the air operation in Libya to the CIA’s drone campaigns across tribal backlands, just about no militarized solution has led to anything approximating victory — and the new war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is already following the same dismal pattern. Against a virus, the U.S. military is likely to be even less successful at anything more than aiding health workers and officials in disease-ridden areas.

The tools that the national security state has relied on in its war on terror not only didn’t work then (and are highly unlikely to work when it comes to the present Middle Eastern conflict either), but applied to Ebola would undoubtedly prove catastrophic. And yet — count on it — they will also prove irresistible in the face of fear of that disease. They are what the government knows how to do even if, in the war on terror itself, they created a vulnerability so much greater than the sum of its parts, helped foster the growth of jihadist movements globally, and eroded the sense of trust that existed between the government and the American people.

Lesson Two: Keep public health professionals in charge of what needs to be done. All too often in the war on terror, professionals with areas of expertise were cast aside by the security establishment. The judicial system, for instance, was left in the lurch when it came to dealing with accused al-Qaeda operatives, while the expertise of those who found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002-2003 was ignored.

Only by trusting our medical professionals will we avoid turning the campaign against Ebola over to the influence of the security state. And only by refusing to militarize the potential crisis, as so many others were in the post-9/11 era, will we avoid the usual set of ensuing disasters. The key thing here is to keep the Ebola struggle a primarily civilian one. The more it is left in the hands of doctors and public health experts who know the disease and understand what it means practically to commit the government to keeping people as safe as possible from the spread of the virus, the better.

Lesson Three: Don’t cloak the response to Ebola in secrecy. The architects of the war on terror invoked secrecy as one of the prime pillars of their new state of being. From the beginning, the Bush administration cavalierly hid its policies under a shroud of secrecy, claiming that national security demanded that information about what the government was doing should be kept from the American people for their own “safety.” Although Barack Obama entered the Oval Office proclaiming a “sunshine” presidency, his administration has acted ever more fiercely to keep the actions of both the White House and the national security state under wraps, including, to mention just two examples, its justifications for policies surrounding its drone assassination campaignsand the extent of its warrantless surveillance programs.

As it happened, that wall of secrecy proved endlessly breachable, as leakscame flooding out of that world. Nonetheless, the urge to recreate such a state of secrecy elsewhere may be all too tempting. Don’t be surprised if the war on Ebola heads into the shadows, too — and that’s the last thing the country needs or deserves when it comes to a public health crisis. To date, with medical professionals still at the forefront of those dealing publicly with Ebola, this impulse has yet to truly rise to the surface. Under their aegis, information about the first Ebola cases to reach this country and the problems involved hasn’t disappeared behind a cloak of secrecy, but don’t count on transparency lasting if things get worse. Yet keeping important facts about a potential pandemic under wraps is guaranteed to lead to panic and a rapid deterioration of trust between Americans and their government, a relationship already sorely tested in the war on terror years.

Realistically, secrecy and allied tools of the trade would represent a particularly inauspicious starting point for launching a counter-Ebola strategy at a time when it would be crucial for Americans to know about failures as well as successes. Outbreaks of panic enveloped in hysteria wrapped in ignorance are no way to stop a disease from spreading.

Lesson Four: Don’t apply the “black site” approach to Ebola. The war on terror was marked by the creation of special prisons or “black sites” beyond the reach of the U.S. justice system for the detention (in the case of Ebola think: isolation and quarantine) of terrorist suspects, places where anything went. There can, of course, be no question that Ebola patients, once diagnosed with the disease, need to be isolated. Protective gear and isolation units are already being used in treating cases here.

The larger issue of quarantine, however, looms as potentially the first major public policy debate of the Ebola era. Keep an eye on this. After all, quarantine-style thinking is already imprinted in the government’s way of life, thanks to the war on terror, so moving toward quarantines will seem natural to its officials.

Quarantine is a phenomenon feared by civil libertarians and others as an overreaction that will prove ineffective when it comes to the spread of the disease. It stands to punish individuals for their associations, however inadvertent, rather than dealing with them when they actually display signs of the disease. To many, though, it will seem like a quick-fix solution, the Ebola counterpart to Guantanamo, a facility for those who were deemed potential carriers of the disease of terrorism.

The fears a threat of massive quarantines can raise will only make things harder for health officials. So, too, will increasing calls for travel bans for those coming from West African countries, a suggestion reminiscent of sweeping police profiling policies that target groups rather than individuals. Avoiding such bans is not just a matter of preserving civil liberties, but a safety issue as well. Fears of broad quarantines and blanket travel bans could potentially lead affected individuals to become far more secretive about sharing information on the disease and far more deceptive in their travel planning. It could, that is, spread, not halt the dissemination of Ebola. As Thomas Frieden of the CDC argues, “Right now we know who’s coming in. If we try to eliminate travel, the possibility that some will travel over land, will come from other places, and we don’t know that they’re coming in will mean that we won’t be able to do multiple things. We won’t be able to check them for fever when they leave. We won’t be able to check them for fever when they arrive. We won’t be able, as we do currently, to take a detailed history to see if they were exposed when they arrive.” In other words, an overly aggressive reaction could actually make medical deterrence exponentially more difficult.

The United States is about to be tested by a disease in ways that could dovetail remarkably well with the war on terror. In this context, think of Ebola as the universe’s unfair challenge to everything that war bred in our governmental system. As it happens, those things that the U.S. did, often ineffectively and counterproductively, to thwart its enemies, potential enemies, and even its own citizenry will not be an antidote to this “enemy” either. It, too, may be transnational, originate in fragile states, and affect those who come in contact with it, but it cannot be stopped by the methods of the national security state.

Countering Ebola will require a whole new set of protections and priorities, which should emerge from the medical and public health communities. The now sadly underfunded National Institutes of Health and other such organizations have been looking at possible pandemic situations for years. It is imperative that our officials heed the lessons of their research as they have failed to do many times over with their counterparts in public policy in the war on terror years. To once again invoke the powers of the state to address fantasies and fears rather than the realities of a spreading disease would be to recklessly taunt the fates.

Karen J. Greenberg is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, the author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First One Hundred Days, a TomDispatch regular, and the editor-in-chief of the Morning Brief, a daily round-up of national security news. CNS Legal Fellow Kevin Garnett helped research this article.

Copyright 2014 Karen J. Greenberg

Mirrored from


The Young Turks: “Panic Over Ebola Outbreak Goes Viral In America”

The momentum to recognize a Palestinian State is unstoppable

Tue, 21 Oct 2014 - 11:31pm

By Farhang Jahanpour

Once again, the British Parliament has led the way with an epoch-making decision. On Monday 13 October 2014, British lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favour of recognizing Palestine as a state. With 274 to 12 votes they passed a motion stating: “This House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.”

The Conservative Party’s whips advised the party’s MPs to stay away from the vote. As a result, nearly 90 per cent of the ruling Conservative Party members were absent from the vote. (1)

The Israeli government lobbied actively against the motion. The Zionist Federation of Great Britain, the oldest Zionist federation in the world, launched a campaign calling on British Jews to write letters to their MPs, urging them to oppose the motion. The more mainstream Jewish organizations also joined the campaign.

On the other hand, a number of Jewish MPs spoke eloquently in favour of the motion. The veteran Labour Party MP Gerald Kaufman, supporting the motion, accused Israel of “harming the image of Judaism” and contributing to anti-Semitism. In fact, the motion would not have made it to the floor of the House without the support of the Jewish leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband.

Most of those who spoke in favour of the motion were emphatic about Israel’s right to exist, but they felt that it was time to give the Palestinians the same rights that the Israelis enjoy.

Nearly a hundred years ago, on 2 November 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour issued a short statement that has come to be known as the Balfour Declaration, which set in motion the events that led to the establishment of the state of Israel.

It read: “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

This declaration was of course contrary to the promises that the British Government had made to various Arab leaders that if they joined the war against the Ottoman Empire, the Arabs would be able to establish an Islamic caliphate on all the Arab lands ruled by the Ottomans. The declaration was issued long before the Holocaust and the horrendous persecution of the Jews.

Balfour’s motivation was mainly political. He thought that by so doing he would appeal to President Woodrow Wilson and his two closest advisors, Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter, who were avid Zionists. His other motive was that supporting the Zionists would appeal to Jews in Germany and America and help the war effort.

Lloyd George who was the prime minister at the time of the Declaration testified before the Palestine Royal Commission, saying: “The Zionist leaders gave us a definite promise that, if the Allies committed themselves to giving facilities for the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, they would do their best to rally Jewish sentiment and support throughout the world to the Allied cause. They kept their word” (2)

In his Memoirs, Lloyd George further elucidated his position: “The Balfour Declaration represented the convinced policy of all parties in our country and also in America, but the launching of it in 1917 was due, as I have said, to propagandist reasons… The Zionist Movement was exceptionally strong in Russia and America… It was believed, also, that such a declaration would have a potent influence upon world Jewry outside Russia, and secure for the Entente the aid of Jewish financial interests. In America, their aid in this respect would have a special value when the Allies had almost exhausted the gold and marketable securities available for American purchases. Such were the chief considerations which, in 1917, impelled the British Government towards making a contract with Jewry.” (3)

Of course, at the time, the Jews constituted a small minority of the inhabitants of Palestine. A British census of 1918 estimated that there were 700,000 Arabs and only 56,000 Jews in Palestine. The Jewish population had in fact grown since the beginning of the 20th century, as in the 19th century the Jews constituted only about 4% of the population.

After World War I, the United Kingdom was given a Mandate by the League of Nations over Palestine. On 29 November 1947, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the adoption and implementation of Resolution 181, proposing the partition of Palestine between Arabs and Jews. The land allocated to the Arab State included about 43% of Mandatory Palestine, while 56% was given to the Jews, despite the fact that at the time of the partition the Jews constituted only 33% of the population. According to a Survey of Palestine prepared in December 1945 there were 1,076,780 Muslims (58% of the total population), 608,230 Jews (33%), and 145,060 Christians (9%). (4)

In other words, a third of the population was given 56% of the best parts of the land on the Mediterranean coast, while the other two-thirds who constituted the original inhabitants of the land had to be content with 43% of their own land. One per cent of the land was set aside as a special zone for the international city of Jerusalem.

It is clear that the Palestinians, who held the overwhelming majority in Palestine and who had not been consulted over the allocation of their land to some newcomers, opposed the resolution.

It is important to point out that the resolution passed with a relatively small majority of 33 votes in favor, 13 against and 10 abstentions. The resolution was never taken to the Security Council. It is also noteworthy that Britain, that held the Mandate over Palestine, abstained in the partition vote at the United Nations.

A large number of American Jewish organizations were strongly against the establishment of a Zionist state, as they believed that their interests would be better served in democratic countries in the West, rather than being confined to a new Zionist state.

The American diplomatic establishment was also largely opposed to the resolution. General George C. Marshall, who had acted as chief of staff of the American armed forces during World War II, and who had returned to the government as secretary of state to help the inexperienced former vice president Harry Truman who had become president after the sudden death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, just a month before the Allied victory in Europe and four months before the victory over Japan, and the man who was responsible for the Marshall Plan, was adamantly opposed to the resolution.

Marshall and a majority of diplomats at the UN saw a direct UN trusteeship, succeeding the British mandate, as the only solution to halt the bloodshed. After clashes broke out in Palestine over the planned partition, Marshall urged Truman to reconsider and the State Department urged Truman not to grant diplomatic recognition to the Jewish state. Later on, Marshall resigned over American recognition of Israel.

At midnight on May 14, 1948, the British relinquished control of Palestine, and one minute later the Jewish Agency, under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, proclaimed the new state. President Truman was the first head of state to recognize Israel. Again, his motive for recognition of Israel was mainly political, rather than being based on his love for the Jewish people.

In a 10 November 1945 meeting with American diplomats who had been brought in from their posts in the Middle East to urge Truman not to heed Zionist urgings, Truman bluntly explained his motivation:

“I’m sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism: I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.” (5)

Despite all the political motivations for the establishment of a Jewish homeland, it was only right that after centuries of persecution and especially after the Holocaust the Jews should have a homeland of their own, be free to practice their religion and to live as they wished. However, the other part of that promise, namely the establishment of a Palestinian state on a smaller portion of the Palestinian land, has remained unfulfilled.

On the contrary, after the establishment of the state, Israel has deliberately tried to expand its territory and push the Palestinians out of their lands. Although the Jews had been given a disproportionately large part of Palestine, after the 1948 War with the neighboring Arab countries, Israel’s territorial gains reduced the Palestinian share of the land to only 22%.

In fact, taking over the whole of Palestine had been a Zionist plan from the start.

The Zionist leadership did formally accept the partition plan, but when many Zionist leaders objected, they were persuaded by Ben-Gurion to agree to the official acceptance. However, in several secret meetings Ben-Gurion made it clear that the partition borders were unacceptable and must be rectified at the first opportunity.

The minutes of these meetings reveal the real intentions of Ben-Gurion and the hardline Zionists. (6) In July 1948, Ben-Gurion gave orders for the operations in Lydda and Ramleh: “Expel them!” (7) Some 70% of the Palestinians were expelled from Israel.

Since then, Israeli governments have turned more and more rightwing and the suffering and dispossession of the Palestinians have intensified. There is no need to catalogue all the atrocities committed by both sides during all these years. After the 1967 war, Israel proceeded to occupy the remnant of the Palestinian lands and expanded illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

Various U.N. resolutions have declared those settlements illegal and have called on Israel to return to pre-1967 borders, but most have been vetoed by the United States and ignored by Israel.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice by a 14-1 majority declared illegal the wall built by Israel deep in occupied Palestine, but again the construction of the illegal wall incorporating more Palestinian lands has continued.

Meanwhile, keeping 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza under siege since 2007 is regarded as collective punishment. Furthermore, Israel has attacked Gaza three times in the last six years alone (2008-09, 2012, 2014). In the latest attack, Israel killed more than 2,100 people, the majority of whom were civilians.

The Oslo Accords in 1993 provided a glimmer of hope that the two sides could resolve their differences peacefully and a Palestinian State would be established in the West Bank and Gaza in what constitutes only about 20% of Mandate Palestine, but the so-called “Peace Process” has continued without producing any tangible results for the Palestinians.

In the 2002 Arab League Summit the Arabs offered a new peace plan announcing that all of them would recognize the State of Israel if Israel returned to its pre-1967 borders and if a Palestinian state was established in the occupied territories with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The resolution was later adopted by all the 57 members of the Islamic Cooperation Organization, including Iran, but there has been total silence on the Israeli side regarding that offer.

Seeking recognition

There seems to be no other peaceful path left for the Palestinians but to go through the international organizations and seek recognition from various countries. On 29 November 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to recognize the Palestinian Authority as an observer state. The degree of US and Israeli isolation in the international community was best demonstrated by the overwhelming support given to the resolution, with 138 votes for, nine votes against and 41 abstentions.

With the exception of the United States, Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama and Israel, only the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Micronesia, and Palau voted against that resolution. That resolution passed with a much larger majority of members than the resolution on the Partition Plan that led to the establishment of Israel.

Already 135 countries have recognized Palestine as a state. The list includes Poland before joining the EU. After Sweden recognized Palestine, Ireland has been considering doing so. (8) The recent behavior of Israeli leaders and the moribund peace process have led more and more people to believe that at long last the Palestinians should also be given their rights.

Of course, there are many obstacles on the path of Palestinian statehood, but inaction is not an option.

As Israel has already gobbled up so much Palestinian territory, the two-state solution may already be nonviable and Palestinians may opt to live in a single democratic state made up of Jews and Arabs. Whatever they decide to do, the international community should show support for the end of the longest conflict in recent history.

In the same way that the horrors of the Holocaust pricked the conscience of mankind and led to the Jews being given a state of their own, nearly 70 years of dispossession, statelessness, discrimination, humiliation, killings and apartheid policies must persuade the world to put an end to this dreadful situation.

The continuation of the present situation is not only unfair to the Palestinians, it is also against the long-term interests of Israelis and Jews as a whole. In the words of Sir Alan Duncan, a senior Conservative politician who served as the coalition’s international development minister, in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute following the vote in the House of Commons, “Occupation, annexation, illegality, negligence, complicity: this is a wicked cocktail which brings shame to the government of Israel. It would appear that on the West Bank of the Jordan the rule of international law has been shelved.”

He went on to say: “This illegal construction and habitation is theft, it is annexation, it is a land grab – it is any expression that accurately describes the encroachment which takes from someone else something that is not rightfully owned by the taker. As such it should be called what it is, and not by some euphemistic soft alternative. Settlements are illegal colonies built in someone else’s country. They are an act of theft, and what is more something which is both initiated and supported by the state of Israel.” (9)

The momentum for an end to the conflict is unstoppable. The least that the vote in the British Parliament and the recognition of Palestine by more and more states can do is to embarrass the US Administration, if not Congress, not to veto a Security Council resolution that would establish a viable Palestinian State living side by side with Israel, or one democratic society, giving the Palestinians equal rights and allowing millions of Palestinian refugees to return to their country.

It is time for the entire international community to support this momentum.

1. See Anshel Pfeffer, “U.K. vote: A symbolic gesture to the Palestinians – a red warning light to Israel” Haaretz, 14 October 2014

2. See Sami Hadawi, Bitter Harvest: A Modern History of Palestine, (Olice Branch Press, 1991) p. 14

3. David Lloyd George, Memoirs of the Peace Conference, Volume II, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1939), chapter XXIII, pp. 724-734

4. See A Survey of Palestine: Prepared in December 1945 and January 1946 for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, Institute for Palestine Studies, pp. 12-13. ISBN 0-88728-211-3

5. See Evan M. Wilson, A Calculated Risk: The U.S. Decision to Recognize Israel(Clerisy Press, 2008), p. 126

6. See Uri Avnery, “Sacred Mantras”, CounterPunch, June 28, 2011.

7. See Dominique Vidal, “The Expulsion of the Palestinians Re-examined”, Le Monde Diplomatique, December 1997

8. See Juan Cole, “Will Ireland Recognize Palestine”, October 17, 2014.

9. See: “Alan Duncan Slams Israel’s West Bank ‘Apartheid’ In Fierce Attack” Huffington Post, 14/10/2014.

Farhang Jahanpour


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “UK MPs hold symbolic vote to recognise Palestine”

America didn’t learn the Lessons of Tribes & Counter-Insurgency in Vietnam, Leading to the Iraq Quagmire

Tue, 21 Oct 2014 - 11:28pm

By David Moore

The rise of ISIL, as well as the resurgence of the Taliban, has brought numerous “experts” out to offer analyses on the best way to combat these developments. The consensus is to bomb and arm (or re-arm Sunni) groups to fight ISIL. Since I have written a book on insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare in the First and Second Indochina Wars, I feel qualified to point out that my research shows we are on the wrong path for defeating ISIS, the Taliban, or any other insurgency in the future. (The book is based on my 1982 Master’s thesis in anthropology.)

My interest in unconventional warfare stemmed from my service in Vietnam, along with interest and education in the ancient Middle East and anthropology (a multi-disciplinary approach here is important: the first documented counter-insurgency dates to around 1,500 BC, between the Hittite Empire and Kaska tribesmen). Tribesmen have been recruited in history by diverse empires such as Babylonia, Rome and France, a practice that led to some disastrous outcomes for all three. This led me to write an anthropological case study of the effects of insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare on the various tribal groups of Vietnam, from the French involvement to the American. I later published it as “Tribal Soldiers of Vietnam: the Effects of Unconventional Warfare on Tribal Populations.”

In my book, I note that the French discovered in the First Indochina War they were not only fighting the “typical” or “historical” insurgency, i.e. guerrilla war, but a much more complex form of warfare combining politics with unconventional warfare. The signature aspect of this new insurgency, which the French considered the key aspect of modern insurgency, was labeled “parallel hierarchies.” Simply put, the insurgency establishes an effective parallel government and social services, mimicking the ineffective government offices in contested tribal areas. The French ultimately published in 1957 a landmark—but much ignored—study in the magazine Revue Militaire d’Information devoted entirely to the parallel hierarchies.

One way I described the two competing forms of warfare was through the formula RW = (GW + PW), meaning revolutionary (insurgency) warfare was a close combination of guerrilla warfare married to political warfare. The North Vietnamese set up efficient parallel services of courts, social services, military, etc. I wrote the formula for Western counter-insurgency as COIN = (GW) + (PW). Lacking an effective central government and incorruptible bureaucrats, not to mention lacking the will to create one, the quick Western fix was to hire local warlords while leaving their often brutal mechanism for control intact. These warlords supplied their own version of “anti-communism,” telling Western military and political leaders what they wanted to hear while pursuing their own agendas, oftentimes counterproductive by driving their victims into the insurgency.
The expedient use by the US military of warlord armies to fight these insurgents, in my opinion, was a foreseeable catastrophe.

The explosion of armed gangs extorting villages and individuals in Iraq and Afghanistan was not a surprise for anyone familiar with counter-insurgency in Vietnam. As I showed in my book, the growth of armed groups demanding “protection,” “taxes,” etc., is directly related to the standard recruiting and training practices of Western militaries.

Conversely, using the communist model employing parallel hierarchies, insurgencies co-opt and absorb through politics. Politics and religion can overcome tribalism, but US counter-insurgency doctrine (especially in the Middle East) has only further entrenched tribal animosities, sectarianism and chaos. As I showed in my book, left to their own devices, tribal minorities may unite for a united political end, such as independence.

In conclusion, the ability of parallel hierarchies and insurgencies to undermine ineffective and corrupt government authority should never be underestimated. It is also my opinion that, in the case of the Taliban and others in the Middle East, religion easily replaced the communist secularist political world view. One can indeed see the effective use of parallel hierarchies in the Middle East beyond the Taliban for a variety of groups to first achieve legitimacy—and ultimately supremacy. In Lebanon, for instance, Hezbollah provides better hospitals and services at a fraction of the cost. Hamas was also able to establish hospitals and schools as an alternative to the extremely corrupt PLO cronyism of Arafat.

Wherever corruption and bribery flourish in a Western-supported government, so will the parallel hierarchies, eventually undermining, delegitimizing, and finally replacing the “government.” Furthermore, the US has an uphill political battle before it, since its heavy-handed resort to drones and to hiring what amount to ex-military contract killers, has delegitimized it in the eyes of many Iraqis and Afghans. The refusal of American administrations to learn the real lessons of insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare from Vietnam has directly spawned the current (and future) chaos in the Middle East.

David Moore is author of Tribal Soldiers of Vietnam: The Effects of Unconventional Warfare on Tribal Populations


Related video added by Juan Cole

United States Institute of Peace: “Tribal Societies & Counterterrorism in Pakistan”

Israeli Squatters Sabotage Palestinian Wells in Jordan Valley

Mon, 20 Oct 2014 - 11:57pm

JERICHO (Ma’an) — Dozens of Israeli settlers damaged wells belonging to Palestinians in the Khirbet Samra area of the Jordan Valley, a local official said Wednesday.

Aref Daraghma, the head of a local village council, told Ma’an that dozens of Israeli settlers who gathered to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot damaged more than seven wells in the al-Malah area of Khirbet Samra.

The covers of the wells were damaged, and parts of some of the wells were “destroyed,” Daraghma said.

He said the settlers’ actions were meant to pressure Palestinian residents to leave the area.

The Jordan Valley is within the 61 percent of the occupied West Bank it is under full Israeli military control as “Area C.”

Area C comprises the only contiguous piece of land connecting 227 Palestinian residential communities in areas A and B as well as about 150,000 Palestinian residents.

More than 500,000 Israeli settlers live in settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in contravention of international law.

Every year there are dozens of attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians and their property in the occupied West Bank, but such crimes are rarely prosecuted by Israeli authorities.

Mirrored from Ma’an News Agency


Press TV from last winter: “A new UN report reveals the extent of Israeli settlers’ violence against Palestinians ”

Iraqi Sunnis to ISIL, US Coalition: A Pox on Both your Houses

Mon, 20 Oct 2014 - 11:36pm

Sunni Muslim Militias Decide They Won’t Fight With IS – or The US Alliance

By Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | via

It is clear to both the current Iraqi government, to the US government and to international and local analysts and observers that it is going to take more than aerial bombardment to weed members of the Sunni Muslim extremist group, the Islamic State, out of Iraq.

In order to definitively defeat the Islamic State, or IS, group, they need moderate Sunni Muslims in Iraq to support their fight against IS – often because they are the ones living inside the cities controlled by the IS group.

Attempts were recently made to convince moderate Sunni Muslims, and their armed factions, to join the fight against the IS group during negotiations held in Amman, Jordan, and in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Unfortunately these negotiations were mostly unsuccessful.

A source at the US embassy in Baghdad told NIQASH that there had been secret negotiations taking place between various Sunni Muslim armed factions, via Arab and Iraqi Kurdish intermediaries, for the past three months. At the request of US diplomats and military personnel, officials from the Iraqi government have been meeting with the leaders of these groups in Erbil and Amman.

US military man, General John Allen – officially the US’ Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter IS – had been trying to contact the tribal factions and leaders who were his friends and allies when he was a soldier in Anbar, the source said. Allen was also the brains behind Iraq’s “Awakening Movement”, a group of Sunni Muslim fighters, funded and formed by the US government, to get Al Qaeda out of their hometowns, post 2003.


“But it was surprising,” the source said. “Most of them [General Allen's former allies] refused to cooperate with us. And some of them are actually now living outside of Iraq because of the previous Iraqi government’s policies.”

There are six of what might be considered more or less moderate Sunni Muslim armed factions – and it should be noted that some are only moderate in comparison with the IS group – in Iraq’s Sunni Muslim-majority regions. These are the Islamic Army in Iraq, the Mujahideen Army or Jaysh al-Mujahideen, the Jaysh al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia militia also known as the Naqshbandi Army, the 1920s Revolution Brigades, Ansar al-Islam and the biggest of these groups, the Military Council of Iraqi Tribal Revolutionaries.


When the IS group took control of certain Sunni Muslim-majority areas in Iraq, long running disputes with, and locals’ anger towards, the Shiite Muslim-led government in Baghdad meant that at first, the IS fighters were welcomed. Many locals in these areas saw them as liberators from the Iraqi army – which was heavily Shiite Muslim and which Sunni locals had accused of treating them unfairly, beating, imprisoning and arresting them – and basically “occupying” the Sunni-majority areas.

For both the locals, the various Sunni Muslim armed factions and the IS group, there was a common enemy: the government in Baghdad.

After several months in charge though, the IS leadership started making demands of the other Sunni Muslim groups, who had helped them seize control of some of the Iraqi cities: pledge allegiance to us or be considered an enemy. Many of the Sunni Muslim militias refused to do this – perhaps partially because, there were some major ideological differences.

For example, the Naqshbandi Army is led by former military officers who served under Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and who most likely subscribed to the nationalist, Arabist, secular doctrine of Hussein’s Baath political party. They were the opposites of those most likely to impose Sharia, or religious, law.

At this stage conflict began to arise between the IS group and some of their alleged allies. Members of the militias have staged assassinations of IS fighters in Anbar province, in Mosul and in Kirkuk. The IS group recognised the danger and cracked down hard on dissent, arresting some of the Sunni militias’ senior leaders in places like Hawija.

“But defeating the IS group is going to be impossible without the support of more moderate Sunni Muslim factions,” Rashid al-Samarrai, a local security expert told NIQASH. “These factions have excellent relationships with the general population, their members are well trained and they know far more about the movements of IS fighters than the Iraqi government or the international alliance.”

However there are problems – these Sunni Muslim groups don’t have the weaponry to tackle the IS group by themselves. At the same time they are fearful about cooperating with the new government in Baghdad. Again it is led by a mostly Shiite Muslim coalition and a Shiite Muslim Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, and they fear that history will repeat itself and the government will betray them, in the same way it betrayed members of the aforementioned Awakening movement, which General Allen helped create.

Although the Awakening troops were supposed to be incorporated into the Iraqi army proper, this never really happened and the former fighters were left unpaid and in limbo.


The leaders of these kinds of Sunni Muslim factions have been avoiding public exposure, shying away from official media appearances. But if one knows who they are, their movements can be seen online, on social media like Facebook and other websites. Usually they write that they are against murder and random violence and that they oppose the IS group.

One of the leaders from the 1920s Revolution Brigades says that the various Sunni Muslim militias hold meetings to coordinate their activities and their positions. “The latest decision was not to support the international alliance against the IS group. But they also decided not to cooperate with IS either,” Mohammed al-Sawbaei, a senior member of the 1920s Revolution Brigades, told NIQASH. “If the army or the militias attack the areas they control though, they will fight both groups.”

The most strategic areas controlled by Sunni Muslim militias border on Baghdad to the north, west and south. While the Sunni Muslim militias say they are only acting in a defensive role at the moment, the IS group is certainly attacking the Iraqi army and Shiite Muslim militias in those areas.

“We are against the acts of the hardline Islamic State. And we are also against bombed cars exploding randomly in Baghdad,” Abu Samir al-Jumaili, one of the Mujahideen Army’s leaders in the Anbar province, told NIQASH. “However we are also opposed to the government’s sectarian policies against Sunnis.”

Al-Jumaili explained that groups like his are trapped between two difficult choices: support the IS group, or support the Shiite-led government. Which is why groups like his are remaining relatively quiet and staying as neutral as they can.

“Our Sunni cities have been destroyed because of the IS group and because of the government,” al-Jumaili said. “We want to rebuild them and our lives but this is complicated. In 2006 we cooperated with the government to expel Al Qaeda from Sunni cities but the government did not keep its end of the bargain. They chased our leaders and arrested us. However the issue of allying ourselves with the IS group is out of the question too, as we are all opposed to them.”

“The government should withdraw Shiite Muslim militias from our [Sunni Muslim] cities, stop its random shelling of innocent people, compensate people for the damage done to them, bring the displaced people back to their cities and withdraw its army outside Sunni cities,” al-Sawbaei presents his admittedly difficult wish list for joining an anti-IS alliance.

The new government in Baghdad has tried to meet some of these conditions – but it has found it difficult to carry out promises like stopping shelling of civilian areas (these were halted, then resumed) and to force Shiite Muslim militias to withdraw from Sunni Muslim areas (the militias are not under government orders). This has left a bad impression on Sunni Muslim militias who feel they cannot trust the government, al-Sawbaei notes.

“The IS group are terrorists but so are the Shiite Muslim militias,” he told NIQASH. “Yet the government wants us to support these militias against the IS group. That’s illogical. Realities on the ground mean that Sunnis end up supporting Sunnis – which is what the IS group is – and fighting against Shiite factions.”

Sunni Muslim areas have become battlegrounds, the two militia leaders, al-Sawbaei and al-Jumaili, say. Thousands have been displaced and buildings have become rubble. And as they see it currently, there seems to be no solution to this ongoing disaster. So they are looking after their own and remaining neutral.

Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole

Iraq: Shia & Sunni divisions – BBC News

“Don’t Send these Climate Denying Poll-Cats back to Congress: Send them back to Science Class” – Jesse Ventura

Mon, 20 Oct 2014 - 11:32pm

Jesse Ventura “Off The Grid”

“Don’t send these Poll-cats back to Congress. Send them back to science class!” Today, Jesse Ventura runs down three of the top Washington republicans, who are screwing up our planet with their anti-science views. Who will make the list? Watch #OffTheGrid today to find out! Got a question for the Governor?

Jesse Ventura: Top 3 Climate Change Deniers Up for Re-election | Jesse Ventura Off The Grid – Ora TV