Post 9/11 Potato Salad

Does anyone remember the War in Iraq? The Weapons of Mass Destruction? The invasion in 2003 with nearly everyone’s support? The War in Iraq and then subsequent war in Afghanistan was like a 4th of July party that starts out fun but ends with everyone getting food poisoning from the warm potato salad. We were fired up, we wanted revenge for 9/11, we wanted any excuse to right the wrongs. We got emotional. We didn’t look at all the facts. We jumped in blind holding George Bush’s hand. Eventually we would learn that shooting a hornets nest doesn’t get rid of a dangerous problem but rather makes it far worse. We are yet again repeating these mistakes with rhetoric following the Orlando shooting. There is fear against Muslims, ISIS, radical Islam, terrorists, and future attacks in general. Emotions are getting the best of us and leading us to irrational solutions: prevent all Muslims from entering the country, prosecute neighbors who do not call in suspicious behavior, patrol neighborhoods of Muslim-Americans, etc. How will these measures affect human behavior? They will divide Muslims and Non-Muslims even further. They will tell young Muslim-Americans that they cannot be trusted. They will create an “Us vs Them” mentality in targeted neighborhoods-decreasing the likelihood of sharing information. They will foster hatred, anger, and resentment in high risk individuals who are prone to “Lone-Wolf” attacks. They will shake the hornets nest and release even more dangers for America.

As I have previously written, ISIS does not practice anything close to Islam. It is like saying the white-supremacist Dylann Roof, who killed 9 people in a church last year in Charleston, practices Christianity. After that attack we did not bunch all Christians with Dylann Roof; and yes white-supremacists do use the Holy Bible and radical protestant views regularly in their zeitgeist of beliefs. There are over 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. According to the FBI, between 1980-2005, 94% of terrorist attacks in US were committed by NON-MUSLIMS (Source). During that same time period there were more Jewish terror attacks then Muslim terror attacks. Why don’t we ban all the Jews from coming into the country? Nazi Germany anyone? The reason these facts elude us is that most people get their information from the news. The news loves flaming our emotions and nothing gets us more scared or mad then the headline-RADICAL-ISIS-MUSLIM-TERRORIST KILLS AMERICANS!!! Since 9/11 less than 0.0002% of Americans were killed by Muslims (Source); you have a better chance of dying from your TV crushing you while watching FOX News. If we are going to group all Muslims with terrorists then we should group all Christians with members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

So what is the solution? I know that disenfranchising people and stereotyping whole religions will never bring about positive change. I know that jumping into policies based on emotions will never reap the desired results. I know that human nature is predictable and targeting people will make them more likely to fight back. Let’s take a lesson from our current involvement with fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. We are involving the Muslims in the area and empowering them to fight their enemy. The Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites are all helping fight this terror group with US assistance. They are actually winning the battle and will have the proper infrastructure to fight ISIS in the future. Funny how partnering with Muslims is showing positive outcomes. Partnership is our only way of winning this war. ISIS wants us to fight them (see my previous posts below) and would love a hot head like Trump to be president. Trump would be there number one recruiting tool. Remember the past so we don’t have to repeat another Post 9/11 Potato Salad.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Part 1 of 3

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Part 2 of 3

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Part 3 of 3

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Part 3 of 3

How can we defeat ISIS? With what we know about ISIS and their beliefs there are a few things that we should definitely not attempt. The biggest mistake the United States could do is to reoccupy Iraq/Syria with a large ground force. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 and subsequent occupation thereafter, was a well-spring for jihadists and terrorist attacks. Don’t repeat those mistakes again! Occupying Iraq would increase ISIS’s recruits and may even cause a new terrorist group to materialize. President Obama realizes this and has said that the proposed strategy to fight ISIS should entail increased air strikes, increased special force missions, and increased training for the Iraqi military. Remember, ISIS wants a US occupation in the Middle East because their apocalyptic prophecies predict battles in certain areas. A major strategy we should implement is facilitating the Muslim community to fight ISIS and its ideology. Let’s ask Muslim countries what they need from us instead of us telling them what to do. ISIS is not just a problem for the “West” but all of Islamdom because they want to create sectarian war and kill Muslims who do not believe their twisted theology. A second major strategy is to target ISIS’s means of sending propaganda through the internet. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube should create algorithms and search mechanisms that flag all terrorist oriented information. These sites already do this with pornography and certain graphic material so it would be technological feasible.  Social media is closing ISIS accounts but I believe all media sources need to step up their monitoring. Through decreasing ISIS’s propaganda, there will be much fewer “lone wolves” who commit individual acts of terror.

These strategies are the immediate ways to fight ISIS but we need to think about the big picture. How is ISIS primarily funded? To put simply, they are funded by oil (which provides them with 1.5 million dollars a day) that is purchased by developed countries. Let’s cut off their funding by decreasing our dependence on oil. How can we do this? Increase subsidies for renewable energy and invest in American infrastructure like we did during the New Deal. Where are we going to get the money for that? Stop subsidizing coal and decrease our military budget (which is the largest in the world by far) since we don’t need to fund expensive ground invasions. If we do this, terrorist groups like ISIS will have far less money and be greatly handicapped in their organizational capabilities. With the funding taken away all ISIS would have left is their radical ideology. How can we prevent people from being radicalized? The best way to do this is by giving them jobs. A young man who believes he can provide for himself and his family will be much less likely to join a radical gang. ISIS’s main recruitment tool is the promise of a well-functioning society for all its members-complete with hospitals, entertainment, libraries, and “jobs.” Of course, to give people jobs there needs to be a non-corrupt government, outside investment, infrastructure, and many other complex variables. These things take time to develop but the US can assist with this through investment (private/public), education, and domestic polices that support income equality. Lastly, what can you do as an individual to fight ISIS? Educate yourself about ISIS, Islam, and the history of the Middle East. Study history and realize how many times we repeat the same mistakes. Don’t group all Muslims as terrorists and think they shouldn’t live in the US. Oddly enough, ignorance is the hotbed that fuels the misinformed policy’s of both ISIS and America-be different…use your brain.

 

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Part 1 of 3

ISIS is front and center in the news and the acronym itself is now synonymous with fear. This terrorist organization is extremely violent, radical, and is responsible for many recent attacks which resulted in a multitude of innocent deaths. Where did ISIS come from? What do they believe? Are they any different then previous terrorist groups? I wanted answers to these questions so I read ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. This book was published prior to the Paris and San Bernardino attacks but it eerily predicted that events like those would occur. Let’s take a journey in time and look back at the birth and development of the worlds most famous terrorist group.

Our journey begins in 2003 when former President George W. Bush commanded the United States military to invade Iraq. Bush said “We’re taking the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we don’t have to face them here at home.” This statement proved to be half true-we brought the fight but instead of decreasing the number of terrorists, the invasion became a lighting rod for jihadists. Before the invasion, Jihadist’s had a difficult time operating in Iraq and were in severe decline after the destruction of al Qaeda’s primary base in Afghanistan. Jihadists used the American presence in Iraq as a recruiting tool and Abu Musab al Suri, the jihad’s most prominent strategist, said that the war in Iraq single-handedly saved the movement. Numbers wise, following the invasion, terrorism within Iraq rose exponentially; “There were 78 terrorist attacks in the first twelve months…in the second twelve months this number nearly quadrupled, to 302 attacks. At the height of the war, in 2007, terrorists claimed 5,425 civilian lives and caused 9,878 injuries.” The US occupation would also rekindle fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims (think different theological beliefs like Protestants and Catholics). This created a civil war and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a little known jihadist who would use this sectarian violence to his advantage. Zarqawi would found Al-Qa‘ida in Iraq (AQI) which was responsible for several attacks on Shiites and Iraqi civilians. Osama bin Laden would chastise Zarqawi for these attacks on fellow Muslims but Zarqawi believed in a very strict interpretation of Takfir. Takfir is the pronouncement of someone as a nonbeliever and gives jihadists the permission to kill subjects as apostate (no longer believers in Muslim). Zarqawi (who hated Shiites) believed that all Muslims which did not support his beliefs were fair game to kill. This radical ideology was beyond al Queda and even bin Laden thought it was crazy.

Zarqawi’s philosophy was influenced by a few key works. The Management of Savagery, which was created by the research and analysis division of al Queda, outlined stages of jihadist struggles: Disruption and Exhaustion (keep the US fighting to destroy its image of invisibility, Management of Savagery (carry out highly visible violence intended to send a message), and Empowerment (establish regions controlled by jihadists to re-create the caliphate). A Call to a Global Islamic Resistance, cited the need for leaderless resistance and effectiveness of lone wolf attacks. Furthermore, it extensively spoke about apocalyptic prophecies (many of which supported Shiite hatred), which needed to be fulfilled.  Zarqawi’s library was seriously twisted but his reign of terror would end in 2006 when the US killed him in a targeted airstrike. The Defense Department would soon post a picture of the Zarqawi’s corpse, which turned him into a martyr, and led the leader of al Queda to post a eulogy in which he encouraged the AQI to establish an Islamic state. Within a few months, a group of AQI insurgents announced the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). The new leader of the ISI was Abu Omar al Baghdadi who was eventually killed in 2010. Enter, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the second leader of ISI and the current leader of ISIS. Stay tuned for more on Baghdadi and the continuation of our fascinating story.

A Buffet of Religion

Happy Easter! Today is the day that Jesus was resurrected from the dead after being crucified for the sins of all mankind. I love learning about religions in a historical context and the differing philosophies are quite fascinating. Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism are the top three religions in the world with an estimated 5 billion followers. The problem with religion is that it is easy to get wrapped up into theological nitpicking. This is why there are so many different types of denominations within a particular religion. Everybody interprets religious texts differently and touts their views as the almighty-most-correct form. This gets tricky especially when eternal life is on the line. People want to be right because they don’t want to burn in hell. The idea of an afterlife is why radical zealots exist and why there has always been wars associated with religious beliefs. If religion was solely a philosophy then no one would care about conversions and cramming their ideology down people’s throats. In particular, Christianity and Islam, requires you to believe in certain things to go to heaven. Ironically, Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe in the exact same God and share much of the same religious texts. The spread of Christianity and Islam destroyed longstanding pagan religions in the pursuit of mass conversions. In Europe, there are no remaining pagan religions that have active practitioners today. In the Middle East however, there are still many religions that never converted to Islam because they were so geographically remote it was difficult for the government to force conversions. Furthermore, these religions survived because they believed in one god which was similar to Islam and hence somewhat acceptable by certain regimes throughout history. I read about these religions in Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East by Gerard Russell. These religions are disappearing because of political unrest, global displacement of followers, westernization, Islamic conversions, and difficulties adhering to beliefs. Below I will summarize some interesting things from each religion.

Mandaeans: Originally from Iraq, this group has been dispersed to several middle eastern countries because of persecution. They believe in John the Baptist and hold baptism to an extremely high regard. They believe John the Baptist did not baptize Jesus and Jesus was actually a deceiver and distrustful person. They share several religious texts with Christians but have differing views when it comes to the Holy Spirit (actually a wicked figure) and the creator of the world. Estimated 60,000-70,000 members.

Yazidis: The Yazidis are mostly Kurdish Iraqis who live in the northern mountainous province of Nineveh. They believe in one god who sent 7 angels to earth to protect it with the most powerful angel being a peacock. The peacock angel is in charge of good and evil and actually fell from god in a similar way that Christians believe Satan fell from God. This similarity has created the myth that Yazidis worship the devil and for this they have been persecuted for centuries. Estimated 860,000-1,020,000 members.

Zoroastrians: At one point in time it was the main religion of the great Persian empire. Members today now are found primarily in Iran. Zoroastrians are believed to be the first religion that believed in a Heaven and Hell, which may have influenced Judaism and Christianity beliefs. Followers believe in morality and that their acts will be judged in the afterlife. Their beliefs are very detailed but mirror the general ideas of a creator with struggles of good and evil. Estimated 2.6 million members.

Druze: The Druze are primarily found in Syria and Lebanon. They are actually very similar to Muslims but they believe in reincarnation and use a different religious text. A quirky thing about the Druze is that their religious beliefs are only known by the educated Druze leaders. This secrecy was probably first put in place because it prevented persecution. It is not uncommon for a proclaimed Druze to have no idea what they believe in. Estimated 1,500,000-2,000,000 members.

Kalasha: The Kalasha are actually polytheists who live in the remote mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They sacrifice animals and celebrate festivals annually in honor to their gods. They believe in mountain fairies and the ability to connect with the spiritual world through mediums. The Kalasha do not believe in monogamy and if a married women is caught having sex with a man other then her husband the man is fined and laughed at by the villagers. Estimated 4,100 members.

These are only 5 of the estimated 4,200 religions in the world. Is there one group that has it all right? Why do we have so many different beliefs? Who is going Heaven? Hell? In the end, I don’t have all the answers and my religious beliefs boil down to what Jesus taught; don’t judge others and just love them-no matter what they believe.