Bob Schwartz

Tag: ISIS

“Afghanistan’s Charlie Chaplin says he aims to make people smile, forget grief”

“His live performances provide respite in a city that routinely gets attacked by Taliban insurgents and suicide bombers, mainly claiming allegiance to Islamic State.”

For those who think that they have troubles in their lives and in their nation, or that laughing doesn’t help, or that one person can’t make a difference, even if just a small and temporary one, for your consideration:

Reuters:

Afghanistan’s Charlie Chaplin says he aims to make people smile, forget grief

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s Charlie Chaplin says he has witnessed suicide attacks, explosions and threats from hardline Islamic militant groups, but is determined to waddle and bumble to fulfill the primary goal of his life.

“It is very simple, I want to give Afghans a reason to smile,” said Karim Asir, a stand-up comedian who performs across the capital Kabul in Chaplin’s trademark oversized shoes, baggy pants, cane and black bowler hat.

Asir, 25, said Chaplin impersonators are found all over the world helping people ignore grief and making them laugh, and he does the same.

Asir’s early years were in Iran, where his family fled after the hardline Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996. There he saw performances of Chaplin on Iranian TV.

After the family returned home, Asir started wearing make-up and recreating Chaplin’s characters in his performances, despite his parent’s apprehensions.

His live performances provide respite in a city that routinely gets attacked by Taliban insurgents and suicide bombers, mainly claiming allegiance to Islamic State.

Asir says he has been threatened by militants who say his performances are un-Islamic. But despite the threats, he performs in public parks, orphanages, private parties and at charity events organized by international aid agencies.

“I want to give my people a chance to forget their problems such as war, conflicts and insecurity in Afghanistan,” he said.

In Kabul, when Asir’s fans surround him to take selfies, he smiles but is constantly worried about attacks.

“I am afraid of getting attacked by a suicide bomber or an explosion but these issues cannot stop me from being Charlie Chaplin,” he said.

Trump Van Winkle

The U.S. just dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb ever on an ISIS target in Afghanistan.

The president apparently believes he can “defeat” ISIS and “win” the war in Afghanistan by dropping really big bombs. The biggest. Sad that no one thought of that before.

A number of times in world situations (and in domestic situations too) it appears that Trump has been completely absent from any discussion, debate or learning for decades. It doesn’t matter, since his opinion, at least until recently, has been based mostly on what he sees and hears on the news and on his emotional gut reaction. And as with most uninformed gut reactions, subject to change at a moment’s notice

Or maybe he’s been asleep. Like Rip Van Winkle, who slept for at least 20 years, only to wake up and discover a strange but more satisfactory world. Maybe one in which he is suddenly president.

What’s in a Name: War with Daesh aka ISIS, ISIL, IS

More than a year ago, I posted twice about the different names being used at the highest levels for the current and very evil movement in the Middle East (here and here).

Rather than clearing that matter up, a new name has just been added to the list: Daesh.

The name Daesh, according to France24, is a “loose acronym” for “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham). The name is commonly used by enemies of ISIS, and it also has many negative undertones, as Daesh sounds similar to the Arabic words Daes (“one who crushes something underfoot”) and Dahes (“one who sows discord”).

I first heard this new name watching the British House of Commons debate the U.K. commitment to the fight. Prime Minister David Cameron kept referring to “Daesh…Daesh”, and it became clear from the context that he was talking about ISIS/ISIL/IS. One MP thanked him for the new vocabulary, pointing out that the BBC had not yet agreed to use the new correct terminology.

This issue of a pathological movement to establish a new Muslim caliphate is a very serious matter. Especially as it involves the possibility not only of more horrific violence, but of the engagement of many nations—including the U.S.—in that fight.

But there is something just slightly ridiculous about world leaders sitting around a table, each one using a different name for the enemy (we now have seven, if you count the full names and the acronyms). Given what happened in Parliament, it is possible to envision such high level global arguments about what to call the enemy and why.

One thing we know from history. If you are having trouble agreeing on the tiniest details, such as the shape of a negotiating table, the chances of reaching some sort of sane, enlightened, and hopefully effective outcome are not that great.

So whatever else, let us plead with politicians around the world, and the media who cover them, to settle on one name. Before somebody comes up with yet another one.

War on ISIS: You Can’t Ask About Boots on the Ground Without Asking About the Draft

No poll about sending ground troops to fight ISIS—or anywhere else—is complete without asking questions about the military draft.

A recent NBC News poll taken after the events in Paris asked:

Would you support or oppose the United States sending additional ground troops to fight ISIS (Islamic militants) in Iraq and Syria?

Strongly support: 33%
Somewhat support: 32%
Somewhat oppose: 18%
Strongly oppose: 13%
DK/NA: 3%

The following questions should be added:

Do you have any family members in the eligible age range for Selective Service registration, between ages 18 and 25?

If a military draft was put in place by Congress, would you support or oppose the United States sending additional ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria?

If your representative in Congress voted in favor of a military draft, would you be more likely or less likely to vote for them in the next election?

(That age range is based on the current requirement for men between 18 and 25 to register with Selective Service. At various times, the draft has covered a much wider range, all the way up to age 45.)

If a military draft was in place, the support for ground troops would likely plummet, if respondents were honest (which they sometimes aren’t). If the mandatory service included women—as it does in Israel, the darling of conservatives—the support number might approach zero. Especially if respondents/voters weren’t sure they could pull strings to get their loved ones out of serving.

Any member of Congress who voted in favor of a military draft, men only or men and women, is almost assured of losing the next election.

This is no way diminishes regard and thanks for the extraordinary valor and service of those who voluntary choose to serve in any military action. This is simply to suggest that those who righteously support such actions in the abstract might have a very different opinion when they, to put it bluntly, crudely and literally, have precious skin in the game.

Defeating ISIS: Lessons from the American and Israeli Wars of Independence

We can’t “defeat” ISIS. Not if that means declaring “victory” over Middle East-based Muslim radicalism and terror.

There are lessons from the American and Israeli Wars of Independence. This isn’t to suggest any moral equivalence comparing those world-changing events to the monstrosity of ISIS. But there are things to learn.

Both Wars of Independence were attempts to upend empire and established order and create a new model (both uprisings, not coincidentally, involving the British). Both were insurgencies by True Believers, one political and economic, one religious. Both are examples of the power of the heart, because the heart not only wants what the heart wants, it will do anything to get what the heart wants. True belief will find a way.

The British thought that their massive and formal force would roll right over the Americans. They did not count on all sorts of stealthy and tricky techniques, on secret communications, on a guerilla war. Mostly, the British didn’t account for the depth of American commitment: hearts and minds and souls. It may not always work that way, but competitions often go, simply, to the side that just wants it more. And that would be the Americans.

The British were never quite sure what they were doing in Palestine. But they did know something about world order and keeping order. Besides, some Brits didn’t much like the Jews anyway. The Zionists believed, literally, that they had God on their side. As far as hearts and minds and souls getting what they want, doing anything to win did mean the occasional act of terror (for example, the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, leaving 96 dead). As far as who wanted it more, the founders of the modern Jewish state not only defeated the British, but turned back all attempts by hate-fueled neighbors to root them out.

In the aftermath of Paris, just as with 9/11 and other recent terrible events, if we keep talking simplistically about “defeating”, “eliminating” or “building American-style democracy”, we are—there’s no other way to say this—fools. We should eliminate and prevent horror, terror and monstrosity wherever and whenever we can. But if we think that the toxic mixture of true belief, grievance and pathology is just going to vanish because we are purer and more powerful, that would be funny if it weren’t so sad and dangerous.

If you don’t think that hearts, minds and souls matter when it comes to extremism, just look at the sorry record of irresolute and wasteful wars when we ignore that. We may feel righteous and superior, and want to vindicate civilization. But that doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility to be smart. Smart about what we face, what we can accomplish and how to accomplish it. So we can do some good, and do less harm.

We Are at War with ISIL but Not at War with ISIS

We are at war with ISIL, the White House has just announced. But only yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry said we are not at war with ISIS.

As mentioned previously there seems to be some confusion about what to call this entity: ISIS, ISIL, or Islamic State.

And that explains it. President Obama is talking about one enemy. John Kerry is talking about another. That is, we are at war with one but not the other.

Seriously, not being able to decide on what to call an enemy is not unimportant. But it pales beside not being clear, within the administration, about whether this is war. And then trying to reconcile it by saying that whether you call it war or not is splitting semantic and legal hairs.

The White House would have been better off pleading confusion about which names the President and the Secretary of State were using.

There is something deeper in this talk about war. The explanation by the White House is that it is just like the “war” against al-Qaeda. There is no mention of the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, or other quasi-metaphorical wars. It isn’t that we haven’t had military conflicts with non-state actors. And Obama was clear in his big speech about the maybe-war: “ISIL is certainly not a state.” It’s just that whenever we do have stateless enemies, things get very confused and confusing.

If you don’t believe me, read our history. Or just watch and wait.

Obama Speech: Is It ISIS, ISIL or IS, and What is a True Religion?

Obama ISIS Speech

This is not a comprehensive review of last night’s speech by President Obama about ISIS/ISIL/IS. But if you asked me to join the millions of reviewers, descriptors that come to mind are lukewarm, vague, uninspiring, insufficiently informative, tactical (the speech, not the plan), and blah-blah-blah.

Here is one paragraph that stuck out, because it reflects two issues that may not get enough attention:

And one of those groups is ISIL — which calls itself the “Islamic State.”

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

What Is the Name of This Enterprise That We Are at War Against?

Is it ISIS, ISIL, or Islamic State? This is much more significant than whether the English transliteration of the name of the Egyptian President was Morsy, Morsi, or Mursi or the Libyan dictator was Gadhafi, Qaddafi, Kadafi, Gaddafi, or Gadafy. This is our new mortal enemy, and besides, all these IS names are in English.

Different nations and different news media have different approaches to this. The BBC, for example, has settled on Islamic State, apparently opting for whatever the organization chooses to call itself. What is totally strange about the “official” U.S. nomenclature is that at the highest levels, there is no consistency. The President prefers ISIL, while those in his cabinet regularly use ISIS.

One small matter about ISIL does deserve note. The full name is the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant. I challenge many in the administration, and many in Congress, and many in the media, to explain—without Google or cheat sheet—what the Levant is. For five hundred years or so it has described the land of the eastern Mediterranean, now roughly comprising Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and contiguous countries. The word comes from the French word for “rising”, as in the east where the sun rises. It isn’t much in use any more, outside of scholarly circles and, of course, in our latest war.

So please, President Obama, if you are gathering the support of dozens of nations and hundreds of millions of Americans, let’s all decide on what to call this organization that, in the words of Vice President Joe Biden, we will pursue to the Gates of Hell.

What is a True Religion?

“No religion condones the killing of innocents,” the President said. Without going into historic and contemporary detail, this is patently false. I believe the President knows better, but he didn’t want to get into a deep discussion, and instead just wanted to make a rhetorical flourish. If he doesn’t know, there are thousands of histories he can read and scholars he can consult, or even easier, news reports from the past few weeks, months, and years he can read.

If, however, he really did mean it, he has disqualified the majority of world religions from being classified as such. Which, by the way, plenty of critics of religion would applaud.

The President doesn’t have to be the Teacher in Chief, the Scholar in Chief, the Explainer in Chief, etc. Being Communicator in Chief is enough of a job, but if he just wants to say stuff for effect, without regard to its making sense or being true, we’ve already had plenty of that in years past, from those less smart or thoughtful than you. We get enough nonsense from many in Congress. Speak as if some of us are actually thinking about what you say. Because some of us are.

The Abstract Perpetual War Is Real

Rome

Consider this: If you have a child or grandchild age 12 or younger, they have lived their lives with America at war.

And this: In six years that child will be old enough for military service, but will not necessarily have to serve because we have no mandatory universal service. So even if we are still at war, that child is probably not at risk.

And this: Why don’t we have mandatory universal service, especially if we are in perpetual war? Do we have perpetual war because we don’t have mandatory universal service?

Michael Auslin, a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has a fascinating piece in Politico about the prospect of a perpetual war footing, Don’t Do As the Romans Did… His politics may not be yours, but his analysis is compelling and worth reading in its entirety:

For Washington, which has already spent at least $2 trillion on relatively limited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the prospect of decades more competition, deterrence and fighting at an unknown cost represents the greatest security challenge since the Cold War, and perhaps since World War II. It is just as much a domestic political issue, and will figure as prominently in the debates over the future direction of the country, as do the battles over Obamacare, the regulatory burden or the transformation of the economy. Yet so far, it does not seem that either the country’s political elites or ordinary citizens have fully appreciated both the scope and, more importantly, the nature of America’s new two-front conflict. They soon will, as the country’s economic health and domestic political stability will be directly affected by rising global risk. To quote Leon Trotsky, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

Americans must accept the fact that, while their country may not be engaged in daily fighting, neither will it know peace for the foreseeable future. The world will become far more insecure and unstable over the next decades, and the amorphous yet crucial idea of global “order” will be strained, perhaps to the breaking point.

America’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. The spirit of can-do, roll up your sleeves, and in the words of Larry the Cable Guy, “get ‘er done” is a model for the world. But a related failure to think things through, apply broad and deep vision, and act deliberately and more slowly, can neutralize or outweigh the benefits of that spirit.

Living in the moment, in the now, is a great way for people to not be mired in the mistakes of the past and not be intimidated by the hypothetical misfortunes of the future. That is, unfortunately, not a luxury that nations, particularly super powerful ones, have. When you can spend trillions of dollars of your citizens’ money, send thousands of citizens to their deaths, and have the potential to blow up cities and the whole world, we expect you to think twice or more before you roll up those sleeves and get ‘er done.

A World Worth Saving

Xul Solar - Puerto Azul

People are justifiably angry, frustrated, and confused when those with all the “advantages” of Western Europe and the United States join violent apocalyptic movements in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. But maybe we can learn a little by asking some related questions: Do these fighters believe the world is worth saving? Do your fellow citizens, friends, and neighbors believe it? Do you?

Almost by definition, those who are convinced to join movements aimed at turning the world upside down believe that the world as it is is beyond repair, and that the world as it is is not worth saving.

What might surprise you, if you think about it, is how many of the people around you, people you know, believe exactly the same thing. They don’t go halfway around the world to kill mercilessly to hasten the end of the status quo. But they do believe that this world is irreparably broken, that many other people (maybe even you) are complicit in maintaining and encouraging that disrepair—in feeding the beast—and that nothing short of the quickest possible end to this world will bring them to the rightness of that world.

We don’t talk much about whether this world is worth saving. There are those true believers just mentioned who think there is nothing to talk about, that it is dogmatic and axiomatic that this world is as good as gone. For others, it can be a bunch of words, about how we will make the ultimate sacrifice to preserve “the American way of life” or “freedom,” as if those were so self-evident that discussion would be at best useless and at worst seditious.

We have to talk about it, not just assume or demand the automatic answer “of course it’s worth saving.” One of the reasons we don’t talk about it is that we would have to think about it, and that is not easy or comfortable. We would, among other discomforts, have to admit shortcomings, some very serious.

When we don’t talk, we end up with some people easily persuaded that maybe this world is so broken that we should start creating a different one, even apocalyptically. That’s the bad news, ripped from today’s headlines.

The good news is that if we did talk about whether the world is worth saving, honestly, without dogma, with no “wrong” answers, we would almost certainly conclude that—with some minor and major adjustments—it is. It’s just getting to that conclusion that can be so difficult.