Bob Schwartz

Tag: Islamic State

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.

Islamic State: Using Arithmetic to Solve Complex Equations

Riemann - Zeta Function

We are not playing three-dimensional chess in the Middle East—partly because all of us will go crazy if we hear that clichéd term one more time.

Instead, we are using arithmetic to solve very complex equations.

The Clay Mathematics Institute offers the famous Millennium Prizes, $1,000,000 each for solving their current list of unsolved mathematical problems.

Here is description of the Riemann Hypothesis (a manuscript by Riemann of the Zeta function is pictured above):

Some numbers have the special property that they cannot be expressed as the product of two smaller numbers, e.g., 2, 3, 5, 7, etc. Such numbers are called prime numbers, and they play an important role, both in pure mathematics and its applications.

The distribution of such prime numbers among all natural numbers does not follow any regular pattern. However, the German mathematician G.F.B. Riemann (1826 – 1866) observed that the frequency of prime numbers is very closely related to the behavior of an elaborate function

ζ(s) = 1 + 1/2s + 1/3s + 1/4s + …

called the Riemann Zeta function. The Riemann hypothesis asserts that all interesting solutions of the equation

ζ(s) = 0

lie on a certain vertical straight line.

This has been checked for the first 10,000,000,000 solutions. A proof that it is true for every interesting solution would shed light on many of the mysteries surrounding the distribution of prime numbers.

Right now, in the early days of the campaign against the Islamic State, we are using arithmetic that goes something like this:

1 (U.S.) + x (number of participating nations with wildly different involvement and interests) – IS = conditional victory

The truth is much closer to complex mathematics, as complex as any we may have ever seen on the world stage. There are probably behind-the-scenes discussions that are more subtle, but here in the public we are somehow not supposed to bother our heads about that. The question of why we publicly don’t deal with it this way may be because our leaders can’t handle the truth or because they believe citizen/voters can’t handle the truth or, because of politics and wanting to be seen as doing something, a little of both.

Solving the problem is worth much more than a million dollars. But solving it will take more than simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. There was a time when the world was like that, susceptible to those simple solutions. But those days and that world are gone. Our leaders don’t have to be able to attempt a solution to the Riemann Hypothesis. But they do have to recognize when grade school, old school strategies—when simple arithmetic—will no longer work.

The News and the Wheel

The Wheel - Jerry Garcia

The wheel is turning
and you can’t slow down
You can’t let go
and you can’t hold on
You can’t go back
and you can’t stand still
If the thunder don’t get you
then the lightning will

The Wheel
Jerry Garcia

If you are still listening to, watching, or reading the news, oh boy. If the world seems out of balance, that’s not just the news talking. That’s the way it is.

Thousands of U.S. troops sent to fight Ebola. No troops but planes and bombs to fight thuggish madmen disguised as religious fanatics whose organizational name we can’t keep straight. Honored gladiators beating their wives and children. Police shooting the people they are sworn to protect. The most powerful legislature in the world doing nothing when something is called for, something when nothing is called for, and blabbering on when silence is golden. Rampant use of destructive drugs, demonizing of less destructive drugs. Speaking of drugs, powerful pharmaceuticals interrupting your entertainment with the news that they can cure you, but may also kill you, harshly and slowly. And that’s just for starters.

Every time that wheel turn round
bound to cover just a little more ground

Won’t you try just a little bit harder
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?
Won’t you try just a little bit harder?
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?

Breathe. If it seems like madness, that’s because it is. But it’s our madness and we just have to live with it. Being strong and smart will move us forward, but it’s never enough. Being strong and smart will not, for example, cure our madness, and like those very high-tech pharmaceutical drugs, can do more harm than good. Misplaced confidence in our strength and our brains is like putting a thumb on the scale. Which is no way to get in balance.

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.