Letter to Trump: U.S. Muslims urge president-elect to reject bigotry

Middle East Eye reports: More than 300 Muslim organisers and leaders across the United States issued an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump, urging him to protect freedom of religion and revise some of his proposed policies, including creating a Muslim registry.

Amid a rise in attacks targeting Muslims, the authors of the letter called on Trump “to clearly and strongly condemn bigotry, hate crimes and bias-based school bullying directed at any American, including American Muslims”.

Bias attacks against Muslims have increased throughout the election season; Trump’s victory last month further intensified the issue.

Two Muslim women were attacked in New York City over the past two days.

A uniformed city transit employee was pushed down the stairs at Grand Central, the busy rail hub in Manhattan. The victim was taken to the hospital with injuries to her knee and ankle.

The suspect called the station agent a “terrorist”, said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

On Saturday evening, an off-duty Muslim police officer was harassed in Brooklyn while out with her 16-year-old son, prosecutors said. The suspect in the incident is facing hate crime charges.

In their message to Trump, Muslim activists reference FBI statistics that point to a 67 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2015. [Continue reading…]


More Americans support torture than Afghans, Iraqis and South Sudanese. Why?

The Washington Post reports: The United States has a higher tolerance for torture than any other country on the U.N. Security Council, and Americans are more comfortable with torture than citizens of war-ravaged countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine.

Those are two key findings reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross on Monday, in a new report highlighting global perspectives on war.

The American willingness to use torture was part of a worrying trend identified by the ICRC — a growing belief globally that enemy combatants can be tortured for information. When researchers asked that question in 1999, just 28 percent of respondents said enemy combatants could be tortured. This year, 36 percent said it was justified.

That finding has raised concern, ICRC researchers said, about the role of international law in the world’s numerous armed conflicts. The report said the rules of armed conflict, like the Geneva Conventions, “are being questioned perhaps more than at any time in recent history.”

But there’s also a shocking lack of awareness that those rules exist — 39 percent of the Americans who supported torture told the ICRC they “didn’t realize my country had agreed to ban torture” as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions. [Continue reading…]


Why I will not cast my electoral vote for Donald Trump

Christopher Suprun writes: I am a Republican presidential elector, one of the 538 people asked to choose officially the president of the United States. Since the election, people have asked me to change my vote based on policy disagreements with Donald J. Trump. In some cases, they cite the popular vote difference. I do not think president-elects should be disqualified for policy disagreements. I do not think they should be disqualified because they won the Electoral College instead of the popular vote. However, now I am asked to cast a vote on Dec. 19 for someone who shows daily he is not qualified for the office.

Fifteen years ago, as a firefighter, I was part of the response to the Sept. 11 attacks against our nation. That attack and this year’s election may seem unrelated, but for me the relationship becomes clearer every day.

George W. Bush is an imperfect man, but he led us through the tragic days following the attacks. His leadership showed that America was a great nation. That was also the last time I remember the nation united. I watch Mr. Trump fail to unite America and drive a wedge between us. [Continue reading…]


The filter bubble isn’t just Facebook’s fault — it’s yours

By Philip Seargeant, The Open University and Caroline Tagg, The Open University

Following the shock results of Brexit and the Trump victory, a lot of attention has focused on the role that Facebook might have played in creating online political ghettos in which false news can easily spread. Facebook now has serious political influence thanks to its development from a social networking tool into a primary source of news and opinions. And for many, the way it manages this influence is in need of greater scrutiny. But to put the blame solely on the company is to overlook how people use the site, and how they themselves create a filter bubble effect through their actions.

Much of this debate has focused on the design of Facebook itself. The site’s personalisation algorithm, which is programmed to create a positive user experience, feeds people what they want. This creates what the CEO of viral content site Upworthy, Eli Pariser, calls “filter bubbles”, which supposedly shield users from views they disagree with. People are increasingly turning to Facebook for their news – 44 % of US adults now report getting news from the site – and fake news is not editorially weeded out. This means that misinformation can spread easily and quickly, hampering the chance people have for making informed decisions.

Over the last few weeks, there have been frequent calls for Facebook to address this issue. President Obama himself has weighed in on the issue, warning of the perils that rampant misinformation can have for the democratic process.

Much of the debate around this, however, has had an element of technological determinism to it, suggesting that users of Facebook are at the mercy of the algorithm. In fact, our research shows that the actions of users themselves are still a very important element in the way that Facebook gets used.

[Read more…]


The battle for Mosul stalls: ‘we are fighting the devil himself’

The Guardian reports: Heaving on a huge, scorched metal door and covered in engine oil, Sgt Hussein Mahmoud was deep into a morning’s work. Twisted hulks of wrecked army vehicles sat incongruously in the coarse dust that was kicked up by still-moving trucks as they crept around Mosul’s urban fringe.

Two other soldiers with industrial wrenches joined in, trying in vain to dislodge the door from its hinges. “We need it for humvees that still work,” said one of them. “We’re under pressure to provide them with parts.”

Impromptu salvage yards have appeared all around the Gogali neighbourhood in Mosul’s outer east, the immediate hinterland of the war with Islamic State and the most visible reminder of how destructive, difficult – and long – this fight is likely to be.

The startling progress of the first few weeks of the campaign to take Iraq’s second city, the terror group’s last urban stronghold in Iraq, has given way to a numbing reality: Isis will not surrender Mosul, and Iraq’s battered military will struggle to take it. [Continue reading…]


How ISIS returned to Syria

Roy Gutman reports: In the spring of 2012, hundreds of militant Islamists crossed into eastern Syria from Iraq under the eyes of the Assad regime’s extensive security apparatus. As they arrived, Syrian intelligence services received two sets of instructions.

One was in writing, and contained the names and details of the jihadists, along with the instruction to “arrest and kill them.”

But that was the cover story. Even as it circulated a “kill” order, the regime sent out official messengers to convey the opposite message.

“They came from command headquarters and held meetings of the intelligence offices,” said Mahmoud al Nasr, a former intelligence official in northern Syria who defected in October 2012. ‘They told us: ‘stay away from them. Don’t touch them.’”

The jihadists arrived in groups of three, sometimes five, then it became hundreds, he said. “Everyone of them started to bring his friends,” al Nasr said. The majority joined Jabhat al Nusra, a group that publicly declared its affiliation with al Qaeda in April 2013 and then split into two groups, Nusra and the Islamic State. Some of the infiltrated jihadists joined Ahrar al Sham, a third and seemingly more moderate Islamist group.

The conflicting instructions sheds light on the little-known relationship between the Assad regime and the Islamic State. Assad claims that his domestic political opposition are all terrorists intent on destroying the Syrian state and regularly appeals to the international community for help in battling terrorism. But the regime in fact facilitated the buildup and expansion of the real terror group in Syria. [Continue reading…]


Nobody is home

Charles Leadbeater writes: Heidegger detested René Descartes’s dictum ‘I think, therefore I am’ which located the search for identity in our brains. There, it was secured by a rational process of thought, detached from a physical world that presented itself to the knowing subject as a puzzle to be solved. Descartes’s ideas launched a great inward turn in philosophy with the subject at the centre of the drama confronting the objective world about which he tries to gain knowledge.

Had Heidegger ever come up with a saying to sum up his philosophy it would have been: ‘I dwell, therefore I am.’ For him, identity is bound up with being in the world, which in turn means having a place in it. We don’t live in the abstract space favoured by philosophers, but in a particular place, with specific features and history. We arrive already entangled with the world, not detached from it. Our identity is not secured just in our heads but through our bodies too, how we feel and how we are moved, literally and emotionally.

Instead of presenting it as a puzzle to be solved, Heidegger’s world is one we should immerse ourselves in and care for: it is part of the larger ‘being’ where we all belong. As [Jeff] Malpas puts it, Heidegger argues that we should release ourselves to the world, to find our part in its larger ebb and flow, rather than seek to detach ourselves from it in order to dominate it. [Continue reading…]


Music: Télépopmusik — ‘Love Can Damage Your Health’



Trump’s Taiwan phone call was long planned, say people who were involved

The Washington Post reports: Donald Trump’s protocol-breaking telephone call with Taiwan’s leader was an intentionally provocative move that establishes the incoming president as a break with the past, according to interviews with people involved in the planning.

The historic communication — the first between leaders of the United States and Taiwan since 1979 — was the product of months of quiet preparations and deliberations among Trump’s advisers about a new strategy for engagement with Taiwan that began even before he became the Republican presidential nominee, according to people involved in or briefed on the talks.

The call also reflects the views of hard-line advisers urging Trump to take a tough opening line with China, said others familiar with the months of discussion about Taiwan and China. [Continue reading…]


How Facebook hurt the Syrian Revolution

Riham Alkousaa writes: “Will I die, miss? Will I die?” asks a Syrian boy in panic. The recent video shot in a wrecked hospital in Aleppo in the aftermath of a chlorine gas attack went viral on social media. Just a few months earlier, Aleppo hit the newsfeeds with another shocking image of an injured child: five-year-old Omran Daqneesh sitting in an orange ambulance chair.

Aleppo has been one of the highest trending news on social media in the United States for a while now. People express anger, sadness, disappointment; they like and share; they tweet. And what of it? Nothing changes in Aleppo.

At the same time, across the ocean, in the US, there has been a heated discussion about the major role social media played in the recent elections. Some have argued that Donald Trump’s tweets got him more media coverage and attracted voters’ attention while fake news, which spread on social media, helped him seal his victory.

So why is it that social media can help win an election in one country and cannot stop a month-long massacre in another?

Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the School of International Studies at the University of Denver, has argued that social media is helping dictators, while giving the masses an illusion of empowerment and political worthiness.

At a recent lecture at Columbia University, when asked for an example where social media played a negative role in a social movement, Chenoweth paused a little to finally say, “what comes to my mind now is Syria.”

Indeed, social media hurt the Syrian uprising. It gave the Syrian people the hope that the old dictatorship can be toppled just by uploading videos of protests and publishing critical posts. Many were convinced that if social media helped Egyptians get rid of Hosni Mubarak, it would help them overthrow Bashar al-Assad. [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: Steep losses by antiregime rebels in Syria have scrambled U.S. policy calculations at a crucial moment in the country’s long-running war, with the election of Donald Trump already pointing to the possibility of a dramatic shift when he takes office in January.

Mr. Trump hasn’t detailed his plans for Syria, but has outlined a likely break from the Obama administration, which has supplied small amounts of arms and funding to militias attempting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and has separately fought the Islamic State extremist group.

The recent gains by Mr. Assad’s forces have added impetus to calls among some of Mr. Trump’s closest advisers, as well as other top U.S. strategists, to cut back on support for the Syrian opposition. Some believe the war to oust Mr. Assad already has been lost and the U.S. should ally with Russia and possibly the Syrian government in an all-out assault on extremists.

“Show me a strategy right now that gets rid of Assad,” former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a close Trump adviser, said in an interview, suggesting no such strategy exists. “The Russians are for him and the Iranians are for him, and there’s no coalition of forces in the region that defeats him. So it starts with reality.”

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also has met with Mr. Trump, said in an interview that it is unlikely Americans would support the kind of military commitment needed to unseat Mr. Assad.

“I think we have to begin by being realistic,” he said. “Assad is going to remain in power, and the Russians are committed to that.” [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Syrian government troops pushed deeper into the rebel-held section of Aleppo on Sunday, now controlling about half of what had been for years the rebels’ enclave in the divided northern city.

Also on Sunday, airstrikes apparently carried out by the government or its ally Russia hit the towns of Maarat al-Noaman and Kafr Nabl in rebel-held Idlib Province. The strikes killed at least 20 people in each location, according to residents and White Helmets rescue workers. Footage from Maarat al-Noaman showed destroyed buildings and market stalls, and the crushed body of a toddler.

Airstrikes and shelling also continued in Aleppo, where there was no sign of a cease-fire in a bloody battle that could prove a fulcrum in the war. If the government manages to seize all of Aleppo, it will control Syria’s five largest cities. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: The US and UK have been holding talks to explore ways to airdrop food and medical supplies to eastern Aleppo and other besieged populations in Syria.

The talks have been going on for months in Washington and have considered a broad range of possibilities, from parachute drops to creating an air bridge with drone flights, and even flying in edible drones that can be taken apart and eaten.

However, the discussions have been mired in disagreements between government agencies, the reluctance of the military to get involved and concern among officials that flying in aid without permission from the Damascus regime and its allies could hamper conventional humanitarian deliveries.

However, as the talks have stalled, the plight of the people of eastern Aleppo has steadily become more desperate. No road convoy has got through to the enclave for five months, hospitals have all been destroyed and rebel-held areas are under constant bombardment. [Continue reading…]


The No vote in the Italian referendum had nothing to do with populism and everything to do with Matteo Renzi

James Newell writes: Like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, the outcome of the Italian referendum has been a great surprise, but for the opposite reason: polls suggested that the result would be very close and instead there has been a decisive and unequivocal result: on a very high 68 per cent turnout, Italians have turned their backs on the proposed constitutional reforms by 60 per cent to 40 per cent.

Let us be clear: this has been no “anti-establishment, populist revolt”. The division between Yes and No cross-cut the usual political and social divisions. The No side mobilised people on the left and the right; populists and anti-populists; members of the liberal elite and those in less exalted circumstances. Renzi was no establishment figure, to the contrary: he sought to sell his proposed reforms as part of a campaign to sweep away vested interests. His appeals – to reduce the powers of the Senate, to reduce the costs of politics, to cut the number of parliamentarians – were all couched in classic populist terms.

The sheer size of the No vote discredits simplistic interpretations of the outcome as yet another expression of populist fervour. Rather, the vote was the expression of a range of different types of No: a No to the specific constitutional reforms being proposed; a No to the political elites in general; a No to the current economic and social malaise; above all a No to the Renzi government. For Renzi some months ago had staked his entire future on the outcome by framing the vote as a plebiscite on him and his executive. [Continue reading…]


The ‘no’ vote in Italy’s referendum triggers economic and political uncertainty

By Fabrizio Carmignani, Griffith University

Italian voters have rejected plans for constitutional reform supported by the government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. This result means more political and economic uncertainty for the time being.

The aim of the reform was to end Italian’s “perfect bicameralism”; that is, the institutional arrangement whereby the house of representatives and senate have exactly the same powers and the government needs to receive a vote of confidence in both Houses. Perfect bicameralism was introduced in the first Republican Constitution, right after the end of Fascism, as a way to prevent the possible rise of a new dictator.

Over time, however, this system also reduced the efficiency and effectiveness of legislation while also increasing government instability. Matteo Renzi invested his entire political capital in the reform, to the point that the referendum itself was seen as a vote for or against the prime minister. Approximately 60% of Italians voted against the reform (and the prime minister).

[Read more…]