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steppingstonesIndependent journalism is an alternative to the mainstream media, free from corporate control and without ties to the political establishment — at least that’s the way most people define independence.

What it really means, however, is simply this: think for yourself.

And to do this, you need information — not just opinions that resonate with your own worldview.

The so-called independent media is subject to just as many orthodoxies as the mainstream media. Its delivered wisdom just rests on a different set of largely unquestioned assumptions.

War in Context is a product of my own effort to understand what is happening in the Middle East and the wider world and as such is a work in progress. Although I share my opinions, I’m not telling anyone what to think. I have no political affiliations and no ideology to promote.

If you find this site useful, please help support it through a monthly subscription or by making a donation. Click on one of the buttons in the sidebar to the right. Thank you, Paul Woodward

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In the West, a growing list of attacks linked to what?

Linked to “Islamic Extremism” says the headline in the New York Times.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, Martin Rouleau-Couture, Alton Nolen, Mohammad Ali Baryalei, Mehdi Nemmouche, Michael Adebolajo, Mohammed Merah, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad — all Muslims in the West, all involved in deadly attacks, all linked to Islamic extremism. The link is surely clear-cut, right?

And now comes the latest on the list:

New York Daily News reports: A man armed with a hatchet who attacked a group of rookie cops on a Queens street, critically injuring one, was shot dead by the officers on Thursday afternoon, and a female bystander was hit by an errant round.

Police are investigating the possibility that the attacker killed on a rainswept shopping corridor, identified by police sources as Zale Thompson, 32, had links to terrorism. A Zale Thompson on Facebook is pictured wearing a keffiyeh and had a recent terrorism-related conversation with one of his Facebook friends, according to a police source.


Radio Free America and the New York Daily News, please take note: The man in the photo above is not Zale Thompson and he’s not wearing a keffiyeh.

The photo is of a Tuareg Berber warrior and was taken somewhere in the Sahara in the nineteenth century. His head garment is called a tagelmust which provides essential protection for those living in a region subject to frequent sand storms. The Arabic text is the Sūrat al-Fātiḥah, the first chapter of the Quran.

CNN reports: Authorities are looking to see if the unprovoked attack, in the New York borough of Queens, is tied to recent calls by radicals to attack military and police officers, law enforcement officials say.

Asked about a possible connection to terrorism, Bratton said, “There is nothing we know as of this time that would indicate that were the case. I think certainly the heightened concern is relative to that type of assault based on what just happened in Canada.”

On Wednesday, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed as he stood guard at Canada’s National War Memorial before shots erupted in the halls of the country’s Parliament minutes later.

The Ottawa gunman had “connections” to jihadists in Canada who shared a radical Islamist ideology, including at least one who went overseas to fight in Syria, multiple U.S. sources told CNN on Thursday.

Connections, ties, links — human beings have an insatiable need to try and understand how things fit together; how to discern coherence when confronted by chaos. This drive is at the core of the creative impulse. Without it there would be no science or art.

At the same time, discovery is more popular than exploration. Most people would rather have answers than be left with questions.

When with disturbing frequency on the relatively peaceful streets of Western cities, men identified as Muslims who appear to be acting alone, attack soldiers and police officers, it’s hard to avoid seeing these acts of brutality all being connected. But there are multiple problems in jumping to this conclusion.

Firstly, in attempting to identify a trend there is always the risk that the imputed trend is actually a function of the act of labeling. The trend might be more of a construction than a discovery.

How many isolated incidents need to occur before they are seen as connected? That determination is subjective, often arbitrary and can easily be affected by whatever happen to be the competing news stories of the day.

Consider for instance something that threatens the lives of all Americans — a threat far greater than that posed by terrorism.

Physicians for Social Responsibility note: “About 6% of cancer deaths per year — 34,000 deaths annually — are directly linked to occupational and environmental exposures to known, specific carcinogens.”

Yet when legal efforts are made to hold the manufacturers of those carcinogens responsible for any of those deaths, the legal process most often leans in favor of commercial interests. Epidemiologists have to painstakingly document all the evidence that clusters of cancer cases can indeed be linked to an industrial polluter before courts are persuaded that the connection is irrefutable and criminal responsibility has been proved.

Some connections are scientifically established years before they become legally accepted.

It’s one thing for an individual to be tied to Islamic extremism because they are in direct communication with members of organizations such as ISIS or al Qaeda, but what if they are merely inspired by such groups?

If the ties have been formed and sustained purely through social media, mainstream media, and the popular obsessions of a particular era, then for the individuals listed above, their links to Twitter and Fox News, for instance, played just as instrumental role in their radicalization as the ideology to which their actions are being ascribed.

Moreover, in spite of the fact that the media is attached to one narrative — a narrative that sells well because it exploits popular xenophobic fears — another link that might be even more important than ideology is the psychology of conversion.

Most of these men converted to Islam and religious conversions of any kind are fraught with psychological risks.

The convert invariably has a much deeper personal investment in the object of their faith than someone for whom their religion was simply a dimension of their upbringing. The convert is always more self-conscious about their religious identity.

This might make the convert more devout, but often it also unleashes a vindictive self-righteousness. A fractured ego can be empowered by an acquired religious authority that purges self-doubt and provides a zealous sense of purpose. Those who once felt downtrodden and demeaned may decide that they are going to teach the world to show them respect after having concluded that with their new-found faith they have God on their side.

This says much more about the psycho-dynamics of conversion than it says anything about the nature of Islam.

That Zale Thompson, having been kicked out of the U.S. Navy, chose the image of an African warrior as his avatar on Facebook, probably says more about his experiences as an African-American and a desire to identify with men who once conquered Spain rather than those who were once enslaved, than it says about the extent of ISIS’s influence.

Even though 9/11 taught about the importance of “connecting the dots,” it’s equally important not to connect too many dots or the wrong dots.

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Lebanon tells Syrian refugees ‘to return’ or go elsewhere

BBC News reports: Lebanon cannot accept any more refugees from war-torn Syria, Information Minister Ramzi Jreij has said.

He also urged existing refugees “to return to their countries, or go to other countries”.

Although he said those in exceptional circumstances could be accepted, the decision could deny refuge to tens of thousands of Syrians.

Lebanon has taken 1.1 million Syrians despite having a total population of just over four million.

A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told the BBC that Lebanon’s decision “is not a surprise”.

“We can understand, we sit here responding to this enormous weight of refugees that is draining this community like nothing we have ever seen before,” she added. [Continue reading...]

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How America’s top military leader dragged Obama back into Iraq

Mark Perry writes: Apart from an occasional Thursday afternoon meeting between Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the White House, Gen. Martin Dempsey — the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — rarely has opportunities to get face time with the president. So when he does, he presses his advantage. One of the few times this happened was during the early evening hours of Aug. 6, when Dempsey joined Obama in his limousine at the State Department, where the president had been attending a session of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. The ride to the White House allowed Dempsey his first one-on-one with Obama in several weeks. As the two sat across from each other in the presidential limousine, Dempsey turned to his commander-in-chief.

“We have a crisis in Iraq, Mr. President,” Dempsey said, according to a senior Pentagon official who spoke with the chairman about his discussion with Obama that same day. “ISIS is a real threat,” he added, using an alternative acronym for the military group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. The senior Pentagon official with whom I spoke, and who paraphrased the Obama-Dempsey exchange, added that “Dempsey really leaned into him” on the crisis, saying it demanded “immediate attention.”

By that point, ISIL had overrun Mosul, a city of one million people in northern Iraq, seized stockpiles of heavy weapons from the hapless Iraqi military and was attacking thousands of ethnic Yazidis who had fled the conflict. According to the senior Pentagon official, the president listened carefully as Dempsey outlined the militants’ rapid military gains in western Iraq and warned that ISIL fighters were threatening Baghdad. “It’s that bad?” Obama asked, according to this person’s account. Dempsey was blunt. “Yes, sir,” he said, “it is.” (The White House, asked to characterize the president’s reaction, declined to comment.) [Continue reading...]

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ISIS keeps up Syrian oil flow despite U.S-led strikes

Reuters reports: Islamic State is still extracting and selling oil in Syria and has adapted its trading techniques despite a month of strikes by U.S.-led forces aimed at cutting off this major source of income for the group, residents, oil executives and traders say.

While the raids by U.S. and Arab forces have targeted some small makeshift oil refineries run by locals in eastern areas controlled by Islamic State, they have avoided the wells the group controls.

This has limited the effectiveness of the campaign and means the militants are able to profit from crude sales of up to $2 million a day, according to oil workers in Syria, former oil executives and energy experts.

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Cutting off ISIS’ cash flow

Charles Lister writes: The Islamic State (or ISIS) is “the best-funded terrorist organization we’ve confronted,” but “we have no silver bullet, no secret weapon to empty ISIS’ coffers overnight.” These were the words of David Cohen, the undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the U.S. Department of the Treasury in a speech yesterday, in which he outlined the U.S. government’s assessment of ISIS finance and a strategy to counter it.

According to Cohen, ISIS’ principal source of finance is still derived from its control and sale of oil, which he assessed was still bringing in $1 million a day. Additional funds come from kidnap for ransom, extortion networks, criminal activities, and donations from external individuals, the latter being of least significance in terms of scale. In order to counter this broad base of financial incomes, Cohen explained that U.S. strategy is focused on disrupting ISIS revenue streams, restricting ISIS access to the international financial system, and targeting ISIS leaders, facilitators and supporters with sanctions.

Despite vastly underestimating ISIS’ potential in the months and years leading up to the organization’s 2014 offensives in Syria and Iraq, the Treasury’s, and by extension the U.S. government’s assessment of ISIS finance and how to combat it does seem largely in tune. It is indeed right that external financial donations are of minimal significance to ISIS. Since as early as 2005, ISIS predecessor organizations Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen, and the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) all consistently sought to develop internal structures dedicated to maintaining financial self-sufficiency and an independence from potentially vulnerable external donors. In the current climate, however, a diminished capacity to earn from the sale of oil may elevate the importance of external sources of funding for ISIS to sustain its internal durability. [Continue reading...]

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FBI warns news outlets that group affiliated with ISIS is targeting journalists

The Washington Post reports: The FBI on Thursday warned news organizations that it had recently obtained “credible information” indicating that members of an Islamic State-affiliated group have been “tasked with kidnapping journalists” in the region and taking them to Syria.

The bureau noted that supporters of the terrorist group have called on members to retaliate against the United States and its allies for airstrikes in Iraq and Syria and have identified journalists as “desirable targets.”

The warning was released as a rare intelligence bulletin to news outlets so they could take security precautions. [Continue reading...]

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Jerusalem, the capital of apartheid, awaits the uprising

Gideon Levy writes: The terror attack in Jerusalem on Wednesday night should not have surprised anyone. After all, two nations live in the Pretoria of the State of Israel. Unlike the other occupied areas, there is supposed to be a certain equality between the two peoples: blue ID cards available for everybody, freedom of movement, property tax payable to the municipality, national insurance — Israelis all. But Jerusalem is engulfed by lies. It has become the Israeli capital of apartheid.

With the exception of Hebron, no place has such a blatant and brazen separation regime. And now the Israeli boot is coming down even harder in the capital, so the resistance in the ghetto-in-the-making is intensifying: battered and oppressed, neglected and poor, filled with feelings of hatred and an appetite for revenge.

The uprising is on the way. When the next wave of terror emerges from the alleys of East Jerusalem, Israelis will pretend to be astonished and furious. But the truth must be told: Despite Wednesday’s shocking incident, the Palestinians are turning out to be one of the most tolerant nations in history. Mass arrests, violent settlers, deprivation, expulsion, neglect, dispossession — and they remain silent, except for the recent protest of the stones.

There is no self-deception from which the city doesn’t suffer. The capital is a capital only in its own eyes; the united city is one of the most divided in the universe. The alleged equality is a joke and justice is trampled on. Free access to the holy sites is for Jews only (and yes, for elderly Muslims). And the right of return is reserved for Jews.

A Palestinian resident of Jerusalem is now in far greater danger of being lynched than a Jew in Paris. But here there’s nobody to raise hell. Unlike the Parisian Jew, the Palestinian can be expelled from Jerusalem. He can also be arrested with terrifying ease. After 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was burned to death, sparking a wave of protest, Israel arrested 760 Palestinians in the city, 260 of them children. [Continue reading...]

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Israel’s right-wingers are living in denial

Carlo Strenger writes: Israel’s political class has largely chosen to ignore the U.K. parliament’s ringing endorsement to recognize Palestine as a state last week. It seems Israel’s leaders hope the rising wave of European determination to stop Israel’s creeping annexation of the West Bank will simply go away.

Doing so is a remarkable instance of one of humankind’s most primitive defense mechanisms: denial. In denial we simply screen off awareness of any unpleasant fact, with the tacit belief that it will go away. Israel’s political right has been quite adept in making use of this.

Its reaction to the European Union’s growing determination to no longer accept Israel’s annexation of the West Bank has shown various levels of immaturity, ranging from the mild to the truly pathological. Lieberman has reacted to EU criticism by telling it to solve its own problems before lecturing Israel – a masterpiece of diplomatic finesse, if there ever was one.

Naftali Bennett has been even more remarkable: When the EU passed a law that doesn’t allow cooperation with Israeli organizations in the occupied territories, he called for the severing of ties with the body. This is a truly fitting reaction from Israel’s economy minister, and a stunning exhibition of political and psychological immaturity, given that the EU accounts for about half of Israel’s foreign trade.

Lieberman, of course, looks longingly to his political idol, Vladimir Putin, and envies him for getting away with annexing Crimea. And Bennett seems content to see himself as a latter-day Bar Kochba – forgetting that he only brought destruction on the people of Israel. But Lieberman isn’t Putin, Bennett isn’t Bar Kochba, and Israel isn’t Russia – which is quite fortunate, as one million Russian immigrants in Israel can attest.

So let me spell out the reality in very simple terms. As far as the EU is concerned, the West Bank does not belong to Israel. The Knesset has, therefore, no mandate about whether to annex the West Bank, or to “give” the Palestinians a state, any more than it can make decisions about southern Italy. [Continue reading...]

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How we use memory to look at the future

Virginia Hughes writes: Over the past few decades, researchers have worked to uncover the details of how the brain organizes memories. Much remains a mystery, but scientists have identified a key event: the formation of an intense brain wave called a “sharp-wave ripple” (SWR). This process is the brain’s version of an instant replay — a sped-up version of the neural activity that occurred during a recent experience. These ripples are a strikingly synchronous neural symphony, the product of tens of thousands of cells firing over just 100 milliseconds. Any more activity than that could trigger a seizure.

Now researchers have begun to realize that SWRs may be involved in much more than memory formation. Recently, a slew of high-profile rodent studies have suggested that the brain uses SWRs to anticipate future events. A recent experiment, for example, finds that SWRs connect to activity in the prefrontal cortex, a region at the front of the brain that is involved in planning for the future.

Studies such as this one have begun to illuminate the complex relationship between memory and the decision-making process. Until a few years ago, most studies on SWRs focused only on their role in creating and consolidating memories, said Loren Frank, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. “None of them really dealt with this issue of: How does the animal actually pull [the memory] back up again? How does it actually use this to figure out what to do?” [Continue reading...]

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Music: Lars Danielsson — ‘Song For E’

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Terrorism exists in the eye of the beholder

Should a man who believes he’s being chased by the devil, shape pubic policy and guide international relations?

Dave Bathurst was a friend of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau — the gunman whose brief shooting rampage yesterday led to the Canadian capital city, Ottowa, getting locked down for several hours.

The Globe and Mail reports:

Mr. Bathurst said he met Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau in a Burnaby, B.C., mosque about three years ago. He said his friend did not at first appear to have extremist views or inclinations toward violence – but at times exhibited a disturbing side.

“We were having a conversation in a kitchen, and I don’t know how he worded it: He said the devil is after him,” Mr. Bathurst said in an interview. He said his friend frequently talked about the presence of Shaytan in the world – an Arabic term for devils and demons. “I think he must have been mentally ill.”

Nevertheless, Mike Morell, CBS News senior security contributor and former CIA deputy director, seems to believe that Zehaf-Bibeau represents a threat to the United States:


Unlike Morrell, I’m much more concerned about what his own reaction reveals about thinking inside the CIA than what Zehaf-Bibeau reveals about Canada.

In 2012 there were seven murders in Ottawa (population close to a million), 2013 nine murders, and so far in 2014 there have been five (including yesterday’s).

The overwhelming majority of the crazy men running round shooting innocent people are on this side of the border. What makes them dangerous is much less the ideas in their heads than the ease with which they can lay their hands on a gun.

It’s often hard to be clear about what should be described as terrorism. What’s much easier to discern is hysteria.

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As U.S. attacks ISIS, Syria steps up assaults on moderate rebels

The Washington Post reports: Syrian government forces have dramatically intensified air and ground assaults on areas held by moderate rebels, attempting to deliver crippling blows as world attention shifts to airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Since Monday, Syrian aircraft have targeted Aleppo in the north, the eastern suburbs of Damascus and southern areas near the Jordanian border, launching more than 210 airstrikes, said Rami Abdulrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors the civil war.

Rebels in Aleppo say President Bashar al-Assad’s military has escalated attacks in northern areas of the city, trying to cut the supply lines of opposition fighters inside Aleppo.

“During the last three days, we have been hit by over 120 barrel bombs,” said Ahmed Abu Talal, a rebel belonging to the Islamic Front group, referring to particularly deadly high-explosive bombs that are often dropped by helicopter. [Continue reading...]

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Turkey’s president steps up criticism of U.S. airdrops to aid Kuridish fighters in Syria

The Washington Post reports: Turkey’s president sharpened criticism of U.S. airdrops to aid Syrian Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State, but promised on Thursday that Kurdish reinforcements would soon arrive in the embattled border town of Kobane.

The dual messages from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reflect the complicated political calculations for Turkey as part of the U.S.-led coalition seeking to cripple the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Turkey is wary of the Syrian Kurds defending Kobane — just miles from the Turkish border — because of their ties to a Kurdish faction in Turkey that has waged a three-decade insurgency for greater rights. The U.S. airdrops of weapons and ammunition to Kobane is seen by Turkey as indirectly empowering the Turkish Kurdish rebels.

But NATO-member Turkey also is nervous that Kobane could fall to the Islamic State, which would gain another foothold along the Turkish border and possibly expand attacks on Turkish forces and targets. [Continue reading...]

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ISIS ascent in Syria and Iraq weakening Pakistani Taliban

The Guardian reports: The dramatic rise of Islamic State (Isis) in Syria and Iraq is helping to tear apart the Pakistani Taliban, the beleaguered militant group beset by infighting and splits.

Once the country’s largest and most feared militant coalition, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been on the ropes since a US drone strike killed its charismatic leader Hakimullah Mehsud in 2013, a blow followed this summer by the launch of a military onslaught against the group’s sanctuaries.

But the latest challenge to the TTP has come from the startling military successes of Isis and its demand that all Muslims pledge allegiance to the new caliphate it announced in June.

The claim to global Islamic leadership by the self-styled caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi threatens to undermine the TTP, which draws considerable authority from the fact that its symbolic figurehead is Mullah Omar, the one-eyed village preacher who ruled the original Taliban “emirate” in Afghanistan prior to the US-led invasion of 2001.

This week the TTP’s beleaguered leadership announced it had sacked its spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, after the high profile militant announced he had pledged his personal allegiance to Baghdadi.

The statement published on the movement’s Facebook page said the spokesman had left the group some time before and reiterated that the TTP’s leader, Mullah Fazlullah, continued to back Mullah Omar, “the emir of believers”. [Continue reading...]

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As more U.S. airstrikes hit ISIS, Assad escalates bombing across Syria

BBC News reports: The Syrian military has stepped up air strikes on rebel areas dramatically, carrying out more than 200 in recent days, opposition activists say.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the raids took place mostly in western areas between midnight on Sunday and noon on Tuesday.

The UK-based group said there were many casualties, but did not give a figure.

The intensified strikes come as US-led forces continue to bomb Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria and Iraq.

US and Arab jets have been attacking IS positions in around the northern Syrian town of Kobane, where Kurdish fighters are under siege. [Continue reading...]

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U.S. cooperated secretly with Syrian Kurds in battle against ISIS

The Wall Street Journal reports: The U.S. has conferred newfound legitimacy on the Syrian Kurdish militia fighting in Kobani, which is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in neighboring Turkey. The U.S. and Turkey both list the PKK as a terrorist group.

Washington’s decision to send in supplies by air to fighters loyal to the Democratic Union Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PYD, followed a U.S. assessment that the Syrian Kurdish defenders would run out of ammunition in as little as three days.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders told American officials they were considering sending reinforcements from their region to Kobani. To reach the town, they would have to pass through other parts of Syria. U.S. defense officials looked at the route and told the Kurds it would be a suicide mission.

The U.S. asked the Turkish government to let Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross through Turkish territory to reinforce Kobani. U.S. officials said Turkey agreed in principal and that Massoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, proposed sending a specially trained force of Syrian Kurdish refugees.

But events on the ground forced Washington’s hand. U.S. contacts in Kobani sent out an urgent SOS.

“We needed weaponry and fast,” said Idris Nassan, the deputy foreign minister of the Kobani regional government.

To tide the Kurds over until Turkey opens a land corridor, U.S. Gen. Lloyd Austin, who runs the air campaign against Islamic State, decided on a delicate plan: dropping supplies using C-130 cargo planes.

The U.S. didn’t think Islamic State fighters had sophisticated antiaircraft weapons, but the Pentagon decided out of caution to fly under cover of darkness.

Gen. Austin presented the proposal to the White House on Friday. President Barack Obama approved it immediately, U.S. officials said.

Until recently, the White House wouldn’t even acknowledge U.S. contacts with the PYD because of its close ties to the PKK and the diplomatic sensitivities over that in Turkey. [Continue reading...]

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Young Tunisians think ISIS offers better life and reports on mass killings are ‘made up’

The New York Times reports: In interviews at cafes in and around Ettadhamen [a district in Tunis], dozens of young unemployed or working-class men expressed support for the extremists or saw the appeal of joining their ranks — convinced that it could offer a higher standard of living, a chance to erase arbitrary borders that have divided the Arab world for a century, or perhaps even the fulfillment of Quranic prophecies that Armageddon will begin with a battle in Syria.

“There are lots of signs that the end will be soon, according to the Quran,” said Aymen, 24, who was relaxing with friends at another cafe.

Bilal, an office worker who was at another cafe, applauded the Islamic State as the divine vehicle that would finally undo the Arab borders drawn by Britain and France at the end of World War I. “The division of the countries is European,” said Bilal, 27. “We want to make the region a proper Islamic state, and Syria is where it will start.”

Mourad, 28, who said he held a master’s degree in technology but could find work only in construction, called the Islamic State the only hope for “social justice,” because he said it would absorb the oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchies and redistribute their wealth. “It is the only way to give the people back their true rights, by giving the natural resources back to the people,” he said. “It is an obligation for every Muslim.”

Many insisted that friends who had joined the Islamic State had sent back reports over the Internet of their homes, salaries and even wives. “They live better than us!” said Walid, 24.

Wissam, 22, said a friend who left four months ago had told him that he was “leading a truly nice, comfortable life” under the Islamic State.

“I said: ‘Are there some pretty girls? Maybe I will go there and settle down,’ ” he recalled.

Leaders of Ennahda, the mainstream Islamist party that leads the Tunisian Parliament, said they had overestimated the power of democracy alone to tame violent extremism. Said Ferjani, an Ennahda leader who has often cited his own evolution from youthful militancy to peaceful politics, said in an interview that he now believed economic development would be just as important. “Without social development, I don’t think the democracy could survive,” he said. [Continue reading...]

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Has ISIS peaked as a military power?

Jacob Siegel writes: For a few months, the marauding jihadis of ISIS might have looked like an unstoppable army. That’s when they were moving at high speeds, their power blurred by hype and velocity. Slowed down by real resistance, a clearer picture takes shape and the limits of ISIS’s military power come into focus.

At the so-called caliphate’s edges, in areas like the Syrian border town of Kobani, ISIS’s march has stalled and its armor is starting to crack. We may be reaching the limits of ISIS as a conventional military force.

Facing a small Kurdish resistance and Western airpower, ISIS has been unable to take Kobani, despite surrounding and besieging it for months. That doesn’t mean the group is giving up, though, or anywhere close to defeat. The façade of ISIS’s power as a conquering army may be wearing off, but they can still revert to terrorist form and continue killing even if they can’t take ground.

Early on, ISIS leaders committed to a risky gambit: They decided to form a state, which put them in open conflict with other world powers. The group could have survived as a terrorist organization or a local insurgency as it had for years, but instead wagered on the caliphate. That decision provided an aura of authority that attracted new recruits and seemed to pay off in the short term. But it also transformed a regional threat into a global enemy that was easier to target in the areas it controlled. [Continue reading...]

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