Archives for November 2015

Why the Paris climate talks are doomed to failure, like all the others

By Steffen Böhm, University of Essex

Even if the world celebrates a Paris climate deal on December 11, the process will still have to be regarded as failure. Let me explain why.

The basic reason is that the unequal distribution of carbon emissions is not even on its agenda. The historical responsibility of the West is not on the table, nor is a method of national carbon accounting that looks at how the emissions a country consumes rather than produces. Instead, what is on the table are expanded and new mechanisms that will allow the rich, Western countries to outsource their emission cuts so they can paint themselves green.

When the figures are in, 2015 is likely to be the warmest year on record and we’ve just reached 1℃ temperature rise since the industrial revolution, halfway to the 2℃ widely agreed to be the upper safe limit of global warming. It’s the fastest surface temperature increase in the world’s known geological history. We are now entering “uncharted territory”.

The dangers of global warming have been known – even to oil company executives – since at least the early 1980s. Yet, despite 25 years of UN-led climate talks, the world is burning more fossil fuels than ever.

This is not simply the fault of big emerging economies such as China, India or Brazil. Instead, what we are dealing with is the fundamental failure of neoliberal capitalism, the world’s dominant economic system, to confront its hunger for exponential growth that is only made possible by the unique energy density of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

[Read more…]

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Explainer: How scientists know climate change is happening

By Mark Maslin, UCL

The Paris climate conference will set nations against each other, and kick off huge arguments over economic policies, green regulations and even personal lifestyle choices. But one thing isn’t up for debate: the evidence for climate change is unequivocal.

We still control the future, however, as the magnitude of shifting weather patterns and the frequency of extreme climate events depends on how much more greenhouse gas we emit. We aren’t facing the end of the world as envisaged by many environmentalists in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but if we do nothing to mitigate climate change then billions of people will suffer.

Causes of climate change

Greenhouse gases absorb and re-emit some of the heat radiation given off by the Earth’s surface and warm the lower atmosphere. The most important greenhouse gas is water vapour, followed by carbon dioxide and methane, and without their warming presence in the atmosphere the Earth’s average surface temperature would be approximately -20°C. While many of these gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, humans are responsible for increasing their concentration through burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other land use changes. Records of air bubbles in ancient Antarctic ice show us that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are now at their highest concentrations for more than 800,000 years.

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Bob Fisk’s fact-free polemics on Syria

Robert Fisk — or to mirror the style of his latest missive, let’s just call him Bob — is convinced there aren’t 70,000 “moderate” opposition fighters in Syria, contrary to the recent assertion of Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron.

Bob doesn’t present a conflicting data set — a different analysis of the makeup of the opposition. Instead, his position rests on two pieces of reasoning.

Firstly, Bob asserts, if such a force did exist, “it would already have captured Damascus and hurled Bashar al-Assad from power.”

Assad is still in power. It therefore follows that the 70,000 fighters don’t exist. Impeccable reasoning, some might say.

Secondly, “Who’s ever heard before of a ‘moderate’ with a Kalashnikov?” This he presents as a rhetorical question on the basis that “moderates” would be “folk who don’t carry weapons at all.”

Bob declines to label all those opposition fighters who by virtue of carrying weapons, can’t as far as he is concerned be called moderates, but the obvious antonym would be extremists. Since his father, Bill, gun in hand, fought in the trenches in World War One, would that have made him an extremist too?

I guess not, because the terms “moderate” or “extremist” apparently only apply to people fighting without close direction from their own government. A government, however little political legitimacy it possesses, can apparently deploy “ground troops” — a “regular force” that meets Bob’s approval. Approval of what, I’m not sure. Men in government-issued uniforms?

There are few problems with the logic here — problems that I hope many readers would see as glaring.

Firstly, as even the most casual observers should have long been aware, throughout this war the Assad regime has maintained uncontested rule throughout Syrian airspace.

The U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS, once it expanded inside Syria, did so without objections from the Syrian government and thus there have been no clashes between what are ostensibly rival air forces. Likewise, Russian jets now support Assad’s forces and their allies on the ground.

The fact that not a single component of the opposition possesses an air force and neither do any possess surface-to-air missiles in any significant numbers, is precisely what has allowed the Assad regime to conduct its air operations using one of the crudest methods of warfare: dropping barrel bombs from helicopters.

These assaults, along with bombs dropped by air force jets, along with its use of the bulk of heavy weapons on the ground, are the reason Assad has not been driven out of Damascus.

Secondly, if the defining characteristic of an extremist is that he carries a Kalashnikov, wouldn’t that also make Assad’s own troops extremists since they too carry the same Russian weapons?

As a veteran war reporter, Robert Fisk enjoys an international reputation built on a career of fearless journalism — such as his account of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982. But these days, unfortunately, his interest in reporting seems to have waned as he coasts along, buoyed by the authority which derives from his earlier work.

Still, when it comes to this question about the numerical strength of the so-called moderate opposition in Syria, it’s predictable and understandable that Fisk would choose to frame this as a debate between a seasoned Middle East journalist and a British prime minister.

We all know perfectly well that Cameron is, as the English would say, batting on a sticky wicket. Who can fail to have suspicions that this PM might be drawing his information from yet another “dodgy dossier”?

Fortunately, there’s no reason to reduce this issue to a question about who you want to believe: Cameron or Fisk?

Unlike early in 2003, when the war in Iraq had yet to be launched and its alleged necessity was based on the sketchiest intelligence, the situation in Syria can be analyzed without relying solely on deductive reasoning, wild speculation, and dubious sources.

There are well-informed, independent analysts who have neither a political ax to grind, nor a journalistic image to sustain, nor cozy relations with senior government officials to maintain, and far from dismissing Cameron’s claim, they say it’s accurate and flesh out their position in detail.

Charles Lister acknowledges that at the core of this debate is the question of how “moderate” is defined. He identifies 105-110 factions who in combination amount to 75,000 fighters who are “explicitly nationalist in terms of their strategic vision; they are local in terms of their membership; and they seek to return to Syria’s historical status as a harmonious multi-sectarian nation in which all ethnicities, sects and genders enjoy an equal status before the law and state.”

Lister argues:

Had the West more definitively intervened in Syria early on, we would undoubtedly have more moderate, more cohesive and more natural ally-material opposition to work with. Unfortunately, things took a different path. Our subsequent obsession with the extremists and refusal to tackle Syria’s complexity has clouded our vision. A ‘moderate’ opposition in culturally attuned terms does exist in Syria, we need only open our eyes to it. Only these groups – and certainly not Assad – will ensure the real extremists such as ISIL and Al-Qaeda eventually lose their grip on power in Syria.

Kyle Orton provides some more granular detail:

In southern Syria, there are more than 30,000 fighters between the Southern Front, Al-Ittihad al-Islami li-Ajnad a-Sham, and Faylaq al-Rahman. And in western/northern Syria the vetted FSA-branded groups, Asala, The Levant Front, Zanki, and the other, largely Aleppine units add up to another 35,000. The other 10,000 fighters are in these smaller groups of strategic value.

In spite of the media and political focus on ISIS, both Lister and Orton see the larger threat in Syria emanating from al Qaeda. Orton writes:

Without a clear commitment to Assad’s ouster and meaningfully bolstering the moderate elements of the insurgency, Al-Qaeda is marching toward erecting a base of operations that is wholly integrated into the local terrain in Syria from which to wage its global holy war.

Commentators such as Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and others who these days sound indistinguishable from the Israelis and the neoconservatives, may well say, al Qaeda or ISIS — what’s the difference? They’re all terrorists. They’re all fed by “the octopus” of Saudi Arabia.

What is strange and disturbing about this current of opinion is that it buttresses a sentiment which separates clarity from discrimination.

Supposedly, we can have a clear view of the situation in Syria without needing to understand any of the details. Questions about the size, strength, and nature of the complex array of forces fighting in Syria can be waved away with an air no less regal than Assad’s own dismissive gestures when he claims his enemies are all “terrorists.”

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Syria’s many moderate rebels

Kyle Orton writes: In early November, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee released a report challenging the British government’s proposal to extend airstrikes from Iraq into Syria against ISIS. Among other things, the report asked for a proposed political path to ending the Syrian civil war, a necessary prerequisite to defeating ISIS. On Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron released a response, part of which said:

Military action against ISIL will also relieve the pressure on the moderate opposition, whose survival is crucial for a successful transition to a more inclusive Syrian government. Syria has not been, and should not be, reduced to a choice between Assad or ISIL. Although the situation on the ground is complex, our assessment is that there are about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups.

This number has blown up into a major political row, with many Members of Parliament and pundits taking their personal unfamiliarity with Syria’s military landscape as evidence that it cannot be so. The Labour Opposition has made the number of non-extremist rebels a focal point of their challenge to the Prime Minister’s proposal for moving forward in Syria, and one of Cameron’s own Conservative MPs referred to the number as “magical”. The challenge to the number is part of a longer-term trend, where a narrative has become prevalent that there are no moderate opposition forces left in Syria. The corollary of this view is usually the argument that the West should side with the “secular” Assad regime as the “lesser evil” to put down a radical Islamist insurrection.

Sidestepping the ignorance that goes into believing a blatantly sectarian regime propped up by an international brigade of Shiite jihadists is secular: What of this claim that there are no moderate rebels left? [Continue reading…]

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Russia’s toxic role in the fight against ISIS

Hassan Hassan writes: Nearly two months into the Russian military intervention in Syria, it should be already clear this involvement has been toxic on multiple levels. So far, the move has caused at least two high points of polarisation not only inside Syria but also in the region at large, with little to show in terms of reversing the rebels’ gains on the ground.

Moscow’s decision to intervene on the side of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad had a unifying and galvanising effect for the ­anti-government forces. In a rare show of support for the Free Syrian Army, for example, individuals affiliated to extremist forces praised western-backed groups for destroying around 20 regime tanks during the first ground offensive assisted by Russian air cover. Armed factions seem to have increasingly adjusted to the merciless Russian bombardments and managed to make a number of significant gains against the regime, primarily in southern and northern Aleppo.

Meanwhile, the only major achievement for the regime forces has been to break the siege of the Kweiris airbase between Aleppo and Raqqa, although the base was not completely secured and ISIL returned to carry out suicide attacks outside it.

In the background of this meagre performance, the Turkish military downed a Russian jet last Tuesday. Some of the responses coming out of Russia about the incident are adding ­fuel to the fire raging in the region. For example, Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was “Islamising” Turkey – suggesting that Moscow is either unaware of the landscape in the region or arrogantly ignoring it. For its part, the Russian embassy in the UK released poster art from 1915 mocking Ottoman soldiers.

These responses only help Mr Erdogan, who has long sought to present himself as a voice for Sunni Islam in the neighbourhood and beyond. While these statements may resonate positively within Russia, they are driving more people in the region to view the Russian intervention in Syria as part of a greater effort, not just an attempt to save a desperate ally. [Continue reading…]

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Raqqa exiles don’t support UK bombing ISIS: ‘The Assad regime is the main problem for us’

The Guardian reports: The cafe and everyone inside were exiles from Raqqa – the same chefs serving up Friday roast chicken and sweet tea, the same shishas and hubbub of politics – but all carried a gloss of tragedy and exhaustion.

The place had been moved wholesale, staff and menu, across the Turkish border to the city of Gaziantep after Islamic State cast its long shadow over their home town and their lives.

Most of the customers were graduates of the extremists’ brutal jails and the rest had fled Isis in fear or disgust. The arrival of a stranger triggered unease; a few weeks earlier two of their number had been murdered at home by a spy posing as another refugee.

“If we were not wanted by Isis, why would we be here?” said one fortysomething businessman, who asked to go by the name Abu Ahmad as both his sons are on the other side of a border; for him, that might as well be an ocean away. “We are here, but our hearts are there.”

With homes and families still in Isis’s de facto capital, few have more at stake in the fight against the extremist group. Yet most are wary about the prospect of Britain joining the air campaign against their bitter enemy after a year in which Isis fighters have been unsettled but not dislodged by hundreds of bombing raids.

“Can someone really be happy if his city is bombed by everyone? No,” Abu Ahmad said, with the bleak humour that many exiles share. “Everybody bombed Raqqa. Anyone who was just annoyed by their wife decided to come and bomb Raqqa. Jordan, UAE, US, Russia, France.”

They fear that more bombs will cost more innocent lives in a city where the civilian population is now held prisoner by Isis to serve as a human shield. Many are baffled and frustrated that the city’s fate is being decided in distant capitals and conference rooms where the people of Raqqa have no presence, in debates where they have no voice. [Continue reading…]

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An interview with Yassin al-Haj Saleh on the role of culture in Syria’s struggle

The New Inquiry: Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a Syrian writer, intellectual and former political prisoner. In 1980, while studying medicine at Aleppo University, the 19-year-old Yassin was arrested by Hafez al-Assad’s government for his membership in the Syrian Communist Party-Political Bureau. He remained in prison for 16 years and 14 days. Since 2000, Yassin al-Haj Saleh has been writing on political, social and cultural subjects relating to Syria and the Arab world for several Arab newspapers and journals outside Syria. In addition, he has authored and edited four books about Syria, including one about his experience in prison. His fifth book is a critique of contemporary Islam and a critique of the critique.

When the Syrian revolution began Yassin al-Haj Saleh, then working in Damascus, went into hiding for two years in the capital. In 2013, he and his wife, the revolutionary activist Samira Khalil, moved to Douma to work for the revolution. Later that year he travelled to his family home in Raqqa where Da’esh was gaining control, and where two of his brothers had been abducted by Da’esh. His brother, Feras al-Haj Saleh is still in their hands. After living in hiding in Raqqa for two and a half months, Yassin was forced to flee to Turkey where he now lives. His journey is the subject of the documentary Our Terrible Country. Samira Khalil was abducted in Douma in December 2013, along with three other well known activists, Razan Zeitouneh, Wael Hamda, and Nazem Hammadi, and their whereabouts are still unknown.

In 2012, Yassin al-Haj Saleh was awarded the Prince Claus Award, as a “tribute to the Syrian people and the Syrian revolution.” He was unable to collect the award, as he was living in hiding. For the last two years he has been living in exile in Istanbul. He is one of the founders of the Syrian online platform Al-Jumhuriya (The Republic), established in 2012. He has also founded, with colleagues from Syria and Turkey, Hamisch, the Syrian Cultural House in Istanbul, a space for cultural debate with participants from Syria, Turkey and the world.

You said in an interview with the Boston Review that “Culture can be a strategic field for our struggle for freedom, both the Assad-ist and the Islamic version.” How do you envision this, and is it a strategy among Syrians, or between Syrians and the outside world?

Maybe it will be a burden on culture at large to affect the Syrian situation, now. The time now is for arms and armed people. It is a country where people have been being killed on a daily basis in terrible horrific ways, with the world watching. We have a lot of experience with arrests, torture, chemical attacks, barrel bombs, attacks by fighter jets, and of course exile — 4 million are living abroad, and more than 7 million displaced within the country. These are our experiences. Our culture could – our culture should be rebuilt on these experiences, and through culture we can rebuild our identity, our roles, and in a way our imagination, and our society. We don’t want to be fighters. I understand why people carry arms against the regime. But I don’t want to be a fighter myself. My tools, my arms, are words. And words can be a very powerful tool in our struggle, not only in Syria, but at the global level, because I think that the Syrian struggle is not something confined to Syria, it is a global issue. And because the world did not help Syria change for better, I think that Syria is changing the whole world for worse. [Continue reading…]

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Syria’s newest rebel army has its sights on ISIS

Vice News reports: The Islamic State group may have suffered several defeats along the periphery of its so-called caliphate, but so far no one has been able to challenge its control over the core of its territory. While the US-led coalition has escalated its airstrikes on the Islamic State’s oil infrastructure, the allied nations have shown little appetite for the grueling ground fight that would be needed to actually drive the group out of Syria’s east. And although Raqqa seems to serve as the Islamic State, or ISIS’, symbolic and administrative center in Syria, it is Deir al-Zour province that provides much of its oil revenue and serves as a critical link between its Syrian and Iraqi territories.

That may be about to change, thanks to a new force of eastern Syrian rebels with a singular focus on the Islamic State and, local sources say, quiet backing from the United States.

Known as the New Syrian Army or NSA, it first appeared in November in a YouTube video under its Arabic name, Jaish Suriya al-Jadid. Its aim is to retake Deir al-Zour, and it seems to have copious American weaponry and air support from the coalition on its side.

Based on interviews with involved rebels and informed local activists reached via Skype and social media, it is clear the NSA faces tough odds. Its numbers are reportedly few, in part because some Deir al-Zour rebels distrust its American backers. Yet the group, drawing strength from deep-seated local enmity towards the Islamic State, might still offer the best hope of pushing ISIS out of a key province. [Continue reading…]

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Kurdish fighters say U.S. special forces have been fighting ISIS for months

The Guardian reports: On a damp afternoon in Iraqi Kurdistan, a 29-year-old peshmerga fighter named Peshawa pulls out his Samsung Galaxy mobile phone, flicks hurriedly through his library until he finds the video he wants, and presses play.

The clip, filmed just after dawn on 11 September, shows four tall and western-looking men in the heat of a battle against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq. “These are the Americans,” says Peshawa in a secretive tone.

One is crouched behind a machine gun firing round after round from the top of a fortified mound; another lies on his front a few feet away, legs outstretched and taking aim at the enemy with a long rifle. A third wields a long-lens camera taking photo after photo, and the last stands back, apparently overseeing the others during the combat south-west of the city of Kirkuk.

The footage, Peshawa says, is evidence that US special forces have been waging a covert war on the frontline in Iraq for months. Such a claim could alter the feverish debate over whether Barack Obama should move farther and faster against Isis in the wake of the Paris attacks.

A string of terrorist atrocities in France, Lebanon and elsewhere has intensified pressure on Obama to take a more aggressive stand against Isis in Iraq and Syria. Having won election promising to end the Iraq war, however, the president has repeatedly insisted that he will not send back ground troops. In June last year he announced the redeployment of up to 300 military advisers there but pledged: “American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.”

The US military denies any special operations forces involvement in combat on 11 September or in three other other incidents listed by the peshmerga. Yet in interviews with the Guardian, a dozen Kurdish fighters and commanders said that US special forces troops have been participating in operations against Isis for months.

In another video, dated 11 June, an American soldier wearing the fatigues and insignia of a Kurdish counter-terrorism unit can be seen walking alongside two dozen peshmerga in the aftermath of a seven-hour firefight with Isis militants in the village of Wastana and Saddam settlement, according to the peshmerga who filmed the video.

“Initially, the Americans rained fire on Wastana,” said Major Loqman Mohammed, pointing to the hamlet which remains under Isis control.

None of the peshmerga were willing to publish their photos or video footage for fear of dismissal, but they allowed the Guardian to watch the video and see the images on their mobile phones.

Karwan Hama Tata, a peshmerga volunteer, showed a Guardian reporter a video which appeared to show two Americans in the midst of the battle accompanied by three peshmerga fighters. He said: “They fight and they even fight ahead of the peshmerga. They won’t allow anyone to take photos of them, but they take photos of everyone.” [Continue reading…]

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How Assad funds ISIS

Kyle Orton writes: Syria’s refineries and power-plants, most now in IS-held territory, are run by regime specialists and IS takes a majority cut either in kind (often electricity) or in cash from the regime. Indeed, paradoxically, it is these areas of most direct cooperation between Assad and IS where they engage in some of their very few clashes because, as a Syrian oil executive explained, “This is 1920s Chicago mafia-style negotiation. You kill and fight to influence the deal, but the deal doesn’t end.”

The evidence that the Assad regime was hell-bent on mobilizing its old terrorist assets to make Salafi-jihadists the face of the insurgency has been available to anyone willing to see for many years — this blog had an evidence compilation in March 2014, and an update in September 2014. Assad’s intention in strengthening Islamic extremists within the insurgency — assisted by Iran and Russia — is to frighten the population into rallying around the regime and warding off international assistance to the rebellion (and perhaps even gaining international support in putting the insurgency down). Put simply: the current interest of Assad is making the IS problem worse. The regime will look to suppress IS eventually but only once, as in Algeria, the dictatorship has destroyed all non-extremist antagonists and discredited the entire idea of opposition by associating it with extremism and bloodshed. Whatever this makes the Assad regime, it isn’t a counterterrorism partner. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS’s mafia-style system of rule

The New York Times reports: Three times a month, Mohammad al-Kirayfawai hands $300 to fighters from the Islamic State for the privilege of driving his refrigerated truck full of ice cream and other perishables from Jordan to a part of Iraq where the militants are firmly in charge.

The fighters who man the border post treat the payment as an import duty, not a bribe. They even provide a stamped receipt, with the logo and seal of the Islamic State, that Mr. Kirayfawai, 38, needs for passing through other checkpoints on his delivery route.

Refuse to pay and the facade of normality quickly falls away. “If I do not,” Mr. Kirayfawai explained, “they either arrest me or burn my truck.”

Across wide expanses of Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State, with the goal of building a credible government, has set up a predatory and violent bureaucracy that wrings every last American dollar, Iraqi dinar and Syrian pound it can from those who live under its control or pass through its territory.

Interviews with more than a dozen people living inside or recently escaped from the Islamic State-controlled territory, and Western and Middle Eastern officials who track the militants’ finances, describe the group as exacting tolls and traffic tickets; rent for government buildings; utility bills for water and electricity; taxes on income, crops and cattle; and fines for smoking or wearing the wrong clothes. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS: The British women supporters unveiled

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Want to help ISIS recruit? Treat all Muslims as potential terrorists

Richard Maass writes: Since the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris, many U.S. leaders have unleashed discriminatory rhetoric in the name of counterterrorism. Thirty-one governors said that Syrian refugees were not welcome in their states. Jeb Bush suggested that refugees should be allowed into the United States if “you can prove you’re a Christian.” Donald Trump said that he would “strongly consider” shutting down American mosques and that he wants “surveillance of certain mosques if that’s okay.” Claiming “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror,” Ted Cruz criticized the Obama administration “because they pretend as if there is no religious aspect to this.”

Of course, most religions — including Christianity — have been manipulated to inspire or excuse terrorism. And people of most nationalities — including Americans — have committed terrorist acts. So the critical question is not whether the Islamic State has a national or religious aspect; a great deal of terrorism does. The question is: Will policies that discriminate against people on the basis of nationality or religion help or hurt efforts to counter the Islamic State’s terrorist threat?

Many excellent scholars — both before and since 9/11 — have produced research that tells us about the relationship between discrimination and counterterrorism.

Here’s what we know. To be most effective, counterterrorism policies need to make an explicit distinction between the individuals who genuinely threaten others with terrorism, on the one hand, and on the other, the broader populations those terrorists claim to represent. Counterterrorism efforts — especially using force — should narrowly target only the former, as much as possible. [Continue reading…]

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There have been 334 days and 351 mass shootings so far this year

The Washington Post reports: The nation was once again gripped by gun violence on Friday after a gunman identified by authorities as Robert Lewis Dear Jr. stormed a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing two civilians and one police officer and injuring nine others.

It is just the latest in a year of more-than-daily mass shootings in America. In fact, there had already been one mass shooting on Friday — in the early morning hours, two people were killed and two injured in a shooting at a restaurant in Sacramento, California. Another mass shooting incident in Boston in the early hours of Thanksgiving Day took the life of an MBTA rail conductor.

There have been at least 351 mass shootings so far this year, according to news reports collected by a reddit community that tracks these incidents. The reddit tracker defines mass shootings as incidents in which four or more people, including the gunman, are killed or injured by gunfire. The Mass Shooting Tracker is different from other shooting databases in that it uses a broader definition of mass shooting — the old FBI definition focused on four or more people murdered as part of a single shooting. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Ségal — ‘Chamber Music’

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What does ISIS really want now?

Jessica Stern writes: In the latest issue of Dabiq, ISIS’s on-line magazine, the organization sets forth two principal but contradictory goals, which it labels “options.” The first is to spread a totalitarian caliphate throughout the region and, ultimately, the world. The second is to polarize Muslims against one another, to incite internal divisions within the West, and to turn the West against Islam, with the ultimate goal of “goad[ing] the West into launching an all-out ground attack, thereby setting the scene for the final battle between Muslims and the crusaders prophesized to be held at Dabiq in Syria.”

Helpfully, ISIS has described for us those steps it regards as necessary to achieve the second option. As an ISIS author — writing under the name of British hostage John Cantlie — observes, option two would likely require “an operation overseas that is so destructive that America and its allies will have no alternative but to send in an army. This would have to be something on the scale, if not bigger, than 9/11. Then again I’m just guessing, American ‘hawks’ may very well come to Dabiq on their own without the Islamic State needing to blow up any dirty bombs in Manhattan.”

Mohammed al-Adnani, official spokesperson of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has repeatedly urged Muslims to carry out a jihad at home. The goal of attacking the West, ISIS says, is to eliminate the “grayzone” of moderate Islam and to force Muslims living in the West to either join ISIS or “apostasize and adopt the kufri religion.” To date, the majority of these attacks have been carried out by self-starters, or “lone wolves,” with little direction from central leadership. But it was only a matter of time before ISIS would attempt to coordinate attacks outside its territory. Indeed, U.S. and European officials say that Abu Mohammed al-Adnani’s role is to now oversee ISIS-directed attacks outside of Iraq and Syria.

Sophisticated attacks outside ISIS-controlled territory require trained fighters, as evidenced in the November 2015 attack in Paris. But such attacks are significantly easier to carry out with operational assistance of local personnel. For ISIS, finding labor is less taxing when they can recruit from an existing pool of disenfranchised Muslims. In examining ISIS recruitment, many of my colleagues have focused on ISIS’s “winner’s” narrative and the carefully choreographed branding whereby ISIS advertises — and attempts to create — a utopian state. This line of argument suggests that ISIS’s defense of its territory is critical to its ability to recruit Westerners. But I would suggest that ISIS attempts to create a somewhat different narrative — the redemption of the oppressed. [Continue reading…]

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The world’s failure to help Syria change for the better, means Syria is now changing the world for the worse

At yesterday’s Stop the War rally in London, Tariq Ali challenged the Cameron government by saying: “If the aim is to destroy ISIS, … then you should be fighting side by side with Assad and the Russians.”

The contradiction between this proposition and the rally’s slogan — “Don’t bomb Syria” — seemed to elude much of Ali’s audience.

Yesterday, on just one city — Darayya — the regime dropped 50 barrel bombs.

For the last four years, barrel bombs have been the principle tools of destruction used in a bloody campaign to crush opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s rule, the leading cause of death of a quarter of a million Syrians, and the driving force resulting in the exodus of half the population from their homes.

Since Russia started bombing Syria, an estimated 1,300 people have been killed, a third of them civilians.

Today, airstrikes, believed to have been carried out by Russian jets, killed 44 people and wounded scores of others in a marketplace in Idlib province.

There are legitimate reasons for doubting the efficacy or wisdom in Britain joining the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS in Syria, but those currently shouting “don’t bomb Syria” seem to be more concerned about who is dropping the bombs than who is being killed by them.

The Syria Solidarity Movement UK issued a statement yesterday explaining why they did not support the Stop the War demonstration.

Syria Solidarity UK and Stop the War have very different concerns regarding Syria: Syria Solidarity is concerned with ending the suffering of Syrians under the Assad dictatorship; Stop the War with opposing any UK military involvement regardless of consequences for Syrians.

We oppose the British government’s proposal to merely mimic the American ISIS-only counter-terrorism war; not only do we believe it is immoral to fly missions in Syria against ISIS while leaving the even greater killer, Assad, free to bomb civilians en masse, we also believe that any war against ISIS that doesn’t put the needs of the Syrian people first will be a failure that can only prolong their suffering.

The Syrian writer and leftwing political dissident, Yassin al-Haj Saleh, points out that our collective failure to act in the interests of the Syrian people has now turned Syria into a global issue.

“[B]ecause the world did not help Syria change for better, I think that Syria is changing the whole world for worse.”

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What the Paris attacks tell us about ISIS strategy

Der Spiegel reports: For years, experts have worried that the up to 4,000 young men and women from Western Europe who are believed to have gone to Syria and Iraq to either fight with Islamic State or live inside it might one day return and conduct attacks here. European IS fighters have long been using social media platforms to openly discuss their dreams of attacks on their home countries.

“Attacking Europe is in the DNA of many of those who have traveled from Europe to Syria,” says jihad expert Wassim Nasr of French international news channel France 24. Still, he argues, it is very unlikely that individual members like [Abdelhamid] Abaaoud made the decision to actually carry out the attacks on their own. He see it is “an issue of such strategic importance that it has been directed from the highest level of IS.” And it appears that the decision was taken months ago.

It’s not surprising that IS chose France as the target of its first attack in Europe. With around 1,200 current and former fighters, the largest number of IS jihadist from Western Europe originate from France. With its numerous military deployments in Africa and the Middle East, France is very much in the terrorists’ crosshairs. Measured against its overall population, the only country in Europe with a greater per capita number of IS fighters is Belgium. Germany also has several hundred residents who have gone to the region as jihadists.

The Europeans tended to play a relatively minor role in combat for the IS in recent years, but they have an important function in terms of recruitment. And under Islamic State’s new strategy, they are also in charge of bringing the war to Europe. The terrorists who struck in Paris may have spent some time in Syria, but they are the product of our society. In that respect, fighting in Syria to prevent Islamic State terror in the West can only have a limited effect. [Continue reading…]

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