The mythical secular civilization promoted by evangelical atheists

John Gray writes: Considering the alternatives that are on offer, liberal societies are well worth defending. But there is no reason for thinking these societies are the beginning of a species-wide secular civilisation of the kind of which evangelical atheists dream.

In ancient Greece and Rome, religion was not separate from the rest of human activity. Christianity was less tolerant than these pagan societies, but without it the secular societies of modern times would hardly have been possible. By adopting the distinction between what is owed to Caesar and what to God, Paul and Augustine – who turned the teaching of Jesus into a universal creed – opened the way for societies in which religion was no longer coextensive with life. Secular regimes come in many shapes, some liberal, others tyrannical. Some aim for a separation of church and state as in the US and France, while others – such as the Ataturkist regime that until recently ruled in Turkey – assert state control over religion. Whatever its form, a secular state is no guarantee of a secular culture. Britain has an established church, but despite that fact – or more likely because of it – religion has a smaller role in politics than in America and is less publicly divisive than it is in France.

There is no sign anywhere of religion fading away, but by no means all atheists have thought the disappearance of religion possible or desirable. Some of the most prominent – including the early 19th-century poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, the Austro-Hungarian philosopher and novelist Fritz Mauthner (who published a four-volume history of atheism in the early 1920s) and Sigmund Freud, to name a few – were all atheists who accepted the human value of religion. One thing these atheists had in common was a refreshing indifference to questions of belief. Mauthner – who is remembered today chiefly because of a dismissive one-line mention in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus – suggested that belief and unbelief were both expressions of a superstitious faith in language. For him, “humanity” was an apparition which melts away along with the departing Deity. Atheism was an experiment in living without taking human concepts as realities. Intriguingly, Mauthner saw parallels between this radical atheism and the tradition of negative theology in which nothing can be affirmed of God, and described the heretical medieval Christian mystic Meister Eckhart as being an atheist in this sense.

Above all, these unevangelical atheists accepted that religion is definitively human. Though not all human beings may attach great importance to them, every society contains practices that are recognisably religious. Why should religion be universal in this way? For atheist missionaries this is a decidedly awkward question. Invariably they claim to be followers of Darwin. Yet they never ask what evolutionary function this species-wide phenomenon serves. There is an irresolvable contradiction between viewing religion naturalistically – as a human adaptation to living in the world – and condemning it as a tissue of error and illusion. What if the upshot of scientific inquiry is that a need for illusion is built into in the human mind? If religions are natural for humans and give value to their lives, why spend your life trying to persuade others to give them up?

The answer that will be given is that religion is implicated in many human evils. Of course this is true. Among other things, Christianity brought with it a type of sexual repression unknown in pagan times. Other religions have their own distinctive flaws. But the fault is not with religion, any more than science is to blame for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or medicine and psychology for the refinement of techniques of torture. The fault is in the intractable human animal. Like religion at its worst, contemporary atheism feeds the fantasy that human life can be remade by a conversion experience – in this case, conversion to unbelief. [Continue reading…]

Conversion can be thought of as an example of the miracle of neuroplasticity: that beliefs, firmly held, can in the right circumstances, suddenly be upturned such that the world thereafter is perceived in a radically different way.

That transition is usually described in terms of a bridge that leads from weak faith, no faith, or false faith, to conviction, but as Gray points out, that bridge could also be imagined to be traversable in the opposite direction.

The mistake that all evangelicals make (be they religious evangelicals or new atheists) is to imagine that they have the right and ability to march others across this bridge.

Real conversion, by its nature, cannot be coercive, since it entails some kind of discovery and no one discovers anything under pressure from others.

In a world that remains predominantly religious, the new atheists have ostensibly embarked on a mission of staggering proportions in their effort to purge humanity of its unreasonable superstitions.

This could be viewed as a heroically ambitious undertaking, but there seem to be plenty of reasons not to see it that way.

If the new atheists genuinely hope to persuade religious believers to see the error of their ways, how can they make any progress if they start out by viewing their prospective converts with contempt?

When was it ever the first step in a genuine process of persuasion, to start with the assumption that the person you are addressing is a fool?

As much as the new atheists may appear to be possessed by evangelical fervor, they’re appetite to condemn religion sometimes mirrors the religious fanaticism that condemns apostates.

“Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them,” writes Sam Harris in apparent agreement with the leaders of ISIS. Their only disagreement is over which propositions warrant a death sentence.

Still, much as the new atheists are often guilty of evangelical errors, I seriously doubt that their mission truly is to mount a challenge against the reign of religion.

On the contrary, I think their mission seems to have less to do with changing the world than it has with preaching to the converted. It’s about selling books, going on speaking tours, appearing on TV, amassing followers on Twitter, and doing everything else it takes to carve out a profitable cultural niche.

Who would have thought that it’s possible to pursue a career as a professional atheist? Sam Harris has, and I’m sure he has been rewarded handsomely and his success will continue, irrespective of the fate of religion.


SNL skit targets American militarism, Toyota — and ISIS?

When an American man reaches that juncture in life where he’s ready to buy a Toyota Camry, he can be confident he’s now living the American dream: a reliable car, a house in the suburbs and then the final act that will prove his boldness and manhood — he tearfully ships off his teenage daughter to join the U.S. Army.

I didn’t watch the Super Bowl, so I didn’t see this ad until today. My reaction to Toyota’s message: WTF?

It seems like the writers for Saturday Night Live also took exception to Toyota’s message and thought that it was worth a parody — a parody which a segment of SNL’s audience thought was in bad taste.

As much as some viewers are applauding SNL for being so bold as to take on ISIS, I think that what the show really did was use ISIS to give themselves some cover while taking an indirect punch at U.S. militarism and the Americanist dogma that military service is the closest thing to saintliness.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for Toyota to seize the marketing opportunity that has been staring them in the face for decades: to launch The Technical — a four-wheel drive pickup truck with a factory-installed gun-mount, and “fully loaded” with all the features that an organization like ISIS needs for desert warfare.

But joking aside, when the military history of the 21st century gets written, among the tools of warfare of preeminent importance, the Toyota pickup truck is probably going to rank higher than the drone. And it’s not just any Toyota truck; the truck of choice is the Hilux.

“The Toyota Hilux is everywhere,” says Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger and now a fellow of the Center for a New American Security. “It’s the vehicular equivalent of the AK-47. It’s ubiquitous to insurgent warfare. And actually, recently, also counterinsurgent warfare. It kicks the hell out of the Humvee.”

Whether you’re an American dad, or you’re fighting for ISIS, there’s only #OneBoldChoice: Toyota.

Now if there’s any way Toyota could trick ISIS to trade in their Hiluxes for the Toyota Isis minivan — that’s right, Toyota makes an “Isis” — there’s no question the militant group could swiftly be defeated.


ISIS may not be a global threat, but neither is it a problem with a ready solution

The New York Times reports: The reports are like something out of a distant era of ancient conquests: entire villages emptied, with hundreds taken prisoner, others kept as slaves; the destruction of irreplaceable works of art; a tax on religious minorities, payable in gold.

A rampage reminiscent of Tamerlane or Genghis Khan, perhaps, but in reality, according to reports by residents, activist groups and the assailants themselves, a description of the modus operandi of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate this week. The militants have prosecuted a relentless campaign in Iraq and Syria against what have historically been religiously and ethnically diverse areas with traces of civilizations dating to ancient Mesopotamia.

The latest to face the militants’ onslaught are the Assyrian Christians of northeastern Syria, one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, some speaking a modern version of Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

Assyrian leaders have counted 287 people taken captive, including 30 children and several dozen women, along with civilian men and fighters from Christian militias, said Dawoud Dawoud, an Assyrian political activist who had just toured the area, in the vicinity of the Syrian city of Qamishli. Thirty villages had been emptied, he said. [Continue reading…]

In the aftermath of the war in Iraq, some Americans, perceiving echoes of the government-fueled national hysteria that followed 9/11, now regard the attention being given to ISIS as disproportionate to the size of the threat.

A few days ago, one commentator described ISIS as: “A nasty nuisance, which has killed thousands in the Middle East, but a nuisance nonetheless.”

If one subscribes to the Steven Pinker view of the world, then how bad the current situation is, just comes down to numbers.

Fewer people have been killed by ISIS than by barrel bombs dropped by the Assad regime in Syria, or were killed during the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The threat to humanity posed by climate change, far exceeds all other global threats, including what can arguably be called a minor threat from ISIS.

But if an issue is defined as not rising above the threshold of being a nuisance, solely based on numbers, then since between 1882 and 1968 only 3,446 blacks were lynched in America, should the racial violence occurring during that chapter in this country’s history be described as having been no more than a nasty nuisance?

The very fact that we view lynching as emblematic of a chapter in history, illustrates the fact that significance can never be reduced to numbers.

In France, the death toll from the Charlie Hebdo shootings was little more than the average number of fatalities that occur every day on France’s roads.

Since statistically, the French face little more risk from terrorism than they face from traffic accidents, does that mean the French government should devote the same amount of time and resources to addressing road safety as they do to tackling terrorism?

Again, this doesn’t just come down to numbers. For one thing, there’s no reason to view road safety as a problem that risks escalating. Neither is there reason to imagine that individuals or groups of people have a specific interest in making the roads more dangerous. Road safety is an issue that gains ongoing and appropriate attention from every relevant constituency from central government to local government, town planners to school teachers, and vehicle manufacturers to medics.

The fact that it is the type of issue that generally gets effectively addressed, is the very reason it is largely ignored in political and popular discourse.

Conversely, while it’s easy to say that ISIS presents a problem that needs “to be dealt with,” the very fact that it remains unclear what mechanisms might be effective in tackling this problem, is one of the main reasons ISIS continues to grab the headlines.

ISIS might not represent an unstoppable force and yet its campaign of violence has proved very difficult to contain.

Politicians glibly talk about the strategy for defeating ISIS, yet no one has made a convincing case that such a strategy has been found.

Some observers believe that each time another ISIS headline appears, the group has simply been served up the attention it craves, but to dismiss this as a group of attention-seekers is to gravely misjudge ISIS’s ambitions.

A year ago, before ISIS had become a household name but after it taken over Fallujah, President Obama wanted to downplay its significance in what became an infamous dismissal — he said they were just “a jayvee team.”

In those early months of 2014, ISIS used America’s inattention to its full advantage.

Whether showered with or starved of attention, ISIS pursues its goals because they have less concern about how they are perceived by Americans, or for that matter the rest of the world, than we might imagine.

The issue now is less about the quantity of attention ISIS garners that it is about the quality of that attention.

When viewed through the paradigm of the war on terrorism, it’s natural and appropriate to point to that neocon project’s manifold failures. We might also see this as the latest manifestation in a problem that cannot wholly be solved. In other words, that we need to learn how to live with what can be regarded as a manageable amount of terrorism.

But maybe we are being distracted by the category of terrorism itself.

In spite of the fact that ISIS has engaged in what are generally viewed as some of the most grotesque acts of terrorism ever carried out, it differs from all other terrorist groups in at least two fundamental ways:

  • It has spawned a mass movement, and
  • It has captured and now governs large tracts of territory.

While there was recent furious debate about whether ISIS should be called Islamic, there has been little discussion about its claim to have created a state.

That claim is treated as too preposterous as to merit consideration — the so-called Islamic State is surely destined to implode.

And yet that hasn’t happened and it isn’t about to happen. Neither is this a state that stands any chance of being recognized by any other, but nor does it seek such recognition. On the contrary, the recognition it seeks is from all those who reject the legitimacy of nation states — and this constituency is large and growing.


ISIS ‘Jihadi John’ named as Mohammed Emwazi, portrayed as victim of UK counter-terrorism policies

British aid worker, Alan Henning, and his executioner, alleged to be British jihadist, Mohammed Emwazi.

British aid worker, Alan Henning, and his executioner, alleged to be British jihadist, Mohammed Emwazi.

The Washington Post reports: The world knows him as “Jihadi John,” the masked man with a British accent who has beheaded several hostages held by the Islamic State and who taunts audiences in videos circulated widely online.

But his real name, according to friends and others familiar with his case, is Mohammed Emwazi, a Briton from a well-to-do family who grew up in West London and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming. He is believed to have traveled to Syria around 2012 and to have later joined the Islamic State, the group whose barbarity he has come to symbolize.

“I have no doubt that Mohammed is Jihadi John,” said one of Emwazi’s close friends who identified him in an interview with The Washington Post. “He was like a brother to me. . . . I am sure it is him.”

A representative of a British human rights group who had been in contact with Emwazi before he left for Syria also said he believed Emwazi was Jihadi John, a moniker given to him by some of the hostages he once held.

“There was an extremely strong resemblance,” Asim Qureshi, research director at the rights group, CAGE, said after watching one of the videos. “This is making me feel fairly certain that this is the same person.” [Continue reading…]

Qureshi, in a statement on the CAGE website, portrays Emwazi as a victim of British counter-terrorism policies:

This case should trigger thinking about British domestic and foreign policy. What risk assessments, if any, have been made about British counter-terrorism policy and the key part it plays in radicalising individuals? How have the security services been allowed to get away with abusing British citizens without redress? Why are the long-standing grievances over Western interventions in the Muslim world been ignored?

Propagandists have a habit of becoming the most devout believers in their own narrative, but I think it requires a particularly distorted mindset to portray Emwazi, given his alleged actions, as a victim.

In a press conference today, Qureshi described Emwazi as a “kind” and “gentle” young man.

In a video released today, Qureshi says: “The questions shouldn’t be about Jihadi John but they should be about what role our security services have played in alienating people in this society and turning them away from being able to find solutions to the problems they have.”

Moazzam Begg, CAGE’s director of outreach and a former detainee at Guantánamo, can also reasonably argue that he has been a victim of Britain’s counter-terrorism policy and what some see as its over-zealous security services.

Given Qureshi’s reasoning, are we to imagine that Begg or anyone else finding themselves in a similar position might be just as likely to follow in Emwazi’s footsteps and become another of ISIS’s executioners?

In fact, Begg has no illusions about ISIS: “You have no idea how dangerous these people are,” he wrote on Facebook in early 2014.

He also wrote:

“I saw muhajireen (foreigners), locked in cages, by Allah worse, than my Guantanamo cell.

“They beat people to make them confess…just like the Arab regimes, there is no difference.

“I have been to many places, Bosnia, Afghan… but never seen this kind of fitnah [turmoil] and such dangerous extremism and readiness for takfeer [excommunication].

“Syrians on the ground have started to hate foreigners because of them.

“ISIS have even detained and killed aid workers…brothers from UK who have taken convoys [have] been looted by ISIS, guns shoved in faces of brothers who have crossed Europe to bring aid.

“And what’s the basis of detaining the non-Muslim aid worker [Alan Henning] who came in as a guest of Muslims, under their protection? They’ve probably murdered him too, just like many Muslims they’ve done that to.”

The world is full of people who for multitudes of justifiable reasons regard themselves as victims, yet this doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for their own actions.

The Guardian adds: “Jihadi John” is one of a trio of Britons who held hostage Spanish, French, Danish, British and US nationals. The hostages were captured in northern Syria, some in Idlib province, others in Aleppo and a third group in and around Raqqa province, which has since become the main Syrian stronghold of Isis.

The jihadi cell that spawned Isis was initially strong in Idlib province, having taken root there in the summer of 2012. From there it spread to Aleppo, where hostages that had been captured at that point were held in one of two locations – under the eye hospital in the centre of the city or in a factory deep in an industrial zone on its northern outskirts.

By February last year, all the hostages, including Briton John Cantlie, who is one of two remaining western hostages, were moved to Raqqa.

It was in Raqqa that the hostages first became aware of the status that Emwazi had developed among Isis. One former hostage described him as “cold, sadistic and merciless”.


The danger in denying that ISIS is Islamic

Is ISIS Islamic? Indeed, is it — as The Atlantic claims — very Islamic?

Strangely, these questions have been treated by many commentators in the West as questions about the nature of Islam rather than questions about the nature of ISIS.

Thus, multiple arguments have been presented to show why ISIS should not be regarded as an authentic expression of Islam — arguments which do a better job of educating non-Muslims about Islam than they do in providing much if any insight into ISIS.

Understandably, many Muslims, appalled by ISIS’s actions, naturally want to assert vigorously that ISIS does not represent Islam and in that sense should not be called Islamic. Fine.

But once one moves beyond the headlines about the atrocities committed by ISIS and beyond the intra-Islamic discourse on the religion’s true nature, it soon becomes clear why the group should indeed be described as being Islamic.

That observation need not be treated as a slur on Islam or a condemnation of Muslims, but seen simply for what it is: a characterization of the religious foundation upon which ISIS rests, in its conception, expression, and goals.

To claim that ISIS is Islamic, is not to claim that it is “an inevitable product of Islam,” or that it reveals the true nature of Islam.

To understand why in objective terms without making qualitative judgements, ISIS can very reasonably be described as Islamic, consider the following report by Ali Hashem. (Based in Beirut, he is a columnist for Al-Monitor who also reports for Al Mayadeen, and has previously reported for Al Jazeera, the BBC, and numerous Arab newspapers.)

When the average Islamic State (IS) member is asked why he is fighting, he typically responds, “So that Sharia prevails and Islam’s banner stays high.”

Marwan Shehade, an Islamic scholar and expert on jihadist groups, told Al-Monitor, “There’s no doubt the organization is built on three main elements: the Sharia, the military might and media. Their main slogan is derived from Ibn Taymiyyah’s famous saying, ‘The foundation of this religion is a book that guides and a sword that supports.’ By ‘a book’ they mean the Quran and religion.”

Despite the debate over whether IS represents Islam and what “true Islam” is, Islamic movements, sects and scholars perceive IS as truly believing it is enforcing the rule of Allah according to the Quran and the Hadith under the guidance of the organization’s Sharia Council, probably the group’s most vital body. The council’s responsibilities include overseeing the speeches of the self-declared Caliph Ibrahim (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) and those under him, dictating punishments, preaching, mediating, monitoring the group’s media, ideologically training new recruits and advising the caliph on how to deal with hostages when it is decided to execute them.

Underlining the central decision-making role of the Sharia Council, Hashem goes on to quote a former ISIS mufti he spoke to in Iraq in January, who told him: “There’s nothing that is decided without the Sharia Council’s approval.”

The average American may not know much about Islam, but by this point most have heard the term caliphate and know that it refers to a kind of Islamic state.

They also know the term Sharia but typically have a distorted understanding of what this means and easily succumb to irrational fears about its implementation.

The effect of hearing President Obama insist that ISIS is not Islamic is to make many Americans believe that the commander-in-chief is in a state of denial. They question whether he really understands who the U.S. is fighting against in its war on ISIS.

Worse, denying that ISIS is Islamic, has the perverse effect of empowering Islamophobes by making them sound like realists — the only people willing to speak the truth about ISIS.

If the only people in America willing to say that ISIS is Islamic are also people who make a radically different claim — that ISIS reveals the real nature of Islam — then Islamophobes will dominate popular discourse on ISIS.


Facing ISIS

There are an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. If one knows nothing else about Islam, that number alone provides sufficient reason to understand why there is no intrinsic relationship between Islam and terrorism. If Islam did indeed breed terrorists, how could there be so many Muslims and so few terrorists?

To view ISIS as revealing the true nature of Islam makes no more sense than believing that a small fundamentalist sect might define Christianity.

Fundamentalists of all stripes see themselves as the standard bearers of “true” religion in a wider context which, by definition, they view as corrupt. Pure religion only needs to be promoted where impure religion supposedly runs rampant.

As soon as we enter into debates about true or false Islam, good or bad Muslims, we are granting ISIS one of its key claims: that Muslims need to defend Islam by policing who does or does not have the right to call themselves a Muslim.

Both ethically and practically, it should be sufficient to recognize that anyone who identifies themselves as a Muslim, is a Muslim — no litmus test required.

In the following interview, Bernard Haykel addresses the question of whether ISIS is truly Islamic.

In Washington, conceding the fact that ISIS probably can’t be bombed out of existence, there is much talk nowadays about the need to challenge the group’s ideology.

Whoever came up with the slogan, “think again, turn away,” must have been a graduate of the Nancy Reagan school of psychology.

Just say no to terrorism.

Right! That’s sure to work — just like a program to pacify violent urban ghetto gang members by recruiting them to the Boy Scouts of America.

It should be axiomatic that in the art of persuasion you will never make a connection with your target audience if you treat them like vulnerable fools, susceptible to being led astray.

Such an approach is bound to be ineffective and likely rests on a false premise: that ones adversary is engaged in willful deception.

The threat from ISIS derives less from deception than it does from the fact that its leaders actually believe what they are saying.

In his closing address at the White House’s Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, President Obama yesterday referred to the “false promises of extremism.” In using that phrase, he echoed a widely held belief that the leaders of extremist organizations do not genuinely believe in the ideologies they promote — that their intent is to dupe naive recruits.

This is all part of the prevailing narrative that emphasizes the importance of de-legitimizing terrorism. In the same vain, ISIS is described as having perverted Islam, for which reason it should not be called Islamic.

This is a wrong-headed approach because it disregards the foundation of radicalization: the rejection of what are perceived as inauthentic expressions of religion, corrupt political systems, and failed societies.

The radical believes he is tapping into the pure root of something that has in its wider manifestations lost its authenticity. Those who don’t share that perception are themselves seen as having no legitimacy and no capacity to distinguish between authenticity and inauthencity.

When an American president, attempts to engage in PR on behalf of the global Muslim community, those Muslims with whom ISIS’s message resonates, will most likely respond to Obama’s words with howls of scorn.

In Congress last week, as the New York Times reported, there was a rare note of realism from an unlikely source who provided a reality check on the ability of the U.S. government to challenge ISIS ideologically.

“Unfortunately, as we all know, the government is probably not the best platform to try to communicate with the set of actors who are potentially vulnerable to this kind of propaganda and this kind of recruitment,” Nicholas Rasmussen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week.

“We try to find ways to stimulate this kind of counternarrative, this kind of countermessaging, without having a U.S. government hand in it,” Mr. Rasmussen continued. “People who are attracted to this don’t go to the government for their guidance on what to do, not the U.S. government and certainly not their governments in the Middle East.”

Neither do they go to their parents, or their imams, or other community leaders.

Obama suggested, among other things, that we need to: “lift up the voices of those who know the hypocrisy of groups like ISIL firsthand, including former extremists.”

That could be useful, but I wouldn’t overestimate the power of such voices. The disaffected have a tendency of being perceived as dropouts — people who didn’t have what it takes, whose commitment wasn’t deep enough, and whose fears undermined their faith.

What would cut the ground from under the extremists’ feet is not a counter-narrative that deligitimizes their claims, but instead a vision that is even more radical than the one ISIS offers.

Obama said:

When governments oppress their people, deny human rights, stifle dissent, or marginalize ethnic and religious groups, or favor certain religious groups over others, it sows the seeds of extremism and violence. It makes those communities more vulnerable to recruitment. Terrorist groups claim that change can only come through violence. And if peaceful change is impossible, that plays into extremist propaganda.

So the essential ingredient to real and lasting stability and progress is not less democracy; it’s more democracy. It’s institutions that uphold the rule of law and apply justice equally. It’s security forces and police that respect human rights and treat people with dignity. It’s free speech and strong civil societies where people can organize and assemble and advocate for peaceful change. It’s freedom of religion where all people can practice their faith without fear and intimidation. All of this is part of countering violent extremism.

The trouble is, these are all observations that have been made many times before, and especially coming from Obama’s lips they sound like nothing more than a wish-list.

For decades, the United States has consistently undermined democracy in the Middle East. Even after the Arab Spring erupted, Obama was only halfhearted in his support for grassroots democracy movements.

The United States does not have it in its power to deliver democracy to the region. What it could do is set expiration dates on the support it provides to its many corrupt allies.

Ultimately it is the choice of these governments to either continue concerning themselves exclusively with their own survival, or to collectively construct a new Middle East in which its people matter more than its rulers.

Right now, the only choices on offer are between two forms of managed chaos. On one side the institutionalized violence of authoritarian and corrupt rulers and on the other the savagery of ISIS.

Neither side has a vision of the future in which the dignity and respect that ordinary people deserve is even being offered.


Four years after the Libyan revolution

On February 23, 2011, CNN’s Ben Wedeman gave this report from a rally in Benghazi:

Some of us are suckers for these kinds of expression of “people power,” but for Glenn Greenwald and other prescient anti-interventionists, such scenes of joy must have been deeply depressing.

How could the Libyans (and those of us who supported their revolution) be so foolish as to not understand that they were hoping for too much if they imagined they might be entitled to the peace and freedom we in the West take for granted?

Less than a month later, as Gaddafi’s forces advanced on Benghazi, its residents warned of an impending bloodbath and appealed for international intervention. Their call was answered by NATO.

But just over two years later, Alan Kuperman, after gazing into his special crystal ball that reveals alternative futures, confidently asserted that “there was virtually no risk of such an outcome” — contrary to its residents fears, Benghazi was never really in danger, said the Texas-based scholar.

Again we were reminded of how ill-equipped ordinary Libyans are to recognize their own interests.

Some observers might think it’s hard to be sure what would have happened to Libya had NATO not intervened. Prophet Kuperman suffers no such doubts:

The biggest misconception about NATO’s intervention is that it saved lives and benefited Libya and its neighbors. In reality, when NATO intervened in mid-March 2011, Qaddafi already had regained control of most of Libya, while the rebels were retreating rapidly toward Egypt. Thus, the conflict was about to end, barely six weeks after it started, at a toll of about 1,000 dead, including soldiers, rebels, and civilians caught in the crossfire. By intervening, NATO enabled the rebels to resume their attack, which prolonged the war for another seven months and caused at least 7,000 more deaths.

Anti-interventionists such as Greenwald, believe that from the vantage point of the intervention’s architects, it was not actually a failure, since the secret motive of all such policies is — so he says — to create a justification for endless war.

[T]here is no question that U.S. militarism constantly strengthens exactly that which it is pitched as trying to prevent, and ensures that the U.S. government never loses its supply of reasons to continue its endless war.

Far from serving as a model, this Libya intervention should severely discredit the core selling point of so-called “humanitarian wars.” Some non-governmental advocates of “humanitarian war” may be motivated by the noble aims they invoke, but humanitarianism is simply not why governments fight wars; that is just the pretty wrapping used to sell them.

From both inside and outside Libya, there are now renewed calls for intervention, this time to thwart the rise of ISIS following the group’s latest atrocity.

Anti-interventionists, ever true to their convictions, presumably believe that no intervention is justifiable or could conceivably help.

But given that such a conviction must be based on an uncanny ability to foresee the future, why wait until the future is past to tell us what it might have been? Why not tell us all now what will happen if the world’s leaders follow your wise counsel?

Anti-interventionists might believe that it is their destiny to be ignored, but that really isn’t true. In 2011 they warned that Libya would set a dangerous precedent — that similar interventions were bound to follow the so-called Libya model. First Libya, next Syria.

It didn’t happen. Indeed, Syria can really be heralded as a triumph of anti-interventionism. Not even the use of chemical weapons was enough to trigger U.S. missile strikes. And once Obama finally mustered a nominal coalition of military forces, it wasn’t with the aim of toppling the regime. Instead they have become de facto allies of Assad, in a combined effort to push back ISIS.

If the lesson from Libya was that dictatorial rule is not such a bad thing, then Washington’s relations with Damascus and Cairo indicate that it has already taken many of the anti-interventionists’ cautions to heart.

Both in the U.S. and Europe, anti-interventionism, seemingly unbeknown to its loudest advocates, is altogether mainstream. In the aftermath of Iraq and Libya, Western governments are far from trigger-happy.

Italy’s Premier Matteo Renzi in spite of ISIS’s presence a stone’s throw across the Mediterranean, now says: “It’s not the time for a military intervention.”

“Wisdom, prudence and a sense of the situation is needed with regards to Libya,” Renzi said. “But you cannot go from total indifference to hysteria”.

Likewise, the UK has ruled out intervention in Libya “at the moment.”

Such caution may soothe some anti-interventionist fears, but there is little evidence supporting the sentiment behind the anti-interventionist position — that being, that if throwing fuel on the fire makes the fire burn more strongly then the converse will necessarily be true.

Sometimes it will be true and at others it will not, but those who refuse to remove their ideological blinkers will find it impossible to differentiate one case from the other.


America and Muslims — the exceptional and the ordinary

Friends and family of Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammed Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Raza Abu-Salha, have eloquently described what exceptional individuals they were and how dearly they will be missed.

It is natural and appropriate that at such a time of tragic loss, those feeling the most grief want to honor the memory of three lives so senselessly cut short.

In their own ways, each of these young people was unique and irreplaceable.

But as Muslims, were they exceptional? Probably not.

We live in a world where blowhards, attention-seekers, and those obsessed with leaving their mark, too often take center stage. Ordinary virtue gains too little acclaim. Acts of kindness that hold societies together, may be so small and commonplace as to often go unnoticed.

People like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Bill Maher, who each appear to have their own need for notoriety and who have contributed significantly to the Islamophobic currents active in North America and Europe, might care to pose themselves this simple question:

Who are more numerous? Muslims like the three who were gunned down in Chapel Hill on Tuesday, or those who flock to join the ranks of ISIS?

There are 1.6 billion Muslims. For any non-Muslim with an ounce of common sense, the answer should be obvious, yet within the febrile imagination of every Islamophobe, every single Muslim is viewed with suspicion.

Over a decade after the 9/11 attacks, Harris, bemoaning the inefficiency of security screening in American airports, wrote:

We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it…

Needless to say, a devout Muslim should be free to show up at the airport dressed like Osama bin Laden, and his wives should be free to wear burqas. But if their goal is simply to travel safely and efficiently, wouldn’t they, too, want a system that notices people like themselves?

Because I have family in the North of England, over the years I have passed through Manchester airport many times and have often amused myself by imagining how terrified Harris would be if he ever arrived there.

If through some act of lunacy, the airport authorities and airlines there decided to follow Harris’ recommendation, traffic would grind to a halt.

Manchester is every Islamophobe’s worst nightmare and yet has never distinguished itself as a hub of international terrorism.

Harris, with his polished demeanor of gravity, refers in all seriousness to people who look like jihadis, as though terrorists obligingly follow a particular dress-code and shaving style.

What he and anyone who truly values reason should understand is that anyone who practices the art of spotting Muslims, is much more likely to encounter the many Deah Barakats than a much rarer Jihadi John or an Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

As for the chances of having a neighbor like Craig Hicks? They’re far greater than the chances of a close encounter with the terrorists that animate the fears of too many Americans.

But then comes the question that appears in one form or another so often on Twitter — this time from Palwasha in Pakistan:

If terrorist just means, worthy of contempt, then sure, both are terrorists.

But even though the term terrorist gets tossed around too freely, I don’t think it has lost all meaning. As Padraig Reidy points out:

Terrorism, as carried out by groups across the world, religious, secular or somewhere in between, tends to come with a cause, a manifesto, a list of demands. Anders Breivik, with whom Hicks will be compared, may have acted alone, but he had a manifesto; he laid out his reasons for killing, and hoped that others would follow his example. There is no evidence thus far that the North Carolina killer was hoping to inspire others, or to issue edicts, or even claim legitimacy for his actions.

As much as can be gleaned from Hicks’ Facebook page, if he had a plan, it didn’t include murdering his neighbors. Having just become certified as an auto parts dealer, it appears he intended to return to a career he had pursued for over two decades. He also seems to have been thinking about vegetable gardening in recent days.

There are numerous accounts describing Hicks’ anger. He described himself a “gun-toting” atheist. The Associated Press reports:

A woman who lives near the scene of the shootings described Hicks as short-tempered. “Anytime that I saw him or saw interaction with him or friends or anyone in the parking lot or myself, he was angry,” Samantha Maness said of Hicks. “He was very angry, anytime I saw him.”

Hicks’ ex-wife, Cynthia Hurley, said that before they divorced about 17 years ago, his favorite movie was “Falling Down,” the 1993 Michael Douglas film about a divorced unemployed engineer who goes on a shooting rampage. “That always freaked me out,” Hurley said. “He watched it incessantly. He thought it was hilarious. He had no compassion at all,” she said.

Hicks’ militant atheism which he expressed obsessively through Facebook, seems like it may have been a channel for his own rage.

Did he choose his targets because of their specific religion, simply because they were visibly religious, or because of some irresistible logic within his own anger?

Whatever his reasons, there’s almost certainly another Hicks in every American city — some angry middle-aged white man whose rage only catches wide attention when he ends up articulating it through the barrel of a gun.

And much as Harris may object to being associated with Hicks, they don’t just share the same ideology; they also seem to have a liking for the exactly the same kind of gun.

In his argument in defense of gun-ownership, Harris features a photo of a Ruger LCR revolver. Likewise, Hicks, posted a photo of his own loaded Ruger LCRx revolver on Facebook less than a month ago.

As a cultural symbol, the gun represents for many Americans something about their core identity — it is cherished as a guardian of freedom.

Yet it also represents a fusion of fear and power, weakness and strength, as it emboldens cowards.

Without his revolver, Craig Hicks would most likely have never been more than an irritating neighbor — a man whose poisonous thoughts never turned deadly.


Craig Stephen Hicks: The new face of militant atheism?

Craig Stephen Hicks

Craig Stephen Hicks

Following Craig Stephen Hicks’ cold-blooded murder yesterday of his neighbors, Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, it’s tempting to suggest that Richard Dawkins shares some culpability in the crime.

Hicks’ Facebook page makes it clear that he is an admirer of Dawkins and the ideology of antitheism.

But to hold Dawkins responsible — wouldn’t that be like holding all Muslims responsible for the actions of a few terrorists? After all, Dawkins advocates treating “all religions with good-humoured ridicule” — not murdering their adherents.

Dawkins is on the defensive and tweeted: “How could any decent person NOT condemn the vile murder of three young US Muslims in Chapel Hill?”

So far I haven’t seen any condemnation of the murders coming from Sam Harris, so it remains to be seen whether in Dawkins’ opinion his closest cohort is a decent person.

Dawkins retweeted this comment: “Can these imbeciles not understand the difference between arguing against religious belief and hating believers?”

I’m not sure which imbeciles this refers to: People like Hicks? Or people who blame Dawkins et al for Hicks’ actions?

Dawkins, Harris, and other prominent atheists, while engaging in their crusade against Islam, invariably employ the same rhetorical device: It’s OK to hate Islam so long as you make it clear you have nothing against Muslims.

The question is: how can such a clean separation be made between people and their beliefs?

The New Atheists themselves are not quite as materialistic as they profess. They too are passionate about their beliefs.

Richard Dawkins would no longer be the man we know if he was “born again” and declared Christ was his savior. Atheism is not written in his DNA and yet his beliefs are just as integral a part of who he is as a person as is his genetic code.

Those who condemn Islam and yet claim they have no intention of promoting hatred of Muslims, are either being disingenuous or they are plain stupid.

On Hicks’ Facebook timeline he re-posted an image embossed with the American Atheists’ logo. In text over a satellite image of the Middle East are the words: “People say nothing can solve the Middle East problem. Not mediation, not arms, not financial aid. I say there is something. Atheism.”

On the page where the image was originally posted, someone comments: “Education takes time compared to, say, extinction or obliteration. One way or another it’ll come.”

If atheism is the ultimate solution, then as this commenter insinuates, in some people’s minds genocide might be the required method for dealing specifically with “the problem” of Islam.

Those who vilify Islam do indeed open the door to those who would murder Muslims, while those who claim that atheism might be the panacea for the world’s problems, are in fact indulging in an idle and sometimes dangerous fantasy.

How do they envisage the world’s religious believers — which include the vast majority of this planet’s population — might be persuaded or forced to abandon their faiths? Good-humored ridicule is unlikely to do the trick.

For a while it looked like science, empowered by The Enlightenment, would effortlessly push religion aside and faith would be replaced by reason, just as easily as the horse and buggy gave way to the combustion engine.

It didn’t happen and there’s little chance it ever will, because while none of us is genetically programmed to take to on any particular belief system, there is reason to think that the a need for belief systems of some kind is built into the architecture of the human mind.

Human life cannot be governed by reason alone and people are no more likely to discard religion than they are to abandon music or sports. Moreover, faith that the world would be more peaceful without religion — a dogma which is axiomatic to New Atheism — has no more solid a foundation than faith in an afterlife.

Thus it is evident that New Atheism, through blind ideology and social affiliations, already shares some of the trappings of religion.

Maybe with the appearance of Craig Stephen Hicks the movement should be seen as having fully entered the religious fold since at its margins, it too has its own murderous fanatics.


The fight against ISIS and the wider war

Hassan Hassan writes: Savagery is part of Isis’s ideological DNA. The danger of the group lies in its effort to transform the concept of jihad not through individual fatwas, as al-Qaida does to justify suicide bombing in civilian areas, but through a fully fledged ideology. To do so, Isis uses stories from Islamic history and modern jihadi texts to change the paradigm of how to understand and conduct jihad.

One of the most prominent of those jihadi texts is a book called Idarat al-Tawahush, or Management of Savagery, by an anonymous jihadi ideologue who calls himself Abu Bakr Naji. The book, translated by William McCants of the US Brookings Institution in 2006, has been widely distributed on jihadist online forums. But for the first time, Isis members have confirmed that the book is part of the organisation’s curriculum. As part of research for a book I co-wrote, one Isis-affiliated cleric said that Naji’s book is widely read among provisional commanders and some rank-and-file fighters as a way to justify beheadings as not only religiously permissible but recommended by God and Muhammad. Another member gave a list of books and ideologues that influence Isis, including Naji’s book.

The Management of Savagery’s greatest contribution lies in its differentiation between the meaning of jihad and other religious tenets. The author argues that the way jihad is taught “on paper” makes it harder for young mujahideen and Muslims to grasp the true meaning of the concept. “One who previously engaged in jihad knows that it is naught but violence, crudeness, terrorism, [deterrence] and massacring,” Naji writes, as translated by McCants. “I am talking about jihad and fighting, not about Islam and one should not confuse them. He cannot continue to fight and move from one stage to another unless the beginning state contains a stage of massacring the enemy and deterring him.”

The concept Isis used to justify the massacre of hundreds of Shaitat tribesmen in Deir Ezzor, Syria, in August was tashreed, a word that can be translated as “deterrence”, as mentioned in the quoted text. “That is the true jihad,” said Abu Moussa, an Isis-affiliated religious cleric, echoing Naji’s text. “The layman who learned some of his religion from [mainstream] clerics think of jihad as a fanciful act, conducted far away from him. In reality, jihad is a heavy responsibility and requires toughness.”

Naji’s book offers practical tips on how to fill the power vacuum left by what he calls the retreating armies of the west and its regional agent regimes, as a result of gradual violence applied by the mujahideen. He says that the defeat of the crusaders in the past was not a result of decisive battles between the Muslim and Christian armies, but was a process of exhaustion and depletion. He argues that the Muslim victory in the 12th-century Battle of Hattin, when crusaders led by the king of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan, were defeated by the Muslim army, led by Saladin, was possible only because of previous small-scale skirmishes in a variety of locations. Such small acts, Naji writes, include “hitting a crusader with a stick on his head”, a statement echoed by Isis’s spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani in the wake of the air strikes in Syria.

Naji says that people think of Muslims at the time of the crusaders as one state, led by Saladin al-Ayubi and Nouradin Zinki, but “the fact is they were small families controlling citadels and fighting jihad against crusaders on a low level, in a hard hitting way. What Zinki and Ayubi did was to bring together those small blocs into one big organisation but the largest role was played by those small blocs.” According to Isis, violence has to be steady and escalatory to continue to shock and deter. Random acts of violence are not enough in this context. Brutality has to be ever more savage, creative and shocking. So if the immolation of the pilot is more savage than previous murders, Isis will undoubtedly be searching for an even more savage method to carry out its violent punishments.

J.M. Berger notes that following the release of the video of Muath al-Kasaesbeh’s murder, many commentators suggested that this time ISIS’s brutality may have been so extreme that it will provoke a backlash, potentially leading to the group’s downfall. Berger cautioned against jumping to this conclusion:

When ISIS publicizes its inhuman horrors, its goal is to infuriate and horrify its enemies, to create divisions within the coalition fighting it, and to draw more and more countries ever deeper into the conflict. The “gone too far” theme may be reassuring, but it’s dangerous. We shouldn’t be congratulating ourselves for reacting to ISIS propaganda exactly as ISIS intends.

This is a popular idea: that if we react the way the terrorists want us to react, then we have given in to terrorism. We have allowed ourselves to bend to their will.

Emotionally, this makes sense. Provocation is an exercise in attempting to hijack agency. So refusing to be provoked in the desired way seems like the best way of avoiding losing control.

But on Twitter, @kufr666 says: “It’s a mistake to take IS ‘intentions’ into account at all when measuring our response to their provocations.” I’m inclined to agree with him.

This isn’t a game in which the winner turns out to be simply whoever succeeds in the exercise of their will. Outcomes matter more.

When ISIS launched its assault on Kobane, the small Kurdish town on the Syrian side of the Turkish border held little strategic value. What it offered instead was an opportunity for the media to have a grandstand view of ISIS in action and a demonstration that they are an unstoppable force. ISIS expressed no doubt about how swiftly or decisively it could accomplish its goal.

Initially, the U.S. deployed its “strategic patience,” responded cautiously to the provocation of ISIS’s muscle-flexing and was willing to allow Kobane to fall under the jihadists’ control.

It turned out, however, that when YPG fighters declared they were willing to fight to their last drop of blood, they really meant it.

The U.S. then faced a dilemma. It could either sit on the sidelines with Turkey and watch the Kurds getting slaughtered, or it could step in and provide air support and hopefully help demonstrate that ISIS is not an unstoppable force.

Some may argue that Kobane ended up being destroyed in order to save it, but the town’s residents were in no doubt that they could claim victory. It was ISIS which sustained the heaviest losses while Kobane itself can be rebuilt.

While the savagery of ISIS is indeed calculated to intimidate those who would stand in its way, the danger for its opponents seems to come less from the risk of overreacting than it does from viewing a small irregular army as a global terrorist organization.

ISIS will succeed or fail based on its ability to conquer and govern territory. It can’t be sustained on propaganda victories alone.

ISIS has staked its credibility on its ability to create a caliphate. It can’t survive as nothing more than a network and an ideology. Ultimately, without land, populations, and resources under its control, it has nothing.

Paradoxically, what some would like to characterize as the greatest terrorist threat in human history, might be better viewed through the prism of conventional warfare with potential winners and losers. ISIS is unlikely to ever surrender, but that does not preclude the possibility of its defeat.

Nevertheless, even if it turned out that the fall of ISIS were to come as rapidly as its rise, the consequences of such a victory would likely have a limited impact on the wider conflict — a conflict currently seen through multiple fractures that span all the way from Pakistan to Libya, but which when history is written may eventually come to be seen as a single war: the Greater Middle East War of the 21st century.

In that war, the fight against ISIS is just one battle. And in that war, ultimately either everyone finds a way of coexisting or everyone continues losing.


Patience is better than revenge

With the burning alive of Lt. Moaz al Kasasbeh — a Jordanian fighter pilot whose gruesome death was videotaped and celebrated by ISIS and its supporters — followed by the swift execution of two prisoners in Jordan, the Middle East’s proverbial cycle of violence keeps on revolving.

Just as swiftly, Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, praised Jordan for this act of vengeance, expressing the hope that “soon other imprisoned terrorists in the kingdom will be executed as well.”

Revenge is always popular in that it briefly satisfies a visceral desire that scores can be settled — it offers the vain hope that order can be reestablished just as quickly as it was lost.

And it applies a theory of justice that has proved demonstrably ineffective throughout history.

Mitchell Prothero reports:

Jordan state television said Tuesday night that Jordanian authorities believe Kasasbeh’s killing was filmed nearly a month ago, and that that was why the Islamic State refused to provide proof that Kasasbeh was still alive during recent negotiations. That belief was consistent with tweets from rebel activists opposed to the Syrian government who posted on Jan. 8 that the pilot had been executed.

Jordan’s King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh were in Washington meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry just moments before the video was made public. There was no hint that any of the men knew of the death as they exchanged pleasantries during a signing ceremony marking increased U.S. assistance – from $660 million to $1 billion – to help Jordan cope with the Syrian refugee crisis and rising energy costs.

Immediately after the ceremony, however, the video hit the Internet, and statements of condemnation and condolences began flowing from the Obama administration to Jordan. The president called it “one more indication of the viciousness and barbarity of this organization.”

Islamist groups often behead captives who’ve been convicted, fairly or not, of dire crimes in an Islamic court, and beheading is a common form of execution in Saudi Arabia, which claims the Quran as its legal code and constitution. But burning alive is a rarity, and its religious foundation was uncertain.

Jihadist supporters on social media said the justification for burning comes from a Quranic verse that authorizes Muslims to “punish with an equivalent of that with which you were harmed,” according to several postings on Twitter and other forums.

Zaid Benjamin, a Radio Sawa journalist who monitors extremists online, noted that the same scripture was invoked after a mob set fire to the bodies of four American security contractors and strung up their charred corpses on a bridge in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004. Today, Fallujah is part of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate.

At the time, mainstream Muslim scholars condemned the act, saying that Islam does not allow for the desecration of corpses. The clerics also pointed out that the second part of the verse jihadists use as justification suggests that revenge isn’t the preferred reaction: “It is better for those who are patient,” the verse states.

Here’s the complete verse from the Quran:

And if you punish [an enemy, O believers], punish with an equivalent of that with which you were harmed. But if you are patient – it is better for those who are patient.

Contrary to the widespread assumption in the West that the Middle East is governed by a philosophy of vengeance, this verse seems more than anything to be a counsel on restraint.

It says if you punish — not when you punish. And to say that the punishment should be equivalent to the harm, while also saying that patience is better, sounds much less like a call for vengeance than a call for restraint.

But if patience is better than punishment, does that mean there should be no war against ISIS? Not in my opinion.

Unopposed, ISIS will continue to advance. Even so, thus far if success can be determined by numbers, ISIS appears to be winning as its losses are more than replenished by new recruits.

That said, raw numbers might be a misleading metric upon which success can be measured.

Obviously it would be preferable if ISIS was visibly losing its appeal, but whereas last year it was ISIS’s unopposed success and its ability to create some kind of caliphate that drove its increasing popularity, those who are now flocking to its ranks are surely being drawn by their desire to die for their chosen cause. In other words, as ISIS becomes increasingly nihilistic, it appeals above all to those who see almost no value in life.

A group that terrorizes the people it wants to govern — that does things like executing children for watching soccer on TV — is demonstrating its own lack of faith in its ability to win popular support.

No doubt ISIS can continue drawing on an unfortunately abundant supply of death-hungry fanatics, but no one can construct a caliphate or any other kind of state with hands whose only skills are destructive.


In the CIA/Mossad Mughniyah murder story, detail should not be confused with accuracy

There’s no better way of making a story compelling than to fill it with granular detail. The more detail there is, the more convincing the account becomes. Details have the aura of hard facts, suggesting the sources must be very well informed.

If the story appears in publications which attach a lot of value to being perceived as authoritative — as do Washington Post and Newsweek — then most readers will take the information at face value.

Thus we come to two reports, both claiming to recount the same events, both detailed and credited to multiple intelligence sources, and yet the details conflict.

In two accounts of the same bombing in Damascus we hear that the bomb was a) “triggered remotely from Tel Aviv by agents with Mossad,” or b) that under the plan “the CIA man would press the remote control.”

One report may be more accurate than the other, or perhaps both are inaccurate.

According to the Washington Post, the assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah by a car bomb in Damascus in 2008 was carried out by Mossad with the CIA’s support and with the U.S. retaining power to cancel the operation.

As Mughniyah approached a parked SUV, a bomb planted in a spare tire on the back of the vehicle exploded, sending a burst of shrapnel across a tight radius. He was killed instantly.

The device was triggered remotely from Tel Aviv by agents with Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, who were in communication with the operatives on the ground in Damascus. “The way it was set up, the U.S. could object and call it off, but it could not execute,” said a former U.S. intelligence official.

According to Newsweek, the CIA claimed the operation as their own and a former official who participated in the project is quoted, saying: “The Israelis told us where he was and gave us logistical help. But we designed the bomb that killed him and supervised the operation.”

Said another source, a former senior CIA operative with deep Middle East experience: “It was an Israeli-American operation. Everybody knows CIA did it — everybody in the Middle East anyway.” The CIA’s authorship of Mugniyah’s bloody death, the operative said, should have been told long ago. “It sends the message that we will track you down, no matter how much time it takes,” he said. “The other side needs to know this.”

A former senior CIA operative with deep Middle East experience — Robert Baer perhaps — says everyone in the Middle East (wouldn’t that include Hezbollah?) knows that the CIA killed Mughniyah, but the story that should have been told long ago, needs to be told now … because Hezbollah doesn’t know what everyone else knows?

If that doesn’t make much sense, it’s because it doesn’t make much sense.

The same report also says: “The CIA was pleased with Mugniyah’s murder, but not so pleased as to take credit for it. Agency officials always feared Hezbollah would feel a need to retaliate.”

The Washington Post also notes:

In a new book, The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins, former CIA officer Robert B. Baer writes how he had considered assassinating Mughniyah but apparently never got the opportunity. He notes, however, that CIA “censors” — the agency’s Publications Review Board — screened his book and “I’ve unfortunately been unable to write about the true set-piece plot against” Mughniyah.

But that didn’t stop him telling his story to the Post, perhaps.

And while Baer characterizes the killing of Mughniyeh as a case of settling scores, a former official speaking to the Post insisted that this was about the future not the past: “What we had to show was he was a continuing threat to Americans.”

The Israel security and intelligence writer, Yossi Melman, offers a political interpretation of the reporting:

It is hard to believe that the timing was coincidental.

Whoever leaked the details of the 2008 joint Mossad-CIA assassination of Hezbollah operational chief Imad Mughniyeh to two US newspapers, and certainly to a paper like The Washington Post, (the second one was Newsweek), did not do so capriciously. Most likely someone wanted to send the following message to the people of Israel and also to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: You need us. Look at the extent of the cooperation between our intelligence communities, which risks being damaged due to the discordant policies of your prime minister. This was the nature of the hidden message behind the leaked assassination operation.

The leak is surprising because the US usually only confirms its clandestine operations if it takes responsibility for them. In the case of Mughniyeh, neither the US nor Israel claimed responsibility. And there remains room for denial because the source of the leak was an anonymous US official and not an official government statement. The actual details of the leak are less important, and we shall see that some of them are lacking in accuracy.

The impression given from the leaked details is that someone wanted the US to take the lion’s share of the credit for the Mughniyeh assassination. According to the media reports, in the joint operation that killed Hezbollah’s “defense minister,” the Mossad played second fiddle to the CIA who was the senior more central partner. It’s possible that this is a great exaggeration, the truth was entirely different and in fact the Mossad was the dominant player in the operation.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time that specific details have been reported on the manner of Mughniyeh’s death.

The Sunday Times reported on February 17, 2008, that the Hezbollah commander was not returning from a nearby restaurant, as the Post now claims, but had left a party at the Iranian cultural center.

According to Israeli intelligence sources, the bomb was not hidden in a spare tire but instead had been placed in the driver’s headrest.

The details being fed to the press at that time were very specific yet apparently not at all accurate.

The details now are no less specific, but likewise, perhaps, no more accurate.

One thing that should be clear is that information provided by intelligence sources, be they current or former, should always be treated with caution.

Those whose careers revolve around secrecy and deception can’t be expected to easily shake off the habits of a lifetime.

At the same time, what we see here is the shadow of journalism.

On the one hand it seeks to bring information to light, and at the same time the process by which that information is gathered, questioned, and analyzed, remains opaque.

We get told the story, but rarely hear the story behind the story.


Humans and animals — the power and limitations of language

Stassa Edwards writes: In his Apology for Raymond Sebond (1576), Michel de Montaigne ascribed animals’ silence to man’s own wilful arrogance. The French essayist argued that animals could speak, that they were in possession of rich consciousness, but that man wouldn’t condescend to listen. ‘It is through the vanity of the same imagination that [man] equates himself with God,’ Montaigne wrote, ‘that he attributes divine attributes for himself, picks himself out and separates himself from the crowd of other creatures.’ Montaigne asked: ‘When I play with my cat, who knows if she is making more of a pastime of me than I of her?’

Montaigne’s question is as playful as his cat. Apology is not meant to answer the age-old question, but rather to provoke; to tap into an unending inquiry about the reasoning of animals. Perhaps, Montaigne implies, we simply misunderstand the foreign language of animals, and the ignorance is not theirs, but ours.

Montaigne’s position was a radical one – the idea the animals could actually speak to humans was decidedly anti-anthropocentric – and when he looked around for like-minded thinkers, he found himself one solitary essayist. But if Montaigne was a 16th century loner, then he could appeal to the Classics. Apology is littered with references to Pliny and a particular appeal to Plato’s account of the Golden Age under Saturn. But even there, Montaigne had little to work with. Aristotle had argued that animals lacked logos (meaning, literally, ‘word’ but also ‘reason’) and, therefore, had no sense of the philosophical world inhabited and animated by humans. And a few decades after Montaigne, the French philosopher René Descartes delivered the final blow, arguing that the uniqueness of man stems from his ownership of reason, which animals are incapable of possessing, and which grants him dominion over them.

Everyone know what it’s like to forget someone’s name. It could be the name of a celebrity and the need to remember might be non-existent, and yet, as though finding this name might be an antidote to looming senility, it’s hard to let go of such a compulsion until it is satisfied.

From infancy we are taught that success in life requires an unceasing commitment to colonize the world with language. To be lost for words, is to be left out.

Without the ability to speak or understand, we would lose our most vital connection with the rest of humanity.

Montaigne understood that it was a human conceit to imagine that among all creatures, we were the only ones endowed with the capacity to communicate:

Can there be a more formall and better ordained policie, divided into so severall charges and offices, more constantly entertained, and better maintained, than that of Bees? Shall we imagine their so orderly disposing of their actions, and managing of their vocations, have so proportioned and formall a conduct without discourse, reason, and forecast?

What Montaigne logically inferred in the 1500s, science would confirm centuries later.

While Stassa Edwards enumerates the many expressions of a human desire for animals to speak, my sense is that behind this desire there is an intuition about the limitations of language: that our mute companions often see more because they can say less.

We view language as a prism that allows us perceive order in the world and yet this facility in representation is so successful and elegantly structured that most of the time we see the representations much more clearly than we see the world.

Our ability to describe and analyze the world has never been more advanced than it is today and yet for millennia, humans have observed that animals seem to be able to do something that we cannot: anticipate earthquakes.

Perhaps our word-constructed world only holds together on condition that our senses remain dull.

The world we imagine we can describe, quantify, and control, is in truth a world we barely understand.


Inexperienced Colorado judge sends wrong message to potential ISIS recruits and their families

There is a strange and cowardly convention in American journalism and society at large that treats criminal action as a mark of adulthood.

If an eighteen-year-old gets shot, there is a reasonable chance that he or she will be referred to as a teen, but whoever pulls the trigger is supposedly an adult — and the worse the crime, the more likely a child is going to be tried as an adult.

The United States and many other countries could learn a lot from Germany.

As Andrew Neilson writes: “Germany sentences young adults under either juvenile or adult law based on an assessment of a young adult’s maturity. The courts have a choice based on the person they see before them.”

Any legal process that has the capacity to determine an individual’s guilt should also be able to make a judgment about their level of maturity.

Shannon Conley and Judge Raymond Moore.

Shannon Conley and Judge Raymond Moore

Shannon Maureen Conley is a Colorado teenager who just got sentenced to four years in prison for attempting to go to Syria to join ISIS. Most press reports refer to her as a woman — I guess she entered womanhood the minute she declared jihad.

The gray-haired judge, Raymond P. Moore, who is in his early sixties, conceded that Conley was naive but said at sentencing: “I need to send a message.”

Like most people who use that expression, Moore didn’t spell out exactly what the message was, but given that despite his mature appearance he has only been a judge for less than two years, my suspicion is that he was less concerned about his message than he was afraid of showing any leniency — possessed by a fear that guides the actions of thousands of government officials across America who are terrified of being viewed as soft on terrorism.

Three other Denver teenage girls were stopped in Germany last Fall as they attempted to make their way to Syria where they apparently intended to marry ISIS fighters. They were returned to their parents without facing charges. Presumably the officials involved in that case felt that everyone’s interests would be better served by returning these kids to their homes rather than locking them in prison cells.

No doubt Moore thought he was sending a strong message to potential ISIS recruits, but in doing so he has sent the wrong message to their parents. No one wants to see their child risk their life by going to join ISIS, yet neither do they want to see them thrown behind bars because of naive, ill-informed, and youthful idealism.

Anyone who actually reaches Syria or Iraq and takes up arms with ISIS is willingly entering a war and will suffer the consequences of that choice, but prior to crossing that threshold — and especially if that individual has yet to exercise the autonomy of an adult — they should be shown some kindness.

By failing to follow that course, the Colorado judge has probably made it likely that kids contemplating running off to Syria will take even greater care to avoid detection, and parents who learn about such plans will be more hesitant about alerting the authorities.


ISIS and the glamour of deadly convictions

McClatchy: Ben Carson stirred controversy last week when he suggested Americans could learn something from the Islamic State terrorist organization. “They’re willing to die for what they believe, while we are busily giving away every belief and every value for the sake of political correctness,” he told a Republican meeting.

In an interview Monday with McClatchy, the retired neurosurgeon, who is seriously considering a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, explained his views.

Carson believes ISIS is resolute in its commitment to destroy America: “Do we sit around and wait for them to do that, or do we take them out?”

Carson’s poverty of thought is evident in his cartoonish yet commonplace expressions.

If an ISIS fighter makes a video that appears on YouTube and in which he pumps his fist into the air, promising that America faces destruction, this is a threat that deserves to be taken about as seriously would a threat to destroy the planet by changing its orbit, hurling it towards a fiery collision with the Sun. Just because the threat is made, doesn’t make it credible.

ISIS can neither destroy America nor Europe but it has already and continues to cause an immense amount of destruction in the Middle East — not as much destruction as that wrought by the Assad regime, but it’s no exaggeration to say that ISIS threatens the stability of the whole region and threatens the lives and way of life of everyone within its reach.

How much harm ISIS can do in the West depends much less on the direct capabilities of the group than it does on the way governments and the public react to events such as the Paris attacks.

The issue for the West is not whether it needs to prevent ISIS taking over the world, but what it can do to limit, reduce and ultimately end what can objectively, without hyperbole, be described as a reign of terror.

(The fact that from overuse the phrase, reign of terror, has lost most of its punch, does not render it meaningless. A movement whose instruments of political control are public beheadings, crucifixions, throwing people off tall buildings, chopping off hands, turning women and girls into slaves, and engaging in frequent mass executions, is imposing what must be called a reign of terror.)

In this challenge, the U.S. and its European allies can and should have no more than a supporting role, so this is not a binary choice as Carson presents it, between “taking them out” or doing nothing.

At the same time, anyone who imagines that there might be some kind of purely non-military strategy for dealing with ISIS, seems to be indulging in wishful thinking.

When it comes to purity of conviction, the only group currently involved in the fight against ISIS that seems to be completely clear about what they are fighting for are the Syrian Kurdish men and women in the forces of the YPG.

If, as Carson sees it, the willingness to die and the willingness to kill, are the measure of the depth of someone’s convictions, then ISIS is indeed a force of unparalleled conviction.

The problem in reading the nature of these convictions in this way is that it presupposes that anyone who has formed such an intimate relationship with death, knows both what he is fighting for and what it means to die.

I suspect that large numbers of ISIS’s fighters understand neither and that the focus of their conviction is not a deeply understood cause served by death, but a conviction that killing and dying are inherently meaningful.

That meaning is not derived from self-knowledge or an understanding of life, but instead from a fatuous desire to be praised by others. In other words, death in ISIS, offers a gateway through which young men burdened by the sense of being nobody can (they imagine) instantly become somebody.

This is jihadist reality TV in which its stars make their names and enjoy their 15 minutes of fame on Twitter. It turns video games into real life and its appetite for carnage is no more meaningful than the make-believe carnage that gets churned out of Hollywood.


NSA on and off the trail of the Sony hackers

After cybersleuth Barack Obama saw the evidence pointing at North Korea’s responsibility for the cyberattacks against Sony, “he had no doubt,” the New York Times melodramatically reports.

He had no doubt about what? That his intelligence analysts knew what they were talking about? Or that he too when presented with the same evidence was forced to reach the same conclusion?

I have no doubt that had Obama been told by those same advisers that North Korea was not behind the attacks, he would have accepted that conclusion. In other words, on matters about which he lacks the expertise to reach any conclusion, he relies on the expertise of others.

A journalist who tells us about the president having “no doubt” in such as situation is merely dressing up his narrative with some Hollywood-style commander-in-chief gravitas.

When one of the reporters in this case, David Sanger, is someone whose cozy ties to government extend to being “an old friend of many, many years” of Ashton Carter, whose nomination as the next Secretary of Defense is almost certain to be approved, you have to wonder whose interests he really serves. Those of his readership or those of the government?

Since Obama and the FBI went out on a limb by asserting that they had no doubt about North Korea’s role in the attacks, they have been under considerable pressure to provide some compelling evidence to back up their claim.

That evidence now comes courtesy of anonymous officials briefing the New York Times and another document from the Snowden trove of NSA documents.

Maybe the evidence really is conclusive, but there are still important unanswered questions.

For instance, as Arik Hesseldahl asks:

why, if the NSA had so fully penetrated North Korea’s cyber operations, did it not warn Sony that an attack of this magnitude was underway, one that apparently began as early as September.

Officials with the NSA and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the report. A Sony spokeswoman had no comment.

On the one hand we’re being told that the U.S. knew exactly who was behind the Sony attacks because the hackers were under close surveillance by the NSA, and yet at the same time we’re being told that although the NSA was watching the hackers it didn’t figure out what they were doing.

If Hollywood everyone decides to create a satire out of this, they’ll need to come up with a modern-day reworking of the kind of scene that would come straight out of Get Smart — the kind where Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, would be eavesdropping on conversation between his North Korean counterparts, the only problem being, that he doesn’t understand Korean.

The Times report refers to the North Korean hackers using an “attack base” in Shenyang, in north east China. This has been widely reported with the somewhat less cyber-sexy name of the Chilbosan Hotel whose use for these purposes has been known since 2004.

If the attackers wanted to avoid detection, it’s hard to understand why they would have operated out of a location that had been known about for that long and that could so easily be linked to North Korea.

It’s also hard to fathom that having developed its cyberattack capabilities over such an extended period, North Korea would want to risk so much just to try and prevent the release of The Interview.

Michael Daly claims that the regime “recognizes that Hollywood and American popular culture in general constitute a dire threat” — a threat that has apparently penetrated the Hermit Kingdom in the “especially popular” form of Desperate Housewives.

Daly goes on to assert:

a glimpse of Wisteria Lane is enough to give lie to the regime’s propaganda that North Koreans live in a worker’s paradise while its enemies suffer in grinding poverty, driven by envy to plot against Dear Leader.

Of course, as every American who has watched the show knows, Wisteria Lane represents anytown America and the cast could blend in unnoticed at any Walmart or shopping mall.

OK. I won’t deny that American propaganda is much more sophisticated than North Korea’s, but when an American journalist implies that Desperate Housewives offers ordinary North Koreans a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Americans, you have to ask: which population has been more perfectly been brainwashed?

In reality, the dire threat to the North Korean regime in terms of social impact comes not from American popular culture but from much closer: South Korean soap operas.


The new war: How targeted killing has become the tactic of choice for both governments and terrorists

After Israel assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas in Gaza on March 22, 2004, John Negroponte, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, said that the United States was “deeply troubled by this action by the Government of Israel.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (representing the U.S.’s closest ally in the war in Iraq) went further and said that Israel “is not entitled to go in for this kind of unlawful killing and we condemn it. It is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives.”

A decade later, so-called targeted killing is no longer a counter-terrorism tactic favored mostly just by the Israelis — it has become a tactic of choice both for the U.S. government and for groups and individuals linked to Al Qaeda.

When Barack Obama took office in 2009, he entered the White House with the promise of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and closing down Guantánamo Bay, but with no hope of being able to credibly claim victory in the war on terrorism, he opted to replace boots on the ground with drone warfare.

He seemed enamored with the technique’s precision, its futuristic glamor and the fact that it would have an even less impact on the lives of ordinary Americans — lives already far removed from the effects of foreign wars. A drone war was a war that America could conduct with very few Americans needing to leave home or even pay much attention.

War was going to shift from shock-and-awe to background noise with drone strikes occurring like lightening strikes in a storm too distant for any American to hear the thunder.

The use of targeted killing apparently no longer deeply troubled the U.S. government. But the tactic that was supposed to finish off Al Qaeda seems to have had the opposite effect.

The U.S. might at this point retain close to exclusive control over deadly drone warfare but it has neverthless created an easy to imitate model of targeted violence where the claimed legitimacy of the violence is not defined by its instruments or the authority of its perpetrators but simply by the idea that the targets are not innocent.

Following the Charlie Hebdo killings, the unity of “Je suis Charlie” in France is meant to show the terrorists that they cannot win, but in as much as Cherif and Said Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly hoped to be of influence, I doubt very much that they cared about broad public opinion. Their target audience, narrow yet widely dispersed, readily accepts the idea that a war defending Islam can legitimately strike “blasphemers,” security forces, Jewish, and political targets.

Terrorism is redefining itself, shifting away from the use of indiscriminate violence in preference for precision targeting.

Analysts in the media have generally ascribed this shift to a matter of expedience — it’s easier to buy guns than construct bombs. But true as that might be, I suspect the shift has more to do with an ideological shift which springs from the desire to widen the recruiting base of future killers.

Killing innocent people is very hard to justify in the name of any cause. Moreover, to hold ordinary citizens accountable for the actions of their governments isn’t a particularly persuasive argument when universally people feel like they have little influence over the affairs of state.

Just hours before the Kouachi brothers were killed, a Frenchman identified in the media simply as Didier was greeted by one of them at the entrance to the print shop in Dammartin-en-Goele where they had taken refuge. As he left, the gunman said, “Go, we don’t kill civilians.”

This seems to now be central to Al Qaeda’s message: we are not indiscriminate killers.

When President Obama ordered the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, no doubt he believed his decision was legally defensible and morally justifiable, but in the eyes of Awlaki’s supporters this action must have reinforced the notion that anyone can claim the right to kill when they are convinced that their victims deserve to die.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week reiterated what have become frequent warnings about the rising threat from “lone wolf” terrorists — those whose actions are impossible to anticipate.

But the lone wolves are not out committing random acts of violence:

A new ISIS video released last week warned: “We will expand across all of Europe, to France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and also the USA… I say to my brothers, if you see a police officer — kill him. Kill them all.”

(The same video also encouraged killing “all infidels that you see in the streets” — an indication that ISIS still has a predilection for old-school, indiscriminate, mass violence.)

Over the last year, as government and security officials in Europe and North America have made increasingly frequent warnings about the dangers posed by Western fighters returning to their home countries from Syria, bringing the war with them, I have been among those who thought the threat was being exaggerated.

The flow of fighters appeared to be going overwhelmingly in the opposite direction and if a few returned home, it seemed much more likely that their decision would be precipitated by disenchantment with jihad rather than the desire to take their fight to the West.

The evidence now suggests, however, that the official warnings were not the kind of fear-mongering that commonly and cynically gets ascribed to nothing more than the promotion of an ever-expanding national security state.

When 80,000 security personnel get deployed to hunt down two men, it’s easy to argue that this kind of response amounts to a massive over-reaction. To a degree, that seems true, yet police and other domestic security forces do actually find themselves in a situation for which there are neither parallels in conventional law enforcement or even earlier forms of terrorism.

Even so, as Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, said on German public television this week, “we must be calm and master the situation with a sense of proportion. Panic and hysteria don’t help.”


Criticizing Islam without being Islamophobic

Rally in Lahore, Pakistan, protesting against Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.

Rally in Lahore, Pakistan, protesting against Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.

If the text on the banner above had been faked by someone using Photoshop, one might imagine that this was some kind of Islamophobic satire. But it is not. These are Muslims who unwittingly satirize themselves. Nothing that can be said about them is more damning than what they say themselves.

I am not a Muslim, nor a scholar of Islam and thus have no competence to engage in a critique of Islamic doctrine. So when I talk about criticizing Islam, I’m not implying that I think it is doctrinally defective.

Islam, in my view, is just like any other religion, in the sense that it is an amorphous, complex entity, expressed collectively through the lives of everyone who calls themselves a Muslim. Islam equals 1.8 billion Muslims, almost a quarter of the world’s population, including as much diversity as the non-Muslim world.

Arguments about “good” Muslims and “bad” Muslims, authentic Islam and distorted Islam, radical Islam and moderate Islam, generally involve questions about how Muslims want to represent themselves or how they are represented by others. Like all representations, these have the tendency of projecting uniformity by masking complexity.

In the polarized atmosphere following 9/11 and once again following the Charle Hebdo attacks, at one extreme are those who say that the attacks reveal the true nature of Islam and at the other those who say the attacks and attackers have nothing to do with Islam. Each camp sees the other as promoting a lie.

Among those in the West who see anti-Muslim rhetoric escalating to a dangerous degree, the standard response has been to attribute this to an underlying racism and Islamophobia — both of which are of course clearly in evidence in Europe and North America — but the problem in making this analysis is that it tends to gloss over some glaringly obvious and disturbing facts.

The French gunmen chose as their target, individuals whose only “crime” was that they had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, and having accomplished their goal, loudly declared “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.” Even if they were alone in thinking this, it seems undeniable that in their own minds they believed that they were acting in defense of Islam.

But they were not alone. At a small demonstration in Peshawar, Pakistan, this week, protesters chanted “Long live Cherif Kouachi, long live Said Kouachi.” They branded the cartoonists, not the gunmen, as the terrorists. They marched behind a placard which said: “A strong message was needed and they [the Kouachis] delivered it. We salute the messengers. May they live long.”

Expressions of support for the attacks can be found in abundance online.

Today there are again protests across Pakistan against the cartoons in the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo.

But the Lebanese journalist, Nadim Koteich, points out bluntly what should be obvious to Muslims and non-Muslims alike:

Nothing insults Islam more than the Charlie Hebdo massacre.”

In a similar vein, Nervana Mahmoud laments: “We are more offended by cartoons than butcheries, crucifixion, slavery, flogging. That how twisted is our mindset!”

Meanwhile, Raif Badawi, a blogger in Saudi Arabia has received 50 lashes — the first installment in a sentence of 1,000 lashes — for “insulting Islam.”

Badawi’s “crime” is that he has expressed ideas like this: “States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.”

While the Paris attacks were widely condemned in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi rulers have been criticized for not condemning the cartoons and so the Badawi case serves as a way they can boost their religious credibility.

“They’re under pressure inside to punish people like him, especially among Salafis. It is a question of the legitimacy of the state. You have to remember those people are very influential at a street level,” Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi security expert with close ties to the Saudi Interior Ministry, told Reuters.

In the West, the popular and visceral response to the Paris attacks was they represented a dire threat to free speech and thus free speech must be vigorously defended.

This then provoked a smaller but fairly vocal “yes, but…” reaction which focused on the need to oppose Islamophobia and to acknowledge that the cartoonists had been unnecessarily provocative.

One of the many problems with this backlash is that it prompts an eminently reasonable question: If now is not the time to be speaking in defense of free speech, when would such a need arise?

Slavoj Žižek refers to “the pathological fear of many Western liberal Leftists to be guilty of Islamophobia,” and I agree that such a fear exists.

Indeed, I would say that the only way a non-Muslim can genuinely show solidarity with Muslims right now is, paradoxically, by taking the risk of appearing Islamophobic.

Rather than treat Islam and Muslims like a delicate fruit which will bruise unless handled with the greatest care, it might actually be a sign of greater respect to assume that this religious tradition and its living representatives have enough resilience to withstand criticism from both the inside and the outside.

(And I’d apply the same argument to Jews and any other group that have a tendency of hiding behind their own sense of victimization.)