College student is removed from Southwest Airlines flight because he spoke Arabic

The New York Times reports: A college student who came to the United States as an Iraqi refugee was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight in California earlier this month after another passenger became alarmed when she heard him speaking Arabic.

The student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, was taken off a flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Oakland on April 6 after he called an uncle in Baghdad to tell him about an event he attended that included a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about it,” he said.

He told his uncle about the chicken dinner they were served and the moment when he got to stand up and ask the secretary general a question about the Islamic State, he said. But the conversation seemed troubling to a nearby passenger, who told the crew she overheard him making “potentially threatening comments,” the airline said in a statement.

Mr. Makhzoomi, 26, knew something was wrong as soon as he finished his phone call and saw that a woman sitting in front of him had turned around in her seat to stare at him, he said. She headed for the airplane door soon after he told his uncle that he would call again when he landed, and qualified it with a common phrase in Arabic, “inshallah,” meaning “god willing.”

“That is when I thought, ‘Oh, I hope she is not reporting me,’ because it was so weird,” Mr. Makhzoomi said.

That is exactly what happened. An Arabic-speaking Southwest Airlines employee of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent came to his seat and escorted him off the plane a few minutes after his call ended, he said. The man introduced himself in Arabic and then switched to English to ask, “Why were you speaking Arabic in the plane?” [Continue reading…]

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Islamist radicals are a threat. But do you need to attack their religion?

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Islam is not a monolithic thing. It’s embraced by multitudes that speak different languages, think different thoughts and grapple with different challenges every day. It has no central, governing institution and no shortage of internal debates and schisms.

Some analysts point out that the attacks on Islam aren’t really about religion, per se. “Their ‘cultural racism’ portrays Muslims as an irremediable, jihadist fifth column,” writes journalist and critic Adam Shatz in an incisive essay about the Charlie Hebdo editorial and its boosters. “Their fear of Islam has less to do with the religion than with the people who practice it.”

That was very much on show in the face of Europe’s migrant crisis, when fears of a “jihadist fifth column” consumed a segment of the Western public and shaped the response to what aid groups and the United Nations desperately plead is, first and foremost, a humanitarian tragedy in the Middle East.

Given the violence in Brussels and Paris, these fears are understandable. But it’s a case of seeing a vast forest when there are only a few trees.

“Claiming that Europe faces a Muslim invasion has become standard fare for a range of politicians and political parties in Europe,” noted Nate Schenkkan, the project director behind a recent Freedom House report on the rise of illiberal politics in parts of the continent. “This kind of speech undermines democracy by rejecting one of its fundamental principles — equality before the law. There is a danger that this kind of hateful, paranoid speech will lead to violence against minorities and refugees.”

This “hateful, paranoid speech” has its obvious political uses, though. Fiery populists on both sides of the pond have pointed to the threat of Islam when campaigning, often with success, in recent local elections.

The trouble is that pinning the radicalization and criminality of a small minority on whole communities — a whole religion, even — obscures more than it reveals. It reduces to abstraction what are far more complicated and important problems to consider, such as lapses in security and intelligence as well as troubles over assimilation and integration.

And, as myriad experts on counterterrorism policy and the Middle East have argued, it trades in the same logic that is employed by Islamist organizations.

“Promoting a clash of civilizations and destroying the reality of productive coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims was always at the heart of al-Qaeda’s strategy. The Islamic State has avowed the same goal of eliminating the ‘gray zones’ of toleration,” writes Marc Lynch, professor of international affairs at George Washington University. “With American political discourse these days, the prospects for escaping the iron logic of this strategy have never looked more dismal.” [Continue reading…]

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Muslims used to love living in Tennessee — now it’s a nightmare

BuzzFeed reports: The fire department called before dawn. Daoud Abudiab and his 13-year-old daughter were already awake, so they got in the car quickly. From about a mile away, Abudiab saw a plume of black smoke rising above the low skyline and started getting nervous. He thought back to the arguments over whether to mark the Islamic Center of Columbia, Tennessee, the only mosque in the hundred-mile stretch between Nashville and Huntsville, with a large sign or a small, unassuming one. They had opted for a large one.

Abudiab and his daughter could feel the heat of the fire when they stood at the yellow police tape. A black swastika was spray-painted on the mosque’s facade. Flames pushed out from the burst windows and up through the collapsed roof. Abudiab’s wife arrived with the rest of the kids, followed by other congregants and their families.

Abudiab looked at the women and all he saw was headscarves. “Go home,” he pleaded. “Don’t go out. Don’t go to Walmart. Don’t go anywhere.”

The ringleader of the band of white supremacists who burned down the mosque with Molotov cocktails justified the act by saying, “What goes on in that building is illegal according to the Bible.” This was February 2008. The theory of Barack Obama’s crypto-Islamism was faint chatter on the fringes. But in the years after Obama’s election, Tennessee became a key battleground in a national anti-Muslim movement whose influence has culminated, for now, in the presidential campaigns of Republican frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, both of whom are being advised by people whose views on Islam were once considered too extreme for mainstream politics. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s vision for America

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In an editorial, the Boston Globe says: Donald J Trump’s vision for the future of our nation is as deeply disturbing as it is profoundly un-American.

It is easy to find historical antecedents. The rise of demagogic strongmen is an all too common phenomenon on our small planet. And what marks each of those dark episodes is a failure to fathom where a leader’s vision leads, to carry rhetoric to its logical conclusion. The satirical front page of this section [shown above] attempts to do just that, to envision what America looks like with Trump in the White House.

It is an exercise in taking a man at his word. And his vision of America promises to be as appalling in real life as it is in black and white on the page. It is a vision that demands an active and engaged opposition. It requires an opposition as focused on denying Trump the White House as the candidate is flippant and reckless about securing it.

After Wisconsin, the odds have shrunk that Trump will arrive in Cleveland with the requisite 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination outright. Yet if he’s denied that nomination for falling short of the required delegates, Trump has warned, “You’d have riots. I think you’d have riots.” Indeed, who knows what Trump’s fervent backers are capable of if emboldened by the defeat of their strongman at the hands of the hated party elite. [Continue reading…]

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Sheldon Adelson and top GOP donors retreat to the sidelines

Politico reports: Dispirited over a Republican Party primary that has devolved into an ugly, damaging fight, some of the GOP’s biggest financiers are reevaluating whether to invest in the 2016 presidential contest at all.

Among those on the sidelines: Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who hosted the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring meeting at his Venetian hotel this weekend. His apparent ambivalence about 2016 was shared by many RJC members here. With grave doubts about the viability of the few remaining Republican contenders, many of these Republican donors have decided to sit out the rest of the primary entirely. And while some are reluctantly getting behind a remaining candidate, others are shifting their attention to congressional contests.

On Friday morning, during a meeting of the group’s board, Arthur Finkelstein, an iconic Republican strategist who has advised numerous politicians over the past four decades, presented polling data that showed Donald Trump sitting at historically low approval numbers among American Jews, according to three attendees who described the off-the-record meeting. Ted Cruz, despite an aggressive recent push to court Jews, fared little better.

Following the nearly 30-minute presentation, the group turned to a discussion about what’s next in the race. While some in the room spoke in favor of Cruz, others expressed reservations about his prospects in the general election. Trump, meanwhile, had little support: Not one person volunteered to raise money for him if he were the nominee. [Continue reading…]

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How Joseph McCarthy henchman Roy Cohn became Donald Trump’s mentor

Michael Kruse writes: The reporter from the Washington Post didn’t ask Donald Trump about nuclear weapons, but he wanted to talk about them anyway. “Some people have an ability to negotiate,” Trump said, of facing the Soviet Union. “You either have it or you don’t.”

He wasn’t daunted by the complexity of the topic: “It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles,” he said.

It was the fall of 1984, Trump Tower was new, and this was unusual territory for the 38-year-old real estate developer. He was three years away from his first semi-serious dalliance with presidential politics, more than 30 years before the beginning of his current campaign—but he had gotten the idea to bring this up, he said, from his attorney, his good friend and his closest adviser, Roy Cohn.

That Roy Cohn.

Roy Cohn, the lurking legal hit man for red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy, whose reign of televised intimidation in the 1950s has become synonymous with demagoguery, fear-mongering and character assassination. In the formative years of Donald Trump’s career, when he went from a rich kid working for his real estate-developing father to a top-line dealmaker in his own right, Cohn was one of the most powerful influences and helpful contacts in Trump’s life. [Continue reading…]

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The politics of backlash

Roger Cohen writes: There is a global backlash against rising inequality, stagnant middle-class incomes, politicians for sale, social exclusion, offshoring of jobs, free trade, mass immigration, tax systems skewed for giant corporations and their bosses, and what Pope Francis has lambasted as the “unfettered pursuit of money.”

The backlash takes various forms. In the United States it has produced an angry election campaign. The success of both Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left owes a lot to the thirst for radical candidates who break the mold. Trump is unserious and incoherent; Sanders is neither of those things. But they both draw support from constituencies that feel stuck, reject politics as usual, and perceive a system rigged against them.

Hillary Clinton’s chief predicament, apart from the trust issue, is that she represents the past in a world where the post-cold-war optimism that accompanied her husband’s arrival in the White House almost a quarter-century ago has vanished. To embody continuity these days is political suicide.

In an interesting essay in the journal STIR, Jonna Ivin writes: “People want to be heard. They want to believe their voices matter. A January 2016 survey by the Rand Corporation reported that Republican primary voters are 86.5 percent more likely to favor Donald Trump if they ‘somewhat agree or ‘strongly agree’ with the statement, ‘People like me don’t have any say about what the government does.”’ [Continue reading…]

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Why Trump can’t break the GOP

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Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson write: Everywhere you look, in the year of Donald J. Trump, observers are talking about a national party realignment or a Republican death spiral. Our two-party system has not undergone a major realignment since the South became solidly Republican. There has not been a major-party demise since the Whigs collapsed on the eve of the Civil War.

Mr. Trump (or Ted Cruz) could very well lead the party to a decisive and divisive defeat. If it was catastrophic enough, it could lead to changes in party strategy. Yet predictions of a Republican crackup should be greeted with skepticism. While rumors of the death of the Republican Party have been common in recent presidential elections, they have proved again and again to be vastly exaggerated.

The gap between expectations and political realities reflects two mistakes: The first is to overestimate the centrality of presidential contests to our system of checks and balances.

The second is to misunderstand the recent Republican electoral successes — which rest less on effective governance than on attacking government, and especially the occupant of the Oval Office. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s nomination would be ‘a historic election defeat just waiting to happen’

The New York Times reports: Mr. Trump has become unacceptable, perhaps irreversibly so, to broad swaths of Americans, including large majorities of women, nonwhites, Hispanics, voters under 30 and those with college degrees — the voters who powered President Obama’s two victories and represent the country’s demographic future. All view him unfavorably by a 2-to-1 margin, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.

In some states, Mr. Trump has surprised establishment-aligned Republicans with his breadth of support beyond the less-educated men who form his base. Even so, his support in the nominating process, in which some 30 million people may ultimately vote, would be swamped in a general election, when turnout is likely to be four times that.

“We’re talking about somebody who has the passionate devotion of a minority and alternately scares, appalls, angers — or all of the above — a majority of the country,” said Henry Olsen, a conservative analyst. “This isn’t anything but a historic election defeat just waiting to happen.” [Continue reading…]

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Is Donald Trump actually a fascist?

The Toronto Star reports: Google Donald Trump, and it won’t be long before the “f” word comes up.

The word is “fascist.” And it’s back in a way that hasn’t been seen for years, as opponents grope for a term that matches the repulsion that a majority of Americans feel for The Donald.

Former Mexican president Vicente Fox has all but called Trump a fascist — and used another “f-word” for his proposed border wall.

Historian Fedja Buric compared him with founding fascist Benito Mussolini. And New Republic editor Jamil Smith said it straight out: “yes, Donald Trump is a fascist.”

Trump even went too far for tub-thumping far right radio host Glenn Beck, who lumped him with “Adolph Hitler in 1929,” on ABC-TV.

But those who have made an academic study of fascism say although Trump and his Coalition of the Chilling may share some of the characteristics of past fascists, the jaw-jutting reality star doesn’t quite squeeze into the classic 20th-century mould. [Continue reading…]

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The overlooked star of the Trump show is the crowd

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Gwynn Guilford writes: Over the span of three days in March, in far-flung corners of Ohio, more than 20,000 people—retired schoolteachers, hair stylists, chinos-clad Young Republicans, Nicaraguan immigrants, Vietnam vets, primly coiffed soccer moms—braved downpours, traffic, muscle spasms, hunger, and protesters for a chance to behold, in the very tanned flesh, Donald J. Trump, billionaire, business genius, TV star, and, very possibly, the next president of the United States. One of those people was me.

I went, first and foremost, to answer a deceptively simple question: How has Trump defied pretty much every rule not just of electoral politics, but of contemporary civil discourse to lead the race for the Republican party’s nomination for president? Set aside for one moment the economic conditions that we know have made Trump’s rise possible. What about those of the human psyche? What does Trump’s improbable rise reveal about how Americans understand themselves, what they imagine for their country, what they crave in their leaders?

To find answers to these questions, I decided to become part of Trump’s audience, not just its observer. For three days in mid-March, I buried my reporter credentials in my bag and lost myself in the throngs of Trump supporters at rallies in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Youngstown. What I experienced astonished me. I’m far from being a Trump supporter; in fact I object to most of his views. But as I shuffled out of a Youngstown aircraft hangar, I became aware of the unsettling but very real possibility that, in the thrill of the moment, I’d been chanting along with the Trump crowd. (I don’t think I did, but I can’t be sure). Indeed, it felt like I had just taken part in an epic psychological experiment.

Spending three straight days in the audience taught me one crucial thing. The overlooked star of the Trump show is the crowd—the single-voiced creature that roars “Mexico!” when asked about wall construction, and emits a foghorn of boos when reminded of reporters cooped in a pen at the rear of the room. From within the Trump rally masses, I felt the strange sea-change that fuses 20,000 individuals into one being, I felt its power swell, and sometimes it felt good. [Continue reading…]

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Adventures in the Trump Twittersphere

Zeynep Tufekci writes: Every morning since August, I have steeled myself to enter an alternate universe. I scroll through social media feeds where people are convinced that Congress funds the Islamic State, that our president hates this country and wants it to fail and that Donald J. Trump is the only glimmer of hope in this bleak landscape.

It’s my look at a list of Twitter users whom I’ve identified as Trump supporters. Some accounts have only a few followers while some have tens of thousands. (No one comes close to Mr. Trump himself, at more than seven million.) They include people of many professions and backgrounds. I found them by reading at responses to news media or political accounts, and then went on to seek out other accounts they followed. It’s a large, sprawling network.

As an academic, I study social media and social movements, from the uprising in Egypt to Black Lives Matter. As I watched this election season unfold, I wanted to gain a better understanding of the power of the Trump social media echo chamber. What I’ve been reading has surprised even my jaded eyes. It’s a world of wild falsehoods and some truth that you see only rarely in mainstream news outlets, or hear spoken among party elites.

It’s popular to argue today that Mr. Trump’s success is, in part, a creation of the traditional news media — cable networks that couldn’t get enough of his celebrity and the ratings it brought, and newspapers that didn’t scrutinize him with enough care. There is some truth in that, but the contention misses a larger reality.

Mr. Trump’s rise is actually a symptom of the mass media’s growing weakness, especially in controlling the limits of what it is acceptable to say. [Continue reading…]

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Trump attack on Geneva Conventions denounced by ex-officers and advocates

The Guardian reports: Retired senior military officers and human rights advocates are reacting with disgust at Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s description of the Geneva Conventions as a “problem” for the conduct of US wars.

At an appearance in Wisconsin on Wednesday that was obscured by his suggestion that women who choose abortion should face punishment, Donald Trump was also quoted as saying: “The problem is we have the Geneva Conventions, all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight.”

Trump has previously advocated killing the families of terror suspects; torture “a hell of a lot worse” than waterboarding; and widespread bombing campaigns against Islamic State, which operates in civilian-packed areas. The Geneva Conventions provide the basis for protections against war crimes, privileging the status of civilians and detainees during wartime.

Several retired officers said the comments called into question Trump’s fitness to serve as commander-in-chief, saying that service members operating in line with his predilections would be tasked with behavior ranging from the disgraceful to the illegal.

“Donald Trump cannot possibly understand [Geneva] because he has neither the experience, the expertise or the moral compass to grasp it,” said Steve Kleinman, an air force reserve colonel and an interrogations expert. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump may sound like a clown, but he is a rhetoric pro like Cicero

Joe Romm writes: A key purpose of hyperbole is to express the emotion of anger, as Aristotle explained in classic work, “Rhetoric,” the first in-depth study of the art. Aristotle explains the hyperboles “show vehemence of character; and this is why angry people use them more than other people.”

When Trump makes wildly over-the-top claims — he’s going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it — it has no effect on his supporters to point out that this is hyperbolic nonsense. Quite the reverse. Trump’s claim moves them emotionally and persuades them precisely because it is hyperbolic nonsense. They are angry, and he’s showing that he is angry too — which is vastly more effective communications than the bland assertions by the professional politicians that they “understand” there is a lot of anger out there.

“Your language will be appropriate if it expresses emotion and character,” notes Aristotle. “To express emotion, you’ll employ the language of anger in speaking of outrage; the language of disgust and discrete reluctance to utter a word when speaking of impiety or foulness; the language of exultation for a tale of glory.”

Trump loves the rhetorical device of phony “reluctance” to utter a word or phrase: “She just said a terrible thing. You know what she said? Shout it out because I don’t want to say. OK you’re not allowed to say and I never expect to hear that from you again. She said — I never expect to hear that from you again — she said he’s a pussy…. That’s terrible! Terrible.”

This figure, apophasis (from the Greek word for “to deny”), emphasizes a point by pretending to deny it, stresses an idea or image by saying you don’t want talk about it, as with Trump’s use of “pussy.” A favorite of Cicero’s — “I will not even mention the fact that you betrayed us in the Roman people by aiding Catiline” (63 BC) — it’s also called paralipsis (from the Greek word for “omission”).

Trump, however, is more Ciceronian than Cicero himself:

  • “I was going to say ‘dummy’ Bush; I won’t say it. I won’t say it,”
  • “I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct,”
  • “Unlike others, I never attacked dopey Jon Stewart for his phony last name. Would never do that!”
  • “I promised I would not say that she [Carly Fiornia] ran Hewlett-Packard into the ground, that she laid off tens of thousands of people and she got viciously fired. I said I will not say it, so I will not say it.”

Seriously — but then again, this should be very serious, selecting a President.

Shakespeare and the great rhetoricians of the past knew and regularly used some two hundred figures of speech. Equally important, they knew which figures expressed which kind of emotion and hence when to use them to get the desired emotional effect.

In recent months, scholars have pointed out Trump’s use of a great many different figures beyond hyperbole (including various figures of repetition) — he uses more figures more often than any of the other major candidates. They’ve called him “a brilliant master of rhetoric” who has “plundered the figures of classical rhetoric.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump says that after 9/11 Bush should have ‘just gone to the beach and enjoyed the ocean and the sun’

In an interview with the New York Times, Donald Trump said: Every bad decision that you could make in the Middle East was made. And now if you look at it, if you would go back 15 years ago, and I’m not saying it was only Obama, It was Obama’s getting out, it was other people’s getting in, but you go back 15 years ago, and I say this, if our presidents would have just gone to the beach and enjoyed the ocean and the sun, we would’ve been much better off in the Middle East, than all of this tremendous death, destruction, and you know, monetary loss, it’s just incredible. ’Cause we’re further, we’re far worse off today than we were 15 years ago or 10 years ago in the Middle East. Far worse. [Continue reading…]

Maybe the trip to the beach should have been preceded by some national mourning, cleaning up the attack sites, and improving airline security, but who can argue with Trump’s colorfully expressed conclusion that the war on terrorism has been an utter failure?

On the international front, the urgent priorities after 9/11 should have been to isolate al Qaeda by putting pressure on the Taliban, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

Bush’s principle problem was that he had surrounded himself with the wrong people — and there’s every reason to believe that is exactly what Trump would do too.

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