Deputy assistant to Trump, Sebastian Gorka, says ‘the alpha males are back’

The Washington Post reports: On the night of President Trump’s inauguration, Sebastian Gorka attended the celebratory balls in a high-necked, black Hungarian jacket. Pinned on his chest was a Hungarian coat of arms, a tribute to his father who had been tortured by the communists, and a civilian commendation from the U.S. military.

For years, Gorka had labored on the fringes of Washington and the far edge of acceptable debate as defined by the city’s Republican and Democratic foreign policy elite. Today, the former national security editor for the conservative Breitbart News outlet occupies a senior job in the White House and his controversial ideas — especially about Islam — drive Trump’s populist approach to counterterrorism and national security.

Amid the cheering, music and confetti that night, Gorka talked about Trump’s opening shot in a high-stakes civilizational war, still in its early days.

“Everything’s changed,” Gorka said.

He homed in on three words from Trump’s dystopian inaugural address that day: “Radical Islamic terrorism.”

“When he used those three words today — radical Islamic terrorism — he put the marker down for the whole national security establishment,” Gorka told an interviewer from Fox News.

For Gorka and his allies, the words are more than just a description of the enemy. They signal a radical break with the approach that Republicans and Democrats have taken over the past 16 years to counterterrorism and the Muslim world.

Only days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President George W. Bush insisted the terror strikes had “violated the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.”

“Islam is peace,” he told a nation still reeling from grief.

President Barack Obama sounded the same theme routinely during two terms in office.

Gorka has relentlessly championed the opposite view.

For him, the terrorism problem has nothing to do with repression, alienation, torture, tribalism, poverty, or America’s foreign policy blunders and a messy and complex Middle East. [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: Several experts interviewed by POLITICO puzzled over the gap between the numerous military academic credentials listed by Gorka — a political science Ph.D. who unfailingly uses the title “Dr.” — and their unfamiliarity with his work and views.

“When I first encountered his name during the transition, I did a triple-take. I’ve been in counterterrorism since 1998, and I thought I knew everyone. But I’d never heard his name and couldn’t recall anything he’d written or said,” said Daniel Benjamin, who served as counterterrorism coordinator under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Retired Col. Peter Mansoor, a former top aide to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq who helped rewrite the Army’s counterinsurgency manual, also said he’s never crossed paths with Gorka. “What I’ve heard has not been complimentary,” added Mansoor, who now teaches at Ohio State University and remains active in military circles. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: has appeared in a number of television and radio interviews as a representative of the Trump administration and a member of a White House team called the Strategic Initiatives Group. The Daily Beast called it a think tank within the White House that was set up by Mr. Bannon and the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

The group’s formation raised red flags, said Julianne Smith, a former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of strategy and statecraft at the Center for a New American Security.

The National Security Council has traditionally played a decisive role in foreign policy decisions, she said. “Now we have the Strategic Initiatives Group and the National Security Council both working on issues of national security and strategy. So my question on Sebastian, ultimately, is: Who is he reporting to? Is he reporting to the National Security Council? Or is this a direct line to Bannon?” [The Washington Post article cited above says he reports to Bannon.] [Continue reading…]

Like most self-described “experts” on jihad, Gorka has never spoken to a jihadist:

 

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British Muslim teacher denied entry to U.S. on school trip

The Guardian reports: A British Muslim schoolteacher travelling to New York last week as a member of a school party from south Wales was denied entry to the United States.

Juhel Miah and a group of children and other teachers were about to take off from Iceland on 16 February on their way to the US when he was removed from the plane at Reykjavik. The previous week, on the 10 February, a US appeals court had upheld a decision to suspend Donald Trump’s executive order that temporarily banned entry to the country from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The trip proceeded as planned but pupils and colleagues from Llangatwg comprehensive in Aberdulais were left shocked and distressed after the maths teacher, who had valid visa documentation, was escorted from the aircraft by security personnel.

The teacher’s employer, Neath Port Talbot council, has written to the US embassy in London demanding an explanation and the issue is being taken up by Welsh politicians.

A council spokesman said Miah was left feeling belittled at what it described as “an unjustified act of discrimination”. The council said the teacher is a British citizen and does not have dual nationality. [Continue reading…]

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Wilders at Dutch campaign launch vows to crack down on ‘Moroccan scum’

Reuters reports: Dutch anti-Muslim, anti-EU party leader Geert Wilders promised to crack down on “Moroccan scum” who he said were making the streets unsafe and urged the Dutch to “regain” their country as he launched his election campaign on Saturday.

Wilders was surrounded by police and security guards during a walkabout in Spijkenisse, part of the ethnically diverse industrial area surrounding the vast port of Rotterdam and a stronghold of his Freedom Party.

“Not all are scum, but there is a lot of Moroccan scum in Holland who makes the streets unsafe,” he told reporters, speaking in English. “If you want to regain your country, if you want to make the Netherlands for the people of the Netherlands, your own home, again, then you can only vote for one party.”

Crime by young Moroccans was not being taken seriously, added Wilders, who in December was convicted of inciting discrimination for leading supporters in a chant that they wanted “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” Moroccans in the country.

Wilders – who has lived in hiding since an Islamist murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 – pledges to ban Muslim immigration, close all mosques and take the Netherlands out of the European Union.

Many of his supporters at the Spijkenisse market, however, said they cared more about his social welfare policies.

“The most important thing for me is bringing the pension age back down to 65,” said Wil Fens, 59, a crane operator at the port.

Wilders hopes a global upsurge in anti-establishment feeling that has already helped to propel Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency and to persuade Britons to vote to quit the European Union will propel him to power in the March 15 parliamentary election.

A win for Wilders would boost French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and the Alternative for Germany party, both hoping to transform European politics in elections this year. [Continue reading…]

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John McCain on the survival of the West

 

Many of those of us who have an interest in and experience of living in non-Western cultures have a distaste for what can sound like sanctimonious and domineering claims about Western superiority.

What is superior about a civilization that built its strength through subjugating others? The failings of the West are easy enough to discern from a passing glance over world history.

Nevertheless, the value of open societies is currently being undermined from within, not by people who are promoting better alternatives but on the contrary mostly by those whose cynicism has festered deep within the only societies they have ever known.

To be concerned about the future of Western democracies does not require overlooking their failings but simply recognizing that if they fail, what will follow will without doubt be much worse.

This isn’t a matter of conjecture. Look at the Middle East and the effects of the withdrawal of American power. This hasn’t opened the doors to self-determination. It has instead led to an ongoing and very bloody power struggle between competing autocratic powers.

What the retreat of the West facilitates both outside and inside the West is the rise of nationalism, authoritarianism, and xenophobia.

When Western power can be superseded by something better — something that better reflects global diversity — then it will indeed be time to dispense with the very concept of the West. But we haven’t got anywhere close to arriving at that point in history.

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How Trump changed Americans’ view of Islam – for the better

Shibley Telhami writes: Four polls during the election year revealed extraordinary, progressive and unexpected shifts that cannot be explained by events during that year. Attitudes toward “Muslim people” became progressively more favorable from 53 percent in November 2015 to 70 percent in October 2016.

Even attitudes toward Islam itself (generally more unfavorable than attitudes toward Muslims) showed significant improvement: favorable attitudes went from 37 percent in November 2015 to 49 percent in October 2016, reaching the highest favorable level since 9/11.

This kind of large shift does not normally take place in one year unless there are extraordinary events taking place. In fact, there were some consequential events that would have led one to expect the opposite shift: terrorism in the name of Islam in San Bernardino and Orlando, as well as a heated campaign year during which the Republican candidates, and many of their supporters, voiced much anti-Muslim rhetoric.

So, how are these kind of shifts possible in a single year?

One hint comes from the partisan divide on these issues. Almost all the shifts came from Democrats and independents, not Republicans. Among Democrats, the shift was significant enough to impact overall results. Favorable attitudes toward Muslims improved from 67 percent to 81 percent. Favorable attitudes toward Islam went from 51 percent to 66 percent. [Continue reading…]

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Geert Wilders’ American connections

Politico reports: Geert Wilders is approaching the Dutch election bolstered by the shock victory of a like-minded campaign in the United States, and with something of his worldview reflected in Donald Trump’s White House.

Trump’s order barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States — currently blocked by the U.S. courts — echoes Wilders’ calls for countries across the West to stop all immigration from “Islamic countries,” which he has been advocating in speeches since at least 2014.

Now, Wilders’ U.S. contacts are pushing for a meeting with Trump in the hopes that it would give the Dutchman a new platform for his outspoken challenge to the European Union from within one of its founding states. For their part, Trump supporters see Wilders’ campaign as the next step — following the U.K.’s Brexit vote and the election of Trump — of a populist revolt that is shaking up the world order.

“I have sent those messages to the inner circle and encouraged that they communicate with Mr. Wilders,” Congressman Steve King, an Iowa Republican, told POLITICO in a phone interview. “It’s important for the Trump administration and for this White House team to be engaged in an effort to restore Western civilization.” [Continue reading…]

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How Trump energized the extremists who dream of making America white again

Southern Poverty Law Center reports: After half a century of being increasingly relegated to the margins of society, the radical right entered the political mainstream last year in a way that had seemed virtually unimaginable since George Wallace ran for president in 1968.

A surge in right-wing populism, stemming from the long-unfolding effects of globalization and the movements of capital and labor that it spawned, brought a man many considered to be a racist, misogynist and xenophobe into the most powerful political office in the world. Donald Trump’s election as president mirrored similar currents in Europe, where globalization energized an array of extreme-right political movements and the United Kingdom’s decision to quit the European Union.

Trump’s run for office electrified the radical right, which saw in him a champion of the idea that America is fundamentally a white man’s country.

He kicked off the campaign with a speech vilifying Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. He retweeted white supremacist messages, including one that falsely claimed that black people were responsible for 80% of the murders of whites. He credentialed racist media personalities even while barring a serious outlet like The Washington Post, went on a radio show hosted by a rabid conspiracy theorist named Alex Jones, and said that Muslims should be banned from entering the country. He seemed to encourage violence against black protesters at his rallies, suggesting that he would pay the legal fees of anyone charged as a result.

The reaction to Trump’s victory by the radical right was ecstatic. “Our Glorious Leader has ascended to God Emperor,” wrote Andrew Anglin, who runs the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website. “Make no mistake about it: we did this. If it were not for us, it wouldn’t have been possible.” Jared Taylor, a white nationalist who edits a racist journal, said that “overwhelmingly white Americans” had shown they were not “obedient zombies” by choosing to vote “for America as a distinct nation with a distinct people who deserve a government devoted to that people.”

Richard Spencer, who leads a racist “think tank” called the National Policy Institute, exulted that “Trump’s victory was, at its root, a victory of identity politics.”

Trump’s election, as startling to extremists as it was to the political establishment, was followed by his selection of appointees with anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT and white nationalist sympathies. To lead his domestic transition team, he chose Kenneth Blackwell, an official of the virulently anti-LGBT Family Research Council. As national security adviser, he selected retired Gen. Mike Flynn, who has described Islam as a “malignant cancer” and tweeted that “[f]ear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” His designated CIA director was U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), who is close to some of the country’s most rabid anti-Muslim extremists.

Most remarkable of all was his choice as chief strategic adviser of Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, a far-right media outlet known for promoting the so-called “alternative right” — fundamentally, a recent rebranding of white supremacy for public relations purposes, albeit one that de-emphasizes Klan robes and Nazi symbols in favor of a more “intellectual” approach. With Bannon’s appointment, white nationalists felt they had a man inside the White House. [Continue reading…]

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Steve Bannon’s belief in the necessity of war against Islam

Flemming Rose, the former foreign editor of Jyllands-Posten, recounts meeting Steve Bannon last May. He writes: Bannon isn’t a Leninist in the ideological sense. Quite the opposite. But his conviction that the way to a better world sometimes necessitates blowing things up sounds alarmingly Leninist.

What disturbed me the most in our conversation was Bannon’s apparent belief that violence and war can have a cleansing effect, that we may need to tear down things and rebuild them from scratch. He made it clear he had lost faith in Europe as secularism and arriving Muslim immigrants had eroded traditional Christian values as the founding pillar of our civilization. Losing the Christian faith, in his view, has weakened Europe ― it’s neither willing nor able to confront Islam’s rising power and some European Muslims’ insistence on privileged treatment of their religion.

Bannon is of the belief that, if Europe is to be saved, there is no way to avoid armed conflict. The power of Islam cannot be stopped by peaceful means. In short, Bannon told me in no uncertain terms that the West is at war with Islam. [Continue reading…]

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American husbands are incomparably more deadly than terrorists

Nicholas Kristof writes: It’s true that Muslim Americans — both born in the United States and immigrants from countries other than those subject to Trump’s restrictions — have carried out deadly terrorism in America. There have been 123 such murders since the 9/11 attacks — and 230,000 other murders.

Last year Americans were less likely to be killed by Muslim terrorists than for being Muslim, according to Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina. The former is a risk of approximately one in six million; the latter, one in one million.

The bottom line is that most years in the U.S., ladders kill far more Americans than Muslim terrorists do. Same with bathtubs. Ditto for stairs. And lightning.

Above all, fear spouses: Husbands are incomparably more deadly in America than jihadist terrorists.

And husbands are so deadly in part because in America they have ready access to firearms, even when they have a history of violence. In other countries, brutish husbands put wives in hospitals; in America, they put them in graves. [Continue reading…]

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Stephen Miller — Trump’s devoted xenophobic ‘warrior’

The New York Times reports: Staff members on Capitol Hill recall Stephen Miller, the 31-year-old White House adviser behind many of President Trump’s most contentious executive orders, as the guy from Jeff Sessions’s office who made their inboxes cry for mercy.

As a top aide to Mr. Sessions, the conservative Alabama senator, Mr. Miller dispatched dozens and dozens of bombastic emails to congressional staff members and reporters in early 2013 when the Senate was considering a big bipartisan immigration overhaul. Mr. Miller slammed the evils of “foreign labor” and pushed around nasty news articles on proponents of compromise, like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

One exhausted Senate staff member, forwarding a Miller-gram to a reporter at the time, wrote: “His latest. And it’s only 11:45 a.m.”

The ascent of Mr. Miller from far-right gadfly with little policy experience to the president’s senior policy adviser came as a shock to many of the staff members who knew him from his seven years in the Senate. A man whose emails were, until recently, considered spam by many of his Republican peers is now shaping the Trump administration’s core domestic policies with his economic nationalism and hard-line positions on immigration. [Continue reading…]

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Jeff Sessions’s fear of Muslim immigrants

Adam Serwer writes: One of the first things Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions promised the Senate Judiciary Committee was independence.

Donald Trump ran on a vision of “law and order” that included violence against protesters at his rallies, the promised incarceration of his political opponent, and a pledge to ban adherents of an entire religious faith from the country. At his confirmation hearing, Sessions sought to reassure his colleagues that, despite the then-president-elect’s bluster, the Alabama senator would preserve the rule of law and the traditional independence of the Justice Department from the man who nominated him, if need be.

“You simply have to help the president do things that he might desire in a lawful way and have to be able to say no, both for the country, for the legal system and for the president, to avoid situations that are not acceptable,” Sessions told the committee on January 10. “I understand that duty.”

On January 30, the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, concluded that she faced such a situation, telling Department of Justice attorneys not to defend a controversial executive order banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Trump dismissed her from her post.

That order, however, appears consistent with Sessions’s long record of public statements on Muslim immigration and his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sessions was among the first to defend Trump’s proposals to ban Muslims from the country, and has long portrayed Muslim immigrants to the United States as posing a particular threat. He has, moreover, issued a series of releases and public statements implying that the overall level of Muslim immigration to the United States, and not just the views of particular immigrants, should be a matter of public concern. [Continue reading…]

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How Trump is helping ISIS

Reuters reports: President Donald Trump has set out to crush Islamic State when it is already at a low ebb, but Islamists and some analysts say his actions could strengthen the ultra-hardline group by creating new recruits and inspiring attacks on U.S. soil.

IS has been weakened in recent months by battlefield defeats, the loss of territory in Iraq, Syria and Libya, and a decline in its finances and the size of its fighting forces.

Trump’s pledge to eradicate “Islamic extremism” looks at first sight to be yet another blow to Islamic State’s chances of success.

But Middle East experts and IS supporters say his election triumph could help revive the group’s fortunes. They also believe his move late last month to temporarily ban refugees and bar nationals from seven mainly Muslim countries could work in the group’s favor.

The executive order, on which IS has been silent, is in limbo after being overturned by a judge. But whether or not it is reinstated, it has angered Muslims across the world who, despite Trump’s denials, see it as evidence that he and his administration are Islamophobic. [Continue reading…]

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Court refuses to reinstate Muslim ban, dealing Trump another legal loss

The New York Times reports: A three-judge federal appeals panel on Thursday unanimously refused to reinstate President Trump’s targeted travel ban, delivering the latest and most stinging judicial rebuke to his effort to make good on a campaign promise and tighten the standards for entry into the United States.

The ruling was the first from an appeals court on the travel ban, and it was focused on the narrow question of whether it should be blocked while courts consider its lawfulness. The decision is likely to be quickly appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

That court remains short-handed and could deadlock. A 4-to-4 tie in the Supreme Court would leave the appeals court’s ruling in place.

Within minutes of the judges’ decision, the president angrily tweeted his intent to appeal.


[Continue reading…]

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ISIS celebrates its success in scaring Americans — calls Trump’s travel ban ‘The Blessed Ban’

Business Insider reports: The terrorist group ISIS has reportedly branded President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration “the Blessed Ban” as it seemingly proves that the West is at war with Islam.

New York Times terrorism correspondent Rukmini Callimachi reported from Iraq that ISIS has been talking about Trump’s travel ban, which bars refugees and citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries — identified as hot spots for terrorism — from entering the US.

“I reported here in Nov/Dec of last year,” Callimachi tweeted on Wednesday. “Guess what’s different on this trip? Everywhere I go, Iraqis want to ask about the visa ban.”

Callimachi is in Mosul, ISIS’ stronghold in Iraq that is slowly being liberated from the terrorist group.

She said a resident of western Mosul, which is still under ISIS control, told her translator in a phone call that ISIS is also discussing the ban.

“The resident said ISIS has been openly celebrating the ban,” Callimachi tweeted. “They’ve even coined a phrase for it: الحظر المبارك — or ‘The Blessed Ban.'”

Callimachi explained why: “ISIS sees this as *their* doing. They succeeded in scaring the daylight out of America.”

“ISIS, according to this resident of Western Mosul, thinks their terror tactic worked. They frightened the most powerful man in the world,” Callimachi said, referring to Trump. [Continue reading…]

Business Insider reports: President Donald Trump’s executive order barring refugees and people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US is one of his most popular so far, according to a new poll from Morning Consult and Politico.

The order has a 55% approval rating among voters polled, with 35% saying they “strongly approve.” Thirty-eight percent of voters said they disapprove.

Opinions about the order fall along party lines — 82% of Republicans support the ban, and 65% of Democrats oppose it. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s immigration order means bureaucrats have to decide who’s a ‘real’ Christian

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd writes: President Trump’s executive order on immigration has a clause that is supposed to protect religious minorities. Trump has made clear he has in mind primarily Christians from the Middle East. If implemented, individuals who can show evidence of being persecuted as Christian will qualify for a fast lane into the United States.

It would also mean that immigration officials would have to hone their theological skills — because they will be in charge of determining who belongs to what religion. Many commentators have noted the constitutional problems with administering a “religious test.” But the practical and theological problems are equally daunting.

Would U.S. definitions for “real” membership in each religion violate the Establishment Clause?

The order says that the United States will “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”

In practice, this means that every immigration officer must know how to tell if the person before them is a Christian or a member of another minority religious community — or is merely claiming to escape persecution for other reasons. The Department of Homeland Security will have to issue guidelines to standardize decisions.

To effect this, the government will have to come up with definitive answers to long-standing religious questions. For instance, what is the religion of the child of a Muslim father and Jewish mother, since Islam is inherited through the father and Judaism through the mother? Does baptism make one a Christian, as some believe, or does it also require good works and faith in Jesus, as others maintain? Who decides whether a person truly belongs to a particular religion: the individual or the institution? Is Shiism in Saudi Arabia a minority religion — or is it, as the Saudi government maintains, a deviant sect of Sunni orthodoxy? What about those who claim a religion but do not pay the fees or adhere to the guidance of its central institutions? What about religions without centralized institutions?

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has sought to reassure donors that the executive order does not impose a “religious test.” But there’s no avoiding it: The bureaucratization of religious categories cannot happen otherwise. [Continue reading…]

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Trump discovers, to his shock, he can be held accountable for what he says

The Washington Post reports: Throughout Donald Trump’s campaign and now into the first weeks of his presidency, critics suggested that he cool his incendiary rhetoric, that his words matter. His defenders responded that, as Corey Lewandowski said, he was being taken too “literally.” Some, like Vice President Pence, wrote it off to his “colorful style.” Trump himself recently explained that his rhetoric about Muslims is popular, winning him “standing ovations.”

No one apparently gave him anything like a Miranda warning: Anything he says can and will be used against him in a court of law.

And that’s exactly what’s happening now in the epic court battle over his travel ban, currently blocked by a temporary order set for argument Tuesday before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

The states of Washington and Minnesota, which sued to block Trump’s order, are citing the president’s inflammatory rhetoric as evidence that the government’s claims — it’s not a ban and not aimed at Muslims — are shams.

In court papers, Washington and Minnesota’s attorneys general have pulled out quotes from speeches, news conferences and interviews as evidence that an executive order the administration argues is neutral was really motivated by animus toward Muslims and a “desire to harm a particular group.” [Continue reading…]

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