The collapse of order in the Middle East

freemanIn a speech delivered in Washington DC today, Chas Freeman said: Da`ish [ISIS] and the 15,000 foreign jihadis it has attracted are an existential threat to Arab societies and a potential menace to Muslim societies everywhere. Da`ish poses no comparable threat to the United States. Some Americans argue therefore that Da`ish doesn’t matter. A few suggest that, because tight oil and shale gas production is making North America energy self-sufficient, what happens in the Middle East as a whole should also no longer matter much to Americans. But the Persian Gulf is where international oil prices are set. If you doubt this, ask an American tight oil producer what’s happening in today’s energy markets and why. Without stability in West Asia, the global economy is also unstable.

Da`ish aspires not only to destroy the states of the Mashriq – the Arab East – but to conquer their territories and use their resources to mount attacks on the United States, European countries, Russia, and China. It wants to get its hands on the world’s major energy reserves. Its depredations are a current threat only to stability in West Asia, but its recruitment efforts are as global as its aspirations. Quite aside from the responsibility the United States bears for creating the conditions in which this dangerous cult could be born and flourish, Da`ish threatens American interests abroad today. It promises to threaten American domestic tranquility tomorrow. It sees inflicting harm on the West as a central element of its mission.

For all these reasons, Da`ish cannot be ignored by the United States or other nations outside the Middle East. It requires a response from us. But Da`ish must be actively countered first and foremost by those it targets within the region, not by the United States and its Western allies. This means that our response must be measured, limited, and calculated to avoid relieving regional players of the primary responsibility for protecting themselves from the menace to them that Da`ish represents.

Muslims – whether Shiite or Sunni or Arab, Kurd, Persian, or Turk – now have an expanding piece of Hell in their part of the Earth, a growing foulness near the center of Islam. It is almost certainly a greater threat to all of them than they have ever posed to each other. Da`ish will not be contained and defeated unless the nations and sects on its regional target list – Shiite and Sunni alike – all do their part. We should not delude ourselves. The obstacles to this happening are formidable.

Virtually every group now fighting or being victimized in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon has engaged in or been accused of terrorism by the others. Sectarian violence continues to stoke hatred in the region. The religious animosities between Shi`ites and Sunnis are more intense than ever. The geopolitical rivalry between Iran and the Gulf Arabs remains acute. The political resentments between Turks, Kurds, and Arabs and between Arabs and Persians are entrenched. Each describes the other as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Unity of command, discipline, and morale are the keys to both military and political success. Da`ish has all three. Its opponents do not. Some are dedicated to the defense of Shiite privilege. Others assign priority to dislodging Shiite or secular authority. Some insist on regime change. Others seek to prevent it. A few support Islamist democratic movements. Others seek to suppress and eradicate them. Some fear terrorism from the victims and enemies of Da`ish more than they fear Da`ish itself. Most treat opposing Da`ish as a secondary strategic objective or a means of enlisting American and other foreign support in the achievement of other priorities, not as their primary aim.

With few exceptions, the states of the region have habitually looked to outside powers for leadership as well as firepower and manpower with which to respond to major security challenges. Despite vast imports of foreign weapons systems, confidence in outside backing has enabled the countries in the region to assume that they could avoid ultimate responsibility for their own defense, relying instead on their ability to summon their American and European security partners in times of crisis. But only a coalition with a strong Muslim identity can hope to contain and shrink Da`ish.

There is no such coalition at present. Every actor in the region has an agenda that is only partially congruent with the Da`ish-related agendas of others. And every actor focuses on the reasons it cannot abide or work with some or all of the others, not on exploring the points it has in common with them. [Continue reading...]

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The crisis in U.S.-Israel relations is officially here

Jeffrey Goldberg writes: The other day I was talking to a senior Obama administration official about the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most. “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” this official said, referring to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, by his nickname.

This comment is representative of the gloves-off manner in which American and Israeli officials now talk about each other behind closed doors, and is yet another sign that relations between the Obama and Netanyahu governments have moved toward a full-blown crisis. The relationship between these two administrations— dual guarantors of the putatively “unbreakable” bond between the U.S. and Israel—is now the worst it’s ever been, and it stands to get significantly worse after the November midterm elections. By next year, the Obama administration may actually withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations, but even before that, both sides are expecting a showdown over Iran, should an agreement be reached about the future of its nuclear program.

The fault for this breakdown in relations can be assigned in good part to the junior partner in the relationship, Netanyahu, and in particular, to the behavior of his cabinet. Netanyahu has told several people I’ve spoken to in recent days that he has “written off” the Obama administration, and plans to speak directly to Congress and to the American people should an Iran nuclear deal be reached. For their part, Obama administration officials express, in the words of one official, a “red-hot anger” at Netanyahu for pursuing settlement policies on the West Bank, and building policies in Jerusalem, that they believe have fatally undermined Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace process.

Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and “Aspergery.” (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.) But I had not previously heard Netanyahu described as a “chickenshit.” [Continue reading...]

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Kurdish women in Kobane are fighting for the rights of women everywhere

Meysa Abdo, the commander of the YPG Kurdish resistance in Kobane (she is also known by the nom de guerre Narin Afrin) writes: Since Sept. 15, we, the people of the Syrian town of Kobani, have been fighting, outnumbered and outgunned, against an all-out assault by the army of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Yet despite a campaign that has intensified in the past month, including the deployment of United States-made tanks and armored vehicles, the Islamic State has not been able to break the resistance of Kobani’s fighters.

We are defending a democratic, secular society of Kurds, Arabs, Muslims and Christians who all face an imminent massacre.

Kobani’s resistance has mobilized our entire society, and many of its leaders, including myself, are women. Those of us on the front lines are well aware of the Islamic State’s treatment of women. We expect women around the world to help us, because we are fighting for the rights of women everywhere. We do not expect them to come to join our fight here (though we would be proud if any did). But we do ask women to promote our case and to raise awareness of our situation in their own countries, and to pressure their governments to help us.

We are thankful to the coalition for its intensified airstrikes against Islamic State positions, which have been instrumental in limiting the ability of our enemies to use tanks and heavy artillery. But we had been fighting without any logistical assistance from the outside world until the limited coalition airdrops of weapons and supplies on Oct. 20. Airdrops of supplies should continue, so that we do not run out of ammunition.

None of that changes the reality that our weapons still cannot match those of the Islamic State. [Continue reading...]

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ISIS — a faceless organization that stands for nothing

Icons are inescapable — even for those who make it their business to destroy them.

For Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was an iconic figure. The American effort to hunt him down had more to do with the need to destroy his image than to thwart a terrorist.

So who or what stands as the central symbol, the image around which ISIS gravitates?

In early July, ISIS released a short video showing the stone-faced Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi preaching in a mosque in Mosul. Even if this man happens to be a brilliant military strategist, he possesses no obvious charisma. He looks somewhat less personable than Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

Caliph-Ibrahim

Badhdadi’s brief appearance carried much less significance than the arrival of a new caliph and seemed to have more to do with proving the existence of what was and remains a shadowy figure.

Based on the little he has revealed about himself, his followers have clearly committed themselves through acts of blind allegiance.

The head of ISIS is for all practical purposes invisible.

Moreover, in spite of the fact that ISIS has recruited fighters from dozens of countries, many from the West and many speaking English, from throughout its ranks it appears they have no one competent to serve as a spokesman. Instead they rely on the face and voice of their British hostage, John Cantlie, whose BBC-English offers them credibility they fear they would lack if they dared represent themselves.

ISIS has no face of its own.

Likewise, their media offerings unintentionally pay homage to American cable news and Hollywood, as though there could be no means of communication superior to the crude aesthetic conventions that have been globalized by CNN and Warner Brothers.

On the battlefield, nothing appears to have been a source of greater pride than ISIS’s ability to capture and use American-made military hardware.

ISIS is not American-made in the sense intended by conspiracy theorists, yet in ways its followers would be loath to acknowledge it is in large part an American product — first and foremost as a product of America’s misadventure in Iraq, but also in the multiple ways in which in leans upon American culture.

If there is one image that ISIS has made its own and that serves to symbolize everything ISIS stands for, it is that of grinning men holding aloft freshly severed human heads.

Thanks mostly to Twitter, these are the images we get confronted by with a frequency that would until recently have seemed unimaginable.

Ask anyone in the world about ISIS and the one thing everyone knows is that decapitation is the ISIS signature.

As a symbol of the enemy vanquished, the severed head represents a victory more absolute than unconditional surrender. As such, ISIS presumably engages in these acts of ritual slaughter in order to display its uncompromising, ruthless power.

But the symbolism also cuts another way: the organization with an invisible head and no public face of its own, through decapitation represents its own headlessness.

Furthermore, through its subjugation of women by slavery and rape, ISIS manifests its relationship with the powers of creation: its powers are solely destructive.

What does ISIS ultimately stand for? Death, and little else.

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How the Left abandoned the Kurds by getting stuck up its anti-imperialist cul-de-sac

Yasin Sunca writes: One can simply put hundreds of reasons as to why the left has to oppose and react against the ISIS and what they have been doing to innocent people throughout last two years. However, those who are supposed to speak out against the ISIS, primarily the left wing parties and organisations, have simply failed to come up with a comprehensive approach, are even devoid of understanding what is going on exactly and, unfortunately for them, are stuck in the orthodox interpretation of socialism against imperialism. They have once again stuck to the marginal track to blame their respective governments as imperialist, which in fact, means almost nothing, either for the government or for the society.

In the specific case of the ongoing resistance of the Kurds in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) the Popular Protection Units (YPG) have been resisting against both the brutal attacks of the jihadists and the military aggressions of the Syrian regime. The Kurds have not opted for cooperation either with the regime or the mainstream opposition groups due to very convincing and understandable reasons. The regime has been oppressing the Kurds, among others, for a very long time and therefore, it was impossible for the Kurds to go along with the regime politically. However, facing political and military difficulties in the context of the ongoing war, the regime decided to focus on the strategic areas in their war with the opposition groups and intelligibly, have not carried out heavy military offensives against the Kurdish self-declared cantons, compared to other regions of the country. Furthermore, the declaration of the Kurdish cantons in Rojava would pose certain problems to Turkey which has been amongst the most vocally critical countries of the Syrian regime. Thus, we can talk about a political convergence between the regime and the Kurds rather than a strategically motivated agreement. Besides, the Kurds could not have cooperated with the mainline Syrian opposition because of two core issues. The first, the Arab opposition have not recognised any collective rights of the Kurds and postponed all Kurdish demands to a probable post-Assad period. The second, the Arab opposition did not have a clear agenda for the future of Syria. The question such as whether it would be a new dictatorship or a democracy has not a clear and convincing answer and the Kurds remained sceptical about the will of the opposition in relation to democratisation.

Taking all this background into account, the Kurds opted for a third line policy and started to build their cantons with a new democratic understanding, inclusive of all the different factions of the population. The Kurdish cantons have never carried out any offensives against any group unless a military attack was the case. The current resistance of the Kobane canton is due to the brutal attack of the jihadist ISIS and it is a war of self-defence. The Kurds are carrying out a socialist experiment in the Middle-East, one of the most challenging regions of the world, and the international left is equally responsible for the protection of this emerging socialist hope. This experiment needs the unconditional support of the socialists of the world and internationalist solidarity. (For those who are interested in the new model in Rojava here is an article, available online: http://roarmag.org/2014/07/rojava-autonomy-syrian-kurds/)

However, the left wing parties and groups in Europe are far from understanding what is going on exactly in Kurdistan and in Kobane, nor do they have any plans to understand the ideological background of the Rojava Cantons. They have to admit that they were unable to understand the third line policy and, just like the mainstream media have been doing, positioned the Kurds together with the Assad regime despite the fact that the Kurds clearly declaring and practically manifesting a billion times that they are an opposition group. They kept on blaming the Kurds to be the proxy of the regime. Besides, some other groups adopted a restrictive approach and claimed that if the Kurds are not with Bashar al-Assad then they have to be with the opposition. Yet one should remind people of the fact that being against the regime doesn’t automatically mean accepting all analyses and projections of the mainline opposition in Syria. Moreover, the mainline opposition in Syria is also supported by “imperialists” against the regime. So, the Kurds clearly understood the right place to stand was a third line. [Continue reading...]

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‘Rehana is alive and well… ISIS fanatics have NOT beheaded her’

The Daily Mail reports: The female Kurdish fighter who became a poster girl for the Kobane resistance before allegedly being beheaded by Islamic State militants is actually alive and well, it was claimed today.

The woman, known by the pseudonym Rehana, was celebrated as a symbol of hope for the besieged Syrian border city after an image of her making a peace sign was retweeted over 5,000 times.

That picture was followed days later by a gruesome photograph of an ISIS terrorist holding the severed head of a young woman, sparking rumours that Rehana had been savagely murdered.

This is one of those moments when it remains to be seen whether the collective intelligence of the users of social media will be able to rise to the occasion.

That Rehana is alive — if this is true — is of course good news. But the photos of an ISIS fighter holding aloft the head of a Kurdish young woman fighter were most likely authentic — that young woman simply happened not to be one who had previously been turned into a “poster girl.”

Let’s not forget that the life as the unknown soldier is worth no less than that of the social-media celebrity.

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Peshmerga on route to Kobane

Rudaw reports: Peshmerga from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq will arrive in Kobane in the early hours of Wednesday to help defenders of the Syrian border town fight off an Islamic State assault that has lasted more than 40 days, according to informed sources.

Part of the 150-strong Peshmerga artillery force were flying from Erbil to Turkey, from where they will cross to Kobane. Others will travel by road, accompanying trucks, guns, and other heavy weapons with which they hope to help defeat the ISIS siege.

The deployment of the Kurdish soldiers comes after being delayed for two days of negotiations with Turkey, through whose territory they must pass to reach Kobane, which lies just across the Turkish frontier.

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The Global Gender Gap Report 2014

Global Gender Gap Index 2014. The highest possible score is 1 (equality) and the lowest possible score is 0 (inequality). Click on the table below to see all 142 rankings.

gender-gap-2014

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How Israel is turning Gaza into a super-max prison

Jonathan Cook writes: It is astonishing that the reconstruction of Gaza, bombed into the Stone Age according to the explicit goals of an Israeli military doctrine known as “Dahiya”, has tentatively only just begun two months after the end of the fighting.

According to the United Nations, 100,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged, leaving 600,000 Palestinians – nearly one in three of Gaza’s population – homeless or in urgent need of humanitarian help.

Roads, schools and the electricity plant to power water and sewerage systems are in ruins. The cold and wet of winter are approaching. Aid agency Oxfam warns that at the current rate of progress it may take 50 years to rebuild Gaza.

Where else in the world apart from the Palestinian territories would the international community stand by idly as so many people suffer – and not from a random act of God but willed by fellow humans? [Continue reading...]

Where else?

How about Lebanon, buckling under the strain of supporting 1.5 million Syrian refugees and where 200,000 children are being forced to work in a situation “perilously close to slave labour.”

I point this out not to diminish concern about the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, but because among pro-Palestinian activists in the West, a myopic fixation on those who have suffered at the hands of Israelis has often come with an apparent indifference towards those whose misery was precipitated by the brutal rule of one of Israel’s next door neighbors.

How much concern there is about those who suffer sometimes appears to depend on who caused the suffering.

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Nobel Peace Prize winners push Obama for release of torture report

Time reports: Twelve winners of the Nobel Peace Prize asked President Barack Obama late Sunday to make sure that a Senate report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of harsh interrogation tactics is released so the U.S. can put an end to a practice condemned by many as torture.

The release of the report, which is the most detailed account of the CIA’s interrogation practices in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, would be an opportunity for the U.S. and the world to come to terms with interrogation techniques that went too far, the laureates said in an open letter and petition. The release of the report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has stalled as the Obama Administration the CIA, and lawmakers clashed over how much of it should be redacted.

American leaders have “eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their lives to defend” by engaging in and justifying torture, the peace prize winners said. The letter was published on TheCommunity.com, a project spearheaded by Peace Prize winner and international peacemaker José Ramos-Horta.

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Music: Sona Mohapatra — ‘Bedardi Raja’

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Studs Terkel on death and forgiveness in America

Studs Terkel, who put oral history on the American map with one spectacular book after another, was a small man who had a knack for making everyone around him feel larger than life. He taught me the first significant lesson I learned as a book editor — and he didn’t even know it. I stumbled into Pantheon Books in the summer of 1976, hired (on the basis of remarkably little) by André Schiffrin, who ran that pioneering publishing outfit. I had only the most minimal idea of what a book editor was or did, but on one thing I was clear: I was going to put new voices between covers. (I would later start calling them “voices from elsewhere, even when the elsewhere is here.”) I couldn’t have been less interested in well known or famous writers. I was, that is, something of a reverse snob.

Nonetheless, one day that first fall André came into my office with the manuscript of Stud Terkel’s memoir, Talking to Myself, which was to be published the following spring. He asked me to read it because Studs — he claimed — wanted my reaction. A longtime Chicago radio personality, who had even hosted an early, unscripted TV show, “Studs’ Place,” set in a fictional bar (the “Cheers” of its era), he was well known indeed. The first book he and André had done together, Division Street: America, had broken into bestsellerdom and neither of them had ever looked back.

Studs didn’t know me from a hole in the wall, so I didn’t take the request seriously until André returned a few days later to ask whether I had read the manuscript. I hadn’t. He said, “Please do. Studs is waiting anxiously.” Anxiously? That was hard to imagine, but when your boss insists… so I went home, read it, and two days later let him know what I thought. (What could you think, given that Studs was fantastic at what he did?) Soon after, he put me on the phone with Studs to tell him just how good it was and make a few modest, last-minute suggestions.

So many years later, I still remember that unforgettable voice (possibly the last on Earth out of which a cigar emerged) saying something like, “Do you really mean it, Tom?” What I’ll specifically never forget was the quaver in it, the shiver that seemed like a caricature of fear. After all, he was the best-known author I’d ever talked to and, as a young man with enough doubts of my own, it had never crossed my mind that a successful writer might feel vulnerable when it came to his latest work or give a damn about the opinion of a total nobody. In a way, that moment taught me everything I needed to know about the essential vulnerability of the writer and, thanks to Studs, I never looked back.

For years, André, who was his editor, would call me in to take a final look at his oral histories. (It was like sending in the second team.) Only after I left Pantheon did I became Studs’ primary editor. It was the experience of a lifetime. Just to give you a little taste of the man, I’m including excerpts from the only letter of his I still have, typed by hand, filled with X’d out words, and further hand-corrected in pen. It came with the first batch of rough interviews for the final book we worked on together, an oral history of political activism aptly titled Hope Dies Last. By that time, Studs was in his early nineties and still a human dynamo.  Maxwell Perkins, whom he mentions, was a famed editor who joined the venerable firm of Scribner’s wanting to publish vibrant young voices and ended up working with, among others, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and most famously the novelist Thomas Wolfe who simply couldn’t stop writing, which meant that his books involved marathon bouts of editing. Here, then, are the first two paragraphs of that letter in his telegraphese.

“Post-election day,” Studs began. “A hell of a time to write about hope… The ton of stuff — good and less than good. Since what you have is the raw stuff — I have already tossed aside about 20 [interviews] — I shall, of course, begin my cuts shortly after you receive this messy letter.

“You’ll be my Maxwell Perkins, though you don’t wear a hat, and I’m your Thomas Wolfe, though a foot and a half shorter than he was…”

And here’s how he ended: “I’m eagerly looking forward to your reactions when you get this bundle. Horrified [though] you may be by its bulk, remember you’re my Maxwell Perkins. If it works out, I’ll buy you a hat.”

What a guy (even if I never got that hat)! I always considered it appropriately Studsian that the book preceding Hope Dies Last was his oral history of death, Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith. Studs himself died in 2008. Circle has just been reissued in paperback with a new Jane Gross introduction by the New Press, the publishing house that André, who died last December, set up after he was forced out of Pantheon by Sy Newhouse, the right-wing owner of its parent company, Random House.

Given the grim panorama of death these days — from beheadings to pandemics — and the hysteria accompanying it all, I thought it might be both a relief and a change of pace at TomDispatch to turn back to Studs’ oral history of death, which as its editor I can testify is moving and uncannily uplifting. That, of course, is not as odd as it sounds from the man who was the troubadour for the extraordinary ordinary American. Thanks to the kindness of his publisher, the New Press, I’ve chosen two interviews from that book which stayed in my mind these last 13 years: the first focuses on an impulse that may be among the hardest to understand and yet most moving to encounter, forgiveness; and the second, from this country’s medical front lines, centers on a subject that, unfortunately, is still all too timely: the trauma deaths of young Americans from gunshot wounds. This is the only book I ever remember editing while, in some cases, crying. Tom Engelhardt

“You got into my heart violently, but you’re there”
Trauma, death, and forgiveness on the front lines of American life
By Studs Terkel

[The following is excerpted from the new paperback edition of Studs Terkel’s oral history of death, Will The Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith, with special thanks to his publisher, the New Press.]

“The Other Son”
Maurine Young

In contrast to her husband’s introspective nature, she is outgoing, a large-boned woman, overflowing with gusto and ebullience. She frequently laughs out loud.

I’m a forty-six-year-old woman of Jewish-Gentile descent — my father’s a Jew, my mother’s a Gentile. My parents divorced when I was young, and I was raised by my stepfather — raised Catholic. He was a truck driver. My younger brother, Mark, became a truck driver. I went to public school. But I went to the Catholic catechism every Wednesday. I did the confirmation and all that kind of stuff. I got close to age twelve, thirteen, and I began to see what I was saved from. I was saved from Hell. But what Catholicism wasn’t teaching me was what I was saved to. They didn’t tell me how to live with God and experience a taste of Heaven on Earth, now. So I began to pull away from the Church. It just didn’t meet my needs.

[Read more...]

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The secret life of an ISIS warlord

The Daily Beast reports: The name that [ISIS commander] Abu Omar al-Shishani grew up with was Tarkhan. And because we are here in his hometown talking to the people who once loved him, and perhaps still do, we’ll use that name, too. Tarkhan’s father, Temur, a grizzled, eccentric, well-read old Christian with a bitter sense of self-irony, tells his sons’ story in an extensive — almost bizarre — interview with The Daily Beast at his small gray house in the village of Birkiani, where his boys grew up.

“I am like a hobo,” the old man declares. “My son is one of the founders of Islamic caliphate and I’m here, dying in poverty! Look! Look where I live!” According to Temur, his son even invited him to Syria. “He told me, ‘Dad, come with me. You’ll live like you are in paradise.’ I told him, ‘Save your paradise for yourself, I prefer my home here.’”

Despite Tarkhan’s fame as a holy warrior, the father doesn’t see him as particularly pious, his mother came from a Muslim family, but he didn’t show much interest. The old man claims that, in fact, before Tarkhan went to prison, he wasn’t religious at all. He supposedly warned his older brothers about the dangers of fanatical Islam, especially his brother Tamaz, who was fighting in Chechnya: “‘Be citizens of Georgia,’ Tarkhan would say to Tamaz, ‘You are in a war, you may fight there, but do not pick up their beliefs.’ And now look what happened! Do you see how a man can change?”

Like so many of the world’s most brutal dictators, military leaders, tyrants, and jihadists, it appears Tarkhan was trained by the very best: the United States government. [Continue reading...]

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An army of child soldiers being raised by ISIS

Kate Brannen writes: They stand in the front row at public beheadings and crucifixions held in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s stronghold in Syria. They’re used for blood transfusions when Islamic State fighters are injured. They are paid to inform on people who are disloyal or speak out against the Islamic State. They are trained to become suicide bombers. They are children as young as 6 years old, and they are being transformed into the Islamic State’s soldiers of the future.

The Islamic State has put in place a far-reaching and well-organized system for recruiting children, indoctrinating them with the group’s extremist beliefs, and then teaching them rudimentary fighting skills. The militants are preparing for a long war against the West, and hope the young warriors being trained today will still be fighting years from now.

While there are no hard figures for how many children are involved, refugee stories and evidence collected by the United Nations, human rights groups, and journalists suggest that the indoctrination and military training of children is widespread.

Child soldiers aren’t new to war. Dozens of African armies and militias use young boys as fighters, in part because research has shown that children lack fully formed moral compasses and can easily be persuaded to commit acts of cruelty and violence.

The young fighters of the Islamic State could pose a particularly dangerous long-term threat because they’re being kept away from their normal schools and instead inculcated with a steady diet of Islamist propaganda designed to dehumanize others and persuade them of the nobility of fighting and dying for their faith. [Continue reading...]

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ISIS promotes hostage John Cantlie as its embedded reporter in Kobane

The Washington Post reports: In a remarkable new video released by the Islamic State militants, British hostage John Cantlie gives a tour of the Syrian city of Kobane and denounces Western coverage of the fighting in the city.

(Note: Our video team believes the first segment of may have been doctored.)

Cantlie, a photographer and journalist who was taken hostage in late 2012, has appeared in a number of propaganda videos for the Islamic State in recent months, usually in an orange jumpsuit in front of a plain black screen. However, the new video, released Monday via social media accounts linked to the Islamic State, appears markedly more professional than the previous ones. Notably, it appears to show Cantlie walking outside and animatedly discussing recent events.

The video also takes aim at a different target: Although previous videos appeared designed to criticize Western military action against the Islamic State, this time the main target appears to be Western media and their coverage of the situation in Kobane, where the Islamic State has battled for control against Kurdish militias. [Continue reading...]

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How Democratic Confederalism has been practised by Kurds in Syria

Tatort Kurdistan reports: Even before the rebellions in Syria began, the Kurds of Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan] had already created the first councils and committees and thereby began to institute a radical democratic organization of most of the region’s population. Starting on June 19, 2012, the cities of Kobanê, Afrîn, Dêrik, and many other places were one by one freed from regime control; the strength of the reorganization then revealed itself. Military bases were reconfigured, and the vastly outnumbered regime troops were offered the option of withdrawal. Only in Dêrik did the situation lead to a struggle, with a few casualties. But even here, as people in Dêrik told us, the new self-organization prevented violent attacks and acts of destruction and revenge.

Self-Defense and the “Third Way”

As we considered this phase and the politics of the Kurdish movement in Rojava, we also observed the implementation of another paradigm of Democratic Confederalism: self-defense and the primacy of nonviolent solutions. The Kurdish movement and especially the PYD were organized before the Syrian revolution began resisting the Assad regime. At that time they saw it as a matter of democratic transformation; a militarization of the conflict was to be avoided. But with the outbreak of war, Islamization, and the heteronomy of the Syrian revolt, the Kurdish movement in Rojava decided to go a third way: it would side neither with the regime nor with the opposition. It would defend itself, but it would not wage war. The movement has remained this politics up to the present [July 2014]. Thus in Qamişlo, in the quarters that were inhabited by regime supporters, regime military units were still tolerated. The same was true for the airport. The goal was and is always to reach a political, democratic solution for all of Syria.

The Commune as the Center of Society

“The creation of an operational level where all kinds of social and political groups, religious communities, or intellectual tendencies can express themselves directly in all local decision-making processes can also be called participative democracy.” — Abdullah Öcalan, Democratic Confederalism (London, 2011), p. 26.

Democratic Confederalism has as its goal the autonomy of society: in other words, instead of the state governing society, a politicized society manages itself. As against capitalist modernity, it proposes democratic modernity. In Rojava, to make this system possible, the center of the social system became the commune. The commune, the self-management of the streets, would emerge as the hub of the society.

Decision making in the communes requires that quotas be met—that is, in order to make a decision, here and in all councils in Rojava, at least 40 percent of those who participate in the discussions must be women. In the communes, current issues of administration, energy, and food supply, as well as social problems like patriarchal violence, family conflicts, and much else, are discussed and if possible resolved. The communes have commissions that address all social questions, everything from the organization of defense to justice to infrastructure to youth to the economy and the construction of individual cooperatives—such as bakeries, clothing production, and agricultural projects. The ecology commissions concern themselves with urban sanitation as well as specifically ecological problems. At the forefront is the imperative to strengthen the social position of women: committees for women’s economy help women develop economic independence.

The commune, as the mala gel (people’s house), lends support in all questions; it is simultaneously an institution of support and a kind of court. Central to its processes is the ideal of agreement and compensation; for general offenses, the causes of an infraction are investigated and overcome, and the victim is protected. For patriarchal violence and all attacks that affect women, the mala jinan (women’s house) is in charge; it is attached to the women’s council, a parallel structure to the commune’s mixed-gender council. [Continue reading...]

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The Kurdish vision of Democratic Confederalism

In the preface to Democratic Confederalism, published in English in 2011, the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, writes: For more than thirty years the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been struggling for the legitimate rights of the Kurdish people. Our struggle, our fight for liberation turned the Kurdish question into an international issue which affected the entire Middle East and brought a solution of the Kurdish question within reach.

When the PKK was formed in the 1970s the international ideological and political climate was characterized by the bipolar world of the Cold War and the conflict between the socialist and the capitalist camps. The PKK was inspired at that time by the rise of decolonialization movements all over the world. In this context we tried to find our own way in agreement with the particular situation in our homeland. The PKK never regarded the Kurdish question as a mere problem of ethnicity or nationhood.

Rather, we believed, it was the project of liberating the society and democratizing it. These aims increasingly determined our actions since the 1990s.

We also recognized a causal link between the Kurdish question and the global domination of the modern capitalist system. Without questioning and challenging this link a solution would not be possible. Otherwise we would only become involved in new dependencies.

So far, with a view to issues of ethnicity and nationhood like the Kurdish question, which have their roots deep in history and at the foundations of society, there seemed to be only one viable solution: the creation of a nation-state, which was the paradigm of the capitalist modernity at that time.

We did not believe, however, that any ready-made political blueprints would be able to sustainably improve the situation of the people in the Middle East. Had it not been nationalism and nation-states which had created so many problems in the Middle East?

Let us therefore take a closer look at the historical background of this paradigm and see whether we can map a solution that avoids the trap of nationalism and fits the situation of the Middle East better. [Continue reading...]

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Video shows Turkish army coordinating with ISIS?

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