Keep Paris in Perspective
It's time to apply the adage that sometimes opposing ideas can be completely true, and each must be considered if we are to have any valid understanding of the situation. Along with that, it's time to call-out the hype and the fear-based thinking for what they are, and discredit those things before they unduly influence us (yet again).
First, France is, indeed, a western nation rich in art and culture that shares many values and characteristics with us. But France's 20th century colonial empire makes them altogether different, and it makes France the target of a variety of terrorists for idiosyncratic reasons.
On Friday, a week after the Paris attacks, gunmen stormed in, and a hostage siege ensued in Africa at a Radisson Hotel in Bamako, Mali. Before much of anything was known, it was announced that the French military — already present in Mali — was responding. Then, later, a revelation that U.S. Special Forces and U.N. forces were involved. Curious, given the distance of Mali from known U.S. and French military bases.
But early on in the situation, it was quickly characterized by analysts as, "If you want to attack the French outside of France, Mali is one place to do that."
If that sounds like a wild assertion, it isn't. We need to consider how things got where they are.
Beau Geste, Casablanca, and France's Empire...
All those Hollywood movies about the French Foreign Legion were set in Africa. They include "Beau Geste," remade so often that it spawned its own parody, "The Last Remake of Beau Geste." The theme: outcasts from various nations represent cultured civilization as soldiers of France, holding back the murderous Muslim hordes. Surprisingly, it always played well, just as "Gunga Din" and tales of militant British colonialism in India did; even today, Americans are slow to see the alternative narrative of indigenous peoples fighting for their freedom against exploitive occupiers.
America never had a colony in Africa, though we established the nation of Liberia there, as a homeland to repatriate freed slaves. Other than that, you have to go back to Thomas Jefferson's defeat of the Barbary Pirates, celebrated in the U.S. Marine Corps anthem in the lyric, "to the shores of Tripoli." That's a place in today's Libya, a country better known these days for the endless Republican fixation with all-things Benghazi.
Unlike the British, the French came late to the global empire business. That brought rebellion by conquered peoples into modern times, worldwide. Things got complicated when the Nazis defeated most of France and dominated the temporary division of Vichy France, which sought to maintain the colonial empire. You get a taste of that as Humphrey Bogart and a lovely young Ingrid Bergman attempt to sort-out their places in all of it in "Casablanca."
The Vietnam Connection...
In what was once called French Indochina, the American experience intersected a small part of the once extensive French colonies. The U.S. attempted to "save" South Vietnam from a communist takeover by the north — after the French had been expelled at the culminating battle of Dien Bien Phu.
That battle was fought as a second Waterloo because France had tried to reclaim most of its former colonies in Southeast Asia — after the locals had fought the brutal WW II Japanese occupation on their own, and the French returned wanting to reopen the shop. Facing resistance from the indigenous peoples, France had sought American help. But it was denied, and they lost a battle and an empire.
That was only three years before the first U.S. military advisors arrived to begin sucking us into a maelstrom where half-a-million American troops would eventually be deployed, and 43,000 Americans would be killed. And strained U.S.-French relations ensued for decades.
France, the Middle East, and America...
The parts of France's empire with the most relevance to today's terrorism came with the end of the First World War. Before America's entry, and when the outome was anything but certain, Britain and France had already decided they would divide the vast Middle Eastern Ottoman Turk Empire between them when Germany and her Turkish allies were defeated. To facilitate that, they created borders on a flat map that showed neither geography nor who lived where. It plays-out in scenes of intrigue and betrayal in the film classic, "Lawrence of Arabia."
The human drama was, and remains, very real. In one example, ancient Kurdistan was split by colonial borders, and Kurdish peoples found themselves in the newly contrived states of Iraq, or Syria, or Iran, or in what remained as Turkey.
Today, the Kurds are cited as the favorite U.S. example of Iraqis who will fight ISIL. In fact, they will fight anybody who seeks to dominate them. Thus, the U.S. determination to arm the Kurds scares the hell out of Turkey, a NATO ally, who foresees a day when its own Kurdish citizens will fight to join with their tribal brothers.
It's often observed that the Middle East is complicated. There are so many specific and disparate reasons why.
Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and all the Persian Gulf states likewise came from the British-French carving table at the end of WW I, and the borders of each were as ham-handed. A similar thing happened in Eastern Europe, with the crazy post-WW I borders of the Balkan states. Those were imposed on the defeated Austro-Hungarian empire, another German ally, in the very place where that war had started over the desire for a separatist ethnic state.
For the French, there is a sense of deja vu all over again. First the Americans tried to show the French how to do things in Vietnam after France had lost all of Southeast Asia. Then the Americans tried to rule the roost in the Middle East after France lost her colonial role there.
When You Depose a Dictator...
For the rest of the 20th century and into the 21st, as long as a brutally oppressive dictator ruled any of those contrived states — whether the Middle East or the Balkans — there was imposed domestic peace. But the people who lived under it were neither accepting nor docile.
The U.S. got that lesson the hard way with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and the ensuing hostage crisis at the American embassy in Teheran.
But it didn't prevent us having to learn an even bigger bitter lesson with the 2003 Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz "regime change" arrogance of deposing Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
There, the lesson was predictably expanded to teach what we should have learned a decade earlier in Kosovo, when the Balkans came apart: if you remove the Strong Man, you get bloody chaos from long oppressed peoples who don't like their neighbors, want retribution, and want to run the table with a new deck of cards. Their cards.
Particularly when the dictator was from a minority group who kept getting all the advantages over an oppressed majority.
It's the same thing in Syria, where Bashar al-Assad — whose rule succeeded the 30-year reign of his father — is from the minority Alawite tribe. And Syria is a former French colony.
So there's a lot to take into account before we assume we understand things well enough to characterize them. Of course, that doesn't stop the politicians or the press from emphatically jumping to conclusions.
The Paris Attacks and Evoking 9-11...
Wednesday morning, veteran NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell remarked that last Friday's coordinated attacks by eight terrorists in Paris were "truly France's 9-11." Before you give her the ridiculous exaggeration award, stop and consider: that's representative of most of the media's all-eclipsing hyperbole that's filled this full week.
Last Saturday's Democratic presidential candidates debate hardly got mention past the Sunday shows. Even Donald Trump was supplanted from his ubiquitous lead feature status and received nary a mention for days. The media obsession with Ben Carson's narrative of hammers and belt buckles became wholly absent. Most telling of all? Without precedent, MSNBC didn't go to prison all weekend with its cadre of incarcerated threatening dimwits, as it always does following Rachel Maddow's Friday night mixing of a cocktail to brace for the part-time news channel's weekly suspension of all things newsworthy.
Before you decide we aren't going to be serious about this, we are. Inclusive of sarcasm as we cite ridiculous aspects of how various institutions of society exploit tragedy for their own advantage, yes, we'll do that, but we are serious.
The attacks in Paris were, as President Obama characterized them, "Barbaric." He went on to restate that this is not a clash of two cultures, but that civilization itself is under assault. Certainly. And we'll add that everyone should have become outraged when terrorists flying the black flag began to systematically destroy archaeological treasures, including numerous U.N. World Heritage sites, and not enough people cared.
But another 9-11? It is beyond unhelpful and rather ridiculous to invoke 9-11 over what was essentially drive-by shootings and murder-suicides last Friday in Paris. Indeed, it's quite dangerous to invoke 9-11 as a default mechanism.
First, let's ask a few essential questions. Was global economic infrastructure attacked? Was the headquarters of France's military command and control attacked? What iconic buildings fell that will require more than a decade to replace? The Eiffel Tower, which was beautifully lighted with the colors of the French flag as a memorial? Will these attacks require thousands of volunteers to assist French firefighters to recover human remains from a crater that resembles an asteroid impact? How many of the eight terrorists in Paris had to attend flight school or similarly deceive sophisticated people in the nation they were attacking so they could carry out their murderous deeds?
Granted, people from 19 countries died in the Paris attacks, including one Southern Californian who was a student at Cal-State Long Beach. The losses felt by so many nations does reflect the international character of a modern, cosmopolitan city, just as the losses on 9-11 included citizens of 90 nations.
Still, more people died on 9-11 than were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack.
"Bombing the Sh*t Out of Them"...
Outrageous and tragic as the deeds were that left dead and wounded civilians in Paris, they do not approach the numbers of battlefield casualties in war, nor of Iraqi or Syrian or Yemeni civilian deaths that are considered "collateral damage" in aerial bombing.
It took until Thursday for journalist Howard Feinman to note that ten times the number of innocent civilians have been murdered by terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria as the number of people killed in Paris, but the west can't get interested in taking-out those terrorists in Africa.
And yet, as a chief result of the Paris attacks, major military deployments are being considered once again in Iraq and now in Syria, and aerial bombing raids are holding high carnival with little or no mention of, and seemingly no regard for, innocent civilian casualties — particularly in regard to Russia's recent flurry of air strikes.
To be fair, between 40% and two-thirds of intended U.S. bombing missions return the aircraft — manned or unmanned — to their bases with unused missiles and bombs still under their wings. But that's due to newer paradigms of the Obama administration, and was not the case in the years of "shock and awe" that destabilized things in the first place.
War makes refugees of those it does not kill. And most presidential candidates are silent on the true costs of war, both monetarily and in human terms. Other than saying whatever is necessary to get "real 'Muricans" adrenalin rushing.
Scapegoats, Fear, Immigration, and History...
Americans, as usual, could stand to remember some history. For starters, while we have often needed scapegoats for our failings, it's just not in our national experience to understand religious-based conflicts. Not since the fledging Mormons were persecuted out of Nauvoo, Illinois. That's what occasioned their odyssey to the unsettled Salt Lake Valley, where they envisioned a separatist empire called Deseret.
Beyond that? Despite "no Irish need apply" for employment after brigades of Irish immigrants helped the Union win the Civil War, America has not dealt with a Catholic-Protestant struggle like Northern Ireland, or anything comparable.
There is plenty of racial and ethnic bigotry evident in American immigration policy. Ultimately, it's always been a product of fear-based thinking. That includes the late 19th century bans on Asian immigrants. It includes the Jewish Immigration Act of 1924, passed by a Republican congress and signed by a Republican president. That one essentially forbade more Jewish immigrants, taking effect nine years before the Nazis came to power in Germany.
Then, in 1940, with Hitler in control of nearly all of Europe and persecution of Jews rampant, Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked congress to pass an emergency act to admit 20,000 Jewish children from Europe, citing that it was to save their lives. One senator infamously said, "Right now, they're 20,000 cute kids. In fifteen years, they're 20,000 adult kikes."
What we have seen, and are experiencing yet again, isn't enough for us to understand the religious-based persecution that our Constitution specifically forbids our government from enacting. Our national experience is a long, sad series of fear-based thinking and its ugly manifestations.
From murderous attacks by the U.S. Army on Native Americans because we feared the Ghost Dance movement, to internment of Japanese American citizens because we feared they may be saboteurs who would assist an invasion by Imperial Japan in World War II, fear has a shameful legacy.
Instead of sedition, Native Americans became code talkers for the U.S. military in both world wars, and Japanese Americans won more medals for bravery and suffered higher rates of casualties than any other Americans in WW II.
We celebrate all that now. We revere, even celebrate, those survivors. As we do the Tuskegee Airmen, black fighter plane pilots who protected flights of American bombers more effectively than anyone, ever. It would take another six years before President Harry Truman finally ended segregation in the American military and ended the practice of barring African-Americans from the most important jobs. More than four additiinal decades would pass before President Bill Clinton ordered an end of most barriers to women in military service, and the final walls are coming down only now, by orders from President Obama.
Given all this, it's appropriate to ask if we, as a society, require a scapegoat. Perhaps that's the essential element in fear-based thinking.
Late Thursday, a recording surfaced of Donald Trump replying to a question, in which he indicated that mosques should be scrutinized for radicals and subject to closure, and that a national data base to register Muslims in the U.S., with penalties for non-compliance, is worthy of consideration.
Closing the "Golden Door"...
The inscription on the Statue of Liberty reads, in part, "I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
But is the lamp still lit and the door still open?
On Thursday, "The American Safe Act," H.R. 4038, passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Its full title is the "American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015," authored by Congressman Mike McCaul (R) of Texas. It mandates a "pause" in admitting any refugees from Syria or Iraq.
The act is notably contrary to a Constitutional protection of individual rights that forbids an ex post facto law, since McCaul's bill makes its exclusions retroactive to 2011. Despite everyhing else, a number of Democrats from conservative districts crossed-over to vote with Republicans for the bill.
Chuck Todd, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," characterized McCaul's bill shortly after it passed the House. Paraphrasing, Todd summarized, while the bill doesn't ban immigration of refugees, it creates such a crushing burden of paperwork and bureaucracy that it effectively shuts-down the possibility of any refugees getting into the U.S.
Still, despite longtime Democratic minority leader Harry Reid's assurances to the contrary, the numbers are there to pass it in the Republican controlled U.S. Senate in the form of the bipartisan Feinstein-Flake bill.
Then President Obama will veto it, and be vilified, and the Limbaughs and Hannitys will poke sticks into their snake dens demanding impeachment, and all meaningfully serious dialog will be pushed out of the news cycle. Again.
McCaul claims it's all about preventing terrorists, posing as refugees, from breezing through immigration. But in an on-air interview Thursday with Andrea Mitchell shortly before the bill passed, he responded to her question about its barring desperate and destitute women and children refugees by saying, "If they're women and children, they'll get in."
Makes you wonder if McCaul read his own bill. New House Speaker Paul Ryan (R, WI) said on the House floor, "Americans are uneasy and unsettled," citing the "need" for the measure.
Who Are the Refugees?...
Already, European nations who have processed hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have found that only 2% of them are men of military age. The overwhelming majority are, indeed, women and children.
And the idea that any refugees from Syria or Iraq are breezing through immigration, regardless of age or gender, is not supported by the facts. Families of Iraqis who supported the U.S. invasion and occupation of their country are often — make that usually — in imminent danger of death simply by remaining in chaotic Iraq. Yet there is no fast track for them. The few Syrian refugees, about 1,300, who have been admitted to the U.S. are most often relatives of American citizens who have been here a long time. By contrast, Germany has admitted over 100,000 Syrian refugees.
Opponents of the latest U.S. anti-immigration measure are responding with common sense, that a terrorist obviously isn't going to stand in a two-year-long waiting line of refugees just to get into America when there are faster and easier points of entry.
Presidential Candidates and Political Hype...
Logic is taking a vacation. Members of Congress are crawling out of the woodwork for TV time to assure the folks back home that they are protecting them. The new phrase du jour is "We must end this visa waiver program that lets terrorists in through Europe."
Concurrent with the congressional gaggle who lined-up to urgently parrot that phrase, the presidential candidates of both parties seem desperate to regain the spotlight from the nonstop Paris coverage. Most of the candidates have had an ever-increasing amount to say about terrorists and immigrants and security and military action.
Thursday morning, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton announced her "plan" for dealing with ISIL. Examined point-by-point, there's really nothing new there. That is, until you hear her closing sound byte: "There must be an international coalition to defeat ISIS, and it must be led by the U.S."
And suddenly you can hear the champagne corks popping at Lockheed Martin and Northrup and every arms and weapons manufacturer looking for something to do since the Iraq War gravy train dried-up.
Before this Thursday's recording appeared advocating that we "track Muslims," Republican candidate Donald Trump in his rant a week ago Thursday had already gone off the rails. That's when his bombast peaked in a 95-minute harangue, complete with that exaggerated, bottom-lip-extended, pout pose reminiscent of Benito Mussolini. It's when Trump called for the U.S. to "bomb the shit" out of ISIL, including "every inch" of the oil infrastructure in ISIL-seized territories.
Democrats and the supposedly objective media failed to reply to Trump with something like, "Donald, 'we SHOULD bomb the shit out of them?' — where've you been? We ARE bombing the shit out of them!"
Part of Trump's advocacy was echoing a criticism voiced for months, by many before him, that ISIL's chief source of revenue has been hijacked oil. Specifically, beyond what Trump cited, it's 22,000 daily barrels of oil selling for roughly $1.5 million a day. ISIL collects these oil revenues through middlemen on the international market. Even Syria's delegitimized President Bashar al-Assad has bought oil from ISIL, which then uses his money, in part, to try to overthrow him.
It's reminiscent of Karl Marx's line about selling rope to a capitalist and using it to hang him.
Of course, now that France has extensively bombed oil refineries and storage tank farms held by ISIL, the whores on Wall Street didn't waste a minute raising the price of oil, "since supplies are now reduced."
Another Republican candidate, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R, SC) says, "I have a plan, and I am willing to stay in the region as long as it takes."
Graham could have added, "Oh, let's camp-out. Bring marshmallows. And fire wood. They don't have any fire wood there. It was all chopped-down or blown-up. Iraq isn't as witheringly hot this time of year but it's cold at night, so you need fire wood. I know, since I've always called for sending our troops, over and over, the same troops who've spent so much time being deployed there, again and again. Anyway, marshmallows. But you can't bring hot dogs. Pork offends them in Iraq. It's a Muslim thing. Just like it's a Jewish thing. And I know all about pork for military spending." If Graham even knew enough to add all that. As it is, what he did say is enough to explain his barely visible poll numbers.
Ben Carson, the other leading Republican candidate, mumbled his way through some kind of statement opposing immigration of refugees, but it's pretty hard to find it, being devoid of hammer attacks and belt buckles.
Candidates who Would Be Game Changers...
Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley have both been consistent, before and after the Paris attacks. Each calls for a coalition in which the region's Muslim states take the lead role in eradicating ISIL, since militant, land-seizing terrorism is an existential threat to the stability of recognized borders and Arab governments. Sanders wants it led by rich and well-armed Saudi Arabia.
That line of thinking was informed, early in the week, as Amy Goodman noted on her daily "Democracy Now" public TV/noncommercial radio broadcast. She remarked in her dialog with a guest, "The U.S. just sealed the largest weapons deal in history with Saudi Arabia."
Yet the shieks continue to wallow in petro dollars while the U.S., now joined by France — and in a kafkaesque parallel, Russia — spend fortunes to do the dirty work.
Russia, Syria, and ISIL...
It isn't just Russia's entry that reads like Franz Kafka, proving a be-careful-what-you-wish-for adage as they bomb the very Syrian rebels the U.S. has armed and backed. For the U.S., there was our entry — the invasion of Iraq to round-up Weapons of Mass Destruction that didn't exist. And plenty of reason to believe that the WMD narrative was, from its outset, a willful, probably conspiratorial, lie.
It isn't just Russia retaliating for ISIL's use of a planted bomb that brought-down the Metrojet in the Sinai desert, killing all the Russian tourists returning from a vacation at an Egyptian beach resort.
Russia has long counted Assad's Syria as its ally. The stakes were upped when Assad gave the Russian navy a warm water base on Syria's Mediterranean coast. The table stakes were raised and the west caught off guard when Russia suddenly began building a second and combined basefor in Syria for its air forces and ground troops.
Kafka, Stephen King, Bob Dylan, and ISIL...
For the U.S., it all feels like Kafka's story wherein Gregor wakes up and finds he has morphed into a cockroach. We're overdue for a sequel, "Metamorphosis 2," in which DDT kills Al Quaida, but the supermosquito, Invasionus Isilus, evolves and gets stronger with each exposure to toxins.
As in "Apocalypse Now," it takes a while before you start citing, and reciting, "The horror. The horror."
Throughout its existence, ISIL consistently comes across like a possessed child character from a Stephen King novel. Craving the spotlight and more prone to temper tantrums than Donald Trump. ISIL hurls bombs instead of insults, and innocent people die, and all assert that the ultimate diety is in their corner, and paradise awaits those who murder in their name.
Though, as is always the case with those who propose massive death to solve problems, none of them are alone in that belief.
We still have Bob Dylan's "With God on Our Side," but there is no Christmas truce of 1914 in no-man's land between the trenches. A hundred-and-one years later, we're more sophisticated and smarter than that. We have Butterball turkeys with pop-up timers. And video surveillance. And computers. And armed drones. And cyber-guided bombs. And politicians who are darlings of conservative Christians because they vilify Islam and Allah. Just like the 13th century Crusaders.
"Fighters" and Terrorists...
Abdel Bari Atwan, author of "The Islamic State: the Digital Caliphate," was a guest this week on "Democracy Now," where he pointed-out that we profoundly lack understanding of who and what we are facing, and mostly, why it opposes us.
Among his many cogent explanations, he says we have no idea how many civilians are killed in U.S. air strikes in Syria, and we have no real numbers of how many civilians were killed due to the prolonged U.S. war in Iraq against a multiplicity of foes.
"The U.S., Britain, western powers make it a tenet not to count the casualties among those they deem their enemies, and by extension, civilian casualties. And that means the U.S. plays right into the hands of the terrorists by enabling them to say to people in the Middle East, 'Look, they don't care about you, they only want to kill you,'" he told Amy Goodman.
Atwan's caveats about who really cares, by extension, should inform the dialog about stopping immigration of refugees desperate to save their children from the hellish and inscrutable chaos of Syria.
Then there are the factors that motivate the "fighters," the new euphemism for "irregulars" and "guerrillas" who do not wear military uniforms but attack and kill as a military force. Much of it is financial. ISIL pays its "fighters" $700-$750 per month, and that's more than Al Quaida and a variety of militias pay. Remember, too, that much of ISIL is comprised of former Iraqi military professionals banned by the U.S. from serving in the new military, which we conveniently dubbed the "Iraqi Security Force" (the ones who run away when ISIL is coming). ISIL includes former Al Quaida "fighters," intimidated by fear and brutality or lured by more money than the old boss paid.
The term "fighters" also includes those we call "terrorists" when their attacks are off what we consider to be the recognized battlefield. And therein is why we can deem them terrorists, because their tactics include bringing the violence and death of war to comfortable people in their safe homes and sidewalk cafes and concert venues.
France has conducted over 600 raids of dwellings and businesses, all without warrants under the new emergency measures in place sincethe the Paris attacks. In Belgium, where raids without warrants had always been illegal until Thursday, nine raids Thursday night netted nine arrests of suspected terrorists or their facilitators.
Live from New York...
When ISIL released an online video late Wednesday that mixed scenes of last week's Paris carnage with peaceful views of New York City, and conveyed a threat of an attack on Times Square — where a previous attack was thwarted — it brought a quick response. At 11 p.m. New York time, Mayor DiBlasio and Chief Bratton did a live TV appearance to assure their city they were on top of things and the people were safe. The mayor made the promise, "The NYPD will protect you."
That's quite extraordinary for any politician who should know to expect his reelection chances to vanish if even one nut of any variety detonates a suicide bomb vest on a crowded street, or goes on a shooting spree to kill whatever demons.
For his part, NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, former chief of police in L.A. and Boston, made a more appropriate and more inspiring statement when he said, "We cannot be intimidated, and that is what terrorists seek to do. We will not be intimidated."
Selling Our Values for "Safety" and "Security"...
It goes to the heart of "what else" terrorism seeks to accomplish. Any time they can make you think about them, they win a little victory. Especially if they can make you consider them first. When Americans live under the dominion of a repeatedly renewed Patriot Act; when the French parliament grants unprecedented powers to their nation's president to allow raids and detainments without warrants, the Bill of Rights and "Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité" are diminished.
When getting on an airplane requires voyeuristic visual scans and getting felt-up by somebody in rubber gloves who used to be a minimum-wage security guard at the mall? The terrorists win a small victory, because you can no longer live your life without them in it.
In London after 9-11, video surveillance expanded like a locust infestation, making it the most surveilled city in the world. In America, you can't ride a Greyhound bus without a currently valid government issued photo i.d.
And we accept all that because we know there is "a threat." However nebulous, however statistically improbable, the fact that being struck by lightning or having your car fall in a sinkhole are more likely than becoming a statistic of terrorism. To that little extent, the terrorists win every day, because they succeed in making us a fear-based society.
Some who are reading this will reply, "Necessarily so."
Others see the usurpation of individual liberty as prolonged hysteria that surrenders to a "national security state," and those studying the latter see the concurrently enabled rise of for-profit corporate surveillance — of everyone and everything — as the end of privacy, altogether.
Terrorism is often called "an asymmetric threat." Given our response, and all that drives our approach, everything we have allowed to happen since 9-11 is a far bigger asymmetric threat. Open an online "account" with just about any social media, and you click a button to "agree" to their pervasive, unblinking surveillance of your unrelated email accounts, all your text messages, and all your files. Same with downloading nearly any free "app" into your smart phone.
While you're worried that a Big Brother government is watching you, it's actually the perverted shirttail relative sleeping on your couch who picks through your trash after you leave for work, and sells whatever he finds to whoever pays him. Only he's invading more than your trash.
This started because of terrorists. It's become an empire of algorithm-enabled spying that builds dossiers on every aspect of your preferences and behavior, everything you buy, everything you like, everything you don't, and everyplace you go. And it's not the government doing it, nor is it for the government's use.
Nope. It's become the new normal so that Facebook could surpass GE as the seventh most valuable corporate entity in the world. General Electric, represented by dozens of useful appliances in every household, which makes everything from most of the world's jet engines to all of Amtrak's locomotives and most of the freight locomotives for the freight railroads, many of the world's wind and water turbines, and more individual machines, control systems, consumer and industrial products than we could list in the length of this column — has been eclipsed in monetary worth by Facebook, which makes, well, absolutely nothing.
ISIL, ISIS, DAESH...
The world is an insane asylum. And the people in the white coats with the butterfly nets are just as determined to keep you worrying about a terrorist attack as the terrorists are — though for wholly different reasons, both see benefits for their own agendas.
Otherwise, why would the media have so much trouble with a simple determination of what to call "fighters" when they eschew the battlefield to conduct attacks as "terrorists"-?
And the group behind both kinds of attackers. Is it ISIL, ISIS, DAESH, or what? Perhaps it should be the Islamic Caliphate of Koran-Ignoring Extremists (ICKIE). That would be as valid.
The acronym ISIL is most accurate, citing the English version of words that translate as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Iraq belongs in the title, since it was born there when the U.S. did the bull-in-a-china-shop thing in the Iraqi Pottery Barn. "The Levant" is a large cultural geographic region stretching from the shore of the Mediterranean inland to ancient Persia, and ISIL's territorial ambitions are certainly that big. At least that big.
It makes Israel nervous when "ISIL" is used, since Israel is properly part of the Levant. Given their treatment of their Palestinian citizens, they have plenty of reason to be nervous.
Meanwhile, the official U.S. government name for the terrorist "Islamic State" is ISIL, hence it's what you hear President Obama and the Pentagon use.
"ISIS" has become popular with the media, and that's a shame. It is Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Yet that grossly underestimates their presence and their territorial goals.
Besides, anyone who has studied Ancient Egypt or who loved the Saturday morning kids show remembers Isis as the beautiful goddess and central figure in the civilization that built the pyramids and the sphinx and everything else that ISIL would destroy if they ever got the chance.
DAESH is the acronym of Arabic words that the "Islamic State" terror group initially used to identify itself. But, just as happened in the U.S. with the Teabag movement, at some point the group got angry when anyone referred to them by their original self-chosen name.
Which explains why every Arab government, and an increasing number of European nations, insist on referring to them as DAESH. Though most have dropped the capitalization of an acronym and seek to add to the insult by writing it as "Daesh." Sort of like trying to minimize the NRA as the Nra.
None of that gets to the essence of who they are. And that's where it's necessary to accept opposing interpretations because multiple characteristics are all valid.
Declaring War on ISIL...
The notion of "Declaring war on ISIL" is a bit like declaring war on all the termites in town. All of them share the same goal, to eat all the houses and destroy all the standing structures. But trying to send them into disarray by imagining you can kill a termite king is not very realistic. ISIL cells appear to operate without a large, centrally organized effort.
Evan Coleman, an analyst who studies ISIL, says, "Most of these people are sociopaths. They go online and get inspiration and ideas from others in ISIL [sometimes others with specific knowledge of skills]. We keep thinking of this as a military battle. That's a mistake. It is a battle for hearts and minds. If we can show disenchanted, disillusioned young people in these war-torn places that there are better possibilities and treat those people with respect that shows we value their sense of worth, that's how we defeat [ISIL]."
At the same time, consider this. The handbook that ISIL distributes to its training camps, individual trainers, cells and operatives, is called "The Management of Savagery." It was written about ten years ago by Al Quiada. Lydia Wilson of Oxford University says "What happened in the Paris attacks should not come as a surprise to anyone. It was all laid-out in that book."
Wilson explains that includes paradigms for attacking soft targets, going for maximum civilian deaths, and ultimately, drawing America and Europe into prolonged military conflicts that western nations cannot win.
We previously quoted Abdel Bari Atwan, author of "The Islamic State: the Digital Caliphate." He says just a few simple terms define the Middle East, and are essential to our understanding of why ISIL attracts a following. He says it's because people where ISIL rises share a sense of:
- Hopeless unemployment
- Lack of good government
- Social media empowerment
Along with all that, there is the réal politique of average citizens in America and France and Germany and Belgium and Greece and Turkey — people who vote for incumbents to stay in office or to get out. And they are citizens in countries impacted and shaped by terrorism, or by a flood of refugees seeking to escape wars with multiple sides that try to kill them.
Who They Are, or Who We Are?...
Ultimately, we must determine who all this is about — them or us — and whether we wish to be defined by the choices we make about them, or by a deeper and more abiding sense of who we are.
It's been left to candidate Martin O'Malley, whose numbers among Democratic candidates are miniscule, to make the definitive statement of who we are. He has said, repeatedly through the campaign, "The symbol of America has always been the Statue of Liberty, not the barbed wire fence."
Like the rest of his campaign, that statement brings applause from those who hear it, but no traction in the media. So let's look beyond it here.
The Statue of Liberty was conceived and constructed in France as a gift to America. It was dedicated in New York harbor in 1886 and became, as poet Emma Lazarus envisioned in her 1883 sonnet about it, the ultimate symbol for immigrants seeking a new life for themselves and their children in America. Her poem played no role when the statue was dedicated, but became integral with it since the dawn of the 20th century. Lazarus died in 1887, a year after the statue's dedication. Thanks to a friend, her poem survived to be added on an inscribed plaque inside the statue's base in 1903, and inspire generations ever since.
The odyssey of those words by Emma Lazarus is thus an important part of the story of a nation that often requires time to eventually get things right. That's especially relevant, all the way around, when the fate of people — today's terrorized refugees — is not something with a long shelf life.
If we wish to see ourselves as we so often claim we are — a great nation capable of overcoming any obstacle, always demanding fair play, ever ready to help those in need — we should remember the words of Emma Lazarus affixed to the Statue of Liberty:
"'Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!' cries she
With silent lips.
'Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!'"
Terrorists did not extinguish that lamp, even on 9-11. If it goes out now, it will be because fear-based thinking makes us forget who we are.
Fear-based thinking. Ultimately, that's what can make us close our door. It's what can lead us into another war in another place where we have no comprehension of the values that are most important in someone else's tribal-based culture, where we have insufficient understanding of their geopolitical issues, and no sense of how to get out if we are egotistically stupid enough, or simply fearful enough, to get in.
Refugees wait, as does the rest of the world, to see if we are true to our claims, our creed, and to the vision we have long projected to the world as the essence of American Exceptionalism.
Even as cable news is exclusively obsessed with terrorists and pugilistic rhetoric, we must find our perspective. It is, with urgency, that we must determine who we are.