Thursday, July 16, 2015
It’s the Economy Stupid
There are three macro-trends that are redefining our planet: 1. Over-population, 2. Climate change/resource exhaustion and 3. Action and reaction to 1. and 2. The underlying vectors are increasingly moving towards extreme religiosity and nationalism, a consolidation of self-interest at the expense of anyone else. My way or the highway. It is the exact opposite of the empathy-driven elements of liberal tolerance and inclusion.
We are seeing the expansion of exclusionary right wing politics from countries like Denmark, Hungary (a rising tide across Europe for that matter), Israel, Russia and even a new movement of re-militarism in Japan. I’ll deal with the rest of Middle East and the Islamic world later. “Immigration” is the issue that rages across the developed world… a code word for racism and exclusion.
In the U.S., we see Tea Party Evangelism apply its rather tortured interpretation of the New Testament as allowing and even encouraging casting the first stone, sitting in judgment of others, intolerance, allowing for the passage of “stand your ground” and “castle” statutes that turn murder into justifiable homicide (no turning the other cheek), believing that gun ownership is sacred and deriding Pope Francis (who does have a claim to interpreting the New Testament!) and his encyclical on protecting the resources of the planet… claiming a God-given right to exploit the environment without limits (a rather unique feature of American Evangelism).
We seem to ignore how leadership directives, especially in larger nations, influence how life really is for the masses. As the United States fought unsuccessful wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, it encumbered itself with massive and unsustainable debt, diverting its growth resources increasingly towards military spending. That ancient civilizations (from Alexander the Great to Sparta to Rome to the huge Ming Dynasty fleets) and modern nations (the regime changes of the Arab Spring, the fall of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc) collapsed from exactly this overspending on the military is a lesson lost on American leadership. We still have a military budget that represents the equal of the next ten highest military budgets combined… and still we lose wars but, because of our might, find ourselves embroiled in conflicts everywhere.
Think I’m missing the necessity of American might – which I believe we need at an entirely different sense of scale? Why exactly do you think China rose in the post-Mao era? China avoided involvement in any serious external wars, kept its military budget under check, and devoted the equivalent of the U.S. military budget to economic growth. Their middle class has exploded while ours is contracting into lower economic expectations. Meanwhile, we incurred trillions of debt on wars we simply lost, tanking our economy along the way.
Now for the big reveal. Islam. With more than 20% of the world’s population, it is a religion that is redefining the risk profile of the entire earth. Just as throwback religiosity and nationalism have embraced so much of the non-Muslim world, so have these forces reconfigured the many nations of Islam. While the vast majority of Muslims just want to be left alone to live their lives, and while the majority of the new victims are themselves Muslims, there is a new kid in town, and he isn’t going away anytime soon. We have severely underestimated this power, his ability to tie his actions to his holiest book of his faith and overestimated the forces that oppose this malignant power. Make no mistake, this is a deeply conservative religious movement that is thoroughly abhorrent to the majority of the faithful. But this kid wants to rule the earth.
The major throwback in Islam – generally falling under a notion of the jihadist sector of a branch of Sunnism called Salafism (Arabic al salaf al salih, the “pious forefathers”) as well as other parallel Qur’anic interpretations – takes the Muslim mandate back to the time of its ultimate founding father, the Prophet Muhammad (570 – 632). And while there is a conservative movement within the Shiite side of Islam (led by Iran), Sunnis still account for 80% of the adherents of all Muslims. ISIS is pure Sunni.
The Qur’an is filled with expressions of violence and pain, embracing crucifixion (Qur’an 5:33), beheading (Qur’an 47:4) and slavery (Qur’an 33:50), a notion of “us” versus everyone else, allowing only certain non-believers (Jews and Christians) to live within the Muslim community provided they submit to local authority and pay a special tax (jizya).
It is not a clearly tolerant faith in a simple reading of the Qur’an, and its earliest days show conversion by conquest to explain its rapid growth, although there are vast sections of the Book devoted to kindness, charity (a pillar of the faith) and tolerance as well. The ultra-violent movements that are growing within Sunni areas are not lead by older leaders. Ayman Zawahiri – the senior leader of al Qaeda – and his fellow elders are viewed by these nascent militaristic Sunni movements as irrelevant and mere historical figures.
ISIS is not led or supported by ultra-conservative elders; it is led and built on the backs of disenfranchised Sunni youth, from Iraq/Syria to Libya and Tunisia, also embracing the extremist Boko Haram (“reject things Western”) in northern Nigeria. Many are educated, but all seem to have lost their hope for future success and their very identity as human beings in a world of drought and economic impairment. This Sunni extremism is not led by or recruiting older Islamists from Western nations; its entire emphasis is on youth. And it anchors every step it takes, every slaughter it imposes, every outrageous act it embraces, in the literal word of the Qur’an itself. These militants have resurrected the Prophet’s own violent war of conversion almost a millennium and a half ago.
The focus of ISIS power is in lands decimated by climate-change-caused drought where hopelessness is all the young Muslim faithful could see in their “best case guess” as to their futures. As water vaporized, so did hope. And as with the rise of Adolph Hitler in the ashes of post WWI Germany, crushed by reparations imposed by the victorious allies of WWI and suffering from hyper-inflation and massive joblessness, so too did economic hopelessness and rather cavalier disdain from the regional leadership (mostly Shiite) for the ensuing poverty fueled this ultra-violent rebellion.
To the delight of Evangelicals promoting their apocalyptic provocation of a “second coming of Christ” through Armageddon – a war between Israel and its neighbors that literally consumes the earth in which Evangelicals are the only ones God rescued – ISIS has moved into Gaza and has already launched a new mini-barrage of rockets into Israel. ISIS and its sympathizers are popping up all over the world. Lone wolves and coordinated attacks. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, morbidly afraid of Iran's nuclear aspirations, must be particularly upset at the growing parallel needs of Iran and ISIS's opponents to crush ISIS, a reality that will foment some very uncomfortable alliances as we shall see below.
Most Americans do not have the slightest idea what ISIS means, what their strength is and how powerful they really are. I have already blogged that they are actually cable of administering the lands they conquer. Americans believe that ISIS actions are merely brutality without justification, even though every step ISIS has taken has been linked to some quote in the Qur’an. That Shiites require a mystical interpretation of that Holy Book defiles the Sunni vision of the purity of its words, that the Book is a perfect expression of God. So Shiites and less-than-ultra-conservative-Sunni Muslims must die.
Further, ISIS is labeling an increasing number of their fellow Muslims as apostates to be excommunicated, which, under the Islamic law, poses great risk to the accuser as well. “In Islam, the practice of takfir, or excommunication, is theologically perilous. ‘If a man says to his brother, ‘You are an infidel,’ ’ the Prophet said, ‘then one of them is right.’ If the accuser is wrong, he himself has committed apostasy by making a false accusation. The punishment for apostasy is death.” theAtlantic.com (March 2015).
What is equally historical fact is that once a bad economy generates an extreme over-reaction, the parameters of that over-reaction continue and expand without the necessity of further justification from that bad economy. Think of the snowball becoming an avalanche. But our ignorance, and the abysmal ignorance of our Congress, is giving ISIS a new “evil West” image to help them generate recruits, money and support… to make them increasingly more powerful than we know.
We’ve gotten ourselves in a fine mess. And guess who’s suggesting a new military alliance to combat ISIS at perhaps the only level that has even a slight chance of working? Shiite Iran. “In a message to Washington, Iran's foreign minister on [July 3rd] called for an end to ‘coercion and pressure’ at the nuclear talks, suggesting a deal acceptable to his country will open the door to cooperation on fighting the upsurge of Middle East extremism threatening both nations' interests…
“The West fears Iran could develop its nuclear program to make weapons while Iran insists it is only meant to generate power and for other peaceful uses. Suggesting that Islamic extremism is a far greater threat to the world than his country's atomic activities, [Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad] Zarif called for an end to ‘unjust economic sanctions’ and for the West to join Iran in common cause against ‘the growing menace of violent extremism and outright barbarism.’
“‘The menace we're facing — and I say we, because no one is spared — is embodied by the hooded men who are ravaging the cradle of civilization, Zarif said. He called for realignment from Iran's nuclear activities, saying it was time to ‘open new horizons to address important, common challenges.’” AOL.com, July 3rd. We really seem to be fact and history averse, but it’s time to wake up and evaluate who we are and what we face from a sense of reality and not ignorant mythology.
I’m Peter Dekom, and while this is a particularly long blog, it just might be worth reading again.