“MAGA maggots” and my fifteen minutes

One of the more disgusting aspects of contemporary political and media culture is the practice of forming on-line hit squads to go after innocent victims when they dare to complain in ways that discomfit right-wing politicians or discredit right-wing causes.

The latest example is the concerted attacks on the student survivors of the Parkland massacre who are organizing - with admirable skill and self-restraint - to demand more effective gun control laws. I’m on record as a skeptic about how much good politically practicable gun control can actually do under U.S. conditions, but there’s no doubt that making it harder for juveniles to access AR-15s and similar weapons could help moderate the carnage in schools. (That’s a small part of the total gun-violence problem, but still worth addressing.)

In any case, it does my heart good to see these young folks stepping in to the public arena with so much energy and such a sharp eye for political efficacy. You don’t have to entirely agree with them to unreservedly admire them. If it had been my friends who were killed, and if I’d spent hours hiding in a closet wondering whether I would survive, I doubt that I could master their self-possession.

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Trump makes more enemies

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are mad at Trump.

President Donald Trump has annoyed another lot of people. Not the defenceless PM of Montenegro or the President of Mexico or the Pope or the Mayor of London, but the commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the Pasdaran. Following Wednesday’s terrorist attack in the centre of Tehran  including the Parliament and the tomb of Ayatollah Khomenei, Trump thought this was an appropriate comment:

States that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.

The Guards are not happy. Reuters reported this statement (my italics):

The deputy head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards promised retaliation on Islamic State - the militant group that claimed responsibility - and its allies.

“Let there be no doubt that we will take revenge for today’s attacks in Tehran, on terrorists, their affiliates and their supporters,” Brigadier General Hossein Salami was quoted as saying by state media.

They blame Riyadh – but also Trump.

“This terrorist attack happened only a week after the meeting between the U.S. president (Donald Trump) and the (Saudi) backward leaders who support terrorists. The fact that Islamic State has claimed responsibility proves that they were involved in the brutal attack,” a Guards statement said.

The conspiracy theory would normally be unbelievable but with Trump you never know. “Go ahead, take the ayatollahs down a peg”? You also need to believe that Saudi responsibility for ISIS goes beyond the general toxic programme of funding Wahhabi and Salafist preachers all over the place to operational links to ISIS. Since al-Baghdadi’s modest programme includes exterminating the Saudi monarchy along with Iran’s apostate ayatollahs, this does not seem likely.

The Pasdaran is a complete parallel ideological military, with land, naval, air and missile units. The nearest analogy would be Himmler’s Waffen SS late in the Second World War, or Stalin’s NKVD troops. Its total strength is said to be 125,000, plus a 90,000 strong militia of probably limited military value. Still the Pasdaran has real aggressive capabilities in its 5,000 Marines and a similar number in the special ops Quds Force. If they choose to go after Trump personally, they can.

We can cross fingers that cooler heads will prevent an assassination or kidnap attempt, which would probably spark a full-grown war that Iran cannot afford. But there are plenty of lesser ways of damaging Trump personally that do not affect vital US interests. How hard can it be for a saboteur to to make a hotel unlettable, with food poisoning or rats? Or to wreck a golf course with a couple of jerrycans of gasoline and Roundup? A more elegant way would be to hire delinquent boys to release hundreds of moles on the greens. The joke is no doubt rather too Cambridge.

The crumbling of ISIS

ISIS nears its end.

Officially, the Iraqi government is still dampening expectations of an early victory in Mosul. But the news on the ground tells a different story.

  • General Stephen Townsend, commanding the US “assistance” mission, last week: ISIS is down to 2,000 fighters in Mosul, including those now isolated in Tal Afar.
  • Iraqi Federal police, 28 February:  since the start of the offensive on the West bank of the Tigris in Mosul, 900 ISIS fighters have been killed.
  • Unconfirmed local Iraqi report: 20 ISIS checkpoints in the semi-desert West of Mosul have been abandoned.
  • The Iraqi Army recaptured the large airport and the adjoining military base in about two days. In the earlier offensive on the East bank, ISIS held out in smaller districts for a week, and then counter-attacked with infiltrators.

It’s speeding up. In the time since I started writing this, the Iraqi Army has captured the west end of a second bridge over the Tigris, at the SE corner of the old city, and claims to have recaptured 60% of the whole of the west bank of the city.

Allies for now : Shia militia
It’s just possible that the weak resistance is part of a cunning plan to lure the Iraqi army into a costly house-to-house battle in the narrow streets of the old city. I don’t buy this. Fanatics don’t do tactical retreats. They are surrounded, low on ammunition, taking very heavy casualties, in a hostile population controlled by terror that will betray them at the first safe opportunity, and facing certain defeat. For Syrian and Iraqi ISIS fighters, melting into the civilian population only offers a slim chance of survival. For the foreigners, even that is nonexistent. They are stuck, like the French and Belgian SS soldiers who fought to the last in the centre of Berlin in May 1945 (source: Beevor). My guess is that they will be overrun in the next ten days.

Over the Syrian border, the Kurdish YPG militia (associated with Ocalan’s PKK and vehemently opposed by Turkey) has surrounded Raqqa on three sides, and cut the last road east on the north bank to Deir ez-Zor. The south is open, but the bridges over the Euphrates have been cut by bombing and the only crossing is by boat. There are unconfirmed reports that ISIS leaders have been evacuating their families from Raqqa into the countryside. That leaves ISIS holding three centres, cut off from each other, two under close siege.

The self-proclaimed caliphate will be gone in a few months. It may survive as a non-territorial conspiracy, a low-budget and even more extreme rival to al-Qaeda. But they don’t have the latter’s funding, organization, or experience. The attraction of ISIS to alienated young radical Muslim men across the world depended crucially on the caliphate claim, not just to statehood but empire. This absolutely required control of territory. I would not put it past them to pull a Jonestown rather than submit to shameful surrender. Not many of their enemies will be ready to leave them alive.

The end of the fake caliphate will be a victory for Obama’s proxy strategy, though Trump will surely claim it. In retrospect, it was bound to fail. A claim to universal dominion exercised by forced conversion, enslavement, and massacre of everybody in its reach cannot possibly work. The original expansion of Islam depended on the new religion’s exceptional tolerance for non-Muslim peoples of the book. The large numbers of converts from their new subjects were actually a problem to the Arab conquerors, and led to the Abbasid revolution. This contemporary bunch of millenarian crazies will leave nothing but an execrated memory.
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Do Fatwas Against ISIS Matter?

A few months ago, 70,000 Muslim clerics issued a fatwa against ISIS. All very well and good, great to see, important to notice, etc.

But whenever violence is justified by appeal to religion (regardless of which religion it is, see Baruch Goldstein), adherents of that religion have to take proactive steps to ensure that beliefs leading to violence are being rooted out. So here is one that I would be interested in discussing with these 70,000 imams:

How do you interpret Qu’ran 4:34?

That verse describes relations between husbands and wives, and in some interpretations allows husbands to beat their wives. Other interpretations suggest that men are superior to women. And yet other interpretations reject all violence or any suggestion of gender inequality. What do these imams think about that?

Now, one might wonder what that has to do with anything: this fatwa concerned ISIS and Al-Qaeda, not gender. But I believe that the two are linked. In male-dominated traditional societies, women can stand in for the ultimate Other, that which must be controlled and dominated. Hyper-masculinism means great propensity to violence, or as a professor of mine once put it, “when it comes to violent crime, women are just not doing their fair share.” The one thing that virtually all terrorists have in common is not their religion, or their culture, or their class background, but rather their sex.

Put another way, Islamic terror will not cease until women in the Umma are empowered and equal. And this applies to all terror. It may not be a sufficient condition — Communist China early on adopted formal norms of gender equality and Maoist rule might have been the most brutal of the 20th century, which is saying a lot — but it is a necessary one. For my own faith, it is surely no accident that the religious settlers who have committed the worst terror against Palestinians are also the ones who hold the most retrograde views on gender.

So while it is great that we hear condemnations of terrorism from imams, my follow up question is: how are you personally, in your practice and in your work, fighting for gender equality with Islam? What do you tell your followers about Qu’ran 4:34? Because if that answer is a shrug of the shoulders, or an uncomprehending stare, it isn’t good enough.