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ISIS insanity

Soooo… about that whole ISIS group thing. Yeah, I’m gonna need to know a little more. I’m pretty good about paying attention to things that are thousands of miles away (even if it’s only 2,000 miles). And I get it that there’s been unspeakable horror going on.  On one side of the Iraqi-Syrian border, Nuri al-Maliki sat idly by while Shi’ites openly set up militias to eradicate Sunnis.  More recently on the other side of the border – and on the flip side of the government failure scale – Syrians watched as their government moved from torturing kids to using gunships to fire on peaceful demonstrators to crossing red lines using chemical weapons on its own people.  There’s a mass desire for vengeance and justice out there that I hope to never have to feel.

However, I get lost when the savior du jour that outsiders flock to is a group that appears to behead its prisoners as casually as I fold my socks, or publishes sales prices for abducted women and children. What’s the draw of a group like that for more than a few international fringe idiots?

Foreign Affairs has an enlightening take.  Puzzled that nearly 1,000 ISIS members were from Turkey, supposedly the Muslim world’s beacon of openness and democracy, the authors began looking at open-source information on as many Turkish ISIS members as possible to determine who they are and what motivates them.  The answer:

Over the course of its rule, the AKP has achieved impressive economic growth rates… Yet AKP rule came with some unintended consequences. For one, it led to much more civic activism overall, because AKP sponsored Islamic organizations both to please its core supporters and to promote a more pious society. And that burst of activism facilitated radicalization, because organizations had free rein to pursue their own intolerant and exclusive agendas as long as they did not challenge the AKP.

In our fieldwork in Turkey, we found that jihadists exploited the freer civil space provided by the AKP to form conversation groups, turn bookstores into social centers, and recruit in mosques. For example, over 180 religious publishing houses and bookstores participated in a record-setting book fair during Ramadan in Istanbul. Iftars (Ramadan dinners) and the special tarawih prayers organized by religious groups, including those with ISIS sympathies, provided an environment for radicals to network. The increasing numbers of Syrian refugees brutalized by a vicious civil war provided an additional impetus to join up.

Overall, a flourishing civil society and decaying political institutions have created a radical-friendly environment in Turkey.

Fine, so there are fewer hurdles for a radical group to clear now in Turkey.  There’s still an awfully long gap to bridge between the marketing effort and the product being marketed.  In other words, fewer restrictions on proselytizing doesn’t equate to more people being happy to listen.  Just think about how happy everyone is when elections are over and commercials go back to simply being annoying spots for beer or ED treatment.

So let’s turn to the Atlantic and Shadi Hamid.  This is the first piece I’ve read from Mr. Hamid, although if the rest of his stuff is this detailed, I’ll be looking him up a lot more.  (And yes, Mr. Hamid, I’m now your 64,675th Twitter follower.)  There are a lot of great things in here, but here are a few of them:

ISIS draws on, and draws strength from, ideas that have broad resonance among Muslim-majority populations. They may not agree with ISIS’s interpretation of the caliphate, but the notion of acaliphate—the historical political entity governed by Islamic law and tradition—is a powerful one, even among more secular-minded Muslims. The caliphate, something that hasn’t existed since 1924, is a reminder of how one of the world’s great civilizations endured one of the more precipitous declines in human history. The gap between what Muslims once were and where they now find themselves is at the center of the anger and humiliation that drive political violence in the Middle East.

The Arab world clearly suffers from weak, failed, and failing states. But it also suffers from strong or “over-developed” states, to use Yezid Sayigh’s apt description (the line between weak and failing and over-developed but brittle is a blurry one). But, more than that, the Arab regional order suffers from the “exaltation” of the state—something most obvious, and frightening, in the case of Egypt, where President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has enthusiastically promoted the sacralization of state power. This is the democrat’s dilemma: Security and stability would seem to depend on strong states, particularly in the short-term, but the demands of pluralism and at least a semblance of democracy require ultimately constraining, and even weakening, those same states.

The July 3, 2013 military coup in Egypt and the government’s subsequent, brutal crackdown on its Islamist opponents has led to the thorough, unceasing politicization of state institutions, which have become partisans in a civil conflict in which hundreds of Egyptians have been killed. It is unclear if the state, in the eyes of Egypt’s young, angry Islamist activists, can be salvaged. They see the state, at least in its current iteration, as an enemy to be undermined, if not destroyed. (Emphasis mine)

That last sentence is a big one.  When the state itself is the enemy, there’s very little it can do to placate its angry masses.

Fortunately, it appears the appeal isn’t quite as broad as I first thought.  The Arab Center of Washington conducted a poll of seven Arab countries plus, miraculously, a representative sample of Syrian refugees, to gauge their thoughts on ISIS and the US-led mission to stop it.  According to the results, more than 8 in 10 have a negative view of ISIS.  Only 6 in 10 supported US efforts to send ISIS to hell.  Personally, I can live without winning a popularity contest so long as ISIS finishes further behind.

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Is the Obama White House out of its effing mind???

I discovered one of my absolute favorite blogs in the history of the universe over the weekend, a discovery that illustrates just how flaky I can be and also what a tremendous analyst the author is.   At least in the eyes of this virgin blogger.  The XX Committee has quickly become go-to material every morning and today’s post is a good opportunity to show off why.

Discussing what will henceforth and for all time be known as “Chickenshitgate,” XX Committee rock star John Schindler lays the smack on a senior official in the Obama White House.  This official is either completely off his rocker or is such an unapologetic narcissist that he’s willing to publicly embarrass a major ally while completely undermining long-standing treaty negotiations that have one month until completion.  What’s this anonymous commenter’s weapon of choice?  Name calling, aimed at Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu.  Seriously.  From The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg via The XX Committee:

“The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” this official said.


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.”

Got that?  A former Israeli special forces officer who has probably killed more bad guys with his bare hands than I ever did with a Nintendo controller, who heads up America’s only genuinely reliable friend in the region and is despised in its neighborhood – oh, hi there almost-nuclear Iran – is a “chickenshit.”  Ok then.  Carry on.

Bizarrely, White House officials signaled to Goldberg that they think Bibi is basically a wimp… who’s afraid to actually bomb Iran. Why on earth the White House wants that message out there, in the middle of negotiations with Tehran, I simply cannot fathom.

Yup.  Right when the world thinks it’s on the verge of getting Iran to finally agree to some kind of nuclear deal, this official kicks the legs out from under the consequences of not signing on.  The best part is that while the words are plenty bold, this bare-knuckle brawler seems to have forgotten to tell Goldberg his own name. #ToughGuy.

Anyway, Dan Drezner, another idol in my Pantheon of All Things Awesome, theorizes that our brave-but-anonymous name caller may actually be trying to allay Iranian concerns about possible Israeli actions after a nuclear deal is reached:

The one thing this kind of trash-talking does is send a signal to Iran about the U.S. commitment to a nuclear deal… Netanyahu’s persistent and bellicose rhetoric towards Tehran would also have to be a source of concern for the Iranians. If they cut a nuclear deal, they want it to be implemented and they want the shadow of military action lifted.


Since congressional approval is now off the table, dissing America’s closest ally in the region serves as an imperfect substitute.

Given that we have yet to hear anything resembling tough talk aimed at those who, you know, deserve it, this doesn’t paint the administration in real flattering tones.  It’s one thing to try to make nice to the countries you’re trying work with.  It’s entirely something else to kick around your friends in some playground attempt to make the bully like you.  Obama and his team can do better.

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Linkin’ some links

More idNihilistic thoughts forthcoming.  In the meantime, here’s some interesting stuff:

Us vs Them-ing

Everyone knows the “Us vs. Them” technique.  It’s taking a presumably diverse set of individuals with their own wants, needs, desires, personalities, outlooks, and opinions and clumping them together based on a single commonality, turning them into Them.

It’s genius, really.  Once they become Them, arguing the issues no longer matters.  You can’t reason with Them.  All They want to do is destroy whatever We hold sacred.  We can’t let them do it!  Burn the place down if you have to, but don’t let Them in.

The problem is that “Us vs. Them”ing is really easy to do and it’s pretty darned effective for two reasons: 1. everyone wants their opinion to be the right one, and 2. having a Them to point to instantly removes the nuances from an argument.  Wielded by the unscrupulous or the greedy, “Us vs. Them”ing can create a false division between people who really should have the same ultimate objectives in mind (here’s looking at you, US government).  Honestly, there’s nothing more irritating than paying attention to the news and only hearing the latest rail about how They are trying to kill old people or They are actively pursing America’s demise.  (Seriously, read that last one and then try and tell me this author can see both sides of an issue.)

Personally, I’d like to hear a little more about differences in opinion and issue rather than broad-brush attacks on Them.

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Maiden voyage… with life jackets

Heaves a champagne bottle against the side of the blog…

And so we christen The IdNihilist blog and mark the beginning of this endeavor.  The goal here is about as simple as it gets: I love international affairs, health issues, science, and a host of other things, so this is the forum for tossing out a few daily musings on whatever stands out as interesting.  Some will be insightful, some challenging, and some may even be readable.

At the end of some posts I’ll include whatever I was reading that day that seemed worth sharing.

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