Thursday, May 28, 2015

More Fear-Mongering by the US Government. It's Appalling!

Glenn Greenwald has written about the expiration of the 2001 Patriot Act and quotes a number of White House officials and others who are using their all too familiar Bush-era scare tactics in their attempts to persuade the people to allow them free reign over your personal information!

Several of the most extremist provisions of the 2001 Patriot Act are going to expire on June 1 unless Congress reauthorizes them in some form. Obama officials such as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and new Attorney General Loretta Lynch have been engaged in rank fear-mongering to coerce renewal, warning that we’ll all be “less safe” if these provisions are allowed to “sunset” as originally intended, while invoking classic Cheneyite rhetoric by saying Patriot Act opponents will bear the blame for the next attack. […]

[Greenwald quotes the NYT:]

“What you’re doing, essentially, is you’re playing national security Russian roulette,” one senior administration official said of allowing the powers to lapse. That prospect appears increasingly likely with the measure, the USA Freedom Act, stalled and lawmakers in their home states and districts during a congressional recess.

“We’re in uncharted waters,” another senior member of the administration said at a briefing organized by the White House, where three officials spoke with reporters about the consequences of inaction by Congress. “We have not had to confront addressing the terrorist threat without these authorities, and it’s going to be fraught with unnecessary risk.” [emphasis in original]

Do not allow these fear-mongers make you think twice about allowing these Orwellian provisions to expire. Just remember this study as reported by security expert Bruce Schneier:

[Quoting the The Telegraph] According to the index, which ranks world cities by the likelihood of a terror attack based on historic trends, 64 cities around the world are at "extreme risk" of a terror attack.

Of these, the majority are in the Middle East (27) or Asia (19).

Some 14 are in Africa, where the rise of Boko Haram and al-Shabaab as well as political instability have increased risk.

Three are in Europe -- Luhansk (46) and Donetsk (56) in Ukraine, and Grozy (54) in Russia -- while Colombia's Cali (59) is the only South American city on the list.

Schneider comments that “No US city makes the list.” [emphasis mine]

Do not allow the government's primary means of control - propaganda - to convince you otherwise. Stand against the Patriot Act. (And rather than “anticommunism” being the “control mechanism” it is by far and away the idea of “terrorism.,” specifically, “Muslim terrorism.” The similarities are striking.)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Intercept: "As Long as the War on Terror Continues, There Will be More Dzhokhar Tsarnaevs," by Murtaza Hussain

I could not agree more with this article in The Intercept yesterday. Click the link to read the full piece.

On April 19, 2013, as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lay bleeding in a backyard in suburban Watertown, Massachusetts, he used his remaining energy to scrawl a note on the inside of the dry-docked boat in which he was hiding. To this day, it stands as his only publicly stated motive for the Boston Marathon bombing:

“The US Government is killing our innocent civilians but most of you already know that … I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said [unintelligible] it is allowed … Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.”

Last week, just over two years since that note was written, a jury sentenced Tsarnaev to death for his role in the bombing. Speaking to the press outside the John J. Moakley courthouse in Boston, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said, “We are not intimidated by acts of terror, or radical ideals,” and described the marathon bombing as “a political crime, designed to intimidate and coerce the United States.” [...]

In Tsarnaev’s note, he alluded to a type of transnational solidarity felt among Muslims living under oppression, writing, “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished … we Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.” While his lawyers attempted to downplay this statement as immaterial, it echoes the statements of many others convicted of terrorism offenses in the United States.

At the conclusion of his trial, would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad gave a statement saying, “I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations,” and added that attacks such as his would continue “until the hour the U.S. pulls its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and stops the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan.” Zarein Ahmedzay, convicted for his role in a separate plot to target the New York subway system, stated that “I personally believed that conducting an operation in the United States would be the best way to end the wars.”

Despite the obfuscations of many American politicians and media figures, the civilian deaths cited by such homegrown terrorists are not imaginary. This past March, the Nobel Prize-winning group Physicians for Social Responsibility published a landmark study on civilian deaths caused by the post-9/11 War on Terror. The study, which tabulated death tolls from U.S-led military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, determined a conservative estimate of civilian deaths at 1.3 million as a result of these operations, with the actual death toll potentially in excess of 2 million. Writing that “the more the consequences of Western military interventions as well as the resulting casualty figures can be hidden and played down … the more easily new interventions can be ordered,” the study’s authors went on to note that their rigorously documented figures were more than 10 times higher than those commonly referenced in public discourse. [...]

Until we begin to seriously address the wars and civilian deaths cited as grievances by individuals like Tsarnaev — grievances that are both real and potentially powerful enough to turn well-adjusted, law-abiding young men into killers — the phenomenon of domestic terrorism will likely continue to accelerate, and there will be, inevitably, another Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

So. How much longer are political leaders, atheists, and reporters going to wait until they allow these facts to sink in where they will stick?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My In-Progress Post About Islam: A Question for Readers

I am nearing completion of my post about Islam. What follows are the headings of each section, explaining the topics my post will cover.

Am I a Supporter of Terrorism?

Do I Believe That Religion Plays No Part in Muslim Extremism/Terrorism?

“This isn’t the real Islam” / “Islam is a religion of peace”

Erecting Strawmen and Clarifying Criticism

These first four sections outline and clarify my views on Islam and terrorism. My views have been continually misrepresented over a long span of time and I seek to set the record straight. I hope these sections will finally put these idiotic strawmen to bed. The final section, “Erecting Strawmen and Clarifying Criticism,” addresses a few more misrepresentations of my views and I also make clear my own main exasperation towards a few “skeptics” who too have argued that I have misconstrued their own positions, but I attempt to further elaborate and provide more supporting evidence for my critcism.

The second section consists of the following topics:

Do a Majority of Muslims Support Terrorism?


Woman and Islam

Shari'a Law

Do a Majority of Muslims Wish Death Upon Apostates?

The Qur'an and the Bible

Moderate vs. Extremist

Democracy and Islam

Jihad: A Personal Struggle or Global War?

This section outlines my research into what the world's Muslims actually believe. I am looking into the facts on both sides of the debate (my bibliography currently consists of over 30 books and other sources) and I am trying to come to as objective of a conclusion as possible (a rarity when it comes to this topic unfortunately). In these sections I also utilize numerous recent studies about the beliefs of Muslims around the world and the prevalence of various practices. I was surprised by some of what I found. I think others will be too.

I would like to know if anyone would like me to cover any other subjects, besides the ones I have planned? I tried to cover the most common arguments and criticisms of anti-Muslim commentators, but if I missed any please let me know.

It may take me a few more months until I am finished but I think it will be informative and will be a good corrective to so much of the misinformation out there.

PS. For those who may be curious, here is my current Bibliography. I may add more in the future:

1. The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, by Patrick Cockburn, OR Books, 2014

2. Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, by John L. Esposito, Oxford University Press, 2002

3. Islam: The Straight Path, by John L. Esposito, Oxford University Press, 2005

4. What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, From One of America's Leading Experts, by John L. Esposito, Oxford Unviversity Press, 2002

5. Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, by John L. Esposito & Dalia Mogahed, Gallup Press, 2007

6. Islam and Democracy, by John L. Esposito & John O. Voll, Oxford University Press, 1996

7. The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Jytte Klausen, Yale University Press, 2009

8. Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, by Jessica Stern, ECCO, 2004

9. Why I Am Not a Muslim, by Ibn Warraq, Prometheus Books, 2003

10. Islam: A Very Short Introduction, by Malise Ruthven, Oxford University Press, 2012

11. Islam and the Challenge of Democracy, edited by Khaled Abou El Fadl, Princeton University Press, 2004

12. Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, by Hector Avalos, Prometheus Books, 2005

13. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, by Mark Juergensmeyer, University of California Press, 2003

14. The History of the World, (6th Ed.) by J.M. Roberts & Odd Arne Westad, Oxford University Press, 2013

15. Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect, by Reese Erlich, Prometheus Books, 2014

16. Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians, by Noam Chomsky, South End Press, 1999

17. The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary, by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Kitab Bhavan, 2015

18. The Qur'an: Translation, by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Tahrike Tarsile Qua'an, Inc., 2007

19. The New English Bible, Illustrated by H. Knowles, Bible Society, 1972

20. The Koran: A Very Short Introduction, by Michael Cook, Oxford University Press, 2000

21. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, by Robert A. Pape, Random House, 2006

22. Shari'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations, by Wael B. Hallaq, Cambridge University Press, 2009

23. Apostasy in Islam: A Historical and Scriptural Analysis, by Taha Jabir Alalwani, The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2011

24. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, by Martin Lings, Inner Traditions, 2006

25. Source Methodology in Islamic Jurisprudence: Usal al-Fiqh al-Islami, by Taha Jabir Alalwani, The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2003

26. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), by Robert Spencer, Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2005

27. Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law and Politics, by Sherene H. Razack, University of Toronto Press, 2008

28. Fear, Inc. The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, by Wajahat Ali, Eli Clifton, Matthew Duss, Lee Fang, Scott Keyes, and Faiz Shakir, Center for American Progress, August 26, 2011

29. Fear, Inc. 2.0 The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America, by Matthew Duss, Yasmine Taeb, Ken Gude, and Ken Sofer, Center for American Progress, February 11, 2015

30. Discovering the Qur'an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text, by Neal Robinson, Georgetown University Press, 2003

31. Understanding Jihad, by David Cook, University of California Press, 2005

If anyone has any other books, websites, studies, etc. that they think would be helpful please post them in the comments. Again, if anyone would like to see other topics covered please let me know in the comments as well.


On the Historicity of Jesus, by Richard Carrier: A Brief Review

The latest book by author, historian, and philosopher Richard Carrier is On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014). This is the second book of a two volume set, the first being Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (Prometheus Books, 2012). The first volume sets out to explain and defend the use of Bayes’s Theorem to test certain historical claims, in this case the historicity of Jesus. The second volume utilizes Bayes’s Theorem to test whether or not there is any truth to the historical Jesus.

On the Historicity of Jesus has a total of twelve chapters. The first chapter is an Introduction of sorts. Richard Carrier lays out a brief summary of the debate between historicists and mythicists. In chapter two he lays out the minimal historicity of Jesus he proposes to argue against, and in chapter three he proposes the minimal theory of myth that he will defend. Chapters four and five lay out the background knowledge and historical and political context in which Christianity developed. These are the facts that Carrier plugs into his Bayesian calculations throughout the book, and are referred to often throughout the chapters. In chapter six, other mythical figures throughout history are discussed in order to provide a proof of concept for the proposition that Jesus was also a mythical figure. Chapters seven, eight, and nine take a detailed look at the alleged evidence for the existence of Jesus. In these chapters the Bible is scrutinized for any factual information we can glean about any historical Jesus: discussed are the ancient historians of the period who could have mentioned Jesus, but are for some reason silent on the issue. The book of Acts is investigated for any factual information about Jesus. In chapter ten, this over 100-page chapter analyzes the Gospels for any evidence of myth-making. Carrier puts forward a very convincing case showing the many parallels between the Gospels and other literature of the period, demonstrating the authors’ likely intent to invent stories by borrowing content from other sources. Similarly, in chapter eleven, Carrier takes a close look at the letters of Paul for any evidence of Jesus and concludes that the only Jesus Paul knew of was a celestial Jesus who lived and died “in space,” in the heavens, and was later revealed to the chosen apostles.

The entire book was well organized and expertly written. I own all of Richard Carrier’s books and it is my opinion that this is the best one he’s written so far. The massive bibliography alone (42 pages worth) demonstrates the amount of time and research that went into this book and it shows.

I was also pleasantly surprised that the paperback version of the book was very sturdy and did not flop around like many of the other large paperbacks I have read. The pages, binding, and printing were all solid. It’s a very nice book overall.

In the end, after surveying a dizzying array of facts, Carrier argues that the likelihood that Jesus was a historical figure is highly improbable (at most only a 33% likelihood). It’s my opinion that he has set out a solid case for his position that should be heavily debated among scholars. And who knows. Perhaps Carrier’s theory will stand the test of time and become the scholarly consensus? Only time will tell. All I know is that the historicists have one hell of a case to deconstruct.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Breaking the Silence: Israeli Military Speak Out About War Crimes

The group Breaking the Silence has released video and also a book with testimonies by members of the Israeli Defense Forces talking about their war crimes. My feelings about this are mixed. On the one hand I am glad these people are speaking out. On the other hand they also need to be held accountable for the crimes they have committed and their identities should not be hidden. 

Here are two video clips of two soldiers who participated in Operation Protective Edge. One thing that stands out to me is this rationale of “kill anything in your proximity” is eerily similar to the Vietnam War command to “kill anything that moves.” As in Vietnam, as in Gaza, the rationale was an illogical one. It was believed that anyone in a designated combat zone was automatically a combatant and the soldiers had orders to literally “kill anything that moves” because it was believed that the Vietnamese would stay away from their villages. This was not the case. Their homes, food, and jobs were located there and the “shantytowns” set up for the Vietnamese away from their villages in so-called “safe” zones were in horrid conditions (often made out of garbage and without sanitation or water supplies) so people naturally wanted to go back to their homes (for an excellent, yet very sad, look at the Vietnam war I highly recommend Nick Turse's Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, 2013). In Gaza, this “open air prison” has very little room to move as bombs and tanks come rolling in and destroy nearly everything in sight. This highlights the sickening, illegal and immoral views and actions of many Israelis.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Foreign Policy: “The United States Does Not Know Who It's Killing,” by Micah Zenko

An article in Foreign Policy, from April 23, 2015, by Micah Zenko highlights many of the issues I recently discussed. This article nicely sums up why using drones to fight wars are a bad idea. Now if only other people, including some “skeptics,” would finally pull their heads out their asses and see the light...

I couldn't agree more with this analysis. Here are some of the most damning quotes from the article:

“The more important question for President Obama, who expressed his “profound regret” for the unintentional deaths of Dr. Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, is why this sentiment is reserved only for innocent noncombatants who happen to be Americans. Based upon the averages within the ranges provided by the New America Foundation, the Long War Journal, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there have been an estimated 522 U.S. targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia since 9/11, which have killed 3,852 people, 476 (or 12 percent) of whom were civilians.”

“The White House statement released on Thursday morning and Holder’s admission reveal what should be the most disturbing aspect of these counterterrorism operations: The United States simply does not know who it is killing. In total, eight U.S. citizens are believed to have been killed in U.S. counterterrorism operations, and only one of them was specifically, knowingly targeted: Anwar al-Awlaki.”

“However, whenever human rights groups produce credible reports about non-American civilians who are unintentionally killed, U.S. officials and spokespersons refuse to provide any information at all, and instead refer back to official policy statements — which themselves appear to contradict how the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations is supposed to be practiced.”

I am very pleased that these criticisms of the drone program are finally hitting mainstream, but it is an absolute tragedy that it took the deaths of some innocent Americans. But what is even sadder is the fact that hundreds - perhaps even thousands - of innocent people have been murdered by the US in drone attacks for years but it took the deaths of two Americans for most people, and the mainstream press, to stand up and take notice about how horrible the idea of drone warfare is, and to actually consider sharply criticizing it. This "victory" is very bitter sweet. If only people were listening more to groups like Reprieve and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (mentioned in the above piece) years ago we could have done something to save hundreds of innocent lives. Well, their blood is on the hands of all those ignorant, blood thirsty war-mongers (and yes, even some so-called "skeptics!").

I just hope that this backlash does not eventually die down and real pressure is put on the Administration to change their policies. If not, it will be business as usual and that we simply cannot allow. This Administration has gone off the rails long enough.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Mainstream Media Finally Understanding the Failure of Drone Policy

With the news yesterday by the Obama administration about a total of four Americans, (only two anyone actually cares about) including Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, who were killed by a drone strike back in January near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, it appears the wider media is just beginning to question the sanity of the drone program. This is a positive development.

NBC News writes,

The White House said it was conducting "a thorough independent review to understand fully what happened and how we can prevent this type of tragic incident in the future" after it emerged that U.S. aid worker Warren Weinstein and Italian national Giovanni Lo Porto were killed by a CIA drone strike near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

I don't believe it should be too difficult to understand what went wrong here. It is the same with all other drone attacks. The criteria used by the US to determine who it will murder (I still cannot believe we are debating these policies of assassination. I always thought that was the policy of totalitarian governments, not democracies. You may want to think about that for a minute...) was exposed in a 2012 New York Times article titled “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.” The Times says of the criteria used: “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” (emphasis mine) These powers are only embraced by cold-blooded dictatorships, I'm sorry to say: Kill first, ask questions later.

Far from being a fluke, it appears that Obama carried out his drone program to a tee, which resulted in the deaths of these innocent people.

NBC further quoted the American Civil Liberties Union's Legal Director Jameel Jaffer:

[T]the incident raised "troubling questions about the reliability of the intelligence that the government is relying on to justify drone strikes. "In each of the operations acknowledged today, the U.S. quite literally didn't know who it was killing.”

NBC also said something I think should be more widely known. Even the UN disagrees with these strikes, as I outlined in a post from two years ago:

A 2014 report by the United Nations Human Rights Council also called for independent investigations to be carried out into drone strikes following reports of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.
However, the U.S. administration and President Barack Obama have repeatedly defended their use.

Something Steve Coll wrote in The New Yorker disturbed me. He said of the American hostages:

Of course, Al Qaeda, not the Obama Administration, is responsible for Weinstein’s miserable fate. Still, the fact that Weinstein’s own government accidentally killed him—during his fourth year in captivity, and without a rescue ever being attempted—is a disturbing coda to the short history of drone warfare.

How exactly is Al Qaeda responsible for the deaths of these men? It was the Obama administration that carried out the very action that murdered these two men. Yes, they were targeting known terrorists, but how is this the fault of Al Qaeda? It was the person who had their hand on that trigger and the person who made the decision to pull that trigger who murdered them. I don't understand what is so hard to understand about this. I made the same point a few years ago when a so-called “skeptic” made the exact same heartless and illogical argument:

Even if it were true that terrorists purposefully base training camps near civilian targets I think it's horribly illogical and immoral to blame the terrorists for the killing of civilians. This is no different than the following type of scenario. Let's take a bank robber who then takes a hostage. What do police and SWAT teams usually do in this situation? Kill the hostage in order to more easily target the bad guy, and afterward, shrug their shoulders and blame the gunman for the hostage's death?! Of course not! That's insane and I think most people would agree. Rather than this foolish tactic they instead try to negotiate and use some form of precision strikes, like a sniper, to take the bank robber out if there is an opportunity because to harm the innocent hostage would be immoral. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to many supporters of the drone war, they have been bamboozled by the government's propaganda to accept exactly this insane proposal. This is precisely the rationale that NCNC and others use when they try to blame terrorists for the U.S.'s use of Hell Fire missiles that kill thousands of innocent men, women, and children. Not only is this immoral, but it also violates international law in the case of drone strikes.

In actuality, I think the blame ought to be squarely placed on the U.S. because their choice of tactics terrorize and kill hundreds of innocent people, when a much more prudent law-enforcement strategy would cause many, many less deaths and destruction, while capturing terror suspects, as has been done in Pakistan numerous times in the past, as I've explained in previous posts about the drone wars.

Finally, just as with American Anwar al-Awlaki, who was assassinated apparently for nothing more than for saying some really bad things, two more Americans who were associated with Al Qaeda have been outright assassinated in the same attack that killed Weinstein and Lo Porto. Unfortunately, neither of the news articles I cited even mention that they were Americans. But once again two more Americans were sentenced to death without any form of “due process” as the Constitution demands. Both Ahmed Farouq and Adam Gadahn were members of Al Qaeda and as far as I am aware Gadahn was only their media person and did not engage in any violent actions, which according to International law, makes his murder illegal (Geneva Conventions: “Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture [….]”)

In sum, I do hope more people really think about the policies they are allowing this government to pursue. They are not only blatantly illegal but they are also horribly inhumane, and more often than not leave innocents dead. I've said it and I will say it again. We must stop these destructive and immoral policies. Stop the assassinations and the extreme secrecy. Ask yourself: Is this really what a democracy looks like? Do you want to be responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people? Think about it.