Tragedy brings out the best in the best people and the worst in the worst people. Therefore it is no surprise that the Islamist terrorist attacks in Brussels earlier this week have exposed some of the worst aspects of the attitudes of the two leading candidates to be the GOP’s presidential nominee. (Their third remaining candidate, John Kasich, has responded well, though I don’t agree with his opinion that Obama should return to the United States.)
Perhaps seeing the success Donald Trump has had with appealing to anti-Muslim fervour, Ted Cruz has joined the populism band-wagon. He made two statements in particular that need to be exposed.
Firstly, on 22 March he reiterated something he’s said several times before: that he would carpet-bomb [DAESH] into oblivion.
Let’s be clear what this means. It is not, as Dr Charles Krauthammer tries to portray it, simply an increase in the bombing that’s already occurring. What Cruz in proposing is indiscriminate bombing in the area where DAESH members are living. That means the death not only of 30,000 terrorists, but the willful murder of millions of civilians, including people like the thousands of Yazidi women being kept as sex slaves. What Cruz is proposing, in his effort to appear strong and commanding, is a war crime. He wants to do one of the things former president of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadžić, has just been imprisoned for.
Secondly, on the same day he said:
We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighbourhoods before they become radicalized.
Trump, of course, even in the midst of the ridiculous battle over their wives and whether Cruz is having an affair, supports Cruz’s call to patrol Muslim neighbourhoods, calling it, “A good idea.”
To be fair, Krauthammer did condemn Cruz’s statement about patrolling neighbourhoods, although he said the reason Cruz was wrong was that the US was “much better than any other Western democracy by far at assimilating Muslims” into the country. Well, no. The US is very good at it, and better than Europe, but they’re not the only ones. Canada is better than they are and so is New Zealand. Australia is equally as good as the US and while Great Britain may not do quite such a good job at assimilation, you’ll also find a much smaller proportion of the population demanding things like the banning of Muslims.
In response, President Obama pointed out that Cruz’s father escaped from exactly that sort of policing when he left Cuba.
Hillary Clinton’s response was:
When political candidates like Ted Cruz call for treating American Muslims like criminals, and for racially profiling predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods, it’s wrong, it’s counter-productive, it’s dangerous.
Apart from the fact that it’s not racial profiling, it’s religious profiling, she’s right. Cruz couldn’t back down of course. He hit back:
With all respect, people are fed up with the political correctness of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
A more reasoned response came from NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who said:
We focus on individuals who are committing, or are about to commit, a crime. We don’t focus on a whole community. We don’t focus on a whole religion. And if [Cruz] is that short-sighted … the American public will repudiate his efforts to lead this great country because he is undervaluing the values upon which we base our security, our safety, and our democracy.
The reactions of Cruz and Trump to the tragedy in Brussels plays right into the hands of DAESH. In the last year, DAESH has lost at least 20% of their territory and about 20,000 fighters. Yesterday we got the news that the Syrian government, with the help of Russian air support, took the city of historic city of Palmyra back from them. There is no doubt many people have suffered and died at the hands of DAESH, but their attrition rate has been exceptionally high. In addition, they do not have the money they used to. That’s set to get worse too with the news this week (25th March) that the US has taken out the organization’s second in command (who had finance responsibilities) and their chief finance officer was killed on 10 December 2015. There have been other things that are damaging their financial capacity too such as a drop in the price of oil, a reduction in available markets, and not conquering new territory meaning not being able to steal assets. They are losing.
For DAESH, the terrorist attacks have two main purposes:
1. To make it look like they are successful, which makes them both a more attractive option to potential recruits and more believable as the saviour of Islam;
2. To create anti-Muslim sentiment which, especially in tough economic times, creates a wedge between the Muslim community and the rest of society. This will cause more young Muslim men in particular to be vulnerable to be radicalized and therefore attracted to DAESH’s message.
DAESH calls their on-line magazine Dabiq. Dabiq is the Muslim equivalent of the Christian Armageddon – the location of the End Times (Yawm al-Qīyāmah) battle. It is the pre-cursor to the worldwide caliphate that Mohammed predicted. Mohammed said that Islam would be divided into seventy-three sects, but that only one, the true one, would survive and go on to form the worldwide caliphate. DAESH presents themselves as that one true form of Islam. If it becomes obvious that they are losing, it becomes hard for them to claim that they are the prophesized future of Islam.
In an interview with Bloomberg Politics, Trump said we have to “get Muslims to respect us.” He went on to say:
ISIS is a [sic] enemy. … I don’t rule out anything. I would say definitely nuclear weapons are a last resort.
That was, of course, the same interview where he said NATO was “obsolete” and “doesn’t really help us,” then went on to complain about “defending … South Korea.” I wonder if he understands what would happen on the Korean peninsula if the US pulled out.
On the same day Trump told NBC:
Waterboarding would be fine, and if they could expand on those [laws] I would do a lot more than waterboarding. You have to get the information from these people. I am in the camp where you have to get the information. You have to get it rapidly.
Trump’s advocacy of torture is one that has been a mark of his campaign. I clearly recall Trump’s words in one of the debates when asked about waterboarding. He said:
Torture works, believe me. Believe me. Believe me.
I want to know how he knows that. Do we have a potential president with first-hand experience of torture?
Like Cruz, Trump is advocating war crimes. Even if he manages to change US law, he can’t change international law and the Geneva Convention.
Personally, I find the readiness of so many to embrace torture in response to the terrorist threat a disturbing one. The reasoning is usually two-fold – firstly that torture works, and secondly that they are doing it to us so we can do it to them.
The idea that torture works comes from TV and movies. It’s like believing in ghosts because of ‘Sixth Sense‘. The real world evidence is very different.
As for torturing people because they tortured you first, I guess that’s exactly the sort of thing I’d expect from a party that endorses the death penalty. It’s not justice, it’s vengeance. If we in the West want to hold up our way of life as better, then we have to walk the walk. That means, among other things, not torturing people. Torture is wrong, and therefore we shouldn’t do it. Whether others do it is not the point. It’s about proving that our way of life, our system of government, is the right way. We can’t do that if we’re ready to abandon our principles at any setback.
As for the Brussels attacks, why do USians always think everything is about them?
Devin Nunes (Republican, California), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, thinks that the attacks were directed at US citizens because the airport bombs went off near the check-in lines of United, Delta and American Airlines, and the subway bomb went off near the US embassy stop (which sounds to me like there’s another stop closer to the embassy):
I think it’s possible that it was a proxy [for attacking the US]. Keep in mind that a lot more is going to come available in the coming days, but the locations to me clearly are where Americans would be.
Fox New reporter and anchor (one of their good ones) Shepherd Smith, who is in Brussels debunked that theory, but others on Fox continue to give it credence. He noted that Belgian authorities are certain that the bombers chose the airport check-in location, for example, because that’s where the lines were longest.
Fox has also found multiple people to criticize President Obama for not cutting short his trip to Cuba and Argentina and returning to the US. While there are some valid criticisms of the tone of the president, to suggest he return to the United States because of the Brussels attacks is ridiculous. There have been several other terrorist attacks around the world in the last month – none of them inspired his critics to say he should postpone his trip in the first place. Cutting his trip short, or even failing to attend a baseball game on that trip, would be an announcement that DAESH had won and that they were important.
Sebastian Gorka of Marine Corps University made some of the more revolting comments I heard. In response to Sandra Smith of Fox News asking him whether Obama should have returned home:
Gorka: Well, you just quoted a career air force general, head of the CIA, and I tend to agree with General Haydn. The statements made by the president smack of the Marie Antoinette-ish attitude “Let the people eat cake.” Terrorism seems to be a distraction from his life of being a celebrity. He wants to be hanging out with communist dictators and going to ball games. ISIS is simply not treated as a threat by the president, or at least he doesn’t give the impression that he really cares about our allies and the Americans that were wounded.
Smith: … President Obama’s response to that is that we let the terrorists win if we all stay home and don’t go about our daily business, and he said today that ISIS is his number one, that it is his top priority. Why is there a disconnect in what we feel versus what we see?
Gorka: Well these are just empty words. He said we have to unite to defeat a terrorist, but how? How are we going to defeat a terrorist while he’s watching a ball game and giving interviews to ESPN. The fact is that we have to do something concrete. And also, it is the duty of the Commander-in-Chief to rally the people, to send a message that we will fight and will destroy this evil scourge that is global jihadism. It’s not enough to say, “Oh, we’re on top of it.” …
Gorka also managed to get a plug in for his book (Defeating Jihad), saying the president ought to read it as it would tell him how to win the war against ISIS. He also made reference to a paper he and his wife published that would apparently help the president too. Whenever I see Gorka interviewed, he appears to me to be self-serving in the extreme and so determined to criticize the president in any way be can he is incapable of providing a balanced analysis.
DAESH are not an existential threat to the United States. As awful as the attacks they perpetrate are, far more people are killed every day in the country by Christians with illegal guns. One of the criticisms I’ve heard of Obama’s attitude is that he seems to accept that we have to accept that there will be terrorist attacks from time to time. I don’t think that’s what he thinks, but it is what many say is the price the country has to pay for maintaining the Second Amendment rights of all citizens – that mass shootings are going to continue to occur regularly. And a lot more innocent people are killed that way than by Islamist terrorists.
I’ve just seen an interesting series of interviews by CNN International correspondant Nima Elbagir. In one she asked a young man whose brothers had left Belgium to join DAESH why he thought they went. His response:
Honestly, I always asked them, but I never understood why. What it is, is that they felt rejected.
Another young man and his friends appear to have been arrested simply as a result of racial profiling – assuming that their North African heritage made them Islamist extremists.
Elbagir also spoke to Belgian Iman Sulyman Van Ael who has to travel everywhere with a bodyguard. He says that those who speak out against DAESH and Islamist imams like him are risking their lives.
Belgium has the highest proportion of its population joining Islamist terrorist groups, and it’s getting worse. In 2013 conservative estimates are that around 300 went; in 2015 it was up to 440. As evidenced by video, radicalizing imams in tell young people that they will never be truly accepted by Belgian society, that the only place they can find a true home is with them. The message is a powerful one, but also shows the way to solve the problem. It’s about assimilation.