Tag Archives: isis

Genocide, Global Warming, and Garland

Dramatic announcements abounded this week, suggesting what issues to watch in the coming days.

Da’esh declared genocidal

On Monday, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed a measure that declared that the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities in parts of Syria and Iraq occupied by the Islamic State was genocidal. Several Christian advocacy groups, with varying relationships with the region, have taken this as something of a political victory, although the ramifications remain unclear – genocide is a crime, and there now exists a complex set of international courts designed to evaluate allegations of it.

As one interesting essay published by the Centre for Research on Globalization on this issue noted-

Using the word can itself be a moral assertion, and with that assertion comes the requisite action.  At least this is the theory – words generate expectations and the need for a physical component. Designating a conflict as genocidal triggers a range of obligations, as implied by the Genocide Convention itself.  The lawyers have to be mobilised; the police and military arms of the state must be readied for capturing the offenders, and more importantly, the imperative to take humanitarian measures might involve the use of armed force.

In short, it is telling that the clearest stipulation in the measure is that political figures “should call ISIL atrocities by their rightful names: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.” When it comes to actually responding to the reality of the violence it only vaguely suggests that “member states of the United Nations should coordinate urgently on measures to prevent further war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Iraq and Syria.” The language seems to suggest that both peacekeeping and international court activity are possible as a response, but this is only one stop in a longer conversation about what the US and and should do in the region.

California’s starting to hint at a carbon-neutral economy to come

After years of negative predictions about the Californian economy and expectations that economic alternatives capable of mitigating climate change come from English cities with names like Grimsby, Mother Jones has taken an in depth look at the emerging carbon-neutral economy in the state:

The sun bears down almost every day, and as the valley floor heats up, it pulls air across the Tehachapi Mountains, driving the blades on towering wind turbines. For nearly eight years, money for renewable energy has been pouring in. About seven miles north of Solar Star, where sand-colored hills rise out of the desert, Spanish energy giant Iberdrola has built 126 wind turbines. French power company EDF has 330 turbines nestled in the same hills. Farther north, the Alta Wind Energy Center has an estimated 600 turbines. Together, these and other companies have spent more than $28 billion on land, equipment, and the thousands of workers needed to construct renewable-energy plants in Kern County. This new economy has created more than 1,300 permanent jobs in the region. It has also created a bonanza of more than $50 million in additional property taxes a year—about 11 percent of Kern County’s total tax haul. Lorelei Oviatt, the director of planning and community development, says, “This is money we never expected.”

What’s more, the things that made the Californian economy such a nice target of criticism were basically what made this possible:

“You need the coercive power of government,” he told the crowd. One of the reasons why California’s utilities already get so much of their power from renewables, he said, was because “they have no choice. The government said, ‘Do it, or you’re going to pay huge fines.'” Brown likes to upend the standard argument about government regulation gumming up innovation. To him, it’s the opposite: Regulations push businesses to try new things.

How about that? The full article warns that the state’s regulatory bodies anticipate setting even more ambitious goals for the next decades, which it remains to be seen if California can meet.

Garland’s shoe-in

A cavalcade of House Republicans have accidentally opened up that they might bother to confirm Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia. The catch is that they are willing to do that provided the Democratic nominee wins in the general election in November, accepting the more moderate and older Garland over a hypothetical younger radical. Garland’s nomination on March 16 would then wait until November 8 at the earliest for confirmation or rejection. That “best case” would weigh in at a 236 day wait – easily a record in US history.

2016-03-18_1458(The most recent nominations, from here.)

In fact, the only nomination to that office that was more than half that amount of time was Louis Brandeis’ which clocked in at 125 days. His was tied up in part because of his connection to many then radically progressive causes, exacerbated by the fact that, as one fellow Justice put it, “the fears of the Establishment were greater because Brandeis was the first Jew to be named to the Court.”

Garland, since he is also Jewish, wouldn’t be a similar first for the court, and actually was selected as an alternative to one – Sri Srinivasan, who would have been the first Hindu nominee. Likewise, although comparatively liberal in contrast to the Justice he would replace, he is in no way intimately tied to today’s radical causes – his primary work has been in fairly normal prosecutor duties related to terrorism. Will Republicans really wait that long to make the choice they expect they’ll have to make anyway?

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Socialism here, socialism there

In the Democratic Presidential Primary Debate held last Sunday, sitting Senator Bernie Sanders stole the show with two intriguing admissions that spoke volumes about his politics and his electoral appeal. In the coverage of the debate that I have looked over, I was surprised to see that no one seems to have highlighted those two rather illuminating moments of the night.

In the (largely unexpected) competition for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders’ momentum has been shocking for many. Hillary Clinton, a national figure who entered the race without any apparent challenger, has lost ground to him as he surged from locally celebrated Senator to contender vying for Iowa, New Hampshire, and possibly the nomination. Much of that support has come from voters, particularly younger ones, interested in challenging the existing political process and pushing policy proposals from as many candidates as possible towards more economic redistribution and equality.

Sanders’ answer to a question about climate change was one of the few he delivered on Sunday that didn’t stay within the confines of economics or immediately pivot to them, but it still detailed why he’s been so attractive to that type of voter. Here’s the exchange that caught my ears:

HOLT: “Senator Sanders, Americans love their SUVs, which spiked in sales last year as gas prices plummeted. How do you convince Americans that the problem of climate change is so urgent that they need to change their behavior?”

SANDERS: “I think we already are. Younger generation understands it instinctively. I was home in Burlington, Vermont, on Christmas Eve, the temperature was 65 degrees. People in Vermont know what’s going on. People who did ice fishing, where their ice is no longer there on the lake understand what’s going on.”

His answer from there moved into his well-worn tracks of denouncing the broken political process and the economic pressures that keep it dysfunctional. Still, before moving into that he articulated a certainty that people already realize these problems exist.

I think this speaks to his broader political philosophy, which he and others sometimes misname as socialism. It falls short of a systemic transformation of the means of production into communal resources (you know… the definition of socialism), but it shares with that a belief in a common denominator of sensibleness. That’s the raw material needed to inspire people to believe that something actually like socialism is possible, so it’s not wildly unrelated to be fair.

Before anyone gets too excited about what Sanders’ politics might make tangible though, there’s the other revealing thing he said when discussing foreign policy in the Middle East:

“And one point I want to make here that is not made very often, you have incredibly wealthy countries in that region, countries like Saudi Arabia, countries like Qatar. Qatar happens to be the largest — wealthiest country per capita in the world. They have got to start putting in some skin in the game [of counter-terrorism] and not just ask the United States to do it.”

The best statistics aren’t with Bernie Sanders on pretty much any part of this economic picture of Qatar and Saudi Arabia or even more generally the Persian Gulf region. In a very literal, numerical sense, these aren’t countries wealthier than the US asking for us to fight their battles for them.

The most reliable cross-country data on per capita wealth date back more than a decade and a half, and they paint a wildly different picture, which is difficult to dismiss as having radically reversed. What they show is that Qatar’s per capita net worth is about ninety percent of the US’s based on exchange rates and a little over seventy percent based when factoring in local purchasing power differences.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, and Bahrain – all with comparable economies to Qatar – fair similarly in comparison to the US. Saudi Arabia comes out markedly worse, coming out to barely over ten percent of the US’s per capita net worth based on exchange rates, which only grows to just over fifteen percent when accounting for greater Saudi purchasing power.

It’s easy for these discussions to become very abstract discussions of sales and productivity and various percents, removed from the lived realities of international economic inequality. In terms of infant mortality within the region, only Qatar and the UAE have both reduced their rates to equal that of the US, but that’s a development that’s happened only in the past five years. Bahrain and Kuwait still have infant mortality rates that lag several decades behind the gradually decreasing US rate, while Saudi Arabia still has a rate more than double that of the US’s current one.

It’s a similar story for the infants who survived too, with only Qatar’s life expectancy at birth rivaling the US’s in the past couple of decades. Still, the average person born in the US has gained about a year of anticipated life every five years, to the average Qatari’s year gained every decade. In other words, while the gap of how many children live is closing, the gap in terms of how long they live for is widening.

To exhaust the ways of interpreting Sanders’ comments, a country could have significantly lower standards of living than another in general, but have resources concentrated in a minority of the population that’s effectively rather wealthy. That wouldn’t fit what he’s describing, in terms of there being more resources for a typical Qatari than someone in the US, but it at least would explain why someone might draw the wrong conclusions he’s reached.

That said, while there are certainly some very wealthy people from those countries, this isn’t the case, as far as the statistics suggest. Information about the distribution of wealth within many Gulf countries is extremely difficult to find, but what little is internationally known shows them to have a Gini Coefficient equivalent to the US’s or very modestly lower. That means that while there are extremely wealthy elites within these countries that may be wealthier than the average US resident, the same is true and probably more statistically common within the US. The Qatar that Sanders described as overshadowing the US in economic power doesn’t even exist as a part of the country, let alone the whole.

qatar migrant workersMigrant workers in Qatar, from here.

There’s also the unsupported assertion that these (not actually) wealthy countries are asking us to get involved in anti-Daesh organizing, specifically with a ground occupation of parts of Syria and Iraq. Sanders’ approach towards the region misrepresents not just the existing relationship between these countries and our own, but misinterprets what leaders and average people in those countries want to have as a relationship with us.

In a nutshell, the unequal distribution of resources and as a result power which Sanders has centered his politics around criticizing doesn’t just exist within the United States but in some sense between us and many other parts of the world. His faith in people’s knowledge and intentions extends greatly, but it gets much patchier outside of US borders. There’s more nationalism in his politics than an actual socialist’s would have. It may make room for movement towards something like socialism domestically, but his take on international issues suggests that the revolution Sanders mentions is designed not to rewrite the global economic dominance of the United States.

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In the aftermath

Trigger warning: terrorism, abortion, sexism, war, racism, police violence, violence against protesters

In the past couple of months, almost every region in the world has been rocked by a shocking and violent event. When writing about those, it feels like an easy trap to fall into where almost all coverage is about the immediate happenings, and the wake they have left behind is swept under the rug. Here’s a Friday Let-Me-Link-You rundown of some shocking and interesting observations that might otherwise have fallen through the cracks.

Making abortion a visible part of life

Following the Black Friday shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, many have asked how that might affect the public discussions on abortion and the on-going debates about various new restrictions on access to abortion and other reproductive health services. On Tuesday’s episode of Podcast for America, Rebecca Traister appeared as a guest, and highlighted recent and more long term coverage she has done on how the changing types of participants in public office has begun to alter the way these medical procedures are talked about.

At its core, she noted that not only are more (cisgender) women in prominent political positions, but that they are increasingly women of color and women from more difficult economic backgrounds. Able to raise their personal experiences in debates, they have helped transform abortion in public consciousness from a “dirty” thing “those people” do into a messy thing that many do.

Assad: the greatest threat in Syria?

Just as that shooting in Colorado has brought abortion rights and anti-abortion violence to the fore in the US, the attacks in Paris reignited predominantly Western interests in resolving Syria, as a hypothetical means of preventing further attacks in their part of the world. In light of that, President Obama’s staunchly anti-Assad policy has come under criticism, with a number of political powers all but declaring that they prefer Assad’s dictatorial regime to the violent start-up of Da’esh.

An image put together by the anti-Da’esh and anti-Assad Syria Campaign and shared on Facebook this week by the German activist group Zentrum für Politische Schönheit (ZPS) clarifies that anti-Assad policies’ roots. As it shows, a vast majority of deaths in Syria have been from Assad’s forces:

deaths assad daesh(From here.)

Like many Obama administration policies, there is a very logical political and moral calculus behind the choice. In this case, all lost lives – Syrian and Western – are understood as tragic, and when tallied up it’s recognized that one of the greatest threats to life in general isn’t necessarily the flashiest or even the ones terrorists deliberately designed to shock.

South Africa Internet Availability: closing the floodgates

Meanwhile, international and local media in South Africa continue to pick apart what exactly happened at an October student protest in Cape Town that caught a lot of attention for its White participants’ attempt to shield protesters of color from the police. The underlying motivations behind the protest highlight familiar problems in higher education throughout the world – that tuition hikes are particularly affecting the poor and Black and particularly poor and Black, that the children of non-academic university staff are no longer guaranteed certain tuition benefits reinforcing class inequalities, and that the campus and curriculum valorize a colonial past.

That said, the history of Apartheid weighs heavily, and gravely concerns the many protesters who were born after the overtly legally-sanctioned racial hierarchy in South Africa was dismantled.

The Washington Post noted recently that this student protest was particularly innovative for South Africa in how it used modern social media to create discussion spaces, organize, and articulate activist goals. More than simply an importation of a global protest model, that also showed a reversal in terms of which parts of South African society could most easily use an online medium in political activity:

Social media has been a growing influence in South African politics for a while: think of how former opposition party leader Helen Zille (of the opposition party Democratic Alliance, or DA) has become known for tweeting from the hip, and landed her in trouble for unguarded remarks. Zille’s twitter dominance of course reflected racial disparities (then still largely skewed to the small white minority) in Internet access and use in South Africa. Not for long, though. Zille and the DA were gradually deposed by the Economic Freedom Front’s (EFF) Twitter smarts (especially that of its young MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and its leader Julius Malema) and what passes for#BlackTwitter in South Africa.

The government of South Africa appears to be rallying against these changes, according to an assessment of proposed legal changes published by Access Now earlier this week. The increasingly diverse twitter landscape in South Africa has motivated the creation of a “a series of new crimes for unlawful activity online” which just on the heels of this major protest would “pose a risk to freedom of expression”.

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The rightwing reacts: more war, more detentions

Trigger warning: islamophobia, racism, colonialism, indefinite detention

It’s been sadly quite obvious for a while but conservative circles in much of the Western world are quite trigger-happy when it comes to Muslims. Genocidal levels of mass killings have been quite openly and regularly discussed for years now, fueled by a sentiment that what’s being expressed is a call for a righteous strike back. The recent attacks in Paris have been a perfect tinder for those ideas to erupt even more blatantly into public view. From France to the US, almost every major name in those politics has come forward with calls to use extensive force fairly indiscriminately against Muslims.

Perhaps the most subtle version of this was trotted about by Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio who released this video after the attacks-

The thrust of Rubio’s point is a rehashing of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations theory. A deeply historied and deeply troubling framework, Huntington’s ideas have cropped up in various forms in neo-conservative circles for years. The Project for a New American Century, whose name his campaign slogan appears to knowingly reference, were among the architects of the Iraq War and otherwise entangled in the last Bush Administration’s foreign policy. These are the champions of policies that have led to thousands of deaths in Muslim-majority countries over the past couple of decades.

That comes with a familiar plot. The story goes that a perceptively monolithic culturally Christian West (excised of African, Latin American, and Asian Christian groups for never adequately explained reasons) will existentially come into conflict with a supposedly monolithic Islam-dominated North Africa, Middle East, and Central Asia.

Among the problems with this claim is that its a much newer explanation than it wants to admit. Even into the early Bush years, the civilization-level conflict was framed in a more Cold War reminiscent dichotomy between “West” and “East” – meaning Protestant and to some extent Catholic Europeans (and their settler colonies) and predominantly Orthodox and Muslim parts of Europe and the Middle East (namely the former USSR and former Yugoslavia). This isn’t a political description, but a narrative, updated to reflect shifting definitions of a cultural other, who is described as irreconcilable until the story gets updated.

Other conservative voices were even less veiled in the violence-encouraging politics they spouted. Fellow Republican candidate Ted Cruz called for restricting asylum for Syrian refugees to Christians. That sentiment was echoed by many other candidates as well as media magnate Rupert Murdoch who specified that those allowed in should be “proven Christians“.

Republican governors led the way on that issue, declaring that their states would not accept any Syrian or Iraqi refugees. Their statements are functionally toothless, since it’s the federal government that makes meaningful decisions about accepting asylum seekers. That said, like in the debate on closing Guantanamo, those statements can effectively stall attempts to release detained or trapped people, whether in Cuba or European port areas.

2015-11-17_1342

Not only were many calling for security and stability to reserved privileges for non-Muslim refugees with fears of their broader dispersal, but many dredged up the anti-mosque politics of 2010. Donald Trump predictably led the charge with a statement that he would consider closing mosques – as if that’s not interference with religious freedom.

The European right wing went even further. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy arguing in favor of a massive sweep of thousands of predominantly Muslim people into detention camps. Throughout Germany and France, far right parties have combined the existing anti-immigrant animus with the high tensions post-attacks. There are very real calls for, essentially, European countries to ethnically and religiously cleanse themselves, by violence if necessary.

In short, all of the worst things expected to be said have been said. It’s common for people to say that anti-Muslim sentiments are an exaggerated boogeyman within leftist circles. Sadly, one of the outcomes of what happened in Paris is a quiet confirmation that half of our political landscape is just as inclined towards war, deprivation, and detentions as you might worry.

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The featured image is Domnic McGill’s The Clash of Civilizations, from here.

 

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On Paris: setting the record straight

Trigger warning: terrorism, racism, islamophobia

On Friday, Paris was rocked by a series of coordinated attacks. In the wake of a blast just outside of a France-Germany soccer game, which sitting French President François Holland was attending, it became clear that this was mass terrorism but also something else. It was a deliberate attack on the French state and its officials in addition the type of general violence that’s unfortunately become familiar even to first world populations in this post-9/11 world. We have been here before. We will, I fear, be here again.

With familiar tragedies come familiar narratives. Here are five stories printed at some point over the past couple days which I think do the important work of moving past the well-trod paths that have already led to France’s greater role in Syria and hate crimes throughout the Western world.

Whose lives matter?

As the New York Times noted, the global response to what happened in Paris on Friday was intense and far-reaching-

Monuments around the world lit up in the colors of the French flag; presidential speeches touted the need to defend “shared values;” Facebook offered users a one-click option to overlay their profile pictures with the French tricolor, a service not offered for the Lebanese flag. On Friday the social media giant even activated Safety Check, a feature usually reserved for natural disasters that lets people alert loved ones that they are unhurt

Every part of that contrasted with the response to a similarly coordinated attack in Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday. The asymmetry was just so horrifyingly consistent, from the details like the failure to active Safety Check for Beirut residents to the systemic devaluing of Arab life they quoted one Lebanese blogger on:

“When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag,” Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, wrote on his blog. “When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”

The implication, numerous Lebanese commentators complained, was that Arab lives mattered less. Either that, or that their country — relatively calm despite the war next door — was perceived as a place where carnage is the norm, an undifferentiated corner of a basket-case region.

This is unfortunately how the social imagination seemingly will remember the dead in Paris – as less expected to be killed and in a way more dearly felt losses from a war that could have (perhaps it thinks “should have”) stayed distant. That honors Parisians because Beirutis are perceived as so much more expendable. That’s not a compliment to either really.

What of the refugees?

Almost immediately on Friday, at least within the Western media I read and watched, the possibility of refugee involvement in the attack was considered. Numerous voices have stepped forward to dismantle that flawed and reflexive judgement of people fleeing the very group that has now claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris. Suzanne Harrington’s column in the Irish Examiner deflated it with what I consider admirable gusto with particular attention paid to the words of one refugee himself:

Here is what [Akram] has to say about the terrorism in Paris: “Horrible ..The refugees in Calais are completely against this because we already had this bad experience in our home country. THIS IS WHY WE ARE HERE. We need peace and we really feel for the victims, and we are with them.”

Akram is currently living in horrendous conditions in the Calais refugee camp, less than two hundred miles from Paris. […] What is not being reported is how the Calais refugees held a vigil in empathy for their Paris counterparts attacked by “Islamic” State. The Calais camp – and the Greek Islands, and Lampadusa, and all the other frontline EU borders where the desperate boatloads are landing – is full of people whose innocent ordinary lives have been destroyed by terrorism, both state-sponsored and freelance.

The idea that refugees fleeing extremist violence and related problems in Syria and Iraq (and other areas) are somehow an opposite to the Parisians who experienced the attacks (who are assumed to be predominantly White and French),  is to categorize them by race far before thinking about their experiences with Daesh. That is, by some definitions, racist, or at the very least some sort of xenophobic nationalism. That’s precisely what Suzanne describes ultimately, saying,

[L]et us stop being massive xenophobic ostriches, and move from Porte Ouverte to Frontieres Ouvertes, and offer proper refuge and sanctuary to those who have experienced the Paris bombings and shootings a thousand times over in their home cities.

Much of Europe closed itself in fear of and disgust towards the refugees. Now that they have seen more directly and personally what they have fled, can they perhaps be moved to a different course of action?

Who is Paris?

You may have caught a hint of this in the past section, but one in depth article by the Wall Street Journal made clear a particularly narrative-destabilizing point. The explosion outside of the soccer stadium, which was intended for the French President and to create public panic, was one of the attackers detonating their bomb while being confronted by security.

We know this because of the video footage and testimony released by a security guard in another part of the stadium – who asked only to be identified by his first name, Zouheir. In case you missed it, that’s not an ethnically French name.

As I noted before the presumption that the French targets – in the stadium, at the concert hall, in the bombed McDonald’s – were not only predominantly White but were overwhelmingly ethnically French is just that, an assumption that reinforces the way we think about their status among the dead or the survivors without necessarily any meaning to it.

The Paris that survived the coordinated bombings is typical of many modern urban environments in that it is rich in ethnic, racial, and religious diversity. Like many such cities in Westerner former(ish) colonial powers, a large part of the diversity has come about in the form of people immigrating from former colonies or other places of exploitation.

The very ethnic identities held collectively responsible by some for these attacks were among those who were targeted. To deny that, is to deny the realities of the world we live in.

What next?

As I mentioned above, the immediate response to this from France was militant. Air strikes began on Raqqa, the purported capital of the neo-caliphate, within hours. Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, an anti-Assad and anti-ISIS organization, posted some shocking claims on twitter about the strikes:

If these are to be believed (and Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently is considered a reputable source by many), then French forces and others are responding to this with an emotionally untethered place. They are neglecting to check their activity to avoid unnecessary and civilian deaths, or even worse may be celebrating those and other effects of their violence. The only person who benefits from that, I would say, are the extremist factions within Syria.

Extremism, everywhere, and not a place of peace

Speaking of extremist groups, the violent blowback hasn’t just been French and hasn’t just been directed towards Syrian Muslims, but towards all sorts of the more than billion members of that faith. Among those affected are the Muslim residents of Ontario, Canada, where a mosque was targeted by an arsonist on Saturday. The place of worship had previously had several windows broken after the 9/11 attacks, so few doubts were had within the community about the motivation behind the bombing.

As mentioned in the Irish Examiner column above, a fire in a refugee camp in France was feared (mistakenly) to be a similar act of islamophobic violence. Instead, it’s thankfully noted that it was just the causes of the fire were “overcrowding, zero amenities, and zero health and safety” – all aspects of a situation well within the control of French and other European authorities.

The same dehumanizing logic that makes Beiruti deaths forgettable, Parisians of Arab or other Middle Eastern or North African backgrounds invisible, and Syrians in Raqqa expendable makes the quality of life for refugees in that and other camps unimportant. Now a sizable swathe of their camp has burned, leaving them with even less. Can a France drunk with bloodlust feel for them? Can it help them live somewhere safer and better?

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The featured image for this article is of peace activists in Turkey’s capital in October whose protest was bombed, killing 95. More information here.

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Puzzles of the Orient: a random note on the Republican Debate

Last night’s debate didn’t strike me as something worth liveblogging on twitter or even commenting about as I posted in the middle of it. That anything much is going to be said that’s new or original is hopefully something no one came into the debate expecting. In passing, still, one strange entanglement of talking points caught my attention and seems to speak to something rather horrifying about the politics of not only the Republican Party, but the United States and even the broader world.

In the midst of the debate, Senator Marco Rubio argued that the supportive relationship between the US and Israel in contrast to the combative and hostile relationship the US has with almost every other country in the region made sense, saying:

“For goodness sake, there is only one pro-American free enterprise democracy in the Middle East. It is the state of Israel. And we have a president that treats the prime minister of Israel with less respect than what he gives the Ayatollah in Iran. And so our allies in the region don’t trust us. […] all those radical terrorist groups that, by the way, are not just in Syria and in Iraq, ISIS is now in Libya. They are a significant presence in Libya, and in Afghanistan, and a growing presence in Pakistan.

Soon they will be in Turkey. They will try Jordan. They will try Saudi Arabia. They are coming to us. They recruit Americans using social media. And they don’t hate us simply because we support Israel. They hate us because of our values. They hate us because our girls go to school. They hate us because women drive in the United States. Either they win or we win, and we had better take this risk seriously, it is not going away on its own.”

While his criticism of Arab or Islamic communities highlighted the sexism he perceived, the point seems deeply interconnected to other ideas about how societies should work. Not only should women be able to drive cars, they should be able to vote. It’s hard to imagine that kind of plea for “modern” women’s rights without accompanying ideas about “modern” political rights and other expectations (in Rubio’s mind that goes hand in hand with free enterprise, notably).

Mere minutes later, Ohio Governor John Kasich in his own words gave the audience “a little trip around the world”. He transitioned from describing a military strategy towards Russia to one in the Middle East, which in turn led him to saying this about the political culture of the region: “Saudi Arabia, cut off the funding for the radical clerics, the ones that preach against us. But they’re fundamentally our friends. Jordan, we want the king to reign for 1,000 years. Egypt, they have been our ally and a moderating force in the Middle East throughout their history.”

The limitations on free speech in Saudi Arabia are, of course, far more extreme than the limiting of funding for radical clerics. The regular and increasing use of the death penalty by the government there is primarily used on clerics critical of the Kingdom, especially those critical because of sectarian disagreements. Overwhelmingly, it’s the Shia minority clerics targeted with that and other state controls designed to limit their communities’ voices and shutdown opposition. They are also famously one of the governments in the region which most systemic restricts women’s rights – to drive, to go out in public, and to control their bodies and appearance. Those, in Kasich’s words, are “our friends” because of how they restrict their people and simultaneously, in Rubio’s view, someone we are locked in an existential struggle with… because of how they restrict their people.

Virtually no one – from Politico to the Seattle Globalist – pretends that the current government in Egypt is democratic. Politico’s coverage touches on a particularly interesting point, that sitting president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is a product of the military exchange programs run by and within the United States. In short, he was more than a little groomed for his current strongman role, with his wife beside him, notably in a hijab not in the more veiling niqab. When it comes to other women, however, his defense of the use of “virignity tests” to assess rape and harassment claims by women participating in the street democracy movements in Egypt speaks for itself. Much like Saudi Arabia, the same despotism that is woven into the fabric of how we decide that part of the world is categorically deserving of criticism, and yet oddly also, its saving grace.

Hopefully I don’t have to explain the irony in a debate where most of the Middle East is criticized as undemocratic where another person calls for the Hashimite dynasty in Jordan to rule for a thousand years. It’s worth noting that’s not just simply a millennium of rule, it’s another millennium.

It’s worth noting that even if Kasich and Rubio understood each other as disagreeing, they both continue to address the realities of political life in the Middle East with a common assumption. If you look at the autocratic and patriarchal aspects of life in that part of the world and judge it as exotic and foreign and Other to a US-backed alternative, at least one of the mistakes you’re making is overlooking the ways in which the US has encouraged these undemocratic and restrictive politics. If you look at the dictatorships and call them our friends, you’re insisting that popular rule in the region would inherently be incompatible with US interests and those are more important. Rubio looks at the region shaped by US and other foreign meddling and wonders how it got that way, while Kasich simply shrugs and notes we have to keep them in line. In either case, there’s a denial of the violence inherent in US policy, stretching back decades.

Whether you view this as a cultural war or a strategic conflict, the Republican debate last night offered only variations on viewing the average person in the Middle East as lesser, with no alternative to that.

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