When I lived in Kuwait and Qatar, I was appalled by the way rapes were treated, it was like this huge wave of abductions and violations, and nothing was done. As it turns out, things are changing a lot slower in my own country than I thought. This new film, The Hunting Ground, is by the same person who documented violence and rape in the US military, spurring then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, a truly decent man, to put the fear of God into the military leaders who were covering up the many rapes and blaming the victims. We have the same problem on college campuses.
There is only one cure. We have to raise our sons to respect women. We have to continue raising the bar for equality in our country until women have equal access to jobs, health treatment, legal proceedings, etc. Films like The Hunting Ground are painful, and at the same time, help us to face, and to overcome our societal short comings.
I love it that this film is “giving voice to those who have no voices;” that these courageous women speaking out have bravely named their rapists and described their circumstances. It can’t be comfortable, but it is their right. I am proud that they are not intimidated by fear of the ‘blame the victim’ mentality they have endured on their college campuses. When did colleges and universities begin placing money-making and winning teams before the well-being of their students?
New film gives chilling account of sexual assault on college campuses
Sexual assaults on college campuses have reached alarming levels and the issue has drawn the attention of Congress and even President Obama himself. The latest research indicates that one in five college women will be sexually assaulted and as many as 90% of reported assaults are acquaintance rapes. It is believed that more than 100,000 college students will be sexually assaulted during the current school year. Nowhere is the deck stacked more against sexual assault victims than in college athletics. In just the last few years alone there have been cases at Florida State, Michigan, Oregon, Vanderbilt andMissouri.
All of this is a backdrop to a harrowing new film that premiers in theaters on Friday in New York City and Los Angeles. The Hunting Ground is a jarring exposé that shines a bright light on the epidemic number of sexual assaults taking place on college campuses each year.
The Hunting Ground features a group of survivors who faced harsh retaliation and harassment for reporting that they had been raped. The film focuses on institutional cover-ups and the brutal backlash against survivors at campuses such as Harvard, Yale,Dartmouth, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USC and the University ofCalifornia-Berkeley, among others.
Some of the most vexing stories featured in the film involve women who were assaulted by athletes. While The Hunting Ground isn’t all about sports, the most dramatic moment in the film occurs two-thirds of the way through when the woman who accused former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston—who after a strong showing in last week’s Combine is projected by many to be the No. 1 pick in this spring’s NFL draft—appears and tells her story publicly for the first time. The woman, who is named in the film but SI.com has chosen to protect her identity, is shown on camera and gives her life-changing account of what she says happened the night in December 2012 she left a Tallahassee bar with Winston.
A high school honor student who planned to attend medical school, the woman is articulate and attractive. She looks like the girl next door, a person you would trust to babysit your children. It is uncomfortable to watch—yet impossible to look away—when she describes being beneath Winston on his bathroom floor, repeatedly telling him “no” before being physically overpowered.
“We’re grateful it’s the first time people will get to hear [her] story,” said The Hunting Ground director Kirby Dick. “It’s her first-hand testimony. Up to this point it hasn’t been in a public space.”
The woman’s parents also appear in the film. Her father talks about driving to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital with his wife to be with their daughter hours after the incident.
There is nothing easy about retelling these stories for the world to see. But the attorney for the woman who says she was raped by Winston, John Clune, said his client decided to break her silence in the film because she felt it was the right venue to tell her story.
“The film was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Clune said. “The work by these filmmakers is nothing less than groundbreaking. It took tremendous courage, but our client and all of the incredibly brave women in the film have advanced the cause of rape survivors everywhere.”
The Hunting Ground also examines a sexual assault accusation against a Notre Damefootball player in 2010. Tom Seeberg, whose daughter committed suicide after she says she was sexually assaulted by a Fighting Irish starter, tells a heartbreaking account of school officials thwarting the investigation into his daughter’s complaint. A former Notre Dame police officer reveals that he and his colleagues were not allowed to approach or question an athlete on athletic properties.
The film also mentions rape cases involving football players at Missouri and Vanderbilt, as well as basketball players at Oregon.
The testimonials of rape survivors are wrapped between raw footage that is both gut-wrenching and disturbing. A small mob of unruly fraternity pledges at Yale are captured on film outside a freshman dorm for women, chanting: “No means yes. Yes means anal.” All the while a guy with a bullhorn is shouting: “Louder.”
In another scene we see drunken frat boys spilling out of a house where there is a sign out front that says: “THANKS FOR YOUR DAUGHTERS.” It’s enough to outrage any parent with a daughter heading off to college.
The film is directed by Dick and produced by Amy Ziering, the team behind the Oscar-nominated film The Invisible War, which revealed systemic sexual assaults and cover-ups within the U.S. military. That movie prompted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to announce significant policy changes and inspired the passage of the Military Justice Improvement Act.
Dick and Ziering started looking into the situation on college campuses shortly after the release of The Invisible War. “We were astonished that the problem was as serious in higher education as it was in the military,” Dick said.
Full disclosure: I appear in The Hunting Ground as an expert. Two of the cases in the film—Lizzy Seeberg’s alleged assault at Notre Dame and running back Derrick Washington’s sexual assault of a student at the University of Missouri—are featured in my book The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, which I wrote with 60 Minutes correspondent Armen Keteyian.
Some of my research is also featured in the film, including the statistic that student-athletes are responsible for 19% of the reported sexual assaults on campus, despite the fact that they comprise just 3.3% of the male student population. Those figures arose from a first-of-its-kind study I conducted with researchers at the University of Massachusetts in the mid-90s when we were granted access to judicial affairs records and police reports at colleges across the country.
Over the past 20 years I have researched hundreds of cases of sexual assault involving athletes. During that time I’ve interviewed countless sexual assault victims. The thing I found most telling was what prosecutor Willie Meggs did not say in the film. Meggs was asked if he thought a rape took place in Winston’s apartment. It was a perfect opportunity for the man who chose not to prosecute Winston to say no. Instead, he said something “bad” happened in that apartment that night. He just didn’t have sufficient evidence to prove it.
That’s not unusual. That’s typical. Only about 20% of rapes reported to the police in the U.S. are prosecuted. Yet at least 92% of reported sexual assault claims are found to be true. The problem is that date rape cases are very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, especially when alcohol is involved and the incident occurs in the perpetrator’s apartment, dorm or hotel room. The doubts raised by those factors are amplified when the accused is a star athlete.
The greatest achievement of The Hunting Ground is that it empowers rape victims to team up with each other and come forward. It’s fair to say that for the first time in many years, women like Jameis Winston’s alleged victim have powerful allies.
By the time the NFL draft takes place in May, the film will be in theaters around the country, the name of Winston’s accuser will be everywhere and more details about the night in question will likely come out. All of this brings to mind the legal maxim caveat emptor, which essentially is a warning that means let the buyer beware.
Jason Licht, the general manager for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ultimately has to decide whether to use the first pick on Winston. He’s on record saying: “This is the most important pick, potentially, in the history of the franchise.”
Memo to Licht: Watch The Hunting Ground.
The ramifications in this instance are equally big for the NFL, whose image took a beating over the last year after Ray Rice was caught on tape knocking out his then-fiancé in an elevator. The controversy erupted after Commissioner Roger Goodell imposed a two-game suspension without bothering to obtain and watch the video.
Memo to the Commissioner: Watch The Hunting Ground.
No matter what happens with Winston, the film succeeds in its main goal: to shine a light on sexual assault on college campuses. It’s an important issue that isn’t going away, and if something drastic isn’t done immediately, it will only get worse.
Jeff Benedict is a lawyer and has written five books on athletes and violence against women, including Public Heroes, Private Felons: Athletes and Violence Against Women, and Out of Bounds: Inside the NBA’s Culture of Rape, Violence and Crime.
The good news is that Saudi women know better. They don’t buy this line any more than we do. They visit America, they go to school in America. And oh yes, they DRIVE in America. The second part of the good news is that the younger generation buys this line a whole lot less than our parent’s generation, and change is coming. It’s coming faster than this historian thinks.
Saudi Historian Says U.S. Women Drive Because They Don’t Care If They’re Raped
Saleh al-Saadoon claimed in a recent TV interview that women can be raped when a car breaks down, but unlike other countries, Saudi Arabia protects its women from that risk by not allowing them to drive in the first place, according to a translation posted online by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
“They don’t care if they are raped on the roadside, but we do,” al-Saadoon said on Saudi Rotana Khalijiyya TV.
“Hold on. Who told you they don’t care about getting raped on the roadside?” asked the host, a woman who is not named in the transcript.
“It’s no big deal for them beyond the damage to their morale,” al-Saadoon replied. “In our case, however, the problem is of a social and religious nature.”
Two other guests on the show — a man and a woman — appeared to be in shock over his comments. Al-Saadoon said they were out of touch.
“They should listen to me and get used to what society thinks,” al-Saadoon said.
Since the rape argument didn’t seem to be convincing anyone, al-Saadoon tried another approach, claiming that women are treated “like queens” in Saudi Arabia because they are driven around by the men of the family and male chauffeurs. That led the host to ask if he wasn’t afraid that women might be raped by their chauffeurs.
“There is a solution, but the government officials and the clerics refuse to hear of it,” he said. “The solution is to bring in female foreign chauffeurs to drive our wives.”
That caused the female host to laugh and cover her face with her palm.
“Female foreign chauffeurs?” she said. “Seriously?”
Today the church prays for Lafia, Nigeria, which is near Abuja, in the part of Nigeria where Boko Haram runs rampant, and where over 250 girls were kidnapped from their school in 2014. Some few escaped, most were married off to poor young Boko Haram soldiers into hardship and near-slavery. Boko Haram does not believe in educating women. The Nigerian government at one point announced that Boko Haram had agreed to return the girls, but nothing happened. The Nigerian military and police do nothing to get them back.
Today the church remembers King Herod’s slaughter of all infant boys in his territory to put to rest these rumors of a newborn king of the Jews. The prayer for today is for all innocents killed by those who seek their ends through violence and oppression.
We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
High prices, shortages pressure IS – Black markets abound – Strict social laws bad for business
BAGHDAD: Saadi Abdul-Rahman was recently forced to pull his three children out of school in the Iraqi city of Mosul, where Islamic State militants have ruled with an iron fist since June. The cost of living has soared there, and the family is barely able to make ends meet, even after putting the kids to work. “We are not able to pay for cooking gas, kerosene and food,” laments the 56-year-old retired government worker. “The situation in Mosul is miserable.”
The economy in the self-styled “caliphate” declared by the Islamic State group bridging Iraq and Syria is starting to show signs of strain. Prices of most staples have more than doubled as coalition airstrikes make it difficult for products to move in and out of militant strongholds, leading to shortages, price-gouging and the creation of black markets.
Resentment has grown among residents under the rule of the extremists, who initially won support with their ability to deliver services. In the early days of its rule, the Islamic State group subsidized food and gas prices through the wealth it accumulated from oil smuggling, extortion and ransom demands. They sold their smuggled oil at a discount – $25 to $60 a barrel for oil that normally cost $100 a barrel or more, according to analysts and government officials.
But in recent weeks, prices have soared in militant-held cities. Items like kerosene, used for heating and cooking, are in short supply, while others, such as alcohol and cigarettes, strictly banned by the group, are making a comeback at higher prices on the black market. Smoking is a punishable offense in militant-held Mosul. But at a warehouse on the outskirts of the city, cigarettes, as well as hard-to-come-by essentials like kerosene, can be found at hugely inflated prices on a black market run by the extremists. There, a pack of cigarettes sells for 30,000 dinars – the equivalent of $26 – more than double the pre-caliphate price, according to residents who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The militants “are developing an unsustainable economy,” said Paul Sullivan, an expert on Middle East economies at the National Defense University in Washington. “Eventually the costs of keeping the subsidies and price controls going will overpower their smuggling funds, which are also used for offensive and defensive actions. They can collect taxes, extort money, and so forth,” he said. “But that will likely not be enough in the long run to keep such an unbalanced economic system going.”
In the Syrian city of Raqqa, the extremists’ so-called capital, the breakdown of security along the border with Iraq in areas under Islamic State control has led to flourishing trade with Mosul. Trucks are also able to access the city from Turkey, allowing for a steady supply of fruit and vegetables, wheat and textiles. However, the cost of living has surged since US-led airstrikes began in September, and power and water cuts grew more frequent, residents said.
In addition, the strict social laws imposed by the group have been very bad for business, said Bari Abdelatif, an activist in the Islamic State-controlled town of al-Bab in Syria’s northern Aleppo province. But, he said, foreign fighters were bringing with them lots of hard currency, making up somewhat for the shortfall. Last month, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, decreed the minting of gold, silver and copper coins for the militants’ own currency the Islamic dinar – to “change the tyrannical monetary system” modelled on Western economies. But trade in most militant-held cities continues to be in Iraqi dinars and US dollars.
The start of winter has led to serious shortages of gasoline and kerosene. The official price for a liter of gas in government-controlled areas of Iraq is 450 dinars (40 cents) – but in Mosul, it sells for four times that. Two hundred-liter barrels of kerosene are now sold in Mosul for 250,000 dinars ($220), versus the official price of 30,000 dinars. In the western Iraqi city of Fallujah, under militant control for almost a year, residents have started cutting trees for firewood because kerosene is in such short supply. The city is surrounded by government troops and near-daily shelling often make parts of town too dangerous to visit.
Food and fuel prices have risen sharply as a result – a 50-kilo sack of rice costs 75,000 dinars ($65), up from 10,000 ($9) three months ago. A cylinder of cooking gas goes for 140,000 dinars ($115). That has put many staples out of reach for Abdul-Rahman and his family in Mosul, even with the additional money brought in by his sons, who left school to drive a taxi and work in a restaurant.
Decline in Business
A number of factors are driving the shortages and price hikes, according to residents in Mosul and Fallujah, the group’s biggest Iraqi strongholds. The militants have imposed a tax on vehicles entering their territory, leading to a decline in business. Deliveries are also subject to militant theft, and coalition airstrikes and military operations make many roads impassable. As a result, the trip from the Turkish border to Mosul took four hours prior to the militant takeover. Now, a delivery truck can spend as much as a week traveling the same road, and will pay a tax of as much as $300 for entry into Mosul, residents said.
According to Luay Al-Khateeb, director of the Iraqi Energy Institute and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, the population of the areas under Islamic State control in Iraq and Syria is 6.5 million to 8 million people. “They need 150,000 barrels (of crude) a day just to meet local consumption,” he said. “And that is the bare minimum to meet the demands for transportation, bakeries, power generation. That doesn’t mean they have access to such supply,” he added.
Last month, the militants shut down cell phone service in Mosul, claiming that residents were tipping off US-led airstrikes to their whereabouts. Cell signals have not been restored, causing the city to come to a virtual standstill. Workshops, factories and markets are closed and bitterness is growing among business owners. “Most money-transfer operations are done by mobile calls,” said Osama Abdul-Aziz, the owner of a money-transfer office in Mosul. “We have the option of using the Internet, but this method is very slow and sometimes the Internet does not work at all, which causes big delays to our work.” At Mohammed Abdullah’s shop in Mosul, the pile of cell phone scratch cards is growing higher by the day. “Our business and means for living are in ruins now,” he said. – AP
Yesterday, the Qatari Ambassador to the United States, Mohammed Jaham Al Kawari, spoke to a packed house at the New World Landing as the Tiger Bay Club gathered to hear how little Qatar is exerting big influence in the world peace-making arena.
The ambassador has an impressive biography, and in appearance very polished, very French. He isn’t afraid to tackle the tough questions, and presents Qatar’s position in a way that people can hear and understand.
‘Kuwait In Fight With Drugs, Money-Wash’UN Briefed On Efforts
NEW YORK, Oct 10, (KUNA): A Kuwaiti diplomat has briefed a United Nations commission about the State of Kuwait efforts to combat money laundering and other illegal financial activities as well as menace of narcotics. Ibrahim Faisal Al-Da’ee, the third secretary serving with the permanent Kuwaiti mission at the UN, in an address to the UN Social, Cultural and Humanitarian Affairs Committee (SOCHUM), underscored necessity of taking effective action against crime and boosting coordination at the international and regional levels in this respect. As to combating “corrupt financial activities and funding from illegitimate resources,” the third diplomat noted that the State of Kuwait issued lawinto- decree number 23 in 2012, setting up the public authority for combating corruption and issuing special rules for financial assets’ disclosure, as well as the Ministerial Resolution No. 37 (2013), containing executive regulations for combating money laundering and terrorism funding.
Established On basis of the above mentioned, diplomat Al-Da’ee continued, the national commission for combating money laundering and terrorism was established. Moreover, the Central Bank of Kuwait issued a number of decisions aimed at clamping down on money laundering, in tandem with Kuwait’s endorsement of the UN convention for combating corruption. Regarding the drugs, Kuwait urges for taking necessary precautions to resolve this international problem by means such as encouraging planting of legitimate crops and improving living conditions in rural regions. Also in this respect, he pointed out, Kuwait had signed international conventions concerning such issues. According to Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior, number of drug-related crimes, during 2010-2013, dropped 6.4 percent, drug dealing cases 7.2 percent and narcotics-linked deaths 30 percent. He concluded his address to the international commission, stressing on respect for human and basic rights, through action against crimes, urging for collective global efforts against narcotics.
So . . . now we have legislation and a decree. Does Kuwait have the resources and/or the will to go after those who are funneling the funds to ISIS? Legislations and decrees are great, but even greater is following through; it gives a government credibility.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now threatening Baghdad, was funded for years by wealthy donors in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, three U.S. allies that have dual agendas in the war on terror.
The extremist group that is threatening the existence of the Iraqi state was built and grown for years with the help of elite donors from American supposed allies in the Persian Gulf region. There, the threat of Iran, Assad, and the Sunni-Shiite sectarian war trumps the U.S. goal of stability and moderation in the region.It’s an ironic twist, especially for donors in Kuwait (who, to be fair, back a wide variety of militias). ISIS has aligned itself with remnants of the Baathist regime once led by Saddam Hussein. Back in 1990, the U.S. attacked Iraq in order to liberate Kuwait from Hussein’s clutches. Now Kuwait is helping the rise of his successors.As ISIS takes over town after town in Iraq, they are acquiring money and supplies including American made vehicles, arms, and ammunition. The group reportedly scored $430 million this week when they looted the main bank in Mosul. They reportedly now have a stream of steady income sources, including from selling oil in the Northern Syrian regions they control, sometimes directly to the Assad regime.
But in the years they were getting started, a key component of ISIS’s support came from wealthy individuals in the Arab Gulf States of Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Sometimes the support came with the tacit nod of approval from those regimes; often, it took advantage of poor money laundering protections in those states, according to officials, experts, and leaders of the Syrian opposition, which is fighting ISIS as well as the regime.
“Everybody knows the money is going through Kuwait and that it’s coming from the Arab Gulf,” said Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Kuwait’s banking system and its money changers have long been a huge problem because they are a major conduit for money to extremist groups in Syria and now Iraq.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been publicly accusing Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding ISIS for months. Several reports have detailed how private Gulf funding to various Syrian rebel groups has splintered the Syrian opposition and paved the way for the rise of groups like ISIS and others.
“The U.S. has made the case as strongly as they can to regional countries, including Kuwait. But ultimately when you take a hands off, leading from behind approach to things, people don’t take you seriously and they take matters into their own hands.”
Gulf donors support ISIS, the Syrian branch of al Qaeda called the al Nusrah Front, and other Islamic groups fighting on the ground in Syria because they feel an obligation to protect Sunnis suffering under the atrocities of the Assad regime. Many of these backers don’t trust or like the American backed moderate opposition, which the West has refused to provide significant arms to.
Under significant U.S. pressure, the Arab Gulf governments have belatedly been cracking down on funding to Sunni extremist groups, but Gulf regimes are also under domestic pressure to fight in what many Sunnis see as an unavoidable Shiite-Sunni regional war that is only getting worse by the day.
“ISIS is part of the Sunni forces that are fighting Shia forces in this regional sectarian conflict. They are in an existential battle with both the (Iranian aligned) Maliki government and the Assad regime,” said Tabler. “The U.S. has made the case as strongly as they can to regional countries, including Kuwait. But ultimately when you take a hands off, leading from behind approach to things, people don’t take you seriously and they take matters into their own hands.”
Donors in Kuwait, the Sunni majority Kingdom on Iraq’s border, have taken advantage of Kuwait’s weak financial rules to channel hundreds of millions of dollars to a host of Syrian rebel brigades, according to a December 2013 report by The Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank that receives some funding from the Qatari government.
“Over the last two and a half years, Kuwait has emerged as a financing and organizational hub for charities and individuals supporting Syria’s myriad rebel groups,” the report said. “Today, there is evidence that Kuwaiti donors have backed rebels who have committed atrocities and who are either directly linked to al-Qa’ida or cooperate with its affiliated brigades on the ground.”
Kuwaiti donors collect funds from donors in other Arab Gulf countries and the money often travels through Turkey or Jordan before reaching its Syrian destination, the report said. The governments of Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have passed laws to curb the flow of illicit funds, but many donors still operate out in the open. The Brookings paper argues the U.S. government needs to do more.
“The U.S. Treasury is aware of this activity and has expressed concern about this flow of private financing. But Western diplomats’ and officials’ general response has been a collective shrug,” the report states.
When confronted with the problem, Gulf leaders often justify allowing their Salafi constituents to fund Syrian extremist groups by pointing back to what they see as a failed U.S. policy in Syria and a loss of credibility after President Obama reneged on his pledge to strike Assad after the regime used chemical weapons.
That’s what Prince Bandar bin Sultan, head of Saudi intelligence since 2012 and former Saudi ambassador in Washington, reportedly told Secretary of State John Kerry when Kerry pressed him on Saudi financing of extremist groups earlier this year. Saudi Arabia has retaken a leadership role in past months guiding help to the Syrian armed rebels, displacing Qatar, which was seen as supporting some of the worst of the worst organizations on the ground.
The rise of ISIS, a group that officially broke with al Qaeda core last year, is devastating for the moderate Syrian opposition, which is now fighting a war on two fronts, severely outmanned and outgunned by both extremist groups and the regime. There is increasing evidence that Assad is working with ISIS to squash the Free Syrian Army.
But the Syrian moderate opposition is also wary of confronting the Arab Gulf states about their support for extremist groups. The rebels are still competing for those governments’ favor and they are dependent on other types of support from Arab Gulf countries. So instead, they blame others—the regimes in Tehran and Damascus, for examples—for ISIS’ rise.
“The Iraqi State of Iraq and the [Sham] received support from Iran and the Syrian intelligence,” said Hassan Hachimi, Head of Political Affairs for the United States and Canada for Syrian National Coalition, at the Brookings U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha this week.
“There are private individuals in the Gulf that do support extremist groups there,” along with other funding sources, countered Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a Syrian-American organization that supports the opposition “[The extremist groups] are the most well-resourced on the ground… If the United States and the international community better resourced [moderate] battalions… then many of the people will take that option instead of the other one.”
The New Yorker is an expensive subscription and worth every penny. This article takes an enormously complex situation, breaks it down into components and summarizes the options and their drawbacks. No wonder President Obama is having a problem finding a strategy – there aren’t a lot of winning options out there, and we don’t need to get stuck with another tar baby.
Wars cost money. There is an election coming up. The economy is just now moving past the downswing, and we still have wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan to take care of. Can anything we do make a difference? Will that difference be appreciated or will it add to our reputation as a world bully? All these are factors when formulating a strategy.
At the end of the eighth century, Harun al-Rashid, a caliph of the Abbasid dynasty, built a palace in Raqqa, on the Euphrates River, in what is now Syria. His empire stretched from modern Tunisia to Pakistan. It was an age of Islamic discovery in science, music, and art; Rashid’s court of viziers inspired stories in “One Thousand and One Nights.”
In June, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) declared Raqqa the seat of a new caliphate, presided over by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a fierce preacher who was once an American prisoner in Iraq, and is now in hiding. The city has lost its splendor. Public executions are “a common spectacle” on Fridays in El Naim Square or at the Al Sa’a roundabout, a United Nations human-rights commission reported last month. ISIS fighters mount the dead on crucifixes, “as a warning to local residents.”
ISIS emerged a decade ago as a small Iraqi affiliate of Al Qaeda, one that specialized in suicide bombings and inciting Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority against the country’s Shiite majority. The network regenerated after 2011 amidst Iraq’s growing violence and the depravities of Syria’s civil war. This year,ISIS has conquered cities, oil fields, and swaths of territory in both Syria and Iraq. The movement draws its strength from Sunni Arab communities bitterly opposed to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and the Alawite-dominated regime in Damascus, led by Bashar al-Assad.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called ISIS “as sophisticated and well funded as any group that we have seen . . . beyond anything we have seen.” The group has former military officers who can fly helicopters, spot artillery, and maneuver in battle. ISIS is increasingly a hybrid organization, on the model of Hezbollah—part terrorist network, part guerrilla army, part proto-state.
President Obama has decided that the United States must now attack ISIS, if only from the air. The President vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard, and golfed conspicuously, as his initial aerial campaign in Iraq unfolded. He has been less than forthright about why, after pledging to end America’s costly war in Iraq, he believed a return to battle there was necessary. But in interviews and other forums Obama has offered a casus belli, in three parts.
ISIS has massacred religious minorities, including Christians and Yazidis, and American air strikes can prevent more wanton killing, the President has said. A second imperative is the defense of the Kurdistan Regional Government, a semi-autonomous, oil-endowed American ally in northern Iraq, which a few weeks ago was teetering under pressure from ISIS but has since recovered, with the aid of American air power. The third, and most resonant, reason that the President has given is self-defense: to disrupt ISIS before it tries to attack Americans in the region or inside the United States.
ISIS has beheaded one American journalist, James Foley, and threatened to execute a second. Yet some terrorism specialists point out that ISIS is consumed by the sectarian wars in Syria and Iraq, and has shown no intent to launch attacks in the West, or any ability to do so. Still, ISIS has attracted five hundred British volunteers, many scores of other European passport holders, and even some Americans to its fight; they might eventually turn toward London, Berlin, or New York. Last week, British authorities announced that the threat of a terrorist attack on its home soil was “severe,” given the rising number of British jihadis now among the militants in Iraq and Syria.
The question about President Obama’s resumption of war in Iraq is not whether it can be justified but where it will lead. Air strikes against a well-resourced guerrilla army will do little if they are not accompanied by action on the ground. It would be a catastrophic error for the United States to take on that role. But what other professional force will dislodge the self-proclaimedISIS caliphate and then control the population? American policy assumes that Iraq’s squabbling politicians will rally a Shiite-led army to fight ISIS in the country’s Sunni heartland. On recent evidence, this assessment looks unrealistic.
In Syria, the options are worse. Obama has said repeatedly that he does not believe that Syria’s moderate rebels have the capacity to overthrow Assad or defeat jihadists. Yet the alternatives would allow Syria’s violence to fester at the cost of tens of thousands more civilian lives or would tacitly condone an alliance with the brutal Assad, who has been implicated in war crimes.
Obama and his advisers have at times taken refuge in a self-absolving logic: We can’t force people in other countries to unite around our agenda, so, if they don’t, whatever calamity unfolds is their responsibility. As a retreat from American hubris, this form of realism has appeal. As a contribution to a stable Middle East, it has failed utterly.
It is not yet clear that ISIS will endure as a menace. Fast-moving extremist conquerors sometimes have trouble holding their ground. ISIS has promised to govern as effectively as it intimidates, but its talent lies in extortion and ethnic cleansing, not in sanitation and job creation. It is vulnerable to revolt from within.
The group’s lightning rise is a symptom, however, of deeper instability; a cause of that instability is failed international policy in Iraq and Syria. If the United States is returning to war in the region, one might wish for a more considered vision than Whack-a-Mole against jihadists.
The restoration of human rights in the region first requires a renewed search for a tolerable—and, where possible, tolerant—path to stability. ISIS feasts above all on the suffering of Syria, and that appears to be unending. The war is in its fourth year, with almost two hundred thousand dead and nine million displaced, inside the country and out. The caliphate now seated in Raqqa is the sort of dark fantasy that can spring to life when people feel they are bereft of other plausible sources of security and justice.
“We don’t have a strategy yet,” the President remarked last week, infelicitously, about Syria. He does have a coalition of allies in the region that are willing to challenge ISIS’s ambition, including Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. These countries patronize disenfranchised Sunnis in Iraq and Syria, and some of their support certainly reaches jihadists, includingISIS. Yet they share an interest in reducing Syria’s violence and in promoting regional and local Sunni self-governance that is less threatening and more sustainable than what ISIS has created. Ultimately, Sunnis will need the kind of autonomy that Kurds presently enjoy.
Leading a coalition of this character is hard, uncertain work. George H. W. Bush, the President whose foreign policy Obama seems to admire most, did it successfully in the runup to the Gulf War of 1991, by intensive personal engagement. Obama has more than two years left in the White House. To defeat ISIS, but also to reduce its source of strength, will require the President to risk his credibility on more than just air strikes.
Steve Coll, a staff writer, is the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, and reports on issues of intelligence and national security in the United States and abroad.
I’m listening to a heartbreaking discussion on National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm show about the masses of children heading toward the southern border of the United States.
Anti-immigration is nothing new, not in the United States, not in newer countries. It is shocking to me, however, that people who came from somewhere else are so strongly opposed to allowing these desperate children in. If they are running for our border – and they are – they are desperate. They are desperate to escape violent death, and death by starvation, death of the spirit eeking out a living day to day.
“They come here for a hand-out!” is the most common complaint.
Read your American history. Very few immigrants – your ancestors, American citizens – arrived with money. Most relied on friends, family, the immigrant community, social services – whatever they needed to survive until they could get on their feet.
And get on their feet they did. Immigrants to America come here to work hard, believing that working hard will give them a chance at a better life. Your ancestors and mine – they came and worked hard, scraping together the money to build a business and/or to send their kids to schools. If you’ve ever attended a citizenship ceremony, you will love the jubilation. They don’t want a handout. They want a chance at building a decent life.
So now it’s “I’ve got mine, go back where YOU belong?”
When I grew up, not even in the United States proper, but in a U.S. territory, we sang a wonderful song, from a poem by Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, which is on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
I’ve never forgotten those words we all sang as children. The immigrant flows into America are our life-blood. You can keep your stale traditions and meaningless pomp, she cries, send me those willing to work hard and yearning for freedom.
How can we refuse CHILDREN seeking asylum? Each child we feed, house and educate will have a chance to become contributing citizens. The face of our nation is changing, has already changed greatly and will continue to change, and what we choose today will have a critical effect on what our society will look like tomorrow.
Do we still yearn for liberty for all? Do we want a highly stratified society where some are born to high paying jobs and others relegated to trades (I’ve seen how this works in another country; it’s stultifying.) Restricting access to all that we enjoy will create a wholly different society, a zero-sum-game society, where your loss is my gain, instead of an everyone wins society, where my success lifts you, too. Our country thrives on the creation of wealth; ideas are generated, resources and labor pools are created, they are not finite, they transition. Immigrants fuel the kind of innovation and population flow that keeps the lifeblood of our country flowing.
My family has been in the US a long time. We qualify as daughters-of-just-about-everything. We were immigrants; we were not native-born. The entire United States, other than the First People, are immigrants. We are immigrants, all of us. It makes us strong.