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Why a normal person joins the Islamic State

26 Oct

Islamic State

In order to defeat an idea, you have to understand it.

Here’s an idea:

Millions of people who share a common heritage but live in different countries can unite under a single, benevolent ruler, with a single legal code that is fair and just, with common goals and a common view of the world. All will be treated equally; all will be protected. There will be no more bullying by dictators, thugs and secret police. There will be no more corruption. Factions will be unified. Life will be holy. There will be jobs and prosperity for all. The artificial borders imposed by outsiders will disappear. The very rich countries will now have to share with the poor countries.

This idea creates an entirely new world. It creates paradise.

The Islamic State of the Levant promises this to Muslims. It is why people leave their homes and go fight for it, and why towns welcome the rebels.

This is the idea that must be understood.

In America, we are prone to depicting enemies as psychopathic killers and leaving it at that. Rarely do we apply reason and ask: Why are so many people, normal people, following psychopaths?

Islamic State-mapPower-hungry monsters will always exist, but to a large extent they must earn the consent of the people in order to rule. The ambitions of most people rarely exceed the simple desire to raise and care for a family. If people think the monsters can help them do this, then the monsters will take on the appearance of saviors and be allowed to lead.

In nations where it is easy to raise and care for a family, this flirtation with monsters is incomprehensible. Nevertheless, it is real.

The monsters in Iraq and Syria now number about 30,000. The Iraqi army is almost 10 times larger. It is not the size of the fighting force that makes the Islamic State of the Levant strong. It is its idea of an enviable path through the chaos, tyranny and fragmentation within the Muslim world.

Much has been written about the rebels we know as ISIS, but almost none of it explains the group’s remarkable growth and success. The exception is a recent New York Times article by David D. Kirkpatrick, who did a simple thing. He went to Tunisia and asked people why they sympathize with ISIS.

Sufian Abbas, 31, a student sitting at a street café, must have given Kirkpatrick a look of disbelief before he answered with his own question, “Don’t you see it as a source of pride?”

Beheadings of innocent people a source of pride? No. The Tunisians believe the accounts of atrocities are fabrications of western media.

“The Islamic State is a true caliphate, a system that is fair and just, where you don’t have to follow somebody’s orders because he is rich or powerful,” said a fellow named Ahmed. “It is action, not theory, and it will topple the whole game.”

Kirkpatrick said people who have left Tunisia for ISIS territory often email friends and describe a better life. It is noteworthy that a good number of those attracted to the movement are unemployed and not particularly religious.

One who is religious and an ultraconservative said, “If I am going to get arrested and beaten here anyway, I might as well go where I can have an impact.”

The good news is that some Tunisians have returned home with reports that ISIS has not created paradise, that promises are false and joiners may be forced to do things against their will.

More will realize this, but by the time they do the Islamic State will have controlled more territory and be in a position to exert more force against the people who no want to give consent.

And this is why we must understand the idea of ISIS and come up with a better one — and soon. It must be a practical and convincing idea, one applicable to the culture. At all costs, we must avoid a rough and forceful attempt to sell western style democracy to Muslims. This will work about as well as ham at a bar mitzvah.

The big myth is that the world wants to be like us. Strategically, this kind of thinking gets us nowhere. It is much better to accept the undiscovered truth that other cultures can be with us without being like us.

Let’s begin at that point. From there I believe we can make progress.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

On Breaking the Cycle of Hate in Gaza and Israel

5 Aug

Gaza rubble

Dangerous are the men and women with nothing to lose. Count the people of Gaza among them.

 

They will have the world burn and themselves with it. They are accustomed to death, to being trapped and hunted, and will die just to make a point.

 

Gaza is a place often described as an open-air prison. The people can’t leave. They are caged. What goes in and out is controlled. Not even a fish can be taken from the sea. The view of that sea can ease the claustrophobia, but only if one ignores the war ships on the horizon.

 

Mohammed Suliman, a Palestinian human rights worker in Gaza, compares the plight of his people to the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. In the Huffington Post he writes:

 

“The besieged Jews of the Warsaw ghetto had a motto ‘to live and die in dignity.’ As I sit in my own besieged ghetto, I think how Palestinians have honored this universal value. We live in dignity and we die in dignity, refusing to accept subjugation.”

 

There is nothing unnatural in what the Gazans do. In their situation, most of us would do the same. We don’t realize that, and won’t admit to that, only because we can’t see ourselves living such a life, can’t even imagine that such a life exists.

 

If the Palestinians in Gaza were docile, their conditions would be better.

Gaza map2The blockade of Gaza is justified as way to combat Palestinian terrorism. And so in striking out at those who created the blockade, Gaza must face its own terror.

 

Israel says it will make Gaza pay an “intolerable price,” which it can. Hamas says it will destroy Israel, which it cannot.

 

Hamas, which rules Gaza, sends men into Israel with guns and bombs. It sends in barrages of largely ineffective missiles. In return, Israel destroys Gaza neighborhoods with jet fighters and missiles, effective ones.

 

The death toll is lopsided. In Gaza, schools, hospitals, homes and places of refuge are bombed. So-called “human shields” die rather than shield. Maternity hospitals become morgues.

 

What Israel sees as Palestinian terrorism, the Palestinians see as resistance. There is no common ground for negotiations. This lack of understanding is ironic, since the Hamas approach was used by Jewish freedom fighters in their battle for independence with Britain.

 

What both sides can understand, however, is the preponderance of hate and the need for vengeance and retribution. There is no thought or concern for humanity.

 

While American critics of Israel are being silenced with charges of anti-Semitism, and while real and vicious anti-Semitism grows in sympathetic Europe, I try to remember humanity.

 

I try to avoid the obscuring cloak of religion and see people simply as people and tragedy simply as tragedy. I ignore old scores but recognize the destructive dynamics of power and politics and the readiness to kill to maintain power.

 

I try to see the many victims of power, and the people who must rally around it for protection and as a way to secure the basic necessities of life.

 

With this kind of view, perhaps some answers can be found. Yet the situation grows increasingly complex.

 

There is new instability in the Middle East that is making matters worse. A growing number of Arab nations see Hamas and the Islamic movement as a threat. Like Israel, they want Hamas neutralized. And so these countries, mainly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, provide back channel support and momentum in the campaign against Gaza. In a way, we are witnessing a proxy war in the Sunni-Shiite fight for regional dominance, which is further complicated by an intra-Sunni rivalry.

 

As a result, hostility is layered upon hostility, making resolution much harder to achieve.

 

When the current war ends, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia may find – to their disappointment — that Hamas actually is stronger. After absorbing such terrific blows, it may win concessions pushed by the United Nations and the international community. Some of the borders around Gaza could open.

 

With people being able to get TVs, medicine, motorbikes and much more of what they need and desire, a degree of calm and possibly optimism will set in. The intelligent thing for Israel and Egypt to do is to go beyond any negotiated settlement and open borders even wider and increase that optimism. They should rebuild schools, hospitals and neighborhoods. They should initiate cultural exchanges and promote commerce and trade.

 

Gaza should be made a decent place to live.

 

Regardless, some Palestinian fighters will continue their attacks, keeping Israel under threat. But slowly, very slowly, sympathy for Hamas could shift to a more accommodating faction. With hate and revenge so insidious, nothing short of a Gandhi-esque approach will work in Gaza. And it will take time.

 

As a big assist, America’s warlike attitudes in these conflicts must end. American Jewish organization and American Jews in general can and should play a part in a new peace initiative. Likewise, Christian organizations must seek to heal and stop seeing Arab progress as a threat to Biblical prophecy. All who value religion need to recognize the importance and necessity of brotherhood and the sanctity of life.

 

A continuation of current policy only guarantees resistance, rebellion, instability, unhappiness, death and a bankruptcy of our collective spirit.

 

Mohammed al-Banna, a Palestinian who in one morning lost nine of his in-laws, told the New York Times, “The aggression here is creating a new generation of youth who want revenge for all the crimes.”

There is no future in this. The cycle of hate and death needs to be broken. The outstanding question is: Who or what has the courage, stamina, patience, temperament and love of mankind to do it?

By Lanny Morgnanesi

A Sephardic Jew: Why discriminate against this person?

19 Oct

emmanuelle chriqui

The man whom I will call the Martin Luther King of Israel has died at 93.

He was Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a leader in politics and religion.

It is doubtful anyone else has compared him to the American civil rights leader, but that’s how I see it. Just as there is black and white in America, in Israel there is Sephardic and Ashkenazi. The Sephardim are the underdogs. Rabbi Yosef was their advocate and protector.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

Most Americans think of Israeli Jews as homogenous. This is because most American Jews are of European descent, which makes them Ashkenazi. Overlooked and mostly out of sight in the U.S. are the Sephardim, who are Jews from the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. This group has more in common with Arab culture than with European culture, hence the dichotomy and the basis for discrimination.

It is dangerous for a non-Jew, such as myself, to write about the social fabric of Judaism, especially when the writer has never been to Israel and never witnessed the relationship between Sephardim and Ashkenazim.  So let it be known that I write with interest rather than authority.

It is of little consequence here, but a casual friend is a Sephardic American. He has never mentioned the word in my presence, nor has he ever discussed any difference between himself and any other Jew. His ancestors are from Morocco. His mother lives in France, is very refined, quite fashionable and appears wealthy. She reminds me of Jackie Kennedy. These things are all counter to the negative stereotype of the Sephardim, which I learned of only through television.

Jerry Seinfeld: Sephardic Jew

Jerry Seinfeld: Sephardic Jew

I wish I could remember the name of the film, or on which channel it appeared. I would link to it to see if you found it as shocking as I. It was shot in Israel and documented the perception of the Sephardim by the Ashkenazim. Some of the dialogue could have been overlaid on a film about white and black Americans.

For example, many Ashkenazi, in a nod to tolerance, said the Sephardim are hip and cool and fun; that they set trends and styles. Some said they have friends who are Sephardic. Still, in subsequent conversations, they said Sephardic Jews are mostly poor, crude, criminal and not so intelligent.

Clearly, social barriers have been set. This was confirmed for me when I read Rabbi Yosef obituary.

Other comments didn’t parallel the black-white struggle in America, like the disgust shown for the Sephardim who watch Arab movies.

Basically, the documentary illustrates how the one group considers the other inferior and beneath them. Overall, the impression was that the Sephardim were just too much like Arabs.

The irony here is that so were Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.

Indeed, recent genetic testing has shown that the Ashkenazim may be far off the Hebrew bloodline. It was originally thought that the Jewish communities in Europe originated with men and women from the Near East.  Now it has been shown genetically that the ancestral roots of the Ashkenazim are in the union of non-Jewish European women and traveling Jewish traders.

Although the comparison between blacks and whites in America is somewhat accurate – an Israeli court, for example, had to force the integration of Sephardic and Ashkenazi school children — this intra-Jewish problem has additional layers of complexity. Unlike in America, differences in religious practices also keep the Jewish groups apart.

I referred to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as the Martin Luther King of Israel, but, unlike King, he was for school segregation in the court case I mentioned. Religion, it seems, was taught at the school in question, and Rabbi Yosef wanted only pure and accepted Sephardic doctrine taught to the children of his followers, not a diluted, blended brand taught in a mixed school.

Religion aside, the life and work of Rabbi Ovadia – like those of Dr. King — indicate the pervasive need of Homo sapiens to form tight groups of very like people, to preach group superiority and to categorize others – even those who could easily be accepted into the group – as inferior and unworthy of advancement. It shows the incredible need to hold back rather than lift up.

What is the basis for this need?

Limited resources? Limited positions of power? Intrinsic insecurity? General nastiness? The necessity to have enemies as a motivating force for survival and civilization building?

Because of their differences, and because of our shortcomings as a species, it seems almost understandable that there is tension between blacks and whites, Jews and Arabs (even thought they are both Semitic people), liberals and conservatives. But why does each group draw circles within their circles to set even more people apart?

How can we solve global conflict when the people on the north side of Chicago distrust those on the south side?

The Jews possess a unique place in history as one of the first cultures – perhaps the first – to take stock of itself and say, “We are barbarians. This is unacceptable.”

For now and always, the People of The Book have documented their epic struggle for the perfect, enlightened society. Through darkness and light, catastrophe and near destruction, triumph, dire warnings, dire consequences and rebirth, they have never ceased to strive with God and themselves.

One would think that by now such a people could get along with themselves; that such a people might actually be the ones to bring peace to the entire Earth.

Who better?

While we wait for a new prophet, I would hope that all will soon dispense with finding disgust over another person simply because of his taste in movies.

Rest in peace, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

 

 

Israel Loves Iran — and so can you!

2 Feb

 

Chuck Hagel, nominated for secretary of defense, was treated roughly this week by his former colleagues in the Senate. In part, it was because he appears not to be in complete lockstep with Israel and also because he has shown moderation in his position on Iran.

In the U.S. we hold a compendium of complex and diverse political views. Oddly, we are expected to be monolithic in our support of Israel. In some way, Hagel was treated like a traitor. I’m not sure why a single, blindly supportive position is required on Israel. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because the Israeli lobby is smart, strong and well-funded, and because a large part of the American Christian community regularly muscles Congress on Israel because it wants to protect and maintain that country until it can be converted en masse.

If I’m wrong about that I apologize.

What I’m probably not wrong about is this: Opinion on Israeli policy is more divergent in Israel than in America.

Can you image buses traversing major American cities covered with the message: “Iranians we love you.”

People would probably go to jail for that.

There are, however, such buses in Israel, funded by Israelis who don’t feel hostile to Iran and believe the current talk of war is dangerous bombast.

While the buses are highly visible, the campaign for peace is mainly online. There are thousands of Facebook followers, and related Facebook sites from various people and countries pop up each day in support. It is something of a movement, a movement for peace in the face of impending war.

Its leader, graphic designer Ronny Edri, has told the people of Iran, “For there to be a war between us, first we must be afraid of each other, we must hate. I’m not afraid of you, I don’t hate you.”

His movement involves individual people creating posters of themselves with variations on the message: Israel loves Iran.

The posters are then placed on the Internet.

After a time, Iranians were creating their own posters saying: We love Israel.

Please hear the story straight from Edri’s mouth in a TEDs talk he gave. At the end of this 15-minute video you can see many of the wonderful posters of peace that people have made. Also, at the top of this page is a Youtube video from Edri.

Coverage of Edri, who served in the Israeli army, and the thousands of resulting posters has been on ABC and CNN, in the New York Daily News and the New Yorker magazine and in many, many international publications.

Consider becoming a part of this movement, or at least learning about it.

It seems people may not hate each other as much as their governments would like them to.

Maybe Chuck Hagel wouldn’t be such a bad secretary of defense after all.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

As its old enemy grows weak and it grows strong, China hasn’t forgotten World War II

23 Aug

Almost 11 years have passed and the war in Afghanistan is still a war. It has helped drain the treasury of a nation that doesn’t want to pay taxes.

An even bigger threat to that treasury and to global peace is occurring thousands of miles away in the Pacific. Its roots are deep, dating at least to 1937, when Japan invaded China.

The Chinese of today look at Americans and wonder how we can be friends with the Germans and the Japanese. We’ve forgotten World War II. They haven’t. Their country was occupied. Ours was not.

The hate never dissipated.

Around 1985, Chinese consumers were getting their first chances to buy televisions. Many were imported from Japan. Many didn’t work right. True or not, the perception was that Japan was dumping its faulty products on China. As the TVs failed, anger rose, then raged. Demonstrations were held to criticize the government for allowing this to happen and for being a party to this loss of face.

The protests continue.

E-mail has been circulating all over China calling for the boycott of Japanese products. One complaint in the e-mail is that the bosses of Japanese companies in China treat their Chinese employees like dogs. Beneath that remains the revulsion of doing business with a nation that murdered millions of Chinese and committed vicious, wide-scale atrocities that included massive gang rapes and burying people alive.

Americans don’t realize it, but almost 90 percent of Japan’s fighting forces in World War II were in China, not the islands we fought over.

While powerful back then, the Japanese of today are struggling to recover from a lengthy economic malaise.  As they do, they watch China grow wealthy and strong. Out of frustration, a bunch of them jumped in boats last weekend and landed on an Island that China claims. They planted Japanese flags.

This lit a fuse back in China, and several thousand took to the streets in protest.

All very interesting, and right now harmless. If, however, these skirmishes escalates and Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan also feel threatened, the U.S. could be lured in.

Anticipating the future, our presence in the Pacific already has grown. If the events of last week continue, it is likely to grow further.

Will there be a dialogue or will it just happen? In such a case, Americans will have to ask themselves: Is this our role, and are we willing to pay for it?

 

I think debate is needed now, while it is only pleasure craft and civilians taking over disputed islands, while decisions on budgets and taxes are still pending, and while national lunacy is still treatable.

This one could make Afghanistan look like a street fight.

Lanny Morgnanesi

Imagine a land where girls go to school

8 Mar

The few Iranians I’ve known I’ve liked. But they pre-date the ayatollah. Curious about what people and life are like in today’s Iran, I went to see “A Separation,” an Iranian movie that won the Oscar for best foreign film.

Here are my quick observations about what makes that country different from ours:

  1. The women cover their heads.
  2. All buildings are in need of interior and exterior paint jobs.
  3. In court there are no lawyers.

Aside from those differences, people and life are the same as in the U.S.

Husbands and wives fight. People lie and cheat. Cities are busy and crowded. There are strong women able to fix problems caused by men. There is traffic. Girls go to school. Children are valued. The unfortunate find themselves out of work and out of money. There is an attempt to see that justice prevails.

I was looking for strong evidence of Islam. Little was found, even in court. Court mainly consisted of all parties yelling and screaming and a judge (in street clothes) trying to rule without the aid of procedure.

Some people, like in America, were more devout that others. A woman hired to take care of an Alzheimer’s patient telephoned a spiritual advisor to ask if it was OK to change the man’s soiled paints. Others didn’t seem so devout and would swear in front of women and children. Someone was accused of stealing money but there was no attempt to cut off her hand.

In the end, a couple divorces and a child is forced to choose which parent to live with.

Iran could easily have been Brooklyn.

So be advised. If we bomb them, we are bombing people very much like ourselves

One thing I also should mention: Those Iranians can act. “A Separation” was a simple yet worthy film, well executed in a shockingly realistic style. You don’t even think you are watching actors.

Can’t we just stay home and make money?

7 Mar

Much is being written about Iran and a possible attack. If it happens, it will be an Israeli initiative that requires U.S. military support … a pre-emptive strike designed to stop a nuke program. Obama has spoken with some caution, but the Republicans seem to want a new war. In all this, it rarely is said that both American and Israeli intelligence agencies believe Iran discontinued its nuclear program in 2003.

The New York Times wrote at least once about this, but doesn’t mention the intelligence in fresh stories. No one does. Is this yet another case of ignoring the facts to accomplish the dastardly?

Why the madness? If one can’t accept the moral arguments for peace, I hope they can accept the financial ones.

 

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