Bust from the Ruins of Palmyra in Syria

In 2015, ISIS seized the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. They proceeded to destroy many of the standing columns, temples, and tombs while gloating over their “accomplishments.” To make matters worse, they captured and beheaded the Khalel al-Asaad, a Syrian archeologist.

This morning, I visited the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades and was delighted to find an exhibit on loan of mostly funerary statuary from Palmyra, most of which comes from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. It was titled “Palmyra: Loss and Remembrance.”

It was a revelation to me. Palmyra was neither Roman nor Greek. Their language was a dialect of Aramaic, which was the language of the Holy Land during the life of Christ and for some time after. Most of the items on display were funerary busts and reliefs from the tower tombs that dotted the landscape. The facial expressions were surprisingly realistic, though with larger, more pronounced eyes than found in Greek and Roman sculpture.

“The Beauty of Palmyra”: Obviously a Rich and Powerful Woman

Most women depicted in these sculptures were depicted holding a distaff and spindle in their hands. The statue above displays no such housewifely virtues. Instead she is bedecked with jewels on her headdress as well as her costume. The circles were once filled with precious and semi-precious stones which have disappeared in the course of time.

ISIS Gloating Over the Destruction by Explosives of the Temple of Baal Shamin on One of Their Websites

Naturally, I think ISIS’s actions in Palmyra and elsewhere show a total disregard for the antecedents of their own civilization. They will undoubtedly commit other barbaric crimes until this awful Jihadist movement is brought to account for their crimes against humanity.


Idarat al-Tawahhush

The Republican Party’s Own Contribution to Beastliness

The Republican Party’s Own Contribution to Beastliness

Last week, I read an excellent article by Juan Cole of Truthdig.Com on the subject of our entering a new era of beastliness as exemplified by Daesh/ISIL/ISIS abroad and Donald J. Trump at home. In fact, the Arabs have a word for it: idarat al-tawahhush, or out and out viciousness.

As Cole writes about the so-called Islamic State:

Most Muslims are on the fence or perfectly happy in secular societies.  They are in a “gray zone.”  Drive them into the arms of extremism either by attracting them with spectacles of power or by scaring them or by scaring non-Muslims into attacking them.

The urgency of this strategy has increased as Daesh’s fortunes on the battlefield in the dusty hinterlands of Syria and Iraq have spiraled down.  Syrian troops are at the gates of Palmyra and on the cusp of driving Daesh out of it.  Russian aircraft are bombing Daesh convoys and positions in Palmyra and near Aleppo, cutting supply lines.  Syrian Kurdish troops allied with Arab fighters have taken vast territory from Daesh in al-Raqqa and left its capital exposed.  In Iraq, Tikrit and Ramadi have fallen.  Kurdish Peshmerga have retaken Sinjar and begun cutting supply lines between al-Raqqa and Mosul.  Local Arab tribes are revolting in Fallujah, and the Iraqi military has announced the beginning of a long campaign to take Mosul.

In America, beastliness is one of the main attributes of currently leading Republican contender Donald Trump. His minions attack women journalists; he broadly attacks wide spectra of our multicultural society; and he threatens to “punish” women who have had abortions. (Is he personally going to spank them?)

Cole’s article continues on the subject of the GOP candidate:

If you take out mass violence, moreover, it is fairly easy to see that Trump himself uses the tactic of “beastliness” just as Daesh does. Where there is already chaos or conflict, he hypes it, as with his promise to kill innocent children related to terrorists or to torture people.  Or he played on existing Islamophobia by proposing a Muslim exclusion act, which is both beastly and an attack on the gray zone.

He also throws verbal firebombs to stir up chaos where there was calm.  He boasts that immigration was not even an issue in the presidential race until he made it one.  But that is because immigration is not an issue.  More Mexicans have been returning to Mexico from the US in recent years than coming here. Most immigrants are unusually law-abiding.  Illegal immigration was a much bigger problem in the 1980s and 1990s and is now a relatively small one.  Most immigrants don’t take jobs away from Americans already here: they do jobs other people don’t want to do.  (Many small midwestern hamlets depending on ranching and small farming have become depopulated as the young people went off to Chicago, and some have only been kept going or revived by Mexican farm and ranch hands).  But Trump tried to tag Mexican-Americans as rapists and drug dealers.

But then, many American voters would be all too willing to fight beastliness with beastliness of their own. And so civilization becomes ever more tattered and frayed as time goes on.


When Terrorists Control the News Cycle

It’s All a Matter of Timing

It’s All a Matter of Timing

I first discovered this during the Iraq war starting around 8-10 years ago. The forerunner of ISIS, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq, never had to go all out against their American enemies: One attack every few days would keep the news cycle forever buzzing. By the time the story was ready to go to an inner page, there would be a new improvised explosive device (IED) that caused American casualties, and the fearmongering would start up again at full volume.

The bombing in Jakarta was, I really believe, such an incident. Of the seven deaths, five were up the suicide bombers themselves, so the butcher’s bill was negligible. Or it could be as little as the guy in France who attacked a police station with a meat cleaver, only to be met by a hail of bullets from the flics.

Key to this strategy is (1) maintaining a high level of fear (and ISIS knows that Americans are a bunch of scaredy cats) and (2) repeat every couple of days, preferably in a new part of the world. Next time, maybe Iceland or Paraguay or Bermuda. Make people think the ISIS baddies are everywhere and all-powerful. That serves as a potent recruiting aid to bring in new fighters and their molls, especially since there are so many millions of young suburbanites around the world who have little or no moral compass.

I think the best way to combat this strategy is to steer clear of the news: Don’t let it control your life. And feel free to sneer.

Green Zones of the Future?

Is This What the Pentagon Wants?

Is This What the Pentagon Really Wants?

I love listening to the Republican Presidential Candidates for 2016 talk about foreign policy. All agree that Barack Obama is a “pussy” and that what we need is to destroy ISIS. But do they want to send in our troops and open new Green Zones in Syria and Northern Iraq? Urm, well, not really. Although Ahmed Chalabi is no longer around to say that we would be greeted with candy and flowers, I am sure that there are some Pentagon planners who would love to see an expansion of their powers, despite the cost.

Can the United States effectively wage war in an area where it doesn’t know the language, the culture, or the players involved? I myself think that all our direct efforts would be foredoomed to failure. Perhaps we can seal off parts of the country and reserve them for tennis courts, driving ranges, and chain burger restaurants for our boys and girls in uniform. But haven’t we already done that? And with what results?

As much as we love seeing ourselves as the mighty victors of World War Two, we’ve done precious little to add to our reputation since then. But, heaven knows, we keep on trying, piling up failure upon spectacular failure. The only thing our politicians can hope for is that the voters have a short memory and an even shorter fuse.

In the end, what we are doing in the Middle East right now is probably the right thing. ISIS will eventually collapse on its own. Isn’t it really quite stupid to build a caliphate on a bunch of foreign mercenaries, some of them not even Muslim, recruited through social media?



ISIS Exists for a Reason

ISIS Exists for a Reason

Bad Asses of the World, Unite! You now have your own country, so to speak. Even if you’re not a devout Muslim, or not a Muslim at all, you now have a place to go where mayhem is sanctioned. That’s why so many disaffected youths—male and female—are making their way to Syria and ISIS, where they can be as bad as they want, just so long as it is in tune with what the self-professed Caliph, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, permits.

And that’s where many of the new recruits will go astray. In the end, organized international mayhem is not as much fun as the local criminal kind. Instead of the cops, you have the Caliph’s masked minions; and now you can be blown to bits by bombers or Kurdish Peshmerga or (unless they feel disinclined) Iraqi armed forces. It’ll take them a while to discover that, because, as we know, bad asses are not known for thinking things through. And you can’t be all that spontaneous in an organizational context.

Oh, things will be gravy for a while, as you get your own Yazidi or other heretic girl to play house with, but eventually the pall descends; and you will be interviewed by Western news media as to why you deserted the cause.



The End Times

Last Chance to Commit Depredations

Your Last Chance to Commit Depredations

I’ve always seen a preoccupation with the so-called “End Times” in the same light as James Bond’s license to kill. For one thing, the people claiming that the end times are near act with a sense of moral smugness that permits them to do whatever they want without being called to account for it. And, of course, they will soon be saved and their guilt will be a moot point.

That is particularly true in the case of ISIS. According to a recent post on CNN’s website:

A key window into understanding ISIS is its English language “in-flight magazine” Dabiq. Last week the seventh issue of Dabiq was released, and a close reading of it helps explains ISIS’ world view.

The mistake some make when viewing ISIS is to see it as a rational actor. Instead, as the magazine documents, its ideology is that of an apocalyptic cult that believes that we are living in the end times and that ISIS’ actions are hastening the moment when this will happen.

The name of the Dabiq magazine itself helps us understand ISIS’ worldview. The Syrian town of Dabiq is where the Prophet Mohammed is supposed to have predicted that the armies of Islam and “Rome” would meet for the final battle that will precede the end of time and the triumph of true Islam.

If there is any branch of Christianity I distrust, it is the Evangelical sects, whose chief preoccupation is to take whatever parts of the Bible they choose to concentrate on and use it to make their followers not only cower in fear, but continue to support the preachers who are working on their susceptibilities.

Perhaps we should send a delegation of Evangelical preachers to Dabiq and kill two birds with one stone.

What Do We Have to Offer Them?

ISIS Fighters

ISIS Fighters

By “them,” I mean disaffected teenagers of Sunni Muslim backgrounds. By “we,” I mean Western democracies such as the United States, Britain, and France. Let’s face it, Islamic immigrants are looking for a better life. Many of them find it; but many wind up as dysfunctional families in which the kids want to nullify their parents’ decision to emigrate. These teens are prime candidates for ISIS, and many are trying to make the long trip to Syria—whether they are of Syrian extraction or not—and join up with the violent forces that are wreaking such damage in the Middle East.

In the end, all we have to offer them is a bullet—perhaps the sooner the better.

I am not saying that we should forbid Muslims to enter America: It’s just that we as a society have to be prepared to accept a certain amount of undesirable blowback. Once an American kid has decided to fight in a conflict as a combatant in an organization that our country has designated as terrorist, then he possibility of a good outcome declines to near zero. This is a particular problem in Britain because so many immigrants there hail from Commonwealth countries such as Pakistan that are rigidly fundamentalist. With France, the Islamic population is predominantly North African and therefore less likely to identify with Arab goals.

What can we do? I think that intervening to prevent kids from traveling to Iraq and Syria is a good start, but difficult, especially since there are no direct flights. A teenager could fly to Europe and then enter the combat zone by flying to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, or some other intermediate Arabic destination, and only then crossing the border by land.

Human nature being what it is, we cannot prevent immigrant families from becoming dysfunctional. And, let’s face it, we have troubles enough with our non-Muslim children joining gangs, taking drugs, and committing heinous felonies.