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In the United States, we have typically had an expansive view of religious freedom. Behind the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment is a powerful argument against tyranny. As religion presents an authority higher than the State, there is a sense of judgement on even popularly supported laws and moral principles. Castro […]
It does not appear to be a coincidence that Omar Mateen was Muslim, nor that he pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State as he massacred patrons at the Pulse nightclub. But as documented in lengthy profiles in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, Mateen spent his entire life spooking and alienating nearly everyone around him, often through threats of violence.
While some of these incidents had a religious tinge, all of them were colored by craziness. As a 14-year-old, he cheered the 9/11 attacks in class … while claiming to be bin Laden’s nephew. While training to become a corrections officer years later, he exploded in anger when a piece of pork touched his hamburger at a cook-out… and subsequently threatened to murder all his classmates. Years after that, he was reassigned from guarding the Port St. Lucie courthouse after claiming (out of the blue, it seems) to have links to both Sunni and Shia terror groups. Even as he pledged his allegiance to ISIS during the massacre, he stopped to tell his victims that “I don’t have an issue with the blacks.” These are less the actions of a devout Muslim extremist than of a Muslim who — if not actually unhinged — was in possession of some profoundly loose screws and a deeply violent soul. What’s most surprising to me is that it took him 29 years to kill someone.
Via the WSJ:
BAGHDAD—Iraqi security forces said they seized Fallujah’s central government compound, their first significant victory inside the city in a weekslong battle against Islamic State. Federal police forces flew the Iraqi flag over the city’s mayoral office Friday, the military said in a statement. The building is part of a large administrative compound that also houses the city’s police headquarters and courthouses. But the military stopped short of declaring full control over Fallujah, saying it was still battling a significant number of militant fighters in the city. The military said government forces had surrounded Fallujah General Teaching Hospital in the city’s downtown district, a building they said the terror group had used as a command center. Fallujah was the first major city seized by Islamic State in 2014 during a blitz that saw the Sunni Muslim extremists take over about one-third of Iraq. “We hope within the next few days to cleanse the whole of Fallujah from Daesh militants,” said Brig. Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the joint operations command in Baghdad, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Via the WSJ, the Islamic State’s foothold in Northern Africa appears to be crumbling:
Forces aligned with Libya’s internationally backed unity government closed in on the center of the Islamic State stronghold of Sirte during the weekend, giving a boost to an administration struggling to unite the fractured nation. In the past three weeks, militias that recently threw their support behind the government captured about 80% of Sirte and on Sunday pushed deeper into the city, said Ismail Shukri, head of military intelligence for the militias. “We have not been able to keep many prisoners to help us with information about the organization in Libya,” he said. “Most of them blow themselves up before they can be taken alive.” The offensive has been surprisingly quick and successful, military and intelligence officials said. Some 150 miles of Mediterranean coastline that Islamic State had controlled around Sirte has been reduced to about 50 miles in less than a month, the officials said.
I heard a story on the news this morning, about a horrible atrocity; the sort of gut-churning brutality that normally gets splashy news coverage just because “it bleeds.” I was listening to the radio on my way to work, so when I got there I did a quick internet search. Sure enough, as I had […]
Drowned out in the excitement over the presidential primary yesterday was the fierce battle between coalition forces and the Islamic State in northern Iraq. With total figures still uncertain, the battle claimed the lives of dozens of Kurds and one American Navy SEAL. On May 3rd, in the majority Christian city of Telskuf, north of Mosul, ISIS launched a pre-dawn assault on unsuspecting Kurdish and Assyrian forces:
Mortar rounds and artillery began hitting front lines near Telskuf, the largely Christian town, about 4 a.m., according to Kurdish officers and members of the Christian militia that hold the ground there. After bombarding the area Tuesday, militants launched a multi-pronged attack on Telskuf at about 5:30 a.m. from three or four directions, using hundreds of fighters, commanders said. Maj. Gen. Azad Jalil, a peshmerga officer, said they breached Kurdish front lines with more than 10 car bombs, also using bulldozers to push through. The peshmerga then made a “tactical retreat” to reorganize their forces, he said. ISIS militants overran the village.
From the Daily Beast:
U.S. strikes against the self-proclaimed Islamic State have had an unintended beneficiary: al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has exploited the strikes and gained strength, and that has created a growing rift within U.S. national security circles about where the coalition should aim its strikes. Some American intelligence and defense officials and counterterrorism experts are worried that the intense focus on defeating ISIS has blinded the U.S. to the resurgence of al Qaeda, whose growing potency has become more apparent as ISIS becomes weaker.
The American air campaign has notably not targeted al Qaeda in Syria, known as Jabhat al Nusra. With its foe, ISIS, under daily coalition bombardment, al Qaeda has been thriving, continuing to re-align itself with local forces, and re-emerging as the world’s enduring terror group.
This morning, a suicide-bomber murdered 10 people — and wounded another 15 as of this writing — in Istanbul’s Sultanmahet district. The dead apparently include Turks, Asians, Germans, and Norwegians. While there is nothing definitive yet, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the attack had “Syrian roots” and the Deputy Prime Minister said, according to one source, that the “suicide bomber is a 28-year-old of Syrian origin.” Though this neighborhood has been targeted by Kurdish and far-left terrorists before, the targeting of tourists, size of the explosion, and the government’s reaction all point to ISIS as being the more likely culprit. That said, all the usual caveats about early reporting apply.
The explosion happened next to the Obelisk of Theodosius, a 3,400-years-old, granite Egyptian obelisk brought to the city in the 4th century. It’s roughly 60 ft (18.5 m) tall and — despite three dozen centuries of exposure to the elements — its hieroglyphs look like they were carved yesterday. The obelisk sits on a Byzantine base of different material with relief carvings that adds another 20 ft (6m) to its height.
The president’s address last night was better than I expected. He talked defensibly about Islamism, which I’ll take a vast improvement over his administration’s policy of describing Islamism as merely one form among many of “violent extremism” and undermining all credulity by arguing that the Islamic State is in no way, shape, or form related to Islam.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s mien is so European that even Europeans must find it off-putting. More disturbing, however, is his astonishing lack of knowledge about the nature of ISIS. One wonders, for example, what French president François Hollande made of Kerry’s comment that the murders of the staff of Charlie Hebdo possessed “a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of – not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong.”
Kerry’s staggering moral confusion has been roundly — and rightly — criticized. This criticism, however, has missed the larger point, which is that Kerry is wrong on its merits: last week’s terrorist attack in Paris was every bit as “focused” and not at all “indiscriminate.” Don’t take my word for it, take the Islamic State’s. Two days after the attacks the Islamic State released a statement calling Paris a “capital of prostitution and obscenity.” By “obscenity,” of course, ISIS refers to things like attending sporting events, listening to rock music, and hanging out at cafes with friends sipping alcohol. As far as it is concerned, such pleasures are no less obscene than depicting Mohammed, a fact which Kerry’s ignorance disqualifies him as Secretary of State.
That more than half of the 129 victims were under the age of 30 only reinforces ISIS’s seething hatred of all things joyful. The Taliban’s ban on kite-flying is instructive here. What on earth, you may ask, us un-Islamic about flying a kite? The reason for the ban was this: one does not fly a kite for any purpose other than to have fun and — for Islamic primitives like the Taliban — that is sufficient to justify a ban. Islamists aren’t ambivalent about pleasure; they have a seething hatred for it (with one well-known exception).
To judge by my Facebook feed, the American social media reaction to Friday’s Islamist atrocity in Paris has passed through the initial shock and horror and entered Phase Two: reaction critique. Preview Open
Last night, Pentagon Spokesman Peter Cook announced that the United States had assassinated Mohamed Emwazi, aka “Jihadi John,” the Islamic State militant who executed several Western prisoners with a small knife, and whose grizzly YouTube videos made world headlines.
Though the government has not confirmed it, some news outlets report that he was, in fact, killed:
According to ABC News, a U.S. official described the attack as a “clean hit” with no harm to others on the ground. He also said that Emwazi, a British citizen, was “eviscerated” upon departing from a building in Raqqa, Syria, before entering a vehicle.
Yesterday, CNN reported that US intelligence believes ISIS brought down Kogalymavia Flight 9268 — the Russian airline out of Egypt — with a bomb. This morning, the WSJ reports that the United Kingdom has come to the same conclusion and has grounded all flights out of Sharm El Sheikh, where the flight originated (there are thousands of Brits there currently on holiday). Several people on Ricochet have previously speculated that the plane was taken out by a bomb near its tail and the Islamic State has already claimed credit for this deed.
My question is this: what does it all mean? Is this the beginning of a broader campaign by ISIS against Russia? Will Chechnya once again explode in violence and terrorism? Will Russia become more involved against battling ISIS, at least to save face?
Foreign policy experts have repeated the same sentence over and over: “There is no military solution in Syria.” Being professionally trained to automatically question and contradict any opinion held by a very large majority, I have trouble buying this.
Consider, for example, that nearly everyone in 1980 thought the Soviet Union was unstoppable and that nearly everyone in late 1999 agreed that technology stocks were a fabulous investment; we all know what happened in both of those cases. Similarly, if nearly everyone agrees that there is no military solution in Syria, I’m inclined to believe one exists. Let us briefly examine each scenario, unattractive as they may be.
The Assad/Hezbollah/Iran/Russia/Shia Axis Wins
If you haven’t already, take a few minutes to read The New York Times’ obituary for Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, the Delta Force operator killed on Thursday during a raid on an ISIS prison. Seriously, go read it. Just be warned that it may break your heart a little. To say that Wheeler appears to have been an exemplar of American values and masculinity is to rather miss the mark.
There is probably no more manipulative question than to ask whether a war is worth the life of a given soldier. It’s a stupid way to judge things. It asks you to judge a macro event by a micro standard in a way that grossly stacks the deck in favor of the latter. It’s also usually dishonest in that it denies our soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen their agency. Surely, MSG Wheeler, a veteran of nearly 20 years, thought his fighting was worth the risk, and there are pesh merga forces and ISF prisoners alive — as well as ISIS fighters dead — in no small part because of his actions. Moreover, it’s abundantly clear that the Army is a huge part of what made Wheeler such a great guy.
But it is, regardless, infuriating to see heroism like this spent on a conflict so ill-defined and mismanaged as the current one against the Islamic State. The president seems bored by — and deeply resentful of — the matter and his greatest desire seems for it to go away. For its part, Congress cannot be bothered to explicitly vote their support for the mission … or even define it. And lest the rest of us get too self-satisfied, these are our representatives and our president, all of whom were democratically elected and could be unelected if we wanted. As it is, America seems content to throw some bombs, waste some money, and provide some occasional air support and transportation. It’s very nearly the worst sort of compromise: We accomplish little, feel bad about it, and get to look weak in the process.
A few months, I wrote a controversial piece advocating for an independent Kurdistan and the direct arming of the Peshmerga and the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG). I argued that the Peshmerga in Iraq and the the YPG in northern Syria represented the only competent, secular fighting forces engaged in the war against the Islamic State. If the US continues to fight the Caliphate by proxy, the Kurds are the best hope in keeping the heat on ISIS’ northern front.
Events the past week have cast even more doubt on the Administration’s hope that the Iraqi government is capable of defending its largest cities against a numerically inferior foe, let alone defeating the Islamic State in its territory. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has made the strongest rebuke yet stating the obvious that the incredibly well armed Iraqi Army showed no will to fight. In contrast, the poorly-equipped but fanatical YPG broke the siege of Kobane in January and surrounded and annihilated an ISIS mountain stronghold in Syria at the same time that ISIS held victory parades in Ramadi.
Left out in recent discussions on Ricochet over who to support in the war against ISIS has been the Assyrian Christians. Unlike the Kurds — with their semi-autonomous region and army — the Iraqi Christians had little with which to defend themselves during the onslaught of last summer. Christians not fortunate enough to escape Mosul had their homes marked with the “nasara” (an Arabic pejorative for Christian). And given the Islamic State’s horrific penchant for sexually enslaving Yezidi teenagers and young women and slaughtering the menfolk, the jihadists are an existential threat to what remains of Iraq’s Christians.
Senator Lindsey Graham is running for president — or close enough to count — and was among the speakers at the Iowa Republican Party’s Lincoln Dinner this past Saturday (as were Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal). Judging from what I’ve seen of the videos, this was a light-hearted event where the candidates were expected to be self-deprecating and folksy. Graham started his speech as such, but then… well, I’ll let him speak for himself:
I’ve been a lawyer in the military for 33 years. If I don’t get court-martialed, I’m going to retire at the end of the month and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve 6 1/2 years on active duty. I’ve been in the Guard, Reserves, and it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been a military judge, I’ve been a defense attorney, and I’ve been a prosecutor.