Who Really is ‘Presidential’? Thoughts Ahead of Tonight’s Debate – #Election2016


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Bernie Sanders was not presidential [sadly to say – despite many of his ideals being great – if not the best compared to his counterparts].

That is something the American people are struggling to grasp – especially the youth.

What is – ‘presidential’?

Donald Trump – is not presidential. But for reasons different than Bernie. Bernie is, well, simply put, without any character, really. Despite all the slogans and witty catch phrases, Bernie is just another product of social trends. He isn’t Justin Trudeau. He isn’t Obama. He just doesn’t have any flair. Americans like intellect – but they equally value humor; athleticism; suaveness – or “swagger” in today’s terminology. None of these are characteristic of Sanders.

The same could be said of Donald Trump but for different reasons. He is too uneducated, vulgar, impolite, erratic & irresponsible for such leadership – if not to hold any post. He can barely manage his own funds – or his father’s, rather.

That isn’t to say that Hillary Clinton is ‘presidential’.

Back in ’08, I hadn’t heard of a guy named Barack Obama, but as the campaign progressed, I realized – I had just witnessed the rise of an extraordinary individual. This man is beyond brilliant – something that few people truly appreciate. I can say that the world appreciates Obama more than America – which is quite telling. That isn’t necessarily true – a lot of Americans love our current president. But the ‘other side’ is equally if not more bent on voicing their hatred – to put it ‘mildly’.

Ahead of tonight’s momentous occasion, the first live debate between Clinton & Trump – I share the following sentiment. People often expect too much. This is a sign of…a lack of experience maybe. But other forces play a role too. The world is suffering and yet, the average American struggles to understand the nooks and crannies of his or her own political system and culture.

As an Armenian-Syrian immigrant living in America – I must say that my perspective should be heeded. There are many causes which are directly connected to me that have yet to be addressed or have been horribly managed, by the US wholly but also precisely by US president Barack Obama, whom I continue to support. Why? Because I am not a perfectionist in the political sense – and expect some compromise – not always – but in times of necessity and urgency. There is much change, and much work to be done in the stride towards justice – but it is just that – a stride – a path. We cannot be held back by radical expectations which in themselves seek to paralyze our sense of progress. That being said it is clear to me there is only one candidate worthy of a vote in this election and that reasoning is from contrived a moral and practical logic – that candidate is Hillary Clinton.

So while she isn’t necessarily the perfect candidate – relative to America’s choices – she is definitely presidential.

The US president is a person of immense wisdom and discipline; responsibility and sacrifice; public service and family value. Which of the two candidates possesses these qualities? And if you have to think twice – think again.

What gets me is that Americans want to change parts of their system that are less relevant to domestic and global wellbeing while ignoring the more pressing issues. And then when a tragedy or crisis occurs, Americans are left wondering how or why. Instead of a Wall Street revolution there should be a minority rights and immigration reform revolution. Instead of a focus on spreading democracy abroad we should be seeking to reduce our arbitrary and partial political influence overseas. Issues like these are costing us – but instead Americans wish to focus on ideological ambiguities and polarized politics.

That is why the candidates have dwindled down to the current options available – one representing the so-called establishment while the other represents the ugliest part of the establishment disguised as anti-establishment.

It is undoubtable that America and the world must implement comprehensive political reform – but this is likely an impossible feat under the auspices of a hypothetical President Trump. On the contrary, Hillary, like Obama (but perhaps to a lesser degree since she is more hawkish) – will pave the road for future generations to at least further the cause of progressivism in its purest form.

Perhaps future generations will reflect a more balanced perspective on US politics – representing minorities; women; LGBTQ; etc. But this cannot be associated with any particular ideological strand or populist trend as it has been in this election. American individualism and personal responsibility, contrary to the ‘8th grader youtube conspiracy video viewer mentality’ – is not preserved or protected by the far left or right – but rather, by a careful, tolerant moderate centrist. So when I say that Hillary Clinton is in fact presidential – that is precisely why. She isn’t just the echo of our grievances – but also of our reason.

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How Arab Unity Became An Oxymoron – Another Tale of Orientalism


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A more liberal strand of Islam might argue that cultural identity is tied to Islamic heritage. Furthermore, it encompasses all philosophy and knowledge into Islam, as opposed to radical Islam which excludes philosophies from the Enlightenment, Renaissance, and the mystical indigenous religions of various regions in the world, like Central Asia and Latin America.

What if identity, whether it is Chinese, or Syrian, is also tied to an Islamic consciousness?

Let us say for example that Confucius was a Muslim. But only in the philosophical sense.

Let us say that Islam, is a philosophy too, a form of consciousness that becomes intertwined with language and custom.

If that is the case, instead of isolating extremism in Islam – what if we look at national struggles for national representation as well as national struggles for independence through the lens of a struggle for a higher level of consciousness?

In communist China, Islam is systemically suppressed. In the West, Islam is discriminated against. In the Middle East, from where it originates, it is disenfranchised from the political process. Palestine, the crux of Islamic scripture, remains occupied. Mecca, resides in a politically corrupt nation-state. The vast majority of Muslims, shiite or sunni, are living in poverty due both to foreign occupation and arbitrary authoritarian government. Russia is united with many forces, some its enemies, like the US in the fight against radicalism, of course, without looking at the initial cause.

In today’s world we see North Korea and Russia and Iran and China as US arch-rivals. But how can we be so sure? It appears premature to assume that enemies on the media aren’t cooperating behind closed doors. Does the US not benefit from the existence of a constant menace? Fanatical ideology or religion, whether it is coming from ISIS or North Korea, isn’t the concern of the great powers.

The world powers are still playing their great game, and they are doing their utmost to prevent the emergence of an autonomous Middle East (or Latin America, Central Asia, Southeast Asia) that can balance their power, out of arrogance as well as out of the desire to exploit resources and prevent any fair competition in the Middle East.

And fanaticism is working in their favor too, because it does nothing to promote national sovereignty – in fact, it is almost carrying out the neoconservative deed under the guise of a Salafi strain of Islam.

A united, moderate and tolerant Middle East would counter all of these forces – but the greatest obstacle to this includes all the puppet regimes in the Middle East which have resisted challenging Israel militarily – the crucible of Middle Eastern conflict and instability. Once the leadership in countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt is overthrown, the Arab front against imperialism can actually hold its ground.

The so-called Arab Spring was a delusional, western manufactured initiative distracting everyone from the real cause of conflict in the Middle East – Occupation.

Democracy is a concept meant for parts of the world where religious sensitivity and culture does not overwhelm the philosophical expectations of the individual. Ideologies like neoconservatism and communism all have threatened the peace and sovereignty of the Middle East. The Arab Spring was a farce attempt in this regard, as much as communism was to liberate Afghanistan, America to liberate Afghanistan afterwards, or Iraq, Libya, Yemen and so forth.

Whether political immorality is exercised by the Chinese, Russians or the Americans, does not matter – the point is that a brainwashing game is being played on the media to blur the lines between good and bad.

But all you need to do to understand who the bad guy is have a basic understanding of boundaries – and that when boundaries are crossed, war ensues.

That boundary has been, since 1948, Palestine.

Until sovereignty is respected, the brainwash will continue, and so too shall conflict.

Democracy will save nothing – unity will.

JIHAD: A Double-Edged Sword?


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Introduction

What causes Islamist terrorism?

Is it fabricated? Right-wing terrorism is more prevalent in the US than jihadism. In the ME, Islamic jihadism is the main motive. But is it fueled by money, or genuine grievance?

Large civilian populations in the Middle East and Central Asia flirt with the conspiracy theories that suggest US financing for Islamic militants to destabilize the region; and furthermore, Israeli Mossad complicity. They can’t be blamed – much of the conspiracies proved historically true, such as the 1952 coup against democratically elected PM Mossadegh of Iran (Kinzer 52).

Is there a difference between violent Jihad and military resistance? Can we really lump al Qaeda, ISIS and Hezbollah into the same category? Are their motives the same?

Or is genuinely result of occupation?

There are arbitrary cases (lone-wolves), but without US presence, and the lost of Palestinian territory, would Islamic terrorism exist? Those who think it is religiously or ideologically motivated, might argue yes. I don’t think so, given that terrorism increased sharply, and unprecedentedly during US invasions in 2003 and so forth (Moghadam 40).

Below is a further analysis of Islamic jihad and political violence in the Islamic and Arab worlds.

Research & Review 

Islamic terrorism is a relatively new phenomenon. It was not until the early start of the millennium in which large swaths of Islamic terrorist attacks occurred (Moghadam 70). Furthermore, religion has often been a force against violence within the most fundamentalist strains of Islam: Salafism. For this reason, it a seeming relationship between the events surrounding the early second millennium, that is, the 9/11 attacks and ensuing invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the surge of violent jihad (Moghadam 71).

One of the first themes offered in the literature is the important divide between Islamic jihadi groups, primarily in the Salafi mold. The literature presents a Salafi explanation for indiscriminate attacks that result in civilian deaths. Faulting the enemy for “mixing among them”, which is taken from hadiths. This echoes the justification of modern warfare, particularly the state of Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2014, which is argued to have been executed in disproportionate force. Israeli leaders claim civilian casualties are the fault of violent terrorists who also, “mix among them” – them being civilian Palestinians. This raises further doubt regarding the legitimacy and reasoning of hadiths, particularly in their application to contemporary times. That these authorities are not drawn of the Qur’an, raises skepticism about the legitimacy of rejecting flexibility within interpretations of Islam. It underscores the need for openness for the sake of preserving Islam in the modern world. Furthermore, the literature offers numerous examples of forgeries and discrepancies in the hadith collections (Wiktorowicz 218). Not to mention, it would almost seem contradictory that members of the Muslim community would openly identify with practices of the state of Israel, which often uses the same justification against Palestinians, most of whom, are Muslim.

Furthermore, the literature suggests that Salafi movement advocates for offensive, militaristic means of spreading Islam, based on the Salafi interpretation of hadiths, the Sunnah, and the Qur’an, but contradictory accounts from these sources offer a challenge to this perspective by portraying Islam as practiced by the Prophet himself as peaceful, rhetorical, and defensive (Wiktorowicz 216)..

With regards to the differences between Salafis, the literature does well to cover the spectrum of opinions and interpretations. It carefully dissects the differences as well as the similarities within the Salafi camp. An example is the hadith commonly invoked to justify indiscriminate offensives. The literature furthermore emphasizes two “dangerous” characteristics of Salafism that are made evident, which is firstly, its inherent self-righteous “certitude”, or dogma rather; and secondly, its lack of legitimacy and cohesion within its sources of authority, particularly in the validity of hadiths (often forged), accounts of the Prophet, and interpretations of the Qur’an. The emphasis on objectivity within Salafism underlines the almost intrinsic tensions within Islam, and perhaps all religions, between preservation (tradition), tolerance (moderation) and modernization (development). 

Some of the research methods within the literature are historical case studies of Salafism, with sources being more anecdotal. An empirical study, perhaps through survey data, could help gauge modern Salafi movements and trends, one that is comprehensive and does not focus solely on suicide attacks. This could provide a more insightful analysis of place of Salafism today, and whether or not the movement has grown more or less unified. Furthermore, surveys from non-Salafi movements could help gauge opinions within the larger ummah towards Salafism, and whether its legitimacy has gained or suffered. Also, gathering information from databases like the Global Terrorism Index or the Political Stability Index, provided by the Institute for Economics and Peace, might help gauge the trend of violence in Salafism, and whether or not the purists are gaining or losing ground in the resistance towards violence.

The differences between Salafis is mainly its application to the temporal world, and not in religious beliefs. The lack of empirics to support this claim make it difficult to assess. It is however difficult to collect these forms of data from regions where Salafism is prevalent, for reasons of security and instability. But the Salafis are split on their interpretation of apostasy, which highlights the religious division. Differences within the Islamic community in interpretation of scripture and tradition run deep. That religious purism is often a mechanism for suppressing violent incursions, is perhaps another reason for growing tensions between the Islamic community, and the political leaders therein. The inconsistencies in practice, as well as the contradictory understandings of Islamic duty, whether the source if Qur’anic or from hadiths, is perhaps evidence of emerging contentions in interpreting Islam, not only in its applicability, but in its definition of submission.

If indeed the primary differences among Salafis is in the application of their creed to modern times, then perhaps it is wiser for US foreign policy to focus less on the religious creeds since they often challenge violent jihad, and more on applicability, thereby reducing the security threats. Since much of the literature was conducted before the rise of the Islamic State, it would appear that the claim of distinctions between violent and non-violent Salafis has less legitimacy, considering the large influx of Salafi fighters in both Iraq and Syria since 2011.

Salafism is the primary ideological motive for Islamic terrorism. The fact that suicide attacks have been at a low constant until the early 2000s, where they rose beyond dramatically even to unprecedented levels, suggests a connection between growing anti-Americanism in the Muslim world, especially in the Middle East, and terrorism (Moghadam 48).

The motivations of Islamic jidahist movements are complex. That jihadists prefer foreign fighting, and are seemingly more effective as a result, underscores this notion. Who are the jihadists targeting and why?

The data gathered to measure the differences in brutality and effectiveness between domestic terrorists and foreign fighters is rather vague, and the method is questionable, which reflects the difficulty in retrieving data on this particular issue (Hegghammer 13). A variety of variables can influence a terrorist’s propensity towards domestic or international terrorism. The motives can range from fearing less reprisals abroad due to less political development; but it can also be because the targets of foreign fighters are often authoritarian governments, which exist outside the West.

Conclusion

The literature on terrorism is vast by no means. Increased terrorism over the past two decades however has raised interest in the field. While research has been offered, increased interest suggests a glimmer of hope in the thickening of the literature, and the improvement of research methods, however deteriorating circumstances in areas where terrorists are most active have only narrowed these hopes. The primary goal of most research in this field is to analyze the motives of Islamic jihadism, how they are expressed, and their consequence. While the literature often suggests little theological divergence, increased violence and radicalization signifies the potential rise more contention in the Islamic community over both the applicability of Islam but also of its core tenants and traditions, often invoked as justifications for violence or decadence.

Because the Middle East and other regions of the world where Islam is prominent are insecure, it limits the scope of research in this area. Furthermore, the cultural and historical intricacies of these regions highlight the need for more qualitative research that more recognizes the complexity of Islamic civilization. Survey research would help gauge public opinion on a more intimate level. From a quantitative angle, perhaps a study measuring the differences in motives for violent jihadism, or rather, a study of the frequency of violent jihadism across different states with different customs, might help paint a more vivid picture of the Islamic jihadism as it exists today, and its unprecedented rise.

That violent jihadism has increased dramatically following the post 9/11 US interventions in the Middle East is reminiscent of the guerilla tactics employed by communist forces resisting US interventionism in the Cold War, particular during the Vietnam War (Atran et. al). To restate a common theme in the literature, realizing the relentlessness of the jihadist cause might shift US focus from containing Islamism to reducing interventionism. But how could US interventionism be measured in relation to the rise of violent jihadism? Perhaps a measure between the level of foreign direct investment by the US in various predominantly Islamic countries and the frequency of terrorist attacks might be one method of gauging the relationship. Various perspectives have been offered on the causes of violent jihadism in the world. Some emphasize the violent nature of Islamic scripture, which is contested by the literature on purist Salafis as well as the relatively stable societies of Indonesia and Malaysia. Others point to the prevalence of natural resource wealth, or the oil curse as it is called. And finally, certain research has focused on the relationship between authoritarianism and violence. But there are many cases where non-oil rich states exhibit high rates of violent jihad, such as Uzbekistan (Kleveman). Furthermore, countries with lower rates of authoritarianism like Tunisia and Lebanon exhibit the highest rates of terrorism in the entire Middle East. Little research has been done on the relationship between foreign interventionism and violent jihad. Judging by the data offered in the literature, such research might prove critical in assessing the place of Islamist jihad in today’s world.

References

Assaf Moghadam, “Motives for Martyrdom: Al-Qaida, Salafi Jihad, and the Spread of Suicide Attacks,” International Security 33 (2009): 46-78.

Scott Atran, Hammad Sheikh, and Angel Gomez, “Devoted actors sacrifice for close comrades and sacred cause,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (2014): 17702- 17703.

Kinzer S. “All the Shah’s men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror”. John Wiley & Sons; 2003.

Kleveman, Lutz. “The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia”. Grove Press (2004).

Thomas Hegghammer, “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Explaining Variation in Western Jihadists’ Choice between Domestic and Foreign Fighting,” American Political Science Review 107 (2013): 1-15.

Quintan Wiktorowicz, “Anatomy of the Salafi movement,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 29 (2006): 207-239.

The Seeds Were Sewn: Democracy & Terror in the Middle East


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Democracy & Terror in The Middle East

Danny Krikorian

Abstract

The aim of this research analysis is to determine whether or not levels of democratic process influence political violence in the form of Islamic extremism within the context of Middle Eastern countries. The overall findings suggest that the relationship between reduced violence, that is, stability, and political freedom is weak. Even countries with higher levels of political freedom, like Lebanon, Tunisia, Israel and Iraq exhibit high levels of terrorism. The notion that democracy is universal, that it brings stability, comes into question here. The presumption that authoritarianism breeds fundamentalism, alone, ignores the data provided, which is contradictory to the general belief that democracy induces stability and discourages violence. Furthermore, it implies that US foreign policy initiatives aimed at “democratizing” the West are more elusive than perhaps believed.

Introduction

Since the end of World War I, the break-up of the Ottoman empire, and the subsequent partitioning of the Middle Eastern territories among world powers, the Arab World has yet to see peace. In fact, an unprecedented century of instability has almost become a de facto part of the Middle Eastern social fabric. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the 21st century thus cannot be understood without looking into these types of historical contexts as well as the political realities of today which have led up the current dynamic in the Middle East. It appears, with further research, that the relationship between the forces of colonialism, poverty, autocracy and political violence is rather intimate (Dalacoura 2005).

The aim of this research analysis is to determine whether or not levels of democratic process influences political violence in the form of Islamic extremism within the context of Middle Eastern countries. Since there is no universally accepted definition of democracy, I will use one particular indicator, political freedom. Generally, indexes use variables such as press freedom, political competitiveness and economic liberalization as indicators of political freedom. In this case, the independent variable is political freedom, measured by the Economic Intelligence Unit, based in the UK. The dependent variable is terrorism, as measured by the Global Terrorism Index, gathered by Visions of Humanity which is part of the Institute for Economics and Peace, based in Sydney, Australia.

Conventional wisdom within western scholarly circles would offer the general hypothesis that nations with lower levels of political freedom are likely to experience higher rates of terrorism (Dalacoura 2005). The logic behind this hypothesis is that citizens are likely to resort to violent means of insurrection as a reaction to the government’s repressiveness. The research shows however that because terrorism is actually higher in countries with greater political freedoms, such as Lebanon and Tunisia, other variables might play a role, such as culture, religion, economics and geopolitics. When put to the test, this hypothesis appears weak, as indicated in the following section.

The research is divided into five segments starting with the introduction, which includes background information about the region and its relationship with terrorism and democracy; second is the literature review in which I will analyze the current conversation; followed by a data and methods section which will explain the quantitative measurements used to test the hypothesis; fourth, I will discuss the shortcomings and potential weaknesses of this research design; finally, I will leave readers with a conclusion regarding the future of the region and the overall theoretical and policy implications of this research.

Literature Review – Democracy & Terrorism in the Middle East

The scholarly literature surrounding this particular topic of Middle Eastern stability and the region’s political relationship with the outside world (namely global hegemonies like the United States, European Union, Russia and China) offers two overall explanations for rising tensions in the region as well as conflicts between political actors from the region with the rest of the world.

The first emanates from Samuel Huntington’s (1996) book “Clash of Civilizations” in which the pervading theory explaining the cause of conflict between the West and the Middle East is rooted in a “clash of civilizations”; a certain cultural rift, driven mainly by religious conviction.

The second is more empirically oriented, and attributes underdevelopment in the Middle East to environmental or biological predispositions, rendering the region less viable for growth, stability and peace, therein warranting the need for foreign intervention and “occupational development” (Diamond).

Since the democratic experiments of Iraq and Libya have produced contradictory results, it has encouraged me to contribute a third opinion. This opinion considers factors overlooked by the aforementioned theories, such as colonialism (exploitation by foreign powers), the presence of immense natural resources in the region, and possibly most important, cultural relativism. These factors have perhaps largely contributed to the region’s volatility and vulnerability to greed, corruption and instability.

This research aims to fill a particular void in the scholarly debate surrounding the US-Middle East relationship. Its aim is to answer the question of whether or not the undemocratic structure of political institutions in the Middle East are a primary source of instability, poverty and political violence in the region. It forces analysts to consider external political actors that exploit resources, conflicts and cultural sensitivities in the region to their advantage. This “colonial” tactic often manifests in the autocratic tradition itself, silencing critics, banning opposition, bribing officials and major income disparities between rich and poor (Dalacoura). But global powers are complicit too, in this regard, often double-dealing with the non-democratic tyrants they so adamantly oppose (Kleveman 2003).

Much of the political violence conducted by Islamic fundamentalist groups against Western countries is actually aimed at exposing the complicity of Western governments in propping up dictators to the constituencies of Western countries, where democratic process makes injustice more difficult to cover-up. This practice is known as “propaganda by the deed” (Chaliand and Blin 2007). Further scholarly research suggests that the major grievances of national populations are not religious, they are socio-economic (Rashid 2002). The rise of social media in the 21st century has made it difficult for Western governments to hide their double-dealings (Chaliand and Blin 2007). Fundamentalism is fomenting at a more rapid race than ever in the Middle East, and poverty is worsening (Wilson 1995). Leaders are growing more weary that the effects of the “Arab Spring” might spill-over into their countries. Desperate attempts to alleviate their populations have been pursued. But these seem to only buy time. In this paper, I argue that in order for Western countries to genuinely reduce the threat of political violence, they must end their inconsistency in foreign policy, which has them picking and choosing between autocrats. This could threaten some the West’s most valuable allies, who have a lot of leverage on US politics: Israel & Saudi Arabia (Kleveman 2003).

While the Middle East remains largely impoverished, elites in these two countries, to name a few, enjoy the spoils of a cult-of-personality-owned economy (Yom). The issue of colonialism and autocracy plague the region, but before the West ends its double-standard, instability, poverty and violence will continue to rise, narrowing the window of opportunity for democratic reform and peaceful transition (Dalacoura 2005). This means that autocrats will have to suspend their franchise over the political and economic process; allowing for national competitiveness. I argue that this will increase government authenticity, popular trust and will therein reduce both the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, as well as its appeal to those once impoverished and disenfranchised populations of the Middle East. Only then will the so-called threat of “Islamic-Jihad” be distinguished from the genuine popular struggle against injustice and autocracy in the Middle East (Rashid 2006). Only then will political violence cease to be more commonplace than the peace enjoyed in the West.

The literature varies on the intimate relationship between the forces of autocracy, poverty, colonialism, and political violence in the Middle East. That colonialism is responsible for income disparity in the region, is a point made by British journalist Patrick Seale in his infamous book on the Assad family’s leadership in Syria. The fomenting of Islamism, largely through the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, is largely blamed on the constant influx of foreign financing to extremism forces in the region. Seale highlights that the Saudi Arabian autocratic monarchy is largely responsible for growth of extremism and political violence in the region (Seale 1990). In his research, Seal also suggests the possibility that a tight-grip on the political and economic fabrics of Syrian society by the Syrian government did nothing to help reduce national mistrust therein encouraging movements of insurgency. Such movements would prove to have dire consequences, with the regime’s bombing of a Muslim Brotherhood anti-government uprising in the city of Hama resulting in the deaths of nearly 20,000 men, women and children (Seale 1990). The majority of extremism in Central Asia, also a predominantly Muslim region, has been tied to the socio-political fabric of Saudi society, which is largely propped up by an extreme brand of Islam: Wahhabism (Kleveman 2003) Considering the closeness with which Saudi Arabia maintains its relationship with the West, it deems Western demands for democratic reform in the region almost hypocritical (Dalacoura 2005).

Samuel Huntington isn’t the only scholar offering the “Clash of Civilizations” perspective. Military-history scholar Caleb Carr also suggests this perspective, that Islam, as a political ideology, is incompatible with components necessary for Western-style democracy. He goes further to justify military campaigns against the Muslim world in order to prevent threats against the democratic order of the world (Carr 2002). In All the Shah’s Men, Steven Kinzer contradicts this view by explaining how constant efforts by western democracies, namely the US and the UK, to infiltrate the national sovereignties of predominantly Islamic nations, usually for the sake of securing economic interests, results in reactionary movements against the West, fueled more often that not by Islamic sensationalism, and eventually “sowing the seeds of Middle Eastern terror”, so to speak. (Kinzer 2008).

Research provided by The Heritage Foundation in their 2015 Index on Economic Freedom indicates high levels of corruption, and low levels of mobility in the economies of Middle Eastern countries. Since research indicates that a vast majority of Islamic fundamentalism is exported from the Gulf region, it leads to ask whether or not the these income disparities between fuel the culture of radicalization, relative to the variable of democracy. “Scores in the Middle East for business freedom — the lack of which, the editors note, helped ignite the “Arab Spring” protests — declined for 11 of the 18 countries in the region (three of which are not graded in the 2015 Index due to ongoing violence and unrest)” (Miller, Terry & Kim 2015). This could suggest that economic inequality plays an equal if not more important role than political institutions in influencing the threat of terrorism.

Data & Methods

To indicate the relationship between terrorism and political freedom, two tables were retrieved from two western Non-governmental Organizations dedicated to analyzing levels of democracy and terrorism. Each table measures the respective variable according to its own scale. Conveniently in this case, both indexes used a scale of 1-10. The Global Terrorism Index provided by the Institute for Economics and Peace, ranks countries in their vulnerability to terrorism from 1-10. The Political Freedom Index also measures the independent variable, political freedom, on a  scale from 1-10. Based on the assumption and hypothesis that more political freedom results in less terrorism, the trend should follow a negative linear regression, with a downward slope.  The research indicates that the hypothesis is in fact weak; that democracy is a stabilizing force in the Middle East may be presumptuous. Libya’s GTI score rose from zero to six since the overthrow of Gaddafi. The hypothesis originally suggested that the relationship between democracy and terrorism is negative, that the more democratic a nation, the less terrorism it will exhibit. The data retrieved from the indexes suggests what could be the exact opposite; that democracy enables terrorism in the Middle East, or that it simply does not ensure stability. This blurs the prospects for democracy in the region. It furthermore forces us to consider other variables that might challenge the universalist tendency of democratic theory which is so prevalent in the political conversation today. Variables such as geography, cultural relativism, and religion must be taken into account when determine the forces of conflict and instability within a region. In the appendix I have included an aggregation of the data gathered from the two aforementioned indexes regarding political freedom & terrorism in Middle Eastern countries.

The idea that natural resource endowment is responsible for low levels of democracy is not uncommon (Mehlin, Morne & Torvik 2002). This is known as the resource curse. While Saudi Arabia possesses the world’s largest oil reserves as well as high levels of authoritarianism, relative to its neighbors, the kingdom exhibits low levels of terrorism (Institute for Economics and Peace). Furthermore, countries like Syria, Jordan & Egypt possess an insignificant amount of oil relative to Saudi Arabia and the global market at large, yet these three countries exhibit some of the lowest levels of democracy and the highest levels of terrorism in the entire region (Institute for Economics and Peace).

A particular finding that stood out in the research is that, while Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Qatar and Morocco all exhibit a relatively equal level of political freedom, there is a huge discrepancy in the level of terrorist attacks in each country.

To control for cultural relativity, Indonesia and Turkey, both predominantly Islamic countries with democratic political structures were included in the table. Indonesia perhaps poses the greatest support for the hypothesis, because it exhibits the one of the lowest levels of terrorism among the countries as well as one of the highest levels of political freedom. On the other hand, Turkey, which is enjoys a relatively heathy level of political freedom and democracy, exhibits terrorist attacks at the same rate as Egypt. This challenges the hypothesis.

Weaknesses

The complexity of this research’s subject matter, the Middle East, is perhaps the most noticeable detriment to the strengths of this research. In other words, the influence of a variety of other potential variables, such as cultural relativism and colonialism are difficult to account for, whereas variables such as natural resource endowment may easier to control for. Another weakness of this article is that it focuses only on Middle Eastern countries, despite the fact that a lot of religious terrorism comes from other regions of the world, regions that exhibit similar conditions of authoritarianism and natural resource endowment, like Central & Southeast Asia.

All of the Middle Eastern nations are young, having only gained independence within the last century. This makes it difficult to pass long-lasting judgments regarding the prospects of democracy in the region.

Despite the empirical limitations intrinsic in this type of analysis, as well as the absence of empirical research on the subject especially in the Middle East, it furthermore implies the ambiguities of the findings.

Another major weakness of the research is that only 12 of the 22 countries in the Middle East were assessed due to difficulties that arise in retrieving reliable information from a region as contentious as it is.

Conclusion

The original hypothesis, that political freedom reduces violence and stability, is perhaps not absolute. The literature as well as the data provided have together displayed how in some cases, terrorism has in fact increased where democracy has been most prevalent in the Middle East. Furthermore, the inconsistency in the foreign policy of western democracies has made democracy less appealing, and credible to the Middle Eastern community (Dalacoura 2005). There are many questions that can be raised about democracy itself. Why is the United States, the beacon of western democracy, increasingly entangled in the affairs of authoritarian regimes? And how complicit is western negligencee towards the realities of the region in the rise of terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and Da’esh. Since the tragedy of 9/11, the US has embarked on a dual mission of spreading democracy and containing the threat of Islamic radicalism, but these two initiatives often run counter to one another (Dalacoura 2005). The U.S. invasion of Iraq, as well as the NATO-led overthrow of Gaddafi, have had dire consequences on the region’s stability. That Libya has transitioned from a GTI score of zero to six since 2006 is telling of the future of the Middle East as it grapples with democracy. The overall research suggest that the relationship between reduced violence, that is, stability, and political freedom is weak. Even countries with higher levels of political freedom, like Lebanon, Israel & Iraq exhibit the highest levels of terrorism. The notion that democracy is universal, that it brings stability, is being challenged by these findings. There are many other factors that can be attributed to the volatility of the region and the rise in terrorist activity, such as oil politics, geopolitics, and cultural relativism. Nonetheless, the presumption that authoritarianism breeds fundamentalism, alone, is premature.

Whether or not democracy is universal is a matter of theory. But what is fact, is that western democracies have preferred cooperation with authoritarianism over democracy where it is deemed convenient (Yom 2011). The opposite is true, that western democracies, namely the United States, will promote extreme pressures for democratic reform where it is convenient. The irony is that in the cases where democracy is encouraged, the United States has managed to maintain a permanent military presence. Furthermore, these regions, like Iraq for example, exhibit the highest rates of terrorism in the region — in the world for that matter (Institute for Economics and Peace). Perhaps this explains why Middle Eastern attitudes towards democracy have remained negative (Tessler 2002).

Terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism are on the rise in the Middle East (Rashid 2006). Democracy perhaps isn’t the best force against radicalization. This is evidenced by the current instability in Iraq, Syria & Libya. Even Russia has responded to the threat of radicalism by propping up its anti-democratic authoritarian allies in the region, such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Perhaps this suggests that democracy is culturally relative — that is, not all societies are compatible with democratic institutions. What this means for the future is increased instability and heightened tensions between various forces in the Middle East, in what appears to be the formation of a dichotomy between pro-western and anti-western political factions. It could also increase the overall threats to international security emanating from radical Islamic movements. This could threaten America’s economic interests, and affect the global economy.

If the West wishes to avert this, perhaps it would be best to reserve democracy for itself, instead of trying to desperately spread it abroad. It is as if the West cannot decide for itself what is of greater value; oil or principle. The longer it waits to decide, the greater the threat terrorism may become, to democracy, stability and global peace.

References

Blin, Arnuad & Chaliand, Gerrard. 2007. The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to Al Qaeda.    University of California Press.

Carr, Caleb. 2002. The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare against Civilians : Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again. New York: Random House.

Dalacoura, Katerina. 2005. U.S. democracy promotion in the Arab Middle East since 11 September 2001: a critique. International Affairs. Vol. 81. 963-979.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1996. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kinzer, Stephen. 2008. All the Shah’s Men: An American-Coup & the Roots of Middle Eastern Terror. John, Wiley & Sons, Inc. New Jersey.

Kleveman, Lutz. The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003.

Martin, Gus. 2003. Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Mehlum, Moene & Torvik. 2002. Institutions & the Resource Curse. The Economic Journal. 1-20.

Miller, Terry & Kim, Anthony. 2015 Index: Economic Freedom Rises Slightly in Middle East/North Africa. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/01/middle-east-north-africa. (2015).

Rashid, Ahmed. Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Seale, Patrick. 1990. Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East. University of California Press.

Tessler, Mark. 2002. Islam and Democracy in the Middle East. Comparative Politics, Vol. 34. No. 3. 377-354.

Wilson, Rodney. 1995. Economic Development in the Middle East. Routledge.

Yom, Sean. 2011. Authoritarian State Building in the Middle East. Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. Stanford University. 121.

Index References

Global Terrorism Index. 2015. Visions of Humanity. Institute for Economics and Peace. Australia.

Political Freedom Index. 2015. Economic Intelligence Unit. The Economist. London.

 

 

Salih, K.O. “Underlying Causes Of Violence In The Middle East.” Digest Of Middle East Studies 1 (2007): 58. Academic OneFile. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

Vick, Karl, and Rami Nazzal. “Violence Beats Politics As A Third Intifadeh Looms In Israel.” Time 186.17 (2015): 9-10. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

Hirst, David. The gun and the olive branch: the roots of violence in the Middle East. Nation Books, 2003.

An Open Letter to Liberal American Jews


Dear brothers and sisters of the Jewish faith, my name is Danny Krikorian and I am a Syrian-Armenian American.

My ancestors are originally from Palestine and Armenia. My roots are deep in Jerusalem.

I am writing you because we have reached a peak in levels of hatred in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, and I believe the most crucial force in combatting this hate could be you. Why?

First and foremost, I must add that I have a Christian father and a Muslim mother. As a Syrian with this religious diversity, I was given freedom as a thinker to discover the world on my own. For this I am ever so grateful.

Eventually I came across Jewish literature. I was blown away.

To me, Judaism is genius and has produced geniuses.

From Einstein to Freud, Arendt to Woody Allen, Larry David to Seinfeld; the list is endless.

But what I have been encountering is startling. The “liberal” tradition of Judaism has been challenged, especially in the twentieth century, by this paranoid sense, spurned by WWII & the Holocaust. Ever since Israel was created, in the words of prominent Jewish scholar Avi Schleim, the Jews have experienced the greatest threats to their existence; an unprecedented instability. The irony – Israel was created as a form of refuge, but has essentially intensified conflict. Fanatical right-wing ideology has almost replaced the Jewish left. I think this is partly due to one major reality…liberalism and Israel are incompatible.

You see at one point a Kingdom of Israel was fathomable, at a time where all civilizations were dominated by kings, emperors, gods and pharaohs. But in today’s world, where principles of human rights, democracy and self-determination have become the bedrock of modern society, these Israeli-ideals seem out of place.

Not to mention, they are also inconsistent with the Jewish creed. What do I mean? Well, according to Jewish theology the three oaths commanded by God that the Jews remain loyal to their nation-states after the destruction of the second temple. God also forbade the recreation of Israel.

So while in ancient time the menace against God was polytheism; in the modern world, the are now two menaces against God (socially-liberal monotheism) which are: “disbelief” (polytheism, paganism, atheism, fanaticism) & “Zionism”. In fact, the two are inseparable. Zionism has replaced liberal Judaism, and has essentially made Jews feel like they do not belong to the religion without loyalty to the modern Israeli state. This has politicized Judaism, and been the premise for all military measures taken against the Arab people. Arab independence movements that followed the Ottoman collapse brought hopes of a new opportunity for prosperity in the Arab world. This would be interrupted by the colonial establishment of Israel in the heart of the Middle East.

This is an especially useful tactic, but now you’ve got the modern Israeli state echoing what it believes to be the voice of God; the God of the Israelites.

As a liberal monotheist, I am in favor of modernized political systems that respect all religions. In my home country, Syria, this tradition is known as “secularism”. The word has a different meaning here in the West, where it is perceived as the force against religion.

I believe that ideologies like Zionism, Christian Evangelism, and Islamic Wahhabism, to be frank, are all similar in orientation. They all share the common thread of hate and violence, and all have transformed their positions of believing in God into being the voices of God on earth. This is dangerous and threatening, to the Middle East, as much as it is to the liberal traditions of the West. This is because the West, namely America, has entangled itself in this conflict between Zionism and Judaism, Israelis and Palestinians.

The important thing to keep note of is the difference between portrayals of reality, and what could be reality.

I hope that be expressing my sentiments here, that the Jewish people can begin to understand, and spread the message that Judaism and Israel are not mutually exclusive, and that the human rights of Palestinians must be spoken of before any mention of a religious state.

Social liberalism, economic prosperity and freedom of expression are not compatible with the principle of zionism. Let us stop exporting our ideologies abroad. The Middle East was safer for Jews before the establishment of Israel. All Middle Eastern tyrants were born after this event. The Middle East is a religious holy land. Exporting democracy to that region is ignorant of its culture. Furthermore, exporting zionism is ignorant of its religious diversity and of religious history, be it Jewish, Christian or Islamic.

We can however preserve American democracy and western liberalism by rejecting the fascist ideals of Christian Evangelism and Zionism which are so intertwined, and have dominated the conservative Republican Party.

Furthermore, we can begin to address our own problems here in America, such as Islamophobia, police brutality, racism and the vast disparity in income between rich-and-poor.

Terrorism Will Not Strike Fear in American Hearts | Bernie Sanders