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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Still Under Occupation: The Middle East & the Struggle for Dignity


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Time and time again, we hear about the causes of injustice and instability in the Middle East.

There are about four main causes offered from analyses on this region. Each of them point to internal factors, though somehow quite different from one another.

But none of them recognize the possibility that instability is not a domestic ailment.

How could democratic institutionalism evade the Middle East for so long?

Here too, an anthology of theories has been written.

Getting into all the explanations would require too much attention, a luxury that modern high speed internet cannot afford to its consumers.

The main argument echoed in the halls of western political debate rooms blames ruthless dictators and Islamic crazies.

A list of more intricate explanations exist too.

None of them point to external factors.

But none of them can truly explain the distinctive features of the Middle East that make it lag significantly behind other regions in terms of democratic reform and political stability, like for example Latin America, where similar conditions exist: colonial history & resource abundance.

Why has America, and before it Europe, exercised endless security initiatives in the Middle East since the end of World War II? The US and Israel remain the only two occupying forces in the Middle East.

Research supports the logic that suicide terrorism is linked to foreign occupation.

US interventionism is not beneficial to the US nor to the international community. Violations of sovereignty are the primary cause of global instability. Whether or not democracy should evolve in a particular country is a domestic issue. Furthermore, cultural values must be considered to determine whether democratic political institutions can endure. Albeit, by injecting itself in the affairs of other countries, a US foreign policy of interventionism incites radicalism, paralyzes political development, and violates universal principles of self-determination and sovereignty. It was a the democratically elected leader of Iran, President Mossadegh, who was ousted in a CIA-led coup d’etat, which produced the mess that is radicalism and sectarianism today in the Middle East. World powers have played a hypocritical role in the region, loaning aid to authoritarian dictatorships and Islamic radicals simultaneously (Saddam & al Qaeda, for example), pinning two counterintuitive initiatives against one another – neocolonialism in plain-sight.

If democracy is in fact possible in the Middle East, its chances of seeing the light of day are being dimmed by the political hubris of world powers, namely the US.

 

Should We Police the World? America & Security in the 21st Century


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Throughout history, various states have requested the assistance of the US to help suppress insurgency. Often these insurgencies are supported and funded by external powers. A prime modern example of this is the current conflict in Syria. Initially perceived as a part of the Arab Spring, the US stood with so-called “rebel forces” in their struggle to liberate Syria from the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. This quickly changed, with a shift in the US administration’s Syrian policy focusing more on mitigating the influence of radicalism, which seems to have overshadowed the rebel forces and the original political objective with a new, radicalized ideological objective.

Originally it was expected that radicalism was a response to the authoritarian tendencies of dictators like Assad, but once it became clear that the movement to topple the leader was actually dangerous to international security itself, the US administration became more skeptical.

However many of the US’ closest allies, like Saudi Arabia, have been arguably complicit in enabling and funding the rise of these radical groups. The American people and the international community made it clear that it was not anxious to see another US military invasion, particularly after the disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The same is true is Bahrain and Yemen.

Should the US intervene to help the state? Should the US help the insurgency? Should the US be involved?

Historically the Middle East was viewed as the backyard of Europe. For this reason, it fell under Europe’s sphere of influence. Perhaps this is precisely why Russia felt more than obligated to intervene in Syria’s conflict on the side of the regime to counter the Islamist initiative. Now it seems, the US has warmed up to this position and is even considering coordinated initiatives against Daesh, or ISIS.

The US has been heavily involved in the ME since WWII. The nature of this involvement has taken a new form, particularly during the Obama Administration.

The recent military escapades of the US in the Middle East have been consequential. Since 2003, there has been an unprecedented rise in terror in the Middle East (START). Some scholar argue that the US’ involvement in the region has only exacerbated the conflicts between state and citizen. Since the US and most major powers have often flip-flopped between supporting radical revolutionaries and their authoritarian nemeses, and considering the dire political consequences of these inconsistent policies, standing on either side of the conflict in Syria will be detrimental to both US and international security.

This is likely because the US is perceived to support authoritarian governments in the Middle East. But in other cases, like for example Iraq, the US was prepared to overthrow an authoritarian figure – whereas in Syria, the US sees greater benefit from supporting president Bashar al-Assad. In this scenario, it might actually be beneficial for the US to go after those funding groups like Daesh/ISIS, but this means going after some of the US’ closest allies, like Saudi Arabia. It is often presumed that cultures in all parts of the world are fighting for democratic rights, when in reality most of these societies are resisting violations of their sovereignty, be it democratic or not.

Perhaps then it is in some cases in the US’ interest to support states in their fight against violent insurgencies, such as in Syria, where a legacy of religious tolerance and national secularism are prevalent, while in other cases, such as Libya, it may seem more prudent to get involved because the socio-political fabric is completely underdeveloped and almost primitive.

It is unclear ultimately whether democratic principles are applicable in the Middle East. But the premise of this article is to point at US interventionism as the destabilizing and paralyzing force in the Middle East. This policy has also prompted a re-balancing of powers in Europe and China. If the US stops interfering in the sovereign affairs of other nation-states, the world will be more secure, and the conditions for even the most basic democratic principles will be more ripe than ever. It is the orientalist and post-colonial perceptions of regions like the Middle East which perpetuate US and Western imperialism in the region; resulting in political instability, a decrease in human security and stagnation in political developmental process.

Evaluating the ‘Party of God’: Hezbollah, Conflict & Justice


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To determine Hezbollah’s overall success, the rather limited literature on the subject focuses on the organizations political achievements as well as their military achievements in the region (Norton 2007).

This is primarily because Hezbollah functions both as a political party in the Lebanese government, as well as an armed militia, a status that has not only complicated its position in Lebanese society, but has likely ostracized them from full representation in Lebanese politics (Norton 2007). Nevertheless, Hezbollah has utilized both tactics, political participation and competitiveness, as well as militaristic strategies, which have historically included terrorist attacks, particularly against Israeli society.

The premise for much of Hezbollah’s motives rests on political disenfranchisement, which they see as an extension of Western imperialism as well as a violation of popular consent (Norton 2007). Sectarianism, in this perspective, is a product of foreign interventionism. But over the years, Hezbollah has shifted from utilizing violent tactics, to political mobilization, particularly since the 80s, but especially in the last decade. This is a result of the aftermath of the civil war, which finally gave Hezbollah seats in parliament (Zein & Abusalem 2016).

Hezbollah has positioned itself as an authentic political force in Lebanese society, fighting against foreign aggression. For this reason, in times of conflict such as the war with Israel in 2006, disproportionate reprisals by Israeli governments enabled Hezbollah to not only garner support from the Shia community, but also from Palestinians, pro-Syrians and Christian-Lebanese (Kattan 2006). It has managed to increase its influence, despite its limited integration into Lebanese society. An established economic and public sector as well as a sophisticated media presence is a sign of the organization’s successes overtime in achieving its objectives (Zein & Abusalem 2016). The organization’s primary objectives are political in orientation, emphasizing the need for sovereignty, social justice and representation, which contrasts other groups like al Qaeda, whose motives are more ideological, and religiously driven (Zein & Abusalem 2016). Hezbollah’s leader has suggested himself that an Islamic Lebanon is likely impossible due to popular consent, which is against this (Norton 2007).

Hezbollah’s emphasis on unity and solidarity with all Lebanese challenges the conventional grouping, usually by western scholars, of this organization with other terrorist organizations (Norton 2007). The political dynamics of Lebanon complicate the matter, making it difficult to discern Hezbollah as a state or non-state actor. The complications surrounding the definition of terrorism also does not make it easy to analyze these groups and their successes (Sirriyeh 2012). Furthermore, its activity in electoral politics distinguishes it from terror groups that reject all pluralistic, un-Islamic forms of government, such as Fatah-al-Islam, al Qaeda & Daesh.

From a political angle, the literature reveals that Hezbollah has made steady gains, though it faces a steep, upward climb. This is due both to its military, social and electoral initiatives. In 1983, Hezbollah’s “alleged” attack against a US marine barracks, prompting an immediate US withdrawal from Lebanon (Sirriyeh 2012). Till today, Hezbollah denies involvement in the attack that killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hairiri. Nonetheless, a history of involvement in terror attacks & hostage crises has tarnished the organization’s image and credibility as a viable political party. This however has not halted its increased integration into the Lebanese political atmosphere. Its resilience against Israeli forces in 2006 as well as its continued activity in the Lebanese government are reasons to believe that, while controversial, its determination and diligence has proved to be politically rewarding. While proportional representation, sovereignty and the cause of the Palestinians are three objectives, which are far from achieved, Hezbollah’s political position over the past few decades has undoubtedly improved (Norton 2007).

Since the 80s, Hezbollah has distanced itself from suicide attacks and international bombing campaigns, which underscores its focus on national politics and its armed conflict with Israel. Perhaps it might be argued that Hezbollah’s deeper integration into Lebanese politics has reduced the incentive for terrorism, particularly within Lebanon. Now more than ever, the focus seems to be on reducing foreign influence and occupation. In this regard, they have proven to be successful, by defending Lebanon against Israeli forces in 2006 (Erlanger et al 2006). It is still to early to deem their overall objectives successful, but they surely have improved their position ultimately in the Middle East.

Hezbollah would not be a militant organization and Lebanon would not be politically sectarian or unstable if the conditions of the Middle East was sovereign.

Let us say that Hezbollah is in fact guilty of terrorism. Still, it cannot be compared to other groups like al Qaeda because it is nationalist in ideology, and respects Lebanese pluralism and diversity. If the West was not directly involved in the political structure of Lebanese society, by engraining a system of confessionalism along sectarian lines and disenfranchising a majority of Lebanese society, there would be no incentive for instability or radicalism. Sovereignty and pluralism are necessary – but neither is possible with foreign meddling. Foreign nations cannot dictate the sovereign and domestic affairs of another country. Political development and social justice are impossible therein.

 

El Zein, H, & Abusalem, A. 2016. “Mobilization in Hezbollah’s Military Arm Media Discourse: Creating and maintaining a Public Sphere in Lebanon.” Professional Communication & Transition Studies. 997-104.

Erlanger, S., & Oppel, R. 2006. “A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel with its Training, Tactics and Weapons”. The New York Times.

Kattan, V. 2006. “Israel, Hezbollah and the Conflict in Lebanon: An Act of Aggression or Self-Defense?” Human Rights Brief.

Norton, Augustus Richard. 2007. “The Role of Hezbollah in Lebanese Domestic Politics.” The International Spectator. 42. 475-491.

Sirriyeh, H. (2012). The US, Hezbollah and the Idea of Sub-state Terrorism. Israel Affairs. 18. 652-662.

An Interview with Adonis


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This is an excerpt of a recent interview with Syrian-exiled poet Adonis taken from the New York Review of Books.

The renaissance needs time. Our society, during the fifteen centuries since the foundation of the first Islamic state, has not been able to establish a society of citizens. With a citizen’s duties come rights. Until now, Arab societies are formed of individuals who carry out the same duties but have different rights: the Christian does not have the same rights as the Muslim, for instance. Fifteen centuries. How can we solve fifteen centuries in a week or two, a month or two? But I trust that the time will come, but outside this context.

The problems that Europe experienced were overcome by the establishment of new societies, completely separate from religion and the church. In the Middle Ages, the ecclesiastical courts were just like the jihadists today. They killed people and burned them. But the West succeeded in separating church from state, and created modern societies. We are still in this stage. And if the West was successful in this separation then there is no reason to prevent the Arabs from separating [the two] as well. We are struggling for this separation. We will do it despite everything and despite Western politicians as well, because Western politicians unfortunately despise Arabs, and despise Arab regimes. Despise. [The West] uses these regimes as tools to execute its plans.

(Interviewer) What then is the future of Arab culture in—

I told you, as long as death and love are there, art will remain. Don’t worry. The readers are fewer, but that’s okay. Nietzsche, the agitator of modern thought, was not published [in his time]. No one knew him. This is the destiny of art, always. Many get published and sell millions, but their books belong in the trash.

— Adonis [April 16, 2016, 10:00 am]

Sufi in the West


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Album #2 coming this January. The legend of the eastern son continues. 📷 by Hana Maatouk. Salute to “Kustom Sounds” studio.

Stream “Rise of the Eastern Son” the full album by clicking here.

New America


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Its been more than 150 years since we were blessed with the gifted authorship of American transcendental author Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Emerson, Thoreau and their school of transcendentalists represented the first school of America spiritual individualism without attachments to any organized religion. Furthermore, their emphasis on the Overlord, or rather, the existence of a spiritual supreme being, or God, resonated with the American tradition of monotheism, evidenced by the constitution. It furtehrmore resonated with the secular community in that it placed less emphasis on superstitions and dogmatic narratives.

The point of this is to emphasize the individualist foundation of America.

My greatest infatuation with America as a first generation immigrant was with Thomas Jefferson. His theories which echoed social libearlism, secularism, education and rational deism, appealed immsenly to me.

I also came upon other theories of individualism like Ayn Rand, which are much more extreme. Ayn Rand, like other philosophers, unfortunately confuses her brand of individualism. It is in fact a theory of racist privilege. Rand was a zionist who depended largely on welfare and aid from the israeli government.

Ideas like socialism and fascism are both becoming popular in america. definitions for these terms are changing day by day because of lower educational levels among constituents. Youtube video comments are becoming the hotbed of american education.

Since the assassination of JFK, we have witnessed America fall into a trap of populism. You are either a neoconservative or a neoconservative; democrat or republican, you support foreign invasions. Both parties are populist. Both parties seek to appeal to the ideological fanaticism of constituents, which is the product of ignorance (passive) and arrogance (active). the republicans appeal to the mass-minded religious nuts; the democrats appeal to the animal loving, overly environmentally paranoid, Wall Street hipsters.

Both social groups, the democratic left wing and the republican right wing constituencies share one thing – economic insecurity. This makes them vulnerable to the forces of collective-group-think and propaganda.

Americans are pawns of a grand puppet scheme strung together by a coalition of religious fanatics who can’t let go a historical grudge and bitter past, ideological fanatics who can’t separate their delusions from their imagination, corporate-cults that can’t survive without income exploitation, and politicians who are the business on this grand stage, selling us their “business models” — though poorly designed. But if the constituency is too dumb to notice, why not?

Economic insecurity has been exacerbated in America, though it always existed. The struggle between America’s colonial past and its desire to form a national identity is evident in the early conflict between those who wished to extend the tradition of capitalist exploitation, and those who wished to balance open markets with a strong state capable of regulating abuses by political and economic elites. This conflict was waged between the federalists and the anti-federalists. Slavery would come into question very late in this conversation of power-sharing and power-limits, to the misfortune of the African-American population, whose grievances remain largely unaddressed even today, 40 years after the civil rights era, and the deaths of both Malcolm and Martin. Today’s Jim Crow is police brutality.

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Back to the subject. Economic insecurity. Why? The colonialists won. America was founded on colonialism, so it is only right that capitalism, that is, the benefits of exploitation, took precedence over the need to form a national identity and cater to the welfare of the general American public, in the list of priorities of the American elite.

Today, this struggle continues. But the conflict is more ambiguous, because the manipulative tactics have become more devious and difficult to detect. The masses are in a trance. The individual is dead.

Is this the fate of democracy? The struggle between democracy and republicanism ensues.

The American constituency has grown less patient than ever, and has become more vulnerable to mass-media, propaganda and ideological inconsistency than ever before. Perhaps this is a reflection of America’s desperate attempt to colonize and control other parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, Latin America, Central and Southeast Asia. The government has utilized all mechanisms available to manufacture consent for war and arbitrary conflict to secure the elites grasp of power, and to preserve the current political system in place, in the words of Noam Chomsky.

What is that political system?

The majoritarian system of democracy divided us and portrays ideologies as competing against one another. Instead there needs to be a recognition that majoritarianism can often trump the rights of individuals, political, social or economic. What is more important, that majority rules, or that individual rights are preserved? The extent of individual rights are hotly debated, but this is often a tactic too. It should be simple. But politicians want to justify poverty and institutional disenfranchisement so they encourage tensions, racism, and xenophobia. They strip us of our rights to tax funds, and to self-investment. A poor constituency cannot have power. Perhaps that is what the elite desires.

Is majoritarianism the problem? No, the problem is our cultural values have begun to diminish. If they didn’t then the majority would rule in favor of righteous policies, not ones that encourage war and unrest, domestically and abroad.

America is learning to heal from its past, but the scars run deep. The individual still exists, but he is striving perhaps more than ever, to secure his place in the world.

What we are demanding, is a New America.