Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Islamic terrorism: myth and conspiracy theory build augmented reality

From The Australian, 2 Jan 2018, by Sherry Sufi, chairman of the West Australian Liberal Party’s policy committee:

British police officers and emergency services work on Westminster Bridge in the aftermath of a terror incident. Picture: AFP
British police officers and emergency services work on Westminster Bridge in the aftermath of a terror incident. Picture: AFP

Another day. Another terrorist. Another misdiagnosis.

We’ve long been told by ­“experts” that terrorism is the ­result of the perpetrators being mentally ill, poor, unemployed, uneducated or marginalised. Yet al-Qa’ida leader Osama bin Laden was a billionaire and Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi holds a PhD.

So much for poverty and lack of education.

Present-day Muslims, irrespective of whether they are terrorists or normal citizens, collectively subscribe to an augmented reality featuring a struggle between the imperialist forces of America, ­Israel and their Western allies on one side and the global community of Muslims on the other.

Blind trust in conspiracy theories does more to influence this world view than critical inquiry. No, not the “moon landing never happened” or “Elvis is still alive”- type theories. More so “the Jews, the Freemasons and the illumi­nati control the world” and “September 11 was an inside job to demonise Muslims”-type theories.

Romanticising over the lost glories of a once mighty Islamic empire that stretched from China to Spain remains a favourite pastime in learned Muslim circles. British and French colonialism are deeply ­resented for playing divide-and-conquer between Turks and Arabs in the 1920s to dismantle the Ottoman Empire, the last ­Islamic caliphate on earth.

European Ashkenazi Jews are begrudged for colluding with the British Empire to create Israel in 1948 in the heart of the Islamic world. Many believe the goal of Zionism is to usurp more Arab land and create “Greater Israel” stretching from the rivers Nile in Egypt to the Euphrates in Iraq.

Many similarly believe that ­Israel has a secret plot to demolish the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque to rebuild the third Jewish temple over the holy site.

From the 1991 Gulf war to the 2001 war on terror in Afghanistan and the 2003 Iraq war, every case of American military intervention in Muslim nations is perceived as a “crusade” against Islam, despite each having occurred with the support of co-operating elements within those nations.

Liberating Jerusalem from the Zionists, toppling pro-American puppet regimes in Muslim nations and challenging America’s might as the world’s sole superpower are fantasies that lie at the core of this world view.

These are the exact ­aspirations extremist Muslims are striving hard to bring to reality by means of asymmetric warfare, otherwise known as terrorism.

When we see Muslims condemning extremist Muslims, what they’re essentially saying is that suicide bombings, stabbings, kidnappings, beheadings and mowing down pedestrians are unacceptable means to advance these ­aspirations.

They’re not necessarily saying the aspirations are the problem. The condemnation is directed at the means, not the end. Muslims and extremist Muslims often yearn for the same political outcomes. Except one finds an outlet in words, the other in ­weapons.

Islamic State publishes an ­online propaganda magazine called Dabiq. It contains graphic images of Muslim corpses following American drone strikes on al-Qa’ida cells in Yemen and on Taliban hideouts in Pakistan. Such images come with captions reporting more civilian deaths than ­those of terrorists.

The myth that American and Israeli militaries are deliberately killing Muslim civilians because they feel threatened by Islam is the single greatest driving force ­behind radicalisation.

Dabiq urges Muslims worldwide to fight the ­injustices inflicted by “the Crusaders and the Jews” by killing their ­civilians. This call to action ­appeals to some because they are already predisposed to deep-seated anti-American, anti-Zionist resentment.

The British Empire colonised both Hindus and Muslims in the Indian subcontinent for the same length of time. There are prominent Hindu anti-imperialists who believe Britain owes reparations to India, yet there is no Hindu lone wolf mowing down British pedestrians on Westminster Bridge.

America dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan during World War II, yet the Japanese haven’t set up terrorist organisations ­urging people to storm a gay nightclub in Florida and gun down 50 unarmed civilians trying to dance the night away.

America has a longer history of military intervention in Latin America than it does in the Middle East, yet there are no Hispanic ­hijackers flying planes through the World Trade Centre.

Suffice it to say the case of Muslim victimhood is exceptionally eruptive.

It is my contention that unless the myths and conspiracy theories that underpin this augmented reality are comprehensively refuted, Muslims worldwide will continue to remain susceptible to radicalisation.

For now, let’s focus on internalising the diagnosis of the problem presented in this article. As to how the associated world view may be refuted will be a subject for a future article. Stay tuned.

Trump Is Right to Cut Funding to UNRWA

A few days ago, President Trump asked an important question in a tweet: 
"[W]e pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?" 
On Friday, Trump answered his question and cut funding to the Palestinians by freezing a $125 million transfer to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Asked about the decision, the State Department said deliberations are ongoing about how to move forward. This presents a tremendous opportunity, but it will take more bold action by the White House. The administration must continue to hold the Palestinians accountable for their rejectionism.
Like Trump's December move on Jerusalem, this represents a bold step that is long overdue. UNRWA, the UN's Palestinian refugee agency, long has needed reform, but with Palestinian leadership unwilling to even feign serious commitment to peace, it's probably time to scrap the agency altogether. It stands in the way of peace.
Trump must hold the Palestinians – and UNRWA – accountable for their rejectionism.
The United States funds UNRWA to the tune of $300 million per year, and it does enjoy important backing and major funding from some in the Muslim world. But the agency runs large annual deficits.
The Israeli government has remained publicly supportive of the agency, resisting attempts to defund UNRWA for fear it will lead to a humanitarian crisis. But things may be changing as the world finally realizes this agency is harmful.
Founded in 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programs for Palestinian refugees from
Israel's War of Independence, UNRWA long ago outlived its charge. When it was established, there were as many as 750,000 refugees. Today, UNRWA considers more than 5 million people to be refugees from that conflict and provides education, health care, social programs, loans and more to people in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Syria.
UNRWA is perpetuating a conflict the Palestinians lost long ago.
At the Middle East Forum, we seek to bring the UNRWA definition of a refugee in alignment with U.S. law that recognizes as refugees only those displaced and their minor children who have not obtained a new nationality and are not "home." This is a conceptual change: "Yes to assistance, no to classification as refugees." The result would leave only about 20,000 legitimate Palestinian refugees.
Helping refugees is a noble charge, but UNRWA isn't actually helping people. It's perpetuating a conflict the Palestinians lost long ago and aiding Arab governments who refuse to provide for the basic needs of their people.
Between 1940 and 1945, World War II created 40 million refugees in Europe. The partition of India and Pakistan displaced 14 million people in 1947. But how many people remain displaced because of these conflagrations? Zero.
Why, then, has the number of refugees from Israel's War of Independence grown nearly sevenfold since 1949? 
The answer is that it's been politically advantageous to the Palestinian leadership and to Israel's Arab neighbors who work to ensure the conflict continues. With UNRWA's support, they've become experts at perpetuating the conflict. 
A recent study found that UNRWA schools teach Palestinian children that, "Jews have no rights whatsoever in the region but only 'greedy ambitions.'" The same study found textbooks in UNRWA schools glorifying terrorists who killed civilians as heroes.
UNRWA has evolved from a temporary relief and works program into a broad social welfare organization.

There have been many ideas about how to reform UNRWA, including forcing host governments such as the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon to take responsibility for their people. But the time for reform has passed. It's time to dismantle the agency.
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett recently called UNRWA a "terror-supporting organization" and said that "aiding the residents of Gaza should be no different than aiding the Syrian residents suffering under a terror regime, or aiding any other group of descendants of refugees."
Ending UNRWA doesn't mean ending humanitarian support for Palestinians. If the definition of a Palestinian refugee changes, the small number of remaining refugees could be served by the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Palestinians in need could be served by the Palestinian Authority.
To help bring that about, Trump should clarify that the U.S. Government's definition of a Palestinian refugee includes only those who are actually refugees. This change would help depoliticize the provision of aid. Importantly, this would be a step toward taking a major point of contention — the rights of Palestinians to return to Israel — off the table, just as the administration did with Jerusalem.
The only path to peace is one that forces Palestinians to accept that continued rejectionism is a dead end.
Ultimately, the path to peace is one that forces the Palestinian people to realize that continued rejection of Israel is a dead end. They must understand that the only way to build a better future for their children is to abandon the conflict that has been central to their identity for most of the last century.
Defunding UNRWA gives Palestinian leadership a stark choice: get serious about forging lasting peace with a Jewish state in Israel, or refuse to play ball and be forced to act like a responsible government that cares for its own people.

President Trump came into office making big promises about solving the Arab-Israeli conflict and reforming the United Nations.
His announcement on Jerusalem dealt a serious blow to the Palestinian rejectionism that has prolonged this conflict for generations. 
Finding a way to end UNRWA's support for the structures behind the unwillingness of Palestinians to make peace would be another important step. Freezing payments is a step in the right direction.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

US and Israel formulate a plan to stop Iran – together

From Jerusalem Post, 28 Dec 2017, by HERB KEINON:

> Netanyahu: When Israelis and Arabs agree on Iran, the world should listen
> Iran asks Muslims to disrupt Israeli ties in region

Secret White House meeting leads to establishment of special US-Israeli work-group meant to prevent Iran from increasing in strength.

Report: US and Israel formulate a plan to stop Iran – together
US President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, US, September 18, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Top US and Israeli national security officials reached an agreement two weeks ago in Washington on a joint work plan to counter Iranian activity in the Middle East... The document marks the beginning of a new cooperative effort against Iran...

The document, characterized by a US National Security Council representative as an informal “framework,” follows on President Donald Trump’s speech in October outlining a new American policy approach to the Islamic Republic, where he announced that he would not recertify the Iranian nuclear deal.

...A spokesman in the Prime Minister’s Office ...would only say that “there was a meeting in Washington.”

The Israeli team was led by National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat, and the US team was led by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Senior defense, intelligence and diplomatic officials from both sides took part in the meeting.

... an agreement was reached on regional goals in the region and several working groups were set up, including one to deal with joint covert and diplomatic steps to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons and to monitor and verify that it is not violating the nuclear deal signed in 2015.

This group will also focus on placing additional pressure on the Islamic Republic through both covert and diplomatic steps.

Another group was set up to counter Iran’s activity in the region, specifically its support for Hezbollah. This group will also formulate a joint policy regarding Syria after the end of the civil war.

A third group is to work to counter Iranian ballistic missile development and the manufacturing of precision missiles in Syria and Lebanon, and a fourth is to address joint preparation for various scenarios of escalation in the region, be they with Iran or with Hezbollah.

Innovation Nation

From "The World in 2018", The Economist feature, by Benjamin Netanyahu:

The future belongs to those who innovate. Israel is seizing the future. With 8.5m people, it has more companies on NASDAQ than almost any other country outside North America and ranks third in the World Economic Forum’s ranking of most innovative economies. Israeli startups receive nearly 20% of global private investment in cyber-security, punching 200 times above our relative weight. Israel recycles 87% of its waste water, five times more than the runner-up. Israeli cows produce more milk per animal than those of any other country.

People everywhere benefit from Israeli innovations in their mobile phones, car navigation systems, life-saving drugs, medical devices—even the cherry tomatoes in their salads. Equally, Israel’s intelligence services have helped stop dozens of terrorist attacks in dozens of countries. These successes are buttressed by world-class universities and research institutions like the Technion, the Weizmann Institute and the Volcani Agri­culture Institute.

Technology without free markets does not get you very far. All national economies are engaged in a race in which the public sector sits astride the shoulders of the private sector. In our case, the public sector got too bloated. Under a policy I called “Fat man/Thin man”, we put it on a strict diet and removed barriers to competition that hampered the private sector, enabling it to sprint forward.

We controlled public spending, lowered tax rates, reformed welfare and pensions, removed foreign-exchange controls, dismantled monopolies, privatised government companies and created new capital markets. The result has been 14 years of nearly continuous GDP growth of 4-5% annually, lowering the debt-to-GDP ratio from roughly 100% to 62%.

We leverage government spending on military intelligence by encouraging veterans to form thousands of civilian IT and cyber-startups, which we regulate as little as possible. Government investments in roads and railways open up land for housing, which is developed by private contractors.

For 50 years government companies searched to no avail for offshore gas. Once we enabled private companies to search, they found gas deposits worth many billions of dollars. The government’s take of these gas revenues will help fund our future needs in education, welfare and infrastructure.

Israel became an economic tiger because we chose to be a nimble mammal rather than a fossil. Benefiting from the nexus of big data, connectivity and artificial intelligence, we are rapidly developing new industries.

Fifty years ago, Israel failed in its effort to develop a car industry. Yet in the past decade we have had 500 startups in automotive technology which receive billions of dollars of investments each year. In 2013 Google bought Waze, a crowd-sourcing navigation system, for $1bn. In 2017 Intel paid $15bn for Jerusalem-based MobileEye, entrusting it to oversee Intel’s worldwide autonomous-vehicle businesses. Our universal digital health database holds great promise for breakthroughs in preventive and personalised medicine.

Since technology alone does not guarantee our future, we must keep promoting entrepreneurship and fight excessive regulation. In the past two years I have chaired a cabinet committee that takes a machete to the weeds of overregulation, and Israel has moved from 27th to 16th in the Global Competitiveness Index.

High-tech diplomacy

What are the lessons of Israel’s economic miracle for 2018 and beyond? The first is: innovate or perish. The second is: innovate to create alliances and advance peace.

Our technological prowess has brought us many new friends, alongside our irreplaceable alliance with America. We negotiated economic pacts with Japan and China. Relations with India are booming. Twice within a year I visited Africa. I am the first Israeli prime minister to visit Australia and Latin America.

But perhaps the most promising change is closer to home. Many Arab countries now see Israel not as an enemy but as an indispensable ally in our common battle against militant Islam. They also seek Israeli technology to help their economies. The potential normalisation with Arab states could help pave the way for peace with the Palestinians.

In 1968, in “The Lessons of History”, the great American writer Will Durant wrote:

The influence of geographic factors diminishes as technology grows. The character and contour of a terrain may offer opportunities for agriculture, mining or trade, but only the imagination and initiative of leaders, and the hardy industry of followers, can transform the possibilities into fact; and only a similar combination (as in Israel today) can make a culture take form over a thousand natural obstacles.

In the half-century since those prophetic words were written, Israel has indeed overcome a thousand obstacles. Its ingenuity offers hope for every nation under the sun.