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How the Arab World Came Apart (nytimes.com)
306 points by s3b on Aug 11, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 330 comments

How did it come apart? Almost exactly like Dick Cheney thought it would 20 years before cheering for the invasion. From an episode of Meet The Press in 2014[1]:


All right, let me ask you a couple of quick questions. I want to play for you an interesting clip of you 20 years ago about Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Take a look.


That's a very volatile part of the world. And if you take down the central government in Iraq you can easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of Eastern Iraq the Iranians would like to claim, fought over for eight years. In the north you've got the Kurds. And the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It's a quagmire if you go that far.

[1] http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/meet-press-transcript-...

Eerie he's so prescient there. If only youtube was a thing then we could have all been sending this around.

To give backers of the war the benefit of the doubt, a whole lot of shit changed after that video. Hindsight is 20/20 and we can't back test strategies like the stock market. It would be nice if we could.

Hoping this is phrased well by me, but I'm fairly certain some brief dives into historical tales of power dynamics will show that deposing an entrenched "Strong Man" leader results in a power vacuum, which can be filled by another of the same tactic, or, in the case of the region in discussion, a quagmire of sorts. I know an Army Captain (since Middle School), Psy Ops I'm pretty sure, and his experience on the ground in Iraq was that the local populations had no conception of how to function without the Strong Man. Essentially, for most all of their lives, the process was "Saddam says this, we do this," so concepts of self-governance were extremely foreign and somewhat troubling. Anecdote for sure, just hope it fits with our subject!

The NYTimes itself is also a considerable part of the reason, considering Judith Miller, Friedman, Krauthammer and many others propagandized hard for invading Iraq.

The invasion of Iraq was stupid. It was likely illegal, based on false pretenses, and well....shouldn't have happened. The invasions initial execution was beautiful (first few days). The US Military performed splendidly. The follow through (driven by political leaders) was idiotic. Stupid decisions like not listening to his generals (Bush), disbanding the Iraqi security forces (Paul Bremer), and the odd focus on turning on the oil taps as soon as possible after the invasion doomed any hope of short term success (yeah, sure, lets pay for the invasion with oil...that'll work, right). Many generals argued for an occupation force in the millions to keep the peace. If the occupation were modeled after the plan for Germany in WW2 where the allies planned for a prolonged insurgency (that never really appeared, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Werwolf), we should have had more troops than were available in the entire US Military combined. Likely given a real, concerted effort (Marshall Plan-like) to re-build Iraq after we'd destroyed it, we might have had a chance. Oil never lasts, it's not sustainable, and in every country where natural resource mining is dominant, we see a rise of more despotism. We never understood the cultures of Iraq, nor will most people. To defeat an enemy you have to understand them (see Sun Tzu). NYT isn't the only problem. Our pride was the problem. We thought we could fix everything, do it better. The US was led by a person (Bush) who spouted all kinds of wonderful nationalistic straight talk (sounds like somebody that's running for president this year). Bush had no real plans and he unfortunately didn't listen to his experienced military leaders. He, as the commander in chief, is where the buck should stop for Iraq...and the long slow disaster that followed. Sure, we're all to blame for going along, but short of impeachment from our congress there is nothing the American people could have done to stop it.

> The invasions initial execution was beautiful (first few days)

The initial "Shock and Awe" campaign in Baghdad killed an estimated 6,600+ civilians. [1]

It's stated purpose was to "impose this overwhelming level of Shock and Awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on ... [to] seize control of the environment and paralyze or so overload an adversary's perceptions and understanding of events that the enemy would be incapable of resistance at the tactical and strategic levels."

That is to say, it was terrorism. And what's even more disgusting is that Americans watched it on TV like fireworks.


That is an impressively small civilian death toll for a bombing campaign that entirely gutted the defense capabilities of a regional power.

That's basically a textbook example of how to surgically destroy your enemy's warmaking capabilities with the least loss of noncombatant life.

Please don't redefine terrorism. Terrorists don't give fair warning. Terrorists don't primarily target military installations. Terrorists don't accept surrender. As abhorrent and terrifying as war is, nothing can excuse the deliberate targeting of civilians. Yeah, it was disgusting, but the whole world watched because the whole world's media decided to broadcast it. Without the terror of Saddam's reign coupled with the "shock and awe" of 9/11, none of this would have ever happened.

The first instance of the word terrorism was the terror of a democratically legitimated state against civilians. Its own in this case: I'm speaking of the Reign of Terror of the french revolutionary state. Since then the word terrorism was somewhat redefined. But of course not everywhere. Even you describe Hussein's actions as terror in your post.

I think it's acceptable to describe as terror that thing which kills you, wether you are someone in Bagdad 2003 who is too poor to flee to Jordan, wether you are a victim of ISIL or if you are a 16 year old male shepherd in Waziristan where there is a full legal procedure which in the end lawfully decides to kill you because you're you.

> (sounds like somebody that's running for president this year)

Someone else running for president this year has pledged that the first act of her address would be removing Assad.

Which brings us back at the beginning of stupid actions.

I wonder why people forget Libya. There's already a proven track record of bungling by this person. No one in the Pentagon wanted the war. Look at what is left of what in 2011 was Africa's wealthiest nation.

She has to pay for the campaign/Clinton foundation donations somehow.

Mark my words a vote for Hillary is a vote for war.[0]


Is it me or does 400k seems like pennies for the defense industry? Didn't she get 200k to do a talk at goldman? Does 400k really in debt these pols so much? How much media does 400k even buy?

That kind of money gives the donor access.....that means the donor can talk to the politician, and present their side of the story (as convincingly as possible).

The politician will feel that she maintains neutrality, and is making decisions for herself (not influenced by money), but since she has only heard one side of the story, she is likely to choose in that direction.

Similarly, if someone says to you, "hey, I have a problem, can you help me?" then you will probably help them if it's not too much trouble. Politicians are the same, except it costs $400k to be able to tell them that. And then the politician feels good that they have helped someone.

Keep in mind its at least 400k, it does not include money given to PAC's or given directly to the DNC to get her elected via the victory for Hillary fund[0], also her foundation takes many questionable donations[1]. Add to that favors, like donating to allies campaigns, speaking fees, board postions and revolving door type jobs for friends.

[0] http://www.npr.org/2015/12/23/460762853/how-hillary-clinton-... [1] http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2016/08/another-day-an...

Bit of a leap from the facts in that article (Clinton got $454k in donations from defence industry workers vs $310k to Sanders for example) to her having to go to war as a result.

So the choice is between war hawk and unpredictable megalomaniac. Sophie's choice of US politics...

The unpredictable megalomaniac is at heart an isolationist, though. I can't ever recall anyone else in my lifetime expressing the desire to step back from NATO and reduce overseas commitments.

Trump's offer to Kasich (as confirmed by Kasich himself) was that he would be the quote 'most powerful VP in history', in charge of both domestic and foreign policy, while Trump would be in charge of 'making America great again'. So the other poster is exactly right, Trump doesn't have anything at heart beyond self-aggrandizement.



You might reasonably expect that Pence was made a similar offer. If that's how it played out, you could probably expect a relatively vanilla foreign policy from Pence.

The problem is there's no guarantee that's how it would play out; Trump is narcissistic and unstable. He might actually intend to do that until Pence does something he doesn't like, and then Trump takes the reins back.

If all you care about is foreign policy, maybe Pence is okay with you. The guy is a garbage person though and made me ashamed of my home state on multiple occasions.

Pence is actually also a terrible choice and even people in Indiana don't like him.

For the record I'm not a Trump fan either. I'd like to reform some stuff like patent law but Trump would burn most of it down.

I'm just saying that ~in theory~ Pence is an olive branch towards the middle. I don't think Trump will follow up on it in any way, nor will he be elected given the polls.

I don't see evidence Trump has anything at heart beyond self-aggrandizement, just that he panders even more shamelessly and offensively than other politicians.

Given the utter disdain for both major candidates, perhaps this year we can hope for a 3rd party candidate. Here is a nice visualization of the 4 top candidates and their stances on a wide spectrum of issues http://imgur.com/gallery/n1VdV

In the eyes of a considerable many, voting for anyone else is the same as a vote for Trump.

Maybe it has always been this way.

In the eyes of supporters of either major party, a vote for a third party is a vote for the other major party. It may not have always been this way, but it has for as long as I've been an engaged voter (~20 years).

It depends on who the third party is.

More from Republicans: Theodore Roosevelt, probably George Wallace and Ross Perot

More from Democrats: Henry Wallace, Strom Thurmond, Ralph Nader

Who knows: John Anderson.

I think that Roosevelt, Perot, and Nader all had strong effects, I don't think that Thurmond, either Wallace, or Anderson changed the outcome.

When anyone says that to me, I respond with, "No, because otherwise I would vote for Hillary." That both angers and confuses them, which delights me.

Alternately, to people who consider it the same as voting for Hillary, I blithely say, "No, because otherwise I would vote for Trump." Same lovely effect.

And 3rd party. If there's ever a year where they gain traction, it's this year.

> And 3rd party. If there's ever a year where they gain traction, it's this year.

No, to all evidence, 1992 was a far stronger year for that; while things might change between now and November, for pretty much the entire election season then Perot alone was polling above the combined total (at the same point in the campaign) of all non-major-party candidates this year. (And, during the primary season, sometimes ahead of both of the major party frontrunners in head-to-head polls that year.)

In terms of the electoral votes, there's essentially no chance of a third party result this year more successful than 1836, 1892, or 1948, and little chance of either electoral or popular vote success of a third party candidate more than 1856 or 1924.

1856 was arguably a success, because it set the stage for a bigger electoral victory the next election cycle. You can't really expect a party to come from nowhere and win in a single election, they have to build up momentum, structure, and supporters.

Well, unlike Iraq in 2003, there will be a war in Syria 12 months from now whether Hillary tries to remove Assad or not. The question is whether we continue to try to shape the outcome.

In the meantime, we have this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/02/toxic-gas-in-the-...

Not so sure about that - the war was mostly Russia and Iran backing Assad against Turkey and the US backing the anti Assad rebels. Now Assad and Erdogan are buddies things may settle down with Assad, Putin and Erdogan all being presidents for life with questionable elections and the US not able to do a lot about it.

> Not so sure about that - the war was mostly Russia and Iran backing Assad against Turkey and the US backing the anti Assad rebels.

The series of wars in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq involve a lot more than that, and a Turkey-Syria-Russia alignment doesn't remove the basis for them (though it might reduce the level of violence in Syria while increasing it in Iraq, particularly Iraqi Kurdistan (and even moreso ex-Iraqi Kurdistan if the movement of that region to secede from Iraq progresses.)

Erdogan has been one of the biggest backer of anti-Assad forces in Syria, and it is unclear why that will change.

Erdogan and Assad are hardly buddies, even after the attempted coup.

So your position is that if the U.S. would just butt out, ISIS and other anti-Assad rebels would just pack it up and go home? That seems unlikely.

No, that Assad and Russia would defeat them militarily.

Maybe eventually. But that would require more war, would it not? My point was not that the war in Syria will never end, but that Syria will remain in a state of civil war for some time to come whether or not Hillary goes after Assad.

So the decision is not between war and peace in Syria. It is between one war and another. The alternative you describe might be shorter (or it might not be, depending on how Hillary would execute her plan to go after Assad, among numerous other factors), but it may also be worse in many other respects.

Do you have a source? I just searched and see no such pledge. All I'm finding are vague statements from her allies and advisors that they think she'll prioritize Syria.

State Department policy on Syria is regime change going back to at least 2011. The method/means is still fluid.

See the article and State Department testimony below, emphasis mine.

NYT, from 2013:

"Last summer, as the fighting in Syria raged and questions about the United States’ inaction grew, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton conferred privately with David H. Petraeus, the director of the C.I.A. The two officials were joining forces on a plan to arm the Syrian resistance.

The idea was to vet the rebel groups and train fighters, who would be supplied with weapons. The plan had risks, but it also offered the potential reward of creating Syrian allies with whom the United States could work, both during the conflict and ___after President Bashar al-Assad’s eventual removal___.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Petraeus presented the proposal to the White House, according to administration officials. But with the White House worried about the risks, and with President Obama in the midst of a re-election bid, they were rebuffed."


From 2011, testimony by Jeffrey Feltman, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, State Department:

"But we take the advent of the [Syrian National Council] very seriously, and we support the broader opposition’s efforts to focus on the critical task of expanding and consolidating its base of support within Syria by articulating a clear and common vision and ___developing a concrete and credible post-Assad transition plan.___"


> back to at least 2011.

At least to 2006, ten years ago, thanks to the US Embassy cable published by Wikileaks:


Some coverage:


"The cables also show that U.S. support for efforts to overthrow the Syrian government beginning in 2011 were not a response to the Assad government’s repression of protests but rather a continuation of a years-long strategy by more directly violent means."

Without that cable, this would be impossible to prove. Helps understanding why Manning who leaked that was 9 months in solitary confinement, stripped naked:


Or you could look at the sanctions the US has had in place against Syria for years. That the US doesn't like Syria is well known.

Ok, so to be clear, I'm pretty unhappy Clinton's generally hawkish approach to foreign affairs. However, especially with such emotional matters, we should be as precise as possible: > ... removing Assad...

Citation still needed. The material you provided is interesting and perhaps notable, and perhaps, if followed through, could be first steps in a campaign to remove Assad. But it's far from a direct call for regime change, as you are claiming.

Again, I'm probably more in agreement with your perspective than disagreement, but we all parties are best served if we make make more precise, evidence backed claims.

I haven't read that myself, but even in the absence citation, you have to believe it is true, given her Middle East affiliations.

Hint: She and her husband are in bed with the House of Saud. Her (their) deep commitment to Israel is unquestionable. Never forget that she's a neocon and worships Henry Kissinger. It's just that she's joined at the waist to a democrat.

"I haven't read that myself, but even in the absence citation, you have to believe it is true,..."

I suspect you would be surprised how much that sentence scares me.

> Someone else running for president this year has pledged that the first act of her address would be removing Assad.

Great plan, weren't there all these terrorists cutting of heads and stuff, making him look like an angel. Also there is this tiny problem of Russian troops fighting for Assad, which could interfere with the otherwise genius plan.

> ... has pledged that the first act ...

Citation please?

I wonder how much use there is in putting a lot more effort into any of those countries. My angle is climate change. There is a record-breaking heat wave going on there right now, with temperatures close to making human life impossible. Outlook: Getting a lot worse. They already have water shortages. The population still is growing. The trouble in Syria is said to have been caused with a mismanaged big drought as a major contributing factor.

We would have to create infrastructure for AC-based indoor living in the entire region and beyond on a grand scale, or only for some and see the rest of the population live in a vegetative state during much of the year. If climate change and the predictions are real anything less is futile. Basically, the entire region is becoming Arizona - without AC for most people, much higher humidity directly at the Gulf, with even less freshwater and many more people who also are much poorer.

Just a dark thought: Maybe there simply is no solution. The climate problem is independent of all the human problems, so solving them, already seemingly impossible, would not even help much with this new issue growing stronger.

> infrastructure for AC-based indoor living in the entire region and beyond

Thats a huge amount of constant power and infrastructure, which is just not going to be built.

Easier to build an underground city with high ceilings and taking advantage of physics than managing to give AC to everyone in the region, which is to say both options are extremely difficult and require pre-existing infrastructure.

And this still doesn't solve the problem of what precisely people will do for work in the region

> underground city with high ceilings and taking advantage of physics

Ancient Iranian architecture was quite close to that, which you may be alluding to: http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Architecture/wind.htm

What people will do? Well, same as everywhere else, everything from agriculture to software. It's more a question of how many of them the local agriculture can support. The number of people who've fled Syria is more than its entire population was in 1950. Similar applies to places like Yemen. Malthusianism may not apply globally, but it can certainly bite locally.

saw those built in places like ancient city center of Yazd, they sure had the heating/cooling figured out. even saw a photo of ice storage building (looked a bit older). I mean, storing ice in the middle of the desert.

no wonder persians were called 'educated arabs' in the past.

The initial execution was not beautiful, it and the occupation that followed were remarkably brutal. Dropping bombs on a Baghdad, destroying the civilian infrastructure like sewage, electricity etc. It was a case of aggression, the same crime for which the Nazi's were hanged at Nuremberg.

> The initial execution was not beautiful

It was "beautiful" because you were watching it on TV and marveling at how we manage to drop bombs from a distance through a building's smallest opening.

For the men, women and children of Iraq, it was hell. It was not fun, and, most definitely, was not beautiful.

> The invasions initial execution was beautiful (first few days)

War is not beautiful. The invasion was a revolting, unnecessary horror from conception to now, where it still has not ended and shows no sign of an end.

As far as Bush not listening to generals, etc. I don't believe Bush was anything more than a figurehead. Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. were the decision makers. They knew what they were doing, and they didn't have an exit strategy because exiting was never their goal.

>> in every country where natural resource mining is dominant, we see a rise of more despotism.

I think we're still doing reasonably OK in Canada... :->

Also, Norway:

"The country maintains a combination of market economy and a Nordic welfare model with universal health care and a comprehensive social security system. Norway has extensive reserves of petroleum, natural gas, minerals, lumber, seafood, fresh water, and hydropower. The petroleum industry accounts for around a quarter of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) On a per-capita basis, Norway is the world's largest producer of oil and natural gas outside the Middle East." (Wikipedia)

Lets not forget the US either

> The invasion of Iraq was stupid. It was likely illegal,

I agree that the invasion was stupid, but it was not "likely illegal," it _was_ illegal.

it still amazes me that people argue that there is even such a thing as "legal" war. war is the breakdown of social order. law is only relevant in the presence of existing social order.

when a country like the U.S. chooses to initiate a war of aggression against a foreign population it is effectively just an assertion that there is no such thing as law when it comes to wielding geo-political power. in the case of the congressional vote to authorize force, that wasn't really an exercise of law. that was a public performance of assent to break the law. it was congress saying "we capitulate to your plans and will not attempt to interfere with the war".

You are mixing rhetoric into your argument. Nations make agreements between themselves and bodies like the UN, and violating these agreements can be called legal. War is not the breakdown of social order, often order continues within the societies of the belligerents. We may say that an act of war is legal if its declaration and conduct does not break any of the nation's agreements.

When a country decides to break its agreements it is more useful to say that there is no strong rule of law in international relations, rather than that there is no law.

I find it obscene that you can even entertain the notion of "legal war" in your mind. Is there such a thing as legal theft, legal rape, or legal murder?

legal: 1) of, based on, or concerned with the law; 2) appointed or required by the law. [1]

Military force was authorized by Public Law 107-243 AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF MILITARY FORCE AGAINST IRAQ RESOLUTION OF 2002 [2].

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/legal [2] https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-107publ243/html/PLAW-107p...


Yes, that is exactly what that means. Legislatures decide what the laws are and what is legal. This is how this works...

If you're looking for morality, you're in the wrong department.

So in your view, it was illegal, but immoral, right?

Any real look at the history of toppling governments in societies as divided as Iraq should understand the difficulty. The western world has hundreds of years of experience.

The interesting thing is that, when they were successful in 2007 (more troupes) it was completely accidental. They had no idea why it worked at first, and it took them a while to figure it out.

As everybody know, the US could not stay their with this much troupes forever and thus they could never credibly commit to long term stability and peace between the different sections. If you can not stay somewhere for 1-2 generations, don't go there in the first place.

I don't think we should say let's pay for the invasion with their oil, it's probably more accurate to say let's take their oil or steal it because when you say 'pay' it implies Iraqis asked for invasion(which they didn't) and you are talking of oil as payment.


Terrorism all depends on the beholder, doesn't it?

The forced restructuring of Iraq's economy along right-wing neoliberal lines by the occupying force was another war crime. Read "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" by Chandrasekaran.

> The forced restructuring of Iraq's economy along right-wing neoliberal lines

I don't think 'right-wing neoliberal' is the right term for what's basically a soft version of the Warsaw Pact's command-and-control economies.

> Read "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" by Chandrasekaran.

I did, and it's very good — excellent. The short, short version is that basically everyone is incompetent, time-serving, disinterested and/or corrupt.

Something can be aesthetically beautiful and morally terrifying and wrong at the same time. Please disentangle aesthetics and morality, since not doing so tends to debase both.


Why would it be mental illness? Does it affect my ability to live my life, or anyone else's to live theirs? After all, I make decisions that carry moral weight based on my moral, not aesthetic compass.

Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and is derived from how we feel about something, not from some objective criteria. It's disturbing to the average person, if not truly mentally ill, to feel that war is beautiful. Do you feel war is beautiful? If not, how can you say that it's beautiful? based on what? There is no objective criteria for beauty. It is a feeling. Remember that.

"It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it" - R.E. Lee

The invasion of Iraq was a stupid idea, and the NYTimes should be ashamed for that.

But the real problems occurred in the disastrous power vacuum and complete lack of a plan that occurred after the war was won. That's what tore Iraq and the Middle East apart. I don't think the NYTimes has any responsibility for that.


I can't recommend this Frontline piece highly enough - "Losing Iraq". Its practically a case book study on the missteps that took place under the leadership of Paul Bremmer a Kissinger associate and who was chosen to lead the CPA - Coalition Provisional Authority(the transition government) after the US took Baghdad. Bremmer knew nothing of Iraqi politics and was only briefed on them on the flight to Baghdad. The largest mistake was his decision to dissolve the Iraqi Army, followed closely by the de-Baathification of the government in country that only has a single political party - the Baath Party. Bremmer had near autonomy in his decision making. This is perhaps one of the best pieces I have seen on the subject:


"Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad's Green Zone" is an excellent book on the same topic. What is most staggering (to a foreigner like me anyway) is how the appointment of American administrators in Iraq was entirely driven by American politics. Experience and competence were of no importance.


This is an understatement. I recall one episode in that book where a competent manager in Baghdad was fired because he didn't hate abortion.

> But the real problems occurred in the disastrous power vacuum and complete lack of a plan that occurred after the war was won.

No, the real problem was invading a country that posed no threat to us. That was the real crime. The power vacuum could not have happened without that illegal invasion.

Yes, I agree entirely.

Is there a way I can say both that the invasion was stupid AND that it could (not should!) have worked out ok afterwards if the US had a plan?

I think that it is worth noting all the things that went wrong, not just the stupidity of the invasion itself.

> I don't think the NYTimes has any responsibility for that.

Except for never mentioning the fact or investigating what the consequences of the war they were propagandizing were likely to be.

Agreed on this point. The NY Times is the newspaper of record in the United States. And as such they hold responsibility both for their editorial policy that allowed Judith Miller's stories about WMDs. What's more remarkable is how unapologetic she is about her own involvement. This is worth a listen(the second half)


Iraq, the surprising arrival of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, Brexit shock, rise of Trump...the commentator classes of New York, DC, London and other "tastemaker" cities need to reckon with their failures and understand why they were so utterly wrong. Instead, in most cases, we see doubling down and demonization of the other side. It's quite extraordinary. The black swans are coming fast and thick.

What are the "commentator classes"? People who take an active interest in their society? People who try to stay informed? Is that a "class"? What is a "taste maker" city? Please explain what they are and how you pin all the worlds ills on them.

New York, DC and London are responsible for the worlds problems?

I honestly have no idea what you are are talking about.

I'm not talking about all the world's ills but rather 4 recent events with global, often disastrous consequences. Perhaps it is news to you, but there is a certain kind of person who makes their daily bread on the strength of their supposed expertise in politics, economics and finance. Think tankers, Davos panelists, former political appointees, the experts commonly cited in papers like the FT, NYTimes, WaPo, and the journalists and editorialists who give them ink and air time. They didn't see these events coming, despite the fact that the dynamics leading up to each one had been building for some time. They never seem to admit that they were wrong, and seemingly no one expects them to as they continue to carry on on the lecture and cited expert circuits. Worst of all, they do not seem to recognize that they are just as vulnerable to groupthink as anyone and they never seem to improve their methods of investigation which for me would mean consciously traveling out of the media capitals of New York, DC and London to visit and talk to people in other parts to get a better handle on popular sentiment; being hyper aware of when they might be trading integrity for access and status; and not being too prideful to take a look at alternative points of view from bloggers and commentators who do not trod the same carpeted halls.

People who make good forecasts are not polarized enough for punditry.

The authors of the book Superforecasting : The Science of Prediction have done research in this area. And a website [2]

Nate Silver also tells a similar story in his book. He proved it too, by turning pundit.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Superforecasting-Science-Prediction-P...

[2] http://www.superforecasting.com/

"The prudent doth keep silence in such a time; for it is an evil time." Amos 5.13

> The black swans are coming fast and thick.

"Therefore thus saith the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord: Lamentation shall be in all the broad places, and they shall say in all the streets: 'Alas! alas!' and they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and proclaim lamentation to such as are skilful of wailing." Amos 5.16

Oh, the irony of this being published in the New York Times, it burns!

I just click for the comments whenever I see a shared NYTimes story on HN, something I deliberately try not to do usually.

Long piece , but it fails in that it does not give a coherent message. Pieces of stories here and there are not history. First of all , lets stop calling it Arab Spring. If anything it's the arab Autumn of civil wars, where all arabs are united only in their resentment of the west. Secondly, let's talk about people, their souls, aspirations, and culture instead of political history. Given that these states were built as western protectorates, their history should not be a good guide for their future. Clearly the approach to colonialism/interventionism that the US takes is a failure, compared to the colonialism of the British for example (e.g. Jordan). The arab world has always been far too divided to able to draw clear borders around their states. Their only hope for peace is long-term economic prosperity and transition to secularism. Until then, tyranny worked.

This piece may be fun to get through your flight, but it should offer a holistic perspective.

> "where all arabs are united only in their resentment of the west"

Is that how you view the political movements happening in the Arabic-speaking majority world - Sorry for the pedantry - from 2011 onward that we're consumed by resentment toward the West?

It's gotta be about you, right?

> "The arab world has always been far too divided to able to draw clear borders around their states"

I had no idea that these political movements and the resulting turmoil were about border disputes between states, and not primarily domestic political issues. The more you know ...

> "Until then, tyranny worked."

Could this explain your theory the perceived resentment in the Arabic speaking world towards the West?

At least now, it would be warranted and well earned since you wish on other people harm, maybe you should get paid for this in kind.

The US is likely to be able to dodge the Trump bullet and skirt falling into a populist authoritarian rule coming November but this doesn't preclude this from happening in the future.

Maybe you should get some taste for how tyranny can turn your life upside down and experience it firsthand before you could wish it onto others.

Anyhow, I still don't wish harm on innocent people but if they're full of hate toward others to the point of blinding them to fall into a trap this big and this wide, I wouldn't help them to avert it or save them.

I think you know what i mean, but you like to twist my words.

I m not american. This is a cynical view from Europe. Believe it or not it's closer to the truth rather than believing that having elections suddenly would fix all the problems in countries like egypt, libya, syria.

If you think that this was an unfair characterization of your comment, can you please refute the points that I raised in my counterargument?

Because just taking your word for it won't cut it, sorry.

> "elections suddenly would fix all the problems in countries like egypt, libya, syria"

I'd take ballot-box-only democracy and majoritarianism over tyrannical strongman rule or military dictatorships anytime of the day but this is just me, a Middle Eastern native who really cares for the future, prosperity and the welfare of people living there.

I think that I also have the right to express and strive to achieve these political goals without interference or the "guardianship" of outside players. Since I can't tell you how you should run your countries, I expect this to be reciprocated too when it comes to running ours, and I think that this is a small thing to ask for.

It's very intriguing that for "Arab Spring" skeptics to only focus on failures like Libya and not success stories like in Tunisia. It just detracts from their credibility and makes their viewpoints look very partisan.

It is not the fault of the countries in the Eastern part of the Arabic speaking world that they're surrounded by reactionary forces in the region like the oil sheikhdoms or nationalist-led Israel that they would do everything they can to undermine the then-nascent democratic experiments to protect their interests and save their thrones but this is the topic of another article.

>It is not the fault of the countries in the Eastern part of the Arabic speaking world that they're surrounded by reactionary forces in the region like the oil sheikhdoms or nationalist-led Israel that they would do everything they can to undermine the then-nascent democratic experiments to protect their interests and save their thrones but this is the topic of another article.

Woh, woh, woh, what on Earth does Israel have to do with this? Israelis haven't done anything to undermine the "democratic experiments" in any of its neighbouring states. In fact, Israel is the only regional country to consistently support Kurdish democracy, which it has done for decades.

Are you really denying that the Israeli govt had nothing to do with supporting the military takeover in Egypt back in 2013 and then the military-led regime that took shape after that whether internally or abroad?

If so, I don't see that there's any point of arguing over facts like these.

It's OK to have reservations about the democratic experiments in the region but if you could call "Talibani vs Barazani" a democracy, then I think it's fair that I get to call what happened in Egypt or Tunisia a democratic experiment.

Speaking of Kurdish democracy, I believe that opening channels with other players in the region is good strategy to secure the interests of the Kurdish people or elite, but excessive pandering to one particular player at the expense of others in the region would be very shortsighted move esp if you're planning to stay in this neighborhood for long time.

A balanced and well thought-out approach to foreign policy in the region would be a better alternative to the Kurdish people for whom I wish good luck for their legitimate political aspirations.

>Are you really denying that the Israeli govt had nothing to do with supporting the military takeover in Egypt back in 2013 and then the military-led regime that took shape after that whether internally or abroad?

Yes. That's a ridiculous assertion. To think that Israel (population: 7 million) has the power, influence, or will to "undermine the then-nascent democratic experiments" of a country like Egypt (population: 82 million), is ludicrous enough. To assert such a ludicrous statement as fact, without any supporting evidence is a wild conspiracy theory.

Your last three paragraphs have virtually nothing to do with the argument at-hand.

> Are you really denying that the Israeli govt had nothing to do with supporting the military takeover in Egypt back in 2013

Conspiracist much?

> I'd take ballot-box-only democracy and majoritarianism over tyrannical strongman rule or military dictatorships anytime of the day but this is just me, a Middle Eastern native who really cares for the future, prosperity and the welfare of people living there.

The usual overt basis for complaints that elections are insufficient is that they don't end up as ballot-box-only democracy, but that they instead they often end up as one person, one vote, one time -- followed by tyrannical strongman rule.

OTOH, that's clearly not generally worse than just leaving existing tyrannical strongmen in place. I think the real concern is that locally popular strongmen buoyed by such a one-time election, in the short term, are more likely to have the domestic support to cause problems for neighbors and outsiders, while the often-unpopular existing strongmen are frequently hobbled in their ability to cause external problems by the needs to deal -- whether through active repression or ongoing negotiation and mollification -- with unruly internal factions. (Another is that external elites often have connections and established ways of working with the existing strongmen.)

The chance of making progress toward real democracy is often not seen as worth the risk for external parties (especially external elites); locals, of course, may have different calculus.

> "The chance of making progress toward real democracy is often not seen as worth the risk for external parties (especially external elites); locals, of course, may have different calculus. "

That's a very true observation but that doesn't mean that elites will always get their way and prevail over the masses.

The masses can sometimes secure victories at their expense, albeit short-lived in most cases, and force them to change their mind and adopt their ideas.

Before they were western protectorates, they were Ottoman protectorates. It's been a mess for a long, long time. Once the oil runs out, or we move beyond oil, the whole region will be relegated to the kind of backwater it became after the advent of world-wide oceanic shipping in the age of sail and the overland trade routes were superseded.

The Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire were not protectorates, they were full provinces of the Ottoman Empire and as much a core part of the empire as the Balkans or Anatolia. The regions of Tunisia, Algeria, and Tripolitania were largely closer to independent vassal or client states; Egypt was effectively an autonomous fief, particularly during the 19th century (by WWI it was more a part of the British Empire than the Ottoman Empire). Crimea and Hungary were always tributaries rather than full vassals.

In general, the Arabs were happy subjects of the Ottoman Empire until around 1900-1914, when the CUP's political program attempted to marginalize the Arabs; even then, the Arab Revolt was a very narrow revolt with support almost exclusively from the Hejaz (western Saudi Arabia in modern terms) Prior to that, the Ottoman Empire was generally very supportive of the Arab cultural expression. While the governors of the Syrian and Egyptian provinces tended to be problematic from the point of view of the Sultan, the populations of those provinces were far less prone to revolt than Anatolia.

This is more or less true however, it's important to note that the Ottoman Empire spanned for many centuries and the Empire and its rule (administratively or otherwise) looked very different in the 16th century than in the 19th century. Egypt was under direct control in the beginning, it rebelled, then turned into a feudal system and then it became pretty much autonomous. Empires change a lot over time that its really hard to capture centuries worth of history in a few sentences (hence the generalisations).

Once the oil stops being important (Just Another Commodity like, e.g. iron ore), life will probably improve for citizens of the middle east:


We'll stop meddling and making things worse. The leaders of those countries won't be able to substitute oil wealth for popular support or funnel money into pushing Wahhabism.

It's the best thing that could happen to them.

It's the best thing that could happen to them.

... In the long term.

In the short term, it's going to be very, very bad for them indeed, as the sole source of foreign exchange goes away and the ordinary folks find themselves abandoned in a climate-change-drought-crippled land that has become populated well above its agricultural carrying capacity, and the elite jets off to enjoy their stolen wealth in Switzerland.

> in a climate-change-drought-crippled land that has become populated well above its agricultural carrying capacity

There was a recent HN article about Israel's progress with desalination[1]. Obvious funding issues aside, I wonder if that approach could ease some of the water issues?

Perhaps that kind of investment would be a good use for the oil income, whilst they've still got it.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12191089

Fortunately some countries (like Saudi Arabia) are making steps to reduce their dependency on oil, because they can see the coming problems if they don't.

> In the short term, it's going to be very, very bad for them indeed

It's not like they would not see it coming. Petrol is eventually going to become too expensive at some point, and they should invest accordingly. But numerous past examples of countries relying on raw resources have shown they usually don't adapt and plan, so I don't have too much hope in their case either.

Who is this "they" you speak of (who can't see it coming)?

The rulers are doing fine -- they've got armies and secret police and offshore investments so that when things turn to shit they can just jet off into exile like the Shah of Iran.

The ordinary folks don't have the money and they don't have the oil, they stay quiet for now because they don't want to be imprisoned or executed and because the rulers spend a small chunk of their surplus on social security.

In other words, the people with money to invest don't care, and the folks who might care are in no position to take action.

That the problem is foreseeable doesn't make it less tragic.

I can see that happening to Saudi Arabia but not the middle east as a whole. A lot of them don't really see the benefit of the oil wealth (especially in surrounding 'pipeline' countries that don't have oil), they only get to deal with the fallout.

To their descendants, maybe.

I am just glad we are finally getting a mainstream press group to admit the Middle East is the fault of European colonialism instead of the last fifteen odd years blaming Bush.

It was made a mess before and after WW2 and it never was allowed to self correct. If anything the powers that be kept trying to keep it bottled up until a few set pieces fell and the house came tumbling down. This isn't to say that going into Iraq didn't cause part of the problem, that simply revealed just how force the Saddam regime was applying to keep it all together.

Letting Libya fall like everyone did was likely the real issue. That whole country went without anyone trying to step in and allowed groups to assemble. Then the misguided interference with Syria by the US just sent the whole region to hell. You would have thought Libya would have given the administration a hint what would go wrong, let alone an Administration so hell bent on reminding people of Iraq repeated that mess twice if not worse.

The region has to reshape itself. What the West must do is try to minimize the civilian cost. This does not mean going in a setting new borders, but mostly protecting those who get out and making sure they have safe exit points.

> I am just glad we are finally getting a mainstream press group to admit the Middle East is the fault of European colonialism instead of the last fifteen odd years blaming Bush.

Even with the fault of European colonialism, they were doing just fine until we decided to get rid of Saddam.

...and bomb *Libya, and fund opposition "moderate" beheaders in Syria, and supporting the military coup in Egypt, and antagonize Turkey and harbor the alleged mastermind of the coup. I'm sure I'm missing a lot more.

>Long piece, [...] This piece may be fun to get through your flight,

Yes, it's ~43000 words and at 250wpm, it would be a 3 hour read!

I think I'll wait to collect some more opinions/tldrs like yours before reading it myself. Three hours would be a terrible waste of time on a substandard article. Open question: Are there better articles on the topic that use that would use that finite reading time better?

Is there a decent way to save the article as a PDF to read later, say on an ipad?

I tried Safari's 'Export as PDF' but the formatting is too mangled. Safari can also save as a single 'web archive' file but I can't get that file to open on my ipad.

Firefox has a save option of 'Web page, complete', but you end up with lots of files, impractical to move around to other devices. Printing as a PDF also mangles the format.

If you add it to your reading list, Safari is supposed to make it available offline on all devices linked to the same iCloud account.


My view on the Middle East: it has been a playground for the powers of the world to muck around. The fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end WWI allowed the region to be carved up between the French and the British. Secret agreements like Sykes-Picot cemented borders that should never have been there. After WWII a considerable amount of support was put behind Israel (and rightly so). However, the ongoing conflict and lack of a 2-state solution to this day continues to be a rallying call for millions of Arabs against the West. To keep the Arabs in check - the West continuously undermines their governments (which may be led by strongmen - but this is better than the alternative which we have seen). In addition, the West assumes it understands the intricate complexities of the demographics on the ground. Mucking around only exacerbates the problems.

Pretty accurate description for the last 100 years. But this fighting has been going on for thousands of years between the 3 Abrahamic religions, perpetually fighting over the Holy Land and between their own respective sects.

And even before that: the epic Roman-Persian and Greco-Persian wars.

>After WWII a considerable amount of support was put behind Israel (and rightly so).

I'm guessing those who lost their families and homes at gunpoint would disagree with that being "right". Each intervention creates more victims, it's just that some are more easily written out of history.

So far this is good. There's a lot of depth.

One nit:

" Much as the United States Army and white settlers did with Indian tribes in the conquest of the American West, so the British and French and Italians proved adept at pitting these groups against one another, bestowing favors — weapons or food or sinecures — to one faction in return for fighting another. The great difference, of course, is that in the American West, the settlers stayed and the tribal system was essentially destroyed."

I think it's a mistake to only back up to the end up WWI and start running the tape there. The Arab world has a rich and nuanced history full of the exact kinds of tribal tensions we see now going back hundreds of years. There's a reason the Ottomans were the way they were -- and it has nothing to do with Colonialism. There are also great parallels between what's happening with the Arab spring and what happened when other great powers consolidated their hold over the Arabs and then left. Just citing one example seems like a tremendous disservice to the history. Also the meme of "It was the Sykes–Picot Agreement" has some truth but is extremely easy to lean too much on. With this amount of verbiage being produced, I'm expecting some alternative lines of reasoning to be explored.

Looking forward to more of the series!

(Apologies -- looks like the entire thing is here? Wow! I've heard of long-format writing before, but this is kindle material. Tremendous amount of work here.)

The problem with blaming Sykes-Picot for everything is that almost none of the modern borders are due to that agreement (well, the Jordan-Syria border does seem to match up, but that's it).

More likely a better explanation lies in the importation of the Western idea of a nation-state (that a country should be coterminus with cultural boundaries), which tends to strongly reject the idea that countries can have multiple countries, combined with the failure of the Ottoman Empire to synthesize a durable Ottoman culture. The latter failure is arguably due in large part to, you guessed it, European meddling: the Ottoman state had largely functioned, and kept peace among fractious religious sects, by keeping its Islamic nature as a core of its identity (basically being a dual Turkish-Arab state). One aspect of this was the basis that most obligations of civic duty (particularly military duty) was borne solely by Muslims, with the non-Muslims (predominantly Christians) paying an extra tax, an arrangement generally accepted by both groups. European powers considered this intolerant [1], and forced a series of capitulations on the Ottomans in part to guarantee the security of Christians (which basically leads to the Armenian Genocide).

With the idea of a state centered on Islamic identity increasingly a failure, the Young Turks instead focused on a narrow, Turkish-based state, which alienated pretty much all minorities (including the Arabs) save the Kurds (their bid for nationalism started mostly post-WWI). After the Armenian Genocide, many Arabs suspected that similar treatment awaited them, but they largely kept to showing support for the regime during the exigencies of WWI. The Iraqis in occupied Mesopotamia didn't cooperate with the British (not that it saved them from retribution), for example. The Bedouin did offer support to both sides, but they were not reliable allies to either side. Only the Hashemites (who controlled Mecca and Medina) revolted, successful only due to the aid of the British, who gave them Jordan and Iraq as victory spoils (their original Kingdom of the Hejaz was conquered by the Saudis, another British ally, in the interwar period).

[1] Side note: the Ottomans generally forbade the Muslims from proselytizing to the Christian groups, whereas the capitulations generally forced the Ottomans to accept Christian missionaries attempting to convert Muslims.

Thank you. Much-needed context.

This rabbit hole goes down deep. Too much for HN. There's a lot of ground to cover: gates of Vienna, and the fall of Constantinople, the Second Crusade, and so on.

As one can imagine, depending on where you choose to focus, you can fall back on western meddling or not. Sadly, this is the case for most arguments in the Mideast. Some things never change.

Suffice it to say that we could continue. For some time. It's a mixed bag, and nobody is either entirely innocent or entirely culpable. Simplifications -- even those in comment threads like ours -- invariably give the wrong impression.

This piece was a huge waste of time. Following the personal stories of a number of individuals in most of the Middle East countries does not give any information to the reader about any of the geopolitics or power plays in the region. It just leaves the reader confused and depressed that nothing can be done and we should probably leave this matters to people more knowledgeable. Is this some new form of journalism. And to see this in a NYT publication...

Also NY Times has so much *to answer for in their coverage of the events that it kind of make sense that they are avoiding any real analysis of the issues.

To expend further - not a single mention of Saudi Arabia as a major actor and sponsor of radical Islam (Wahhabism), Israel is mentioned in passing and Turkey is only mentioned as an emigration destination and a "porous" border, not a major actor with huge interest and ambition in the region. Full disclosure: I stopped reading after part 2 and searched for the relevant actors and that's what I found. Correct me if I've missed some hidden gem of insight from the NYT "journos".

As much as I respect the NY Times, I still have trouble reconciling why they give space to Brooks & Friedman, who are both increasingly out of touch, hackish, and self-interested to the point of combining their forces to snatch away gobs of credibility and flush them down the proverbial toilet.

tl:dr 100 pages:

1) People are fucking poor and hungry (extreme wealth inequalities) 2) Salafi/Wahhabi (Saudi) funding of islamism 3) Antediluvian hatred between people (it goes, way, way, way farther back than Sykes-Picot)

1 is a common misconception:

> According to a 2008 survey of such studies by Alan Krueger of Princeton University, they have found little evidence that the typical terrorist is unusually poor or badly schooled

[0] http://www.economist.com/node/17730424

It seems they are missing an important factor, namely 4) the personal, cultural and economical impairment due to the religion of Islam. Nobody has time to thrive when they have to pray five times a day, when almost every thought and action is dictated by an old book and when half of their human potential is hidden in cloth bags.

Is there much evidence for the specific choice of religion as a casual factor? Methods of blending a traditionalist religion with modern life seem much more important than which religion you start with. For example, Judaism imposes an extremely strict set of rules that govern almost every conceivable aspect of daily life. And indeed you find that strictly observant Orthodox Jews are mostly unable to function in a modern society; a large percentage of those living in Israel are unemployed and supported by state funds. However a large number of Jews have chosen to be somewhat looser in their adherence to Jewish law, which seems to be the key, rather than Judaism itself being more compatible with modernity.

I lived in Western Turkey for a year, and while nearly everyone was Muslim (some atheists sprinkled here and there), there was plenty of alcohol and bars, <20% of women wore the headscarf, and I honestly can't remember any instance of someone praying, let alone dropping what they were doing to pray. In Canada, I have some Muslim friends who do that, though.

Granted, this was in the less religious parts of Turkey, but it's grossly unfair to the moderates to paint everyone with the fundamentalist brush. There's a billion Muslims out there.

The majority of Christians do not believe that the Earth was created 10000 years ago!

I strongly recommend the comic book Persepolis to anyone who wants a better understanding of life in the Middle East (or at least, Iran).

Turkey is not a good argument for Islam being "tolerant" or Muslims being somehow naturally "less religious."

Ataturk abolished the Caliphate in 1924. He explicitly introduced the constitution to Turkey which declared the state to be secular, that is, independent of any religious influence! He effectively banned headscarves (hijabs, nijabs, whatever) in all public institutions (being religious attire, therefore to be separated from state), including schools and universities.

The West however wasn't so smart recently, forgetting how much fights and sacrifices were needed to achieve the freedoms we have now (but will we keep them depends on our readiness to stand for them, more than up to now).

Erdogan now pulls Turkey back to the pre-20th century state. And unfortunately, there are enough of those who support him and his Islamic "revival."


The comics Persepolis that you mention, among some personal stories, also covers the moment of "Islamic revolution" in Iran, which, among many other things, destroyed women freedoms. Before:




Watch and weep. Or consider whom you support.

It probably didn't help that the printing press was banned by the Ottoman Empire for centuries and "when they finally allowed it assigned a panel of religious experts to ensure that the books printed met with the moral and religious standards of the political elite."

From the book Why Nations Fail. http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-why-nations-fail/chapanal...

There is clear evidence that Catholic areas have lower levels of economic growth than Prodestent areas even within same country. So, religion really does impact economic growth. But, I don't think there is hard evidence to brake it down to specific causes within each religious group.

PS: While you may disagree with this, there is a lot of research into this topic: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=religion+economic+devel...

Do you have any sources for that claim? I would be genuineley interested in the methodology of this research. Its just anecdotal, but here in Germany it is the other way around. The Catholic south is prosperous, whereas the protestant north (east) is poor. I can think of examples where the opposite is true (Belgium) but I highly doubt that there is a casual connection. In Belgium for example the catholic (and more important industrialized) wallonia was very prosperous during the 19th century, in opposition to the more agrarian flanders. Nowdays its flanders that is more prosperous, and the old industrial regions in the south suffer from the effects of deindustrialisation.

The Protestant northeast suffered from being part of East Germany. A hundred years ago Prussia was much more powerful than Bavaria.

This may be true, but Bremen, Niedersachsen and Schleswig Holstein are not in a very good shape either (at least compared to Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg). But what all of this shows, is that there are a whole bunch of historical and socio-economic factors at play that have no connection with religion.

Prussia was also the last paganic part of Europe.

I have seen several pieces of research on this topic over the years, but here is something from a quick search.


I have seen US and England held up as other examples, Germany may be a counter example.

That is not really true. It ignores that in many of the states where this is true, there were very many other cultural differences, and also differences in the laws that they were working under.

I don't think this line of research hold up very well, specially not cross country over long timeframes.

I think you're confusing economic differences between the US South (very not-catholic) vs Northeast (very catholic) as being caused by the religion when there are a bunch of much more important differences, economically speaking, you could look at.

Take a look at total GDP per capita, the northeast is way ahead. Different metric, different results, still not caused by religion.

Correlation vs causation. Does protestantism improve productivity, or did the cultures where productivity is valued highly more easily convert to protestantism?

How do you explain Bayern in Germany then?

Simple explanation: communist occupation of East Germany by the Soviets brought there the "excellent" development opportunities also seen in the rest of Eastern Europe and Russia. Before that, Prussia was way ahead of Bavaria.

That still doesn't explain why Bavaria is ahead of other former West German states.

And global worming does not explain any specific daily temperature. The point is there are hundreds of years of history to do comparative analysis and thousands of locations to consider. I would suggest reading the literature instead of trying to point to a counter example.

PS: Bavaria is only nominally 51 Cathlic vs the average of 30 for the entire country. Further, you can break things down to a much lower level. https://cruxnow.com/global-church/2016/07/18/germany-mass-go...

Ok, then: Ireland, Baden-Wurtemberg, Austria, Lombardy.

Max Weber was a smart guy, but he died 100 years ago. I hope we have better things to correlate with prosperity than just one strain of a particular religion.

Over the last several hundred years Ireland has had massive economic issues. This may have little to do with religion but I don't think it supports whatever point your trying to make.

Have you ever heard of Bavaria? Also called Germany's Texas.

>when almost every thought and action is dictated by an old book

Compared to the US, where political actions are sorely based on facts and the bible and religion are completely irrelevant. /s

It's not really an issue only in Islam, people make a lot of actions because of an even older book - the bible - as well.

Have you met any Muslims that pray? Do you know anything about it all? 2 of those prayers occur before and after business hours. And even if they were working there's not a whole lot going on at 4:30am. 2 are short coffee break level prayers. A little meditation and a quick baslama and get on with it. And the longest, conveniently occurs around lunchtime anyway.

I fail to see how prayer affects anyone's potential in a negative way.

here at my workplace co-workers go to "pray" once an hour. And by prayer i mean cigarette breaks. These common interruptions are accepted and I watch as it takes minutes on return to get back to speed. those are the ones that reduce productivity. not sure the islam prayer cycle is that corrosive by a long way

And in our times of hectic impatient noisy lives, 5 pauses to reflect, even on "old religious ideas" (I'm fairly biased against religion), isn't a bad thing IMHO.

Agreed. I work with a devout Muslim. I think I'd more effective if I took meditation breaks as regularly as he takes his short, prayer breaks.

My MIL is Muslim. When we are visiting and it's time to pray she finds a quiet corner, unrolls her rug, does her prayer, and is back before the tea has finished steeping.

I've spent more time getting to the break room at work than she has on afternoon prayer. So I fail to see the connection between the 2-3 scheduled daily prayer times and production. If that is the case, coffee, cigarettes, lunch, and bathroom breaks are equal contributors.

>Nobody has time to thrive when they have to prey five times a day

Ah huh.


People always point to that, but the Islamic Golden Age was no more Islamic than Bonnie & Clyde's benders were financed by Bonnie & Clyde (rather than the folks whose money they'd stolen from banks). The fruits of the so-called Islamic Golden Age were planted by Classical civilisation, watered and tended by Zoroastrians, Jews & Christians — and harvested by Islam. Indeed, even during the 'Golden Age' many of the great lights were not of Islamic extraction (e.g. al-Khwarizmi, who was from a Zoroastrian family and may have converted out of economic or political expediency).

That's not to belittle the contributions of actual Mohammedans (e.g. Avicenna, who really did do more than just repeat his Classical forebears), but on the whole the Islamic Golden Age was what one would expect when a supremely wealthy but weak empire (the Eastern Romans) is conquered by poor but strong barbarians: the conquerors are rich & happy for decades, living off of the wealth they have taken. Like Anglo-Saxons building their mead-halls over Roman mosaics, they enjoyed the products of a higher civilisation but were unable to match them (the Umma being rather larger than the Heptarchy, they had a much bigger base from which to decline, and a correspondingly-longer period of relative comfort).

"many of the great lights were not of Islamic extraction"

... really? many of them ? can you please write "many" more from "non Islamic extraction"

"El-Khwarizmi, who was from a Zoroastrian family and may have converted out of economic or political expediency"

...So one particular scholar is not really a "muslim", soo it must that everything else worthy must be from non-muslim people

"but on the whole the Islamic Golden Age was what one would expect when a supremely wealthy but weak empire (the Eastern Romans) is conquered by poor but strong barbarians: the conquerors are rich & happy for decades, living off of the wealth they have taken."

...So they were just plunderers?

This is textbook western self-propaganda.

Don't pin this on western's. There are definitely those of us who have a grasp on history. This guy/gal has a readily apparent bias.

fortunately they are. This phenomena is just saddening, its the same thing on the other side and dialog become impossible.

>>and dialog become impossible.

The dialog becomes impossible because of many other important reasons, too, including,

a. the opposition by liberals/leftists/Islamists to bring forward any critical review of some extremely troubling vicious aspects of Islam and Islamic scriptures (Quran and Hadiths) under the phony reasons of islamophobia

b. the reluctance of Islamists to accept the notion of freedom of expression even if it means some of the expression offends the Muslims (e.g. discussion regarding pedophilia of Muhammad or someone drawing cartoons of Muhammad)

These views by Bill Maher and Sam Harris may help understand this point in a better way. [1], [2], [3]

In fact, the freedom of opinion is under attack because of Islam, even in the free western world to a large extent.

The freedom lovers, liberals and humanists must understand this threat posed by the vicious ideology of mainstream Islam. The USA and the west now must also invest similar (if not more) efforts and resources to fight this vicious ideology as those that they invested to fight another vicious ideology called communism.

It should however be noted that there are many people who have been Muslims just by birth and they do not necessarily follow the vicious ideology to its core.

So the fight must be against Islam and not against all Muslims, per se.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8E1u9lQeAsY

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PL8rZTuGfZo

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46nh8_BK7ok

No, comments and thinking like yours are the reason there is no progress.

In conflict between group X and group Y, if you ask X it's because Y does (insert list of offenses here). The same from the opposing side. Nobody wants to acknowledge that both sides have issues, and if they work towards fixing said issues the world will be a better place.

Your whole diatribe about "liberals/leftist/Islamist" is the exact same crap that extremist on the other side preach, just projected through your (the way I view it) conservative lense.

The biggest problem is that nobody is willing to step outside of their comfort zone, to see how the other half lives, in order to move forward. That goes for both the "liberals/leftist/Islamist" left and the "conservative/anti-pc/nobody-deserves-to-be-comfortable-except-me" right

> So the fight must be against Islam and not against all Muslims, per se.

If you understand what Islam is, and what a muslim is, this statement makes no sense.

>>If you understand what Islam is, and what a muslim is, this statement makes no sense.

If you mean to say that "Islam and Muslims are the same" I beg to differ. Islam is a religion not person and Muslims are persons.

Let me clarify, Islam is a religion/ideology whereas Muslim is a person who is either practicing Islam (religion/ideology) or who is labeled as Muslim because he/she is born within a family who practices Islam.

By "the fight must be against Islam and not against all Muslims, per se", I mean the fight must against the ideology/religion and must not necessarily against all Muslim population.

So it was a big mistake by USA to attack Iraq as a reaction to the 9/11 attacks on USA, instead the military attack (only small surgical level) should have been restricted to Taliban/Osama in Afghanistan and then along with that small military surgical attack, the USA should have actually opened a war against the vicious ideology of Islam.

The Iraq was not a big threat to USA. Millions of innocent lives could have been saved in Iraq and elsewhere, if the USA had realized that this is an ideological war and must be fought on the ideological war-front. This can and must be done by supporting liberal minded humanists (like, Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins) who are exposing the viciousness of the ideology of Islam and upholding the modern humanist values like freedom of expression and separation of 'mosque and state'.

Muslims are people who practice the religion of Islam.

Religions (for those who practice them) are ideals that are intrinsically woven into peoples lives.

So by saying you should attack Islam (with no qualifiers to that statement), you are indeed saying you should attack Muslims.

I'm not going to address the second part of your statement, other than to say that the war in Iraq was illegal, wrong, and counter-productive. It, 9/11, and US sponsored creation of the terrorist boogieman are largely the root that modern islamophobia, and on the flip side modern terrorist cells, have sprung from.

Just admit that you don't like muslims and go on about your day.

>>So by saying you should attack Islam (with no qualifiers to that statement), you are indeed saying you should attack Muslims.

That is your way of interpreting it.

I never said we should physically attack the Muslim people. I am not against Muslim people, per se. All I am saying is we should attack the vicious ideology of Islam.

If the sentiments of some (potentially radical or not-so-radical) Muslims get hurt due to the thought attacks on the ideology of Islam, so be it. These Muslims should learn to get offended and learn to respect the freedom of expression and learn to respond to such offending expressions in more civilized manners and not by killing people.

You should be telling and encourage these Muslims to learn the fundamentals of free and open society.

If some Muslims are getting offended because some people draw cartoon of their prophet, so be it, these Muslims must learn to live peacefully in a free society even if they get offended by other people.

If some Muslims are getting offended because some people raise the issue of the pedophilia practiced by their prophet Muhammad, so be it, these Muslims must learn to live peacefully in a free society even if they get offended by other people.

The liberals/critical thinkers should not be suppressed just because expression of their thoughts in a peaceful manner hurts the sentiments of some Muslims.

The liberals/critical thinkers have attacked earlier and do attack now also the Christianity/Judaism/Hinduism and our free society never suppresses their thoughts. Islam should not be an exception and hence Islam should not be given special treatment.

Once again let me make it clear that I am not against Muslim people, in fact, I do have many Muslim friends and they are open to such thoughts.

Civilisations built upon each others achievement ever since the dawn of history, it seems rather hypocritical to start cherry-picking the merits of a particular one.

Regardless, OP said Muslims couldn't thrive praying 5 times a day, the Islamic Golden Age (as big or as small as you think it was) still proves otherwise.

The classic "Golden age" deception.


Yeah youtube, the greatest source to get historical facts straight without any actual political bias.

>I am not a historian (around 9:30)

Last I checked we were discussing history..

Funded by the CSPI, which has a major anti-Islam agenda.

Because Christians would never pray a lot, slavishly follow an old book or oppress women?

And we hear of the appalling results of this almost every day across the world, or have I missed it?

Well they did, which is exactly how we know it's all a massively bad idea.

praying is not a problem. The biggest problem is lack of debt. Wanna open a new business? You can't take credit. Problems with cashflow? You can go to a debt prison. Forget about mortgage for a house etc.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding you. But mortgages exist in lots of Muslim majority countries. Are you really suggesting that Muslims don't take on debt?

You can take out a mortgage in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bangladesh, Morocco.. They were the first four I checked.

You can something similar to mortgage or credit in UAE as well, but being late on the payment has devastating consequences.


It has consequence for enormous part of a life. For example, I was traveling using metro in Dubai. I had 5 dirham on my travel card and the trip I wanted to take costs 3 dirham. I couldn't enter the train, because the maximum charge is 8 dirham, so I could have negative balance.

GP is referring to the fact that interest is forbidden in Islam. However, you can still get interest-based loans in Muslim countries. They're just branded differently.

So GP's point is invalid than, no? Muslims take on debt and business loans regularly.

Sure, this is the same reason that nobody who smokes cigarettes has ever been successful. All those breaks they take in the middle of the day.

How long is a prayer in Islam ? it's an interesting idea but it's hard to believe that this has such a significant impact.

2-4 minutes. About the length of a standard coffee break

Alright, the point above is thus irrelevant.

That's absurd. Everything we do in the modern world stands upon technological, mathematical and scientific success brought to us by the middle east. Don't let you (imo apparently biased) thoughts about islam distort history

You could not be more wrong. I am a software engineer, and I pray five times a day. My wife is a physician, prays five times a day, and wears the headscarf. If our household income is any indication, we are thriving just fine.

It is obviously inaccurate to write "nobody" and I am sorry if I have hurt your feelings by this rhetorical device. I've merely pointed out a general tendency that Islam numbs social, economic and scientific progress, i.e. that the influence on the conflicts in the Arab World with regards to religion is not just a matter of differences in beliefs, but rather an underlying condition of a kind of belief which prevents progress. The niqab and burqa, the excessive structuring of day-to-day life, Islamic extremism, as well as oppression of women, gays and atheists are simply symptomatic examples for an overly binding religion. I've also only pointed out that it plays a significant role in the grievances in the Arab World, not that is the only cause.

I don't know about arabic countries and how religion affects their development but I tend to believe your comment isn't accurate. I've known personally a lot of muslims originally from those countries (colleagues, students, classmates, friends...). None of them preys five times a day or are hidden in cloth bags.

I think that's covered under 2) about Salafism/Wahabism

Islam is unrelated to the emotional and intellectual deficits imposed upon victims of poverty and disenfranchisement -- not only that but I think there's a strong argument in that a task performed five times daily repeated ad infinitum doesn't cause cultural impairment, nor does the age of a given mandate.

Furthermore, I think maximizing for "human potential" is a red herring -- the inevitable end-result is exercising control over a given population to exploit their human potential and TBH that sounds revolting. We should be given the freedom to live our lives out regardless of someone else's small and personal ambitions, including dedicating our lives to practicing Islam.

People see and act through their own personal philosophies and personalities. You can't peel those off and have any kind of reasonable conversation about culture and history.

When faced with impending death, pessimists might commit suicide. Optimists might struggle on. People with under-developed personalities might just listen to the first person they run into.

But whatever the case, their choices will be broadcast through their religious and cultural values. Those committing suicide could self-terminate. Or they could be suicide bombers. Those deciding to carry on could become artists or prophets. Or they might open a house of worship.

In addition, the definition of "impending doom" changes depending on your philosophy of life and worldview.

It's a red herring to blame everything on religion. People are people. But it's also a red herring to refuse to accept the role of religion in determining how well cultures thrive. Whatever myths you choose to believe in has a profound impact on how you see the world around you and how you react to it.

I'm not going to deny that many are judged based on their religious and cultural values, and that there are correlations between all Muslims that point to certain trends that some find alarming (eg: irrationality, lack of self-preservation, and strong desire for justice), but I cannot accept that such trends are a reflection of Islam.

Culture shock happens and when it happens on a massive scale then there will obviously be issues, and I think that is what we are witnessing now. It may take a generation but I am hopeful that Western society will co-exist with Islam peacefully, regardless of the negative interpretations some people have.

You could do the same with a billion and a half people anywhere -- give them a unifying identity, tell them to live in every nation on Earth, and make most of the poor and uneducated. There will be a central global point that people call home, there will be culture clashes, and there will be demagogues taking advantage of the situation.

My post had nothing to do with how people are judged. It was all about how each individual reacts to the same stimulus differently depending on what's inside their head -- which includes religion to a great degree.

Yes, there's a huge culture shock happening. Christianity has been quite flexible over the years. People still think that if aliens land that Christians will freak out. These are people who don't know their history. Whatever kind of weirdness comes along, somehow Christians absorb it into whatever they believe. Then they'll insist that this was what they believed all along :) To adherents, this is probably both a bug and a feature.

The jury is still out with Islam. With so many adherents, it's bound to morph into something. The pressure is certainly high. But I have no idea what the characteristics of that thing is or how much traction it will have in the community. Like I do all people, I wish them the best. Belief systems based on tribal forms of society aren't going to go far in a internet-connected world without a lot of change. Just ask the Judaism folks.

Thanks for the reply!

Preventing women from driving, from being in public without family members, from touching others, from having other see their face etc. etc. is 100% part of the 'intellectual deficit' imposed by Arabic flavours of Islam.

Islam is a religion, an ideology and a culture all blended into one. Parts of it are bad.

But I don't think it's any of that. I think it's something simpler: there is nothing in the desert. It's really hard to build a civilization of nothing. Absent civilization, even if there is Oil in the ground ... the surpluses won't be managed effectively or fairly.

I think that were the Arab world to be green and lush, it would be a better place, because civilization and power would have developed from an agrarian base ... which is more distributed, then higher level civic institutions can come into place etc.

With desert+oil, basic and important institutions don't get a chance to form, and you have a Fedual system which depends on the intelligence and benevolence of the Feudal Lords, aka House of Saud, Qatari 'royal' family etc.

> I think that were the Arab world to be green and lush, it would be a better place, because civilization and power would have developed from an agrarian base ... which is more distributed,

We are going to enter a similar situation in the developed countries as the workforce will be replaced by automation. Work has been a great "distributor" of wealth, each person being in charge of his own work potential. But after automation, people will have nothing to trade for. Regular people will become like "muslims in barren countries", dependants upon the state and wealthy. And the riches will collect in the hands of big corporations who operate the robotic fleets.

The only solution I see is to open source and democratize AI and robotics so it doesn't concentrate wealth like it happened with operating systems (Microsoft), search (Google), social networks (FB) and oil (arab countries). People need to be independent from now on. If corporations are to function without hiring people, then people need to function without needing said corporations. We need to focus on agriculture, 3D printing, solar and open source AI. We need to be self sufficient.

There is no AI or hard logic based systems that humans will agree upon as fair, because inherently human beings don't realize that they may be have been, or continue to be the recipients of hidden benefits.

We also used to say statistics is what people should study (in the early 1970s? iirc). Not everyone has the inclination or bandwidth.

This is a problem that will only be solved by figuring out tools to help the human component.

And Unfortunately any tool created has immense scope of being misused. The power no man should have.

For example, a tool which can identify the intent of a speaker online by studying the sum total of all conversations they have ever had, would be vastly useful in in helping people build bridges with each other. IT would solve immense problems with law keeping, justice, and even mundane things like moderation on a forum.

At the same time knowing intent would be the scariest thing to see abused by an unscrupulous third party.

You are confusing Islam with the cultures of the Arabian Peninsula -- it may be the birthplace of Islam but Muslims have done much more than eek out a meager existence among sand dunes.

Education curriculum, fairness, equality, social justice, civic duty, personal accountability -- all of these things are similarly as present in Islam as they are anywhere else.

Also, governance by royal decree is one of the most un-Islamic things possible. This is not lost on the Gulf monarchies so they are forced into a submissive position when confronted by the relevant Sunni Islamic authority.

> Education curriculum, fairness, equality, social justice, civic duty, personal accountability

The problem is which form they take. Women are clearly not men's equal in the Koran. The Koran talks about all these subjects, it doesn't mean it promotes these. According the to Koran(and the Bible) , slavery is acceptable, the Koran even tells how Muslims should treat their slaves. Is that the fairness,equality and social justice you are talking about ? Or are you twisting the meaning of these words at first place ?

You can argue the Koran is a product of its time,which it totally is. Saying that is a good way to invalidate the fact that it should be taken as "the final, perfect word of \"God\" " if it should be read in context. But it's forbidden for Muslims to criticize the Koran at first place... so back to square one.

Inequality between genders in Islam is a difficult subject to discuss without pointing out that many female Muslims in the Western world are afforded the same rights and freedoms as male Muslims -- indeed, Muslim women have achieved equality without being permitted to enter Islam's holiest sites.

That said, women are most definitely treated differently under Islamic rule as outlined by Islamic law, and there is no point of view that can deny this. Some would argue that women and men are inherently different and that it would be imprudent to ignore this, and this line of reasoning leads us to unpleasant situations like women being denied the same opportunities to achieve success as men are.

Millions of Muslims in the West find slavery to be barbaric and none of them own slaves, and not only that but one of the central tenets of Islam is donation to make slavery unnecessary. This is evidence of fairness, equality, and social justice not only being compatible with Islam, but encouraged.

That said, slavery is permissible in Islam under certain circumstances, and the primary basis for this permission is the profound lack of protection afforded to non-Muslims outlined in Islamic teachings. This is intentional and personally I hope it falls by the wayside.

Finally, criticism of the Quran is a touchy subject. The study of mathematics was regarded as being unable to bring perfection to the human soul, but many Muslims studied it nevertheless and humanity advanced in indescribable ways. Death was similarly regarded as an act of God regardless of the cause of death, but the study of medicine was defended as not being un-Islamic.


"Education curriculum, fairness, equality, social justice, civic duty, personal accountability -- all of these things are similarly as present in Islam as they are anywhere else."

My friend, no, they are not, and there is not a single nation on Earth where Islam is the prevailing religion where this is the case.

Now - I'm not saying that Islam is compatible with these things, and I agree that my comments are directed towards the 'Arabic and Arabic influenced world' - and that Islam in Indonesia is obviously something altogether different - nevertheless, your comment does not hold.

The Arab world is literally where civilization--the first development of agriculture, of urban settlements, of writing, coherent state polities, etc.--was first invented in history (note that most of these developments happened independently in a few places). They've had those things for at least 1000 years before anything in Europe showed any signs of comparable developments.

Your comment makes no sense. So Hammurabi was "Arab"? That's extremely anachronistic. Prior to then advent of Islam the Christian Roman Empire was much, much more wealthy advanced and sophisticated than the Arabian desert.

If you're criticizing a region for its geographic resources or lack thereof, it makes sense to discuss its history in terms of that geographic region as opposed to using cultural or ethnolinguistic definitions.

I'll also point out that Hammurabi was likely speaking an Afro-Asiatic language (of which Arabic is the most widely-spoken in modern times), so ancient Mesopotamia is as close to the modern Iraq ethnolinguistically as ancient Greece is to modern Western Europe.

While true, this is unrelated to Islam.


Mesopotamia, the "cradle of civilization," is in Iraq. Keep in mind that it is just one of many, it is nevertheless an area that is green and not an endless sandy expanse.

Sure, the praying alone would not create a huge amount of cognitive load, but it is just symptomatic of an overly binding religion. It must be terribly confusing as a Muslim to see other cultures vastly outperforming them even though these cultures don't follow the word of Allah, e.g. by not throwing people off of cliffs for having wild gay sex and not stoning women for adultery. These are literally the kinds of rules, fears and confusions that shape Islamic cultures.

Overly binding is subjective and many benefit from the strong social support provided by Islamic communities, and furthermore to feel jealousy towards other cultures is very un-Islamic.

That said, I continue to assert that your arguments are red herrings -- attempts to indirectly answer one question with another's answer. Fixing the issues you brought up are unrelated to removing Islam's influence on the people of the world, unless you feel that Islam's binding influence on large populations is prohibitively restrictive to the point that is an impediment to any social program of any scale on Earth. If that is the case then the natural progression will lead us to war, and many nations around the world have already been lead to this conclusion.

Dare I say it - might envy / jealousy towards another culture actually help the Arab world get out of this slump? It is precisely because the Arab world is so closed off - in terms of trade, in terms of cultural exchange, to Western cultural and economic ideas that this widespread poverty remains. This closure means that autocrats are able to pit Islam against Western ideals, constantly - we're bad, but we can stay in power as long as we're not them, them being the decadent and greedy Westerners. Forget about the good ideals we bring - liberal democracy, decentralization of power. We haven't helped matters at all, what with our invasions, but to say it is just Western influence (which some are, not necessarily you) that has caused this morass, is oversimplifying matters and ignoring the huge role of religion and religious fundamentalism.

The fact that when given a chance to re-envision their society and culture, revolutionaries in these countries such as the Muslim Brotherhood keep choosing Sharia and other forms of theocracy means I think they will remain in a society strangled by the yoke of fundamentalist religion for the foreseeable future.

People in the Arab world aren't patients - they are agents, and have the power to change their circumstances.

There already is jealousy -- the Arab world consumes Western culture in greater quantities than ever before and they are migrating to the West in greater quantities than ever (as you may have seen in the news...). I would liken it to the fall of the Iron Curtain but a number of times larger in scale and effect, as well as across massive geographic and cultural faultlines.

But, IMHO, what you are describing is universal. Autocrats have been taking advantage of cultural clash since time immemorial, it's just that the Middle East has been largely uneducated and weak while being led by opportunists.

Anyways, I am completely open to admitting that you are correct. Demonstrating the value of Western culture most definitely results in migration away from Islamic fundamentalism.

Also, it's easy to say that people in the Arab world are afforded agency, but what you are advocating requires people in the Arab world to be educated. The former is useless without the latter.

I think addressing cultural flaws more directly could make such social programs more effective.

Calling them cultural flaws and saying they need to be addressed is one of the worst first steps you can take, but setting aside that there are already many Muslims integrating into Western society without having directly addressed the those issues.

Simply allowing them to participate in Western society is enough to sufficiently "address" those issues, as many will naturally gravitate towards more progressive and liberal lifestyles.

I have seen many Muslim women driving, walking outside, and showing their faces without incident, but I think it's important to point out that there are plenty of non-Muslim cultures that punish unmarried women for public displays of affection (including simply being present with a non-relative male).

Why not call the flaws what they are? The diffusion of values seems to be a very slow process, if it works at all given the ever growing Muslim population. The percentage of third generation Muslims in Western countries who still don't really oppose ideas of violence and misogyny in the Quran and who would prefer to return to a social order of the lifetime of Muhammed is astonishingly high (~30%), and Muslim fanatics in the Middle East are also often highly educated. They know about Western values, but they don't value them. Why should they, given that our view is all wrong to them?

It boils down to the simple question whether value diffusion is faster than they breed and escape possible upcoming droughts and whether there really is potential for a major cultural clash. Some people say it's obvious in one way or the other. I really don't know. I am also not convinced by anything I'm writing, I am just trying to get some confirmation or disconfirmation of these sort of ideas.

And what would be the percentage of Christians in Western countries who don't really oppose ideas of violence[1] and misogyny[2] in the Bible and would prefer to return to a traditional social order?

[1] http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=21

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10635510/Women-...

There is a difference in the percentages and arguably in the degree of accepted violence and actually lived misogyny. There is definitely a difference in the extremes (Islam is currently the only ideology to produce suicide bombers in such large quantities). There is also a difference in that the Bible is regarded to consist of interpretations of God's words, whereas the Quran is regarded to contain a direct transcript of Allah's words.

And what would be the degree of accepted violence by Christian extremists, historically?[1][2][3][4] Can we even begin to compare it? Subtly narrowing the definition of "violence" to "suicide bombers" alone serves a political agenda.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquisition

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crusades

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_on_slavery

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_and_antisemitism

Back then the inhibition level for violence was much lower than it is today, even in the Middle East. Also the Christian culture went through various changes, i.e. the French revolution and enlightenment, which have never occurred in Islamic cultures. Even the kind of enlightenment in the Golden Age were deeply motivated by religion and were hence inherently unstable and also limited.

I am talking about the cultural difference today, not in the past, about aggression and harmful traditions occurring in reasonably stable and educated middle classes. Note, that I am not trying to whitewash the past of Christianity; both sets of beliefs are bad in that they have or had the potential to produce fundamentalism and badly informed decisions, but I am just arguing for a qualitative difference between Islam and Christianity (especially today's Christianity and Islam), i.e. one is much worse than the other. Today's Christianity does not produce anything as Islam does in other troubled regions such as African countries, even though these people would be in their 'right' to take vengeance for e.g. centuries of slavery, right?

Literally Christians have been the most violent people of the 20th century by orders of magnitude.

But motivated by greed and (geo)politics, rarely by religion.

The last sentence in my previous comment was not very clear. What I meant to say is that there are many non-Muslim African countries which have suffered from Western exploitation, yet we don't witness the kind of religiously motivated violence as in Islamic countries with comparable histories. This is an indicator for different dispositions caused by different sets of cultural memes.

Similar punishments are prescribed by the Old Testament, so not specific to Islam. Luckily religion was replaced as a moral and especially legal guideline in "the West" thanks to the Enlightenment and the French revolution.

> Similar punishments are prescribed by the Old Testament, so not specific to Islam.

Saying that is ignoring the hadiths and the sharia which describe in great details all the aspects of the life of a Muslim. There is no such thing with Christianity. There are no "christian tribunals" describe by the bible. Islam is closer to Judaism in that aspect. The bible doesn't cover in great details all the aspects of life of a christian. Furthermore the new testament is clearly a new covenant incompatible in many aspects with the first one.

The parallel (but in the opposite direction) with the New, potentially peacefuler(1) Testament replacing the older, bloodier one, in Islam is that the "newer" Quran verses (and in the same book specifically proclaimed to be "more true" even if "all are true") are actually those calling for Jihad and the "unbelievers" (original: Kafirs https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kafir or mushriks, depending on the verse) to be "slayed" (and variants). The original term for the "newer verses are more true" principle (also known as abrogation) is:



1) but still, regretfully, threatening with the "hell" for ever and ever for the "sinners," judgement day and the stuff

Thanks, will read after work. :-)

It was surprising.

From what I've read, people living for a long time in dictatorships are quite intolerant and hateful. (There were quite a bit of intolerance in East Germany after 1989, too. And examples from Eastern Europe are well known.)

If/when the Arab world get rid of the dictators controlling the media and education gets better, they should become more "normal".

Or maybe I am too liberal in assuming every culture will walk the same path as us. I doubt it. Until someone comes up with something that works better, liberal [edit: and ~ capitalist] democracy is the least bad alternative.

The general public aren't all that liberal even in the liberal west. It seems to be a question of security: the more secure people feel, the more willing they are to let others do their own thing. Whereas if their own economic or security situation is bad, they're much more likely to interpret difference as threat.

No, you're just naive in that a community ruled by religious narratives will suddenly jump to democracy. Look at age of enlightenment. They never had one.

The age of enlightenment only came after a series of religious/civil wars that wracked Europe for hundreds of years, set brother against brother, depopulated and ravaged huge swatches of Germany, central Europe and France, and essentially broke the temporal power of the churches and the papacy.

That's not the most pleasant blueprint to follow...

Correct. The Thirty Years War killed about a third of the population of the Germanies; the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (often erroneously called the "English Civil War" -- there were at least five wars, in England, Scotland, and Ireland) killed about 10% of the total population of the British isles.

Those wars scared everybody who'd grown up in the affected territories off religious absolutism for a very long time -- at least, off religious absolutism by the standards of the time: things were still grim by modern standards -- and created an environment in which philosophers could develop the ideas and concepts of the enlightenment without being burned at the stake for heresy.

The Arab world looks to be on the skids heading towards its own equivalent of the Thirty Years War right now. I just hope the eventual outcome is positive, and that they get to it faster and with less bloodshed.

I passed the small museum of Turda ("unfortunate name", as the Lonely Planet Guide put it) in Transylvania.

Around when we were doing the 30 year war et al in Western Europe, the East Europeans of the area were writing edicts about religious tolerance. (Yes yes, a deplorable lack of fashion sense.)

That example sadly seems unlikely right now. But since soon all minority groups are thrown out of the Middle East, there won't be anyone left to hate (except for those that move to Western Europe).


And yet that was the result. The price paid for it was enormous and it took time. The question is only if we're willing to repeat this in Europe again.

> If/when the Arab world get rid of the dictators controlling the media and education gets better, they should become more "normal".

When will the West do that ?

Since you won't risk any problems for implying that the Western countries are oppressive dictatorships, that warps the culture to hatred of others -- I'd say the West have gotten a little bit on the way. :-)

(assuming you live in the Western world.)

it was that liberal philosophy that the administration thought it would be a great idea to destabilize and kill the dictators that created this hot mess.

many of the dictators are either dead or crippled, and the world is awash in more terrorism than ever before.

Correlation doesn't imply causation.

Do you think Saudi will fall apart?

Of course it will. Someday, there won't be enough bread and circuses and sinecures for all of the extended offshoots of the House of Saud, and somebody will stir up popular, probably religious, discontent, or else a disaffected faction of the government/royalty will stage a coup.

Besides that, it is a regime, and really, a nation, that is entirely predicated on petro-dollars. They have been fighting a price war against US/Canadian oil production, burning foreign currency reserves, in the hopes of setting back the clock. Unfortunately, the break-even point in the North Dakota and shale oil fields keeps going down[1].

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/rrapier/2016/02/29/the-break-eve...

> it is a regime, and really, a nation, that is entirely predicated on petro-dollars

There was a HN article[1] a few months ago, on the efforts to move Saudi Arabia away from reliance on oil income. Although who can say how successful that effort will be.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11540776

The Saudis will eventually fall, but thats not gone be anytime soon. If the carrot does not work anymore, they have the stick. Just look at Saddam, he was not popular but managed to remain in power for a long time. The Saudis have more money, and a easier to repress, less divided population.

The Saudis will be fine for a long time.

The stick has to be paid too--otherwise things don't go very well for those who wield it. Saddam at least had enough of a domestic economy to tax to pay for the security services, as well as a loyal extended family that actually did some of the grunt work, whereas it is doubtful the Saudis have either.

The Saudis are sitting on the largest reserves in the world. They are profitable at the lowest prices. They have money for the stick and the carrot in excess and will be so long as oil has relevance.

> If the carrot does not work anymore, they have the stick.

Not really; while they've spent a lot of money of hardware to use as the stick, they House of Saud lacks the loyalty of enough of the population for the stick to be the primary control -- they need a lot of carrot to even keep the trigger fingers that would apply the stick on their side, which is a lot of the reason for all the accommodation the regime makes with religious extremists.

For me it is extremely simple: They have an extraordinary amount of oil:Iraq,Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, natural gas: Libya,Iran or they are in the middle of strategic places to build oil ducts: Syria, Afghanistan.

http://www.energybc.ca/images/profiles/oil/reserves.jpg https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_natural_g...

The West needs much more energy that what they have. They have industry and without energy their society will collapse.

Anything else is secondary. Most of those places are desert, and have not enough technology to protect themselves from Western (or Eastern)plundering.

Those countries can only life in peace as protectorates from powerful industrialized countries, like Saudi Arabia(de facto protectorate of USA, its oil can only be paid in USD), or Iran(protectorate of Russia and China) or Syria(Russia).

Libya itself had a lot of Chinese civilian presence, but not military. So UK, USA and France thought it was going to be easy to take the country by force, like they did.

They also tried with Syria, but Russia had an army there. They tried hard, remember Assad having chemical weapons so the West needed to "save" and "free" the country? Putin reacted fast to that. The need of creating a fly exclusion zone(prior to the invasion, like in Libya), again Putin reacted faster sending his own airplanes.

This is a way to reductionist view of the situation. Yes, oil is important, very important, but it completely fails to explain a huge number of factors that are in play.

Your reduction of the middle east countries as simple 'protectorates' is also completely false. These are countries with their own opinions and politics and they are far, far more then just outposts of the more powerful nations. Seeing everything as a global power struggle will not lead to understanding of the situations.

> The West needs much more energy that what they have. They have industry and without energy their society will collapse.

Thats also completely false. Any analysis of this will show that even in a worst case of a huge war in the middle east, the changes in oil prices would not collapse the first world. It might cause a slight slowdown in growth, and that only in the short term.

One of the most interesting things traveling to African countries is lots of locals considering oil a curse.

There is a great relationship between having huge resources and war, violence and crime.

The countries in Africa with less resources are the richest ones, because they had peace for a long time. War destroys any wealth people have and give it to a few guys. It also destroys al civilization and social structures.

> One of the most interesting things traveling to African countries is lots of locals considering oil a curse.

Don't see any of them in a rush to give up their 'curse'.

This is just another propaganda piece to obscure what is really happening.To make sure that no Arab spring takes place, the US has sold all its allies all the weapons they might need to crush any opposition to their fiefdoms. The New York Times never explains to us who those moderate rebels are. "The alliance says it is fighting “terrorists,” a name it uses for all of Mr. Assad’s foes, from the extremists of the Islamic State to more moderate rebels who came out of the Arab Spring protest movement against his rule." http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/16/world/middleeast/syrian-fo... "Donald Trump Praises Dictators, But Hillary Clinton Befriends Them" "Clinton has described former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and his wife as “friends of my family.” Mubarak ruled Egypt under a perpetual “state of emergency” rule that involved disappearing and torturing dissidents, police killings, and persecution of LGBT people. The U.S. gave Mubarak $1.3 billion in military aid per year, and when Arab Spring protests threatened his grip on power, Clinton warned the administration not to “push a longtime partner out the door,” according to her book Hard Choices. After Arab Spring protests unseated Mubarak and led to democratic elections, the Egyptian military, led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, staged a coup. El-Sisi suspended the country’s 2012 Constitution, appointed officials from the former dictatorship, and moved to silence opposition. Sisi traveled to the U.S. in 2014 and met with Clinton and her husband, posing for a photo. The Obama administration last year lifted a hold on the transfer of weapons and cash to el-Sisi’s government....Egypt is far from the only military dictatorship that Clinton has supported. During her tenure as secretary of state, Clinton approved tens of billions of dollars of weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia – including fighter jets now being used to bomb Yemen. Clinton played a central role in legitimizing a 2009 military coup in Honduras, and once called Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad a “reformer.” And in return for approving arms deals to gulf state monarchies, Clinton accepted tens of millions of dollars in donations to the Clinton Foundation. Clinton has also boasted about receiving advice from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was notorious for his support of dictators. According to records from the National Security Archive, Kissinger oversaw a plot to assassinate the Chilean President Salvador Allende and install the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet."

So did the US foment the Arab Spring or did it try to stop it? I'm having trouble getting all these conspiracies straight...

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paragraph:

Though not required by the syntax of any language, paragraphs are usually an expected part of formal writing, used to organize longer prose.

Ha ha ha ... ha ...

The 'Arab World' was never together. Ever.

All of the 'Anti-American Imperialism' kids here should remember that the bulk of the 'Arab World' is 'Arab By The Sword'.

Arabic is spoken across North Africa, in particular because of Arab Colonialism of the 9th-12th centuries.

Not since then has the 'Arab World' been anything resembling 'together'.

The Turks kept them (and there was not much of them) under the thumb, after that the Europeans tried to maintain some degree of balance, now the Americans.

The most recent and damaging decision by the US was Obama's withdrawl of troops in Iraq. Of course, invading in the first place - but Obama simply by virtue of having 10K soldiers sitting on a base 'behind the wire' doing nothing, could have kept forcing Malaki to play nice with the Sunnis. The moment Obama withdrew, Malaki purged Iraq of Sunnis, and the Sunni tribes decided that ISIS was 'less worse' than their own government and there you have it.

As far as Syria ... this is a function of the 'Arab Spring' more than anything, and I don't think anyone can say anyone else is directly responsible for that. Other than the standard: Assad, Saudis, Iran etc...

Once things stabilize in Syria, maybe things can start to settle down.

First of all, stop being so cocky. I wager a great many people know a hole lot about the history of the region.

That said, I agree, the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a huge mistake. The horrible handling of the early occupation was a total disaster. I also agree that the withdrawal of the last troupes was a problem, however its understandable because the population in the US wanted out, and its not clear for how many more years they would have to stay, possible a 1-2 generations.

As far as Syria, its true that the 'Arab Spring' was the initiator but its also true that the insertion of ISIS into Syria made the hole conflict a hole lot more complicated (and ISIS could only exist in post Saddam world). Syria is now the most complicated war I have ever seen, you have multiple local, regional and global powers all actively fighting against some other party that is also fighting.

With regards to Syria their is absolutely no change of some kind of resolution, except if some side manages to carry the field militarily. I fear that the war just has to burn itself out. This process will radically change the middle east. I would not be surprised if the Kurds had their own state in the end.

> Once things stabilize in Syria, maybe things can start to settle down.

OT, but do you see this happening soon? The only way it seems that Syria can stabilize is for the regime to retake control. That's beginning to look like the most likely outcome. Could there ever be a path back to pre-Spring peace? Anything is better than what they have now :(

290.000 deaths later and 1/3 of the population fleeing the country. Even if the US knows that the return of Assad's tyranny is the only quick path to peace, they (US) will not be willing to bear the blame of the damage created.

US is not really to blame directly in this case. The US by now is willing to accept Assad for a limited time. Russia has also shifted and might accept that Assad has to go in the middle to long term. Their is a chance that they could agree.

However local powers, Turks, Saudis, Iranians are not that flexible. Iran really needs Assad in power, they really want to crush ISIS. The Turks don't want the Kurds to form their own country. The Saudis want Assad gone and don't want ISIS completely destroyed.

I'm guessing that now Erdogan and Putin are friendly again things could stabilize quite quickly probably with the old regime still in charge.

Does the west and especially the US have anything from stability?

I think they also would do, what they did to the "arab world" to Russia or China if they could.

The parts of the world that advance faster can dictate more rules, so everyone needs to get ahead. One way to ensure that this is the case is to slow other parts down.

Yes, stability would be good for them and everybody. War and fighting is not good for business in general.

The instability we see is definitely not a function of design. If you have studied any of it you will quickly realise that this is situation that has many actors that act based on their own interest and absolutely nobody has control over it. Those that attempt to control it usually end up creating a hole host of unintended consequences even if they sometimes manage to achieve their main goal.

Its however true, that in some limited cases, creating more chaos can potentially help you. Such cases definitely exist but they are not the majority of strategies used. Syria releasing of Jihadist to split the rebels is a interesting example of such a strategy. It usually is a strategy of the weak, not the strong. The strong prefer control, not chaos.

The idea that it would be best to throw everything in chaos is completely wrong and even the leaders of the super powers understand that. Only if you assume that their is some sinister conspiracy that has completely different values thats operating under our institutions, could such a policy be explained. I see 0 evidence for such a conspiracy.

But if they throw people into war, they have control.

I mean, yes these people are now uncontrollable, but they also in a state of chaos that prevents them from getting so advanced that they would be a real problem for first world countries on a global scale.

I don't understand why you don't want them to get advanced (or think US leaders). Economics is not a zero sum game. More developed states are good for us. If these states start to increase their oil production, its good for us.

Also I don't know what advanced threads you think they could become? Other then becoming nuclear powers, they can not pose such a thread. Non of the countries that the US attacked is anywhere close to that level.

The only country that is, Iran, was not attacked by the US and are voluntary not building a nuke.

Also the chaos the created is totally against their interest, now china is a major player in Iraqi oil. Russia and Iran are drawing together more over the Syria issue. They are running into a huge conflict of interest regarding the Turks and the Kurds. That's just the beginning this strategic disaster.

Its far easier to deal with stable regimes and when you want to take one down, you should always have a successor in mind. You can go threw history and look at all the great conqueror in history, they are always trying to set up puppet regimes that they control, and not throw everything into chaos.

You don't need to be that "advanced" to cause real trouble to other countries around the world, and strong countries generally have more stake in the international and are less likely to rock the boat, which in turn favors other strong, status quo powers. From the US point of view, Putin isn't a friendly guy, but today's Russia is far better for the US than a weak, divided one full of Russian Orthodox extremist groups bent on exporting the traditionalist revolution across the world. Likewise, it's not like even the strongest possible Syria would pose a "real problem" for the likes of US, Russia, the EU or China.

The snark at the beginning of your comment may be causing downvotes.

Didn't finish that sentence: 'of course invading Iraq was a huge mistake' ...

I'm still surprised at how people let them off with "a mistake". Cheney himself detailed very clearly what would happen, just a few years back. How can it be a mistake when you predict that some action will have a certain consequence, you do the action, and you're right in your prediction?


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