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Nederlog

November 18, 2015
Crisis: Muslims, NSA, Isis, USA, Bill Maher, Circus Politics, Scapegoating Snowden
 "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
 
  -- Benjamin Franklin
  "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone

  "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton
















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Sections

Introduction

1. Film Shows Chilling Climate for Muslims in Post-Hebdo France
2. U.S. Mass Surveillance Has No Record of Thwarting Large Terror
     Attacks, Regardless of Snowden Leaks

3. Lydia Wilson: What I Discovered from Interviewing Imprisoned
Islamic
State Fighters

4. From the Annals of U.S. History: America’s Role in Creating
Islamic
Extremism

5. Bill Maher Takes Down GOP Over Paris Response
6. The Perils of Circus Politics
7. Scapegoating Snowden is 'Irrational' and Very Troubling,
Advocates
Warn

Introduction

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, November 18, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 7 items with 9 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article by Glenn Greenwald about the climate for muslims in France plus a link and review to a movie by Max Blumenthal and others; item 2 is about the fact that in 14 years of mass surveillance, with far stronger capacities to spy on anyone than any secret service ever had, not one large scale terrorist plot has  been found; item 3 is about someone who interviewed caught Isis members on their opinions and backgrounds; item 4 is about the fact that it is mostly the USA that both created and financed the extremist groups it now describes as "terrorists"; item 5 is about a recent interview by Bill Maher, that gets wrongly classified as "Islamophobia" by the reporter (in my opinion), and this also contains a link to the interview; item 6 is about an article by Robert Reich about the clowns who may get elected as the next US president (I point out it wasn't any better in 1968 when Nixon was elected); and item 7 is about the blame Snowden (completely falsely) got for the events of Paris, and about the ever-growing desire of the secret services to get as many secrets as they can get, by any means.

1. Film Shows Chilling Climate for Muslims in Post-Hebdo France

The first item today is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Yesterday, the New York Times published an article that was deeply alarming from the headline to the last line: “After Paris Attacks, a Darker Mood Toward Islam Emerges in France.” It describes how the relationship between France and “its Muslim community” is now “tipping toward outright distrust, even hostility” in the aftermath of last Friday’s violence. It highlights the fear experienced by French Muslims as they endure government vows of radical domestic crackdowns, a growing far-right anti-Muslim party, and waves of violently bigoted sentiments spreading on social media.

Yes, I can well believe it, and the Front National (<- Wikipedia) seems to me to be especially dangerous, both because of its policies and its present size.

Then there is this:

But over the summer, Max Blumenthal and James Kleinfeld traveled to Paris to examine the post-Hebdo climate for French Muslims. They interviewed numerous Paris residents whose voices are rarely heard in these debates — French Muslims, immigrants, French Jewish leftists — as well as other French citizens expressing the more conventional anti-Muslim views (including Christian Estrosi, the mayor of Nice (one of France’s largest cities) who warns of national television of a “Fifth Column” composed of French Muslims and calls the battle against it “the Third World War”).

Those interviews form the backbone of a new documentary Blumenthal and Kleinfeld produced, titled Je ne suis pas Charlie, which has been updated to include a discussion of last Friday’s attack. With the permission of its producers, you can watch the full 55-minute film on the video player below. I highly encourage it: Especially now, doing so is a very worthwhile use of your time.

And here is the link (this is to Vimeo, which my Firefox shows effortlessly, but then this is a recent Firefox, and I am on Linux):

2. U.S. Mass Surveillance Has No Record of Thwarting Large Terror Attacks, Regardless of Snowden Leaks

The second item today is by Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Despite the intelligence community’s attempts to blame NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for the tragic attacks in Paris on Friday, the NSA’s mass surveillance programs do not have a track record — before or after Snowden — of identifying or thwarting actual large-scale terrorist plots.

CIA Director John Brennan asserted on Monday that “many of these terrorist operations are uncovered and thwarted before they’re able to be carried out,” and lamented the post-Snowden “handwringing” that has made that job more difficult.

But the reason there haven’t been any large-scale terror attacks by ISIS in the U.S. is not because they were averted by the intelligence community, but because — with the possible exception of one that was foiled by local police — none were actually planned.

And even before Snowden, the NSA wasn’t able to provide a single substantiated example of its surveillance dragnet preventing any domestic attack at all.

Well, for the more intelligent, Mr Brennan is lying, as seems usual for him when talking to the press: Clearly, Isis knows how to avoid the NSA, and indeed the precursors of Isis knew this long before the emergence of Snowden.

What is also rather worrying is that the NSA had no success of identifying terrorists before they committed their crimes in nearly 15 years of spying and getting most of what there was to get.

This suggests two possible explanations: (1) the NSA doesn't really want to find terrorists (seeing that in nearly 15 years they hardly found any, while having far better chances than any secret service has had hitherto to do so, or (2) the NSA simply cannot find them, and indeed hardly has found them in nearly 15 years.

I suspect myself a bit of both is involved: Clearly, both the NSA, the USA government, and the leading American weapons producers gain a lot by some terrorism, for that "justifies" much of their activities, and also pays for them from the taxes, while Isis and other radical groups may have learned to avoid being tracked by the NSA.

But I simply do not know, although I still think (and since 2005 at the latest) that terrorism was and is mostly a pretext to justify spying on everyone - which indeed is supported by the NSA not finding terrorists, in spite of having by far the best chances ever to do so.

In fact, the following is the case:

In fact, there’s no evidence that the NSA’s extraordinary surveillance dragnet, as revealed by Snowden, has disrupted any major attack within the U.S. ever.

The U.S. government initially responded to Snowden’s disclosures in 2013 by suggesting that he had irreparably damaged valuable, life-saving capabilities. Two weeks after the media first reported on Snowden’s leaks, President Barack Obama said that the NSA “averted … at least 50 threats … because of this information,” gathered through communications collection in the United States and abroad.

Members of Congress and the administration alike subsequently repeated that claim, upping the total to 54 attacks thwarted.

But only 13 of the 54 cases “had some nexus to the U.S.,” Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in October 2013. And they were not all terror “plots”; a majority involved providing “material support,” like money, to foreign terror organizations.

There is considerably more in the article, and its title is well supported: The NSA has been of no help whatsoever since 9/11/01 in locating any large scale terrorist attacks.

3. Lydia Wilson: What I Discovered from Interviewing Imprisoned Islamic State Fighters

The third item today is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:

This starts as follows, and also shows an interesting idea:

Oxford researcher Lydia Wilson discusses interviewing members of ISIS held prisoner at a police station of Kirkuk, Iraq. "They are children of the occupation, many with missing fathers at crucial periods (through jail, death from execution, or fighting in the insurgency), filled with rage against America and their own government," Wilson wrote in a recent piece for The Nation. "They are not fueled by the idea of an Islamic caliphate without borders; rather, ISIS is the first group since the crushed Al Qaeda to offer these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity, family, and tribe."

The interesting idea - of course - is that members of Isis may have interesting stories about what moved them to become members of Isis.

Lydia Wilson did just that, indeed interviewing members that had been arrested, and found this:

And when I gave them a chance to talk and to ask more open-ended questions, it became very clear that they were fueled by a lot of anger, anger primarily against the Americans, but also against their government, that they perceived as Shia, sectarian, and anti-Sunni. They perceived that everybody was against them, that they weren’t given a chance in their own country. And many of them were poor. They were very low education rates—one was illiterate entirely—and big families and often unemployed. So, ISIS was not only offering them a chance to fight for their Sunni identity, but they were offering them money. They were being paid to be foot soldiers.

That is: These members of Isis (at least) were poor, badly educated, often with missing fathers, from large families, felt offended in their religious feelings, had a lot of anger, especially but not only against America, and were paid by Isis for soldiering for Isis.

It does sound all quite likely to me.

4.
From the Annals of U.S. History: America’s Role in Creating Islamic Extremism

The fourth item today is by Kasia Anderson on Truthdig:
This is a fairly brief piece that quotes a longer piece (which is here), from which I quote this, from an article by Ben Norton on Salon, because it seems correct:

Throughout the 1980s, the U.S. government supported and armed bin Laden and his mujahedin in Afghanistan, in their fight against the Soviet Union. President Ronald Reagan famously met with the mujahedin in the Oval Office in 1983. “To watch the courageous Afghan freedom fighters battle modern arsenals with simple hand-held weapons is an inspiration to those who love freedom,” Reagan declared.

Those “freedom fighters” are the forefathers of ISIS and al-Qaida. When the last Soviet troops were withdrawn in 1989, the mujahedin did not simply leave; a civil war of sorts followed, with various Islamist militant groups fighting for control in the power vacuum. The Taliban came out on top, and established a medieval theocratic regime to replace the former “godless” socialist government.

Yes, indeed. In fact, it seems the following happened (which was a rather fundamental change):

This Cold War strategy ended up being successful: After the fall of the USSR, the secular socialist groups that dominated the resistance movements of the Middle East were replaced by Islamic extremists ones that had previously been supported by the West.

That is, while until ca. 1989 the resistance of the Middle East was mostly done by "secular socialist groups" after 1989 the resistance was mostly done by extremist groups inspired by Islamic religion.

5. Bill Maher Takes Down GOP Over Paris Response

The fifth item today is by Kali Holloway on AlterNet: This starts as follows:
Bill Maher went on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" and was as Bill Maher as ever. That means he did a great job of refuting the ridiculous rhetoric coming from the GOP in response to the Paris attacks, then got it all wrong by accusing a good portion of the Muslim world of being extremists, then took a few good-natured jabs at Colbert over religion.
Well... yes and no. Here is what Bill Maher did according to Kali Holloway:

Maher began by taking on conservatives like Ted Cruz — whom Maher referred to as “a chickenhawk with a law degree" — who claim that we should essentially bomb the Middle East back to the Stone Age to take ISIS out.

“That’s crazy. And, I mean, just the idea that you can wipe them out, this is the old Vietnam model. Body counts. Remember Vietnam? ... You can’t wipe people out, off the map. That’s not gonna happen. What you have to do is wipe out the idea.”

So far so good, right? But then Maher veered into well-trodden Islamaphobia territory.

I don't think you can "wipe out the idea" (I take it: Of Isis and other Muslim terrorists) either, simply because there are always religious fanatics, and there has been a lot of violence from the Americans.

The best you can hope for is to lessen the fanaticism by lessening the violence - but indeed there is little hope of lessening the American violence with the present military and with most American poliicians.

Now we get to what Kali Holloway styles as Islamophobia (which is one of those propaganda-terms I dislike anyway):

“It would be one thing if the terrorists did not share ideas with lots of mainstream people who follow the Islamic religion ... If only ISIS believed that anyone who leaves the religion should be killed, well, maybe then we can finally kill all of ISIS. But what if that’s twenty, thirty, forty percent of all Muslim people in the world? You’re not going to kill all of them, are you?”

Maher added, “We have to change those ideas. Women as second-class citizens. Gay people don’t deserve to be alive. These are mainstream ideas, unfortunately. And liberals have to say, No quarter. No quarter for those kind of ideas."

No - I don't think that is "Islamophobia". It may be prejudice, for I don't think there is any good and reliable evidence of what Muslims really think (and there are certainly going to be a lot of differences between various Muslim groups) but then Bill Maher even gets reported as saying "what if".

I myself have no good idea, except that it seems to me as if most Muslims who live in European countries will not take this Muslim bit of faith very seriously. That also may be a prejudice of mine (there is no good evidence) but I have talked with quite a few Muslims in Amsterdam, and while they and I disagree about a lot I have not met much fanaticism.

Then again, I agree with Maher that the Muslim faith does not have my or his liberal ideas, and discriminates women and gays.

But I do not know how much difference my or his dissent from the Muslim faith  would make to Muslims, and I tend to think that in most cases it takes something like three generations (at least) for an immigrant to look like and talk like the populations they immigrated to - and that is apart from whatever remains from their religions.

Anyway, here is a link to the whole interview that I liked:


6.
The Perils of Circus Politics

The sixth item today is by Robert Reich on his site:

This starts as follows:

The next president of the United States will confront a virulent jihadist threat, mounting effects of climate change, and an economy becoming ever more unequal.

We’re going to need an especially wise and able leader.

Yet our process for choosing that person is a circus, and several leading candidates are clowns.

How have we come to this?

I agree. Here are Robert Reich's answers, minus text (for which you have to click the last dotted link):

First, anyone with enough ego and money can now run for
president.

Second, candidates can now get away with saying just about anything about their qualifications or personal history, even if it’s a boldface lie.

Third and finally, candidates can now use hatred and bigotry to gain support.

I agree, but I think I should add that it didn't look much better when Richard Nixon got elected as president in 1968 (which I can still recall).

Here is the end of Reich's article:

So now it’s just the candidates and the public, without anything in between.

Which means electoral success depends mainly on showmanship and self-promotion.

Telling the truth and advancing sound policies are less important than trending on social media.

Being reasonable is less useful than gaining attention.

Offering rational argument is less advantageous than racking up ratings.

Such circus politics may be fun to watch, but it’s profoundly dangerous for America and the world. 

We might, after all, elect one of the clowns.

I agree with all of that - but (1) I think (perhaps optimistically) that it is still quite unlikely that Trump or Carson or Cruz will get to be president, and (2) if this happens (which I strongly hope will not) it is mostly due to the stupidity of the masses, and that neither Reich nor I has any chance of curing.

7. Scapegoating Snowden is 'Irrational' and Very Troubling, Advocates Warn

The last item today is by Lauren McCauley on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:
As politicians and security officials rush to shift the blame—with the mainstream media following suit —for Friday's Paris attacks onto NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, a chorus of voices is warning that, in addition to being "unbelievably irrational," these claims are also very, very dangerous for civil liberties.
I agree, but - "unbelievably irrational" as these attacks are - I think they also are the staple diet that is served and will be served whenever these "politicians and security officials" get a chance of talking to the mainstream media: They want all the private data they can get, on any excuse, true or false.

There is this from Glenn Greenwald:
Greenwald reasoned that those shifting the blame to Snowden are the same people who "receive billions and billions of dollars every year in American taxpayer money and have been vested with enormous radical authorities ... and they have only one mission, and their mission is to find terror plots."
I disagree with the last bit: The mission of the NSA and the GCHQ is - I think since 2005 - first and foremost to get as many data as they can get, and only secondly (if that) "to find terror plots". And indeed, they were enormously
successful in getting as many data as they could, and enormously unsuccessful in using that knowledge to unfoil terrorist plots. (But I know this is no proof.)

And there is this:

Guardian reporter Trevor Timm on Tuesday also highlighted how security officials are "seizing on the tragedy to gain more power." He writes:

The fact that officials are so eager to push for extraordinary new powers in the wake of this attack is not surprising. It was just a couple of months ago that the Washington Post published leaked emails from the general counsel for the director of national intelligence, Bob Litt, in which he said that although the legislative environment is very hostile today “it could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement” and that there’s value in “keeping our options open for such a situation”.

"Now we are faced with that situation," Timm adds. "We are all appalled by the shocking events in Paris, but let’s not use them as an excuse to change our way of life and strip so many law-abiding citizens of their rights."

I agree with this, but then this is definitely not what Hollande and Cameron and Plasterk want: They want all the data they can get, by any means, including the forced breaking of encryption.

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