Not particularly recent pieces, because my thesis has taken up most of my free time over the past two months, but worth reading if you haven’t yet.
Graeme Wood in the Atlantic: “The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.”
Daniel Byman and Jennifer Williams in Lawfare: “As troubling as the Islamic State’s successes are for U.S. officials, there is one person for whom they are even more troubling: Ayman al-Zawahiri. Although the Al Qaeda leader might be expected to rejoice at the emergence of a strong jihadist group that delights in beheading Americans (among other horrors), in reality the Islamic State’s rise risks Al Qaeda’s demise. When Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi rejected Al Qaeda’s authority and later declared a caliphate, he split the fractious jihadist movement.”
The Kurdish right to self-governance
Fantastic primer from Michael Eppel on the history of the Kurdish demand for self-determination:
Although the development of the Kurdish national movement in the modern era was slow and late, Kurdish distinctiveness and Kurdish identity appeared earlier than most of the nations that achieved independent states in the twentieth century; and though the Kurds suffer from internal differences and splits and are in a complicated process of nation-building, the Kurdish national consciousness and self-definition are much more advanced than many of the national groups that have obtained independent states.
The Kurds’ striving for an independent state is no less legitimate than that of the Zionist movement prior to 1948 for the establishment of the State of Israel or of present-day Palestinians for a state alongside Israel. The Kurds have as much right to an independent state as the other national groups that have established states since the end of WWI and especially since the end of the Cold War.
The establishment of an independent Kurdish state will have implications for the international situation in the Middle East and will influence the political characteristics of the states in the region. The possible disintegration of Syria and Iraq will create conditions for an independent Kurdish state. If Iraq and Syria survive, and if their regimes embrace federalism, the Kurds will likely continue to build their autonomous regions. However, the inflexible attitudes of Turkey and Iran toward the autonomist demands of the Kurds endanger the chances of a peaceful solution that will satisfy Kurdish nationalist demands. A political solution for Kurdish national aspirations—a fully independent Kurdish state or Kurdish regions that enjoy wide autonomy in the framework of existing states—is necessary for the stabilization, peace, and successful development of the Middle East.
A dark Christmas for the Christians of the Middle East
Sadly, the tragedy of the Christians of Iraq — who span a whole range of doctrines and ethnic groups — is being replicated in many other places. Sectarian tensions are deepening around the world, and Christians are often the victims. Syria’s mostly Orthodox Christians are caught in the middle of the civil war between the government of Bashar al-Assad and its Islamist opponents. Egypt’s Copts are still attending charred churches, burned in anti-Christian pogroms and battling persistent anti-Christian sentiment. And now churches are even being targeted for attack by Hindu nationalists in India.
The case against paying ransoms
Peter Singer on the ethics of paying ransoms:
The refusal to pay ransoms to terrorists can seem callous, but in truth it is the only ethical policy. Governments that pay ransoms to groups like the Islamic State are saving the lives of some of their citizens, but putting the remainder of their citizens – and others – at greater risk.
The Christian exodus from the Middle East
As tempting as it may be to attribute these events to the atmosphere of post-insurrectionary anarchy in Egypt and Syria, that is not the best vantage point from which to view the problem. Take a step back, and it becomes clear that the recent assaults are part of a bigger offensive against Middle Eastern Christians, one that can be traced back to decades-long developments in regional politics and Islamic society. The Arab Spring may be the proximate cause of some of the worst violence, but its roots run much deeper – and the stakes are much higher than one might think. What we are witnessing is nothing less than a regional religious cleansing that will soon prove to be a historic disaster for Christians and Muslims alike.
9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask
Max Fisher lays out a fantastic overview of what’s going on in Syria:
The United States and allies are preparing for a possibly imminent series of limited military strikes against Syria, the first direct U.S. intervention in the two-year civil war, in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.
If you found the above sentence kind of confusing, or aren’t exactly sure why Syria is fighting a civil war, or even where Syria is located, then this is the article for you. What’s happening in Syria is really important, but it can also be confusing and difficult to follow even for those of us glued to it.
Why are chemical weapons the red line?
Yet, what is the rational basis for such a strong norm against chemical weapons? Some writers such as John Mueller (in Foreign Affairs), Nick Gillespie (Reason), and John Glaser have called for erasing the red line. They argue that it is not at all clear that chemical weapons when used, such as in World War I, were more hurtful to civilians or military personnel than conventional weapons. Indeed, chemical weapons could potentially make for more humane warfare given their potential to incapacitate armies without killing them.
Five depressing thoughts about arming the Syrian rebels
Here are five observations, most of them depressing, about the Syrian civil war, formulated in light of the announcement by the White House that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has, in fact, used chemical weapons and that, in response, the U.S. will supply small arms and ammunition to the Syrian rebels.
Syria’s fighters: An interview with Jabhat al-Nusra
We want the future that Islam commands. Not a country with borders but an umma [worldwide Islamic community of believers] of all the Muslim people. All Muslims should be united.
The other sects are protected by the Islamic state. Muhammad, peace be upon him, had a Jewish neighbour, for example, and he was always good to him. But the power and authority must be with the believers [Sunnis], not the unbelievers.