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Juan Cole

International Relations Expert Middle East Expert
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Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster), will officially be published July 1st. He is also the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (both Palgrave Macmillan). He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

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Juan Cole, USA 02/26/2018 0

11,004 Gun Murders in US vs. 26 (equiv. 130) in England Annually

A lot of smoke is being generated to cover up the fact that the horrific Florida school shooting that has left at least 17 dead results from a virtual absence of meaningful gun controls in the US, such that a few gun manufacturers are allowed to make powerful military-style weapons available to the homocidally insane and to gangbangers etc. The Las Vegas shooter, whom the US press has buried long ago, was not an immigrant. And, Britain has a lot of immigrants, too, but it has almost no gun murders.

The US policy of constantly endangering our children is enacted by a bought-and-paid-for Congress on behalf of 10 major gun manufacturers with an $8 billion industry. Most Americans don’t have or want a gun, and 50% of all guns in the US are owned by 3% of Americans, i.e. some 6 million people out of 320 million. That three percent would survive better security checks and a ban on assault weapons.

Last year, there were 1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days in the United States. (This statistic covered just part of the year).

You’ll note you don’t hear about mass shootings in Australia, Japan or for the most part the United Kingdom, or other civilized countries whose politicians have not been bought by 10 major gun manufacturers.

The United States continues to be peculiar in handing out powerful magazine-fed firearms to almost anyone who wants one and not requiring background checks on private purchases even if these are made at gun shows or by persons with a history of mental illness. 80% of civilian-owned firearms world-wide are in the US, and only Yemen vaguely competes with us for rates of firearm ownership; Yemen is a violent mess with Shiite insurgencies, al-Qaeda taking over cities from time to time, tribal feuding, southern separatism and US drone strikes. And even it has fewer guns per person than the USA.

It has gotten to the point where the increasing epidemic of mass shootings now threatens law enforcement.

The US is downright weird compared to civilized Western Europe or Australia (which enacted gun control after a mass shooting in 1996 and there have been no further such incidents).

In 2015-16 (the twelve months beginning in March), there were 26 fatalities from gun-related crimes in England and Wales (equivalent to 130 because Great Britain 1/5 the size of the US).

Police in the UK fired their guns 7 times in 2015.

Number of Murders by Firearms, US, 2016: 11,004

Percentage of all Murders that were committed by firearms in 2016 in US: 73%

Suicides in US 2015: 44,193

Gun Suicides in US, 2015: ~22,000

Percentage of suicides where the method was guns in 2015: 49.8

Percentage of all murders in England and Wales that were committed by firearm: 4.5 percent.

Academic research shows that more guns equal more suicides.

Number of suicides in England and Wales, 2016: 5,668 (equivalent to about 28,330 in US or 36% lower)

Number of suicides by firearam in England and Wales, 2011: 84 (this is the most recent statistic I could find but the typical percentage is given as 1.6% of all suicides; that would be the equivalent of 707 suicides by firearm in the US instead of 22,000).

For more on murder by firearms in Britain, see the BBC.

The US has the highest gun ownership in the world and the highest murder rate in the developed world.

It seems pretty clear, as well, that many US suicides would not occur if firearms were not omnipresent.

There is some correlation between high rates of gun ownership and high rates of violent crime in general, globally (and also if you compare state by state inside the US):

firearms-britain-menaced.jpg
h/t Christopher Majka

In the case of Britain, firearms murders are 53 times fewer than in the US per capita. [Don’t bother with flawed citations of Switzerland or Israel, where most citizens are the equivalent of military reservists.]

Do hunters really need semi-automatic AR-15 assault weapons? Is that how they roll in deer season? The US public doesn’t think so.

PS this is a revised version of an older column; if they keep refusing to legislate rationally and go on causing these massacres, I can keep writing a similar column.

Juan Cole, USA 01/31/2018 0

The Worst Thing About Year One of Trump: Fascistization of Cable News

American mass media journalism is broken. There are some simple elements of U.S. journalistic practice that have proved easy for special interests to hack, and the editors at least have allowed themselves to be used by sinister forces. (I am speaking primarily of television news here, and primarily of the 24 hour channels).

Despite the impression that Trump hates the press and forms a danger to it, the mass media actually has fallen for him, hard.

One key problem is the inverted pyramid model for American news, which is often not followed by European journalism. What I mean by that is that American journalists are trained to write a story by putting the most important thing in the first paragraph, then the second most important thing in the second paragraph, and so forth. History, if it is included, comes at the very end.

And, what the president says is considered the most important thing. So Trump gets the lede, every day, all day long.

It would be better and more informative to begin a story about racial prejudice toward immigrants (Trump’s “shithole” comment, which paralleled how German Nazis felt about most countries coming to their 1936 Olympics) with the history of racial prejudice toward immigrants– maybe focusing on a famous such immigrant who faced bigotry and overcame it. Then Trump could come at the end.

The search for ratings and advertising dollars above all is very dangerous. CNN’s Jeff Zucker put Trump on every night in summer of 2016, letting him speak directly to the public for an hour or more with no journalistic adult in the room. Trump attracted an audience, which allowed CNN to charge advertisers more. Zucker has to decide if he really wanted to promote Nazism for the sake of a buck.

The “on the one hand, on the other hand” model for cable news (also used by respectable outfits such as PBS “NewsHour”) is a big part of the problem. Since news gathering is expensive, the 24-hour cable outfits have moved to mainly putting on discussion panels. That move is a very bad idea. Most of the “discussion” is talking points by partisan hacks. Walter Cronkite would not have thought that was news.

What you actually should be doing is having a reporter interview people about a story and then present reportage. A Trumpie point of view or talking points may or may not be part of every story. The facts of the matter should be foregrounded, not how wacky people feel about the facts.

Since Trumpism is an American form of fascism, and since the cable news editors believe that they have to balance the discussion panels with regard to view point (on the one hand, on the other hand), they recruit Trump surrogates to speak for him. In some instances, they just hire people from his sleazy campaign.

The result is that Trump not only addresses millions with his tweets and bizarre harangues that pass for speeches, but he is ventriloquized by dozens of surrogates paid by corporate media to reach more millions with his often Nazi-like ideas.

The “two opposing sides” fixation of corporate news, the search for a spark of debate coming out of the clash of two different opinions (which is driven by the quest for eyeballs and the advertising revenue they bring) is easily manipulated by political forces for their own purposes. Thus, Twitter has discovered that hundreds of thousands of their accounts were Russian moles, and it now seems clear that Russian moles promoted both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter online in order to polarize the American public over race and help elect Trump.

(Russian social media moles also promoted hatred of American Muslims as well as anti-Islamophobic groups, and in one instance a demonstration by right wing Americans outside a mosque in Texas, as well as a counter-demonstration, were both promoted by Russian sites masquerading as American ones). American journalism focuses on glib surface divisions, giving an opportunity to those who deliberately want to polarize the public so as to mobilize people for some sleazy goal.

ISIL and other terrorist groups take similar advantage of this ability to use media to sharpen contradictions and promote both hatred and solidarity among their own followers.

This news model also allowed climate denialists and before them cigarette cancer denialists to manipulate the system. If every story has two points of view and they are equal, then you have to present both. But where one side in this debate is factually incorrect, it means you are doing the opposite of journalism. You are diluting the truth with false, paid-for propaganda.

There aren’t two factually correct sides of every issue. Racism is not a legitimate explanation for anything. Immigrants are mostly law-abiding and do not take jobs from native-born people because they compete in different labor markets. There isn’t a fixed amount of labor (a “lump of labor”) in an economy– economies can expand precisely because there are more workers available than before.

Cable news is now pumping out Trump talking points hourly to millions of people around the globe, because of their broken business model. It is degrading our society and our human values. The editors and the CEOs need to look at themselves in the mirror and decide if they really want brown shirts beating up their children in the streets, because that is where this thing is going.

Top photo: Coverage of the resignation of former Press Secretary Sean Spicer by four major cable networks in July. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Juan Cole, USA 01/13/2018 0

Trump’s Disastrous Year In The Middle East

Trump on the campaign trail said many self-contradictory things about the Syrian civil war. He wanted to carpet bomb ISIL, which had a strip of territory in the far east of the country. He wanted to send in 30,000 US troops, he said at one point. Then at other times he argued that “we” should just “let Russia handle it.”

As it happened, the Pentagon under Ash Carter, Obama’s secretary of defense, had worked up a plan to defeat ISIL and to deprive them of their caliphate by giving close air support to the Syrian leftist Kurds of the northeast.

Trump did not innovate in any way, he just had SecDef Jim Mattis go on doing in eastern Syria what Ash Carter had been doing. The US air force and aerial allies such as France bombed ISIL in their capital, Raqqa, and gave air support to the YPG Kurds, who gradually advanced to the center of the city and then took it away from ISIL. The capital of their so-called caliphate had lasted for only three years before they lost it.

As the action then picked up south of Raqqa, the Syrian Arab Army troops of al-Assad combined forces with the Russian Aerospace Forces to finish off ISIL. The US and its Kurdish allies did take some of Deir al-Zor province, but down there the regime reasserted itself.

So Trump, like Obama, helped maintain a buffer zone around the Syrian Kurds with 2,000 special ops troops.

But aside from putting down that marker for a sphere of influence in the Jazira, the northeast of the country, Trump has done almost nothing else.

Meanwhile, al-Assad and the Baath regime used their Shiite auxiliaries from Lebanon and Iraq and Russian air fire to further consolidate control over much of the country.

They lack the East Ghouta pocket outside the capital of Damascus, and likewise they lack Idlib province in the north.

Trump intervened briefly in Syria, where he dropped some Tomahawk missiles on a base he was convinced were being used for delivery of chemical weapons.

It was a one-time intervention, followed by … nothing.

In the meantime, al-Assad and Russia are gradually, and brutally, reestablishing regime control.

So of all his campaign promises, Trump’s actions came closest to the version where he lets Syria go to the Russians. The only wrinkle is the 2000 spec ops guys in the northeast among the leftist-anarchist Kurds.

Since Turkey doesn’t like that and al-Assad/Russia doesn’t, at some point Trump will have to decide whether the US troop presence there is a low priority or a high one. If the former, he’ll have to withdraw or face terrorist strikes. If the latter, he may come into direct conflict with shadowy troops belonging to someone or another. In other words, there may yet be a battle royale.

The 2011 youth revolt in Syria was turned by the al-Assad regime into a civil war. The regime deliberately used heavy weapons to target peaceful, civilian protesters, in hopes of making them militant so that they could be denounced to the outside world as terrorists. While outside money played a role in radicalization, most of that preexisted the outside money and was homegrown.

Top photo:”The regime deliberately used heavy weapons to target peaceful, civilian protesters, in hopes of making them militant so that they could be denounced to the outside world as terrorists.” (Credit: Bulent Kilic / AFP / Getty Images)

By Common Dreams

Juan Cole, USA 01/11/2018 0

Was Jesus a DACA Dreamer and Should He Have Been Deported/Crucified?

When the Roman Empire took Judea in 63 BCE, it ruled through vassals. It lost Palestine briefly to the Iranians, but then came back and from 37 BCE ruled through a vassal king, Herod.

Jesus of Nazareth, according to the Gospels, was a displaced person. In his childhood his parents fled Herod the Great and his plan to kill Jewish newborn boys, going to Egypt.

In 4 BC Herod the Great died and the family came back to Roman Palestine.

“Matthew says, “But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”

Around this time Rome instituted direct rule of Palestine, installing prefects. So the holy family came back, not to their own country, but to an empire where they had no status. Rome saw them as barbarian riffraff.

Jesus wasn’t viewed as a citizen by the Roman authorities. At that time, citizenship for non-Romans, or at least for people not from the Italian peninsula, was rare.

Paul of Tarsus was said by the book of Acts to be a Roman citizen. He was born near today’s Adana, Turkey, which was then ruled by Rome. If he had citizenship it was likely because his father had performed some extraordinary service for the empire. But it is most likely that Paul did not have citizenship; he never mentions it in his letters, and at that time it was a rare social status for a Jew from Asia Minor.

It is unclear why the Romans arrested and executed Jesus. They appear to have interpreted his religious teachings as political rebellion. We know this because crucifixion was a Roman punishment for enemies of the state, along with disobedient slaves and brigands.

I love Reza Aslan to death, but most academic scholars of the New Testament today do not believe that Jesus was in fact a political rebel or Zealot.

Here is the important thing. Roman citizens were not subject to capital punishment.

If Jesus had been a citizen of the Roman Empire, he would not have been executed, much less crucified.

His crucifixion was itself a testimony to his lack of citizenship, to his in-between legal status.

Jesus was an undocumented alien from the point of view of Pontius Pilate, and he was treated differently than a dissident in Rome would have been. He was an outsider. He was a colonial subject. He was an undocumented Mexican farm worker, from the point of view of Roman authorities.

In today’s America, Dreamers are undocumented young people who were brought to the United States as children, typically by undocumented relatives, just as Jesus was brought to the Galilee by his parents. In the strict letter of the law, they are in the United States illegally. (Statuses can be illegal; people cannot).

But dreamers, unlike adults who cross the border without paperwork or who overstay their visa, never consciously broke the law. They were toddlers or children. They had no idea what was going on. They lived in our neighborhoods and attended our schools, believing themselves native-born Americans. Subjectively, deep down inside, they are Americans. But they do not have a birth certificate and were not born in the USA.

The United States offers no path to citizenship except through the visa system. You get a work visa and then you get a green card for permanent residency and then you get citizenship. If you did not come in through that system, there is no way to apply for citizenship, as Dreamers would do if they could.

There is no Federal form you can fill out to apply for citizenship if your relatives brought you here as a child. There is no fine you can pay, no action you can undertake.

People say, you could self-deport and apply to come back. But if you leave, you get in a queue with millions of people and there is no guarantee you will ever be able to come back. In fact, if you admit that you were once undocumented, that would rather be a strike against you.

But remember that the Dreamers never consciously did anything wrong.

Now they are Americans. They speak American English. They go to university. They have live-in girlfriends or boyfriends and a network of friends from childhood. They likely do not speak the language of their country of origin, or don’t speak it very well. They know no one there. Deporting them to the country of their parents is more exile than it is homecoming.

Jose Antonio Vargas did not even know he was undocumented until his employer asked him for a birth certificate when he was an adult. He is an award-winning journalist.

The Federal government made a deal with the Dreamers some years ago, that they would not be arbitrarily deported, would not have to live in fear, if they went to school or got a job and behaved responsibly. (American citizens like Donald Trump can be here even though they behave very irresponsibly, routinely committing felony assault on other people’s private parts. But life isn’t fair.) This was the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Trump and the Republican Congress have reneged on that deal, throwing the future of 800,000 Dreamers into doubt.

Matthew 25 says,

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ ”

We forget that Jesus himself was a stranger from a Roman point of view, and that he was a prisoner, and he likely went hungry as a refugee child in Egpt.

As we celebrate Christmas today, we might give some thought to those, like Jesus, who lack citizenship, and who therefore are open to displacement and arbitrary arrest and punishment even though they have done nothing wrong– even though they might have been charitable to others around them and lived exemplarly lives. We might think about how we can help our fellow Americans who are full of promise and ready to contribute to our nation, who are here through no fault of their own but who are being treated as perpetual outsiders. We have to decide if we want to be more like Jesus or more like Pontius Pilate.

Top photo: A sign at a protest against the repeal of DACA, which allows undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as minors, to stay in the country and work. (Photo: Harrie Van Veen/Flickr/cc)

Juan Cole, USA 11/29/2017 0

As Flynn Cuts Off WH, Top 4 Alleged Crimes He Could Sink Trump With

This material was published by Informed Comment

Ret. 3-star general Michael Flynn, under investigation by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, has ceased sharing information on his case with the Trump White House. Analysts think that this move may be a sign that Flynn is turning state’s evidence and may provide information damning to Trump.

Flynn was a top Trump campaign official and then head of the powerful National Security Agency. He appears to have committed or planned several alleged crimes and if Trump was in the loop, he would be tarnished by Flynn’s rackets. (Not that Trump doesn’t have his own tarnishing rackets). Remember, it isn’t the crime that usually gets them but the cover-up.

1. In summer of 2016 and again in Dec., Flynn discussed with Turkish officials the possibility of kidnapping the Turkish Muslim religious leader Fethullah Gulen, whom some charge with running a cult. Gulen was given asylum in the US in the late 1990s. His Gulen or Hizmet movement was a partner with prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, until the two broke with one another a few years ago. Erdogan accuses Gulen of being behind the attempted coup of July 15, 2016. Flynn took money from a think tank close to a wealthy Turkish bussinessman who in turn is close to ERdogan, to do oppo reasearch on Gulen.

2. Flynn may have been offered millions of dollars to help free Reza Zarrab, a gold trader close to Erdogan,

3. Flynn declined to register as a foreign agent in connection with these activities or to report them as part of his security clearance at the NSA.

4. Flynn was fired for lying to VP Pence about his extensive contacts with the embassy of the Russian Federation in fall-winter ’16. But did Trump know? I don’t think they’re telling Pence very much.

It isn’t a crime but it isn’t a good look, either: Flynn went around saying the most horrible things about Muslims and even that he was afraid of them. Then it turns out he is working for them to the tune of $500k. The hypocrisy of the Flynn-Trump hate machine could eventually come back around and bite Trump on the ass. If you say you hate people, you attract a public invested in that hatred. But if you are actually doing business with and dancing before those very people, that could prove a problem for Trump’s base.

Juan Cole, USA 11/21/2017 0

Wind Powered All of Scotland in October and Other Renewable Success Stories

Wind and solar keep falling in price—each fell 6 percent in 2016. That fall was not as big as the two previous years, but there is every reason to expect price drops much bigger in coming years, as new technology makes the move from basic science to implementation. The Trump strategy of slapping penalties on these technologies and giving fossil fuels subsidies has a very limited shelf life, since there aren’t enough resources in the world to stand against this kind of inexorable progress.

Wind turbines in Scotland during the month of October, driven by unusually strong gales, generated enough electricity to supply 99 percent of the country’s power needs, taking into account residential, industrial, and business sectors! And if we just looked at the residential market, the wind turbines could have powered 4.5 million homes! One catch: Scotland only has about 2.45 million households!

On average through the year, Scotland now gets 60 percent of its electricity from renewables and is on track to get 100 percent from green sources by 2020. One impediment standing in the way is that the English-dominated government of the U.K. is deeply tied to BP and other fossil fuel companies and keeps trying to hobble green energy. In the U.K. as a whole, green energy only produces 29 percent of electricity.

And then there is Sweden.  GE and Green Investment Group have raised some $900 million. for the largest onshore wind farm in Europe. To be built in northern Sweden, it will have a name plate capacity of 650 megawatts and will be operational in only two years. With increasingly inexpensive battery storage or e.g., hydropump storage, such wind farms could generate up to half as much steady electricity as a small nuclear reactor. (Toshiba is putting in huge battery storage near a major wind farm in Texas.)

In Sweden, this one wind farm will increase the country’s wind power by 12.5 percent. Sweden is already a relatively low-carbon country for an industrial economy, though it can do substantially better. Some 83 percent of the country’s electricity comes from nuclear and hydroelectric power. Only 7 percent comes from wind at the moment.

Still, the average Swede emits over 4 tons of carbon dioxide a year. That is better than Europe’s average 6 tons and “way better than the U.S. average of 16 tons per year per person(!!!). But 4 tons a person is still huge, given that CO2 is like setting off atomic bombs in the atmosphere. The new Markbygden ETT wind farm will be an important step toward carbon-free Swedish electricity. Of course, that has to be combined with switching to electric vehicles and adopting low-carbon agricultural and building techniques if we are to move to a net carbon zero civilization.

By Commondreams