All posts filed under: Security

Why We Say ‘Islamism’ and Why We Should Stop

‘Islamism’ is a word that refuses to die. Conceived by a group of French academics who have since disavowed their creation, it has been criticized by many on the Left and the Right. Yet it still appears in scholarship, the media, and political discussions, jostled alongside terms like ‘fundamentalism,’ ‘political Islam,’ ‘radicalism,’ etc., ‘Islamism’ seems to offer the possibility of distinguishing Islam, the religion of over a billion Muslims, from the actions and ideas of violent movements that act in its name. But this distinction, however desirable, is untenable. The scholars who invented the term decades ago are today the first to regret its use. The Iranian Revolution of 1979, greeted with optimism by intellectuals such as Michel Foucault, chilled more critical observers in France. A rising generation of anthropologists, sociologists, and other scholars noticed that the new regime in Tehran was not alone in its fusion of modern mass politics and Islam. Doctoral students and junior professors researching the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, revivalist groups in North Africa, and anti-Communist rebels in Afghanistan searched …

Why “Open Borders” is a Dangerous Idea

A decade before he fell to esophageal cancer Christopher Hitchens gave a series of riveting speeches on George Orwell. In them Hitchens argued that Orwell was an intellectual of such tremendous consequence because he got the “three great dramas” of the 20th century right. These were: the moral unsustainability of imperialism, the rising danger of Fascism, and the soulless cruelty of Communism. Most today agree that Orwell was a singularly perceptive observer of that barbaric century. So in the opening decades of the new century, what are the great dramas bearing down on us? The danger of climate change is surely high on most lists. The promise and peril of artificial superintelligence? Or genetic engineering? Perhaps the danger lurks most in the threats we have slowly adjusted to and may be complacent about such as nuclear and biological weapons proliferation. From my point-of-view, mass migration is the singular challenge of the 21st century. This is because it is a meta-issue that will affect our response to every other challenge. This is due to the fact …

Why Walls Work

When Constantinople finally buckled and fell in the spring of 1453, it was before the awesome power of the Ottoman siege cannons. A Venetian surgeon, Nicolo Barbaro described the barrage during the desperate final days,  When it fired the explosion made all the walls of the city shake, and all the ground inside, and even the ships in the harbor felt the vibrations of it…No greater cannon than this one was ever seen in the whole pagan world, and it was this that broke down such a great deal of the city walls. The siege cannons were created by a Hungarian engineer named Orban. He first offered his services to Constantine XI, but the nearly insolvent Emperor couldn’t afford his retainer. He subsequently sought out the young Sultan Mehmet II who immediately understood their potential use in his planned attack on the seat of the dying Byzantine Empire. The fall of Constantinople was the dramatic final chapter of the Middle Ages. Powerful cannons radically changed the value of walled cities, and thus the nature of …

Balancing Threat in the Middle East

Last month, the BBC asked will Saudi Arabia and Iran go to war? The question is redundant as they are already at war. Iranians are currently engaged in propping up a Shi’ite crescent from Iraq to Syria. The Saudis are blockading Qatar, threatening Lebanon, and bombing Yemen back to the Stone Age. To quote the Prussian general and the sage of warfare, Carl von Clausewitz, “War is merely continuation of state policy by other means.” By that definition, the Saudis and Iranians are already engaged in a vicious struggle for control of the Middle East in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, and Yemen. So what is prompting this hegemonic aspiration from both sides? What are the sources of Iranian and Saudi foreign policy and what prudent options there are for the West to adopt? The prudent question for the West is not whether there will be a land war as such, but what grand strategy the West should follow. Arab-Persian Rivalry or Shia-Sunni Differences? Historically, Persia was a rightful hegemon of the region, since the time of …

Sweden’s Sexual Assault Crisis Presents a Feminist Paradox

Sweden prides itself on being a beacon of feminism. It has the most generous parental leave in the developed world, providing for 18 months off work, 15 of which can be used by fathers as paternity leave. A quarter of the paid parental leave is indeed used by men, and this is too little according to the Swedish government, which has made it a political priority to get fathers to stay at home longer with their children. Sweden has never ranked lower than four in The Global Gender Gap Report, which has measured equality in economics, politics, education, and health for the World Economic Forum since 2006. Of all members of Parliament, 44 percent are women, compared to 19 percent of the United States Congress. Nearly two-thirds of all university degrees are awarded to women. Its government boasts that it is the “first feminist government” in the world, averring that gender equality is central to its priorities in decision-making and resource allocation. But while Swedish women rank among the most equal in the world, they increasingly …

Nationalism, Liberalism and the European Paradox

Imagine for a moment that an ethnic group declared a referendum of independence in an Asian country and the nation state in question promptly sought to take the act of rebellion down. Imagine that in the ensuing chaos over 800 people were injured in a brutal police crackdown. Imagine the international disgust if this had happened in Asia, or the Middle East, or Latin America, or even in parts of Eastern and Central Europe. There would be calls for interventions, the topic would be urgently raised at the Security Council —and there might even be talks of sanctions or the arming of moderate rebels. Of course, nothing of that sort happened as the Spanish state declared the Catalonian independence referendum a farce. Despite threats and coercion, over 2.2 million people voted in the Catalonian referendum—as the Spanish Guardia Civil attempted to crush the protesters—and  clashing with Catalan local police. Of the Catalans who managed to vote, 90% voted for independence. And today, thousands of people took to the streets in nationalist rallies in both Madrid …

Terrorism and ‘White Privilege’

On 1st October, Las Vegas suffered one of the worst mass shootings in US history. One of the most celebrated cities in the United States saw at least 58 people killed and over 500 injured in what appears to have been an act of mindless slaughter. In trying to make sense of the carnage, many people are expressing indignation that the gunman, an elderly white male, is not being described as a terrorist as, say, a Muslim shooter might have been in similar circumstances. This discrepancy, it is alleged, is evidence of ‘white privilege.’ Considering that white Americans have been culpable for more deaths in 2017 and more successful mass shootings than Islamists, it is understandable that some people struggle to make sense of the fact that attacks labelled ‘terrorism’ get a disproportionate amount of coverage. They protest that, due to the nation’s racial biases, white assailants of all sorts are probed for personal circumstances and psychological issues which might protect them from the unique stigmatisation attached to the word ‘terrorist.’ In this subtle but …