Weekly Linkages

Based on the current surveys being conducted in Syria, guest authors at politicalviolence@aglance consider the implications should the Assad government take back Aleppo.

Why the U.S. and its allies are responsible for the rise of ISIS (and no, its not the conspiracy)

Alex Horton reveals his online conversation he had with an ISIS supporter.

Daniel Byman analyzes Israel’s strategy towards Hamas.

Here is an important article on Oman, an under discussed power in Middle Eastern politics.

At Sada, Sahar Aziz looks at the role the Egyptian judiciary plays in the politics of the country.

Why did Egypt and the UAE intervene in Libya?

Are the Indian NGO laws part of a global trend?

A short piece on Modi’s new initiative to give a bank account to the poor.

Shlomo Brom and Shimon Stein suggest that the UNSC resolutions that the peace negotiations were based on are holding back the peace process.

In Foreign Policy, several authors talk about the consequences of the U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East.

Daniel Markey and Shuja Nawaz examine the protests in Pakistan.

Ira Trivedi discusses sexual violence in India and why it is rising.

Finally, in Economic and Political Weekly, Nani Mahanta discusses the implications of the BJP success in Assam.





The Hindu Extremist Narrative on Islam

Americans are often criticized for their lack of knowledge on international affairs and events. For citizens living in a state that is currently the world’s superpower and whose very actions can influence the international system. It is definitely necessary that Americans learn more about the world as they have some say on actions that their government takes. That said, it’s unfortunate that many people around the world are also very ignorant on international affairs. Many people around the world were critical of U.S. actions in Iraq (which I mostly agree with), but this was not due to the enlightened knowledge of the world’s population, but rather how people when they perceive as an attack by a powerful state. Similarly, India was criticized by the majority of the world for its intervention in the liberation of Bangladesh despite the ongoing genocide (although India’s intervention was opportunistic in order to severely weaken its rival Pakistan).

History and international affairs is complex. Scholars and practitioners spend years learning about the history and complex forces that are present in the societies in the world. For the overwhelming majority of people though, there isn’t the same drive or desire to learn about this. After all what is easier for people to understand: the complex structural and historical problems that have held back the potential of the Indian economy, or blaming it on Hinduism? Similarly, why look at the complex history and politics at play in the Middle East when you can blame it on Muslims?

This oversimplification along with racist and nationalistic attitudes leads to the creation of narratives. Usually these extremists’ narratives are exactly that, extremist. However, they sometimes influence the political discourse, making the moderate discourse more extremist. The influence can spread due a lack of education making the spread of this discourse extremely simple.  In order to counter this discourse, the population needs to be educated as well as have regular contact with those who are being demonized (e.g. the other ethnic, religious, income group). Although this is not a perfect solution, it will help. Unfortunately, it will not be effective on everyone as people can simply go through as many hoops as possible to deny the evidence (for a good example of this, read this article). Changing a person’s perception is a difficult thing to do. With this post, I hope to start challenging some of the perceptions that Hindu extremists have propagated towards Muslims.

As I have written in the recent past about the rise of Hindu extremism and its demonization of Islam. With the election of what is seen as a Hindu nationalist group to power, many of the same extremists have felt empowered to spread what they believe and fan the flames of communal tension. It is an unfortunate reality that many politicians have decided to continue what the British have done and try and divide the population. The British have always had a strategy of divide and rule in order to hold on to their imperial gains. To this effect, the British even started to distort histories to show the Muslim rulers as barbarians intent on eliminating the Hindu population. Even with the independence of India, the narratives and tactics introduced by the British were adopted. Indeed, a popular complaint against the Muslims by Hindus is that the Mughal Kings had destroyed Hindu temples. Yet this was not a shift in policy. Many Hindu kings had also destroyed temples for the same reasons that the Muslims did, to loot and destroy the political images that were associated with their rival king. Hell, the Indian military destroyed temples in Sri Lanka during India’s intervention in the Sri Lankan civil war.

Another fear exaggerated by Hindu extremists is that should Muslims become the majority, Sharia law will be enacted. Now there are two problems with this belief. According to polls, the respect for civil liberties such as the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly is practically equal between Hindus and Muslims. Defining sharia is also problematic. A minority of Muslims interpret sharia as the horrible, barbaric rule seen under ISIS or the Taliban while the majority see the U.S. constitution as being the perfect embodiment of sharia law. For Hindu extremists, the only sharia law that exists is that of the Taliban, and should Muslims become a majority (even if it is a slim majority like 50.01%) the Muslims will enact sharia law. Yes obviously, that’s why Muslim majority countries like Turkey, Tunisia, most of the Central Asian republics, and most of the Muslim sub-Saharan countries have sharia (oh wait). Well, that’s why Indonesia, being an Muslim majority country, is a harsh dictatorship, or has freedom house and polity iv scores comparable of that of India. Apparently, Muslims being the majority does not mean there will be sharia law, and having Muslims in the majority does not mean that the country will become a Taliban like dictatorship.

Another fear cited by the Hindu extremists is the higher birth rate among the Muslim population. Indeed Muslims have a higher birth rate than other religious groups in the country, but that is common among economically disadvantaged populations around the world. Indeed as India develops and economic opportunity becomes available to all, the birth rate will drop like everybody else’s. (There’s also a well believed conspiracy going around that Muslims are united trying to trick young, naive girls to fall in love with them and convert, something called a love jihad. Sound ridiculous and unrealistic? Because it is. Here’s a great article about the use of these conspiracies by right wing Hindus to regulate a woman’s body).

A popular crying call by these same Hindu nationalists is to argue that Muslims will gladly cry out against the Israeli’s during the Gaza war, but refuse to call out ISIS or other Islamic terrorist groups that carry out horrendous acts. Of course, this is also a popular belief in western countries who have little to no knowledge of the Middle East, or any Muslim community at all. Indeed all around the world, Muslims, both the elite and the common person, have come out against ISIS. As ISIS began to take over the headlines, Muslim intellectuals from all over India condemned the terrorist group even going so far as to say, “Their brutality is worse than genocide.” For all the commotion about the four Indian Muslims who went to join ISIS (despite the rhetoric by the Hindu extremists, specialists in Islamic terrorism have found that this is the first credible story of Indian Muslims joining the so called global jihad). Yet, there have been more Indian Muslims who have volunteered to go fight against ISIS. The narrative that Indian Muslims only complain when Muslims are being killed is a popular one, but it completely dies in the face of evidence.

Finally, there is the idea of the Muslim vote bank, or the idea that Muslims all vote for Muslim only candidates or parties as a cohesive block. This myth has been disproven by the previous election and other analysts . But accusing a rival candidate of only caring about the minority and not the majority is a common electoral tactic used by political parties.

To fight any form of extremism, battling the narratives is needed. Communal harmony is necessary for any nation to advance. In future posts, I will also try to examine some of the talking points for other types of extremist groups.

On that ISIS Conspiracy

Maybe Archer created ISIS. From Reddit 

An unfortunate trend has been sweeping social media the last several weeks. This particularly popular conspiracy has been claiming that ISIS is actually a creation of the CIA and Mossad, with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi being an Israeli Mossad agent. Just a small amount of knowledge about international security can tell you that this whole “theory” is fictitious.

This conspiracy has two different origin points. The first alleges that Edward Snowden released documents that detailed the CIA’s and Mossad’s complicity in the creation of ISIS. This by itself should be a signal to people that this theory is completely false. As Time reported, this variation comes from an Iranian newspaper who has attempted to claim that ISIS is a U.S.-Israeli plot to destabilize the Middle East (for an in depth forensic analysis of how this conspiracy has spread, read this fantastic post by Alan Kurtz.) Another variation of this is that in Hillary Clinton admitted that the U.S. created ISIS.

The second variation is easier to disprove by simply reading the book (hint: it’s not there). So let us focus on the Edward Snowden conspiracy. Upon reading, it should be clear to any knowledgeable person of international affairs that this is a fake. Of course there were no documents released by Snowden claiming that the CIA/Mossad had created ISIS. All of the documents that had been released by Snowden has discussed what the NSA had done, not the CIA. All the documents released by Snowden, because they relate to the NSA, all deal with electronic or signal intelligence.

There are still many of the Snowden documents that have not been released. Situations like this can arise for large scale leaks such as this. This occurred during the U.S. diplomatic cable leaks at WikiLeaks when Pakistan tried to spread fake cables to make itself look better. Initially, many newspapers in Pakistan carried these false cables as many people though these were the newest cables to be released from WikiLeaks. It wasn’t until the newspapers that had access to the full database of cables confirmed the falsity of the stories did the Pak newspapers realize their mistake. As with this conspiracy, all those who had access to the Snowden documents have refuted this story.

Why do some people like to believe conspiracies such as these (I have not read enough of the academic literature on this topic to cite here, so most of what I write will be inference)? There are always individuals who are going to believe that the U.S., ‘the Jews’, or some other country are secretly running the world in order to keep certain groups down. While this conspiracy does belong in that corner, it is with some level of confidence that the majority of the initial followers of this conspiracy (many who now recognize that the conspiracy was false) are not some Protocols of the Elders of Zion believers. For many, the case of the U.S. sponsoring a group that went rogue falls in line with the Frankenstein narrative. An arrogant power creates an organization to control and secure U.S. interests, only for the organization to go rogue. Rather than being a deliberate attempt of the U.S. or Israel trying to control the world, the group ISIS is just another form of blowback. After all, this is the narrative that was spread post 9/11 (while the U.S. did sponsor the mujahedeen to fight against the Soviets, the U.S. did not directly sponsor Al Qaeda or the Taliban. The history of U.S. involvement in the country is a bit more complicated than that).

But for many Muslims, they initially embraced this conspiracy as it gave an explanation for why ISIS was committing such horrendous acts in the name of Islam. Despite the insinuations of some people, it’s no secret that the majority of Muslims abhor ISIS and the other who commit acts of violence in the name of their religion. Muslims are like everybody else; many of the beliefs that a Muslim will hold are the same as their neighbors’. Religion is interpreted by the follower. Islam, like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and other major religions have followers that range from the liberal to the conservative. Unfortunately, non-Muslim societies have demonized Islam as an inherently violent religion compared to the peaceful Christianity and Hinduism. Random verses, devoid of context, are brought up to prove the violence of the religion, or even false verses are used all the while ignoring the same substance in the commentator’s own religion (as a Hindu, I recognize there are verses in my holy books that can be interpreted or used to justify violence depending on how interprets it. Though also, growing up as a Hindu, my family found it hilarious when Christians would say how violent Islam is when we viewed the two religions as equal in their advocacy of violence). 

On top of that, there is also the fact that people don’t like to see extremists act in the name of their religion or see their religion corrupted. While Americans have been quick to label ISIS as Islamic extremists, they have been just as reluctant to call certain groups Christian terrorism. Joseph Kony, whose organization is a mix of Christian fundamentalism and Acholi nationalism, many people just denounced him as a terrorist or as a maniac. Similarly, it is easier for Christian Americans to call ISIS an Islamic terrorist group or the 969 group in Myanmar a Buddhist terrorist group than it is to say that a group like the LRA is a Christian terrorist group. For many Muslims who initially gave credence to the conspiracy theory, this was a justification that those committing those horrendous acts weren’t Muslim. This conspiracy had died down among those who initially believed it with the media providing articles that debunked the theory. The world, regardless of one’s religious affiliation, has come to condemn the barbaric acts of ISIS. Indeed, Muslim leaders (the talking point of how Muslims do not condemn extremism enough or ignore Middle Eastern atrocities except for Israel is pure nonsense) has come out strongly in condemning ISIS. The discussion has now turned on what the U.S. can do to defeat ISIS.

As for the Snowden-ISIS conspiracy, PolitiFact categorized this best with the rating on how bad the lie was: Pants on Fire.

Weekly Linkages

Despite the ground invasion and airstrikes, does the Hamas tunnel network remain intact?

Here’s a VICE piece discussing the Kurdish fight against ISIS.

Also at VICE, Maxwell Barna talks about what law enforcement now see as the biggest terrorist threat to America.

Has Israel’s zero sum policy been an obstacle in achieving its strategic interests.

Marc Lynch demolishes the talking point of the arming of the FSA would have stopped ISIS.

Kenneth Roth, the President of HRC, discusses the deterioration of human rights in Egypt after the coup.

On a lighter note, a hawkish anti-Iranian group in the U.S. do not seem to understand Iran’s geography.


Ariane Tabatabai explains why the U.S. should not trust the MEK.

Earlier it was reported that an ally clan of Hamas had kidnapped the teens, something that I had repeated here. Now, a senior Hamas official has said that Hamas members were involved in the kidnapping, although they did not inform the leadership nor was it approved by the leadership.

Has Iraq’s natural resources been a detriment to the country’s political stability.

Finally, Daniel Markey talks about the effectiveness of street protests in Pakistan.



Some Quick Observations on the Rise of Hindu and Buddhist Extremists

From Wikipedia on the page 2012 Rakhine State Riots

Within the last couple of years, news stories began to emerge from Sri Lanka and Myanmar about Buddhist monks partaking in violence against the countries’ Muslim minority. It became so prominent that Time magazine ran a cover story about the head of the 969 Buddhist extremist group in Myanmar. This has been a surprise for some international observers who have always stereotyped the religion as a peaceful non-violent faith (perhaps best illustrated by this satirical Onion article). But now it seems to have adopted extremist rhetoric and violent tactics. Perhaps what is most fascinating about the rise of Buddhist extremism (beside it being relatively new) is how this form of religious extremism has nearly simultaneously emerged in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.

Hindu extremism emerged as a prominent force in India during the 1990’s, best illustrated by the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and the subsequent riots against Muslims throughout the country (though Mumbai seemed to bear the brunt of the rioting). It has also been able to influence political discourse in India through its association with the BJP party in India and through coalition politics. While there have been previous incidents of Hindu and Buddhist extremism prior to the dates I listed, it did not emerge as a political force to be reckoned with until the 1990’s and 2010’s respectively.

It should go without noting that while these time periods also represented the rise of Political Hinduism and Political Buddhism, it is related to but still distinct from Hindu and Buddhist extremism. This is similar to how the late 1970’s and early 1980’s saw the rise of Political Islam as a prominent political force as well as the rise of Islamic extremism. The political incarnation of each religion can include everything from their version of liberals to the extremists that we see today. While the rise of Hindu and Buddhist extremism is closely related to the rise of their political counterparts, extremism only represents one part of the ideological spectrum.

What is perhaps most fascinating with Hindu and Buddhist extremism is how similar the narratives are. Both seek to portray their respective religions as victims threatened by Muslims (Christians are also discussed, although they’re not as prominent in the discourse as Muslims), and alone in this struggle. Another interesting element of these narratives is combining religion with nationality. Arguably, much of the religious terrorism we see today seeks to define national identity as those who hail from a certain religion or sect. Many religious extremist groups in the Middle East like Hamas combined nationalism with religious identity. The Hindu extremists paint themselves as true Indians while emphasizing the foreignness of Islam and Muslims. Buddhist chauvinists in Sri Lanka and Myanmar have also attempted to do the same. 

The Shiv Sena from Maharashtra can provide some insight for this. The group is a political party in the Indian state of Maharashtra that ruled along the BJP in a coalition from 1995-1999. The group was also accused of playing a major role in the 1992-1993 Mumbai riots against Muslims and using generally deplorable rhetoric against Muslims. Yet along with their rhetoric against Muslims with the founder Bal Thackeray even going as far as to saying he wanted to create a Hindustan for Hindus that would bring Islam down to its knees; his group has also engaged in similar rhetoric and actions against North IndiansSouth Indians, and Gujaratis, despite many of them also being Hindus. The Buddhists in Sri Lanka also were pivotal in their support for the campaign against the Tamil Tigers (who were mostly Hindu). So while there is an element of religious extremism, will the future mean that they will turn against members of their own religion or ethnicity if they do not meet the criteria?

In the case of Buddhist extremism, there has already been a wish by the leaders of the extremists to create a network of like-minded groups in other Buddhist countries. While there has so far been no indication that Hindu extremists wish to spread to other countries such as Nepal and a plurality in Mauritius.  Another question is if this will lead to a rise in Buddhist or Hindu fighters traveling to other countries similar to the foreign fighter phenomenon we see in the conflicts in the Muslim world. Thomas Hegghammer identified the rise of the Muslim foreign fighter due to the existence of alarmist rhetoric, followed by government and private encouragement for individuals to fight in the battlefield of Afghanistan (both against the Soviets and Americans), Iraq, Syria, etc. The rhetoric is present and with the governments of Myanmar and Sri Lanka turning a blind eye to Buddhist extremism, this could possibly escalate.

This rise of varied religious extremism opens up the road for research on multiple questions: Was the rise of _____ (insert religion here) in response to the rise of another religion’s extremism? Was this in response to domestic or international forces? Does this attempt to combine religion or nationalism mean that in the future similar communities will be attacked for not sharing all the identities defined by the extremists? These are important questions that need to be considered, and there also needs to be an effort to combat these extremist forces by policy makers and important societal figures.

Weekly Linkages

Here’s a roundup of Brookings scholars on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Frederic Wehrey discusses the worsening political situation in Libya.

Vice covers a sectarian attack in central Afghanistan. Also, here’s a report on bandits in India’s rural areas. Finally, Vice discusses the racism present in Israel.

Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson put forward a proposal on how to fix the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The rise of India’s blue water navy.

Jeffrey Goldberg talks about the what could happen if Hamas was able to do whatever it wanted. Peter Beinart examines why Americans have a hard time empathizing with the Palestinians.

Two articles from Sada: The first talks about the widening gaps in Lebanese society. The second discusses the success of the Islamists in Morocco.

From Political Violence @ Glance: Jeremy Pressman counters the notion that Israel lacks  a strategy. Page Fortna analyzes the prospects for a ceasefire in Gaza as well as look at the previous ceasefires.

Emdadul Haq critically examines whether the Bangladeshi government is constitutional.

The Dawn talks about the soft coup happening in Pakistan.

Huma Yusuf discusses the threat posed by LeT.

Aaron David Miller talks about why this Gaza war is different from the others.

Finally in the Dhaka Tribune, Julfikar Manik recounts her experience from watching a speech done by Malala Yousafzai.

Why Didn’t the Blockade and Operations Against Hamas Work?

From NBC.

Over at Al Monitor, Shlomi Eldar has written an article discussing the background of the siege of Gaza in the aftermath of Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip. According to Shlomi (and other analysts), the motivation for the imposition of the blockade was “Israel’s working assumption was that economic pressure on the Gaza Strip would cause unrest among its residents, forcing Hamas to relinquish authority when it would not be able to provide for their well-being.” The logic behind these types of policies (embargoes, blockades, sanctions, strategic bombing, etc.) often is that the addition of coercive force against the general population will cause the people to blame the ruling party for this action. The hope is then the citizens will overthrow their government or put pressure on the government to change their policy in a way that will be more suitable for nation/s imposing the coercive policies.

Multiple authors have written about the use of coercive policies. The economist Thomas Schelling in his book The Strategy of Conflict discussed coercive policies (called compellence in his book) and the conditions needed for those policies to be successful. But perhaps one of the most famous studies was carried out by Robert Pape in his book Bombing to Win. In his book (and several articles), Robert Pape examined several case studies where the targeted nation suffered through coercive policies such as air strikes and economic sanctions. Instead of making the population turn against their government, they will actually support their government more.

This is easily observable in the case of Gaza and Hamas. It’s no secret that Hamas is not popular in the Gaza strip. Perhaps this is most visible in the manifesto from youth groups with much of their anger directed at both Hamas and Israel. Before the current war, Hamas had been facing increasing levels of disapproval in Palestine, especially in Gaza. But when Israel starts to bomb the Gaza strip, the same people who normally do not care for Hamas; rally around them. When Israel attacks Hamas is perceived as fighting for the survival of the Palestinian people, fighting against the siege, fighting for the independence of the Palestinian people. This can be observed in opinion polls following the conflicts in Gaza.

Lastly, blockades and coercive policies give the targeted government an opportunity to shore up its control. During the time of sanctions on Iraq, Saddam Hussein was able to control the limited amount of humanitarian aid given to him to give it to his supporters and to punish his enemies. Although there isn’t any literature I know of discussing how Hamas keeps itself in power in Gaza, it is possible that Hamas’s use of tunnels to smuggle in goods (both military and civilian) gives the militant group a tool to keep itself in power. Due to the very limited amount of goods allowed into the strip, civilians need to smuggle basic goods like medicine and food through the tunnels. 

Unfortunately, Israel’s strategy of trying to defeat Hamas has caused a large amount of suffering for the inhabitants of the Gaza strip without Hamas actually being defeated. The loss of Morsi in Egypt as well as the tightening of the blockade has starved Hamas financially, however that has not diminished its abilities to strike Israel nor has it lost control of the Gaza strip. Israel’s constant bombardment of the area only strengthens the group. The use of coercive policies such of the blockade and aerial bombardment usually backfire.