A site devoted to to understanding the world we live in and to making a difference.

ISIS and much more

My last post (A toast to the Start-up Nation) elicited a lot of positive comment. Those who didn’t like it kept shtum. Thanks!

A New Leaf: I’m making an effort this year to keep up with this blog. That is, to post at least once per week – occasionally more. By now most of my readers will know my style: relatively detached and analytic rather than passionate. But no-one is perfect and I cannot be expected to keep my cool all the time. But I am trying to keep free of reactive commentary in response to all the turbulence while not ignoring it, especially when the event/s contains a deeper message.

The Middle East and Israel is the target of enormous volumes of commentary, some of it excellent. I hope to draw your attention to the gems (some of which need some hard mining to extract the value) and add my own comments where useful. Please send me “gems” of your own. I can’t cover every nook and cranny.

Some VSPs*

  • Shurat HaDin, The Israel Law Center, an Israel based “lawfare” organization engaged in a class action suit against Facebook for failing to prevent or halt incitement against the Jewish state on its pages, decided last week to put the premise of its legal action to a test…Basically what it did, anonymously of course, was to create virtually identical, increasingly shrill anti-Palestinian and anti-Israeli Facebook pages and then complain to Facebook about incitement. The anti-Palestinian site was rapidly eliminated but they (Facebook) attempted to justify themselves in retaining the anti-Israel site. When the truth was revealed, were they abashed? Who knows but it will come in handy in Shurat HaDin’s Class Action Suit. Yay!

  • See here for excellent short analysis of the Arab meltdown by Shimon Shamir. The gist of his analysis revolves around this framework loosely copied from the original: “Ever since the Western world first burst into the Arab-Islamist sphere, more than 200 years ago, Arabs have been tormented by the question of why they…now find themselves at such a disadvantage….To hope to achieve this goal (to compete against more developed nations, namely, The West), they needed to address four challenges:

  1. First, to create sovereign states with functioning national institutions that depend upon cooperative citizens.

  2. Second, to develop the capacity to produce technology, which would secure them a competitive position in the world economy.

  3. Third, to handle Islam in a way that would instill values to bring society together – like common identity and solidarity – but also neutralize the violent elements that look to restore the ways of the past.

  4. Fourth, to shake off the neocolonialist influence and involvement of superpowers, and act independently in the international arena.

 The meltdown of the Arab world reflects their failure in all of these aspects. Read the article. And for great depth Google  Why the Arab Spring Failed: The Cultural Roots of the Arab Predicament in MERIA Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer 2015).

  • From Brig.Gen. Yossie Kupperwasser comes an excellent analysis of “How to Block the On-going Palestinian Terror Wave”. The key points: “The Palestinian leadership’s ceaseless incitement guarantees that the heat will always be very high. How, though, does one bring things to a boil and at the same time make sure the soup does not burn? The tried-and-true way to reach a boiling point is the Al-Aqsa issue… The Palestinians continue to argue about what level of heat will ensure a quality soup. Unlike Hamas, which wants to stoke a general conflagration with terror attacks using firearms launched from the areas under Fatah control, Abbas favors a calibrated bubbling that will not boil over. He fears that all-out terror will make it hard to retain Western support, undermine his rule, and strengthen Hamas.” Israel must make it clear that it won’t work – now or ever.

  • “Migrant Crisis. Europe hasn’t seen anything yet” by Douglas Murray. A clear and rational analysis of Europe’s predicament. It is an important read. I like this gem… “ Explaining the failure of Gulf countries to take in Syrian refugees, one Kuwaiti official said: “In the end it is not right for us to accept a people that are different from us. We don’t want people that suffer from internal stress and trauma in our country.””

 * Very Short Points (VSPs – see above)


There have been a number of excellent articles on ISIS of late. Let me bring just one to your attention in this post; others will follow: The Atlantic (March 2015) published a rather long but informative article entitled, “What ISIS Really Wants”. The fundamental points it made can be quickly summarised (but read it or skim it for yourselves). Here follows a summary permeated by own extrapolations and responses;

  • ISIS is not simply a band of “savages” wantonly brutalising its enemies. Savage it certainly is, but this is driven by a Salafist doctrine which is diametrically opposed to the values (good and bad) of the Western Democracies.

  • The doctrine is not unIslamic or anti-Islamic but is part of the tradition and history of Islam itself. Nor is it the whole of Islam; there are other more peaceful and inclusive traditions within Islam which, while not fully aligned with Western values as they now exist, are certainly compatible with a peaceful co-existence and are open to gradual evolutionary development.

  • This implies that there is an enormous potential struggle within Islam and not only between Islam and the West. One of the disturbing features of this broad phenomenon is that Islam has itself failed to face up to this challenge and its implications.

  • By denialism, that is, that Islamic terror has nothing to do with Islam (Obama and other Western apologists) or by stupidity (“they” – undefined – are all savages and must be eliminated) we fail to deal with the issue

  • The fact that the leaders are religious fundamentalists does not mean they cannot be expedient and are immune to political and personal agendas.

  • That applies even more strongly to their “followers” many of whom may know little about Islam but are driven by a complex of factors: personal psychological cravings (including tendencies to fanaticism, sadism, power, violence, a need to belong and a craving for meaning and excitement etc), sociological (cultural-economic alienation, personal alienation), brainwashing, conformity to group norms, and so forth.

  • A significant number of adherents come from conversions from within the Western tradition – suggesting that alienation is one of the stronger drivers in these cases.

  • Policies (Obama on the one hand and “bomb them back to the stone age” on the other) which fail to pay attention to these realities are likely to be ineffective or even deeply counter-productive.

Some additional thoughts on ISIS

There is ISIS big and ISIS small. By “big” ISIS I refer to the general phenomenon of fundamentalist Islamism driving (or providing the doctrinal justification) for a broad and relentless attack on Western civilisation – both in its material and ideological manifestations. By “small” ISIS I refer to the specific Middle East phenomenon with its armies, its propaganda machinery, its terror tactics, its technological innovation, its bureaucracy and so forth.

The small ISIS will be easier to damage and even defeat. That said, it still won’t be easy and much depends upon the ability of Western Governments to understand the nature of the phenomenon – both big and small – and to coordinate their response. This reality is penetrating some (by no means all) of the brainwashed  sections of Western public opinion to Israel’s benefit. Virtually all agree, exceptions like Jeremy Corbyn and perhaps Obama spring to mind, that a decisive victory over small ISIS will be necessary to confront big ISIS efficiently.

But victory over small ISIS will require some respect for the ability of ISIS to fight back on various fronts and its ability to adapt rapidly to changing strategic conditions – which the West is less able to do for many reasons. Also, a BIG also, defeating small ISIS may require a readiness to confront Iran and its allies. Obama, in particular, has invested so much of his prestige/legacy (such as it is) in his ill-conceived Iran diplomatic adventurism, that he would rather have his teeth pulled than really deal with Iran as it goes about its mischievous business.

That is why Israel’s biggest threat remains a desperate Iran. By Iran I refer to a segment, unfortunately the ruling segment, of Iranian society. The potential reformers within Iran have been abandoned, so they are more-or-less out of the equation and will  suffer the consequences of the actions of their fanatical compatriots.

Of course, the Saudi imbroglio throws up new possibilities, dangers and challenges. And at the same time, North Korea has decided to indulge in a bit of blackmail and sabre-rattling. North Korea is a serious problem whether or not it has a hydrogen bomb. Its form of brinkmanship adds to the general instability of the international arena and the probability of some really serious Black Swan event and, given the indecisiveness and complexity of Western decision-making, this hands considerable advantage to homogeneous and/or totalitarian regimes.

So, as I said, even a miserable parasite like small ISIS presents a significant problem for the West given the complexities of the international arena and their own, partly self-imposed, handicaps. But that leaves the vastly more complex issue of big ISIS. It’s worth breaking this down a bit:

  • In the MENA region (Middle East/North Africa) ISIS, its raw ideology and appeal to action and arms is undermining the dysfunctional states of the region. They always were dysfunctional (politically, technologically, culturally, climatically and economically) but this reality needed an external threat, the rise of militant Islamism, to fully reveal itself. So Israel finds itself at the epicentre of a perfect political storm which is beyond the control of any central power or set of powers. All that Israel can do is to prepare itself to ride it out safely for as long as it takes and to keep its supposed Western and other allies informed of developments so that they can coordinate better. Hold thumbs.

  • In the West the ISIS threat comes in a multitude of forms:

  1. Terror

  2. Migrants

  3. Propaganda and recruitment

  4. Internal Islamist imperialism, partly camouflaged as legitimate demands for religious equality and freedom.

All of these pose their own specific challenges in different dimensions: military-security, ideology, political morale. This is a huge test for Western democracy in all its diversity and cumbersomeness. It can also be regarded as a blessing in disguise. Without a serious existential challenge, Western democracy was in danger of becoming shallow, self-indulgent, vulgar, often fatuous and disconnected from reality – and riddled with guilt and confusion. Maybe a leaner more serious and admirable democracy will arise, purged of some of its guilts and obsessions with the latest moral fads, but more honest and more aligned with its primary virtues.

Or the patient will die?!

Reminder: Before I leave you, please  don’t respond to me directly by e-mail unless you have a good reason for wanting to be confidential (which you should indicate in your comment). Rather comment to the blog directly and that way participate in the conversation. I am going to paste this in my next few posts until everyone has internalised it. Your participation makes all the difference.

Mike Berger


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