US Confusion over the Syrian War

Official Washington is in a tizzy over Russia’s decision to join the fight in Syria to defeat Al Qaeda and ISIS, though one might have thought the U.S. would welcome Moscow’s help. But there are other factors, including the wishes of Israel and Saudi Arabia, complicating matters, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

On May 1, I wrote an analysis on “Changing Alliances and the National Interest in the Middle East.” In this piece, I made the argument that, at least since September 2001 and the declaration of the “war on terror,” the defeat of Al Qaeda and its affiliates has been a publicly stated national interest of the United States. This certainly has been the way it has been presented by almost continuous government pronouncements and media stories dedicated to this “war” over the years.

Given this goal, it logically follows that, with the evolution of Al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations such as the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS or Daesh) and Jabhat al Nusra (aka Al Qaeda in Syria), those who also seek the destruction of such groups are America’s de facto allies in the “war on terror” and warrant our assistance. Likewise, those who openly or clandestinely support these religious fanatics are opponents of a central U.S. national interest, and their relationship with the United States should at least be open to review.

Then came the shocker: Who has been and continues to actively oppose these al-Qaeda derivatives with soldiers on the ground? It turns out to be, among others — Iran, Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government. And, who are clandestinely aiding the Al-Qaeda affiliates, the enemies of Washington? It turns out to be Israel and Saudi Arabia.

As I explain in my original analysis, this latter development has much to do with the fact that both the Israelis and the Saudis have decided that regime change in Syria is a high priority, even if it means ISIS and al-Nusra end up taking over Syria and, as Robert Parry puts it in a Consortiumnews.com article, ISIS “chopping off the heads of Christians, Alawites, Shiites and other ‘heretics’ and/or Al Qaeda having a major Mideast capital from which to plot more attacks on the West.”

Has the U.S. government, or for that matter the U.S. media, brought this anomalous situation to the attention of the general public? No. Has Washington altered its policies in the region so as to ally with the actual anti-al-Qaeda forces? Not at all. Why not? These are questions we will address below, but first we must look at a recent complicating factor.

Russia to the Rescue

This screwball situation has now taken yet another turn. The Russian government, which also sees Al Qaeda and its affiliates as a growing threat, has decided that the U.S. will not meaningfully act against the religious fanatics now threatening Syria – a country with which it, Russia, has strong ties. Having come to this conclusion, Moscow has decided to take the initiative and increase its military assistance to Damascus.

According to a New York Times article of Sept. 5, this includes bringing into Syria as many as a thousand military advisers and support staff. Russia already has a naval base at the port city of Tartus. Now it is establishing a presence at the main airbase outside the city of Latakia.

All of this has raised alarms in Washington. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has met several times with Russian officials about the Syrian civil war, was reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sept. 10 to have called his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, to tell him that the Russian moves will only increase the level of violence rather than help promote a negotiated settlement.

If this report is accurate, Kerry must have come across as rather lame. After over four years of protracted internecine slaughter, over 4 million refugees, and numerous failed attempts at a negotiated a settlement, all one has as a result is the growth of rampaging religious fanatics who now control much of Syria and part of Iraq as well.

It might just be the case that Moscow has come to the conclusion that a negotiated settlement is not possible, and what one really needs is a military victory that destroys organizations such as ISIS and al-Nusra. Oddly, the U.S. government seems to be alarmed at this prospect. No doubt this is because Moscow sees no reason to displace its ally, Bashar al-Assad, while “regime change” is a cause celebre for U.S. and Israeli leaders.

Washington has gone so far as to request NATO-affiliated countries to deny Russian transport planes permission to overfly their territory on their way to Syria. At least one such country, Bulgaria, has done just that. Fortunately, this does not really hamper the Russian effort. Iran, another enemy of Al Qaeda, has granted permission for the over-flights, thus opening up a convenient and more or less direct route for the Russian supply line.

The goal of destroying Al-Qaeda-like organizations is, supposedly, what the “war on terror” is all about. Nonetheless, the U.S. government’s policies in this regard are inconsistent. Does the U.S. want to destroy Al Qaeda and its affiliates or not? The answer is, mostly, yes. However, something often holds the government back – something that the Russians don’t have to contend with.

That something breaks down into three parts: (1) longstanding, conservative Washington-based special interest lobbies, the most powerful of which is sponsored by Israel; (2) the pro-war neoconservative elements within American society that often cooperate with these lobbies; and (3) an American military bureaucracy parts of which are committed to maintaining a system of land, air and naval bases situated mostly in dictatorial Middle East states hostile to both Russia and Syria. It is this combination of forces that prevents meaningful changes even as evolving realities would seem to demand them.

In other words, while Israel and Saudi Arabia can act in ways they consider to be in their national interests, their agents and allies in Washington exercise enough influence to discourage U.S. policymakers from doing the same thing when it comes to the Middle East. That is why Washington is not pointing up the fact that two close “allies” are helping the same sort of people who attacked the World Trade Center, while simultaneously chastising the Russians for actually acting forcefully against those same terrorists.

The inability to adjust to changing realities is a sure sign of decline, particularly for a “great power.” And, unfortunately that seems to be the situation for the U.S. At least at this point, one can only conclude that the Obama administration’s ability to secure the Iran nuclear agreement is an isolated example of realism.

Current U.S. policy toward Syria shows that Washington has not made the turnaround leading to a permanent clear-sighted ability to assess national interests in the Middle East.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories from August focused on the failure of the mainstream media to question prevailing “group thinks” on almost any topic, the bitter fight over the Iran nuclear deal, the hidden reality of U.S. allies aiding Al Qaeda in Syria, and the surprising surge of anti-Establishment candidates.

The ‘Two Minutes Hate’ of Tom Brady” by Robert Parry, Aug. 1, 2015

Nuclear War’s Unlearned Lessons” by Robert Dodge, Aug. 1, 2015

The Soft Power Hoax” by Mike Lofgren, Aug. 2, 2015

Reporter Wins Fifth Amendment Case” by Marcy Wheeler, Aug. 3, 2015

Confronting a Very Dark Chapter” by Gary G. Kohls, Aug. 3, 2015

How US Allies Aid Al Qaeda in Syria” by Daniel Lazare, Aug. 4, 2015

Why Many Muslims Hate the US” by William R. Polk, Aug. 5, 2015

Obama’s Pragmatic Appeal for Iran Peace” by Robert Parry, Aug. 5, 2015

‘Paint-balling’ the Presidents” by Sam Husseini, Aug. 7, 2015

Christianity and the Nagasaki Crime” by Gary G. Kohls, Aug. 9, 2015

Exposing Nixon’s Vietnam Lies” by James DiEugenio, Aug. 10, 2015

Gauging the Violent ‘Fox Effect’” by Mike Lofgren, Aug. 11, 2015

Rectifying Israel’s Crimes” by Lawrence Davidson, Aug. 11, 2015

Pope Francis’ Appeal for the Future” by Daniel C. Maguire, Aug. 12, 2015

Congress’ Test of Allegiance: US or Israel?” by John V. Whitbeck, Aug. 12, 2015

Escalating the Anti-Iran Propaganda” by Jonathan Marshall, Aug. 13, 2015

The Saudi Royals, Unchained” by Joe Lauria, Aug. 14, 2015

Neocons to Americans: Trust Us Again” by Robert Parry, Aug. 16, 2015

Reviving the ‘Successful Surge’ Myth” by Robert Parry, Aug. 16, 2015

Propaganda, Intelligence, and MH-17” by Ray McGovern, Aug. 17, 2015

Explaining the Trump Phenomenon” by Lawrence Davidson, Aug. 17, 2015

Assange and Democracy’s Future” by Norman Solomon, Aug. 18, 2015

Pentagon Manual Calls Some Reporters Spies” by Don North, Aug. 19, 2015

The Honduran Coup’s Ugly Aftermath” by Jonathan Marshall, Aug. 19, 2015

Why US Police Are Out of Control” by Daniel Lazare, Aug. 20, 2015

The Riddle of Obama’s Foreign Policy” by Robert Parry, Aug. 21, 2015

The Case for Pragmatism” by Robert Parry, Aug. 24, 2015

American Jews Split from Netanyahu” by Lawrence Davidson, Aug. 24, 2015

The Trump/Sanders Phenomena” by Robert Parry, Aug. 26, 2015

Sanders’s Screwy Mideast Strategy” by Sam Husseini, Aug. 27, 2015

Will Peace Find a 2016 Advocate?” by Robert Parry, Aug. 27, 2015

Pushing the Edge on Nuclear War” by William R. Polk, Aug. 28, 2015

America’s Short-sighted ‘Grand Strategy’” by Franklin Spinney, Aug. 31, 2105

Schumer’s Troubling Mideast Record” by Jonathan Marshall, Aug. 31, 2015

Ron Paul and Lost Lessons of War” by Todd E. Pierce, Aug. 31, 2015

To produce and publish these stories and many more costs money. And except for some book sales, we depend on the generous support of our readers.

So, please consider a tax-deductible donation either by credit card online or by mailing a check. (For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our PayPal Giving Fund account, which is named “The Consortium for Independent Journalism”).

 

 




Israel’s Bitter Anti-Iran Fight

Israeli leaders put on a full-court press to coerce U.S. lawmakers to line up behind Prime Minister Netanyahu instead of President Obama on the Iran nuclear deal. The Israel ploy appears to not only have failed but to have exposed deep divisions in the Jewish community, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

The insistence that Israel is somehow the national embodiment of the Jewish people has always been dangerous. This is so because it tied a diverse group spread over the globe to the apron strings of a single political entity and its ideology (Zionism). Thus identified, the Jews were allegedly what a bunch of Zionist ideologues said they were — and were also supposedly exemplified by the consistently unsavory practices of the Israeli state.

The Zionists tried to force the Jews into this Procrustean bed through the monopolization of elite Jewish organizations and the emotional blackmail of those who might have dissenting views. The mantra here was that if a Jewish person had disagreements with Israel, he or she should express them behind closed doors and never in public.

Behind closed doors the dissenter could be contained. However, if he or she went public with their differences, they undercut the myth of Jewish community solidarity with Israel. To go public in this fashion was a mortal sin, and one risked being shamed within one’s community. Those who persisted were labeled “self-hating” traitors.

It is a long-standing effort at censorship. Some people might get upset with those who publicly accuse Charles Schumer of having  dual loyalties involving Israel, but no one seemed to get equally upset with those Zionists who have accused thousands of Jews worldwide of being “self-haters” because they publicly came out against Israel’s atrocious treatment of the Palestinians.

On “Verge of Fratricide”

It was inevitable that the Zionist requirement of public silence would get harder to enforce the more outrageous the behavior of Israel’s political leadership became.

On the American scene, the combination of the brazen intrusion of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into U.S. politics (particularly his March 3, 2015 address to Congress) and the warmongering position on Iran taken by Jewish organizations openly allied to Israel seems to have been the tipping point. The combined adamance of this Zionist front has forced American Jewish members of Congress to make a choice, and do so publicly. Those who have chosen, against the wishes of the Israeli government, to support the Iran nuclear agreement as reflecting the long-term interests of the United States (and Israel) are now treated to the same degree of defamation as those Jews called “self-haters.”

A national window on what Greg Rosenbaum, chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, calls “the verge of fratricide in the Jewish community” was opened by a front-page article in the Aug. 29 issue of the New York Times, entitled “Debate on Iran Fiercely Splits American Jews.”

The Times’ main example of this near-fratricidal behavior is the case of Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, who, like the state’s senior senator, Charles Schumer, has spent his entire political career supporting Israel. The only difference between the two is that unlike Schumer, Nadler has come out in support of the Iran agreement. But that is all it took to make him a target.

According to an interview with Nadler in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and reprinted in the Aug. 25 edition of the Forward, the New York representative was hit by “vociferous attacks” labeling him a “traitor,” one who wants to “abandon the Jewish people.” According to the Times’ piece, he has also been called a Kapo (the name given to Jewish collaborators with the Nazis), and a “facilitator of Obama’s Holocaust.”

New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Zionist stalwart, has sworn to work for Nadler’s defeat come the representative’s next primary election and has been harassing him in various ways ever since he announced his support for the Iran deal.

This sort of thing has been going on across the nation where American Jewry interfaces with national politics. It is interesting that the one who is trying to bring civility back into this internecine debate is a Gentile: Barack Obama.

Again, according to the Times’ article, Obama, speaking on “a webcast for major Jewish organizations,” called the treatment of Nadler “appalling” and then, ignoring a fast unraveling political status quo, said “we’re all pro-Israel, and we’re family.” Nonetheless, he concluded that “It’s better to air these things out even if it is uncomfortable, as long as the tone is civil.” Alas, President Obama sounds like a marriage counselor who comes too late to the party.

Persistent Incivility

The truth is that the tone of the edicts coming out of Israel both past and present, and then transmitted by elite Jewish-Zionist organizations down the line to the synagogues and community centers in the United States, has never been civil. Israel’s self-righteous position has always been that it has an unquestionable right to tell American Jewry when to support or not support their own (that is U.S.) national interests.

And if you don’t follow the Israeli lead, you will be accused of betraying “your people.” This persistent incivility has just been below the U.S.’s public radar until now. We can all thank Netanyahu and his Likudniks for the fact that that is no longer the case.

So what does this mean for the future of U.S.- Israeli relations? Well, according to the Times, some are predicting “long-term damage to Jewish organizations and possibly to American-Israeli relations.” One thing is for sure, the abrasive Zionist modus operandi will not change. It is built in to the historical character of both their ideology and Israeli culture.

The real questions lie on the American side of the equation. For instance, will American politicians who have belatedly become uneasy with Israeli behavior come to understand that what they face is a fundamental difference in worldview?

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of JStreet, in a rare moment of clarity, was cited in the Times’ article as having spoken of “a fundamental break between Democratic Party leaders inclined toward diplomacy and the worldview of a conservative Israeli government which has more in common with Dick Cheney.” Ben-Ami is surely correct here, even though he shortsightedly confines the problem to the current Israeli government.

A corresponding question is will American Jews who disagree with Israeli policies come to realize that this is more than a family squabble? It is a fundamental break between those who favor humanitarian values and sensible diplomacy, and those who favor the ways of war and ethno-religious discrimination.

In truth, American Jews who support civil and human rights have no more in common with Israel and its culture than they do with xenophobic fanatics of the Republican Right. They just have to accept that fact and, on the basis of that awareness, take a public stand.

It is probably accurate to describe current events as doing lasting damage to American Jewish organizations. It is not the case that “names can never hurt you,” and there has been a lot of harsh name-calling within these groups. From the anti-Zionist perspective this is all for the good. These organizations had long ago turned into fronts for Israel and have been hurting, not helping, American Jews.

As for the future of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, it is hard to know if the storm that has blown up over the nuclear agreement with Iran has delivered a lasting blow. The Zionist lobby still has a lot of financial power and an increasingly firm alliance with the Republican Right. And, who knows, we might someday see those barbarians back in the White House.

On the other hand, that evolving alliance will continue to alienate more liberal Jews and Democratic politicians. The safest prediction to make is that while recent events might not spell the end of America’s “special relationship” with Israel, they are surely a big step in the right direction.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




American Jews Split from Netanyahu

Major Jewish organizations and donors are pressing the U.S. Congress to get in lockstep behind Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, but they are out of step with most American Jews who support the accord, reports Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

On Aug. 13, The New York Times carried a front-page article entitled “Donors Descend on Schumer and Others in Debate on Iran.” The article opened a window on the activities of big money donors in the Congress of the United States.

According to the Times story, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, had been consulting with John Shapiro, a wealthy financier and “longtime benefactor” of the senator and other Democratic politicians. Shapiro is also the head of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), an organization that claims 100,000 members and that, since 2009, has described itself as “a center for Jewish and Israel global advocacy,” thereby misleadingly tying these two interests – Jewish advocacy and Israeli advocacy – together.

Shapiro’s position with AJC also means that, when it comes to Middle East foreign policy, there is no real difference between his position and that of the Israeli government. This identification is reflected in the AJC’s “unity pledge” concerning the Zionist state.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that Shapiro told Schumer what Israeli-inspired analyses to read before he made his decision on the nuclear deal. According to the Times, Shapiro also informed the senator that the Egyptian “president” Abdel Fattah el-Sisi felt sure that the deal would “increase regional terrorism.” It can be assumed that Shapiro failed to mention that this was an opinion that differed from the public position taken by the Egyptian foreign minister.

Soon thereafter Schumer announced that he would oppose President Barack Obama’s negotiated nuclear agreement with Iran. One can find multiple critiques on the web of Schumer’s reasons for taking this position, so we won’t go into it here. For our purpose the important point is that Shapiro wasn’t the only Jewish donor trying to pressure legislators and, in fact, many were urging not rejection but acceptance of the Iran deal.

American Jewish Support for Iran Deal

The Times article identifies several wealthy Jewish donors who were lobbying in support of the Iran agreement but doesn’t tell us if they have been as successful as Shapiro. These include the billionaire entrepreneur S. Daniel Abraham, TV producer Norman Lear (founder of People for the American Way), and the famous billionaire George Soros.

There are several additional points that can be added to this aspect of the Times story:

–There are a good number of Israeli intelligence professionals (to say nothing of their American counterparts) who “have very positive views of the nuclear agreement.” Despite efforts by the Netanyahu government to silence them, their positions are now coming out in the media.

–Hundreds of prominent American Jews have publicly supported the agreement in a Times ad and open letter to Congress.

–Recent polls show that most American Jews support the deal with Iran. According to a poll conducted by the LA Jewish Journal Survey, “by a wide margin, American Jews support the recently concluded agreement with Iran.” Indeed, according to this poll, even a majority (51 percent) of those who described themselves as “very attached emotionally to Israel want Congress to approve the deal.”

All this information undermines the myth that Israel (or worse yet, Benjamin Netanyahu) speaks for the Jews. This has always been untrue, yet Israel’s persistent insistence that it is true constitutes a typical “big lie” which, repeated over and over again, takes hold in the popular mind and comes to appear as a reflection of reality.

It is the resulting pseudo-truth that helps men like John Shapiro be so persuasive. Along with all the money he can bring to the table, he can claim that he speaks simultaneously for Israel and American Jewry. His political benefactors will believe this because it is consistent with an established myth.

That is why it is important to point out, at every opportunity, instances that undermine the myth. The case of the Iran nuclear agreement is just such an instance.

An Organizational Approach

There is one other lesson to be learned from the Times story. Lobbyists like Shapiro have an advantage because unlike most of the Jewish donors who support the nuclear agreement, they can approach Congress as the leaders of focused organizations that have a relatively large membership with deep pockets.

The Jewish donors out there who may want to defy Israel and its claim to speak for the Jews must also approach the U.S. government in a focused organizational fashion if they are to compete with Mr. Shapiro and other groups such as AIPAC. There are, of course, smaller Jewish groups that are defiant of Israel and its practices, groups such as Jewish Voices for Peace. But such organizations, while giving the lie to the Israeli claim to represent all Jews, haven’t the numbers or the money to successfully compete for influence in Congress.

One might also mention JStreet, which really doesn’t qualify here, because nine times out of ten it offers a resolutely Zionist analysis.

When all is said and done, the opposition forces in Congress probably will be unable to destroy the nuclear agreement with Iran. Will this achievement encourage the Jewish donors who favored the deal to come together and form a single Jewish organization outspokenly independent of Israel and its camp followers in the U.S.? One would hope so, because this is really what is needed if we are to liberate the U.S. Congress and political parties from the myth of a unified Jewry in support of Israel.

In the meantime there is an even bigger job to make the same case to rest of the world. Be it in Europe or the Arab world, the myth is growing and shaping people’s thinking. As a consequence, to the extent that a person is hostile to Israel’s policies and practices they run the risk of becoming hostile to “Jews,” which opens the way to stark anti-Semitism.

This process can only aid and abet the ambitions of the Zionists. So let us strive for clear thinking on this matter and popularize the fact that Jews are quite diverse in their views and a growing number of them are not supporters of Israel or its practices. In this way we can undercut the myth that falsely connects them to Israel.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




Explaining the Trump Phenomenon

Since the days of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” the Republican Party has played to the grievances of angry white men (and some women), in effect creating a ready audience for a hot-headed and quick-witted showman like Donald Trump, a classic case of reaping what is sown, as Lawrence Davidson explains.

By Lawrence Davidson

It is really not too hard to figure out Donald Trump. The man is having fun.

What we have witnessed so far is a demonstration of how a billionaire megalomaniac and narcissist has fun: having secured a national stage, he runs around and says whatever he pleases, even if it is blatantly obnoxious. If he gets positive feedback, he does it all the louder. If he gets negative feedback, he turns into a bully, which he also sees as fun.

If his alliance with Fox “News” doesn’t work out, maybe he will buy his own network. If the Republican Party spurns him, he will no doubt start his own political party. He can afford it and, again, it’s a lot of fun. By the way, while Trump is having fun many of the rest of us don’t find him funny at all. Indeed, it’s a serious question whether Mr. Trump’s good time will, in the end, encourage him to become a dangerous demagogue.

If explaining Donald Trump isn’t all that difficult, explaining why millions of people applaud him is more of a challenge. And it is, after all, millions. There are roughly 219 million Americans who are qualified to vote, but only approximately 146 million are registered to do so. Of those registered, 29 percent are signed up as Republicans, or about 42 million people. According to a Aug. 4 CBS poll, Trump has a favorable rating among 24 percent of that number, or about 10 million people. We can assume that this is a low number, given it only counts presently registered Republicans and not independents.

There is a lot of speculation over why these people like Trump. Here are the typical reasons given:

,“Trump has found support from Republican voters looking for a successful businessman to jumpstart an economic renaissance.” This sort of sentiment is seconded by the opinion that, because he is a rich businessman, he must know how to “generate jobs.” Of course, this is an illusion. Most businesspeople operate within economic pockets and know little about “the economy” as a whole. Many of them get rich not by creating jobs but by eliminating them through mergers and downsizing operations.

,He is not a Washington insider, he has never worked in Washington or been “stained by political life.” This is a very questionable asset. Government is a bureaucratic system with well-established rules. The notion that Mr. Trump can come into such a system and “revolutionize” it without causing chaos is fantasy.

 

,Trump “is a fighter” and “people want a fighter.” He tells it like it is and has no time for “political correctness,” of which most people are allegedly “deathly tired.” In other words, there is a subset of the population who don’t like minority groups or their demand for respect. They don’t like feminists and their concerns about women’s rights. They don’t like immigrants and the notion that the government should treat them like human beings. Trump has become their champion because he says what they believe, which, of course, passes for an assumed truth: all of this “political correctness” is an anti-American attack on traditional values.

Many of these Trump supporters are oblivious to the fact that they themselves are descended from both legal and illegal immigrants who had to fight the prejudiced sentiments of people just like them to become accepted citizens. That presents an almost laughable picture, except their sentiments are also very scary.

The Permanently Disaffected

These sentiments are really the surface emanations of a crowd phenomenon that has deeper meaning and persistent historical roots. In all societies, one finds the chronically disaffected, frustrated and resentful. Their numbers may go up or down according to economic and social circumstances, but they never go to zero.

In the U.S., this statistically permanent set of disaffected citizens seems to find itself most comfortable amidst the ultra-conservative right, with its hatred of “big” government and its resentment of just about any taxation. All of this is melded to national chauvinism and exceptionalism. Of late this minority has become quasi-organized in what is known as the Tea Party movement.

A Gallup poll conducted in October 2014 suggested that 11 percent of voting-age Americans are “strong supporters” of the Tea Party movement. If we use the 219 million figure given above, that comes to 24 million Americans. There is certainly an overlap here with the 10 million avid followers of Donald Trump.

What this means is that Trump, in his narcissistic pursuit of recognition, has tapped into a subgroup of the population that includes the permanently dissatisfied. He can rally them and perhaps bring them together into a bigger movement of, say, 20 to 25 percent of the population. But he can never satisfy that element’s essentially nihilistic grumbling.

In other words, Trump is playing with fire and at some point he will have to wake up to just what sort of monster he has by the tail. Then he will have to decide: is he just out for fun or does he want to go the route of the demagogue?

The American people are not immune to demagoguery. In fact Fox “News,” on the air 24/7, has made a lot of money showcasing demagogues of one sort or another. Bill O’Reilly might be the most well known of the lot.

These people have had their predecessors, particularly during the Great Depression, such as Father Charles Coughlin, a Detroit-based Catholic priest who ended up supporting fascist principles. His radio broadcasts had tens of millions of listeners. And then there is Joe McCarthy, etc.

Donald Trump certainly has the qualifications to join the long list of history’s demagogues: good speech-making abilities, no problem with playing fast and loose with the facts, and an affinity for the crowd, which energizes him. For him it also seems to be a lot of fun. For the rest of us it is just another aspect of living under the old curse of interesting times.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




Rectifying Israel’s Crimes

Israel’s original sin the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and the ongoing abuse of this subjugated population in the West Bank and Gaza undermine Israel’s preferred self-image as a modern civilized state and lead more people around the world to demand some modicum of justice, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Even before Palestine was “officially” partitioned by the November 1947 vote of the UN General Assembly, Zionist forces on the ground were on the offensive and, consequently, creating refugees. It could be no other way, given their ideologically driven desire to seize Palestinian land and reserve it solely for Jewish use.

Palestinians out and Jews in became the equation that has dominated the conflict ever since. And, of course, from the beginning, the Zionists had the military power to make the equation play out. The result was millions of displaced Palestinians.

Most of these refugees stayed in the Middle East, as can be seen by the multitude of refugee camps that still dot the landscape in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The Zionists often point a finger at these camps as evidence of the cruelty of Arab regimes, most of which refuse to absorb Palestinian refugees. Simultaneously, they praise Israel’s active absorption of Jewish refugees. But making this comparison displays faulty logic. The refugee policies of some Arab regimes, cruel or otherwise, is different in kind from the ethnic cleansing of millions of Palestinians by Zionists.

Given the situation in those camps, tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees eventually moved out of the Middle East and scattered around the Western world. In this way the consequences of Israel’s conquests were exported and the Palestinian plight made physically real to the West. Thus, no one should be surprised that the struggle for justice for the Palestinians, and therefore opposition to Israeli practices, is to be found in far-flung corners of the globe.

Australia and the Palestinian Cause

Take, for instance, Australia, more than half a world away from the Palestinian homeland. I recently boarded a very large airplane and spent 17 hours flying from Philadelphia to Sydney, Australia. After that I spent three weeks on a lecture tour addressing both university and public audiences on the Middle East in general and the Palestine-Israel conflict in particular.

Of the 23 million people living in Australia, over a quarter million are from Arabic-speaking lands. Newer Arab immigrants have been arriving ever since the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the region’s subsequent ongoing chaos. As these newcomers enter the Australian milieu, their memories, and their grievances, came with them.

Soon the injustices they suffered became a concern for Australians who encounter them and are sensitive to the issues of human and civil rights as well as violations of international law. The result has been the rapid growth of pro-Palestinian organizations in many Australian cities.

The cities I visited and groups I addressed were located in Adelaide, Canberra and Byron Bay. (Active pro-Palestinian groups are also to be found in Sydney and Melbourne). All the groups I encountered, such as the Australian Friends of Palestine, are involved in both educational and protest work. Demonstrations against Israeli policies and for the boycott of Israeli sold products go hand-in-hand with pamphleteering and the sponsorship of lectures and discussions.

And, as is the case in the U.S. and Europe, Australian doctors travel regularly to the Palestinian Occupied Territories – lands impoverished by their occupier in violation of international law – to deliver charitable medical care. These activities show high levels of energy and determination on the part of those supportive of justice for the Palestinians. They will be on the scene in Australia as long as Israeli injustice persists.

Within the Australian universities, one also sees an active interest and concern about Palestine, which often goes along with concern for the social and legal well-being of Australia’s Arab and Muslim citizens and residents. There is a sense that the Zionist representatives of a people who suffered horribly during World War II have betrayed the moral lessons of that experience by adopting the practice of colonial conquest.

At the same time the Zionists impose on the West a skewed picture of the Middle East. As a result one debated question is which model should guide Australia’s domestic and foreign policies: the one reflecting its own tradition of civil liberties as a Western nation, or the fear-driven model presented by Israel that depicts every Palestinian, and indeed every Arab, as a potential terrorist.

Reactions to Information

Not all Australians are concerned about injustice in the Middle East and how its violent consequences may impact civil rights in the West. Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott (head of a badly misnamed Liberal Party) is a strong supporter of Israel. That means he accepts the Israeli vision of the West beset by Middle Eastern terrorists. Indeed, Mr. Abbott has told the citizens of Australia that such terrorists are “coming after us.”

Such scare tactics both exaggerate the threat from the Middle East while creating a counter threat to the rights of Australians. This is because fear can lead to government undermining an entire population’s liberties in the name of security.

On a more positive note the Australian Labor Party (APL) has recently adopted a resolution calling for the creation of a Palestinian state using the 1967 armistice line as an Israeli-Palestinian border. There is much still wanting in the APL position, but its recognition of the need for at least a modicum of justice for the Palestinians is certainly preferable to aping the Israeli position. And, the APL might become ever more supportive of the Palestinians as Israel predictably continues its barbarian ways.

Australian public opinion also appears to be growing more critical of Israel (a general Western trend). If this trend continues it too could be used to pressure Australian politicians to act in a more pro-Palestinian way.

The scattering of Palestinian refugees throughout the Western world has challenged the image Israel presents of itself as a modern, civilized nation living according to ethical Western values. Joined now by increasing numbers of people who have visited Palestine to see conditions for themselves, the refugees are providing an alternate picture and message.

As a result it is ever more difficult for those responsible for the victimization of Palestinians to silence their grievances. Simultaneously, the true nature of Zionist Israel is increasingly highlighted and its isolation becomes a greater possibility. The situation in Australia shows this process in action.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




America’s Mindless Clamor

America has become a land of institutionalized noise whether the clamor of a crowded restaurant or the more dangerous shout fests of TV “news” both intruding on the ability to think and communicate coherently, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Many of you must have experienced something like this: you and a companion go into a restaurant and, over a good meal, would like to carry on a fruitful conversation – perhaps on the virtues of the agreement that President Barack Obama and his international partners have finally reached with Iran. However, you quickly realize that such a conversation is impossible.

The conversation is not impossible because your companion is a member of the Republican-controlled Congress, nor is it impossible because, like so many people, he or she doesn’t know one factual thing about Iran. No. It is impossible because neither you nor your companion can hear each other.

 

The restaurant’s decibel level is in the 90s, which replicates the noise intensity of an active construction site. Indeed, the environment is so noisy that even shouting is futile. It would seem that more and more of our “stylish” eating establishments have melded cacophony with cuisine.

Noise is an old problem. It started to seriously invade Western culture with the Industrial Revolution of the Eighteenth Century. The women and children who worked in the early textile factories had to develop a form of sign language to communicate over the racket made by the machines. It wasn’t until 1972 that the U.S. government began to regulate workplace din as a health hazard. Before that, one can assume that millions of citizens went through their adult life made partially deaf by the modernity’s accelerating hum.

Despite the realization that high levels of noise can hurt you, restaurants somehow escaped regulation, and some of them now present a hazard to customers and staff alike. However, this fact fails to move many owners and managers of otherwise presentable eating establishments. They insist that deafening noise is stylish – even fun – maybe like a rock concert.

Noise in the “News”

It is not only high levels of restaurant chatter that can be harmful. In other public spaces as diverse as airports, doctors’ offices and gyms the environment is dominated by television screens broadcasting, among other things, “news” programs, which manage to interfere with the average citizen’s ability to think clearly.

This brings us back to that hypothetical conversation mentioned above – the one on the nuclear deal with Iran. Those TV “news” programs filling the public airwaves are now regurgitating a version of deafening nonsense about this important subject – which only goes to show that noise comes in many forms.

Take for instance “news” noise coming from Republican Party leaders. Here are a few examples:

,Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois who has declared that the nuclear accord “condemns the next generation to cleaning up a nuclear war in the Persian Gulf.” He explains that “tens of thousands of people in the Middle East are gonna lose their lives because of this decision by Barack Hussein Obama.”

,Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican presidential candidate, declares, “This is not diplomacy, this is appeasement.”

, Sen. Lindsey Graham, another presidential candidate, insists that “it’s akin to declaring war on Sunni Arabs and Israel by the P5+1 because it ensures their primary antagonist Iran will become a nuclear power and allows them to rearm conventionally.”

,Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Christian Fundamentalist and another Republican presidential candidate, says, “Shame on the Obama administration for agreeing to a deal that empowers an evil Iranian regime to carry out its threat to ‘wipe Israel off the map’ and bring death to America.”

All of this is coming to the public repetitively through varied media. And all of it is noisy nonsense. How do these Republican notables know their assertions are true? After all, they contradict the positions of most of the world’s professional intelligence experts, including those working for the U.S. government and, it turns out, many of their Israeli counterparts.

The Republicans who shout that the Obama administration was “fleeced” and “bamboozled” by the Iranians are reading from a script which looks like a Machiavellian set-piece designed to attack the President no matter what he does. The authors just plug in the issue (be it health care, immigration or Iran’s nuclear energy program) and start shouting.

The U.S. Zionists, of course, use a script written in Israel. Acting just like agents of that country, they are bound to shout what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shouts. For instance, “the concessions agreement Iran is about to receive paves the way for it to arm itself with nukes.”

Either way, the resulting noise leads away from – and not toward – reality. Thus, the complaints that Obama has simply surrendered to the Iranians is the exact opposite of the truth. Iran has agreed to significant reductions in its nuclear program as well as the most intrusive inspections regime ever imposed on any nation’s nuclear energy program.

Noise in its many manifestations deafens more than one’s ears. It deafens one’s mind. And that is its purpose, as used by both restaurant managers and politicians.

On the one hand, restaurateurs believe they know what it takes to have fun at the dinner table – it takes the merging of all diners into a cloud of near-mindless chatter. Thus, it doesn’t matter if the chatter has any recognizable content, for it merely serves as a vehicle for entering a crowd-focused experience.

The chatter makes you one with everyone else in the restaurant. And, I guess, that is why many people come back for more. The food, no doubt, is secondary.

On the other hand, the politicians also invite you into a crowd experience, but one of a more dangerous kind. The noise in the “news” is not diffused chatter but a loud and sustained message. It is, more often than not, a form of propaganda – the same storyline repeated over and over again until it fills the public airwaves and from there comes to dominate the thought waves of the ignorant.

No doubt about it, the world is getting noisier every day – a fact which might encourage the independent minded to eat more meals at home and turn off the television. That way you get fewer calories and more clarity of mind in one quiet package.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories in June focused on the bloody crises in Ukraine, Syria, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East — and on propaganda’s harm to democracy and fairness, from war to Tom Brady.

Neocon Fugitive Given Ukraine Province” by Robert Parry, June 2, 2015

NYT’s New Propaganda on Syria” by Robert Parry, June 3, 2015

An Urgent Reassessment of Jesus” by the Rev. Howard Bess, June 3, 2015

Sleepwalking to Another Mideast Disaster” by Robert Parry, June 4, 2015

How Reagan’s Propaganda Succeeded” by Robert Parry, June 4, 2015

On TV, the Enemy We’ve Met” by Patrick Cribben, June 5, 2015

Obama’s Big Lie on Syria” by Daniel Lazare, June 5, 2015

Obama’s ‘G-1-plus-6’” by Ray McGovern, June 7, 2015

Cold War II to McCarthyism II” by Robert Parry, June 8, 2015

Israel’s ‘Legitimacy’ War” by John V. Whitbeck, June 8, 2015

Obama’s Stupid Propaganda Stuff” by Robert Parry, June 9, 2015

Barack Obama: No Jack Kennedy” by Ray McGovern, June 10, 2015

Israel Seeks to Criminalize Criticism” by Lawrence Davidson, June 10, 2015

WPost Plays Ukraine’s Lapdog” by Robert Parry, June 11, 2015

U.S. House Admits Nazi Role in Ukraine” by Robert Parry, June 12, 2015

Hiding Facts to Thwart Democracy” by Kirk Wiebe, June 12, 2015

Jeb Bush’s Tangled Past” by Chelsea Gilmour, June 12, 2015

The Bush Family ‘Oiligarchy’” by Sam Parry, June 12, 2015

NFL’s ‘Deflategate’ Findings ‘Unreliable’” by Robert Parry, June 14, 2015

The Saga of Cesar Chavez” by James DiEugenio, June 14, 2015

Standing Up for Truth and Ben Franklin” by Coleen Rowley, June 14, 2015

Samantha Power: Liberal War Hawk” by Robert Parry, June 15, 2015

Explaining Myself” by Robert Parry, June 16, 2015

Fiddling While the World Burns” by David William Pear, June 17, 2015

Can US Stop Enabling Israel?” by Alon Ben-Meir, June 18, 2015

Obama’s Libya Fiasco” by Andrés Cala, June 19, 2015

The Rush to a New Cold War” by Dennis J Bernstein, June 19, 2015

Facing America’s Great Evils” by Robert Parry, June 20, 2015

The Dangers of Religious Primitivism” by Lawrence Davidson, June 21, 2015

NYT’s Orwellian View of Ukraine” by Robert Parry, June 22, 2015

The Nitwits Are in Charge” by Robert Parry, June 24, 2015

Turkey’s Troubling War on Syria” by Rick Sterling, June 25, 2015

Neocons Urge Embrace of Al Qaeda” by Daniel Lazare, June 26, 2015

Shaking Off the Symbols of Racism” by William Loren Katz, June 26, 2015

Turkish Voters Rebuke Erdogan” by Alon Ben-Meir, June 27, 2015

Was Turkey Behind Syria Sarin Attack?” by Robert Parry, June 27, 2015

Confronting Southern ‘Victimhood’” by Robert Parry, June 29, 2015

Toward a Rational US Strategy (Part 1)” by William R. Polk, June 30, 2015

To produce and publish these stories and many more costs money. And except for some book sales, we depend on the generous support of our readers.

So, please consider a tax-deductible donation either by credit card online or by mailing a check. (For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our PayPal Giving Fund account, which is named “The Consortium for Independent Journalism”).




How to Eradicate Racism

The massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston and a rash of arson at other black churches across the South show that despite conservative self-serving claims and liberal wishful thinking about racism becoming a thing of the past, much more work needs to be done, says Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

On the evening of June 17, a 21-year-old white man by the name of Dylann Roof walked into an old and famous black church, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in Charleston, South Carolina, where a Bible study group was underway. Roof sat in on the class for an hour before allegedly pulling out a .45 caliber handgun, announcing that black people were ”taking over our country. And, you have to go,” and shooting 10 of the 12 people in the study group, nine of whom died.

It should be pointed out that at 21 years of age Roof presumably doesn’t have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex (which, in part, means his risk-aversion impulse is not fully developed) – a fact that is likely to do as little good in court for him as it did Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (also 21) in his Boston Marathon bombing trial.

It did not take long for the authorities to identify and apprehend Roof. It turned out that he is a thoroughgoing racist with delusions of starting a second Civil War. He also had a thing for flags. Among the Facebook-posted pictures of Roof that soon surfaced were ones showing him with the flag of apartheid South Africa and the flag of white-ruled Rhodesia. Both of these are reported to be used as symbols of white supremacy in the U.S. And, there is the picture of him, with his handgun displayed, with the Confederate battle flag – the same flag that flies on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse.

By the day after the shooting the issue for the media was no longer Dylann Roof (who had confessed to the murders, according to police). The issue was whether or not the Confederate battle flag on the statehouse grounds should be removed. For much of the country, the flag was a symbol of the racism that had moved Roof to commit the massacre.

As Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s Republican governor, stated, the flag is a “deeply resented symbol of a brutally offensive past,” and literally overnight, the AME massacre galvanized most of the country to show support for the victims by demanding the flag’s removal.

But it wasn’t going to be that easy. It turns out that many white citizens of South Carolina and beyond don’t see the flag as a symbol of a “brutal past,” much less the symbol of the nine dead people shot down inside the Emanuel AME Church. No. They claim that flying the battle flag simply honors their ancestors who fought in the Civil War for the cause of “states’ rights.” Based on this interpretation, Dylann Roof got it wrong when he sported that handgun along with the battle flag.

Well, most of the African-American population, along with many American whites, think this ancestor story is a rather poor ploy. Honoring one’s ancestors who fought in a lost cause to sustain the institution of slavery (which is why states’ rights were important to the Confederate South) is a bit weird in today’s cultural environment, but one can show such respect in the privacy of one’s own home or even at a veterans center.

However, making it an obligation of the state (in this case South Carolina) is downright dangerous because what you have is half the population commanding the government to pay homage to those who fought to maintain the enslavement of the other half. From a socio-political standpoint, that homage validates the historic actions of those ancestors i.e., fighting to maintain a slave society thus possibly encouraging their descendants (like Mr. Roof) to mimic them. This is just asking for trouble, and on the evening of June 17, South Carolina and the rest of us experienced a horrific example of that trouble.

Why Do Dylann Roof’s Exist?

The Civil War ended over 150 years ago. So one can reasonably ask why Americans are still dealing with this issue of racism? Why is it that, as President Barack Obama said, shortly after the murders, that “slavery still casts a long shadow” on American life? There is no shortage of those who recognize that racism is still deeply ingrained in U.S. culture, but there are few suggestions as to why that is and what can be done about it.

That being the case, I thought I might revive my thoughts on these questions ones originally posted in March 2013 in an analysis entitled “Civil Rights Takes a Hit.” It was written on the occasion of the Supreme Court’s consideration of an Alabama suit to rescind Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which allowed the Justice Department to review any changes in voting procedures in areas of the country traditionally tainted by racism.

Here are some of the points I made in that essay:

,Cultures can evolve over centuries, yet once their major parameters are set, they have remarkable staying power. The notion that such parameters can be reversed in, say, 48 years (counting from the 1965 Voting Rights Act) is naive at best.

,Why would that be the case? A good part of the answer is that a culture of racism shaped the way of life, particularly in the southern United States, for hundreds of years. This culture was only briefly interrupted by the Civil War. After that war, there followed a period known as Reconstruction, when the U.S. Army’s occupation of the South interfered with ingrained racist practices. But Reconstruction lasted only a brief 12 years, until 1877.

Thereafter the South reverted to racist ways under a “legal” regime commonly known as “Jim Crow.” That lasted until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Subsequent Republican administrations have been chipping away at civil rights laws and regulations ever since. Because, over hundreds of years, the interruptions in Southern racial practice were relatively brief, racism has persisted in that region of the country to a relatively greater degree than in other areas.

,This pervasive and long-lasting culture was reflected in local and regional laws. Laws, in turn, are to be understood as educational tools that tell citizens what society deems to be right and wrong behavior. If laws are consistently enforced over a long period of time, most citizens will internalize these messages and they will become part of their moral code. Except for the 12 years of Reconstruction, the South had known nothing but legally sanctioned racist rules of behavior right up to the middle of the Twentieth Century. And so it was racist rules that were thoroughly internalized.

,What the Civil Rights laws of the1960s did was to suddenly, and partially, reverse the behavioral messages based on the older racist laws. They did so only partially because these new laws concentrated on making discrimination illegal within the public sphere. You could no longer segregate public schools, hotels, restaurants and the like, as well as government offices.

Today, African-Americans in the South check into a hotel, eat at a restaurant, shop where they want to without much trouble. However, if they do happen to have trouble, there is recourse under the law to deal with the problem. That has now been the case for 48 years. Yet this is not nearly enough time to have the message that racial discrimination is wrong penetrate deeply into the private sphere of a region where the opposite attitude has long been the default position.

My guess is that among some Southern citizens, the new egalitarian way of thinking is superficially there, and among others it is not there at all.

Communities with historically ingrained patterns of thinking and behaving may be bludgeoned, say, by violent revolution, into changing their ways. However, if you are to change them in a non-violent fashion you must bring to bear all of society’s traditional rule-making devices. These are primarily the law and the schools.

In the case of the United States, laws that enforce civil rights must be strengthened and steadily applied for multiple generations (at least four or five) until obeying these laws is habitual. That should permanently reform the public sphere.

Yet if Dylann Roof’s actions teach us anything, the rules regulating the private sphere must also be addressed. The teaching of the essential correctness of civil rights and the essential wrongness for racist attitudes must be put into the curriculum and taught in all the schools, public and private, from K to 12, and probably in undergraduate college as well. This too must be universal (whether parents like it or not), consistent and multigenerational.

None of this is really impossible. It can be done. We know enough about psychology to recognize that such an effort is not a waste of time. All it takes is the political and institutional will to do these things with patient persistence. Not until there are clear signs that racism has been erased from both the public and private spheres should anyone breathe a sigh of relief.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




The Dangers of Religious Primitivism

By stirring up the Middle East from Western exploitation of oil to Zionist expulsion of Palestinians Christians and Jews set in motion today’s “clash of civilizations” with Islam and launched all three religions on a path toward dangerous primitivism, a threat to humanity’s future, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Prior to the Eighteenth Century – that is prior to the Enlightenment – if you had asked a literate Westerner when he or she thought the most ideal of human societies did or would exist, most of them would have located that society in the past.

The religious majority might have placed it in the biblical age of Solomon or the early Christian communities of the First Century after Christ. Both would have been considered divinely inspired times.

Now, come forward a hundred years, say to the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, and ask the same question. You would notice that the answer was beginning to change. Having passed through the Enlightenment and with the Industrial Revolution in process, the concept of continual progress had been invented, and with it some (but by no means all) people started to place that hypothetically ideal society in the future. For the futurists the question of divine guidance no longer mattered.

Today, many folks worldwide believe in progress and assume that tomorrow not only will be different from today, but will in some scientific-technological way be better. The question here is not whether they are correct, but why there isn’t a unanimous consensus in favor of progress – for clearly there is not.

The truth is that there are millions of people — Muslims, Jews, Christians and others — who not only still idealize a religiously imagined past, but want, in one way or another, to import that past into the present, and not only their present but everyone else’s as well. Whatever one might think of the teachings of the Bible and Quran, this is a highly problematic desire. In fact, it is downright dangerous. The following examples will prove this point:

The Muslim Version

The Guardian newspaper recently carried a shocking article entitled “Isis Slave Markets Sell Girls .” As the story goes, ISIS, or the self-proclaimed “Islamic State,” has set up slave markets where young girls are sold. Most of the girls seem to be war booty acquired during raids on areas populated by minorities, such as the Yazidis, who are not considered Muslim.

According to the Zainab Bangura, the United Nations envoy investigating the issue of sexual violence stemming from the wars in Syria and Iraq, the abduction of young girls is a ploy to attract male recruits.

“The foreign fighters are the backbone of the fighting,” Bangura says, and  “this is how they attract young men: we have women waiting for you, virgins you can marry.”

The UN envoy then adds that ISIS seems determined “to build a society that reflects the 13th century.” Actually, she is off by some 500 years. The time frame ISIS leadership is aiming for is the Seventh Century CE. That was the time of the first Islamic community, and from the ISIS point of view it was a divinely appointed one.

Therefore its cultural and social practices, allegedly sanctioned by the Quran, are as legitimate today as they were in the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. So, first and foremost, the slave trade is sanctioned as a revival of a divine past. If it lures new male recruits, that is no doubt seen as a bonus.

From the point of view of modern secularized society, this is pretty crazy stuff. However, it is not unique to ISIS.

The Jewish Version

There is a sect of religious Jews who are equally determined to import into the present an aspect of an ancient, supposedly divine, past. Their aim is to resurrect Solomon’s temple, an artifact of the Sixth Century BCE.

Rebuilding the original temple (which would then be called the “third temple” because the first two were destroyed by the Babylonians and Romans, respectively) would, according to the advocacy organization the Temple Institute, “usher in a new era of universal harmony and peace.”

Given that this divine import would have to be built on the site now occupied by the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in the Islamic world, it is hard to see how peace can be the outcome. Nonetheless, according to its advocates, the Jews “have a biblical obligation to rebuild it.”

And, it would seem, some 43 percent of religious Israelis agree with this assertion. That means in the eyes of these particular people, the recreation of Solomon’s temple is as divinely legitimate as the slave markets run by ISIS. The major difference between the Temple Institute and ISIS is that, as of yet, the institute does not have the power to move from theory to practice.

The Christian Version

It is bad enough to reestablish slavery in the name of religion, as some fanatical Muslims have done. It is not much better to advocate rebuilding Solomon’s Temple on stolen land in the name of religion, as some fanatical Jews now want to do.

Yet it is quite another thing to conspire to bring about global war in the name of religion. This seems to be the special providence of fanatical Christians.

According to journalist Bill Moyers, Christian fundamentalist organizations with millions of members financially support Israel in order to encourage expansionism, ethnic cleansing and preemptive war against Iran, and ultimately to trigger a third world war.

What is the point of this allegedly divinely inspired mayhem? According to such Christian fundamentalist sages as John C. Hagee, all of this is necessary to pave the way for the Second Coming of Christ. Hagee knows this is so because he read it in the apocalytic writings of the New Testament.

And just who might have sympathy with such dangerous efforts to transform the present on the basis of dubious past prophecy? How about Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, along with growing numbers of voters and legislators both in the U.S. and the UK?

How is it possible, in our scientific age, that millions, including powerful political leaders, hold to such dangerous beliefs? Obviously the Enlightenment and its humanistic teachings did not work for everyone, and even the Industrial Revolution, in its capitalist manifestation, has proved persistently unsettling.

That is, unsettling to community based on age-old – and allegedly divine – principles. After all, seemingly divine teachings were the basis for Western societies, as well as those in the Middle East, for over a thousand years. Counting from the Enlightenment, competing modernity has only been around for 300 or so years.

In other words, our material world might be thoroughly grounded in applied electrical engineering and computer science, but for a surprising number of us, the emotional world seems to still be grounded in the imagined words of God. No wonder religion in all its various forms makes periodic comebacks.

As part of this phenomenon, some of us select a part of the “divine past” as our ideal time. Some of us even convince ourselves that the world would be so much better if we could reconstruct the present along the lines of that imagined past.

Of course, most of those who think this way never get enough power and influence to actually move from theory to practice. Occasionally, however, someone, or some group, does. In the case of the Islamic world, the leaders of ISIS seem to have achieved this status, and so what do we get? Slave markets.

In Israel the Knesset is full of folks who yearn for the some variation on biblical Israel, so what do we get? Well, if not yet the rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple, we get all that illegal expansion into “Judea and Samaria.”

And, in the case of the Christians like George W. Bush and Tony Blair, both of whom seem to have used their worldly power to kill and maim millions in the name of prophecy, we get one war after another.

This suggests that the socio-religious outlook of Solomon, Mohammed and Jesus Christ are simply not translatable into the modern world. Oh sure we have the Ten Commandments and all that. However, adherence to these rules should no longer be enforced as the word of God.

In the West at least, they are — in a selective, updated fashion — part of the promulgated laws of multi-cultural communities, no more and no less, and it is best to keep it that way.

So let’s show some appreciation of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. When they separated religion and government, they had a strong and accurate sense of history. It was a good move, even if not a divinely inspired one. It was also the implementation of a fine Enlightenment principle – a good match for modern society.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.