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My New Book is Available for Pre-order

You can now pre-order autographed copies of my new book, Taken, which is my first novel. The book will be published in April. If you order from me directly, you'll receive a signed copy in March before it's available anywhere else.

Here are the front and back covers:

 

 

Here's the book description: Prize-winning author and journalist Michael J. Totten’s debut novel features a fictional version of author and journalist Michael J. Totten who is taken from his home in the night by terrorists and hauled bound and gagged to a remote house in the wilderness. So begins a harrowing journey across three states with a ruthless band of killers and sadists, and after all escape attempts fail, Totten faces a terrible question: what if the only way out is to join them?

 

Most of you don't know this, but I was a fiction writer long before I became a journalist. I'm a product of the English Department, not Journalism School, and I spent my entire early adulthood developing and honing skills as a short story writer and novelist. I expect that a few years from now I'll have more novels than non-fiction books published, but for now, this is my first.

UPDATE: Orders are now closed. The book will be released in April, so you can buy a trade paperback or electronic version at that time from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Powell's, Kobo, iTunes, etc.

This is No Way to Behave

The British parliament’s national embarrasment George Galloway (MP-Gaza) belatedly discovered in front of a live audience at Oxford that his debate opponent is an Israeli citizen, so he stormed out in a bigoted huff. Watch the video. It’s really something.

I suppose he’ll get “resistance” points in some circles for his theatrics, but Mahmood Naji, who organized the debate, condemned Galloway for his boorish behavior. I should also add that I learned of this video from a Muslim friend of mine who sent me the link with the words "George Galloway -- massive racist" in the subject line.

Free Syrian Army Threatens Hezbollah in Lebanon

Syrian rebels are (again) threatening to attack Hezbollah targets in Lebanon to retaliate for Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria’s civil war.

They’ve said this before and it was just talk. I assume it’s still only talk. I don’t expect this will actually happen. But who knows? Lebanon is the kind of place where just about anything you can imagine eventually happens at some point.

If the Free Syrian Army does go after Hezbollah, things will get…interesting. Hezbollah is formidable when it fights a guerrilla war against a conventional army, but counterinsurgency is extraordinarily difficult, even for the American and Israeli armies, two of the best in the world.

Hezbollah is scary good at insurgency, but counterinsurgency is emphatically not a skill in its toolbox. That’s one of the many reasons the organization has never tried to conquer the rest of the country. It can’t. It can only push people around from its own corner.

I’ll have a much better sense of what to expect in the Levant soon enough because I’m heading to Lebanon myself later this week. Stay tuned.

Israel to Treat Wounded Syrians

The Israel Defense Forces plans to put up a military field hospital on the Syrian border to help refugees seeking assistance.

I would not expect Syrians to approach the Israeli border and ask for help, not after having their minds poisoned for so long by the violent propaganda of the Assad regime, but apparently some wounded refugees did just that a couple of days ago.

Hardly anyone knows it, but the Israelis do this sort of thing as a matter of course.

Quote of the Day

“Syria is the 35th province [of Iran] and a strategic province for us. If the enemy attacks us and wants to take either Syria or Khuzestan [in western Iran], the priority for us is to keep Syria….If we keep Syria, we can get Khuzestan back too, but if we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran.”-- Senior Iranian cleric Mehdi Taeb in a speech to the regime's Basij militia

The Grand Universal Illusion

North Korea just tested a nuclear weapon. The test was successful. We know this because the explosion triggered a unique kind of earthquake and South Korea picked up the seismic waves.

Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times thinks the Obama administration and every American administration before it has failed to resolve this problem because they've had the wrong approach. “Isolating N Korea doesn't help,” he wrote on Twitter. “China has a plausible strategy for N Korea: use investment, exchanges to encourage opening and reform.”

Sorry, Nick. While it’s true that isolation and sanctions haven’t normalized North Korea’s politics or behavior, China’s strategy hasn’t worked any better.

First of all, North Korea has isolated itself. Its people are as cut off from the rest of the world as the most remote tribes of Papua New Guinea. Even a country as walled off from the rest of us as Saudi Arabia is vastly more plugged in and integrated into the 21st century.

Second, China flat doesn’t care if North Korea opens up or reforms. The Chinese government is spectacularly uninterested in the internal characteristics of its allies as long as its own needs are met. Beijing’s rulers are no more sentimental about human welfare and rights—especially abroad—than the Algerian military that recently killed a bunch of hostages while taking out a terrorist cell at a natural gas plant in the Sahara.

Kristof assumes the Chinese government is at least marginally interested in opening and reforming Pyongyang because he, like plenty of Americans—myself included—wish to see reform in non-democratic countries aligned with the United States. He’s projecting our own psychology onto Beijing.

This is what Professor Richard Landes calls cognitive egocentrism. “The act of empathy,” Landes explains, “can often become an act of projecting onto another ‘what I would feel if I were in their shoes,’ rather than an attempt to understand how the person with whom one is empathizing has reacted to their situation, how they read and interpret events.”

People do this sort of thing all the time. We do it to our family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. It’s hard not to. We also do it to foreign people, and they do it to us.

Look at the naïve early predictions about the Arab Spring. Cognitive egocentrism explains at least part of it. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood was routinely described in the Western press as a party of mainstream religious conservatives who deeply believed in democracy and free markets, as if they were Egypt’s version of the Republicans in the United States. Likewise, the kids in Tahrir Square were seen as Egypt’s Democrats. Both assumptions were outrageously wide of reality.

Middle Easterners do the same thing to us. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard the American government described in hysterically phantasmagoric terms that would make even Noam Chomsky blush. A Syrian friend of mine in the United States used to describe the British and American governments as snakes (his word), not because he’s inherently anti-American but because he was raised on propaganda by the house of Assad and because for the first thirty years of his life he suffered under a regime that really was like a snake. For him, suffering under a predatory snake-like government was a perfectly normal state of affairs. He had never known anything else and assumed people everywhere were no different. (I should add that he has been here long enough now that he no longer thinks of the American government in these terms. A few months ago he even said he misses George W. Bush, something I’d sooner expect Nancy Pelosi to say.)

Plenty of the Middle East’s ridiculous anti-American conspiracy theories are produced by this sort of thinking. The Middle East is a place where real conspiracies actually happen. Military coups, palace coups, secret police, assassinations by unknown shadowy figures, election fraud, and massive official disinformation are part of the everyday scenery. Because these things are tragically normal over there, people feel helpless and paranoid. They also assume these things are normal for everyone else, that the American government (along with every other government in the world) is just as venal and corrupt and self-serving and murderous as the governments of Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein, and Moammar Qaddafi. These people are projecting their own experiences of the world onto us. They assume their experiences are universal. Until recently in human history, their experiences were practically universal.

Russians have done it to us, too. That’s why they were so afraid of NATO expansion.

Russia is a huge country with historically dangerous neighbors that could and did invade from just about every direction without any natural land barriers to stop them. That’s one of the reasons they became expansionist, why George F. Kennon, America’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, said, “Russia can have at its borders only enemies or vassals.” Russia was especially expansionist during the Soviet period. It sponsored insurgencies even in Africa.

So when the Warsaw Pact collapsed in Eastern Europe and one former Soviet vassal after another joined NATO, plenty of Russians assumed it meant exactly the same thing it would mean if former NATO members were absorbed into the Warsaw Pact. They thought the United States was coming for them. They felt the way Americans would feel if first West Germany, then France, and then Britain became Soviet vassals. It didn’t even occur to some Russians that Americans had no interest whatsoever in conquering Moscow. During the Soviet days, communist imperialists really did want to take over the world. Many assumed we did, as well. Cognitive egocentrism.

This is what Kristof is doing when he says China is engaging North Korea in order to encourage opening and reform. But that’s not what’s happening. That’s what America would do if we engaged North Korea, but Beijing isn’t Washington.

There’s not much we can do to prevent foreign people from projecting their psychology onto us, but we should at least resist doing to the same thing to them.

Postscript: The Kindle version of my new book, Where the West Ends, is currently on sale for just 7.99.

Photo Credit: Ryuugakusei

Egypt's Refuseniks

Here’s something you don’t see every day:

Hundreds of low-ranking policemen in Egypt are holding protests to demand they not be used as a tool for political oppression in the country's ongoing turmoil.

Dozens of policemen rallied Tuesday outside local security administration headquarters in at least 10 provinces. Some of them carried signs reading, "we are innocent of the blood of the martyrs."

These little demonstrations aren't likely to have much, if any, effect, but they're still nice to see. More, please.

So Much for All That

Libya isn’t the only post-revolutionary country in North Africa that’s collapsing. Egypt is too.

Here is Lee Smith in the Weekly Standard:

This week marks the second anniversary of the fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Two years after the refrain “the people want to topple the regime” filled Tahrir Square, it is now Egypt itself that is toppling. Street violence has pitted various groups against each other—anarchists against Islamists, policemen against protesters, men against women—and has left scores dead throughout the country.

The economy is hemorrhaging reserves and incapable of securing foreign investment, while Egypt’s currency tumbles to record lows. The international community, captivated two years ago by the revolution, has little confidence that Egypt’s new rulers can make peace between the country’s feuding factions. If the conventional wisdom among Western policymakers holds that Egypt is too big to be allowed to fail, the stark reality is that by many measures it is already failing.

[…]

During his tour of Cairo, Ahmadinejad was accosted by a Sunni Islamist who rapped him on the head with his shoe in a piece of Middle Eastern political theater that illuminates the key differences between Egypt and Iran. To be sure, the ruling regimes of the two countries share an abiding hatred of Israel, but the more important issue for both right now is the civil war in Syria, where Tehran needs to prop up Bashar al-Assad and Cairo is sickened by his regime, which has targeted tens of thousands of fellow Sunnis for death. Moreover, Iran has put Morsi in an awkward position by continuing to send arms to Hamas through the Sinai. As much as Morsi may want to join Hamas’s war against Israel, he can’t lest he forfeit American and European backing. There is no alternative superpower for Cairo to turn to. Inasmuch as Morsi is tied to Washington’s apronstrings, Iran’s active support of Hamas only highlights his impotence.

The good news regarding Egypt is brief, but noteworthy: Those forecasts auguring from the entrails of Mubarak’s demise the birth of a universal Muslim Brotherhood-run caliphate stretching from North Africa to the Persian Gulf were off by a very wide mark. The Islamist organization, which has been building its political base and waiting in the shadows to take power since its 1928 founding, turns out to be incapable even of governing Egypt.

Contrary to the reading of many Western academics, the Brotherhood did not win the presidency because of its long history of grassroots work, its social activism, or its political acumen and organization. Rather it came to rule Egypt simply because everyone else—from the secularists and liberals who kicked off the revolution to the military—was that much more incompetent. The fearful notion, still held by many in the West, that the Brotherhood plots to own the hearts and minds of the world’s billion-plus Muslims comports not with reality but only with the Brotherhood’s preening and now patently absurd self-image. Under Morsi’s stewardship, the Muslim Brotherhood model has been shown to produce poverty, hunger, instability, and violent internal conflict. Who among the umma would seek to unify under such a banner?

Shooting at the Neighbors

Three years ago I interviewed an Israeli man on the Golan Heights who fought in Lebanon in the 1980s.

“I can’t understand that place,” he told me. “The Christians and Druze were shooting each other. They weren’t shooting at us, they were shooting each other. Most of the time they seemed to get along perfectly fine, but then Thursday or Monday would come along and they’d fight. Why? Why did they think their lives would get better if they shot at the neighbors?”   

Some things never change.

Lebanon’s Christians and Druze aren’t shooting each other today. Now it’s Lebanon’s Sunnis and Alawites who are shooting each other as the Syrian civil war sends shock waves through the region.

My pal Darius Bazargan produced and narrated a BBC documentary about the fighting in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, the second largest in the country. Tripoli has none of the polish and cosmopolitanism of Beirut, yet it’s rife with the sectarian violence and darkness and rising Islamism of Syria.

Darius and I argue sometimes, and we’ve argued right here in the comment section of this blog, but he’s a good guy and he does good work and I urge everyone to watch his new film. Don’t hope for a happy ending, though, because there is not one.

Big News in Tunisia

A Tunisian opposition leader was just assassinated, presumably by an Islamist, and massive demonstrations have broken out all over the place, the biggest since the revolution. The headquarters of Ennahda—the sort-of-but-not-exactly “moderate” Islamist party—was set on fire. So the government dissolved itself, appointed technocrat stand-ins, and promises speedy elections.

Tunisia has all sorts of serious problems, but I can’t imagine the Egyptian government—and obviously not the Syrian government—handling a crisis by firing itself. 

The Superpower Takes a Breather

My latest piece in the Wall Street Journal is up and it's outside the paywall.

France just smashed al Qaeda in Mali with little more than moral support from the United States. Washington didn't even lead from behind. Americans did not lead at all. This time we sat on the sidelines while France—France!—led and did everything from the front.

Last winter the entire northern part of the northwest African country was seized by Ansar al-Dine and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, who together transformed it into a Taliban-style terrorist state. The famous ancient trading city of Timbuktu—long a mecca for adventurous tourists and the host of an annual international music festival—became a grotesque, hand-chopping tyranny that hemorrhaged violence and refugees.

The international community dithered for almost a year, as if an al Qaeda state isn't all that big a deal. But when the Islamists began expanding south toward the capital and took the city of Gao, France dispatched its war planes and ground troops and threw the bad guys out in a matter of weeks. Its fighter jets are currently pounding terrorist camps deep in the Sahara near the Algerian border.

President François Hollande visited Timbuktu over the weekend and was hailed as a liberator by throngs of residents, including imams, yelling "Vive la France!"

The French sure have come a long way from the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" of yesteryear. A Canadian friend and colleague who wholeheartedly approves of what happened now jokingly refers to Americans as "burger-eating surrender monkeys."

Of course, Americans didn't actually surrender to anyone. We were hardly even involved in Mali. And it's not, as some love to think, because the world has become post-American. The U.S. remains the only country on earth that can project massive amounts of power for an extended period of time anywhere on the planet. The superpower is simply taking a breather. The fact that most of us, Democrat and Republican alike, feel like taking a break from it all doesn't mean we're flat on our collective back like Russia when the Soviet Union imploded.

The hypercautious Obama administration is temporary, as is the current war-weary American mood. We'll be back.

No one bothers with the idea that history is over these days, least of all the conflict with Islamists. Osama bin Laden is dead, but al Qaeda is wreaking havoc all over the Middle East and North Africa. It's only a matter of time before they mess with us again in a way that we can't blow off, especially if they've convinced themselves that our little break means we're not as powerful as we used to be. They underestimated us before, and they're bound to do it again, especially after we withdraw from Afghanistan.

The American superpower is an original. It's reluctant and self-doubting. Most Americans just aren't that into it. Policing the world is deadly, expensive, exhausting and thankless. France can unilaterally invade a former colony like Mali and endure nary a peep, but anti-American protests break out all over the place whenever the U.S. intervenes anywhere, even with authorization from the U.N. Security Council.

Strutting around the world like a colossus doesn't appeal to anything in the American soul. We do it because somebody has to, because we can, and because most of us sense instinctively that we'll wake up in a different world if Russia and China take over the job.

France stepped up in Mali for a similar reason. Because somebody had to, because Americans didn't feel like it, and because the French could.

Washington was relieved. Americans don't worry about waking up in a different and darker world if France calls a few shots internationally. The French share American values, more or less—unlike the Chinese and Russians. So thank goodness France was there to relieve us.

Otherwise Al Qaedastan would have sat there and festered.

Read the rest in the Wall Street Journal.

Now I REALLY Can't Go to Libya

Libya is so unstable now that international airlines are refusing to fly there.

The government should have just approved my visa when I first asked for it. The bureaucracy over there is in no better shape than the security services. Libya will just have to suffer alone for a while.

The Push for Anti-Blasphemy Laws

I have an essay in the current print edition of World Affairs which is now online outside the pay wall. Here's the first part:

“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” —Thomas Jefferson

Free speech is under attack in the West, and it’s under attack from abroad. For years radical Islamists have targeted embassies abroad and individuals at home for “insulting” the Prophet Muhammad. And now diplomats and heads of state from Islamist countries are using international oganizations to pressure the West to criminalize blasphemy and are even lobbying for a global censorship regime.

The most recent assault began in Cairo on September 11, 2012, when a deranged mob attacked the US Embassy, breached its walls, and hoisted the black flag of al-Qaeda. Similar scenes of violence and mayhem broke out from Tunisia to Indonesia. Allegedly—although not in the case of the attack in Benghazi that led to the assasination of Ambassador Christopher Stevens—because an Egyptian-American Copt no one had ever heard of before uploaded the trailer for an amateurish anti-Muhammad movie called “The Innocence of Muslims” to YouTube.

The United States government went directly to cringe mode and spent as much time condemning the video as it did the mob.

It started with an official announcement on the Twitter page of the US Embassy in Cairo: “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others,” the message said. The White House distanced itself and said that response was neither official nor authorized, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said something similar a couple of days later. The video, she said, is “disgusting and reprehensible” and “we absolutely reject its content and message.”

There’s no point defending the video aside from its right to exist. I’ve seen it. It’s ludicrous. Clinton’s reaction is normal. But there’s a problem. She’s the chief diplomat of the United States. Condemning random trash on the Internet isn’t her job, not even in response to an international incident. Her statement should have been the same as if an Oscar-winning film inspired a riot.

“There are more than three hundred million ways in which Americans expressing themselves might give offense to those who make it their business to be offended,” Lee Smith argued in the Weekly Standard. “Is the White House going to put every American crank on speed-dial so it can tell them to shut up whenever a mob gathers outside a US embassy or consulate?”

Islamist governments sensed weakness, an opening, an opportunity. The United States was saying they had a point! So they took the next logical step.

Just weeks after the riots, the freshly chosen presidents of Egypt and Yemen took to the podium at the United Nations and demanded that blasphemy be outlawed everywhere in the world, including in the United States. “Insults against the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, are not acceptable,” said Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. “We will not allow anyone to do this by word or by deed.” “There should be limits for the freedom of expression,” added Yemen’s president, Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi, “especially if such freedom blasphemes the beliefs of nations and defames their figures.”

Saudi Arabia went even further and advocated an international censorship body to crush blasphemy on the Internet. “There is a crying need for international collaboration to address ‘freedom of expression’ which clearly disregards public order,” the government said.

That’s where things stand. Condemning what they call widespread “Islamophobia,” religious authoritarians are asserting themselves, both violently and diplomatically, while the West cowers and says they’re right to be angry. Hillary Clinton even says she personally shares their anger.

This will not do. It will not do at all. Instead, the United States should go on the offensive and demand that blasphemy be legalized in every country on earth.

*

This Islamic jihad against free speech started in 1989, when Iran’s tyrant Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the murder of British novelist Salman Rushdie because the author supposedly blasphemed the Islamic religion in his novel The Satanic Verses. Dozens of people connected with him, his book, and his publisher were attacked—some even killed—in countries as far away as Japan. Bookstores in the United Kingdom and United States were firebombed. The British government took the threat so seriously it provided Rushdie with an around-the-clock armed security detail, and he had to live in hiding under an assumed name for years.

Though the Rushdie affair looked like an extreme outlier event for a while, it turned out to be only the prologue for an ever more sordid drama. In 2004, an Islamist fanatic stabbed Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh to death right out in the open on an Amsterdam street in retaliation for a short film called Submission that Van Gogh made with Somali-born feminist and Dutch member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The killer used a butcher knife to pin a note to his corpse that said Hirsi Ali was “next.” She stayed on in the Netherlands under armed guard for a while, but later had to move to the United States.

The Van Gogh murder inspired a wave of attempts on the lives of more “blasphemers.” An assassin attacked Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard in front of his granddaughter in his own house with an axe. Terrorists from a number of countries, including the United States, conspired to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks. Seattle Weekly cartoonist Molly Norris entered the FBI’s witness-protection program after American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (whom the United States later atomized with a Hellfire missile) placed her on a hit list for suggesting that cartoonists all over the world should draw the Prophet Muhammad on the same day.

Those incidents targeted individuals, which is bad enough. But then six years ago, Middle Eastern outposts of the Western democracies came under fire. In early 2006, riots exploded across the Muslim world after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. The Danish embassies in Pakistan, Syria, and Lebanon were attacked. A mob set the embassy in Beirut on fire. The Danish and the Norwegian embassies in Damascus were set on fire. More than one hundred people were killed.

That was the prologue to the recent unpleasantness that started in Cairo. It took a while, but the worldwide anti-blasphemy campaign has finally mushroomed into a serious menace. The aggressive demands of the Saudis, Egyptians, and Yemenis to use the law and the police to smash what offends them everywhere on the planet is what we all should expect since Western governments are not fighting back with strong and unequivocal support for free speech.

The other side has the momentum right now. Brazil banned “The Innocence of Muslims” outright. A court went so far as to order the arrest of Google’s highest-ranking executive in the country since YouTube, which Google now owns, refuses to take down videos when it’s told.

The California branch of the phony civil rights group CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) now openly says it wants blasphemy banned in the United States. “There should be laws against hate speech that leads to violence or criminal activities,” said Rashid Ahmad, the founder of CAIR’s Sacramento chapter. “Because of the film we’ve lost so many lives—the filmmaker has blood on his hands.”

Feeling that they have the wind at their backs, ten thousand Muslims protested Google’s London offices for failing to censor the film. Sheikh Faiz al-Aqtab Siddiqui spoke at the rally and made what is perhaps the most absurd argument yet. “Terrorism,” he said, “is not just people who kill human bodies, but who kill human feelings as well.”

*

Let’s pretend, just as a thought experiment, that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution doesn’t exist, that the American government could ban blasphemy if it felt like it without getting mauled by the Supreme Court and the public. Now imagine the size of the repressive bureaucracy required to scrub not just YouTube but the entire Internet, including all national media from the New York Times to your mom’s Facebook page, of everything that might offend mobs waving terrorist flags.

Read the whole thing.

Benghazi in Transition

Benghazi is in a state of transition, most likely from bad to horrendous.

Security in Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city where four Americans were killed Sept. 11 in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate, has decayed to the point where Westerners are fleeing, assassinations and kidnappings are rife and residents worry that U.S. drone strikes on jihadist targets are imminent.

“The situation has obviously deteriorated. It is a systematic deterioration,” said longtime Benghazi resident Jalal Elgallal, who was spokesman of the now-defunct National Transitional Council.

Mr. Elgallal recently escaped harm from a nearby bomb blast as he waited in his car at a traffic light.

“We don’t do a lot of going out now,” he said in a phone interview from Benghazi. “There is uncertainty about what is going to happen in the very near future.”

In the 15 months since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed, Benghazi — the cradle of the Libyan revolution — has been besieged by rampant violence, much of it resulting from score-settling between the heavily armed militias that control the city and those who served in the Gadhafi regime.

“It has been a series of attacks, kidnappings and assassinations,” William Lawrence, director of the North Africa project of the International Crisis Group, said in a phone interview from Morocco. “The general situation in Libya continues to be bad, primarily because of the weak security infrastructure that existed before and after Gadhafi.”

In January, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and Canada urged their citizens to leave Benghazi. The British Foreign Office said it was aware of “a specific and imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi.”

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are fleeing like rats out of Mali. Some of them will almost surely end up in and around Benghazi. That tortured Libyan city will likely remain on the no-go list for some time.

Fighting Over Syria's Ruins

Jabhat al-Nusra, the Salafist faction of the Syrian insurgency that was recently labeled a terrorist organzation by the United States government, recently launched a failed attack against the town of Sere Kaniye in Syrian Kurdistan.

My pal Jonathan Spyer, who has been following the Syrian war as closely as anyone and is now writing a book about it, has this to say in the Jerusalem Post:

The Sere Kaniye fighting is an indication of the increasing transformation of Syria’s civil war from an insurgency against the dictatorship of Bashar Assad into a many-sided conflict in which the various ethnic and sectarian communities of Syria fight over the country’s ruins.

[…]

[I]t is now mistaken to think of the Syrian civil war as a single conflict, pitting the Assad dictatorship against a popular insurgency.

The Assads, for all their many faults, grasped a certain truth – that Syria, a state established by British and French colonialism – lacked any real binding identity and could be held together only by force. The force of the dictatorship is now gradually receding and fading. As it does so, the incompatible component parts that it held together are beginning to separate.

The regime itself is turning into a structure operating on behalf of the Alawi minority. The Sunni Arab insurgency is also divided along ideological and tribal lines. The Kurds in northeast Syria, meanwhile, are making clear that they want no part of either the Sunni Islamist rebellion or the reduced dictatorship. In a manner similar to their compatriots in Iraqi Kurdistan, they are seeking to create a defensible haven for themselves. The Islamist rebels are trying – so far without great success – to force their way into this haven.

The war-within-a-war in northeast Syria thus offers stark evidence of the extent to which “Syria,” as a unified state, no longer really exists.

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