Monday 28 September 2015

Are Manchester United title contenders?

 After beating Sunderland 3-0 at Old Trafford Manchester United now sit top of the Premier League for the first time since August 2013 when they beat Swansea 4-1. A lot of pundits and Journalists are for the first time since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson (which seem a long time ago even though it's only been three years) people are talking of Manchester United being title contenders. This is especially more poignant as some of their competitors like Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have had very poor starts to the season, although I am being quite charitable by stating Arsenal and Liverpool are "competitors". Only Manchester City have started brightly with some impressive wins, yet they suffered recent losses to West Ham and a 4-1 bashing by Tottenham Hotspur. This allowed United to rise above them to reach the top of the table by one point.

If you think back to the start of the season the football commentary consensus pretty much ruled out United completely from the title race because although they made good signings in midfield like Mempis Depay, Bastian Schweinstiger and Morgan Schnerderlin, they get rid of a lot of attacking talent like Robin Van Persie, Javier Hernandez, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao, whilst not bringing enough replacements (aside from Anthony Martial, an absolute nobody for an eye-watering £36 million and was predicted to be an utter flop). Then you had the David De Gea to Real Madrid transfer debacle, which had been rambling on for the past year, culminating in that embarrassing e-mail "mistake" on transfer deadline day that killed the potential move.

However, ever since deadline day United have earned themselves some big wins such as a 3-1 win at Old Trafford against Liverpool and coming from behind to beat Southampton 3-2 away. Martial has exceeded expectations and shocked everyone by scoring 3 goals in 3 Premier League games, with all the goals being very composed finishes which have earned him rather primitve comparisons with Thierry Henry and Patrick Kluivert. But more importantly he gives a different edge to United's attack, because he is quick, strong, has good movement and looks to play on the shoulder of the last man, which is crucial as it gives space to likes of Rooney and Mata so that they can come to life on the ball in dangerous positions, rather than always travelling to their own half to get a touch of the ball. In other words; United can play in between teams and slice them open, instead of playing in front of them and creating barely anything.

It is true United don't exactly have that 30+ goal a season superstar, like Barcelona have in Suarez and Messi or Real Madrid have in Cristiano Ronaldo. However, if things carry on as they are United won't need that superstar that scores 30 goals. They could simply have a few players like Martial, Rooney, Mata and Depay score 15 goals each, with the likes of Schweinstiger, Wilson, Herrera and Fellaini contributing the odd goal. That way you can have a complete team effort in terms of scoring goals, without having to rely on one single man to do it. In addition, if the defence continues their good form with Smalling and Blind as the centre backs and De Gea remaining Goalkeeper making point winning saves, then United have a good chance of winning the title.

Notice how I say "good chance". I can't say this for certain as Manchester City and Chelsea will definetly bring themselves together and will still be in the mix come "squeaky bum time" to quote Sir Alex Ferguson. We still have a long season ahead of us and as happens in the Premier League there will be many shocks, twists, turns and drama. But if United can make it through a tough October with away games at Arsenal and West Ham but if United can still hang in there by Christmas then they have a chance.

In summary, Firstly United must get the best out of their new raw attacking gem Martial and others like Memphis and Rooney. Secondly they must keep David De Gea in the sticks, have a consistent defensive line and clamp down on the constant injuries. Thirdly Louis Van Gaal must keep on implementing his now fruitful "philosophy". If this happen then United have a great chance of being title winners come May.

Let's hope that happen.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Regressive Backlash to Maajid Nawaz & Sam Harris and Murtaza Hussain's Racialism

Yesterday I watched on stream a talk done by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz at Harvard University on the opening of their new book "Islam and The Future of Tolerance" which is an attempt to opening the intellectual conversation on Islamic reform . Personally I really liked the talk, I really admired their frankness and the civility though. I do feel that they could've been a bit more adversarial in this talk. The message I got from the talk was that we must be able to criticise bad ideas which is different from attacking people and only through conversation and dialogue can we bring about effective change and discredit bad ideas.

There is a point in the talk where Maajid and Sam refer to "regressives" (I love how that term is sticking now) who use the vaccous term Islamophobia (as opposed to anti muslim bigotry which is real and serious) to shut down and obfuscate the discussion around Islam and the difficult issues surrounding it. It was obvious Maajid was referring to Max Blumenthal and Nathan Lean who have called Maajid an "Islamophobe" and Sam Harris' "lapdog". I also chuckled when Maajid told them to "stop and check their priviledge". I'm going to let that slide though I think he was being half funny with that comment.

I was expecting a backlash from the usual suspects but I did not expect the utter stupidity and braindead abuse I saw on twitter directed at both Sam and Maajid.

Firstly we had Max Blumenthal who was hate watching the talk and tweeting as he went along.

First if all Max is being disingenuous. Sam Harris did not say "Islam is uniquely problematic", he said that there are a "few variables" within Islam that are "uniquely problematic". This may be a small point but it is I feel important to recognise the various nuances in someone's argument. A wonderful start for Max isn't it?

As usual he had to do a cheap jibe at Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

I love how he thinks this is somehow a controversial statement bordering on bigotry. It is well known that you can read a very plausible interpretation of Sharia which mandates the punishment of homosexuals which is in some schools of thought is death. All ISIS is doing is putting these plausible interpretations into practice. Again I must state they are criticising ideas not people. Whether one agrees or disagrees with what their views are.

Then we have an alleged "comedian" Dean Obeidallah imply Sam Harris is an anti muslim bigot  and is comparing him to Mel Gibson who is an anti semite, Paula Deen who is a racist and Donald Trump who has said ghastly things about Hispanic immigrants. To me this "comedian" is either immensley stupid or is immensely devious but I know he's not funny. In the talk they talked about how worrying it is that hate crimes against muslims are risisng across Europe and why we must be very specific about Islamism so that we do not allow the hysteria to fester and grow which may end up in discrimination against muslims as people. But that seems to have gone over Dean's head which means his comparisons are erroneous and really cheapen racism, bigotry and anti semitism which are real and serious problems.

Murtaza Hussain's Racialism

Then we have Murtaza Hussain who is part of the Greenwald clique at The Intercept that have a special vendetta against Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz. Murtaza himself  helped popularise the notion that Sam Harris was a racist and had a very specific anti muslim agenda in this awful article on Al Jazeera. He also has a habit of going for the ad hominem attacks instead of actual arguments when people criticise his views.

As we see here Murtaza goes straight to basically saying that Maajid Nawaz is an Uncle Tom without a moments hesitasition by labelling him Sam Harris' "well coiffed monkey". I will say that two thirds of that statement is correct. Maajid was "well coiffed" and looked very smart but to say that Maajid is being used by Sam Harris in order for Sam to hide his secret, neo con, Islamophobic, white supremacist agenda so that he can sanitize what he really advocates which is the creation of policies that will attack muslims is frankly not true in fact Sam himself that his opinions were the one that has been modified through his by Maajid not the other way round.

You notice this by the fact that Sam is more nuanced when he discusses this topic as he uses words like Islamism, Jihadism and makes the necessary distinctions. For Murtaza this isn't doesn't matter and he'll probably just glibly dismiss this as Sam sanitizing his views and masking his "agenda".

Furthermore he doubles down here. Trust me if he was a white man and he labelled a brown skinned person a "porch monkey" he would be fired. For those of you that don't know "porch monkey" is a historical racial slur for black Americans and refers to Blacks being thought of as lazy. As if they have nothing better to do than to sit at their front porch of their home.

And he triples down. I really hope this obnoxious clown realises just how stupid he sounds here. I'm not going to comment as to whether Murtaza is a racist or not but he does use very racialized language in relation to Maajid Nawaz. It's similar to how white racists would object to white people mixing with black people because it could bring dishonor on "the white race". The principle with Murtaza is the same, to him the fact Maajid (a muslim) is collabarating with Sam (an atheist) and are speaking in a very honest yet nuanced way about the problems currently with Islam, Islamism and Jihadism today is to him paramount to them viciously attacking muslims somehow and he must feel the need to stop this by labelling Maajid as a "porch monkey" to portray him as part of the white supremacist "system" in order to discredit Maajid amongst muslims. This just reveals he has no way of addressing either Maajid or Sam without having to resort to gutter racialized identity politics.

This is by no means the first time Murtaza has done this. Below you see him you see him call an ex-muslim a "chamcha colonial leftover". Chamca in Urdu basically means an "ass kisser" so Murtaza's insult is a variation of the native informant. This sort of tribal mentality that we label any reformist muslim or ex-muslim who criticises Islam in a way you don't like as being a "native informant", "porch monkey", "house muslim" is very dishonest and actually quite vile. Maajid and others should actually take it a sign of victory that he's getting called these names as it shows that these regressives have no arguments to refute him and can only resort to pitiful, racialized insults.

Finally we have this

I really must take issue with what is being said above. The idea that certain issue can only be assigned to certain people (e.g only muslims can talk about Islam) is just absurd. Islamism and Jihadism of course primarily harms muslims and that fact should be acknowledged however it also affects non muslims in the fact that in many muslim countries these actors do persecute non muslims and Jihadists have done numerous attacks in Europe and North America. And Sam Harris has even said this is issue the biggest global moral and political issue of our time. So Iyad get used to non muslims being interested in this debate I'm sure you comment on alot of topics that you are not directly related to so I could use the same facile argument against you. What matters is not the identity of the person making the argument but the content of what they are saying.

One must state that I don't think Iyad is a "regressive" I think he is a very interesting person who does say some wise things however in this instance I really must take issue with his quite frankly stupid tweet.

The secular liberal left has pretty much fractured. The were already cracks there in the aftermath of 9/11 best shown in the exchange Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hitchens had looking into the origins of 9/11. However since the Ben Affleck-Sam Harris debacle on Real Time with Bill Maher I feel those cracks are wide open and there are two distinct sides in this argument engaging in a intellectual war that will define the secular left's moral stance on this issue. On one side you have people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ali Rizvi, Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, Sarah Haider and many others whose basic argument is beliefs and ideas matter and when people act upon those ideas and say they do, we must take it seriously, fight vigorously against it and support those fighting agaisnt it and advocating reform.

While the regressive opposition composed of characters like Reza Aslan, Glenn Greenwald, Murtaza Hussian, the abysmal plagarist CJ Werleman, Cenk Uygur, Sam Seder etc who will do their utmost best to make excuses, crappy moral equivalences, engage in masochist self blame and general obfuscation which does not advance the idea of an honest debate but merely makes it toxic which does not help muslims and non muslims. Who wins in this intellectual battle matters as it will define what the secular left stands for on this topic which is so important as the secular left is the only force in the world that is best placed to fight against Islamism and the forces of Jihadism and if they buckle and fracture into oblivion then things are not going to be great in the future. Think on that.

Saturday 12 September 2015

Response to Olly Tozer on West's responsiblity on Refugee Crisis

My colleague at NOTA Network Olly Tozer wrote a piece today in which he argues that the West should take some responsibility in helping to create the current refugee crisis that is engulfing Europe. My response is borne out of our discussion on Facebook on this topic and it will be based more on technicalities and nuances rather than a direct rebutal because I do feel also that the west has some responsibility for the current mess in Syria though we arrive at this conclusion from different angles.

First of all without getting into a debate on The Iraq War and I realise it is a sidepoint however I think he and others really overestimate the effect of the invasion of Iraq in relation to the rise of ISIS and the Syrian civil war. While yes certain things related to the invasion did help ISIS rise such as the decision by Paul Bremer to sack the entire Iraqi army (mainly Sunni Arab based) this did help create the basis for the Sunni insurgency which would mutate into ISIS later. However people often miss out other bigger factors such as how during the 90s Saddam Hussein effctively turned Iraq into an Islamist state. For example he initiated The Faith Campaign which was meant to increase the role of Islam in the public and political life of Iraq. It gave more freedom and funding to Islamist groups, it introduced certain Sharia ordinaces and punishments such as beheadings for prostitution. He funded Jihadist groups like Islamic Jihad in West Bank and Ansar al-Islam in Kurdistan. He created a paramilitary group called the Fedayeen Saddam to enforce this new ideology and if you look at the propaganda videos they look very similar to ISIS. This is one reason why many of ISIS commanders have links back to Saddam's regime and were "Islamized" during the 90s. The broader the point is that once Saddam's regime went which was inevitable invasion or no invasion I pretty sure at least something similar to ISIS would've been created to protect Sunni Arab power vs the aspirations of the Shia majority. 

In our discussion on Facebook Sam (my other colleague) says there is a case to say that the west's invasion of Iraq in 2003 created the opportunity for extremism and sectarianism to become more prominent. I dont necessarily disagree that Saddam's overthrow did obviously create a political vaccum that had to filled but my argument is this would've happened whenever Saddam's regime ended with an invasion or without an invasion from the west. Saddam Hussein's regime at the time was quite weak and slowly disintergrating and perhaps was one uprising away from being toppled. When you have had over 100 years of constant foreign interference in your internal affairs and 40 years of divide and rule by the Sunni Baa'th party with Saddam utterly guttering the political culture of Iraq by wiping alot of secular opposition thereby making Islamist parties like the pro-Iran Dawah party the most "credible" opposition in addition to Saddam himself "Salafizing" the Sunnis in the 90s then don't be surprised if there is some after effects after the regime is gone. I am willing to bet money that if Saddam's regime had survived until the Arab spring it is likely that we would've seen what we now see in Syria but much more intense because the repression, extremism and sectarianism was on another scale to that of Syria. That's Iraq done with.

Secondly, he says "the west's reaction to the Arab Spring has massively contributed to the refugee crisis, particularly in regards to Syria. Our support of the Syrian rebels has done nothing but prolong the violence and instability, thus developing an environment in which ISIS can flourish.Initially, the US, UK and others supported the “Free Syria Army” (FSA), which also involved supporting splinter groups looking to topple the Assad regime."

So the argument we have here is the west has contributed to the violence that created the refugees by supporting the rebels which include the "Free Syrian Army". I love how Olly puts Free Syrian Army in quotes as though he was being ironic about them. I feel Olly is implying since he later quotes Patrick Cockburn (don't worry I'll get to him) that there is little distinction between the secular nationalist rebels and the Islamist rebels. I would contend that the reason why there may seem to be little distinction between these groups is the secular & moderate rebel groups like FSA + YPG/YPJ have been out gunned and out supported by the Islamist groups which means the Islamists would dominate the public face of the opposition to Assad.

In addition, Olly claims the US + UK has "supported" the FSA but the evidence he gives is the setting up of training camps in Jordan and giving them £8 million in non-lethal aid. However this shows the support is weak as they have not provided heavy weaponry to opposition fighters nor established a no-fly zone in Syria, let alone attacked Assad directly. If the west really was truly serious about overthrowing Assad then more pro-active actions would've been taken such as the examples I provide.

I would also be careful of quoting Patrick Cockburn who has been exposed as a distorter of the truth , is  practically a shill for the Assad regime under the pretense of "realism" (see here where does his upmost best to endorse Assad, while seeming not to.), he's also written articles slandering the Kurds accusing them of ethnic cleansing of Arabs and Turkemen refugees with virtually no evidence at all.

His argument is also basically based on the idea that all Syrian rebels are essentially Salafi jihadists little better than ISIS and that Sunni sectarianism is their key driver and therefore all non-Sunnis like Alawis and Christians rally around Assad for protection. This is just flat out not true.

Cockburn also ignores the existence of non-jihadist rebel groups, who do gain ground on some fronts but as I said before are under supported and are losing their influence. He erases the support of sizable numbers of Alawites and other minorities for rebel groups and for the Kurds. His narrative additonally ignores the existence of resilient Kurdish resistance to both Assad and jihadism such as YPG/YPJ, as well strengthening co-operation between the Kurds and Sunni rebel groups for example here 

I feel that Assad supported by Putin and Iran have done more to escalate the violence which creates refugees than the rebels especially since Assad started the war by massacraing the protestors calling for democracy and has continued his indiscriminate slaughter by barrel bombing civilians which has created more refugees than anything ISIS or other non-state actors has done in Syria. One of the reasons why ISIS and other jihadis may seem popular is because their narrative is more attractive. They portray themselves as the vanguard of Sunni Islam and propigate this weird idea that there is a Crusader (USA)-Zionist (Jews)-Rafidah (Shia) conspiracy to destroy Sunni Islam. So when you have Assad barrel bombing civillians and Sabiha death squads killing Sunni children and raping Sunni women and nothing is done about it it gives validation to the ISIS narrative amongst some Syrians where they would reluctantly ally with them for "protection". 

Next up Olly claims "at least Assad kept the Jihadists on a short leash". I do not think this is exactly true, Assad has had a very complex relationship with Jihadists. For example he allowed Jihadists to travel through Syria into Iraq to fight American troops and sabotage a potential Iraqi democracy. We know at the start of the Syrian revolution Assad released jihadists from its prisons as part of his "amnesty" while it was killing off secular and peaceful activists and protestors. This was a deliberate tactic done by Assad in order to divide and discredit the opposition by increasing the likelihood it would be more associated with Islamism/Jihadism and confessional dividion rather than secular nationalism and a united front against dictatorship.There's also been reports of Assad doing secret oil deals with Al-Qaeda and ISIS often out of neccessity.

In fact Assad has done more to build up ISIS than to defeat it. Terrorism expert Peter Neumann pretty much lays out the story in detail of how and why this was done here.There is additional data obtained by NBC News which supports the argument that ISIS and Assad deliberately dance around each other and would rather fight off smaller opposition groups before a final showdown. For instance: 

"Around 64 percent of verifiable ISIS attacks in Syria this year targeted other non-state groups, an analysis of the IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center's (JTIC) database showed. Just 13 percent of the militants' attacks during the same period — the year through Nov. 21 — targeted Syrian security forces. That's a stark contrast to the Sunni extremist group's operations in Iraq, where more than half of ISIS attacks (54 percent) were aimed at security forces."

It also says:

"JTIC's data shows that his counterterrorism operations — more than two-thirds of which were airstrikes — skew heavily towards groups whose names aren't ISIS. Of 982 counterterrorism operations for the year up through Nov. 21, just 6 percent directly targeted ISIS".

This clearly shows Assad is very selective about when he fights ISIS, he only fights them when it is unavoidable.

There is a mutual benefit for both parties engaging in this temporary tacit alliance. For ISIS it allows them to kill off moderate competition amongst the opposition such as the FSA and even dominate the other Islamist rebel groups. While for Assad ISIS is a valuable asset as they can devalue and paralyse the opposition so that he can achieve his strategic goal of forcing the world to choose between Damascus and the Salafi Jihadists based in Raqqa.

I'm not saying Assad and ISIS are best buddies of course they are hostile and they would fight each other for power if it really had to come to it. However it is wrong to say that ISIS and Assad are arch enemies or thats Assad always suppressed Jihadists. What is true is sometimes Assad will ally with Jihadists when it suits his strategic intrests and will fight them when it threatens his power or when he is unable to control them to his advantage.

Dont get me wrong I am not uncritical of the west but more for having a non policy rather than doing too much. They have not publicy opposed Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states active support for reactionary theocratic rebel groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahar Al-Sham and The Islamic Front. They have also not opposed Turkey's very lax approach in terms of making sure ISIS recruits dont have easy access to Syria throught the Turkish border. The west has also been pretty mute on Turkey's recent bombings on Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan & Syrian Kurdistan therby weakening groups like YPG/YPJ who are very effective in fighting ISIS and controlled the large liberated zone of Rojova in Northern Syria.

Then we have the Obama adminstation's position on Syria which has been one of reluctance. Although publicly Obama has said Assad should go but this hard rhetoric has not been translated into actions. The best instance of this would be the infamous "red line" debacle where Obama failed to act after the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta on 21 August 2013. Part of the reason for this is understandable skepticism from Congress and the American electorate fot the United States to get involved in another Middle Eastern adventure which has made Obama weary of directly intervening in Syria against Assad.

I would also argue that there could've some sensible defensive measures taken that could've reduced the damage done to civillians such as creating an international buffer/safe/no fly zone and possibly giving the FSA some heavy weaponry so that innocent civiilians would'nt fear being barrel bombed by Assad's air force and the FSA would at least have a chance of getting closer to victory against Assad.

Ultimately we don't disagree that the west does have responsibility in allowing Syria to decay into this Hobbesian state (if you can even call it a state anymore) but we come from this in different angles. Olly sees western responsibility in terms of them getting too involved in the war by backing and arming the rebels which to him allowed ISIS to rise to prominence and wreak havoc in Syria and Iraq. For me it's more about the west not taking sensible actions that could've empowered moderate opposition to Assad and reducing the violence to civillians. I'm saying these solutions would've been perfect or that they would even solve the problem of Assad and ISIS or even reduce the amount of refugees to zero but they would've saved civillian lives reduced destruction and therefore reduce refugees. That's a topic for another day.