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Middle East



All Reason.com articles with the "Middle East" tag.



Published: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 03:35:51 -0400

 



Roy Moore Would Make America Saudi Arabia Again

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 17:45:00 -0400

God certainly has a great sense of irony. In the same week that Saudi Arabia, an Islamic theocracy, took a small step out of the 18th Century by easing its ban on female driving, America took a step back into that century by handing a win in the Alabama U.S. Senate Republican primary to Roy Moore, a vehement proponent of a Christian theocracy on U.S. soil. Sadly, it seems, faith in American-style liberalism is dimming in America just as it is penetrating the remaining bastions of illiberalism in the world. Moore calls Islam a "fake religion" while spreading the fake news that unnamed Christian communities in Illinois and Indiana are being forced to live under Islamic law or sharia. But why he would find sharia all that troubling is unclear given that his Christianity is its spiritual twin. He has twice been defrocked as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, first in 2004 for insisting on displaying a massive plaque of the 10 Commandments in his court in defiance of the First Amendment's establishment clause, and then in 2016 for refusing to hand marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Far from showing regret, he regards these as justified acts of civil disobedience because, like Islamic fundamentalists, he believes that God's law supersedes man's law. Indeed, he considers God to be "the only source of our law, liberty and government" and made the restoration of Christian "virtue and morality" the cornerstone of his campaign. Nor is there much daylight between his idea of Christian virtue and the Islamic strictures that he demonizes. Moore would ban not just reproductive choice for women but also homosexuality which he has condemned as "abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature's God." In fact, he has repeatedly refused to rule out the death penalty against gays. He considers 9-11 God's retribution against America for "legitimizing sodomy." This means that as far as he is concerned, the 9-11 Islamist were really emissaries of God. Yet he penned purple prose opposing Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim ever to be elected to the House in 2006, from taking his oath of office on the Koran rather than the Bible because, you know, America wasn't settled by folks who brought "a Koran on the pilgrim ship, Mayflower." Most chilling, however, is that he is the author of the misnamed 2005 Constitution Restoration Act that would give Congress the power to remove any judge who refuses to recognize God as the source of America's law. The bill also seeks to limit the power of the Supreme Court to overrule or punish any state official or judge acting in the name of God's law and, instead, would impeach the judges who take on such cases. Think of it as the Christian version of Taliban rule with slightly more checks-and-balances and fewer beards. Many explanations have been proffered for Moore's victory including the failure of Congressional Republicans to deliver on their promise to repeal-and-replace Obamacare, the close ties of Moore's primary opponent, Luther Strange with Alabama's disgraced, scandal-plagued governor, and the conservative base's general disgust with the Republican establishment that backed Strange. There is some truth to all of them. But the far more disturbing reality is that the hard-core conservative base has turned inward, seeking "redemption" by returning to a purer past. It has become deeply hostile to the true source of American greatness, its receptiveness to outside influences, whether in the form of ideas, people or products. It has become the enemy of what the British philosopher Karl Popper famously called the "open society" that sees alien influences not as a threat but as a source of progress allowing it to constantly reinvent and improve itself. Indeed, nearly all of Moore's conservative backers—whether ethno-nationalists Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka or nativist rabble rouser Ann Coulter or Christian reconstructionist Mike Huckabee—want to create a Fortress America and cut off th[...]



Roy Moore's Illiberal Vision for America: New at Reason

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 17:45:00 -0400

Last week, Alabama handed victory to Roy Moore, a Christian Reconstructionist with barely disguised plans to plant Christian(image) rule on American soil, in the Senate Republican primary. Ironically, this happened the same week that Saudi Arabia, an Islamic theocracy, lifted its ban on female drivers and started moving away from its strict version of sharia law.

Moore is an implacable foe of Islam and sharia. But the truth of the matter, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia, is that Moore's Christianity has more in common with sharia than American liberal democracy. If he had his druthers, he'd turn back the clock to New England-style puritanism when it comes to gay rights, women's reproductive rights and religious liberty.




Roy Moore Should Get a Female Muslim Uber to Drive Him to Saudi Arabia

Fri, 29 Sep 2017 12:20:00 -0400

If there is a God, s/he certainly has a great sense of irony. In the same week that Saudi Arabia, an Islamic theocracy, eased up on its ban on allowing women to drive, America handed a victory in the Alabama Republican primary to Roy Moore, a man committed to imposing a Christian theocracy on this country.

Moore likes to rail against Islam and Sharia law. But the fact of the matter is that his Christianity has more in common with Sharia than American liberal democracy. He may rave and rant against Islam as a "fake religion" all he wants I note in my column at The Week this morning, but he would curtail the personal freedoms of Americans in much the same way that regressive forms of Sharia would.

Think of his religion as the Christian version of Taliban rule with slightly more checks and balances and fewer beards. But why is it suddenly gaining currency in America?

Go here to find out.




$7,700 Is Your Share of the Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria So Far

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 13:15:00 -0400

(image) How much have our post-9/11 wars on terror cost? This year's National Defense Authorization Act ordered the government to collect and calculate that information, and the results are in. The Pentagon estimates that so far the war in Afghanistan has cost $753 billion, amounting to a cumulative cost per taxpayer of $3,785. Iraq and Syria are $770 billion, or $3,955 per taxpayer. That adds up to a grand total of more than $1.5 trillion and $7,740 per taxpayer. So far.

At Defense One, Marcus Weisberger notes: "Americans paid the most for the wars in 2010, an average of $767 apiece. The annual amount declined through 2016 to $204 per taxpayer, before growing again as the U.S. ramped up its airstrike campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria."

These figures vastly understate the ultimate monetary costs of the wars. In Reason piece last year headlined "The High Price of Security Theater," James Bovard included the costs of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Agency harassment at airports, and FBI, CIA, and NSA surveillance to come up with a total cost of $4 trillion.

The Costs of War Project at the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University calculates that "through 2017, the US federal government has spent or been obligated to spend $4.8 trillion on the post-9/11 wars, including medical and disability payments to veterans over the next forty years." The researchers at the Watson Institute further noted that the wars had generally been financed by borrowing. "Unless the US changes the way it manages that debt, future interest will exceed $8 trillion by the 2050s," they report.

(image)

Assuming 210 million taxpayers, the Watson Institute figures suggest that, if these trends continue, that the cost of our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria will amount to $61,000 per individual taxpayer by 2050.

President Donald Trump wants to increase the Pentagon's budget by $54 billion. Below see Reason TV's "3 Reasons Conservatives Should Cut Defense Spending Now":

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The Vietnam Syndrome: How We Lost It and Why We Need It Back

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 00:15:00 -0400

In Kabul, Afghanistan, American Embassy personnel who want to meet with their counterparts at the nearby U.S. military base have to travel a mere 100 yards. But they don't make a practice of walking or driving. They go by military helicopter, reports The New York Times. The space between is too dangerous to cross on the ground. It's the sort of bizarre fact that might have emerged in Ken Burns' new PBS series on the Vietnam War, illustrating our inability to turn South Vietnam into a safe, stable place. But it's not the past; it's the present. The Vietnam War was the greatest U.S. military catastrophe of the 20th century. A conflict begun under false pretenses, based on ignorance and hubris, it killed 58,000 Americans and as many as 3 million Vietnamese. It ended in utter failure. Never in our history have so many lives been wasted on such monumental futility. It was a national trauma worse than any since the Great Depression, and it left deep gashes in the American psyche. It instilled an aversion to wars of choice that became known as the Vietnam syndrome. The allergy might have lasted for generations. It didn't. In 2001, just 26 years after the fall of Saigon, the United States invaded Afghanistan. American troops have been fighting there twice as long as we fought in Vietnam. Once again we find ourselves mired in an incomprehensible land, amid people who distrust us. Once again we are aligned with a corrupt regime that couldn't survive without our help as we incur casualties in the pursuit of goals we never reach. In Burns' documentary, President Lyndon B. Johnson is heard in 1965 confiding, "A man can fight if he can see daylight down the road somewhere, but there ain't no daylight in Vietnam." Afghanistan has also been an endless journey down a pitch-black mine shaft. The American military drew some obvious conclusions from Vietnam. Gen. Colin Powell, who served in combat there, had them in mind when he formulated what became known as the Powell Doctrine. It advised going to war only if we can identify a vital interest, have clear, achievable purposes, are prepared to use decisive force, and know our exit strategy. But Powell's wisdom eventually was forgotten. How could we be repeating the mistakes of Vietnam already? We didn't wake up one day with severe amnesia. It was not a one-step process. It occurred through a succession of military interventions that convinced us we were clever enough to avoid the pitfalls that had brought us to such ruin in Southeast Asia. Ronald Reagan lamented the Vietnam syndrome but shrewdly declined to send American forces to fight leftists in Central America. He did, however, undertake one brief, low-risk invasion -- of the Caribbean island of Grenada, against a Castro-backed Marxist regime. Our forces removed the government, and we soon departed. In 1989, George H.W. Bush tried a more ambitious mission, invading Panama to eject a dictator. Then came Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, which provoked Bush to send a huge air and ground force to expel Saddam Hussein's army—a fight that proved far easier than expected. Bill Clinton had his own victory, an 11-week bombing campaign that forced Serbia to leave the breakaway province of Kosovo. He managed it without a single American combat fatality. By 2001, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Americans had gotten our swagger back. We had proved we could bring about regime changes in hostile countries while incurring few casualties and avoiding long-term entanglement. We thought we had cracked the code of successful military interventions. The general attitude in Washington was: "We've mastered this." We proceeded to plunge into Afghanistan, where we realized a stunning initial victory, and then into Iraq, where we rapidly routed the enemy and toppled his dictatorship. The lessons of Vietnam, many assumed, had been refuted once and for all. But they were just waiting to be retaught. In Afghanistan and Iraq, Am[...]



Hey Libertarians for Trump, How Much More #Winning Can You Take?

Wed, 06 Sep 2017 14:35:00 -0400

It's almost nine months into Donald Trump's presidency and here's a question for the old "Libertarians for Trump" crowd: How much more winning can you take? There was a small but vocal band of limited-government folks who vocally supported the billionaire real estate mogul on the grounds that he couldn't possibly be as bad as Hillary Clinton or even most of the other Republican candidates, especially when it came to foreign policy. Leading the pack was economist Walter Block, who beat me in a competitive debate in New York City right before the election. Block's argument was that "the perfect is the enemy of the good" and "the Donald is the most congruent with [the libertarian] perspective" especially on foreign policy. Trump has turned out to be anything but an isolationist. He promised to bring fire and fury to North Korea, "the likes of which this world has never seen before." He bombed Syria on the same humanitarian grounds he explicitly denounced during his campaign. He escalated war efforts in Yeman and Iraq, And more recently, announced plans to "win" in Afghanistan. His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, declared that while the United States might not walk away with a "battlefield" victory in the graveyard of empires, neither will the Taliban. That's not inspirational, it's stupid. Apart from his foreign policy follies, this anti-free-trader and nativist has turned out to be even less libertarian than advertised during the campaign. He's continued giving mealy-mouthed support to white supremacists and pardoned Joe Arpaio, "America's toughest sheriff," who was found in contempt of court after he continued to illegally racially profile and detain Latino suspects. And his attorney general is walking back a decade of incremental progress on criminal justice reform. There's no question that the Trump administration is doing some good things, such as deregulatory moves related to the FCC, the FDA, and the EPA. His Education department is supporting school choice to the extent that the federal government can do so. His deregulatory push is all to the good, but it's overwhelmed by Trump's other policies. There's also no question that at this point Trump is doing virtually everything else he can do to alienate libertarians who believe in shrinking the size, scope, and spending of government. And the excuse that Hillary Clinton would have been worse is getting older than Bernie Sanders. The perfect is the enemy of the good, but what Donald Trump has shown us so far just isn't good enough. Produced by Todd Krainin. Written by Nick Gillespie. Cameras by Jim Epstein. Production assistance by Andrew Heaton. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]



Holocaust Museum Pulls Study That Came to Obvious Conclusion on Syria Genocide

Wed, 06 Sep 2017 13:45:00 -0400

(image) The Holocaust Museum has pulled a research study that concluded that increased U.S. airstrikes and support for Syrian rebels in 2013 may not have reduced the killing and could even have exacerbated the problem. The paper had been scheduled to be unveiled at an event next next week. The museum says it wants to "evaluate" the feedback it received; it's unclear whether the study will be made available again.

The paper's conclusions seem obvious. The situation in Syria is complex, with a wide array of armed factions backed by different foreign powers, ranging from Saudi Arabia to Russia to, of course, the United States. American bombs would not simplify the crisis, nor would they stablize the country. A campaign against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad might limit his ability to perpetrate atrocities, but it would not limit the potential for other actors on the ground to perpetrate similar, or even deadlier, atrocities.

Tablet reports, based on excerpts it obtained, that the Museum's study "absolved" the Obama administration for its inaction in the face of Syrian genocide. The museum's decision to remove the study from its website makes it hard to judge its merits. (It apparently drew on game theory, computational models, and interviews with policymakers and experts.) But the speed with which the paper was condemned—based largely on excerpts, and on the simple fact that it reached conclusions some people disliked—strongly suggests the outrage machine is at work here.

"Shame on the Holocaust Museum," literary critic Leon Wieseltier told Tablet. "If I had the time I would gin up a parody version of this that will give us the computational-modeling algorithmic counterfactual analysis of John J McCloy's decision not to bomb the Auschwitz ovens in 1944. I'm sure we could concoct the fucking algorithms for that, too."

Here's the thing: Decisions like this ought to be examined using facts and models—even algorithmic ones. They ought to be engaged soberly, in a way that arrives at conclusions that can be useful to future decision makers. Wieseltier got a good line in, but when we exclude evidence from decisions on issues as grave as war, we are not contributing to a world with less atrocities. We're making it harder to figure out how to prevent atrocities.

There are some legitimate criticisms of the study, though they aren't enough to warrant withdrawing it. The Museum of Jewish Heritage's Abe Foxman pointed out two of them to Tablet. First, the Syrian genocide is not yet over, so any assessment along these lines will by its nature be incomplete. Second, passing judgement on action or inaction is beyond the museum's mandate. The latter point in particular has some merit, though it doesn't affect the report's conclusions.

Another concern is the possible influence of former Obama administration officials. Several Obama alumni, mostly National Security Council staffers, have taken positions within the museum. One of them, Anna Cave, was listed as one of the participants in the study back in June. That's a pretty clear conflict of interest. But even that is no reason to keep people from reading the report.

Genocide is humanity's greatest crime, and preventing it is a worthy goal. An important part of prevention is understanding the limits to different courses of action.




No War This Week... with North Korea

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 16:05:00 -0400

Last week's boogeyman, North Korea, didn't get much attention this week, as neo-Nazi marchers and Confederate statues captured the news cycle. But Washington and Pyongyang are taking slow but hopefully steady steps toward a diplomatic resolution. President Trump's "fire and fury" comment came and went, making waves in domestic and foreign media but ultimately not changing much about the reality on the ground. As the North Korean regime gradually increases its nuclear capabilities, it is still far from an existential threat. Trump's off-the-cuff threat was, at its most basic level, a reiteration of the mutually assured destruction policy, albeit without the mutuality. Kim Jong-un responded to Trump last week by announcing his regime was contemplating a strike on Guam. The governor of Guam, Eddie Calvo, dismissed the threat, and residents of the territory seemed to be staying calm. This week North Korea backed down, saying it was no longer considering an attack on Guam but would strike if the "Yankees persist." Trump praised Kim for chainging course, tweeting that it was a "very wise and well-informed decision." Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated this week that the door to negotiations remains open but that it is up to Kim to act. An achievable short-term goal would be the resumption of the six-party talks between North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the U.S, which began in 2003 but ceased in 2009 after North Korea launched a launched a satellite and was slapped by increased sanctions. Yesterday, Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis welcomed their counterparts from Japan to Washington for a security summit, where Mattis re-iterated the American, and Japanese, promise of an "effective and overwhelming response" to any hostilities from North Korea. Tillerson, Mattis, and their Japanese counterparts also said they would urge China to take "specific measures to make North Korea change its behavior." Tillerson warned of a bleak isolation if North Korea did not reengage the international community. In short, the U.S. and North Korea remain as far from war, or as close to war, as at any time in the last decade. Diplomatic efforts could still bear fruit. The ISIS and Afghan wars, on the other hand, continue apace. Two U.S. soldiers were killed during combat operations this week in Iraq, where American troops withdrew in 2011 before returning a few years later to battle the Islamic State. Iraq, meanwhile, admitted that its soldiers "abused" civilians and tortured ISIS militants during the campaign to re-take Mosul from ISIS. And Trump casually commented last friday that he might start a war with Venezuela too. That has only emboldened the regime of Nicolas Maduro, providing him with a useful scapegoat to invoke when demonizing the democratic opposition.[...]



Don't Be Fooled. Airstrikes Are War.

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 15:30:00 -0400

It is a bizarre and dangerous quirk of American politics that U.S. airstrikes are accepted as a moderate step between diplomacy and war. Take a look at the Philippines, where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday the United States may begin airstrikes against local Islamic State-linked militants. Does this mean we're at war in the South Pacific? I suspect most Americans would say no. It's "just" airstrikes, after all. It is by that same calculation we are not "at war" in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, or Libya—all countries that have been subject to U.S. airstrikes this year. Or consider new poll results published by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Participants were asked what response they would support to North Korea's development of nuclear weapons. Options ranged from inaction, negotiation, sanction, broader sanction, airstrikes on nuclear facilities to boots on the ground. The real point of the survey, our dangerous quirk, wasn't the percentage of support for each of the various options, but that airstrikes are presented as some sort of intermediate option, somehow substantially different from more conventional warfare. What we ignore at our peril is that airstrikes are war, as is evident with a moment's reflection. Dropping bombs on foreign territory is warfare whether we talk about it in those terms or not. This defining statement is not as pedantic as it may seem. Washington has a well-established history of using sloppy language in civic conversation to pull fast ones on the public. Former President Obama was a master where airstrikes were concerned: By prioritizing air war over ground troops, Obama was able to pay lip service to his campaign-era promises of reform and restraint while, in reality, maintaining and in some cases escalating the very interventionist foreign policy he was elected to repudiate. During Obama's final year in office, the United States dropped more than 26,000 bombs in seven nations (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and the four listed above), though for only for three of them (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan) did the executive branch have anything even remotely resembling congressional authorization for war required by the Constitution. There are many reasons for that failure of basic procedural accountability—congressional fecklessness and presidential overreach not least among them—but the inaccurate way we think of airstrikes as War Junior is surely one of them. With President Trump in Obama's place, the consequences of our messy conception of airstrikes grow more serious still. In his first half-year in office, Trump has ordered airstrikes at five times Obama's incredible pace. That escalation, coupled with this week's announcement about the Philippines (not to mention April's strike on regime targets in Syria, the first of its kind), suggests we are due to see more airstrikes against more targets in more places in days to come. Whether those strikes are necessary, prudent or right are subject to debate. There is a long history of warnings from U.S. military and intelligence officers plus independent studies that airstrikes exacerbate security threats by radicalizing ordinary people who have lost innocent family members to American bombs. As conservative columnist Jim Antle has argued, "Just like government stimulus spending might end up hurting the economy, Obamacare might cancel your health insurance, welfare policies might prolong a cycle of poverty, military interventions aimed at killing terrorists might actually create them." These unintended consequences deserve more serious consideration than short-sighted politicians have been inclined to give them. Airstrikes are a form of war. That isn't up for debate. This means we must demand the same constitutional due process and oversight, realistic risk analysis, and open deliberation about our aims and int[...]



Brickbat: Another Brick in the Wall

Wed, 02 Aug 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Local officials in Nassau County, New York, are trying to bar musician Roger Waters from playing at the Nassau Coliseum because of his support for a boycott of Israel. Nassau County Attorney Carnell Foske says that because the coliseum is county-owned, a Waters concert would violate a county ordinance barring the the county from doing business with any company participating in a boycott of Israel.




Trump to Cut CIA Program That Arms Syrian Rebels. Good—Now Cut the Pentagon's Program, Too.

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 14:55:00 -0400

The Trump administration is reportedly cutting a CIA program that has provided arms to Syrian rebels since 2013. This has provoked a heated reaction from a media obsessed with Russia, and from Russia hawks like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said such a decision would represent a "complete capitulation" to Bashar Assad, Russia, and Iran. But if anything, the decision doesn't go far enough. Congress should tell the Defense Department to stop equipping, arming, and training Syrians as well. These efforts go back to 2014, when the U.S. and Turkey partnered to aid "moderate" Syrian rebels. From the beginning, critics described the effort as a "disaster in the making." Militant factions backed by the CIA and the Pentagon have been fighting each other. U.S. arms have fallen into the hands of ISIS. Turkey, meanwhile, has become an increasingly unreliable partner as it descends into domestic authoritarianism. So stopping the program, while a small step, makes sense. Yet hysteria over Russia has prompted many pundits and politicians to oppose the change. CBS claims that the "timing of the decision raises questions for the White House" because of a previously undisclosed conversation President Donald Trump had with Russia President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit. But the "timing" isn't really suspicious: Trump called arming Syrian rebels a mistake as far back as September 2014, and he signaled after the election that he was likely to abandon the CIA arms program. U.S. policy on Syria is too important to get lost in this sort of reality-TV politics. Nor should it be guided by the tautological idea that Washington should refrain from doing anything that might please a nation seen as "unfriendly" to U.S. interests. The Washington Post calls the decision to stop the arms flow a "move sought by Moscow." Yes, but it's also a move sought by a majority of Americans, and it has been for years. Deployed now by Democrats interested in reigniting a Cold War with Moscow, the same "my enemy is my enemy" principle manifests when Republicans denounce the Iran nuclear deal. In neither instance does this produce good foreign policy results. Opposing the Iran deal merely because it might benefit Iran is no more sound than opposing disengagement in Syria merely because it might benefit Russia; the important question is whether it benefits the United States. Unfortunately, Trump's Syria policy has been far from consistent. In April, the U.S. launched missile strikes against a government airfield there, assuming the same "world's policeman" role that Trump insisted on the campaign trail that the U.S. couldn't play anymore. And the CIA program isn't the only way Washington has been arming combatants in Syria's civil war. Last December, Congress passed a bill authorizing the then-incoming Trump administration to give anti-aircraft weaponry to "vetted" rebels in Syria. The Pentagon authorization bill now making its way through Congress continues to cover Defense Department efforts to arm Syrian rebels. Only Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) voted against it after mark-up in the House Armed Services Committee, over concern that there wasn't enough oversight. It deserves to go on the same scrap pile as the CIA's effort.[...]



Brickbat: Sing a Sad Song

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) City officials in Wellington, New Zealand, have apologized after producers of a city-funded arts festival changed lyrics to a song from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to remove a reference to Israel. After lyricist Tim Rice found out about the change, he blasted the decision, prompting the festival to drop all songs from the musical. But that decision caused yet another backlash, and organizers agreed to keep the songs and their original lyrics.




City of Ghosts Tells the Story of the Citizen Journalists Fighting ISIS Propaganda

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 15:00:00 -0400

The website Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) publishes firsthand accounts of the war crimes of ISIS in often horrific detail. City of Ghosts, a new documentary by Oscar-nominated director Matthew Heineman, tells the story of the citizen journalists who risk their lives to tell the world about the atrocities committed by the Islamic State.

"After ISIS took over the city there really was not any information going in or any information going out," explains Heineman. "There were no western journalists there. They would be killed instantly. So this group really provided a service to the world to help understand the atrocities that were being committed in their hometown, which just happened to be the capital of the Islamic State."

Heineman and RBSS Co-founder Abdalaziz "Aziz" Alhamza sat down with Reason to discuss how these citizen journalists are risking their lives to counter ISIS propaganda.

Produced and edited by Meredith Bragg. Shot by Todd Krainin, Mark McDaniel, and Ian Keyser. Images from City of Ghosts courtesy of Amazon Studios / A&E Indiefilms / IFC Films.

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Bassem Youssef Was 'Egypt's Jon Stewart.' Then He Was Forced To Flee.

Fri, 14 Jul 2017 14:04:00 -0400

Bassem Youssef, known as the "Jon Stewart of Egypt," was the host of the most popular television show in the history of the Arab world. A heart surgeon by training, he was inspired by The Daily Show frontman to start a weekly YouTube show in 2011, just as the Egyptian revolution and Arab Spring were getting underway. He taped it from his laundry room. Called Al-Bernameg, which means "The Show," its audience grew to 30 million per episode. "[The] value of satire is that it humanizes people in power," Youssef tells Reason's Justin Monticello, those "considered holy." Youssef's downfall began with a viral segment mocking President Mohamed Morsi's hat in 2013. In March, a warrant was issued for his arrest for insulting the president and Islam. So Youssef offered to turn himself in—wearing his Morsi hat. Though he was released on bail, it was the beginning of the end. Three months later, the military deposed and jailed Morsi, dissolved the constitution, and silenced the critical press. General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi became the new ruler of Egypt, and his regime didn't take kindly to mockery. What followed is the subject of Youssef's new memoir, Revolution for Dummies, and the documentary Tickling Giants by The Daily Show Senior Producer Sara Taksler, which is available online. The Show lasted just one airing after Sisi became president. Youssef was slapped with the largest fine in the history of Egyptian media. Sensing that he would soon be arrested and prevented from traveling out of the country, he threw a few personal belongings into a suitcase and rushed to the airport. In a wide-ranging conversation, Youssef discusses the limits of satire, political correctness, comedy on college campuses, Trump, how political leaders use religion, and more. Produced by Justin Monticello. Cameras by Paul Detrick and Alex Manning. Music by Topher Mohr and Alex Elena and Pavel Malkov. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Bassem Youssef: The Islamists were reacting in a violent way because they're not used that they're ... They are hiding behind this sacred ideology of religion and they're not used to be criticized, so to break that mold and to just be pointed at them and make fun of them. They couldn't handle it. Justin Monticello: You went in and police officers and court employees, or the prosecutor's employees were asking to take selfies with you and they were big fans of yours. Youssef: It was almost surreal to be in a place where I'm being questioned while the people who are in charge of questioning me were securing ... Questioning me were fans and taking pictures. Monticello: So, after the military coup ... I guess we can call it a coup now. I know you took great pains to talk about how it was a word that was not allowed in Egypt for a time, right? Youssef: Oh yeah, that was the "c" word. Monticello: There was marshal law, and you couldn't broadcast for a couple months. Even your staff, they were fighting with their parents about whether they should continue to do the show now that the military was in power. In moments like that, where you were confronting these new regimes that kept popping up during the revolution, how did you decide when it was too dangerous? How did you find the inspiration to keep going on and making fun of them? Youssef: Well, part of me was scared to come back. I was scared of ... How can we make fun of the new regime because the new regime was very popular. You can say whatever you want about the regime, but Sisi was popular, the regime, their army is popular. It's part of our culture. And I mentioned in the boo[...]



On Trump, Jr., Governments Lying, and A World in Disarray: The New Fifth Column

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 23:22:00 -0400

On July 21, Vice News is premiering on HBO a new feature length documentary on U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, titled A World in Disarray, based on a new book of the same name by former George H.W. Bush Middle East advisor and current Council of Foreign Relations poobah Richard Haass. The doc's main narrator and interlocutor (of such former leaders as Tony Blair, George Schultz, and Condoleezza Rice) is former Reasoner and current Vicer Michael C. Moynihan, one-third of the weekly podcast (and Sirius XM radio show!) The Fifth Column. Here's a preview:

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We spend a good chunk of this week's podcast chewing over the mixed-up status of the United States' role in global affairs, the elusive Goldilocks test for interventionism in the Middle East, and the existential angst of relinquishing control over events, with the help of Bloomberg View foreign policy columnist Eli Lake. And as you would expect, there's plenty of debate over the there-there of Donald Trump, Jr.'s dealing with Russians, and the administration's slippery relationship with the truth. Without spoiling too much, some of the phrases uttered include "dick descript," "lesbodians and 9/11," "the Bernard Henri-Levy of stupidity," and "Congratulations, Eli, on being such a spectacular Jew." Listen to the whole thing here:

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Reminder: Over the weekend you can listen to an hour-long version of The Fifth Column on Sirius XM POTUS (channel 124) Saturdays at 11 a.m. ET then Sundays at 1 a.m. and 3 p.m. And you can always find more Fifth Column at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, wethefifth.com, @wethefifth, and Facebook.