Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Let Us Rediscover the Art of the Peaceful Protest and Civil Disobedience this MLK Day

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In the year 2015 there are many good reasons to protest: police brutality, injustice, the war on (some) drugs, the war on (some) terror, etc. One thing from Martian Luther King Jr.’s legacy that seems to be lost and something we should rediscover is the art of the peaceful protest and civil disobedience.

King understood that for positive change to occur, he had to truly win the hearts and minds of his fellow Americans. Being a positive example by showing the world that he and his followers would take a stand against injustice without resorting to violence was even more important than the words he spoke to that end. Certainly, not everyone believed in using the non-violent approach. Malcolm X and the Black Panthers believed that violence was necessary to achieve their shared goals.*

Who was right?

Personally, I find the pictures and the videos from the non-violent protests and the acts of civil disobedience to be far more compelling. There’s just something about seeing people refusing to act in a violent fashion against the state which inherently IS violence. This has a way of changing hearts and minds.

Contrast this with today’s protests in Ferguson, New York, and elsewhere concerning the police. For the most part, the protesters are peaceful and are using tactics which King would likely be proud. Unfortunately, however; it’s the nasty protesters that are violent, incite riots, or cheer at the news of cops being ambushed which receives far too much of the publicity. Even holding up signs like “The only good cop is a dead cop” or “fuck the police,” though certainly permissible as recognized by the First Amendment, turns people off who might otherwise be sympathetic to one’s cause.

Sadly, it’s not just a few misfit protesters who think that aggression is sometimes warranted to get one’s way. No less than the pope himself last week in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks said: “(If someone) says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

The leader of the same Catholic Church which normally advocates finding non-violent solutions to conflict (such as the Just War Doctrine) says that because someone says something offensive about one’s parents or faith it is permissible to use violence against that person! People’s feeling are more important than the concept of free expression.

I’m not interested in living in a world where I cannot insult the pope or his religion nor do I want to live in a world where the pope cannot insult me or my atheism. The world I am interested in living in is one where we can have passionate, even hurtful disagreements without fearing physical harm to my family, my friends, or myself.

Let us all rediscover the art of peaceful protest and civil disobedience on this Martian Luther King Jr. Day.

While We Were Pretending To Be Charlie, Boko Haram Killed 2,000 Nigerians

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The Charlie Hebdo attacks have derived almost universal scorn, rightly so. But in the end, twelve people died, with more killed the next day in the ensuing manhunt. At the end of the day, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what extremist Muslim group Boko Haram has been doing in northern Nigeria since the beginning of the year.

The attackers sped into a Nigerian town with grenade launchers — their gunfire and explosions shattering the early morning calm.

As terrified residents scattered into bushes in Baga town and surrounding villages, the gunmen unloaded motorcycles from their trucks and followed in hot pursuit.

Residents hid under scant brush. Bullets pierced through them.

Some sought refuge in their homes. They were burned alive.

Many who tried to cross into neighboring Chad drowned while trying to swim through Lake Chad.

By the time the weapons went quiet, local officials reported death tolls ranging from hundreds to as many as 2,000 people.

That was January 3, nine days ago.

On Monday, bodies still littered the bushes in the area.

Official estimates vary, but at the very least, a few hundred people are confirmed dead, with local estimates being higher. This does not count the people who drowned on their way to Chad.

The group commonly known as Boko Haram – which translates to “Western Education is Forbidden” – has been around since 2002, but started radicalizing around 2009, when Nigerian police started to arrest members of the group. During this time, the group’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed under circumstances still in doubt, and was replaced by their current leader, Abubakar Shekau. Since then, the group has been carrying out attacks in northern Nigeria, including targeted assassinations of police and political personnel, which have worked to weaken the almost four year reign of President Goodluck Jonathan. The group came to infamy in the West in April of 2014 when they kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from the state of Borno. The kidnappings led to a hashtag campaign called #BringBackOurGirls by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, but outside of the 50 girls who initially escaped, none of the girls have been recovered and have been rumored to have been sold into slavery or forced marriages.

As of this writing, Boko Haram effectively controls northern Nigeria, as well as parts of Cameroon and Niger. This is in the face of Goodluck Jonathan’s 2015 Presidential campaign.

Boko Haram was initially founded as a means of rejecting Western “influences”, but since 2009, they have largely been a network of Al-Qaeda and most recently, the Islamist State. I fail to see the point of the wanton murder of 2,000 people, however. Looking purely from a tactical perspective, what does it accomplish? Is this a “Final Solution” of sorts to what they deem the evils of Western influence? I wish I had these answers.

Nigeria, of course, is a fertile breeding ground for a group like Boko Haram to ferment. They have a weak central government along with few employment opportunities, mass malnutrition, and rampant corruption at all levels of government. One of the points I made in my Charlie Hebdo piece was that people will turn to extremes to survive, and this is a case study in that regard.

However, scholarship only takes us so far. The goal is to find out how to engage this kind of evil. Declaring war isn’t that easy; it’s been demonstrated both that the enemy has literally no regard for civilians, and that civilian death – an inevitability with this choice – makes the enemy – a fluid enemy that cannot be broken down into old-fashioned armies – stronger. We’ve been using this choice since 9/11, and it’s been a failure.

Then again, we’ve seen how passively watching and waiting for things to magically get better works, too. That’s a more historical perspective, but in the case of England’s Neville Chamberlain, it led to the rise of the Nazi empire, and almost led to the fall of Britain.

The difference between Nazi Germany and the current Islamic State – I am shoehorning Boko Haram in with ISIL, as they have done at times – is that the Germans were married to an ideology, whereas the Islamic State is married to a religion, and an ideal that life is better after Earth. As Goldwater pointed out regarding Christians, it’s hard to have a conversation with people who are playing at a life beyond Earth; they’re too deranged. So any hopes at politics, at discussion, and at coming to a peaceful solution might be moot. Even if jihadis are learning a perverted form of Islam, perception is reality.

In the end, it doesn’t matter to the roughly 2,000 Nigerians murdered in January, the 5,000 or so that have been killed since 2009, and the scores more that have been displaced fleeing the violence in that time span. It also doesn’t matter to the thousands upon thousands killed in other areas under pressure from extremist Islam. In his book The Stranger, Chuck Todd notes that Barack Obama viewed Syria as a collection of nothing but “shitty” choices. That could be extended to the whole of the war with Al-Qaeda, ISIL, and other networked jihadi groups. Whatever shitty choice we make, we have to make it fast, or headlines like this are going to become more common. ??Then again, if I had the answers, I’d be telling them in front of the UN and not in a blog.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Charlie Hebdo Offices Attacked In France By Islamic Terrorists

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On Wednesday morning at about 11:30am local time, militants stating they were from Al-Qaeda in Yemen attacked the Paris offices of satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing twelve and injuring eleven:

Two gunmen in balaclavas and bullet-proof vests, armed with a pump-action shotgun and an automatic rifle, stormed into the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo at about 11.30am as about 15 journalists had gathered for the weekly editorial conference. They called for the editor by name and then murdered him before spraying the room with gunfire, killing nine more and wounding others. Laurent Léger, a Charlie Hebdo writer, managed to sound the alarm, calling a friend and telling him: “Call the police. It’s carnage, a bloodbath. Everyone is dead.”

As they made their getaway, the gunmen shot dead two policemen, including one who they shot in the head at close range as he lay injured on the pavement.

Charlie Hebdo has courted controversy regarding depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in the past, starting in 2006 when they responded to the Jyllands-Posten controversy with images of the Prophet Muhammad of their own. Their offices were firebombed in 2011 in response to a cover changing the name of the paper to “Charia” (for Sharia) Hebdo with a “guest editorial” by the Prophet.

There is some question as to how Islam regards depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. The Qu’ran does not ban depictions of the Prophet. However, some variations of the hadeth – a collection of Muhammad’s teachings that I could best compare to Proverbs – outlaw the practice.

Reaction has been swift, with French President François Hollande denoting Thursday as a day of mourning. The United Nations and United States were also quick to condemn. Muslims not affiliated with the Islamic State were quick to denounce the killings. Jon Stewart took some time on The Daily Show to talk about it. While some outlets are censoring the covers that Charlie Hebdo has put out, others have reacted with spiteful malice towards this attitude. Of course, the usual suspects in America have ratcheted up the Islamophobia.1

It should also be noted that French Muslims have dealt with considerable discrimination despite their heavy presence in France’s population when compared to the rest of Europe; in 2010, a French government panel recommended banning the Hijab in public buildings. The response by some on the French right has been openly hostile to Islam, and many Muslims are bracing for retaliation.

Even The Onion, which has responded to threats of violence in the past by responding with hilarious and often NWS retorts, was noticeably downcast in their response.

It is my personal belief – one that I will concede risks politicizing this topic at a sensitive time – that one thing bears mentioning: I don’t know of too many children who have the ability to write who put down “I want to kill people when I grow up!” on paper. That’s because just about any form of extremism is born from desperation. The Islamic State isn’t an uprising of well-to-do people; it, along with Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups, is an uprising of people who feel that they have nothing else to live for, being taken advantage of by people who are teaching a perverted form of Islam to those that don’t have the means to know any better. When you live every day in abject poverty, in fear of drone strikes, a bunch of virgins start to sound enticing.

Times like this bear a link to what Afghanistan used to look like. Miniskirts, uncovered heads, a useful economy… it’s hard to place those images with what has replaced them in my lifetime. But a populist revolt overthrew the King in 1973, and starting in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded as part of their larger proxy war against the United States, leading to a civil war that lasted ten years and only ended thanks to American intervention. The country never recovered.

I bring up Afghanistan in this context because that’s basically been the entirety of the Arab middle east: a pawn for the two big superpowers to play with, damn the consequences. Those countries’ destruction opened the way for many extremist groups to come about; The Islamic State is little more than a Pokemon evolution of all of the movements before it. Those groups, for many in this area, are the only way to get out of their sorry way of life. Those groups teach the bastardized form of Islam that educated Muslims denounce on a daily basis. Every time a drone strikes a wedding party in one of these countries, we make those groups a little stronger.

Free speech and free thought are the antithesis of what extremist Muslims – or really, extremists of any religion – want or believe in. If we want to create less extremists, we must allow the way of life in these countries to improve. Until that point, what happened to Charlie Hebdo, the girls kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram, the beheading of the Western journalists and aid workers, and other cases of extreme terrorism will continue, the head-shaking will continue, the hatred will continue, and the cycle will get stronger and stronger, not unlike the circling of water around a toilet drain.

UPDATE @11:46AM ON 1/8: Charlie Hebdo’s Patrick Pelloux has defiantly announced that, instead of printing the standard run of 60,000 magazines, their next issue will print 1m copies.

Charlie Hebdo will publish next Wednesday to defiantly show that “stupidity will not win,” columnist Patrick Pelloux told Agence France-Presse, adding that the remaining staff will soon meet.

“It’s very hard. We are all suffering, with grief, with fear, but we will do it anyway because stupidity will not win,” he said.

1 – I will not link to or mention any of these people or their hashtag. I refuse to give them oxygen.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

The Day the Guns Were Silent

Just about 100 years ago around Christmas during the so-called “war to end all wars” (WWI) something incredible happened: a momentary peace along the Western Front. The History Channel website describes what became known as the Christmas Truce of 1914 as follows:

Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.

At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.

Of course we know that this peace would not last. Had it been up to the men on the ground from both sides, I would doubt the war could have continued. But alas, the ancient notions of king and country, nationalism, the “leaders” (who were never in any danger of risking life and limb themselves), etc. would have none of it.

The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.

100 years ago, men fighting each other showed the world that peace is possible – if only for a day or so…

Russia’s Ruble Problem is Temporary… And not Just THEIR Problem

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Russia’s been in something of a spot of bother lately. The decision by OPEC to continue elevated levels of oil production (in order to deliberately suppress oil prices, and drive higher production cost competitors out of the market), in addition to American sanctions, have caused the Russian ruble to plummet against the American dollar. Steps taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Central Bank of Russia to halt this decline have not been effective, causing Putin to call what’s happening a “catastrophe”.

These reduced oil prices of course have many benefits to the US, beyond schadenfreude at Russias predicament. Fuel prices are the lowest they’ve been in almost ten years; which has had a positive effect on consumer prices overall, travel, and holiday spending during retail’s heaviest season.

So with prices at the pump going lower, and Putin struggling, everything’s all good, right??

Not really.

Here are a few reasons why we should be concerned at what’s happening right now:

* There’s a lot of arm-twisting going on both inside and outside OPEC – What’s really happening, is Saudi Arabia is effectively in a staring contest with weaker members of OPEC, and no one has the strength to end the standoff. These low prices are harming oil producers everywhere. The price can only be so low, for so long, before there’s so much pressure (both internally, and from other oil producing nations); that the Saudis will cut production, and allow the price of oil to rise.

* We’re due for an energy market correction – As I said above, this action isn’t just hurting Russia. It’s hurting Venezuela, Mexico, Norway, and all other oil-exporting countries, and it’s not sustainable. Speculation, aggregate demand increases, and softening of the Saudi position, are likely to bring the price back up within a few months, which benefits Russia in the long term.

* Vladimir Putin’s support is, and will remain, solid – Breathless articles in the Western press about Putin’s “challenge” possibly leading to his downfall are vastly overblown at best. For one, Putin knows who his key allies are, and they – the oligarchs in Russia – will be taken care of first. Furthermore, he is virtually synonymous with the once again powerful Orthodox Church, and his domestic policies (which basically amount to keeping the buses running on time and eradicating homosexuals) are still extremely popular. If push comes to shove, the Russian people will stick with him; partly because he’s their best chance against the west (and more importantly, China), and partly because if they do protest, they stand a good chance of not making it home (Putin’s history is clear in this). It’s just as well, because…

* There are no legitimate alternatives to Putin – Simply put, Russia’s liberals (and in fact all political factions other than Putin, and those even more hardline) are broken; either irrelevant and ineffectual, or small, hardcore sects, that hold little appeal for a nation that still remembers bread lines. Financial transparency? Human rights? These are things which, in the mind of a hardened nation, don’t pay the bills; and in the opinion of many Russians, may not be desirable, as they would benefit currently disfavored people (such as gays, and those of religions other than Russian Orthodox).

* When you poke the bear… – Russia has shown that they will act with violence when it suits their desires; ask Georgia, Chechnya and the Ukraine about that… if they can pick their heads up long enough to speak. I’m not entirely sure we want to see the Russians become desperate, or feel truly threatened, economically or politically. At best, many lives may be lost or destroyed in small scale conflict, and the disruption of that inevitably comes with it. At worst we could see war with Russia and “the west” (under whatever pretext or theater in which it may begin); perhaps including support from China, splinter eastern Europeans, “enemy-of-my-enemy” Islamic groups; and governments around the world, who would have to pick a side in a war between the United States, and “anyone other than the United States”.

That’s a wild scenario, but not wild enough to be completely discounted.

In the end, I predict that Russia will ride this out, and wait for mutual interests in the oil industry to start wearing down the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. There could be some retaliation, leading some to guess at a second Cold War. However, ultimately, Russia doesn’t have sufficient economic clout to meaningfully damage the United States and its allies, without also causing greater damage to themselves.

Enjoy the gas prices (and laughing at Putin) for now, but understand that, most likely; prices (and the ruble) will swing back closer to their recent medians, by the end of February (March at the latest), with little or no long-term damage to Putin.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.
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