When actions are determined, consequences must be too

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This is one of the most horrific views I’ve ever seen advocated by tenured staff at a Western university, ever. Let me explain why.

Let’s think about this logic for a moment. What this is effectively saying is that, since the decision as to whether or not you will eat the dessert is out of your control (statement) therefore you are absolved of responsibility for it, and should not feel bad (conclusion).

The statement is certainly true, and in a far broader sense you might realize. We live in a deterministic world where our actions only ever take place in the context of the total sum of all that preceded it, and the impact that these generated. An example of this is that you might be physiologically inclined towards sweet things, but lack the neurological hardware necessary to abstain – simplifying, we might say that your ‘impulse’ module is set to high and your ‘restraint’ module is set to low. It’s difficult to dispute the scientific fact that individuals in circumstances like these with a neurological setup that predisposes them to certain actions may have little to no control over their impulses.

But how about the conclusion. Should this really absolve you from responsibility? If we say that you aren’t responsible for your actions because your ‘brain has already decided for you’ then what about in the case of rape? It’s not uncommon to hear, in courtrooms, defendants talk about ‘not being able to control themselves’. The Iraqi refugee who raped a 12-year old boy in an Austrian swimming pool last year defended his actions as the inescapable consequence of a ‘sexual emergency’.

Murder is another case we might examine. The circumstances typically resulting in physical conflict trigger a ‘fight-or-flight’ response in us, activating our endocrine systems and pumping our bodies full of adrenaline and other chemicals that cloud judgment and promote physical action. In such a circumstance, it’s also possible to say that your brain made the decision for you, precluding free will.

Now ask yourself – what difference does it make if some (or even all) murders and rapes do lie outside of the realm of our control? Are we going to start judging rapists in courts of law on the basis of their proclivity to hypersexuality, refusing to jail any rapists if indeed we see that their brains ‘already decided for them’. Murder, too? The grounds would be little different from the logic deployed in this advertisement, in either case.

What am I getting at here? The conclusion you’re seeing above is horrifically wrong and terribly dangerous. A deterministic worldview is an accurate one, but this does not – and cannot – preclude holding individuals responsible for their actions. The consequences if we don’t – a world in which murderers, thieves, rapists, and worse are able to stalk the streets with impunity – are far too high to accept.

Even though our actions may sometimes lie just outside of our control, that doesn’t mean that the consequences shouldn’t. When we lack agency to act, this agency must not be manipulated to avoid punishment. When actions are determined, consequences must be too.

“If I were president, you’d be in jail”

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Unfortunately, though perhaps unsurprisingly, many seem to be reacting with shock to Donald Trump’s declaration that Hillary would “be in jail” were he elected. Many of these reactions come from Buzzfeed, AJ+, or Vox readership – but there are some serious voices scattered amongst them. What they have in common is a genuine failure to understand why it is that many of us harbor serious concerns about a Clinton presidency.

The phrase ‘email scandal’ may sound relatively innocuous. Many of you are likely tired of hearing all the fuss about Hillary’s emails – “what’s the big deal about a private server?” you might ask. While it may sound uninteresting, the email scandal is actual incredibly important.

Federal employees are obligated to leave full records of all actions made in their official capacity. This is the law. To not do so is unambiguously a crime. Yet Hillary Clinton broke this law by sending back and forth emails as secretary of state to an unknown number of unknown recipients – remember, this is illegal – and then deleted them to hide evidence of her wrongdoing, erasing over 30,000 emails (that we know of). This is also illegal.

When she was questioned about this before congress, she lied under oath. This is perjury. This is also illegal. The explicit statues that she broke can be viewed here.

A ‘crime’ is defined as “an illegal act for which someone can be punished by the government”. In fact, many have been sent to jail in the past for the exact same illegal acts that Hillary Clinton committed.

These are only the crimes that we know of; those she wasn’t able to conceal. But significantly, she committed these crimes while holding federal office. If people in the federal government are breaking federal laws yet not being punished for them, this is strong evidence for corruption.

Corruption is another good one to talk about – because Hillary Clinton (and the foundation she runs) is also hopelessly corrupt. We could talk about the billions of dollars her foundation received WHILE she was secretary of state, from individuals and countries she was dealing with in a professional capacity – Saudi Arabia is one. Or perhaps we might discuss the recent transcripts released by WikiLeaks of her private speech to Goldman Sachs, where she stated she needed a private position as well as a public position on policy – just to reassure the banks that whatever happened, they still owned her.

Finally we could talk about her awful record as secretary of state, and there is no better example of this than Libya.Libya was a country doing relatively well until the Arab Spring with among the highest living standards and average incomes in the Arab world. Upon the outbreak of revolts, Hillary Clinton pushed for airstrikes in that country, the results of which are clear for all to see. There may now be over a million refugees from Libya, around a sixth of the total population, and the country itself is in ruins (it was important enough for HRC to bomb it, but not to rebuild it). Islamic State and Al-Qaeda cells rule Libya now.

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Yet Hillary Clinton still celebrated the death of Gaddafi even as Libya was burning with the now infamous statement “we came, we saw, he died!”. Another scandal in Libya was Benghazi, when our ambassador in the city made dozens of additional requests for security, all of which Hillary Clinton ignored. Chris Stevens was killed along with many other Americans when the terrorist attack he feared eventually took place.

In this presidential election we are left with two candidates. Both are utterly unsuitable for the office, albeit in very different ways. But the shills who cry “Hillary did nothing wrong!” should be argued down at every opportunity. Whether we support her or otherwise, we cannot afford to ignore the deeply troubling record of future president Hillary Clinton.

Why We Must Not Turn Away ​From The Kurds

The Kurds of Northern Syria have suffered immensely throughout history. Indigenous to the region, they have never been granted any significant level of autonomy or self-rule. During the entire existence of the Syrian Arab Republic, they held the uncoveted status of most marginalized group, according to Minority Rights International, and were also subject to appalling levels of arbitrary detention, state-sanctioned torture, and illegal appropriation of private assets.

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This was worst under the height of pan-Arabism during the regime of Hafez al-Assad. A report by Chatham House details the severity of the situation; the Kurdish language was banned in public, and its use, as well as Kurdish music and publications, were all strictly illegal. However, little changed even after Assad inherited the throne in 2000, much to the detriment of the Kurdish minority.

This makes the recent resurgence of the Kurds within the context of the same Syria that clamped down on any expression of Kurdish identity so very incredible. The autonomous region of Rojava came into existence in 2013 as regional Kurdish militias formed after the Syrian Arab Army rapidly evacuated vast swathes of territory in the face of roving bands of Islamist terrorists as well as larger organisations like the FSA, JaN, and ISIS. The Kurdish militias coalesced into a single statelike structure around the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and took over governmental and military infrastructure left behind when the Assadists evacuated.

Rojava had little time to rejoice in its nominal independence from Syria, as it was immediately attacked from all directions. Attacks from terrorist groups within Syria continued, and the people of Rojava found their resolve tested at the long and bloody Battle for Kobanî. The unlikely victory gained by the military wing of the Rojavan government, the YPG, came at the cost of many civilian lives taken by indiscriminate car-bombs and shelling by ISIS forces. Despite the losses, the defeat of ISIS underscored the resolve of the Rojavan Kurds to the world and showed that they would not relinquish their long-desired independence so easily.

Since then, though, it seems as though the situation has gotten only worse. Despite the fact that Salih Muslim Muhammad, head of the PYD, has repeatedly declared that the Rojavan government will not seek independence from Syria, and will instead seek to maintain their status as an autonomous region similar to Iraqi Kurdistan, the Syrian government has effectively cut ties with the region and refuses to grant it military, economic, or any other substantive form of aid. This is despite Muslim’s repeated overtures to the Syrian government and declarations of support against the Islamist groups that wage terroristic war against both entities.

From its northern frontier with Turkey, Rojava is under constant attack. The Turkish government has stated its flat-out unwillingness to accept any sort of autonomous Kurdish state within Syria, independent or not, and have carried out regular bombing attacks against civilian targets in order to weaken the resolve of the Kurdish people. These attacks intensified early this year, ahead of the official invasion force, which entered Syrian Kurdistan in August.

Thus, the fledgling regional government in Rojava found itself fighting a war on three fronts; against ISIS, against Turkey, and at times even against the Syrian Government. Despite repeated attempts at a meaningful peace revolution, this state of outright hostilities has seen little change in recent years. While the US has engaged in sporadic airdrops to assist Rojava in the past two years, its assistance (and promises of assistance) has been noncommittal and indecisive. Russia, on the other hand, has proven a much more effective ally, allowing for the YPG to call airstrikes on locations it pinpoints, giving it some much needed air superiority in the fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups.

Yet, any support given by Russia – in other words, any substantial support at all – has been consistently undermined by the West at every turn. Former British foreign secretary Philip Hammond stated earlier this year that he was “disturbed” by reports of Russian assistance to Kurdish forces in northern Syria, shortly before the British joined the Americans in calling the Russians to ‘get out of’ Syria. Yet they provide no alternative, effectively condemning Rojava to extinction at the hands of Turkey and ISIS.

The performance of the United States has been particularly disturbing. Upon the attempted breakaway of Kosovo in the Balkans, the US sent in its air force to drop an astonishing amount of bombs on Serbia in order to guarantee the independence of the fledgling state. Ensuring the human rights of the Kosovar people and preventing genocide were among the reasons used to legitimise this campaign. Given this, American actions in Syria are difficult to rationalize. They are inconsistent not only with its previous decisions when facing similar circumstances, but also with the idea of America as a nation seeking to uphold international order, prevent genocide and crimes against humanity, and ensure peace in the world.

The United States and Britain have chosen to view Rojava and indeed the Kurdish people not as any other nation or folk deserving of basic freedoms, human rights, and entitled to a minimum standard of dignity, but instead as pawns in a twisted kind of Great Game still being played by Washington politicians against Putin’s Russia. As pawns, the Kurds are to be used when expedient and discarded when they become an inconvenience. And given the muted US response to the Turkish invasion of Rojava last month, it appears to be the case that the ‘inconvenience’ is mounting.

Increasingly, the voices from Western politicians, think tanks and so-called ‘policy analysts’ appear to be mounting. Condemnation of Rojavan institutions by Westerners who hold Rojava to an impossible standard is ever harsher. They critique the autonomous region for not being fully democratic, despite the fact that it is engaged in a war with genocidal opponents whose goal is not only the destruction of the state but also of the Kurdish people as a whole. They would demand that the government cease its conscription, ignoring the existentialist conflict the military wing of the PYD finds itself in, and all the while offering absolutely nothing in the way of an alternative.

Of course, some criticism of Rojava’s government and armed forces is legitimate. There is some evidence to suggest that conscription of those under 18 has happened on occasion, despite the practice being clearly illegal under Rojavan law. There are also grounds to criticise the state structure of the government and the total dominance of the PYD at the expense of other parties.

But these critics are overreaching in their conclusions. They suggest that since problems such as these exist, the West should abandon Syrian Kurds to the wolves.

To do so would be disastrous. Not only would it strengthen the Islamic State, the position of the totalitarian Assad government, but also an increasingly Islamist and autocratic Turkey. It would represent a grievous betrayal of previous promises of support made to the Kurds, and would thus cause the US to suffer a massive blow to its international prestige. But, more importantly, it would constitute a betrayal of the principles we hold so dear; those of universal human rights, international law, and the principle of self-determination as described in the UN charter.

Abandoning the Kurds will gain us nothing and strengthen our enemies. We must support them against our mutual foes as the only rock of stability in the otherwise turbulent Middle East.

-Will TG Miller

This article was initially published by Conatus News, and can be viewed at their website: http://www.conatusnews.com/why-we-must-not-turn-away-from-the-kurds.html

Turkey has just invaded Rojava – here’s why that matters

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Turkish tanks preparing to assault Suruc. Turkish Kurdistan, 2014

Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) emerged in the milieu resulting from the total breakdown of civil society in Syria following the emergence of the Islamic State and the division of the country by various Sunni extremist rebel groups led by boisterous warlords, with a good amount of ‘secular’ rebels (secular only in the sense of not being outright Islamic extremists).

The Syrian government’s response to the official declaration of Rojava in 2014, which now functions as an autonomous region within the country, was initially extremely hostile, and the government treated Rojava like any other area controlled by rebels; this has now changed. Assad has given Rojava a large degree of unofficial recognition, and the two governments are in full communication with each other. Rojava was also recognized by pro-Assad Russia, which opened up a Rojavan consulate in Moscow last year.

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Salih Muslim Muhammad, key figure in the PYD and ‘leader’ of Syrian Kurdistan (Al-Monitor)

Relations between the two improved after Salih Muslim Muhammad, the ‘president’ of Rojava, officially stated that he would not seek independence and that the country would remain an autonomous region within the Syrian Arab Republic. This was a great reassurance to Assad. In return for these overtures, the Syrian government began assisting Rojava on the world stage, such as by formally protesting at Turkey’s rampant, illegal, and genocidal bombing campaigns on Syrian Kurdistan – targets of which include schools, hospitals, and offices of the legitimate government there.

Recently, things have changed. Brief exchanges of fire between Syrian Army troops and Rojavan troops have led to increased tensions. Last week, the Syrian Airforce began air strikes in Hasakah (the second city of Rojava) without warning, killing 20 civilians (mostly farmers) hospitalizing dozens more, and causing serious damage to infrastructure. Hasakah is a city in which power is shared between the Syrian government and Rojava, and although tensions have occasionally flared up with small arms fire being exchanged between sides in recent months, for Assad to engage in airstrikes against the city is a first since the diplomatic reprieve between the two sides. Thankfully, the US scrambled jets over Hasakah to prevent further air action by the Syrian government, but the situation remains tense and it is impossible to say how things will develop from here.

This morning, Turkish tanks rolled into Syrian Kurdistan as the Turkish army commenced a full-scale invasion of the area around the border city of Jarablus. The incursion is completely illegal under international law. While Turkey has previously been engaged in a brutal and close to genocidal airstrike campaign against Rojava, a campaign noted for making no distinction between civilian and governmental targets, this may represent a change in the conflict. Turkey’s desire to annihilate any possibility of a resurgent Kurdish nationalism in the region could lead to an attempt to eradicate Rojava itself.

What happens next is crucial. The Kurds in northern Syria are an indigenous people to the region and they are there to stay. They have established a pluralistic, nonsectarian government along democratic and federal lines that allows no discrimination against the Arab population in the region. Rojava has done its best to reassure Assad that it will not seek independence, and is content with remaining within the Syrian Arab Republic as an autonomous region.

If Assad allows this incursion by Turkey to continue without further protest, it will signal that the Syrian government has changed its stance towards Rojava from toleration murderous hostility. It must be understood that from the Kurdish perspective, the only purpose of remaining within Syria as an autonomous region is peaceful relations with Assad. If this is not possible, Rojava will likely seek full independence as its sole recourse.

We are witnessing a key time in the history of the Syrian Civil War and the Kurdish people. If Assad will not allow Arabs and Kurds to coexist, then brutal, bloody war will be the only possible outcome.

Why Did Islamist Terrorists Target a Priest in France?

The murder of MP Jo Cox is a warning against the horror of political extremism

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Violent extremism of a wholly political nature is something that many of us thought had left Britain’s shores long ago. For most young people like myself, who have for most in their lives lived in a post-9/11 political landscape, the real threat has always been religious extremism. It was the motivating power of religion that flew those planes into the towers, just as it was for ISIS. Political extremism, for most of us, had faded out and lost its relevancy. Today, that belief has been proven wrong.

Today, Jo Cox, Labor MP for the constituency of Batley and Spen, was murdered by being shot and then stabbed in a horrifically act of extreme brutality. The perpetrator, it is understood, was a native British man in his early 50s, who shouted ‘Britain First!’ as he committed the heinous act. While the perpetrator was thankfully quickly arrested, it remains a sobering reminder of the destructive power of political extremism, and a warning to the current generation of its very real threat to our society.

The Cold War only ended around a quarter of a century ago, but to our parents, the threat of political extremism was very real. Communist terrorism – terrorist attacks carried out in order to force political change towards communism or otherwise threaten the capitalist political establishment – was something that they spent much of their own lives in fear of. During the Cold War, very few Western countries did not see the blight of communist terrorism or other forms of extreme leftist terrorism affect their societies. And who could forget the inhuman crimes of far-right ideologies like fascism and Nazism in the first half of the 20th century.

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Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves a tribute of flowers for the fallen MP (AFP/Getty)

Jo Cox was a prominent member of the Remain campaign, which campaigns to keep Britain in Europe and is in favor of a ‘no’ vote in the upcoming EU referendum. In doing so, she was expressing her political opinions in an utterly legitimate and acceptable fashion, as designed by our democratic system. This system is one that by its very nature tolerates this behavior; it permits and even promotes dissent within a framework of peaceful political action such as debate and discussion. It is very likely that Jo’s killer took the actions he did due to his political opposition to her pro-EU and left-wing stance. But the decision he made in choosing to resort to murder rather than employing his democratic right to peacefully dissent is antithetical to the very fundamentals of our democracy.

The recent increase in polarization is one that I and many other centrists have been watching with increasing concern. It appears that this tense political climate has claimed its first victim in Jo Cox. This is something that we must oppose with all of our strength. Religious extremism is difficult to fight as long as the religion or tenets supporting it remain unchanged; the cost of reforming a religion can be measured in blood, as in the case of the brutal years of war Europe saw after the Protestant Reformation. Therefore, it requires a long-term approach, and immediate action is unlikely to see immediate benefit.

Political extremism is different. We can, and we must condemn and fight political extremism the like of which took the life of Jo Cox today. We must do it with all our strength. We do so not only out of concerns for our own lives, but for our very democracy itself.

In politics, as in everything else, moderation is key. Extremism, on the other hand, exacts a price too heavy to bear.

White nationalism motivated Dylann Roof – but Islam not to blame for Omar Mateen

Do any of you remember Dylann Roof? Here’s a mugshot.

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Dylann Roof is currently awaiting trial for charges relating to the 2015 Charleston church shooting, in which he entered into a predominantly African-American church and proceeded to brutally gun down nine people.

Dylann Roof was a terrorist. He was a sick and evil man, and I don’t call him sick to absolve him of responsibility for his crimes. His was a cold and calculated act of mass murder intended to terrorize black Americans and show the world the power of his evil white supremacist ideology.

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Victims of Dylann Roof’s vile racist ideology (CNN)

When the media dissected the Dylann Roof case, they were sure to point out the obvious and salient link between his crime of killing 9 black people and his white supremacist and white nationalist ideologies. Every news outlet from the Washington Post to Salon talked about the crucial importance of racism as a motivating factor for the terroristic actions that Roof chose to take against his own fellow Americans. They did not absolve white supremacy or white nationalism of any guilt by pointing to evidence of any mental illness of Roof – and rightly so, because there are millions of mentally ill people in the US and across the world who don’t go out and shoot up black churches because of it. The man was a racist, a white nationalist, and a terrorist, and I’m one of many other Americans praying that he gets the death sentence I know he deserves.

Given that, I find it a little strange given the coverage after the events of last Saturday, where a Muslim American born to Afghan immigrants perpetrated the single worst mass shooting in our nation’s entire history, with gays as the intended target.

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Like Dylann Roof, Omar Mateen had an ideology directly linked to the actions he took and the targets he chose. His ideology, however, was a religious one. Mateen was a Sunni Muslim, a faith in which the penalty for homosexual acts is death as mandated in Sharia Law. This is currently enforced in 11 Muslim majority countries, and in others which do not enforce the death penalty, like Bangladesh, local Muslim groups often carry out killings themselves, such as when Xulhaz Mannan, the former editor of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was brutally hacked to death. Bangladesh, by the way, is by no means tolerant; homosexual acts are illegal in Bangladesh and punishable by up to life in prison.

Islam’s stance on gay rights is well known. The most important Sunni and Shi’a countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of which possess massive numbers of clergymen who devote their entire lives to religious matters, institute and advocate for the death penalty for homosexuality. An Iranian cleric speaking in an Orlando mosque near where the recent shooting just took place said so just this year, stating “Death is the sentence… there’s nothing to be embarrassed about”.

For any reasonable person, the direct link between the Islamic faith and its mandates and the actions that Omar Mateen took last Saturday should be eminently obvious.

Why is it, then, that nobody is blaming radical Islam?

After Dylann Roof’s terroristic rampage in which 9 innocent souls were brutally murdered in a place of worship, Obama condemned the ‘blight’ of racism – and rightly so. But after 49 were brutally shot down in a space designed to accommodate their identity, with over 100 killed or injured, making this the worst terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11 and the worst mass shooting in all of US history, Obama said nothing about Islamic terrorism. He did not even mention the words ‘Islamic terrorism’. Many news outlets are doing the same; the HuffPost was castigated by Breitbart after blaming everything but Islam, up to and including Ted Cruz, gun control, and and Pope Francis.

The double standard here is as clear as day. It is sickening and it is utterly unethical. Dylann Roof was a racist and a terrorist. I as a white person condemn Dylann Roof and the racist ideology that motivated him to murder innocents in Charleston. I am glad that our president blamed racism for the killing, and hope that his actions will have discredited his ideology so that it will fall into the graveyard of history books.

But the hypocrisy of the president and of western media outlets in refusing to condemn the link between Omar Mateen’s crimes and the religious ideology that motivated him to murder innocents in Orlando is beyond belief. There are no words to describe this incidence of insidious dishonesty and double standards. By not condemning the cause of these killings, we fail to move towards a solution. And we pave the ground for the deaths of more innocents as a consequence.