Paris Bombings, Public Response, and the New Tribalism

CTyf4XOWUAA3a4JEvil is very real and as we know from the Paris mayhem, universal. ISIS, of course, is its mirror image.

This week, Kurdish Peshmerga troops, retaking the city of Sinjar in northern Iraq, discovered two mass graves just outside the city. One contained the bodies of 78 elderly women shot by ISIS; the other, some 60 men, women and children, presumably Yazidis, executed when ISIS captured the city a year ago.

These past several weeks have, in fact, marked a turn in ISIS strategy, since the free flow of recruits has nose-dived with the tightening of borders adjacent to Syria and Iraq and the entrance of Russia into the Syria conflict.

Accordingly, what’s transpired in France may only be the opening round as ISIS licks its wounds.

In the West, we are rightfully angry and troubled by the Parisian carnage. In Facebook, many of us have changed our profile images to include the French flag or Eiffel Tower to show our solidarity.

Contrast this with our visceral indifference with its ethnocentric moorings to ISIS’s barbarism on Muslims or those we perceive as political adversaries. In fact, Muslims have been its greatest victims.

A Russian commercial jet recently went down in the Sinai, taking 224 lives. Intelligence sources suggest a bomb had been placed aboard and ISIS, as with the Parisian violence, claimed they were behind it.

In Lebanon just one evening removed from the Paris massacre, a Hezbollah neighborhood was bombed, resulting in 43 deaths. Again, ISIS was the perpetrator.

In October, 99 lives were taken in twin bombings in Ankara, Turkey.  Although ISIS hasn’t claimed responsibility, they are believed responsible.

Meanwhile, media are saturated with coverage of the Paris horror, as they should be; yet by the same token, the coverage given to the aforementioned violent episodes have proven miniscule.

I’ve seen this same scenario repeated in natural calamities as well. Recently, earthquakes occurred in Pakistan and Iran. Coverage? Well. There’s always Google.

The Russians we don’t care much about these days, so our interest in the Sinai crash seems more out of curiosity as to its cause and not from compassion.

Last week’s bombings in Beirut: So what? These were Muslims, weren’t they? And I should add, Hezbollah. Israel knows their terrorism first hand, so they get what they deserve. Problem is, the casualties were civilian, many of them women and children.

Turkey? Isn’t that something we’ll be eating soon? Ankara? For many Americans, where the hell is that? For the record, it has a population of nearly 5 million! That’s twice the population of Paris!

Think about this: The greatest humanitarian crisis of our time is that of 4 million Syrian refugees, along with another 8 million dislocated Syrians within their country. Our response: bickering as to whether we should take in 30,000 or 65,000, or any at all as some of the GOP presidential candidates have suggested.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post informs us that American contributions to international causes has declined over the last two years.

I think of Shakespeare’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, who nails down the cruelty of indifference to the sufferings of those we see as different from ourselves, taking the liberty to replace Jew with Muslim:

I am a Muslim. Hath not a Muslim eyes? Hath not a Muslim hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?

Let’s call our indifference, or xenophobia, what it really is–a return to the tribalism we thought we Westerners had shed long ago.







American Sniper: Anatomy of a Mauling


There’s been heavy flak, to say the least, over Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster film, American Sniper.

It started with film director Michael Moore’s take on snipers as “cowards” who shoot people in the back.”

Others soon piled on, like Seth Rogen, who compared the film to Nazi propaganda.

Outspoken Bill Maher went further, condemning real life Chris Kyle, on whom the movie is based, as a psychopathic killer.

Returning blows, Kid Rock hoped Michael Moore would “catch a fist to the mouth soon.”

Surprisingly, Jane Fonda tweeted her appreciation of the film: “Bradley Cooper sensational. Bravo Clint Eastwood.”

Nominated for six academy awards, including Best Movie, the controversy hasn’t gone away and, in all probability, precludes any Oscar possibility.

Anyway, I knew I had to see the film after both my dental hygienist and neighbor, first thing out of their mouths, asked if I’d seen it.

So I dutifully went the very next day to a matinee showing, surprised by the large audience on a weekday.

I was on the edge of my seat throughout, gripped by the film’s graphic, nearly non-stop violence spurting from nearly every Sadr City window, rooftop, or corner.

Not since Platoon had I seen a you-are-there war movie like this, replete with in your face carnage inflicted by a relentless, hidden foe relying on ambush.

Retired marine sniper Jeff Crenshaw says “It’s the most realistic thing I’ve seen since the battlefield.  It shows the true nature of war and how awful it is and the toll it takes on a human being.”

Like Vietnam, not knowing who your foe is, possibly even a mother or child, you had to watch your back, and that’s where Kyle comes in, portrayed as protector, not assassin.

My take is that the film’s been misunderstood by its critics, even deliberately maligned by those with political agendas oriented to the Left. They hated the Iraqi war, thought it a ruse for oil interests. Nourishing grudges, they will neither forget nor forgive.

I found American Sniper neither a glorification of war nor right wing propaganda.

Neither a “Republican movie” nor a film appealing to innately angry audiences of Tea Party stripe.

In fact, it sidesteps politics altogether.

Even the Mahdhi insurgents are shown to be ferocious in defending what they regard as their turf against the invading American forces, superbly equipped with the latest weaponry and technology.

Hardly a psychopathic killer, Kyle is always shown as an interventionist, honing in on his target in the nick-of-time to safeguard his fellow soldiers at risk of a hurled grenade or a shot from a window.

At times he waits hard and long, reluctant to shoot a child who may be carrying an incendiary device towards unsuspecting American troops.

In another scene, he prays that a child struggling with a rocket grenade launcher will drop the weapon. He’s not in Iraq to kill children. Fortunately, the child drops the weapon.

Iraq is a place where you’d best never drop  your guard, since it’s not clear who’s enemy, as we see when Chris and other soldiers get invited to a civilian’s home, which turns out to be a setup for ambush.

Kyle ultimately breaks down, telling his wife he wants to come home, clearly having his fill of war; in fact, four tours.

Clint Eastwood has defended his movie, echoed by Gary Sinise, saying that the movie is really about what happens to our soldiers on their return home, themselves victims of war.

Married and father of two children, he may be physically present, but mentally he’s absent as his troubled wife tells him.

He endures a nagging guilt he needs to be there to protect them.

Implying Kyle was a coward is simply way over the top.

As for Maher, who quotes Kyle’s autobiography in which he denounces his foes as “barbarians” and expresses pleasure in killing them, this is umbrage born of ignorance, not surprising in people who’ve never served a day in uniform or participated in combat, nor seen their fellows blown apart, tortured or shot at.

But let’s leave the verbal broadsides of the critics aside.

The film isn’t really about Kyle.

It’s about the American soldier, or all soldiers for that matter.

Unfortunately, the critics have been engaged in killing off the messenger in failing to distinguish between statement and meaning, which is what artistic irony entails.

Literalists, they can’t fathom ambiguity.

In one scene, the at home veteran nearly kills the family’s pet fog, conflating its play with his young son as aggression.

Kyle clearly isn’t a well man.

The bottom line is that he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which includes all its pervasive symptoms:



Anger and irritability.



Difficulty in relationships

Inability to focus.

I’ve just come off reading Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, her masterful biography of WWII hero Louis Zamperini, who survived 48 days at sea in a rubber raft, only to land in the Japanese occupied Marshall Islands, then subsequently transported to Japan, where he endured near starvation and daily beatings at the hands of a sadistic camp commandant for two years.

Returning home at war’s end, Zamperini’s travail continued with nightmares in which his tormentor appeared, along with alcohol dependency, alienation from his wife and friends, a hatred for his captors, and a determined resolve to return to Japan and kill the man singularly responsible for heinous crimes afflicted on himself and fellow POWs.

In short, Zamperini suffered the classic symptoms of PTSD.

So what if Kyle wrote of his loathing of the enemy, Maher?

This is what inevitably happens whenever critics like Maher launch personal attacks, shallowly judging by symptoms and not rooting out causes, or lifting behavior from context.

Truth is, war often strips us of our humanity.

We say and do things alien to the better angels of ourselves.

PTSD is a wounding of the mind and spirit every bit as real as any physical wound.

Hardly simplistic, I found American Sniper a tell-it-like-it-is movie, replete with ambiguity of the kind integral to tensions formulated whenever humane values conflict with the killing mores of the battlefield.

I salute first lady Michelle Obama, speaking recently before a veteran’s group, who accurately appraised the film as “complex, emotional, and a realistic depiction of a veteran and his family.”

While I know there have been critics, I felt that, more often than not, this film touches on many of the emotions and experiences that I’ve heard firsthand from military families over these past few years.  This movie reflects . . . the complex journeys that our men and women in uniform endure.

That resonates for me, a veteran.

What’s more, it speaks for millions of audience goers as well, from every demographic: red state and blue, gender, race, and ethnicity.




































Chemical Attack in Syria: Obama Looks the Other Way

SyriaThe videos from Syria are horrific and unprecedented, with row upon row of corpses, many of them children, in what now seems to indicate some kind of chemical agent, perhaps nerve gas, judging by the symptoms, also captured on camera, of the last gasps and spasms of the dying.  Presumably the attack was launched under the auspices of the Assad regime, since it’s well known they possess a huge stockpile of chemical weapons.  It maintains, however, that rebels are simply staging a scenario for Western consumption to provoke intervention.

But this isn’t the way Britain and France see it, the latter calling for possible force if there is verification.  Even, and this is a shocker, Vladimir Putin has called on the Syrian government to allow UN inspectors, already in the country and just twenty minutes away, to visit the scene, though Russia assumes the whole thing is a rebel ruse.  I don’t think for a minute Assad will allow such a thing, though logic would seem to compel it, if what’s happened is simply a rebel scheme.

It’s conceivable Hezbollah or non-government loyalists could have launched an attack like this using make-shift rockets, which they’ve done before, employing tear gas or industrial toxins fired into a confined space.  Bad as the videos are, we don’t see defecation, vomiting and tremors that usually go along with chemical agents.

Because we can’t pin down, at least for now, what precisely happened, we need to refrain from a rush to judgment.  In America we’ve seen enough of war, of thousands of our children killed and maimed, our treasury depleted, and those we’ve fought to liberate us not liking us one bit more.  We got rid of Saddam, Iran’s nemesis, and stoked  its friendship with largely Shiite Iraq.

If this turns out to have been a genuine chemical attack, then such barbarism should meet with a strong response.  It doesn’t require boots on the ground.  No one wants that.  Nor does it mean a no fly zone.   Cruise missiles fired off shore can take out the missile depots.  Give the beleaguered rebels the weaponry they need so that the Assad regime pays a lingering price and this never occurs again.  Include anti-tank missiles as well.

The truth is that the Obama administration has dilly-dallied too long, allowing extremist forces to enter the fray, al Quaeda fighting with the rebels; Hezbollah, for Assad.  Now the war’s momentum, taking a very dangerous turn, increasingly resembles the imbroglio of Sunni vs Shiite, or what we see in Iraq, spinning out of control.

Like an ugly cancer, it threatens to metastasize, drawing in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, where 42 died in a Tripoli bomb blast today.  Iran, meanwhile has been sending in fighters.

The toll on civilians is immense:  100,000 dead;  two million refugees, one million of them children divested of a future.

Meanwhile, our government is clearly confused, self-contradictory, and plainly ineffectual.

Obama told us a year ago, August 20, 2012, that chemical weapons would be a “red line” and “a game-changer.”  Shortly after, he concluded that they had been used and pledged arms.  No weapons have arrived.  Nothing changed.

If we discover that chemical weapons were indeed deployed on this occasion, and substantially, will it make any difference this time?  Don’t bet on it.  Politicians often say things they don’t really mean, and that’s why we’re wise not to believe them when they do.

Ironic for a nation that owes its own liberation from the intervention of the French two centuries ago.


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