Saturday, February 28, 2015

Holscher's Hub: From the Magnolia

Holscher's Hub: From the Magnolia

Wintery view from one of Denver's really old hotels, the Magnolia.  

This one has a really small lobby, unusual for its era, but it does have a restaurant on a lower level.  Of course, I don't know what it was like originally.  It looks out on a building of roughly the same age. The old structure has somehow been made to accommodate a parking garage of some sort, pretty unique for an old hotel.

Lex Anteinternet: The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and the Fate of Iraqi Christians

As of today, the situation discussed here has gone from bad to worse.  ISIS, or ISIL, depending upon the term you use, has taken the city of Qaraqoush, which borders Kurdistan.  Indeed, ISIS really took it from Kurdish militia, which was defending it.

The extent of this disaster is vast.  The result means that a city not a town or a village, with a Christian population, is now on the roads, fearing for their lives.  And, to compound the disaster, the Yazidis, an ethnic minority whose religion is related to Zoroastrianism, is trapped on a mountain top without water.

The US is finally pondering intervention, but beyond this, it's finally the point in time at which those who have long held that Islam is a peaceful misunderstood religion to do something to show it.  ISIS claims to represent a Sunni vision of the world.  No doubt, it does not reflect the views of the majority of Sunnis, perhaps, but its claim to represent the hardcore tenants of Islam is not without support.  Without some regional effort on the part of Sunnis to contest it, they'll have claimed center position in this field without debate. It's easy to claim that they are "extremist", but it seems that extremist of similar mind abound in the region, with little to argue against their philosophy from those who hold the same basic foundational tenants.  If they do disagree, they need to now show it.



Tonight President Obama authorized airstrikes under certain conditions:

Today I authorize two operations in Iraq. Targeted air strikes to protect our American personnel and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death.

Let me explain the actions we are taking and why.

I said in June when the terrorist group ISIL began an advance across Iraq that the United States would be prepared to take targeted military action in Iraq if and when we determine the situation required.

In recent days these terrorists have continued to move across Iraq and have neared the city of Erbil where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces.

To stop the advance on Erbil I have directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city.

We intend to stay vigilant and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad.

We are also providing urgent assistance to the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces so they can more effectively wage the fight against ISIL.

At the request of the Iraqi government we began operations to help save Iraqi civilians stranded on the mountain.

As ISIL marches across it has waged a ruthless campaign against innocent Iraqis.

These terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities including Christians and Yezidis, a small and ancient religious sect.

Countless Iraqis have been displaced and showing reports describe ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions and enslaving Yezidi women.

In recent days Yezidi men, women are children from the area of Sinjar have fled for their lives in thousands, perhaps tens of thousands and are now hiding on a mountain with little but the clothes on their backs, and without food, without water, people are starving, children are dying of thirst.

Meanwhile ISIL forces below have called for a systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide.

So these innocent families are faced with a horrible choice. Descend the mountain and be slaughtered or slowly die of thirst and hunger.

I have said before that the United States cannot and should intervene every time there is a crisis in the world, so let me be clear about why we must act and act now. When we face a situation like we face on that mountain with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help, in this case with request from the Iraqi government and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States cannot turn a blind eye.

We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent an act of genocide.

Postscript II

Those following this story will be aware that the U.S. has engaged in some airstrikes now, and additionally it seems clear that some supplies have been recently provided to the Peshmerga (a collection of Kurdish forces, not one single entity).  Hopefully this is not all too little, too late.

 As a follow up comment, however, I can't help but note how the main part of this tragedy continues to be missed.  Much of the story has focused on the Yazdis, who are indeed presenting with a tragic plight. The tiny Kurdish speaking ethnic minority is in danger of being completely wiped out.

But, at the same time, the Christian Assyrian minority, a minority but a large one, which constitutes the original inhabitants of much of this territory, pre dating the Arab invasion of centuries ago, received comparatively little attention.  Why?  I suspect it's simply because we in the west are so familiar with Christianity that a story about Christians, huge tragedy though it may be, just doesn't seem worth covering.  Even when it involves an ethnic, and from our prospective, exotic, minority.


Postscript III

(Reuters) - Islamic State militants have killed at least 500 members of Iraq's Yazidi minority in northern Iraq, burying some of their victims alive and kidnapping hundreds of women, a Baghdad government minister said on Sunday.

If Islam is a religion of peace, as its apologist claim, or at least ff Sunnism has that attribute, this is sure the time for them to step up and prove it.

Where are the Saudis, upon whose territory Mecca is located?  Where are the Jordanians?  Has any significant  Sunni state done anything?  What about the Turks, a secular state that once ruled this region?

Protests that are meaningful so far have come largely from western countries, and from Shiia Iran, the latter of which has its own religious stake in this fight.

At some point, actions speak louder than words.  We do not seem to be seeing much, outside, admittedly, of Sunni Kurds, who also have a stake in this fight, but who are fighting.

Postscript IV

This is the Arabic letter "nun" which is the equivalent to the letter "n" in our lettering system.

The reason it appears here is that the ISIS has been painting it on buildings associated with Christians in northern Iraq, where it stands for "Nazarene", ie. a follower of Christ.

Shads of Nazi Germany and Kristallnacht at work there, with "N" substituting for the Nazi use of the Star of David to identify Jews in a like manner.


Postscript V

The Pershmerga, aided by the US, UK and France in various ways, has been recapturing the ground it recently lost to ISIS.  The use of US airpower, combined with the provisions of arms and ammunition, appears to have been turning the tide for the Kurds.


Postscript VI

This prayer, authored by Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Iraq, His Beatitude Louis Rafael Sako, has been appearing at least in Catholic circles this past week, providing a poignant plea for simply the ability to live in peace.


Postscript VII

ISIS murdered an American journalist in what it conceives of as a reprisal for US intervention in northern Iraq.

At this point, ISIS has clearly forfeited its only claim to legitimacy, that being that it's acting on behalf of the expansion of Islam.  No interpretation of Islam allows for simple murder of people merely because of their nationhood.  


Postscript VIII

Earlier this week Pope Francis noted that the use of arms to protect the lives of those under threat of violence in the fashion that Iraqi minorities are is legitimate.  This is a statement that is consistent with traditional Christian thought, but one which is rarely expressed as applicable to an ongoing situation.


Postscript  IX

ISIL has executed two American reporters in reprisals, with the executioner in the first example having a British accent, showing the penetration, I suppose, in some form of its views into Europe.

ISIL also executed five female fortune tellers this past week.

The United States is increasing its air activity, and it appears the UK will join in that. Germany has joined the fray through the supplying of a huge number of arms to the Kurds, the first independent direct supply without any supervision by Germany since World War Two.

On Wednesday the President shall address the nation on this topic.  An inevitable topic with be the expansion, or not, of the air effort into Syria, which by this point is regarded as nearly necessary.  Readers here will recall our warnings that Syria was a much more complicated nation than those who were earlier leading the cheers for fighting Assad would have had it.  Events seem to have born that out.

A really good article, btw, on ISIL is in the current issue of the New Republic, detailing what its goals are in terms of a restoration of a Caliphate, which it has in fact already declared.

Additionally, this topic has received some interesting commentary from Catholic clerics, not at the higher level, other than what Pope Francis is noted as having said above, but down at the Priest level.   This is interesting for a couple of reasons, one of which is that the commentary in some cases comes from people who are exceedingly well informed at the street level on one or more aspect of this.  One set of such comments comes from Father Dwight Longnecker, who was an Anglican Priest at one time, and who sees a connection between a rising level of assaults on women in the Islamic sphere and Islamic fundamentalism. He's not the first one by any means, and the connection is that at that level there's a fundamental separation of attitudes on western non Islamic women, who are regarded with contempt and free for the taking, and Islamic women, who are not attacked but whom, it might be noted, tend to be treated by chattel.

This is a complicated topic, and one such commentator, Egyptian born Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir makes the tie in, which has been made before (I first read the comment by a Canadian conservative commentator following 9/11) that a perception in  the Islamic world of absolute moral license in the western world fuels Islamic fundamentalism, but it's also been noted that part of the same fear is that the west features a goal of equality for women, which doesn't feature a chattel status, of course, and which also threatens any absolute male dominated society.


Postscript X

The President addressed the nation regarding ISIL tonight, with it being the case that the US, in concert with other nations, will continue its air operations in Iraq, expand them to Syria, and back the Kurdish and Iraqi forces in Iraq.  We will also apparently be backing the "moderate" rebels in Syria, rather than the Syrian government, with the thesis being that they will fill the vacuum created by efforts against ISIL rather than the Syrian government.

It was emphasized that this will be a protracted struggle to some extent, which is no doubt correct.   There will be no significant deployments of US ground forces (the deployment of some ground troops will be a necessity), with our efforts mostly in the form of air assets and other support.

While I don't fully agree with this approach (I think our ability to pick a "moderate" rebel group in Syria is doubtful at best and probably quite naive) this approach is consistent with President Obama's preference for the use of airborne weapons and the strategy, in so far as Iraq is considered, probably makes sense.


Postcript XI

Listening to the BBC yesterday, the full horror of ISIL begins to become more and more plain.  It turns out that more is now known of the fate of the Yazidis women who were taken prisoner by ISIL. They are now slaves, with their duties including cooking, cleaning, and being subject to assault.  You can fill in what that means.

Oddly, quite a few of them had cell phones and still do, so the word is getting out.  The reason is speculated to be that given as the Koran sanctions rendering non Islamic captive women the slaves to the desires of their males captors, they're entitled to have some rights.  In other words, that ISIL has returned to a practice that most would have thought part of the distant past, but which remains in the Koran, they're not ashamed of it in any fashion.

There's been a lot of debate here in the US on whether the war against ISIL requires "boots on the ground" with some noting that some Arab states have volunteered to provide those boots (just as Syria actually did when we fought Iraq in the 1990s).  Some have also noted that perhaps the arming of "moderate" Syrian rebel groups (a dicey proposition in my view) may somewhat serve this purpose.  In either event, this group is so hideous that at some time not acting becomes complicit in their crimes based upon establishing a totally male dominated, strictly Islamic, view of the world.

As if this story couldn't get any worse, by the way, there's evidence that it extends to Christian female captives as well, including minors.  And there's at lease some accounts of physical mutilation being performed by ISIL on the same female population.

This group, in its monstrous views, is as bad as the Nazis ever were.  We've sometimes criticized ourselves for not intervening in Europe before Germany declared war in the United States, and we've done that more recently in the case of the Rwandan genocide.  We are intervening here, but the question is will the intervention be quick enough, and complete enough.

Postscript XII

Airstrikes have commenced of ISIL targets in Syria.  Jordan and Saudi Arabia have contributed to the aircraft involved in the strikes.

Postscript XIII

Showing the full extent of their barbarity, ISIL burned to death a Jordanian pilot it had captured. No matter what a person's view of jihad may be, this is clearly beyond the pale for anyone and I'm quite certain that virtually no observant Moslems support an action such as this.  Indeed, it seems that recent events over the past few years in the Middle East are actually causing a departure in the region from the Islamic religion, as people do not wish to be associated with acts such as this in any form, or even the lesser acts of violence that some do in its name.  Apparently in some regions, while statistics are very hard to come by, the number of people abandoning Islam in the region is not insignificant.

This act already is causing a regional revulsion against ISIL by everyone.  And its resulted in an immediate reprisal, something that Middle Easter states apparently still consider a valid political act, while western nations, and most others, would have moved away from this sort of retaliatory violence many, many years ago.  Jordan, in reprisal, executed two Al Queda prisoners it held, including one woman, a move I don't think anyone saw coming and which no western nation would sanction.  The fact that they took such an act, as a regional power, almost surely suggests a likely move toward increased regional action against ISIL by states in the region.

In other news in the region, it appears the Kurds continue to regain the ground lost earlier to ISIL, although it is taking a long time.

Postscript XIV

And now it seems that ISIL has assaulted Christian towns in Syria, taking about 300 Christians hostage.  It's also turned its ire on objects of art, something the Taliban also did.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When people rode.

 Charleston, South Carolina, in 1909.  My grandfather, from St. Lambert Quebec, was living in Charleston at the time my grandmother wrote the lines below.

One of my cousins has been transcribing some of my grandparents old correspondence and sharing it with us, a real treat.  These date from the early part of 1917.

In some recent letters between them prior to their being married, this showed up, in correspondence from my grandmother to my grandfather:

I am glad you are beginning to get a little more settled in your position. I think it must be nice travelling through the mountains and then, if you get a horse, to go horse back riding on your tours, you will like it ever so much better. You will be getting to be a regular cow-boy.        

This noon, I received your further letter of the 17th, and do hope that matters will be so arranged so that you will not be overworked. Can you not get a horse and go horseback riding instead of all that walking? You certainly must have done an awful lot to have so strained yourself, after all the walking we have done together.
This morning, I almost got run over by a runaway horse. Anyhow, my guardian angel was looking after me, I guess. Just as I came along Laurier, near Hutchison, I went to cross the street, when a baker’s wagon came tearing around the corner of Hutchison to go up Laurier, when the wagon swerved around, caught in the track, and upset, throwing the driver on his head on the track. The horse then frightened, and started to run away. It seemed to be blind and ran straight into a chinaman’s shop, on the other side of the street. It just missed a grocery store with big plate glass windows. I think the driver was hurt alright.
I had a good laugh over your description of your horseback riding and the tendency the horse had for going to the dangerous spots.
I received your very interesting letter of the 3rd this morning. It certainly must have been lovely riding through those mountains. It is too bad you had to do so much from the beginning instead of going gradually. But then as you say, it is up to Mr. (?) otherwise it would be just lovely. I just love horseback riding and then through such beautiful country.
My grandfather was working in Charleston, South Carolina at the time, and my grandmother, his fiance, was living in Quebec. I've never thought of that grandfather as being somebody who rode, but based on the letter, and my grandmother's causal reference to it, I suspect that my thought on that was wrong.