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France is on the Edge

By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history

About a week after the deadly attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish Kosher grocery/deli in Paris, many world leaders arrived in France to show their support for a grief-stricken nation. Among them was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Bibi” told members of the city’s Jewish community that the doors of Israel are open for them and it was time “to come home.” Said one commentator: “A France without Jews would be unthinkable.”

It almost happened during the Nazi Occupation of France during World War II. Had the Allies not liberated France in the summer of 1944 and the war dragged on, there is no question that France may have been Judenfrei, like Poland. However, after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, several hundred thousand Jews from Arab countries arrived in France, following in the footsteps of the Jews who first arrived in Marseilles (Massilia in the ancient world) around 500 B.C.

Despite their success in nearly every field of human endeavor, France’s Jewish population is frightened. Anti-Semitism has been rising in France faster than any other European country.  Two years ago, a rabbi and his children were gunned down in the south of France. The desecration of Jewish cemeteries and the walls of Jewish institutions is an everyday occurrence, and swastikas are routinely painted on temples, despite the presence of police guards. The Jews of France are living in a permanent state of angst.

Anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli sentiment runs deep in France’s Muslim community and it appears that the younger generation, often living in what we in the States call “projects,” are the most infected. Most are native-born, French citizens, as was the case with the three terrorists in the January attacks. Raised on an endless diet of anti-Zionism in the Arab media and on the web, Jew-hatred is part of their worldview. Their sympathies lie with the Palestinians and more broadly with anti-Western views. Yesterday, they supported Arafat; today, Isis and al-Qaeda, whose views on the Jews (“dogs”) are well known. Attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions are a way to express their radicalism, what specialists on this topic call “soft targets.”

Some of these views are shared by the hard right, the National Front, founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen and today led by 46-year-old Marine Le Pen. She has distanced herself from the older Le Pen, who denies the Holocaust, dismissing it as a myth created by the Zionists whose aim is to control world events. After the attacks in Paris, Jean-Marie Le Pen offered his read on the attack on the magazine and the Jewish deli: the terrorists were hired by Washington and Tel-Aviv, an allegation heard after 9/11.

While the Jews feel unsafe, the Muslims are just as fearful and have more to fear as a backlash of Islamophobia is sweeping France, Belgium, and Germany. This, in turn, will most certainly cause the coalescence of Muslim communities, which in turn may push back with cries of racism which is extant in France, despite the denials. Street protests will be common, calling for more protection.  After all, if the government is protecting the Jews, why not the Muslims? But for others, the solution to their problems is more domestic terrorism, and both the government and the Jews rightfully fear they will be the targets.

It is unlikely that many Jews will heed “Bibi’s” call, and while the rising tide of Islamophobia may cause some Muslims to pack up and leave, it will barely make a dent in the number of Muslims who live in France, about 10 percent of the population.

But there’s no question that France is on the edge, and as much as France without Jews is unthinkable, France without Muslims in the contemporary world is equally unthinkable.

Terrorist Attacks Put “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” to the Test

By Sander A. Diamond, professor of history

It was Paris where the Revolution of 1789 unfolded, giving the world the phrase “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.” The recent sad events in Paris—when radical Muslim terrorists slaughtered 12 people in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine, and a lone gunman shot four customers to death in a Jewish grocery—are putting this to the test.

Many people in European Union (EU) countries have concluded that Islam is an inherently violent religion and are pointing their fingers not only at the Middle East but also to the growing Muslim populations in their midst. France’s Muslim population is close to 6 million and growing.  In Germany, it is 4 million out of a total of 82 million, and 5 percent of the population in the Netherlands is Muslim.

Anti-Islamic sentiment, or Islamophobia, is on the rise along with anti-immigration sentiment. In France the leading anti-immigration party is the National Front, led by 46-year-old Marine Le Pen, whose followers stir the pot of Islamophobia. In Holland it is led by Geert Wilders, a member of Parliament since 1998 and whose documentary Fitna highlighted the spread of Islam in Holland. And in Germany, a new movement yet to become a political party, Pediga (an acronym for (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident), is led by Lutz Bachmann. It is located in Dresden, and given Germany’s history, images of flag-waving Germans chanting “Wir sind das Volk” (“We are the People”) is troublesome for many Germans and those outside the Federal Republic.

All religions have their extremists. The average Muslim in Europe goes about his business quietly each day— vendors, store owners, and members of the high civil service. In fact, the policeman who was shot in Paris was a Muslim. On the other hand, it appears that the alienated Muslim youth are increasingly becoming radicalized and eschew Western values. Some become Jihadists. Their aims are well known: wreak havoc on civil society by any means. Terrorism is war on the cheap.

Restrictive immigration, with set caps on nation of origin, are already in place in some countries and will spread to others. Security services will spend billions tracking terrorists working hand-in-glove with the USA and the UK and there will be NSA-style monitoring of all Muslims, especially the Imams in the mosques that dot the landscape.

And then there are the fears of the Jewish communities in France, Belgium and Holland. Anti-Jewish hostility and attacks on Jews were born out of the seemingly endless rift between the Israelis and Palestinians. Today, it is rooted in old-fashioned Jew hatred. The mere trickle of Jews leaving France for the Jewish state—7,000 last year—will grow. French Jews are so fearful they are not wearing the symbol of the faith, the skullcap, in public and keeping their children out of school. When Israel’s prime minister spoke in the Great Synagogue in Paris, he invited all Jews to “come home.” However, Germany’s 265,000-strong Jewish community does not appear to be moving anytime soon. And in the post-Holocaust world, no one should expect the huge Muslim populations to be put on trains and sent home. Millions are nationals in their own lands, born inside the EU.

Greater efforts have to be made to meld Muslims into the broader community, what Germany’s Chancellor Merkel calls “The Middle Road.” It may take many generations to accomplish this.  At the end of the day, the French will not permit Muslim extremists to shatter the land that gave the world “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.” When a million or more people chanted “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) it spoke volumes. It had a better ring to it than the xenophobic “Wir sind das Volk” across the border

If the situation in the traditional homelands of Muslims starts to stabilize, some will leave. But millions will stay and hopefully, with time, diversity will win out over xenophobia.

ISIS Blitzkrieg Mirrors Path, Tactics of Past Conquerors


By Dr. Sander Diamond, professor of history

The first seedlings of civilization started to take root along the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates rivers—the Fertile Crescent— roughly 5,000 years ago in what is today called the Middle East.

People did not venture too far into the arid wastelands just a few miles from the rivers for reasons other than trade, carried on by long lines of caravans along established routes where tribes carefully guarded the waterholes, a story best told in the epic film Lawrence of Arabia.  For the locals, water was, and is, more precious than the oil below the ground as the leaders of ISIS well know. It is no coincidence that the ISIS blitzkrieg has been along the fabled Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. ISIS tried to capture a reservoir in northern Iraq and one suspects if it tries to take control of Baghdad, it may cut-off the water supply as the Barbarians did when they finally took old Rome in the 5th century.

The two rivers have their origins in the mountains of Turkey and flow to the Persian Gulf. In the ancient cosmology of the region, there was a family feud among the Gods, and from the tears of the Mother Goddess the two rivers flowed. Sadly, the tears of the Mother Goddess continue to flow as a result of the savagery of ISIS, which aspires to create a Sunni caliphate not only in the Fertile Crescent but farther south as well.

ISIS is the latest conqueror to covet this region, which for thousands of years has been geopolitically important, the conduit between the East and the West, which today includes Eastern Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and smaller states connected to Saudi Arabia. To understand this region, one must be mindful of its long history, each civilization establishing itself as a layer on top of another: the Sumerians, Hittites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Parthians, Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Muslim conquest after 636 CE, the Babylonians again, Byzantines, and the Ottoman Turks, who controlled most of the region until it was dismembered after World War I, creating the states of the Middle East today. Prior to the Great War of 1914-1918, the Germans hoped to control the Middle East and connect Berlin to Baghdad by rail. In the 1920s the French and the British arrived and in the Cold War, the Russians and the Americans jockeyed for control.

It would be difficult, but hardly impossible, to list the number of armies that have moved through this region. Until the 20th century they came on camels, horses, and donkeys followed by foot soldiers. For thousands of years they followed the same path, hugging the waterways, looting, slaughtering, and raping along the way, often driving the inhabitants to seek refuge in the arid wastelands just as hundreds of thousands have to avoid the wrath of ISIS. Today, ISIS moves in vehicles stolen from the Syrians and what they seized from the Iraqis: American-made equipment, tanks, and heavy vehicles. The foot soldiers no longer walk but ride in Japanese-made small trucks with heavy machine guns mounted behind the cabs, black flags flying, the latest incarnation of a terrorist movement on the move.

The United States and its partners hope to stop the ISIS blitzkrieg using airpower in conjunction with local militias on the ground and a reformed Iraqi army. Many ISIS military commanders are well-trained officers who once served Saddam Hussein. They know the terrain and when threatened from the air, simply melt into the local populations or fade into the arid wastelands.  They present a formidable foe, highly disciplined, willing to die and dedicated to the recreation of the Sunni caliphate. The ISIS assault on Iraq can be temporarily stopped but not arrested. In the annals of modern warfare, no highly organized army has been defeated using airpower alone as the staggering amount of explosives dropped on Germany in the last world war, on Vietnam, and more recently on Saddam reveals.

ISIS will only be defeated when confronted by an army on the ground working in tandem with airpower. For the moment, neither the United States nor the major regional powers in the Middle East have any intention of fielding land armies, the proverbial “boots on the ground.”  But in time they will and one suspects the colors the soldiers will be wearing will not be that of the United States, the NATO powers, or Washington’s current allies in the region. Once ISIS consolidates its hold on Iraq, Iran will move to destroy it. Sh’ia controlled Iran will never permit the rise of a Sunni caliphate next door and the expected mass slaughter of Iraq’s Sh’ia population.  One also suspects that behind the scenes, talks between Washington and Tehran are already under way.

Epic-making Change without Conflict

By Professor of History Dr. Sander Diamond

Epic-making change rarely comes without conflict. Such was not the case 25 years ago this month when the Berlin Wall opened.

Some people approached 1989 with consternation, subscribing to the vision held out by George Orwell in his bestseller, 1984. In truth, what happened Nov. 9, 1989, set in motion a train of events that would have caught Orwell short. It is a day when nearly all of the legacies of the 20th century began to dissolve, literally overnight, and without conflict.

On that fateful day, one may say that the Cold War ended, the German Question was put to rest with the reunification of the two Germanys the following October and the re-establishment of a long-divided Berlin as its capital, the retreat of the Red Army from Central and Eastern Europe, the creation of democratic nations in place of communist ones, the unimaginable collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 and soon its dismemberment into independent states, and China, drawing lessons from the fate of the USSR, emerging into an economic giant leaving its communist political leadership intact. Just as the outbreak of World War I marked the end of an age, so did the opening of the Berlin Wall.

The history of the Berlin Wall began in 1945 when a defeated Germany was divided into Four Zones of Occupation: one each to the British, French, Americans, and Russians. In 1949, the French, British, and American zones were collapsed into the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). In turn, the Russians created the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Berlin was also divided into four zones and on Aug. 13, 1961, Berliners awakened to find a wall of separation being built and soon it divided the city in two, a small version of the Iron Curtain. Escape was nearly impossible from the Eastern sector. The western occupiers protested; there was talk of war, but soon the Berlin Wall became a fact of life.

However, in the mid-1980s, internal changes in Moscow—with the advent of Mikhail Gorbachev and his policy of Glasnost— set into motion an unexpected tidal wave of changes helped along by the election of a Polish-born Pope and Ronald Reagan’s more aggressive foreign policy. In the late 1980s, the winds of change swept into the shipyards of Gdansk, the former city of Danzig, Hitler’s casus belli for war in 1939; into Budapest; and in 1989, the Lutheran churches of East Germany. In short order, the Houses that Stalin Built in the wake of World War II started to waver on their foundations and the GDR fell off its pedestal. With the Old Guard gone, the GDR’s guards stepped aside as people with pick axes chipped away at the hated wall Nov. 9.

The end of the Berlin Wall opened the path to rebuild a divided nation. Today, Germany is an economic giant and Berlin is again a world-class city with its museums, theaters, off-beat sections, and rebuilt Parliament— the old Reichstag with its glass dome as a symbol of its new transparency.Rarely has a transition from one period to another gone so smoothly.

Only a small section of the Berlin Wall still stands, a tourist attraction, while a bronze line in the pavement reveals where the entire wall stood.

Nearby this last piece of the wall are the former Luftwaffe  headquarters; the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of the Prussians who unified Germany in 1870; the newly built Memorial to the Six Million Murdered Jews of Europe; a memorial to those killed trying to flee East Germany; and below the surface, the Fȕhrerbunker, where Hitler committed suicide.

While unity permitted Germany to move on, it will never escape its past.

ISIS: From a Protector of Children to Most Feared in the Middle East

By Sander A. Diamond, professor of history

In the Cradle of Civilization, which most remember as the Fertile Crescent, the pantheon of the gods was filled with protectors of the living and the dead. One was the goddess ISIS, who emerged in the Nile Delta and was later found in Greco-Roman civilization. ISIS had many roles; for some the protector of the dead, for others the protector of the downtrodden and children. Today, these gods are long forgotten, sometimes resurrected in college classes on religion or the origins of civilization. However,  ISIS is all over the news and it has nothing to do with her or images of her that can still be seen on Egyptian tomb paintings along the fabled Nile River.

ISIS is associated with terror in modern-day Syria and Iraq. It is a violent and extreme Fundamentalist Sunni Muslim military group, an off-shoot of al-Qaeda that not only wants to erase the borders of Syria and Iraq but also create a transnational caliphate (Islamic state) based on the most strident interpretation of Sunni Islam. In its full name and not the abbreviation, we can understand its intentions and grasp its ultimate goal:  I (Islamic) S (State) of I (Iraq) and S (al-Sham-Syria). Its black-clad cadres carry black flags and conjure up images of the SS on the move. In a well-planned and well-coordinated blitzkrieg assault, ISIS seized much of central and eastern Syria and is now moving through Iraq, its aim to isolate Baghdad and seize the south. It now controls the border crossings with Jordan and Saudi Arabia and many fear these nations are its next targets in keeping with its dream of a Sunni caliphate. It has seized banks, oil facilities, and weapons left behind by the USA for use by the now nearly defunct Iraqi army, including six Blackhawk helicopters and missiles. Overnight, ISIS has replaced Iran as the most feared threat in a region not known for stability.

If ISIS takes Baghdad and manages to consolidate its control over Iraq, the Middle East, as the world has known it for decades, may become a thing of the past. ISIS will have realized bin Laden’s ultimate goal: a major nation of his own to export terrorism and stand at the heart of a revived Sunni caliphate.

However frightening and dismal the situation appears, ISIS may have overreached itself; taking territory is one thing, holding on to it quite another. The Kurds are strong enough to repel an invasion and the Shi’a militias are battle-hardened after years of fighting the Americans. If the militias, working with the rump Iraqi army, arrest the ISIS assault and push them back, Obama may arm the Shi’a militias, our old foe. As a force on the move, ISIS is far from its home base in northern Syria and must loot what it needs to continue.

But ISIS is a very tough opponent; one has to be struck by the speed of its Blitzkrieg assault, picking up countless recruits and armaments along the way. We should be prepared for years of continued chaos filled with extreme brutality in Iraq. The mass murder of 1,700 Iraqi soldiers by the ISIS is a harbinger of what both sides will do to each other.

The United States has no intention of getting involved in a Third Iraqi War. However, if ISIS moves into Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the geopolitical situation in the Middle East will topple and the door will be opened to an assault on Israel, Lebanon, and perhaps Egypt. If our traditional friends and allies are placed in harm’s way, Washington will have to act using the full resources of the United States. A Sunni Muslim caliphate led by terrorist butchers is as unthinkable as the Germanization of Europe was in 1914 and 1939.