The GOP Stampede Toward Fascism After the Paris Attacks

Excerpt from: The Nation

We are witnessing one of the most morally calamitous reactions to a refugee crisis in the country’s history.
By Sasha Abramsky NOVEMBER 20, 2015

I have spent the past week shuddering at the vast depths of nihilism that ISIS represents—at a movement that takes joy in killing innocents, be they Russian holidaymakers over Egypt; shoppers and businesspeople in Beirut; diners, sports fans and concertgoers in Paris; or Norwegian and Chinese hostages.
I have, too, spent much of the past couple of years shuddering at the horrors unleashed within ISIS’s self-styled caliphate as well. For no matter how grisly the events in Paris, far more Syrians and Iraqis have died at the hands of ISIS than have any other nationality.

The victims of ISIS (as well as the broader war in Syria) have been fleeing in unprecedented numbers—fleeing to Lebanon, to Turkey, taking deadly boat journeys across the Mediterranean, walking across countries, across continents—seeking safety and sanctuary. Many have died on this journey, including young children drowned at sea. Many more, inevitably, will die on this journey. It is a spectacle of misery extraordinary in its scale, and in its moral urgency.

And yet, after November 13, countries across Europe have begun shutting out these refugees, and in the United States we are witnessing one of the most morally calamitous reactions to a refugee crisis in the country’s history.

Over the past several days, one Republican governor after another has closed his state to refugees from Syria—or, since they technically do not have the legal power to prevent the federal government from admitting refugees, has pledged to refuse all state resources to aid in this process.  A Democratic mayor in Virginia has called for using the World War II internment system that was used against Japanese Americans – one of the most widely discredited and shameful episodes in recent American historyas a model for how to approach the Syrians.

Some Texas Republicans have argued that they should not take in Syrian refugees because they already are dealing with undocumented immigrants from Mexico—and that they can’t take in Syrian refugees because it would be too easy for them to buy guns (that may be true… but, as we’ve seen so often in recent years, it’s equally easy for angry young white Christian men to purchase guns and go on mass-shooting sprees, and yet Texas hasn’t closed its borders to that demographic, nor have its political leaders made any effort to enforce sensible gun-control policies).

Jeb Bush has said we ought to prioritize refugee status for Christians. John Kasich has called for a government agency that would beam “Judeo-Christian values” over Middle Eastern airwaves. In Congress, the GOP-led House, with a shockingly large number of Democrats in support, just voted on a bill that would make it virtually impossible, in practice, to admit Syrian refugees into the country.

And Donald Trump has used the crime against humanity that occurred last week in Paris as a prop in his vicious campaign of demagoguery: Because of Paris, he has said, we must get serious about building a wall to close off Mexico. Because of Paris, we must put security first above all civil liberties. Because of Paris, we must start up again the few post-9/11 surveillance programs that were curtailed by courts and politicians because of their abusive properties, and must maintain and expand a raft of others. A surveillance state briefly put in the dock by Edward Snowden will, in this vision, be fully unleashed and unchecked. And because of Paris, we ought to consider registering American Muslims in a special database.
There is an odor of early fascism, or rather of the hysteria that precedes the march away from democracy, to much of this Trumpian rhetoric. An odor of the street fight. An odor of the iron fist.

It is an acrid smell, a mid-century aroma tinted with totalitarianism and historical ignorance. No society can protect its open, pluralistic politics by thoughtlessly clamping down on civil liberties.No country can seriously sustain its claim to being a beacon for human liberty if its most demagogic forces are unleashed against vulnerable, hungry, scared, and desperate refugees.

In my mind’s eye, I see the young child drowned in the Mediterranean, the photographs of whom, just a few weeks back, captured the world’s attention and, quite rightly, tugged at our collective heartstrings. I see the families who get off airplanes after odysseys of thousands of miles, pick up their worldly belongings—usually just two or three suitcases—and, with the help of organizations such as the International Rescue Committee, are given a chance to start lives anew, welcomed into communities around the country.

I see all of our better instincts at work in helping these men, women, and children start afresh. And now, competing with these images, I see something uglier being unleashed. I see powerful figures such as Trump beating up on helpless refugee children. I see a stampede on the right to exploit a catastrophe, to exploit the war crimes of madmen, for partisan political gain.

It is, quite simply, shameful. To block access to America for refugees—in particular refugee children—fleeing the barbarism of the Syrian war is as unsavory as was the turning back of ships filled with desperate Jews in the period leading up to the Second World War.

There’s a certain famous statue in New York Harbor, with a certain famous phrase etched into its base. Everyone knows those lines. They urge the world to “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” They offer, in America, succor to “the homeless, tempest-tost” of the world. They are good, solid, morally righteous lines. They should be read sometime by those who now use their public platforms to beat up on desperate people in these most tempest-tossed of times.
SASHA ABRAMSKY, who writes regularly for The Nation, is the author of several books, including Inside Obama’s Brain, Breadline USA, American Furies and The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives. His latest book, The House of 20,000 Books, was published by New York Review Books in September.


Who Turned My Blue State Red? Why Poor Areas Vote For Politicians Who Want To Slash The Safety Net.

Excerpt from: ProPublica

by Alec MacGillis
ProPublica, Nov. 20, 2015
This story was co-published with The New York Times’ Sunday Review.

It is one of the central political puzzles of our time: Parts of the country that depend on the safety-net programs supported by Democrats are increasingly voting for Republicans who favor shredding that net.

In his successful bid for the Senate in 2010, the libertarian Rand Paul railed against “intergenerational welfare” and said that “the culture of dependency on government destroys people’s spirits,” yet racked up winning margins in eastern Kentucky, a former Democratic stronghold that is heavily dependent on public benefits. Last year, Paul R. LePage, the fiercely anti-welfare Republican governor of Maine, was re-elected despite a highly erratic first term — with strong support in struggling towns where many rely on public assistance. And earlier this month, Kentucky elected as governor a conservative Republican who had vowed to largely undo the Medicaid expansion that had given the state the country’s largest decrease in the uninsured under Obamacare, with roughly one in 10 residents gaining coverage.

It’s enough to give Democrats the willies as they contemplate a map where the red keeps seeping outward, confining them to ever narrower redoubts of blue. The temptation for coastal liberals is to shake their heads over those godforsaken white-working-class provincials who are voting against their own interests.

But this reaction misses the complexity of the political dynamic that’s taken hold in these parts of the country. It misdiagnoses the Democratic Party’s growing conundrum with working-class white voters. And it also keeps us from fully grasping what’s going on in communities where conditions have deteriorated to the point where researchers have detected alarming trends in their mortality rates.

In eastern Kentucky and other former Democratic bastions that have swung Republican in the past several decades, the people who most rely on the safety-net programs secured by Democrats are, by and large, not voting against their own interests by electing Republicans. Rather, they are not voting, period. They have, as voting data, surveys and my own reporting suggest, become profoundly disconnected from the political process.

The people in these communities who are voting Republican in larger proportions are those who are a notch or two up the economic ladder — the sheriff’s deputy, the teacher, the highway worker, the motel clerk, the gas station owner and the coal miner. And their growing allegiance to the Republicans is, in part, a reaction against what they perceive, among those below them on the economic ladder, as a growing dependency on the safety net, the most visible manifestation of downward mobility in their declining towns.

These are voters like Pamela Dougherty, a 43-year-old nurse I encountered at a restaurant across from a Walmart in Marshalltown, Iowa, where she’d come to hear Rick Santorum, the conservative former Pennsylvania senator with a working-class pitch, just before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. In a lengthy conversation, Dougherty talked candidly about how she had benefited from government support. After having her first child as a teenager, marrying young and divorcing, Dougherty had faced bleak prospects. But she had gotten safety-net support — most crucially, taxpayer-funded tuition breaks to attend community college, where she’d earned her nursing degree.

She landed a steady job at a nearby dialysis center and remarried. But this didn’t make her a lasting supporter of safety-net programs like those that helped her. Instead, Dougherty had become a staunch opponent of them. She was reacting, she said, against the sense of entitlement she saw on display at the dialysis center. The federal government has for years covered kidney dialysis treatment in outpatient centers through Medicare, regardless of patients’ age, partly on the logic that treatment allows people with kidney disease to remain productive. But, Dougherty said, only a small fraction of the 54 people getting dialysis at her center had regular jobs.

“People waltz in when they want to,” she said, explaining that, in her opinion, there was too little asked of patients. There was nothing that said “‘You’re getting a great benefit here, why not put in a little bit yourself.’” At least when she got her tuition help, she said, she had to keep up her grades. “When you’re getting assistance, there should be hoops to jump through so that you’re paying a price for your behavior,” she said. “What’s wrong with that?”

Yes, citizens like Dougherty are at one level voting against their own economic self-interest, to the extent that the Republican approach on taxes is slanted more to the wealthy than that of the Democrats. This was the thesis of Thomas Frank’s 2004 best seller, “What’s the Matter With Kansas,” which argued that these voters had been distracted by social issues like guns and abortion. But on another level, these voters are consciously opting against a Democratic economic agenda that they see as bad for them and good for other people — specifically, those undeserving benefit-recipients in their midst.

I’ve heard variations on this theme all over the country: people railing against the guy across the street who is collecting disability payments but is well enough to go fishing, the families using their food assistance to indulge in steaks. In Pineville, W.Va., in the state’s deeply depressed southern end, I watched in 2013 as a discussion with Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, quickly turned from gun control to the area’s reliance on government benefits, its high rate of opiate addiction, and whether people on assistance should be tested for drugs. Playing to the room, Senator Manchin declared, “If you’re on a public check, you should be subjected to a random check.”

It’s much the same across the border in eastern Kentucky, which, like southern West Virginia, has been devastated by the collapse of the area’s coal industry. Eastern Kentucky now shows up on maps as the most benefit-dependent region in the country. The welfare reforms of the 1990s have made cash assistance hard to come by, but food-stamp use in the state rose to more than 18 percent of households in 2012 from under 10 percent in 2001.

With reliance on government benefits so prevalent, it creates constant moments of friction, on very intimate terms, said Jim Cauley, a Democratic political consultant from Pike County, a former Democratic bastion in eastern Kentucky that has flipped Republican in the past decade. “There are a lot of people on the draw,” he said. Where opposition to the social safety net has long been fed by the specter of undeserving inner-city African-Americans — think of Ronald Reagan’s notorious “welfare queen” — in places like Pike County it’s fueled, more and more, by people’s resentment over rising dependency they see among their own neighbors, even their own families. “It’s Cousin Bobby — ‘he’s on Oxy and he’s on the draw and we’re paying for him,’ ” Cauley said. “If you need help, no one begrudges you taking the program — they’re good-hearted people. It’s when you’re able-bodied and making choices not to be able-bodied.” The political upshot is plain, Cauley added. “It’s not the people on the draw that’s voting against” the Democrats, he said. “It’s everyone else.”

This month, Pike County went 55 percent for the Republican candidate for governor, Matt Bevin. That’s the opposite of how the county voted a dozen years ago. In that election, Kentucky still sent a Republican to the governor’s mansion — but Pike County went for the Democratic candidate. And 30 percent fewer people voted in the county this month than did in 2003 — 11,223 voters in a county of 63,000, far below the county’s tally of food-stamp recipients, which was more than 17,000 in 2012.

In Maine, LePage was elected governor in 2010 by running on an anti-welfare platform in a state that has also grown more reliant on public programs — in 2013, the state ranked third in the nation for food-stamp use, just ahead of Kentucky. LePage, who grew up poor in a large family, has gone at safety-net programs with a vengeance. He slashed welfare rolls by more than half after imposing a five-year limit, reinstituted a work requirement for food-stamp recipients and refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare to cover 60,000 people. He is now seeking to bar anyone with more than $5,000 in certain assets from receiving food stamps. “I’m not going to help anybody just for the sake of helping,” the governor said in September. “I am not that compassionate.”

His crusade has resonated with many in the state, who re-elected him last year.

That pattern is right in line with surveys, which show a decades-long decline in support for redistributive policies and an increase in conservatism in the electorate even as inequality worsens. There has been a particularly sharp drop in support for redistribution among older Americans, who perhaps see it as a threat to their own Social Security and Medicare. Meanwhile, researchers such as Kathryn Edin, of Johns Hopkins University, have pinpointed a tendency by Americans in the second lowest quintile of the income ladder — the working or lower-middle class — to dissociate themselves from those at the bottom, where many once resided. “There’s this virulent social distancing — suddenly, you’re a worker and anyone who is not a worker is a bad person,” said Edin. “They’re playing to the middle fifth and saying, ‘I’m not those people.’ ”

Meanwhile, many people who in fact most use and need social benefits are simply not voting at all. Voter participation is low among the poorest Americans, and in many parts of the country that have moved red, the rates have fallen off the charts. West Virginia ranked 50th for turnout in 2012; also in the bottom 10 were other states that have shifted sharply red in recent years, including Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee.

In the spring of 2012, I visited a free weekend medical and dental clinic run by the organization Remote Area Medical in the foothills of southern Tennessee. I wanted to ask the hundreds of uninsured people flocking to the clinic what they thought of President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, whose fate was about to be decided by the Supreme Court. I was expecting a “What’s the Matter With Kansas” reaction — anger at the president who had signed the law geared to help them. Instead, I found sympathy for Obama. But had they voted for him? Of course not — almost no one I spoke with voted, in local, state or national elections. Not only that, but they had barely heard of the health care law.

This political disconnect among lower-income Americans has huge ramifications — polls find nonvoters are far more likely to favor spending on the poor and on government services than are voters, and the gap grows even larger among poor nonvoters. In the early 1990s, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky freely cited the desirability of having a more select electorate when he opposed an effort to expand voter registration. And this fall, Scott Jennings, a longtime McConnell adviser, reportedly said low turnout by poor Kentuckians explained why the state’s Obamacare gains wouldn’t help Democrats. “I remember being in the room when Jennings was asked whether or not Republicans were afraid of the electoral consequences of displacing 400,000–500,000 people who have insurance,” State Auditor Adam Edelen, a Democrat who lost his re-election bid this year, told Joe Sonka, a Louisville journalist. “And he simply said, ‘People on Medicaid don’t vote.’ ”

Republicans would argue that the shift in their direction among voters slightly higher up the ladder is the natural progression of things — people recognize that government programs are prolonging the economic doldrums and that Republicans have a better economic program.

So where does this leave Democrats and anyone seeking to expand and build lasting support for safety-net programs such as Obamacare?

For starters, it means redoubling efforts to mobilize the people who benefit from the programs. This is no easy task with the rural poor, who are much more geographically scattered than their urban counterparts. Not helping matters in this regard is the decline of local institutions like labor unions — while the United Mine Workers of America once drove turnout in coal country, today there is not a single unionized mine still operating in Kentucky.

But it also means reckoning with the other half of the dynamic — finding ways to reduce the resentment that those slightly higher on the income ladder feel toward dependency in their midst. One way to do this is to make sure the programs are as tightly administered as possible. Instances of fraud and abuse are far rarer than welfare opponents would have one believe, but it only takes a few glaring instances to create a lasting impression. Edin, the Hopkins researcher, suggests going further and making it easier for those collecting disability to do part-time work over the table, not just to make them seem less shiftless in the eyes of their neighbors, but to reduce the recipients’ own sense of social isolation.

The best way to reduce resentment, though, would be to bring about true economic growth in the areas where the use of government benefits is on the rise, the sort of improvement that is now belatedly being discussed for coal country, including on the presidential campaign trail. If fewer people need the safety net to get by, the stigma will fade, and low-income citizens will be more likely to re-engage in their communities — not least by turning out to vote.

Tell Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell How He Can Make Americans Safer

Excerpt from: CREDO Action

After last week’s attacks on Paris and Beirut, Republican politicians launched hateful attacks against Muslims and called for xenophobic restrictions on refugees — all allegedly in the name of keeping Americans safe.

To date, the right-wing Republicans in Congress have not taken up any reasonable proposal to protect our communities from senseless domestic terrorism. But there is something that Republicans can actually do to make us all safer — pass a comprehensive package of gun control reforms, including a bill to close the NRA-backed terror gap which has allowed more than 2,000 people on the terror watch list to purchase guns since 2004.1

Yes, you read that right. People on the terror watch list are barred from getting on airplanes, but Republicans are perfectly happy with them buying assault rifles.

It’s outrageous that Republicans are eager to fearmonger and race bait on behalf of our safety but have so far refused to do anything to combat an epidemic of gun violence that kills more than 33,000 Americans every year. With their hypocrisy currently in the media spotlight, it’s time to ramp up the pressure on them to finally act.

The xenophobic policies offered up by Republicans in the wake of the Paris and Beirut attacks are simply jaw-dropping:

1.Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz suggested bombing innocent civilians in the MiddleEast.2

2. Twenty-six Republican governors have vowed, without any legal   authority, to block Syrian refugees from their states.3

3. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush joined Cruz in proposing that we block Syrian refugees based on religion — admitting Christian but not Muslim refugees.4
4. The House passed a bill this week requiring the FBI director, the secretary of Homeland Security and the director of National Intelligence to personally sign off on every refugee from Syria or Iraq.5
These policies are especially offensive in light of the fact that there is legislation that Congress could pass right now to actually reduce gun violence. The Senate could:

  • Close the terror gap by allowing the Department of Justice to block guns sales to anyone on the terror watch list. Between 2004 and 2014, more than 2,000 people on the list purchased guns in the U.S.
  • Close the loophole that allows people to buy guns without undergoing background checks through private sales, at gun shows and online. An estimated 40 percent of all firearms transferred in the U.S. are transferred by unlicensed individuals not required to conduct background checks on buyers.6
  • Ban convicted domestic abusers and stalkers from buying guns. Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if that individual has access to a firearm.7
    Prohibit the manufacture of assault weapons and large capacity magazines for civilian use.

If Republicans really want to protect Americans, it’s clear what they need to do: break their blind allegiance to the NRA and pass gun control legislation. But they’ll never act unless we force them. Can you add your voice today?

Tell Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:  Act to make us safer by bringing real gun control legislation to the floor for a vote.

  • The petition reads: “Take real action to protect American lives by helping pass a package of gun control legislation that includes closing the NRA-backed terror gap that allows known terror suspects to purchase guns.”

Go to the below site to sign the petition!

Thanks for standing up to the NRA today,

Heidi Hess, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

“Closing the Terror Gap in Gun Background Checks,” Everytown for Gun Safety, July 21, 2015.
Judd Legum, “In Response To Paris, Ted Cruz Calls For Airstrikes With More ‘Tolerance For Civilian Casualties’,”, November 13, 2015.
Sarah Frostenson and Dara Lind, “Here’s a map of every state refusing to accept Syrian refugees,”, November 18, 2015.
Amy Davidson, “Ted Cruz’ Religious Test for Refugees, New Yorker, November 16, 2015.
Camila Domonoske, “House Votes To Increase Security Checks On Refugees From Iraq, Syria,” NPR, November 19, 2015.
“Universal Background Checks & the “Private” Sale Loophole Policy Summary ,” Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, September 10, 2015.
”Gabby Gifford, National Domestic Violence Prevention Leaders Applaud New House Legislation to Keep Guns out of the Hands of Abusers,” Americans for Responsible Solutions, July 22, 2015.

© 2015 CREDO. All rights reserved.


Excerpt from: MoveOn

Following the horrific series of attacks in Paris and Beirut last week, your governor, Brian Sandoval—along with at least 29 other governors—has turned against Syrian refugees who are seeking to escape the same terrorist groups behind these acts of violence.1

Will you sign our petition to Governor Sandoval and other anti-immigrant governors? The petition says:

  • Threatening to refuse Syrian refugees entry into your state is playing to baseless racist fears for cheap political gain.
    Stop attacking the refugee families who are fleeing the same terrorist groups behind the attacks in Paris, Beirut, and around the world.

Unlike Europe, which has been overwhelmed by the crisis, the U.S. has a thorough vetting process for every refugee who is allowed to enter the United States. The typical process takes between 18 and 24 months.

Furthermore, under the U.S. Constitution, governors cannot deny any group of people entry to their state, nor can they determine our federal refugee policy, which is set by the president.2

But that hasn’t stopped Governor Sandoval—and most other Republican politicians around the country—from attacking Syrian refugees. This makes no one safer and creates an environment where racist attacks are more prevalent.

The whole world is watching how the United States responds to this crisis—and we must be clear that on this issue, Governor Sandoval doesn’t represent the people of Nevada—or the American values we hold and share.
If enough people sign and show our compassion for Syrian refugees today, soon after most of these statements of fear and hatred were made, it’ll send a strong message to Governor Sandoval—and also show elected leaders across America that there’s a backlash to their anti-refugee rhetoric.

And speaking up now will create momentum to ensure Democrats remain true to our long tradition of providing safety and stability to those who need our help.

Let’s show that we can be a strong, secure country and a welcoming, moral one at the same time.

Go to MoveOn to sign this petition, and send a strong message to Governor Sandoval and other anti-immigrant governors across America.

Thanks for all you do.

–Ben W., Matt, Robert, Jadzia, and the rest of the team

1. “30 Governors Call For Halt To U.S. Resettlement Of Syrian Refugees,”NPR, November 17, 2015

2. “States can’t refuse Syrian refugees, but they sure can make them feel unwanted,” The Guardian, November 17, 2016

What I Discovered From Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters

Excerpt from: The Nation

What I Discovered From Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters
They’re drawn to the movement for reasons that have little to do with belief in extremist Islam.
By Lydia Wilson OCTOBER 21, 2015

Artis International is a consortium for the scientific study in the service of conflict resolution. The research is based on cognitive and moral psychology, exploring when and why humans commit the most extreme sacrifices—including their lives and the lives of their families—for abstract causes, for so-called “sacred values.”

Our research tries to determine why people will change their minds about these sacred values, and whether and how they will change their behavior in defending them. We hope to find out how to persuade people to abandon violent pathways, though I am fast losing faith in that possibility in this part of the world.

For this trip I am accompanied by senior colleagues; by Scott Atran, an academic based in France; and by Doug Stone, a retired American general who spent over two years in Iraq during the US occupation, interviewing prisoners on a daily basis.

My colleagues and I drive to Kirkuk from the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil, to meet Qadir (Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir, the head of police in the Iraqi governorate of Kirkuk). Despite the workload of maintaining security in this uneasy city of mixed ethnicity (mostly Arab, Kurdish, and Turkmen), rife with ISIS sleeper cells, he is welcoming, sending armed guards to bring us in from the highway to the city.

We are served tea in his office, and he sits with us for half an hour before we are taken to the interview room with two colonels. (The week after I left the country he and other officers would be caught in a huge car bomb; Qadir was wounded for the fourteenth time in the service of Kurdistan.
No sooner am I settled in an interviewing room in the police station of Kirkuk, Iraq, than the first prisoner I am there to see is brought in, flanked by two policemen and in handcuffs. I awkwardly rise, unsure of the etiquette involved in interviewing an ISIS fighter who is facing the death penalty. He is small, much smaller than I, on first appearances just a boy in trouble with the police, his eyes fixed on the floor, his face a mask.

First are questions probing perceptions of the strength of various groups—some of which the interviewee might have sympathy with (although he might not express this). Other groups he would quite clearly consider to be the Other, the Enemy.
“This picture shows the Islamic State as the strongest it could be. Here, they are very, very weak; and here are all the things in the middle. How strong do you think they are?” The boy timidly points at the weakest—to be expected, as he doesn’t want to seem to be a fan.  “Now the peshmerga: How strong are they?”

The prisoner got the hang of the question, and points to the second-strongest picture. In other pictures, he decides that the Iraqi army is in the middle, Iran a little weaker than that, and America the strongest. (He hasn’t heard of the PKK, despite their repeated victories over ISIS.) We ask him to rank all the forces, using the cards, and then I realize that he is still handcuffed and I ask for them to be taken off.

In the ensuing hiatus, with policemen fetching keys and walking to and fro, I try to chat more informally, and finally he looks at me, answering questions in one-word answers as to his age, background, education, family. Slowly, with snippets emerging from the rest of the interview, I piece together a picture that is to be repeated, with only minor differences, with other prisoners we talk to that day, stories familiar to General Stone from during the allied occupation, and to journalists and researchers I’ve spoken to since.

This man is 26, the eldest of 17 children from two mothers (that is, his father had two wives at the same time), from Kirkuk. He completed sixth grade, meaning that at least he was literate, unlike others we were to interview. He is married, with two children, a boy named “Rasuul,” meaning Prophet, and a girl named “Rusil,” the plural of Prophet—indicating the centrality of Islam to his life.

He was working as a laborer to support his huge family when he hurt his back and lost his job. It was then, his story goes, that a friend, from the same tribe but only distantly related, approached him with the offer to work for ISIS.

The story has been honed through repeated interrogation and the trial, and comes out pat. Life under the Islamic State was just terror, he says; he only fought because he was terrorized. Others may have done it from belief, but he did not. His family needed the money, and this was the only opportunity to provide for them.

Later in the interview we find out just how committed he is to his family, first with flashcards that we use to test the degree of fusion of the individual with various groups. We ask about Iraq, Islam, family, friends, and the Islamic State.

Eventually he decides that he is almost, but not entirely, fused with Iraq and with Islam, completely separate from the Islamic State (again, to be expected), barely connected to friends (“I have no friends”), and fully fused with his family. In fact, his family is the only group he was fully fused with, a decision that took no time at all.

During more informal questioning about his family and tribe comes this telling statement: “We need the war to be over, we need security, we are tired of so much war…. all I want is to be with my family, my children.”

When he has been taken away we have the chance to find out just what he was found guilty of, how they found him, and what the evidence was. He was a master of the car bomb, detonating at least four of them in Kirkuk itself and also one scooter bomb, which exploded in a crowded souq selling weapons, killing many scores of people and also weakening the ability of local residents to fight ISIS.

  • Why did he do all these things? Many assume that these fighters are motivated by a belief in the Islamic State, a caliphate ruled by a caliph with the traditional title Emir al-Muminiin, “Commander of the faithful,” a role currently held by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; that fighters all over the world are flocking to the area for a chance to fight for this dream.

But this just doesn’t hold for the prisoners we are interviewing. They are woefully ignorant about Islam and have difficulty answering questions about Sharia law, militant jihad, and the caliphate. But a detailed, or even superficial, knowledge of Islam isn’t necessarily relevant to the ideal of fighting for an Islamic State, as we have seen from the Amazon order of Islam for Dummies by one British fighter bound for ISIS.

  • “I didn’t like Saddam, but at least we didn’t have war. When you came here, the civil war started.”

In fact, Erin Saltman, senior counter-extremism researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, says that there is now less emphasis on knowledge of Islam in the recruitment phase. “We are seeing a movement away from strict religious ideological training as a requirement for recruitment,” she told me.

“If we were looking at foreign fighter recruits to Afghanistan 10 or 20 years ago, there was intensive religious and theological training attached to recruitment. Nowadays, we see that recruitment strategy has branched out to a much broader audience with many different pull factors.”

There is no question that these prisoners I am interviewing are committed to Islam; it is just their own brand of Islam, only distantly related to that of the Islamic State. Similarly, Western fighters traveling to the Islamic State are also deeply committed, but it’s to their own idea of jihad rather than one based on sound theological arguments or even evidence from the Qur’an.

More pertinent than Islamic theology is that there are other, much more convincing, explanations as to why they’ve fought for the side they did. At the end of the interview with the first prisoner we ask, “Do you have any questions for us?” For the first time since he came into the room he smiles—in surprise—and finally tells us what really motivated him, without any prompting.

He knows there is an American in the room, and can perhaps guess, from his demeanor and his questions, that this American is ex-military, and directs his “question,” in the form of an enraged statement, straight at him. “The Americans came,” he said. “They took away Saddam, but they also took away our security. I didn’t like Saddam, we were starving then, but at least we didn’t have war. When you came here, the civil war started.”

ISIS is the first group since Al Qaeda to offer these young men a way to defend their dignity, family, and tribe.
From Doug Stone, the American general on the receiving end of this diatribe: “He fits the absolutely typical profile. The average age of all the prisoners in Iraq when I was here was 27; they were married; they had two children; had got to sixth to eighth grade. He has exactly the same profile as 80 percent of the prisoners then…and his number-one complaint about the security and against all American forces was the exact same complaint from every single detainee.”

These boys came of age under the disastrous American occupation after 2003, in the chaotic and violent Arab part of Iraq, ruled by the viciously sectarian Shia government of Nouri al-Maliki. Growing up Sunni Arab was no fun. A later   Islamic State fighter’s biggest resentment was the lack of an adolescence. Another of the interviewees was displaced at the critical age of 13, when his family fled to Kirkuk from Diyala province at the height of Iraq’s sectarian civil war.

They are children of the occupation, many with missing fathers at crucial periods (through jail, death from execution, or fighting in the insurgency), filled with rage against America and their own government.

They are not fueled by the idea of an Islamic caliphate without borders; rather, ISIS is the first group since the crushed Al Qaeda to offer these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity, family, and tribe.

This is not radicalization to the ISIS way of life, but the promise of a way out of their insecure and undignified lives; the promise of living in pride as Iraqi Sunni Arabs, which is not just a religious identity but cultural, tribal, and land-based, too.

Editor’s note: This article has been adjusted to indicate more accurately the ethnic makeup of Kirkuk and the fact that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is present in both Turkey and northern Iraq.
Lydia Wilson is a research fellow at the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict, University of Oxford; a visiting fellow at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center, City University New York; and a senior research fellow and field director at Artis International. She edits the Cambridge Literary Review.

Petition to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry: To Reject Hate and Show Compassion in the Aftermath of Beirut and Paris

Excerpt from: CREDO Action

Tell President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject hate directed at Muslims, resist pressure for increased militarization, and show compassion by immediately expanding the number of refugees the United States will accept.
The horrific events last week in Paris and Beirut,1 where 169 men, women and children were indiscriminately killed, are difficult to comprehend. We stand with the victims, their families, and the people of Paris and Beirut.

We also stand in solidarity with those who are most likely to become the victims of backlash and violence over the coming weeks – Muslims in France and the rest of the world, including the millions of refugees fleeing Syria, Yemen and other countries to escape the same violence and hate that destroyed so many lives in Beirut and Paris.

  • Terrorists act to divide us, to stoke fear, and amplify hate. They aim to break our bonds of humanity. We cannot give in to fear.

Tell President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject hate directed towards Muslims, resist pressure for increased militarization, and show compassion by immediately expanding the number of refugees the United States will accept. Click here to sign the petition.

The extreme right-wing immediately reacted to the horrific violence in Paris by attacking immigrants and by ratcheting up militaristic rhetoric.2 Republican politicians, including presidential candidates Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and Sen. Ted Cruz pounced in support of the right-wing’s xenophobic push to let fear close our borders rather than open our arms.3

Within hours of the Paris attacks, Sen. Cruz even seemed ready to justify the killing of civilians in the name of fighting terror when he said: “[Our enemy] will not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties, when the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent life.”4

We need to push back hard against the right-wing leaders and media elites who want to blame refugees, the overwhelming majority of whom are innocent civilians seeking to escape terrible violence and bloodshed.

And, we must stop fueling the cycle of violence with reactive military force, which will only lead to increased radicalization and more deadly attacks. It is important to remember that it was the use of U.S. military force in Iraq that destabilized the region and created the environment that helped ISIS thrive in the first place.

As noted in a compelling column in Rolling Stone:

We’ve bombed hospitals and weddings. We’ve killed children with drones. If those are the only responses we can muster to terrorism, we will create generation after generation of people who want to strike back. That doesn’t make us responsible for attacks against us; only those who carry them out bear that responsibility.

Our responsibility is to be better than the terrorists, and to show those who might be seduced by their hatred that the world isn’t narrow and ugly. Closing off our borders to terrorized refugees sends exactly the wrong message.5

Over 7.5 million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere have left their homes, fleeing violence to protect their families. When they arrive on U.S. shores, they are often turned away.6 Currently, the U.S. is planning to accept only 70,000 refugees for the fiscal year of 2015.7 But the U.S. must do significantly more for the sake of peace and America’s long term interests.8

  • Tell President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject hate directed at Muslims, resist pressure for increased militarization, and show compassion by immediately expanding the number of refugees the United States will accept. 
  • At CREDO, we reject the politics of hate and fear, and condemn those who peddle it; we reject any attempts to demonize Muslim, Arab or South Asian communities; and we reject any efforts to use the tragedies in Paris and Beirut to justify deportations, the suspension of civil rights, or the closure of our borders. We call on President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to stand with us.

Please join us in making clear to President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry that Americans want them to reject hate, resist calls for a militaristic response and show compassion by immediately expanding the number of refugees the United States will accept.

Click the link below to sign the petition stating:

  • “As we stand with the victims of horrific violence in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere in the world, we urge you to reject hate directed towards Muslims, resist pressure for increased militarization, and show compassion by immediately expanding the number of refugees the United States will accept.”

Thank you for speaking out.

Heidi, Murshed, Josh, Jin, Mark, Jordan and Elijah
CREDO Action from Working Assets
Anne Barnard, “Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten,” The New York Times, November 15, 2015.
AJ Vicens, “Here Are the Most Horrible Tweets About the Paris Tragedy,”, November 13, 2015.
Lauren Kelley, “Ben Carson: Ban Middle Eastern Refugees After Paris Attacks,”, November 13, 2015, and German Lopez, “This congressman just showed how not to respond to the Paris attacks,”, November 13, 2015, and Ben Schreckinger, “GOP candidates link Paris attacks to immigration,”, November 15, 2015.
Judd Legum, “In Response To Paris, Ted Cruz Calls For Airstrikes With More ‘Tolerance For Civilian Casualties’,”, November 13, 2015
Jesse Berney, “After Paris Attacks, Don’t Close Doors to Refugees – Open Them,”, November 14, 2015.
The UN Refugee Agency, “Worldwide displacement hits all-time high as war and persecution increase,”, June 18, 2015.
Office of the Press Secretary, “Presidential Memorandum — FY 2015 Refugee Admissions,”, September 30, 2014.
Faris Alikhan, “The US should accept more Syrian refugees to boost our national security,”, October 26, 2015.

© 2015 CREDO. All rights reserved.

Why Grassroots Democrats Don’t Have A Problem With Democratic Socialism

Excerpt from: The Nation
NOVEMBER 23-30, 2015 ISSUE

Why Grassroots Democrats Don’t Have a Problem With Democratic Socialism. They know that Bernie Sanders is advocating an old American tradition. In fact, Democrats now favor socialism over capitalism by 12 percentage points.

By John Nichols
NOVEMBER 4, 2015

“Do I think Bernie Sanders should talk about democratic socialism? Yes, I do,” says Iowan Mary Clark. “I want him to explain everything in detail—give people a really good explanation. People who like Bernie are probably going to like him a little more if he does that. And people who aren’t supporting Bernie now might just say, ‘It sounds like he’s got some ideas that would actually solve our problems.’”

Clark isn’t a pundit or a pollster; nor does she sell herself as an expert on economics or presidential politics. She’s a rural Iowan who worries a lot about whether her neighbors will have clean water, decent housing, and fair pay. She’s worked a few minimum-wage jobs herself, and she knows a lot of folks who are struggling to get by along the rural routes that pass through her corner of Iowa’s Polk County.

She talks to them about politics, and she always talks up Sanders. People like what they hear, she says. “But then they hear these guys on television saying, ‘Bernie Sanders can’t get elected because he’s a democratic socialist.’ So Bernie has to talk about it. But he doesn’t have to apologize for anything. He should say, ‘You’re wrong—I can get elected as a democratic socialist, and here’s why.’”

As he prepared to deliver one of the most important speeches of his presidential campaign, the independent senator from Vermont got a lot of advice on how to explain the democratic-socialist ideal that he’s embraced for more than five decades—an ideology that Donald Trump equates with Soviet-style communism and Rand Paul promises will “exterminate” those who do not follow the party line.

Sanders, who has said that he would like to debate Republicans and Democrats as part of his boundary-breaking presidential run, might yet find that the best way to demythologize the notion of democratic socialism would be in a spirited debate with a member of the billionaire class like Trump. In the meantime, he finds himself leading a discussion that American politics and the American media haven’t really entertained since the days of Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party candidate who appeared on the cover of Time magazine and was featured on a daily basis in The New York Times’s coverage of the 1932 presidential race.

Talking about democratic socialism is nothing new for Sanders. In fact, what distinguishes his candidacy from that of any nationally noted contender since Thomas is that he not only accepts the label but willingly engages in extended discussions of the concepts, values, and models associated with it. “I’m not afraid of the word,” he told The Nation earlier this year, adding that “Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, often criticizes President Obama—incorrectly—for trying to push ‘European-style socialism,’ and McConnell says the American people don’t want it.

First of all, of course, Obama is not trying to push European-style socialism. Second of all, I happen to believe that, if the American people understood the significant accomplishments that have taken place under social-democratic governments, democratic-socialist governments, labor governments throughout Europe, they would be shocked [by] those accomplishments. One of the goals of this campaign is to advance that understanding.”

Actually, that’s been one of the goals of Sanders’s entire career. With remarkable consistency over the decades, he has patiently distinguished between democratic socialism and Soviet-style communism, expressed “continued opposition to authoritarianism and the concept of the one-party state,” defended civil liberties, and explained, as he did after his election to Congress in 1990: “To me, socialism doesn’t mean state ownership of everything, by any means; it means creating a nation, and a world, in which all human beings have a decent standard of living.”

Like many American democratic socialists in the post–World War II era, he has talked up the Scandinavian model of social democracy. “Healthcare is, of course, a right for all people” in countries like Norway and Denmark, which have “very strong” childcare and retirement systems, he notes. In addition, “all of their kids can go to college; not only do they go for free, they actually get stipends.” And “they are very active in trying to protect their environment.” Although taxes in these countries are high, the public services are robust and the social-safety net is sturdy.

“And, by the way,” Sanders adds, “the voter turnout in those countries is much higher; in Denmark, in the last election, it was over 80 percent. Political consciousness is much higher than it is in the United States. It’s a more vibrant democracy in many respects. So why would I not defend that?”

Many social scientists and economists agree. Political economist Francis Fukuyama uses “getting to Denmark” as a metaphor for democratic development that’s headed in the right direction. Yet, as CNN’s Anderson Cooper noted in this year’s first Democratic debate, a small Northern European country might not be the best metaphor for America. Cooper, though he may not have known it, was engaging in the latest political craze: explaining to Bernie Sanders the best way to promote democratic socialism to American voters.

After so many years of neglect and misstatement, there’s a lot of pent-up energy among democratic socialists as well as small-D democrats who want to open up the political discourse to include serious alternatives to the crony-capitalist status quo. Sanders himself fits into both camps—and he is smart enough to recognize that if his presidential candidacy doesn’t frame that debate, the debate will frame his candidacy, probably to his detriment. Indeed, as Cooper argued during the debate, when democratic socialism is the topic, “the question is really about electability.”

So why not turn from the usual circle of pundits to the people who actually do the electing? The best advice for what should become a continuing discussion long after this presidential season is over comes from the grassroots, from places like Davenport and Des Moines, where citizens will, in just three months, begin the process of choosing the Democratic nominee.

Iowa caucus-goers treat presidential politics seriously—and practically. They tend toward progressivism, with a healthy Midwestern skepticism about big corporations, big money in politics, and a military-industrial complex that keeps talking up the next war. But, says Ed Fallon, a former Democratic state legislator and gubernatorial-primary candidate, “they like to think that their candidate can win in November.”

Iowa has for decades been a swing state in presidential contests, and Iowa Democrats have long practiced what Michael Harrington preached: searching for the left wing of the possible. Harrington, author of the 1962 classic The Other America, counseled the Kennedys and aides to Lyndon Johnson on how to wage a “war on poverty.”

In the early 1980s, Harrington co-founded the group Democratic Socialists of America with an eye toward building an American version of social democracy along the lines practiced in Denmark, Norway, and other European countries. Harrington argued for situating the movement within the Democratic Party, because it tended to align itself with organized labor, attract working-class voters, and appeal to the young Americans and people of color who might be most open to an alternative politics.

However, the late 1980s and ’90s saw the emergence of a dramatically more cautious Democratic Party, with the “left wing of the possible” dumbed down by “New Democrats” like Bill Clinton, who veered away from the Democrats’ traditional allies in labor and other social movements and toward new allies on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley.

Where Franklin Roosevelt welcomed the hatred of bankers and CEOs, and met at the White House with “my good friend Norman Thomas” and other Socialist Party leaders, Clinton as president undid New Deal–era regulations on big banks, and President Obama once called a New York Times reporter to point out not only that he was not a socialist, but that his administration was “operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principles, and some of the same folks who are throwing the word ‘socialist’ around can’t say the same.”

Yet even as the Democratic Party tended to grow more cautious, a substantial portion of the party’s base continued to embrace Harrington’s left wing of the possible. In the upper Midwest, activists warmly embraced Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, who talked up the uniquely radical legacy of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin’s pro-labor, pro-farmer prairie populism.

Wellstone and Harkin didn’t identify as democratic socialists, but they kept alive an old-school progressive-populist sensibility. More recently, Sanders, their friend and frequent ally, has returned that sensibility to center stage with bolder language and bolder plans for ending austerity, taxing the rich, and tipping the balance in favor of working Americans.

Grassroots Democrats got to know Sanders as a frequent guest on MSNBC cable shows, on Thom Hartmann’s radio show, and as a tireless traveler to progressive gatherings across the country. It never seemed to bother the base that he was a democratic socialist, because democratic socialism never seemed to bother the base. Long before Sanders considered making a presidential bid, a 2012 Gallup survey found that while 55 percent of Democrats had a favorable view of capitalism, a nearly equal amount—53 percent—had a favorable view of socialism. An October 2015 YouGov poll shows a growing divide, with Democrats favoring socialism over capitalism by 12 percentage points.

Among young people and people of color, socialism polls significantly better than among the general population. But polls also find that only half of Americans say they would vote for a socialist for president (59 percent of Democrats, 49 percent of independents, 26 percent of Republicans). That raises the electability issue, and it’s one reason Sanders started talking about delivering a “major speech” on socialism—something he probably should have done much earlier in the campaign. “I think we have some explaining and work to do,” the senator told an audience at an Iowa house party, acknowledging that the word “socialist” makes some people “very, very nervous.”

It doesn’t have that effect on George Naylor, a farmer-activist from Churdan, Iowa: “Oh, I never thought it was as much of a problem as people say.” An outspoken advocate for family farmers, he adds that “the way to talk about socialism is to remind people of what they don’t like about most politicians: They’re too close to big business. Well, democratic socialists aren’t close to big business. They want to make sure big business doesn’t run over the rest of us. Talk about it that way, and even some folks who think they’re conservatives might say, ‘That makes sense.’”

  • “There’s nothing scary about what Bernie is saying. He’s fighting for what people believe in, what they want.”

That’s a good place to start tapping into the populist sentiment that has always gotten Americans thinking about economic and political alternatives. That mood rises when capitalism is in crisis—or when many Americans feel, as they do now, that existing systems are failing them.

The whole point of the “political revolution” that Sanders argues for is to get millions of Americans to respond to those failures by engaging politically. If that happens, it won’t be the first time that economic turbulence has inspired interest in social-democratic solutions.

It was during the economic downturn culminating in the Panic of 1797 that Thomas Paine wrote Agrarian Justice, in which he outlined a social-welfare state with estate taxes used to fund universal old-age and disability pensions and a onetime payment to citizens to help lift them out of poverty.

A century later, the Panic of 1893 brought a new generation of radicals to the fore, including Eugene Debs. The American Railway Union leader would eventually head a Socialist Party presidential ticket that twice gained nearly a million votes and elected members of the US House, as well as big-city mayors and substantial legislative caucuses in states like Wisconsin and Oklahoma.

Historian Eric Foner urges Sanders to “embrace our own American radical tradition” rather than “inadvertently [reinforce] the idea that socialism is a foreign import.” Historian Harvey Kaye goes a step further, encouraging Sanders to say that “social democracy is 100 percent American” and to explain that this country has a rich history of leading rather than following Europe when it comes to guaranteeing universal access to public education and setting aside land for public parks.

They’re right. But Sanders has to focus on more than just the academic argument, which he could easily win; he has to focus on the electability question. As such, he must make the point that American socialists have advanced their agenda in the past by winning elections—lots of them.

For more than a century, socialists, social democrats, and allied radicals have been winning elections all across America—from New York to Los Angeles, from Oklahoma to Minnesota. They have run big cities and school boards, they have written laws, and they have provided the impetus for the creation of state banks, worker-compensation programs, public-health programs, and now-cherished institutions like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Debs’s successor as the Socialist Party’s presidential candidate was Norman Thomas, counselor to presidents and inspiration to the leaders of unions like the United Auto Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Thomas addressed the 1963 March on Washington at the behest of the man who called the march, Socialist Party stalwart and Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union leader A. Philip Randolph. Thomas later allied with Randolph and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as they worked on the unfinished business of the civil-rights revolution by promoting a “Freedom Budget for All Americans,” which advocated social-welfare programs similar to those Sanders now hails in Denmark and Norway.

Sanders must make the argument that the political revolution he’s calling for will occur only if his candidacy goes beyond a protest vote or educational endeavor and becomes an actual movement, similar to the Robert F. Kennedy coalition of the 1968 primaries, which aligned working-class white, Latino, and African-American voters with liberals and students. Sanders would do well to take the advice of Joe Fagan, a founder of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI).

Discussing the left wing of the possible, Fagan points out that “there are a lot of good examples from around the world. But there are some pretty good examples right here: schools, libraries, roads…. “There’s nothing scary about what Bernie is saying,” Fagan adds. “He’s fighting for what people believe in, what they want. That’s how he should talk about it. Free college education—who doesn’t want that? Break up the banks—who isn’t for that? Addressing inequality—who is opposed to that?”

Lou Ann Burkle, a CCI activist, argues that Sanders has a unique opportunity to open up the debate across the country. “You can change the conversation by putting things in perspective,” she says. Tim Tutt, an elementary school teacher from Des Moines, suggests that Sanders “shouldn’t just explain democratic socialism,—he should explain capitalism.”

An experienced Iowa caucus-goer, Tutt says that a lot of Iowans, like a lot of Americans, know that with bank bailouts, corporate abuses, and the widening gap between rich and poor, “what we’ve got now isn’t working.” Just as Roosevelt tempered the excesses of capitalism with a New Deal during the Great Depression, Tutt says, Sanders should lay out why he thinks democratic socialism can temper the excesses of contemporary capitalism.

“It’s not something you do in a sound bite,” warns Sharon Guber, a retired teacher from Ames. But, says Fallon, the former legislator, “if you’re being called a democratic socialist by people who think that’s a bad thing, then the only way to deal with that is to talk about why you think it’s a good thing.”

“Sure, it’s a big conversation,” says Naylor, the farm activist. “So what? If you’re running for president, you ought to be able to get a big conversation going. That’s what people want you to be able to do.” He smiles and points to a Sanders for President sign, with an outline of Iowa and the words “The Revolution Starts Here.”

John Nichols is The Nation’s National Affairs Correspondent.

The new edition of John Nichols’s book The S Word: A Short History of an American Tradition… Socialism will be published this month by Verso.