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19 October 2016

How to Avoid Falling for an Internet Hoax

We’ve all seen them from time to time, those attention-grabbing headlines that either infuriate or profoundly amaze us to the point that we drop whatever it is we’re doing to find out more. Sometimes friends and family members are already sharing the news via social media, thereby helping to either infuriate or amaze an even greater number of people. The problem? The news isn’t real. It is a Hoax!

Just What is an Internet Hoax?

To define an internet hoax is actually quite simple; it is false information that is deliberately made to masquerdade across the internet as factual. In other words, it’s a lie. Most commonly, such hoaxes are intended to fool as many people as possible in as little time as possible.

Everyone has fallen for an internet hoax at one point or another. Sometimes we don’t even find out that what we’ve been told is false. On the surface, there may appear to be nothing inherently wrong with this. And it is true that these hoaxes are often silly and seemingly pointless. In reality, however, internet hoaxes can not just make people feel foolish– they can do real damage to both individuals and society as a whole.

The Harm in Hoaxes

The best internet hoaxes are well-written and appear to be very reliable (at least to the common victim), and they are designed to incite intense, unnecessary feelings and promote ignorance. For example, in 2013 news spread like wildfire across the internet that Jackie Chan died in an accident while filming a new movie. To most, the story was very believable. After all, it was reported on numerous websites (even some with general news credibility), and the idea of Chan dying in a filming accident was plausible because he had long been known for performing his own daring stunts in action movies. Nevertheless, the story just wasn’t true, and Chan himself eventually proved it by taking a photo of himself with a newspaper printed days after his “death”.

Even worse, internet hoaxes are often designed to get their victims to give up personal information about themselves or even infect their computers with viruses. The Jackie Chan death hoax not only misled people everywhere, but the main source of the hoax also lured many of its victims into clicking on malicious links.

Other times hoaxes are not entirely false, but the context in which they are presented is misleading and harmful. One such example was an incident in 2008, where an income security firm advisor read a news article about United Airlines filing for bankruptcy. The airline’s stock plummeted as a result, and it wasn’t until the bankruptcy story was revealed to be six years old (it was first published in 2002) that their stock began to recover.

Then of course there are hoaxes that cause severe harm to a person’s professional and/or personal life. Victims of these types of hoaxes are often celebrities, politicians or other public figures, but in truth anyone can unwittingly have harmful falsehoods spread online about them. For example, a Florida woman named Sue Scheff fell victim to such a hoax or “smear campaign” in the early 2000s. Various postings naming her as a con artist and a fraudster appeared in 2002 and throughout 2003, which caused Scheff’s business to suffer and stifled her ability to gain new clients (much less keep old ones). The good news is that Scheff did go on to win a $11.3 million defamation lawsuit (though not until 2006) against the creator of the hoax, a woman from Louisiana named Carey Bock, but by then the damage had been done.

Spotting a Hoax

The internet can certainly be a cruel place, but that doesn’t mean you can’t navigate around its pitfalls successfully. The No. 1 rule to follow when it comes to internet hoaxes is that you can’t believe everything you read. So, whenever you see some incredulous news or a juicy scandal being exposed online, it’s time to do a little extra digging to make sure it’s legit. Keep in mind that legitimate news will check out in multiple areas, so you should always keep numerous factors in mind:

Check the source (Is the website a reliable and respected source? Have you even heard of it before? Believe it or not, there are actual internet hoax websites devoted entirely to spreading false information).
Is it being reported by multiple, reliable sources?
Is the date current?
How well is the post or article written? (Legitimate sources often have professional writers and editors working for them).
Look at the surrounding advertisements (if they appear to be largely spam, the info may not be legitimate)
Beware of pop-ups (if there are multiple pop-up advertisements, exit your internet browser immediately).
Are you being asked to give personal information? (If so, close the window right away).
Are you being asked to “share this post” to receive further information and/or gain some other reward? (Don’t do this. It’s most likely a hoax).
If the information is received in an email, take a look at the sending address. Do you recognize it?
Social media is the most common area in which you’ll first become exposed to a hoax. In fact, the Facebook hoax is among the most common of all. The sad thing is that many of our friends and family members often share information they came across without investigating it very deeply, and they often shrug it off when someone does happen to point out that it’s all a hoax. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean you should cease with the warnings when your friend does happen to share a hoax. After all, their privacy and security could be at risk. And besides, nobody likes to see someone they care about get duped and made to look like a fool.

In addition to checking the factors already mentioned above, one easy way to investigate potential hoaxes is to copy and paste the original news message (or at least a good portion of it) into a search engine. If it’s legitimate, multiple websites (reliable and established websites, with names you recognize) will have most likely reported the same information. If not, there may even be warnings already that it’s a hoax.

Helpful Websites

Although there are plenty of scam websites and sites designed just to promote false information, the good news is that there are others working against them. A great website to check out the validity of something is, a website that’s been investigating and debunking online hoaxes for years. Just a quick search on Snopes will tell you whether something is true or not (and if there is no listing yet for the post in question, you can also contact the Snopes staff and ask them to investigate it).

Another great hoax-debunking tool is This website takes interest in all internet scams, specifically hoaxes spread via social media and email. Hoax slayer also offers spam filters and anti-spam and virus tips for your email and other accounts.

Keeping Yourself in the Clear

In addition to not falling for hoaxes in general, it’s crucially important that you do not become the direct target of one (remember the smear campaign mentioned earlier). Online lies about you or someone you know personally are most likely not going to be ranking among the top internet hoaxes anytime soon, but they can still wreck havoc in the most important areas of your life. After all, employers today often Google job applicants to find out more about them, and anything they find– whether complimentary or unflattering– can greatly influence the decision to hire.

So, here are a few tips you can use to protect your online presence from hoaxes:

Google your name on a regular basis to see what comes up when people search for you.
Do not post any photos or information that portray you in a socially unnacceptable manner.
Do not post any photos or information that could tie you to criminal activity (whether real or fake).
Do not accept friend requests on social media from people you do not know and/or do not trust.
Take immediate action if you discover information about you that isn’t true. If it was posted by someone you know, ask them to take it down. Even if it is someone you don’t know, do not be afraid to reach out to them and ask for the post’s removal.
Take legal action if necessary. If other attempts are not working, you may have to resort to getting a lawyer. They can not only help you successfully get the false information removed, but they can also file a defamation lawsuit on your behalf.
Get good virus protection softwar. This will also help protect your computer from hackers.
The Bottom Line

Being proactive when it comes to internet hoaxes is key. Never take something at face value, and don’t be afraid to let your friends and family members know that something is a hoax. Help keep the internet safe.

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Humanity, ReligionCultureSciencePeace

15 October 2016

Does France have an issue with Islam? La France at-un problème avec l'islam?

According to Francois Hollande, "France is having an issue with Islam". The French president, who is likely to run for another term in elections to be held next spring, has not hesitated to fuel the already sensitive debate on the question of identity through remarks about Islam and the Islamic veil in France in an upcoming "tell-all" book called A President Should Not Say That, which features 61 interviews with the president by Le Monde journalists Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme.

Sharia doesn’t ask women to cover face - Niqab》》》》》


What is it we can find in this book? Various thoughts and considerations about his girlfriend Julie Gayet, remarks about French national football team players who are referred to as "naughty and rude kids" or "uber-wealthy celebrities," comments about what "cowards" magistrates can be, and above all many observations on an issue France has been obsessing about: Islam.

First of all, Francois Hollande says something that he has never attempted to say before: "There’s an issue with Islam, this is a given, no doubt.

"Nowadays, Islam is being used as a political, ideological and even terrorist advocacy tool, in order to destabilise democracies and the French Republic. Let’s not pretend there’s no issue here: there is one. However, we have to overcome it."

Living up to his reputation of being compromising, or, as some like to say, "always vague," Hollande adds "the real danger that Islam raises here does not lays in the religion itself, but in how the religion fits in the Republic. The real problem would be if Muslim people do not report any extremist action, or if the imams would speak in ‘anti-Republican’ terms."

A few pages on, we read that "the veiled woman of today" will be "the Marianne [symbol of the French Republic] of tomorrow".

"If we provide the right environment for her to thrive, she will free herself, take off her veil and become a French woman, a religious French woman if she wants to, capable of rooting for what she believes in […] What is it we are wishing for here? We wish that this woman will chose liberty over servitude […] Maybe for the moment the veil is a protection for her, but tomorrow she won’t need it anymore, there will be a place for her in society."

Left- and right-wing reactions

As soon as the juicy details leaked in the press, politicians of all stripes stepped in to comment. Marine Le Pen, president of the far-right Front National, started it off by saying she was "grieved" and asked herself "when does the president actually work?".

"How can the president of the Republic spend that much time with journalists?" she asked, referring to the president's allegedly pronounced taste for meetings with journalists, which takes up to "a third of his time," according to some sources.

In the French Republic, the idea of having a veiled Marianne as the state's symbol did not go down well. Bruno Le Maire, candidate to the Republican primaries, struck back on social media by saying that "tomorrow as it was yesterday, Marianne will never be veiled!" Guillaume Larrivé, an MP close to Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president who is aleady campaigning to be elected next spring, said: ‘France won’t regress’.

Finally, within the Socialist Party, the crisis procedures have been activated. The first secretary of the party, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, said that "all of that is far from being the French people's main concern".

Indeed, according to the latest opinion polls, unemployment is the most important concern of the French.

Between resignation and anger

Middle East Eye has met and interviewed French Muslim people. Amel, 38, shrugged it off:

"Another controversy against Muslim people. That is old news. There’s no Islam, there’s Muslim people. How am I an issue for France? And why can’t I represent France with my veil on?"

The spokesperson of the Fédération des Musulmans du Sud (Muslims of the South Federation), Feïza Ben Mohamed, said the president's comments were "shocking".

"Hollande doesn’t preach social cohesion here. The elections are coming up, we are in the midst of the State of Emergency and threatened by terrorists, but the president blames it all on a religion whilst advocating for the live-together concept and reject prejudices," she said in comments to MEE.

"I don’t know what is up with all those politicians in France," said an inhabitant of Nice, where a terror attack claimed by the Islamic State group occurred last 14 July.

"He is clear: to be considered as French you need to take off your veil. As if there was only one way of being French. If Islam bugs people that much it’s only because Muslim people have become visible. French Muslim people have political aspirations, like any other citizen."

'Aren't you pretty? Unveil yourself!' French colonial poster distributed during the Algerian Revolution.

‘Aren’t you pretty? Take that veil off!’: French colonial poster that was distributed during the Algerian revolution, posted on Twitter during the burkini controversy last summer (@musab_ys)

An election-oriented manoeuvre

Pierre Tevanian, a professor of philosophy and author of Unveiling: From the Hijab to the Burqa: a French Obsession, called Hollande's comments a risky discourse.

"Saying that a religion is an issue in France is a problem itself. Or, we have to admit that France has an issue with Islam and we need to treat Muslim people equally," he told MEE.

The author especially condemned what the president said about Marianne.

"The woman who is wearing a veil will be Marianne only if she takes it off. She will have to submit herself to the diktats imposed by a man, by the parliament. Her freedom is scorned. In his sentence, [Hollande] forfeits her nationality to the woman who does not take off her veil.

"Yet, the majority of the women veiled in France are French. Not foreigners. This is another way of excluding a fringe of the population. This is exactly what the Front National is saying."

Nacira Guenif, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Paris VIII University, made the same observation:

"Hollande is depicting a Muslim woman who needs to be rescued. This is the same discourse as the neoconservatives who were in favor of the war in Iraq or in Afghanistan, claiming that they would save women from obscurantism and Muslim men.

"The majority of women who are actually wearing the veil have no problem whatsoever with their identity and live in peace. Hollande gives an orientalist twist to this veil, which is, on the contrary, for a lot of women, a means to emancipate themselves.

"In the French society, the oppression does not come from the veil itself, it comes from the public discourse, from all discriminatory practices in the labour market," she told MEE.

Was it a provocation? A blunder? A way of showing that Francois Hollande has in mind the next presidential elections and will probably run?

With his remarks about Islam, did the president stir the identity brew France has been boiling in, whilst trying to bring people together?

According to Nacira Guenif, he did.

"Hollande is campaigning and wallowed in the most populist comments. Apparently, he has completely changed his position, and he is no longer talking as the president. He is doing what the left-wing party has been doing for the past 30 years, meaning, recycling the Front National theses and making them appear more ‘left-wing’. But it doesn’t work."

If the French president, who is likely to run for another term, has grasped the two main tendencies that dominate public opinion in France - obsession over Islam and bringing people together - his appearence of always being in the middle makes him inaudible and even dangerous.

"He goes from pulling at the threads of identity anxiety, to trying to keep up a left-wing apparence. This is schizophrenia. While saying that there will be no civilisations war in France, he is obviously sowing its seeds."

This article was originally published on Middle East Eye's French website and translated by Nassima Demiche.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Hassina Mechaï is a French-Algerian journalist based in Paris. She holds a Masters Degree in Law and one in International Relations and is specialised in Africa and Middle East affairs. Her topics of reflexion are world governance, civil society and public opinion, and media and cultural soft power. She has worked for various French, African and Arab media, including Le Point, RFI, Afrique Magazine, Africa 24, Al Qarra, and Respect Magazine.

Photo: Paris Mosque rector Dalil Boubakeur (C) walks with French President Francois Hollande (L) as they visit the Grande Mosquee de Paris prior to a ceremony to unveil a memorial for Muslim soldiers (AFP)
Does France have an issue with Islam? That's what Francois Hollande is sayinno

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Humanity, ReligionCultureSciencePeace

We are facing the possibility of a second Cold War – and if it happens, Isis will never be defeated

When America and Russia cannot act together in the face of a common threat on the scale of Isis, then there is little cause for optimism Getty
At the risk of sounding a little foolish, there is, sadly, much evidence that World War Three has already arrived, though not quite in the way so many futurologists of the past imagined it, as a clash between superpowers, their tanks chasing each other across the North German plain.
Nowadays, our planet is much more kaleidoscopic and asymmetric in its violence than that, and the world is pretty much in flames already, should we care to look. The question is whether all the present (relatively) little wars could actually mutate into, or trigger, a real superpower conflict involving the US, Russia and China, at the least.
We are probably not yet at the most dangerous pass since 1945: the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and the early 1980s felt more frightening in those terms, in truth much more than after 9/11, traumatising as that event was. But we are certainly in risky, unstable, uncertain times.
Former Mi6 Chief says we’re entering an era ‘more dangerous than Cold War’
There are about 195 countries in the world. Only a dozen or so can be said to be properly at peace: Iceland, the world’s most peaceful country according to the Global Peace Index, followed by Denmark, Austria, New Zealand, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Slovenia and Finland. A tiny proportion of the world’s population reside in these outposts of calm. The list of conflicts, wars, civil wars, insurgencies and permanent states of terror is a much longer one, from the all-too-familiar agonies of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Boko Haram in west Africa, and Yemen through to less well-covered conflicts such as the drugs wars in Mexico and insurgencies from Burma to Armenia and Azerbaijan to (until recently) Colombia. Britain, one way or another, has been in some sort of conflict every year since 1914, with the sole exception of 1968.
So the world is at war, and more so than at any point than in most people’s lifetimes. It is a way of life for most of humanity. Each conflict is different, of course. Slogans such as the “war on terror” or the “war on militant Islamism” fail to capture this reality. After all, many of these conflicts – as we see graphically in Syria and Yemen, for example – are between different groups of militant Islamists, with the Sunni-Shia divide more or less visible. Closer to home, in Northern Ireland, some of the bloodiest moments in the Troubles came when armed Republicans fought armed Loyalists, rather than the security forces. The tendency with al-Qaeda and Isis is for semi-autonomous or autonomous groups, or just random disaffected individuals armed with only a light truck or a smuggled gun, to “affiliate” themselves, often after the event.
The “clash of civilisations”, the famous phrase coined by Samuel Huntington a quarter century ago, has not materialised in the sense he envisaged – substantial blocs of nation states fighting conventional wars across “faultiness”. Instead, we have these fragmented, chaotic, unpredictable sets of “players” that vary in size and potency from the United States of America to a lone maniac with a machete on a train in Germany, or gangs of drunken child soldiers in the Central African Republic. There are proxy wars which defy easy categorisation into a pattern of “the West versus the Rest”. Where America wants to retain friendlier relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose side is the US on in the proxy war between Tehran and Riyadh in Yemen? When the Hutu and the Tutsi attempt genocide, they do so for ethnic not geopolitical reasons.
Even so, the immediate danger now is Cold War 2, much more than a “hot” Third World War, though one could grow out of the other. The US-Russia relationship is on a pivot between progress and failure, more so than at any time since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Also unsteady are America’s and Russia’s respective relations with China, which, as has been true since the Sino-Soviet split in 1961 and Richard Nixon’s historic visit in 1972, can be categorised, in Huntington’s terms, as a “swing superpower”, and a better armed, active and richer one nowadays.
When America and Russia cannot act together in the face of a common threat on the scale of Isis, then there is certainly little cause for optimism. Putin won his war in the Ukraine with the annexation of Crimea and the de facto capture of eastern Ukraine, on the very borders of Nato and the European Union. Perhaps, had Donald Trump not been so enchanted by Vladimir Putin, we would have heard more about that particular failing by the Obama administration in the presidential campaign.


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Humanity, ReligionCultureSciencePeace

The Christian Evangelical Professor Wore a Hijab in Solidarity — Then Lost Her Job

Three days after Larycia Hawkins agreed to step down from her job at Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Wheaton, Ill., she joined her former colleagues and students for what was billed as a private service of reconciliation. It was a frigid Tuesday evening last February, and attendance was optional, but Wheaton’s largest chapel was nearly full by the time the event began. A large cross had been placed on the stage, surrounded by tea lights that snaked across the blond floorboards in glowing trails.

“We break, we hurt, we wound, we lament,” the school’s chaplain began. He led a prayer from the Book of Psalms, and the crowd sang a somber hymn to the tune of “Amazing Grace”:

God raised me from a miry pit,
from mud and sinking sand,
and set my feet upon a rock
where I can firmly stand.

Philip Ryken, the college’s president of six years, spoke next. His father had been an English professor at Wheaton for 44 years, and he grew up in town, receiving his undergraduate degree from the college. “I believe in our fundamental unity in Jesus Christ, even in a time of profound difficulty that is dividing us and threatening to destroy us,” he told the crowd. “These recent weeks have been, I think, the saddest days of my life.” It was the night before the first day of Lent, the 40-day season of repentance in the Christian calendar.

Wheaton had spent the previous two months embroiled in what was arguably the most public and contentious trial of its 156-year history. In December, Hawkins wrote a theologically complex Facebook post announcing her intention to wear a hijab during Advent, in solidarity with Muslims; the college placed her on leave within days and soon moved to fire her. Jesse Jackson had compared Hawkins with Rosa Parks, while Franklin Graham, an evangelist and Billy Graham’s son, declared, “Shame on her!” Students protested, fasted and tweeted. Donors, parents and alumni were in an uproar. On this winter evening, the first black female professor to achieve tenure at the country’s most prominent evangelical college was now unemployed and preparing to address the community to which she had devoted the past nine years of her life. As a Wheaton anthropology professor, Brian Howell, wrote in January, the episode had become “something of a Rorschach test for those wondering about the state of Wheaton College, evangelicalism and even U.S. Christianity.”

As Hawkins climbed the stairs to the stage that night, a few dozen students stood up in the front rows. They were wearing all black and had planned this quiet bit of theater as a show of solidarity. For a long beat, they stood together between Hawkins and the seated crowd. Then, one by one, others in the audience began to rise. The silence held for a full minute, as a majority of the room stood.

Then Hawkins began to speak. She told the hushed crowd that they should see Jesus in the oppressed, that Christianity is inherently political and that “bubbles are made to burst.” And she read the first chapter of the book of Isaiah, a blistering prophecy for the rebellious nation of Israel spoken in the voice of an angry God. “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you,” she read, her voice growing steadier with every line. “Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. ... The strong man will become tinder, his work also a spark. Thus they shall both burn together.”

When Hawkins began teaching politics at Wheaton College in 2007, she wanted to be known as a professor who challenged her students’ preconceptions. Her classes included “Race and the Politics of Welfare” and “Race and the Obama Presidency.” She talked about how Obama had to appear to “transcend” race in order to get elected, about why he spoke differently to black and white audiences, about how polling data suggested that he would have won by an even larger margin were he white. At the end of her upper-level classes, she would cook a big meal at her apartment, and students presented their final research over dessert. She found her students to be smart and engaged, and she was pleasantly surprised by their open-mindedness and the diversity of their views. “It was like any other amazing liberal-arts institution,” she said. “It just happened to be an evangelical Christian context.”

I grew up in the town of Wheaton, with the white cupola of the college’s Billy Graham Center visible from my bedroom window. I entered the college as a freshman in 1998, following my parents and my grandfather, an Orthodox Presbyterian minister who graduated in 1928. Students at Wheaton attend mandatory chapel services three mornings a week, drinking is mostly forbidden, many dorms are sex-segregated and many class sessions open with prayer. Every year, faculty, staff and trustees affirm the college’s Statement of Faith, a list of 12 theological commitments that aim to capture the essence of evangelical faith. It opens with a declaration of belief in a trinitarian God — “We believe in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three persons” — and proceeds to cover concepts including original sin, the existence of Satan and the resurrection of Jesus. “Theological checkups,” as one politics professor described them, are not unheard-of. Leah Anderson, Hawkins’s last department chairwoman, told me that she has been interrogated twice after parents complained about her. Once, a straightforward discussion of family policy in an Introduction to Comparative Politics class led to an accusation that Anderson was “anti-family.”

But unlike, say, Bob Jones University or Liberty University, Wheaton is not a de facto training ground for the Christian Right. My professors included feminists, libertarians and Sanders-style socialists, and they conducted scholarly work on seemingly anything they were interested in. No Wheaton professors I spoke with, including sharp critics and those who have left the school, said they were ever afraid to do their own research. Indeed, from its founding in 1860, Wheaton defined itself as much by its intellectualism as by its Christian character. Wheaton is both “pervasively Christ-centered” and “academically rigorous,” Ryken, the school’s president, told me. “We are very serious about our academic mission.”

Like Hawkins, I was both a dutiful evangelical teenager and a stubborn skeptic. Wheaton, with its unusual combination of high academic standards and devout culture, seemed like a good place to learn how to think. Its graduates include politicians, chief executives, influential scholars and spiritual leaders like Billy Graham, an anthropology major in the class of ’43. (Our families are not related.) It places alumni at top graduate schools and draws faculty from other elite institutions.

Though the school never uses the phrase itself, students and alumni often archly refer to Wheaton as “the Harvard of Christian schools.” The phrase is self-deprecating, because in today’s academic culture, there is an obvious tension in the idea of a Christian Harvard. It wasn’t always so. In the first decades of Wheaton’s history, almost every other American institution of higher learning paid at least nominal deference to Christianity. Yale was the scene of several revivals led by the evangelist Dwight L. Moody in the late 19th century; Wellesley was among those that mandated considerable Bible study. At the turn of the 20th century, many state universities required students to attend church on Sunday in addition to campus chapel services, and about half of all American undergraduates attended a church-related school.

Over the course of the 20th century, the academy sloughed off the cultural trappings of Christianity, not to mention the theological commitments. But at distinctly Christian schools like Wheaton, parents expect their children’s religious faith to be stretched but not broken, and they take an active role in the college’s direction. Alumni are unusually devoted, too, not just with the typical fits of nostalgic school spirit but with an abiding interest in the institution’s ideological and spiritual mission. George Marsden, a historian whose books include “The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship,” told me that Wheaton is something like a church denomination, in that its constituents “are invested in it not just as their alma mater but as part of a much larger cause that they are participating in.”

During my four years at Wheaton, I drifted away from evangelicalism. But I never contemplated transferring to another school. I was reading Foucault and Judith Butler (Shakespeare and Milton too); my professors were brilliant and kind and I found plenty of kindred spirits. When the religion scholar Alan Wolfe visited Wheaton for a cover article about evangelical intellectualism in The Atlantic in 2000, halfway through my time there, he found a campus whose earnestness was both endearing and impressive: “In its own way, campus life at Wheaton College resembles that of the 1960s, when students and a few professors, convinced that they had embarked on a mission of eternal importance, debated ideas as if life really depended on the answers they came up with.” At a suburban dive bar on the edge of a marsh, we drank illicit Pabst on Saturday night and talked about politics, music and philosophy like undergraduates anywhere. Then we got up on Sunday morning and went to church.

As Hawkins settled in at Wheaton, she struggled. Though she loved her students, the heavy teaching load was stressful, especially for a self-described perfectionist. As a black woman in a predominantly white community, she was asked to serve on many committees and participate frequently in public events like panel discussions. Those commitments left little time for research and writing, though she still received tenure on schedule in 2013. Her health and social life suffered. She rarely had time for exercise or her book club anymore, dating was difficult, and she battled chronic sinus infections, migraines and high blood pressure, which she attributed to stress.

The Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, where the Bible-and-theology department is located. Credit Charlie Simokaitis for The New York Times
Photo by: Charlie Simokaitis for The New York Times
Much of that stress seemed to derive from her almost bodily awareness of the world’s problems. In one of our half-dozen conversations over eight months, she described seeing people look happy and knowing she was different because she felt so weighed down by the injustices she saw and read about. She quotes Old Testament prophets from memory; several people described her to me as prophetic herself. As we spoke, her concerns veered from the Syrian refugee crisis to Rwandan genocide to gun violence to income inequality. Those worries are a burden she bears as a political scientist and as a Christian, she told me.

A year or two after arriving on campus, she developed a distaste for performances of patriotism and decided to stop saluting the flag and singing the national anthem. “I feel very strongly that my first allegiance is to a different kingdom than an earthly kingdom,” she told me. “It’s to a heavenly kingdom, and it’s to the principles of that kingdom.” Evangelicals tend to emphasize righteousness on an individual scale, but Hawkins was becoming attracted to theological traditions that emphasize systemic sin and repentance.

In particular, she was reading a lot of black liberation theology, a strain of thinking that emerged from the Black Power movement of the 1960s. Jesus’ central mission was to liberate the oppressed, the philosophy argues, but mainstream American Christianity is beholden to irredeemably corrupt “white theology.” The tone of black liberation is often angry — think of Jeremiah Wright’s infamous “God damn America” sermon — and conservative evangelicals are wary of it because of its theological pessimism and its politically radical roots. But Hawkins was beginning to view many of the Bible’s commands through a lens of race and class. “Theology is always contextual,” she told me, a core idea of black liberation theology. She said that evangelicals have trouble confronting “an ontological blackness of Christ.” Responding to Wheaton’s charge for professors to “integrate faith and learning,” she took these ideas into the classroom.

She also began to work out an idea she calls “embodied solidarity.” The concept starts with inspiration from Catholic social teaching, the labor movement, the Eucharist (in which Christians consume bread as “the body of Christ”) and the imago Dei — the idea that humans are created in the image of God. But she wanted to take “solidarity” past its popular use by do-gooders. Tweeting and check-writing are cheap gestures; short-term aid vacations to developing countries are “poverty porn.”

For Christians, a central fact about Jesus Christ is that, unlike God the Father or the Holy Spirit, he had a body, which experienced physical suffering and pleasure; his first miracle was transforming water into wine to keep a wedding party going. He cried out in pain while being crucified — the ultimate act of “embodied solidarity.” But Western Christianity also has a long tradition of treating the physical realm (sex, food, beauty) with suspicion (lust, gluttony, vanity). So Hawkins’s idea of “embodied solidarity” can read as a rebuke to American Protestantism, particularly the white intellectual strain that Wheaton represents. “I was taught to think of those who emphasize the body as secular or carnal or somehow off the mark,” she said, explaining that she now sees that perspective as a “defunct view of the body.”

True solidarity, Hawkins was coming to believe, involves physical risk and sustained labor. It also involves recognizing that structural inequality is a kind of violence, with physical effects on its victims. She referred to a passage in the book of Luke in which Jesus’ followers fail to recognize him after his resurrection. “My question is who do we not have the eyes to see?” Hawkins said. “That’s the question that plagues my soul: Who am I not seeing in their suffering? What entire groups of people, humans, do I not see suffering?”

Hawkins’s grandfather was the founder and pastor of the family’s church in Oklahoma City, which belonged to a historically African-American denomination that arose during a wave of Southern black institution-building in the wake of the Civil War. Growing up she was taught that the Bible was a direct guidebook that any Christian could interpret on her own with the help of the Holy Spirit.

She remembers sitting in front of the family’s house in Oklahoma City at around age 6, looking up at the sky and thinking, There must be a God. For a while, she carried around a small green Gideon Bible in a little purse everywhere she went. But she also pushed back against Sunday-school simplicity. She was the kind of child who asked a vacation Bible schoolteacher one summer, “If Adam and Eve sinned, why did we get punished?” It’s a question that suggests both theological acuity and a touch of self-righteousness. The teacher, flummoxed, told her to ask her grandfather.

He died suddenly when she was 11, two days after baptizing her at the front of the church sanctuary on a Sunday evening. Soon afterward, the Hawkins family began attending a Southern Baptist church in nearby Shawnee, a small city with a much smaller black population. Their new church was overwhelmingly white, but Hawkins felt comfortable there, and her faith deepened. At home, she was such a dutiful daughter that when she went out with her friends, she could joke about planning to get drunk, and her parents would tease her back, “Have fun!”

When she arrived at Rice University, a prestigious liberal-arts school in Houston, she joined a local chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ, an evangelical ministry founded for college students (and now rebranded as “Cru”). In class, she read Catholic thinkers for the first time and reformers like Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli. Majoring in history and sociology, she began to see religion as a force not just in her own heart but also in human history.

In graduate school at the University of Oklahoma, Hawkins studied under Allen Hertzke, a political scientist whose work has made a case for the value of religious freedom. He helped her shape a dissertation on the George W. Bush administration’s faith-based initiative and the disjuncture between the Congressional Black Caucus, which largely opposed it on partisan grounds, and the black population as a whole, which overwhelmingly supported it. Though academics and activists typically hail legislators that reflect the demographics of their constituencies, she wrote, this was a case “where black faces fail to represent black interests.”

She was recruited by Wheaton before she completed her dissertation. It’s easy to imagine what Wheaton thought they were getting by hiring her: A political scientist who was sympathetic to faith-friendly public policy and also willing to pick at the seams of liberal orthodoxy and contemporary racial politics. It’s very likely that the school also valued the fact that she would help bolster the diversity of its faculty. Wheaton admitted an African-American college student in 1866, believed to be the first in the state. Today about a fifth or so of the undergraduate population are minorities, along with about 25 of 200 full-time faculty members. (Wheaton’s minority student population is comparable to other elite Midwestern liberal-arts colleges, including Oberlin and Kenyon.) The goals of its current $175 million capital campaign include deepening racial and ethnic diversity on campus, and the school has reason for optimism. As Ryken pointed out to me, black and Latino Christians are arguably more theologically conservative as a group than white American Christians, and evangelicalism is booming in the global South.

But Hawkins was also interested in progressive ideas of justice, entering a department that housed a public-policy center named for, until his recent sex-abuse scandal, Dennis Hastert, the conservative former speaker of the House of Representatives. She imagined herself “pushing back against the broader current of evangelicalism” in a town that has been called the evangelical Vatican. She was a single woman in a religious culture that reveres the nuclear family. And she was black, on a historically white campus that has made sincere but spotty recent efforts to address racial issues. As she told me in January, “For whatever reason, since I came to Wheaton, I’ve been a lightning rod.”

Hawkins’s relationship with Wheaton’s administration, particularly the provost, Stanton Jones, began to fray within just a few years. Her experiences as a black woman on campus were never hostile, but she was occasionally uncomfortable. Early on, a “hip-hop chapel,” meant to celebrate black styles of worship, read to her more like a minstrel show, an offensive attempt to “check off the diversity box.” She complained and was rebuffed. She felt “spiritually dry,” a term Christians use to describe the feeling of being far from God. “It’s quite a paradox that being in this thoroughly Christian place has been a very difficult time for me faith-wise,” she told me in February. “At Wheaton, unity always trumps diversity.”

Like all tenure-track faculty members at Wheaton, Hawkins was required to participate in a two-year program on the integration of “faith and learning,” culminating in the production of a 30-to-50-page paper that lays out how each faculty member relates his or her faith to academic work. Hawkins described the program as an “assimilation project.” (Another black former faculty member described it to me as “oppressive” and an “indoctrination.”) Jones asked her to defend her paper in writing, because it described black liberation theology without making clear that she did not endorse it. The paper included an apparently insufficiently critical analysis of a father of the movement, James Cone, who has argued in books like “God of the Oppressed” that “any interpretation of God that ignores black oppression cannot be Christian theology.” According to Hawkins, Jones said her paper seemed to promote Marxism. (Jones, whom I knew as a child because he attended my family’s church, and other administrators at Wheaton declined to discuss Hawkins, as did a Wheaton College spokeswoman.)

Over the years, according to Hawkins, Jones called her into his office several more times to affirm her commitment to the college’s theological and behavioral strictures. At one point, when she attended a party in Chicago on the same day as the city’s pride parade, she was asked to answer for a photo that ended up on Facebook. The tension escalated in the spring of 2015, when Hawkins pushed the college to expand its language around diversity to include L.G.B.T.Q. students, a fraught mission on a campus where gay students are forbidden to date. Again, Jones asked her to confirm the Statement of Faith. (He is a psychologist by training, and a key theme of his own academic work centers on the idea that homosexuality is mutable.)

That same spring, Hawkins was asked to deliver a “Tower Talk,” the college’s version of TED Talks. She wrote a speech that used zombies as an extended metaphor for the way black men have been dehumanized in American political culture. (The talk she later gave at the reconciliation service after she left Wheaton would draw from this text.) The prepared speech praised the Black Lives Matter movement and condemned the “tepid response” of evangelical elites to Ferguson, Mo. And she made a sweeping case that Christian justice requires recognizing the different bodily experiences of various identity groups and demanding that economic and political institutions start “prioritizing the vulnerable and the least”:

A politics of difference requires, in short, a radical shift in the body politic — and in the body of Christ. It requires a body politic that sees bodies, gendered bodies, colored bodies, disabled bodies, L.G.B.T.Q. bodies, and declares that bodies matter. Black lives matter should not be a controversial statement where there is recognition that bodies and groups of bodies have received disparate treatment in our past and in our present. Black bodies matter. And because those bodies matter, a politics of difference is paramount.

After seeing the full text, Jones asked her to revise it; she said he was particularly concerned with her reference to “L.G.B.T.Q. bodies.” When she declined, he canceled the talk. Then he reversed his decision after an episode in which several Wheaton football players jokingly dressed in K.K.K. robes for a skit in a variety show, prompting a campus uproar and unflattering news coverage. Hawkins said no, telling him that she didn’t have confidence he would defend her if the talk proved controversial.

Larycia Hawkins, center, at a news conference in Chicago on Dec. 16, 2015, the day after she was put on leave from Wheaton College. Credit Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Photo by: Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
On Dec. 10, 2015, Hawkins wrote a Facebook post that would set in motion the end of her employment at Wheaton. The post was 11 paragraphs, and it announced her intention to wear a hijab throughout the season of Advent, as a show of “embodied solidarity” with Muslims. Donald Trump had recently called for a total ban on Muslims entering the United States, and the Liberty University president, Jerry Falwell Jr., had mused publicly about how looser concealed-carry laws could help “end those Muslims.” “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” Hawkins wrote in response. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” The post ended with the words “Shalom friends.”

Almost immediately, administrators began to hear from concerned alumni, donors and parents of students and prospective students. One home-schooling mother of seven left an indignant message for Anderson, Hawkins’s department chairwoman, saying the family made great sacrifices to send their daughter to Wheaton, and they expected her to receive a Christian worldview there. December is a month in which many donors make significant end-of-year gifts and when high-school seniors are making their final decisions about where to apply to college. Jones would later describe the response from prospective students’ parents as a “tidal wave”; at the time the post appeared, he characterized the financial threat as one that would imperil 15 to 20 faculty jobs. Five days after her post appeared, Jones called Hawkins into a meeting, asked her to respond in writing to several “Areas of Significant Concern” and placed her on paid administrative leave.

It seemed odd to outsiders that Hawkins’s apparently straightforward and empathetic post could cause such turmoil in an intellectual environment, even a religious one. But conservative Wheaton alumni and parents found a litany of troubling political, cultural and theological implications in her post. There were Hawkins’s references to “primordial clay” and the “cradle of humankind” in South Africa — subtle nods to evolutionary theory. There was the implication that the pope is a definitive theological authority as well as her deference to the judgment of the Council on American Islamic Relations, whose advice and blessing Hawkins sought before donning the hijab. And then there were the photos themselves, showing Hawkins in a patterned purple head scarf, which may have been the most incendiary aspect of all.

On Dec. 17, Hawkins submitted a four-page theological statement to Jones. Her document begins by affirming her faith in the triune God and the divinity of Jesus and goes on to cite respected evangelical theologians, including Timothy George. It explores various interpretations of the Eucharist, human origins and the concept of imago Dei. It delves into the question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God, which emerged as the most contentious point in public. Hawkins’s defenders pointed out that Jones and Wheaton’s previous president had signed an interfaith statement in 2007 implying that same thing. Each later removed his signature, but the president said at the time that no one had pressured him to do so — a fact that suggests the “same God” language might not bother Wheaton’s constituents when it comes from the college’s white male leaders.

Wheaton does not require all its professors to be trained theologians, but it considers them to be “ministers” of a kind and requires a certain level of theological sophistication from them. Even so, Hawkins’s statement is a remarkable document for a political scientist to be asked to produce within 48 hours. Christians understand God as “a tri-Personal, perichoretic unity,” she wrote. “My statement is not a statement on soteriology or trinitarian theology, but one of embodied piety.” Her reference to Muslims as her “brothers and sisters” — another point of contention — was in part “a reflection of my African-American cultural heritage.”

As Christmas break began, Jones and Hawkins met again, this time off campus. According to a person with intimate knowledge of the meeting, Jones described staying at Wheaton as a path that would be “very, very difficult.” Hawkins would be required to suspend her tenure, undergo a two-year review process and submit to “ongoing conversation” about theology with administrators and members of the board. Her four-page statement was not enough, in other words; she was so radioactive that she would require indefinite oversight. At the end of the meeting, he advised her to retain a lawyer.

After that meeting, Hawkins declined to further justify the theology behind her Facebook post to the administration. Later, some white Wheaton alumni and parents couldn’t understand why Hawkins stopped talking with administrators. But several black current and former faculty members were sympathetic. “I use the example of being pulled over,” said Shawn Okpebholo, a composer and professor in Wheaton’s conservatory. “You keep getting challenged over and over to explain yourself and then forced to explain yourself more. You say, ‘No, I can’t do this anymore.’ What they may see as insubordination is something we in the black community think is about integrity.”

On Jan. 4, Jones formally recommended to the president that Hawkins be fired, on the grounds of Hawkins’s “failure to accept and model the Statement of Faith of the College and/or the Community Covenant.” His memo to Ryken emphasized that he was concerned with both Hawkins’s individual statements and the “overall narrative” they suggested. “Mere passive affirmation of the Statement of Faith is not enough,” he wrote. “One’s actions in the classroom and beyond — such as statements in academic publications and more general public statements — should manifest the faculty member’s full identification with the Statement of Faith.” In other words, Hawkins violated the spirit of the Statement of Faith without contradicting any of its explicit claims.

Through my conversations with more than 20 current and former faculty members before and after Jones recommended Hawkins be fired, the portrait that emerged was of a campus splitting along just about every internal seam and along its outer borders, too. In January, some faculty members wore their academic regalia to class as a show of solidarity with Hawkins, while others quietly circulated a statement that was critical of her theology. A planned prayer meeting for Wheaton parents who supported the administration grew so large that it had to be moved from a local home to a spare lecture hall on campus. In early February, 78 faculty members signed a statement urging Jones to reinstate Hawkins. The press had descended on campus and were covering every meeting and memo. Various private Facebook groups, which alumni on all sides of the issue had used to spread news and rumors for months, were devolving into self-reinforcing pools of sanctimony and even rage. (Ryken’s sisters were active participants on a page set up to support the administration.)

This is how an evangelical academic community expresses outrage: sternly worded statements, meetings and prayer. There were also flashes of real ugliness on campus. One student wearing a hijab in solidarity with Hawkins said that a classmate slammed a door in her face so hard that she was left with cuts and bruises. And the F.B.I. looked into a vicious satirical website smearing a local Islamic center where several faculty members had made friendly overtures; some of its barbs were so specific that many assumed it had to have come from within the college community.

On Feb. 6, a Saturday evening, Jones seemed to have a change of heart. He emailed the entire faculty telling them that he had apologized to Hawkins earlier that week and revoked his recommendation that she be fired. Two hours later, though, the college issued a news release announcing that the two parties “found a mutual place of resolution and reconciliation,” and that Hawkins would be leaving the school. Hawkins’s lawyer, Robert Bloch, and Wheaton’s legal teams had been in communication since December; Hawkins also had the strategic support of an interfaith labor organization based in Chicago. “A lot of healing would have to happen” in order for her to stay, she told me warily in January. Instead, she agreed to leave, appearing alongside college officials upon her departure after accepting terms that are subject to a confidentiality agreement. Bloch confirmed that the settlement included financial compensation.

The ensuing silence opened up even more room for speculation. Over the years, Wheaton has taken great pains to maintain its institutional identity — to avoid following broader academic winds to the left, or the lure of fundamentalism on the right. “There are always people who think that Wheaton has become this really draconian, oppressive, fundamentalist place, and there are always people who think that it’s just given up on its evangelical moorings and its Christianity,” said Timothy Larsen, a Wheaton professor of Christian thought. The Hawkins episode, he said, was “a controversy where whatever people fear is what they are really convinced is happening.”

Many of Hawkins’s supporters dismiss the idea that the confidential settlement was true reconciliation. It was an especially painful outcome for those on campus who see Wheaton’s progress on racial issues as promising, if complex. “We looked like something we’re not, a white fundamentalist college,” Okpebholo said. “That’s what we looked like to the outside.” The reconciliation service on campus, which began with prayer and ended with communion, was also galling to some who backed her. The communion service in particular “felt like spiritual manipulation,” said Ezer Kang, a psychology professor who left Wheaton for Howard University this year. “It wasn’t reconciliation.” He walked out before the breaking of the bread.

Wheaton is still feeling the reverberations from Hawkins’s departure. Jones retired as provost this spring, though he remains a faculty member at the college. The board of trustees appointed a review panel of primarily trustees and faculty to undertake a thorough post-mortem, examining issues like how race and gender influenced what happened and how the Statement of Faith might affect academic freedom. A public statement related to the report is expected later this year.

In August, six months after Hawkins left Wheaton, she met with me in her office at the University of Virginia, where she had accepted a research fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. The week before, she loaded up her car and drove to Charlottesville from her home just outside Chicago. Two tall shelves in her new office were filling up with books and knickknacks: a Hello Kitty lunchbox, a shadow box with old campaign buttons, a small replica of a church window. A painting by a former student depicted Jesus as a black man with a gold halo, in the style of a Catholic icon. Hawkins said he reminded her of Tupac Shakur.

Since her controversial leave-taking from Wheaton, she had become something of a celebrity in the small world of interfaith media and nonprofits. In the spring, she began taking speaking engagements, and she traveled to accept awards from religious organizations in Michigan, New York and Washington. In June, she flew to Turkey with a Chicago-based Islamic nonprofit organization to meet with Syrian refugees. Strangers have recognized her on airplanes and on the street; she is wary of dating online, for fear she’ll be recognized there too. She recently worked out a deal with HarperOne to write a book about “embodied solidarity,” a concept she returned to over and over throughout the preceding months.

As a Wheaton alumnus, it was hard for me not to mourn the way things had turned out. I have always been sympathetic to Wheaton’s attempts to maintain its unusual institutional character, even when those attempts are clumsy or publicly embarrassing. The balance between orthodoxy and intellectualism is poignantly fragile. And the Hawkins episode was a painful reminder of why. That Wheaton couldn’t make room for a scholar like Hawkins raises questions about what real diversity might look like in a setting where a certain uniformity of belief is essential. And that so many of its constituents interpreted her actions so uncharitably, so swiftly, reflects poorly on evangelicalism as a whole. The difference between theological purity and cultural exclusion is not always as tidy as believers would like to think.

In her new office, we talked about Wheaton and about Jesus, about her evolving faith and about Donald Trump. Hawkins’s voice is both gentle and totally assured, and she speaks in long elliptical paragraphs that tend to eddy into generalities. If conservatives in Wheaton’s constituency were disturbed by her Facebook post, they would most likely not have been comforted by our conversation. The kind of politics and the kind of faith she wants to be a part of is the kind that’s about “liberating people’s bodies, not just their souls,” she said. “Jesus came to save bodies. ... Theology only matters to the extent that bodies matter.” She told me that she’s not going to church regularly right now, but she still values institutional religion as a keeper of rituals and milestones.

In Charlottesville, Hawkins planned to restart a few research projects she hadn’t had time to finish at Wheaton, and she was applying for permanent jobs too. Still skittish in white evangelical settings — she received mixed reactions at a summer conference in Colorado called Simply Jesus — she is reluctant to apply within the 13-member consortium of evangelical colleges to which Wheaton belongs. She has been seeing a psychotherapist and acupuncturist, but she still has nightmares that seem connected to her experience at Wheaton. She sometimes feels tired and sad, she said, but she is not a victim. “We’re all on a spiritual journey,” she told me earlier that year, “and mine points to Jesus.”

© 2016 The New York Times Company.

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09 October 2016

The invasion of Afghanistan 15 years ago was an arrogant, wretched adventure that caused a migrant crisis by Robert Fisk

A young man sits among the wreckage after a suicide bomb attack in Kabul in July EPA
As usual, all the warnings were there. Three Anglo-Afghan wars. Russia’s Vietnam. The Graveyard of Empires. Poppy capital of the world. The most bombed, crushed, corrupted, mined nation on the globe. 

So off we set in our righteous war of revenge for the Twin Towers and the dead of 9/11 to bomb Afghanistan all over again and – a new twist, this – to bring “democracy” to the land though which Alexander the Great passed en route to India. Osama bin Laden was our latest Hitler, although his protective screen of Salafist obscurantist Taliban legions could hardly be compared to the Wehrmacht.

Bin Laden was a Saudi – so were 15 of the 19 hijackers who committed the international crime against humanity of 11 September 2001 – and Saudis supported the Taliban. But, as usual, Saudi Arabia was not part of the media story. This was to be a retelling of Victorian children’s books; of brave if bearded Afghan fighters struggling to take back their country, of high-altitude American bombers that killed the Taliban and wiped out a score or more of innocent villages, of US Special Forces riding bareback with Afghan horsemen to play “Bouskache” with a dead goat between battles. Carry On Up the Khyber.

The story, of course, was flawed from the start.

With what arrogance we began the whole wretched adventure 15 years ago. This time, we would not forget the brave Afghans (as we did after they drove the Russkies out of their country) and there would be freedom, aid, security and democracy. But as the years went by, the newly installed and “democratically elected” Afghan government became as wretched and corrupt as its communist predecessors.

Afghanistan army battles to push Taliban from Tarinkot
The NGOs arrived with millions to spend – all competing with each other and with the US military which offered even more millions in humanitarian aid in return for intelligence information. There were the usual massacres, an atrocity or two – Afghans loyal to General Abdul-Rashid Dostum suffocated Afghan Taliban prisoners in container trucks, US jets and armed Americans liquidating prison mutineers at only occasional cost to themselves – but Kabul was swiftly “liberated” by journalists and a clutch of tribesmen from the Panjhir Valley. 

A few women were persuaded to take off the evil burqa, in which their ancestors in parts of the country had covered themselves for hundreds of years, and George W Bush and our beloved Tony Blair quickly diverted themselves to the more lucrative rewards of a not dissimilar war in Iraq.

Allegedly, we “took our eye off the ball” by abandoning Afghanistan for Mesopotamia, but contemporary documents clearly prove that Iraq was Bush’s target all along. Afghanistan was never intended to be anything but a side-show.

By the time President Hamid Karzai had been installed in Kabul with the approval of a heavily tribal loyal “jurga” – the kind of assembly which, if British, might have prevented Brexit – everyone was being bought; the security services, banks, big business, the presidency itself. 

By the time Karzai – whose green gowns were, at least, immaculate – was elected for a second time, even the UN declared the election a fraud. The US President duly congratulated Karzai on his election win. This was when American advisers began to tell us that we could not expect “Jeffersonian democracy” – whatever that was – in Afghanistan.

This would, after all, be a more rough-and-ready kind of political freedom, in which people voted along tribal lines. Karzai himself only began to fade from American approval, though, when he condemned US air strikes on innocent Afghans – speaking in Pushtu, which few US officials understood. When he appeared to pass a law allowing minority Shiite men to rape their wives, the White House published a photo of an apparently humbled Karzai under the stern and disapproving gaze of a matronly Hillary Clinton. US voters, please note. The US media then seized on Karzai’s unsavoury brother who was governor of Kandahar, the drugs capital of western Afghanistan.

It was the same old problem. To save American lives, the US bought up the Afghan militias to fight for them. These were the same outrageous gunmen and rapists who had destroyed Kabul in a four-year civil war in the early 1990s, but now they had to fight a resurgent, purist Taliban – who had done quite a lot of raping and marrying of child brides – to maintain US power. 

Most repulsive of this bunch of misogynists was Gulbudin Hekmatyar, a former CIA asset militia leader – despised and feared by pretty much all Afghans – who ended up as an ally of the Taliban and is currently fighting his former American masters. In other words, he’s now back in the “Hitler” camp.

Far more sinister were the trails of militia leaders who wound their way across this devastated land in convoys of brand new 4x4s, sustained by Western cash and a reflourishing drugs market, supposedly still fighting the Taliban – with whom some of them were commercially connected – while in fact staking out little kingdoms in a land which had grown used to such fiefdoms over thousands of years.

Which is why Afghanistan will not become Islamistan or even Talibanistan. It will, when the West finally packs up and leaves, become Mafiastan. Perhaps it already is.

Later years – or “current events” as we used to call them at school – dragged history along behind them. Just as the Americans and British (and even the UN, in its unwiser moments) thought they could build a nation in Afghanistan, so they tried the same old trick in Iraq, with even more tragic consequences. The Iraqi opposition – more nationalist than tribal, but soon to be even more Islamist than the Taliban – were quicker off the mark than their brothers in Afghanistan. They knew about insurrection, and the American and British soon faced a full-scale resistance war in Iraq as well as Afghanistan.

If historical lessons transferred from Kabul to Baghdad, tactics moved back in the other direction: the suicide bomber, hitherto an angel of death only in Lebanon, “Palestine” and Iraq, suddenly appeared in the towns and cities of Afghanistan, a phenomenon hitherto unheard of in the deserts and mountains below the Hindu Kush. And then in Pakistan. And here was another victim of our adventure in Afghanistan – which we today, I notice, call an “intervention”, the very same word the Russians used when they first invaded the same country in 1979.

And now, today, the Afghan refugees have fled yet again, via Turkey, into Europe. Afghans flock the streets of Istanbul. There is more Dari spoken in some parts of the city than Turkish. Yet now, we propose to deport 196,000 Afghan refugees from Europe back to the hell-hole we helped to create in Afghanistan. Quite a legacy from Kabul in 2001. 

Now Isis is in Afghanistan. Car bombs are as frequent in Kabul as they are in Baghdad, suicide killers as numberless as they are anonymous.

A new President, Ashraf Ghani, an American citizen, has pledged an end to corruption – some hope – but the militias reign supreme. (Ghani’s running mate was the ghastly Dustom). His Afghan army and police are as impotent as they were when first created by yet more American advisers after 2001.

Soldiers turn up for their uniforms and a month’s pay then vanish into the desert. Khunduz is under Taliban siege for the fourth time. The Americans bombed an MSF hospital in the last battle for the city. And the Germans have just announced that they won’t pay more than the original $5,000 (£4,000) to families who lost their loved ones in a German/Nato air strike because the pilot followed the rules. 

Again, the same old story: it’s not the extent of an Afghan’s loss that will measure his recompense but the degree of culpability of those who brought about that loss. And we are never – ever – going to blame ourselves.

Oh yes, and that chap Bin Laden. Wasn’t he the guy who took us to Afghanistan after 9/11? Well, he bottled himself up in Pakistan right next to a military academy and was eventually assassinated by a US hit squad. His remains were returned to an American base in Afghanistan before being dumped into the Indian Ocean – or not, according to US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. 

Hillary and Obama watched the killing live on video link. What a drama. But, long before, Bin Laden’s own al-Qaeda movement had morphed into Iraq and then into Syria and is now, after at least two name transfusions, the best known is al-Nusrah, fighting the Assad regime in Syria, especially in the rubble of eastern Aleppo, where we rightly weep for the civilians but respectfully call al-Nusrah the ‘rebels’.

And not a soul today suggests that the folly of our assault on Afghanistan has a narrative which leads all the way to the tragedy of Syria – and to Russia’s latest involvement in the Middle East. The Graveyard of Empires, indeed.

The invasion of Afghanistan 15 years ago was an arrogant, wretched adventure that caused a migrant crisis
by Robert Fisk, independent

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Humanity, ReligionCultureSciencePeace