The availability of rich datasets combined with next-generation computing architectures is enabling researchers and data scientists to innovate at a rapid pace. These factors will make AI an integral part of applications and devices.
Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama are broadening out these days. They have recently signed a multiyear deal to create their own production company, called Higher Ground Productions, to produce content for Netflix. The pair has recently been spotted on the road, delivering keynote speeches at corporate events and large conferences.
Mr. Obama delivered a powerful but apocalyptic message about America’s future Wedsenday at a technology conference in Las Vegas hosted by identity security company Okta — where he warned the audience of an uncertain future for America.
Mr. Obama used his time on stage at Okta Oktane 2018 conference to explain what ventures he is pursuing in his post-presidential years, and further warned about division in America. “We live in a culture today where everybody feels the crush of information and the collision of worlds,” Mr. Obama explained.
Okta CEO and co-founder Todd McKinnon chats with former president Obama on stage atOkta Oktane 2018 conference. (Source: Okta)
At the heart of the issue, the world is more interconnected than ever before, and technology is fundamentally reshaping relationships, as the access to information is rapidly fragmenting society.
Obama said, “the great thing about the United States is that we have had a head start over the rest of the world in trying to figure this all out.”
“We are a people that came from everywhere else, so we had to figure out how to join together and work together, not based on race, or religious faith or even, initially, language, but based on creed and a sense of principals,” the former president said
“All of us are trying to shape and absorb information in ways that can be confusing. If you ask people in Washington DC what identity means, they may well first describe their racial identity.
By definition, we [Americans] are a nation of people that came from everywhere else.
I think the big challenge we have today is how do we maintain a sense of common purpose rather than splinter or divide.
We are seeing this debated on social media every day, but if we don’t figure it out then our society and democracy may not survive.”
Obama expressed several important ways of how Americans can sustain and develop a national identity, where citizens view themselves as Americans first, rather than being members of a political party, or gender, or race, is by communicating with each other through stories. He said the more we can share stories with one another, the more we can view each other as fellow humans, rather than enemies.
Obama makes an interesting point, he suggests — Americans should expand their media sources. So no more CNN?
“Right now part of our polarization is that if you watch Fox News all day, or you read the New York Times, you are occupying two different realities. We have to be able to figure out, in this multiplicity of platforms, to have some common baseline of facts that allow us to meet and solve problems.”
While Obama cautions the audience about division in America and how it could lead to a collapse, the whole keynote speech seems to be a ploy to subliminally drum up support for his next venture of films and TV shows on Netflix.
Here is part of Obama’s keynote speech at Oktane 18
* * *
After about a year and a half, it seems as the Obamas/Clintons have finally emerged from their Washington war room, and are ready to launch the next phase of an infowar against President Trump. Do not believe us? Well, on Friday, Hillary Clinton announced she wants to be the CEO of Facebook. Can you imagine that? Now that is some next-level shit…Couple it with the Obamas on Netflix pumping out content, and you start to get the picture of an imminent infowar.
Liz Garbus’s documentary “The Fourth Estate” is essential viewing about the role that a robust press plays in democracy.
Recap of the latest episode of the Showtime hit drama series ‘Billions’ entitled “Redemption”. And, Daniel K. Isaac talks about the Ben Kim striptease that fans have been waiting for.
WTI Crude futures plunged in early Asia trading – touching a $65 handle for the first time in over a month – after Saudi Arabia and Russia proposed easing output curbs.
As Bloomberg notes, oil earlier this month rose to the highest level in more than three years after President Donald Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran and plunging Venezuelan output fueled supply concerns. With OPEC and allies achieving a key goal of eliminating the global surplus despite record production in the U.S., traders now are weighing whether Saudi Arabia and Russia will go ahead with their plan to revive output without reaching consensus with allies. The group are set to meet in June to decide its next steps.
The drop was accompanied by relatively heavy volume suggesting some capitulation from the extreme long crude speculative positioning. July WTI futures volume already tops 70,000 contracts — more than 420% of the 10-day average for this time of day — a feat even more impressive given that it’s a public holiday in both London and New York.
“The latest signal from OPEC and Russia cooled down expectations for the group’s cuts, which have been a major factor boosting crude price since late last year,” Satoru Yoshida, a commodity analyst at Rakuten Securities Inc., said by phone from Tokyo.
“If OPEC and allies decide at the June meeting to maintain their production cuts through December and ease anxiety among investors, crude prices may rebound.”
What is perhaps even more impressive is the spread between Brent (geopolitical risk premia) and WTI (domestic ‘over’-supply) is now well over $9 – the highest since March 2015…
The latest report about Wikipedia’s corruption comes from the great investigative journalist Craig Murray, who had been in the UK’s Foreign Service from 1984-2004 and who was forced out in 2004 because, having been since 2002 UK’s Ambassador to Uzbekistan, he decided to whistleblow instead of to accept the corruption by his own and Uzbekistan’s Governments.
Wikipedia’s article about him says that his immediately prior posting had involved participating in enforcement of the prior economic sanctions against Iraq, and “His group gave daily reports to Margaret Thatcher and John Major. In Murder in Samarkand, he describes how this experience led him to disbelieve the claims of the UK and US governments in 2002 about Iraqi WMDs.” So, his disenchantment with UK’s foreign policies seems to have grown over the years, instead of suddenly to have appeared only during the two years in which he was an Ambassador.
On May 18th, he headlined at his much-followed blog, “The Philip Cross Affair”, and reported: “133,612 edits to Wikipedia have been made in the name of ‘Philip Cross’ over 14 years. That’s over 30 edits per day, seven days a week. And I do not use that figuratively: Wikipedia edits are timed, and if you plot them, the timecard for ‘Philip Cross’s’ Wikipedia activity is astonishing … if it is one individual.”
He presents reasons to question that it’s a one-person operation, then states that,
the purpose of the “Philip Cross” operation is systematically to attack and undermine the reputations of those who are prominent in challenging the dominant corporate and state media narrative. particularly in foreign affairs. “Philip Cross” also systematically seeks to burnish the reputations of mainstream media journalists and other figures who are particularly prominent in pushing neo-con propaganda and in promoting the interests of Israel…
“Philip Cross”‘s views happen to be precisely the same political views as those of Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia. Jimmy Wales has been on twitter the last three days being actively rude and unpleasant to anybody questioning the activities of Philip Cross. His commitment to Cross’s freedom to operate on Wikipedia would be rather more impressive if the Cross operation were not promoting Wales’ own opinions. Jimmy Wales has actively spoken against Jeremy Corbyn, supports the bombing of Syria, supports Israel, is so much of a Blairite he married Blair’s secretary, and sits on the board of [the neoconservative and neoliberal] Guardian Media Group Ltd alongside Katherine Viner.
The extreme defensiveness and surliness of Wales’ twitter responses on the “Philip Cross” operation is very revealing. Why do you think he reacts like this? Interestingly enough. Wikipedia’s UK begging arm, Wikimedia UK, joined in with equal hostile responses to anyone questioning Cross.
In response, many people sent Jimmy Wales evidence, which he ignored, while his “charity” got very upset with those questioning the Philip Cross operation.
Wikimedia had arrived uninvited into a twitter thread discussing the “Philip Cross” operation and had immediately started attacking people questioning Cross’s legitimacy. Can anybody else see anything “insulting” in my tweet?
I repeat, the coincidence of Philip Cross’s political views with those of Jimmy Wales, allied to Wales’ and Wikimedia’s immediate hostility to anybody questioning the Cross operation – without needing to look at any evidence – raises a large number of questions.
“Philip Cross” does not attempt to hide his motive or his hatred of those whose Wikipedia entries he attacks. He openly taunts them on twitter. The obvious unbalance of his edits is plain for anybody to see.
Among the hundreds of reader-comments to that article, one seems to have come from a Wikipedia-insider, and is abbreviated here:
May 18, 2018 at 18:49
… Wikipedia is a source of information, and so cannot peddle alternative theories of any kind. …[and] no doubt there is some political bias that comes into this process. If you look at the article on the Skripal’s – it is not unreasonable – almost all statements are supported by references to main stream media articles or statements from official organisations such as the Russian government, OPCW or UK authorities. This is what it has to be. (you wouldn’t seriously be suggesting that Wikipedia should have links to craigmurrary or info from RT?).
I haven’t done any scientific study of the sources that are cited in Wikipedia’s many footnotes and whether sites such as Murray’s and RT are banned from them, but this article by Murray does suggest that the bias in favor of mainstream, and against small, ‘news’media, does adhere to the pattern that’s succinctly stated by “Andrew H.” Murray presents remarkable documentary evidence that this is Wikipedia’s pattern. “Andrew H” seems to believe that it’s the right pattern to adhere to.
The present writer also has personal experience with Wikipedia that confirms the existence of this pattern. Among my several articles on that, was “How Wikipedia Lies”, in which I reported that “Smallwood,” the Wikipedia overseer on Wikipedia’s article “United Airlines Flight 93” about the 9/11 plane that came down in Pennsylvania, blocked stating in the text of the article an important fact that was documented even buried within some of the article’s own footnote sources – all coming from mainstream media – that Vice President Dick Cheney had ordered that plane to be shot down and that, therefore, the article’s (and the ’news’media’s and ‘history’ books’) common allegations that resistance on the part of heroic passengers on that plane had had something to do with the plane’s coming down when and how it did, are all false. “Smallwood” blocked me from adding to the text a mention that Cheney on the very day of 9/11 admitted that he had ordered that plane to be shot down and stated his reasons for having done so, and that the order was promptly fulfilled; and “Smallwood” refused to say why my addition of Cheney’s role was blocked, other than that to say that that fact “did not appear constructive.” (He refused to say how, or why.)
Back on 8 July 2015, I had headlined, “Wikipedia As Propaganda Not History — MH17 As An Example”, and reported and documented regarding the MH17 Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine, that “Wikipedia articles are more propaganda than they are historical accounts. And, often, their cited sources are misleading, or even false.” The Wikipedia article on that was anti-Russian propaganda, not a historical account.
As I mentioned in those articles, even Britain’s own BBC had previously headlined, “Wikipedia ‘shows CIA page edits’.” What both Murray, and I, in my latest article about Wikipedia, add to that information regarding some of the people who “edit” Wikipedia, is that Wikipedia itself, in the individuals whom it hires to nix or else to accept each editorial change that is being made to a given article, actually also, in effect, writes Wikipedia articles – and that it does so consistently filtering out facts – no matter how conclusively proven to be true – that contradict the ‘news’media’s (and CIA’s) boilerplate ‘history’ of the given matter. In other words: Wikipedia is a perfect embodiment of the type of society that was described in the fictional 1949 allegorical novel, 1984.
This is the reason why I never link to a Wikipedia article unless I have independently confirmed that, regarding the fact for which I cite the given article, that article is honestly and truly representing that matter, or that given detail of it. I do not exclude truths that happen to be included in the standard account; but neither do I (as Wikipedia does] exclude facts which contradict the standard account.
FTCR China Export Index ticks up but remains weak as global uncertainty builds
During a recent White House meeting between President Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump had some surprising commentary on the war in Syria, and specifically the way life was for Syrians before 2011: “It was a great culture before it was so horribly blown apart. A place where people would go…” he said in the televised meeting.
What did the president mean by this? He explained that Syria was highly stable before the war, and even an attractive place to travel: “Syria will start to stabilize. You see what’s happening, it’s been a horror show. I have great respect for Syria and the people of Syria – these are great people… .. it was the place to go and you look at what’s happened it’s so sad. But I’d like to see Syria come back.“
NOTEWORTHY comments by @realDonaldTrump : We helped #Syria actually by withdrawing from the #Iran deal. Syria will hopefully start to stabilize. I have great respect for Syria. This is a great country and great people pic.twitter.com/GTniaiIi5r
— EHSANI2 (@EHSANI22) May 22, 2018
While we don’t quite now if Trump would like to see Syria “come back” on the Syrian people’s own terms, or if he has more of the usual Washington regime change playbook in mind, his somewhat off the cuff remarks present an important point question: why does no one ever talk about what Syria or any other society that’s suffered under the disastrous hand of US intervention was like before the war?
* * *
“He who has not lived in the years before the revolution cannot know what the sweetness of living is.”
— Talleyrand, via Bertolucci, from the 1964 film Prima della Rivoluzione
IRAQ, LIBYA, SYRIA… Countries ripped apart through sectarian and political violence in the aftermath of cataclysmic external interventions: American invasion and occupation in Iraq, NATO intervention in Libya, and international proxy war in Syria. Mere mention of these countries conjures images of sectarian driven atrocities and societal collapse into the abyss of a Hobbesian jungle. And now it is commonplace to just assume it’s always been so. Increasingly, one hears from all corners of public discourse the lazily constructed logic, “but they’ve always hated each other”… or “violence and conflict are endemic to the region.” But it was not always so — I found a place of beauty, peace, and coexistence in a Syria that is now almost never acknowledged, and which risks being forgotten about.
But Syrians themselves will never forget.
I served in the Marine Corps during the first years of the Iraq War and was activated as post-9/11 emergency security personnel to headquarters assets in the D.C. area while stationed at Headquarters Battalion Quantico. I thought I knew something about Iraq upon the start of our new “war on terror”: Arab culture, with its intrinsic primal religious passions and resulting sectarian divisions, must be brought to heel under Western values of pluralism, secularism, and equality if peace and stability are to ever have a chance. This was a guiding assumption among the many Marine officers, active and retired, that I conversed with during my years at Quantico. Iraqis and Middle Easterners were, for us, abstractions that fit neatly into categories learned about by viewing a C-SPAN lecture, or perhaps in a college class or two: there are Sunnis, Shia, some dissident sects, they all mistrust each other, and they all want theocratic states with their group in charge.
My first visit to the region while desiring to study Arabic in 2004, just after completion of active duty service, and while still on the inactive reserve list, began a process of undoing every assumption I’d ever imbibed concerning Middle East culture, politics, and conflict. An initial visit to Syria from Lebanon was the start of something that my Marine buddies could hardly conceive of: Damascus became my second home through frequent travel and lengthy stays from 2004 to 2010, and was my place of true education on the real life and people of the region. While fellow service members were just across Syria’s border settling in to the impossible task of occupying a country they had no understanding of, I was able view a semblance of Iraq as it once was through the prism of highly stable Ba’athist Syria.
The other dominating interest that drew me to Syria was the country’s ancient churches and Christian communities. Discovery of the much neglected truth that the region has always been much more diverse than tends to be acknowledged did much to undo the false assumptions of my Texas Baptist childhood. I must admit that I grew up with the usual American stereotypes of the Middle East. To most Americans, the notion of Middle Eastern Christianity sounds like an oxymoron — or is at the very least highly suspect. Many Arab and Eastern Christians are asked, upon arriving in the U.S. for visit, work, or immigration, “when did you convert from Islam?” During the post 9/11 Bush years, when Syria as part of the “Axis of Evil” became a central formulation of U.S. foreign policy, such common cultural assumptions became even more deeply ingrained. How could one be a Christian and a citizen of a “rogue” Middle East state? And yet, Christians have called Syria their home for many hundreds of years prior to the foundation of the modern nation-state of Syria.
As I began to learn more about the multi-ethnic and religiously mixed kaleidoscope that is modern Syria, I marveled at how such a country could live in relative peace and stability in a region commonly perceived to be one of the most historically tumultuous and war racked on Earth, and I had to go and see for myself.
* * *
During my first weeks in Damascus, I was pleasantly shocked. My preconceived notions were shattered: I expected to find a society full of veiled women, mosques on every street corner, religious police looking over shoulders, rabid anti-American sentiment preached to angry crowds, persecuted Christians and crumbling hidden churches, prudish separation of the sexes, and so on. I quickly realized during my first few days and nights in Damascus, that Syria was a far cry from my previous imaginings, which were probably more reflective of Saudi Arabian life and culture. What I actually encountered were mostly unveiled women wearing European fashions and sporting bright makeup — many of them wearing blue jeans and tight fitting clothes that would be commonplace in American shopping malls on a summer day. I saw groups of teenage boys and girls mingling in trendy cafes late into the night, displaying expensive cell phones. There were plenty of mosques, but almost every neighborhood had a large church or two with crosses figured prominently in the Damascus skyline. As I walked near the walled “old city” section, I was surprised to find entire streets lined with large stone and marble churches. At night, all of the crosses atop these churches were lit up — outlined with blue fluorescent lighting, visible for miles; and in some parts of the Damascus skyline these blue crosses even outnumbered the green-lit minarets of mosques.
Just as unexpected as the presence of prominent brightly lit churches, were the number of restaurant bars and alcohol kiosks clustered around the many city squares. One could get two varieties of Syrian-made beer, or a few international selections like Heineken or Amstel, with relative ease. The older central neighborhoods, as well as the more upscale modern suburbs had a common theme: endless numbers of restaurants filled with carefree Syrians, partying late into the night with poker cards, boisterous discussion, alcohol, hookah smoke, and elaborate oriental pastries and desserts. I got to know local Syrians while frequenting random restaurants during my first few weeks in Damascus. I came into contact with people representative of Syria’s ethnically and religiously diverse urban centers: Christians, Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Druze, Kurds, Armenians, Palestinians, and even a few self-declared Arab atheists. The characterization of Syrian city life that increasingly came to my mind during my first, and many subsequent visits and extended stays, was of Syria a consciously secular society when compared to other countries in the region.
In the more traditional countryside, life moved at a slower pace. From my experience in villages from the Hauran region in the South, to Homs countryside in central Syria, there arose a common theme: a duality of work (typically agriculture) and family oriented leisure — with the year regulated by a pattern of village celebrations for weddings, baptisms, graduations, birthdays, and religious festivals. Movement of time in the village seemed to bring with it a palpable “lightness of being” — especially in the more picturesque mountain villages in places like the Valley of the Christians (Wadi al-Nasara) near Homs. The typical Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays in most any Syrian village were spent with extended family and village friends gathered on a patio around a slow burning coal barbeque pit. This is not unlike an American style barbeque, but the Syrian version tended to last for eight or more hours, and was sometimes a village-wide affair that easily extended to an evening party with live music. Women socialized while making kibbe and tabbouleh by hand (an hours-long affair) — so that food preparation itself became a kind of natural social ritual. Men exchanged news and speculated about village rumors, fanned the slow burning coal and endlessly sipped tea, strong Arabic coffee, and smoked cigarettes or hookah pipe.
Though much is now said of Syria’s sectarian divisions, religiously mixed villages were everywhere, and operated not much differently from religiously or ethnically homogeneous villages. If there was a party on the occasion of a Muslim holiday, Christians and Alawites came out and joined in on the feasting and traditional dancing. During Christmas and Easter parties, or for the Feast of St. George, Muslims were heard giving a “Merry Christmas” and other greetings of respect to Christians, and joined in on the festivities. In the multiple mixed Druze and Christian villages of the ancient Hauran region, there were common-use village party grounds situated near the main entrances to villages, which were used to celebrate weddings and national holidays. If a wedding took place, it was expected that all families of the village would come out — whether the wedding was Muslim, Druze, or Christian. The village patriarchs, including the local Orthodox priest, the Catholic priest, and Druze cleric, would attend the joint celebration.
Qraya is an example of one such diverse village set amidst the black volcanic crusted plains of the Hauran region (from the Aramaic word which means “cave land”). A somewhat recently erected gray and white concrete mosque memorial commemorating the “Great Syrian Revolution” — the 1925–1927 revolt that solidified Syrian national feelings during the French Mandate period, towers over the sleepy village. In 2009 the Syrian government, in an official ceremony, interred the remains of celebrated Druze patriarch Sultan Hilal al-Atrash there. He led what was initially a mass Druze revolt against the French, which had been ruling Syria since the close of World War I. What began as a Druze revolt primarily focused in southern Syria’s Jabal al-Druze(literally “Druze Mountain”) was soon joined by Sunnis, Christians, and Alawites. This represented Syria’s first popular movement toward nationalism which reached “street level” across the different segments of French-ruled Syria. Reflecting the far reaching impact and diverse appeal of the anti-colonial revolt, al-Atrash famously said, “Religion is for God, the fatherland is for all.”
With similar sentiment, Syrians that reject the notion of the contemporary conflict as a mere sectarian driven crises are now often heard to reply with a simple “I am Syrian” when asked about their religious identity.
* * *
I certainly witnessed plenty of examples of Islamic conservatism in Syrian public life, but it was the secular and pluralistic (represented in the diverse population living side by side) aspect that always seemed to dominate, whether I was in Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, or coastal areas like Tartus. Syria’s committed secular identify was confirmed to me more than ever when I first traveled the freeway that wraps around Mt. Qasyoon — the small mountain against which the Damascus urban center is nestled. My speeding taxi passed a couple of expansive foreign car dealerships, but most prominent were a seeming myriad number of windowless entertainment venues, structured like residential mansions, lining both sides of the road. My taxi driver laughed at my perplexed expression and informed me that this was “brothel row” (my translation) — a red light district of sorts. When I later got to know a group of Syrian guys — enough to where I could ask potentially awkward or embarrassing questions — they confirmed, with some degree of shame, that all big cities in Syria have their seedy underbellies (“like your Nevada,” my friend Michel said). Places like brothels and “pick-up bars” were allowed to operate in public, but didn’t necessarily advertise what they were about. My Syrian friends looked upon this “dark side” of Syrian society with no less moral revulsion than the local conservative Muslims. Yet, it was explained to me that while the Syrian government was deeply authoritarian in some respects, it generally allowed (and enforced) openness in social and religious areas unparalleled anywhere in the Middle East. Most Americans would be very surprised to learn of such elements in Syrian society that are not much different from what one would find in Europe or the U.S.
This social openness was most clearly to the advantage of Christians and other religious minorities living in a country numerically dominated by the about 70% Sunni Muslim majority. The secular face of the government and civic life allowed Christians to worship freely, and to even display their Christianity very publicly. My first experience of this came one particular winter evening in the Qassa neighborhood near Bab Touma — the expansive and most well-known among the Christian neighborhoods of Damascus. A special dignitary, the Orthodox Archbishop of Finland, was visiting a local church. He was greeted with a parade that took over an entire city street. He processed down the street and into the church with a uniformed marching band leading the way, made up of a local Christian scouting organization.
I witnessed similar displays especially at Christmas and Easter in all different parts of Syria: public processions, church bells ringing loudly, Christmas trees and lights, images of Jesus displayed prominently, church music blaring over loud speakers, and exuberant wedding parties. One small city, Maaloula — an hour northwest of Damascus, even had its annual local public holiday in celebration of the cross which Syrian news depicted as attracting tens of thousands of people.
Prior to visiting Syria, I would have never conceived of the possibility of state TV in a Middle Eastern country actually airing coverage of a Christian festival. My Syrian friend, upon seeing my incredulous gaze as churches were being shown on the main government channel, shrugged and told me, “but this is Syria.” To him, Syria was stood alone in the region as an example of Christians and Muslims living together in peace and as equals. A Syrian could look for confirmation of this to his western border, where Lebanon was still attempting to come to grips with its two decades long sectarian civil war; or he could look immediately east, where Iraq’s ethnic and religious divisions were blowing up under U.S. and Coalition occupation; or north to Turkey, where it was illegal to discuss the Greek and Armenian genocide in public; as well as to the Arabian peninsula — where a culture of Sharia courts and religious police made church only a thing for Western expat workers living their lives within walled ARAMCO communities. But the cross and the crescent appeared side by side in every major Syrian city. Such public pluralism, where Christianity received constant public acknowledgement side by side with Islam, was the greatest surprise upon my initial visit to Syria.
All in all, what I unexpectedly observed in Syria was a high degree of personal freedom not found in other countries of the Middle East. This personal freedom was exercised in all areas of life except for politics — a strange paradox. The government seemed to leave people alone in areas of religion, social behavior, family life, and work pursuits; but political dissent was not tolerated, and Syrians seemed to accept this as a difficult fact of life. The average working class Syrian was resigned to accept the government promise of security and stability in exchange for limitations upon personal political freedoms. With multiple religions and ethnic groups living side by side in a volatile region full of historic and hidden animosities, as well as ceaseless external geopolitical pressures, it seemed a sensibly practical, even if unjust, solution. There was a palpable feeling of an “enforced secularism” binding Syrian society together.
The kind of religious and cultural pluralism represented in the liberal democracies of the West was present in Syria, ironically, through a government mandated “go along, get along” type policy backed by an authoritarian police state. One can even find Syrian Jews living in the historic Jewish quarter of Damascus’ walled old city to this day. I was told, upon visiting their synagogue, that most had gone to Brooklyn, though there were perhaps a dozen families left.
Just prior to early 2011, as the so-called “Arab Spring” movement which had enveloped Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, seemed to be potentially losing steam, I was at first deeply skeptical that a mass uprising would gain traction in Syria. Syria had plenty of deep seated problems as a nation run by an old school Arab socialist ruling clique; but too much of the population, especially in the major cities, seemed heavily invested in the status quo ensured by a stable regime, however less than ideal the status quo might have been.
When Assad unexpectedly came to power in 2000 after the deaths of his father and brother, he promised to take Syria into a new, modern age of reform. These were the days of “early Assad,” when many in Washington declared “Assad is a reformer” (Hilary Clinton was declaring this even as late as the early part of 2011). But the Syrian government has always been much more than a dictator, or even a ruling family. Even should President Assad desire reform, the old elites which form the outer circles of Ba’ath influence provide a strong “check” on what even he might hope to enact. The economic fortunes of these institutional elites were dependent on the Assad status quo, and this made the type of drastic change that leaders in Western capitals suddenly demanded practically impossible. In addition, the middle class families of the most populace cities, especially Damascus and Aleppo, were not discontent enough to go to the streets. This, not too much unlike middle-class Americans who merely shrugged when mass government abuses like domestic spying and pervasive government breaking of Constitutional rights were definitively revealed in 2013.
Most Syrians I knew were deeply fearful of a sudden cataclysm that might send Syria the way of sectarian Iraq, especially a program that took decision making away from actual Syrians. News savvy Syrians even had Western sponsored “democracy experiments” more recent in time than Iraq to consider: Post-Gaddafi Libya began to unravel from the moment of its “liberation” by NATO. As international press generally fell silent on new Libya’s slow descent into chaos at the hands of accountable-to-no-one armed militias, it focused its eye on unreformed Syria. A few attempts at Facebook sponsored “days of rage” protests failed to gain any traction inside Syria, to the great disappointment of self anointed “democracy promoters” in the West. I was personally relieved during this brief period of Arab Spring “inactivity” — the examples of Egypt and Libya (and to some extent Tunisia) were making it abundantly clear that the main beneficiaries of this “springtime” were political Islamists from the the Muslim Brotherhood, to Ennahda Party (the Salafist Tunisian party), to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (an Al-Qaeda linked terror organization). The losers were increasingly the Arab Left, the secularists, and the religious and ethnic minorities.
* * *
It is simply a self evident premise that the so-called “Arab Spring” has resulted not in greater democracy and individual liberties across the Middle East, but in the political and military ascendancy of radical Islamist groups from North Africa to the Levant. Most Americans are still unaware of the shocking extent to which Washington has aided, and is currently aiding, radical Islamic groups that are indistinguishable from Al-Qaeda throughout the course of these revolutions. This occurred openly and most directly in Libya through American-led NATO bombing (after which the first flag to fly over the main Benghazi courthouse was that of Al-Qaeda), and has now long been occurring clandestinely in Syria, though certainly an open and increasingly acknowledged “secret”. The most radical insurgent groups the world has ever seen have popped up all over Syria as the Washington and Gulf allies’ Frankenstein creation fought for years aiming at regime change in Damascus. It should come as no surprise that Syria’s vulnerable religious minority communities were the first to feel the wrath of these groups.
Disturbingly, Syria continues to be liquidated of its Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities (or really anyone desiring a pluralistic and relatively secular nationalistic public order) — a reality that was set in motion near the very beginning of armed uprising in Syria. America, NATO, and Arab Gulf countries continue to give political and material support to a Syrian “rebel” movement that is bent on exterminating Christians, Alawites, Shiites, Druze, and Muslims that don’t share the same radical ideology. One popular chant which throughout the war has been routinely echoed in rebel-dominated areas of Syria is “Christians to Beirut and Alawites to the grave… .” Sadly, the seemingly endless number of takfiri insurgent groups unleashed on Syria have tried to make good on that promise.
Pre-war Syria was certainly not ideal; but the fruit of revolution — a country thrown into a state of utter chaos and destruction, cyclic violence, and economic ruin for at least years to come — has revealed itself to be, for most common sense people, the greatest of all possible evils.
* * *
Brad Hoff served as a Marine from 2000–2004 at Headquarters Battalion, Quantico. After military service he lived, studied, and traveled throughout Syria off and on from 2004–2010.
The study also showed differences in why men and women used Tinder and other picture-based dating apps.