Are you ready for some (more) inconclusive elections?

“Not really, no”

Tomorrow is the big day, when Turkey’s voters will go out to the polls to most likely, uh, repeat what happened back in June, when nobody won a parliamentary majority. Brookings’ Markaz blog runs through the four possible outcomes of tomorrow’s vote:

One of three scenarios is likely to emerge in the wake of the vote:

  • First, there could be a coalition government involving the AKP with either the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) or ultra-nationalist the Nationalist Action Party (MHP);

  • Second, rumors indicate that a group of MHP members of parliament may defect to the AKP, thereby empowering it to obtain the 276 seats necessary to form a single-party government;

  • Third, another election could be scheduled for late March or April.

  • (There is actually a forth [sic] possibility, according to a pro-government newspaper, that would bring a decisive win for the AKP with an estimated 47 percent of the votes. We don’t think that’s likely.)

With all due respect to Turkey’s pro-government media, the poll cited there in that last point is a pretty big outlier compared to the rest of the pre-election polling, but I think I’m slightly less willing to just write it off than the Brookings folks seem to be. Maybe that terrorist attack in Ankara earlier this month scared enough MHP voters to get them to vote for AKP just out of a desire for political stability. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

I don’t want to pre-analyze things and anyway it’s almost time to start handing out candy, but here are a couple of thoughts. Continue reading

You need to watch this investigation into the Rohingya genocide

Al Jazeera has put together a remarkable investigation into the Burmese government’s complicity in the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, a genocide that a report from the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London says is entering its “final stages,” with the Rohingya on the verge of “mass annihilation.” The network put together a documentary, Genocide Agenda, based on its findings, which you can see here:

As part of their investigation, and as you see in the documentary, Al Jazeera took its findings to the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Law Clinic at the Yale Law School, which concluded that there is “strong evidence” of a genocide against the Rohingya organized by the government.

It’s difficult to get people in the West to care about what’s happening to the Rohingya, partly because Myanmar is just about as far from the mind of a typical Westerner as any place on earth, but mostly because the Rohingya are guilty of an irredeemable sin in the eyes of most people in the West: they’re Muslims (seriously, search “Rohingya” on Twitter and read some of the responses from people who are apparently Americans, who literally know nothing about the Rohingya apart from the fact that they’re Muslim). The Buddhist majority in Rakhine and the Burmese government have used international Islamophobia and xenophobia quite effectively to defend what they’ve been doing, characterizing the dehumanization and slaughter of the Rohingya as a defense of Myanmar’s Buddhist culture against “invasion” by foreign Muslims. They insist that the Rohingya are “illegal immigrants” despite the fact that a) the evidence supporting that contention is scarce if it exists at all and b) even if it were true it wouldn’t justify a campaign designed to eradicate the entire community, and they invent inflammatory accusations against individual Rohingya in order to whip up mob violence that targets the entire community.

The Obama administration periodically gives the Rohingya a brief mention or acknowledgement, but you get the strong sense that it believes that doing any more than that will upset Myanmar’s transition from military rule to democracy. Of course, that transition is marred by the fact that Burmese Muslims, and not just the Rohingya, are being systematically shut out of the political process, while the champion of Burmese democracy, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is participating fully in this disenfranchisement and has had absolutely nothing to say about the Rohingya genocide. At the very least, maybe President Obama could stop embracing Suu Kyi so tightly.

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On “true diversity”

Arthur C. Brooks, the head of the American Enterprise Institute, is worried that American universities are getting this whole “diversity” thing wrong:

Scholarly studies have piled up showing that race and gender diversity in the workplace can increase creative thinking and improve performance. Meanwhile, excessive homogeneity can lead to stagnation and poor problem-solving.

Unfortunately, new research also shows that academia has itself stopped short in both the understanding and practice of true diversity — the diversity of ideas — and that the problem is taking a toll on the quality and accuracy of scholarly work. This year, a team of scholars from six universities studying ideological diversity in the behavioral sciences published a paper in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences that details a shocking level of political groupthink in academia. The authors show that for every politically conservative social psychologist in academia there are about 14 liberal social psychologists.

Ah, true diversity, of course! The diversity of ideas! This is, I’m sorry to say, a load of extra diverse horse shit.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for diversity. Diversity in many things — socio-economic background, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender — is vital in business, academia, government, pretty much everywhere, in large part because it produces diversity of ideas. Diversity of good ideas, or at least of ideas that are worth considering. But “diversity of ideas” in itself is only important insofar as none of those diverse ideas is dumb. If I’m the head of a college history department, I ought to make it part of my mission to attract people with varying backgrounds and experiences to provide my students with an abundant array of different, informed points of view. I shouldn’t hire some guy who thinks the moon landing was faked because he’ll add to our “diversity of ideas.” Likewise, I wouldn’t expect to find a flat-earther teaching in a geology department, or an anti-vaxxer teaching in a medical school, or an anarchist-doomsday prepper teaching courses in government. Although, hey, maybe I should. We’d all be more diverse that way.

You might ask Arthur Brooks, head of AEI, whether he practices ideological diversity in his own pseudo-academic institution. Continue reading

Today in European history: the Battle of Río Salado (1340)

Whoever came up with the term Reconquista to describe the Christian conquest of the Iberian Peninsula from Muslims deserves an all-time gold star for public relations work. I mean, there were parts of modern Spain that were in Muslim hands for well over seven hundred years, and if there’s a statute of limitations on when something stops being a “reconquest” and becomes simply a “conquest,” I have to think it’s shorter than seven hundred years. When you’re talking about people living in the southern part of Iberia in the 1400s who had ancestors who were born in the mid to late 700s and never knew anything but Muslim rule, I think it’s safe to say that the Muslims got pretty entrenched there before the last Muslim kingdom was finally wiped out.

By 1340, the Muslim presence on the peninsula was down to that last Muslim kingdom: the Emirate of Granada, which was founded in 1238, after the last Muslim empire to control all of al-Andalus, the Almohad Caliphate (“Caliphate” at this point is being used pretty loosely) lost its hold on Iberia in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. By that point the Reconquista was in full swing, and when Seville fell to the Castilians in 1248, Granada was the last Muslim polity standing. It managed to hold out for almost 250 more years under the Nasrid Dynasty, though it was a Castilian vassal for most of its existence.

reconquista map

Map of the Reconquista. Look carefully at the southern tip and you’ll see Río Salado marked.

Río Salado represents the last attempt by a Muslim empire based in North Africa to invade Iberia and restore Muslim rule there. Continue reading

At least they agreed to keep talking

In other Syrian news, the Committee to End the Syrian War Without Talking to Any Syrians met today in Vienna and failed to end the war:

Major powers meeting in Vienna have failed to reach an agreement on Syria, especially the future role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but found enough “common ground” to meet for a new round of talks in two weeks, even as the conflict enters a new phase with the deployment of US special forces in the war-torn country.

“There were tough conversations today,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press conference on Friday. “This is the beginning of a new diplomatic process.”

Kerry acknowledged that those present have major differences on the Assad regime.

Remember, you heard it here first. Or, well, you heard it here, anyway. An agreement to keep talking was the best that could have reasonably been expected, and frankly the fact that they not only agreed to keep talking but set a firm date for the next round of talks, and only a scant two weeks from now, is kind of encouraging. According to The New York Times, the US and Russia talked about ways to begin to coordinate their efforts in Syria beyond simply staying out of each other’s way, which could be good maybe, and it sounds like the Saudi and Iranian representatives had a lot of angry words for each other: Continue reading

The moral of the story

President Obama made Ash Carter’s testimony from Tuesday official today, announcing that America is putting a small Special Forces detachment on the ground in Syria. They’ll be advising and training, uh, somebody, and probably mixing it up with ISIS a little although nobody’s allowed to say so explicitly. They’ll be working with “local forces,” which is a completely meaningless term in a conflict like the Syrian war, but chances are that means they’ll be helping the Kurds progress toward ISIS’s “capital,” Raqqa.

Wikipedia’s Syrian Civil War article includes a pretty good and frequently updated map (by users NordNordWest and Spesh531); you can see how close Kurdish territory (yellow) is to Raqqa (in the north central part of the map)

There are more things that could potentially go wrong with this plan than I can keep track of at any given moment, but among the biggest risks (aside from the obvious potential for these forces to wind up taking fire either from ISIS or — accidentally, one presumes — from a Russian or Turkish airstrike) is the possibility that the Kurds may not want to fight and die liberating an Arab city like Raqqa, and/or the possibility that having a mostly-Kurdish army advancing, presumably violently, through mostly-Arab countryside is going to push more locals toward ISIS. Carter says that the Kurds will be fighting alongside something he calls the “Syrian Arab Coalition,” which would help mitigate the Kurdish-ness of the attacking force, but nobody outside the Obama administration (and, more worrying, nobody inside Syria) seems to be able to figure out whether the “Syrian Arab Coalition” is a real thing or not.

Obama is taking heat from all sides over this decision, as you might expect. He’s getting heat from skeptics, who think this sounds an awful lot like the kind of incremental escalations that can build upon each other until the next thing you know you’re fighting a full-blown war halfway around the world and you can’t really figure out exactly how you got there. And he’s also getting heat from interventionists, who appreciate that this is Doing Something, sure, but are convinced that it’s not Doing Enough. Aaron David Miller of the Wilson Center, who seems to avoid either camp (though he sounds like he’d be all for Doing More if it were in any way apparent what that “more” should be), called Obama’s reconfiguration of the Syrian operation the “Goldilocks strategy” in an editorial he wrote for on Tuesday: Continue reading