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Are we out of the cave yet?

| Tuesday, April 28, 2015

No, we are not there yet, so stop asking.

While it is my last column, I promise to largely adhere to the foreign affairs commentary and not provide you with a diary entry or pretend I have a loyal following (I estimate regular readership at an optimistic four). For those not familiar, we are speaking of Plato’s allegory of the cave, or what you will. It has several names, but boils down to the difficulty of changing a person’s perspective when they have become deeply rooted in one way of seeing the world. Woe to the writer who believes it is a mere matter of eloquence or even evidence. If you are not a fan of Plato, imagine living your entire life within a single dorm party and then having someone attempt to describe darties.

The careful reader may have noticed my title happens to be rather similar to my byline, a reflection of my intentions with these Viewpoint columns. The goal of this apologetically irregular column was always to shed a bit of light on issues of international security and to show in some small way that the world is not the great mess of baffling chaos it often appears to be.

I have attempted to unravel bits and pieces of issues related to Iran, Yemen, Palestine, the Islamic State (IS) and the like, seeking to challenge prevailing opinions of hostility, confusion or sticking-your-head-in-the-sand-because-reading-is-hard regarding the Middle East and Central Asia. Many people look at these regions and see only homogenous masses of angry Muslims, endless violence and a series of complex issues that are not worth the time it would take to understand them. It is an uphill battle and I certainly claim no expertise — I write Viewpoints, not peer-reviewed articles or pieces for “The Economist.”

Allow me, then, to briefly touch on a few of the major issues of my favorite regions of the world before signing off. I came into this university on the heels of the Arab Spring and was granted the opportunity to write about the subsequent winter. Over the past year, the metaphorical snow has begun to accumulate.

The Islamic State has reached its high water mark in terms of territorial aggrandizement. While it may prove to be an adept terrorist organization in the coming years, it is at present showing itself to be a rather poor insurgent group. Absent, massive, nearly unthinkable reforms, it will not hold the territory it has seized. As it is slowly pushed out of Iraq and Syrian Kurdistan, its grand claims to be the new caliphate will become increasingly untenable. While it has begun to branch out into Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan and Nigeria, these offshoots will be highly unlikely to seize major territory, though they may persist for years nonetheless.

On Yemen, I am not sure whether to begin playing taps for the state or to sound the call to arms to the international community. Saudi airstrikes and general alarmism about the Iranian connection to northern rebels will do little to solve Yemen’s problems, which relate more to water scarcity and economic collapse than major sectarian differences. Yemen has functioned as a gradually unfolding train wreck for years, with the world only now seeing the folly of its turning a collective blind eye. Without massive and concerted efforts to alter the course of Yemen, it may in time become, as Eric Church sings, “too far gone to be shot back.”

Iran is gaining friends and influence in the Arab world far faster than the United States, in part because of its substantial gains in Iraq following the American-led invasion. It is active in Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, taking advantage of dysfunction in its near abroad and general economic success and stability at home. Bombing this country will not go well for the United States and Israel, particularly after its acquisition of advanced air defense systems from Russia. Iran’s careful and long-term bid for regional hegemony belies a rationality highly unlikely to lead it to seek nuclear weapons at the risk of becoming an international pariah like North Korea or of being bombed into roughly the Middle Ages like Iraq after the Gulf War. A negotiated deal can work for Iran and certainly does work for the US.

Israel is, by definition, colonizing the West Bank. I tend to disagree with colonization, and would prefer if Israel would stop building illegal settlements like a petulant child with a new Lego set after bed time. The Gaza Strip is running out of water and economic collapse looms over the horizon, typically catastrophes that lead people to violence. It would behoove Israel to not allow 1.8 million Palestinians to reach such dire straits while still governed by Hamas. Things will go decidedly poorly for all involved at such levels of horrific desperation.

Call me a nerd — all my friends do — but the world to me is absolutely fascinating. I have thoroughly enjoyed contemplating just this small part of it within the confines of this publication. I may not have led anyone out of the cave, or even escaped myself, but perhaps I have at least loosened the chains a bit.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Christopher Newton

Chris Newton is a senior formerly of Knott Hall. He is a political science major and international development studies minor.

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  • Arafat

    “Israel is, by definition, colonizing the West Bank.”
    By your definition, maybe, but not in reality.
    Israel conquered the West Bank in a defensive war. Under international law any country – fighting in a defensive war – if it captures territory deemed critical to its self-defense can legally maintain control of that territory.
    Now you can argue until you are blue in the face about whether the high ground in the West Bank is deemed necessary to Israel’s defense, but you will not get far with your argument. You obviously understand very little about the West Bank. The West Bank is the high ground and even with today’s technology the high ground – something as basic as that is vitally important.
    Furthermore obesity is more of a problem in Gaza than what you claim is the pending concerns. Yes, Gaza ranks in the top ten in the world for obesity. But the bigger problem is Islam and in this case the Hamas wing of Islam’s armies. Hamas is a brutal, brutalizing organization hiding behind the false meme of a social organization. Social? Why don’t you prove how loving and caring Hamas has been to its own people. Tell us how Hamas respect’s women’s rights, or the rights of Christians in Gaza.
    Christopher, your grasp on the facts in this conflict is flimsy at best. Israel is doing the best she can to protect her people while honoring the human rights of terrorists. You might check into some videos from Richard Kemp for a different perspective and far broader understanding of this conflict.

  • Arafat

    Speaking of false memes, Christopher, your understanding of the conflict areas across the Middle East and northern Africa say more about Notre Dame’s professor’s PC interpretation than it does about the truth.


    Conflict has followed Islam from its birth. It has manifested itself in many forms, from ISIS back to the raw jihadists who followed Mohammed. Here is what two men said about Islam many, many centuries ago.

    Patriarch Cyrus of Alexandria on Islam

    “I am afraid that God has sent these men to lay waste the world”.


    Gregory Palamus of Thessalonica on Islam

    “For these impious people, hated by God and infamous, boast of having got the better of the Romans by their love of God…they live by the bow, the sword and debauchery, finding pleasure in taking slaves, devoting themselves to murder, pillage, spoil and not only do they commit these crimes, but even – what an aberration – they believe that God approves of them. This is what I think of them, now that I know precisely about their way of life.”
    It is said Muslim jihadists killed 70 million Hindus in their multi-century jihad to conquer southern Asia. Muslim jihadists destroyed all the Buddhists of what is currently called Afghanistan, They killed most of the Animists in Sudan and more than one million Armenians in-and-around Turkey. In fact, Constantinople – now Istanbul, was once Christian’s second most important seat after Rome. Today Turkey is 99% Muslim and soon what little remains of its Christian and Jewish people will disappear.
    For you to write intelligently about the conflicts you mention you should start by understanding their root cause and that is Islam. Read information from Robert Spencer, editorials from Frontpage Magazine, and visit the website “The Religion of Peace and a Stack of Dead Bodies” and if you are open to new information you will gain a better understanding of why these conflicts are intimately tied to Islam and Islam’s core tenets.