Israeli Druze and Arab Christians Disconnected from Israeli Society

Israeli Druze scouts with Israeli national and Druze flags. (CC BY SA 2.5 סאלח עקל ח'טיב via the Israeli PikiWiki Project at Wikimedia Commons)

(This article was originally published at Arutz 7)

The Joint Arab List has changed Arab Israeli perceptions of their opportunities in Israeli politics. While some on the right-wing might not be thrilled with the challenge the slate could be in the Knesset, it is also a sign that Israeli Arabs have actually begun to see Israel’s democracy for what it is: democratic.

In a recent survey of Arab public opinion conducted by Tel Aviv University’s Itamar Radai, he found some notable statistics that show several positive trends such as that Israeli Arabs are more enthused by what Israeli democracy has to offer. Continue reading

Laying the Groundwork for Mass Aliyah

L'Arc de Triomphe in Paris at night, image by user Thesupermat CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for Jews to flee France or escape Denmark might be controversial given their timing and context, but his point isn’t so easily escaped. Jews are questioning their future Europe. Whether or not Aliyah is the only solution, the Prime Minister has not cleared the way for Aliyah en masse. There’s a lot that has to be considered, then planned, then done if any larger-than-usual or en masse Aliyah is going to happen from Europe and actually be successful.

1. Push Down the Hurdles

Immigrants are constantly pressed to monotonously transfer all their credentials – from driver’s licenses to physician certifications – into the Israeli system through a system of approvals. It’s absurd. There is no reason to question the qualifications of professional doctors, therapists and even driving from the European Union, the United States or Canada.
While I would go as far as to suggest not waiting for mutual recognition agreements between countries so we can make Aliyah quicker and less stressful for all those involved, it cannot be ignored Israel needs to demand the same sort of expediency from other countries in recognizing its own citizens’ Israeli credentials should they find themselves moving abroad or taking temporary residence somewhere. That being said, Israel’s diplomatic corps should resolve whatever issues there are between the Jewish State and other countries on degree recognition or professional licenses as quickly and liberally as possible.
One immediate area of concern is France’s unique system of vocational colleges, which cover many more fields than just technology or technician’s licenses like they do in places like the US. If Israel anticipates a major rise in French Aliyah interest, recognizing these schools’ graduates as literally certifiable would facilitate an even larger, and considerably more enjoyable, Aliyah experience for French Jews.

2. Clear the Bureaucracy

As redundant as this will sound (pun intended), just get it out of the way. The duties of the Absorption Office, Interior Ministry and Rabbanut should be consolidated under one roof and all on one computer filing system. That obviously would be a relevant change for all Israelis, but particularly for new immigrants who would have to learn to navigate a new country’s bureaucracy in an unlearned second language regardless of said bureaucracy’s level of efficiency.

3. Make the Financial Decision Easy

While Israel struggles to beat back one of the worst income-to-cost-of-living ratios in the OECD, the state can still make short-term remedies by encouraging Diaspora Jewish businesses to relocate their centers of operation to Israel and offer tax breaks for some designated period of time to enable such a drastic move.
The added benefit of more immigrant business owners is that they also diversify the Israeli marketplace for Israeli workers. One of the drawbacks of Israel’s current economy is the aforementioned ga between monthly salaries and the cost of living. Importing the attitudes of foreign business owners into Israel about the benefits of high compensation and the inclusion of extra benefits in pay would create a more competitive job market. Native Israeli entrepreneurs would have to begin offering competing packages to Israeli jobseekers and answer to current workers who might be more inclined to fight for raises and new benefits.
The GDP per capita, low in Israel relative to Western Europe and North America, would rise, partially addressing the original income problem mentioned above and generally benefitting the Israeli economy.

4. Don’t Rush Jews Here without their Assets

This fourth one isn’t obvious, but think about what characterized the Jewish escape from Germany or from the Arab World? It was sudden. There was no time to sell off assets. Many Jews came only with their skills and experience and without the property or money that reflected their lives in their former countries.
If things are getting worse in Europe to the point Jews need to leave, do not rush them out or create a plethora of legal and financial issues on account of a rushed move. If anyone wants to leave, make sure they are leaving with all their belongings. Give them free lifts to Israel. Give them time to sell land and homes.
If things get worse and Jews must flee suddenly, we’ll all know it. Right now, don’t rush Jews to sell things too quickly and undermine their own ability to endure a traumatic cultural shock of a move from Europe to Israel OR to undermine their ability to invest their own resources in strengthening Israel’s general economy in the long term.

The Beginning of All Things to Come

This is only the cusp of things that would make a massive influx of European Jews possible and such a seismic demographic shift permanent. Estimating the numbers and actual costs of these ideas is beyond the immediate scope of this list. That being said, weigh seriously how important these four launching points are, then demand their implementation or some variation of the parties you Israelis will vote for in upcoming elections.

L'Arc de Triomphe in Paris at night, image by user Thesupermat CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

L’Arc de Triomphe in Paris at night, image by user Thesupermat CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

If the Terrorism is Religiously Motivated, It Doesn’t Matter the Country

French Police Car (CC BY 3.0 David Monniaux via Wikimedia Commons)

Fundamentalist Islam is too generous a term for what you’re seeing happening in France. Today is just the latest incident in a string of violence across Europe. Europeans might be appalled by the idea of connecting this summer’s violent protests against Israel’s military option with the spate of ‘lone wolf’ attacks since, but the aggressiveness of Islamic militants and their sympathizers in Europe is far higher than at any point since September 11th.

Over 3,000 ISIS recruits have come from abroad, primarily from Europe. A number of the Moroccan and Algerian recruits that have been reported are likely from France. A number of Pakistani recruits are probably from the UK. There is a stream of thought that justifies violent jihad without any warrant for Islam’s more sophisticated laws. Egomaniacal preachers are exploiting their freedoms of speech to motivate impressionable people to go abroad and join a hysterical fight in Syria and Iraq to enslave 10,000s of non-Muslim women and murder non-Muslim, non-Sunni minorities.

That view, colored by decades of irresponsible propaganda by the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand, and puritanically intolerant preaching funded by Saudi Arabia on the other, has corrupted the foundation of Islamic education around the world. Political considerations, often that quickly justify acts of terrorism against civilians, have been made sacrosanct by those same preachers. You cannot expect to contain this violence when you turn a blind eye to it against other countries. Few Europeans took seriously the attacks in Mumbai, or the theological justifications to attack Israelis in Jerusalem.

Of course Palestinian and Pakistani terrorism isn’t always directly connected or even religious, but much of it is. While we try to separate the narratives of events in different countries when it suits us, we forget that the stream of thought pushing young Europeans to join the ranks of militants sees all these political conflicts as part of one continuum. Even if they did not, you cannot have an underwhelming response to religiously-motivated assassination attempts against Jewish activists who want to share holy sites and then express ignorance to the wave of religiously-motivated violence in your own country.

Europe has not won a battle of ideas because it was never fighting one. Europe has not been able to see that certain streams of militant religious thought have flowered while the continent has taken cosmetic and often ludicrous measures to contain religious extremism: by containing religion in general.

I wrote just yesterday on my own site that there is no magic pill to “revolutionize” Islam, be it Sunni or Shiite. The intellectual battle against ISIS or Al-Qaeda is something that has been futile in the past because the scholarship in those movements is petty and selfish.

Dissent, not Revolutions


Want to know what’s cynical? Asking if General (President) Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is about to stir real change in Islam by calling for a “religious revolution” to displace violence from the religion’s central discourse. I’m not sure which phrase in English would be best describe this type of typical Arab politics, but I’ll start with “the pot calling the kettle black.”

Al-Sisi rules a country where the modern Muslim Brotherhood has its roots, mainly on account of Egypt’s legacy of destroying Islamic scholarship. Since the coup in 1952 that overthrew the Egyptian king, the often military-based dictators of the country have kept the country’s most enlightened students out of Al-Azhar University, the Sorbonne of the Sunni Muslim world. The most gifted students were sent to other professions, kept out of the religious institution’s halls, dooming Egyptian Islam to be influenced by a political charlatan and pretender by the name of Sayyid Kutb. His complete and utter lack of qualifications, combined with his charisma and philosophy, infused Sunni Islam with a new political militancy. This wasn’t the puritanical militancy the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia brought to the table, but something else. It’s the way Egypt’s regime has abused its population since Arab Nationalism’s hayday that has driven political Islam toward the same ISIS he pretends to know how to fight.

He says nothing about political freedoms or one day getting out of the way of actual democracy in Egyptian society, much less Arab society, much less general Islamic society. He is a pretender as a progressive. He is as petty a dictator as we have seen in the past from the likes of Nasser or Mubarak.

I can’t say for sure what Islam needs. It’s tough to prescribe something to 1 billion people. I am on the outside looking in. My expertise is limited and academic, stunted by being less of a thorough researcher than I have been in the past as a full-time student. Regardless of those points, I will risk a suggestion and say the best thing both Sunni Islam and Shiite Islam could do for themselves today is reinforce the right to dissent.

That means dissent in religious thought. That means dissent in religious interpretation. That means dissent within Islamic movements. There is little tolerance of it. As far as cultures where Islam is dominant, it’s hard to tell if the political environment presses more on Islam or Islam on the politics, so it’s fair to say that tolerating dissent would go far in any society. It for sure is an inherent component of being ‘open to suggestions,’ and supportive of free thought.

ISIS is hardly representative of the entire Sunni world. It’s worldview is definitely a more pervasive one today than it has been in the past. But it’s societal barriers (including political suppression) that started this situation in the first place.

Judaism, for all its flaws, clearly has less of an issue with dissent. Sure, Jews can be just as stubborn as any other religious or political subculture when it comes to different ideas. When some congregation of Reform Judaism hears something a little too conservative, or some congregation of Orthodox Judaism hears something a little too open-minded, the dissenters will hear grief. But this is hardly the situation in several Muslim communities. In all probability, the majority of any town under Taliban or ISIS rule secretly doesn’t mind someone’s expression of different opinions even in religion. It’s irrelevant though when those societies tolerate suppression more than variety.

Judaism and Christianity are hardly perfect. They might be too tolerant of dissent, where someone with a very mild difference of opinion might walk out the door and start his own congregation, or even his or her own denomination! (Here’s looking at you Open Orthodoxy). Regardless, it’s a healthier environment. You can’t force people to march in lockstep. ISIS represents a distancing from Islamic thought and jurisprudence, not an awakening of it. Shiite Islam has its own problems, but its revolutionary streak is entirely different and far more intellectual than what is happening in Sunni Islam today (though as the Iranian government has shown everyone with its arbitrary house arrests of other prominent Ayatollahs who have spoken against policies of the late Ayatollah Khomeini or the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, they very much are experiencing suppression of dissent as well).

So spare me your rhetoric Mr. President (General?). Without an intellectual opening of major Sunni institutions, there won’t be any rollback of ISIS intellectually. Egypt and a number of other countries are too enthralled by their own fascism to ever allow honest religious thought. Sisi can prove me wrong, but I doubt he is going to. Not until he takes control of the state media spreading the same anti-Semitism, paranoia, hatred and other cornerstones of the insurgent Islam he claims he wants to change.

The Temple Mount vs. Jerusalem vs. Settlement Blocs vs. Isolated Settlements vs. Unbuilt Settlements

The Temple Mount needs to be on centrists' agenda. (CC BY SA 3.0 Godot13)

I support Bayit Yehudi and protecting the religious interests of the State of Israel.

That being said, the last year and a half even more than the previous four has been particularly damaging to the notion of Religious Zionism. There’s been no strategy or foresight in settlement projects. There’s been no prioritization or differentiation between the importance of Jerusalem and towns in the West Bank; even less has there been any effort to distinguish the centrality of the Temple Mount over any other area of Jerusalem.

Continue reading

The Interview: Sony, What Were You Thinking?

The Interview postponed, starring Seth Rogan and James Franco

Sony officially postponed (canceled) the release of The Interview, a dark comedy about two fake reporters who are on a mission to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Why? After it became increasingly apparent an email hack of Sony Pictures’ was retaliation for the movie by the North Korean government, the threats levied against theaters that showed the movie became a lot more serious.

Not that I am at all unsympathetic to the cause of overthrowing the North Korean government, or that it fancies my animalistic instincts to kill the genocidal, torturous leadership of that country, but what the hell did Sony think was going to happen when they released a movie about assassinating a foreign leader?

There is a reason that James Bond rarely fought the Russians in his movies even at the height of the Cold War. Movies are a big deal and could always harm relations between two countries. US-USSR relations were always delicate. Both countries tried treading a line to make sure they didn’t antagonize each other too much or too blatantly. The propaganda was always there, but it always had this undrawn red line.

Past Depictions of North Korea in the Movies

In 2002, when MGM released Die Another Day, in which James Bond battles members of the North Korean government who are working to start a war with the South, even then the script tried to isolate the antagonists to extremists, implying North Korea’s fictional (and by extension, non-fictional) generals weren’t actually planning a destructive attack on the South. North Korea was still extremely angry about it, and South Koreans expressed anxiety about the North’s real-life reaction to the movie’s release, causing it to not be screened in many areas of South Korea (it might also have been annoying for Southerners that there were no strong South Korean protagonists in the movie and that only the white man could stop the North – I was offended that the British were as equally invested as the US in stopping the North, but split hairs).

I don’t know what the reaction was from the North to Team America: World Police in 2004. That one, where Kim Jong Il is the primary villain, probably didn’t go over so well either, but the premise might have been too ridiculous (especially with string puppets) to warrant a strong response.

What Sony did though was a lot sharper than these two movies. They didn’t make up a fictional Asian country that symbolized North Korea. they didn’t make up a different name for the dictator of said country or for fictional North Korea. They made a movie about killing the real leader of a foreign country. Now, like I implied before, it’s not too far off from making a movie about killing Saddam Hussein (which, is kind of like South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut, so you might sense a pattern in the directors’ film plots). But let’s consider where this type of thing could lead other countries’ movies. The US is pretty good about staving off such explicit propaganda against specific political rivals. Other countries might not be, especially where governments are more controlling and have a strong guiding hand in their media. In Turkey, we are seeing really antagonistic movies about Israelis. I should be so inclined to suggest Israeli filmmakers retaliate with their own movies, but that won’t exactly do much for instilling value to the human lives of people who live under rival governments.

I might be too forgiving here of the North Korean reaction when considering that of all governments in the world, there are few who fairly are evaluated as being so uncompromisingly ruthless and barbaric. I wouldn’t even go so far with the Russians or Chinese that they are evil by virtue of being rivals with Western countries. North Korea is a special, rare case of evil, rare in that it is so indisputable.

Sony should have expected something though. NK doesn’t hold back on certain things. Their response, if limited to an email hack, is rather tame to be called terrorism. If the threats that went along with it were authentic against movie theaters who screened the movie, the responsibility that would fall on NK would also fall on Sony for blatantly threatening a foreign leader. Another studio might jump on the snowball that rolls down a slippery slope after this, where they make a movie about a country whose mere policies are not universally supported, despite the fact they don’t have mass executions like a country such as North Korea.

Sony, what the hell were you thinking?

Regardless, here are some pictures of Kim Jong Un thinking everything in North Korea is made of cake, because he is still a genocidal, spoiled brat.

Kim Jon Un likes cake.

Kim Jon Un likes cake.

Tachlis: Converts aren’t Protesting the Laws, just the Execution

Jackie Chan "What are you talking about?"

On Orthodox Jewish conversion, I think that something’s getting lost in this back-and-forth public discourse since the Freundel debacle went public. I don’t really hear Rabbi Pruzansky being on point with his personal statements or resignations. He keeps referring to Halachic elements of the process for conversion, as if that’s what most of the people complaining are actually talking about. It’s a bit ironic that he is talking about public mischaracterizations when that’s more what converts seemed to be worried about themselves – that too many laymen in the community and Rabbis in the community are misjudging the intent of the converts well after the fact and are ignoring the distress that uncertainty and emotional roiling constant questioning and second guessing is causing for us.

But more importantly, there is a need to be strict about conversion. It’s not a personal matter. Conversion is a communal experience. We’re expanding the community. We’re reinforcing the commitment to Torah with someone completely new and trying to add that as an integrated element of someone’s everyday life. Life with Israel as a people is inseparable from one’s personal life. We’re throwing out lot in with the Jewish people, which means throwing our lot in with the common constitution of the Jewish people: the Torah. In all my arguments against the Israeli Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Council of America, I have had nothing in mind other than the fostering of a culture of Torah and reinforcing the integration of new Jews into the people.

I feel a bit of extra responsibility, perhaps because of my personality or my experience, but mostly because I chose to follow this issue more closely and become more familiar with the Halachah on essential matters of conversion. I anticipated in 2006, well before I finally dunked on Mar Cheshvan 13, 5768, that this might be an ongoing issue. I don’t think that this trait, which is so clearly expressed by a number of recent converts in their writings the last few weeks, is being appreciated by the same people who administered our respective journeys. When we call for these different Rabbinical organizations to relax or to protest something, we are concerned about principles like לא תונו את הגר, לא תלחצנו, ואהבת רעך כמוך. We’re not whining.

Perhaps we see some sort of manifestation of what one commentator interprets of the often repeated Talmudic comment גרים קשים לישראל כספחת. He states that sincere converts’ meticulousness can make native-born Jews feel inadequate or insecure in their own faith and practice. He suggests that some converts might make demands of the community that the community might not demand of itself, based on the standard of the Torah’s rules that the community may unfortunately be sometimes lax on.

Any request to change convention isn’t targeted at the Halachah, but the attitude. A misunderstanding that’s come from reports about Barry Freundel’s conversions is that people think the process itself is the most common problem. That’s not what the private groups on Facebook for Jewish converts are talking about. It’s about the post-mikveh world. It’s not targeted at letting down the safeguards for the community and demands of the candidate, but at the post-conversion attitude that many of my brethren feel isn’t matching the 36-time repeated mitzvah to love and not verbally chase after the ger once he or she has joined the community.

We converted Orthodox for a reason. We passed muster for a reason. We are sincere. We understand the perspective to protect the community with strict standards for new entrants. We know that the standards even 100 years ago were stricter than what the gemara in Yevamot 47 lays out, or the basic letter of the law outlined by the Rambam in Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah chapters 14-15 and the Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah chapters 268-269. We get all that. But if we do question any conventions from even 10 or 20 years ago, it comes out of concern for the same Torah from another perspective. We want strict standards on all elements of Jewish law respective to converts: entrance and integration.

Reopen Jewish Conversion Courts to All RCA Rabbis


Open the Jewish Conversion Process Back Up to All RCA Rabbis

Barry Freundel, the former RCA chairman of conversion issues

In a controversial public exchange between Rabbi Avi Weiss and, as it were, Barry Freundel in 2009, Freundel described the system whereas only 150 people had been converted since 2007 and only 150 other candidates were in the process. The GPS had 15 authoritative Rabbinical courts spread throughout the United States, overseen by 40 judges.

There are far more than 40 Rabbis qualified in the United States to judge candidates for conversion. There are far more than 150 people interested in converting Judaism. There are more than 15 cities where they are located.

As a result of the GPS, previous conversion courts in Delaware, Michigan and Kansas are currently defunct. The GPS assumes that only so many Rabbis in the United States are responsible enough to judge a candidate’s suitability to enter the Jewish fold.

Yet, conversions are among the most legalistically simple procedures in Jewish law. Qualifications to sit on a tribunal to oversee a conversion are minuscule and require, based on the letter of the law, no special Rabbinical expertise or experience governing a Jewish community. In essence, if a layman can run a conversion court, for damn sure so can anyone who is a certified member of the Rabbinical Council of America.

With so little capacity to process candidates in place, it is inevitable that the supply of Orthodox conversions would fall. Relative to demand, supply has been deliberately strangled. It is no wonder that Barry Freundel spoke of only 150 candidates in 2009. There are millions of Americans with mixed ancestry who are likely to consider their Jewish identity in the future, and many of whom who will reach out for a spiritual lifeline from Orthodox Rabbinical authorities.

Unfortunately, the value of the conversion has suffered rather than appreciated from that lower supply. The tighter restrictions have resulted in cold attitudes by some Rabbis, and far worse a general perception among Orthodox Jews that converts are to be more suspected then marveled; more interrogated than honored; to never be fully accepted and to always be watched.

Converts’ Well-Being is More Important to the Torah than Doubts over Procedure

When in doubt over a Rabbinical law, err on the side of leniency. When in doubt over a Torah-based law, err on the side of caution.

While not all the concerns of stricter authorities are over Rabbinical legislation amended to Jewish law by the Sanhedrin in ancient times or customs that have developed over the centuries, many of them are. The amount of extra effort converts have had to make, plus the suspicion that follows them throughout the community, are the expense current Rabbinical bodies have paid in order to clear doubts over matters of procedure and suspected ulterior motives to convert. Rabbinical authorities have become lax in their attitude toward the many-mentioned edict of God in the Torah to not oppress the convert (Exodus 22:20, Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:33-34, Leviticus 25:17, and so on). The best course of action to reverse this is to undo the trend of unrelenting pressure. Trust the convert more than you might even trust the overseeing judge.

Be strict about adhering to these laws that demand Jews not verbally abuse converts, nor financially strangle them. Alleviate converts and would-be converts of financial obligations to the process, be it in classes or in travel. Do not foster a culture where converts are constantly forced to reaffirm their status with documents or to fear that their conversions might be reevaluated. In all likelihood, conversions are kosher by the bare standards of the Torah and would not have to be reevaluated anyway.

If there is a doubt over the intent of a convert during the process or what was taught to him leading up the actual physical conversion, those doubts cannot outweigh the commitments made during immersion in a mikvah. The act of dunking itself is a demonstration of commitment and enough to forget any lingering questions about procedure.

The Key Need Now is Trust

Reaffirm these commitments and assuredly converts will live more free of the fear they might be called back to dunk again. Of equal importance, Rabbis will begin to earn back trust the last decade’s politics have taken away from them, a trust so vital to instill a sense of respect from the community in its leaders.


Syria & Iraq: Redrawing the Map

Areas of ISIS control in Syria & Iraq, where religious minorities are being subjected to systematic murder.

It’s near impossible to do something significant to ISIS without benefiting its rivals in Syria (and Iraq by the way). It’s not something the US coalition should be held responsible for, however. Doing nothing the last three years about this war is the result of not wanting to tip the balance in favor of anyone, and the action that is apparently going to start soonish against ISIS is also not out interest of tipping things in anyone’s favor. But the US is going to have to change the way it views certain groups to have anything comprehensive come out of this, and that probably means getting deeply involved in negotiating an end to the Syrian Civil War, mediating Kurdish-Iraqi disputes to a final agreement and finding some federal alternative for Sunni Arab tribes in Iraq.

It’s actually kind of liberating, no pun intended, that the US has to get more involved in the political process. This isn’t exactly a situation with that much precedent. The only thing that has motivated the US and Europe to hold Iraq (or Syria) together as a single country is convention and to maintain the status quo in international borders. ISIS might have done any new negotiators in Syria and Iraq a favor by making the border between the two countries flexible or erasable.

Two Kurdistans

(image credit: CC BY SA 3.0 NordNordWest via Wikimedia Commons)

(image credit: CC BY SA 3.0 NordNordWest via Wikimedia Commons)

Seriously, the US needs to reconsider the position of the YGP in Syrian Kurdistan. Its links to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a terrorist organization, could be treated pretty much the way Europe treats Hamas: as one organization with different wings. It’s not an exact analogy (and since I find the policy repugnant, it’s kind of a disturbing analogy), but the YGP is running a stable, de facto independent state in Syrian Kurdistan that Kurds call Rojava. Rojava and the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq are for all intents and purposes, independent states with armed forces that could capture and hold territory and take it out of play for ISIS or other rival Islamist factions. Run with it. Allow the KRG and Rojava to keep their autonomy and see how far they go with their independence. Perhaps they will see fit to erase the border between their two territories in the future as well.

A simultaneous option would be to threaten Bashar al-Assad with an air war as well were he to launch any attacks against the Free Syrian Army at the same time that the FSA launches operations against ISIS. See ISIS and Assad’s Syrian Republic as two enemy states. It might actually be impossible to topple Assad at this point, but it might be feasible to contain him and tempt his sense of self-preservation. There was an old assumption among some observers that were a civil war like this to ever break out, the Alawi-dominated Syrian army would consolidate its hold on Alawite-majority areas along the Syrian coastline and reconstitute the short-lived, post-World-War-I “Alawite State” created by post-WWI France. That state is thought to have had a 60% Alawite majority, presumably similar to how numbers would pan out today. Containment here would mean to push Assad back and into this enclave, where the mountainous terrain might serve as a natural border between an Alawite-Ismaili-Christian area and the Sunni-majority regions of Syria. From there, the FSA can focus solely on its northern and eastern fronts against ISIS or the Al-Nusra Front or any other group not has prominently in the news right now.

Arab Sunnis between Baghdad & Damascus

In Iraq, the system used to grant Iraqi Kurdistan de facto autonomy should be employed in Al-Anbar province where most Arab Sunnis live and constitute the base of ISIS support in the country. Support for ISIS there is more a reflection of locals supporting the strongest Arab Sunni force that can either keep the government in check or push them away. It’s not satisfying, but Baghdad and DC will have to deal with these people if they have any serious inclination toward retaining the Arab parts of Iraq as a single country. In all likelihood, this won’t work, but I felt like it would be criminal to not include it and let people assume the country still had this option up its sleeve. Iraq was once three separate Ottoman provinces . . . for a reason. After World War I, Iraq immediately descended into civil war. The country hasn’t allowed itself to exorcise the collective memory of major rivalries for all these decades of civil wars. It won’t work because that legacy is too strong. Iraqis are well aware of history, especially the brutality of the last 10 years. So federalism is something Iraqis should negotiate, but not because it will work but because it will bring rivals to a table instead of a battlefield; to talks rather than to blows.

The Arab Sunni elements of Iraq might very well belong to part of the same country as those regions in Syria. Internally, ethnic homogeneity might be the best answer to both countries’ issues. This doesn’t pretend that the risk of Islamist rule isn’t there for a Sunni-majority country, but it does illustrate a scenario where we allow the map to be redrawn. It brings with it the risk of industrial and economic isolation because of scarce resources and such a country being landlocked, but that economic isolation already exists in Iraq and Syria, where the central governments ignore rural Sunnis anyway. Responsibility for governing their own state would eventually bring with it some concern, theoretically, for having good relations with neighbors and initiating trade.

This really isn’t as sloppy as it sounds. Both countries have been partitioned like this before. Defined borders can create armistice lines and eventually let these areas develop relations each other from across a table instead of a battlefield.