So … we may beat ISIS soon.

Hey, remember that ISIS group? The terrorist organization that burst on the scene in the Middle East so suddenly and so horrifically in 2014 that the mere mention of their name has become the stuff of nightmares?

The same group that, as their influence has spread westward by inspiring and even orchestrating ruthless terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States, has led observers to declare President Obama as a feckless leader when it comes to national security?

And the very same group that has led some paranoid people to believe that all Muslims are inherently bad?

Well, they may very well be on the verge of collapse.

This has been a story that has gone widely unnoticed, mainly because it’s happening 7,000 miles away and in the same week as the final debate in arguably the most contentious presidential election in the history of our country, but on Monday, a mix of American-backed Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers began an offensive in Mosul, in northern Iraq, to retake the city from ISIS.

Mosul.jpg

Just a bit of rewind for a moment. When ISIS took the city of Mosul in 2014, it stunned everybody and quickly proved to the world that they are a legitimate terrorist threat to be reckoned with.

After that, they gained smaller cities throughout Iraq and Syria and even Libya.

ISIS stands for the Islamic State. The difference between them and Al-Qaeda is that they actually have territory —  a state. That is their calling card.

The reason they are able to attract so many followers worldwide is because they are able to tell people that they have territory in which they can create the Islamic caliphate that is their ultimate goal. Within that territory will be the apocalyptic war that they have continually presaged.

Well, flash forward to present day. ISIS has since lost many of its territories, like Ramadi and Tikrit in Iraq, Dabiq in Syria (where that apocalyptic war was supposed to take place) and in Sirte in Libya.

Mosul is the largest they still hold. If they lose it — which they are expected to, since their forces are badly outnumbered in this current battle — the militants will have no choice but to flee to their de-facto capital of Raqqa, in Syria, their last remaining stronghold.

I’m not saying ISIS is dead. Even if they lose all of their territory, the poisonous ideologies they have spread are still out there. Plus they can still operate underground. And lord knows what may emerge as the next terrorist threat even if ISIS goes away.

But it just goes to show that the people who thought America was doing nothing to combat ISIS could not have been more wrong  — and it was done without putting a single American soldier on the front lines.

This battle in Mosul may take weeks, or even months, to complete.

But if it goes the way it’s predicted, than President Obama will be entitled to one hell of a mic drop on Jan. 20 when he leaves the White House.

Nonetheless, it’s pretty sweet to imagine that we may very well see the downfall of Donald Trump and ISIS in the same calendar year.

After what has been a horrifying year for America, it may end on a pretty darn good note, after all.

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The Baton Rouge and Nice aftermath: As it gets harder to be hopeful, I challenge you to try.

I really wish we weren’t at a time where recapping weekend global events is equal to recapping chapters of the Hunger Games.

It started on Thursday in Nice, France when a man essentially used a white cargo truck as a battering ram to run over and kill more than 80 people on a crowded street during the French holiday of Bastille Day.

The twisted, unthinkable act of carnage produced many horrific images and videos, some of which I regrettably clicked on out of pure interest. I have since lost my sense of curiosity.

It really does make you wonder how somebody could even contrive such a brutal, sinister act, let alone follow through with it.

FRANCE-ATTACK-NICE

And it also can’t help make you wonder … what’s next? And where? We try to combat terrorism by proclaiming how we will not let it affect our lives. How we will not allow us to give into fear.

But people are understandably afraid. How can you tell someone to combat terrorism with joy and happiness when you’re watching footage of a truck literally trample human bodies like they’re rag dolls?

How can we have faith in humanity when, if people aren’t killing in the name of jihad, it’s because they’re acting out against a sense of racial injustice, like we saw in Baton Rouge on Sunday, when a black Iraq War veteran ambushed and killed three policemen?

One of whom, Officer Montrell Jackson, just nine days earlier wrote on Facebook: “I swear Baton Rouge officersto God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks but out of uniform I’m considered a threat… These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart.”

It’s reasons like this that make it so hard to be hopeful sometimes.

And yet, sometimes that’s the challenge in life, isn’t it? To find the light and remain positive even when it seems impossible. It’s easy to surrender to despair when things go astray, and to let fear and mayhem dictate the narrative during times of global strife.

That doesn’t take any courage.

But to still believe that good will prevail? That even during the worst of times love and hope will always outshine fear and hate? That takes courage.

When you can figure that out … you can’t possibly lose.

I mean, for Christ sake, if you can’t find optimism on your own, then perhaps consider this video from Friday night of grown men and women stampeding Central Park in search of a rare Pokemon.

Is it pathetic? Oh of course. It’s beyond shameful.

But in a strange way, it’s also extremely comforting to know that when some miscreants are trying to frighten us all into oblivion, that there are herds of people who will completely disregard these scare tactics, and instead focus every bit of their attention on something that is completely devoid of any real world significance.

All in the name of Pokemon.

How can you not love this life?

At the end of the day, does it really matter which attacks get more coverage?

People like to compare global tragedies and wonder why some get more attention than others.

Take last week for example. The world collectively mourned for Brussels after 32 people were killed in two separate terrorist attacks. Major news networks featured breaking coverage of the incident immediately and didn’t relent throughout the day.

The New York Times gave it a full page spread on their website.

On Sunday, a terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan resulted in 70 deaths — 29 of them children. As soon as I heard this happened, I turned to every major news hub. They were all talking about the U.S. presidential election. No story broke.

It wasn’t even breaking news on the New York Times.

Brussels coverage2.jpg

So what gives? One simple conclusion to make is that the media is biased towards the West, possibly even towards white people.

In a country where distrust of Muslims increases by the day, thanks in large part to scathing rhetoric by some presidential candidates (I won’t say which one), it’s no shocker that people didn’t exactly drop what they’re doing to suddenly shed tears for Pakistan, the world’s second most populous Muslim-majority country.

Ditto for Turkey, too, a nation of which more than 90 percent of its citizens are Muslim. A March 13 bombing in Ankara killed 37 people. But nobody seemed to really care.

Is it unfair to pick and choose which tragedies we should mourn? Of course. Race and religion shouldn’t be a factor when we’re talking about the murder of innocents.

But the bottom line is people harbor greater fear and sympathy for something that more closely relates to them. A lot of people have visited Brussels. Many Americans probably have Belgian ancestors.

Additionally, the attack was committed by ISIS — that radical Islamic group we hear about every single day. Whose sympathizers have committed an attack in the U.S. in the last six months.

It goes without saying that the Brussels attack feels more like a direct threat to the United

Pakistan

States than the ones in Pakistan and Turkey, which, while committed by terrorists, had more to do with a regional conflict in both areas that has little do with the West.

The last thing we need to remember is that while NBC, FOX and CNN are big news networks, they’re not the predominant news channels of the world. The Pakistan bombing surely got significant coverage in Asia and the Middle East. Just because something is not covered in America doesn’t mean it’s not covered.

Wondering why our American media is too biased to cover all parts of the world is a form of bias in of itself.

Again, I’m not trying to say what’s right and what’s wrong. All worldwide acts of terror suck and should be mourned accordingly. But I do think it is important to try and think about why certain tragedies get more coverage than others. Or why people on Facebook don’t react to all world events the same.

When news happens, for good or for bad, you can learn as much about is as you want by conducting your own research. And maybe we should stop caring so much about the amount of coverage something gets.

Not only is it an unproductive waste of your time, but it dehumanizes the entire significance of the ordeal and its victims.

The only coverage that should matter to any of us is the amount of time we devote to caring about it.

Or more importantly, the amount of coverage the Weinblog™ gives it.

Pakistan and Turkey, I see you.

Mourn and be angry after Brussels, but don’t forget who the real enemy is

In the Caribbean Sea some 200 miles off the coast of Miami, on an island that’s roughly the size of the state of Kentucky, two world leaders met to begin the process of normalizing a global relationship that has been nothing short of toxic for more than six decades.

On Monday, President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro joined hands — albeit very awkwardly — and expressed optimism that one day the long-isolated nation of Cuba can be reintegrated back into the international community.

It’s something that many presidents before Obama tried to accomplish, dating back to John F. Kennedy — just months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest America has ever come to nuclear war — to no avail.

Yes, Cuba still has a lot to overcome, namely the restriction of free speech through persistent jailing of government dissidents, but to see two world leaders make the effort to establish peace in an increasingly hostile world is nonetheless encouraging.

Obama Castro.jpg

And then, less than 24 hours later, bombs exploded in Belgium.

It’s the nightmare authorities have for months been dreading ever since they learned of an extensive terrorist network that resides within the northwestern European country following last November’s Paris attacks.

Already this week, we’ve seen hope and terror at its finest. And it’s only Tuesday.

There’s no question we’re starting to become a bit desensitized to these tragedies. It’s also easy to compare today’s death toll — at least 30 — to the 130 who died in Paris four months ago and internalize that it’s not that bad.

But let’s not forget these are 30 innocent lives, and 30 families that are gravely affected. It usually takes names and faces, and personal life stories, to make the victims resonate with most people. Maybe this time, though, until those identities do come out, let’s just grieve and take a moment to acknowledge these 30 nameless people.

Typical cliches run rampant after such incidences. Phrases urging you to not give into fear,Brussels.jpg to not let anxiety over terrorism dictate your life, and to support love over hate. You know, the usual.

Here’s another one for you: don’t be stupid.

Fear-mongers relish these situations to pedal intolerance and manipulate others in their most vulnerable states. Don’t let them.

Instead of listening to an emphatic sound byte, maybe do a little bit of research on your own to better understand who the real enemy is. And that enemy is a small fraction of disillusioned people called ISIS who long ago traded away their humanity. Nothing more, nothing less.

Don’t condemn Islam. Don’t blame all Muslims. Don’t hate someone because they’re not like you.

It’s so easy to do — I know. I understand that. But it’s also incredibly ignorant, and doesn’t do you justice as a human being. You’re better than that.

I certainly can’t tell you what to think. But if you feel like you need to point blame at some one, then I hope you’ll block out the outside noise and form your own opinion.

Because we can’t move forward unless we all understand who we’re against. And even more important, who our allies are.

I know where I stand.

Do you?

However much you may hate your name, it could always be worse

We are only given one birth name in life.

Yes, you can change it legally, or even go by a nickname. But in all likelihood, you will grow up and live out your life being called the name that was bestowed upon you by your parents.

Hate it or love it, it’s still your name. It’s the identifier that makes you you.

There are occasional times in history when a name can become a major inconvenience. The movie “Office Space” hilariously played off this when they coined one of their characters Michael Bolton.

Indeed, I thought my name was rare and therefore devoid of ever being tainted, but two years ago, some dude in Florida with my exact first and last name went ahead and murdered somebody with a sledgehammer.

Michael BoltonThe linked article contains a video report. Trust me, it’s a bizarre feeling to hear your name uttered by a newscaster in the same sentence as “murder” and “sledgehammer.”

On the bright side, this crime didn’t draw much attention outside of Florida, and I now know how low I can sink in life before I become the worst human being that bears my name. It’s oddly comforting.

But there are some people who will not have that luxury for the remainder of their life. Take one, Isis Anchalee, a software engineer from San Francisco. Her name unfortunately matches the acronym for the terrorist organization aiming to create an Islamic caliphate by means of terror and fear.

For a while, ISIS — the organization — was a distant, faraway threat in the minds of many. They behead people, and that’s awful, but they’re separated from America by an ocean and until recently did not seem to have the financial means to plan a long range attack.

But after their disgusting actions in Paris last Friday, and their threat in a recently released video of an attack on New York, the mere mention of the terrorist group has suddenly taken on a new level of evil.

And it appears that Ms. Anchalee has beared the consequences of that. She complained on Twitter on Monday afternoon about her Facebook account being disabled, which prompted a response from a Facebook engineer a day later.

I’m sure the problem has been remedied, but the real dilemma remains. Her name is Isis. For the rest of her life, people she introduces herself to will do a double take, or will think she is making an insensitive joke.

It’s also worth noting that the top comment of her Tweet is from a girl named Isil Arican, who shares the problem to a slightly smaller extent since ISIS is also known as ISIL, short for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Maybe the two of them can find a dude named Adolf and start a club.

So next time you feel compelled to complain about your name … don’t. Because it can always be worse.

And France, the United States and Russia, how about you go ahead and hurry up with that joint coalition to exterminate ISIS soon so poor Ms. Isis Anchalee can go ahead and live the rest of her life without too much difficulty?

How about a motivational hash tag to get it going?

#DoItForIsis

Something tells me that will never become a trending topic.

A deeply troubling anti-Islamic sentiment is upon us

I really, really wanted to lighten things up around here today and back away from politics in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

But there’s one more piece of unfinished business.

I’ve spoken about how the most powerful way to combat terrorism is to show that it hasn’t taken away your spirit or your heart. And I know that sounds like an overly simplistic, idealized, Care-Bearish way to think about it, but I firmly believe it’s true.

New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman today said the most tangible accomplishment terrorist groups like ISIS can achieve is to inspire fear. They can’t establish the type of Islamic state that they so badly want to. Not in Paris, certainly not in the U.S., not anywhere.

They win when their actions cause us to panic. They win when they make us rush to react. And they especially win when they divide us.

Refugees ParisAnd I’m afraid that seems to be what’s happening right now. At least in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s attacks.

Barack Obama has stood firm in his stance to not put American troops on the ground to fight ISIS. His administration has, however, coordinated with the French military in its airstrikes of ISIS strongholds in Syria over the last two days..

At least one presidential candidate, Governor Lindsay Graham of South Carolina — whose polling so low he wasn’t even invited to FOX’s undercard debate last week — wants to send troops, warning that the next “9/11” is on its way from Syria.

But what’s most alarming is the xenophobic, anti-Islamic sentiment that has erupted across the U.S. At least 23 governors — all but one of them Republican — are taking action to prevent Syrian refugees from entering their states.

Another presidential candidate, Bobby Jindal — whose so irrelevant I don’t even remember if he debated or not last week — issued executive action to blockade Syrians from Louisiana.

Donald Trump said he wants to inspect mosques for signs of terrorism. Ben Carson wants Congress to defund federal programs that resettle Syrian refugees in America. Jeb Bush said we should favor Christian refugees over Muslims.

It appears that people are forgetting that the United States’ history of acceptance of all people is what made it the global superpower and world leader it is today. We set the standard for diversity.

Quite simply, the America we know does not exist without the infusion of immigrants.

Does that mean we all get along? No. But the sudden discrimination of Muslims is as anti-American as can be. And it’s all because of the perverted view of a small minority of religious extremists.

It’s OK to be angry. It’s OK to be upset. And it’s certainly understandable to crave justice.

But remember who the enemy is. When we start discriminately searching for people to blame, that’s when we lose all the values that make us who we are.

Do you know what takes real courage in the face of hardship? Not giving into intimidation or fear tactics, especially those spewed by political stakeholders who have their own ulterior motives.

It’s up to you to make up your own mind.

Pray for Paris. But pray for Baghdad and Beirut, too.

The world remains grief-stricken over the bloody events in Paris on Friday night, details of which have begun to surface over the last 48 hours. The death toll has risen to 132, and many more remain seriously injured.

Residents of the French city have crowded around memorials dedicated to the victims, still in a state of shock and apprehension, as evidenced by multiple false alarms on Sunday that caused mourners to run in terror of a repeat attack.

The nation wasted no time responding. French warplanes have bombed Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of ISIS in Syria, making it clear that the world is on the brink of war, in some capacity.

Sympathizers worldwide have taken to Facebook to show their solidarity, which has allowed users to overlay their profile pictures in the colors of the French flag.

Beirut attack

Mourners in Beirut, Lebanon

Some disturbing rhetoric has manifested from people who crave justice. Many, like Republican presidential candidates, are blaming so-called lax policies during the migration crisis for the attacks, failing to comprehend that the people who are escaping Syria are fleeing from the very same thing that Parisian bystanders ran away from on Friday night. Others are unabashedly pointing to strict gun control laws in Paris as a contributor to the tragedy.

When unprecedented, tragic events like this unfold, it becomes easy to trick yourself into thinking that nothing else in the world is happening. That everything else stands still and that we should all focus our attention towards this one thing and one thing only.

But that would be a mistake. Because in the process, you’d be ignoring tragedies that happened in other parts of the world this weekend.

On Thursday, a suicide bomb at a funeral in Baghdad killed at least 17 and wounded 33. On Friday, the same day as the Paris attacks, suicide bombers in Beirut killed 43 and wounded 239. Both attacks, which ISIS has taken credit for, were targeting Shiites, which the Sunni terrorist organization sees as heretics.

The death tolls of both pale in comparison to that of Paris’s, but if the overlying message people have been declaring this weekend is that an attack on innocent civilians anywhere is an attack on all of humanity, than why should that matter?

Honoring Beirut hero, Adel Termos

Honoring Beirut hero, Adel Termos

The mass media is partly to blame, which has been focusing nearly all of its coverage towards Paris, and therefore impeding news of the Baghdad and Beirut bombings from reaching the general public.

An Indian blogger, Karuna Ezara Parikh, took to Twitter to voice her frustration over this disparity in attention by writing a beautiful poem that has been shared by thousands.

Ignoring these two deadly incidents also means ignoring one Lebanese victim of the Beirut attack, Adel Termos, who, while out with his daughter, tackled a suicide-bomber before he could enter a mosque, potentially saving hundreds of lives. The bomber detonated his vest in the struggle, killing himself and Termos. He’s a hero. There are mixed reports as to whether his daughter survived.

Everybody should know his name. Adel Termos.

Where’s the option on Facebook to drape your profile picture in Lebanese colors, some have lamented. Others point to the skin color of the victims resulting in the unbalanced coverage.

I think it’s inappropriate to compare the scale of these attacks to one another, or use them to fuel your own political bias. However, besides the higher number of casualties in Paris, it’s easy to understand why it’s getting more attention. It’s an iconic city that many people have visited and fallen in love with. A place of beauty and rich history. It’s among the most glamorous cities in the world.

The same cannot be said, unfortunately, about Baghdad and Beirut, two cities mired in the ever-worsening turmoil ongoing in the Middle East.

Pray for Paris, indeed, but pray for Baghdad and Beirut, too.

All three were attacks on humanity, in different parts of the world.

All three should bring us together as one.