Life in the Gray Zone

In the 13th century, the Italian town of Lucera was a Muslim island in a sea of Christendom. Here Frederick II, the head of the Holy Roman Empire, established his own shadow cabinet of scholars and advisors from among the Arabs that he invited to live in this walled city near the eastern coast of Italy. It was a bold, unconventional move during a precarious time in Christian-Muslim relations. The...
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Trump, the Islamic State, and the Cliche of Civilizations

I was listening to a German parliamentarian the other night. She was making some anodyne comments about transatlantic friendship and the importance of culture. And then she veered off to mention the recent attacks in Paris and the threat of the Islamic State. This issue, she said, required an urgent response from the “free world.” The audience murmured its approval. I never take my freedoms...
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The Islamic State and the Terrible Twos

The Islamic State celebrated its one-year anniversary in customary fashion. Other organizations might sponsor parades and make speeches. ISIS spilled blood. A beheading in France, the murder of 38 tourists at a resort in Tunisia, and a bomb blast at a mosque in Kuwait all reminded the world, if it had somehow forgotten, that ISIS isn’t merely interested in securing sovereignty over a particular...
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Europe’s Coming Battle

In the first Crusade, on their way to fight the Muslim infidels in Jerusalem, the armed pilgrims asked themselves a provocative question: Why should we trek so far to kill people we barely know when we can just as well massacre infidels closer to home? And thus the crusaders of the 11th century embarked on some of Europe’s first pogroms against Jews. These anti-Semitic rampages in the heart of...
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Charlie Hebdo: Middle East Blowback?

The recent attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which left a dozen editors, cartoonists, and policemen dead, has renewed concerns that blowback from the latest round of fighting in Syria and Iraq is finally reaching Europe. In a September 2014 video, the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) called on its militants and sympathizers around the world to kill “disbelievers” in the...
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Bombing the Caliphate

The last Islamic caliphate ended in 1924. Claimed by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, the caliphate saw its fortunes rise and fall with those of its imperial protectors. When the Ottoman Empire expired at the end of World War I, the caliphate’s days were numbered. Never recognized in far-flung areas like Somalia or Malaysia or by the Shi’a and other minority communities, the Sunni...
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