Economist 7/26/16

  1. Writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in response to a column asserting that “terrorism has a lot to do with Islam”, Jonathan Laurence argues (link to English translation) that the present-day pathologies of European Islam are a kind of aftershock from a century-old mistake. In the summer of 1916, the British government and its war allies began fomenting an Arab revolt against the political and above all, spiritual authority of the Ottomans. This brought about the British-led capture of Jerusalem and the collapse of Ottoman dominion over Islam’s holiest places, whether in the Levant or Arabia. As an alternative to Ottoman rule over the Arabs, the British initially backed the Hashemite dynasty which still reigns over Jordan; but the ultimate beneficiary was the royal house of Saud which took over Mecca and Medina in 1924.
  2. This brought to an end a period of several decades in which the caliphate (a spiritual role which the Ottomans combined, until 1922, with the worldly rank of sultan) had a generally benign effect on global Islam. From at least 1870, British diplomacy tried to shift the centre of gravity in global Islam from the Turks to the Arabs. The Dutch tried to stop their Muslim subjects deferring to the caliph in their public prayers.But when Turkey’s new secular nationalist rulers finally abolished the office of caliph in 1924, their job was made easier by the fact that European powers had been sabotaging the sacred office for decades.As Mr Laurence sees things, the abolition of the old caliphate created a vacuum that has been filled, over the subsequent century, by much darker substitutes, up to and including the new caliphate proclaimed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State.It’s naive to imagine that today’s European Islam can be hermetically sealed from the countries where Islam predominates. One way or another, Muslims in Europe are going to be touched by ideas and styles that emanate from countries where their faith predominates.
  3. This year alone, 25 tonnes of “iron harvest” has been exhumed from the erstwhile battlefields. Experts reckon it could take another 500 years to clean up the mess. In Europe, nowhere are the scars of war more visible than in Germany. During the second world war, American and British forces pounded Europe with more than 2.7m tonnes of explosives, half of which were dropped on Germany. Even today, more than 2,000 tonnes of unexploded munitions are dug up annually and all construction sites need to be certified as cleared of unexploded ordnance (UXO).In the same war, Germany responded by pummelling Britain with 24,000 tonnes of materiel, one-tenth of which did not explode. Today they are ticking time-bombs.Defusing any bomb is risky business, but it is harder still when the detonator rusts or is damaged. One method involves pumping a saltwater solution through the fuse, to neutralise the chemicals meant to trigger an explosion. Another technique works much like a pressure cooker’s regulator, leaking controlled quantities of trapped steam.There has been little progress in the development of better ordnance detection. The most common technique is to look for them manually, with metal detectors. The process, although accurate, is tedious and carries a high risk of false positives.
  4. Mr Donald Trump has stood firm on at least one proposal: his wall.The border between the United States and Mexico stretches 1,989 miles (3,200km), but the wall itself needn’t be as long thanks to the preponderance of natural borders such as the Rio Grande. Assuming a length of 1,000 miles and a height of 40 feet (12 metres), Bernstein reckon that the wall would require $711m worth of concrete and $240m worth of cement. Including labour, the total cost of between $15 billion and $25 billion is a bit more than Mr Trump’s suggested $10 billion.As it is not economically feasible to transport cement and concrete across great distances, the biggest business beneficiaries will likely be within 200 miles of the border.
  5. Together with America and France, Britain is now supplying, arming and servicing hundreds of Saudi planes engaged in the aerial bombardment of Yemen.Their presence, including in Riyadh’s operations room, and their precision-guided weaponry, should ensure that the rules of war that protect civilians are upheld, insist Western officials.Air strikes were responsible for more than half the thousands of civilian deaths in the 16-month campaign, Amnesty International reported in May. It found evidence that British cluster bombs had been used.The war in Yemen has certainly been lucrative. Since the bombardment began in March 2015, Saudi Arabia has spent £2.8 billion on British arms.Together with the ground war and the Saudi-led blockade, it has devastated infrastructure in what was already the Arab world’s poorest country, displaced over 2m people and brought a quarter of Yemen’s population of 26m to the brink of famine.Negotiations aimed at ending the war resumed on July 16th in Kuwait.Yemen’s president-in-exile, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who hopes to install his own government, has dismissed the UN envoy’s proposals for a power-sharing administration.The bombardment has dented the fighting strength of Saudi Arabia’s foes—the remnants of the Yemeni Republican Guard under the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the Houthis, a northern Shia militia. But it has failed to break the deadlock or expel them from Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.