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Extreme Right and Islamic Extremists: an evident comparison?

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The problems related to security, lack of dialogue between different cultures and religions, as well as the issues relating to mass migrations, are increasingly influencing the political and social confrontation in different parts of the world.

The further establishment of extreme Islamist movements in Middle East and Africa, paired with the parallel rise of extreme right parties in Europe, are progressively creating hurdles to pacific confrontation and development, apparently fuelling each other’s violence in words as in actions.

In this short article, we will try to reflect on the similarities between such extremist movements by constructing an empirical comparison between them.

The new challenges to the stability of contemporary society – as the difficulties of integrating the rising number of foreign workers and the perceived hurdles of the dialogue of civilizations – are more and more pushing towards polarization and extremization of political confrontation. With part of the mass media – especially in the so-called “Western” world – apparently putting (in bona fide or not) the focus only on the threats to the consolidated democratic way of life from large religiously-driven terrorist organizations, the analysis on how different forms of extremism are developing themselves is lacking an important aspect: the comparison between socio-political modus operandi of Islamic extremists and far right extremists.

While the analogy between Islamic extremist movements of the past – characterized by authoritarianism and racist elements – and the ideological predecessor of the European Extreme Right – i.e. Italian Fascism and German Nazism – has already been drawn and analysed in academic literature, the comparison between current Islamic extremism and current European Extreme Right political parties has not been attempted yet. Before delving into the crux of the issue, it is necessary to map out the essential features defining a diverse array of European Extreme Right political parties, such as the Italian Lega Nord, the British BNP (British National Party), and the Swiss SVP (Swiss People’s Party). To begin with, the European Extreme Right parties construct their identity in a negative way, since they delineate their identity features as opposed to a seemingly threatening “Other”, precisely immigrants in general, Muslim immigrants in particular. At this point it is worth, for the sake of clarity, making a brief digression to point out that the concept of the Other is rooted in the Hegelian notion that the definition of the identity of the self hinges on the definition of the identity of a negative Other, which is inherently different from the self. Consequently, the following Extreme Right’s features are to be considered as remarking the opposition between the European, Western self, also defined as the in-group, and its negative Other, also referred to as the out-group.

This said, we can start by pointing out xenophobia as an essential feature of the Extreme Right. Xenophobia, sadly, is an almost omnipresent feature of a not-properly developed (or simply “gone bad”) multicultural society: it is exploited by such parties as a main aggregator for unsatisfied citizens blaming problems (be them theirs, or of society in general) on the different “other”. Its ideology stresses the importance of the native ethnicity vis-à-vis the out-group. For instance, the BNP emphasizes the belonging to the British ethnic group, though vague the concept of ethnicity may be in this case. Indeed, the Extreme Right adheres to and promotes a form of nationalism of the ethnic type, conceptualizing the belonging to the nation as ascribed by blood, primitive, and irrational. It follows that the Extreme Right takes on an anti-immigration stance, thus appealing to public anxieties and frustration over the Other, which is depicted as a danger to the integrity and the security of the ethnic nation. Interestingly, it should be noted that some extreme right parties as the Lega Nord debuted by promoting an “intra-national” racism, fomenting discord between citizens of the same country originating from different areas, regions or cities.

Secondly, an anti-establishment position characterizes the Extreme Right. Extreme Right political parties are, indeed, often populist, as they harshly criticize the existing political, social, and economic structure of their respective states and, in doing so, they intend to appeal to the people as a whole. On the contrary, they do not appeal to the elites, which are deemed responsible for the grievances affecting their states. Within the frame of their anti-establishment stance, the European Extreme Right parties are hostile to traditional democracy, linked to diversity and liberal values, and are in favour of a form of post/ pseudo-democratic politics. Thirdly, authoritarianism distinguishes the Extreme Right political parties. In fact, they promote repressive and quasi-violent measures in the field of security, which ties into the discussion about the Extreme Right’s anti-immigration stance. For instance, the BNP, the Lega Nord and the SVP advocate the introduction of the death penalty and promote the expulsion of clandestine immigrants. Finally, the European Extreme Right upholds reactionary values, promoting traditions vis-à-vis modernity, and showing a deep nostalgia towards an idealized past, when the ethnic nation was, in their opinion, pure, safe, and unspoilt by the Other.

Turning the focus onto Islamic extremism, it is possible to start finding analogies. The first and most apparent one regards, not surprisingly, xenophobia: the West, for a paradoxical twist of fate, becomes Islamic extremism’s threatening Other. Some examples of this can be seen in Boko Haram fundamental ideology – the same very name of the organization literally translates to “Western education is forbidden”, which conveys its acute anti-Western stance that is ultimately driven (very often violently) against Western-style educational institutions and Western-derived religious institutions. Similarly, IS is antagonistic to the West, planning terror attacks against it and unleashing pitiless violence against Christians in the Middle East and more recently in Northern Africa via its affiliate sub-organizations. It is important to underline, however, Islamic extremism does not emphasize (yet) the belonging to any ethnic nation, but rather the belonging to Islam: it is not possible to classify it as a form of ethnic nationalism, as the Extreme Right is. Paradoxically, Islamic extremism can be considered as “inclusive” when compared to the other kind of extremism since that adhering to its religion can open its doors to foreigners, as seen with the various “foreign fighters” who joined the ranks of IS.

Secondly, similarly to the Extreme Right, Extremist Islamic organizations have an anti-establishment hue which, however, is expressed in a different way. Ideologically, Islamic terrorists oppose democracy – in particular, Western/European-inspired democratic values and institutions – because they are seen as Western, foreign and non-native imposed product. Practically, this is expressed by the direct violent attacks to institutions and their representatives, as well as different attempts to boycott elections or other steps of the democratic process. The capacity of appealing to the people as a whole – provided they are Muslim – is an important lever for consensus, especially when new followers are made by capitalizing on the problems of the (more or less) democratic institutions of the countries where extremists operate. Corruption, inequalities and widespread poverty, and are among the main reasons which helped the establishment (and the strengthening) of such organizations. This way, thanks to a general feebleness of the institutional structure – summed up with a lesser, or simply different, acceptance of often European-derived institutions – Islamic extremist organizations arrange their fight with more violent means, often leaving the political dialogue in favour of menaces and attacks or various nature. This way, even if such organizations (like IS and its parent groups, as well as Boko Haram) share with the Extreme right the element of authoritarianism, the different socio-political and historical context in which they are active influences their modus operandi. If it is legitimate to think how a different and better consolidated institutional framework could have influenced the formation of extremist religious movements, it is interesting to think what could have happened in a far weaker and lesser interconnected Europe, with an eye on the history books and the first establishment of far right regimes in the Old Continent.

As a last point, an easier analogy to be analysed is the one that can be drawn between Islamic extremism, in particular IS, and Fascism. The neologism “Islamofascism” has been coined to describe the similarity between Islamic extremism and the Italian Fascism. This analogy allows for a greater range of elements to be included in the analysis, in addition to a xenophobic and anti-establishment ideology, and an authoritarian and reactionary strategy. For instance, both Fascism and Islamic extremism are movements that depict themselves as the liberators ushering in a golden age, which will benefit the masses and lift them out of economic, social, and political crises. Moreover, both movements are driven by the willingness to form an empire. While Fascism dreamt of building an Italian Empire, in order to revive the imperialist glories of Ancient Rome, IS and Boko Haram want to create (or re-create, in some specific regional cases) an Islamic caliphate trespassing state borders and resembling an empire in dimensions and rule.

To sum up, the European Extreme Right and Islamic extremism share a xenophobic and anti-establishment ideology and an authoritarian, reactionary strategy. Moreover, they both exploit the population’s discontent regarding the existing economic, social, and political conditions. However, probing beyond the surface, these movements are not fully comparable. Indeed, the Extreme Right’s anti-immigration stance is alien to Islamic extremism, due to the different context in which the two movements operate.

On such bases, could be useful to make a last reflection: are such movements “sons of their times”, sprouting from an unexpressed miscontent for determined living conditions, or are they the expression of different powers trying to impose a precise way of seeing (and then defining) society for their vested interests? Behind mere violence and ideology, it is important to take note of the fact that these factions have an agenda of theirs with clear economic, political and strategic objectives. The rise of organizations like IS and Boko Haram is also linked to complex economic interests, related to the control of strategic areas and commodities, as well as arms dealing if we enlarge the focus to Eastern Africa and Al Shabaab. The religious or the ideological element is exploited to force “change” and gather followers in order to topple the current elite and obtain its power and revenues. Similarly, even if without the element of the extreme violence, this is happening with the Extreme Right in some areas of Europe. An example comes from the Italian case, where the Lega Nord formed to “defend” local economic interests by promoting destabilizing (and not sufficiently evaluated) measures for the country’s management, next to the overall anti-immigration and xenophobic stance. Material interests drive ideology, which becomes an instrument built in and for social, political and economic exclusion to the advantage of a restricted clique demonstrating limited interest for its own followers.

Ultimately, we can reach the conclusion that these two kinds of extremism – with their analogies and differences – capitalize on each other strength, thus ultimately reinforcing themselves in their quest to annihilate each other, be it verbally or practically. In absence of sound policies and concrete solutions to the problems that gave birth to these movements, more the “violence” of the confrontation is raised, more discontented citizens will feel attracted by extreme measures.

Related to this, it is important to remember the role of Europe and the “West” in general in the strengthening of extremist organizations in ME and in the Mediterranean. As during Cold War times, in a broader (but surprisingly narrow-minded) geopolitical strategy based on the assumption that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, extremist organizations have been used as a filler or pressure item to damage non-collaborating leaders and States instead of being annihilated, bringing to the results we know. On the other hand, a real engagement against the development of Extreme Right movements has usually been absent, sometimes replaced by a more dangerous act of capitalization on these movements for national (or regional) short-term political objectives by other factions – as securing government stability, slowing down specific steps of the European integration process. Furthermore, even in countries where the reformation or even the apology of former Extreme Right factions is illegal (again, as in Italy), enforcement has often been poor or sporadic.

In conclusion, with these reflections referring to a wider picture, it is worth mentioning a promising avenue for future thought and research on this comparative topic. Indeed, in this age threatened by the Extreme Right and Islamic extremism, it is useful to think about how these two dangers can be related by a causal nexus. The menacing spread of Islamic extremism may fuel the growth of the support for European Extreme Right parties, as Islamic extremism becomes the enemy, namely the Hegelian Other, to fight against both within Europe- where it is embodied by the immigrants – and outside Europe – in the cradles of Islamic extremism – by invoking the ethnic and pure nation. The most serious consequence of this process is that it may undermine multiculturalism, which is only incipient in some states, such as Italy, but belongs to an established and deep-seated political and social configuration of other states, such as the United Kingdom.

(special thanks to Ms. Marianna Griffini for the help and support)

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Terrorism

Turkey begins the return of ISIS fighters to Europe

Iveta Cherneva

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Today, Turkey started sending ISIS fighters back to Europe, as it promised last week.

Europe needs to take responsibility for its ISIS fighters. US President Trump is right on that.

As Turkey’s minister of internal affairs said last week, Turkey is not a hotel for foreign terrorists. Europe’s jihadists are its own problem to deal with.

What is interesting however is that Turkey has been releasing ISIS fighters from the region that it held in custody. But not when it comes to European jihadists.

With this move, Turkey’s aim is to actually punish Europe. Erdogan is doing this out of spite because he knows that this is what Europeans fear the most. It is not Erdogan’s priority to try ISIS, as he has shown previously. To piss off the Europeans, yes, that’s a different story.

This recent development comes to remind us that Western Europe has a big problem to deal with. The evidence from conflict zones will not hold in European courts which means that authorities might have to let ISIS fighters that still have their citizenship walk free. That is a European nightmare.

This serves to remind French President Macron that France not Bosnia is the biggest jihadist force in Europe. Macron called Bosnia a jihadist ticking bomb in that unfortunate Economist interview but France is the real problem. No other European country has such a high number of jihadist fighters in the Middle East.

Today a Greek ISIS fighter whose citizenship had been stripped was not allowed in Greece upon return from Turkey. We will see that a lot in the coming weeks. The situation of no citizenship will create a legal question of statelessness which will make the return of ISIS fighters also a human rights question.

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Terrorism

The Rise OF ISIS and its Aftermath in Afghanistan

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“I will see you guys in Newyork”.Abu Du’a, the leader of ISIS, whose nom de guerre (war name) was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, told his American captors as he was released from a brief detention during Iraq war. After American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Al Baghdadi joined the Arms Resistance against the U.S led coalition troops in Iraq but he was captured and detained in a US. – run Iraqi prison in 2006. Following al Baghdadi’s release in the late 2000s, he joined the predecessor to ISIS: the Islamic State of Iraq(ISI). This group initially affiliated themselves with AL- Qaeda, but was later rejected by AL Qaeda due to their brutal acts and it became Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). IN 2010, al Baghdadi became the leader of ISI and changed the name of the organization to Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2013.

On 29 June 2014, ISIS declared the worldwide caliphate under the leadership of “caliph Ibrahim” with publishing a statement of supporting al Baghdadi’s designation as caliph.  This concept of caliphate is mainly based on the universal religion and its ultimate goal is the establishment of Islamic state. This political idea of Islamic state is embodied in the concept of the ummah (community) which says that all the Muslims wherever they reside are bounded by a common faith which transcends all geographical, political or national boundaries.

Many other groups had pledged allegiance to ISIS like the Boko haram in Nigeria, the bait al Maqdis in Egypt, the Islamic movement in Uzbekistan, andthe previous leader of TTP Hafiz Saeed, also pledged allegiance to al Baghdadi in Oct, 2014 renaming themselves as the Islamic state of Khorasan (ISK) in Afghanistan. IS-K’s early membership included a contingent of Pakistani militants who emerged in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province around 2010, just across the border from the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan.  Many of these militants were estranged members of TTP and Lashkar-e Islam, who had fled from Pakistan to escape pressure from security forces.

ISK emerged in different provinces of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan but outnumbered in the eastern province of Ningarhar, Achin district, due to some specific reasons. Achin district is one of the backward, underdeveloped and illiterate regions of Afghanistan which makes its population vulnerable to recruitment as new militants. Moreover, peopled welling in this district joined and supported this new group not only for their Islamic ideology but also for the high salaries of $500 paid by this organization.In the beginning of their journey in the region, ISK dealt people in a soft manner and always refrained from offensive language to encourage and inspire the people to join this militant group.

But with the passage of time, ISK changed its behavior and started the forceful imposition of sharia law. People were prevented from the cultivation of opium which was the main source of revenue for the locals of that region, seized drugs and sentenced drug addicted people, however, majority of their own militants were drug addicts and sold drugs seized from the locals to meet their own financial needs. They introduced numerous fabricated laws that were neither in conformity to national, Islamic nor in conformity with the locals laws. The militants of the group were indoctrinated to such an extent that they were willing to sacrifice everything for the interest of the group. One of their militants, involved in a robbery case, accepted his crime in front of the group’s judicial committee. As per the Islamic rules, anyone involved in the robbery would have their hands cut off. Therefore, When the militants were cutting hands, he was chanting ‘’Allah ho Akbar’’-Allah is the greatest.

Taliban and Afghan forces have attacked the Achin district many times  but no one of them succeeded in retaking the district from ISK. This region was completely monopolized by this group and they ruled the people according to their own so called sharia law. People started displacement from the region towards Jalalabad, the provincial capital because they were unable to abide by these brutal laws and tolerate the atrocities. Following is a short story which a person told in anonymity about the excessive brutalities perpetrated by ISK in Achin.

“We all flocked outside after Friday prayer, according to announcement in sermon. They brought seven detainees belong to Emirates a Taliban group, Afghan national Army member and spies. All were covered with black ski masks. Meanwhile, an ISIS militant rode on a trained horse, having sharp sword in hands and reached to the spot. He decapitated all of them and shouted “Allah ho Akbar”. With the sound of Allah ho Akbar, we all scattered like flies in the air and no one knows what happened. But later on it was realized by people who delivered us to hospital that the place was targeted by a US drone. Many people were injured, and the ISIS militant who was beheading the prisoners was burned by drone attack. I still have the scene in my mind which has really affected me mentally and can’t take out those thuds of the sword from my mind when he was beheading those innocent people”.

Furthermore, they knelt innocent elders of the Shenwari nation belong to the same district on the bombs accused of in affiliation to the Taliban.  A gruesome video also uploaded by them to the YouTube. These kind of brutal acts were the routine of everyday in Daesh or ISK controlled areas.

Afghan Commando assisted by US special forces have been fighting with the ISK in Achin for the last few years and have made significant progress contributing to the liberation of some villages but there are speculations that united states itself is assisting this militant group and supplying food and weapons to them through helicopters which has put the Afghans in doubt.  US dropped the ” mother of all bombs” – the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal formally known as GBU-43/B massive ordnance air blast on 13 April 2017 on ISIS Khorasan cave complex in Achin district, Ningarhar.  According to a statement from the United States military in Afghanistan, the bomb hit a tunnel complex but they didn’t say how many militants were killed or whether the bombing caused any civilian casualties. The fact is that it was only an experience of their conventional bomb which is clear from the following statement of the Ex-president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai:

“This is not the war on terror but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons”. This claim of Ex-president was further forged by the locals of Achin who stated that there was neither weapons depot nor any single ISIS fighter in the targeted region.

Currently Achin district has been cleared by Afghan Forces from this group but there are opportunities of their return to the region. Afghan Forces should show their strong presence, build the region and rehabilitate former militants. We are the veterans of many regions where US and Afghan forces have operated and lost hundreds of their soldiers for clearing the region but have left the region vulnerable to the insurgents return. Moreover, America should equip Afghan forces with sophisticated weapons to counter these threats. Afghan National Directorate can play a vital role in the dissolution of this group by infiltration of their own spies in disguise.

 Moreover, in comparison to ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which have oil resources of about $2 billion and financed by different Arab states, this group is very much dependent on local revenues and neighboring state Pakistan. Pakistan may not be able to support two insurgent groups-Taliban and ISK-simultaneously for a single goal. And the so called jihad vacuum is also filled by Taliban which never want any rival jihadi group in Afghanistan.

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Terrorism

Imprisoned ISIS Wives and Children Have Nowhere to Run To, Nowhere to Hide

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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The guards have said if the war comes close, then they will leave here,” a Western ISIS wife texted me today from Camp Roj in far northeastern Syria, a detention center that houses 500 ISIS wives and 1,200 of their children.  “What to do if we are left alone?” she asks. “There’s nowhere to go and too risky to get caught by Bashar [al-Assad].”

As she writes, I’m in Belgium sitting next to an FBI agent. I ask him what she should do, but amid all of this chaos, he doesn’t have an immediate answer.  

The ISIS wife continues: “I like how America thinks it’s too dangerous for them [the U.S. military] to be here but safe for us to remain with Assad.”

Over the past two years I’ve been in and out of the northeastern territory of Syria held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) six times with staff from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). We have conducted in-depth interviews with 217 ISIS men and women, 100 of them in SDF held territory, for our project countering the ISIS brand, which the SDF has supported fully. 

The woman texting me today gave us an interview last year and has managed to stay in touch via illicit phones other detainees allow her to use.

At the same time she is texting me, our Kurdish translator texts that they are living under the sound of bombs and troops advancing. Assad’s troops are marching eastward, while Turkey is barreling in from the north. Which soldiers will reach Camp Roj first and what the women should do if the Kurdish YPJ-Women’s Protection Units guarding them decide it’s too dangerous to remain in place, is something the guards have told the inmates to think about. 

The female inmates of Camp Ain Issa, farther west, faced a similar dilemma earlier in the week when the Turks began shelling. Until Sunday, Ain Issa Camp housed a total of 12,000 women and children, but according to one Belgian woman, it descended into “complete chaos” as fires broke out, the guards left, and the women escaped in the hundreds. 

Among the women housed there, 265 were wives of foreigner terrorist fighters, alongside 1,000 of their children. On the second day of the Turkish air assault, Belgian ISIS wives Bouchra Abouallal and Tatiana Wielandt decided it was better to go on the run with their small children than remain in place to learn what next disaster might befall them.

We interviewed Bouchra Abouallal in September 2019.  Completely exhausted from her experience with ISIS, she said that life inside the Caliphate was “the best possible deradicalization program ever.” Already prosecuted in absentia and facing a five-year sentence in her home country of Belgium, she told ICSVE researchers she would prefer to return home even to serve a 20-year sentence rather than remain in the camp under the menace of the cruel ISIS-inmate enforcers who threatened all European women who no longer wanted anything to do with the ISIS Caliphate.

Now Bouchra Abouallal is on the run with her three small children. In audio messages punctuated in the background by shelling she told a Belgian journalist that she was headed toward the front lines in hopes she could make it to safety in Turkey, where she wishes to turn herself into the Belgian consulate and make her way home. 

While European officials here in Brussels have stated that Turkey agrees to help any escaped ISIS cadres that end in their hands to be returned to their homelands, up until recently, Belgium was refusing to let her come back. Instead of seeing her as someone victimized by the Islamic State’s propaganda and lies, and fooled by the “Shariah for Belgium” group that had radicalized many in her native city of Antwerp, Belgian politicians see her as a threat.

But it is not difficult for Belgian authorities to turn past posts on her social media accounts against her.

“Your system has failed oh Belgian state,” Bouchra’s Facebook page read after she slipped out of Belgium to go live under the Islamic State. Referring to the way the Belgian police had hassled her upon her first return home from Syria, her posts taunted them, saying “You were watching us 24/7 and you still haven’t managed to stop us. Why? Because Allah is the best planner (…)” Her threats continued with, “We have left because we believe that it is a duty for every Muslim. To the policeman who threatened to take our children away, I can say that my children will turn yours into orphans, with the will of Allah.”

Bouchra claims that it wasn’t she, but one of her ISIS husbands, who authored these hate-filled posts. She says he used to lock her up at home and post on her Facebook page without her permission. Indeed, when we interviewed Bouchra in September she spoke gently as she denounced ISIS, giving us permission to use both her image and her name in a counter narrative video—this, while knowing the ISIS enforcers in the camp would likely punish her for it.

The woman texting me today from Camp Roj does so fearing that if it becomes known it was her texting she will be punished by her YPJ guards. Yet pure terror drives her to try to stay connected with the outside world as she makes wrenching decisions for herself and her young child. 

Americans are also in this camp. We have interviewed two American passport holders—Canadian dual-citizen Kimberly Pullman and disputed American citizen Hoda Muthana. 

When I ask today’s texter about Americans in the camps, she tells me there are five in all, two more in Camp Roj and another in Camp Hol. She states that there are also two American children in Camp Roj. We’ve met one of them, Adam, the two-year-old son of Hoda Muthana. Both times we interviewed his mother, Adam was struggling with chronic bronchitis. Today the woman texting me from Camp Roj tells me that the air is thick with fumes from the bombings, which is causing many of the children to have breathing difficulties.

“Going to jail right now won’t be great,” this woman writes as she imagines her future in the West—if she can ever manage to get home. Then she envisions another future: “I could get lost among all of this trouble.” Then again she realizes that fleeing the camp, if her guards do abandon their posts, might also prove disastrous. 

“Please let the governments know that we are not happy with the escape of the women [who have left the camps]. We are actually scared and want to just be safe in our own embassies,” she texts. “We don’t want to keep running away. We want to be tried. I’ve already had the chance to run away before and I decided to be tried in my own country.”

Now the pressing question, amid all of this chaos unleashed by Trump greenlighting the Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria: Is anyone going to do anything to get these former ISIS wives and their children back home where they can face justice and live in safety or do we just leave them to face whatever fate turns up as hostile armies converge?

Author’s note: first published in the Daily Beast

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