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The Problem with Pondoks and terror in Southern Thailand

Alexander Athos

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There is a potent mix of Islamic extremism, cultural isolation, political instability and crime in Thailand’s Southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala that have led to over 6,000 murders and double as many injuries from various terrorist acts over the last 11 years.

Many have pointed the finger at radicalization in the Islamic schools (pondoks) as part of the problem because of the increasing influence of the intolerant Wahhabi sect that funds these institutions.

‘The war in southern Thailand is long-running and threatens to spread.’ “On May 16 this year, a bomber walked unnoticed into a toy store in the main street of Yala, a town in southern Thailand only a few hours’ drive from the country’s main tourist beaches, and left a shopping bag packed with explosives. Minutes later, a mobile telephone in the bag detonated the bomb that ripped through the store, one of three dozen blasts over three days in May that injured 22 people and terrified the town’s population of 65,000…More than 180 teachers have been killed (and government schools burned down) mostly because they are seen as a symbol of Thai rule…Don Pathan, the independent consultant who lives in Yala town and has been following the conflict for 20 years, says he has been told a council of about a dozen Muslim clerics presides over the insurgency.The clandestine cell structure appears to be deliberately set up in such a way that members may not be personally acquainted with others under the overall command and operate on a need-to-know basis. The insurgents have no political wing, leaving them with no forum to publicly air their goals… Militants have recruited children as young as 14, according to Child Soldiers International….Eighty-three year-old Buddhist Klean Sangam-pai says for decades Buddhists and Muslims lived happily side by side in her village in Pattani. But in 2004 militants shot her son dead and three years later beheaded her husband and torched his body and their family house.”

It is no coincidence that the rising lawlessness and violence along the Malaysian border are committed by radicalized Malay speaking Muslims who form the majority of the population and seek independence from Thai laws and authority. As the majority of the populations in these provinces are Muslim, terror does not take the form of indiscriminate bombings and attacks against civilian targets but rather against government institutions such as police, army and schools and also targeted assassinations of Non-Muslims by black clad terrorists. The violent Southern Malay speaking (Pattani Malay/Jawi) Muslims of Thailand (44% of the total Muslim population of 7 million out of a total Thai population of 65 million) are to be contrasted with the Northern Thai Muslims (56%) who are Thai speaking, moderate and integrated into Thai society.

The worry for the Thai authorities is that the Southern insurgents are now getting training and support from the global Wahhabi Salafi petro dollar ‘Islamic awakening’ terrorists through their SE Asian affiliates such as JI in Indonesia. This often plays out in Southern extremists demanding that education in schools be Islamic, in Arabic or Malay and resist Thai language as culturally anti-Islam. One of the modern drivers of the violent conflict is that thousands of Thai Muslim students (follow the example of their cult hero Haji Sulong who was indoctrinated in Mecca) go overseas to study in radical Sunni educational facilities in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Cairo and Indonesia and so get ‘infected’/indoctrinated by the Wahhabi puritanical and intolerant strain of Islam. They return as radical hate preacher imams (ustas/ustaz/Tok Gurus) such as Mahamu Mama aka Pador Mamu to set up radical mosques and Islamist schools (pondoks). Incredibly 80% of all students in these three Southern Thailand provinces attend a religious school (pondok) guaranteeing instability in the region for generations to come.

According to this news site, a threatening letter sent to a Buddhist teacher in southern Thailand. The translation reads:

“Kru Bow Kru Koy Kru Kai [the name of the teacher], the Thai Buddhist get out. Don’t work here. Not guarantee for safety. Go to teach at Krongpinang at Nibongchanoopatum. We know and can follow where you are, what you teach, and how you go. We, Pattani state, do not want Thai Buddhists teachers. This is the first warning. You are also the Thai Buddhist [Kafir Siam]. We are Allah people and don’t get involved with them. Get out. Allah protects people who believe in Allah only.”

It is therefore not unusual to see monks protected by Thai military in these Southern Thai provinces.

It is little surprise that when Muslim students return to their Southern Thai mosques from Wahhabi funded institutions abroad that the rate of bombings, kidnappings, beheadings and shootings have dramatically increased. Just last month another wave of terrorist bomb attacks took place in Yala Province believed to be the work of Hikmat Allah Abadan (Brotherhood of the Eternal Judgment of God).

Mass Wahhabi Salafi radicalization of intellectual elites drives terror in this troubled region channelling regional political discontent into a broader clash of civilization paradigm of the global jihadists.

One center of such destabilization is the religious educational facility called theYala Islamic College founded in 1998. It is funded by International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a Saudi based organization that espouses the intolerant Wahhabi ideology. This facility churns out hate preachers that then go and brainwash Muslim youth in the pondoks into the radical Wahhabi Salafi sect of Islam.

“Since 2001 the civil society in the three southern Thai provinces has experienced a widespread imposition of legalistic Salafi norms and the reality on the ground is today very different from what it was in former southern Thailand.Salafism has heavily eroded Patani cultural identity and current insurgent groups have extreme religious goals, such as an Islamic Caliphate. On 26 July 2009 Abu Yasir Fikri, President of PULO, and the “emir” of the Group of Mujahidin Islam Patani (GMIP), Me Kuteh, agreed to join forces. Abu Yasir Fikri was allowed to speak on behalf of the GMIP on all political issues. The agreement included a section in which they agreed to form a unified military force, the Patani Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA would be commanded by the First Deputy Military Commander of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO). On 18 April 2009, PULO outlined a solution to conflict at the OICsTwelfth Meeting of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts to consider the Conditions of Muslim Communities and Minorities in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.” (Note OIC: Organization of the Islamic Conference changed its name to Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2011). Taken from South Thailand Insurgency

Terrorists use pondoks such as Yuwa Muslim School in Pattani province as centres of radicalization and support. In January 2015 Thai military had to shoot three terrorists using that facility.

Puritanical hate text books funded by Wahhabis now proliferate among the Southern Thai Muslims. One example is the notorious ‘Berjihad di Pattani’.The text was based on writings of Sayyid Qutb Maulana Abul al Maududi and the al-Farida al Gha’iba by Muhammad Farraj (the text that inspired the Jihadist murderers of President Sadat of Egypt in 1981).It is published in Kelentan, Malaysia and uses selective texts from the Quran to extol violent jihad against all non-Sunni people. The book directs true Muslims to even kill their parents if they do not fight in the way of Allah by opposing the Thai authorities, Buddhist monks and Thai educational facilities and teachers and as jihadi warriors joining the religious war against non-Muslim people.

The majority of moderate Muslims in Thailand’s North are resisting this perto-dollar extremist Wahhabi takeover of Islam in the South. They publish counter narratives to try and inoculate Muslim youth from Wahhabi/Salafi radicalization. The anti-radical text ‘Facts about the Distortion of Islamic Teachings as Appeared in The Struggle for Pattini’, is an example of this heroic effort.

What is happening in Southern Thailand is but a part of a global problem associated with the spread of an intolerant and puritanical strain of Islam, the Wahhabi/Salafi. Whilst the Wahhabi schools do not teach bomb making 101, they certainly espouse an ideology of bomb thinking.

” Contemporary Islam is witnessing a crisis of authority both in religious and sociopolitical arenas. This is being caried out by the clashing of the puritans (comprising fundamentalists, militants, extremists, radicals, fanatics and jihadists) and the moderate (consisting of modernists, progressives, and reformers) sections of the Muslim community all over the world.

The modern phenomenon of Islamic resurgence seeks to bring back Islamic values, practices, institutions and law back into the lives of Muslims. It seeks tp re-create an Islamic ethos, an Islamic social order, at the vortex of which is the human being guided by the Quran and the Sunnah. This phenomenon is reflected in an increase in the use of Arabic religious terminology, wearing of Arabicized attire by males, donning of the hijab by women, segregation between the sexes and a decrease in interreligious communication combined with an urgent urge to establish an Islamic state in the case of Muslim majorities and an Islamic society in the case of Muslim minorities….

Historically, Islam in Thailand has been of the syncretistic type (Kuam Tua (Malay)/Khana kau (Thai) which involved the intermingling of local practices with normative Islam. It had been tolerant…but this has changed gradually (into) Salafi-Wahhabi oriented Islam (Kuam Muda (Malay)/ Khana mai (Thai). (The Wahhabi influence started) in 1926 with the arrival to Bangkok of Ahmad Wahab (an Indonesian who studied Wahhabism in Mecca but who was exiled by the Dutch from returning to Indonesia). (This hard line strain merged in the 1960’s with the growing Salafist movements such as ) Young Muslim Association of Thailand….In the 1970’s, the spread of the Saudi petro-dollar sponsored program of Islamic resurgence led to the emergence of the Thai Salafi reformism with Saudi Wahhabism resulting in the gradual marginalization of the khana kau section of the Muslim community. ..The first instance of Salafi-Wahhabi reformist ideas coming to Southern Thailand was with Haji Sulong who was a Malay Msulim…educated in Mecca…Islamic resurgence has been a continuing phenomenon within the Malay speaking Muslims of Southern Thailand until today…with the aim of establishing a pure Islamic society through religious activism and proselytism. Wahhabi reformers such as Dr. Ismail Lufti and his Yala Islamic College (who eschews any nomenclature of ‘Wahhabi’ and prefers to call his movement ‘ahl as-Sunnah’), which is sponsored by Saudi benefactors, have engaged in undertaking the puritan reformation….(characterized by) :

•             rigid literalism

•             intolerance

•             supremacist psychology

•             restriction of women

•             opposition to rational thought

•             hostility to artistic expression

“The Wahhabism (holds) the old ethnocentric belief that only Arabs can represent the one and true authentic Islam…that Bedouin culture (was) the one and only true Islam… (at it’s inception in the Eighteenth century it was a device to reject Turkish dominance)…the Wahhabi’s of today take the culture of Saudi Arabia and universalize it into the singularly true Islam.” Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft Wrestling Islam from the Extremists’, pp 52-53

“The Islamization of the southern conflict occurred in the 1980’s through the external influence of Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan and the impacts of Global Muslim related events such as the wars in Bosnia, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. …the majority of Southern Thai Muslims identify themselves with the Shafii school of ISlamic law and shun Wahhabism…the arrival of Wahhabi Islam in southern Thailand resulted in rifts within local Islam which even caused theological splits within families…the traditional Malay Muslims are resisting puritanical Wahhabi, viewing it as a threat to their culture…(nevertheless the coming of the Wahhabi extremism has contributed to increasing radicalization in religion and politics).”

Alexander Athos is a writer and businessman.He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (European History) Personal background Alexander was christened Orthodox brought up Catholic and now Evangelical Christian with an acceptance of the best in Christian tradition and a respect for genuine people of faith from other cultures. Political inclinations: Christian intellectual who has an eclectic predisposition to understanding global and national political and social trends and seeking to influence them for good by thoughtful and persuasive discourse.

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Kashmir: EAMs at the LOC

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First, it was Zahedan where an IRGC convoy; returning home from their tour of duty, along the borders of Sistan-Baluch, are suddenly ambushed and nearly annihilated. As the sun begins to rise at dawn, on the next day, (the 14th of February), over Pulwama in Kashmir, a strikingly similar event occurs to a much larger CRPF convoy, this time returning to duty.

The authorities of the two affected nations issue immediate statements, (which are almost identical in tone and accusation), against elements resident within the territory of their shared common neighbour. Both independently issued statements seem to mirror each other in content and threat, as if they were Page 1 and Page 2 of a document seemingly prepared in advance within a spirit of “friendly collaboration”.

The initial murder of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corpsmen garnered almost no world media exposure, whereas the killing of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force para-militarymen exploded into an International Diplomatic Crisis that eventually required the frantic intervention of the Heads of State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, diplomatic envoys of the Peoples’ Republic of China, the Russia Federation, the UN and ofcourse, everyone’s favourite peacemaker and arbiter of international law and order, the US of A, to pacify emotions and reign in a possibly perceived; potentially imminent; Nuclear Confrontation between two adversarial neighbours, neither of whom recognize the legal sovereign nation status of the other.

Two weeks after Pulwama, in VietNam, whilst the US Head of State begins to dictate meaningless (and impossible to honour), terms and conditions towards the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea’s nuclear disarmament; the gravity of Pulwama is suddenly dragged onto centre stage as a possible Zero Hero event on the Doomsday Clock.

In an intentional act of war, (on the 26th of February), which is then openly glorified as live, patriotic entertainment, the Indian Air Force cross the Line of Control and bomb territory within Pakistan. In the intervening two weeks prior to this dubiously illegal infringement of a neighbour’s property, the world watched in awe at the mechanics of an electronic media that had been effectively tooled as an integrated weaponised instrument, and; also a consummate component of both, the Armed Forces and the State apparatus of an elected Government, with the sole aim of coordinating a line of thought; from which any deviation from the prescribed script was deemed to be a criminal offence.

News media, not so much the print media in terms of newspapers, but rather the online applications of instant messaging; exposed the gargantuan influence and capability that MultiNational Corporations have within any (and all), semi-developed, emerging economic nations: to create and guide a story that seamlessly blurs and oscillates between confusion and surreal fiction. Painting an illusion, as it were, or a dream swirling around disjoint facts.

On the 27th of February, the next day, the Pakistan Air Force duly retaliate and it seems that the elected Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy had finally gone rogue and had totally unhinged himself from reality with instructions to his Armed Forces to target nuclear installations within his neighbour’s territory.

At 7.40 AM Eastern Standard Time on the 27th of February, all Globex Futures Trading in the United States are suspended and the S&P, Dow and Oil indexes cease trading for over 4 hours, with the added excitement of all pending orders, prior to the halt, having their executions specifically cancelled. (Although Currency Exchange platforms remained active). Also on the 26th and 27th of February, Emergency Action Messages or EAMs of the US Nuclear Command and Control Structure commence firing up HFGCS (High Frequency Global Communication System) transmissions, which are a prelude to a Nuclear Alert.

So, why would an internal domestic attack on a police convoy within India lead to EAMs being issued at the LOC, (the Line Of Control within the disputed region of Kashmir). You may answer by saying that the reason is simply because Kashmir is a potential nuclear flashpoint, and that would be eminently correct. But my question would then be, why would this flashpoint be triggered when President Trump and Chairman Un are discussing the consequences of such an occurrence being played out for real between themselves?

The eternal question always remains, “who benefits?”. What message has the world at large been given?

CENTCOM or Central Command and the USINDOPACOM or the US Indo-Pacific Command of the US Armed Forces, are two gigantic military institutions that are run as autonomous and totally opaque entities by their respective Generals who see themselves as Roman Tribunes rather than Commanding Officers, with more power than their elected Head of State; under whom they, in effect, nominally serve. CENTCOM’s sphere of influence includes the carnage and the waste that they have laid to the sovereign nations of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and, that influence ends at the eastern border of Pakistan. In May 2018, when the previously titled entity USPACOM or US Pacific Command changed its name to the US Indo Pacific Command and suddenly incorporated India into its sphere of influence, their remit then began to encompass all territory upto the western border of India and, lo and behold, both spheres of these gigantic killing machines meet at the Line of Control within the volatile and disputed region of Kashmir.

Would the subsequent events leading from Pulwama have been a test run to gauge the effectiveness of integrated electronic media in India, which is thus by default, the most established English language denominated media at USINDOPACOM’s disposal? Would it have been a weaponised trial in propagating an explosive narrative draped as high drama in order to influence, coerce, intimidate and subsume a diverse society to toe the line? Was it to keep Pakistan on the straight and narrow and make it clear to them how close they were to being obliterated were it not for the kind benevolence of CENTCOM intervention; a similar muscular feat that China perhaps would not have been able to effectively co-ordinate so quickly.

So although, on the face of it, the Prime Minister of India plays the well rehearsed role of the village fool, entwining within it, (in order to appeal to a barely semi-literate audience); his own myth of having risen from the ranks of poverty and social ostracisation to become the elected leader of a huge and diverse nation and with the Prime Minister of Pakistan playing the well constructed role of the suave, Western debonair who achieved his elected position after years of political struggle; both however remain actors playing lines they have been given within a huge stage production.

If either of them were truly representative of the will of their constituents as well as the projection of the visions of the future that their electorates see in themselves, then neither would have played leading roles in a scene that required EAMs at the LOC.

The only beneficiaries are the Roman Tribunes of the two COMMANDs of the US Armed Forces, who quietly engaged themselves in a live-fire exercise to test their proprietary war game theories and then gathered the subsequent extrapolated algorithmic data for future reference.

As Crazy Earl says in the epic Kubrick movie, Full Metal Jacket; “These are great days we’re living, bros. We are jolly green giants, walking the Earth with guns. These people we wasted here today are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we’re gonna miss not having anyone around that’s worth shooting”.

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Pakistan’s commitment to eradicate terrorism is more advance than UNSC

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Big blow to Indian diplomacy by United Nation Security Council (UNSC), when passed a resolution declaring JAISH-e-Muhammad (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar as a global terrorist under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267, without linking him with Pulwama, or Kashmir Freedom Movement.

 India, traditional rival, has been trying to blame Masood Azhar on suspicions of his possible involvement in Pulwama Incident, Bombay Attacks, Hijacking Indian Air, or Kashmir Freedom Movement. Since 2008, the US attempted four times to get Masood Azhar listed under the UNSC resolution 1267 but every time its move was thwarted by China. “The Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning ISIL (Da’ish), al Qaeda, and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities approved the addition of entry to its ISIL (Da’ish) and Al-Qaeda Sanctions List of individuals and entities subject to the assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo.” The resolution was limited to ISIL (Da’ish), Al-Qaeda only. But Indian addition of Kashmir or other incidents related to India made the resolution unfit on technical grounds.

Pakistan had rejected earlier proposals to list the JeM chief, as India wanted to link it with the movement in Indian Occupied Kashmir where Kashmiris are waging struggle to get their inalienable right of self-determination. Pakistan’s FO spokesperson said, “India is presenting this new development as its victory and confirmation of its narrative, but these claims are unfounded and false. Once politically motivated attempts to link it with the Pulwama incident and the legitimate Kashmiri struggle for the realization of the right to self-determination were removed, the current amended listing proposal was approved.” Of course, China withdrew its opposition after consultations with Pakistan, and that Pakistan agreed to the listing after its objections were addressed. China and Pakistan are on the same page and support each other on all national, international or regional issues. During his recent visit to China, Prime Minister Imran Khan had met President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang and discussed matters of mutual interest. Reviewing with satisfaction the historical development of China-Pakistan relations and the great strides made, both sides in the joint statement agreed to further strengthen the China-Pakistan all-weather strategic cooperative partnership in line with the principles set forth by the treaty of friendship, cooperation and good-neighborly relations signed in 2005.

This time, the resolution was presented on its original merit and got passed. As per the resolution, his assets should be frozen, travel ban and arms embargo should be imposed. But, Pakistan due to its own policies, has already frozen his assets and imposed a ban on his travel and arms embargo since long ago.

In a matter of fact, Pakistan was the victim of terrorism for almost the last four decades. We have sacrificed 80,000 precious lives, which no other nation can afford. We suffered an economic loss of approximately 250 billion US Dollars, which no other country can afford individually. The net loss in term of time, losing 4 decades means loss of almost two generations. Emotional suffering is much more and beyond any estimation.

Pakistan was compelled to formulate “National Action Plan” at its own and has been implementing successfully for several years. Our achievement to the over-come menace of Terrorism has been acknowledged by the international community. Under the National Action Plan, Pakistan has taken all possible measures to eradicate terrorism from grassroots. Actions against Masood Azhar was part of our national priority. It has nothing to do with any third country.

UNSC’s decision in respect of Masood Azhar may be the last nail in Modi’s Elections. Indian Elections are based on “anti-Pakistan” and “hate-Pakistan”, Modi did his best to hate-Pakistan, harm-Pakistan, Isolate-Pakistan, etc. But all of his efforts went wrong and Pakistan has emerged as one of the most resilient nation, moderate, peace-loving and visionary nation. Pakistan’s narrative is more acceptable to the international community. 

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Horror in Sri Lanka and Love Fest in Vladivostok

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The horrendous Easter bombings in Sri Lanka make little sense; the question remains, why?  Following 30 years of civil war between the majority Buddhist Sinhalese (75%) and the minority and mostly Hindu Tamils (11%), who felt discriminated against after the country won independence from the British, it had enjoyed a decade of peace.

The Muslims are another minority in Sri Lanka.  They have been under attack in recent years by a new aggressive Buddhism rearing its head.  So why should Muslims attack Christians a fellow Abrahamic minority when there has never been any discord between them, and when they could be natural allies. 

After ISIS claimed responsibility displaying faces-covered photos of the bombers (except for the leader whose face was uncovered), the murkiness of the circumstances precipitated out.  He who pays the piper calls the tune they say, and the local group (National Thowheed Jam’aath) who were the instruments, did not have the wherewithal or the resources on their own — just a leader radicalized by attacks on Muslims by the extremists among Sinhalese Buddhists a year ago. 

According to ISIS, it was revenge for the New Zealand mosque bombings but it was also designed to hit the tourist trade.  Then too, Zahran Hashim the leader of the group, and who himself is thought to have carried out the attack on Colombo’s Shangri La Hotel was of Tamil background.  The cycle continues. 

Needless to say the attack on Christians also wrong-footed the security forces for they had intelligence reports since January, but clearly had little or no security presence.  Will there be retribution?  That is what Muslims fear (and ISIS wants) for it generates more recruits to continue the madness.

How did ISIS emerge?  It might be repetitious to say so, but it takes the brutality of war to generate extremists.  Think of the IRA, or the Tamil Tigers who invented the suicide bomber.  The crazed path of destruction created in the Middle East and North Africa by the US will leave a trail many years hence.

And not only there, as the revolution fomented in Ukraine has led to a civil war, with Russia backing the ethnic Russians of the Donbass region in East Ukraine.  Just this week,  Russian president Vladimir Putin issued an order simplifying the procedure for them to obtain Russian passports.  Is this another step towards eventual annexation?

Meanwhile, Mr. Putin has decided to fill the void left when Donald Trump in Vietnam walked away from what he called a bad deal with Kim Jon Un of North Korea.  Kim had demanded an end to all economic sanctions before he would begin to dismantle his nuclear weaponry.  Kim had a point:  it is clearly not easy to replace destroyed armaments unlike sanctions. 

Putin is now playing the role of global power broker with North Korea drawing the attention Trump had received briefly until the falling out.  A new bromance?  Perhaps, and one important enough for Putin to travel across seven time zones to Vladivostok for the meeting.  Kim was met with great ceremonial pomp and treated to a lavish banquet laden with delicacies; thus indulging his twin weaknesses for deference and good food.  No cheeseburgers, thank you — in marked contrast to Trump’s favorite food.

What does Putin get?  Along with being seen as an influencer in North Korea, he could well become its intermediary, the go-to guy.  The wily Putin seldom loses.  He waits and watches, watches and waits.  For Kim, his two neighbors Russia and China have been his strongest support for generations, to which he now returns.

He tried to emulate China, wanting capital and western firms to invest and kickstart a commercially moribund economy.  But Trump’s price was too high.  One wonders whether Trump will expound on the Art of the Missed Deal if he loses the next election.  But then the ‘curiouser and curiouser’ Democrats might ensure that he does not have to.

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