Thomas Wictor

Reductionism is fun, but it won’t solve any of our problems

Reductionism is fun, but it won’t solve any of our problems

One of my genuine hatreds in life is reductionism, the attempt to reduce extremely complicated issues to a soundbite. In my experience, most people who do this are narcissistic gasbags.

Through the magic of reductionism, the current conflict in the Middle East is described as Sunni versus Shi’ite. This is simply not true. The reality is that the Islamic Republic of Iran happens to be Shi’ite, and Saudi Arabia happens to be Sunni, but many other factors come into play. While some groups have had to choose sides based on sectarianism, the main reason that the region has gone to war is that the Iranian mullahs are power-mad imperialists. The same can’t be said for Saudi Arabia.

One of my credos is “Criticize people for what they do or are, not for things you imagine.” It’s not necessary for you to support or even like Saudi Arabia. However, the kingdom does not pose a threat to the Middle East.

Reductionism gets people killed

On January 2, 2016, the Saudis announced that they had executed Shi’ite cleric Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, generally called Sheik al-Nimr.


Al-Nimr was an outspoken critic of the Saudi government. The overwhelming majority of western news outlets simply say that al-Nimr was arrested on July 8, 2012, and executed for sedition and various terrorism-related crimes. Some report that he was shot during his arrest.

I can’t find any English-language account of the arrest. In a grotesque irony, I had to use the pathologically truth-challenged Amnesty International as a source for part of the story.

Sheikh al-Nimr, a vocal critic of the Saudi Arabian authorities’ harassment of Shi’a Muslims, was initially charged with banditry and other offences after security agents claimed he had opened fire on them when he was arrested on 8 July 2012. The sheikh was shot and wounded during the arrest…

Sheikh al-Nimr, who is the Imam of al-Awamiyya mosque in al-Qatif, eastern Saudi Arabia, also suffered from ill-treatment throughout his two-year detention, most of which he spent in solitary confinement in military hospitals and at the al-Ha’ir prison in Riyadh.

Access to his family and lawyers—including during interrogations—has been irregular. He was also denied surgery to remove a bullet in his back.

Treatment for his right leg, which remains paralyzed since he was shot during his arrest, has also been refused.

Let’s think about this for a second.

If the Saudis just wanted to kill him to shut him up, why did they only wound him and then treat him in military hospitals for three years, elevating him from marginal figure to global Shi’ite icon? A Saudi on Twitter told me that al-Nimr was arrested after a car chase and gun battle. I found these photos of al-Nimr’s car on Arabic-language Websites.





The car was totaled. It hit that building at a very high speed, indicating a car chase. There are no bullet holes in the vehicle.

Here’s al-Nimr in the back of a police car after he was shot.


Why did the cops care for him? Why did they allow him to be filmed? The image of this injured man in a bloody sheet could only inspire pity and outrage. If I were an absolutist ruler faced with potential revolution by an angry minority in my kingdom, I’d “disappear” all the leaders of the movement. It’s done quietly and discreetly all the time.

I’m not saying that I accept the Saudi version of events. However, the opposing narrative is a carefully crafted myth. Reductionism was applied, and we ended up with a peaceful cleric being savagely arrested and killed by the state because he’s a member of a minority sect. The only certainty is that what really happened is far more complicated.

Geopolitical reductionsm gets more people killed

To my disgust, those who should know better have fallen prey to reductionsim. In Syria, all we had to do was arm the rebels, and everything would be jake.


I learned about this tonight. It shows how incompetent we are.

As Western-backed rebels in northern Syria were suffering a crushing defeat by Jabhat Al Nusra earlier this month, an angry commander on the country’s southern front shouted at military advisers from the US, UK and Gulf states, telling them their tactics were badly failing.

The rebel leader, Abu Osama Al Jolani, was “furious” and “yelling”, according to opposition accounts of the incident, which unfolded at the Military Operations Command (MOC) in Amman, a centre staffed by international advisers aiding rebels in southern Syria.

Did you know about the MOC? I didn’t. But I could’ve told everyone that it was a huge waste of time. And I would’ve been right.

Southern Syria’s mainstream opposition has had – and lost – its last chance at forcing Bashar al-Assad’s troops out of the city of Daraa, according to a source close to opposition backers.


A source who was inside the secretive Military Operations Centre (MOC) in Amman during a meeting this week said the opposition’s American and Jordanian supporters have “closed the folder” on any operation to oust Syrian government forces from the capital of Daraa province. The opposition’s at-times chaotic and inept approach was cited as the primary reason behind backers’ frustration.

Actually, this is why the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army imploded.

The MOC source said many in the mainstream opposition believe Islamist factions in Daraa have conspired against the MOC-sponsored campaign to take the city.

After all this time, we still haven’t learned that Islamists—jihadists—will always put their religion ahead of everything else. The MOC believed that there were “moderate, mainstream Islamists” who would gladly take orders from westerners. Syrian rebels all want the same thing, right?

Reductionism that works to our advantage

In one way only, reductionism in geopolitics is good: when you use it for strategic deception.

The west has been bad, so we must atone. Part of that atonement is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the Iran nuclear deal—a road map to peace in our time.

While the U.S. has said Iran is living up to its commitments related to the nuclear deal so far, Tehran has also launched ballistic missile tests in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and continued to support its unpopular proxies in the region.

According to news reports, the Treasury Department told congressional lawmakers last week that it intended to sanction people and entities it considered responsible for the ballistic missile program, but the U.S. later decided to delay any action.


Some fear a lax U.S. response to Iran’s role in the conflict with Saudi Arabia will encourage Tehran to behave badly, and undermine the nuclear deal.

“We are seeing a pattern of behavior on the part of the administration that is bound to embolden Iran,” [vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council Ilan] Berman said.

WEIRD! Why in the world would anyone encourage Iran to behave badly?

Because it’s—



This article viewed 341 times.