Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Middle East Strategy For The West

Barry Rubin
August 26, 2008

The great battle of our younger years was between Communism and democratic liberalism. Its contemporary equivalent is Arab nationalism versus Islamism.
That implies some extremely important, often misunderstood, conclusions:
First, regrettably but true, democracy isn't in the running. The problem is not just that cynical rulers mislead the masses through demagoguery-though that's true; it's that the masses embrace extremist world views.
Even in Iraq or Lebanon what exists is not democracy but merely elections regulating the precise balance among ethno-religious blocs. Instead of lobbying, they have violence as a means of persuasion and leverage, periodically breaking into civil war.
Other countries are dictatorships, though repression varies. Kuwait, a sort of monarchical semi-democracy, is the exception proving the rule. There, pro-democratic liberal forces do poorly against dynasty-controlled, Islamist and tribal foes.
The Palestinian political scene provides another example. Remember, Fatah accepted Hamas's victory at the polls. Only after an agreement formed a coalition government did Hamas stage a coup.
There is nothing theoretical about this. Is democracy possible in the Arabic-speaking world? Why not, once one discounts all the actually existing political, ideological, social and organizational forces.
Will it come eventually? Probably, if eventually is long enough.
In terms of practical politics and strategy, however, these two questions are irrelevant. Democracy isn't on the agenda.
Just to give guidelines, and remembering every country differs, I'd suggest roughly 60-70 percent of the Arabic-speaking world is still Arab nationalist, 20-30 percent Islamist, and 10 percent pro-moderate democracy. Numbers and definitions are subject to challenge but the basic proportions seem right.
There are two hybrid regimes. Libya follows dictator Muammar Qadhafi's bizarre mentality. More importantly, in Syria, the regime is Arab nationalist but its international policy and domestic propaganda is largely Islamist. It backs Iraqi, Lebanese, and Palestinian Islamist terrorists and the regime is deeply committed to the Iran alliance.
Second, not all Islamists are the same or allied but all are extremely dangerous. Iran and Syria, which can subvert whole countries and sponsor large political organizations, is far more dangerous than al-Qaida.
The notion of helping groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to become more powerful or seize control of countries is insane, more likely to ensure decades of bloodshed, the deaths of many thousands of people in internal strife and foreign warfare, and the destruction of Western interests.
Third, the two contending forces are both local. The West is an outside factor whose intervention-either through force or concessions-won't decide this contest generally and certainly isn't going to transform either of the two sides. The West can, however, do some critical things if it knows how to distinguish between friends, enemies, and interests:
Help one side against the other where appropriate. The side to help is the Arab nationalists. They are as a group, at least with Saddam Hussein gone from Iraq, less internationally aggressive and less internally repressive than the revolutionary enthusiastic and ideologically idealistic Islamists.
They have also absorbed some lessons from the last half-century about their own limits and Western power. Their people suffer because they're incapable of transforming these societies for the better; their subjects benefit because they don't seek to transform these societies and govern every detail of their lives.
Don't romanticize Arab nationalist regimes. They're incompetent, corrupt, anti-democratic, and unreliable allies. We know their failings are one significant reason the Islamists have grown but, frankly, there's nothing we can do about it. There's no third alternative. The Bush administration tried and failed miserably. Ironically, a real moderate government, the Lebanese "March 14" coalition, didn't receive serious Western support and inevitably fell to Hizballah pressure and Iranian-Syrian subversion.
Arab nationalist regimes will do as little as possible to combat the Islamists internationally, appease the other side quickly if they think it‘s winning, and play anti-American, anti-Western, and anti-Israel cards.
Show Arab nationalist regimes that the West won't let them get away with anything nasty and show the Islamists it won't let them get away with anything at all. Any concession made to the Islamist side-including Syria-sends a signal to regimes, radical Islamist groups, and the people that the Islamists are winning and everyone better join or appease them.
Obtaining Israel-Palestinian or Arab-Israeli peace is a useless strategy, distracting from real issues. It isn't going to happen; Islamists would use any such peace to portray those signing it as traitors; and even many Arab nationalists would denounce it to raise their credibility as tough, unyielding fighters. Violence and unrest would increase, not lessen, as a result.
Similarly, the main reason to oppose Iranian nuclear weapons is not because they would threaten Israel-though that's important-but because they endanger Western interests by swinging the balance wildly in favor of the Islamists.
If you want a good analogy, think of how the United States and Britain had to ally with Joseph Stalin's USSR during World War Two (though they were too trusting of him) and with a variety of dictators during the Cold War (without countenancing their systems or practices, which didn't happen often enough but more so than many think today).
In short, the priority is not to be nice to Hamas, Hizballah, Iran, Muslim Brotherhoods, or Syria, but rather to work with-critically and sometimes pressuring-the governments of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, the smaller Arab Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia, along with democratic forces in Lebanon. This group also includes Fatah's Palestinian Authority, but that group already receives far more money and diplomatic support than it needs or deserves. It should be made to work for these benefits rather than contribute so much to the problems.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle- East (Wiley).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Morality and Enlightment or Fear and Greed?

On September 11th,
after the world learned that Arab murderers had flown planes into the world
trade center, Palestinians celebrated in the streets of Gaza and the west bank.
These are the administration's "partners for peace."

Barry Rubin
August 26, 2008

The Italian government, it has just come to light, let Palestinian terrorist groups operate freely in its country from the 1970s onward as long as they promised not to attack Italians.
As former President Francesco Cossiga explained, the agreement with the PLO and PFLP was that if you "don't harm me... I won't harm you."
Thus, these groups could move terrorists and equipment destined for use in murdering [non-Italian] civilians in and out of Italy-protected by Italian security agencies.
In 1995, after PLO terrorists took 545 passengers on the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro hostage (and killed one American passenger), U.S. Navy fighters intercepted the escaping gunmen's flight and forced it to land in Italy.
The Italian government was so eager to avoid trouble with Arafat that it let their leader escape and soon freed most of the terrorists as well.
Yet this is hardly new or unique.
It was long known that France followed a similar policy and so, at least at times, did Britain.
In 1969 British policy, as one official put it in an internal document was "to distinguish between Fatah, which is going out of its way to emphasize its disapproval of wanton terrorism, and the PFLP, a small group which does present a threat."
Another British diplomat urged London not to offend Fatah and the PLO since they were powerful and "may one day be a government."
One would never guess that at the time Fatah was staging terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians; was the PFLP's close ally; openly declared it would wipe Israel off the map; was subverting Jordan's government, Britain's closest Middle East ally; and would within a little more than a year launch a massive international terrorist campaign against British targets.
It is not surprising then, that the PLO came to believe terrorism was a no-risk strategy and that it had infinite time in which to wage his revolution.
No wonder, too, did terrorism become such a popular strategy in general from the 1960s down to the present day.
But there's another point to be made here as well. European countries and much of the elites there and in the United States claim that they sympathize with the Palestinians-or at least are far more critical of Israel-due to a sympathy with the underdog and a higher knowledge about how peace can be made and extremism defused.
In fact they are motivated far more by fear (of being attacked themselves) and greed (for trade to the Arabic-speaking world and Iran).
Often, implicitly or explicitly, it is suggested that, ironically, the experience of Jewish persecution had brought about this contemporary hypersensitivity to the suffering of the helpless underdog.
In fact, though, the motive is the same now as it was then: hypersensitivity to the power and wealth of the persecutors.
In a very real way--though of course there are exceptions--the prospect of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of Jews being murdered by an Iranian nuclear attack does not bother European countries much more than the last time it happened.
By way of contrast, every attempt is made to prevent what radical Islamists perceive as insults even at the cost of throwing away key democratic freedoms. This is not sensitivity to perpetrating bigotry but sensitivity to violence being perpetrated on themselves.
Oh, and by the way, past efforts to appease PLO terrorists did not protect Britain, France, and Italy from major terrorist operations on their soil.
Today, expressions of sympathy and diplomatic efforts do not preserve them from being targets of radical Islamists.
Some leaders now understand this fact; others don't.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle- East (Wiley).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Column History

A nineteen-year-old man is to be beheaded for a bad joke interpreted as blasphemy. A father is accused of killing his son because he converted to another religion. They are not Muslims but Christians; the place is France in the mid-1700s.

There was a time when Europe often behaved in ways parallel to that of Muslim-majority countries today.
Yet by the 1700s this was changing.
In the former case, the king and even Catholic bishops failed to save the unfortunate Chevalier de la Barre but the outcry led to the end of such actions. In the latter, the immediate reaction was to sentence the father, Monsieur Calas, to death for murder, soon changed--by outraged public opinion--to freeing him as victim of an unjust frame-up merely because he was a Protestant.

So it's true there are parallels between Western and Middle Eastern societies. But even leaving aside quite important doctrinal religious issues the difference is that things far in the past in Western ones still exist in Muslim-majority counterparts.
Crusades ended eight centuries ago; Jihad continues.

There are other critical differences as well. One is that progressive opinion, intellectuals, governments, even much of the Christian churches themselves, fought for progress in the West. They didn't say, "These are our sacred practices, our lifestyle and thus must remain forever unchanged."
They didn't let fear of being labeled "Christianophobic" paralyze them.

Another is that four centuries of rethinking, struggle, and debate were needed to create contemporary Western democratic society.
Such processes have, at best, barely begun in the contemporary Middle East.

It's extraordinary that much analysis of the region--possibly the most important intellectual endeavor of our times--is conducted in an ad lib fashion based on the latest newspaper interview, underlain with wishful thinking. If we're going to be serious about this task serious historical perspective is needed. Most should be based on the region's own distinctive past and world view. But since people insist on making trans-regional analogies here's the way to do it.

Consider the following statement: "The world is not ruled by an intelligent being." Instead, religion has created a deity who is "monster of unreason, injustice, malice, and atrocity." Who said this, someone last week in the West? No, it was the French writer Jean Meslier in 1723. That statement, too hot to publish at the time, was a few decades later in the mainstream of French discourse. Oh, by the way, Meslier was a lifelong Catholic priest.

The basis of democracy began in 1215 with the Magna Carta in England. The battle to have a legitimately accepted division between religion and state was waged and largely won in the Middle Ages. A basis was laid for secular-dominated society.

True, in the 1500s underground Catholic priests in England were tortured and executed while Protestants in France suffered even worse. Yet at the same time, English universities were teaching the Classical tradition which, in Italy, was the basis of representational art. The plays of Shakespeare and the works of others depended on this freedom, background, and example. A basis was laid for a pragmatic, empiricist, utilitarian culture that stood on the scientific method.

That was called the Renaissance, which means re-birth.
For the West, the great civilization of Classical times was being rebuilt. But Greece and Rome were not part of the Arab-Islamic tradition.
Representational art is viewed with suspicion.
The time before the coming of Islam is rejected with horror.

To this day, secularism is almost a hanging offense in the Middle East and democracy, as it is understood in the West, is deemed inappropriate. Much of Europe's cultural production of Europe in the sixteenth through eighteenth century could not be produced and widely accepted in the Arabic-speaking world today.

Of course, these things do appear, but usually as imports from the West, which raises suspicions and gives ruling forces--clerical and state--a strong incentive to demonize the West to limit the appeal of subversive ideas.

The great historian of France, Alfred Cobban, wrote that the new secular ideology triumphed there between 1748 and 1770, after already flourishing in Britain and the Netherlands.
Even in the Catholic Church "the persecuting spirit was dying down." The English, Dutch, American, and French revolutions were not triumphs of traditionalism, as in Iran, but of greater democracy. Many Westerners continued (as they do today) to be religious, but of a more open and tolerant variety.

This struggle between the old and new societies characterized much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, yet the trend was steady. Perhaps fascism (arguably Communism) and World War Two were, respectively, the final reactionary movements and last struggle.
Yet victory required 500 years of rethinking and education.

There's no such history in the Middle East and several additional problems block change toward moderation and democracy here. Whatever one thinks of specific Islamic doctrine as generally interpreted the big problem is that it remains so powerful and hegemonic.
Arab nationalism is anti-democratic, repressive, and statist. Islamists seek a somewhat revised version of the eighth century, albeit with rockets and mass communication.

It is also worse because Middle East regimes and revolutionaries know Western history.
They are aware of the fact that while pious Western philosophers and scientists sincerely believed open inquiry and democracy didn't threaten traditional religion and the status quo they were wrong. Openness led to revolution and to modern secular-dominated society, a West with all the ills decried by those in religious, ideological and political power in the Middle East. They know what happened to Soviet bloc dictatorships that experimented with more freedom, too.
And they know that accepting Western ideas makes people want to change their own societies.

On top of their knowledge, they have weapons, technology, new means of organization and communication to block change through persuasion and threat.
This point applies as much to Iran's Islamist rulers as to Syria's pretend-pious ones or Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi monarchs.

Finally, it is worse because there's a powerful, growing movement--radical Islamism--posin an alternative to modernism. The question is not merely of tiny, marginalized al-Qaida but also the governments of Iran, Syria, and Sudan; the Saudi regime; powerful mainstream societal influences, Hamas and Hizballah; the Muslim Brotherhoods, and many others.

In comparison, while there are courageous individual liberals, there's no real liberal party anywhere in the Middle East, no liberal-controlled media or liberal proselytizing university. In Egypt the liberal organization has been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood.

So while the great majority of people want a good life for themselves and their children, breathe air, drink water, and bleed when they are pricked--as they did in Ice Age caves, ancient Rome, Medieval France, imperial China, Inca Peru, or the central deserts of Australia that does not mean everyone thinks the same or that all societies and governments are basically equivalent.

Anyone who doesn't understand history is doomed to be battered by it.


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Irshad Manji Fighting Islamic Abuse of Women

In the name of Islam and Mohahmed women are tortured and degraded and denied human rights in the Arab and Muslim world.
Irshad Manji is bravely fighting to change this discredited and atavistic "religion".

She's a Canadian feminist Muslim whose book The Trouble With Islam Today has become an international bestseller, but is banned throughout the Middle East. A fierce critic of her religion, she lives behind bulletproof glass. Geraldine Bedell meets the woman being compared to Martin Luther.Geraldine Bedell The Observer, Sunday August 3 2008 Article history
Canadian Feminist Muslim Irshad Manji. Photograph: Andrew Testa

She is a lesbian feminist Muslim whose ambition is nothing less than to reform Islam. She has been compared by the New York Times to Martin Luther; by others to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Salman Rushdie, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan and, when I met her, casually, by herself, to Vaclav Havel.

Irshad Manji, a spiky-haired, opinionated, mouthy Canadian Muslim, lives in New York behind bulletproof glass and doesn't use a mobile phone because it would make finding her too easy. She has a lot of enemies: her book, The Trouble With Islam Today, is banned across much of the Middle East. But it is also a bestseller in many countries, including the US, and has been downloaded in its Arabic, Farsi and Urdu translations more than half-a-million times. In the last couple of weeks, she has been in Washington advising Democrats on Capitol Hill about a potential Obama administration's policy towards the Muslim world and reminding the National Organisation for Women to speak out against human-rights abuses perpetrated under cover of religion. Her recent documentary, Faith Without Fear, has just been nominated for an Emmy.

I meet her at her office at New York University in downtown Manhattan, where she has recently become a professor. Manji is slight, dynamic and blazingly articulate, the words pouring out in a stream of rhetorical tropes for two-and-a-half hours. I feel like I'm at a public meeting.

What she has to say - that Islam has become calcified and that in its name millions of people around the world are being denied human rights - is offensive to many and troubling even to progressive Muslims and non-Muslims who agree with her but wouldn't say so out loud, for fear of provoking what she calls the beards and the veils. She can't seem to move without annoying someone; she is also loathed by those ghastly, blogging Christians who prefer Muslims to be the enemy and think they should be converted or stay in their 'own' countries.

Where has she got it from, this nice-looking, petite girl (she was born in 1968 but appears much younger) from suburban Vancouver? How did she get the nerve to become one of the leading voices demanding reform of one of the world's great religions, at a time when Islam has become so controversial?

Irshad Manji arrived in Canada at the age of four as a refugee from Idi Amin's Uganda. One night, when she was 10, her father chased her through the house with a kitchen knife after she threatened to report him to the police and social services for his violence towards her mother. Hiding on the roof, out of reach, she had an epiphany - or that's how she tells it now: 'I realised I was grateful because there were people I could go to, talk to, whereas if we'd still been in East Africa that may not have been the case. I realised I lived in a society where the story of who we are as a people was not finished, which meant that I, as an individual, mattered. I could be a partial author of this grander story.'

Aged 14, she was thrown out of the madrassa, her religious Saturday school, for asking too many questions. Why couldn't girls lead prayers? Why couldn't they read the Koran in a language she could understand? What was this Jewish conspiracy they kept going on about?

She could easily have walked away, but with typical pugnacity she refused to give up on her religion. In her book, she makes a rational case for the role of religion in her life. Her faith is in tension with the materialism of the modern world, she says; religion encourages her to keep thinking, 'to avoid lapsing into a fundamentalism of my own, be it feminist, nationalist or multiculturalist. Religion has compelled me to bow to no one but the God dwelling restlessly in my conscience, a precious skill to develop in an era of boundless spin'.

She read up on Islam at her local public library but otherwise got on with growing up, studying the history of ideas at the University of British Columbia, from which she emerged with the governor general's medal as top humanities graduate. She worked for a feminist politician, on the editorial board of a newspaper, and then in television, both as presenter and producer of a programme called Queer TV. She met her first girlfriend in her twenties, came out to her mother a few weeks later and has been an out lesbian ever since.

She prefers not to think that her sexuality, deplored by most Muslim religious leaders, or her childhood, with a father who believed abuse of his wife and three daughters was sanctioned by culture and religion, were determining factors in her desire to reconfigure Islam. She would much rather see that as the logical conclusion of rational thought.

'There will always be people who assume that my trouble with Islam has to do with my childhood,' she says with ferocity. 'Nothing could be further from the truth. People who say that give my experiences too much power. The fact that in the last 100 years more Muslims have been tortured and maimed in the name of Islam than by any other people - can that be laid at the feet of my childhood?'

Her parents eventually divorced, some seven years after the knife incident, and Manji has not seen her father since. 'There was a time, years ago, when I hated my father because of the abuse to which he subjected us, but I didn't want to hate him for the rest of my life. I made a decision to keep a critical distance from him, so as to develop a measure of indifference and perhaps, eventually, empathy.'

As for her sexuality, it seems absurd, to me at least, that it wouldn't have sensitised her to the contradictions in religion. (She acknowledges that she wondered quite early why if God has made everything excellent, as it says in the Koran, but hates gays, he had allowed her to be born lesbian.) But she is keen to downplay its influence on her work. 'There are bigger issues here, and I don't make a big deal, much to the consternation of many gays and lesbians, of being gay and a Muslim. It's not very interesting to me, because I haven't achieved it.'

She believes Islam needs to revive its tradition of critical thinking, ijtihad, if it is to avoid what she sees as its current fate of ossification and glorification of its founding moment in the 7th century. (Some Muslim scholars dispute that ijtihad was ever the wide-ranging, inquiring tradition of intellectual ferment that Manji maintains, arguing that it was a narrower, more legalistic issue. She dismisses this interpretation as restricting and self-serving. But whatever the details of scholarly debate, they obviously do not invalidate her point that Islam needs to find a way of accommodating itself to the 21st century.)

The moment Manji identifies as revelatory came when she was working at a religious television station and her (Jewish) boss placed a newspaper cutting on her desk. The cutting concerned a young woman in northern Nigeria who had been sentenced by a sharia court to 180 lashes, even though she had rounded up seven male witnesses to testify that she had been raped. 'Irshad,' her boss scribbled in the margin, 'one of these days you'll tell me how you reconcile this kind of insanity, and female genital mutilation, with your Muslim faith.'

She recalls being initially offended by the question, but also gradually realising that, in asking it, her boss had been showing respect for her maturity and intelligence. Feeling offended, she observes, is not the same thing as being discriminated against. This seemed to her to lead to some rather topsy-turvy situations. If, she says, she were to ask similar difficult questions of her fellow Muslims - to treat them as adults, rather than as over-sensitive potential terrorists - she would be accused of racism or of being a self-hating Muslim.

She started asking the questions anyway, first in her book, then on her website, where she launched Project Ijtihad, 'which exists to create the largest network in the world - sorry, let me be more humble - which hopes to create the largest network in the world of reform-minded Muslims and non-Muslim allies who come from a human-rights perspective, rather than an anti-terrorist perspective'.

Humility, you suspect, doesn't come that easily. When I ask about the comparison in the New York Times to Martin Luther, she says: 'I rolled my eyes at that; I cringed.' But this turns out not to be because of the aggrandisement involved in being bracketed with the founder of the Reformation, but, 'because here I was under the impression that people like me are seeking to update Islamic interpretations for the 21st century, not the 16th'.

She has received many death threats, some histrionic, a few serious. 'I acknowledge the fact that I can't use a mobile phone, because GPS technology makes it very easy for ill-wishers to track you down and do you harm. I usually have security at my events. But I live as if I can't be paying attention to any of that. If I were to be offed tomorrow, I would have no regrets. That doesn't mean I cruise for a fatwa, but Vaclav Havel in his own time of dissent in eastern Europe liked to say that he had to live as if he were permitted to express himself fully. He had to compartmentalise the fact that he was under threat.'

She admits that the constraints that follow death threats made life difficult for her former partner. 'I'm single at the moment, but when Michelle and I were together, it was hard for her. She adapted to it, I have to say, with great strength. What broke us up eventually wasn't that; it was my 24/7, away-from-home life. I had to make a choice between my relationship and this mission and I know, frankly, what I've been put on this earth to do. I don't mean to sound like a diva when I say that. I truly believe that each one of us has a calling and even if my work goes down as a mere footnote in the history of the real reformers who come after me, that's fine.'

Manji remains close to her mother, although you get the impression it's a needling, nettling relationship. When she told her mother she was writing the book, her mother said: 'I'm just going to ask you one thing, please do not anger God.' 'I respectfully reminded her that angering mullahs and imams and Muslim political lobbyists does not necessarily mean angering God. She did not buy the argument at all. My mother, my hero, my role model: she wasn't and she still isn't.'

Once the book came out, her mother was forced to endure a sermon at her mosque in which the imam claimed that Manji was worse than Osama bin Laden. 'And you know why? Because apparently my book had caused more debate among Muslims than al-Qaeda's terrorism! What does that say about us?' Other worshippers reassured her mother afterwards that Manji was saying what needed to be said. 'And she finally saw this for the first time. And I said, "You know, what, Mom? I'm thrilled that you've come to this conclusion. I'm only sorry that you needed social approval to see this."'

Ouch. There is no denying, though, that Manji is right about the paradoxes of multiculturalism. When it comes to Islam, it often seems to be easier (and not only for Muslims) to attack freedom of expression than defend it. It is shocking that in pluralistic societies there are young people at her events 'who are there to heckle, to denounce, not just me as a human being, but the very idea of pluralism. There are very rarely those who will take them on. They come up to me afterwards and whisper, "Thank you"'.

'At a well-known university in the Boston area recently - I won't say which - I noticed there were fewer people in the audience than I would have expected. I asked some girls about it afterwards and they said an email had gone round that afternoon to all the Muslim students saying "If you are caught at that bitch's lecture you will pay the price." This from a university in America.'

Where Manji is not right, at least for me, is blaming the Arab world, in throwing a blanket of accusation over what she calls 'desert Islam'. While the influence of Saudi money and Wahhabi sectarianism on madrassas worldwide is well-documented, her glib dismissal of the Arab world doesn't allow for its complexities or the amount of subtle, liberal, reformist thinking going on even within its ruling regimes. When I try to talk to her about the Gulf, where I lived for five years, she counters with an email she's had from a young man in Egypt, which is a bit like answering a question about Scotland by talking about Russia.

Not all tribalism, or villageism, is the fault of Arabia. Manji has found a convenient scapegoat here and she doesn't seem to be too bothered how she uses it. At one point, she tells me that the United Arab Emirates 'markets itself as the Las Vegas of the Arab world'. This is so laughably untrue that it's difficult to know how to respond: Dubai might, arguably, be seen as a kind of Las Vegas, although it pretends not to be, but the other six states that make up the UAE have no desire to be any such thing.

I was hoping that this apparent bias was a function of her book's direct, almost tabloid style. She wanted, she says, to have a conversation with readers, not engage in a theological dispute with scholars. But it is also evident in person, where she speaks like the learned woman she is.

There is, though, no doubt that she is generating a debate that needs to be had, nor that many of her insights about the West's multicultural muddles are humiliatingly acute. She comes across as messianic, prickly, monomaniacal. But what she is attempting - 'To capture the experiences of those Muslims who have not felt permission to voice their lives, to develop their voices' - is audacious. It does take an extraordinary person to change history or even to try.
One can define G-d in many different ways.
I'm reminded of a local radio host who used to say, “Some call him Buddha, some call him G-d, I just call him Jah Rastafari.”
Or George Carlin's brilliant summation of religion “Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible
man -- living in the sky -- who watches everything you do, every minute of every
day. And the invisible man has a special list of 10 things he does not want you
to do. And if you do any of these 10 things, he has a special place, full of
fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to
live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the
end of time!

But He loves you.

He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful,
all-perfect, all-knowing and all-wise; somehow just can't handle money!”

There are those, chiefly on the right wing of American politics, that have called for more religious involvement in our lives.
Tonight on Cable Tv there was a Debate of sorts on “Faith”.
Obama was, as usual, brilliant.
McCain, as usual, seemed stilted and struggling, somewhat confused.
McCain said that he thought that none of the Liberal Judges should have been nominated to the Supreme Court.
McCain will do his best, if elected President, to return women to the kitchens and bedrooms, where, he apparently believes they belong.
McCain talks pretty tough, he says that there is evil around the world and the U.S. has to confront it.
He doesn't say how, but one must assume he means militarily.
This is not a brilliant man, and to many on the right, lack of polish and brains is considered an advantage.
The world is very complex, and we need a man who can think on his feet to lead America back to her place in the world of nations.

Obama says he wants to be president because he believes Americans believe in empathy for others.
Aside from the obvious fact that Mcain is just not bright enough to lead America, his continuation of Republican pro-bussiness anti-poor platform means more bad news for the economy and more people joining the ranks of those the Republicans believe should shift for themselves.
Finally, on Israel.
Obama has stated that he shares the administration view on Israel.
That we will protect them with everything we have.
I believe him.
I believe the reason Obama speaks so well is that he believes what he says.
I believe McCain struggles when speaking because he says whatever he thinks will make him President, and he can't keep his “views” straight, he can't remember from day to day what his views are.
He compared himself to Ronald Reagan on several occasions during the “debate”.
I met Ronald Reagan, I spoke to Ronald Reagan, and John McCain is no Ronald friends.

The voters need to listen to these men, Obama and Mcain, and use your heart as well as your head.
Look into their eyes and you be the judge, not hannity or Limbaugh, YOU be the judge.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Arab intransigence will lead to a Jewish one-state solution

Thanks to Ted Belman for this excellent synopsis of the situation vis a vis the Israelis and the Arabs.
This is an important exposition.

Arab intransigence will lead to a Jewish one-state solution

By Ted Belman

Qureia recently warned,
“The Palestinian leadership has been working on establishing a Palestinian state within the ‘67 borders,”
“If Israel continues to oppose making this a reality, then the Palestinian demand for the Palestinian people and its leadership one state, a bi- national state,”
I also want a “one state” solution, but not a bi -national state.
Ami Isseroff delves into Qureia’s threat in Palestinians: Our way or the highway
Those who blame Israel for the perennial impasse in peace negotiations, including the Palestinians themselves, are fond of portraying the desperate plight of the Palestinians under the supposedly oppressive occupation. One would think that a desperate person or a desperate people would seek to improve their lot by any means possible, and would be eager for the chance for peace and freedom. That is evidently not the case for the Palestinians.
Despite their supposed desperation, the Palestinian Arabs are curiously consistent in imposing impossible conditions for peace, conditions that amount to unconditional surrender for Israel. Palestinians and their supporters appear to be unconcerned about the contradiction. One condition that has stood for years is the so called “right of return,” a stipulation which would flood Israel with refugees of the Israeli War of Independence, their descendants, and many who falsely claimed refugee status. This would turn Israel into an Arab country and deny the right of self-determination to the Jewish people. “Right of Return” is dubiously touted as a right anchored in international law. Surely, it cannot take precedence over the right to self determination, which is Jus Cogens (see Palestinian Right of Return in International Law.
As the “Right of Return” fraud is gradually recognized for what it is, a new one has taken its place. Palestinians have devised a new impossible condition for peace: Israel must return precisely to the borders of the 1949 armistice lines, which it pleases the Palestinians to call 1967 borders.
The “1967 borders” were negotiated as armistice lines with Jordan, Egypt and Syria. Along the frontier with Jordan, they reflected no justice or demographic realities. They reflected the achievements of the Trans-Jordan Legion, made possible by arms and officers supplied by the British, in order to further their imperialist designs in the Middle East. No Arab country, and no Palestinian Arab group ever recognized or honored these borders while they existed. These borders, in the version of the Palestinian authority, put East Jerusalem in “Palestinian” territory. But officially, Jerusalem was to have been internationalized. As that was never implemented, owing to Arab and British opposition, Jerusalem is a subject for negotiation. It is unimaginable that Israel would agree to surrender all national rights to the old city of Jerusalem and environs. The Palestinian claim to Jerusalem seems to be based on the fact that no Jews lived there before 1967. Evidently, the Palestinians think the world has a short memory, and it might be so. The Jewish community of Jerusalem, which had lived there for hundreds for years, was forcibly “ethnically cleansed” from Jerusalem by a series of racist pogroms, culminating in the removal of the remaining Jewish population when the Jewish quarter was conquered by the British officered Trans-Jordan Legion in the Israel War of Independence (see The Ethnic Cleansing of Jerusalem).
The insistence on a one state solution is not new. It was the “solution” offered by that great progressive, the Nazi Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin El Husseini and his followers. As part of the life of coexistence contemplated by the Mufti, it is claimed that he planned to build an extermination camp for Jews near Nablus. After World War II, he told the British that the solution for the Jews of Palestine should be the same one adopted in Europe. It is interesting that this solution is now the favorite of many “right thinking” liberals like Tony Klug. Klug also makes the interesting admission that the two state solution was never considered to be a final step in the resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict. This admission reinforces the assertion of those Zionist opponents of the peace process who insist that the entire peace process is a trick to destroy Israel according to a staged plan. Perhaps Klug himself, an Oxford adviser on Middle East affairs, has no problems with wiping out Jewish nationhood.
Those who seriously consider this solution or threaten Israel with a one state solution if she does not accept Palestinian terms, are either trying to force Israel to accept humiliating and impossible conditions under the threat of extinction, or they are extremely naive. For there is no way that a serious person could imagine that at any time in the foreseeable future Jews could live safely in a state dominated by Palestinian Arabs. Surely, that is the only sort of state that Mr. Qureia and his followers contemplate, since they have already declared that they are unwilling to accept Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. It is not likely that, like normal citizens, they would be willing, for example, to serve in an Israeli army that fights enemy Arab countries, or to participate in all the duties of citizens in a state.
All this is well said, only I don’t believe that Jerusalem was to be internationalized though this was the talk. Res 181 required a referendum to be held for the residents of Jerusalem within 10 years to decide its fate. Res 242 did not comment on Jerusalem.
Ironically, the pro-Arab advocates of a one-state solution may find a welcome among Zionist extremists, who likewise advocate a single state. In their version of the single state, however, it is the Palestinian Arabs who would be perpetual underdogs. Each set of extremists imagines a “utopia” that would be a nightmare for the other side, and proposes it as a “peace” solution.
Such is life. This is the price the Arabs must pay for their intransigence. Israel must impose a solution. One to its likely that would result in the resettlement of the Arabs elsewhere with compensation. So the choice for the Arabs is whether they want the present situation to continue or whether they want compensation to leave.
The “1967 border” ultimatum, like the “Right of Return” ultimatum, is just a flimsy pretext for refusing to agree to reasonable and livable terms for peace. It seems that a large portion of the Palestinian population and leadership do not, cannot and will not accept the existence of Israel. That is what the conflict was always about. The various “conditions” that are advanced by the supposedly desperate Palestinians are really nothing more than pretexts to prevent peace.
This is what we on the right have been saying all along. That is why I maintain, “There is no diplomatic solution.”
What I am concentrating my efforts on is how best to impose a Jewish one-state solution on the Arabs in Judea and Samaria and possibly in Gaza too.
Such a solution would involve the following
1. Israel must change its rules for citizenship, namely all citizens must speak Hebrew, pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state, do national service and pay taxes. Jewish immigrants would continue to have automatic citizenship. Arabs from Judea and Samaria must wait 15 years before they can apply for citizenship. (Switzerland requires twelve years residency.) Arab citizens in Israel would also be required to do national service.
2. All Arabs should be offered significant cash inducement to leave. Assume for the moment that there are 400,000 Arab families in Judea and Samaria and they were each offered $100,000 to emigrate. The total cost would be $40 billion. This is much lower than the cost of inducing Israelis to leave Judea and Samaria and we get to keep the land as a bonus. Furthermore, any country which accepted them would get an influx of $40 billion in Capital. For many a country that’s quite an inducement.
3. All members of terrorist organizations or those committing terrorist acts would be expelled.
4. Oslo would be abrogated. This would bring about the end of incitement.
Sure there would be much opposition from the Arabs and from “liberals” but it can be done. There would even be opposition from the State Department but Israel would have many allies among Americans to support this solution.
The debate would end over dividing Jerusalem and the right of return.
Ted Belman

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Fifty First Negotiations

August 7, 2008
For those who don't know, "Fifty First Dates" is a comedy film undistinguished except by its brilliant premise. It describes the dilemma of a man in love with a woman who has short-term memory loss. Each day she forgets she has ever met him and he must start the relationship all over again from the beginning. No matter how kind, funny, or romantic he is it doesn't really matter. Like Sisyphus in the legend, he has to roll the boulder up the mountain from the bottom and never--at least until the Hollywood-style happy ending--gets to the top.
Actually, I don't know if he succeeds since I lost interest before the end. Even if I knew, why should I ruin the film for you?
But I realize this situation is a great parallel for the Middle East. People constant urge negotiating with Syria or with Iran, as if this has never happened before, or it just wasn't done right, or not enough concessions were offered. We are supposed to believe that success is just around the corner, and as people say before they gamble away their life savings: What can you lose by trying? But what about all the other times this has been tried and failed? Are these simply forgotten by people with systematic memory loss?
How about the numerous visits of U.S. secretaries of state to Syria which failed to get Damascus to stop cooperating with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (before 2003) or stop helping terrorists murder American soldiers and Iraqis in Iraq (after 2003), or close the offices of terrorist groups in Damascus, or make peace with Israel .
What about the ten year (ten year!) effort in the 1990s, pursued mainly by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat (yeah!) not an "evil Republican" to bring Syria into the peace process and to make peace between the Palestinians and Israel?
Remember how the Syrians made a fool out of Secretary of State Colin Powell who assured American journalists that Syria had already closed the terrorist offices in Damascus on one occasion and had already closed the oil pipeline to Iraq on another only to realize he had been conned?
I have actually heard Powell speak recently about what a success his diplomacy was. As if that weren't enough, I also heard former Secretary of State James Baker in a radio interview speak of his attempt to get the terrorist offices closed as a success, even though they are still open 18 years later!
How about the bait and switch tricks President Bashar al-Asad pulled on French President Francois Sarkozy regarding negotiations over Lebanon?
Sarkozy sent high-ranking officials to Syria without preconditions; had officials falsely deny Syrian involvement in a 1983 terror attack against French peacekeeping soldiers in Lebanon; asked Bashar to mediate with Iran; dropped demands that Syria normalize relations with Lebanon; begged--rather than demanded--Asad show some sign of respecting human rights; and pushed forward a highly profitable EU association agreement with Syria despite that country's failing to meet earlier demands for reform.
On every point, Bashar let Sarkozy down yet this did not lead to a learning of lessons. Indeed, Sarkozy had forgotten what experience had taught his predecessor Jacques Chirac by 2006, that "the regime of Bashar seems incompatible with security and peace." It's bad enough not to go forward, even worse to go backword.
And then there are those gullible American members of Congress, notably Senator Arlen Specter, who said Bashar promised them to free political prisoners only to discover he had arrested even more?
Regarding Iran the situation is even worse. For about five years European states--led by Britain, France, and Germany--have negotiated with Iran over the nuclear weapon program only to find Tehran:
Lied to them.
Broke commitments.
Ignored deadlines.
Obviously, systematic memory loss is the only explanation.

I, however, have a solution. Every politician who wants to negotiate with Iran and Syria (or the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Hizballah, or Muslim Brotherhoods for that matter) must sign the following pledge:

I ___________________ __ prime minister __ president __ foreign minister __ secretary of state __ member of parliament/congress
Of ____________; Fill in name of countryHereby promise that if I bargain with this ___ name of country or ___ name of terrorist groupAnd it __ treats me like dirt __ lies to me __ breaks commitments __ ignore deadlines __ murders my friends or allies __ all of the above
I solemnly pledge that if I try and fail in negotiations, and especially if I make concessions in exchange for promises not fulfilled, I will learn my lesson, understand that these forces are extremist enemies, honestly inform my people of this fact, and treat the said regime or terrorist group accordingly in future.
If I do not do so let my popularity fall below zero, my campaign treasury be empty, my secret diary fall into the hostile media's hands,
Fill in Title and Name

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, P.O. Box 167, Herzliya, 46150, Israel Email: info AT - Phone: +972-9-960-2736 - Fax: +972-9-960-2736 © 2007 All rights reserved

Monday, August 4, 2008

Prophets and Losses

Barry Rubin

August 3, 2008

Strike One. September 6, 2007. Israel bombs and destroys Syrian nuclear facility. Syria is powerless to retaliate.
Strike Two: February 12, 2008. Hizballah operations' chief and terrorist mastermind Imad Mugniyah assassinated in a secure area of Syria's capital, Damascus. Syria humiliated. Killing unsolved, a humiliation for the regime.
Strike Three: August 1, 2008: Syrian President Bashar al-Asad's liaison with Hizballah, General Mohammed Suleiman, killed in Tartous, Syria, by a sniper. See above two examples for probable results.
Syria has a failing economy, is backward and repressive, and determined not to--disregard all analysis to the contrary--change its ways. True, the government is strong; oppositions are weak. But its main asset is the willingness of others to believe Syria will moderate.
And so it sounds a little peculiar when Bashar says: "The Zionist regime is not strong and the states can obtain their rights through resistance and determination."
The only thing Syria has obtained through "resistance and determination" is its self-proclaimed "right" to dominate Lebanon. It does well in Iraq, where it sponsors a terrorist campaign to kill American soldiers and Iraqi civilians without political cost. Yet causing trouble is not the same as winning.
It should be impossible to think Syria is going to moderate. Every time he says something in Arabic, Bashar keeps making it clear he is lying about any change of policy. His biggest asset is that he is like a very bad comedian whose stupid audience laughs at jokes it should be heckling.
In fact, though, Bashar has just been visiting Tehran and stressing that the Iran-Syria alliance is very strong. There has been no evidence that Iran is worried about a Syrian defection. Even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man not know for his tolerance, seems secure in the belief that Bashar is faithful and the West are suckers. After all, Western credulity is daily confirmed for him by his own experience.
You can't look at a headline about the United States or Europeans "warning" Iran to stop developing nuclear weapons or setting some new deadline without laughing. As deadline after deadline passes without action, why should anyone take Western threats seriously?
Here's what's central: Iran and Syria are weak. Their power largely comes from the rest of the world treating them as strong. It is a combination of their enemies trembling, seeking advantage, and not wanting to hurt their feelings.
Proclaiming that Israel is on the verge of collapse, Ahmadinejad is trying to conceal the fact that it is his regime that is in jeopardy, at least his personal power. Half the country wants the Islamist government gone (though they can't do much about it) and much of the ruling elite itself is opposed to Ahmadinejad.
But let's return to the killing of Suleiman. First, let's rule out all the false rumors about conflicts within the regime. There is no evidence of such a thing existing, though this image is sometimes cultivated by Bashar and his flunkies to give the impression that he is a heroic reformer battling hardliners. If this were true we would be hearing about lots of arrests within the elite--something that couldn't be kept secret--and this has not happened.
Did Israel do it? This is possible, particularly given the fact that the killing was announced on Israel radio. But the timing makes this seem doubtful. Is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert going to authorize such an operation in the midst of negotiations with Syria? That is very unlikely. If Israel did do it, this shows toughness on the government's part, a willingness to use sticks as well as carrots. I'd like to believe that's true but don't.
Most likely this was done by an Arab operation, perhaps Lebanese and possibly Saudi involvement. Of course we don't know.
Up until now, Syria has been doing all of the violent pressure. The more Syria--and Iran--thinks their enemies are willing to fight back, the better.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

The Chomsky Hoax

The Chomsky Hoax
Exposing the Dishonesty of Noam Chomsky