Tag Archives: Arab world

Quote of the day: Tribal Arab dictatorships

“In fact, among tribal and sectarian Arab dictatorships, no value is ascribed to the state or the people. In a place where tribal or sectarian loyalties are more important than any other affiliation, people have no sense of being part of a people or country. In a tribal state, the people can go to hell. Hundreds of thousands can lose their lives and millions can be uprooted from their homes, scattering in all directions. None of this makes an impression on the tribal leader. There is no room for soul-searching in such a tribal social structure, because it would be perceived as a sign of weakness. And that would ultimately result in a loss of the reins of power, along with a loss of tribal hegemony, the country and its resources.

Even the Arabic term ‘dawla’ (meaning ‘dynasty’) is derived from the tribal tradition, implying the decline of one tribe and the ascent of another. It always involved the mass slaughter of the members of the losing tribe and their allies. […]

The man at the helm of this tribal mafia is not going to change his ways. His entire existence is based on his imposition of terror. Any letup in this apparatus would spell an end to his regime, and could also spell his end in the more physical sense. Brutal suppression is an inherent aspect of such a regime and social structure.”

We all know how something like this would be taken if it was written by a western commentator or, to imagine the worst-case scenario, by a Jewish Israeli commentator.  But thankfully, this was written by the Israeli Druze poet and Ha’aretz columnist Salman Masalha.

Reflecting on the carnage and destruction in Syria, Masalha also notes that the Arab dictators he describes will always “continue to proclaim victory and the defeat of ‘imperialistic’ and ‘Zionist plots’ to overthrow him.”

What Masalha doesn’t mention is that until not that long ago, this went down very well with the “Arab street.” As a poll from 2008 documents:

“Across the Arab world, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is…the most popular leader, followed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The three leaders are seen as the only ones standing up against US influence in the region.”

I think Masalha’s observation that “Brutal suppression is an inherent aspect of such a regime and social structure” applies not only to the Assad regime in Syria, but also to Hezbollah’s rule in Lebanon and to the Iranian theocracy. But at least until a few years ago, a majority of Arabs apparently felt that standing up to the “West” and of course Israel was more important than the brutal suppression of their own people by those “heroic” regimes. This is one major reason why the region is in such a pitiful state when it comes to economic and social development.

 

Visualizing Palestine [updated]

*First published at The Algemeiner on March 6*

Last Sunday, Al Arabiya reported with much anticipation that an “advertising drive is expected to take Washington D.C by storm on Monday as the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Visualizing Palestine call on the United States to halt $30 billion of military aid to the Jewish state.”

The advertisements targeted the annual policy meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Al Arabiya featured one poster that suggests US taxpayer-funded weapons are used by Israel to kill innocent Palestinian civilians.

The text on the poster claims that between 2000 and 2009, Israel’s military “killed at least 2960 unarmed Palestinians.” Unsurprisingly, it turns out that presenting Palestinians as the innocent victims of Israeli brutality and evil is the basic formula of the work put out by the “Visualizing Palestine” project.

This is probably a promising strategy, since many people who see a poster claiming that Israel killed almost 3000 innocent Palestinians between 2000 and 2009 will not necessarily recall what else happened in these years: In response to being offered a state of their own in the summer of 2000, the Palestinians launched a brutal war of terror against Israel;  and in response to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Palestinians elected the terror group Hamas  and subjected Israel to relentless attacks with thousands of rockets. In 2008, the Palestinians were once again offered a state including the West Bank, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem, but once again they chose not to respond positively.

When I checked out the work of “Visualizing Palestine,” I couldn’t help imagining how different their output would look if – instead of presenting Palestinians as hapless and helpless victims of Israel – mainstream views and attitudes of Palestinians were “visualized.”

So let’s give it a try and visualize Palestinian reactions to the aid they receive from the US.

For many years, the US has provided millions of dollars in bilateral annual aid to the Palestinians; in addition, the US is the largest single-state donor to UNRWA – the UN agency that works exclusively for the roughly 5 million Palestinians who claim (inherited) refugee status.

Yet, as documented by Pew surveys, Palestinians were always the most ardent admirers of Osama bin Laden. In 2003, 72 percent of Palestinians had “a lot” or “some confidence” that bin Laden would “do the right thing regarding world affairs.” Visualizing this fact could get us an image like this:

Pal visuals2

There is plenty of additional material. While the US pushed for the negotiations that resulted in the 2008 offer for a Palestinian state that I just mentioned, Palestinian “confidence” in bin Laden eroded only slowly: by 2009, 52 percent of Palestinians still trusted the Al-Qaeda leader to “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” and by 2011, when he was killed by US Special Forces in his hide-out in Pakistan, fully a third of Palestinians still held bin Laden in high regard. Indeed, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh condemned bin Laden’s assassination and deplored “the killing of an Arab holy warrior.”

Visualizing similar support for terrorism, extremism and Jew-hatred among Palestinians and the broader Arab and Muslim publics would perhaps be very useful for helping people understand why the Jewish state remains a small threatened island in a dysfunctional and volatile neighborhood.

Update:

BBC Watch recently had a post on Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of the London-based Arabic language newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi. Atwan was born in Egypt-controlled Gaza, studied at Cairo University and has lived since the late 1970s in London. On his own website, Atwan (rightly) boasts that his “often controversial opinions are frequently sought by print and broadcast journalists the world over.”

There is no doubt that Atwan is a highly influential opinion-shaper, and as BBC Watch notes, his “controversial opinions” include “endorsements of terror attacks against Israelis” and the declaration “that he would ‘dance with delight’ in Trafalgar Square were Iranian missiles to hit Tel Aviv.”

Unsurprisingly, Atwan also considers Osama bin Laden a “great man,” because – as he explained on BBC Arabic – the “fact is that no one has caused more damage to the US than Al-Qaeda.”

Arab hatred and Arab identity

A few weeks ago, the London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat published an article on “The Israel We Do Not Know.” The author, Amal Al-Hazzani, an Associate Professor in King Saud University in Riyadh, argued that it was “sad to say that Israel – the invasive, oppressive, occupying state – lives amongst us but we still do not know it.”

While the article didn’t do much to mend this situation, it apparently generated a lot of negative feedback, and a week later, Al-Hazzani responded by doubling down with a second piece entitled “Know Your Enemy”:

“I would like to thank those who showered me with a torrent of angry correspondence about my previous article on Israel, who accused me of calling for a normalization of relations, promoting the Hebrew language, and glorifying Israeli liberalism.

This response was to be expected because I breached a taboo. However, I am sorry to say to those people, despite my appreciation of their opinions, that their outrage will not change the reality. Israel will remain as it is; a small state but stronger than the rest of the Arab world.”

It’s probably a safe bet to assume that once again, there were a lot of furious reactions.

What I found most striking in Al-Hazzani’s second article is his conclusion, where he writes:

“We must understand the Israelis to know how we compare. Wars cannot be won by sentiments of hatred alone; otherwise the Arabs would have dominated the world long ago.”

One can easily imagine the outcry if any non-Arab wrote in a western media outlet that if wars could be won by hatred alone, “the Arabs would have dominated the world long ago.”

Notice that this is no longer just about Israel.

Yet, it is of course first and foremost a problem for Israel that Arab hatred for the Jewish state – perceived as a western implant in the Arab-Muslim Middle East – is generally ignored by the media.  The conventional and “politically-correct” wisdom is that if only Israel behaved differently, the Arab world would willingly accept the Jewish state.

But every now and then, even media sites that relentlessly push this conventional wisdom provide a perhaps involuntary glimpse of the intensity of Arab hatred for Israel. That happened recently to Ha’aretz when Zvi Bar’el reported on an interview with the Egyptian writer and intellectual Ali Salem. Salem had been shunned by the Egyptian media ever since he traveled to Israel in 1994, but now, almost 20 years later,  Al-Ahram published an interview with him.

According to Bar’el, Salem’s interviewer, Al-Bahaa Hussein, prefaced his piece by stating:

“I cannot allow myself to express satisfaction with Salem’s visit to Israel. Despite the fact that I am impressed by his talents, I am not persuaded that the devils [Israelis] can be good brothers, that they want peace or that they are willing to pay for its price. Nonetheless, we interviewed him not from the standpoint of a judge, as the dust has already settled; instead, we sought to understand his motives.”

Bar’el’s own article begins with a quote from the Al-Ahram interviewer telling Salem:

“When I’m on my own, I still dream of our pushing Israel into the sea.”

Salem responds by dismissing this as an unrealistic and therefore “romantic” idea.

There is much more in Bar’el’s article, but let’s just stay with this for a moment and imagine that the shoe were on the other foot: that a reporter from a respected Israeli paper interviewed an Israeli dissident who presented a lone voice for peace, saying to him: “When I’m on my own, I still dream of our pushing the Palestinians into the sea” – and that the Israeli intellectual would calmly respond that this was an unrealistic and therefore “romantic” idea.

To be sure, Salem emphasizes that “there is no path other than negotiation,” and Bar’el describes him as a “fervent supporter of peace” who “has paid a high price for his ‘crazes’” – because of course among Egyptian intellectuals, you’ll be considered a crazed outcast if you support peace with Israel, while Israeli intellectuals would ostracize anyone who wasn’t a fervent supporter of peace with the Palestinians.

Bar’el explains that Salem “remains associated with a term loathed by Egyptian intellectuals: ‘normalization’.” He lists several recent examples illustrating that Egyptian elites remain obsessed with opposing any “normalization” with Israel, among them a resolution adopted in January by an Egyptian writers’ conference at Sharm el-Sheikh which declared:

“Egypt’s identity should be preserved, along with its diverse, enlightened cultural depth; and the principled, consistent position maintained by all Egyptian intellectuals and writers in favor of rejecting any form of normalization with the Zionist enemy should be upheld.”

Mind you: this is a statement from the elites of an Arab country with which we have a peace treaty for more than 30 years now. How long will it take Arab elites to realize that by opposing “normalization” with Israel, they are first and foremost preventing their own countries from becoming normal?

As Bar’el rightly notes:

“The revolution in Egypt has yet to change anything in the way most intellectuals in the country relate to Israel. Liberals, secularists, leftists and rightists − mostly figures seen as being hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood and all religious-tempered political ideologies − view opposition to normalization as a fundamental pillar of their Arab identity ‏(Arab, as opposed to Egyptian‏). This identity still views the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, which is sometimes described via slogans that had currency in the 1950s ‏(such as “A cancer in the body of the Arab nation”‏), as a political anchor.”

That is definitely noteworthy coming from the veteran Middle Eastern affairs analyst for Ha’aretz: “opposition to normalization” with the region’s most successful modern state is “a fundamental pillar of…Arab identity.”

Of course, the same Zvi Bar’el will usually ignore Arab mainstream hatred for Israel and instead focus on a few widely condemned incidents in Israel to claim spuriously that “A good Jew hates Arabs.”

While racism is present in every society, racist incidents in Israel will often get prominent global coverage. At the same time, the pervasive hatred for Israel in the Arab world that is even championed by the elites is usually politely ignored – which actually reveals the bigotry of the western media. There can be little doubt that it would trigger a veritable tsunami of news coverage and commentary if a gathering of Israeli intellectuals declared its abiding commitment to “the principled, consistent position maintained by all Israeli intellectuals and writers in favor of rejecting any form of normalization with the Arab enemy.”

But supposedly, Arab hatred of Israel is justified because of the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians, who didn’t ask for, and weren’t offered, a state of their own when their Arab brethren were in control of Gaza and the West Bank. Of course, there are countless other examples that illustrate all too well that the Palestinian “cause” is worthwhile only when it can be used to bash Israel. Imagine for a moment how this recent New York Times report would read if Israel was involved:

“The Egyptian military is resorting to a pungent new tactic to shut down the smuggling tunnels connecting Sinai and Gaza: flooding them with sewage. Along with the stink, the approach is raising new questions about relations between Egypt’s new Islamist leaders and their ideological allies in Hamas who control the Gaza Strip.”

If it was not the Egyptian military but the IDF, nobody would dream of describing it rather light-heartedly as “a pungent new tactic.” If it was the IDF, it would be outrageous, indicative of Nazi-like racist contempt, a crime against humanity, a severe health risk, a threat to Gaza’s water supply, and on and on.

But when the Egyptians are doing it, it simply reflects their legitimate determination “to shut the tunnels to block the destabilizing flow of weapons and militants into Sinai from Gaza.”

It’s really something quite normal – and for Egypt’s elites, it’s probably not anything worth obsessing about like “normalization with the Zionist enemy.”

* * *

First posted at my JPost blog and at the Polish magazine Racjonalista.

Quote of the day

“The reality is that insane anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are the mother’s milk of political analysis in Egypt and in much of the rest of the Middle East. The emotional, visceral reaction against what is seen as Israel’s shaming, alien presence in the Arab world has fused with ugly and backward western anti-Semitism to create a turbo-charged fear and hatred of Jewish influence and Jewish power. A political and religious culture which cannot help but see the survival of a Jewish state in the region as a badge of humiliation and failure takes comfort in exaggerated ideas about Jewish power.

President Morsi didn’t think he was saying anything weird in claiming a Jewish conspiracy runs the American media. In the world in which he lives, this is like saying that the sun rises in the east. It is a cliche, not a smear.

Israeli policies can exacerbate the problem, but it is Israel’s existence not its excesses that are the heart of the problem. The Arab world will never prosper, and real peace in the Middle East will never come, until the mental disorder represented by anti-Semitism heals. That won’t happen soon—and until it does, a huge cultural gulf is going to keep Arabs and Americans apart.”

Walter Russell Mead, commenting on Egyptian President Morsi’s efforts to explain his antisemitic remarks documented in tapes from 2010 by telling a group of visiting US senators that “we all know that the media in the United States has made a big deal of this and we know the media of the United States is controlled by certain forces.”

As much as Mead’s forceful acknowledgement of the prevalence and importance of antisemitism in the Middle East must be welcomed, it inevitably also highlights how much this issue is neglected in the commentary and analyses provided by Middle East experts in the MSM. But Mead is right to argue that the “Arab world will never prosper, and real peace in the Middle East will never come, until the mental disorder represented by anti-Semitism heals.” It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that those who ignore this factor – and do so willfully if they are really Middle East experts – have an agenda that motivates them to hide or downplay a dynamic that shapes the region in important and negative ways.

Let me conclude with an excellent example illustrating Mead’s view “that insane anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are the mother’s milk of political analysis in Egypt and in much of the rest of the Middle East” – because it is very important to understand that this is not just a phenomenon that animates “the street.” In December 2008, the respected Egyptian Al-Ahram English Weekly published a lengthy analysis on the rampant piracy off the coast of Somalia that had developed into a very serious and costly threat to international shipping. The title of the Al-Ahram analysis was “Israel, piracy and the Red Sea.”

Israel piracy

In the ostensibly knowledgeable and sophisticated piece, long-time regular Al-Ahram contributor Galal Nassar suggested that

“Piracy of this magnitude make [sic!] it clear that the pirates are no longer a haphazard collection of opportunists or individuals with no other sources of income to turn to in their war-torn country. There must be a prime mover seeking to further its own agenda through operations that have grown increasingly sophisticated.”

Needless to say, the “prime mover” behind this evil was of course Israel (supported by the US), which sought to implement longstanding plans – going back to Ben Gurion – to dominate the Red Sea and East Africa.

I sometimes wonder if the US officials involved in granting Egypt’s requests for military equipment are aware of the kind of political “analysis” that informs these requests.

As noted above, the author of the “prime mover”-theory on Somali piracy was a long-time regular Al-Ahram contributor. His most recent piece, published a few days ago, is entitled “The revolution continues;” and he writes there:

“The Arabs are a people without a state because the states they have lack legitimacy that can only come from the people. Israel was planted in the heart of this region to drive them mad and warp their consciousness, and despotic governments were created to force them to love Israel. But the Arab people cannot be made to love their supposed masters — the West and Israel — and they rebelled when the punishment for their refusal to do so (despotic governments) proved too harsh and iniquitous. The Muslim Brothers stepped in to save the day in Egypt; they would convert the Muslims to another (more moderate?) Islam and the intelligence authorities that count every breath people take would be given a new name, in deference to and in honour of the faith. But…

The revolution continues. The Arabs have reached the point of no return. They can no longer accept having policies imposed on them against their will. […] the Arab people are at a crossroads and not sure what to do with their revolution, which is precisely the point where a counterrevolution can be most effective. Neoliberalism, by whatever guise or name it takes, is now the instrument of choice for defusing the revolution. Accordingly, Egypt must pawn its assets, including the Suez Canal, in keeping with the dictates of the World Bank and IMF, if it is to receive financial aid. This is what they call ‘moderate’ Islam. All you have to do is sell your belongings and love Israel in order to gain favour in the current international imperialist order.

The Arab revolution that began in 2011 spread throughout the Arab world at once, as though the Arabs have a single united will. However, if such a single will exists, it must not be translated politically in institutionalised forms, such as unity in a federated system that would enable the Arabs to become strong and give them a sense of meaning and direction. The masters of the imperialist order cannot allow this to happen at all costs. Arab countries are sitting on too much oil. It follows that terrorism must loom in equal abundance, or that while international negotiations, agreements and arrangements are put into place around oil rich Arab countries, terrorism continues to lurk in nearby surroundings and rears its head on occasion. This is how Mali becomes a theatre of war.”

You see: Islamist terrorism doesn’t have anything to do with the failures of Arab and Muslim states, it’s simply one of the perfidious tools of western imperialism and its most evil creation, the Zionist entity…

 

Arab Jew-hate and the western media

As much as the media like to report and opine on Israel, they usually do so in a way that presents Arab and Muslim hatred for the Jewish state as an ultimately understandable reaction to Israeli policies. The intense hatred for Jews that is so prevalent throughout the region is a topic that is rarely broached, leaving western audiences oblivious to the fact that in today’s Middle East, antisemitism is as acceptable – and perhaps even more popular – as it was in Nazi Germany.

However, it seems that the usual reluctance to report on Arab and Muslim Jew-hatred was deemed untenable when MEMRI recently posted some video clips from 2010 that showed Egypt’s current president Morsi delivering antisemitic rants.  But while this story has by now been widely covered, initially nobody was really eager to report it – as Jeffrey Goldberg highlighted when he entitled a related blog post “Egyptian President Calls Jews ‘Sons of Apes and Pigs’; World Yawns.” Goldberg also linked to a fascinating Forbes story by Richard Behar, who actually took the trouble to monitor how Morsi’s remarks were (not) covered in most of the western media for several days.

As Behar rightly notes, “the demonization of Jews is commonplace and de rigueur in the Arab media (although most Americans wouldn’t know that because they are not being made aware of it).” Behar tried to do his part to counter this lack of knowledge late last November, when he published an article highlighting the “continuous, venomous stream of hate messages disseminated by the PA [Palestinian Authority] through its media and social and education systems.”

In a follow-up to his recent story on the media’s reluctance to report Morsi’s antisemitic rants, Behar notes that eventually, even the White House got around to condemning Morsi’s vile views, and he suggests that this might justify the hope that “the media world (and Washington) may be waking up from its collective stupor–specifically, the timeworn and tiresome routine of ignoring anti-Semitic hate speech by Islamist officials as if it’s to be expected of them, and thus not newsworthy.”

While I don’t share Behar’s optimism, I sure wish he was right, because this would certainly be a most welcome development that would enable many people around the world to have a much better understanding of the Middle East and the reasons for the lack of peace between Arabs and Israel.

This point was emphasized in a related post by Walter Russell Mead, who observed:

“Morsi’s anti-Semitic views are not surprising in themselves; indeed they are completely mainstream and unobjectionable in the Egyptian context. Not many people in Egypt would disagree with the statements in question, and Morsi is more likely to be attacked for being too soft on Israel than for venting his spleen. But these statements, and the widespread support for them, should remind everyone just how slim the chances are for real peace between Israel and its neighbors.

There are a lot of illusions out there about how the exercise of power will moderate the Muslim Brotherhood and similar groups. To some degree, Morsi’s record in office shows a pragmatic willingness to maintain a treaty he deeply loathes with the ‘sons of apes and pigs.’ But we would do better to think of this as caution rather than moderation. If a real opportunity presented itself to destroy the Jewish state, there can be little doubt that Morsi and the members of his movement would think it their duty to act.

For Israel, the lesson is obvious. For the foreseeable future it must depend upon strength rather than trust if it intends to survive.”

Since I asserted above that in today’s Middle East, antisemitism is as acceptable – and perhaps even more popular – as it was in Nazi Germany, let me close with two recent examples that illustrate this point.

The first example comes from the speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to mark the recent anniversary of Fatah commemorating the group’s first terror attack against Israel on January 1, 1965. As rightly noted in an analysis of this speech by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Abbas used this opportunity to espouse a radical political doctrine:

“Abbas reinforced his uncompromising message with a pledge to continue the path of struggle of previous Palestinian leaders, mentioning the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who forged a strategic alliance with Nazi Germany, and heads of Palestinian terror organizations who were directly responsible for the murder of thousands of Israeli civilians, including Halil al-Wazir Abu Jihad (Fatah), Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (Hamas), Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi (Hamas), Fathi al-Shikaki (Islamic Jihad), George Habash (Popular Front), Abu Ali Mustafa (Popular Front), Abu al-Abbas (Arab Liberation Front), and Izzadin al-Qassam (leader of the jihad war against the Jewish Yishuv and the British in the 1930s).”

A translation of the relevant passages of the speech by MEMRI shows that Abbas named Husseini – widely known as “Hitler’s Mufti” – as one of Palestine’s “pioneers.” Given that Abbas has faced much criticism for his Ph.D. thesis that questioned the Holocaust and claimed collaboration between the Nazis and the Zionist movement, he surely knew what he was doing. (And presumably Germany’s Social Democrats know what they are doing when they declare that they have “common values” with Fatah.)

The second example illustrates how this kind of nonchalant embrace of prominent Nazi-collaborators is reflected and amplified on popular social media sites: the Facebook page of “Palestine News” boasts more than 425,000 “Likes,” and when I checked it out just now, it registered “86,142 talking about this.”

A few days ago, this image with a supposed quote from Hitler was posted on the page:

Palestine News Hitler

This posting garnered 1853 “Likes;” the accompanying text is basically the same as a purported Hitler quote provided in a popular “Hitler quotes” app:  “I could have killed all the Jews in the world, but I spared some of them so you know why I killed the rest.”

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Update:

The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reported yesterday that during an interview with a Beirut-based TV station that is affiliated with Hezbollah and Iran, Palestinian President Abbas was asked about allegations that he was a Holocaust denier. Reportedly, Abbas responded with an apparent reference to his dissertation, saying that he had “70 more books that I still haven’t published” about the alleged link between the Zionist movement and the Nazis, adding: “I challenge anyone to deny the relationship between Zionism and Nazism before World War Two.”

However, a spokesman for Abbas later denied that Abbas had talked about a link between Zionism and Nazism, and the remark about the “70 more books” certainly seems bizarre.

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

If it was a western president or prime minister – let alone an Israeli one – who had made utterly bigoted and hate-filled remarks about Muslims not long before he took office, it sure would be a top news item all over the world. But when it turns out that some two years ago, the man who is now Egypt’s president called “the Zionists” “blood-suckers,” “warmongers,” and “the descendants of apes and pigs,” most of the mainstream media (MSM) seem to think it should be politely ignored.

In a way one could actually argue that this really isn’t newsworthy, because if the MSM accurately reported on Islamist ideology, everyone would already know that implacable Jew-hatred is an integral part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s views and agenda. After all, Morsi’s statements from 2010, which were recently translated by MEMRI, faithfully echo themes that are all too familiar from the Hamas Charter, and similar views are regularly propagated by well-respected Muslim scholars.

The question why this torrent of loathsome statements by influential and widely respected figures who clearly shape and represent mainstream views is studiously ignored in the MSM was recently addressed by Pat Condell, who focused on the Palestinians and argued that this kind of “political correctness” reflected a patronizing and ultimately racist attitude.

While I largely agree with Pat Condell’s broader argument, I think there are also other important factors at work – first and foremost perhaps the western mantra that other societies should be approached as “people like us.” The problem with this approach is that, while it is always true on an individual level – we can meet people we personally like and get along with anywhere –, it is not true for societies.  A society where the reactionary and bigoted views of Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood are mainstream is simply not like a society where it is mainstream to reject and even loathe comparably reactionary and bigoted views.

Moments of truth: Osama vs. Obama

In a first reaction to the violent assaults on the American embassies in Egypt and Libya on this year’s anniversary of 9/11, Marc Lynch prefaced his commentary in Foreign Policy with a warning that has become almost obligatory:

“It would be a tragic mistake to allow the images from Cairo and Benghazi to undermine American support for the changes in the Arab world. The protestors in Cairo and Benghazi are no more the true face of the Arab uprisings than al-Qaeda was the face of Islam after 9/11. We should not allow the actions of a radical fringe to define our views of an entire group.”

Unfortunately for Lynch, it is debatable if al-Qaeda was “the true face … of Islam after 9/11.”

As Lynch knows full well, beginning in 2003, the respected Pew Research Center surveyed Muslim views on Osama bin Laden, and the results don’t necessarily justify his rosy view.  While Pew researchers usually worked hard to highlight the silver lining when they presented the results of their surveys, some of their findings were rather shocking.

This is particularly true for the support bin Laden once enjoyed in supposedly moderate Indonesia: in 2003, it was 59 percent, and by 2011, a bit more than a quarter of Indonesians still expressed positive views of bin Laden. The numbers for Jordan were similarly alarming: in 2003, 56 percent of Jordanian respondents expressed “confidence” in bin Laden “to do the right thing regarding world affairs,” and by 2005, this number had even grown to 61 percent. A year later, Pew recorded a “most striking decline” to just 24 percent, which was attributed to “al Qaeda suicide attacks in the nation’s capital, Amman.”

While bin Laden’s most loyal admirers were always found among the Palestinians –  72 percent in 2003, declining to “only” 34 percent by 2011 — there were several other countries where the al Qaeda leader enjoyed at times the “confidence” of some 40 percent of the Muslim population.

When it comes to Egypt, the numbers also don’t quite support the comforting view that the mob that attacked the US embassy represents a “radical fringe.” In 2011, 22 percent of Egyptians viewed bin Laden positively, and results published earlier this year show that both al Qaeda and the Taliban were viewed favorably by 19 percent of Egyptians.

Anyone who wants to see this as a “radical fringe” should note that exactly the same percentage of Egyptians were willing to express a favorable view of the US in the most recent Pew survey. So if the attackers of the US embassy in Cairo represent just a “fringe,” favorable views of the US among Egyptians are likewise just a “fringe” phenomenon.

The same holds true for the Muslim countries surveyed by Pew: results published last June show that on average, some 24 percent of Muslims have “confidence” in President Obama in general, though only 15 percent approve of his international policies; likewise, only 15 percent of Muslims have a “favorable” view of the US.

Compare these numbers with the 2011 numbers for bin Laden: in the eight Muslim populations that were surveyed, the al Qaeda leader achieved similar or better ratings in six – including, sadly enough, among Israel’s Muslim Arabs.

Given the surge of popular support for Islamist groups all over the Middle East in the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring,” it should also not be forgotten that in reaction to the news of bin Laden’s demise last year, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement that referred to the al Qaeda leader with the honorific term “sheikh.”

So perhaps it’s time to realize that we should not only worry about the “tragic mistake” of exaggerating Muslim extremism, but also about downplaying it?

* * *

First published in The Algemeiner.

Quote of the day

“The person who comes out of all this looking smartest is Samuel Huntington. His book on the ‘clash of civilizations’ was widely and unfairly trashed as predicting an inevitable conflict between Islam and the west, and he was also accused of ‘demonizing’ Islam. That’s not what I get from his book. As I understand it, Huntington’s core thesis was that while good relations between countries and people with roots in different civilizations are possible and ought to be promoted, civilizational fault lines often lead to misunderstandings and tensions that can (not must, but can) lead to violence and when conflicts do occur, civilizational differences can make those conflicts worse.

The last few days are a textbook example of the forces he warned about.”

Walter Russell Mead, The Middle East Mess Part One: Over There. I’m really glad that Professor Mead has seized this opportunity to remind us of Huntington’s important book and to highlight his view – with which I fully agree – that the “Clash of Civilizations” has been unfairly maligned. I think there can be little doubt that many of the negative reactions to Huntington’s book were motivated by a “political correctness” which took it for granted that it was the West’s responsibility to prevent a “clash of civilizations” — and part of this prevention was to decry Huntington’s analysis.

As I have pointed out previously, one of the best illustrations of this mindset was provided just a few days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine reportedly declared: “We have to avoid a clash of civilizations at all costs.” According to Vedrine, such a clash was a “huge […] monstrous trap” that had been “conceived by the instigators of the assault.”

In a way, the notion of the “monstrous trap” also seems reflected in Mead’s observations – but importantly, he makes clear that this is first and foremost an inner-Islamic issue:

“Unfortunately, Islamic radicals are deliberately hoping to promote a clash of civilizations in the belief that a climate of polarization will strengthen their political power in the world of Islam. Attacking the embassy in Cairo is an effort to push Egyptian opinion in a more radical direction, but the radicals hope that this is part of a larger push that will bring them to power across the Islamic world. Like Boko Haram in Nigeria, which hopes to provoke a religious war with the Christians partly in order to achieve power in the Muslim North, radicals use the prospect of a clash of civilizations to further their own cause throughout the troubled Islamic world.

The US and more generally the west (including Russia, so perhaps I should say the ‘Christian world’ instead) has tried several approaches to this situation and so far we haven’t been happy with the results. Confrontation, reconciliation, cooperation: there are good arguments to be made for them all, but in practice none of them seem to make the problem go away.”

There is a simple explanation why it is so hard to make this “problem” go away: Islamic radicals have more popular support among Muslims than western commentators and analysts like to acknowledge, and hostility to America and the West is enormously popular throughout the Arab and Muslim world. As Husain Haqqani recently emphasized in his excellent commentary on “Manipulated Outrage and Misplaced Fury:”

“At the heart of Muslim street violence is the frustration of the world’s Muslims over their steady decline for three centuries, a decline that has coincided with the rise and spread of the West’s military, economic and intellectual prowess.”

Haqqani goes on to argue:

“Once the Muslim world embraces freedom of expression, it will be able to recognize the value of that freedom even for those who offend Muslim sensibilities. More important: Only in a free democratic environment will the world’s Muslims be able to debate the causes of their powerlessness, which stirs in them greater anger than any specific action on the part of Islam’s Western detractors.

Until then, the U.S. would do well to remember Osama bin Laden’s comment not long after the Sept. 11 attacks: ‘When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.’ America should do nothing that enables Islamists to portray the nation as the weak horse.”

 

Quote of the day

“One needs to look no further than the Hamas constitution to see the protocols of the Elders of Zion baked into the text verbatim. Egyptian TV shows profligate conspiracy theories thick with vast webs of shadowy individuals, often Zionist, who are responsible for every misfortune that befalls Egypt.

These beliefs should not be dismissed as fringe, or just explained away as cultural relativism. The public powerlessness at the hands of powerful conspiratorial others breeds victimhood, xenophobia and hate.

These beliefs are just as toxic and noxious as racism, yet they receive far less attention. While the ugliness of racism is spotted and condemned, these beliefs are often seen as kooky and tangential. This complacency is dooming generation after generation, whether in their countries of origin or newfound Western homes, to a culture of victimhood and irresponsibility. How can I be to blame for the misfortunes that befall me if there is always someone else, hiding behind a curtain of secrecy, to blame?”

Jewish conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism, an excellent guest post by Joel Braunold at Harry’s Place; also available at Braunold’s blog and at Ha’aretz.

I couldn’t agree more with Braunold’s view that the anti-Jewish conspiracy theories that are so popular in the Middle East are too often ignored, and the very real poisonous effects they are having are generally underestimated. I’ve repeatedly written on conspiracy theories; one of my older JPost entries, entitled “Ugly lies and ugly truths”, includes several examples of commentaries that do explain the crucial role of conspiracy theories – here are the relevant paragraphs:

“It has long been one of the Arab world’s favorite memes: whenever there is any criticism of anything Arab, respond with criticizing or blaming the US and Israel. One of the most memorable examples of this reflex was provided a few years ago in an interview conducted by a Swiss magazine with the editor-in-chief of Al-Jazeera. Back then, in December 2006, Jeff Weintraub highlighted this interview as an example for the widespread Arab view that Israel is really the root cause for all the Middle East’s problems.

Weintraub argued that “when mass delusions come to occupy such a central role in a political culture, they have real effects, and generally pernicious ones. Furthermore, by dint of endless repetition, this delusional world-view is coming to take on the status of ‘common sense’ in western discussions of the Middle East as well.”

Fast forward a few years to January 2011, and you have a choice of articles that read like a sequel to Weintraub’s observations.

In the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens commented on the various conspiracy theories that recently circulated in Egypt. He argued that “the ultimate source of Arab backwardness […] lies in the debasement of the Arab mind. When the only diagnosis Egyptians can offer for their various predicaments – ranging from sectarian terrorism to a recent spate of freak shark attacks at a Sinai beach resort – is that it’s all a Zionist plot, you know that the country is in very deep trouble.”

In Tablet Magazine, Lee Smith focused on the widespread tendency of Western media to uncritically report even the most absurd accusations leveled against Israel as if the charges were based on well-established facts. In his conclusion, Smith argued:

“[The] Arabs are not winning an information war against Israel, nor anything else for that matter. Rather, the stories and lies they tell to delegitimize the Jewish state are part and parcel of the war that they have been waging against themselves, and with stunning success. The tragedy is that everyone knows where the Arabs are heading, because the signs of failure and self-destructiveness couldn’t be clearer—poverty, violence, despotism, illiteracy, mistreatment of women, and the persecution of confessional minorities, like Egypt’s Coptic Christian population. The Western journalists and NGOs who repeat and credential these lies are doing no honor to either the values of their own society or those of the Arabs; they’re merely helping a culture kill itself.”

The problem is that it’s not about values: ugly lies about Israel will remain popular wherever it seems advantageous – ideologically, politically, or economically – to suppress ugly truths about the Arab world.

The fall of Assad and the end of the Cold War

Guest post by AKUS*

 In a quiet office overlooking the Potomac River we can imagine that an old man lifts a glass to his lips and toasts himself.

As he no doubt  grimly watches the carnage in Syria on Al Jazeera, Henry Kissinger is witnessing the culmination of the strategy he put in place 40 years ago to end Soviet and then Russian influence in the Middle East. Starting with his shuttle diplomacy in 1973 at the end of the Yom Kippur War, the Soviets have gradually lost every foothold they had in this geopolitically critical region. Now the Russians are about to be expelled from Syria with the imminent fall of Bashar al Assad.

Although the Soviet military had in large part left Egypt in 1972, possibly to mislead Israel regarding Sadat’s intention to start a war in 1973, a substantial number of Soviet advisors remained until the Yom Kippur War[1]. As part of the peace agreement with Israel engineered by Kissinger, the US agreed to provide Egypt with billions in aid and military equipment. While Egypt viewed US aid as a win gained by its partial success in the war, Kissinger saw it as leverage to successfully wean Anwar Sadat and the Egyptian military from remaining Soviet influence through the supply of superior Western weaponry and military training to replace the outdated Soviet equipment the Egyptians lost in the war. Responding to the combination of peace agreement and aid, Sadat is reported to have said: “Soviets can give you arms but only the United States can give you a solution.”

Egypt has been a key state in the Middle East since at least the end of WW II. Under Nasser, who came to power in a coup in 1952, Egypt steered away from “colonial influence”. After a variety of Western misadventures such as the 1956 Suez Campaign led by Britain and France, Egypt came ever deeper within the Soviet ambit in a “non-aligned” strategy intended to play off the USA and the USSR against each other to Egypt’s benefit.

Nasser’s apparent success led to uprisings against colonial powers in other Arab countries. Egypt became a political and ideological leader for Arab countries and Nasser’s pro-Soviet bias was viewed with concern by the USA. As his influence grew, Nasser attempted to create a vast Pan-Arab federation with the abortive United Arab Republic (UAR), combining Egypt and Syria into the UAR for the brief period between 1958 and 1961.

But even though the UAR proved short-lived, it was clear that the Arab world swung between Cairo and Damascus when it came to political leadership, and in both countries the Communist party made strong inroads until crushed by Nasser in Egypt and the Ba’ath in Syria (which led to a split among the Ba’athists and the rise of the Ba’ath in Iraq). Nevertheless, in Cairo and Damascus Soviet influence greatly exceeded that of the USA, and aid and weapons flowed from the USSR in unprecedented quantities to both countries. Leveraging Egypt away from Soviet influence would be an enormous setback to Soviet aspirations in the Middle East.

Looking around the region in the early ‘70s, Kissinger would have noted that another significant area of Soviet influence was Iraq. The Soviets had established close relations with Iraq after the murder of Faisal II, essentially a British puppet ruler, in 1958. The Iraqis saw the Soviets as an effective counter to their former colonial rulers. Increasing ties with the USSR demonstrated that they were shedding their colonial past and dependence on their former rulers. In a similar manner, Gaddafi’s Libya welcomed the Soviets who were expelled from Egypt in 1972. Soviet influence extended from Baghdad to Tripoli. Western countries stopped arms sales to Libya, which only increased Soviet influence following a large arms deal in 1975. This influence continued to a greater or lesser degree until Gaddafi was finally toppled last year.

From the point of view of an American strategist desiring more influence in the Middle East, the geopolitical situation was made worse after the decisive defeat of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. With the USA clearly supporting Israel, the Soviets were able to expand their influence even further by replenishing the destroyed weapons of Egypt and Syria. The British continued to supply Jordan, the third major opponent of Israel in the war and the remnant of Churchill’s Palestinian strategy, but the Iraqis, too, swung deeper into the Soviet camp. The USA was able to retain influence only through the Saudis and the Gulf petro-states (and for a time in Iran until the Shah was toppled in 1979).

Things began to swing in the USA’s favor when Kissinger and Nixon managed to move beyond containment of the USSR in the West through NATO to encirclement in the East via the opening to China. Kissinger made a secret trip to Beijing in July 1971 while pretending to be ill during a visit to Pakistan. This could be viewed as the first real step to reducing the influence of the Soviet Union by providing China with a second super-power with which to do business, economically and politically.

Still, the Soviets continued pressing in the Middle East. Their ultimately disastrous invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to support a Marxist government against the mujahedeen indicated that they, in turn, were establishing an Islamic bulwark from Syria, through Iraq, and into Afghanistan against the USA that could also exert pressure on the Saudis and Gulf states. The role of the USA in equipping and supporting the Afghan fighters in order to oppose the Soviets is well known, and may have contributed to the ultimate failure of the invasion. The last Soviet troops were pulled out of Afghanistan by Gorbachev on February 15, 1989. The withdrawal of the Soviet Union had begun. The first step to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 and the retreat from Eastern Europe, long a goal of US policy, had been taken. The Middle East beckoned.

Kissinger was always at hand as various additional dominoes began falling in his favor. His shuttle diplomacy in 1973 in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War wrested Egypt from Soviet influence, for example. Still, not everything went his way or could be planned for – Syria and Iraq remained in the Soviet and then Russian sphere. Libya was a setback, and he could not have anticipated the role of Afghanistan in curbing Soviet and Russian ambitions. Nevertheless, the enormous influence of Egypt in the Arab world was sufficient to reduce the Soviet role in the area significantly and expand the arc of US influence from the Saudis to the border with Libya. The French kept Libya’s western border controlled through their influence in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

If his goal was to push the Soviets back into Russia, Kissinger was able to influence US policy in the Middle East even after he left office as unexpected opportunities presented themselves.

Iraq, despite all its complexities, had the advantage, from Kissinger’s point of view, of offering a new opportunity to push the post-Soviet Russians further out of the Middle East. The development of a strong group of senior advisors in Washington who envisaged the fall of Iraq post 9/11 as leading to a more democratic Middle East – that is, a more Western-leaning Middle East – added leverage to Kissinger’s attempts to complete the Middle East puzzle. Out of office, but wielding considerable influence as an advisor, Kissinger met regularly with G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney, as Bob Woodward later reported [2]. It is not difficult to imagine that neocons leading the charge on Iraq such as Richard Perle, Doug Stief, and Rumsfeld were influenced by this grandmaster of the global game in developing their ideas about the centrality of Iraq in the Middle East.

Kissinger continues to argue for the centrality of Iraq. As the debate over withdrawal raged in Washington, Kissinger argued for maintaining US influence in Iraq, highlighting its geopolitical importance in an article in the Washington Post on February 3, 2010 [3]:

“Yet while Iraq is being exorcised from our debate, its reality is bound to obtrude on our consciousness. The U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq will not alter the geostrategic importance of the country even as it alters that context.

Mesopotamia has been the strategic focal point of the region for millennia. Its resources affect countries far away. The dividing line between the Shiite and the Sunni worlds runs through its center — indeed, through its capital. Iraq’s Kurdish provinces rest uneasily between Turkey and Iran and indigenous adversaries within Iraq. It cannot be in the American interest to leave the region as a vacuum.”

Moreover, Kissinger identified radical Islam as a new and dangerous player that must be dealt with, and raised the question to what degree US success in Iraq will affect the war against radical Islam:

“Nor is it possible to separate Iraq from the conflict with revolutionary jihad. The outcome in Iraq will influence the psychological balance in the war against radical Islam, specifically whether the ongoing withdrawal from Iraq comes to be perceived as a retreat from the region or a more effective way to sustain it.”

Although the overall outcome of the war in Iraq and the ongoing war in Afghanistan may not be all that Kissinger would have liked to see, from one perspective the USA achieved a greater aim – the USSR and then Russia was eliminated almost entirely from the Middle East. Except in one country – Syria.

With the uprising against Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the last domino owned by the Russian inheritors of Soviet influence in the Middle East is being pushed over. It is clear that the Western powers are supporting the rebels directly or through proxies such as the Saudis, while Russia and China refuse to allow direct intervention.

The Russians are also past masters of the great game, and realize that they have nothing to lose by continuing their support for the Assad regime. If, through massive force of arms, Assad remains in power, they will retain their foothold in the only country in the Middle East where they still have influence. If, as appears increasingly likely, he falls, they will have lost nothing by supporting him since it is clear that they will be sent packing by the rebels whom they refused to support in the early going. (The Chinese expect to be able to come in as neutrals and reap their share of the gains whoever wins, simply by supporting neither side until a resolution is reached.  They after all, care nothing for either side and possibly score points with undesirable but powerful leaders around the world for demonstrating reluctance to engage in regime change).

If the Russians are pushed out of Syria, the old man in Washington will see the fulfillment of the grand design he set in motion 40 years ago. From Cairo to Beijing, Kabul to Baghdad, he has helped move the pieces on the board with one major goal in mind – the removal of the Soviets, and then Russia, from influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. When Syria, the last domino, falls, his strategy will have been fulfilled.

His time is almost over, and it will need a new Kissinger to devise the strategy to win the emerging multi-player global game – the USA versus the Chinese thrust for Asian hegemony, and the world against radical Islam’s global ambitions.  We have already seen Leon Panetta touring South East Asia, and the increasing awareness of the threat of what Charles Krauthammer has termed the “Islamic Ascendency”, as opposed to the increasingly meaningless “Arab Awakening”.

Perhaps while Panetta was encouraging Kissinger’s old enemy, the Vietnamese, to join an American alliance, Kissinger also smiled grimly at the strange way in which his actions in the Vietnamese conflict and its resolution almost 40 years ago have played out. But that game, and dealing with Islamic radicals, is for others to take care of.

He can toast himself while thinking that his work has been done. With the fall of Syria and the eviction of the Russians, the Cold War will truly be over.

 * * *

* AKUS is an Israeli-American who gained so much notoriety as a critic of the Guardian’s Israel coverage that he was banned from the site and is now free to channel his energies into occasional contributions for CifWatch. This is his first post for The Warped Mirror – with many more to come, hopefully!


[1] http://russiapedia.rt.com/on-this-day/july-18/ In July 1972, a large number of the Soviet troops left Egypt. They, however, belonged to the regular forces who, by 1972, had already fulfilled their mission and were dismissed, while the Soviet military advisors resumed their service in Egypt and the flow of military supplies to Egypt not only did not cease, but was increased.

[2] In 2006, it was reported in the book State of Denial by Bob Woodward that Kissinger was meeting regularly with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to offer advice on the Iraq War. Kissinger confirmed in recorded interviews with Woodward that the advice was the same as he had given in an August 12, 2005 column in The Washington Post: “Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy.”