Tag Archives: Islamism

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

In a recent article on the now widely debated antisemitic rants by Mohammed Morsi – recorded in 2010, well before he became Egypt’s president – Barry Rubin rightly criticizes that there is a tendency to pretend that we are just dealing with some “isolated acts” and that by now, Morsi’s views might have changed.

While this kind of wishful politically-correct thinking is unlikely to change no matter how much evidence is available to counter it, MEMRI recently provided translated excerpts from a very interesting article on precisely this subject by Lebanese liberal Joseph Bishara, who pointed out that Jew-hatred is a basic principle of the Muslim Brotherhood’s “philosophy.”  This is of course exactly the same assessment as the one offered by the widely respected Syrian-German scholar Bassam Tibi  in an interview that I quoted a year ago.

Here are some passages from Bishara’s article, as translated by MEMRI:

“Needless to say, tolerance toward the other has no place in the MB’s agenda. Therefore, how can certain people assume that the MB is tolerant of Jews? The MB is racist and hates the Jews and anyone who believes in Judaism. This is an uncontestable part of its creed and is reflected in extremist directives that appear in the writings of its greatest thinkers.

“This hatred did not emerge in the 20th century or [after] Israel’s establishment or the occupation of Arab and Palestinian lands by Israel. This hatred is historic, with roots going back to the inception of Islam. The MB bases its hatred of Jews on the Koranic verse: ‘You will surely find that the most intense of people in animosity towards the believers are the Jews and the polytheists… ‘ [Koran 5:82].

“The MB’s position on the Jews is evident in the interpretation of this verse by Sayyid Qutb, who said that the Koran placed the Jews before the polytheists because they had been more hostile to the Muslims throughout history. Qutb also stated that contrary to what moderate Muslims claim, the Koranic description of the Jews is unchangeable and is not dependent upon [circumstances] of time and place.

“As far as the MB is concerned, the text is absolute and fits any time and place; hence, the animosity between Jews and Muslims is eternal, and will never end, whatever the circumstances.”

The notion of a divinely ordained “eternal” hostility between Muslims and Jews is indeed exactly what the influential cleric Yusuf Qaradawi is preaching.

Bishara also offers some chilling observations about the thinking of MB founder Hassan Al-Banna:

“The MB’s position on the Egyptian Jews is no different than its position on Jews in general; it is the same animosity and hatred. A document titled ‘The MB and the Jews,’ penned by ‘Abdo Mustafa Dsoky for the MB’s Wiki [ikhwanwiki.com], claims that MB founder Hassan Al-Banna gained fame due to his essays on the character and hidden traits of the Jews.

“[Al-Banna] wrote: ‘The Jews of today are the descendants of their warmongering, troublemaking, rabble-rousing, and scheming ancestors. There is no civil war or popular rebellion that does not have the fingerprints of Jews behind it. [The Jews] stoke [wars and rebellions] and work to magnify their effect. It is as though this people wants vengeance upon the entire world for the power it lost due to its stubbornness and the honor it lost due to its materialism. No wrongs have been done them – it is they who do wrong.’

“Al-Banna went so far as to claim that it was [the Jews’] fault that the Nazis burned them in the crematoria during the first half of the 20th century. He said: ‘When we examine modern history, we see that Russia, Poland, Germany, the U.S. and other countries were outraged by the plots of the Jews and their games of deception in the politics of these countries – so much so that the Germans took a bizarre stand vis-à-vis the Jewish race.’

“Continuing his hostility to all Jews, without exception, Hassan Al-Banna said: ‘Evil gradually grew in the Jewish character. [The Jew] does not value virtue. His only concern is to accumulate wealth in any way possible, even at the expense of virtue, honor, and the principles of exalted morality. That is why [the Jews] grew rich, leading others to impoverishment. They accumulate gold, enabling them to realize their goals and cravings, [to play] deceptive games on rulers, and to thwart the efforts of those who wish to amend things.’

“Al-Banna advised the Jews: ‘You wronged the entire world and harmed all peoples. I call upon you to repent so that we do not treat you in ways that run counter to the Torah. Repent before your Maker, kill yourselves, and free the world of the catastrophes that you cause.'”


Ali Abunimah and the Islamist reign of terror in Mali

The reign of terror imposed by armed Islamists gangs who seized control of northern Mali has been widely reported. Last spring, these groups took advantage of the destabilization that followed a coup in the country that was once considered one of Africa’s most stable democracies. In the areas they control, the Islamists proceeded to not only ruthlessly destroy ancient Muslim mausoleums that are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, but also to impose their brutal rule on the defenseless population.

Under the rather restrained headline “Mali: Islamist Armed Groups Spread Fear in North,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) has provided a fairly detailed report of the atrocities committed by the Islamists. According to HRW’s senior Africa researcher,

“The Islamist armed groups have become increasingly repressive as they have tightened their grip over northern Mali … Stonings, amputations [i.e. Sharia-sanctioned mutilations], and floggings have become the order of the day in an apparent attempt to force the local population to accept their world view. In imposing their brand of Sharia law, they have also meted out a tragically cruel parody of justice and recruited and armed children as young as 12.”

In December, the United Nations Security Council sanctioned an African-led military intervention in Mali; however, the deployment of these forces was only in the planning stage when Al-Qaeda linked groups recently made further advances. Following an appeal for urgent military aid from France by Mali’s government a few days ago, France promptly intervened to support the efforts of Mali’s armed forces to push back the Islamist advance. According to a Reuters report, “France’s intervention immediately tipped the military balance of power,” enabling Malian government forces to retake the town recently seized by the Islamists.

Reuters also reported that “a spokesman for al Qaeda’s north African arm AQIM urged France … to reconsider its intervention. ‘Stop your assault against us or you are digging your own sons’ graves.’”

This is how veteran “pro-Palestinian” activist Ali Abunimah commented on this development on Twitter:

Abunimah France Mali

In another tweet, Abunimah opined: “François Hollande must have gotten permission from Obama before declaring France’s glorious little war in Mali.”

Apparently, for a progressive “pro-Palestinian” activist like Ali Abunimah, there is nothing wrong with the reign of terror and destruction imposed by Islamists in Mali – but when a western country helps the armed forces of Mali to drive the Islamist terror groups back, it’s time to express outrage.

Since Abunimah is a regular Al Jazeera contributor – both for the website and as a studio guest – one could wonder if this is the kind of “nuance” that the New York Times editorial board had in mind when it warmly welcomed the news about the planned launch of Al Jazeera America.


This was also cross-posted at Harry’s Place.

In the meantime, some of Ali Abunimah’s fellow progressives have been active:

 AAs fellow progressives1

 AAs fellow progressives2

In case you wonder who Anjem Choudary is, here are a few lines from his Wikipedia entry (but there is much more…):

“Choudary is a vocal critic of the UK’s involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has praised the terrorists involved in the attacks of 11 September 2001, and 7 July 2005. He believes in the implementation of Sharia Law throughout the UK, and marched in protest at the Jyllands-Posten cartoons controversy, following which he was prosecuted for organising an unlawful demonstration. He was also investigated, but not charged, for his 2006 comments regarding Pope Benedict XVI. Choudary receives little support from the mainstream UK Muslim population and has been largely criticised in the media. The French Interior Ministry has also permanently banned him from entering France.”

 And according to a report in the Egypt Independent, Jama’a al-Islamiya has also called for protests at the French embassy against the intervention in Mali.


To round out the picture, it’s worthwhile noting that Iran’s Press TV reacted already back in December to the UN Security Council’s approval of an intervention in Mali with an article entitled “Mali new prey to West imperialist quest.”

Last but by no means least, the blog “Africa is a country” has a detailed post on the unfolding events in Mali, which includes also a paragraph that nicely summarizes who is opposing the intervention:

“Not everyone is in favor of the intervention. Let’s count some of the more vocal opponents—Oumar Mariko, Mali’s perpetual gadfly; French ex-Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who argues that it would be better to wait for the lions to lie down with the lambs; Paris-based Camerounian novelist Calixthe Beyala, plagiarist who argues that those Malians who would prefer not to live under a crude faux-Islamic vigilantism suffer from a plantation mentality; and some truly reprehensible protesters at the French embassy in London, who refuse to believe that most Malians are Muslims and don’t need religious instruction from Salafists. It’s hard to imagine a leakier ship of fools.”

The “truly reprehensible protesters at the French embassy in London” mentioned here are obviously the ones pictured above.


Molad – or: what’s wrong with the Israeli left

In a post entitled “Confessions of a lapsed leftist,” I tried to explain more than a year ago why my lifelong allegiance to the left had begun to crumble. Of course, many Israelis who had supported “Peace Now” in the 1990s and who had hoped that the negotiations at Camp David and Taba would result in a peace agreement went through a similar experience in view of the fact that the Palestinians chose to respond to Israel’s offers with the long and bloody “Al Aqsa”-Intifada.

The historian Benny Morris has repeatedly described the unfortunate learning process that many of us went through, most recently last fall in a long interview with Ha’aretz. The problem is that Israel’s left – which represented the peace camp – has not been able or willing to go through the same learning process. As a result, there are lots of politically homeless people like me in Israel, and I think the dizzying proliferation of new parties over the past few years is at least in part a reflection of this widespread homelessness.

Personally, I can’t say that I find any of the new options attractive or politically convincing and sound, and it is perhaps for this reason that I felt particular frustration when I recently discovered that a new left-wing Israeli think tank that had been established a year ago is apparently resolved to continue the left’s head-in-the-sand-approach. The two posts I wrote about the new organization were first published in The Algemeiner and on my Jerusalem Post blog; they are cross-posted below with some minor changes. Continue reading

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.

But let’s not forget Haneen Zoabi’s hasbara

Yesterday’s decision to disqualify the controversial Balad MK Haneen Zoabi from running in Israel’s upcoming elections is sure to be condemned by Israel’s liberal critics at home and abroad – particularly if the disqualification is upheld by the High Court of Justice.

However, it seems that Zoabi has some critics even within her own extended family: as Israeli media reported some two months ago, the petition to disqualify her was signed by a cousin of Zoabi who argued that instead of working for the interests of Israeli Arabs, she “represents the Palestinians in Ramallah – so she should move there.”

No doubt many Israelis will share this sentiment – but ironically, Zoabi’s hostility to Israel has been so extreme that it sometimes had a completely unintended hasbara effect. In July 2011, I wrote a post on this for my JPost blog, which I republish below.

Gadaffi Zoabi Tibi 2010

The good old times: Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi (center, of course!) flanked by Israeli MKs Zoabi and Tibi in 2010

* * *

There is no question that Haneen Zoabi would be horrified at the idea that she is in any way engaging in “hasbara” for Israel – after all, she is a member of Knesset representing the Balad party which is fiercely opposed to Israel’s status as a Jewish state. Zoabi herself regards the Knesset as “a citadel of inequality” and some of her fellow Knesset members, including Binyamin Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni and Avigdor Lieberman, are in her view just “a bunch of fascists.”

But Zoabi’s openly hostile views of the state where she serves as a member of parliament sometimes seem to have a curious “hasbara” effect. Consider the reader comments in response to a recent article published by the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site where Zoabi furiously objected to a British decision to ban the head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah, from entering Britain.

Zoabi claims in her article that the “British authorities have fallen into an Israeli trap.” She argues:

“Instead of supporting our leaders and their campaign for freedom and democracy, they [i.e. the British authorities] are supporting Israeli persecution of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Until now, Palestinian citizens of Israel have been struggling for our political rights in our country, and confronting Zionist racism inside Israel. But now it seems we have to confront Zionist racism abroad as well.”

“The pro-Israeli lobby must not be allowed to determine politics in Britain. Palestinians in Israel see the arrest of Salah by the British authorities as backing Israeli policies against us. We ask the British people to reject this, not to allow Israeli racism to inform them and support instead our just demands for democracy in our own land.”

One of the first comments (ZackSame, 30 June 2011 8:27AM) garnered 484 endorsements from other readers; it stated dryly:

“Britain has every right to ban any hatemongering crackpot from entering the country, whether they be Koran burners or in this instance conspiracy spouting, homophobic, Bin Laden fans, it might not square with the opinions of foreign politicians like the author but that’s the way it is.”

Another comment (Keo2008, 30 June 2011 8:39AM) that got 450 endorsements argued:

“This article and this man [i.e. Salah] sum up exactly why it is so hard to make peace in Israel. Israeli policies towards the Palestinians are indeed appalling and should be condemned. But to try to turn this racist, antisemitic, pro-Hamas and pro-Al Qaeda man into some kind of martyr to the cause is disgraceful.

So long as Palestinians follow racist extremists like this man, the more the Israelis will turn to their extremists for protection. Raed Salah does the Palestinian cause no favours. Haneen’s support for this racist does the Palestinian cause no favours. Britain was absolutely right to get rid of him.”

It is noteworthy that in the few lines I quoted from Zoabi’s article, she refers twice to “Zionist racism” and once to “Israeli racism;” at the same time, she seems to imply that Sheikh Raed Salah should be considered as one of the Palestinian leaders of a “campaign for freedom and democracy” – which happens to be a view that is apparently shared by Gaza’s Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, who recently honored Salah as “a great Palestinian leader.”

Indeed, according to some Israeli experts on terrorism and Islamist extremism, Salah’s Islamic Movement “is a faction of the regional Muslim Brotherhood organization.”

It is also telling that while Zoabi herself is sophisticated enough to decry the supposed influence of the “pro-Israeli lobby” in her article, Salah’s Islamic Movement openly railed against the “Jewish lobby.”

Zoabi’s problem is that on the one hand, she presents herself as an apparently secular leftist who fights for “freedom and democracy” as a member of a supposedly “democratic progressive” party, but on the other hand, she eagerly embraces an Islamist like Salah, who has espoused the most reactionary views and resorted to sectarian incitement.

It is no small irony that Zoabi once asserted that “Racism is a contagious disease.” Arguably, she proves her point. After all, once upon a time, leftist convictions prominently included the notion that ethnic bonds should count for less than common political ideals. But Zoabi is willing to defend a fellow Palestinian even when he is an Islamist like Salah who stands for a political vision that should be very hard to reconcile with her own.

To be sure, Zoabi herself acknowledges in her article that Salah and she “represent different political organisations and traditions,” but given her writings and her actions – both she and Salah participated in last year’s “Gaza Flotilla” and were on the Mavi Marmara – it seems fair to conclude that Zoabi belongs to this part of the “left” that doesn’t hesitate to ally itself with even the most reactionary forces as long as there is one shared goal: undermining Israel’s legitimacy and its existence as a Jewish state.

Revealingly, Zoabi has made clear in another article earlier this year just how important ethnic identification is for her. Reacting to “revelations” about supposed Palestinian concessions in the negotiations with Israel, Zoabi insisted that “Palestinian negotiators must not take key decisions on our behalf,” and she claimed:

“We, as Palestinian people living inside Israel and on the basis of our historic right and international law, have full right of veto – not only on matters that affect our lives, such as the return of the refugees, the Jewish identity of the state and population exchange, but also on all matters affecting and infringing the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Can you imagine what Haneen Zoabi would say if Jewish minorities around the world would claim a comparable “full right of veto” regarding “all matters affecting and infringing the rights of the Jewish people”?

One reader’s response (peitha, 31 January 2011 10:34AM), endorsed by 122 others, pointed out quite rightly:

“It is telling though that a menmber [sic] of the Knesset is so hostile to the state in which she serves as a legislator she regards outside negotiators as the voice of the people she is supposed to represent.”

Zoabi’s recent article elicited a similar comment (randstad, 30 June 2011 8:38AM) which was endorsed by 453 people:

“The irony is if Salah or the author [i.e. Zoabi] had taken these types position [sic] in any Arab countries against that country, they would [have] been at best in jail or more likely dead or hiding out in another country as recent events tell us. It is a mark of how ‘bad’ Israel is there [sic] free to preach what they do in the way they do.”

I would have thought it’s something like “mission impossible” to get hundreds of Guardian readers to endorse a pro-Israeli comment – and I should know, because I have occasionally contributed articles there and often taken part in the ensuing debates. But it seems that when it comes to explaining what Israel is up against, Haneen Zoabi unwittingly does a much better job than people who try. So perhaps Zoabi deserves a big “thank you” for a “hasbara” job well done.


Longing for the Gaza of November 2005?

I’m tempted to regard it as a bit of a silver lining that Yaacov Lozowick has recently broken his blogging abstinence to comment on what Israelis often simply call “hamatzav” – the situation, which currently is of course once again a rather troubled one.

In his most recent post, Lozowick argues that, according to reports about the current efforts to negotiate a cease-fire, Hamas seems to be demanding “what Israel already gave in 2005.” As Lozowick explains:

“2005 was a very very long time ago. So long ago that almost nobody old enough to use twitter or otherwise be able to express an opinion on Israel and Palestine can be expected to remember it. Still, the fact is that in September 2005 Israel pulled its very last soldier out of Gaza, after having pulled its last settlers out in August.  […]

The significance of this is that between September 2005 and early 2006, there was no Israeli blockade of Gaza. […] There can be little doubt that had the Gazans done in 2005 what the Jewish Agency did in 1947, namely purposefully go about the mundane but crucial task of nation building, Israel wouldn’t have interfered. On the contrary: a majority of Israelis were hoping – fervently or dubiously – they’d do exactly that, which is why Sharon, then followed after his illness by Ehud Olmert, built the election strategy of their brand new party Kadima on the idea of continuing the disengagement process on the West Bank. […]

The reason none of this ever happened is that the Palestinians made their choices, and their choices were not what Israel had hoped. And thus began the downward spiral to where we’re at now.”

Concluding his post, Lozowick asks:

“Is Hamas…now negotiating for what already existed in 2005, after having spent the intervening years pounding into the collective Israeli psyche that the gamble of 2005 was idiotic?”

I think it’s fascinating to recall in this context a PBS interview with veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat that was aired on November 28, 2005. The transcript of the interview is entitled “Border Openings Historic Step for Gaza Strip.”

At the outset, PBS interviewer Ray Suarez outlines the context:

“For the first time in nearly four decades, Palestinians took control of the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, this one at the Rafah checkpoint. The deal to give the Palestinians control of Rafah and other crossings was part of an agreement brokered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice two weeks ago. It ended Israeli control of the crossing three months after Israel withdrew settlers and troops from Gaza, and is meant to foster greater movement for Gazans and their goods.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are preparing for parliamentary elections in January. But today’s primaries in Gaza for those elections and held by the ruling political party Fatah were canceled by the Palestinian Authority. The Authority blamed political opponents of Fatah for gunfire at many polling stations.”

Suarez begins the interview by asking Erekat about the postponement of the Gaza primaries, but Erekat responds by dismissing the violence in Gaza, claiming confidently that “Palestinians are realizing that it’s the ballots and not the bullets that will shape the future of Palestinians.”

Responding to questions about the opening of the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, Erekat says [my emphasis]:

“I have to state on the record there are three significant things that happened with this border opening. Number one is that for the first time in our history we have a control over who comes and who goes through an international border. And this is very significant thing. This is the difference between Gaza being a big prison, 1.3 million suffocating or Gaza open and people are free to come and go.

Secondly, we have the element of the European Union who courageously accepted our invitation to come and help us in upgrading our human and technical know-how in running international borders in accordance with international standards. […]

I think Dr. Rice [Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice] has pulled a miracle with these agreements. They have negotiated this for two-and-a-half months. All the deals were made there.

Maybe it was the psychology of the Israelis giving up their control and occupation 38 years later that was difficult for them maybe without it every step of the way. But the fact that Dr. Rice came and exercised her negotiating skills with us and the Israelis, we had no alternative, both of us, but to go along the way. And then today we have a border crossing that’s opening.”

Turning again to the upcoming Palestinian elections, Erekat states:

“I think will be the most significant thing to happen in Palestinian political life.

This will be a turning point in our political life. Look at the results of the primaries already taken. Look at the fact that we will go into these elections and I don’t think our life will be the same. If we add to that the dimension of the Israeli elections that are coming on March 28. […] I think ever since the Israeli occupation came to my hometown Jericho in 1967, I have never seen something more significant in Israel than what I see now. [A reference to the formation of the centrist Kadima party.]

And I hope that once the dust settles down that the Israelis would have elected a government that is willing to go with us towards the end game, the end of conflict, the treaty of peace which I believe is doable. […]

The interviewer then asks:

“There’s a pattern in these conversations both on the Israeli side and on yours as they point to the other side and say this has to happen, this has to happen, this has to happen, or else the deal is off. What do you have to accomplish on your side as a confidence-building measure in order for the Israelis to believe that the PA can really be in control of the territories that they quit?”

Erekat responds:

“One authority, one gun, and the rule of law. I believe this is a major challenge that is facing us. This is President Abbas’ main program now. I believe you have to see these elections as part of this program because once these elections are over I don’t think the political life of any part, Palestinian Party, that is, will be the same.

The challenge for us is to restore the rule of law, public order, one authority, one legal gun. And we’re not doing this for the Israeli or the Americans. We’re doing it for the sake of maintaining Palestinian social fabric. […]

No militias, no private armies. The parties shall not have guns. And I think a policy of zero tolerance to multiple authorities and multiple guns would be pursued after — with the Palestinian Authority. And I think if we can deliver this, I think in the U.S., in Israel, elsewhere, among the Palestinians above anything else, because that’s what we need to provide, the sense of security to Palestinians.”

We all know, don’t we, what happened: Hamas emerged victorious in the Palestinian elections in January 2006, and by June 2007, Hamas violently took over Gaza.

But while Saeb Erekat’s optimism proved completely unwarranted when it came to the Palestinians, the Israelis fulfilled his fondest hopes: in the elections in spring 2006, Kadima emerged as the strongest party, followed by Labor, while Likud sustained heavy losses.

I’ll just close with a picture – or rather a graph – that is arguably worth a thousand words in the context of the current developments, illustrating what Yaacov Lozowick means when he writes that Hamas “spent the intervening years pounding into the collective Israeli psyche that the gamble of 2005 was idiotic.”

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.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and a respectful look at the history of sharia

During the past week’s Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, I noticed several enthusiastic tweets about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s presentation. One of her statements – arguably a characteristically politically incorrect one – seemed particularly popular with her audience:

I was curious to learn more about her speech and the context of this statement, and while I couldn’t find an official recording or transcript, some of the bloggers who were in the audience provided their own partial transcripts or summaries.

Deena Levenstein, who criticized the conference for offering a too homogenous left-wing selection of (mainly male) speakers, highlighted Hirsi Ali as one of the few conference participants who didn’t necessarily “fit the mold.”

According to Levenstein, Hirsi Ali’s remark about Jerusalem came as response to suggestions for peace-promoting measures by veteran US Middle East expert Dennis Ross. In her presentation, Hirsi Ali had focused on three characteristics that she described as deeply embedded in Muslim societies: the absolute and unquestionable authority of the usually male power figures (e.g. father, husband, teacher, policeman, president); the dominance of a pride vs. shame paradigm and the related notion that the willingness to compromise is a sign of weakness; and the conviction that religious texts like the Koran and the Hadith offer solutions to every conceivable problem.

However, not everyone in the audience was positively impressed by Hirsi Ali. Writing in the Times of Israel, Shayna Zamkanei noted caustically:

“Cleverly, and unlike her co-speakers Ashkenazi, Ross and Wieseltier, Ali didn’t mention the Palestinians once. Yet, her entire talk centered on the Palestinian issue. Only winners and losers? Principle of non-compromise? Islamists? Listening to her talk, it would be easy to believe that secularists readily compromise, and that talking to Islamists is useless, even though both of these ideas have proven false. If we replaced in Ali’s speech […] “Muslim” and “Islamist” with “Jewish,” she would have been called anti-Semitic.

Ironically, at a conference dubbed “Tomorrow” and focused on Israel’s future and the need for communication within the region, we had a speaker hinting and miming that Muslims can’t be trusted unless they abandon their faith. While Ali’s talk focused on her challenges and inspiring triumphs, her broader message was nevertheless depressing, since it made sweeping and inaccurate generalizations not only about nearly half of the inhabitants of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, but about a sixth of the world’s population. Paradoxically, the liberating lessons Ali drew from her own struggle would, if applied to Israel’s case, reinforce a siege mentality and a paranoia that Israel cannot afford.”

Given Hirsi Ali’s uncompromising views on Islam, her detractors can always resort to the charge of “Islamophobia.” But while reading Zamkanei’s negative take on Hirsi Ali, I remembered that just a few days earlier, I had come across a Ha’aretz interview with Sadakat Kadri, a British Muslim jurist and author of the book “Heaven on Earth”, which is described as “a critical insider’s respectful look at the history of sharia.”

Reading the interview, my impression was that Kadri is much more respectful than critical; yet, it seems that his take on the likelihood that the Muslim world will accept Israel doesn’t differ much from Hirsi Ali’s views:

[Kadri] “The idea that jihad can be a military struggle has always been around. There are at least four types of jihad: jihad of the tongue, hand, heart and sword. But jihad of the sword gets a new spin in the 14th century through Ibn Taymiyya, when the idea that you could defend yourself against the invader becomes important for the first time. After the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258, this new idea of jihad as self-defense emerges, primarily through Ibn Tamiyya. It is then revived in response to foreign rule − during the 18th-century Saudi rebellion against Ottoman rule, for example, in the context of Muslim opposition to the British in India, and then in the context of resistance by Hassan al-Banna [founder of the Muslim Brotherhood] in the ’20s − which gets us toward the Zionist issue.
Because as far as the Muslim world is concerned, Zionism is just another form of colonialism.

Now I know that this is very contentious in Israel. But this is how it’s perceived in the Muslim world. And after 1948, all these interpretations of jihad evolve again, as a new idea takes hold. Jurists have historically characterized jihad as a collective obligation that must be directed by a Muslim ruler, to safeguard against freelance jihadis. But post-’48, that limitation falls by the wayside. When the Arab countries fail to stop Israel, they lose legitimacy. And what you get subsequently is a whole bunch of individuals and groups who take it on themselves to fight the jihad − who say it’s a personal obligation, binding on everyone, regardless of caliphs or rulers.

[Question] From a religious point of view, do you think it would be possible for a majority of Muslims, as Muslims, to accept Israel?

[Kadri] Well, the jurisprudence of jihad does contain the idea that a land that was once Muslim can’t be given up. That’s what the hard-liners draw on. But that’s been palpably ignored at times. Andalusia was once Islamic, but those extremists who might argue for its recapture today represent a minuscule minority. And though there are huge disagreements over the precise political compromises that Muslims can properly reach with Israel, Islamic jurisprudence does recognize the concept of the hudna, a truce. It allows for peace of limited duration, which can be renewed indefinitely. That’s how the Camp David Accords were given a religious imprimatur by clerics of Al Azhar in the late 1970s, for example. Insofar as there are people in Hamas who support truces, they also justify them on those grounds.

It’s true that jurists have ruled a hudna can’t last longer than 10 years at a time. But it can be indefinitely renewed. That would need corresponding gestures from Israel, of course, but it would potentially allow the benefits of peaceful coexistence to become more apparent on both sides.”

So here you have it: a “respectful” view of Islam’s stance toward the Jewish state boils down to the stance of Hamas – a truce or “hudna” can perhaps be negotiated for 10 years, and maybe it will be extended, but that would require “corresponding gestures from Israel.” In other words, Israel makes concessions when the “hudna” is first negotiated, and then every 10 years when it needs to be extended.

Kadri points to the optimistic scenario that this “would potentially allow the benefits of peaceful coexistence to become more apparent on both sides” – but potentially, there is of course also the pessimistic scenario that Hamas leaders mean exactly what they say when they declare over and over again that they will never recognize Israel. And who knows, maybe Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are resolved to demand the realization of the promised “United States of the Arabs” whose “capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca, or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing.” And maybe the many millions of followers of Sheikh Qaradawi share not only his conviction that Muslims and Jews are destined to fight each other, but also his hope that “the believers” will finish what Hitler didn’t accomplish.

As long as leading Muslim figures can propagate ideas like these without encountering widespread criticism and opposition in the Muslim world, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has a solid case for her sweeping criticism of Islam and she is right to warn Israel against naive hopes for peace as long as Islamists enjoy enormous popularity and support.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Quote of the day

“You can find various editions of Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in any modest sidewalk bookstand, but you won’t find John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government or Plato’s Republic in Cairo’s biggest bookstores. (And if you do, it will be either in English or an unreadable Arabic translation.) Meantime, Islamist teaching is ubiquitous in schools and mosques, on bumper-stickers and YouTube videos. […]

Islamism will not die out in the face of free voting or economic liberalism or Twitter. It is one of the most formidable ideologies in history, the success of which does not depend on electoral bribes or the ignorance of the average voter. Rather, it stands on thousands of books containing the wisdom of one of the greatest civilizations in history. It comprises serious ideas and ideals that, although they might be diametrically opposed to those of the West, are no less compelling. Most important, Islamism runs on millions of dedicated adherents who are willing to endure imprisonment, exile, unspeakable torture, and even death to uphold what they deem right.

Amr Bargisi, a liberal Egyptian activist, in a must-read piece at Tablet Magazine with the depressing title “An Egyptian Democrat Gives Up.” Particularly important in my view are Bargisi’s comments on the misconceptions that dominate so much of Western reactions to the rise of Islamists – and yes, to my great delight, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman gets mentioned, too… As I’ve argued before, Islamists are not the Muslim equivalent of Europe’s Christian Democrats.

Anyone interested in additional reading should check out Sohrab Ahmari’s critical take on “The Failure of Arab Liberals” in the May issue of Commentary Magazine (which may be accessible for free only for a limited time).

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

A stunning clip made available by MEMRI documents an Egyptian rally to launch the presidential election campaign for Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi. Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi, who addresses the crowd, promises that Mursi and the Muslim Brothers will realize “the dream of the Islamic Caliphate” by “restoring” the “United States of the Arabs” with its capital Jerusalem.

Higazi wants “the whole world” to hear his message:

“We say it loud and clear: Yes, Jerusalem is our goal. We shall pray in Jerusalem, or else we shall die as martyrs on its threshold. Millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem.”

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, the rally took place in a Cairo soccer stadium with presidential candidate Mursi and other Brotherhood officials present; they are shown in the clip nodding in agreement with Higazi’s speech.

Let’s hope that all the assorted “experts” and pundits who never grow tired of telling their audiences how “moderate” and/or “pragmatic” the Muslim Brotherhood really truly is will indeed take the time to listen carefully to this message.

However, the really politically correct media outlets that never fail to describe Jerusalem as Islam’s “third-holiest” city may now face a dilemma given Higazi’s explicit statement that the Islamic Caliphate’s “capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca, or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing.”