Monthly Archives: June 2007

Outing the Conservatives: Search Committees and the Failure of Academia in the 21st Century

Timothy Furnish, who is one of the more penetrating analysts of Islam’s apocalyptic dimensions, exploring a topic that his colleagues in MESA scarcely touch, is still teaching at a community college. He tells the tale of one experience, and poses the disturbing question — how typical? Like the MSM, academia has allowed advocacy to slip past honesty as a prime directive, with results that make academia at best useless, at worst, noxious, in this moment of crisis. Yet one more reason why, I suspect, the intellectual community that grows in cyberspace will provide the next generation with the most interesting discussions.

Colleges Score Perfect Grade In Liberal Bias
by Timothy R. Furnish
Investor’s Business Daily
June 29, 2007

I was cautiously optimistic that my quest to move from a community college to a four-year school might succeed this time. The gatekeepers at the annual conference of the American Historical Association, where thousands are interviewed but few are chosen, had seen fit to let me pass, and I was now on the campus of a large state university for round two.

Everything had gone well: my 75-minute PowerPoint lecture to a class studying early Islamic history, subsequent interviews with the department chair and dean — I was on a roll.

Then I was outed. During a meeting with the search committee, a professor produced irrefutable evidence that I “appeared to be more conservative than others in my field.”

Worse, the evidence gave him the weapon he needed to deliver the coup de grace: “You sounded like Daniel Pipes!”

Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia, a think tank that seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, and a widely published scholar on Middle East issues.

The professor had in hand a two-year-old article, titled “7 Myths about Islam,” that I wrote for the History News Network, a Web site run by George Mason University at which professional historians and history buffs read, write and debate myriad topics.

In the article, I argued against seven pious falsehoods about Islam that the mainstream media treat as historical facts: Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion; Islam was spread only through peaceful means; poverty produces Muslim terrorists; jihad does not mean holy war.

The committee member took particular offense at another myth I described as “a politically correct mendacity,” namely Tony Blair’s statement that on 9/11 Islam had been “hijacked by terrorists.” He even delivered a brief lecture on the definition of “mendacity” for my edification.

What Me Worry? Buruma Tackles the Islamofascist Threat

I was sitting in the airport and struck up a conversation with an interesting fellow, headmaster of a boy’s high school. He asked me what I do, and I replied that I was trained as a medievalist, working on the 21st century manifestations of medieval phenomena. “Oh, you mean like George Bush?” he shot back without missing a beat (i.e., pausing to think). “No, precisely not George Bush. No medieval ruler would tolerate a fraction of the criticism that Bush puts up with every day,” I replied, thinking of the last (very funny) John Stewart and Colbert shows I’d just seen.

I couldn’t help thinking of that episode while reading Ian Buruma’s latest effort to figure out what’s up with such issues as Eurabia, the term “Islamofascism,” and the neo-con Jews’ support of US intervention in the Arab world. Buruma has a reputation as a serious thinker, and his book on his native Holland — where he no longer lives — tackles the problem of Islamism in Europe. And yet in this essay he demonstrates a remarkably shallow ability to think historically, and an equally remarkable tendency to polemicize against the poor, Holocaust-deranged, Jewish neo-cons. The result: pseudo-serenity, pseudo-empathy, pseud0-historical reasoning. Caveat lector. (Hat tip: James Wald)

Ian Buruma’s most recent book is Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance.” He is a professor of human rights at Bard College.

Embracing the empire

By Ian Buruma

Bernard Kouchner, France’s new foreign minister, has a long and distinguished record as an advocate of intervention in countries where human rights are abused. As a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, he stated that “we were establishing the moral right to interfere inside someone else’s country.” Saddam Hussein’s mass murder of Iraqi citizens is why he supported the war in Iraq. One should always be careful about attributing motives to other people’s views. But Kouchner himself has often said that the murder of his Russian-Jewish grandparents in Auschwitz inspired his humanitarian interventionism.

One may or may not agree with Kouchner’s policies, but his motives are surely impeccable. The fact that many prominent Jewish intellectuals in Europe and the United States – often, like Kouchner, with a leftist past – are sympathetic to the idea of using American armed force to further the cause of human rights and democracy in the world, may derive from the same wellspring. Any force is justified to avoid another Shoah, and those who shirk their duty to support such force are regarded as no better than collaborators with evil.

If we were less haunted by memories of appeasing the Nazi regime, and of the ensuing genocide, people might not be as concerned about human rights as they are. And by no means do all those who work to protect the rights of others invoke the horrors of the Third Reich to justify Anglo-American armed intervention.

But the term “Islamofascism” was not coined for nothing. It invites us to see a big part of the Islamic world as a natural extension of Nazism. Saddam Hussein, who was hardly an Islamist, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is, are often described as natural successors to Adolf Hitler. And European weakness, not to mention the “treason” of its liberal scribes, paving the way to an Islamist conquest of Europe (“Eurabia”) is seen as a ghastly echo of the appeasement of the Nazi threat.

Woah. Down boy. If the term were Islamo-nazism, you might have a case. But to conflate fascism with Nazism, and to present the coining of the term as a strategy to paint “a big part of the Islamic world” as a “natural extension of Nazism” demonstrates an intellectual sloppiness fairly close to smear tactics. I for one, agree with Paul Berman, the parallels are both historical (e.g., the Muslim Brotherhood and original Fascism in the 1920s and 30s) and substantive. To “win over” the reader with this brief etymology of the term is something only a bit short of intellectual dishonesty.

As for the attempt to discredit the term by dismissing the link between Hussein and Ahmadenijad, it is again sloppy. Fascism saw lots of different forms. Mussolini’s national fascism was not much like Hitler’s millennial plans for world conquest. Note, then, how we have the same slip and slide to Nazism from fascism: since Saddam was not an Islamist, and Ahmadenijad is, then somehow the “right” is ridiculous for suggesting that they’re both heirs to Hitler. (Saddam’s real hero was Stalin.) Having made the position look intellectually ridiculous, he then throws Eurabia into the mix of absurd concerns.

Friedman’s Middle East Rules #2

Mideast rules to live by – Thomas Friedman
International Herald Tribune

Rule 2: Any reporter or U.S. Army officer wanting to serve in Iraq should have to take a test, consisting of one question: “Do you think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?” If you answer yes, you can’t go to Iraq. You can serve in Japan, South Korea or Germany ­ not Iraq.

There’s a telling story about a conference of post-modern historiography in Germany between the new historians and the old guard. In the wrap-up session, one of the older participants noted, “all this [new-fangled stuff] is fine, just so long as you get the story straight.” “Oh no,” responded one of the new historians, “the whole point is to get the story crooked.” As the reporter of this exchange commented, all the new historians laughed knowingly at this snappy witticism, although most of them weren’t quite sure why.”

Now on one level, the meaning of this story has to do with “unintended consequences.” Historically speaking, most developments do not arise because someone plans them, but because someone, in pursuing a goal, sets in motion something that leads to an entirely different, often opposed result. The Magna Carta is a good example: the barons who put together the document never could have imagined that 600 years later, English-speaking peoples would see that as the earliest document in the creation of a constitutional democracy that gave equal rights to commoners.

Part of the crooked story that makes the Middle East so Byzantine is not only how many unintended results there are to people’s actions, but the ways that they insist on reading those results as intended, often by people who didn’t actually produce those results (see conspiracy theory below). But here, briefly, the reason why the straight line does not operate in the Arab world comes from the particularly remorseless way the Arabs play their zero-sum honor-shame games. In other parts of the world where honor-shame rules predominate — China and Japan come readily to mind — one can still count on a certain amount of rational self-interest. If one can make the choice palatable, it’s possible to arrange a positive-sum outcome.

But in the Middle East, a different dynamic is at work, one in which self destruction plays an unwontedly prominent role. The old joke runs:

    A scorpion approached a crocodile and asked him to take him across the Nile.
    “But you’ll sting me and I’ll die,” protested the croc.
    “Why would I do that? I you die, I drown,” responded the scorpion.
    Accepting this irrefutable logic of self-interest, the croc takes the scorpion on his back and starts to swim the Nile. Halfway across, the scorpion stings the crocodile.
    “Why did you do that?” the croc asked plaintively as the poison spread through his body. “Now we’ll both die.”
    “It’s the Middle East.”

Normally, when people choose a hard zero-sum game (like war) and lose, and their conquerors offer them a positive-sum outcome, they take it (like Germany and Japan). But in the Arab world, the choice following failure is more likely a negative-sum game — we both lose. This problem existed long before the arrival on the scene of Jews who talked back (Zionists), but since then it has become profoundly aggravated by the total psych-out of having a few million Jews beating hundreds of millions of Arabs (see #11). It is the logic of everything from the Palestinian refugee camps scandal to the Three No’s of Khartoum to the big No of Camp David and the suicidal Oslo Intifada. Until you realize that Arab leaders want Palestinians to suffer, you can’t understand anything.

Iraq, of course, has its own particular problems.

  • Start with tribal politics of vendetta sharpened and (temporarily) frozen by a Stalin-admiring dictator,
  • bring in Western troops who free Iraqis of their hated ruler thus highlighting the impotence of the Arab world to handle their own monsters (and hence making gratitude nearly impossible),
  • add apocalyptic Muslim ideologies (in which the prevailing rule is “my enemy’s enemy is my enemy”), who use suicide bombing aimed at civilians as a major tool of “resistance,” and
  • top off with Western commentators so riddled with Western Derangement Syndrome (aka Post-colonial theory) that they have to call Sunnis who blow up Shiite Mosques “insurgents”, and blame the West for the civilian casualty toll,

and you have a recipe for consistent irrationality by any standards –honor-shame or modern reason.

Shortest distance between two points? You can’t get there from here.

But if you give up, things will be even worse.

Gazans Make the History they Suffer

bleeding hand

This is the brilliant accompanying drawing to an editorial in the New Republic which holds the Palestinians responsible for their own suffering. It is the counter to that grotesque NYT editorial page drawing of a disembodied black arm with a dagger wielded by a white fist.

A great debate has already begun on the subject of who lost Gaza. Increasingly, one hears that the Israelis did, or the Americans did; that the disaster is the consequence of Israeli policies or American policies, of Israeli harshness and American indifference. It is necessary to insist, therefore, that the primary responsibility for Palestinian actions falls on Palestinians. To believe the opposite is to hold a condescending imperialist view of the Palestinians as the passive objects of others; as nothing but the wretched playthings of power, of circumstances over which they have no control; as people in some way unqualified for history. If the Hamas revolution is anything, however, it is historical action. The Palestinians in Gaza are not only suffering their history; they are also making it, and ruining it.

Read the rest.

Honor-Shame Commentary on Thomas Friedman’s Mideast Rules of Reporting: I

Last December, Thomas Friedman published an updated version of his rules of Middle East reporting. It is a brilliant, witty piece that takes aim at and hits our liberal cognitive egocentrism right on the head. This alone justifies Friedman’s having such a big ego: he deserves his swollen head. No dupe or cognitive egocentrist he! (Hat tip: Desert Brown, Israpundit)

I apologize in advance for adding a clunky, comparatively humorless, academic commentary to these fifteen points. But all really profound and pithy material deserves commentary, and since so many of the tragi-comic paradoxes Friedman outlines relate to honor-shame culture, I thought it worthwhile to unpack them. (Predictably, of course, voices of political correctness have attacked Friedman: “his racism and condescending attitude towards Arabs that has long been implicit in his writing comes out full guns blazing..”

I’ll do them one post per item.

Mideast rules to live by – Thomas Friedman
International Herald Tribune

For a long time, I let my hopes for a decent outcome in Iraq triumph over what I had learned reporting from Lebanon during its civil war. Those hopes vanished last summer. So, I’d like to offer President George W. Bush my updated rules of Middle East reporting, which also apply to diplomacy, in hopes they’ll help him figure out what to do next in Iraq.

Rule 1: What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language. Anything said to you in English, in private, doesn’t count. In Washington, officials lie in public and tell the truth off the record. In the Middle East, officials say what they really believe in public and tell you what you want to hear in private.

David Makovsky tells the story about a US envoy to Arafat coming with a letter in English from Mubarak telling him to take a certain “moderate” action (like negotiate with Israel or denounce terrorism), and Arafat laughing in his face and saying, “when I get it in Arabic, I’ll take it seriously.”

The reason the gap between public and private is inverted relates to the impact of honor-shame culture. In private, anything goes because it’s perfectly legitimate in private to tell people what they want to hear, and there’s no price to pay since no one from the peer group hears it. When it’s in public, it’s not necessarily more honest, but it does reflect the critical factor when it comes to what real commitments are — what the peer group thinks and knows. Not that you can’t lie in public too, but that poses a different set of problems. To say publicly that you accept Israel – even if you don’t mean it – is a public humiliation for the collectivity.

In Western (integrity-guilt cultures), a whole range of positions that would be considered dishonorable — like public apologies — are not only permissable, but advantageous. What you say in public — on the record — may be diplomatic, but what you say in private has bearing on your integrity and credibility. This is not to say that Westerners do not lie in public and private, just that there’s a different center of gravity which produces the characteristic skew that Friedman notes here.

This helps us understand the difference between Hamas and Fatah. The only honorable public stance in the Arab world vis-à-vis Israel since 1948 has been the rejection of any contact with Israel that might legitimate it. The very “occupation” of the territories conquered in 1967 derives directly from this Arab refusal to recognize or even negotiate publicly with Israelis — the “Three No’s of Khartoum.” (What’s ironic there is that the Arab League said that “the burden of regaining these lands falls on all the Arab States” — which could have been done by negotiations.)

Sadat paid with his life for violating that principle of “no negotions, no recognition, no peace.” Until 1967, Palestinian and Arab leaders refused even hypothetically (and in English) to grant publicly that Israel had a right to exist. Afterwards, with some prompting from PR advisors in the West, they toned down some of their genocidal rhetoric, but it was a long hard road to get them even in English to make even hypothetical concessions in public.

Many Western supporters found their refusal to mouth the right formulas frustratingly irrational — just think of the advantages of “swallowing your pride” and thereby gaining major, even fatal concessions from the Israelis. But, at least when honor is at stake, the Arabs had to be more honest than their Western advisors counseled. Present themselves as a “secular, national liberation movement” aimed at liberating Arab land from the occupying colonialist, imperialist Israelis, even if that’s not what they were about…? No problem. As long as one could talk about occupied Palestine and mean “river to the sea,” there was no shame in letting eager cretins in the West believe that one meant the “Green line.”

The Oslo process forced Arafat to at least mouth in English and in public his willingness to accept Israel’s existence. There was a formal statement – the signing and hand-shaking on the White House lawn – that publicly accepted (from the Arab point of view) a humiliating stance. With Sadat’s fate in mind, Arafat was quick to reassure his Arabic and Muslim public that he didn’t mean this – the Trojan Horse speech in South Africa only months after the White House ceremony, in which he assured his public that this was only a ruse.

“I don’t consider the [Oslo] agreement any more than the agreement which was signed by our prophet Mohammed and the Qurayish,” he said.

“We” — and here I mean people like Peres, Rabin, Ross, Clinton et al. — were equally quick to ignore this critical revelation.

From the honor-shame perspective, Arafat had shamefully accepted a public compromise even though it meant he could better launch the promised offensive… the staged assault. Hamas represented the stance of the old PLO – point of honor: we won’t accept the right of Israel to exist, we will only destroy her. Part of what was so pathetic about the advent of Hamas to power in the elections was how eager the West was just to have Hamas mouth the “moderate” words in English that would allow them to turn on the funding and diplomatic spigots. They virtually handed Hamas the speech necessary to satisfy a Western community desperate to revive the “peace process.” And still, that was too much.

In a sense, the Arab sense of humiliation and the ersatz “honor” they “preserve” by rejecting Israel — which explains many of the pathologies of the Arab world today — makes much of their behavior irrational, even from the point of view of their own “interests.” They could have gotten far more in the way of fatal concessions from Israel had they been willing to “swallow their pride” even temporarily. But they could not do that publicly before the “Arab street.”

And so the major lesson from all of this — one learned and implemented by organizations like MEMRI and PMW — is that only what Arabs say in public and in Arabic matters. Private promises are useless; the “peer group” matters above all.

Game Theory and Our Opponents: Gauging Levels of Maturity

MEMRI offers a translation of a Friday sermon by Ahmad Khatami of the Iranian Assembly of Experts, which aired on Channel 1, Iranian TV on June 22, 2007. It’s quite revealing in its immaturity [in italics]. But note how often these playground taunters use tropes that are indistinguishable from those of the radical left (PCP2) in the West [in bold].


Ahmad Khatami: “Unfortunately, whenever negotiations begin, America’s psychological warfare begins as well. Bush recently said, in one of his stupid and foolish statements: ‘We are considering all options vis-a-vis Iran.’ Thus, he hinted that a military option was possible. He should know that the Iranian people is also considering all options vis-a-vis America, including a strong punch in America’s teeth.”


On the one hand, America and the European countries talk about democracy and the rule of the people, yet on the other hand, we see that when, in Palestine, a government elected by the people came to power, in elections supervised by international monitors… From the very first day of this government in office, no European country supported it. They kept putting a spoke in its wheels, and in recent months, one could sense the signs of a coup d’etat. Weapons kept flowing in to the compromising pro-American group [Fatah]. Eventually, they staged a coup d’etat and overthrew the Hamas government. It is strange that they would not accept a government elected by the people, but the European countries and their allies immediately recognized and supported the coup d’etat government [of Fatah]. However, they must know that double standards will not benefit them at all. With their own hands, they have sowed the seeds of resistance, and of a new Intifada in the occupied lands. Allah willing, this Intifada will rub the noses of Israel and the compromisers in the mood.


The old, decrepit, and colonialist English regime presents itself as the defender of human rights, yet it awards a medal to such a wretched, bankrupt man [Salman Rushdie], who has offended the sacred values of more than 1.5 billion Muslims. Are these your human rights?

Crowd chants: “Death to England.

“Death to England.

“Death to England.”

Ahmad Khatami: “Is this your civilization? This old, decrepit government of England should know that the days of its imperialistic aspirations are gone, and today it is considered America’s branded slave. They must also know that the wave of Islamic revival in the world has begun, whether they like it or not. Under these circumstances, awarding England’s highest honor to a wretched man, who lacks any talent whatsoever… He is not considered a prominent novelist or author. They awarded him this medal only because he cursed the Prophet. Under these circumstances, awarding a medal to such a man entails a conflict with one and a half billion Muslims throughout the world, and you will gain nothing from this. The one thing that will happen is that you will see the Islamic world roaring together. In Islamic Iran, this revolutionary fatwa of Imam Khomeini still exists. It is unchangeable and with God’s grace, it must be carried out.”

Given that overlap, it leads one to wonder just how much of Islamist aggression is underwritten by leftist folly.

How to Deal with Rageboy: Hitchens on Rushdie

Hitchens nails it. We’re in a show down and we’re totally psyched out. (Hat tip: n00man)

Look Forward to Anger
By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, June 25, 2007, at 1:46 PM ET

Rage Boy

If you follow the link, you will be treated to some scenes from the strenuous life of a professional Muslim protester in the Kashmiri city of Srinagar. Over the last few years, there have been innumerable opportunities for him to demonstrate his piety and his pissed-offness. And the cameras have been there for him every time. Is it a fatwah? Is it a copy of the Quran allegedly down the gurgler at Guantanamo? Is it some cartoon in Denmark? Time for Rage Boy to step in and for his visage to impress the rest of the world with the depth and strength of Islamist emotion.

Last week, there was another go-round of this now-formulaic story, when Salman Rushdie accepted a knighthood from her majesty the queen, and the whole cycle of hysteria started up again. Effigies and flags burned (is there some special factory in Karachi that churns out the flags of democratic countries for occasions like this?), wounded screams from religious nut bags, bounties raised to suborn murder, and solemn resolutions passed by notional bodies such as the Pakistani “parliament.” A few months ago, it was the pope who was being threatened, and Christians in the Middle East and Muslim Asia who were actually being killed. Indeed, Rage Boy had a few yells and gibberings to offer on that occasion, too.

I have actually seen some of these demonstrations, most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.

Of course, this is not to say that there isn’t a lot of generalized self-pity and self-righteousness (as well as a lot of self-hatred) in the Muslim world. A minister in Pakistan’s government—the son of revolting late dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, as it happens—appeared to say that Rushdie’s knighthood would justify suicide bombing. But our media regularly make the assumption that the book burners and fanatics really do represent the majority, and that assumption has by no means been tested. (If it is ever tested, and it turns out to be true, then can we hear a bit less about how one of the world’s largest religions mustn’t be confused with its lunatic fringe?)

The acceptance of an honor by a distinguished ex-Muslim writer, who exercised his freedom to abandon his faith and thus courts a death sentence for apostasy in any case, came shortly after the remaining minarets of the Askariya shrine in Samarra were brought down in shards. You will recall that the dome itself was devastated by an explosion more than a year ago—an outrage described in one leading newspaper as the work of “Sunni insurgents,” the soft name for al-Qaida. But what does “Rage Boy” have to say about this appalling desecration of a Muslim holy place? What resolutions were introduced into the “parliament” of Pakistan, denouncing such shameful profanity? You already know the answer to those questions. The lives of Shiite Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Christians—to say nothing of atheists or secularists—are considered by Sunni militants to be of little or no account. And yet they accuse those who criticize them of bigotry! And many people are so anxious to pre-empt this accusation that they ventriloquize the reactions of Sunni mobs as if they were the vox populi, all the while muttering that we must take care not to offend such supersensitive people.

Hitchens points out the key issue here: if this were true indignation at the mistreatment of Muslims, surely the blowing up of the mosques would be far more heinous than a Qur’an in the toilet. But this isn’t about real damage or real injury, this is about honor, shame, and bullying fools. We are such an ideal target for this kind of manufactured indignation because we are so sensitive to it, so ready to fold the minute they look at us cross-eyed. Partly this comes from our “cultural sensitivity” which at this point has reached inane proportions, partly from intimidation, our fear of Muslim anger. Both are invitations to aggression.

This mental and moral capitulation has a bearing on the argument about Iraq, as well. We are incessantly told that the removal of the Saddam Hussein despotism has inflamed the world’s Muslims against us and made Iraq hospitable to terrorism, for all the world as if Baathism had not been pumping out jihadist rhetoric for the past decade (as it still does from Damascus, allied to Tehran). But how are we to know what will incite such rage? A caricature published in Copenhagen appears to do it. A crass remark from Josef Ratzinger (leader of an anti-war church) seems to have the same effect. A rumor from Guantanamo will convulse Peshawar, the Muslim press preaches that the Jews brought down the Twin Towers, and a single citation in a British honors list will cause the Iranian state-run press to repeat its claim that the British government—along with the Israelis, of course—paid Salman Rushdie to write The Satanic Verses to begin with. Exactly how is such a mentality to be placated?

Precisely. And one of the corollaries to the answer to Hitchens’ rhetorical question — Nothing — is that if we leave Iraq without assuring some stability, we will not only have failed to appease it, we will incite it with our lack of resolve. In the world of global Jihad, all the rules of civil society and positive-sum games work in reverse: generosity and concession invite hatred and aggression.

We may have to put up with the Rage Boys of the world, but we ought not to do their work for them, and we must not cry before we have been hurt. In front of me is a copy of this week’s Economist, which states that Rushdie’s 1989 death warrant was “punishment for the book’s unflattering depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.” There is no direct depiction of the prophet in this work of fiction, and the reverie about his many wives occurs in the dream of a madman. Nobody in Ayatollah Khomeini’s circle could possibly have read the book for him before he issued a fatwah, which made it dangerous to possess. Yet on that occasion, the bookstore chains of America pulled The Satanic Verses from their shelves, just as Borders shamefully pulled Free Inquiry (a magazine for which I write) after it reproduced the Danish cartoons. Rage Boy keenly looks forward to anger, while we worriedly anticipate trouble, and fret about etiquette, and prepare the next retreat. If taken to its logical conclusion, this would mean living at the pleasure of Rage Boy, and that I am not prepared to do.

This is a classic showdown, mano a mano, eyeball to eyeball. And we’re blinking before the confrontation starts.

Query to Joe et al.: HRW Middle East Report Analyzed for Bias by NGO Monitor

One of the commenters at this site has written the following in response to my comment that HRW had a notoriously bad reputation for the reliability of its testimony as analyzed by NGO Monitor:

‘Notorious’ only in the sense that you don’t agree with them, Richard.

If on one side there is Amnesty, HRW, World Bank, ICRC and other whilst on the other side obviously pro-zionist organisations such as NGO Monitor and CAMERA (which I’ve easily shown above are selectively quoting material by using other materials from the same organisations they quote), it is fairly obvious to most people which have the reputation for fairness and reliability.

At the end of the day, you can describe it in any way you like – as a politically correct paradigm, as lies, as exaggeration, as Islamophyllia, as anti-semitism. But by doing that, you not only accuse me but a whole body of international agencies and governments.

Okay, let me commit my naïveté to cyberprint: I actually believe in empirical evidence. I think that the “reputation” of an international organization for fairness and reliability is secondary to the evidence of its fairness and reliability, and that confronted with real, verifiable, evidence to the contrary, their reputation should suffer rather than override that evidence.

So here’s NGO Monitor with an extensive analysis of the skew of HRW in dealing with human rights violations in the Middle East. This is their abstract:

Report on HRW’s Activities in 2006: Political Bias Undermines Human Rights
NGO Monitor
June 26, 2007

NGO Monitor’s systematic and detailed analysis shows a significant increase in Human Rights Watch’s focus on Israel in 2006, following a decline in 2005, and returning to the disproportionate agenda and lack of credibility characteristic of the 2000-2004 period. HRW publications dealing with Israel used unreliable and unverifiable “eyewitness” accounts, rather than photographic, documentary, or other evidence. These core deficiencies were particularly evident in its reporting on the July-August conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Similarly, HRW continues to use the language of demonization with respect to Israel, compared to publications on other Middle East countries. The evidence in this report demonstrates that despite HRW’s recognition “that international standards of human rights apply to all people equally,” this powerful NGO continues to promote an anti-Israel political agenda.

So Joe, please read the report and tell me what you think.

Honoring Rushdie… Sort of: The NYT Tries to Show Courage

The Times editorial page tries its hand at “Honoring Rushdie.” You be the judge of just how much they understand (or are willing to acknowledge). Emphasis added.

Honoring Rushdie

Published: June 26, 2007
Salman Rushdie’s knighthood is causing a furor — especially in Pakistan and Iran — among Islamic extremists, who see it as an official state endorsement of a writer who has been anathema to them ever since the publication of The Satanic Verses. And it has caused a few ripples of conscience in the West, too, a part of the world where writers are not routinely threatened with death but where we do try, often perplexedly, to respect the validity and the intensity of other people’s feelings.

Mr. Rushdie’s new honor raises the same question now that his work raised when Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a fatwah against him in 1989. Do we choose to live in a world that honors writers or in a world that kills them?

It is tempting to say that this is too simple a way to look at it. It’s possible to argue that our desire to protect free speech — and, in effect, do away with the very notion of literary heresy — is as much an acculturation as the desire to enforce religious orthodoxy. But the problem Mr. Rushdie raises is not about the origins of human belief. It is about the consequences of human belief and, specifically, the consequences of religious tyranny.

The imaginative range of his work, its complexity and its ability to test the limits of what we know and believe entitle him to the respect and the honors he has earned. Yet in some parts of the world it would earn him assassination. You cannot judge a society only by the way it treats writers. But you can be certain that if a society treats writers badly, it treats ordinary people no better.

Too short. Too wishy washy even as it tries to be decisive. The real problem is whether we’re willing to fight for freedom. This kind of sideways, on the one hand… but really… is hardly the kind of stuff to inspire a willingness to fight. We need a real critique of the nonsense that appears here as the “one could argue… but…” position. We need a ringing defense of literary heresy, especially since it is only with the freedom to criticize and be criticized that civil society exists.

In polite society, you don’t say certain things lest there be violence.

In civil society, you can say what you need to, and there won’t be violence.

Let’s stop being so damned polite to the wrong people.

When Shame Hits: A Clueless West and a Humiliated Arabia

Youssef M. Ibrahim writes an extremely interesting meditation on the psychological situation in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Mr. Ibrahim, a former New York Times Middle East Correspondent and Wall Street Journal Energy Editor for 25 years, is a freelance writer based in New York City and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and a contributing editor of the NY Sun.

Arabs losing faith in ‘the cause’

By Youssef M. Ibrahim

Why is America trying to pour new money and more weapons into Palestinian Arab hands barely days after the Gaza debacle? It is an ill-considered policy, both premature and useless. The only sure result will be that warring gangs in the West Bank will use every new weapon to continue the mayhem and that the millions paid out won’t buy as much as a bottle of milk for Palestinian Arab civilians. Instead, the money will end up in the pockets and bank accounts of the same crooks who lost Gaza.

Indeed, why try to recreate a world that has just crumbled? America and Israel may want to wait for what may turn out to be a changing of the guard: Arab voices, both expert and popular, are rising in vociferous denunciations of the once sacrosanct Palestinian Arabs.

“It is idle to think that Gaza could be written off as a Hamas dominion while Fatah held its own in the towns of the West Bank,” Fouad Ajami of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies noted in a sobering analysis published Tuesday in the New York Times. “The abdication and the anarchy have damaged both Palestinian realms. Nablus in the West Bank is no more amenable to reason than is Gaza; the writ of the pitiless preachers and gunmen is the norm in both places.”

While Mr. Ajami’s commentary is poised, there is no such thing:

“Palestinians today need to be left without a shred of a doubt” as to what other Arabs think of them, a widely read opinion commentator for the Saudi daily Asharq Al Awsat, Mamoun Fandy, thundered on Monday. “We need to tell them the only thing they have proven over 50 years is that they are adolescents who cannot and should not be trusted to run institutions of state or any other important matters.”

While it could be argued that the overwhelming public outrage in Saudi Arabia reflects resentment over the collapse of the much-vaunted reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah — which was personally brokered by King Abdullah earlier this year in Mecca — the anger expressed across the Muslim Arab world reflects deep embarrassment at the discredit Hamas has brought, in the name of Islam, through its savagery against Fatah.

For its part, the Egyptian press has become unhinged, spewing vile denunciations of what is universally known as “the cause” — support for the Palestinian Arabs — and describing it as dead. Egypt’s government pulled its embassy out of Gaza on Tuesday.

Kuwaitis, who have harbored contempt for Palestinian Arabs ever since they allied themselves with Saddam Hussein’s occupation in 1990-91, also dropped all restraint. “Palestinians are neither a modernized nor a civilized people,” Ahmad Al Bughdadi wrote Monday in Al Siyassah, an influential Kuwaiti daily. “They are not statesmen. If what happened in Gaza is what they do without a state, what then shall they do when they get one?”

If there could be an editorial coup de grace, it surely was delivered by no less than Abdelbari Atwan, undoubtedly the Palestinian Arabs most influential and respected journalist and a familiar face on both Western and Arab television.

Writing in the London-based Al Quds International, his painfully felt commentary, “Yes, We Have Lost the World’s Respect,” argued that “the cause” may have lost its legitimacy: “Many, myself among them, find it difficult to speak of Israeli crimes against our people in view of what we have now done,” Mr. Atwan wrote. “I never thought the day would come when we would see Palestinians throwing other Palestinians from the tops of buildings to their death, Palestinians attacking other Palestinians to tear their bodies with knives, Palestinians stripping others naked to drag them through the streets.”

Because when they did it to Israelis or other Arabs (e.g., in Lebanon), no one had a clue they’d do it to themselves?

All of which suggests letting this Arab storm run its course: It may be a purging of the Arab mindset that creates new realities and opportunities.

For instance, throughout the Arab Gulf region, starting with Al-Jazeera of Qatar and Al-Arabiya of Saudi Arabia, the press has long been controlled by Palestinian Arabs practiced in spewing anti-Western and anti-American propaganda. But the Gaza conundrum has left them stymied, opening space for “local sentiments,” which differ markedly.

Instead of pouring good money after bad in the western part of the Arab world, it may be wiser for America to help foster the revolutionary new thinking unfolding in its East — perhaps by nudging along a propaganda purge among friendly Arab regimes.

Bit of honor-shame analysis: Now, after being humiliated in front of the world, Arabs — even Palestinians — grow self-critical, end up saying things that (right-wing) Israelis have been saying for decades… like, “They’re not ready for statehood.” We, instead of saying, “At last! Now let’s get serious,” rush in to cover their shame. How stupid can we get? Very.

Another teaching moment will be lost because of the inane advice of well-intentioned fools.

What’s in a Game? Aumann on the Blackmailer’s Paradox

Jewish Current Interest has an important post on Nobel prize-winning Robert Aumann’s game theory applied to the current state of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since I think game theory is extremely important, I offer it here with comments. (Hat tip: Judith Weiss)

June 18, 2007

War, Peace and Game Theory

Robert Aumann, Israel’s 2005 Nobel Prize winner in Economics (“for having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game theory analysis”), argues there is not a leadership crisis in Israel but a crisis among the people – an overriding yearning for peace that will produce war instead (hat tip: Naomi Ragen):

    It’s not just the [failed and defeatist] policies. It’s also the defeatist state of mind. All day long people are screaming “Peace, peace, and gestures, gestures!” Concessions and disengagements were made and settlers expelled. All this has ultimately achieved the opposite result.

    We have to stop the empty slogans such as “Peace is made with enemies and not with friends.” In order to achieve peace we must first and foremost be prepared for war. We have to change this state of mind at the core. It wasn’t only the Romans who said that those who seek peace should prepare for war. Even in game theory, for which I received the Nobel Prize, says so. We have to be emotionally prepared to bear and to inflict casualties – and not to scream “peace, peace,” all day long. Only if we are prepared to kill and be killed – we shall not be killed. This is the paradox of war.

I was always struck by that platitude: “Peace is made with enemies, not friends.” No, peace is made with people who are prepared to drop their enmity. If you make peace with enemies who have no intention of making peace, you commit suicide.

Another stupid remark: “War doesn’t solve anything.” I have an idea where the remark comes from, but why and how would it become a truism?

In an extensive interview in January 2005, Aumann described how game theory sets forth certain basic principles that Israel has forgotten during the decades-long onslaught on its legitimacy:

    Aumann. . .[T]here is almost nothing as ever-present in the history of mankind as war. Since the dawn of history we have had constant wars. . . . A tremendous amount of energy is devoted on the part of a very large number of well-meaning people to the project of preventing war, settling conflicts peacefully, ending wars, and so on. Given the fact that war is so, so prevalent, both in time and in space, all over the world, perhaps much of the effort of preventing or stopping war is misdirected. . . . [G]iven the constancy of war, we should perhaps shift gears and ask ourselves what it is that causes war. Rather than establishing peace institutes, peace initiatives, institutions for studying and promoting peace, we should have institutions for studying war. . . . It’s like fighting cancer. One way is to ask, given a certain kind of cancer, what can we do to cure it? . . . Another way is simply to ask, what is cancer? How does it work? . . . Once one understands it one can perhaps hope to overcome it. . . .

This historical observation about war is crucial. This is the main point that Eli Sagan makes about the dominating imperative: “rule or be ruled” is the basic political axiom of the last ten millennia. Overcoming it is something just a little short of a major miracle. The Europeans, now so proud of the fact that they’ve gotten beyond war and conflict (hence they can look down on the cowboy Americans and the militaristic Israelis), would do well to remember that they were at war with each other right up to 1945.

War is what I would call a hard zero-sum game. It’s not an “I’ll take half, you take half” zero-sum solution. It’s a “I’ll take it all, you take none” solution. Not only is it that “if you win, I lose,” but, “I cannot win unless you lose.” If you try and make peace with hard-zero-sum players, you cooperate with their determination to make you a loser. Trojan Horse, anyone?

Aumann’s judo move — study why people go to war, rather than how people can find peaceful solutions — is interesting. Note how he’s still profoundly in the camp of peace: war, in his metaphor, is a cancer. But how do you fight it?

H: So, the standard approach to war and peace is to . . . try ad hoc solutions. You are saying that this is not a good approach. . . .

Aumann: Yes. . . . Saying that war is irrational may be a big mistake. If it is rational, once we understand that it is, we can at least somehow address the problem. . . .

Nothing illustrates the difference between honor-shame and guilt-integrity cultures better than the difference between what is “rational” in the two cultures. Honor-shame cultures are notoriously zero-sum. “I win, you lose” is reasonable precisely because “rule or be ruled” dominates the interaction between alpha males. In civil society, rationality is recognizing one’s “interests” and accepting positive-sum solutions that benefit everyone. What strikes many of us in civil society as irrational — insisting on pride even when it’s disastrous for everyone’s interests — actually makes sense in a world where honor depends on dominance. But that underlines the dual and related issue of a) what emotions are mobilized by the two approaches, and b) what emotions the peer-group values. One of the things that shifted southern attitudes towards dueling at the turn of the 19th century was when the public “peer group” stopped admiring the winners.

H: Here in Israel, we unfortunately have constant wars and conflicts. . . . You presented [at the Center for Rationality] some nice game-theoretic insights.

Aumann: One of them was the blackmailer’s paradox. Ann and Bob must divide a hundred dollars. . . . Ann says to Bob, “look, I want ninety of those one hundred. Take it or leave it; I will not walk out of this room with less than ninety dollars.” Bob says, “come on, that’s crazy. We have a hundred dollars. Let’s split fifty-fifty.” Ann says,” no.” . . . [I]t’s not enough for her just to say it. She has to make it credible; and then Bob will rationally accept the ten. . . . This is the blackmailer’s paradox. It is recognized in game theory . . .

What is the application of this to the situation we have here in Israel? Let me tell you this true story. A high-ranking officer once came to my office at the Center for Rationality and discussed with me the situation with Syria and the Golan Heights. . . . He explained to me that the Syrians consider land holy, and they will not give up one inch. When he told me that, I told him about the blackmailer’s paradox. I said to him that the Syrians’ use of the term “holy,” land being holy, is a form of commitment. . . . Just like in the blackmailer’s paradox, we could say that it’s holy; but we can’t convince ourselves that it is. One of our troubles is that the term “holy” is nonexistent in our practical, day-to-day vocabulary. It exists only in religious circles. We accept holiness in other people and we are not willing to promote it on our own side. The result is that we are at a disadvantage because the other side can invoke holiness, but we have ruled it out from our arsenal of tools.

Or as a lawyer I know puts it: if you act crazy enough, everyone will let you have your way. But what’s true in the immediate case is not true in the long run. If you give in to the blackmailers, rather than educate them, you doom yourself to a life of blackmail.

H: On the other hand, we do have such a tool: security considerations. That is the “holy” issue in Israel. We say that security considerations dictate that we must have control of the mountains that control the Sea of Galilee. There is no way that anything else will be acceptable. Throughout the years of Israel’s existence security considerations have been a kind of holiness, a binding commitment to ourselves. The question is whether it is as strong as the holiness of the land on the other side.

Aumann: It is less strong.

This idea of “nothing holy” is actually, in a weird way, related to the great Jewish innovation, iconoclasm. To dedicated secular iconoclasts, nothing is holy. In the world of honor-shame, honor is sacred. In the world of integrity-guilt, understanding the “other” has become sacred: egolessness. Or, as Baba Ram Dass reported back from India — “shame and fame are all the same.”

After years of inculcating an excessive, self-denying respect for the “Other,” accepting competing “narratives” as equally valid regardless of their basis in fact, and luxuriating in post-Zionist moral equivalence, Israel need to recover a sense of its own holiness. It needs to re-establish certain basic facts. Some of them are set forth in a short video that Melanie Phillips last week correctly described as “must-see.” Unless it reasserts them, Israel will eventually become a victim of the blackmailers arrayed against her.

One can go in the holiness direction, although I think that a combination of dignity and far-sighted self-interest might go a long way as well. But it means learning to value yourself enough to fight for yourself, even kill for your own survival.

The self-abnegation that has seized upon Israelis has a dual and doubly troubling etiology. On the one hand, Israeli/Jewish susceptibility to guilt means that, even though Arab irredentism forced it into an occupation, it feels primarily responsible for the “guilt” of being an occupier. (Note that occupying is a desiderandum in Arab culture.) On the other, Israelis and Jews are deeply humiliated and shamed by the images of that occupation/oppression that come to them primarily via a media that channels Pallywood. How many liberal Jews squirmed in pain before their liberal friends when Sharon was calling the shots? So when the media go on their feeding frenzies (like at Qana), the Israelis cannot apologize enough, and even when they point the finger at an enemy who hides among civilians (an unthinkable anathema to Israelis), they do it feebly. Wouldn’t want to look like we were demonizing the poor people.

So we have now an Israel reluctant to defend itself, a Jewish “left” that deals with its moral narcissism and embarrassment by violently attacking its own people, and an incomprehending outside world that adheres to a political correct doctrine that deafens it to the song of the canary in the mineshaft.

Steyn on Rushdie: Learning to Talk Back to Bullies with Thin Skins

Mark Steyn nails it: we need to talk back, to show spine, to learn from the past. It may hurt, but that’s a lot less painful than encouraging aggression with the kind of imbecillic apologies that trip so readily off our lips. It’s definitely preferable to fighting a Jihad that, like WWII, will kill tens of millions… at least.

Mark Steyn: We’ve replaced Rushdie in hiding

Syndicated columnist

A year or so after the Ayatollah Khomeini took out an Islamist mob contract on Salman Rushdie in 1989, the novelist appeared, after elaborate security arrangements, on a television arts show in London. His host was Melvyn Bragg, a longtime British telly grandee, and what was striking was how quickly the interview settled down into the usual cozy, literary chit-chat. Lord Bragg took Rushdie back to his earlier pre-fatwa work. “After your first book,” drawled Bragg, “which was not particularly well-received.”

That’s supposed to be the worst a novelist has to endure. His book will be “not particularly well-received” – i.e., some twerp reviewers will be snotty about it in the New Yorker and the Guardian. In the cozy world of English letters, it came as a surprise to find that being “not particularly well-received” meant foreign governments putting a bounty on your head and killing your publishers and translators. Even then, the literary set had difficulty taking it literally. After news footage of British Muslims burning Rushdie’s book in the streets of English cities, BBC arts bores sat around on talk-show sofas deploring the “symbolism” of this attack on “ideas.”

There was nothing symbolic about it. They burned the book because they couldn’t burn Rushdie himself. If his wife and kid had swung by, they’d have gladly burned them, just as the mob was happy to burn to death 37 Turks who’d made the mistake of being in the same hotel in Sivas as one of the novelist’s translators. When British Muslims called for Rushdie to be killed, they meant it. From a mosque in Yorkshire, Mohammed Siddiqui wrote to the Independent to endorse the fatwa by citing Sura 5, verses 33-34, from the Quran:

“The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land, is execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land.”

That last sanction apparently wasn’t an option.

Britain got so many things wrong during the Rushdie affair, just as America got so many things wrong during the Iranian embassy siege 10 years earlier. But it’s now 2007 – almost two decades after Iran claimed sovereignty over British subjects (Rushdie), almost three decades after they claimed sovereignty over American territory (the U.S. Embassy in Tehran). So what have we learned? I was with various British parliamentarians the other day, and we were talking about the scenes from Islamabad, Pakistan, where the usual death-to-the-Great-Satan chaps had burned an effigy of the queen to protest the knighthood she’d conferred on Rushdie.

Demonizing Arabs in the Movies? Exploring Islamophobia

Interesting account of a documentary on the demonization of Arabs in American films. It’s in fact the actions of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination League against True Lies in 1994 that first tipped me off to the problem of demopathy. They could get people to demonstrate against portraying the Arabs as terrorists, but when Arabs behaved as terrorists — for example the Buenos Aires bombing of the Jewish Community Center three days after these demonstrations — brought not a peep.

My sense is, that when you insist that we shouldn’t show Arabs as terrorists because it stereotypes them, but you don’t object loudly to Arab terrorists, then you are just throwing sand in our eyes.

Cast of Villains
‘Reel Bad Arabs’ Takes on Hollywood Stereotyping
By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 23, 2007; Page C01

LOS ANGELES — A full house has turned out at the Directors Guild of America for the L.A. premiere of the new documentary “Reel Bad Arabs,” which makes the case that Hollywood is obsessed with “the three Bs” — belly dancers, billionaire sheiks and bombers — in a largely unchallenged vilification of Middle Easterners here and abroad.

“In every movie they make, every time an Arab utters the word Allah? Something blows up,” says Eyad Zahra, a young filmmaker who organized the screening this week with the support of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Arabs aren’t always vilified in the movies. In “Lawrence of Arabia,” Omar Sharif, right, appeared as Sherif Ali with Peter O’Toole.

As the documentary “Reel Bad Arabs” demonstrates, individuals of Middle Eastern descent often are portrayed as villans in the movies and on television.

The documentary highlights the admittedly obsessive lifework of Jack Shaheen, a retired professor from Southern Illinois University, the son of Lebanese Christian immigrants and the author of “TV Arabs,” “Reel Bad Arabs” and the upcoming “Guilty? Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs after 9/11.”

LA Times Tries to Get Serious with Hamas

The LA Times has tried it’s hand at making serious demands of Hamas. It’s riddled with errors and misconceptions that illustrate how inadequate PCP is when it tries to get tough.

Free Alan Johnston
Punishing journalists has become a standard tactic of terror. Which side is Hamas on?
June 21, 2007

IF HAMAS WANTS TO show that it intends to govern Gaza and not merely squat on that strip of misery, it should arrange the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston.

Note several things:

  • 1) All of a sudden the word terror is okay when it’s attacks on journalists. Not militancy or activism, not resistance, as it is when it’s a matter of blowing up Israeli civilians.
  • 2) “If Hamas wants to show…”: they editorial page writers have been reading their paper’s op-eds and are ready to take Hamas at their word. Apparently all they have to do is free Alan Johnston and they’ll have proved their bona fides.
  • 3) The alternative to governing Gaza (i.e., to establishing a responsible government concerned for the welfare [honor?] of its “citizens”), is “merely squatting on that strip of misery.” No mention of what terrorism is really about… no discussion of the possibility of a Jihad State.

That’s a lot of mistakes for three short sentences.

Wednesday marked the 100th day of captivity for Johnston, the last foreign correspondent to actually live in Gaza, where he has been based since 2004. He was abducted in March by a group that calls itself the Army of Islam but is reportedly more of an armed clan of smugglers and guns-for-hire than a political movement.

And who tells us that? Is this more of the “they don’t really mean their Islam…”? What is the border between thuggery and zealotry? Can we see it so easily detect it?

Muslim Woman has more Balls than British Men (except Christopher Hitchens)

India Knight, the British daughter of a Muslim shows more courage than the English who taught her their Western values. Just the kind of voice we need to hear.

June 24, 2007
Rushdie, the man they love to hate
Surely there’s a difference between careful diplomacy and pandering to extremists
India Knight

What an extraordinary, if depressingly predictable, fuss about Salman Rushdie’s knighthood. Eighteen years after the fatwa was issued, Ijaz ul-Haq, tPakistani religious affairs minister, last week told his country’s parliament that “if someone exploded a bomb on Rushdie’s body, he would be right to do so unless the British government apologises and withdraws the ‘sir’ title”.

Union Jacks were burnt in Pakistan, with rioters shouting “Kill him!”. If I were Pakistani, I’d be more inclined to riot about the monstrous off-the-scale corruption that riddled my government, and the corrupted version of Islam that brainwashed disenfranchised young men in the madrasahs, but anyway. A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry said that to honour “an apostate and one of the most hated figures in the Islamic world” indicated that Britain supported “the insult to Islamic values”.

One might respectfully suggest that if people who seek to impose their grotesque distortion of Islam on their unfortunate peoples will insist on making these inane pronouncements, they might at least do so with a degree of calm and a semblance of rationality, because otherwise it’s hard to take them seriously (assuming one were inclined to do so, which is quite an assumption).

It’s as though the Vatican took such exception to The Da Vinci Code that, instead of putting out composed-sounding statements and seeking (not entirely successfully) to reassure people that super-creepy Opus Dei is not in fact creepy at all, its spokesmen started foaming at the mouth like nutters and ordered crusades against Dan Brown for having the temerity to invent a story and write fiction.

The Courage of those who “Speak Truth to Power”

I dutifully went over to Augustus Richard Norton’s website, Speaking Truth to Power in Boston, to leave a comment at his article that I had just fisked (didn’t seem right to criticize someone behind his back). There is one comment to his post on the Hamas, which runs as follows:

Joe said…

Yes you are quite right.

Palestinians killed Palestinians, but we’re the ones who put the arms in their hands.

To which I responded something along the lines of:

    I’m not sure whether that last comment were meant ironically or not, but I’m a bit less ambiguous about my criticism of your post [with a link to my post].

That was Friday afternoon, and it awaits his approval to appear. Still no sign of it up at his site. Could it be that people who speak truth to power a} have no sense of humor (about themselves) and b) don’t like criticism? (The two are linked, so it’s something of a trick question.) Given that he posted two items on his blog today, it’s unlikely that he hasn’t seen my comment waiting for his approval.

As for my question about his first commenter, I conclude two things. 1) the commenter meant it seriously: his site sells Palestinian Scarves. And 2) Norton read it as approving, and therefore allowed it to post.

Personally, I think it’s hard to come up with a better spoof of MOS — it’s all our fault — than that comment.

The Quiet Clues: Noting and Interpreting Bias in Presentation

In a radio interview yesterday, I mentioned as an example of the skew of MSM handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict that while pictures of Palestinian children grieving over their dead family members killed by Israel were common, now that the bloodletting has Palestinians killing Palestinians — including children, intentionally — you don’t see those pictures any more. If you will, a discreet silence. But upon viewing the NYT, I thought I was suddenly disproved by the paper. There, on the front page, was a classic piece of what would normally be a classic Palestinian theme: a girl mourning over her dead father, killed by Israelis.

pn girl mourns

Oh, I thought, I was wrong. The Grey Lady herself has printed on the front page a picture of Palestinian suffering inflicted by Palestinians (whom, as readers of this blog know, I consider the main contributors to Palestinian suffering). But then I read the caption.

Eyad Albaba/Associated Press
A girl mourned over the body of a militant who was killed Wednesday in the Gaza Strip. At least six Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers in Gaza and the West Bank.

Turns out, according to the original caption, presumably supplied by the photographer, Eyed Albaba, it was Israelis who did the killing:

A Palestinian girl mourns over the body of militant Ahmad Al Abdullah, who was killed in an Israeli army raid, during his funeral in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, June 20, 2007.

Of course, it’s probable that the only such shots Palestinian cameramen take of mourning people involve those killed by Israelis. For example, of the five photos available on one list from AP that depict mourners and funerals, all of them are of Palestinians killed by Israelis. Indeed, would any Palestinian show such public pathos at a funeral where she might get in trouble for expressing the wrong sympathies?

But my guess is, that even with some photos of people mourning Palestinians killed by Palestinians, it would be hard for the Grey Lady to put them on the front page. It would violate too directly the image that they persistently pitch, of the Israeli Goliath and the Palestinian David. So here, in the midst of a bloodfest between Palestinians, they not only get a hold of a photo of someone killed by Israelis, but put it on the front page. Nor did the article discuss such gruesome matters as the forms of Hamas’ “economy of violence.”

This problem of “balance” — which is actually a profound imbalance, since the media has no hesitation showing and discussing Israeli “crimes and massacres” without any need to refer even to Palestinian provocation — permeates the world of anti-Zionism, making “progressive” voices, so full-throated in their denunciation of Zionist crimes all of a sudden grow frogs when it comes to denouncing Palestinian sins. In a well-documented essay, Dexter Van Zile discusses how the “mainline” Protestant churches fall into this pattern:

Churches that have been quick to blame Israel had a frog stuck in their collective throats when three children of a Palestinian Authority official were murdered outside their school in late November 2006. These same churches remained silent when the violence began again in earnest on June 11 and said nothing when Hamas claimed victory on June 14. Instead of speaking about the violence on their own, they have for the most part, relied on statements issued by Christian leaders in Jerusalem and by the the World Council of Churches to serve as their “prophetic witness.”

This might be tolerable if the statements from the Christian leaders in Jerusalem and from the WCC were authentic and truthful responses to Hamas’s brutal takeover of the Gaza Strip, but predictably, the message from both groups is, in effect, “It’s Israel’s fault.”

I thought about both this image and the Protestant Churches again as I read the following exchange in the comments at my blog:

A comment Joanne made to a post fisking Augustus Norton brought out one of the dimensions of the problem.

As for his critique that the Bush administration was warned about pushing for elections too soon, I think the Bush administration was indeed foolish. Here Norton is right. But it’s interesting to see how Norton takes a swipe at Israel here. He says that Bush was warned not to hold the election by “key regional allies.” Not surprisingly, Israel was among those giving this advice:

Notice how Norton doesn’t mention Israel directly as sharing credit for this wise advice. He avoids giving credit to Israel by retreating into vague language. This is a small point, and maybe I’m reading too much into it, but sometimes these small omissions speak volumes about someone’s biases.

This all reminds me of when I shopped Pallywood and al Durah around to the MSM. “No appetite for this… we couldn’t do just this, we’d have to do something on Israeli manipulation of the media too…” In other words, showing the data in a way that starkly exposes how morally repugnant Palestinian behavior somehow sticks in people’s throats. It has to be “balanced” by what Israel does wrong, or it will somehow “tip the balance,” as if, in a case of vicious asymmetrical warfare, the job of the media is to keep the balance from tipping, to compensate for the “weak side”‘s weakness by propping up it’s PR.

In the case of Norton, the silence on his sharing the same opinion as the Israelis is interesting. He could, after all, have said: “even the Israelis warned Bush…” Or alternatively, he could have presented the Israelis as having an anti-democratic agenda… [but then that’s also his position]. If it’s an unconscious move to avoid open association with Israel, then I’d explain it as follows. Israel is the kid that everyone in the schoolyard picks on right now. If you dump on them, it’s hard to go wrong. This is particularly true of the playground where the Arabs play (Norton’s actual field of scholarly endeavor), where by even saying something remotely favorable (or not sufficiently critical) of Israel can alienate people whose ears are attuned for insult. So the last thing someone like Norton wants to do, is to seem to favorable to the pariah state.

But as Joanne asks: “Is this reading too much in?” After all, it could rather just be shorthand for “Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.” And, to be generous, this may possibly the case with Norton.

But another commenter, Eliyahu agreed with Joanne, and pointed to the interesting if not compelling circumstantial evidence — namely that it reflects the dishonesty by ommission that permeates North’s analysis:

Norton either cannot see this or he is simply inventing excuses for besmirching Israel and helping to put Israel in an inferior geostrategic situation. And I think that Joanne may be right about Norton’s significant omission.

In other words, consciously and/or unconsciously, in both his advice and his prose, and like his British colleagues at the UCU, and the Protestants at the WCC, Norton has already begun the disappearing of Israel that his subjects of study have demanded of him. To take Israel’s side, even in something as small as sharing the same assessment of a policy, may be just to much of a “bad show,” in Arab circles where Norton clearly feels most at home.

Dhimma in academia? Good question.

Truth to power? Fuggedaboudid.

Demopaths and their Dupes: MSM Give Big Boost to Hamas

Curious article this. It’s almost as if, getting into the Post and Times (and LA Times) weren’t enough, Reuters has to run the highlights by us again. And the last line (which leaves out the genocidal stuff and the suicide terror), is supposed to somehow balance it. Demopaths and their dupes teeming in the MSM stew. Here’s smoke in yer eyes, kid. (Hat tip: LGF)

Hamas scores publicity coup in U.S.
Fri Jun 22, 2007 3:02PM EDT
By Bernd Debusmann, Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Shunned by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization, the Islamist group Hamas scored a publicity coup this week by defending its policies in Gaza with opinion pieces in two of the country’s most influential newspapers on the same day.

The New York Times and The Washington Post gave space to Ahmed Yousef, a senior Hamas figure, on Wednesday to argue that the United States should not interfere in Gaza, where Hamas took control after six days of bloody fighting against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah fighters.

Yousef is senior political adviser to Ismail Haniyeh, who became Palestinian prime minister after elections last year. He is now contesting his dismissal by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who formed a new government in the West Bank after Hamas took over Gaza.

Hamas leaders rarely have access to major U.S. media to express their views unfiltered, and getting an opinion piece into the Times and the Post on the same day appeared unprecedented.

Both Fred Hiatt, the Post’s editorial page editor and David Shipley, the Times’ deputy editorial page editor, said they would not have carried the articles had they known of the other paper’s publishing plans.

In The New York Times, Yousef objected to the Western portrayal of the bloody events in Gaza as a Hamas coup against Fatah. “In essence, they have been the opposite.

“Eighteen months ago, our Hamas party won the Palestinian parliamentary elections and entered office under Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh but never received the handover of real power from Fatah, the losing party.”

Yousef also complained that recent news coverage had failed to mention that Hamas had offered a 10-year ceasefire to Israel and adhered to a unilateral ceasefire for 18 months.

“Nor has it been evident to many people in the West that the civil unrest in Gaza and the West Bank has been precipitated by the American and Israeli policy of arming elements of the Fatah opposition who want to attack Hamas and force us from office.”

In The Washington Post, under the headline “Engage with Hamas,” Yousef said President George W. Bush’s administration had never intended to honor the outcome of the January 2006 Palestinian elections.

“Those who warn of ‘failed states’ and ‘Hamastan’ as a breeding ground for terrorism forget where blame for the failure belongs – at the feet of the American administration which has chosen to isolate, rather than deal with, the elected government.”

The U.S. lifted its aid embargo to the Palestinian government last Monday after Abbas swore in a new 13-member emergency Cabinet without Hamas members.

Neither op-ed piece mentioned what the United States, Europe and Israel see as the key obstacle to dealing with Hamas: its refusal to recognize Israel and a world view of Jewish conspiracies and domination laid out in the organization’s charter.

What, only because the other paper was going to do it, they said no? It wasn’t “no” on its own merits? No, we don’t carry propaganda. Get real, say something honest, and maybe we’ll run it. But propaganda, no thanks.

Makes me wonder if fp isn’t right. No standards. And David Shipley! What was he thinking?


Dear Career Counselor:

I am in bad shape. I cannot get a job or support myself. I want to be rich and famous and powerful but I have no idea what to do. Can you suggest a powerful, prestigious, high-paying field where I need do no study or training?

Signed, Destitute and Dumb

Dear D&D:

I’m so glad you wrote me as I have the perfect solution: become an expert on the Middle East and Islam. It’s easy, painless (for you, though many others will pay for it with their lives), and profitable. Just look at these examples:

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Sure they were tenured professors but they hadn’t produced anything of note in years. Then they had an idea. Write a paper attacking the power of the Jewish lobby. Years of study? Intensive research? Nah. A few hours by a grad student on the internet. Result: Fame, a huge book contract, invitations to speak, largely respectful media coverage! Within months.

Or how about Bob Leiken. A washed-up Latin American expert, former Marxist revolutionary. The left hated him because he was an instrument of Oliver North in supporting the Nicaraguan Contras. Even North made fun of him. Things got so bad he had to sell his house and move his family into an apartment. Things looked dim. And then, presto! A grant from Smith-Richardson, another grant from the CIA, two articles in Foreign Affairs, a contract with Oxford University Press. All this within about a year. Invited to brief the State Department. Why? Because he decided to be an instant Middle East expert. Did he take courses, learn languages, spend hours reading texts? Nope. Just sat in a room with some radical Islamists. They told him they were moderates. He wrote it down.

And like the great language expert, the rival of Henry Higgins, who in “My Fair Lady” proclaims that the flowerseller Eliza Doolittle is a Hungarian princess of royal blood, Leiken proclaims that the radical Islamists are really moderates who the United States can engage. Wow says Condi Rice. Do tell, asks the State Department.

Has he read their extremist statements in Arabic? Nope, who needs Arabic. How about the translations and academic papers on the subject? Waste of time. Study of Koranic and Islamic sources? That’s for wimps and suckers. All you have to do is talk to them and then you know. Because hardline supporters of terrorism who cheer the murder of people by kidnappers and suicide bombers wouldn’t lie to you, would they?

Or how about Mary Habeck? A military historian, lost her job at Yale. Hey, why is everyone else having all the fun! I’ll be an expert on the Middle East and on Islam too! So she loaded up the truck and took a brief trip to Iraq. Next thing you know she’s got a book, testifies to Congress, is briefing Hillary Clinton, and being consulted by the great and powerful. Does she know anything about Islam? She thinks that jihad is an inner struggle, not having much to do with smiting infidels and conquering lands. But what’s the difference? If you don’t want to do so you don’t have to see the dead bodies produced by your advice.

So what are you waiting for? How could you NOT decide to be a Middle East expert or a sage about Islam? You’d have to be crazy not to do it.

Our operators are standing by.

Disclaimer: This is a satire. A Barry Rubin production.

UPDATE: Life imitates Satire

Stick two Fingers in Your Eyes: Augustus R. Norton’s Recipe for Dealing with Hamas

Among the plethora of bad advice coming out of the “talking heads,” I can’t resist fisking the piece by Augustus Richard Norton in the Boston Globe. First it’s my home newspaper; second, Norton’s at my university; and third, he is one of the prominent figures in pushing the notion of “civil society” that I criticize in my essay on the topic. Martin Kramer dedicates some pages to him in his Ivory Towers on Sand as one of the many examples of misplaced (but self-assured) confidence in the imminent flowering of democracy in the Arab world (67-69). This essay could have been written in 1995.

Norton, an Anthropology and International Relations professor at Boston University, author of a new book, Hezbollah: A Short History, also has a website pretentiously entitled: Speaking Truth to Power from Boston, the classic phrase that people on the “left” congratulate themselves on doing to those in power who grant them the right to dissent. Try speaking truth to Arab “power” and see how your kneecaps feel.

Palestinian fantasy vs. reality
By Augustus Richard Norton | June 21, 2007

IN JANUARY 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections. President George W. Bush had insisted on holding elections on schedule, against the advice of key regional allies. While US officials described the polling as “fair and secure,” the Bush administration demonstrated that it loves democracy only so long as our friends win.

This sounds a great deal like some of the more profound comments we get at this site, this one from Yehia in Indonesia:

    America and the west are not being fair.
    they bark on democracy but when Hamas Won the election they boycot it.
    stop being double standard..

The question is, does Norton really adhere to so superficial a definition of democracy, or can he just not resist taking cheap shots at the Bush administration. After all, the first people to experiment with democracy, the Greeks, were perfectly aware that if the demos were badly educated and undisciplined and made unwise choices, their democracy wouldn’t last, soon to be replaced by chaos or tyranny. In modern parlance, “one man, one vote, one time.” But note the way that with comments like Norton’s, there’s no way in the world that people like Yehia have a chance of understanding what democracy is about. A magnificent collusion of anti-American resentments.

In this case, it was hardly “our friends” who won, but Hamas. With the United States in the lead and plenty of arm twisting, the European Union, the UN secretary general, and Russia insisted that Hamas recognize Israel, embrace Oslo, and renounce violence.

The United States was intent to see the Hamas government fail. Not only did it work assiduously to block international funding, but it poured arms and money into militias controlled by the discredited nationalist forces that had lost the election. To add to the pressure, Israel refused to transfer tax revenues paid by Palestinians to the new government.

Notice how Norton manages to make the demands sound unreasonable. And in the process, he manages not once to pronounce the key word, “terrorism.” One wouldn’t have a clue that this is an organization with genocidal goals written into its charter, one that has made targeting civilians the core of its “resistance.” The idea that this organization — with its merciless cruelty towards its own people — should fail seems, from Norton’s point of view, some kind of a crime against the Palestinian people.

A prime beneficiary of US largesse has been Muhammad Dahlan and his Preventive Security Force, which was decisively defeated last week by Hamas. Dahlan, who is about as popular in Gaza as Ahmed Chelabi is in Iraq, is Washington’s man.

The path from 2006 might have led in a different, more constructive direction if the Bush administration were not so captured by an illusory black and white approach to Hamas and similar Islamist groups. These groups are neither easily shunted aside nor ignored.

A wiser policy would have worked to implicate Hamas in the diplomatic process by insisting on incremental changes that would not only have been more palatable to the Islamist party but permitted it to demonstrate that it was winning some benefits in return for concessions.

“Wiser…”? Because we have so many other examples of working successfully with a paranoid, genocidal, organization? Again, it’s not clear whether Norton cares whether his slap-dash advice is good. Again, like the cheap shots about democracy, criticizing the US for its choice of Dahlan and presenting the “path not taken” as the good one, may be more important to him than anything to do with policies that will work. His approach remains much like his work in the 1990s, before Oslo failed, Arab democracy failed, and global Jihad became the force it is today: paint the Jihadis in moderate colors and blame American policy for their radicalization.

While the refusal of Hamas to concede the legitimacy of Israel is a core ideological value, the party also endorses a long-term ceasefire with Israel. The Hamas diplomatic position is actually close to that of Israel in terms of accepting negotiations as an incremental process. In contrast, the PLO spurns partial agreements and insists on moving to final status negotiations.

Wow, that’s quite a sleight of hand. Hamas is in favor of a “long-term truce” (really a hudna) because it is too weak for all-out war, but that’s merely so it can prepare the next round of war against an enemy it is sworn to destroy. And that, in Norton’s acute analysis, makes it “actually close” to the position of the Israelis whom Hamas wants to destroy? Could an undergraduate get away with that kind of argument?

Violence between Hamas and its political rivals has been growing for months. This is why King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia interceded (to the displeasure of Washington) earlier this year. The resulting Mecca agreement created a national unity government between Hamas and Fatah but it could not stop the clashes between rival militia and police groups loyal to Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas.

Notice how, when it comes to the failure of Palestinian politics to work things out peacefully, there’s no explanation… no mention of the murderous culture that Hamas has contributed so much to creating, and which so suits Fatah as well. It’s like nature. It just happens.

Having lost control of Gaza, Abu Mazen has issued an emergency edict to establish a government in the West Bank under Salam Fayyad, the respected economist. Israel promptly announced that it will release nearly $600 million in confiscated Palestinian funds. Both the United States and the EU will resume funding to bolster the emergency government.

For the foreseeable future there will be two governments, both claiming legitimacy. With Hamas controlling two-thirds of the seats in the Palestinians’ equivalent of a parliament, the long-term legitimacy of the Fayyad government is by no means guaranteed.

The present Washington fantasy seems to be that the “good” West Bank government will become a model of diplomatic accommodation and a voice of non violence, as against the “bad” government under the elected Hamas leader Ismail Hanniyah.

This is a revealing fantasy, but it underestimates the well-honed capability of the Palestinians to see through diplomatic smokescreens. A Palestinian government that can deliver not just bread and jobs but a stable solution to the conflict would win a lot of credit, but a government that is merely a pliant dependency of the United States will soon lose its shine, especially given the absence of a sustained commitment to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abu Mazen was extolled two years ago by George Bush as a democrat and reformer, but American engagement and support proved to be an empty promise.

Let me unpack this. Prosperity, stability, employment, none of this will do anything to appease the Palestinian need to “address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” And of course, what the Oslo process had to offer in the way of compromise would surely not do with Hamas, so the idea that this policy of moderation accompanied with those compromises won’t
“address” the problem. As for this “well-honed capability of the Palestinians to see through diplomatic smokescreens” — it’s actually a combination of a culture of conspiracy in which everything is a smokescreen, and “advisors” like Norton who encourage irredentism with their contemptuous “take” on moderating efforts (no matter how misguided) in US and Israeli foreign policy — makes sure that nothing that might lead to moderation and trust can set in. You cannot close a deal with someone while bystanders are busy hollering “you’re being taken” — even if it’s a good deal.

Actually, we could just as easily apply Norton’s logic to his “wise strategy” for domesticating Hamas outlined above. Indeed, Hamas’ attitude towards the “incremental” moves Norton suggests would almost surely be: a) there’s no way we’ll let the Americans buy us off with these blandishments, and b) we’ll do what Arafat did — take the concessions and prepare for war. Had they survived the first error, I don’t think the Trojans would have let another wooden horse into their city. But that’s precisely what Norton urges us to do. Is he being driven mad by the gods?

Meantime, efforts to isolate Gaza under Hamas control will only reinforce America’s abysmal standing in the Muslim world. Eighty percent of the 1.4 million people living in Gaza now live in poverty.

Nice. We should determine our policies around concern that the very Arab world that has so contributed to that misery by pursuing their “sustained commitment to the addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” might view us poorly. In a sense, much of Norton’s policy — as with others like John Esposito, Jimmy Carter, Walt and Mearsheimer — consists of hardening Arab attitudes and then urging the US to appease them in order not to offend.

The United States needs to rethink its approach to Palestinian politics and peacemaking, as well as how it comprehends groups such as Hamas. The bloodletting in Gaza is a reminder that unless diplomacy makes room for all the major Palestinian players, the United States will only increase the vehemence and the cohesion of those who are left out of the picture.

So that’s what Norton “learns” from the “bloodletting in Gaza.” Not that we’re dealing with real enemies, who use terror to establish their authority, but rather that if we don’t appease them, they’ll get worse. Alas, and Norton was one of the “political experts” consulted by the Iraq Study Group. Advisors like this make our enemies rejoice.

And this is the kind of action this organization, which Norton says we need to appease, deals with the opposition (from Avi Issacharof):

    Hamas was not using a random hit list. Every Hamas patrol carried with it a laptop containing a list of Fatah operatives in Gaza, and an identity number and a star appeared next to each name. A red star meant the operative was to be executed and a blue one meant he was to be shot in the legs – a special, cruel tactic developed by Hamas, in which the shot is fired from the back of the knee so that the kneecap is shattered when the bullet exits the other side. A black star signaled arrest, and no star meant that the Fatah member was to be beaten and released. Hamas patrols took the list with them to hospitals, where they searched for wounded Fatah officials, some of whom they beat up and some of whom they abducted.

    Aside from assassinating Fatah officials, Hamas also killed innocent Palestinians, with the intention of deterring the large clans from confronting the organization. Thus it was that 10 days ago, after an hours-long gun battle that ended with Hamas overpowering the Bakr clan from the Shati refugee camp – known as a large, well-armed and dangerous family that supports Fatah – the Hamas military wing removed all the family members from their compound and lined them up against a wall. Militants selected a 14-year-old girl, two women aged 19 and 75, and two elderly men, and shot them to death in cold blood to send a message to all the armed clans of Gaza.

Truth to power, Augustus? Or does “original sin” not apply to the Palestinians?

UPDATE: My friend Hillel Stavis sent me this letter that he wrote the Globe, which the Globe immediately put up on their website and published in today’s newspaper… not.

Augustus Richard Norton (op-ed “Palestinian Fantasy v. Reality” ) suggests that Hamas’ desire to implement “a long term ceasefire” with Israel is a constructive,first step in achieving calm, if not ultimate peace, in that seemingly endless conflict. Since 1997, Hamas has unilaterally declared no less than ten “hudnas” or temporary ceasefires. As fundamentalist Muslims, Hamas understands, as I’m certain Professor Norton does as well, that the model for a hudna is Mohammed’s treaty of Hudaiybia of the 7th century in which The Prophet concluded a temporary truce with his Meccan adversaries for a ten year period. He broke the hudna after three years when he determined that his forces were sufficiently strengthened to conquer Mecca. Having replenished its arms from Iran, Syria and Egypt, Hamas will emulate the practice of the 7th century until it feels that Israel can be destroyed. Some ceasefire. Some peace.

Which again raises the question, is Norton ignorant of history, and if not, on what basis does he think it has no bearing on the thinking of the people he’s supposed to be explaining to us?