Category Archives: Arab World

Arab Self-Criticism and Acknowledging the Real Enemy of the Arab People

I have complained repeatedly at my blog about the lack of self-criticism in the Arab world, the pathetic way that honor demands that all Arabs line up against Israel, even though Arab elites are the real enemy of the Arab people. So it’s with great pleasure that I post the following piece by Abdulateef al-Mulhim published in Arab News. On the other hand, since this is over a year old and has not had much of a visible impact on the discussion in the Arab world, maybe my complaints remain current. Indeed, in his latest piece, Al-Mulhim taunts the still-string irrational Arab hostility to Israel. Alas.

Arab Spring and the Israeli enemy

ABDULATEEF AL-MULHIM

Published — Saturday 6 October 2012

Thirty-nine years ago, on Oct. 6, 1973, the third major war between the Arabs and Israel broke out. The war lasted only 20 days. The two sides were engaged in two other major wars, in 1948 and 1967.
The 1967 War lasted only six days. But, these three wars were not the only Arab-Israel confrontations. From the period of 1948 and to this day many confrontations have taken place. Some of them were small clashes and many of them were full-scale battles, but there were no major wars apart from the ones mentioned above. The Arab-Israeli conflict is the most complicated conflict the world ever experienced. On the anniversary of the 1973 War between the Arab and the Israelis, many people in the Arab world are beginning to ask many questions about the past, present and the future with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The questions now are: What was the real cost of these wars to the Arab world and its people. And the harder question that no Arab national wants to ask is: What was the real cost for not recognizing Israel in 1948 and why didn’t the Arab states spend their assets on education, health care and the infrastructures instead of wars? But, the hardest question that no Arab national wants to hear is whether Israel is the real enemy of the Arab world and the Arab people.

The Moral Chasm and the Pursuit of Peace

UPDATE on the moral chasm: David Brog, “A Tale of Two Hearts

Recently an Israeli blogger translated a piece by a young Israeli journalist who participated in what was supposed to be a “peace initiative” with Palestinian young adults. She is a classic product of Israeli culture, engaged, open, desirous of peace even if that means painful compromises, Liberal Cognitive Egocentric. This recent encounter with her Palestinian counterparts brought her face-to-face with her LCE.

Her pained realizations reminded me of one of Golda Meir’s many profound reflections on the conflict.

We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.

There’s a moral chasm here so great that even contemplating it becomes unbearable. So what do outsiders do with this chasm? They invert it.

Peace? From the Palestinian Standpoint, There is a Past, No Future

by Lital Shemesh

I participated in the Dialogue for Peace Project for young Israelis and Palestinians who are politically involved in various frameworks. The project’s objective was to identify tomorrow’s leaders and bring them closer today, with the aim of bringing peace at some future time.

The project involved meetings every few weeks and a concluding seminar in Turkey.

On the third day of the seminar after we had become acquainted, had removed barriers, and split helpings of rachat Lukum [a halva-like almond Arab delicacy] as though there was never a partition wall between us, we began to touch upon many subjects which were painful for both sides. The Palestinians spoke of roadblocks and the IDF soldiers in the territories, while the Israeli side spoke of constant fear, murderous terrorist attacks, and rockets from Gaza.

The Israeli side, which included representatives from right and left, tried to understand the Palestinians’ vision of the end of the strife– “Let’s talk business.” The Israelis delved to understand how we can end the age-old, painful conflict. What red lines are they willing to be flexible on? What resolution will satisfy their aspirations? Where do they envision the future borders of the Palestinian State which they so crave?

We were shocked to discover that not a single one of them spoke of a Palestinian State, or to be more precise, of a two-state solution.

They spoke of one state – their state. They spoke of ruling Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Akko, Haifa, and the pain of the Nakba [lit. the tragedy – the establishment of the State of Israel]. There was no future for them. Only the past. “There is no legitimacy for Jews to live next to us” – this was their main message. “First, let them pay for what they perpetrated.”

The comparison that Palestinians like to make between the Shoah (which did not happen) and the Nakbah reminds me of Mel Brooks’ comment as the 2000 year old man: “Tragedy to me is if I cut my finger. I’ll cry a lot, go into Mount Sinai for a day and a half. Comedy is if you fall in an open manhole and die. What do I care.” Only, they care.

I’m not saying that the Nakba was not a tragedy, but in comparison with other tragedies that have befallen the Arabs in this area – “Black September 1970, Hama, 1982, Syria, 2010-13 – what happened in 1948 is not exactly of epic proportions. And, of course, who is responsible for this tragedy?

Empathy for the other is clearly not an element of this culture of blame and revenge. The injury must be paid for, and the injured (the Arabs) restored to their former honor (no autonomous Jews to deal with).

In the course of a dialogue which escalated to shouts, the Palestinians asked us not to refer to suicide bombers as “terrorists” because they don’t consider them so. “So how do you call someone who dons a vest and blows himself up in a Tel Aviv shopping mall with the stated purpose of killing innocent civilians,” I asked one of the participants.

Ah, but you don’t understand, my dear. You and your fellow Israelis – indeed your fellow infidels – are not innocent.

“I have a 4-year-old at home,” answered Samach from Abu Dis (near Jerusalem). “If G-d forbid something should happen to him, I will go and burn an entire Israeli city, if I can.” All the other Palestinian participants nodded their heads in agreement to his harsh words.

The significance here is less the vengeful attitude of the speaker than the assent he produced among his fellow Palestinians. In honor-shame cultures, where vengeance is an honorable deed, the ability of people to dissent from such desires is limited, to say the least.

“Three weeks ago, we gave birth to a son,” answered Amichai, a religious, Jewish student from Jerusalem. “If G-d forbid something should happen to him, I would find no comfort whatsoever in deaths of more people.”

Here’s the progressive, integrity-guilt attitude shared my most Israelis. This is not an isolated case; on the contrary, it’s a national ethos, that not only does not seek vengeance, but, wherever possible, to repair the rent in the body social created by earlier violence. Israel’s hospitals are models of fairness to Jew, Christian, Arab, Muslim. If anything, some might think that treating a terrorist in the same place and with the same care as his or her victims, is going too far.

Take just one example among many. The parents of Malki Roth, founded the Malki Foundation in response her “senseless” slaughter in a Palestinian suicide attack on a pizza parlor chosen specifically to kill as many children as possible. It is dedicated helping special needs children. 30% of the cases it treats are Arab children.

The shocking thing here, is that the “progressives,” in supporting the Palestinian cause, have essentially “gone native,” not so much in their own desire to take vengeance (?), but their radical inability to make even a dent in the tribal attitudes of those whom they support. After 13 years of “solidarity” with the Palestinians, Human Rights NGOs, journalists, UN agencies, have not only failed to communicate even the most elemental principles of a progressive attitude and the peace it can lead to, but have done precisely the opposite: they have infantilized, they have fed the resentments, they have played the picador.

In doing so, they have demonstrated the moral vacuity of a major post-modern meme. If Palestinians want to blow up Israeli civilians because it assuages their pain… “who are we to judge?” And when that kind of insane violence grows with this kind of malignant neglect, even spreads to other societies, then it must be because of something the Israelis did to those poor Palestinians.

Israelis from the full gamut of political parties participated in the seminar: Likud, Labor, Kadima, Meretz, and Hadash (combined Jewish/Arab socialist party). All of them reached the understanding that the beautiful scenarios of Israeli-Palestinian peace that they had formulated for themselves simply don’t correspond with reality. It’s just that most Israelis don’t have the opportunity to sit and really converse with Palestinians, to hear what they really think.

Our feed of information comes from Abu Mazen’s declarations to the international press, which he consistently contradicts when he is interviewed by Al Jazeera, where he paints a completely different picture.

Note that this material has been available to anyone online for decades. MEMRI and PalWatch provide precisely the translations needed. But somehow, people like Lital – i.e., an up and coming major journalist – seems unaware. Has she spent her time reading A.B. Yehoshua and dismissing them as the product of “right-wing” war-mongers?

I arrived at the seminar with high hopes, and I return home with difficult feelings and despair. Something about the narrative of the two sides is different from the core. How can we return to the negotiating table when the Israeli side speaks of two states and the Palestinian side speaks of liberating Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea? How can peace ever take root in a platform which grants legitimacy to terrorism?

Welcome to reality. There’s good news and there’s bad.

The bad news is that until the Palestinians grow up, there will be no peace, and that, at the moment, land concessions actually make things worse. And they won’t grow up as long as their “honor group” consists of other Arabs who live in fantasy worlds and they get support from “progressives” who think that they’re being brave and honorable by supporting their vengeful mentality.

The first Arab leader to wean his people from their scape-goating anti-Zionism will create the first productive, democratic Arab state. May it happen swiftly, in our days.

The good news is that if the West, and especially progressives in the West, would snap out of this “performance” of moral vanity in which we act as if we have no enemies in order to be “true to our values,” and begin to rebuke the Palestinians – and the Arabs, and the Muslims, for behavior that really is, by modern standards, shameful, we could make a lot of progress.

But alas! Palestinians made a cult of their suicide bombers, sanctifying their violence, commemorating it in every way. They even made a papier-mâché recreation of the Sbarro Pizza bombing at the moment of the bomb’s impact, so people could come and savor the Schadenfreude. That exhibit is father to the son who says, “If G-d forbid something should happen to my child, I will go and burn an entire Israeli city, if I can.” And what if his  child were killed by a Palestinian militia, as we can now document happens not infrequently? Will he burn a Palestinian city? This testifies to a complete failure of the international community to hold the Palestinians to even the most limited set of standards. They are not only the queen of welfare nations, they are the king of moral affirmative action.

Westerners need to contemplate the moral chasm that separates Israeli and the Palestinians culture, make up their minds who is on the side of the progressive values that they (say they) cherish, and say to the Palestinians, as it needs to say to Muslims: Where are the voices of moral outrage in your community? Where are the projects and programs you have to respond to such grotesque interpretation of morality? Where is your commitment to humanity and your willingness to outgrow your need for tribal revenge?

I’d like to believe that the vast majority of Muslims are moderate, really moderate. I think that could even happen with a shift in the honor-group. But right now, the world community supports the (near) worst a society can produce, people whose moral discourse we would not accept even in the most permissive community, a community that pressures members to kill their daughters. They embody everything upon whose rejection we have built the world that allows us to dream messianic dreams about a global civil society.

We need to stop feeding these folks with and look for the real moderates, those willing to accept that, in matters of faith there is no coercion, and build a community of tolerant faithful.

And one of the first things to do, is stop adopting a demonizing narrative about Israel that empowers the worst tendencies and actors in Palestinian/Arab/Muslim political culture. That’s actually doable. And it’s definitely in the interest of the West to say to Palestinians and Muslims, “you need to get along with the Israelis, with the Jews.” You can’t be so juvenile as to say, “I refuse to deal with these people.”

So that’s the good news: we Western liberals can start now contributing to peace, and we can actually lead the way. Prizes for the most important and successful delivery of progressive tochacha to Palestinians and Muslims. What a virgin field!

“Apartheid” and the Economic-Cultural Gap: Peel Commission on Arab vs. Jewish Culture in 1937

I am working up my 2002 essay on Anti-Semitism, Medieval, Modern and Post-Modern for publication, and in searching out the footnotes, I came across the following passage from the Peel Commission Report of 1937. Aside from the use of the word “race” rather than “culture,” the contrast remains salient today (as in the UN Development Report on the Arab World, 2002).

7. With every year that passes, the contrast between this intensely democratic and highly organized modern community and the old-fashioned Arab world around it grows sharper, and in nothing, perhaps, more markedly than on its cultural side. The literary output of the National Home is out of all proportion to its size. Hebrew translations have been published of the works of Aristotle, Descartes, Leibnitz, Fichte, Kant, BergsoIl, Einstein and other philosophers, and of Shakespeare, Goethe, Heine, Byron, Dickens, the great Russian novehsts, and many modern writers. In creative literature the work of Bialik, who died in 19×5, has been the outstanding achievement in Hebrew poetry, and that of Nahum Sokolov, who died in 1936, in Hebrew prose. A number of Hebrew novels have been written reflecting the influence on the Jewish mind of life in the National Home. The Hebrew Press has expanded to four daily and ten weekly papers. Of the former the Ha’aretz and the Dauw, with circulations of about 17,000 and ~5,000 respectively, are the most influential and maintain a high literary standard. Two periodicals are exclusively concerne with literature and one with dramatic art. But perhaps the most striking aspect of the culture of the National Home is its love of music. It was while we were in Palestine, as it happened, that Signor Toscanini conducted the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, composed of some 70 Palestinian Jews, in six concerts mainly devoted to the works of Brahms and Beethoven. On each occasion every seat was occupied, and it is noteworthy that one concert was reserved for some 3,000 workpeople at very low rates and that another 3,000 ‘attended the Orchestra’s final rehearsal. All in all, the cultural achievement of this little community of 400,000 people is one of the most remarkable features of the National Homeland.

If you can’t vote for Romney, Don’t vote for Obama: An Open Letter to Americans of all Faiths and Skepticisms

If you can’t vote for Romney, Don’t vote for Obama:

An Open Letter to Americans of all Faiths and Skepticisms

I hesitate to take a public stand on national elections, never have, never thought I would. But exceptional times call for exceptional measures. I write because I think that the choice of Barak Obama could have dangerous consequences, not only for the United States (where I grew up, teach, have family, and which I greatly admire as both a nation and a culture), and for Israel (where I live, have family, write, and which I greatly admire as both a nation and a culture). I think another four years of President Obama would seriously endanger the culture of openness, tolerance and productivity that has made our current age such an astonishing one in world history.

I have become increasingly alarmed, in the course of the first decade of the 21st century, about what seemed to me an inexplicable loss of ground in a critical battle for moral integrity with a politicized religious movement which we loosely refer to as Islamism. Many of those who believe that Islam should exercise political sovereignty wherever it exists, also manifest alarmingly aggressive, regressive traits. Since political Islam clearly violates the idea of the separation of church and state, a pillar of free democracies, it did not occur to me that the products and developers of modern liberal culture would lose such a debate to people whose sharia-imposed utopia involves patriarchy and its attendant misogyny, imperialist politics and its hate-targeting of scapegoats, violence and its threat in order to silence critics.

To my shock and horror, I have felt like a witness to a self-destructive generation, bent on pursuing the mirages that John Lennon invited us to Imagine, no matter what the cost, no matter who we tried to reach by throwing off all our identity boundaries. Damn the regressive icebergs, full speed ahead to making the world “a much better place” by embracing the “Other.” Ignore those violent Islamists and what they’re doing; they’re all part of the great experiment in global consciousness in which we all participate.

Not only that, our critics from within and without insist, but “we” Eurocentric Westerners should take responsibility for any problems that arise. Ask not, “what do they believe to hate us so?” but rather, “what have we done to make them hate us so?” It was one thing for Chomsky to respond to 9-11 by declaring the US the worst terrorist, it was madness for a generation of idealist/activists to take Chomsky as their moral compass. The result: when Islamists accused us of terrible and malevolent crimes, and held us to standards of human rights for them, that they themselves would never grant to us, we responded, “Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. We deserve the hostility we get. Perhaps, if we atone and show respect to you, we can all move on to a better, more equitable world.”

Who but the most perceptive prophet in the 1990s could have imagined this marriage of pre-modern sadism and post-modern masochism? And who, upon seeing it take shape, would have imagined the powerful (even hegemonic) voice it commanded in the public sphere in the next decade? Who but a pessimistic William Blake could have dreamed of so perverse an Emperor’s New Clothes dominating public conversation even as a remorseless enemy builds strength?

Losing the Cognitive War in the 21st Century: The 9-11 US Embassy Episode

This item appeared in my Daily Telegraph Blog, where there are now over 350 comments, some of them worth reading.

Losing the Cognitive War in the 21st Century: The 9-11 US Embassy Episode

The West continues well into the teens of the 21st century to lose the cognitive war with the Islamist camp. The latest catastrophe of international proportions has been the attacks on 9-11 against US embassies in Libya and Egypt (two places that went through major changes during the “Arab Spring”). A combination of well-planned rocket attacks used the cover of outrage at an inflammatory movie about Islam, to kill an American ambassador and three other embassy officials. The Muslim street in the Arab world has turned violently hostile to the US, and their own leaders, when not helpless to resist, are in cahoots, even with nuclear Iran. Angry Muslim demonstrations riots spread all over the globe, and American (and Western) policy in the region is “in tatters.”

The results have made clear how poorly we Westerners conduct ourselves on the global stage, and how the news media self-inflicts some of those wounds. At the heart of the drama stands a President of the US, who plays win-win checkers against enemies who play I-win-you-lose three-dimensional chess; and at the same time a Western news media which rushes to publish as news, the poisoned meat of lethal narratives.

Let’s look at what happened from the perspective of a-symmetrical cognitive war, in which weak aggressors use non-violent methods to at once put a much more powerful enemy in a position where he cannot use his own force, and then maximize the use of their own force, largely (at the early stages) for symbolic effect. Here al Qaeda affiliates make a daring assault on US sovereign territory, killing an ambassador. Their cover, a movie made that outrageously insults the prophet, and predictably arouses the angry violence of the crowd. The US loudly denounces the film and protests the riots, but does not make any moves to even demand the punishment of the perpetrators. Crowds who have no fear, knowing that neither the US nor government troops will not shoot back, gather outside other US Embassies in the Arab world. The riots spread to other countries.

This massive symbolic attack, on 9-11 – if you will, this global insult to the Peace of Westphalia and the basic principles of the UN – comes off almost as brilliantly as 9-11. You couldn’t script a movie better. The POTUS loses face on a massive scale, especially in the Muslim and non-aligned world, where matters of face have enormous cultural capital. He looks like a dismaying fool to the Europeans, who are struggling with both crises in their ambitiously high-minded (win-win) projects, and their increasingly restive and aggressive Muslim immigrant populations who have failed/refused to assimilate (i.e., they, like their co-religionists back home, will riot at perceived insult).

Assadwashing: On the Distinction between Supporting Palestinian/Arab Rights and Denying Israeli Rights

I recently noted this hit piece on me. Normally I wouldn’t bother responding, but in this case a) it’s from a BU student, and b) it so embodies everything that’s wrong-headed about Palestinian “advocacy” that it’s actually an invitation to explore both the moral rhetoric and argument of the BDS movement. Fisking ahead.

Pointing to Syria to divert attention from Israel’s crimes

20 April 2012

Why aren’t pseudo-supporters of Syrian human rights actively lobbying Israel to stop the occupation of the Golan Heights?

(Yin Dongxun / Xinhua)

Answer: Maybe because the Druse of the Golan have far more human rights under Israeli rule than under the butcher of Damascus.

The very fact that one could seriously ask such a question shows the fundamentally “us-them” mentality involved in this formulation. No matter how viciously “we” Arabs treat our own people (e.g., Assad in Syria today), we want the human rights community to support putting Arabs (not even – Druze) under Arab sovereignty… is this a kind of “right of dictatorship”?

The Israeli government and its supporters have long utilized a wide range of propaganda tools to sugarcoat Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinians.

I like the use of the term “atrocity.” Nothing in the widely inflated thesaurus of accusations against Israel so carefully collected by Electronic Intifada and their allies (e.g., al Awda) comes close to what the Arabs do to their own people (torture, civilian massacres, systematic throttling of free press). But it’s Israeli “atrocities” that drive these activists wild with indignation. Here again we encounter the honor-shame, us-them mentality: what Arabs do to Arabs is not nearly as problematic, no matter how bad, as what Israelis do to Arabs. In other words, no matter how slight the offense, Israeli inflicted Palestinian suffering is an unbearable humiliation. Indeed, in some versions of the story, it is even responsible for preventing Arabs from creating democracies.

In addition to pinkwashing (using Israel’s relative support of gay rights to sugarcoat the country’s apartheid nature) and greenwashing (perpetuating the perception that Israel has environmentally-friendly policies to do the same), Zionist advocates are now using a different method: Assadwashing.

The problems with the “pinkwashing accusations” was widely addressed at the time the NYT shamefully published the editorial. Assadwashing is a worthy successor in the category of inane moral arguments.

But I find (again) the author’s use of “relative support” to characterize Israel’s defense of gay rights, to be especially amusing. Tell it to the Palestinian homosexuals who, for decades, have been fleeing to Israel for that culture’s “relative” tolerance. Jamil makes a grudging concession, which he swiftly brushes aside; and yet, in this matter, Israel shows a double tolerance neither of which one detects in the Arab world: a) for homosexuals, and b) for the “other,” even the hostile “other.” Hard to find a better case of a not “us-them” mentality than Israel’s treatment of Palestinian gays.

Such observations have actually led some gay progressives to praise Israel. Understandably, this infuriates the zero-sum activists for Palestinian “rights,” like Jamil.

As the Syrian uprising moves into its second year and Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues its brutal crackdown, the pro-Israel camp has breathed a sigh of relief and put on an indignant grin. Zionists now feel justified in pointing to Israel’s northeastern neighbor and exploiting the Syrian people’s suffering and resistance in order to further their own political agenda, depicting Israel as a “vibrant democracy” in comparison to Syria.

Ummm, yes. Can you imagine the equivalent of an Ahmad Tibi or Hanin Zouabi in any Arab country… say, an Iraqi or Iranian Jew who loudly and publicly denounced the regime as anti-Semitic and oppressive and openly called for its overthrow? On the contrary, even Muslims who show any support for Israel are under penalty of death.

To follow Jamil’s logic here, pointing out the obvious (and important) is forbidden lest it benefit ‘the [evil] enemy.’  Truth means nothing in the face of solidarity, if the truth works against “us.” That makes sense from a purely “us-them” mentality, but hardly seems like it should fly in a moral conversation. As Pierre Bourdieu, the French sociologist who studied North African honor-shame cultures noted:

The ethos of honour is fundamentally opposed to a universal and formal morality which affirms the equality in dignity of all men and consequently the equality of their rights and duties. Not only do the rules imposed upon men differ from those imposed upon women, and the duties towards men differ from those towards women, but also the dictates of honour, directly applied to the individual case and varying according to the situation, are in no way capable of being made universal. 

So one should not, by this logic, apply the same standards to everyone, both to perpetrators (Israel vs. Syria) or to victims (Palestinians vs. Syrians). Eyes on the prize.

Perversely, to Zionist propagandists, Assad’s pernicious brutality comes not as a tragedy but as a savior.

Or, alternatively, and possibly still more perversely, to anti-Zionist propagandists, the global revelations of Assad’s pernicious brutality come not as a tragedy for the Arabs who are, and have been, the recipients of this brutality, but as an embarrassment/tragedy for Palestinian efforts to depict Israel as an apartheid-practicing tyranny.

Democracy after Gaddafi? Don’t Hold Your Breath

[This is my second blogpost for the Daily Telegraph, where the comments are quite interesting.]

Fouad Ajami, in a characteristic disdain for political correctness, once described the Arab world as “caught between prison and anarchy.” But the vast majority of post-Saïdian anti-Orientalists, in characteristic submission to political correctness, have been telling us all for decades that in the vibrant civil society of the Arab world, democracy is around the corner, especially in Palestine. Indeed, and ironically, George Bush’s neo-con inspired invasion of Iraq was based on the notion that, the dictator toppled and democracy introduced, democracy would spread as dictatorships fell like dominoes across the region. Despite the consistently repeated failure of these expectations, nothing seems to dent the near-religious belief in democracy’s spread to the Arab world among Western liberals who insist on projecting their own mentality on others (see Martin Kramer, Ivory Towers on Sand, chap. 4). Thus when protests spread through the Arab world last December, journalists were quick to dub it the “Arab Spring,” a harbinger, they enthused, of democracy spreading through the Middle East.

Those of us who have studied not just the institutions of democracy – constitutions, judiciaries based on equality before the law, elections, legislation – but the culture underlying it, are not so jejeune and optimistic. Social contracts demand mutual trust and an expansion of the field of the “us” to include more than one’s clan or tribe; a free press demands exceptionally high capacity for hearing public criticism; meritocracy demands that merit trump old-boy networks; successful law courts demand the renunciation of private justice/vengeance; productive societies demand respect for manual labor and an adoption of the principle for wealth accumulation of “make not take”; sustained positive-sum relations demand a restraint of envy at the success of others, and a renunciation of Schadenfreude – joy at another’s failure (Heaven on Earth, chap. 8). Unlike the way many Westerners think of it, democracy is not a computer program that you can download into any society and have it work. It’s not that everyone has to adopt these traits, just a critical mass of mutually enforcing players. But that alone is so difficult, and democracy such an astonishingly difficult accomplishment that, in the worlds of one of its most perceptive students, Eli Sagan, it’s a miracle.

So what can we anticipate coming out of the removal of the Libyan dictator Gaddafi: will it bring, as Ajami’s formula would lead us to believe, a shift from prison to anarchy? Or, as so many of us would like to believe, a shift from authoritarian to more democratic society? Given the stakes (oil wealth) and some of the players (tribal and Islamist), it’s hard, but not impossible, to imagine a vibrant democracy emerging. When the rebels cheer Western airstirkes on Gaddafi’s positions with “Allahu Akhbar,” as Barry Rubin points out, it means that they attribute success not to Western assistance, but Allah’s. Indeed, the greatest tension looks like it will be between loyalty to tribe and the accumulation of wealth and power on the one hand, or loyalty to Ummah, and the accumulation of theocratic power on the other. And, of course, this doesn’t even address the problem of the “brotherhood against democracy” that, for its own reasons opposed Gadafi, but also for its own reasons will hardly encourage real democracy. For the “modern,” technologically savvy, “pluralist,” players in whom the media invests so much of their time and their hope, to come out on top of such a struggle seems improbable. And the systematic mismanagement of these trends by Western policy-makers certainly does not help the prognosis.

As an exercise in thought experiment that might help us understand how alien democratic thought is even among the allegedly “modern” players in the “Arab Spring,” imagine a Libyan group saying (without being assaulted by raving demonstrators), “if we want democracy, then we should be establishing close relations with the only operative democracy in the region, Israel, and abandoning the conspiratorial scape-goating nonsense that Arab oppressors have been feeding us for decades about how they are our enemy. There are exceptions. And their proliferation would offer strong evidence that some have managed to rise above the kind of face-saving, vengeance-taking mentality that makes democracy so hard to sustain. Don’t hold your breath.

Cowardice and Honor: Mubarak’s Trial and the Pathologies of the Arab World

One of the most depressing things I read about honor-killings – a pretty depressing topic – was that, at least in Jordan, on suspicion of having done something wrong, the family kills the daughter (after all, the crime is blackening the family’s honor, which is about reputation, not deeds). Then you find out at the autopsy if she’s a virgin. If yes, the matter ends there; if no, you go after the suspected lover.

What this means in the clan context is, since the daughter’s own clan (her “protectors”) kill her, there’s no fear of retaliation. No one (not even international feminists) are going to defend her. The male lover is a bigger problem: he and his clan might retaliate for an unjustified killing; so you have to be more careful. As an articulation of a pathological honor-shame world, in which you concern for family honor is so great that it overrides any affection for the daughter, or even concern about whether she’s guilty or not, it’s those without protection who suffer most cruelly. A coward’s rage.

I thought of this today when I read the following analysis by Zvi Mazel about the trial of Mubarak.

Analysis: Mubarak’s trial is about the future of Egypt
By ZVI MAZEL
08/07/2011 01:49
Will the image of an old, ailing man on a stretcher in a cage become the defining event setting Egypt on a new path?

On the first day of Hosni Mubarak’s trial last week, after the whole world had seen the ousted Egyptian president brought on a stretcher and his emaciated face peering through the bars of a huge cage, representatives of all political movements in Egypt enthused about what they called a momentous historic event.

In their own ways, they hailed justice being done and the triumph of the people of Egypt over corruption and abuse.

On behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr. Saad Katatani emphasized that the trial ushers the phase of reconstruction and development of his country.

For the Wafd, Issam Sheikha, a member of the party’s Supreme Council, stressed that this was not vengeance but a public display of justice and a clear warning to all those who would rule Egypt in the future.

Thank you, Edward Saïd: Wikileaks, Linkage, and the Appalling State of Western Understanding of the Arab World

This is an essay I wrote back at the time of Wikileaks, and it got rejected from two different journals. I got distracted by my book, and forgot about it. I just got a nice email from a fan who asked me where I wrote the following:

The problem with middle eastern studies in the USA (a fortiori in Europe) is that it’s been colonized by Muslim and Arab scholars who have politicized the field and intimidated western scholars into ”respecting” Islam (which means giving it the honor that they feel it deserves). this hegemonic discourse makes it impossible to speak of honor-shame, the very hegemonic principle that has made Islamic studies such a retarded field.

If Western academics had done this with their own culture and religion, we’d have no academics. The appalling propaganda that passes for scholarship today — Finkelstein and abu el-Haj come immediately to mind — that would get tenured from faculty and administrators in thrall to a political correct discourse that is, to use the Marxist term, “objectively” a form of cowardice and dhimmitude, is what drives sound people to take extraordinary measures.

Today’s middle eastern studies more closely resembles the kind of atmosphere that dominated the late medieval university (inquisitorial) than a free and meritocratic culture commited to honesty. the only difference is that in pursuing this oppressive and ultimately dishonest form of “academic discourse” the people who admire “scholars” like F and e-H, actually betray the very culture they pretend to uphold.”)

It was in response to an article about tenure in Middle Eastern Studies in Inside Higher Ed. He also asked me if I’ve developed those thoughts, and I wrote back that in addition to my essay on Edward Said, there’s the following essay, which I post here.

Wikileaks, the Middle East and Edward’s Said’s Legacy

One of the most interesting revelations in the cache of recently released Wikileaks  documents concerned Obama’s Middle East policy. Remarks from several and varied Arab countries confirmed in a rather dramatic way, what some experts had claimed earlier: that the Arabs wanted the US to “cut off the head of the snake,” and that for these Arab leaders the head was Iran.

On one level, this wasn’t groundbreaking news; anyone paying attention knew that Sunni Arab leaders were terrified of the power of Shiite Iran.  But somehow this awareness had failed to penetrate Obama’s policy circle, which had consistently argued that in order to gain the support of the Arab world to move against Iran, the US had to “solve” the Palestinian problem. Obama explained this policy of linkage to Netanyahu in their April meeting of 2009: by swiftly reaching a “two-state solution” that gives the Palestinians a viable state, Obama could win the favor of the Arab world and the global community, enabling him to tackle problems like Iran.

Linkage had widespread approval not only in academic and policy circles, and among global “elders” like Jimmy Carter, but also among newspundits like Tom Friedman, who considers it “very logical.” A cynic might call this the narcissistic messianic approach: let’s make everyone love us, have peace prizes all around in Denmark, and then calmly and collectively tell the Iranians: “Oh, behave!”

Of course others have argued against this Rube Goldberg machine (Kramer, Shavit, Ceren, Rubin, Phillips, Weinthal). What strategy would hold urgent diplomacy (Iranian nuclear ambitions) hostage to solving a problem that has resisted the most energetic diplomatic efforts for generations? And just what kind of solution to the Palestinian problem could Obama come up with that would a) leave even a diminished Israel in peace and security and b) so enthuse the Arab world that they’d now rally around America’s banner? It’s one thing to think you can squeeze some kind of grudging truce out of that adamantine conflict; it’s quite another to think you can, in a couple of years, produce a peace that will inspire the Arab world to renounce its resentment of American hegemony.

And (predictably) as soon as Obama implemented linkage, it backfired; indeed the Palestinians saw linkage as a reason to become intransigent: no direct talks without total settlement freeze. Asked why they insisted on this, if the Palestinians had earlier negotiated peace agreements while settlement construction went on throughout the West Bank, Nabil Shaath didn’t claim they said yes (as the MSNM would have us believe), but rather responded, “We have to say ‘no’ sometime” (5:15).

And why just now? Because, as Shaath went on to explain, with linkage the Palestinians saw themselves in a position of strength and Israel in a position of alienating Obama:

Isn’t President Obama impatient with what the Israelis have done? …Wasn’t Mr. [sic] Obama’s strategy that, [by] starting with the Palestinian-Israeli peace, [he] will really get America a better image in our area, will help America achieve what it really wants to do, disentangling itself from Iraq, resolving problems in Pakistan and in Iran and in Lebanon? Isn’t that what he said? Doesn’t that make him impatient of what Mr. Netanyahu has done to him? (6:57-7:30).

Did Obama and his advisors really think that everyone in the Middle East was just waiting for the right gesture, the positive-sum magic that will make everyone happy? Have they contemplated the opposite possibility: that Arab leaders do not want an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and that our linkage may play right into their version of linkage: Blame Israel for the misery they themselves inflict. Our linkage – Israeli concessions before and in place of Palestinian concessions – enables and empowers Arab scape-goating; it aggravates the belligerent forces in the region.

Some accordingly argued that Obama should reverse the sequence: If he really wants peace (rather than a quick take-down of Israel) then taking care of the critical problem – Iran – will make it easier for Israel to make the highly risky concessions Obama wants from them. Put the pressure on the most radical and, by the standards of a community committed to peace, the least “rational” actor on the scene, undermine the culture of apocalyptic violence they encourage among their proxies in the region (Hamas, Hizbullah), so that Palestinian moderates, who want to put an end to their own people’s suffering can rally support for the difficult concessions necessary for peace.

So when the Wikileaks documents revealed no hint among the Arab leaders of a Palestinian state as a prerequisite for dealing with Iran, many noted how they undermined the rationale behind Obama’s insistence on a linkage that went, via Israeli concessions, to Arab and world cooperation against Iran. On the contrary, these cables give the impression that Obama had a strong hand to play against Arab intransigence: “if you want me to attack Iran, then these are the things I want from you.”

One might imagine that Obama had his strong hand in mind when, a day before his speech in Egypt, he visited King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, asking for a gesture towards Israel in response to their concession on settlements. Such a Saudi concession might have a powerful impact on the mood in the Arab and Muslim world; it certainly would have added dramatic luster to his Cairo speech. And yet, when King Abdullah went into a tirade at the mere suggestion, Obama played none of his strong cards. Instead he went to Cairo empty-handed and disgruntled. Tough cop is not a role Obama seems comfortable playing.

Those who follow the honor-shame dynamics here understand that the weaker the Israelis look to the Arabs, the more intransigent they become. One need not be an insider with access to high-level intelligence to understand the basic pattern that the last two decades of peace diplomacy have revealed: Israeli concessions elicit no hint of reciprocity towards a positive-sum solution. On the contrary…

And yet none of this had even a slightly sobering effect on the giddy optimism of the administration. Only two months after Abdulla’s tantrum, in August of 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a peace settlement within a year, and in January 2010, after four further fruitless months, Presidential envoy George Mitchell prognosticated “within two years.” Either these folks were pulling some clever feint (the predominant belief in the Arab world), or they are genuinely clueless (the most generous reading).

Others, more knowledgeable about the political players can try to figure out why neither Obama nor Clinton (who’s husband got burned by this Peace debacle in a most spectacular fashion in 2000) permitted any of these developments – the Arab urgency about Iran, the king’s temper tantrum about Israel, the backfiring of Israeli concessions – to disturb the main lines of their version of linkage.

Having just reread with students Edward Said’s Orientalism and some of his critics, I was struck by the role that his epigones have played in formulating this counter-intuitive strategy. In The Ivory Tower, Martin Kramer writes about the strong impact the book had on a generation of Western students, eager to dissociate themselves from any participation in American imperialistic hegemony, to empathize with, rather than “other” Arabs.

After all, had not Said, even as he illustrated the point, insisted that to “other” necessarily involves invidious comparison, “either in self congratulation (when one discusses one’s own) or hostility and aggression (when one discusses the “other”)…” Saïd appealed to our “common humanity” to do away with this us-them mentality to shift our attention from “cultural, religious and racial differences” towards “socio-economic categories [and] politico-historical ones (p. 325):

At all costs the, the goal of Orientalizing the Orient [what post-colonialists more generally call “othering” someone, RL] again and again is to be avoided, with consequences that cannot help but refine knowledge and reduce the scholar’s conceit. Without “the Orient” there would be scholars, critics, intellectuals, human beings, for whom the racial, ethnic, and national distinctions were less important than the common enterprise of promoting human community (328).

Never mind that most Oriental scholars had a passion for their subjects and extended far more empathic effort in understanding the objects of their study than did Saïd did in critiquing the Orientalists themselves. And never mind that Arabs tend to “other” on a scale the beggars Saïd’s complaints about Western tendencies.  On the contrary, Saïd, demonstrating his asabiyya, his loyalty and solidarity with the Arab cause, had no problem “othering” those he accused of the sin:

It is therefore correct [sic] that every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric (p.68).

But these flaws had no discernable effect on the enthusiasm with which the field of Middle Eastern studies embraced his critique of its forebears, and remade itself along post-colonial lines. A pervasively flawed book became canonical for a generation, inspiring a paradigm shift that shaped Middle Eastern Studies in the USA.  As a result, the field virtually became committed to not seeing what was before them. They could thus see vibrant civil societies everywhere (Syria!), even in Islamist NGOs (Hamas!), that promised democracy soon. After all, if they were humans like us, why not?

It greatly assisted all these scholars who hailed the thriving proto-democratic, civil-society movements in the Middle East, men and women who could proudly claim they were not Orientalists, that they, like their mentor Saïd, detected few traces of the imperialism that so marks the first thirteen centuries of Islam. It made sense that those who could ignore or downplay the patriarchal ferocity so dominant in the Middle East, could also turn a blind eye the enduring culture of Muslim imperialism, and the strong odor of frustrated ressentiment in the Arab discontent with modernity. For the Saïd’s post-colonial epigones, the Arabs were the innocent subaltern victims of our imperialism; not exasperated failures at implementing their own. History may have gone wrong, but post-Orientalist scholars made a profession of believing that the wrong turn was when Western imperialism prevented Arab societies from being (naturally) free, not that the Arabs had failed to maintain and expand their empire.

This approach, divorced from reality even as it spoke of the “variegated” and “layered” phenomena it tried to represent, ended up anticipating developments and concocting strategies so fantastic, that just contemplating their spread and acceptance in policy circles gives insight into the dynamics of how a certain legendary emperor could parade before his people naked. As “I will make a lot of peace in the Middle East,” the spoof animation inspired by Wikileaks– has the US spokesman say in defense of linkage, “We have consulted with many foreign policy experts, they have many Ph.D.s about the Middle East.” Along with the spectacle of Europeans acclaiming Noam Chomsky as the great American intellectual, few things better illustrate the failings of this generation of Western intelligentsia than Orientalism’s profound impact on Middle Eastern studies and beyond.

Amongst the many noxious effects of Orientalism on our scholars’ ability to understand the Arab world, was the ban it put on discussing “honor-shame” culture, so strong an elective affinity in Arab culture that even Islam’s disapproval has failed to prune back the “honor-killings” of daughters and sisters by their family. Said’s moral scorn for the patent racism involved in this cultural approach made “honor-shame” itself a shameful discourse to hold in academic circles. As Jerrold Green noted “the mere recognition that cultural factors matter labels specialists as anti-scientific heretics by their more dogmatic colleagues.” According to a reliable source, this singularly successful political correctness has even invaded intelligence services, where one had to refrain from suggesting honor-shame motivations in analyzing the data!

The greatest irony of this accomplishment comes from the fact that Saïd himself illustrates the honor-shame dynamic. The second half of his career embodies the very “oriental” traits that he forbade us to discuss. On a very basic level, Orientalism represents an aggressive effort to “save face”: Westerners have no right to look critically at the Arab world. Noted Kramer:

Instead [of serious analysis], Said skimmed across its [Oriental scholarship’s] surface in search of the most offensive quotes, presented as the core or essence of orientalism, whose gravitational field no Westerner could hope to escape.

And the offenses were precisely those that were most wounding to Arab pride.  On some level, Orientalism is a cri de coeur of someone whose amour propre has been wounded by the opinion outsiders have of his people. And the generation of scholars who adopted that book as the Bible (as one of my students described another professor’s attitude), considered their most important task not to upset those for whom honor and shame meant everything.

And yet, if we don’t understand that some cultures (not only Arabic or Islamic ones) accept, expect, even require that one shed someone’s blood for the sake of one’s honor, then we don’t understand how people in those cultures “reason.” Our initial (and abiding) response, coming from a culture that has fought a long hard battle with the tendency towards violent retaliation for insult, views this behavior as irrational, as self-destructive – “their own worst enemies.” But to think along these lines turns us into “the apogee of Orientalist confidence,” guilty of the “racism” Saïd so despised.

For Westerners aspiring to study the Arab world without becoming colonial collaborators, that meant an anti-Orientalism every bit as distorting as the Orientalism Saïd condemned among the scholars. The new, non-“othering” dogma insisted that Arabs can and would behave rationally (i.e., positive-sum), in roughly the same way the Europeans did in creating the European Union.

So why not “land for peace”? It makes sense. This conflict, the “very logical” argument goes, like all others, is about “rational” grievances. Presumably it will respond to the appeal of positive-sum solutions that call for mutual self-sacrifice in order to achieve mutual gain, and bury the hatchet. Israel gives land and the Arabs give recognition and an end to the state of war produces “peace.” Win-win.

In a Saidian conversation, one cannot, without heavy moral opprobrium, suggest that it’s not about boundaries but existence, not about rational grievances, but much more about honor and shame, about the humiliation of a tiny Israel fighting off the combined might of the Arab empire, about the blasphemy of a dhimmi people, throwing off their yoke and daring to be “a free people in our own land,” in the heart of Dar al Islam. I mean, how can you solve a problem like that?

It’s a lot easier to believe that poverty causes terror (rather than vice-versa): at least we know how to generate wealth… and we dare not think about the way some cultures generate poverty. And we certainly dare not ask the obvious question: If they will kill their daughters for shaming them in their communities, and they burn dozens of homes of dhimmi Copts when one of them dates a Muslim woman, imagine what they want to do to Israel for blackening their face and shaming their religion before the eyes of the world community and of history?

Thus we end up with a foreign policy based on fantasy, mired in denial, a community of experts that refuses to process feedback that contradicts cherished truths, people who cling to PC “grand” narratives with the ferocity of true believers. Of course, they might say off the public record, everyone knows about touchy Arab honor, especially when it comes to Israel! Arabs themselves admit that Israel is a psychological problem “in the genes of every Arab.” The very notion that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most fundamental issue in the Middle East, constitutes a acknowledgment of that massive Arab “hang-up” on an area that is a mere .002 of their own, deeply troubled portion of the globe.

Our experts and academics understand this, and even have policy solutions: do everything to avoid situations where it becomes a problem. That, of course, means leaving Israel out of as many situations as possible. In other words, whenever honor-shame dynamics rear their ugly head, back down. Like Yale University Press or the New York Met, don’t confront, don’t provoke violence.

Similarly, we never confront them on their double speak: When the positive-sum, peace oriented liberal cognitive egocentrists hear Palestinians complain about the occupation, they think “Green line,” while the zero-sum, honor-comes-from-revenge oriented Palestinian spokesmen think “shoreline.” (NB: I’m not essentializing, not talking about “the Arabs,” but specifically about those who are in thrall to an irredentist mind-set that we have difficulty imagining.) If we knew this, and worked around it without confronting it, that might make sense; but to ignore it, to make plans based on our projected understanding, to pressure Israel into concessions based on these fantasies, is either criminal negligence or malice.

Not surprisingly, with such anti-Orientalist flaws at the base of their thinking, the Obama administration’s Middle East foreign policy team got everything wrong. They expected long-term rationality in solving the Arab Israeli conflict (a quick positive-sum solution), and short-term irrationality (we won’t do anything about Iranian nuclear weapons until something is done about Israel). Instead we encountered the opposite: short-term rationality on Iran, long-term irrationality on Israel. Indeed, the take-home message of Arab behavior is that the Arab-Israeli lies at the heart of their most self-defeating behavior: it is the hardest and last thing we’ll resolve, not the first. And the idea that, if only Israel were gone, the self-destructive belligerence of Arab political culture would disappear is as loopy a messianic hope as being carried off by aliens on December 21, 2012 by hanging out in Bugarach, France.

Maybe the cultural relativists are right: Who says Westerners behave rationally?

Gleanings, 06.03.11

Mark Steyn: Arid Uka’s Gratitude (MUST READ)

The nations that built the modern world decided to outsource their future. In simple economic terms, the arithmetic is stark: In America, the boomers have condemned their shrunken progeny to the certainty of poorer, meaner lives. In sociocultural terms, the transformation will be even greater. Bismarck, so shrewd and cynical about the backward Balkans, was also the father of the modern welfare state: When he introduced the old-age pension, you had to be 65 to collect and Prussian life expectancy was 45 [that, presumably is from birth; once one had survived childhood, life expectancy for adults was much higher -rl]. Now life expectancy has near doubled, you get your pension a decade earlier, and, in a vain attempt to make that deformed math add up, Bismarck’s successors moved the old East/West faultline from the Balkans to the main street of every German city.  Americans sometimes wonder why, two decades after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the U.S. Army still lives in Germany. The day is approaching when they will move out — if only to avoid any more “tragic events” “taking place.”

Barry Rubin: Egypt: American Know-Nothings Play With the Lives of Millions of People

I have never seen an issue on which the American political-intellectual elite has been so insanely stupid and inaccurate. Easily ascertainable facts are simply ignored and censored out of the mass media. What is happening now makes the Western misreading of fascism in the 1930s and Communism in the 1940s look like a picnic. Some of us at least—who, as punishment, will essentially be denied access to any major American newspaper or television show to explain reality—remember the past consequences of those mistakes.

Daniel Pipes: Democratic Iraq?

While Middle Easterners from Morocco to Iran are agitating for more say in the governance of their countries, guess where the leadership is acquiring more power? … These developments confirm my expectation that the vast American-led effort to create a “free and prosperous” Iraq will end in failure.

[FB. Note]: Arabs’ natural tendency.

Evelyn Gordon: Egypt’s Renegotiation Threat

And while “renegotiating” the treaty may sound less threatening than scrapping it altogether, it isn’t. For the two items most Egyptians want to renegotiate are precisely those that made the treaty viable for Israel: one essential to its economic security, and one to its physical security … “Renegotiation” is thus a euphemism for gutting the treaty of everything that made it viable for Israel. As such, it’s worse than abrogation, since for that, Egypt would be blamed. But if Israel refused to amend the treaty, a world chronically unsympathetic to its security needs would blame it for failing to support Egypt’s fledgling democracy.

Jonathan Freedland: Antisemitism: the hatred that refuses to go away

John Galliano’s antisemitic diatribes and a glut of recent claims that there is a Jewish conspiracy will be dismissed as eccentric. But they are symptoms of a deeper malaise … All this might prompt the conclusion that antisemitism is making a sudden and unwelcome return. The trouble is, it never really went away. What’s more, it is not confined to the celebrity wackos and eccentrics who have let the mask slip in recent days. It is more widespread than that – contrary to those who like to pretend antisemitism is a historical phenomenon, one that faded away with the Third Reich.

Praveen Swami: Turning a blind eye to the blood-thirsty clerics

Pakistan is being swamped by a rising tide of religious hatred, while its political leaders remain silent, writes Praveen Swami … Pakistan’s blasphemy laws demonstrate to its people that real power lies with the clerics, and their military backers – not the politicians they elect. In 2008, when he was elected to office, Mr Zardari had a real opportunity to lay the foundations for a durable, functional democracy. His failure to act has led Pakistan one step closer to the precipice.

Benny Morris: The West, the Arabs, and the Real Qaddafi

Which reminds me of a story a fine, young journalist once told me about her experiences in Tripoli. It was in the 1980s, I think. She had come to interview Qaddafi. She was ushered into the famous tent. Qaddafi sent his aides away and the two of them shared lunch. And then Qaddafi tried to caress her. Flustered, she got up to leave. He then chased her around the table, bent on rape. She was brave and apparently fit; she outran him, at least long enough for his aides to rush in at the sound of her screams. Rape averted … It is a shame journalists did not usually publish their impressions of and experiences with Qaddafi. This no doubt facilitated Western and Arab acceptance of cooperation with this almost unique, base specimen of humanity (perhaps Saddam Hussein came closest).

Israel Matzav: As America builds mosques, Islamic countries destroy churches

But while mosques continue to be built in America, Christian communities dwindle in the Middle East and elsewhere. It is almost impossible to build churches in Islamic countries (forget synagogues – there are almost no Jews left in most Islamic countries).

Gleanings, 05.03.11

Fabian Pascal:

Ben Smith: Obama Israel pressure working? (MUST READ)

Aluf Benn reports in Ha’aretz that Benjamin Netanyahu, feeling international pressure and a domestic dead end, is planning an abrupt tack toward a two-state solution:

Now he is saying in closed meetings that “a binational state would be disastrous for Israel” and suddenly Netanyahu sounds like former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who in an interview with Haaretz at the Annapolis Conference declared: Two states or Israel is finished. And this is the same Netanyahu who has always denied the demographic threat, regarding it as a scarecrow in the service of the left.

If this is right, another way of saying it is this: Obama’s pressure on Israel appears, like it or not, to be paying off in forcing Netanyahu to the policy outcome Americans want.

Ed. Note (oao): Israel currently has only Olmerts and Netanyahu always was one. I strongly recommend Yehuda Avner’s book THE PRIME MINISTERS to learn what leadership really is relative to the total absence of it today.

Matthew Levitt: Policy Alert: How to Deal with Islamist Movements in Post-Revolutionary Regimes?

“If our policy can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood,” stated the same anonymous official cited by the Post, “we won’t be able to adapt to this change” presented by the Jasmine revolutions. In fact, to adapt to these changes and be on the right side of history, what the administration really needs to do is consider what the appropriate threshold should be for partnering with the United States and participation in the democratic system. Failure to do just that has already led to governments led by Hamas in Gaza and Hizballah in Lebanon. Being less than al-Qaeda should not suffice. Tolerance, respect for women’s rights, establishment of a strong civil society that promotes liberal values, and honoring international agreements and borders are more likely to produce the kind of truly free and democratic societies that promote long-term stability.

MARC CHAMPION and LUCETTE LAGNADO: A Tale of Two Alexandrias

Over the past six decades, Egypt’s second city has morphed from cosmopolitan oasis into Islamist stronghold.

The Telegraph: Libya: LSE feared ‘embarrassing’ Gaddafi’s son over donation

The Daily Telegraph has also learned that Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, made a personal contribution to Saif Gaddafi’s thesis when he was studying at the LSE. Mr Blair gave him an interview in which he described how corrupt states can be made more transparent.

YnetNews: Gaddafi claims Israeli attacks as Turkey offers to attack Libya in exchange for EU membership

The Herald Tribune reported Wednesday that Turkey had offered to spearhead a NATO offensive against Libyan forces in exchange for acceptance into the European Union. US President Barack Obama supports the offer, diplomats told the paper.

Martin Kramer: Talk about impeccable timing. “Kuwait’s Ambassador to the US Sheikh Salem Al-Sabah delivered on Thursday a Kuwaiti gift of $4.5 million as an endowment to the Institute for Middle East Studies (IMES) at the George Washington (GW) University. Sheikh Salem handed over the contribution to GW President Steven Knapp.” You want to know if Kuwait’s monarchy could go south? Look elsewhere. Kuwait gifts $4.5m to GW University | Kuwait Times: GW President Knapp said that he is “deeply grateful to the Government of Kuwait and His Highness the Amir for their continued support of the George Washington University.”

Josef Joffe: Tyranny, the West, and the Rest

There is no reason to be “shocked, shocked.” Everybody—and that goes for the West as well as for Arabs, African, and Asians—has been able to see all along what’s been happening in Libya. But the Human Rights Council did not seem notice—perhaps because it was too busy passing 32 resolutions against Israel since its creation in 2006, almost half of the total it’s issued. The Council must have acted in a fit of dizziness when it elected Libya as a member … In 2009, while Qaddafi was in Rome, Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi praised him as “man of deep wisdom.” In 2007, French President Sarkozy’s “good friend” got to pitch his tent in the middle of Paris, presumably rent-free. But never mind. The visit brought in a deal worth 10 billion euros for a little nuclear reactor here, 14 Rafale combat planes there. And now, he is our friend no more. “Treason,” the cynic Talleyrand pontificated, “is a matter of date.” “Unfriending,” too, we might add.

Peter Stanford: The real scandal at the LSE

It is that web of relationships between government – specifically the Blair government – the LSE, Monitor and Saif Gaddafi that is at the heart of this whole debacle. Sir Howard’s predecessor as director was Anthony (now Lord) Giddens, guru of the Blairite “Third Way” and apparently such a starry-eyed admirer of the Libyan dictator that he wrote in 2005 of how Gaddafi senior cut “an impressive figure” and appeared “genuinely popular” with his own people … Such a fate is often the lot of politicians, but it is a calamitous and self-inflicted blow to the academic institution set up in 1895 by George Bernard Shaw and social reformers Sidney and Beatrice Webb on such high-minded Fabian principles.

Ethel Gutman:

Niall Ferguson, “Why the West is now in Decline

“In my new book and series, I argue that what distinguished the West from the Rest – the mainsprings of global power – were six identifiably novel complexes of institutions and associated ideas and behaviours. For the sake of simplicity, I summarise them under six headings: 1. Competition 2. Science 3. Property rights 4. Medicine 5. The consumer society 6. The work ethic.”

My conclusion is that we are already living through the twilight of Western predominance. But that is not just because most of the Rest have now downloaded all or nearly all of our killer apps. It is also because we ourselves have lost faith in our own civilisation.

David Caesarani, “The Promise: An exercise in British self-exculpation

“The British were in Palestine for their own interests and when it no longer suited them they left.”

Gleanings, 03.03.11

Barry Rubin: Muslim Brotherhood’s New Campaign: Seize Control of Egypt’s Islamic Institutions (MUST READ!!)

This is of gigantic importance (see if anyone else covers it). MEMRI has pointed out the opening of a Muslim Brotherhood campaign to replace Egypt’s current clerical hierarchy with its own people. If that happens…you can imagine. Once Islamists are in place making the “official” decisions on what constitutes proper Islam, an Islamist state cannot be far away … “God-fearing” imams means Muslim Brotherhood cadre. The president of Egypt “must be subordinate” to al-Azhar means an Islamist state. This strategy also suggests that the Brotherhood is recognizing that it will not choose Egypt’s next president–who is more likely to be the nationalist Amr Moussa–so it must start building an independent base of support outside of the government’s and president’s control for its long march toward Islamism at a later date.

Barry Rubin: New York Times’ Promoting Muslim Brotherhood; Hilary Clinton Promoting al-Jazira: It’s Beyond Satire! (MUST READ)

I have pointed out several times how the New York Times has been whitewashing the Muslim Brotherhood, including the publication of a terrible set of lies by Tariq Ramadan. Now, without having to my knowledge published a single piece pointing to the Muslim Brotherhood’s radical Islamism, anti-Americanism, antisemitism, and terrorism, we have still another op-ed by a Muslim Brotherhood leader in the newspaper. Once again we are told they are great, moderate guys … Things have gone beyond anything I ever would have believed. With Secretary of State Hilary Clinton holding up al-Jazira as a role model for the American media, I think I’ve seen just about everything wrong being said and done. Is she aware of how al-Jazira slants the news? I still remember their reporting that the United States had used a nuclear weapon in Baghdad during the 2003 war.

The Telegraph: Large Arab gifts to universities lead to ‘hostile’ teaching

Between 1995 and 2008, eight universities – Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, University College London, the LSE, Exeter, Dundee and City – accepted more than £233.5 million from Muslim rulers and those closely connected to them … The donors claim that they want only to promote understanding of Islam – a fine goal for any university. But the man who gathered the earlier figures, Prof Anthony Glees, argues that their real agenda is rather different: to push an extreme ideology and act as a form of propaganda for the Wahhabist strain of Islam within universities. They push, he says, “the wrong sort of education by the wrong sort of people, funded by the wrong sorts of donor”.

MARK HELPRIN: The Decline of U.S. Naval Power

Last week, pirates attacked and executed four Americans in the Indian Ocean. We and the Europeans have endured literally thousands of attacks by the Somali pirates without taking the initiative against their vulnerable boats and bases even once. Such paralysis is but a symptom of a sickness that started some time ago.

Victor Davis Hanson: Our Schizoid Foreign Policy

Are we stupid abroad by accident or design?

Walter Russell Mead: The Mead List: World’s Top Ten Gaddafi Toads

History, however, will not forgive those who, either from greed or a shared interest in promoting tyranny, colluded with, bribed, defended and helped this grotesque parody of a national leader rape and ruin his own unhappy land while he strutted ludicrously across the tawdry stage of world politics for forty pathetic years.

To name and shame everyone who colluded with this nasty piece of work — and a few are still standing by him now — would take far too long.  But this moment in world history should not pass without a shout out to the worst of the worst: the top ten Gaddafi enablers who gave gratuitous aid and comfort to this murderous nutjob.

Paul Hollander: The Left’s Converging Political Misjudgments: Communism and Radical Islam

Why do people on the Left, and especially intellectuals — often motivated by high ideals and good intentions — so often make poor political judgments, especially about the adversaries of the United States? … Islamic movements came to be viewed with a degree of sympathy by numerous American intellectuals and those on the Left, who were convinced of the worthlessness of their own society, and were irresistibly drawn to “the enemies of their enemy.”

Adi Schwartz, Only one side of the story

I thought it would be interesting, and so I found myself about a month ago on a tour with 12 journalists: 9 from Sweden (4 of them Jewish and one Palestinian who’d emigrated from Syria), one from Russia, one from Turkey and one from Germany. The printed media, radio and television were all represented. The first three days were devoted to a seminar at “Yad Vashem”, the holocaust memorial museum. One day was spent in Hebron, another in Bethlehem, another in Tel Aviv and another in Sderot.

I quickly felt that the experience was a microcosm of everything that goes on between Israelis, Palestinians and agents of all nationalities in the international arena. I found the criticism, the accusations and the dynamics within the group to be marred with harsh intellectual violence. Naturally, I couldn’t respond and react to everything, but I put my thoughts and impressions down in writing. I am now publishing a diary of sorts for those days, which differs in essence from the format of a straightforward journalistic account, yet is of just as much value, in my opinion.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Time on the J Street Ward

While attending the J Street conference I wondered whether I had entered some alternative dimension, where facts known by the rest of the world, and basic principles of reasoning, just didn’t operate in quite the same way as they do on the rest of planet Earth.  I think I know what’s operating.

Psychologists teach that an obsession is “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.”  There is a persistent theme on J Street: a Palestinian State must be created RIGHT NOW (“PSRN”), and it’s almost as if there is a complete memory block about the refusals of varying forms of the state, including the original offer by the United Nations of yet another Arab State in 1947.

Harold Rhode, Regime Change in Iran: A Win for the Gulf and the West

Many Middle Eastern experts, especially in the U.S. government, have argued for years that Sunni fundamentalists such as Osama bin Laden and the Muslim Brotherhood hate Shiites and could never work together. But nothing could be further from the truth. Sunni Brotherhood leaders and members of bin Laden’s family have made appearances in Tehran over the years, many times in full public view. These Sunni and Shiite fundamentalists share a common goal of eliminating the West from the Muslim world. Thereafter, they could work out their deadly differences. If things continue as they are, these upheavals could well amount to a huge win for this passionately anti-Western Iranian regime.

Imagine a situation where the Shiites of Bahrain manage to overthrow their Sunni authoritarian rulers, and their freedom inspires the Shiites of Saudi Arabia to push for the same. Imagine how Iran’s current rulers would view this situation. The Iranians would undoubtedly pressure their fellow Shiites to push the Americans out, and consequently hold the entire world hostage to their dictates. Moreover, while we wish the Egyptian people well, imagine a situation where the Iranian-allied Muslim Brotherhood eventually takes over the Egyptian revolution, just as Khomeini took over the Iranian revolution from the hands of the secularists. America and the world would end up with the short end of an Iranian victory.

But things do not have to end up that way. There is irrefutable evidence that the Iranian people want regime change. They have used every opportunity to make their views known, often putting themselves at great danger. Just as the young Arabs have shown us in the past few weeks, these Iranians too have had enough of the tyrannical rulers, who, if left to their own devices, could easily inflict upon their people the same fate as Mr. Gaddafi is inflicting on his own people.

Jonathan Freedland, Antisemitism: the hatred that refuses to go away

Similarly, Jews are unnerved when they read learned essays by foreign policy experts alleging the domination of US affairs by the “Zionist lobby” – seeing in such arguments a veiled, upmarket form of the perennial conspiracy theory. They feel similarly alarmed by claims that the hidden hand behind all world events is really Israel – that it was Israel that pushed George W Bush to invade Iraq (when, in fact, Israeli policymakers were warning that Iran posed the greater threat, or that Israel is the reason why Britain has long backed despots in the Arab world, when Britain has plenty of self-interested reasons of its own for its policy in the region. Viewed like this, Assange’s remarks don’t look so distant from Oliver Stone’s assertion last year that there is “Jewish domination of the media”, to say nothing of Richard Dawkins’s breezy statement that “the Jewish lobby . . . more or less monopolise American foreign policy”.

What makes all this terrain so tricky is not only that every inch of it is vigorously contested but that many of those who resort to anti-Jewish tropes when tackling Israel do so apparently inadvertently, even at the very same time as they fiercely denounce antisemitism. Because they don’t lapse into Galliano-esque abuse, they believe they must be free of all prejudice. To many, it comes as a shock to discover the provenance of the imagery they have just deployed.

Gleanings, 28.02.11

Charles Moore: What happens after we stop watching these revolutions (MUST READ)

It is often said that anti-Israeli feeling is growing in the West because Israel does not, despite its claims, live by Western values. I sometimes wonder if the opposite is the case: Israel, because of the constant threat to its existence, reminds us of the high cost of defending our freedoms. And that, to Western wishful thinkers, is intensely irritating.

Caroline Glick: The West’s proxy war against the Jews (MUST READ)

But the situation is different today. By waging its war against Israel through Palestinian proxies, the West threatens itself. The Nazi propaganda recycled by the Soviets which has enslaved the peoples of Europe and much of America’s intellectual elite has not only turned them into willing participants in the new war against the Jews. It has turned them into instruments for their own destruction.

Peter Wehner: Barack Obama’s Moral Concession to Evil

On a more fundamental level, what the Obama administration did was create quite a dangerous precedent. It has now signaled to the most malevolent regimes in the world that the way to delay (or perhaps even avoid) American condemnation, let alone American action, is to threaten the lives of American citizens. The message sent to, and surely the message received by, despots around the world is this: If you want to neuter America, threaten to harm its citizens. Mr. Obama will bend like red-hot steel pulled from a furnace.

Todd Gitlin: Perils of Public Intellectualizing

“In theory,” this prominent scholar continued, “Libya has self-government without a state.  Gaddafi’s economic theory holds that everyone should receive the fruits of their labour.” He got “the strong sense that” Qaddafi’s reform impulse was “authentic and that there is a lot of motive power behind it.” …

It’s just as well that I spark my first Brainstorm with this cautionary tale about smart people spouting appalling nonsense.  In a chaotic world, we lunge around for wisdom, and take credentials seriously. Big-thinking theoretical brains can be the most treacherous. One reason why brains have gotten a bad rap is that smart people can be so fatuous, idiotic, and clueless.

James Kirchik: Rumor Debunked

But the events in Egypt have laid bare a stark divide between neoconservatives and the Israeli elite: While the former are ecstatic about the fall of Mubarak and the prospect of a democratic Egypt, the latter are waryat best. “Supporting democracy is part of the genetic code of Americans,” says Martin Kramer, a senior fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalem Center. “Israelis,” on the other hand, “like the status quo.”

Boaz Ganor: The revolutions and US euphoria

It’s possible that Talhami’s right and social scientists can’t identify changes in political processes, but once these changes have taken place, we may not simply ignore historic precedents. Ayatollah Khomeini’s democratic precedent in Iran, Hezbollah’s democracy in Lebanon and Hamas’s democracy in Gaza leave very little room for doubt.

History repeats itself.

Martin Kramer: Dumbest things written by Western intellectuals who did junkets to Libya (close competition):

• 3d place: The shores of Tripoli by Stephen Walt http://goo.gl/pkzZu: “Libya doesn’t feel like other police states that I have visited.”

• 2d place: My chat with the colonel by Anthony Giddens http://goo.gl/VCEo4: “As one-party states go, Liby…a is not especially repressive. Gadafy seems genuinely popular.”

• 1st place: No Democratic Dominoes in the Middle East by Benjamin Barber

“Libya has a tradition of participatory local governance because of Qadaffi’s long interest in participatory democracy and peoples’ committees. Moreover, he is not detested in the way that Mubarak has been detested and rules by means other than fear.”

Fisking Kristof on Arab Capacity for Democracy

I have watched Nicholas Kristof go from brave denouncer of Darfurian genocide and defender of women the globe over, into a politically correct useful idiot. It’s hard to find a better poster boy for the bizarre way in which intelligent, courageous people can end up spouting drivel as a result of LCE-itis (not). But today’s column is more than I can bear, so here’s a fisking of today’s most valuable idiot of the day (heavy competition).

Unfit for Democracy?
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
February 26, 2011
CAIRO

Is the Arab world unready for freedom? A crude stereotype lingers that some people — Arabs, Chinese and Africans — are incompatible with democracy. Many around the world fret that “people power” will likely result in Somalia-style chaos, Iraq-style civil war or Iran-style oppression.

That narrative has been nourished by Westerners and, more sadly, by some Arab, Chinese and African leaders. So with much of the Middle East in an uproar today, let’s tackle a politically incorrect question head-on: Are Arabs too politically immature to handle democracy?

This issue is politically incorrect, but – surprise! – the answer will be hopelessly politically correct. So before we go into Kristof’s breathless (and superficial) analysis, let’s briefly review the basic elements necessary for a successful democratic experiment. Imnsho, there are at least four critical issues that are necessary cultural changes that must precede a democratic experiment in order for it to work:

1) the principle of equality before the law: unless there is a strong and independent judiciary, based on a widespread cultural commitment to the idea that everyone is “equal before the law” (i.e., everyone should be subject to the same laws and penalties and have the same protection from abuse of the law).

2) the capacity for self-criticism: it’s one thing to demand freedom of speech for yourself, it’s quite another to grant that freedom to people who say things you don’t like. The ability to allow others freedom of speech, to be willing to admit public criticism, to even admit mistakes and wrongdoing publicly, is a critical dimension of any kind of “transparency” in the exercise of power.

3) the ability to allow women freedom: honor-killings, clitoridectomies, banishing of women from public space, insistence on the veil/burka/niqab, all of these reflect a male-chavinist control mania that is both symptom and factor in the inability to sustain a society committed to freedom.

4) positive-sum instincts: these include such things as an ability to trust others as well as to be trustworthy, to avoid conspiracy theories unless the evidence is very strong, to view another’s success as a good thing, rather than as a loss for oneself.

This concern is the subtext for much anxiety today, from Washington to Riyadh. And there’s no question that there are perils: the overthrow of the shah in Iran, of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, of Tito in Yugoslavia, all led to new oppression and bloodshed.

Congolese celebrated the eviction of their longtime dictator in 1997, but the civil war since has been the most lethal conflict since World War II. If Libya becomes another Congo, if Bahrain becomes an Iranian satellite, if Egypt becomes controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood — well, in those circumstances ordinary citizens might end up pining for former oppressors.

And, of course, all that I’ve outlined above apply to each of these places. But ask Kristof and I’ll bet he thinks the odds are long that these unpleasant outcomes will occur, when my guess is, the odds are highest that they will.

“Before the revolution, we were slaves, and now we are the slaves of former slaves,” Lu Xun, the great Chinese writer, declared after the toppling of the Qing dynasty. Is that the future of the Middle East?

After this brief and superficial acknowledgment of a possible “problem” with thinking that revolution leads directly to democracy, Kristof will now dive headlong into his optimism.