Category Archives: Fisking

Leveling the Playing Field and the Retreat into Stupidity: george on Peretz on Goldstone

Marty Peretz has a short post at The Spine on how dangerous the Goldstone Commission’s Report is for the ability of democracies to defend themselves against enemies who attack from the midst of civilian populations. It elicited a hostile comment from a reader who signs as george walton, which, I think, offers a fine insight into the workings of a peculiar kind of mindset that I’d like to label according to the meme “their side right or wrong.”

george starts by quoting Peretz:

MP:The fact is that the Taliban do not fight by the rules of modern warfare which try to limit the exposure of non-combatants.

george:
Here’s what the Taliban should do. They should strike a deal with the coalition forces. If the coalition forces will agree to scale back on military hardware that is at least a thousand times more sophisticated and lethal than the terrorist’s arsenal, the Taliban will agree to back off from the civilians.

At first read, it’s hard to know if this is an Onion imitation, or serious sarcasm. The reader will forgive me for interpreting it as the latter (evidence below). Essentially, if I understand the sarcasm here, the Taliban has the right to hide among civilians because it’s the only way to fight against an oppressive external invader (who happens to be the allied forces).

Now I don’t know if george has any criteria for what constitutes legitimate resistance that is then allowed to sacrifice its own civilians for the cause, and what the chances that resistance movements that adapt such tactics might turn into “occupiers” of their own “liberated” populations, were they to succeed. Certainly the Taliban before the alliied invasion, with their policies towards women — acid in the face for not wearing the veil in public, a practice they continue even as “insurgents” — could hardly be called a liberating force. But that “sin,” however oppressive seems to be washed away as a result of the Taliban’s war against the US: their side right or wrong.

george continues:

David Landau’s Criticism of Goldstone: Even the Self-Absorbed See a Problem

Even hyper-self-critic David Landau, whose astonishingly self-destructiive advice to Condaleeza Rice, I’ve discussed before, finds Goldstone unpalatable. And yet, he remains firmly inside his moral narcissism, obsessing over the four-dimensional Israeli soul, implicitly treating Gentiles as three-dimensional bit players, and the Palestinians as two dimensional cardboard figures whose moral angency does not even exist.

Even for Goldstone, getting criticized by someone like Landau has to hurt. From fashlah to fadihah.

The Gaza Report’s Wasted Opportunity
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By DAVID LANDAU
Published: September 19, 2009
JERUSALEM

ISRAEL intentionally went after civilians in Gaza — and wrapped its intention in lies.
That chilling — and misguided — accusation is the key conclusion of the United Nations investigation, led by Richard Goldstone, into the three-week war last winter. “While the Israeli government has sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercises of its right to self-defense,” the report said, “the mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.”

The report has produced a storm of outraged rejection in Israel. Politicians fulminate about double standards and anti-Semitism. Judge Goldstone, an eminent South African jurist and a Jew, is widely excoriated as an enemy of his people.

The report stunned even seasoned Israeli diplomats who expected no quarter from an inquiry set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which they believe to be deeply biased against Israel. They expected the military operation to be condemned as grossly disproportionate. They expected Israel to be lambasted for not taking sufficient care to avoid civilian casualties. But they never imagined that the report would accuse the Jewish state of intentionally aiming at civilians.

Israelis believe that their army did not deliberately kill the hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including children, who died during “Operation Cast Lead.” They believe, therefore, that Israel is not culpable, morally or criminally, for these civilian deaths, which were collateral to the true aim of the operation — killing Hamas gunmen.

It is, some would argue, a form of self-deception.

When does negligence become recklessness, and when does recklessness slip into wanton callousness, and then into deliberate disregard for innocent human life?

Note that we have yet to even reach the Palestinian starting point — target civilians deliberately… or, in short, terrorism. This simple observation, not on Landau’s radar screen because he doesn’t really think about Palestinians as human beings (i.e., moral agents), but only as victims (i.e., as innocent creatures), will become especially important in noting how the Goldstone Commission used the “T” word only to refer to Israel and never to refer to Hamas.

Fisking Goldstone: What’s happened to this man?

Richard Goldstone has an op-ed in the NYT today. It is most striking because it is so transparently misleading. Indeed, it’s just the kind of misinformation that fisking was invented to counter. So I couldn’t help doing so.

Goldstone clearly counts on addressing a sympathetic audience ignorant of the facts — a choir. I address those readers of the news who still want to be part of a “reality-based” community, for whom evidence must be addressed, analyzed, and assessed. You make up your mind if Judge Goldstone is an honest, fair-minded man, or someone who, for whatever mysterious reason, is in thrall to a narrative he must serve, regardless of the evidence.

Justice in Gaza

By RICHARD GOLDSTONE
I ACCEPTED with hesitation my United Nations mandate to investigate alleged violations of the laws of war and international human rights during Israel’s three-week war in Gaza last winter. The issue is deeply charged and politically loaded. I accepted because the mandate of the mission was to look at all parties: Israel; Hamas, which controls Gaza; and other armed Palestinian groups.

This is astonishing. Mary Robinson — the presiding genius of Durban Irejected it because the mandate was only to investigate Israel, tainted from the beginning. Goldstone requested, in vain, that the mandate be widened. For him to pretend that the mandate was to investigate all groups when it never was, whether he threw in some comments on Hamas or not, assumes a pervasive illiteracy among his audience — the readers of the NYT.

I accepted because my fellow commissioners are professionals committed to an objective, fact-based investigation.

The case against the composition of his committee — not one person sympathetic to Israel, at least one, Christine Chinkin, openly hostile — has led two groups of lawyers, in England and in Canada, to demand Chinkin’s disqualification since she had already pronounced herself — long before she saw any real evidence — on Israel’s guilt. Goldstone, even as he tossed out the petition on a subtle technicality, admitted that Chinkin’s case was borderline and the report reconfirms her prejudice. So whence comes this bland denial?

But above all, I accepted because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the laws of war, and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm.

Whitson, Kampeas shootin’ the Horse Manure

Every once in a while one reads an interview that reeks of brown-nosing. Here’s one by Ron Kampeas, who had been sharply critical of HRW for their visit to Saudi Arabia, of the key player here, Sarah Leah Whitson. Fisking and further analysis added throughout.

Sarah Leah Whitson of HRW answers my questions
By Ron Kampeas · August 3, 2009

Sarah Leah Whitson, the senior Human Rights Watch official at the center of the controversy over meetings with potential givers in Saudi Arabia, kindly and conscientiously reached out to me to answer my questions.

She also chided me for not reaching out to her before posting my questions. I had some lame reply about blogging and its immediacy, but she had a point.

In any case, while I still have broader critiques about HRW’s notion of balance — Israel on the one side, the rest of the Middle East on the other — Whitson’s replies directly addressed my questions, and were not in any way evasive.

Here are my questions and her replies (I summarize, but also include direct quotes from our conversation):

* Does/ would HRW solicit funds in Israel?

Whitson first of all made clear these were not fund-raisers in Riyadh (“I wish” was how she put it), but not exactly not fund-raisers: They were friends of HRW making their friends, colleagues and acquaintances aware of its work and mission.

“They are informal dinners hosted by friends and supporters, where they come to ask us questions.”

And yes, there were two similar private events in Tel Aviv recently.

How on earth is this a non-evasive answer? What on earth is “friends of HRW making their friends, colleagues and acquaintances aware of its work and mission” mean? They flew out there – how many? – to shoot the breeze?

How charming of her to jokingly say, “I wish…” What a lovely opening: “And if they had/did offered money, would/did you you accept it?”

* Does/Would it do so through presentations that expose human rights abuses by Palestinian authorities and by Arab governments?

Enderlin answers Bourret: Fisking Enderlin’s Blog’s Response (later removed)

In his on-going saga of hitting the bottom and digging, Charles Enderlin has dealt with a challenge on his blog from a major French news anchor, Jean-Claude Bourret on the issue of blood. The answer exemplifies not only the fundamentally flawed nature of Enderlin’s “argumentation,” but illustrates his sheer contempt for any demand that he engage in serious discussion. This answer matches quite closely the aggressive, know-nothing tone he takes with Esther Schapira when she asks him about the blood.

[NB: While I was working on this exchange, Charles Enderlin took it down from his site, saying

"Ayant eu un long dialogue avec JC Boutet [sic], j’ai mis hors ligne les éléments de cette discussion.” [Having had a long dialogue with JC Boutet [sic] I took the elements of this discussion offline.]

I won’t guess what motivated such a strange move, but maybe it has to do with how revealing it was of the poverty of his thought, as analyzed below.]

The issue in question concerns the following photograph, taken the following day, October 1, 2000.

Now there a multiple problems with this photo.

  • 1) The blood is red, despite having been exposed to air and sun for hours. This detail suggests that the blood was added later. Several things corroborate such a suspicion.
  • 2) The blood is where the father was sitting, but the place where the son bled for “twenty minutes” from a gaping stomach wound has not a trace of blood. Again this suggests that the blood was added later without thinking seriously about what it should look like.
  • 3) There is no sign of blood behind the barrel either immediately after the father and son are gone, or the next morning when Talal comes back to film the place.
  • 4) There is no blood on the wall, despite the claim that the father and son were hit by 15 bullets, none of which were recovered in the hospital because, claimed the doctors, they went through the bodies. Hence, one would expect the wall to be splattered with bullet holes and blood.

Esther Schapira asks Enderlin about this in her second movie:

Esther Schapira: It [the incident] happened the day before. The sun shone. Shouldn’t it be dark blood?

Endlerlin: Not when… I’m no specialist, but the next day there was blood there. It was dark, it was… I don’t know how the photo was taken.

Like many of his responses to Esther Schapira the second time around, he’s belligerently contemptuous of the evidence and the argument.

In writing we find the same style. Jean-Claude Bourret left the following question at Enderlin’s blog:

Bonjour Charles!

Je sais que cette “campagne” comme tu la nomme n’est pas agréable pour toi. mais j’ai assité à l’enquête de Philippe Karsenty et je la trouve très convaincante. J’étais également présent à une soirée, ou après la projection, un débat a opposé M. Karsenty à l’un de tes défenseurs. Ce dernier a été pathétique, ne faisant que renforcer la démonstration de M. Karsenty.Parmi les dizaines d’arguments, il y en a un, un seul, auquel je ne trouve pas de réponse : comment se fait il que les deux corps, transpercés par une douzaine de munitions de guerre, et restés 40 minutes contre le mur, comment se fait il qu’il n’y ait pas une goutte de sang, ni sur les vêtements, ni sur le trottoir?

[Hello Charles, I know that this "campaign" as you call it isn't much fun for you, but I attended Philippe Karsenty's inquest and I found it quite convincing. I was also at an evening where, after the presentation, a debate opposed Mr. Karsenty to one of your defenders. The latter was pathetic, only reinforcing Mr. Karsenty's presentation. Among the dozens of arguments, there is one, one only, to which I have not found a response: How is it that there's not a drop of blood, neither on his clothes, nor on the sidewalk? - rl translation]

To which, one might add, “nor on the wall.” Enderlin replies:

On m’a signalé que tu donnais également des conférences dans le cadre de cette campagne de diffamation. Néanmoins je vais te répondre:

Comment peux-tu, toi un journaliste de télévision analyser des rushes d’un reportage filmé sous le feu comme si c’était une vidéo de supermarché… Talal, le cameraman, a filmé ce qu’il pouvait. Il y a des coupes caméra avec un time code qui courre d’un bout à l’autre.

Quand au sang, il y a bien sur ce que vous qualifiez de chiffon rouge…. Quand à la tache de sang sur le sol… Elle existait bien. Le général palestinien qui s’est rendu le lendemain sur place pour ramasser les balles l’a fait couvrir de sable (devant la vingtaine de soldats israéliens qui étaient dans la position et ont donc tout vu). Nous avons l’image du général… Si toi et les autres experts qui n’ont jamais mis les pieds à gaza ou assisté à un clash entre israéliens et palestiniens aviez posé la question à un chirurgien opérant des blessures de guerres, il vous aurait dit que souvent, elles saignent peu.

Enfin, visiblement, vous croyez être mieux informés que les renseignements militaires israéliens et le Shin Beth qui n’ont jamais trouvé trace d’une conspiration à laquelle auraient participé des dizaines de palestiniens devant une position militaire israélienne, des dizaines de médecins, d’infirmiers de d’infirmières de l’hôpital Shiffa à gaza. Les médecins-généraux jordaniens qui ont opéré le père à Amman etc.

Pour la sécurité israélienne le caméraman, Talal, est blanc comme neige. Mais, bien sur les experts parisiens dont tu fais partie sont mieux renseignés. C’est une campagne absolument ignoble. je continue d’ailleurs à recevoir des menaces de tes amis.

[I've been told you were also giving talks in the framework of this campaign of diffamation. Nevertheless, I'll respond.

How can you, a television journalist, analyze rushes from a report filmed under fire as if it were a supermarket video... Talal, the cameraman, filmed what he could. There are cuts in the filming with a time-code that ran from the beginning to the end.

As for blood, there is, of course, what you qualify as the red rag... As for the blood stain on the ground... it really did exiswt. The Palestinian general who was there the next day to pick up the bullets, had it covered with sand (in front of some 20 Israelis soldiers who were in their bunker and therefore saw everything). We have the picture of the general... If you and the other experts who have never set foot in Gaza or been involved in a clash between Israelis and Palestinians had asked a surgeon operating on war injuries, they would tell you that often, they bleed very little.

Finally, obviously, you think you're better informed that the Israeli military intelligence and the Shin Bet qui have never found any trace of a conspiracy in which dozens of Palestinians would have had to participate in front of an Israeli military position, dozens of doctors and nurses at Shiffa hospital in Gaza, and the Jordanian doctors who operated on the father in Amman, etc.

As far as Israeli security is concerned, Talal is as white as snow. But, of course, Parisian experts, of whom you are one, are better informed. Its an absolutely ignoble campagne. I continue, by the way, to receive threats from your friends.] – rl translation

Let’s unpack Enderlin’s response.

Fareed Zakaria: Poster Boy for Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism

I haven’t posted a lot on Iran because it’s not really an area I know a great deal about. But what I can recognize is the predictable tropes of cognitive egocentrism, and that’s what this latest by Fareed Zakaria is full of. I’ve been following his program on CNN segments of which we’ll be posting soon at the new Second Draft site for comment and criticism. There, it’s hard to know what he thinks aside from how he chooses his guests — Gerges is less of an analyst than an advocate, but Zakaria doesn’t seem to notice — but in this piece he’s wearing his colors loud and clear.

Lorenz Gude, one of our regular commenters here notes:

    I found myself pretty surprised by Fareed Zakaria’s piece on Iran in Newsweek entitled “They May Not Want the Bomb.” It is an example of apologetic propaganda that reminds me of hagiographies of Stalin.

Emerging Iran

Inside a land poised between tradition and modernity

How’s that for a start. It may be somewhere between the two conceptually, but to call it poised between them is to suggest those are its two possible (and imminent) directions. On the contrary, Khoumeini’s “Islamic Republic of Iran” is a terrifying experiment in anti-modern apocalyptic Islam. To leave that out of the picture already marks Zakaria’s (or is it the Newsweek editor’s) conceptual framework as critically deficient.

How about: Inside a land hijacked by anti-modern Islamists on the painful path from tradition to modernity

By Fareed Zakaria | NEWSWEEK
Published May 23, 2009
Religion Versus Reality
Everything you know about Iran is wrong, or at least more complicated than you think. Take the bomb. The regime wants to be a nuclear power but could well be happy with a peaceful civilian program (which could make the challenge it poses more complex). What’s the evidence? Well, over the last five years, senior Iranian officials at every level have repeatedly asserted that they do not intend to build nuclear weapons.

And they wouldn’t lie to us, would they? Zakaria seems to think that having nuclear weapons is like having dessert — something you can take or leave. Does he really mean this? Is this deliberate misinformation or just breathtaking naivete? As the kept woman said to the court when told that her senator lover denied having any knowledge of her, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has quoted the regime’s founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who asserted that such weapons were “un-Islamic.” The country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2004 describing the use of nuclear weapons as immoral. In a subsequent sermon, he declared that “developing, producing or stockpiling nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam.” Last year Khamenei reiterated all these points after meeting with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. Now, of course, they could all be lying. But it seems odd for a regime that derives its legitimacy from its fidelity to Islam to declare constantly that these weapons are un-Islamic if it intends to develop them. It would be far shrewder to stop reminding people of Khomeini’s statements and stop issuing new fatwas against nukes.

Of course they could be lying. And they could be doing that for the sake of Islam. After all, the Shiites are the original practitioners of Takkiya. As the Supreme Leader Khoumeini put it:

    Should we remain truthful at the cost of defeat and danger to the Faith? People say, “don’t kill!” But the Almighty himself taught us how to kill… Shall we not kill when it is necessary for the triumph of the Faith? We say that killing is tantamount to saying a prayer when those who are harmful [to the Faith] need to be put out of the way. Deceit, trickery, conspiracy, cheating, stealing and killing are nothing but means… (Murawiec, The Mind of Jihad, p.43).

Are these statements made in English and broadcast to us, or in Pharsee and broadcast to the Iranian public. Could it just be fodder for dupes?

And then, what about this:

    Iran’s hardline spiritual leaders have issued an unprecedented new fatwa, or holy order, sanctioning the use of atomic weapons against its enemies.

    In yet another sign of Teheran’s stiffening resolve on the nuclear issue, influential Muslim clerics have for the first time questioned the theocracy’s traditional stance that Sharia law forbade the use of nuclear weapons.

    One senior mullah has now said it is “only natural” to have nuclear bombs as a “countermeasure” against other nuclear powers, thought to be a reference to America and Israel.

    The pronouncement is particularly worrying because it has come from Mohsen Gharavian, a disciple of the ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is widely regarded as the cleric closest to Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    Nicknamed “Professor Crocodile” because of his harsh conservatism, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi’s group opposes virtually any kind of rapprochement with the West and is believed to have influenced President Ahmadinejad’s refusal to negotiate over Iran’s nuclear programme.

    The comments, which are the first public statement by the Yazdi clerical cabal on the nuclear issue, will be seen as an attempt by the country’s religious hardliners to begin preparing a theological justification for the ownership – and if necessary the use – of atomic bombs.

Does Zakaria know about this and doesn’t think it’s relevant? Is the Daily Telegraph misreporting?

The Liberal Dilemma: A Dupe of Demopaths Explains how to make inter-religious dialogue work

In my honor-shame class today we read about honor-killings, and their role in restoring men’s sense of well-being by killing disobedient women. The discussion was very lively as we tried to figure out how to deal with the mutual contradictions between liberal beliefs about human nature, and the evidence from the dossiers on honor-killings that depict a profoundly cruel and tyrannical mindset on the part of the men defending their family honor, and — perhaps more distressing — the larger community supporting, if not demanding, their behavior.

As part of the exercise in dealing with the moral problems, I assigned the article below by Chris Seiple on how to dialogue with Muslims. At one point, a student made the classic liberal case that honor-killings are morally repugnant and wondered aloud how, given the peer-pressure involved, we can get Muslims to oppose them. I put to him the classic progressive challenge: isn’t that cultural imperialism? Who are you — we — to tell them what to do? In struggling with the problem, he ended up crying out “auuuugghhhh” in frustration.

Students laughed; some clapped. Exactly. What do we do?

I don’t have a clear answer to that now, but what I do think I have to offer is some thoughts about what we shouldn’t do. And I want to use the deeply well-intentioned Seiple’s meditations as guide to all the errors involved in the current fashionable approach (this one by a Nobel Prize winner) to dealing with Muslim honor: respect their sense of honor; do not engage in gratuitous provocation; avoid insult. Seiple’s essay highlights brilliantly how liberal thinking literally twists itself into its opposite and creates the Moebius Strip of Cognitive Egocentrism. Prepare to have your head hurt.

HT: Dan Pipes. See also Doc’s Talk

10 terms not to use with Muslims
There’s a big difference between what we say and what they hear.

By Chris Seiple
Christine Science Monitor
March 28, 2009 edition

ARLINGTON, VA. – In the course of my travels – from the Middle East to Central Asia to Southeast Asia – it has been my great privilege to meet and become friends with many devout Muslims. These friendships are defined by frank respect as we listen to each other; understand and agree on the what, why, and how of our disagreements, political and theological; and, most of all, deepen our points of commonality as a result.

I’d very much like to hear about those points of commonality, deepened by these discussions. I have difficulty understanding what “frank respect” means. We’re frank because we respect each other? Or we frankly (overtly, obviously) show respect for each other. I have difficulty, given the subsequent discussion, imagining Mr. Seiple being frank about anything.

I have learned much from my Muslim friends, foremost this: Political disagreements come and go, but genuine respect for each other, rooted in our respective faith traditions, does not.

Again, I don’t understand. Right now, I think there are some very long-term political disagreements. And one of them concerns just the topic he wants to oppose to what he considers transient political issues — the alleged tolerance and respect that Muslims [don't] have for infidels. How many of the Muslims that Mr. Seiple has met in his world travels, who expressed their respect for his faith, really meant it?

(I’m certainly not saying “none,” but I do think that any fervent Muslim will have difficulty feeling genuine respect for non-Muslims. As far as I know, there is no category in Islam as in Judaism of the “righteous gentile.”)

And while I am willing to believe that some of his interlocutors genuinely respect Seiple’s religion and outreach, I’m also fairly confident that a number of them told him what he wanted to hear and felt contempt for his lack of conviction in his own faith. Indeed, one of the things one must ask oneself is not, “what do these interlocutors say to may face?” but “what do these interlocutors say to their fellow Muslims behind my back.

(Again, I’m not even saying that in cases where they make fun of us to their fellow Muslims they do so because they feel it; it could be just yielding to [heavy] peer pressure.)

If there is no respect, there is no relationship, merely a transactional encounter that serves no one in the long term.

This is pure “positive-sum” thinking. If one rethinks this from a zero-sum perspective (i.e., pre-modern Islam [or Christianity]), the “merely transactional encounter” becomes a vehicle for manipulating the “other” into taking a submissive posture which a) forbids him to uphold his values or crticize mine, b) compels him to let me press mine without opposition, and c) creates a long-term advantage for my side, then it unquestionably serves me “in the long run.” Seiple assumes that his interlocutors share his deep mutuality (frank respect), and that they understand that only through that will the long run win-win occur.

But what if they’re not thinking that way? What if they’re in the “I win only if you lose” game? Whatever any individual Muslim may be thinking, I suspect that if you present Seiple’s message — only through deep mutual respect for our differences and commonalities, and an acceptance of each other’s “otherness” will peace come to our sorely troubled planet — and get a candid response from the majority of Muslim leaders around the world today, you’ll get either outright laughter or profound hostility.

As President Obama considers his first speech in a Muslim majority country (he visits Turkey April 6-7), and as the US national security establishment reviews its foreign policy and public diplomacy, I want to share the advice given to me from dear Muslim friends worldwide regarding words and concepts that are not useful in building relationships with them. Obviously, we are not going to throw out all of these terms, nor should we. But we do need to be very careful about how we use them, and in what context.

If I understand correctly, Seiple’s now offering us a list of terms that he feels are likely to hurt efforts at “building relationships” with Muslims, and that he learned this from his “dear Muslim friends” — i.e., those he believes have a deep and frank respect for him and his own religious convictions.

1. “The Clash of Civilizations.” Invariably, this kind of discussion ends up with us as the good guy and them as the bad guy. There is no clash of civilizations, only a clash between those who are for civilization, and those who are against it. Civilization has many characteristics but two are foundational: 1) It has no place for those who encourage, invite, and/or commit the murder of innocent civilians; and 2) It is defined by institutions that protect and promote both the minority and the transparent rule of law.

This is an amazing passage… conceptually breathtaking in its disinformation. Let’s begin with the confident assertion: Invariably, this kind of discussion ends up with us as the good guy and them as the bad guy. On the contrary, for those Muslims who view this as a “clash of civilizations,” it’s a no-brainer: they’re the good guys and we’re the bad guys. They care about honor and morality, and we’re a bunch of corrupt, self-indulgent sinners.

This statement betrays how little Seiple actually empathizes with (he overflows with sympathy for) his Muslim interlocutors, and only sees things from his own perspective… which, great-souled man that he is, he will gladly renounce (i.e., the sense that his civilization is better), for the sake of mutual respect (a characteristic Western idea).

But it gets better. Seiple then sets up the opposition between those in favor of civilization and those against it, and defines civilization quite explicitly. 1) It has no place for those who encourage, invite, and/or commit the murder of innocent civilians; and 2) It is defined by institutions that protect and promote both the minority and the transparent rule of law.

Mr. Seiple apparently has no knowledge of civilizations — including European — before the latter half of the 20th century. His first condition is clearly aimed at denouncing terrorism. Of course, unless you insist that civilians are only “innocent” under certain specific situations, we have a Muslim world which is almost unanimous in its approval of killing “non” innocent Israeli civilians, and many more who approve of killing civilians — infidels and Muslims — for political ends. In addition to the “tiny minority” who actually attack civilians, there are widening gyres of Muslims who encourage and invite it.

But the second definition is even more striking and contradictory. This is a purely self-referential Western (or democratic) definition of civilization. Transparency is a modern notion, reinforced by a free press which can report without fear the transgressions of those in power (including judges). As for protecting and — especially — promoting minorities, that is a peculiarly post-WWII phenomenon, fruit of a world aghast at the Holocaust, legislating Geneva Conventions for the world, instituting the United Nations, promoting human rights around the world. No earlier civilization promoted minorities. On the contrary, they saw their authority as a license to put minorities in their place.

Islamic “civilization” (the scare-quotes are in application of Seiple’s definition) does not make the grade here. Dhimmi may mean “protected” (and Seiple may have that in mind), but anyone who knows anything about Islam knows that a) the protection was from the choice of conversion or death, b) there were other groups (pagans) who were not so “protected,” and c) that “protection” involved not promotion but systematic humiliation and subordination.

So what Seiple’s done here is a classic inversion of meaning. In defining “all” civilizations, he’s done just what he said we shouldn’t — made a Eurocentric (Occidento-centric) value judgment that “we are better” (i.e., our values are better than any other; indeed they are the very measure of civilization). But to avoid the “clash of civilizations” he’s granted “civilized” status to everyone else. “They” are civilized like “us.”

Breathtaking Folly — Surprise! — on the pages of the NYT: Roger Cohen’s Black Hole

I guess I’m like Charlie Brown with Lucy’s football. I am continuously amazed at how foolish our pundits are and how ready major newspapers are to give them full rein on their editorial pages.

lucy and the football

I’ve already fisked Roger Cohen before for his naïve PCP1, but this surpasses credulity (his and mine).

Middle East Reality Check

By ROGER COHEN
Published: March 8, 2009
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton grabbed headlines with an invitation to Iran to attend a conference on Afghanistan, but the significant Middle Eastern news last week came from Britain. It has “reconsidered” its position on Hezbollah and will open a direct channel to the militant group in Lebanon.

Like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah has long been treated by the United States as a proscribed terrorist group. This narrow view has ignored the fact that both organizations are now entrenched political and social movements without whose involvement regional peace is impossible.

So were the Nazis an entrenched part of political and social movements in Germany and Austria. Including them in diplomacy didn’t make peace possible, it made it impossible. What on earth makes someone like Cohen think that by “including” a group that has a virulently anti-semitic platform and calls on its people to commit genocide, that somehow that will lead to peace?

Britain aligned itself with the U.S. position on Hezbollah, but has now seen its error. Bill Marston, a Foreign Office spokesman, told Al Jazeera: “Hezbollah is a political phenomenon and part and parcel of the national fabric in Lebanon. We have to admit this.”

Hallelujah.

This “Hallelujah,” more than anything else in the article, has me slackjawed. It’s one thing to clench your teeth and take your medicine like a man, it’s another thing to cheer as your being rearended by roadrage. The only reason I can come up with for such an extraordinary show of joy is double: 1) Cohen has no knowledge of what Hizbullah and Hamas are really about (how characteristically inappropriate for a pundit), and 2) he’s so convinced that being nice will work that, now that we’re being nice, it’s time to cheer because everything is about to work. I hate to say it, but I’m beginning to agree with oao and cynic here, we’re in deep doodoo.

Precisely the same thing could be said of Hamas in Gaza. It is a political phenomenon, part of the national fabric there.

One difference is that Hezbollah is in the Lebanese national unity government, whereas Hamas won the free and fair January 2006 elections to the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority, only to discover Middle Eastern democracy is only democracy if it produces the right result.

And here I thought that that kind of nonsense was going to disappear quietly as Hamas showed its true colors. Apparently, not to the color-blind. What drives me crazy about these kinds of formulas is that they at once grant the status of “democracy” at the same time as they fail to hold the population responsible for their vote. “What, you have a problem with the Nazis? They were fairly elected.” The superficiality of such formulations, combined with the joy of ceding to the perverse choices of the Arab electorates in question, strike me as sure signs of a massive loss of common sense.

Insights into Why Europe Slept: Revisiting Tony Judt’s “Israel: The Alternative”

It’s more than five years old, but for many reasons, Tony Judt’s “Israel: The Alternative” is worth revisiting (and fisking) now as we reach the closing years of the aughts, and like the keffiya, the “One-state solution” is becoming increasingly fashionable on the left.

This essay was part of a wave of anti-Zionist writings from mainstream figures in the wake of the Second Intifada, and it stood out as the work of a highly respected historian of the 20th century, with a strong Zionist past. Using his authoritative knowledge of history, Judt argued that Israel was an a primitive anachronism of questionable legitimacy, and that peace would be far more likely were it dismantled and replaced with a single national entity uniting Jews, Muslims and Christians in a democratic, secular Palestine.

The essay received a number of sharp responses, some as eloquent as they were hard hitting. But the damage was done: another “alter-juif” — who even as he presented his bona fides as a Jew, deligitimated the Jewish state — had contributed to calling Israel’s very existence into question in the public sphere. And he made his case not with passion and invective, but with an argument that was primarily historical. I had not read the essay at the time it appeared, but had heard of it, especially from Rosenfeld’s piece on “Progressive” Jewish Thought and the New Antisemitism (p. 15f.)

A close read several years later proves a valuable exercise in writing a “Second Draft,” particularly since this piece is a kind of “historical journalism” in which Judt uses his wide familiarity with 20th century history to advise and orient those concerned with current events. What the passage of five years reveals, however, is hardly flattering to Judt. On the contrary, from his appraisal of key players like Sharon and Arafat, to his serene confidence in the European model (with which he critiques Israel’s shoddy moral record), to his sense of the strength of Israeli “fascism,” he seems to have gotten almost everything wrong. As bad as it seemed to some readers at the time, it seems the worse for five years’ wear.

Anyone who had read the first essay carefully should not be surprised at how badly Judt read the situation in 2003. Although written by an accomplished historian of precisely the period in question, the essay makes elementary errors of historical analysis and comparison that fail the standards of first-year graduate school. Indeed, Judt mangles his historical analysis so thoroughly that it raises questions about what could possibly have led him to restrict his data so tightly to Israel — in order to single her out for opprobrium — and then reach such outlandish conclusions/solutions — her dissolution. Whatever the deeper causes, it certainly illustrates how powerful a distorting influence the pull of anti-Zionism — and Anti-Americanism — was on the minds of some of the best and the brightest in the early 21st century.

As such, it’s a sad but valuable document.

[Judt in block-quote, bold; bold italics my emphasis.]

Volume 50, Number 16 · October 23, 2003

Israel: The Alternative

By Tony Judt

The Middle East peace process is finished. It did not die: it was killed. Mahmoud Abbas was undermined by the President of the Palestinian Authority and humiliated by the Prime Minister of Israel. His successor awaits a similar fate. Israel continues to mock its American patron, building illegal settlements in cynical disregard of the “road map.” The President of the United States of America has been reduced to a ventriloquist’s dummy, pitifully reciting the Israeli cabinet line: “It’s all Arafat’s fault.” Israelis themselves grimly await the next bomber. Palestinian Arabs, corralled into shrinking Bantustans, subsist on EU handouts. On the corpse-strewn landscape of the Fertile Crescent, Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and a handful of terrorists can all claim victory, and they do. Have we reached the end of the road? What is to be done?

Notice Judt’s pervasive adoption of Arab “honor-shame” language, not as a sophisticated analysis of how “honor-shame” calculus drives the most belligerent elements of Palestinian behavior, but as an advocate of preserving Palestinian honor. In other words, rather than confront the pervasiveness of a primitive zero-sum notion of “honor” in the Arab world, one of, if not the primary source of the belligerence, he not only accepts it, but makes himself its champion, excoriating the Israelis for not respecting that sense of honor. The overall effect of so foolish an a priori concession is to make us all prisoners of this pre-modern mentality which he is about to claim, no longer exists.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, in the twilight of the continental empires, Europe’s subject peoples dreamed of forming “nation-states,” territorial homelands where Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Armenians, and others might live free, masters of their own fate. When the Habsburg and Romanov empires collapsed after World War I, their leaders seized the opportunity. A flurry of new states emerged; and the first thing they did was set about privileging their national, “ethnic” majority — defined by language, or religion, or antiquity, or all three — at the expense of inconvenient local minorities, who were consigned to second-class status: permanently resident strangers in their own home.

Note the emotional appeal of the last sentence. We all believe that “inconvenient local minorities” should not be consigned to second-class status, that they should not be made “permanently resident strangers in their own home.” Clearly any country that does so is “not good,” or in Judt’s moral-political universe, not like the “post-nationalist” Europeans. One would not know from this phrasing that accomplishing this feat of egalitarian treatment of native and stranger is almost unheard of in human history – the Greeks never came near; the Americans took over two centuries to get close, and the Europeans had to go through two centuries of revolution and insane millennial warfare just to begin to treat their own minorities and fellow Europeans fairly by Judt’s exacting standards.

By taking this unique accomplishment of advanced modernity — polities built on the idea of respect for others, and abandonment of the “us-them” mentality — as a global norm, Judt obscures its rarity historically (and, implicitly, cheapens the accomplishment). The overriding political axiom for most of human history, and certainly for the European and Arabian political cultures under discussion here has been “rule or be ruled.” The very issue of “minorities” only arises after the nation state has undermined the fundamental prime divider of pre-modern societies, between the ruling minority and the mass of commoners fleeced and living at subsistence. As the Mexican bandido in The Magnificent Seven, Calvera, says to Chris Adams (Yul Brenner) about the defenseless peasants he exacts tribute from, “If God didn’t want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”

Minority rights are already a higher level of egalitarian political organization than what still predominates throughout the Arab and Muslim world, where the ruling elites of all stripes shear their Arab Muslims commoners no matter how wealthy they are.

But Judt’s not interested in discussing the political culture of the Arab world into which Zionism as a European phenomenon was inserted, but in identifying what brand of European nationalism Zionism best compares with. Rather than the Western European model of liberal or “democratic” nationalism (France, England, USA), he prefers to compare Israel to the Eastern European countries that aspired to national autonomy around the same time as Zionism did.

Judt clearly considers these Eastern European nationalisms inferior: unlike the Western democracies, they consigned their “inconvenient” minorities to second-hand status. And, although Judt does not so note in his essay, one might even argue that this failure to grant equal rights to all – the core of a civil polity – contributed significantly to the weakness of these fledgling “constitutional states” and their vulnerability to fascism and totalitarianism, which swept through Eastern Europe within decades of their founding. “Nationalism gone wrong.”

But one nationalist movement, Zionism, was frustrated in its ambitions. The dream of an appropriately sited Jewish national home in the middle of the defunct Turkish Empire had to wait upon the retreat of imperial Britain: a process that took three more decades and a second world war.

Wait. Only “one nationalist movement” was “frustrated”? What about Arab nationalism? They weren’t frustrated? The Egyptians were furious at the treatment they got at Versailles, as were the Chinese, the Kurds, and many others. Indeed, the exceptional aspect of Zionism among the many cases of post-war frustrated nationalisms, is that, within a generation of this disappointment, the Zionists alone managed to establish a democratic civil polity).

Why, then, would Judt make such a strained, ahistorical claim? The next paragraph clarifies.

And thus it was only in 1948 that a Jewish nation-state was established in formerly Ottoman Palestine. But the founders of the Jewish state had been influenced by the same concepts and categories as their fin-de-siècle contemporaries back in Warsaw, or Odessa, or Bucharest; not surprisingly, Israel’s ethno-religious self-definition, and its discrimination against internal “foreigners,” has always had more in common with, say, the practices of post-Habsburg Romania than either party might care to acknowledge.

Scruton stumbles through explaining how the West should deal with Islam’s challenge.

A number of commenters have discussed Roger Scruton’s essay in Azure, “Islam and the West: Lines of Demarcation.” Some find it excellent even while others find the conclusion on “forgiveness” confusing if not troubling. I read it with increasing dismay and the results are the fisking below. It’s, alas, a good example of how (even mild) Christian supersessionism, makes it so hard for even sophisticated and (appropriately) politically incorrect thinkers to grapple with what confronts us from Islam.

Azure Winter 5769 / 2009, no. 35
Islam and the West: Lines of Demarcation
By Roger Scruton

What it is about our civilization that causes such resentment, and why we must defend it.

The West today is involved in a protracted and violent struggle with the forces of radical Islam. This conflict is intensely difficult, both because of our enemy’s dedication to his cause, and also, perhaps most of all, because of the enormous cultural shift that has occurred in Europe and America since the end of the Vietnam War. Put simply, the citizens of Western states have lost their appetite for foreign wars; they have lost the hope of scoring any but temporary victories; and they have lost confidence in their way of life. Indeed, they are no longer sure what that way of life requires of them.

That’s an interesting formula, since it is quasi-religious, in the sense that religion does answer the question “what life requires” of the adherent. Having translated religious morality into a secular idiom (e.g., Kant), having dismissed religions as so much hocus-pocus, modern secular people who care about morality don’t know what to do but push the “most moral” elements to the extreme. As a result we get a “progressive left” that is at once scornful of religion (especially of the “white” variety, Judaism and Christianity) even as it pushes a “turn the other cheek, love your enemies as yourself” morality in international relations. “Wildly inappropriate” comes to mind.

Of course, the kind of wisdom expressed in a biblical text like, “nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute,” could not penetrate the mentality that, for example, supports the “poor Palestinians” no matter how badly they behave. Religiously deracinated “ethics” can be as dangerous a phenomenon as religious zealotry. (Or is that moral equivalence?)

At the same time, they have been confronted with a new opponent, one who believes that the Western way of life is profoundly flawed, and perhaps even an offense against God. In a “fit of absence of mind,” Western societies have allowed this opponent to gather in their midst; sometimes, as in France, Britain, and the Netherlands, in ghettos which bear only tenuous and largely antagonistic relations to the surrounding political order.

I like the expression “fit of absence of mind,” because it was a fit, a blood-libel induced fit that led “progressives” to adopt Jihadi hatreds, and walk out on anyone who dared to criticize Muslims (a fortiori Palestinians) because that made their third-world colleagues in the fight for justice and truth “uncomfortable.”

And in both America and Europe there has been a growing desire for appeasement: a habit of public contrition; an acceptance, though with heavy heart, of the censorious edicts of the mullahs; and a further escalation in the official repudiation of our cultural and religious inheritance. Twenty years ago, it would have been inconceivable that the archbishop of Canterbury would give a public lecture advocating the incorporation of Islamic religious law (shari’ah) into the English legal system. Today, however, many people consider this to be an arguable point, and perhaps the next step on the way to peaceful compromise.

It’s even worse. Twenty — even ten — years ago, it would have been inconceivable… now he says it’s inevitable.

60 Minutes on the expiring “Two-State” Solution: Invitation to a fisking

I have begun doing some video fisking which we are calling “Dialogues with the Media.” For the first examples, see here. I’ll be putting up some shortly, one on Annie Lennox, another on a CNN interview with Diana Buttu, and a third on a BBC with Hamas official Mahmud al Zahar. In the meantime, one of the major cases I’m looking into is the CBS piece by Bob Simon entitled “Time Running out for a Two-State Solution?” In preparing it, I welcome comments from readers on what they suggest I say in response to this piece (as well as links to others who have already critiqued it). Remember, in video fisking, the comments have to be as succinct as possible.

Below is the transcript.

Time Running Out For A Two-State Solution?
Jan. 25, 2009

(CBS) Getting a peace deal in the Middle East is such a priority to President Obama that his first foreign calls on his first day in office were to Arab and Israeli leaders. And on day two, the president made former Senator George Mitchell his special envoy for Middle East peace. Mr. Obama wants to shore up the ceasefire in Gaza, but a lasting peace really depends on the West Bank where Palestinians had hoped to create their state. The problem is, even before Israel invaded Gaza, a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians had concluded that peace between them was no longer possible, that history had passed it by. For peace to have a chance, Israel would have to withdraw from the West Bank, which would then become the Palestinian state.

It’s known as the “two-state” solution. But, while negotiations have been going on for 15 years, hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers have moved in to occupy the West Bank. Palestinians say they can’t have a state with Israeli settlers all over it, which the settlers say is precisely the idea.

Arab disappointment with Obama: The Musings of an Unconscious Demopath

The New York Times offers its op-ed pages to Alaa al Aswany, an Egyptian writer, author of The Yacoubian Building and Chicago. He voices his profound disappointment at Obama’s silence on Gaza. What we get is the musings of a (possibly) unconscious demopath, whose lack of self-awareness transpires in almost every complaint to which he gives voice.

We hear the voice of a self-identified moderate, who would like Egypt and the Arab world to have democracies, and a good relationship with the US and Obama, but when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, continues to pursue the zero-sum politics that have given the Arab world its current unfortunate contours. As the Fable de la Fontaine goes, “celui-ci ne voyait pas plus loin que son nez” [he doesn't see farther than his nose].

As a result, he vehiculates (to translate from the French) a message that says, “side with me on the Israeli-Arab issue, or you’ll never have any purchase in the Arab street.” It’s only a slightly milder version of what long-term hard-line advocates for the Palestinian cause are saying. The result — the classic invitation (à la Walt-Mearsheimer) to a Eurabian foreign policy.

Why the Muslim World Can’t Hear Obama

By ALAA AL ASWANY
Published: February 7, 2009
Cairo

PRESIDENT OBAMA is clearly trying to reach out to the Muslim world. I watched his Inaugural Address on television, and was most struck by the line: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.” He gave his first televised interview from the White House to Al Arabiya, an Arabic-language television channel.

But have these efforts reached the streets of Cairo?

One would have expected them to. Mr. Obama had substantial support among Egyptians — more than any other American presidential candidate that I can remember. I traveled to America several days before the election. The Egyptians I met in the United States told me — without exception — that they backed Mr. Obama. Many Egyptians I know went to his Web site and signed up as campaign supporters.

In Cairo, which is seven hours ahead of Washington, some people I know stayed up practically all night waiting for the election results. When Mr. Obama won, newspapers here described Nubians — southerners whose dark skin stands out in Cairo — dancing in victory.

The implication here is that this Egyptian support for Obama represented the awakening of democratic forces in the Arab world which Obama would be a fool to waste by not responding. But what if the hopes he aroused had nothing to do with democratic sentiments, but rather everything from “Nubian pride” [which one imagines must be charged emotions in a society as racist as Egypt] to Arab hopes that the Obama would help them with their Israel hang-up by siding with them and pressure Israel to weaken itself. Disappointing these hopes is hardly Obama’s responsibility, and the implication that he’s to blame suggests that for Mr. al Aswany, Egyptians don’t have to mature, Obama has to indulge their passions.

Our admiration for Mr. Obama is grounded in what he represents: fairness. He is the product of a just, democratic system that respects equal opportunity for education and work. This system allowed a black man, after centuries of racial discrimination, to become president.

This fairness is precisely what we are missing in Egypt.

That is why the image of President-elect Obama meeting with his predecessors in the White House was so touching. Here in Egypt, we don’t have previous or future presidents, only the present head of state who seized power through sham elections and keeps it by force, and who will probably remain in power until the end of his days. Accordingly, Egypt lacks a fair system that bases advancement on qualifications. Young people often get good jobs because they have connections. Ministers are not elected, but appointed by the president. Not surprisingly, this inequitable system often leads young people to frustration or religious extremism. Others flee the country at any cost, hoping to find justice elsewhere.

Now there’s a fair piece of self-criticism, but apparently what is sauce for the goose (Mubarak) is not sauce for the gander (Hamas). His sense of fairness, apparently so rudely violated by his own president, has profound limits when applied outside the tribe to either to Israel or to Obama for not condemning her. So behind the “fairness” talk, actually lies a demopathic demand for the opposite — side with the people whose attitude towards the Israeli “other” could not conceivably be more unfair.

I am Shocked: WaPo Gets the Israeli Strikes Exactly Wrong

Michael Abramowitz has come out with a hands-wringing “policy discussion” that personifies what’s wrong about Western thinking about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Comments interspersed.

Israeli Airstrikes on Gaza Strip Imperil Obama’s Peace Chances

Hamas Likely to Respond to Attacks That Seem to Stun West
Discussion Policy
By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 28, 2008; Page A20

Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza yesterday, in retaliation for a nonstop barrage of rocket attacks from Hamas fighters, raised the prospect of an escalation of violence that could scuttle any hopes the incoming Obama administration harbored of forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

We’ll see Abramowitz’s logic in a moment. But before that, let me note that this is actually a golden opportunity for Obama to peel some Arab “moderates” away from Hamas (and by implication Hizbullah and its patron Iran), but making it clear that Israel has every right to defend itself. In particular, this makes the possibility of a peace that stands a remote chance of actually succeeding possible, since anything that included Hamas was, pace Jimmy Carter, a catastrophe in the making.

“If the casualty reports are accurate, Hamas is going to respond. And this isn’t a two- or three-day deal in which the genie is put back in the bottle,” said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and author of “The Much Too Promised Land.” “This takes the already slim chance of an early, active and successful Obama engagement on Israel-Palestinian peace and lowers it to about zero.”

The idea that a) the casualty reports are accurate, and b) that only if they’re accurate would Hamas respond are both absurd contingencies. You know you’re dealing with someone in the thrall of “liberal cognitive egocentrism” when you see remarks like that. If we pass from PCP1 to PCP2, we have an interesting conflation of the casualty figures with civilian casualty figures. For the Peter Beaumont of the Guardian (who agrees with Abramowitz’s analysis), this attack should be compared with Deir Yassin and Sabra and Shatilla.

That’s doubly wrong: the Israelis killed no one at Sabra and Shatilla; and both those examples are massacres of civilians. What’s especially striking about this operation is the extraordinarily high rate of military targets and accordingly low rate of civilian, possiby under 10%. As the NYT reported about the first strikes:

    The vast majority of those killed were Hamas police officers and security men, including two senior commanders, but the dead included several construction workers and at least two children in school uniforms.

    Overnight, the passage in bold was scrubbed clean.

    This kind of toilette of course, works nicely to reinforce people like Beaumont, for whom this operation is something to be ranked with Deir Yassin. With the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Something, at last, that Israel’s foes can say looks like an atrocity.

As for taking the “already slim chance of an early, active and successful Obama engagement… to about zero,” that’s probably wrong on two counts. 1) It gives Obama a new angle with which to engage various key players (as noted above), and 2) the chances of an early Obama engagement’s success were already below zero. If anything this situation, properly handled, could actually increase the odds significantly.

The NYT Ship of Fools: Rodenbeck (PCP2) Reviews Pollack (PCP1)

I recently posted on the way the NYT packages discussions of the Middle East. Now we get a close look at how it packages book reviews. Below is a review of a book by Ken Pollack offering a grand strategy for the US to contribute significantly to resolving the Middle East conflict. It seems like a flawed book in many ways, but hardly in the terms in which the chosen reviewer critiques it. The reviewer is Max Rodenbeck, the Middle East correspondent for The Economist. It’s a case of washing away PCP1 with a dose of PCP2, rather than balancing it with a more sober appraisal of the situation (HSJP)

For a more valuable critique, see Michael Rubin’s review in the New York Sun. Thank civil society for multiple sources of opinion. Thank the NYT for sheltering you from painful realities, and loading up its pages with writers from the ship of fools.

War and Peace

By MAX RODENBECK
Published: August 22, 2008

Back in 2002, I ran into one of the Brookings Institution’s top Middle East hands at the inaugural session of the United States-Islamic World Forum, a now annual event that Brookings sponsors jointly with the government of Qatar. “How’s it going?” I asked, expecting to hear about clashing misperceptions across the cultural divide. “Good,” came the gruff reply. “They’re beginning to realize that they are the problem.”

A PATH OUT OF THE DESERT
A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East
By Kenneth M. Pollack
539 pp. Random House. $30
Related
First Chapter: ‘A Path Out of the Desert’ (August 24, 2008)

Reading this big, ambitious book by Kenneth M. Pollack, who is the head of research at Brookings’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, it is hard not to wish that what he refers to as Washington’s “policy community” would more often realize that they are the problem.

That’s pretty amazing. If he had written, “they are part of the problem,” okay. But “they are the problem.” That’s pure MOS: Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome — as if there were no problem besides our bungled attempts to solve the problem. It’s a little like saying all health problems are iatrogenic. There are no diseases; it’s the doctors’ fault.

It would have been nice, for instance, had Pollack himself thought harder before arguing, in scholarly papers and his widely read 2002 book, “The Threatening Storm,” that America had “no choice” but to invade Iraq. That ostensibly sober appraisal, coming from a former C.I.A. analyst, Clinton official and self-described liberal, arguably added more gravitas to the shrill cries for war than any other voice.

Pollack has long since confessed to having been wrong about Iraq. “A Path Out of the Desert” includes other mea culpas. “There has been far too little asking the people of the region themselves what they thought and what they wanted,” he ruminates at one point, though the book offers slim evidence of his having pursued this advice. While the administration that Pollack served gets some light wrist-­slapping, it is the following eight years of Bush policy that he calls “breathtakingly arrogant, ignorant and reckless.”

Rudenbeck speaks as if it’s a) clear how to consult the people of the region, b) that they are clear on what they want, and c) they’ll give you a straight answer whether they are clear or not.

Many of Pollack’s other judgments are as sound as is this criticism of the Bush administration. Since most of the post-cold-war world has stabilized, democratized and prospered, it is probably correct to suggest, as he does, that America should commit itself to helping the messy Middle East come up to par.

Now there’s an breathtaking piece of ignorant and reckless arrogance. Who says they want democracy? And who is they? And even if they say they want it, who says they (and here I’m speaking of the key players, the alpha males) are willing to make the sacrifices necessary for democracy (like giving up honor-killings or self-help justice). What a mealy-mouthed homogenized view of post-war culture Rodenbeck offers up with this description of post-war culture and the [obvious] conclusions he thinks we should draw from it.

Empty Posturing: A Demopath Stands up for Press Freedom in “Occupied Palestine”

Muzzling press freedom in Occupied Palestine

Khalid Amayreh
Voices
08/21/08

To begin with, I would like to point out that I am writing this article at the risk of being arrested for “incitement” and “tarnishing” the Palestinian Authority (PA) image.

However, the cause of press freedom in Occupied Palestine is too important to be compromised by fears for one’s safety.

Sounds like a brave man. And he may be. But his opening sentence is packed with ludicrous notions: a) there is a cause of press freedom in “Occupied Palestine”; b) it’s only for “incitement” and “tarnishing” the PA image that he runs risks (try criticizing Hamas and see who shows up at your door); and c) it’s “Occupied Palestine” that’s the problem. On the contrary, the closest thing to press freedom Palestinians ever experienced was under Israeli “occupation.” It’s when the place was handed over first to Arafat, and then in Gaza to Hamas, that press freedoms — and freedom of speech — vanished.

As one Palestinian in “occupied Jerusalem” put it: “At least here I can speak my mind freely without being dumped in prison…” Another, from an area that rioted in 2000 against Israel, but balked ferociously at being “transferred” to Arafat’s Palestine in a land-exchange deal, said: “Here you can say whatever you like and do whatever you want — so long as you don’t touch the security of Israel. Over there, if you talk about Arafat, they can arrest you and beat you up.”

Pipes quotes Palestinians about “Freedom of Expression”:

    ‘Adnan Khatib, owner and editor of Al-Umma, a Jerusalem weekly whose printing plant was burned down by PA police in 1995, bemoaned the troubles he’d had since the Palestinian Authority’s heavy-handed leaders got power over him: “The measures they are taking against the Palestinian media, including the arrest of journalists and the closure of newspapers, are much worse than those taken by the Israelis against the Palestinian press.” In an ironic turn of events, Na‘im Salama, a lawyer living in Gaza, was arrested by the PA on charges he slandered it by writing that Palestinians should adopt Israeli standards of democracy. Specifically, he referred to charges of fraud and breach of trust against then-prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Salama noted how the system in Israel allowed police to investigate a sitting prime minister and wondered when the same might apply to the PA chieftain. For this audacity, he spent time in jail. Hanan Ashrawi, an obsessive anti-Israel critic, acknowledged (reluctantly) that the Jewish state has something to teach the nascent Palestinian polity: “freedom would have to be mentioned although it has only been implemented in a selective way, for example, the freedom of speech.” ‘Iyad as-Sarraj, a prominent psychiatrist and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, confesses that “during the Israeli occupation, I was 100 times freer [than under the Palestinian Authority].”

So, granted, the PA are thugs and don’t allow freedom of expression, but alas for our intrepid journalist trying to stand up for freedom of the press in “occupied Palestine,” the only time there was anything like “freedom of the press” was when the Israelis really did occupy the land.

Hence, journalists and free-minded citizens must not allow themselves to be intimidated by a police-state apparatus that views itself as God’s vicegerent on earth.

In recent weeks and months, the American-backed and Israeli-favored regime in Ramallah has been systematically violating the human rights and civil liberties of the Palestinian people in ways unseen since the start of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967.

PCP meets HSJP: Deborah Solomon of the Grey Lady interviews Brigitte Gabrielle

I got an email alert from CAMERA about an offensive (and misleading) interview with Brigitte Gabriel in the NYT by Deborah Solomon. Solomon is a classic representative of the liberal cognitive egocentrism that makes people easy dupes of demopaths. What’s fascinating and (still) astonishing is to see how openly Solomon embraces her (for me) peculiar point of view (the Politically Correct Paradigm — PCP) as if it’s the simple truth, and that Gabriels’ paradigm (the Honor-Shame Jihad Paradigm — HSJP) is from Mars. And of course, coming from the audacity of arrogance, she readily tries to cubby-hole Gabriel as a right-wing nut and Islamophobe.

If there’s anything irrational about this interview it’s how the interviewer isn’t even aware that there is something to be worried about. As CAMERA points out, “Islamophobia is an irrational fear of Islam.” Gabriel’s own experience has taught her to fear radical Islam and its easy spread within Muslim circles. The use of the accusation “Islamophobe” to shut down rational discussion has become one of the most irrational dimensions of current public discourse. (Here’s a place where one might expect a consistent “leftist” to paraphrase the classic attack on Israeli self-defense, “Not all criticism of Islam is Islamophobia.”)

Gabriel’s responses are dignified and to the point… indeed they remind me of some of Boulton’s responses to an equally aggressive and self-assured interviewer at al Jazeera.

This might not be Solomon’s work, but the interview is announced on the front page of the Sunday Magazine as follows:

The best-selling author and radical Islamophobe talks about why moderate Muslims are irrelevant, the lessons we should have learned from Lebanon and dressing like a French woman.

Now that’s an amazingly nasty attack designed to discredit her from the start. I especially like the use of the adjective “radical,” since it turns the tables on Gabriel, whose target is real “radicals” — i.e., Islamists. Robert Spencer has some particularly pointed remarks on this specific point.

    The implication is that “Islamophobes” have some irrational prejudice against Muslims, a prejudice which is probably racially motivated — so in other words, their resistance to Islamic jihad activity cannot be characterized as a legitimate stand in defense of human rights, but is rather simply an expression of “hate.” Of course, if Muslims would stop committing violence and justifying it according to Islamic teachings, and stop pursuing a supremacist agenda to replace Western pluralistic systems with Sharia, “Islamophobia,” both as an intellectual critique of and expression of resistance to that agenda, and also as any actual victimization of innocent Muslims, would melt away — but the Times, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and CAIR, and the rest of them are not going to tell you that.

Was this nasty dig at Gabriel the NYT editor’s way of apologizing for even running the interview in the first place? “Hey, all you Muslims with a short fuse out there, don’t blame us for this interview, we told everyone what we thought of it right up front.”

Note that Solomon (whose questions are in bold), actually talks more than Gabriel. That’s not by acccident. This interview is more about Solomon than Gabriel.

QUESTIONS FOR BRIGITTE GABRIEL
The Crusader

Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON
Published: August 15, 2008
As a Lebanese-Christian immigrant who spent her girlhood amid the bloody devastation of the Lebanese civil war, you have lately emerged as one of the most vehement critics of radical Islam in this country. Are you concerned that your new book, They Must Be Stopped, will feed animosity toward Muslims? I do not think I am feeding animosity. I am bringing an issue to light. I disapprove of any religion that calls for the killing of other people. If Christianity called for that, I would condemn it.

Not a question on the content of the book? It’s as if Solomon were so alarmed by the contents — i.e. how they might anger Muslims — that she has to immediately attack the author. At least she admits that Gabriel is attacking “radical Islam.” Of course the real question here is, “are you suggesting that the public should be protected from hearing alarming stuff about radical Islam lest they draw conclusions at variance with your ecumenical and irenic values? Are you willing to by a false peace at the price of ignorance?

What about all the moderate Muslims who represent our hope for the future? Why don’t you write about them? The moderate Muslims at this point are truly irrelevant. I grew up in the Paris of the Middle East [Beirut], and because we refused to read the writing on the wall, we lost our country to Hezbollah and the radicals who are now controlling it.

I know Solomon’s column is supposed to be concise, but she might help the reader by pointing out that Gabriel is talking about a 7-12 year-long civil war in which Lebanese Arabs of all Christian and Muslim denominations killed about 150,000 of each other, mostly civilians, often deliberately.

But the most shocking part of this question is: What about all the moderate Muslims who represent our hope for the future? Solomon could have put it: “who some say represent…” But for her, this is so obvious a truth that she doesn’t even feel the need to relativize it as an opinion. On the contrary, it’s just “the truth” which Gabriel has violated, and therefore, endangered the moderates.

Why? Why shouldn’t the moderates be able to say to those Americans who read Gabriel’s book, “yes, this is a problem, and this is what we’re doing about it, and you can help us,” rather than, “shut up, Islam is a religion of peace and you’re offending me by calling my co-religionists war-mongers, you Islamophobes”? The idea that Solomon couldn’t tell a real moderate from a demopath in most cases, and that that situation is dangerous for everyone including the real moderates, apparently has not occurred to her.

There’s another fallacy embedded in this question. Not only are Muslim moderates “our hope for the future,” but you, Brigitte Gabriel, undermine them by denouncing their enemies, the Islamists. That’s a truly bizarre perspective, almost the opposite of the real situation where, without support, moderate Muslims in the US and Europe are everywhere being pushed out of leadership positions in mosques and communities. Perhaps, Solomon’s not interested in the real situation, but how things look: as long as she and her “bien pensants” can pretend we’re all one happy family of moderates — bring down the walls between religions — then things are fine, right?

Incompetence or Bad Faith? Sheehan tries to explain why Bush’s Peace Plan is failing in Middle East

Edward R.F. Sheehan, a former fellow of Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, had an op-ed in the Boston Globe recently that illustrates everything that’s wrong with the kind of “policy” thinking that emanates from both Washington and the major academic institutions. It also represents the kind of editorial the Globe will run, ad infinitum, because it articulates liberal cognitive egocentrism to perfection.

This has taken me some time to fisk because it is so relentlessly, discouragingly wrongheaded. Not knowing Sheehan’s other work, I don’t know if it’s stupidity or dishonesty. But it most surely is the kind of advocacy for the Palestinians — indeed for the most irredentist and extremist of the Palestinians — one can find. The Globe should be proud; it has upheld its editorial tradition.

Bush’s doomed Mideast peace efforts

By Edward R.F. Sheehan
August 6, 2008

PRESIDENT BUSH does not seem to know it yet, but his peace plan for the Middle East is moribund. That is my chief impression from a recent three-month journey through the troubled region. A viable Palestinian state will not exist by the time Bush leaves office. Nor will one exist, probably, in the predictable future – not least because of the failures of US policy.

Of course, many of us who know what the Palestinian agenda is — secular and religious — have known that this round is moribund. My guess is, many of the Bush administration have also known that. Sheehan, on the other hand, is playing naif and doesn’t even waste a sentence on the Palestinians’ contribution to their own failures. That might confuse the reader with complexity. Go straight after Bush. I wonder if, during his three months in the Middle East, Sheehan spent any time in the hate factories (mosques, schools, TV stations) — or was he ushered around by his “contacts.”

Cynicism prevails among Palestinians, and Israelis also. Azmi Bishara, a prominent Palestinian intellectual, decries what he calls “the Palestine settlement industry – that inexhaustible source of quasi-initiatives [and] pseudo-dialogues” that after 41 years of harsh Israeli occupation have led nowhere. To virtually every Palestinian I talked to, Bush’s peace process has become a black comedy.

Well they would complain about all that, but as a journalist, one would have expected you to know a bit more about this and maybe ask them some hard questions rather than take dutiful notes and report back to your public as if this were the story. For example, it might be nice to acknowledge that before the first “intifada,” Israeli rule was hardly “harsh occupation.” On the contrary, modeling themselves on the Marshall Plan, the Israelis succeeded in helping a Palestinian economy which, in the 1970s, was among the fastest growing economies in the world.

Illustrating the Problem: Thoughts on a comment by “David”

In response to my post on what we can learn from the barbarity in Gaza and the silence of the media/NGOs/progressive left, I got a particularly sharp rebuke from a certain “David.” A number of commenters at the blog responded equally sharply, with perhaps a bit more invective than I would have, but still, I think, within the parameters of a reasonably civil dialogue (e.g., speculating on the man’s sanity or drug consumption). I’d like to discuss his post and incorporate both the answers of commenters already posted here and others I solicited from various people who know more about Sabra and Shatilla than I do. I have asked David to provide the links or references to his comments, and have posted his answer below.

Let me begin by reposting “David”‘s comment.

A truly pathetic attempt to be funny through gross misrepresentation of history and demeaning the well documented suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Israel, a state that has been repeatedly accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tsellem (Israel’s human rights group) as well as the United Nations and other groups. I could go on and on. Suffice, however, to point out that it was Ariel Sharon (then defence minister) who ordered the IDF to surround the Sabra and Shatila Palestinians refugee camps in Lebanon in Sept. 1982. As per his instructions, the Phalange were then permitted to enter the camps, where for three days they slaughtered Palestinians, mainly women, children and old men. Not only did the Israelis not permit the Palestinians to leave, they watched the horrors from observation towers around the camps, supplied the Phalange with night time illumination (to see better as they murdered the defenceless Palestinians) as well as bulldozers to get rid of the bodies. The Israelis also suppled the Phalange with cokes during their “breaks” from their butchering. At least 2,000 Palestinians were murdered with Israel’s complicity.

Also, during their unprovoked invasion of Lebanon in 1982 (the PLO had adhered scrupulously to the cease-fire negotiated at the behest of Pres. Reagan), the Israeli invaders murdered over 18,000 Lebanese and other Palestinian civilians – as determined by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. All of this is well documented and common knowledge to those who actually know the history of region.

Now part of what I find so fascinating about this response is the ways that it illustrates precisely the problems I tried to discuss in my post — the unshakeable attachment to a narrative of “the well documented suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Israel,” the dependence for that narrative on the documentation provided by NGOs and media who are themselves major consumers and amplifiers of that narrative, the obsessive focus on the details of Israeli misdeeds with no attention to the behavior of their alleged “victims,” and the eagerness to present these “victims” in the most honorable light — evidence be damned.

So let’s go back over this text and fisk it systematically, all the while considering what the meta-message of such a comment conveys.

How to spot a slanted journalist: Ed O’Loughlin takes on Al Durah Controversy

Ed O’Loughlin writes for the Sydney Morning Herald did a piece on the al Durah controversy shortly before the showing of the rushes in court in November 2007. Although it might appear to the simple reader that this is a balanced piece, it’s worth a close look to see the embedded prejudice (in the etymological sense of the term, judgment before [viewing the evidence]. Note that he has only spoken with the people who support the original story, and that he presents none of the extensive evidence that there’s something terribly wrong with the report as Enderlin first broadcast it. Also note that he considers any question about the evidence, including the question of where the bullets came from, “conspiracy theory,” even though, at the end, he allows that it may have been Palestinian bullets that hit.

Truth is sometimes caught in crossfire

“We were the target” … Jamal al-Dura.
Photo: ED O’Loughlin

October 6, 2007
There are hopes the real story of the death of a boy in Gaza may emerge at a court case, writes Ed O’Loughlin.

Note that at no point does O’Loughlin refer to the case as the “alleged” death, even though that was the issue at contention in the court case. Has the author of the article even looked at the evidence for staging? Will he discuss “take six”? And is his “hopes [that] the real story of the death of a boy in Gaza may emerge” just hoping that the court will confirm the original story? By the end of the article, that seems a fairly likely conjecture.

The death of Mohammed al-Dura is a harrowing piece of footage: a 12-year-old Palestinian boy dying in his father’s arms as the pair seek cover from withering crossfire in Gaza.

The reader is immediately told, without any mention of “alleged,” how harrowing the footage of the death.

It is also, a senior Israeli spokesman declared this week, fake.

Danny Seaman, the director of Israel’s Government Press Office, said the television station France Two “essentially staged” the footage seven years ago this week as a “blood libel” against the Jewish state.

Seaman is the most senior government official to express a view which is increasingly popular among supporters of Israeli policy.

Immediately, the journalist labels the position a political one, rather than a response to the evidence. This is, essentially, Charles Enderlin’s position. But one might actually argue the opposite: that the insistence, despite the evidence, that the footage is real, corresponds primarily to those who favor the Palestinians.

Under this view, the killing of Mohammed al-Dura, like several other incidents which produced television images particularly unfavourable to Israel, was a smear contrived by foreign journalists against the Jewish state.

Significant misrepresentation here. No one is arguing that Enderlin was in on the staging action. No foreign journalists were involved. This was a Pallywood production with Talal as both cameraman and director. To present this as an criticism of “foreign” journalists is to replicate in a new form the error of early journalists who described the scene as “captured by a team of French journalists” when, again, it was Talal without supervision.

Ideology over Evidence in Iran Article Reminiscent of Enderlin Petition

Post by LB, additions by RL.

On the Empire Burlesque blog, Chris Floyd wrote a post entitled “Big Dog, Little Tail- The American Elite Decides on War with Iran“. In it, Floyd (willfully?) ignores the many indications that Iran’s intentions are not pure with regard to Israel and its nuclear program. While on the one hand, he dismisses the theories about the “Jewish lobby,” he turns his wrath on the US “military-industrial elite” manipulating world opinion and the U.N. because they “want to go to war,” and never takes a serious look at the evidence that runs counter to his world-view.

This pervasive disregard for evidence that contradicts deep-rooted convictions is reminiscent of the journalists who signed the petition supporting Charles Enderlin in June, 2008.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Israel will not attack Iran without the full knowledge and approval of the United States government.

That is quite a claim. Some analysts may agree, but does Floyd have any proof to make him so sure, besides his confident assertion that “The military-industrial elite control Israel”? Israel attacked Osirak in Iraq in 1981 without American knowledge, and many experts believe that Israel will do the same in Iran if it has to. “Israel will launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities on its own if the rest of the world does not take action, said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official and senior adviser to three presidents, including George W. Bush.

The trigger of the “warning shot” of Israel’s long-range air-strike exercise last week was actually pulled in Washington. The Israelis will not force or deceive the U.S. government into an attack on Iran; that attack – which grows more certain by the hour – will take place because America’s bipartisan foreign policy establishment and military-industrial complex (to the extent that there is any real difference between the two) want it to happen, or are willing to let it happen.