Tag Archives: Arab-Israeli Conflict

Does Burston really think it’s legitimate to view BDS as Tikkun Olam?

[I re-post this item from 2010 after having attended a meeting at Temple Israel, a Reform Synagogue in Boston last night where J-Street and NIF talked us blue from their tikkun bubble chamber.]

A good friend sent me the following piece by Bradley Burston with the comment: “It expresses how I feel.” I find it so pervasively flawed that I have difficulty taking it seriously. But if my friend can (and he’s one of the smartest people I know), then I have to, and it does raise, however poorly, a whole range of key issues. So, with great reluctance (because there are more interesting texts to sink one’s teeth into), I fisk below.

First, a brief introductory note: One of the key contentions of Burston and the people he likes (J-Street, Jewish Voices for Peace, Young Jews for Peace, etc.) is that a) they love Israel and b) they know the best way to peace which, since Israel won’t take that path, they must force upon her. Now all these groups locate along the “left” political spectrum differently. NIF disapproves of BDS but funds groups who do; J-Street disapproves of  BDS even if they associate with people who do; Jewish Voices for Peace and Emily Schaeffer (below) support BDS in many forms.

Whatever the details, each of these groups believes that they must pressure Israel to leave the occupied territories out of a combination of moral passion – the Israel they love should set a moral example to the world – and peaceful intentions – they know their formula for peace will work.

Now some people, myself included, see the situation very differently. On moral matters, howevermuch we may share concerns about the occupation and dominion over another people harms both Palestinians and Israelis, we have difficulty with a moral equivalence, that ends up as a moral inversion, with the profound condescension and bigotry it involves in its abysmally low standards for the Palestinians, and the inversely exacting standards to which it holds Israel. The result – people, Jews! – for whom Israel is the new Nazi. And even as such people are morally reckless in their accusations of Israel, they echo and reinforce genocidal hatreds among the most base of the enemies of the Jews.

On the practical level, many of us feel that while making concessions and apologizing is a splendid way to begin a process of reconciliation, that only works in cases where the other side also seeks resolution, and responds in kind. In some cases, conflicts are not only unresponsive to such an approach, but literally allergic: rather than a peace process it produces a war process. Indeed, given how often and consistently Palestinian (and more broadly Arab) leaders have seized upon Israeli concessions to press for more and on Israeli confessions to reaffirm a demonizing narrative, it’s dubious that under the best of circumstances, Palestinian political players would respond to an Israeli withdrawal to the ’67 borders with a shift to peace.

On the contrary, any such move most likely will strengthen those in the Palestinian camp who argue that any withdrawal should be part of a “Phased plan” to destroy Israel and use any and every pretext to keep the war alive. Any observer who dismisses even this possibility – the favorite line is either, “you’re paranoid,” or “oh, you think they only understand violence.” – is either in ignorance or denial of the discourse that prevails in Palestinian political culture today.

And so, if under the best of conditions withdrawing to the ’67 lines could backfire, how much the more likely that the voices of attack will grow louder if Israel finds itself compelled as a result of becoming the object of universal execration (BDS) and pressure from its only powerful ally, the United States, to withdraw. The naïveté of such a formula is only matched by the aggressiveness with which it gets implemented. A formula for war: si vis bellum para pacem.

The fact that groups can argue that the US should force Israel to make these concessions without any serious discussion of the necessary massive reciprocity from Palestinians (especially when it comes to incitement to hatred and violence), raises serious doubts among many about their realism, and given their recklessness in insisting that virtually any means to get there are legitimate, it raises for us serious doubts about their responsibility.

As far as I can make out, Burston has no idea what I’m talking about. He’s like the New Yorker cartoon of a Manhattanite’s view of the USA. When he looks at the landscape of this debate, all he sees are him and his like-minded friends “doing the right thing,” while the opposition is at the other end of the spectrum – messianic rabbis and their neo-con partners who will not part with an inch of the land, even if God himself told them to do so. And nothing in between.

He encases his simplistic dualism in the antimony “Jews of the Gate” vs. “Jews of the Wall.” This fisking comes from someone who thinks that both of his categories are poorly conceived; and that the real issues are entirely different from the ones upon which he focuses.

Thanksgiving, Tikkun Olam, and U.S. Jews breaking the Israel barrier By Bradley Burston

[Part 2 of a series on U.S. Jews emotionally divesting from Israel. In part, a journal of a recent West Coast speaking tour hosted by J Street]

Norah: It reminds me of this part of Judaism that I really like. It’s called Tikkun Olam. It says that the world is broken into pieces, and that it’s everybody’s job to find them and put them back together again.

Nick: Well, maybe we’re the pieces. And maybe we’re not supposed to find the pieces. Maybe we are the pieces. “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” (Columbia Pictures, 2008)

It’s hard not to read this as a spoof of the trivial use to which a mystical concept like tikkun olam has been put in new “new-age” spirituality. Not having seen the movie, I don’t know if this is an homage to “Deep Thoughts,” but Burston seems to offer them up as his credo. Indeed, Nick’s version – people! – stands behind the full line-up of comments he makes throughout this piece. So it’s probably worth a short comment on this deep and now deeply problematic notion that has set our moral compasses awry in the 21st century.

My article in Tablet and Victor’s challenge

I recently published a piece on millennial Jihad, cognitive warfare, and the al Durah affair at the Tablet Magazine. Among the comments, was a particularly interesting set of challenges from Victor. Given the limitations there (2000 characters per comment), I’m responding here.

The problem with all such essays (I’ve spent two days following all the links on this piece, including the Stuart Green paper on Cognitive Warfare, which touches on Soviet propaganda efforts – very interesting), is that they’re long on delivery and short on remedy. The final paragraph he cites seems to be saying that we should adopt jihadi tactics against them (honor-shame sensitivities), but against whom? Who are the jihadis? Can we really say that all Arabs/Muslims are jihadists, or even a majority of them? Can’t a case be made that by engaging the jihadis, and not other elements of Arab societies, we’re reinforcing the jihadist position relative to other factions?

i’m using jihadi here to designate anyone who shares the activist apocalyptic dream of spreading sharia to the entire world. large numbers of muslims (my guess is a majority) are millennial – i.e. they want to see the world submitted to sharia, but not necessarily now or violently. apocalyptic means a sense of urgency, *now* is the time. the most violent version (what most call jihadis) are “active cataclysmic apocalyptic”, who think that only great violence will bring about the millennial world and they are its agents.

there are two further issues. 1) those who are less violent, but share the millennial dream and its apocalyptic hopes (e.g., some Salafis). we in the west like to think they’re separate, but they’re only different in the degree to which their sense of urgency leads them to violence. some European Muslims who want to impose sharia there are against violence not on principle but because a) it’s too soon, they’re still a minority; and b) the fruit will be easier to pick in a generation when the demographics will have shifted. they are demopaths.

2) a much larger circle of muslims who will (sincerely) denounce al qaeda, nonetheless find in something like 9-11 a great swell of pride and a sense of honor restored. this reaction can occur even in secular muslims and even, non-muslims, eg, christian lebanese, anti-american europeans. even tho a victory of millennial islam would be disastrous for these folks, they can’t help but be excited. Lee Smith’s Strong Horse nails the dynamic. if we don’t resist both the violent jihadis and their demopathic allies, the false “moderates,” we feed their strong horse… every day.

so the short answer is, yes, we can’t just engage the jihadis, but we have to engage the larger circle of people – muslims and non-muslims – who might be attracted to their range of messages.

But all this is moot anyway, because Western civilization is not going to regress to honor-shame dynamics just to fight militant Islam.

There are many would would argue that we’re regressing in that direction – patriotism, Iraq War, Islamophobia/xenophobia, fascist tendencies. And that does represent a problem. In fact, rallying around the flag is one of the classic responses to threat; and refusing to do so in order not to regress is one of our greatest vulnerabilities. What I’m trying to do is find a way to respond to the threat without regressing.

We have our own cultural propaganda efforts – Hollywood, for one – the only problem is that these are not focused; they reflect our lives and values, but are not aimed specifically at undermining jihadism. Stuart Green focuses on Soviet disinformation actions in the West, how 85% of the intelligence budget actually went to such activities. First, before we model ourselves according to the Soviet Union, whose own citizens did not believe it’s propaganda, perhaps we should first see some research demonstrating effectiveness of Soviet disinformation efforts.

Among the many things worth reading, try Robert Conquest, “The Great Error: Soviet Myths and Western Minds,” chapter 7 of Reflections on a Ravaged Century, a book I regret not having read while writing my own. One choice quote with great import for the current state of academia: “One might suggest that a course on the credulity of supposed intellectual elites should be one of those given, indeed made  compulsory at universities – even, come to that, at theological colleges” (p. 149).

Second, assuming these efforts were successful, why is it that we can’t replicate such efforts? Has the knowledge been lost to do this? Is there a lack of generation commitment on the part of leadership? Why aren’t we practicing information operations in peacetime?

As Green says, you can’t win (much less fight) the battle of the Midway if you don’t know you’re in it. We view news media as something quasi-sacred (and so we should), not something to be turned into cognitive warfare. We can’t fight the way they do because, despite its failings, Western democracies and academics are based on certain commitments to honesty and truth, commitments we honor far too often in the breach, but almost always by deceiving ourselves rather than openly and cynically manipulating information. (When Orme drops the genocidal part of Halabiya’s sermon, he doesn’t think he’s a propagandist.)

Moreover, their side is not susceptible to the kind of demopathic appeal they succeed in making to us. We can’t make headway appealing to their commitment to human rights and egalitarian values. (Or maybe we can, but not with the ease they can do so to our public.) All these things need to be thought out carefully.

Landes seems to think that the only way to defeat jihadist infiltration is for a critical mass of people to “awaken” and stand guard. But how many people do you know that want to engage in conflict on a daily basis? It’s just not feasible, in my opinion. We would be much better off directly implementing disinformation efforts within Arab societies.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, blah blah blah. It is. We need to wake up. Think of all those lost souls looking for meaning in their lives. Here it is. I agree that many – too many – of us would rather just get on with our lives and ignore these pesky jihadis, soft and hard. But I think the world is a much more interesting place, and democracy a much more vivifying challenge, when we try to grapple with the threat in creative and humane ways. Read Lee Harris, The Suicide of Reason.

The final paragraph he cites seems to be saying that we should adopt jihadi tactics against them (honor-shame sensitivities), but against whom?

The entire culture is subject to honor-shame dynamics in ways that we are not – indeed, I argue democracy is only possible when we gain some control over the honor-shame instincts (some call it anger-management). Any culture in which it is legitimate to kill a daughter because she has “shamed” the family, is also a culture in which it is legitimate to exterminate an enemy that has “shamed” the culture/religion. The two are linked, and they both express a remarkable psychological fragility and vulnerability. We tend to back away from this, to avoid “provoking” violent (and deeply immature) behavior on their part. We don’t need to gratuitously humiliate them, but we need to pick our fights and win them, and make it clear that certain forms of behavior will bring on humiliation.

Islam, Modernity, and Honor-Shame Dynamics: Reflections in the Wake of Breivik

Politeness is not saying certain things lest there be violence; civility is being able to say those certain things and there won’t be violence.

Honor-shame and Islamism:

In an honor culture, it is legitimate, expected, even required to shed blood for the sake of honor. A man is not a real man until he has killed another. The need to save face, and to avenge a blackened face, justifies both quotidian lying and occasional violence. People in such cultures are, as a result, careful to be “polite”; and a genuinely free press is impossible, no matter what the laws proclaim. Public criticism is an assault on the very “face” of the person criticized.

Thus, modernity is a crucible of humiliation: alpha males have to allow others to criticize them publicly, and modern media (newspapers, pamphlets, radio and TV news, blogs) are the vast public venue of that criticism (public sphere). Similarly, modern scholarship depends on this shift from the use of violence (and other forms of imposing consensus) to settle arguments, to one that gives priority to principled dispute (public mutual contradiction) and a commitment to “tell the truth.” Modernity is based on civil, not polite discourse.

Modern, (self-)critical historiography, for example, has repeatedly challenged its own culture’s self-serving (and face-saving) narratives of the past (our side is right). They have shown particular vigor and success in “documenting” sacred texts and thereby desacralizing the religions that claimed them as divinely inspired/dictated.

Modernity represents a very painful experience for any culture (France in the Dreyfus Affair), but the benefits of this public self-criticism – sharp learning curves – make that pain worthwhile. For those who resist this aspect of modernity, however, today’s globalizing world makes it especially painful because in “saving face,” they also relegate themselves to a significantly inferior place among the (productive and powerful) nations.

This is particularly true for Islamic religious culture. In Dar al Islam, a Muslim’s contradiction/criticism of Islam was punishable by death, a fortiori did this hold true for infidels. A (relatively free) public discussion depended entirely on the good will of Muslims not to exercise their prerogative to punish those who criticized Islam. “Fundamentalist” episodes (e.g., the Almoravids in 11th century Spain) represent a vigorous reassertion of this kind of honor-shame Islam.

Modernity has been a Nakba (psychological catastrophe) for Islam, starting with Napoleon’s victory in the Battle of the Pyramids in 1798, and Islam in all its variegated currents has yet to successfully negotiate these demands of modernity. Few if any of the major currents of a currently highly innovative Islam have found a form of that religion that a) genuinely renounces the dreams of dominion and b) has success propagating in the Muslim world.

Jeffrey Goldberg: 4-D Jews, 2-D Gentiles, 1-D Muslims

Jeffrey Goldberg has published a short op-ed piece about the terrorist attacks he fears the most. In so doing, I think he thought he was trying to prevent terrible things from happening, but what I think he really did was illustrate the problem with how some people process the problem of terrorism in ways that are so deeply condescending that, in a world where “Islamophobia” is often called “racism” (as in Goldberg’s own remark about Pamela Geller as a “lunatic racist”) such condescension pushes the limits of unconscious racism.

The core of the problem so nicely illustrated by Goldberg is that he treats Muslim behavior as a force of nature, something at once predictable in the sense of a “law of nature” and something beyond all moral suasion. As Charles Jacobs put it, in discussing the “Human Rights Complex” (something Goldberg undoubtedly shares), you don’t criticize your cat for chasing mice and birds; it’s in the animal’s nature. So in listing his fears, Goldberg carefully skirts around the underlying fear – Muslim terrorism – the fear that can’t be named. Basically, Goldberg three major fears are all forces that might provoke Muslim rage.

Three Terrorist Attacks I Worry About the Most: Jeffrey Goldberg
By Jeffrey Goldberg Aug 2, 2011 3:00 AM GMT+0300 25 Comments

(Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

“One rocket, fired from right here,” my friend said. He didn’t have to complete the sentence.

A few months ago, I visited a building in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City owned by a radical yeshiva. A friend, sympathetic to my worry, took me to the roof, up a series of dark, winding staircases. We came out into the sunlight. There, seemingly close enough to touch, was the golden dome.

In Israel, the Shabak takes the threat of Jewish extremism quite seriously. But once again, lone wolves or small, self- radicalized cells are difficult to stop. And the target is exposed.

In the U.S., it’s impossible to say. Such is the nature of lone-wolf terrorism. One day, a Timothy McVeigh or an Anders Breivik is completely unknown to the public and to the authorities. The next, he has written himself into history.

Yehuda Etzion, a former member of a Jewish terrorist group in the West Bank, once drove me to the top of the Mount of Olives, to a ridge above the Garden of Gethsemane, and asked me to look out across the valley, to the Temple Mount on the far side.

Shimmering in the sunlight was the Dome of the Rock, one of the world’s most important Muslim shrines. I said that the Dome was beautiful. Etzion answered that he didn’t even see it.

I asked him what he meant. “Look, maybe it’s beautiful,” he said.“But my father told me once that there are very many nice women in the world, beautiful women, but you have only one wife. This building is not my woman. It’s my enemy’s woman. So I don’t see it.”

I asked him what he saw instead. “I see the place where the Temple will stand.”

The Temple in question is the yet-unbuilt Third Temple, which certain Jews of a messianic bent believe should be built atop the Mount (site of the first two Jewish Temples), in place of the Dome of the Rock. But how to remove the Dome? Etzion and his fellow extremists once plotted to blow it up. The Israeli internal security service, the Shabak, caught them and sent them to jail before any damage could be done. Etzion told me he didn’t regret the plot, only that it didn’t work.

It could still work, however. There are still Jewish extremists roaming the Old City of Jerusalem, and some West Bank Jewish settlements are still home to men who believe they could hasten the coming of the messiah by igniting a cataclysmic war with Islam. I’ve met these men — rabbis among them — and they believe that God would save Israel if the Muslim world rose up in anger at the destruction of what one rabbi called “the abomination.”

They are right about one thing: The Muslim world would ignite if the Dome were attacked.

Clash of Civilizations

The terrorist who imagines himself to be not merely an agent of the aggrieved, but the salvation of his civilization — these are the ones to fear. Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people July 22 in Norway because he believed Europe was under threat from Islam and multiculturalism, is the new archetype.

The ambitious terrorist of this moment in history seeks not simply to kill large numbers of innocent people, or to terrify an even greater number of people. He seeks nothing less than to provoke the thing we have so far mainly been able to avoid: a clash of civilizations.

Three attacks, in particular, I worry could have such world- changing effects. A plot against the Dome of the Rock is one.

Another would be an attack inside the U.S. of the kind that just took place in Norway — an assault by a white, Christian extremist agitated by the imagined specter of worldwide Muslim domination, either against a government target, in the Oklahoma City and Oslo manner, or against a Muslim target.

Febrile Minds

A deadly attack prompted by anxiety about the building of mosques, for instance, would do irreparable harm to America’s image as a diverse and welcoming refuge, and could trigger the clash of civilizations extremists (both anti-Muslim Americans and anti-American Muslims) so desperately seek.

Is this a possibility? Spend time on websites devoted to stopping the coming invasion of the American court system by Muslim law — an invasion that exists only in the febrile minds of anti-Muslim agitators — or visit the sites devoted to keeping mosques out of places like Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It’s not hard to imagine that an unstable person with access to explosives would try to carry these campaigns to their logical conclusions.

Having followed the Boston Mosque controversy, and tracking the English Sharia law controversy, I’d say assigning these concerns to the “febrile minds of anti-Muslm agitators” is part of the problem. It’s the only way, though, that Goldberg seems to know for suppressing the thing he fears – an attack that will provoke Muslim violence. Of course in taking this tack – radical Muslims are so crazy that we should avoid criticizing Islam lest we provoke people who provoke the worst from them – he makes the situation worse not better. If it’s not febrile minds at work, but observers of a febrile phenomenon, just how should one express oneself to warn against a serious problem (which Goldberg tacitly acknowledges throughout this post)?

Studies in Early Medieval Honor-Shame Dynamics: Aidan’s Tears at King Oswin’s Humility

This is another analysis of an early medieval text which reveals (I think) the dynamics of honor-shame culture, written as part of my book in the works: A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century. (Previous one about the feud between Sichar and Chramnesind.)

On the Dangers of Compassion: Oswin and Aidan’s Tears, ca. 642

In such the struggle between warrior, lord, and peasant (in which many warriors also worked the land), compassion was a liability.  Only the ruthless ruler survived.  The History of the English Church, by the monk Bede, offers us counterpoint to Gregory of Tours’ tale of Clovis’ ruthlessness: Oswin, a “king” whose sincere adoption of Christian principles of compassion and humility proved fatal. “King” of Deira (king has a fungible meaning at this point, with England populated by at least a dozen), the Saxon Oswin had received the Celtic missionary, Aidan in his court.[1]

[Oswin] had given an extraordinarily fine horse to Bishop Aidan, which he might either use in crossing rivers, or in performing a journey upon any urgent necessity, though he was wont to travel ordinarily on foot. Some short time after, a poor man meeting him, and asking alms, he immediately dismounted, and ordered the horse, with all his royal furniture, to be given to the beggar; for he was very compassionate, a great friend to the poor, and, as is were, the father of the wretched.

Aidan, true to his Christian calling, was probably embarrassed by the gift.  He, like a later disciple, walked on foot “after the manner of the first apostles.”[2] So at the first occasion, he gave the valuable gift, probably a warhorse, to a beggar.  The inappropriateness of the gift – an insult to Oswin who had given him a sign of his favor – is like giving a Rolls Royce to a street person asking for some “spare change”: he can’t maintain it, he probably can’t even drive it.

This being told to the king, when they were going in to dinner, he said to the bishop, “Why would you, my lord bishop, give the poor man that royal horse, which was necessary for your use? Had not we many other horses of less value, and of other sorts, which would have been good enough to give to the poor, and not to give that horse, which I had particularly chosen for yourself?” To whom the bishop instantly answered, “What is it you say, O king? Is that foal of a mare more dear to you than the Son of God?”

We have a classic confrontation here between a “genuine” Christianity – the compassionate Aidan who places all people above matters of status and wealth – and a tribal warrior chief whose power derives in no small part from the trappings of power that he both wears and gives out to those whom he wishes to favor.[3] One can only imagine how Clovis would have responded to a public rebuke like this (or if any of the Christians “teaching” him would have had the temerity to rebuke him publicly).  But Oswin was an unusual man.

Operating on a Media-Created Holodeck: Youth on Utoya Island walk to their death

I went to see the movie Samurai with an Israeli friend who had just spent a semester teaching at Williams College in MA. When we left he referred to the scenes in which the Tom Cruise character is haunted by dreams of the massacres of Native Americans that he had participated, and said, “my students at Williams think that that’s what the Israeli army does. It’s a testimony to the power of the media that such profound distortion of reality.

The comments of a survivor from the Utoya Island massacre made an interesting remark that illustrates the problem (H/T: My Right Word)

“Some of my friends tried to stop him by talking to him. Many people thought that it was a test … comparing it to how it is to live in Gaza. So many people went to him and tried to talk to him, but they were shot immediately.”

It illustrates the point I made at opening statement at Second Draft (cited by Breivik):

Since the MSM are the eyes and ears of civil polities, and no creature blind and deaf to key data from the world about can long survive, we consider the cleansing of our mediated “doors of perception” a critical task in the years and decades ahead.

These poor youth were operating on (at least) two major misconceptions: 1) that Israelis are like Nazis, and 2) that talking is enough to change a monster. Putting the two together led them to make a fatal error in reasoning. It’s as if they were operating on a radical leftist holodeck… but they weren’t.

Andrew Sullivan on Breivik’s Epistemic Closure: Left, Right, Not

Now I understand where my persistent, somewhat repetitive, commenter, Chris, comes from. Another illustration of the problem. He comes from Andrew Sullivan who quoted the passage to which Chris objects, disapprovingly. Here’s his post with my comments.

Breivik’s Epistemic Closure

Chris Bertram analyzes it:

We may be, now, in the world that Cass Sunstein worried about, a world where people select themselves into groups which ramp up their more-or-less internally coherent belief systems into increasingly extreme forms by confirming to one another their perceived “truths” (about Islam, or Obama’s birth certificate, or whatever) and shutting out falsifying information. Put an unstable person or a person with a serious personality disorder into an environment like that and you have a formula for something very nasty happening somewhere, sooner or later. Horribly, that somewhere was Norway last Friday.

This is an interesting quote for what it vaguely alludes to in its “whatever.” The whole paragraph is an analysis, quite shrewd indeed, of the epistemological slippery slope to what Damian Thompson calls self-brainwashing. But that depiction applies equally well to those on the other side of the political divide, including (probably – I’m guessing here) to the author of the blog and the person he’s quoting.

In this case, as acute as they are to what’s in the eyes of the “right,” the “left” has a major beam in their eyes that they seem to have difficulty acknowledging. On the contrary, their tone, their style, their rhetoric all express a kind of supreme confidence that treats all dissonant voices as not merely wrong but bad, not merely dismissively, but contemptuously. And yet that “whatever,” can be expanded far wider than the current list of “right wing” examples Bertram offers, starting with 9-11 truthers who swarm within the epistemic clotures of the left far more than birthers do on the right, and not just among the weirdo fringes.

Anders Sandberg urges us to check our cognitive biases when calling Breivik insane and bin Laden an ideologue. Richard Landes (cited in Breivik’s manifesto) tries, but doubles down, in some almost Malkin-worthy rhetoric, on blaming the other side:

Then Sullivan cites me without comment.

All those people who, in the mid-aughts, like Cherie Blair and Jenny Tonge among so many, thought that Palestinian terror was an understandable response to their hopeless condition, for which Israeli was responsible, owe it to themselves to think: what did I to contribute to Breivik’s despair, with my insistence that anyone who sounded the alarm was an Islamophobe?

Now I’ve been told by a close and trusted source that this passage made at least one sympathetic reader wince.  So let me explain.

Pat Condell, in my opinion, right on

Breivik, Islamophobia, and the Destructive Culture Wars in the West

Some readers may have already seen the article by Bret Stephens that cites me.

In a superb new book, “Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of Millennial Experience,” Boston University’s Richard Landes notes just how pervasive this kind of impulse has been throughout history and across cultures, and how much its many strains—Christian, Marxist, Islamist, Nazi, environmentalist and so on—have in common. Breivik, Mr. Landes says, was of a piece: “Like many active cataclysmic apocalypticists, he believed that the socio-political world is in huge tension, like tectonic plates about to crack, and if he can set off a small explosion in the right place it will unleash far greater forces.” In this sense, Mr. Landes adds, “the thing he resembles most is the people he hates.”

Obviously, I’m pleased at the praise. I can’t, however, say that I like his list of millennial movements. If he’s going to put environmentalism in there he needs to include democracy and Zionism — all forms of millennialism although dramatically different from the death-cults worshipped by others on this list. To put environmentalism after Nazism is not really fair, either to environmentalism (except the most extreme varieties that feel only with the death of some six billion people can the planet be saved), or to my understanding of the varieties of the millennial experience, which includes a wide variety of actors, including both Francis of Assissi and Stalin.

The article continues:

What it is, is millenarian [in my terminology, “apocalyptic”]: the belief that all manner of redemptive possibilities lie on just the other side of a crucible of unspeakable chaos and suffering. At his arrest, Breivik called his acts “atrocious but necessary.” Stalin and other Marxists so despised by Breivik might have said the same thing about party purges or the liquidation of the kulaks.

Eloquently said. And probably no small number of Nazis who did not like the unsavory business of exterminating a whole people convinced themselves with similar arguments. Active cataclysmic apocalyptic is the most destructive ideological force the world has ever seen, and in the past, when those forest fires have “taken” (like the Taiping in China, chapter 7), tens of millions lie dead in their wake.

The article concludes:

Norway, Europe and probably the U.S. will now have anxious debates about xenophobia, populism and the rise of neofascism. These are worthy topics, but they are incidental to understanding what happened on Friday. What we witnessed was the irruption of an impulse—more psychological than political—that defines a broader swath of the ideological spectrum than most people would care to acknowledge.

I received the following email today from someone for whose intellectual integrity I have a great deal of respect.

Envy, Democracy, Meritocracy, and Resentment: Answer to Sergio

In response to a previous post, Sergio asks:


I also have a question for you, and it´s about the nexus of concepts involving positive-sum societies, meritocracy, envy, life-as-a-game and the issue of losers/winners. Recently I read Kenneth Minogue´s insightful book “The servile mind”, and he claims that one of the central traist of the West´s success vis-a-vis traditional societies, is the view of life as a game (he mention Huizinga´s homo ludens), because it tends to prize merit (“the best player”) which then tends to be good for all. However, how to deal with losers and their “self-esteem”? The modern PC solution is a sham because they spouse a totally fake/forced egalitarianism in order to spare people *any* feeling of failure or inadequacy (as if it solved anything).
Minogue doesn´t enter this issue beyond observing that Western societies have so many different possible roles that people, if motivated enough, could find “success” in *some* roles. But the fact is that losers tend to be resentful and we know the power of resentment to create untold damage.

What´s your view on that?

I would put it slightly differently. We have relegated zero-sum games primarily to games (sports, gambling). There is competition in all cultures; the question is, how do cultures handle the results. Honor-shame cultures tend to “rig” the deck in favor of the already honorable (incumbency) and to exclude from high-stake competition whole groups of people (manual labor) whose success would violate the proper “order.” Here violence plays a key role (most are, by modern standards, militaristic societies), where “la raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure.”

In the West, we have linked egalitarianism with meritocracy – everyone can compete, the best, regardless of class ethnicity etc gets rewarded. (You can complain that affirmative action has reversed that – which it was not supposed to do – but that doesn’t touch the broader point that no political culture has been as meritocratic as the West.

I remember one day i saw a book in my father’s study titled Meritocracy. I asked him what it was about. He described the basic principles of a meritocracy (basically the ones I had grown up learning were the proper “rules of the game”). So what’s the problem? Many people don’t want to hear that they don’t merit what they think they should have. (I.e., as I was later to learn, the difficulty of real self-criticism.)

Fromm hit the nail on the head in Escape from Freedom: the problem with freedom is that it comes with responsibility. You want to make choices? How do you deal with making the wrong choice? In that sense, democratic freedoms call for maturity from the whole populace (hence my emphasis on demotic values that discipline and empower the populace). They call for an ability on everyone’s part to take (at least some) responsibility for our own mistakes. It means that citizens have to struggle with and overcome envy as much as possible. Schoeck would say, you can’t get rid of envy, but you can challenge it into its more positive forms of competition.

This means, among other things, that you can’t just bring democracy to any culture and say, “there you go.” The notion of a “domino-effect” of democracy, what i call the Chomskyite Bush doctrine that holds democracy as a default mode, and (our support to) dictators as the only reason democracy (or egalitarian unoppressive societies) don’t flourish, is silly. We have a contemporary expression of it in the “Arab Spring” fever of our journalists – get rid of the dictator and you’ll have a flourishing of civil society.

On Nachas and Patriotism and the Japanese Women’s Team’s Victory

Here I am in Germany, keeping track of the Women’s soccer championship out of the corner of my eye, rooting for the US team out of patriotism. I fell asleep last night before the game was over (US leading 1-0). This morning, I checked the news to find out what happened and learned of the dramatic ending in which the US lost. Disappointed, I was about to turn to something else when the report passed to Japan and the reaction there: “They never gave up, they kept coming back, and in the end they triumphed. This is not just about our women’s team, it’s about Japan.”

Yiddish has a unique term: Nachas. Broadly translated it means the exact opposite of Schadenfreude: taking pleasure in someone else’s success. Some (instinctively self-critical) Jews will immediately take exception to that broad definition: it’s just taking pleasure in the success of a family member or student (i.e., has a self-interested dimension). I disagree. These may be the most common forms, but I insist on the larger definition (which I learned from my father, whose work in economic development pointed out repeatedly that if you can’t take pleasure in others’ economic success, the economy will not thrive).

Who can look at the faces of Japanese, so recently battered by fate, smiling in triumph, and begrudge them their joy?

Go Japan, may your women be an inspiration to you!

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, 03.05.11

NB. Most of the postings (and the regularity of) the Gleanings comes from Fabian Pascal (oao), who blogs at The PostWest.

Barry Rubin: Egypt pipeline bombing is only the beginning

Whether or not Egypt formally renounces or demands changes in the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, that too is finished as a source of stability. Egyptians support tearing it up by a 54 to 36 percent margin. But many of that 36% would probably support major revisions – a position now advocated by most Egyptian politicians.

Among other developments, the Egyptian government supported Syria in the UN to prevent any condemnation of that country for repression of peaceful demonstrators … Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby has announced that the Egypt-Gaza Strip border will soon reopen fully, meaning that arms, money and terrorists can flow freely into Gaza. As if that’s not enough, the Egyptian government helped negotiate a Fatah-Hamas deal that radicalizes the Palestinian Authority and makes negotiations, much less peace, impossible.

As part of this deal, Egyptian troops will enter the Gaza Strip. And what will they do there? Help unify the Hamas and Fatah militaries, in theory. But that’s not what’s going to happen. What is more likely is that the Egyptian officers will become military advisers to Hamas. And what if Hamas attacks Israel and Israel retaliates? Will this trigger a war with Egypt, especially if Egyptians are accidentally killed?

… The most sophisticated, I’ll bet, would prefer some clever maneuver that guts the treaty without making a longer-term Islamist transformation.

FINALLY, THERE is a new force to be reckoned with: Islamists more radical than the Brotherhood. Suddenly these groups – many comprised of former Brotherhood activists – are getting a lot of media time. Some think they could get 5 to 10% of the parliamentary seats if they run candidates, in addition to the Brotherhood’s likely 30%.

Daniel Pipes: What Is Israel’s Next Move In The New Middle East?

The current upheaval may prompt Palestinians to conclude that violence doesn’t take them where they want to go and they might emulate others in the region by shifting away from warfare and terrorism in favor of non-violent political action. That could include massive non-violent demonstrations such as marching on Israeli towns, borders, and checkpoints.

Ironically, this shift could be to Israel’s detriment. In some ways, it has benefited from Palestinian violence. That’s in part because violence is ugly and in part because Israelis have proven themselves more capable in the military realm than the political one. A shift to the political realm could transform the conflict to Israel’s detriment. I don’t think the shift creates an opportunity for Israel because the goal remains unchanged: elimination of the Jewish state.

I hope Israelis are preparing to contend with this phenomenon, from gathering intelligence to training troops to deal with demonstrators to responding with smart political arguments. The last point is especially important. In the past, Arab leaders ranted and made preposterous arguments, but now they’re getting better, more rational, more appealing. Their political campaign of delegitimization will likely reach new heights with a General Assembly resolution in September.

FP: I do not accept that the uprisings have not been anti-Israel and this will become clearer as time passes. Egypt is already demonstrating that and it’ll become worse.

Optimist Conservative: A Terrorist is Dead

But the nexus of Islamism is migrating slowly but inexorably toward politics and centers of national power.  Even before he was dead, bin Laden was to a significant extent superannuated.  Real opportunities have opened in the last six months for radical Islamists to gain influence in, or take over, seats of government.  Islamism was oriented for decades on harassing sitting governments, in both the Middle East and the West.  But today, the opportunities for Islamists to gain political power – along with armies and missile arsenals – extend well beyond revolutionary Iran and the Afghanistan of the Taliban era.

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI: The Lies They Tell Us

This confusion has been carefully cultivated by a national elite whose singular focus is the accumulation of wealth, at all costs. In the near-decade since 9/11, Pakistan’s generals, judges, politicians, and bureaucrats have constructed two separate and equally effective narratives. To the West, they sold the bin Laden version of Pakistan: a fanatical nation, full of restless natives armed to the teeth with hatred and — if the West wasn’t careful — nukes. To ordinary Pakistanis, they sold the Ugly American version of the rest of the world: a big bad Uncle Sam and friends who were always burning Korans, knighting Salman Rushdies, and violating the Land of the Pure (the literal meaning of “Pakistan”).

This duplicity helped keep the West sufficiently interested in the myth of “engaging the elite” — because of course engaging the people would mean courting savagery. It also helped keep the Pakistani people sufficiently hostile toward any notion of understanding or appreciating the West’s genuine and legitimate concerns and interests in Pakistan. But with time, this delicate waltz has grown harder and harder to sustain. The Pakistani military, for all its swagger, has either forgotten all the steps, or never knew them to begin with.

FP: Sounds familiar? Where else did we see this game being played on a gullible West?

PowerLine: They Could Have Said He Was Wearing A Dress

It has now come out that the account of bin Laden’s death that was retailed by John O. Brennan, President Obama’s remarkably cavalier Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, was wrong in just about every detail. Bin Laden was unarmed; he did not use his wife (or any other woman) as a human shield; and his wife was not killed in the raid. These corrections appear to shed additional light on an earlier contradiction: one Obama official told the press that this was a shoot-to-kill operation all the way, while another said that the SEALs were prepared to capture bin Laden if he had surrendered.

… Asked about the discrepancies, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney attributed the earlier wrong information to the “fog of war.” But it seems obvious that the administration was trying to make bin Laden appear cowardly, and hoped that the image of the “sheikh” hiding behind a woman as he fired at American troops would stay in peoples’ minds. Who knows? If he had thought of it, Brennan might have claimed that bin Laden was wearing a dress.

The raid was brilliantly planned and executed by the military, but one can’t say the same about the administration’s decision-making or communications. Now we are embroiled in controversies about whether photos of the dead bin Laden will be released and whether it was appropriate to give him some sort of religious service in connection with his “burial” at sea. The administration’s missteps do not significantly tarnish the achievement of getting bin Laden, but President Obama and his minions can be grateful that the press will, for the most part, pass over its errors and contradictions in silence.

FP: The Obama administration cannot handle even victories right.

What if the Israelis had taken Bin Laden out?

It’s always a good mental exercise to imagine what the international reaction would be to any belligerent action by another country (democracy or not). Daniel Friedmann, former Minister of Justice under Ehud Olmert, has a piece in Yediot Aharonot that does just that in the case of OBL. When Friedmann wrote this, he apparently did not know that at the time of his untimely demise, OBL was unarmed. That would make him, by the definition of B’tselem and other “Human Rights” NGOs, an innocent civilian.

The following is provided and translated by Steven Plaut.

Suppose, just Suppose that it had been Israel that Carried Out the Assassination (or, American Chutzpah)

By Daniel Friedmann

We are lucky that bin Laden was taken out by the American military.  I tremble at the thought of what would have happened had he been killed by Israeli forces.   Would there not have arisen a deafening outcry against cold-blooded murder without a trial?  Would there not have been calls to investigate whether bin Laden could have been captured unharmed, to be put on fair trial, where he could defend himself judicially?

Would not the soldier who had shot him be indicted, because perhaps he could have merely wounded bin Laden by shooting at his legs, thus avoiding an unnecessary loss of human life?   And what about those other “collateral” deaths in the compound? Was it really necessary to kill THOSE people without even putting them on trial?

Let us bear in mind that the operation was carried out in the territory of a friendly foreign country allied to the US – Pakistan. Since when can a country just go in and kill suspects in another country that has its own police and courts?

One must keep in mind that at this stage bin Laden was merely a suspect – since he was never convicted of any crime by any court, including for the destruction of the WTC towers in the US.  Under the circumstances, should not the US forces have warned him and demanded his surrender before opening fire, and – if such a warning was given to bin Laden – was it a sufficient warning?

To all these “questions” others would then be added. Under such sensitive circumstances, is it really appropriate for the US military itself to examine its own behavior and performance?  Would it not be better to have some outside commission of investigation, one that will enjoy public trust?

Indeed, a local commission of investigation would be insufficient and surely many would demand an international investigation, one in which the international community could place its faith!  Like one by the UN or its commission on human rights.

There are other issues.  How did the Americans decide to toss bin Laden’s carcass into the sea without first consulting bin Laden’s own family members and violating his human right to a dignified burial.

And why did the American government do all this without even soliciting a single learned scholarly legal opinion from an international expert on human rights?

And I almost forgot.  In such an important matter it is unthinkable that action should have been carried out without first petitioning the Supreme Court, which in Israel at least routinely interferes whenever the military wants to assassinate terrorist leaders.  Hence the Supreme Court should contemplate who should now be indicted for the abuses in the operation, after the commission of investigation completes its work.

And even that is not the end of the story.  The names of the soldiers and officers involved in the operation must be made public at court order, because of their involvement in the killings.  The individuals involved might someday seek public office.  Even more important is the fact that one day it may be desirable to conduct a thorough legal evaluation of these people, given the fact that their behavior produced human deaths.

It’s always useful to consider the differential between the way Israel gets treated by the “Human Rights” community and the MSNM and the way other countries are. Note that the latest news, which the author of this article did not know at the time of composition, is that Bin Laden was unarmed at the time he was gunned down. By the definitions used by B’tselem and Palestinian “Human Rights” organizations, that makes him an innocent civilian.

Now take this exercise one step further: Imagine the outrage of Americans if any major American institution (e.g., the Supreme Court, or some group in Congress) called for these kinds of investigations, or some newspaper that took this position. Imagine the cry of outrage at such crazy self-inflicted inhibitions. The Nation is not a fringe journal by accident. In Israel, this is all mainstream discourse directed against the country itself.

Nothing illustrates better the principle that, when it comes to the Human Rights Complex, Israel is the whitest of the whites.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

UPDATE: German TV has a member of the Green Party and a theologian expressing precisely the “human rights” sentiments mentioned above. It’s not Christian and it’s not civilized…

Gleanings, 02.05.11

NB. Most of the postings (and the regularity of) the Gleanings comes from Fabian Pascal (oao), who blogs at The PostWest.

Spengler: Osama a casualty of the Arab revolt (MUST READ)

More surprising than the death of Osama bin Laden on Monday was the fact that he lived unmolested in a mansion in Abbottabad, about 65 kilometers north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad. How many Pakistani officials and others must have known about this? “America can do whatever we set out mind to,” President Barack Obama intoned in his May 1 announcement of Bin Laden’s death at the hands during a strike by Pakistani and American special forces. Not, apparently, without a little help from its friends, and remarkably belated help at that.

… It is hard to conclude otherwise that Bin Laden died this week because people who knew his whereabouts chose this particular moment to inform the US authorities. What has changed? The simple answer is: everything has changed. Instability in the Muslim world has reached a level that makes Bin Laden redundant.

… The royal family preferred to allow some of its more radically-inclined members to provide support to Bin Laden on a covert basis in return for al-Qaeda’s de facto agreement to leave the Arabian Peninsula in peace … With the destabilization of Yemen, that sort of modus vivendi became obsolete … In the slow-burning civil war in Yemen – a proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran – al-Qaeda acted as an Iranian ally. This was an annoyance to the Saudis as long as the Saudi-allied regime remained intact. The near collapse of Saleh’s regime, though, threatens to give Iran an additional foothold on the Saudi border.

… The Saudis, moreover, have an interest in cleaning up the terrorist associations of the Pakistani military. As the Saudi cold war with Iran grows increasingly hot, Riyadh may look towards Islamabad for military support … And there is speculation that Saudi Arabia in a pinch might ask for Pakistani troops, and also that Riyadh might source nuclear weapons technology from Pakistan to counter Iran’s nuclear program. Where else might the Saudis go for support in a war with Iran? The Saudis cannot trust the United States. King Abdullah reportedly was enraged that Obama pulled the rug out from under Mubarak, a longstanding American ally. And they cannot trust the Turks, who have become the region’s spoiler.

… Ironically, Bin Laden appears to be a casualty in the great Arab breakdown of 2011. We can only guess as to the details of his demise, and may never know the entire truth. But it is a fair conclusion that he was crushed between the tectonic plates now shifting in the Muslim world. That makes American self-congratulation over the killing a bit unseemly. American special forces may have been the proximate cause of Bin Laden’s violent death, but the efficient cause is a great strategic upheaval that America does not yet understand, and is not prepared to respond to.

Ben Smith: About that peace process

This makes fairly clear that the Israel-Palestinian talks, which had seemed futile with divided Palestinian leadership, seem futile for a different reason if Hamas takes a leadership role:

Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, called bin Laden a martyr.

“We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior,” Haniyeh told reporters. “We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.”

The Palestinian Authority cheered the killing.

FP: The PA is shrewder and thinking about September. Hamas knows that nothing it does will stop the West from ultimately recognizing it and it treats it with the contempt it deserves.


Obama will take credit for the death of al-Qaeda’s leader, and he deserves it — for the aggressive war he waged in Pakistan in particular. This was a forward strategy that provoked the wrath of the “liberal” establishment when Nixon tried it in Vietnam, and Reagan in Libya and Bush in Iraq. Unfortunately, this is only the right hand of Obama’s strategy towards the  jihad. The left hand is simultaneously stoking the fires of Islamic aggression in its heartland, the Middle East, and our war with this evil is just beginning.

… In his speech tonight the President talked as though the war is a war with al-Qaeda, although al-Qaeda has played a very small and diminishing role in the 17,000 plus Islamic terrorist attacks that have been perpetrated since 9/11. After that attack, Bush swore that the United States would not tolerate terrorist regimes that threatened the democracies of the West. You’re either for us or against us he said, to the dismay of the appeasement Left. But since then Islamic terrorist regimes have been created in Lebanon and Gaza and Somalia, the Taliban has been resurgent in Pakistan and the Muslim Brotherhood has risen in Egypt. The storm clouds that are gathering — not least because of the feckless ineptitude of the Obama Administration itself — will not be dispelled by one man’s death.

Stephen Hunter (via PowerLine): Malignant Narcissism

Any joy one might feel in the intelligence of our analysts and the bravery of our door kickers was significantly diminished by Obama’s malignant narcissism. The first part of the announcement, evoking 9/11, was vulgarly overwritten as per Obama’s view of himself as some kind of gifted orator. The adjective bloated compote was unworthy of the subject, banal and self-indulgent.

Then there were his tasteless claims of personal leadership, his over-emphasis on “I” and “at my direction.” Clearly, all he did was sign off on initiatives other, better men had originated. He was ungenerous to Bush, who had to deal with this thing in real time under more pressure any president has faced since Pearl Harbor and wasn’t helped by the treachery of the democratic party, as exemplified by then Senator Obama. Clearly, we staged from Afghanistan. We were able to stage from Afghanistan because of Bush and the intel that led to the kill was just as obviously developed over years of effort, begun by Bush.

Finally, the NBC worship of O on the lead-in was mentally and morally repugnant. They used this as an example to bash Bush, mocking the fact that eight years ago to the day Bush had been photographed under a mission accomplished sign, without reference to the fact that the sign referred to Iraq, not Afghan, not the GWoT. And that Obama’s course in his presidency has been made so much easier by virtue of the fact that Bush won the war that Obama and his cohort so opposed and yearned for our defeat in.

That said, God bless the commandos! Man, I would have like to have been on that entry team!

Victor Davis Hanson: Bin Laden — Ne Requiescat in Pace

The death of bin Laden is as welcome as it raises strange afterthoughts. First, what a relief that we are all united in joy at the news. Second, it is a relief that he was not captured by a foreign nation. And good too that we did not bring him back alive to repeat the KSM fiasco. It is also fortuitous that his demise came at the hands of U.S. soldiers in battle on the ground, rather than from the air via Predator drones — it reflects far better on the audacity and skill of our troops, and, far more importantly, allows us to bring his corpse back for positive I.D.

… But far more importantly, how has bin Laden been hiding in such apparently comfortable surroundings, inside, rather than on the border of, Pakistan, a recipient of billions in aggregate aid? Their former mea culpa — that Waziristan was bin Laden’s likely hide-away and sadly a frontier badlands beyond their own reach — seems right now to be hollow.

So did we operate with or without Pakistan’s Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.? If the latter, and if it is proven that OBL was hiding in plain sight, I think it could be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back of this Orwellian partnership with Pakistan — despite the PR to come that we owe, are in debt to, etc. to Pakistan. We will need some honest talk for a change about exactly what is going on. Or is it more likely that we confronted the Pakistanis with the intelligence and they red-faced joined us at the 11th hour?

Finally, this comes at a fortunate time. No one is talking of victory any more in Afghanistan; we seem confused in Libya, so the death of bin Laden reminds us that the U.S. can still take the war to the enemy in his own backyard, and act with confidence and audacity rather than “leading from behind.” Let us hope that Dr. Zawahiri is next — though the al Qaeda generation of 2001 seems almost enfeebled now, and are nearly all scattered, killed, or captured.

Elliott Abrams: Bin Laden, Obama, and the Arab Spring

It is therefore unfortunate that Mr. Obama seems to want more than that fair share the American people will naturally and rightly give him.  His remarks last night were far too much laced with words like “I met repeatedly,”  “at my direction,” and “I determined,” trying to take personal credit for the years of painstaking work by our intelligence community.  Mr. Obama might have noted that this work began under President Bush, but as usual he did not.  It was also a mistake for him to use this occasion to deliver unrelated comments about “the pursuit of prosperity for our people” and “the struggle for equality for all our citizens.”  A shorter and more straightforward announcement would have been more appropriate for this occasion.

Once again here the White House appeared unable to get the messaging quite right, a failure magnified by the amateurish delay of more than an hour in Mr. Obama’s remarks.  The White House told the nation at roughly 10 p.m. that the President would speak at 10.30.  Had the President done so, he would have delivered fabulous and shocking news.  By the time he actually spoke nearer to midnight his words were an anticlimax, for all the news had leaked.  Whatever the cause of this delay—Mr. Obama editing the remarks for too long, or a belatedly discovered need to brief Congressional and world leaders—it suggested that the calm professionalism in the face of crisis shown here by our military and intelligence professionals has yet to be achieved in the White House.

Gideon Rachman: Conspiracy theories about Osama’s death

Meanwhile, how long before the conspiracy theories start? The fact that the Americans got rid of the body so fast – and at sea – will feed the arguments of those who will want to believe that this was not really bin Laden.

But why should the Americans pretend to kill their enemy number one – rather than actually tracking him down? If you are a right-wing American conspiracy theorist, you might argue that it is because Obama wants to secure re-election. (After the controversy over Obama’s birth certificate, why not have one over Osama’s death certificate?)

The Pakistani conspiracy theory is more likely to be that the US is searching for an excuse to go to war with Pakistan and seize the country’s nuclear weapons – hence this made-up story about killing Osama.

Incredible? Not at all. I give it twenty four hours before those theories start circulating.

David Sanger: In Bin Laden’s Death, a Critical Moment for the Arab World

But none of that assures that the “alternative narrative” Mr. Obama frequently speaks about will take hold. With the Muslim Brotherhood showing some success in organizing for coming elections in Egypt, and extremist groups hoping to profit from the civil war in Libya and the protests in Syria, it is far from clear that the revolutions under way today will not be hijacked by groups that have a closer affinity to Al Qaeda ideology than democratic reform.

Henry Kissinger noted recently that revolutionaries “rarely survive the process of the revolution.” There is usually a “second wave” that can veer off in a different direction. Whether that second wave will follow the path laid out by the young creators of the Arab Spring, or Bin Laden’s acolytes seeking revenge, may well determine whether Mr. Obama can use Bin Laden’s death to put a coda on a grim decade.

Daniel Pipes: Thoughts on the Killing of Osama bin Laden

Bin Laden was just a part of Al-Qaeda which is just a part of the Islamic terrorist effort which is just a part of the Islamist movement, so the announcement of his death tonight by the U.S. government makes little operational difference. The war on terror has not fundamentally changed, much less been won.

But because bin Laden symbolized Islamic terror, his taunting presence via video and audio recordings for nearly ten years after 9/11 energized his allies and frustrated his enemies. Conversely, his execution by U.S. forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan gives Americans pride in their country, encourages the security and intelligence organizations, and is a body blow to Islamists. (May 1, 2011)

STRATFOR: Red Alert: Osama bin Laden Killed

It is difficult to understand what this means at this moment, but it permits the Obama administration to claim victory, at least partially, over al Qaeda. It also opens the door for the beginning of a withdrawal from Afghanistan, regardless of the practical impact of bin Laden’s death. The mission in Afghanistan was to defeat al Qaeda, and with his death, a plausible claim can be made that the mission is complete. Again speculatively, it will be interesting to see how this affects U.S. strategy there.

PowerLine: Osama bin gone: Islamically correct

The AP story on the operation leading to bin Laden’s death reports that bin Laden’s remains were disposed at sea and states: “The U.S. official who disclosed the burial at sea said it would have been difficult to find a country willing to accept the remains. Obama said the remains had been handled in accordance with Islamic custom, which requires speedy burial.” Is this some kind of a joke? The treatment of bin Laden’s remains is not mentioned in Obama’s formal remarks.

Turning to the press briefing by senior administration officials speaking on background, we find this comment on the treatment of bin Laden’s remains: “SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are ensuring that it is handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition. This is something that we take very seriously. And so therefore this is being handled in an appropriate manner.”


PowerLine: Compare and Contrast

Nancy Pelosi, press conference, September 7, 2006:

[E]ven if [Osama bin Laden] is caught tomorrow, it is five years too late. He has done more damage the longer he has been out there. But, in fact, the damage that he has done … is done. And even to capture him now I don’t think makes us any safer.

Nancy Pelosi, earlier today:

The death of Osama bin Laden marks the most significant development in our fight against al-Qaida. … I salute President Obama, his national security team, Director Panetta, our men and women in the intelligence community and military, and other nations who supported this effort for their leadership in achieving this major accomplishment. … [T]he death of Osama bin Laden is historic….

It is unfortunate that many public figures are unable to view events otherwise than through a partisan prism. Osama bin Laden’s operational significance had undoubtedly dwindled over the years, and al Qaeda, after nine years of relentless attacks, is a shadow of its former self. But bin Laden’s death is obviously an important and helpful milestone in the long war against radical Islam. Congratulations to all who worked so hard for nearly a decade to bring it about.

Gleanings, 29.04.11

NB. Most of the postings (and the regularity of) the Gleanings comes from Fabian Pascal (oao), who blogs at The PostWest.

Caroline Glick: Netanyahu’s time to choose (MUST READ)

IN A real sense, Netanyahu’s call for the PA to choose is the political equivalent of a man telling his wife she must choose between him and her lover, after she has left home, shacked up and had five children with her new man. It is a pathetic joke.

But worse than a pathetic joke, it is a national tragedy. It is a tragedy that after more than a decade of the PA choosing war with Israel and peace with Hamas, Israel’s leaders are still incapable of accepting reality and walking away. It is a tragedy that Israel’s leaders cannot find the courage to say the joke of the peace process is really a deadly serious war process whose end is Israel’s destruction, and that Israel is done with playing along.

There are many reasons that Netanyahu is incapable of stating the truth and ending the 18- year policy nightmare in which Israel is an active partner in its own demise. One of the main reasons is that like his predecessors, Netanyahu has come to believe the myth that Israel’s international standing is totally dependent on its being perceived as trying to make peace with the Palestinians.

Charles Krauthammer: The Obama doctrine: Leading from behind

Who truly reviles America the hegemon? The world that Obama lived in and shaped him intellectually: the elite universities; his Hyde Park milieu (including his not-to-be-mentioned friends, William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn); the church he attended for two decades, ringing with sermons more virulently anti-American than anything heard in today’s full-throated uprising of the Arab Street.

It is the liberal elites who revile the American colossus and devoutly wish to see it cut down to size. Leading from behind — diminishing America’s global standing and assertiveness — is a reaction to their view of America, not the world’s.

Other presidents have taken anti-Americanism as a given, rather than evidence of American malignancy, believing — as do most Americans — in the rightness of our cause and the nobility of our intentions. Obama thinks anti-Americanism is a verdict on America’s fitness for leadership. I would suggest that “leading from behind” is a verdict on Obama’s fitness for leadership.

Leading from behind is not leading. It is abdicating. It is also an oxymoron. Yet a sympathetic journalist, channeling an Obama adviser, elevates it to a doctrine. The president is no doubt flattered. The rest of us are merely stunned.

Yoram Ettinger: Arab Spring? Not quite

In contrast, the 2011 Middle East upheaval exposes the Arab Street: No “spring” and no “nations,” but the exacerbation of tribal-ethnic-religious-geographic loyalties, splits and power struggles, the intensification of domestic and intra-Arab fragmentation, the escalation of intolerance, violence and hate-culture, the absence of stability, the deepening of uncertainty, exposing the tenuous nature of Arab regimes, the ruthless submission of democracy-seeking elements and the perpetuation of ruthless tyrannies.

The 19th Century Spring of Nations was energized by waves of enthusiastic optimism. On the other hand, the 2011 delusion of the Spring of Nations is exposed by the impotence, despair and frustration of pro-democracy Arab activists, who are forced to emigrate as not to be persecuted.

The expectation for a near-term Arab Spring of Nations is detached from Middle East reality, could produce another victory of wishful-thinking over experience, already leads to a delusion-based policy and risks a lethal boomerang caused by delusional yearning.

… The turmoil in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman and Syria (and you ain’t seen nothing yet…), coupled with the expected US evacuation from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Iranian threat and the inherent non-reliability of international or Western guarantees and forces do not usher in Spring; they do usher in lethal geo-political twisters and floods, which require the retaining – and not the giveaway – of critical Israeli security assets.

Sever Plocker: I was wrong about Syria

I was wrong and I admit it. Three times in the past three years I wrote articles in favor of a peace treaty between Israel and Syria. I wrote, based on numerous conversations with senior security officials, that Israel can achieve peace with Assad’s regime in exchange for willingness to withdraw from the Golan Heights, whose security significance has become dubious, if not wholly non-existent.

While making this argument, I did not take into account the Damascus regime’s tyrannical character. I fooled myself. Even when Assad won 98% of the vote in the last elections I did not wake up and say: We must not make peace with this man. I believed in peace so much to the point of being blinded to reality.

… Would Israel’s current situation be worse with an Israeli embassy in Damascus and the Golan Heights mostly under Syrian sovereignty? I believe so. In that case, the Syrian rebellion would have taken a radical anti-Israel shape. The oppression and massacre by Assad’s troops against his own citizens would have been perceived as a means to enforce the peace deal. A new regime – and after all, such regime will eventually rise in Damascus – would have annulled such treaty at once.

In this respect, we should be looking at Egypt. Even though Mubarak was not toppled because of his (weak) hold on the peace treaty with Israel, and while peace did not play a key role in the revolutionary discourse, the belligerent attitude to Israel on the part of some of Egypt’s free media has been reinforced ever since democracy won. As result of the incitement, only about half of Egyptians support the peace treaty in public opinion polls.

A peace treaty with Assad would have fully collapsed a day after the Assad regime collapsed.

Martin Peretz: Notes on a Roiling Region

Read between the lines of Cohen’s column and of Eldar’s, and you’ll find tropes virtually identical to ones which underlay a batch of Goldstone report cartoons in Arabic language publications and assembled by the Anti-Defamation League. Those who routinely attack Israel for this and for that and for still another transgression (all of them thought by now to be “inherent” to Zionism, I suppose) should have over the last four months found themselves in an intellectual and moral cul de sac. For the fact is that in condemning the Jewish polity so relentlessly—it is an “apartheid” state, it is an aggressive state, it is an unjust state, it is a lawless state, it is a racist society—they have for a long time absolved themselves from confronting the ugly character of Israel’s neighboring states. But this escape route is no longer available to people of even minimum honor. If they don’t come clean now they never will.

Almost everything is known now about these neighbors: the routine torture, the routine corruption, the routine indifference to raw suffering and hunger, to poverty and illiteracy, the routine injustices of the justice system, the routine callousness about the status of women and the condition of children, the routine intolerance to the other, the other sect and the other tribe, the routine authority of the men with guns, the routine brutality of the police, the routine tyranny of the ruling party whatever it is. Some Westerners—both intellectuals and policymakers—ignore all the evidence of these arrangements. They are not fools. They are fantasists. What sustains their fantasies is their bias against Israel. In the light (or should I say, the darkness?) of this bias, they embroider their delusions about the reasonableness, the truthfulness of Arab and Islamic power. (Exempt Indonesia and Malaysia. I give you that. In any event, I know quite little about them.)

Gleanings, 30.04.11

NB. Most of the postings (and the regularity of) the Gleanings comes from Fabian Pascal (oao), who blogs at The PostWest.

Eric Trager: The Throwback

Ten years later, however, Moussa is back in the public eye. Despite having represented the combined interests of the Arab world’s 22 autocracies for the last decade, he is now the frontrunner to succeed Mubarak in what could be Egypt’s first-ever truly democratic presidential election. And Moussa owes his startling political ascendance primarily to one thing: his shameless exploitation of anti-Israel demagoguery for political gain.

… He declared that U.S. support for Israel “poisoned” the peace process, and, after the U.S. presented evidence of a Libyan chemical weapons program to the Mubarak regime, Moussa publicly denied that such evidence existed. He backed Yasser Arafat’s refusal to compromise on Jerusalem during and after the failed Camp David summit in the summer of 2000; called on the Arab world to support the Palestinian Intifada in October of that same year; and declared the Palestinians’ “right of return” to Israel a “sacred right,” over strong U.S. objections. According to Fawzi, who was Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during this time, Moussa tried to push Egyptian diplomacy even further against Israel, but Mubarak ultimately refused.

… While it is tempting to believe that Moussa’s long diplomatic career would make for a relatively smooth post-Mubarak transition, the source of his popularity should be deeply concerning to the U.S. and its allies. Though war between Israel and Egypt seems highly unlikely, Moussa recently told a group of Egyptian youths that the Camp David Accords had “expired,” apparently backtracking from earlier statements in which he supported the maintenance of Egyptian-Israeli peace. He has also called for a “no-fly zone” over Gaza, thereby equating Israel with the Qaddafi regime. Moreover, Egypt under Moussa is likely to be less friendly towards U.S. interests: WikiLeaks documents suggest that Moussa does not view Iran as a threat and would seek to strengthen Arab-Iranian ties.

… So while the fall of Mubarak raises hopes that Egypt will enjoy a post-authoritarian future, the prominence of Moussa threatens to revive Egypt’s anti-Western, Nasser-era past. And, most alarmingly, this is apparently what many Egyptians want.

Benny Ziffer: Before the smiles are wiped away

Tahrir Square still attracts curious crowds on weekends and holidays, including families there to gaze at the last remnants of the naive and romantic two-month-old popular uprising, which also photographed wonderfully in pictures broadcast around the world. However, now the backyards behind the smiling facades are being canvassed assiduously, and the seed of the political toughness is being sown that – though I do hope I am wrong – will bring about the second, real revolution, and will wipe the smiles off many faces.

… Just as the disappointing mediocrity was revealed behind the false charisma of U.S. President Barack Obama’s “Yes we can,” the Tahrir revolution has succeeded in producing only T-shirts, pins and stickers with revolutionary slogans, sold to tourists at inflated prices. (The T-shirts and doodads are produced in a warren of hovels and dim alleys at the edge of the Muski market, where the slaves are working in the same conditions as before, and who most likely haven’t heard that there was a revolution or what it is they’re printing. )

… But his voice is swallowed up by the cries of the street vendors, who completely occupy the sidewalks of the main street. In the days before the fall of the regime, these vendors were persecuted by the police. They were beaten as everyone looked on, and their merchandise was confiscated. Now there isn’t anyone who will get rid of them. They, after all, are the persecuted of yesterday and therefore now, everything is permitted them. At least until the chaos increases so much that anyone who promises “Yes we can” in order to impose order is welcomed. Signed, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Jonathan Spyer: Israel’s ‘Syria option’ was never one

These assumptions [of Israel’s Syria firsters] were noteworthy in that they were not only untrue, but in many ways represented the precise opposite of the truth. Syria’s alignment with Iran and its backing of local paramilitary and terrorist clients are not flimsy marriages of convenience. They were and are the core of a successful regional policy. Through it, Damascus has magnified its local and regional influence, and obtained an insurance policy against paying any price for its activities.

This insurance policy is now paying dividends. Syria’s alignment with the regional axis led by Iran represents Assad’s best hope of survival. Indeed, western fear of Iran is the crucial factor making possible the crackdown in Syria and hence the survival of the regime.

The pro-western Arab authoritarian rulers, Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, were forced aside by a combination of internal and subsequent western pressure. Non-aligned, isolated Muammar Gaddafi now finds himself fighting in Libya against a coalition of local rebels and western air power.

Assad, by contrast, who is aligned with the coalition of anti-western states and movements led by Iran, is currently facing only nominal and minimal western pressure. This is despite the fact that he appears to be engaged in the energetic slaughter of his own people.

… This is because if you mess around with Assad, you are issuing a challenge also to Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and their various regional allies and interests in Iraq and further afield. The leaders of the west don’t want to do that.

… There are more crucial matters at stake here than the fate of a dead-end policy option in Israel. The Syrian dictator is currently getting away with slaughtering large numbers of his people because of western fear of Iran and its proxies. The question of whether the Arab spring stops at the borders of the Iran-led regional alliance will thus be decided in Syria.

The Iranians and their allies, who enthusiastically cheered the demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia, are keen to ensure that it does end there. Western policy, meanwhile, looks likely to be too confused and hesitant to ensure that it does not. This matter will be decided in the weeks and months ahead.

Elliott Abrams: Syria This Week

Amidst this week’s Middle East news one startling event has escaped the attention it deserves.  According to news reports such as this one in The Wall Street Journal, an American diplomat in Damascus was detained and then “hooded by Syrian security agents and ‘roughed up’ before being released.”

This is a remarkable development.  For one thing, it sums up as well as any anything could what the Obama Administration has gained from two years of buttering up the Assad regime, loosening sanctions, letting them into the World Trade Organization, sending an ambassador to Damascus, and making believe Assad is a reformer.  It has gained us Assad’s contempt.

How did the United States react to this unprecedented, illegal action against the diplomatic immunity of our Embassy personnel?   Why, we “formally protested.”  That means we called Syria’s despicable ambassador into the State Department and told him this was terrible and must not be repeated.

That is not a serious response.  If I were an American diplomat in a trouble spot, I would be hoping for a lot more than that—for example, in these circumstances, for throwing the Syrian ambassador out of this country.  Our own ambassador in Damascus should never have been sent, was sent over the objections of Congress as a recess appointment, and should be recalled immediately

JAMES TRAUB: Hope Dies Last in Damascus

You can’t help feeling that Western policy toward the Syrian regime has been guided by a kind of geopolitical wish-fulfillment, in which hard-headed “engagement” masked a dubious faith in Assad’s capacity and will. Or maybe it’s fairer to say that the upside of engagement was so great and the downside so small that everyone kept plugging away long after they should have given up. As Andrew Tabler says, “Policy involves a tremendous amount of reverse engineering” — figure out a policy, and then line up the facts to fit in.

… But there are also plenty of recalcitrant regimes that will pocket the respect without changing their behavior. Iran is the most obvious example; China may be another. And the Arab Spring has offered a stiff lesson in the limits of engagement. Private admonishments had no effect on Arab tyrants, and the administration has learned — again and again — that it must choose between siding with regimes and siding with citizens. And in fact there is a real cost to “engaging” with tyrants: Whether you intend to or not, you send a message of acceptance to the regime and of indifference to the plight of the citizen. That price is sometimes worth paying, or at least unavoidable (think: Saudi Arabia). But often it’s not. In this case, the Bush administration may have been right.

Gleanings, 28.04.11

NB. Most of the postings (and the regularity of) the Gleanings comes from Fabian Pascal (oao), who blogs at The PostWest.

Jerusalem Post: ‘Egypt to permanently open Rafah border crossing’

Egyptian FM Elaraby tells Al-Jazeera that Gaza crossing could be opened within 7 to 10 days; “steps taken to alleviate suffering of Palestinians.” The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza will open on a permanent basis within seven to ten days, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby told Al-Jazeera during an interview Thursday. He said during the interview that steps would be taken in order to alleviate the “suffering of the Palestinain people.”

PowerLine: Birth of a negation

From day one of the Obama administration, Glenn Reynolds has asserted that a rerun of the Carter era is a best-case scenario. Obama’s Middle East diplomacy provides a striking illustration of Glenn’s proposition. Carter’s bumbling support of an all-party peace process including the Soviet Union seemed to have something to do with Sadat and Begin seizing the initiative to come to terms on their own and cut the ground out from under Carter’s plan.

By contrast, Obama’s bumbling has led to the preliminary agreement between Fatah and Hamas to form a unity government and hold elections. Mahmoud Abbas publicly professed that he felt Obama hung him out to dry with the Sturm und Drang over apartment construction in Jerusalem. What was the poor guy to do?

Moreover, as Ronald Radosh observes, the folks now running the show in Egypt even helped facilitate the beautiful coming together between Fatah and Hamas. The former Egyptian prime minister, who somehow had to go, used to be a stalwart opponent of Hamas.

Hamas is constitutionally dedicated to the destruction of Israel. The establishment of a Palestinian national unity government does not mean that Hamas will recognize Israel or will participate in peace negotiations, the senior Hamas official and a member of the Hamas delegation to the Cairo discussions (Mahmoud Zahar) said overnight Wednesday in Cairo.

“Our plan does not involve negotiations with Israel or recognizing it,” Zahar said. “It will be impossible for an interim government to take part in the peace process with Israel,” he said. Thanks for clearing that up.

Will the Palestinian security forces trained and funded by the United States now come under Hamas control? And what about the hundreds of millions of dollars forked over by American taxpayers to support the Palestinian Authority? Jennifer Rubin has a timely report.

If Congress takes the lead in cutting off the Palestinian Authority, as Rubin’s report

Lee Smith: Crack-up

The Obama Administration’s cautious Syria policy is not pragmatic and realist; it is, rather, an ideological fantasy. The White House is worried not about what happens to U.S. interests after Assad, but about how to salvage a campaign promise that has been thwarted by reality. The Obama White House is sheltering Assad for the same reason it was slow to support Iran’s green movement when it took to the streets in June 2009. Just as Obama held out hope for talking to the Islamic Republic, he still wants to engage Syria. The Obama Administration’s entire Middle East policy is premised on getting Damascus back to the negotiating table with Israel. Accomplishing that goal, the administration believes, will not only win the United States the favor of the Arab and Muslim masses, but it will also drive a wedge between Syria and its ally Iran.

… Nonetheless, the Obama White House has no other tricks up its sleeve in the Middle East. The Palestinian track has become reduced to Washington, the one-time regional power-broker, now petitioning Abbas to refrain from unilaterally announcing statehood. The hopelessness of the Israeli-Palestinian track is one reason why the administration keeps insisting Assad live up to his billing in Washington as a “reformer.” In reality, Assad put away any thought of reform a little less than a year after he took power following his father Hafez’s death in 2000. The so-called Damascus Spring was short-lived because Assad, only 35 at the time, knew then what the 82-year-old Mubarak would only understand when it was too late—opening the door to reform gives your opponents enough leverage to push it wide open and toss you out.

In the Arena: Right before he left Syria Thursday, American student Daniel Streitfeld sent us his impressions of a country in turmoil

I had a very interesting conversation today with my Arabic tutor – a young, well educated, relatively liberal, fluent English-speaking Damascene woman. We started discussing the ‘situation’ and I quickly became shocked at her views.

In the course of an hour, she told me that she thought the U.S. and Israel were inciting the protests, that the situation in Der’a was being blown out of all proportion (she told me in fact it was confined to a very small area of the city), that the U.S. and Europe were glad to see Syrians die, and she also wondered why the foreign press wasn’t emphasizing that not all of the deaths were of protesters (some of them were soldiers as well, she reminded me).

What scared me was that she had these views even given how young and internet-savvy and educated she was. There’s just an incredibly large gulf between what many Syrians believe, or dupe themselves into believing, and the reality on the ground.

I just kept staring at her like she was a brain-washed zombie. Many Syrians just don’t want to (or can’t) accept what’s going on here, don’t want to admit that there are people throughout Syria (and the entire Middle East) who have legitimate grievances and are addressing them forcefully. It’s just scary.

Jerusalem Post: ‘Egypt to permanently open Rafah border crossing’

Egyptian FM Elaraby tells Al-Jazeera that Gaza crossing could be opened within 7 to 10 days; “steps taken to alleviate suffering of Palestinians.” The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza will open on a permanent basis within seven to ten days, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby told Al-Jazeera during an interview Thursday. He said during the interview that steps would be taken in order to alleviate the “suffering of the Palestinain people.”

PowerLine: Birth of a negation

From day one of the Obama administration, Glenn Reynolds has asserted that a rerun of the Carter era is a best-case scenario. Obama’s Middle East diplomacy provides a striking illustration of Glenn’s proposition. Carter’s bumbling support of an all-party peace process including the Soviet Union seemed to have something to do with Sadat and Begin seizing the initiative to come to terms on their own and cut the ground out from under Carter’s plan.

By contrast, Obama’s bumbling has led to the preliminary agreement between Fatah and Hamas to form a unity government and hold elections. Mahmoud Abbas publicly professed that he felt Obama hung him out to dry with the Sturm und Drang over apartment construction in Jerusalem. What was the poor guy to do?

Moreover, as Ronald Radosh observes, the folks now running the show in Egypt even helped facilitate the beautiful coming together between Fatah and Hamas. The former Egyptian prime minister, who somehow had to go, used to be a stalwart opponent of Hamas.

Hamas is constitutionally dedicated to the destruction of Israel. The establishment of a Palestinian national unity government does not mean that Hamas will recognize Israel or will participate in peace negotiations, the senior Hamas official and a member of the Hamas delegation to the Cairo discussions (Mahmoud Zahar) said overnight Wednesday in Cairo.

“Our plan does not involve negotiations with Israel or recognizing it,” Zahar said. “It will be impossible for an interim government to take part in the peace process with Israel,” he said. Thanks for clearing that up.

Will the Palestinian security forces trained and funded by the United States now come under Hamas control? And what about the hundreds of millions of dollars forked over by American taxpayers to support the Palestinian Authority? Jennifer Rubin has a timely report.

If Congress takes the lead in cutting off the Palestinian Authority, as Rubin’s report

PowerLine: While Obama played Oprah

At his birth certificate press conference yesterday, Obama put it this way: “We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We have more important things to do. I have more important things to do.” Then he took off for Chicago to put in some “important” face time on Oprah’s show.

Gleanings, 27.04.11

NB. Most of the postings (and the regularity of) the Gleanings comes from Fabian Pascal (oao), who blogs at The PostWest.

Omri Ceren: Hamas, Fatah initial a fake agreement

So even though Fatah and Hamas have been negotiating for years over the exact same issues without being able to come to an agreement, they now are agreeing to paper over their differences with vague wording that is just enough to convince the credulous, wishful-thinking West that they major obstacle to Palestinian Arab independence has been removed.

Note the little we do know: “Hamas has agreed to hold elections within a year.” You can bet that the elections  will be scheduled after September, because the result of elections beforehand – either way – would torpedo any chance for a unity government.

Vagueness will be the hallmark of the agreement – just enough to fool the world into thinking that these two groups can work together. Hamas can play the unity game until September, and, if the world is sufficiently fooled, for a few months afterwards. Then the elections, or absence of elections, will start to rock this false alliance.

By then, they hope, Palestine will already be de facto recognized as a state, and Israel will be on the ropes politically anyway. The world will be cheerleading the PalArab insistence on ethically cleansing the heart of the Land of Israel of Jews, and Hamas-Fatahstan will blame all of their new problems on Israel. They will say things like they cannot accept Palestinian Arab “refugees” in their new state as long as Israel holds any of “their” land. The ever present threat of them exploding in a new terror war will cause the West to pressure Israel, as always, as they insist on Israeli concessions to solve their problems.

The outline of what is coming is clear. Because we’ve seen this game before. Unfortunately, Western amnesia will help ensure that it plays out the way the PalArabs are planning it.

Barry Rubin concurs.

FP: The Palestinians have a strategy based on a good understanding of Israel and the West and it’s succeeding.  Israel had delusions about both the Palestinians and the West and has been losing.

Elliot Abrams: How to Understand Our Policy in Syria

The Administration’s total misunderstanding of the situation in Syria continues, as a final quote regarding Syrian President Bashar al Assad reveals: “‘He sees himself as a Westernized leader,’ one senior administration official said, ‘and we think he’ll react if he believes he is being lumped in with brutal dictators.’”

This is a man who has just killed over 400 unarmed protesters, using tanks, snipers, and thugs. The State Department’s annual human rights report on Syria reveals the use of barbaric, medieval torture by Assad and the vicious mafia that rules Syria. Yet there is a “senior official” who thinks Assad will pull back if his feelings are hurt by being compared to “brutal dictators”—like his own father, perhaps?

As the days go by the Administration’s failure to grasp the importance of the Syrian situation, and the reasons for that failure, become clearer. An alternative policy would not rely on Assad’s feelings or be guided by the fear that someone, somewhere would accuse the United States of being behind the protests in Syria. It would instead rely on America’s interests in seeing a barbaric dictatorship replaced by a democracy, having Iran weakened by the loss of its only Arab ally, and celebrating the end of a regime that helped jihadis kill hundreds and hundreds of American servicemen and women in Iraq.

That would be a better policy.

FP: Some superpower.

Lee Smith: Why is Obama Protecting Assad?

In other words, the Obama White House’s Syria policy is not pragmatic and cautious. Rather, it is adventurist and ideological. The administration is sheltering Damascus in order to salvage its own bankrupt Middle East policy. If he loses Assad, Obama is lost in the region and the administration will be forced, obviously against its will, to recalibrate. The question is, how much will U.S. interests suffer in the meantime?

Michael Doran: The Heirs of Nasser

Not since the Suez crisis and the Nasser-fueled uprisings of the 1950s has the Middle East seen so much unrest. Understanding those earlier events can help the United States navigate the crisis today — for just like Nasser, Iran and Syria will try to manipulate various local grievances into a unified anti-Western campaign.

From the outset, the Obama administration has believed in the importance of pursuing a “comprehensive” settlement — meaning a peace treaty that includes not just the Palestinians but, in addition, all the Arab states, especially Syria. As the administration has failed to make any headway in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Syrian track has grown in importance. Consequently, Washington has chosen to treat Syria not as an adversary deserving containment but rather as a partner in the negotiations deserving of engagement. In fact, the Obama administration sees the peace process as an instrument for wooing Syria away from Iran. At the very least, Washington believes that by bringing Damascus to the negotiating table, it can give the Syrians an incentive to tamp down Arab-Israeli violence. But such a strategy fails to acknowledge that the Syrians understand the thinking in Washington all too well — they recognize the United States’ fervent desire for negotiations and see in it an opportunity to bargain. Damascus seeks to trade participation in diplomatic processes, which costs it nothing, for tangible benefits from Washington, including a relaxation of U.S. hostility. In short, the Syrians believe that they can have it both ways… And why would they think otherwise? After all, nobody held them responsible for similar double-dealing in Iraq, where they were accomplices to the murder of Americans.

FP: There is no learning curve whatsoever in American foreign policy.

RL: To have a learning curve you have to be able to admit mistakes.

Amir Taheri: The Tehran-Damascus Axis

Indeed, Iran could build a presence in the Mediterranean through Syria and Lebanon. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has already developed mooring facilities in the Syrian port as a prelude to what may be a full-scale air and naval base.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who believes that the United States is in historic retreat, sees Iran as the successor to the defunct Soviet Union as the principal global challenger to what he says is “a world system, imposed by Infidel powers.” The loss of Syria would puncture many of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s aspirations.

Over the years, it is possible that Iran has built a network of contact and sympathy within the Syrian military and security services. It may now be using that network to encourage hardliners within the beleaguered Assad regime to fight on.

From the start, Tehran media have labelled the Syrian uprising “a Zionist plot,” the term they used to describe the pro-democracy movement in Iran itself. In 2009, the mullahs claimed that those killed in the streets of Tehran and Tabriz were not peaceful demonstrators but “Zionist and Infidel” agents who deserved to die. The Assad clan is using the same vicious vocabulary against freedom lovers in Syria as snipers kill them in the streets of Damascus, Deraa and Douma.

FP: What a power with strategy looks like.

Wall Street Journal: The Syria Lobby

Maybe this is all part of the Administration’s strategic concept of “leading from behind,” which is how one official sums up its foreign policy in this week’s New Yorker. But the deeper problem is a flawed analysis of the Syrian regime’s beliefs, intentions and capacity for change. Run by an Alawite minority, the regime was never going to break with its Shiite benefactors in Tehran and join the Arab Sunni orbit. A regime that builds its domestic legitimacy on hostility to Israel is also unlikely ever to make peace, even if it recovered the Golan.

… The Obama Administration’s single biggest strategic failure during this Arab spring has been not distinguishing between enemies and friends. Syria’s House of Assad is an enemy. The sooner the Administration abandons the counsels of the Syria Lobby, the likelier it will be that Syria becomes a country worth lobbying for.

Osama bin Laden Dead

May he get a 72-year-old virgin forever.

Check out the reactions in the Jihadi world. MEMRI now has a substantial collection of such responses.

Excellent articles from City Journal (HT: Andrew Melnick):


Solidarity, Then and Now | What Obama didn’t say


Justice for All | And for Osama bin Laden, finally


The Late Bin Laden | Thoughts on presidential leadership and the media


Pakistan’s Dangerous Game | Bin Laden is gone, but the nation’s military remains a destabilizing force.


The Guzmán Parallel | Bin Laden’s downfall resembled that of the Shining Path’s fanatical leader.