Wednesday, 31 August 2011
by David Wemyss (September 2011)
The riots in the UK last month certainly justified David Cameron’s remark four years ago that Britain was a broken society. And to those of a conservative persuasion the causes look clear. more>>>
Posted on 08/31/2011 2:41 PM by NER
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Notes From a Memoir
by Sam Bluefarb (September 2011)
The 1930s and 40s now seem as remote as the Middle Ages. . .
--Robert McCrum, The Observer, Sunday, February 21, 2010
In the Greenwich Village of the mid- and late 1930's Life Cafeteria on Sheridan Square was a popular hangout for artists, writers, bohemians, and a mixed bag of crank sand eccentrics. There were of course the“usual suspects,” ideologues who ran the gamut from socialists, communists, and anarchists to small groups of native Italian Fascisti from nearby Little Italy who fiercely supported Mussolini's Fascist state. more>>>
Posted on 08/31/2011 2:35 PM by NER
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Awaiting the Fall: A Few Thoughts on Mark Steyn’s After America
by Mark Anthony Signorelli (September 2011)
There is a particular difficulty in writing a review of a Mark Steyn book. Typically, a reviewer has one basic question before him: “is this book worth the attention of the reader or not?” But with a Steyn book, the question is moot. Of course its worth the reader’s attention; its by Mark Steyn, probably the most brilliant commentator on current affairs writing today. And since After America is already a best-seller (almost the only book in recent memory which actually deserves such status), its very likely that many readers are already familiar with it. So rather than offer a conventional review of Steyn’s new work, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on one of his basic theses: namely, that “big government” corrupts the character of a nation. I certainly agree with this thesis as far as it goes, but I don’t think it goes quite far enough, and I suspect that in the end, it prevents us from assessing our situation in a way that might allow us to make the necessary changes in our society down the road. more>>>
Posted on 08/31/2011 2:32 PM by NER
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
The Meaning of Pyongyang
by Theodore Dalrymple (September 2011)
There are some countries that, once visited, retain a disproportionate hold on your imagination. Among them, for me at least, are Haiti and Liberia, two small states that are known to the world at large principally for their political, and sometimes for their natural, catastrophes. They are marginal from the point of view of the world economy, I need hardly say, and yet their history has something about it that makes it seem significant beyond itself. No one, I think, can study the early history of either country without being moved by it; and just as the biography of a single person can also be a portrait of an age, so the history of an otherwise insignificant country can tell us something important about the human predicament as a whole, for example our tendency to turn liberation into a new form of servitude. more>>>
Posted on 08/31/2011 2:27 PM by NER
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Fitzgerald: A Tribute To Bernard Lewis
[Re-posted from June 2004]
Bernard Lewis is an acute scholar about many aspects of Islam. He writes beautifully. He is well-trained in languages. He lived during the war in Egypt. He is lionized in Turkey. Even in small shops off Taksim Square, the proprietors, when they discover a visitor is from the United States, ask if that visitor may happen to know "Professor Lewis."
He has all the right enemies: notably, the absurd Said, who knew nothing about Islam but for some reason thought his being an Arab entitled him to act as an expert (the footnote alone, on "thawra," in Lewis' "The Question of Orientalism," is enough to delicately dismember all of Said's pretentions; he does not survive the essay); and the apologist Esposito, who is not fit to be mentioned at the same time as Lewis. Esposito is an out-and-out apologist, an ignoramus, and the producer of glossy picture-books about Islam that win the reader over and distract from the apologetic or vapid texts he has chosen, with plenty of local color -- venerable mosques, turbans and Iznik tulips, the usual Mughal miniatures of hunting scenes, or Majnoun and Leyla, an apothecary jar or two from Abbassid Baghdad, the obligatory Persian poetry in nastaliq, and of course the Dome of the Rock. Meanwhile, he ignores so many subjects, including Jihad and the treatment of non-Muslims under Islam, or minimizes them to the point of disappearance.
In Lewis' long academic career in England, he was not listened to sufficiently by the Foreign Office, and their insulting behavior (stemming from antisemitism) could not but affect him. He clearly enjoys being appreciated. Who does not? He enjoys, on his visits to the Middle East, being made much of by Turkish or Arab hosts. If you had spent years learning, and learning well, certain languages, and the only people who could fully appreciate your achievement were, say, Muslim Arabs, or quasi-Muslim Turks, and if they seemed to you to talk a good game of "moderate" Islam (in the case of the Turks, it was meant), you too might not wish to offend those colleagues, those friends, those hosts and patrons. Some may find it telling that Lewis has reproduced, for both his book of translations from the Turkish, Persian, Hebrew, and Arabic, and for his latest collection of articles, "From Babel to Dragomans", a photograph that shows him sitting in Western dress (he never stoops to the clownish indignity of going native like the mythomane Lawrence, or St. John Philby, or dozens of others) in the tent, or something like it, that belongs to none other than the Hashemite Prince Hassan ibn Talal. Prince Hassan is that plummy-voiced "dialogue-of-civilisations" apologist for Islam: the most plausible, the most outwardly pleasing, the most subtle, and therefore the most convincing and dangerous of such apologists.
That photograph, that desire to have that photograph used on two of his books, might be taken simply as a way to show the members of MESA that -- look, the real Arabs know that I tell them the truth.
Lewis in various interviews does seem pleased that he can address two audiences at the same time. "He doth bestride the world like a colossus." He is proud of the fact that so many of his books have been translated into Turkish, Arabic, Farsi. But the truth is that you cannot write with two audiences in mind, one Muslim, the other non-Muslim. That Muslim audience is so prickly, so defensive, so unwilling to admit the events of its own history (the unwillingness, for example, to even read the scholarship of Bat Ye'or, even among the so-called advanced Arabs in the West, is absolutely flabbergasting), that Lewis finds himself at every turn either pulling his punches or enveloping his thought in veils of velleities. It is not a case of being fortiter in re, suaviter in modo. He is suave in his prose all right, but that suavity is not wrapped around a sufficient amount of truthful iron.
He is attempting a trick that cannot be achieved. You cannot write simultaneously for an audience of Muslims and for an audience of informed non-Muslims. Lewis tries to flatter his Muslim readers with constant, almost formulaic, reassurance about the "greatness" of high classical Islamic civilization -- which Lewis always describes, wrongly, as being far above any other civilisation of the time. Has he forgotten China? And does he still accept the older cliches about the "Dark Ages"? It is a poor historian who appeals to the self-esteem problem of part of his audience; that is not the historian's task.
Lewis now seems, at last, to be fully recognized and triumphant. But is he? He was an enthusiastic supporter of the disastrous Oslo Accords. It is understandable why people such as Clinton, or Tom Friedman, or all the others who know nothing about Islam, should believe in the efficacy of such negotiations and such treaties. But Lewis? Lewis knows all about the rules of Muslim jurisprudence regarding "treaties" with Infidel peoples and polities, and knows perfectly well why every treaty Israel has ever signed with an Arab state has been violated, sometimes completely, and knows too the significance of the Treaty of al-Hudaiybiyya, which Arafat so frequently mentioned to his Muslim audiences. What is Lewis' excuse for supporting, so loudly and for so long, the Oslo folly?
Lewis describes the series of political, legal, financial, social, sumptuary, and other disablities placed on dhimmis in quite brisk terms, usually limiting himself to a word or two about the jizya and "other disabilities." He does not stop to really go into the whole monstrous system, or to quizzically ask what that phrase "protected peoples" might mean, or how it was that everywhere that Islam conquered, the treatment of dhimmis, whether they were Christians or Jews or Zoroastrians or even Hindus or Buddhists -- was remarkably the same. He doesn't notice that in all cases the post-conquest (i.e. post-Jihad) institution of dhimmitude led to the enforced status of degradation, humiliation, and permanent insecurity (including intermittent massacres that Lewis hardly ever refers to) of all of these non-Muslim peoples.
Lewis himself must, more and more, have come to see -- especially as his beloved Turkey slides away from Kemalism -- that in certain essentials he got it wrong. He actually got Islam wrong. He underestimated its malevolence. He underestimated the difficulty of reform. He took as representative men the scholars, or the well-educated exiles, who came out of that world, but who were actually about as representative of it as Stravinsky, Balanchine, and Nabokov were of Soviet Russia. He was wrong; he was wrong on the Oslo Accords; he was wrong in his political advertisement (written with James Woolsey) to promote Prince Hassan to be a new king for Iraq. He remains wrong if he thinks that the United States should continue to be preoccupied with Iraq when there are so many other ways to expose the political, economic, moral, and intellectual failures of Islam. And that, in the long run, is the only thing which will cause, from within, the engendering of lots of local Ataturks who may work to constrain or limit Islam -- as its sacred texts, including the authoritative recensions of hadith, are immutable.
Lewis was asked some years ago by the TLS to review Ibn Warraq's Why I Am Not a Muslim. He dawdled and dithered; by the time he told them he just could not do it, it was too late, in the opinion of the TLS, to run any review. Contrast that with how the lefist, even Marxist French scholar of Islam, Maxime Rodinson, treated the same book. He was given it to review by Le Monde, which assumed that Rodinson, known for his tiersmondiste sympathies, would savage the book. (Rodinson's sympathies also probably explain why Edward Said gave an enthusiastic blurb to Rodinson's quite critical book on Muhammad -- but then Said was known to provide enthusastic blurbs for hundreds of books he never opened, but just guessed as to their general direction; his endorsements were spread around like confetti, and even cheaper). But Rodinson produced a favorable review, much to the chagrin of the editors at Le Monde -- and they, acting true to Stalinist form, simply refused to print the review (it can be found in Rodinson's other publications).
But how could Lewis, after all, praise Ibn Warraq publicly? And he could not publicly deny that the book had great merit either. So best to finesse; delay like Kutuzov; the mere passage of time will solve the problem. Solve it Time did, and consequently that book, one of the most important in recent decades, never received a review in the TLS.
It is fascinating to compare the behavior of Lewis with two other scholars of roughly the same age and status. S. D. Goitein wrote his celebrated "A Mediterranean Society" based on his detailed study of the papers found in the Cairo Geniza -- a record of the Jewish community in Cairo, and not only in Cairo, that extended over many centuries. Goitein, who earlier had had a kind of sympathetic, almost sentimental interest in promoting the idea of the natural sympathies and similarities of Muslims and Jews, was severely chastened by his last decades of scholarship. If there was one thing, he wrote, about which he had to revise his opinion, it was about the severity of the jizyah. He now realized what a terrible burden it was, especially on the poor non-Muslims. Just before he died, Goitein was preparing a favorable review of Bat Ye'or.
Even at their advanced ages, both Rodinson and Goitein were willing to break, in pat, with their own pasts, to declare that new evidence, and final summings-up, had led them to conclusions that were not nearly as favorable to Islam as they might once have hoped. Goitein's study of the Cairo Geniza led him to rethink the problem of the dhimmi, to reconsider his old pieties and sentimentalities. Rodinson, who had been (of course) a great defender of the Arabs against French colonialism, a die-hard tiersmondiste, a Marxist, found that Ibn Warraq's relentless assault on Islam (above all for its intellectual constraints and failures) deserved the highest praise -- and he was willing to disappoint his editors at Le Monde in insisting that they either publish his enthusiastic review, or squash it altogether (of course, they squashed it).
Lewis himself once wrote an essay that identified the philo-Islamic strain in Jewish Orientalists who found what seemed to be the more welcoming world of Islam as compared to the brutalities inflicted on Jews by Western Christendom. He was good at diagnosis, but not as good at self-diagnosis. Lewis has in the past been unwilling to endorse the scholarship of Bat Ye'or, describing it as "too polemical." Really? If the scrupulous scholarship of The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam is too polemical (is that a word which one applies when scholarship is sometimes informed with passion?), what of all the scholarship on which that book rests? What of Arakel of Tabriz? Or Armand Abel? Or Charles Dufourcq? Or Levi-Provencal? Or what about the scholarship that Bat Ye'or did not use, that of Mary Boyce on the Muslim treatment of Zoroastrians, or K. S. Lal on the Muslim treatment of Hindus?
Bat Ye'or managed both to create a work of scholarship and analysis, much of which was original to her, as well as a synthesis of a large amount of scholarly literature -- by French, German, Armenian, Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian, and other scholars -- scholarship which does not paint quite the picture of the Ottomans as that which Lewis has favored. Not that he has ever been an open apologist for Islam, but he has failed to convey, in book after book, the real nature and horror of dhimmitude. To describe, for example, the forced levy of Christian children by the Turks, as a "recruitment" (which to the modern mind evokes mental images of college or army recruiters dangling inducements) which was often envied by the Muslim parents, is to ignore the work by scholars from parts of Europe once under Ottoman rule, detailing the fear and horror of such events as the devshirme levy. The subject of dhimmitude has not been part of Lewis' main bailiwick. It is one thing not to treat of a subject, quite another to mislead as to its real significance; quite another still to simply shut out of serious consideration a lonely scholar, outside the regular academic system, who has produced the body of work that Bat Ye'or has produced and continues to produce.
One hesitates to criticize Lewis for this because of the disgraceful treatment of him by the members of MESA (the MIddle Eastern Studies Association). Their relation to Lewis reminds me of a story that the late Tibor Szamuely once wrote in The Spectator. He described a functionary, the compleat chinovnik, of the Soviet Writers' Union, giving a speech in Tula, famed for its samovars, in the southwest of Moscow. "In bad old Czarist days," he intoned, "we had only one writer from Tula Province." And then he noted proudly: "But now, but now we have 3,247 members of the Union of Soviet Writers from Tula Province alone." (Wild cheering, laughter, applause).
Szamuely drily added: "Yes. He was right. But he forgot to add that the one writer from "bad old Czarist days" was named Lev Tolstoy" and no one would ever remember any of the 3,247 current members of the Writers' Union from Tula. Well, something like that comes to mind when one thinks of Lewis, and his scholarship, compared to the heaps of Rashid Khalidis and Hamid Dabashis and Joel Beinins, some of whom are former propagandists for the PLO, others of whom spend their academic leisure beavering about in the busy "construction of the Palestinian identity" -- which if it really existed, as more than a transparently useful notion, would not require so much endless "construction." In relation to the MESA members who continue to deny him the recognition he deserves, reminds us of Tolstoy, in Szamuely's anecdote, in relation to his numerous (3,247, to be exact) epigones. But that does not absolve Lewis of his failures, his elisions, his distortions, his underappreciations, his allowing vanity to cloud his keen sight. How could he continue to deny the Armenian genocide? Out of what misplaced loyalties to Ottomanists and Osmanlis, and to his decades of friendship with many Turks, could he have found himself denying masses of evidence and eyewitness testimony? Which was more important -- the continued friendship of Turks, or the scholarly approval of Vahakn Dadrian and others who have studied the Armenian genocide?
If one is to believe the Wall Street Journal and other publications, Lewis has had an important influence on American policy in Iraq. By that, one means not the original invasion itself, but the Light-Unto-the-Muslim-Nations Project, which was to bring "democracy" to Iraq, and then that "democracy," in turn, would serve as a model for other Arab states, and lead to all manner of good things, including the diminishing of the role of Islam. But Lewis, like those in the Pentagon, was making judgments on the basis of friendship with highly misrepresentative men, Iraqis who were well-educated in the West, who had spent decades in the West (Chalabi has been in the West for 45 years), and who not only had become Western, rational men, but had themselves forgotten just how irrational Iraqi society is, with its ever-present substratum of Islam, the hostility that Islam engenders toward all non-Muslims (which means, of course, that any gratitude toward Infidel Americans for rescuing them from the regime of Saddam Hussein will be either feigned, or fleeting, or both).
Lewis likes to think of himself as unswervingly unpolemical, the historian au-dessus de la melee -- but he did not hesitate to co-sign the above-mentioned political advertisement that he wrote with Woolsey on behalf of Prince Hassan of Jordan, to become the new king of Iraq. This advertisement required him to praise the ahistoric fantasies of Amartya Sen about the historically "democratic" strain in Islam, which, if we are talking about modern "democracy" and its connection to human rights, completely misstates the case.
Lewis allowed himself to forget, because he wanted not to remember, essential tenets of Islam: the manichaean split between Believer and Infidel, the inability of the Believer to accept any authority other than the sharia (and certainly not an authority stemmming from the votes of mere mortals), and the impossibility of there being a real defense of human rights (beginning with full freedom of conscience, which is impossible in any Islamic regime).
Lewis lived in Egypt during World War II, when Egypt was essentially ruled by the British under extraordinary wartime conditions (it was the British who jailed Answar Sadat for his pro-Nazi activities). Otherwise, Lewis has visited the Middle East as a dignitary, and Turkey a celebrity. He is feted, treated with famous courtesy. In Amman Prince Hassan himself is a host and patron. In Princeton, dissenters now eager for support within the Administration make sure, as Saad Eddin Ibrahim did, to visit Lewis in Princeton. (Lewis was instrumental in putting pressure on the Egyptian government, through threats to withhold $30 million, to change its treatment of Ibrahim in the courts.) All of this attention, all of this lionizing, has had an affect. Lewis has retailed on more than one occasion his bon mots to gathered Arab admirers in Amman; his natural wariness seems strangely absent in his retelling of a story where his sally met with appreciative laughter. Few of us would respond otherwise. Everyone likes to have a receptive audience.
Lewis did not grow up in the Arab and Muslim world, as did the dry and brilliant Elie Kedourie; nor did he live, among the Arabs in situ, as did J. B. Kelly. (It is quite another thing to live among Arab colleagues in the West). He does not recognize quite as easily, and thus dismiss quite as completely, the nonsense, lies,and blague that are the stock-in-trade in the Arab countries -- as Kelly, for example, is wont to do.
What is passing strange is that Lewis' first and greatest interest was modern Turkey. He admired the Kemalist reforms. He understood how difficult it was to undertake them. He knew that save for that reforms, the class of secularist Turks -- the very class from which his own colleagues and friends came -- would never have attained the critical mass it did. Yet, when confronted with Iraq, he did not draw any lessons from Kemalism. He did not stop to think that Kemalism was a result purely from within, a result derived from an enlightened despot who was convinced that Islam explained the failures, political, economic, social, and intellectual, of the Muslim peoples, including the Turks -- and that Islam would, in its practice, have to be constrained by government fiat. That was what Kemalism was all about.
Now, confronted with Iraq, Lewis ignores the lessons of Kemalism. Yet he must know that had the British tried, for example, with their soldiers still walking the streets of Istanbul, to impose the kind of de-islamizing reforms that Mustafa Kemal imposed, it would never have worked. He now seems to be promoting the idea that "democracy" can come to that most unlikely country, Iraq, where tribalism and not the idea of the individual still rules, and where ethnic (Kurd and Arab) and sectarian (Sunni and Shi'a) rivalries and hatreds have a long and deep history, and where the underlying ideology of Islam is opposed in every fiber to the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- including the right to freedom of conscience (apostasy), the right of equal treatment under the law for believers in all religions (directly contradicted by the sharia), the right to equal treatment of men and women (also contradicted by the sharia), and so on.
Why did Lewis not apply the lessons of Kemalist Turkey, the only successful or quasi-successful democracy in the Muslim world, to Iraq? Surely the goal is not to bring "democracy" which would mean a Shi'a takeover. The goal for Infidels should be to bring about the kind of end-of-our-tether conditions that will allow a sufficient number of people within the Muslim world to see that Islam itself has failed, politically, economically, morally, and intellectually, and that the Kemalist approach is the only thing that will work. Infidels should not try, hopelessly, to "reform" Islam, but rather to grimly and relentlessly create the conditions that constrain the practice of Islam, so that a secularist class may be nurtured. And in turn, that class will have a stake in continuing to adhere to the local version of Kemalism and to continue to suppress any signs of backsliding, so that Islam can continue to be tamed.
Lewis must know from his own encounter a few days ago with the Turkish Prime Minster, Mr. Erdogan, Kemalism is now under assault, perhaps a successful assault. The assumption that the gains were permanent, that Turkey would remain unaffected by Islam's natural distempers (not, as Lewis would have it, merely reactions to the disappointments of the modern world), has turned out to be shaky.
Lewis has noted in public lectures that much has been achieved to bring "progress" to the Muslim world by those who would be properly described as enlightened despots, such as King Muhammad V of Morocco, Bourguiba in Tunisia, Reza Shah Pahlavi in Iran, and especially, and most successfully, by Ataturk in Turkey. Belief in the "people" (i.e. in "democracy") in the Muslim world is likely to lead to retrograde legislation and a situation that makes things worse, not better, for Infidels.
So why did he apparently promote the idea of Iraq as a likely candidate for something called "democracy'? Just how was that to take place, and what was the final outcome likely to be in Iraq's power structure? And since there is nothing self-evident about the idea that "democracy" in Iraq will necessarily be worth the vast allocation of men, materiel, money, and attention that is now being spent, monomaniacally, on this project, just how does it relate to encouraging from within Islam lots of local and little Ataturks to recognize the failures of Islam, and in their own way, for the sake of their own peoples, to cunningly fashion ways to constrain its practice and dampen its appeal? What, one wonders, does Lewis think of the many Muslim or ex-Muslim scholars who have written about the total contradiction between the principles of sharia and the principles enshrined inthe Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- such scholars, for example, as Rexa Afshari, or Ali Sina, or Ibn Warraq, or Azam Kamguian? Does he give weight to their views, or regard them all as malcontents and (he has sometimes employed the Muslim word) "renegades"?
Particularly when it comes to the Middle East, where Muslims do not brook the slightest criticism of Islam or its greatness, or the greatness of its civilisation and so on, it is hard for scholars who perceive things otherwise to speak their minds fully. There is often a gap between what is said publicly and what is admitted privately. And a good many people like to think that if they spent many decades studying a subject, it must have inherent worth, its civilisation must have been a glorious thing indeed. Those mental pictures pass by in vivid array, those mosques in Samarkand and Tashkent and Bokhara, the Dome of the Rock gleaming in Jerusalem, those turbaned Turks and Iznik tulips, all the local color of that "high Islamic civilization" that Orientalists today still feel that they must formulaically overpraise (and in so doing, either tacitly accept the long-discarded notions of a European "Dark Ages," or belittle the vaster achievements of other non-Western civilizatons -- those of the Mayans, or the Hindus, or the Chinese).
Lewis has outlived almost all of his colleagues. The kind of training he received goes far beyond what the Beinins and the Khalidis can even conceive of, and much further still beyond what they could ever attain. Because he towers over those who foolishly attack him, he has been mistaken for a Giant Sequoia. Had those colleagues remained in the field, he would now be seen as still something impressive -- a sturdy English oak, Quercus robur, say -- but not quite as tall, or as impressive, as that Giant Sequoia.
Neither "academics" nor anyone else have to maintain a "good relationship with the areas they study." The academic study of Soviet Russia was, at least in the United States and the United Kingdom and partly in France, in the hands of people who knew exactly what was wrong with Soviet Russia. Think of Hugh Seton-Watson, Richard Pipes, Adam Ulam, Helene Carrere-d'Encausse, Alain Besancon, Karel van het Reve and the Herzen Institute in Amsterdam, Leo Labedz, and his indispensable one-man magazine in London. Think of the emigres, including Kerensky himself, or Nabokov (who stood au-dessus de la melee, but inflicted great damage in all the right quarters, by himself, that "one-man multitude," on the image of Communism among those who came to inhale his prose and took away a complete worldview). Think of the effect of the Chekhov Publishing House, of Novoye Russkoye Slovo (with educated editors, from Vishniak to Weinbaum, in the old days). Think of the mysteriously-funded French publishing house Les Ils d'Or: I have four of their books right on my desk now: "Staline au pouvoir", by Alexandre Ouralov, A. Ciliga's "Au Pays du Mensonge Deconcertant" and "En Siberie," A. Krakovwiecki's "Kolyma" (traduit du Polonais).
And when one had to study Russian, whether in college, or at Monterey, or elsewhere, one's teachers were not sly apologists for, or agents of, Communism or Soviet Russia. They were people who hated Communism.
But with Islam, with the Jihad, everything is different. No official support or recognition is given to the ex-Muslims who have just as much to tell us about Islam as did the defectors from the K.G.B. and the refugees. There is nothing comparable to what existed to inform the West about Soviet Communism. Why, for example, is Walid Shoebat, essentially a "Palestinian" Arab defector from both PLO terrorism and Islam itself, who is so piercing in his analyses, not given public hearings and is limited to Jewish audiences? Why is Ibn Warraq not supported? Where are the congressmen who are willing to call Ibn Warraq, Ali Sina, and others to testify, and to promote a greater understanding of what Islam is about? Are they all afraid of offending assorted Muslim leaders? Are they all mesmerized by the word "religion," which implies something -- to them -- untouchable and off-limits? Can't they use the word "belief-system," which has been repeated, in this space, thousands of times?
And as for the grand scheme to throw tens of millions of dollars into the teaching of Arabic and other supposedly relevant languages, that is not likely to bring any greater understanding of things. What, after all, has not been translated? Expert translators at such organizations as MEMRI translate every text, every sermon in the khutbas, every column in Al Watan and Al Ahram and Al-whateveryouwant. There is not much one really a great need, though that is seen as the need, to add to the supply of Arabic speakers. It would take a fortune, and many years, to produce a cadre of Arabic-speakers who could replace those who most obviously are both available and trustworthy -- those "refugees" from Islam who know that world so well, including Maronites, Copts (whose relatives are safely out of Egypt), Arabic-speaking Jews (including some from every region of the Arab world, well-versed in its dialect), and the disaffected former Muslims among the Iranian refugees.
What is needed is not lingusitic training so much as the intelligent analysis of the situation and a thorough grasp not only of the tenets of Islam, but of those fissures within the world of Islam that may be exploited and how they may be exploited.
It is unfortunate that the endless naivete of the American government, including Congress and officials at every level, federal and state, is likely to result in greater sums of money being used to employ Arabic-speaking Muslims who will, in their gentle and sly ways, not only be used to first introduce innocent American students to the declensions and conjugations of Arab nouns and verbs, but who will also, along the way, with those encouraging smiles at the tentative first steps of the unaccustomed tongue, and those little asides about "life under occupation" in "Palestine," or about the "exaggerations" in the American press, slowly but surely -- and it will depend a good deal on exquisite politeness, and personal charm, and seeming sympathy (in which Arab culture specializes) -- win over those students even as they are officially being prepared to learn the language which supposedly will make them better at comprehending the threat of Jihad, and in warily recognizing all the arts of taqiyya and kitman.
Americans are innocents -- abroad and at home. A few of these Arabic-language students will see through the subtle propaganda of their teachers; many, however, will not. It will be nothing like the experience of those who, fifty or forty years ago, studied Russian under those who had suffered from, and hated, Communism.
Although quite a few of those who used to applaud Chairman Mao managed, before they retired or died, to change their tune, few acknowledged their previous silliness. I recall Jonathan Mirsky, a big radical at Dartmouth who now, as a Financial Times writer (if I recall rightly) is no longer a waver of little red books; the same with James Thomson. Orville Schell is now a respectable Dean of the School of Journalism somewhere; has he ever owned up to his previous period of pro-Mao writing and thinking?
There are always the exceptions. When it comes to Communist China, there was Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans), author of "Chinese Shadows" and "Chairman Mao's New Clothes," to embarrass some Sinologist apologists of Mao -- if not honest, at least less obviously dishonest.
But most of those who now fill departments of Middle Eastern or Islamic studies in the Western world -- not all, but most -- are apologists to one degree or another. They may not be quite as blatant as Michael Sells or John Esposito. Their motives vary. Some desire not to offend their quick-to-take-offense Muslim colleagues, with whom they must keep departmental peace. Others fear the reaction of Muslim students. The word "Islamophobia" has been primed and is ready for use at the earliest opportunity -- applied whenever anyone dares to question the tenets of Islam or the history of the treatment of non-Muslims under Islam. A few of the most courageous students of dhimmitude manage to escape because they happen to be specialists in, say, Byzantine studies, or Armenian studies -- one thinks of Vahakn Dadrian, or Speros Vryonis. These are special cases. Most of those teaching about Islam are hired either by a department where Muslims already predominate, or where they are a powerful presence. It does not take much to silence people into submission. Why, after all, make trouble? Tenure is here, the sun is shining, who cares if these silly little unteachable students are fed propaganda? Those who are worth anything should be able to arrive at the truth by themselves. Yes, who really gives a damn if the universities hire, and then churn out more students in Islamic or Middle Eastern studies whose views coincide so beautifully with those of the Arab League (properly modified for an American audience), or are the equivalent at Al-Azhar of the Propaganda Fide office at the Vatican? Who cares, indeed?
Better to get on with one's little book on Al-Ghazali -- oh, and did you see the really marvellous translations Robert Irwin did of the "singing crows"? And is there honey still for tea?
Meanwhile, those who dare to point out otherwise are marginalized. For example, in France, Anne-Marie Delcambre (who teaches at one of the best lycees) and Jean-Paul Charnay (whose little book on the sharia, and big book on "La strategie arabe" are both worth reading), must go their lonely way. Bat Ye'or is for many a non-person; never on the syllabi, or if put on, carefully denounced to the students so that they won't even bother to look into her work themselves. Ibn Warraq? Oh, like all ex-Muslims, just an embittered man, "every bit as fanatical" as those he claims to denounce (when in fact he is among the most cultivated, amusing, and bemused people on the face of this earth).
Even those who know better -- Michael Cook and Patricia Crone come to mind -- often use Aesopian language. Crone's latest book does not do justice to dhimmitude. She -- who allowed herself to be anonymously quoted by Alexander Stille on the "treacly nonsense" about Islam -- should perhaps allow herself a little more openness.
So many experts on Islam permit themselves to say in private (a whisper to Bassam Tibi here, a wink to Fouad Ajami or a Behbehani scion there) what they will not say in public. This really has to stop.
As for "the Other," that little idea has had its academic day, but not before it did a huge amount of intellectual damage. It began rather innocently. See, for example, Henri Baudet's modest and intelligent essay "Paradise on Earth (Some Thoughts on European Images of non-European Man)." Then the damned thing was taken up by the thuggish and meretricious Said, who used it as a way to block all intelligent investigation of Muslim Arab culture and mores. Though he presented his "Orientalism" as a general defense of the "oppressed Third World cultures," his intellectual thuggery, as Ibn Warraq noted in his long essay about Said, was designed to cause all "Orientalists" to shut up or at least not to be heeded. And by extension, Said really believed that only only Muslims, or those prepared to follow their scripts, could write about Islam. He obviously exempted himself, because as an Arab he apparently possessed a kind of special, genetic, racial knowledge about the tenets and history of Islam. Yet he made numerous little mistakes, such as his assertion that Islam conquered Byzantium before it did Spain, when it was nearly 800 years later. What did that little lapsus matter when he understood, as an Arab, the "essence of Islam" as someone like Lewis, or Schacht, or Margoliouth, or Snouck Hurgronje, never could, despite 50 or 60 years of intense study?
Ladies and gentlemen, the Desarts Vast of Academic Islam await ye. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
Posted on 08/31/2011 1:59 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Bernard Lewis, Or, What Went Wrong?
[Re-posted from 25 February 2007]:
Perhaps James Woolsey is not quite as convinced that Bernard Lewis still embodies the Last Word on Islam, and how to deal with it, as he once was. Perhaps others, once unswervable acolytes of Lewis, including a Pentagon expert or two, are beginning to feel the same way.
Once Andrew Bostom's anthology of articels, by both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, on the view of Jews presented in the Qur'an and Hadith, and the historical record -- the real record -- of the treatment of Jews under Islam, appears, it will no longer be possible for anyone of sense to read Lewis's "The Jews of Islam" or "Semites and Anti-Semites" with the respect once automatically accorded such works.
Lewis still has a chance, over the next few months, to explain how he himself misunderstood the full ferocity, and the full menace, of Islam. He has a chance to explain exactly why he was wrong to support the Oslo Accords and the Light-Unto-the-Muslim-Nations nonsense in Iraq. He has a chance, either when he receives the ISI "Western Civilization" award, or that other thing being put on at one of those well-heeled think-tanks, where the spouting-off of its "resident scholars" gives the Piazza Navona a run for its watery money, way down in Washington town.
He can do this. He can deliver a speech entitled "Bernard Lewis: What Went Wrong." Or he can continue to offer the mixture as before -- Never Apologize, Never Explain -- and continue to chip away at what is left of his own monument. A pity.
Posted on 08/31/2011 1:56 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
And Now For Something Completely Different
[re-posted from April 2007]
Bernard Lewis: All That Glitters Is Not Gold
by Hugh Fitzgerald
Two weeks ago the American Enterprise Institute, with all kinds of its associated panjandrums -- members, friends, supporters, admirers -- present, gave the "Irving Kristol Prize" to Bernard Lewis.
In the audience was Vice President Cheney, who is reputed to be, if not an acolyte of Lewis, at least someone who thinks of him as the last word on Islam and how to deal with Islam. He apparently reveres Lewis' acuity, and accepts that "greatest-living-scholar-of-Islam" stuff (of a piece with the development-office exaggeration of "world-class" universities).
Lewis crept up on, but never quite got to, the very things one most wanted him to speak forthrightly about. He alluded quickly, in his scattered, à bâtons rompus discussion, to this or that topic, then skittered away, on to something else. Nothing was concluded, nothing told you where Lewis stood about matters today. He didn't praise the "war on terror" and he didn't attack the "war on terror." He never said that the phrase "the war on terror" is a misleading thing.
Instead, he pretended to be an historian deliberately au-dessus de la melée, who would provide an historian's perspective. He mentioned how, centuries ago, Muslim jurists in Morocco were asked if it was licit for Muslims to continue to live in the Iberian peninsula, but under non-Muslim rule, and they were told that they were not. And then, the audience waited to hear what he might say about Muslims living in Europe today, and how they manage to reconcile the idea of refusing to live under rule by non-Muslims with, for example, their new strength in numbers and money and easy links, through technology (telephone, Internet, airplanes) to Dar al-Islam, that make them able to remain in Europe, but not be of Europe, not have their Islam weakened by distance but, instead, often strengthened as a reaction to the new and puzzling environment, where Infidels, against nature and reason and Allah, are calling the shots. He said nothing about this.
And then he did something that was truly astonishing. He had earlier mentioned the two Muslim assaults on Europe: the Arab one that ended in the West, near Poitiers with the victory of Charles Martel in 732. And the one that started in the East, with the Turks, which was marked by the two assaults on Vienna, the second one in 1683, the high-water mark of Ottoman power in Europe.
And so, just toward the end, was this unremarked but remarkable sentence:
"Third time lucky?"
And that was how Bernard Lewis, sage of the age, the man whom so many in the Pentagon took as the last word on Islam because compared to what is dished out by Esposito and MESA Mostra he may appear to be that last word, dealt with the most terrifying danger to the survival of the West, offered a flippant phrase. Muslims by the millions, having settled within Western Europe, are now playing on the two pre-existing mental pathologies of antisemitism and anti-Americanism, as well as on the sentimental levelling (some call it "multiculturalism") of the entire Western world, that world that appears to have forgotten its own past achievements, and the legacy that deserves to be preserved, and fails to recognize the West's clear superiority to Islam, to everything about Islam. Such words as "superiority" and "primitivism" are regarded as smacking of "race superiority" or assumptions about those living in what is called "the Third World." But that is not how William James or Jacques Barzun used that word. It means something. Not merely different. Better. More admirable. Superior. Such words need to be brought back into unembarrassed circulation, if the Western peoples are to visit their museums and libraries, and law courts, and newspapers, and the deliberations of their parliaments (however unseemly their current leaders or those "taking a leadership role") and realize that yes, the civilization they inherited is indeed not only different from, but could never for a minute have been produced by, the world of Islam. And they need to realize also that the whole thing can go under, not through "terrorism" (though that has its place) but through Da'wa and demographic conquest, if not now opposed, halted, and reversed.
And all Bernard Lewis could do was allude to this, archly and quickly, thus trivializing the subject, the islamization of Western Europe, that should have been the subject of of the entire lecture, a lecture that would have discussed the instruments of that islamization, and the misdirected, now pointless war in Iraq for which, one needs to remember, Lewis, too, bears a share of the responsibility. He has been telling friends that that responsibility does not belong to him, his influence was really quite exaggerated, so much was done wrongly. This is a not-untypical response by Lewis, who still gets angry when forced to declare he was wrong about Oslo and has yet to tell us WHY he was wrong about the Oslo Accords, what he didn't understand. Was it Arafat only, or was it Islam and its deep effect on the minds of men, that Lewis, friend of Prince Hassan and of Ahmed Chalabi, those most unrepresentative men, just has never quite gotten? He has gotten it in books but not grasped it, the way, for example, that St. Clair Tisdall, or Snouck Hurgronje, or Arthur Jeffery, or even that bookish man Joseph Schacht, grasped it? Has Lewis been led astray by his own admirers in the Arab world and among those Turks who revere him?
Whatever it is, he had a chance to talk about the islamization of Europe and how much more important it is than trivial and hopeless Iraq. But he couldn't. He was already compromised, and being Bernard Lewis that means never having to say you're sorry before the adoring crowd at A. E. I.
His discussion of non-Muslims under Muslim rule was a travesty. Here is how he put it:
"So you had a situation in which three men living in the same street could die and their estates would be distributed under three different legal systems if one happened to be Jewish, one Christian, and one Muslim. A Jew could be punished by a rabbinical court and jailed for violating the Sabbath or eating on Yom Kippur. A Christian could be arrested and imprisoned for taking a second wife. Bigamy is a Christian offense; it was not an Islamic or an Ottoman offense."
Lewis carefully sticks only to matters that are entirely within either the Jewish or the Christian legal system: it is the Jew who violates the Jewish Sabbath or a Jewish holiday, to be punished by Jewish law, in a case that does not involve any non-Jews. It is the Christian who takes a second wife who has violated Christian law, and who is dealt with by Christian authorities, in a case that does not involve any non-Christians. In other words, Lewis entirely leaves out what happens to those Jews and those Christians whenever they have any kind of problem, that might require a legal decision, with Muslims. Nor does he give one word to that most important matter: the legal status of non-Muslims under Muslim rule, to which the Lebanese scholar Antoine Fattal devoted a book, and which has been the subject of several books by the pioneering scholar on the treatment of non-Muslims under Muslim rule, Bat Ye’or, with “The Dhimmi” and “Islam and Dhimmitude” and “The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam.” Not a word about this from Lewis to his distinguished guests, including Vice-President Cheney, who perhaps could use a little more learning as he continues to push this “war on terrorism” centered on that Iraq the Light Unto the Muslim Nations policy which, Cheney may think, is the only possible course to follow.
After all, Lewis has done nothing to disabuse him. While behind the back of the Administration Lewis may deplore what he now sees, or describes, as its many mistakes in Iraq, he appears to absolve himself from any part in those mistakes. He appears not to realize that he had an important role to play, both directly, in his talks with Cheney, and indirectly, in his influence over his acolyte Harold Rhode, who was the go-to expert on Islam, at least for Douglas Feith, when Feith was third in rank at the Pentagon and in charge of post-war planning for Iraq. Lewis may think he can utter phrases like “either we give them freedom or they will destroy us” and that this will not be taken to heart by such people as Bush and Cheney and Rice, but when it was obviously taken to heart, and all they could think of was to “give them [the Muslims in Iraq] freedom, rather than in halting Muslim immigration, taxing gasoline and oil to recapture OPEC”s oligopolistic rents, threatening to seize Saudi assets the way German-owned assets were seized World War II unless the Saudis stop funding certain instruments of Jihad, including well-financed campaigns of mosque-and-madrasa building, and propaganda efforts that have involved a small army of Western hirelings, apologists for the Saudis and for Islam, or doing everything to convince the peoples and governments of Western Europe to recognize the threat of Islam to their political, legal, and social institutions, and to overcome their inertia, and to both recognize, and transcend, the pre-existing pathologies of anti-Americanism and antisemitism that have done so much to confuse the peoples of Europe, to blind them to the real threat, and to distance them from their natural allies, such as the United States and Israel.
Lewis did none of that. He alluded to how Muslims, five hundred years ago, were taught to view living under non-Muslim rule. And though Lewis has declared that Europe will be Islamized before the end of the century – he said this as a fact, as something inevitable, as something which the Europeans were apparently helpless to resist, said nothing about Muslim discussion of the same subject today, now that tens of millions of Muslims are living in non-Muslim nation-states in Western Europe and North America. Lewis gave no guidance, no hint of what might be done. He, who had lived through World War II and the movement, often forced, of peoples after that war, never thought to allude to the Benes Decree. I assume that like all educated Europeans he thinks that the efforts of Masaryk and Benes, by which 7 million Czechs and Slovaks managed to expel 3 million Germans, was justified, but why does he not hint that perhaps the same kind of expulsions like those which were required to reduce what at the time was merely a theoretical future threat posed to 7 million non-Germans in Czechoslovakia, could certainly justify the need to preserve the civilizational legacy – Plato and Spinoza and Hume, Leonardo and Shakespeare, Dante and Quevedo (from whom Lewis borrowed some affectionate Spanish for a dedication) –of the Western world, lest it be undone by the most inexorable, and entirely unworthy, of subversives – mere demography, mere migration and overbreeding. Nor did Lewis say anything, on what might have been an occasion for salutary truth-telling and not for the usual slightly off, never quite direct or forthright, conversation à batons rompus.
It was a spectacle. It was something to behold. Lewis, tel qu’en lui-même, and not even having to wait, as Mallarme makes Poe, for eternity to transform him into it.
Bernard Lewis is not to be compared to Karen Hughes. He's very intelligent, and she's not intelligent at all. But he's not the last word on the subject of Islam, as lazy people like Dinesh D’Souza seem to think or want to think, and his inability to make sense of what he knows, and his behind-the-coulisses feline attacks on Bat Ye'or, his attempt, during the Oslo Accords nonsense, to prevent others from mentioning all of the violations by the "Palestinian" side (what did he hope to achieve, Bernard Lewis, by keeping such information quiet?), his love of having access to power, and working behind-the-scenes (he takes credit for urging the American government, for example, to threaten to cut a mere $30 million from Egypt's aid in order to secure a better judicial outcome for Said Eddin Ibrahim -- but why doesn't Lewis discuss with his powerful friends the entire matter of cutting all Jizyah-aid to Egypt? Why doesn't he discuss Egypt as a world center of anti-Americanism and antisemitism?). Lewis is feted in Istanbul by Ottomanists, and one wonders if the astonishing change in his own description of the mass murder of Armenians, which a few decades ago he had no difficulty calling by its right name and then silently changed his own texts, removed those words -- how much does that have to do with an Osmanli girlfriend, or Turkish friends who finally wore him down? And his recounting of anecdotes about his own bons mots (so well received, by the way) in Amman, where he is feted by Prince Hassan in his version of big-tentism, and likes to allude , to those connections, proof that -- unlike the espositos, who are merely despised hirelings -- he, Bernard Lewis, is truly accepted in the East as in the West, and he is particularly pleased to note the translations of his books into the languages -- Farsi, Arabic, Turkish -- of the Muslim East.
Yet he has never explained about his nearly-invisible treatment of non-Muslims under Muslim rule (a total of three paragraphs, two of them exculpatory, in his 400-page "The Middle East: The Last 2000 Years." No one has asked him why, after 80 years of Kemalism, Islam is back with a vengeance in Turkey, about which he once had such high hopes, and whether the example of Turkey might not hold lessons for non-Muslims about the persistence of Islam. No one has asked him if his friendship with Ahmed Chalabi, or Prince Hassan, or others might not have confused him, led him as others have, because of the personal charms and even munificence of certain semi-potentates, to take unrepresentative men for representative men, and what is dangerous, to base not sober policy but hopes and dreams on those cheats and charmers. And one wonders what Lewis, the celebrated student of modern Turkey (who left so much out -- see Speros Vryonis, see Vahakn Dadrian, see even a few younger and braver Turkish historians in the West) now thinks are the lessons, if any (or would he say that "historians are not in the habit of drawing lessons. Historians are engaged in something quite different." Coming from Lewis, who always resented not being listened to by the Foreign Office, and for the last quarter-century has loved being listened to by the powerful, such a remark must be taken as pure blague) that non-Muslims might have to draw from the example of Turkey. No one, above all, has asked him for some practical advice for the Western world, in attempting to halt the islamization of Western Europe, advice that goes beyond the vague, and disturbing, "either we bring them freedom or they will destroy us.”
What a remark. An astounding admission, that second part – “they will destroy us” coupled to a completely unhinged remark – [unless] “we bring them freedom.” That simply will not do.
Here is what Lewis must tell us, rather than simply assume that he, Bernard Lewis, can get away with offering up such a statement, and it is for the rest of us, having heard the oracle, to make sense of it, to fill in the mere details. No, that will not do, and the fact that Lewis is rich in years (90) and the recipient of honors should cut no ice, not in this case. Automatic respect for age is one of those “respects’ – like that which some accord any belief-system called a “religion” or that kind of automatic loyalty too many are too eager to offer this or that object of loyalty, even when it is not, or no longer, deserved.
He has to tell us what he means by “either we bring them freedom or they will destroy us.” How does that phrase adequately meet the case of the islamization of Western Europe? What guide to policy is that? And what does it mean to “bring them freedom”? Bring them freedom with “boots on the ground” that will ensure head-counting elections, or is there some other kind of “freedom” that Lewis has in mind? Is he willing to concede, at all, that the “freedom” or, in this case, the “democracy” which is brought by the West is inimical to the spirit and letter of Islam, or will he -- like Bush muttering darkly that those who would :”deny” that “Arabs” are not capable of democracy are “racists” (a misleading way to characterize those who point out the unremarkable and obvious truth that the belief-system of Islam emphasizes the collective and not the individual, has no place for individual rights and has no place for the rights to free speech, freedom of conscience, and free exercise, and equality for non-Muslims and women. But Lewis wants to have us all play a game of Let’s-Pretend so that somehow, in some way, we will manage to get through – and meanwhile the Muslim population of the Netherlands climbs from 15,000 to one million in little more than thirty years, and the Muslim colonies deep within the Lands of the Infidels expand relentlessly, as do the demands from those colonies for changes in the legal and political and social institutions of the Infidels.
And how do we “bring them freedom”? Apparently Lewis thinks that the way to “bring them freedom” is the same way it was brought in Iraq – by invasion, by boots on the ground. Does he still? Does he still think that Ahmed Chalabi, his friend, is “representative” of much more than…Ahmad Chalabi? How “representative” is Kanan Makiya? Or Rend al-Rahim? What about that good man, Mithal al-Alusi? Could Lewis possibly have confused his admiration and friendship for certain people, westernized, secularized, the members of a very special elite (whether Shi’a or Sunni) with the real Iraq, of the tens of millions? Could he? And could he have confused Prince Hassan (who isn’t all that great) with the real views of the people in Jordan, and the malevolent mischief that Abdullah as before him his father the “plucky little king” Hussein, are able to cause by confusing Western governments into thinking that these seemingly rational or at least semi-sensible people in any way “represent” Jordan, or “represent” the Arabs?
Lewis tells us “either we bring them freedom, or they will destroy us.”
And then he falls silent, briefly, and goes briskly on, to the next big topic given a few bright paragraphs, in his fatally flippant tour d’horizon.:
A while back I wrote that Lewis was "chipping away at his own monument." With the rediscovery of the texts by specialists on Jews under Islamic rule, even his treatment of that subject, one which it was assumed Lewis certainly must know all about, must have read and taken intelligently into account everything, will be shown to have been completely insufficient and misguided.
He has been, for some, taken as the final authority, the "greatest living scholar" blah blah blah. Well, if "final authority" at all -- then in brief final authority. His writ no longer runs quite as it once did -- as the only apparent alternative to the espositos and mesanostrans. There are others, to be found in the library, and elsewhere -- such as the largely unheralded but acute Bat Ye'or -- who are there, not to take his place as "world's greatest authority" but to do something even better -- to offer studies, and advice, that is neither flippant, nor unduly influenced by considerations of personal vanity.
And not a moment too soon.
Posted on 08/31/2011 1:53 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Bernard Lewis At 95: Grosses Bises Quand Même
The Revered and Reviled Bernard Lewis
A Retrospective Of The Scholar Who Provided The Intellectual Ammunition For The Iraq War
Bernard Lewis has just moved to a small apartment in the manicured suburbs on Philadelphia’s Main Line. At 95, it was time for the man the Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing calls the “most influential postwar historian of Islam and the Middle East” to leave Princeton—his home for more than 35 years—for a senior living facility known for attracting retired academics.
“I’m getting old, I’m no longer sure about dates,” he tells me in his polished British accent, though this moment of self-deprecation is hardly convincing: Our conversation reflects his uncanny ability to recollect dates, time lines and facts—both from his lifetime and several centuries before. As we talk, Lewis recalls the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699 as easily as the Turkish elections of 1950. He also regales me with stories, though it is impossible to predict which millennium they will date to. One minute, it’s the Marx Brothers skits he shared with the Shah of Iran in the days before the revolution, the next, an eighth century Arabian joke about a sinful woman praying to Allah for mercy before she dies. And he speaks with eloquence, his ideas organized into complete paragraphs.
In his new home, Lewis is surrounded by bookcases, some filled with collectors editions of his own works. He has published prolifically throughout his seven-decade career: His first scholarly article —on the origins of Ismailism, a branch of Shia Islam—came out in 1937 when he was 21, and his most recent book, The End of Modern History in the Middle East, hit bookstores earlier this year. In between, he wrote more than 20 books, some of them New York Times bestsellers, plus numerous scholarly tomes, racking up countless honors, including the National Humanities Medal, which President George W. Bush presented to him at the White House in 2006.
The Old World gentleman dressed in slacks and a button-down Oxford shirt may be retired, but there is nothing retiring about him. As the scholar who coined the term “the clash of civilizations” to describe the headlong confrontation between Muslim and Christian worlds, Lewis has been extremely outspoken about his belief that the failure of large swaths of the Islamic world to reconcile itself to modernity can be blamed not on Britain or the U.S., but on internal decay. These opinions, coupled with his influence, have made him a lightning rod for the schisms that rock academia and the nation. Both friends and enemies are plentiful: They have strong feelings about him, whether they know him or not, and few, it seems, fall in the middle.
The late Columbia University professor Edward Said, author of the 1978 book Orientalism, accused Lewis of “demagogy and downright ignorance,” and more recent critics have accused him of fanning the flames of Islamophobia. But he is a prophet to his tight circle of admirers, which includes influential policymakers, many of whom served in the administration of President George W. Bush. They include former Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Defense Policy Board Chair Richard Perle, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and National Security Council for Near East and North African Director Elliott Abrams.
“Bernard Lewis is the great Orientalist of our time, and we shan’t see the likes of him again,” says Fouad Ajami, senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute. Ajami, who was born and raised in Lebanon, describes himself as a “self-appointed disciple” of Lewis. The two have been close since Ajami’s days at Princeton some 35 years ago and Ajami gushes freely about his mentor. “His ability to track Islam’s journey over the 70 years of his career and really see the deeper currents of Islam—that is his genius. He is able to bridge the gap between scholarship and modern affairs and make a seamless connection between the past and the present.”
Although Lewis hasn’t particularly revelled in the media spotlight, he hasn’t shied away from injecting his ideas into the political debate. As Ajami, a note of reverence in his voice, tells me: “Bernard Lewis is not a coward.”
Many Jewish boys study Hebrew in preparation for their bar mitzvahs, but few fall passionately in love with the language. That ’s what happened to Lewis. Born in London in 1916 and raised by “twice-a-year Jews,” as he puts it, he accompanied his parents—a businessman who dealt in real estate and a homemaker—to a “nominally Orthodox” synagogue on the High Holy Days and Passover.
“It was a new language and a new history, and it was my supreme good fortune that the Hebrew teacher my parents found for me was a scholar, a real maskil, who responded to my childish enthusiasm,” he recalls. Lewis has recounted this 80-year-old story countless times, but his eyes still light up at the memory. His parents were willing to continue funding his Hebrew studies after his bar mitzvah and so he continued his language instructions, adding Aramaic as well. This, of course, was in addition to the French, Latin and German he studied as part of his regular school curriculum. He was also deeply taken by history. “When we learned about British history and the wars with France, I became interested in French history, and later, when we learned about the Crusades and the eastern question, my interest in Islamic history was first aroused. I was always interested in hearing the other side,” he says of his attraction to the Islamic world.
In 1936, Lewis completed a bachelor’s degree in history with a concentration in the Middle East, graduating first in his class from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He started graduate studies and when, a year later, a professor asked if he’d like to travel to the Middle East, Lewis jumped at the opportunity. With no funds to speak of—“I could no more go to the Middle East than I could go to the moon”—but with a stipend provided by the Royal Asiatic Society, he explored Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Turkey for six months. “I felt like a Muslim bridegroom meeting the bride with whom he is to spend the rest of his life, and seeing her for the first time after the wedding,” he wrote of the trip in his 2004 From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East, one of many passages that critics cite to accuse him of eroticizing the “exotic” east.
On his return to London, Lewis was offered an appointment as an assistant lecturer in the School of Oriental Studies at the University of London. But World War II intervened, and in 1939, Lewis was drafted into the army and placed in a tank regiment. “I didn’t stay there long, either because of my aptitude for languages or my ineptitude for tanks,” he says. Transferred to intelligence, he was stationed in London for the most part, but also toured the Middle East, with stops in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. (That was his last visit to Iraq, he tells me.) “It gave me direct insight, which I previously lacked,” he says of his wartime experience, “and I got a feeling for what people think and what they say—and the difference between the two.” When the war was over, Lewis was appointed chair of the University of London’s Near and Middle Eastern History Department. He was in his early 30s and it was clearly a feat, but Lewis credits the dearth of academics in the post-war years—rather than his own merit—for his promotion.
Though his original interest was the Arab world, out of necessity Lewis quickly branched out. As a Jew in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he would have been denied a visa to most Arab countries in the wake of Israel’s independence.“Some people lied [and didn’t disclose their Jewishness], which I was not prepared to do—and which was not very effective,” he says. The result was that he shifted his research to include Turkey and Iran, focusing on the Ottoman period. As luck would have it, he was in Istanbul when the Turkish government opened its archives in 1950. As an up-and-coming scholar, he was the first westerner granted access to these storied treasures, which helped cement his prominence in the field.
He wrote extensively about the Ottoman Empire and Arab history as seen through the lens of the newly opened archives. “He’s the first true historian of the Middle East,” says Martin Kramer, a former student, now a senior fellow at the Shalem Institute in Jerusalem. “Before him, there were linguists and philologists who dabbled in history, but he was the first to bring historical methodology to the study of the Middle East.” Lewis, he says, pioneered fields from Jews in Islamic history to issues of slavery and race in the Ottoman Empire: “These were sensitive areas that required a deft hand, and Lewis had it.”
While in Turkey, Lewis also witnessed that country’s first free election, in which the Democratic Party officially ended the country’s one-party era—something, he says, “that had never happened before in the Middle East and hasn’t happened very often since.” Being present for the “dawn of Turkish democracy” left a deep impression. “It helped me understand the political process in the Middle East,” he says. His 1961 book, The Emergence of Modern Turkey, is still considered by many to be a landmark analysis of that country. Lewis also wrote The Arabs in History, now in its sixth edition, as well as other works, quickly gaining an international reputation in a field he readily admitted was becoming “an obsession.”
In 1974, his 27-year marriage to Ruth Hélène Oppenhejm, a Danish Jew, (they had two children —Michael, now 57, who works for AIPAC in Washington, DC, and Melanie, 60, an art educator, who lives in Pittsburgh) fell apart, and he left England for a prestigious position at Princeton University. He was appointed the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies, a joint position between the Institute for Advanced Study and Princeton, where his chair was endowed by the family that founded the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). His new job required him to teach only one semester a year, leaving him with more time to research and write. Settled in America, Lewis published at an increasingly dizzying speed. Becoming an American citizen in 1982, he was poised to take on the role of a public intellectual.
Lewis’ friendship with Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the Democratic senator from Washington, catapulted him into his new country’s corridors of power, where he became a powerful intellectual influence on the burgeoning neoconservative movement. Jackson was a fierce anti-communist and opponent of détente, with close ties to the Jewish community. In 1974 he co-sponsored the Jackson–Vanik amendment, which restricted trade relations with the Soviet Union in response to taxes it levied on Jews seeking to emigrate. As the leading defender of Israel in the U.S. Senate, Jackson was also critical of Soviet support for Arab regimes in the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Lewis’ scholarship, which in its criticism of Islamic culture flew in the face of the so-called Arabists at the State Department, fit well with Jackson’s worldview. “Each of them brought something to the table: Jackson had tremendous political skill, while Lewis provided the view of a preeminent historian, which helped inoculate Jackson to the claim that he was running against all expert opinion,” says Robert Kaufman, author of Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics. “Senator Jackson believed the main problem in the Middle East was not Israel, but a broader culture of tyranny. Lewis deepened those instincts.”
Their relationship was mutually beneficial, Kaufman adds. In the 1970s, as a member of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Jackson invited Lewis, then in his late fifties, to Washington to testify before Congress, giving him his first taste of “policy prominence.” Jackson brought Lewis into a circle of ambitious young men who, like him, were convinced that a tough stance with the USSR was vital to American interests. Among them were Jackson’s aides, two of whom—Wolfowitz and Perle—had been students of University of Chicago professor and early neoconservative thinker Albert Wohlstetter. Lewis’ relationships with this group of policymakers ensured that his influence on policy decisions would remain strong long after Senator Jackson passed away in 1983. These up-and-coming “Jackson Democrats,” as they were known, supported Ronald Reagan’s bid for president after Carter defeated Jackson in the Democratic primaries. Their shift to the Republican Party was cemented following the 1980 election, when many of them went to work for Reagan in the White House. In some ways, it was the watershed moment for the neoconservative movement—an ideology that went on to concentrate its foreign policy efforts on promoting liberal democracies in other countries.
“Lewis is the elder statesman of the neoconservative movement,” says Jacob Heilbrunn, author of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons. “He provided the intellectual scaffolding for the belief that something was very wrong with Arab societies. His worldview was antithetical to the dominant one and he essentially reversed the terms of the debate.” Neoconservatives, with Lewis’ backing, argued that Israel was not the obstacle to peace; the problem lay in the makeup of Arab societies. Lewis, long a strong defender of Israel, has close ties to the Jewish state: He gives annual lectures at Tel Aviv University and owns an apartment there as well. “He sees Israel as a liberal democracy,” Kramer says, “the kind of democracy we hope for in other parts of the Middle East.”
Lewis’ close ties to Israel may be one of the reasons he changed his opinions about Turkey, the first Muslim nation to recognize the Jewish state and its longtime ally. In the first edition of The Emergence of Modern Turkey in 1961, and in a second that followed seven years later, Lewis had termed the Armenian genocide a “holocaust.” But by the third edition, published in 2002, he had a change of heart, replacing “holocaust” with the word “slaughter” and adding a reference to Turkish deaths as well. In 1985, he urged the U.S. Congress to refrain from passing a resolution that would condemn the event as “genocide,” and after he published a 1993 article on the subject in Le Monde, he was fined a symbolic one franc by French courts under the country’s Holocaust-denial laws. “There is no doubt the Armenians suffered a terrible massacre, but to compare it to what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany is an absurdity,” he tells me.
Lewis’ reversal took the Armenian community by surprise, says Rouben P. Adalian, director of the Armenian National Institute in Washington DC. “For the Armenian community, it’s a huge preoccupation to have this history recognized and so, when Bernard Lewis enters the fray, it provides ammunition to the Turkish government in denying that a genocide took place. And so here we are, 95 years after the genocide, with piles of evidence, still having this conversation.”
Looking back, Lewis says that he felt comfortable in the neoconservative camp, and continues to feel that way. “Yes, I feel that ‘neoconservative’ is not an inaccurate description of me,” he says when I ask. Then he paraphrases the popular, though somewhat apocryphal Winston Churchill quote: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”
In choosing to blame Islam for its own decline, Lewis was bucking the new paradigm through which the region was being seen: post-colonialism, which attributed the Middle East’s current problems to the colonial era. Lewis argues that imperialism—while certainly one of the roots of the problems that now plague the modern Middle East—hardly explains the region’s malaise. Those very problems brought colonialism to the region in the first place, he’s insisted: “Why did colonialism come to the Middle East? Because [the region] was relapsing into total backwardness.”
During Lewis’ seven decades as a scholar, the study of the Middle East changed dramatically. When he was a student and a young professor, Oriental studies—as it was then known—drew on European experiences of the Crusades, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Modern Middle Eastern studies departments didn’t come into existence until after World War II, when the U.S. began to place greater emphasis on studying the region due to its strategic significance. The government began to pour money into the field, and in 1958, as part of the National Defense Education Act, funded Title VI fellowships to support graduate students in what became known as “area studies.”
With the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, these programs became increasingly politicized. Lewis’ Israel sympathies set him apart early on, but were hardly the only thing that separated him from colleagues in the discipline. Many in these newly formed area studies departments focused on methodology and theory, whereas Lewis remained committed to the “objective” study of history—a notion that had come into question in the field.
In 1978 when Edward Said published Orientalism—a work that became a handbook for post-colonial theory—Bernard Lewis’ status in the field came under intense scrutiny for the first time in his career. In the book, Said posited that the study of the Middle East was yet another manifestation of imperialism and implicitly insists that the study of the east belongs to the people of the east. “Orientalists” (the term became a pejorative) like Bernard Lewis, he argues, barely conceal their disdain for their subject matter. At the core of Westerners’ study, Said claims, is a “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture.” He calls Lewis, his primary target, a “perfect exemplification” of an “Establishment Orientalist” whose work “purports to be objective liberal scholarship but is in reality very close to being propaganda against his subject material.”
Lewis responded in kind, publishing a screed against Orientalism in the New York Review of Books. He famously asserted, “If westerners cannot legitimately study the history of Africa or the Middle East, then only fish can study marine biology.” At the crux, Lewis tells me, is “the difference between scholarship and politics; they insist on seeing everything as politics and they see Orientalists as imperialists, which is absolute nonsense. The Orientalist scholarship in the western world began in the Middle Ages long before there was a question of French or British imperialism.”
Shortly before his death in 2003, Said attended a round table discussion organized by the Arabic weekly Al-Ahram in which he claimed that Bernard Lewis “hasn’t set foot in the Middle East, in the Arab world, for at least 40 years. He knows something about Turkey, I’m told, but he knows nothing about the Arab world.” Some 25 years had passed since the publication of Orientalism, but the rage—whether academic or otherwise—was still simmering, as raw then as decades before. Much of the debate took place on the pages of the New York Review of Books, but it also spilled over to conferences sponsored by the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the reigning umbrella association of Middle East scholars founded in 1966, and which was eventually, in Lewis’ words, “taken over by Saidians.” Said and Lewis met only once, at a MESA conference, and their meeting was brief and uneventful, Lewis tells me.
Lewis believes he became a target primarily because he was Jewish and British. “We all tend to judge others by ourselves; that’s human nature,” Lewis says. Edward Said, a Palestinian born in Jerusalem and an English professor, was bitterly and viciously anti-British, he says. “He assumed that an Englishman who was a professor of Arabic would have the same attitude to his subject as he had to his.”
With the eighth anniversary of Said’s death approaching, this debate continues to rage across American college campuses, where a new generation of scholars has taken his lead. “Bernard Lewis is an influential scholar, but his writings, particularly over the past years, have become increasingly polemical and ideological,” says Nader Hashemi, a Middle East expert at the University of Denver and an outspoken critic of Lewis. “He assumes there is a fossilized Muslim core that determines the way Muslims will always behave and ignores changing social conditions in the Middle East.”
Indeed, Lewis has become persona non grata in Middle Eastern studies departments on college campuses across the U.S. Hashemi includes one of Lewis’ books in his syllabus, but mostly as an example of the kind of Orientalist scholarship students should learn to avoid. Lewis himself acknowledges the phenomenon: He was a guest lecturer several years ago at a university in the Midwest and says that while students representing various disciplines flocked to his lecture, not a single student from Middle Eastern studies was present. As a graduate student later told him, attending the lecture “would have harmed his career.” Says Hashemi: “Lewis’ reputation within the community of Middle East scholars has really sunk to an all-time low.”
“In most American universities,” says Ajami, “the battle of ideas between Lewis and Said was, alas, won by Said and his disciples. To me, that is a tragic outcome.”
When the Twin Towers came crashing down on September 11, 2001, Lewis’ book What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Eastern Response was at the printer. When it was released in December, its thesis was on everyone’s mind. As Lewis says, “Osama Bin Laden made me famous.” Kramer phrases it this way: “Bernard Lewis became a household name after 9/11, at a time when followers of Said thought they got rid of him.” No longer just relegated to the Ivy League and the pages of high-brow journals, the academic dispute over the Islamic world now became central to explaining Osama bin Laden and his global jihad.
“Clash of civilizations” thundered across the airwaves, three words often associated with the Harvard political science professor Samuel Huntington, who borrowed it for the title of his landmark 1993 Foreign Affairs article, which was later expanded into a book with the same title. Huntington, a titan in his field, died in 2008, and Lewis hesitates to take credit for the phrase, telling me he never called his theory “the clash of civilizations” per se. “It was an idea I came to in stages after studying the long history of jihad and crusade and counter-crusade and so on throughout the centuries,” he explains. Nevertheless, he believes in its fundamental truths: Christians and Muslims both believe they are the recipients of God’s final word, which they are obligated to share with the rest of humanity—a message that is both universal and exclusive. “This inevitably led to conflict, to the real clash of rival civilizations aspiring to the same role, leading to the same hegemony,” Lewis said during a 2006 Washington, DC event hosted by the Pew Forum. It is not their differences that lead to the clash but their similarities, he adds.
To his admirers, his views of the two civilizations made Lewis nothing less than a modern-day seer. Says Ajami: “Islamic fundamentalism, which became the story of the world—he foresaw it before anyone. He has an ability to see things, buck the trend, differ from his contemporaries and step out of the consensus. The 1990s were an era of globalization, when people talked about the differences in the world being erased by a common marketplace. There were two men—Bernard Lewis and Sam Huntington—who said, ‘it ain’t so.’”
For Lewis, the clash of civilizations had finally made it to America’s doorstep. The situation had reached a dangerous boiling point and could no longer be ignored. The attacks of 9/11, he warns, must be seen as a battle in a larger war of jihad. According to the first stage of jihad, infidel rule in Islamic lands must end. “That has been, in the main, completed. All the states that were formally ruled by Russians and Frenchmen and Englishmen are now ruled by people of their own land.” The second stage, he says, is to recover lost lands of Islam—i.e., countries like Israel and Spain that were once ruled by Muslims but no longer are. The third and final phase is extending Islamic rule to the whole world, where inhabitants can either embrace Islam or become second-class citizens. “There is no doubt” that 9/11 is part of this struggle, he insists. “Osama bin Laden expressed himself quite clearly —this is part of global jihad and initiation of the final phase, bringing the true faith into the lands of unbelievers.”
Israel and the unsettled Palestinian question is not—as so many claim—the root of Arab hatred of the U.S. “Israel serves as a useful stand-in for complaints about the economic privation and political repression under which most Muslim people live, and as a way of deflecting the resulting anger,” Lewis says in a November 2001 issue of The New Yorker.
Since American foreign policy under George W. Bush was conducted by a group of men with whom Lewis was well-acquainted, he had rare access to the White House after September 11th, 2001. He had a “quite friendly relationship with Cheney” at the time, he recalls, and he was a guest speaker at the vice president’s residence only weeks after the attacks. On the eve of the Iraq invasion, Cheney, appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, invoked the name and philosophy of the then-octogenarian professor. “I firmly believe, along with men like Bernard Lewis, who is one of the great students of that part of the world, that strong, firm U.S. response to terror and to threats to the United States would go a long way, frankly, toward calming things in that part of the world.” President Bush reportedly read a well-worn copy of What Went Wrong, which was given to him by Condoleezza Rice, who also met privately with Lewis, according to reports. And Karl Rove is said to have invited him to address White House staffers, military aides and staff members of the National Security Council in a closed meeting, where Lewis reportedly discussed the failures of contemporary Arab and Muslim societies and shared his opinions about the origins of the Muslim world’s anti-Americanism.
Once again Lewis was instrumental in providing an intellectual foundation for government policy, but this time the men he influenced were in control. Peter Waldman called this framework the “Lewis Doctrine” while describing Lewis’ outsized influence in shaping Middle East policy in the Wall Street Journal in February 2004. “Though never debated in Congress or sanctified by presidential decree, Mr. Lewis’ diagnosis of the Muslim world’s malaise, and his call for a U.S. military invasion to seed democracy in the Mideast, have helped define the boldest shift in U.S. foreign policy in 50 years,” Waldman writes. “As mentor and informal adviser to some top U.S. officials, Mr. Lewis has helped coax the White House to shed decades of thinking about Arab regimes and the use of military power. Gone is the notion that U.S. policy in the oil-rich region should promote stability above all, even if it means taking tyrants as friends. Also gone is the corollary notion that fostering democratic values in these lands risks destabilizing them. Instead, the Lewis Doctrine says fostering Mideast democracy is not only wise, but imperative.”
Lewis was not unwilling to combine his academic expertise with policy advice. He published op-eds frequently and in one 2002 Wall Street Journal piece appropriately called “Time for Toppling,” he predicted “scenes of rejoicing” in Iraq should “we succeed in overthrowing the regimes of what President Bush has rightly called the ‘Axis of Evil.’” He did the talk show circuit as well. When Charlie Rose asked him in a 2004 interview why invading Afghanistan would not have been enough to prove that the U.S. was more than a “paper tiger,” as Bin Laden called it, Lewis said plainly, “Afghanistan was not sufficient; one had to get to the heart of the matter in the Middle East.” During that same interview, he also backed his friend Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi politician who claimed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. When pressed by Rose on whether the Iraq invasion was “worth it,” Lewis replied pointedly: “Yes, I think it was necessary to do something. One has to consider what the alternatives were.”
Lewis’ influence on the formulation of the Bush administration’s controversial Middle East policy drew critics en masse. Michael Hirsh, chief correspondent at the National Journal and author of the highly critical 2004 article “Bernard Lewis Revisited,” says that Lewis’ credentials gave the Bush administration’s policies “intellectual credence.” “It was a mistake to say [that 9/11] was an expression of anger that represented the mainstream of the Arab and Muslim world,” Hirsh tells me. “Really, the U.S. had to just wipe out Al Qaeda, but instead, they took on the entire Arab world. That’s where people like Lewis led us astray and I don’t think anyone would cite him today without some sense of irony.” Hirsh goes on: “By his own volition, he left the academic world to become a political figure and that was the beginning of the end of his reputation.”
Hashemi also questions Lewis’ understanding of the situation: “Lewis is a medievalist and he tries to interpret contemporary Islamic politics by going back to an earlier time period where an ‘essential’ Islam allegedly existed. He uses this framework to explain events that happen half a millennium later. He plays into a neoconservative right-wing agenda that wants to control, manipulate and dominate the Middle East. His apocalyptic narrative fits well with a Fox News audience, but it’s not serious political analysis or scholarship.”
When I ask Lewis about his role in the formulation of the Bush administration’s Middle East policy, he minimizes it and calls any reference to a “Lewis Doctrine” misleading and “worse—it’s false.” He tells me that the White House asked him to email his opinions from time to time, which he did, “but I don’t know that they took any notice of it.”
He takes pains to distance himself from the military invasion, and despite some of his earlier writings, says that he advocated for the U.S. to recognize an independent government in the north of Iraq, which would have potentially fomented democratic movements in the rest of the country. As he tells me repeatedly: “It was a profoundly mistaken decision to invade Iraq. What should have been done was to help the people in the north. But to invade the country was a mistake; I said so at the time and I’ve said so ever since.”
“Do you think people misrepresented your opinions?,” I ask. “Definitely,” he says. Ajami, for his part, says he doesn’t remember his mentor’s opinions about the Iraq invasion. But he says the malice coming from both the Ivory Tower and elsewhere about Lewis’ role in the Bush administration is misguided. “For enemies of Lewis, he became the godfather of the Iraq war, which was ridiculous,” Ajami says. “Academics don’t lead governments to war.”
As Lewis knows well, what his legacy will look like depends largely on who writes the history. He is reluctant to predict what contours it will take; most likely, the work will be left to his disciples, much as Said’s worldview continues to live and thrive—both in academe and elsewhere—thanks to his followers. But in 2007, Lewis and his coterie took a step toward reshaping the academic battleground. They founded the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA), an academic group meant to counter the influence of MESA. “In the democratic world, universities are free and you don’t have an imposed orthodoxy,” Lewis tells me. “That’s not the case [in Middle Eastern Studies departments] where you have an imposed orthodoxy to a greater degree than any other time since the Middle Ages. It makes free discussion, if not impossible, very difficult.”
With Lewis as its chairman and other big names like Ajami on board, ASMEA hopes to challenge MESA’s hegemony. At 1,100 members, it’s significantly smaller than its competition (MESA has more than 3,000, according to its website), but David Silverstein, the group’s executive director, says its ranks are growing. For the most part, it is funded by member dues, as well as organizations like the Bradley Foundation, a Milwaukee-based group that aims to strengthen capitalism and limited government and also supports conservative thinktanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. “ASMEA is restoring competition in the marketplace of ideas in Middle Eastern studies,” Silverstein says. “This is an issue of ongoing concern to [Lewis] because of his love for the discipline and his horror at the way it slid from its former glory to something so politicized.”
Back in his apartment, Lewis tells me he is slowing down, but, again, this is relative. “He is so unlike the stereotypes of aging,” says his partner of 15 years, Buntzie Churchill, who has co-authored two books with Lewis and is former president of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. Lewis attends ASMEA events (“people call just to make sure that he will be there,” says Silverstein. “They just want to be in the presence of a great man”), and he is currently putting the finishing touches on a memoir, What and When, How and Why: Reflections of a Middle East Historian, due out next year. Rather than focus on current political events in the Middle East, which he has been following on television, he has been sorting through old notes and turning his attention to poetry. Right now, he’s at work on a collection of poetry he’s translating from Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Hebrew—four of the dozen or so languages he’s mastered.
Lewis remains an ardent student of Islam, which despite his criticism of its present-day manifestations, he admires as one of the world’s great religions. It could be this love, says Ian Buruma, writing in The New Yorker, that has led Lewis to overreach in his belief that the west may be able to save his beloved Muslim civilization. Wrote Buruma, “Perhaps he loves it too much.”
Posted on 08/31/2011 1:48 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
What a difference a letter makes (cont.)
Today's letter is S, marker of plurals and possessives and hostage to rogue apostrophe's. Underrated, understated Barbara Pym (Restraint is the Point, see here) wrote a novel called Some Tame Gazelle:
Belinda and Harriet live on a comfortable unearned income in an unnamed English village. They keep one servant, and neither has ever been married. Harriet jokes about her classical education but has ''long ago given up all intellectual pursuits.'' Her real interests are clothes and flirting with young clergymen, whose pictures she treasures and for whom she loves to cook and knit. She is silly and giddy and extremely happy; when she receives a proposal from a visiting librarian, she turns it down because she knows that marriage would interfere with her love of coddling curates. Belinda is sharper, more censorious and less happy. She has quotations for all occasions, but most of her ''scraps of culture'' aren't very good ones: early 19th-century verse by Thomas Haynes Bayly, for example, from whom the novel's epigraph comes: ''Some tame gazelle, or some gentle dove: / Something to love, oh, something to love.''
Perhaps it isn't very good, which explains why the real-life Bolton librarian who ordered the book for me wrote the title as "Some Tame Gazelles". One gazelle may be a comfort to the desperate, but you wouldn't want a bunch of them.
I envy Belinda her "comfortable unearned income", and if I had that, I wouldn't complain about a thing. But I don't envy her her name. She may have a lock consecretated to fame, and a name inscribed midst the stars, but to me, Belinda will always live in a little white house, with a little black kitten and a little gray mouse, and a little yellow dog and a little red wagon, and a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.
Posted on 08/31/2011 1:27 PM by Mary Jackson
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Save For Syria, The Iranian Fears Are Entirely Misplaced
From The New York Times:
August 31, 2011
Iran Concerned West Will Benefit From Arab Uprisings
By RICK GLADSTONE
Iran’s supreme leader admonished the West and Israel on Wednesday not to seek advantage from the antigovernment uprisings convulsing the Arab Muslim world, delivering the warning in a nationally broadcast speech that appeared to reflect new unease in Tehran over the course of events among its strategic neighbors, particularly Syria.
The speech by the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, given at Tehran University to commemorate Id al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday, was officially described in Iran’s state-run press as a respectful tribute to the revolutionary movements that have reawakened Muslim populations to “their genuine Islamic identity.”
But the speech included a cautionary caveat that suggested Iranian leaders are worried about the possibility of outcomes that diminish their influence as these movements progress.
“The events taking place in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and certain other countries today are decisive and destiny making for the Muslim nations,” the ayatollah said. However, he said, “if the imperialist and hegemonic powers and Zionism, including the U.S. tyrannical and despotic regime, manage to use the ongoing conditions in their own favor, the world of Islam will definitely face big problems for tens of years.”
The omission of Syria in his remarks was especially conspicuous, underlining Iran’s own ambivalence about how to deal with events unfolding there. Iran has been the strongest ally of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, throughout the five-month-old antigovernment uprising in that country, which Mr. Assad has sought to suppress with ferocious brutality in the face of growing international isolation. But in recent days even Iran has asked the Assad regime to find a way to accommodate demands of the Syrian protest movement, worried that Mr. Assad’s downfall could prove destructive to Iran’s own strategic interests in the Middle East.
On Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, called on Mr. Assad’s government to recognize the Syrian people’s “legitimate” demands, the first such remarks to come from Iran since the Syrian uprising began.
Iran relies on Syria to help facilitate arming and financing Hezbollah, the powerful political, social and military movement in Lebanon, as well as Hamas, the militant Islamist group that governs Gaza. Both are avowed enemies of Israel and are considered terrorist groups by Israel and the United States. [so Assad should insist that Iran send it ever-greater amounts of aid or otherwise, Syria will cease to serve as a conduit for Hezbollah]
Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech also illustrated the awkward line that Iranian leaders have walked in commending the uprisings that have toppled or threatened autocratic leaders in neighboring countries while suppressing antigovernment demonstrations at home, particularly since the disputed 2009 Iranian presidential election that Iranian dissidents say was fixed to ensure victory for the hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The ayatollah appeared to acknowledge Iran’s own election difficulties, saying they had always been a “challenging issue” in the 32-year-old history of the Islamic republic. But he also warned Iran’s dissidents, who have been relatively silent for months, not to make trouble in advance of the next presidential election, to be held in 2013.
“Elections are the manifestation of religious democracy,” he said. “However, enemies seek to misuse elections to harm the country.”
Posted on 08/31/2011 12:50 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Ephraim The Syrian
Mentioned in a poem by Pushkin, and possibly one source for the pseudonym- Sirin (usually atttributed to the fabulous mythological bird) used by Vladimir Nabokov when he published in Russian, Ephraim the Syrian may turn out to be a figure of far greater importance in the history of the world than, in the pre-Luxenberg (Christoph, not Rosa) period of the study of Islam, anyone might have believed.
Posted on 08/31/2011 12:43 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Ecstatic Over General Petraeus, Who Built Not One But Two Bridges Over The River Kwai
Before reading what you will read below, you may wish to re-read a previous article on General Petraeus building that Bride Over the River Kwai, or rather two such bridges, one in Iraq and then one in Afghanistan, right here.
Now you are sufficiently steeled to endure the extravagant enthusiasm of Spencer Ackerman for the career of General Petraeus:
In The End, Petraeus Really Was That Good
The legacy of David Petraeus is difficult to extricate from the politics of the moment. Praise Petraeus’ performance as a division commander or counterinsurgency visionary, and you’re bashing George W. Bush. Praise his performance as commander of the Iraq surge, and you’re apologizing for Bush or the Iraq war. Praise his performance as commander in Afghanistan, and you’re undermining Barack Obama. Criticize him for any of these things, and you’re pushing the opposite points.
During the national security debates of the 9/11 era, Petraeus has been a cipher for all of these positions, frequently co-opted — or derided — by opportunistic politicians and journalists. As he rose higher in the military, he wasn’t above playing along at times. That media presentation often overlooked a basic fact — one that looks clear on Wednesday as Petraeus retires from the Army. Even while his greatest successes revealed his flaws, Petraeus really was that good .
Are the arguments over the Iraq surge over yet? When Petraeus took command in Iraq in 2007, the war looked unsalvageable, with 2000 Iraqis dying violent deaths (.PDF) just in Baghdad every month. By focusing on the “belts” around the capitol, assigning newly-arrived troops to live in dangerous neighborhoods, and forcibly separating combatants by building controversial walls, Petraeus cut the death rate in half by summer’s end. That’s when the debate really intensified.
Yes, Petraeus is not solely responsible for the decline in violence. He capitalized on a historic blunder by al-Qaida, who grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory by violently alienating the very Iraqi Sunnis it needed for support. But Petraeus’ critics who make that point aren’t diminishing the general’s achievements as much as they might think. Unlike his predecessors in command — or at the Pentagon — Petraeus had the foresight to embrace the Sunni Awakening, even though it contained ex-insurgents with American blood on their hands.
Remember that the Bush administration’s strategy for Iraq (.PDF) didn’t ever envision aligning with Sunni insurgents against al-Qaida. In the absence of strategic guidance from his civilian commander, Petraeus improvised, relying on his understanding of counterinsurgency that he pushed on the Army during his 2005-6 interregnum running the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. It yielded the best outcome that the United States could have experienced in Iraq.
That was Petraeus’ style as a general. In 2003, when he commanded the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, he essentially ignored the Bush administration’s decree to fire the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s government, which ran the bureaucracy. The result was that Mosul remained relatively secure while disenfranchised Sunnis around Iraq formed an insurgency. Another, more problematic result was that Petraeus, a two-star general, “had his own foreign policy,” in the words of war chronicler Tom Ricks. Petraeus isn’t just a general, he’s a cautionary tale of civilian-military relations.
The Gamble, Ricks’ account of the surge, judges that Petraeus essentially redefined the aims of the Iraq war without publicly acknowledging it. Bush wanted to defeat the insurgency and negotiate an enduring U.S. presence in Iraq. Petraeus, Ricks argues, sought to diminish the insurgency to the point where the U.S. could get most of its troops out while saving face. It’s one thing for a general to see things differently from his commander. But it’s quite another for him to subtly reinterpret the aims of a war. If the media hasn’t fully accepted Petraeus’ denials that he’s running for president, maybe it’s because he sometimes acted like he already was the commander in chief.
That may have cued up Petraeus’ status as a cipher for America’s wars and the presidents presiding over them. Ricks considers the surge a “strategic failure” because it didn’t yield Bush’s intended effect of Iraqi political reconciliation. But that can’t really be placed on Petraeus‘ shoulders — even as Petraeus tried to redefine reconciliation in September 2007 to argue it was already happening, providing Bush with cover.
Nor was it Petraeus’ role to retroactively justify the Iraq war through the surge. Logically speaking, whatever you think of the wisdom of the Iraq invasion and occupation doesn’t change with the surge. At best, the surge’s accomplishment was to mitigate the war’s negative consequences, not erase them.
That’s in keeping with best counterinsurgency practices. Petraeus’ time in command in Baghdad is surely his crucible. His most lasting legacy, however, wasn’t forged in the deserts and urban battlefields of Iraq, but the classrooms of Fort Leavenworth. During his time running the Combined Arms Center, one of the Army’s most important educational institutions, he instituted coursework in counterinsurgency for mid-career Army officers, most of whom were either Iraq and Afghanistan veterans or would soon be.
Below the radar, Petraeus directly influenced a generation of Army officers. He gave them an intellectual roadmap — counterinsurgency — that’s now ubiquitous throughout the service. Many of those majors are now colonels, on their way to becoming the generals of the future. Sure, Petraeus spearheaded the Army/Marine Corps Field Manual on Counterinsurgency at Fort Leavenworth in 2006, the rare military document that became a cultural phenomenon. But more importantly, he had already created the internal, institutional audience for it.
“Him focusing energy on it got the debate going across the institutional Army,” says retired Col. John Agoglia, who spent the last three years directing the Counterinsurgency Training Center in Kabul. “It allowed the soldiers, the officers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan to see that the Army was working hard to contextualize their experience, so they weren’t on their own.”
Time will determine whether that influence was ultimately positive. Counterinsurgency doesn’t lack for critics. The manual’s famous invocation that counterinsurgency is the “graduate level of war” strikes many in the Army as arrogant. Internal skeptics like Col. Gian Gentile contend that it’s a tactical and operational approach masquerading as a strategy. Others fear its contention that insurgencies don’t have military solutions leaves the Army de-emphasizing soldiering and stressing social and economic development, which are properly civilian tasks. Another criticism is that policymakers’ fascination with the possibilities of counterinsurgency risks enmeshing the U.S. in more grueling, bloody ground wars. With the wars of the future looking likely to occur in sea, air, space and cyberspace, a generation of Army officers forged in counterinsurgency — critics call it a cult — will be challenged to adjust.
Petraeus is hardly without his failures. His overlooked time training the Iraqi military in 2004-5 didn’t yield a competent fighting force — something that might have hobbled the career of a commander who wasn’t as beloved by the press — and under his watch, nearly 200,000 weapons for the Iraqis went missing. The Afghanistan war he unexpectedly commanded hasn’t been a repeat success: violence remains roughly at pre-surge levels, despite Petraeus switching up his counterinsurgency emphasis onto killing and capturing Taliban leaders. Petraeus spent a lot of time spinning the war without winning it. And as a soldier who blurred the line between executing strategy and creating it, his legacy on civilian-military relations will be debated well into the future.
But now that the CIA’s drone strikes are effectively the main U.S. counterterrorism effort, increasingly indistinct from a military operation, it’s perhaps natural that Mr. Petraeus will run the CIA. Out of uniform and in the shadows, he’ll still play a leading role shaping American strategy in a sprawling war that has defined him and which he himself has largely defined. At Langley, Petraeus will surely become a cipher and a proxy for a new security debate: the efficacy and wisdom of the new U.S. shadow wars.
But Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the crowd at Fort Myer for Petraeus’ retirement ceremony that Petraeus had set “the gold standard for wartime command in the modern era.” Compared to that judgment — one that’s difficult to refute — whatever debate and controversy Petraeus continues to generate is mere noise.
Comment: What about the suggestion that General Petraeus never recognized that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a waste of men, money, materiel and morale, both civilian and military, and that the very things he was trying to achieve were both not permanently achievable, but had they been, such achievements would have been the very opposite of what was best for the Camp of Infidels (rightly defined), because it would weaken the Camp of Islam?
I've written about this so often -- and so convincingly -- that it is a puzzlement to me that the entire thinking world has not endorsed my view. Yes, I know, vox clamantis in deserto, but this is getting ridiculous.
Posted on 08/31/2011 12:21 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
In Nigeria, Fury That The Government Has Done So Little To Suppress Muslim Terrorism
From Sun News Publishing (Nigeria):
The Boko Haram assault
August 31, 2011
Nigeria and, indeed, the international community got a raw deal last Friday from the fundamentalist Islamic sect known as Boko Haram. A suicide bomber had forced his way into the United Nations (UN) building in Abuja with an explosive-laden car. The explosion that triggered at impact left scores of people dead, with over 100 others critically injured.
The bombing of the UN building is one of the terrorist activities which the Islamic sect had been engaged in since it reared its ugly head in Nigeria about a year ago. Since its murderous advent, Boko Haram has wasted hundreds of lives of innocent people in unprovoked circumstances.
Before last week's incident, Nigerians had woken up sometime in the month of June to hear that the Headquarters of the Nigeria Police had been bombed by Boko Haram. Nigerians were worried that the security at the police headquarters could be beaten so easily. As in the present case, questions were raised about the vigilance of our security operatives.
In the end, Nigerians concluded that the incident was an indication that the country was not doing much in the area of vigilance. The UN building bombing appears to have confirmed our lax approach to security issues. That is why we are told that a car could run through two security gates supposedly manned by people. Whatever took place at the UN building last Friday says a lot about our lack of vigilance.
As should be expected, the action of the terrorists has been roundly condemned by men and women of goodwill. This is especially so since the international community and its citizens are affected by the suicide bombing. The incident is not just seen as an assault on Nigeria and its government, it is taken to be an attack on the global community. Consequently, global concerns have been expressed on how to contain the insurgency of the terrorists.
But we shudder at the seeming complacency of the Nigerian government in this matter. Boko Haram had struck a number of times. Each time it does this, it sends out a fresh warning that it would strike again in the nearest future. In the present case, the sect has also warned that another bombing is imminent.
In spite of this brazenness of the sect, government has not done much to contain it. While the terrorists kill and main, government does nothing except to promise the bewildered populace that the culprits will be fished out. We are yet to see any concrete step taken in this direction.
It even beats the imagination that terrorists operate unhindered in a country where you have security agencies. Why is it that those responsible for intelligence gathering have never preempted or foiled any move by Boko Haram? Why are they always caught napping? What did they learn from the earlier incident at the Headquarters of the Nigeria Police? What steps were taken to ensure that the incident did not reoccur? We consider this state of affairs disturbing.
We need not remind President Goodluck Jonathan that the primary reason for the existence of government is the protection of life and property. Any government that fails to discharge this responsibility has failed the people. The way things are now, Boko Haram has created a state of siege in Nigeria. Security of life and property is no longer assured. People are now afraid to operate in certain areas or zones. This is because it is now taken for granted that Bokom Haram can release its bombs anytime without let or hindrance.
This feeling of insecurity and a lack of trust in the ability of government to contain the insurgency of terrorists are dangerous. They can readily lead to loss of confidence in the government.
For a country like Nigeria that is in dire need of shoring up its rating in the eyes of the world, the spate of bombings is capable of doing more damage to the country's effort in this regard. With the attack on the UN facility, for instance, many citizens of the world have been affected. The impression in the international community that Nigeria is insecure and therefore not conducive for investment will be reinforced. With the present state of affairs, Nigeria can easily be grouped in the league of terror-prone countries.
Government therefore has a responsibility to rise to the challenge. The people of Nigeria and their partners or friends from the international community have a right to live a secure life. The government owes them this responsibility. It is therefore not enough for government to give empty assurances each time the life and property of the people are threatened. This should be matched with concrete action.
The terrorists and their sponsors should therefore be fished out and dealt with according to the laws of the land. Since the perpetrators of the dastardly act are not ghosts, we do not see why they cannot be apprehended. Failure by government to do this will erode the people's confidence in it. Therefore, President Jonathan and his government stand badly challenged by this open assault on the security of life and property in Nigeria.
Posted on 08/31/2011 12:12 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Find All The Varieties Of Stupidity Revealed In This Article By David Keyes
Bashar’s apologists: A time for reckoning
For years, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s apologists and appeasers have allowed him to get away with murder. Now is their, and his time for reckoning.
Assad, we were told by some of Israel’s diplomatic and journalistic elite, was a trustworthy leader who only needed the proper incentives to make peace. A nudge in the right direction, the proper rhetoric and this silly spat over a piece of territory would be over. Peace would reign at long last!
Alon Liel, for example, is a former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and a professor at Tel Aviv University. When asked in 2008 if he trusted that the Syrian dictator sincerely desired peace, Liel responded, “Yes, I trust him and believe him. He wants peace and prosperity for his people."
Assad sure has a funny way of showing it -- imposing more than a decade of brutal tyranny, imprisoning bloggers, mowing down protesters in the streets, arresting opposition and rigging elections. When I asked Liel in 2009 if the brutality of Assad’s regime ever weighed on his work toward peace with Syria, he said simply “No.”
Liel was channeling President Jimmy Carter, who said of Assad’s father, "It's true, [Hafez] Assad is a dictator. But you can rely on him. He never lied to me. If you sign an agreement, he'll keep it ... [Hafez Assad] never lies.”
Elie Podeh, professor of Middle East studies at Hebrew University, wrote earlier this year in Haaretz that “Syria's natural place in the regional alignment is with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and there's nothing to prevent it from returning to that place if given the right incentives. But what is Israel doing? Very little. It hasn't responded to Assad's proposals with the appropriate seriousness.”
Zvi Bar’el, Haaretz’s Middle East analyst who holds a doctorate in history, lambasted Israel’s foreign minister for “babbl[ing] on about the collapse of the Assad family's rule,” and chastised Israel for “shrugging its shoulders at a chance to reach peace with Syria.”
Shortly before the Syrian people bravely rose up and confronted their oppressor, esteemed Yedioth Ahronoth journalist and former bureau chief to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Eitan Haber, wrote an article titled “Peace now, with Syria." “So why now?” he asked in the piece. “The answer is that now of all times Syrian President Bashar Assad is proposing peace talks.” Is it any wonder, though, that the dictator was proposing talks? What better way to deflect attention from economic ruin, political isolation, endemic torture, restive opposition and bottomless corruption?
Larry Derfner wrote in the Jerusalem Post of the necessity to make peace with Assad “if he’s willing.” “In essence, it means Syria joining the moderate, U.S.-aligned Arab camp with Egypt and Jordan. The U.S., of course, would have to throw in a lot of money for Syria ... If Bashar Assad is willing to take his country out of the ‘axis of evil’ with Iran, Hezbullah and Hamas but Israel turns him down, then we leave him no diplomatic option for retrieving Syria's land, and one way or another we will be endangering our own security ... [I]f we're serious about fighting a long-term ‘war on terror,’ about cracking away at the Middle East's radical Arab/Islamic axis, how can we pass up the chance to extract Syria from it -- to change Syria from being the axis's linchpin to being the wedge that divides it?”
The naivete of Israel’s diplomatic and journalism elite is shocking. Should a man who does not hesitate to murder thousands of his own citizens be trusted to treat his historic enemy with equanimity? Is a leader who does not trust his own people to vote freely worthy of the West’s trust? The answer, of course, is no. And that was the answer long before Assad's regime started openly butchering protesters in the street.
There are, however, glimmers of hope. Soon after clashes broke out, respected Israeli journalist Sever Plocker wrote, “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.”
He continued: “While making this argument, I did not take into account the Damascus regime’s tyrannical character. I fooled myself. Even when Assad won 98 percent 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."
“I should have seen reality," Plocker continued. "As one who researched and wrote about the fall of tyrannical regimes, I should have realized that Arab affairs experts are wrong, just like Soviet experts were wrong before them. The people of Aleppo are no different than the people in Gdansk. Both want to live as free men, and the thirst for freedom is like the thirst for water: It has no substitute. Sooner or later, it overflows and brings down any dam.”
Plocker had finally internalized the teachings of Natan Sharansky. We must trust states only as much as they trust their own people, the former Soviet dissident teaches us. I will never tire of repeating Sharansky’s mantra because the principle is so simple yet so sound.
The Syrian dictator has now slaughtered thousands of his people -- just as his dictatorial father did before him. The tyrant doesn’t fall far from the tree. Why did it take mass deaths for so many to realize what Bashar was all along -- a ruthless killer whose word wasn’t worth the paper it was written on? Why were the ignoble councils of peace, to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, relentlessly courted?
Had the West listened to Sharansky, Syria would have received about the same amount of trust you would now give Bernie Madoff with your grandmother's retirement fund. Madoff should not be given incentives to steal your money. Madoff should not be courted to drive a “wedge” between himself and even more despicable thieves. He should be in prison. Why is the absurdity of this lost entirely when taking about Assad? Madoff only stole money; Assad stole money, peace, thousands of lives and the future of millions.
Shame on those who wilfully deluded themselves for so long.
David Keyes is the executive director of Advancing Human Rights and co-founder of CyberDissidents.org. He can be reached at [email protected].
Posted on 08/31/2011 12:05 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
The Bahraini Propagandist In London Who Turns Out To Be An Iranian Agent
From The Evening Standard:
File Links Activist to Iran Regime
30 Aug 2011
A human rights activist who met Gordon Brown and visited the House of Lords is facing questions over his links to the brutal Iranian regime.
Dr Saeed Shehabi, 56, runs the London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement, which seeks to topple the King of Bahrain's dictatorship.
But today it can be revealed that Dr Shehabi has made speeches supporting Iranian hardliners, and worked for 13 years in offices owned by the government of Iran.
Iran believes it should own Bahrain, which was part of the Shia nation until 1970 and is often referred to as "the 14th province".
A senior Whitehall source said there were "concerns" around Dr Shehabi and he was "of interest".
Patrick Mercer, a Conservative MP and security expert, said: "This man's connections with Iran are extremely concerning and embarrassing to those who have praised him as a credible voice on Bahrain."
Dr Shehabi has been quoted on the tiny, oil-rich kingdom by the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. The father-of-four gave a press conference at the House of Lords in May in which he called for the King of Bahrain's removal.
In March 2005 he met Mr Brown, the then chancellor, at a celebration of Muslims in Britain.
A Standard investigation found that the offices near Old Street where Dr Shehabi worked for 13 years are owned by the "Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran".
When he started working there in the Nineties it was owned by Proudrose Ltd. Records show Proudrose's mortgage was lent by the Iranian government and one of its directors, Dr Ali Helmi, is the cultural attaché at the Iranian Embassy in London.
Dr Shehabi has also praised the 1979 Iranian revolution in speeches at a Maida Vale mosque run by the "Supreme Spiritual Leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran".
The trading address of a bookshop inside the mosque, called the Islamic Centre of England, is registered to the activist's home in Willesden.
During an event at the mosque in February, Dr Shehabi claimed the anti-democratic revolution in Iran was a "divine gift". He said: "Suddenly Muslims became proud of their identity. Today after 32 years since the Islamic Revolution of Iran, Islam has become a world player."
Dr Shehabi has also backed Iran's nuclear programme in the Pakistani media. In 2009 he told a news agency: "The West is trying to prevent Iran from having nuclear energy because it simply does not want Iran to acquire advanced technologies."
He told the Evening Standard: "I was only a tenant in the Old Street offices, just as Barclays Bank is a tenant in offices owned by the Iranian Oil Company in Victoria. My home address was used only after the company was closed down and very few letters came. This is all circumstantial, you will never be able to link me directly to the Iranian regime."
Posted on 08/31/2011 11:58 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Did the MAS and CAIR Foment a Riot at New York Amusement Park?
A tip of the chapeau to Judy B.
3000 Muslims converged on the Rye-Playland amusement park in suburban Westchester County, New York to celebrate the holiday of Eid-ul Fitr at the conclusion of Ramadan. The Muslims came to the amusement park in a program sponsored by the Muslim American Society (MAS) of New York, a Muslim Brotherhood front group. Rye- Playland, a facility I knew well from having lived in neighboring Fairfield County, Connecticut, had introduced safety rules three years ago for headgear to prevent accidents. This safety precaution was explained by the amusement park's operators and the Westchester County Parks Commission to the MAS well in advance of the Muslim crowd entering the amusement park. When several women with children decided to enter roller coaster rides, they were barred.from doing so by police. What ensued was a riot with arrests made by the more than 100 Westchester County police called in to quell the melee . Of course, the provcation was immediately seized on by Muslims and by the New York Chapter of CAIR. Was this a failure to communicate or more likely a provocation to assert Muslim demands on this final celebration of Ramadan. Muslims had come to Rye-Playland in prior years without this altercation occuring.
Here are the details from a New York Daily News report of what could have been a' failure to communicate' or an outright provocation..
Rye Playland was shut down Tuesday after cops scuffled with Muslims upset that women wearing head scarves were barred from the rides, witnesses said.
Fifteen people, including three women, were charged with disorderly conduct and assault in the chaos, authorities said.
The Westchester County park was packed with Muslims celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr - the holiday marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
One woman, Entisai Ali, began arguing with cops over the amusement park's head scarf, or hijab, rule, said Dena Meawad, 18, of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
The ban, which is not Muslim specific, was imposed about 3 years ago mostly to prevent hats from falling onto the tracks of roller coasters and other rides, park officials said.
"The cops started getting loud with her and she started getting loud, too. They pushed her on the ground and arrested her," Meawad said.
Her cousin, Kareem Meawad, 17, went to try to protect the woman and was beaten by cops and also arrested, she added. Her brother, Issam Meawad, 20, was pushed to the ground and taken into custody when he tried to help his cousin, she said.
"She just wanted to get on a ride. That was it," Dena Meawad said of the initial confrontation. "It's clear, this all happened because we're Muslim."
John Hodges, chief inspector of Westchester County Public Safety, insisted that police did not use excessive force.
He said up to 100 cops from surrounding departments converged on the park.
Two park rangers were injured in the melee, prompting felony assault charges against two people arrested, officials said.
The ugly incident happened just after 1 p.m. The event was organized by the Muslim American Society of New York, and attracted 3,000 Muslims from Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Westchester County.
Ali's sister, Ayman Alrabah, 24, of Brooklyn said her husband, brother and father were all tackled by cops and put into handcuffs when they tried to help her sister.
Alrabah said she was unaware of the head-scarf rule until she and her sister tried to get on the park's Dragon Coasters.
"We requested a refund and all of a sudden an argument became a riot," Alrabah said. "Cops came. They were hitting my brother, my dad. My husband was on the floor and they were handcuffing him.
She said her 4-year-old son was "traumatized" by seeing his father arrested.
"They treated us like animals, like we were nothing," Alrabah said. "They came with their dogs and sticks. We came to have fun."
'It's clear, this all happened because we're Muslim,' says Dena Meawad. (Norman Y. Lono for NY Daily News)
The park was closed for about two hours because of the fracas. It reopened at about 6 p.m.
Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner of Westchester County Parks, said the Muslim American Society of New York was warned in advance of the rule barring head scarves on rides for safety reasons.
"Part of our rules and regulations, which we painstakingly told them over and over again, is that certain rides you cannot wear any sort of headgear," Tartaglia said. "It's a safety issue for us on rides, it could become a projectile."
Many Muslims were given refunds as they left the park disappointed.
"In this heightened state of Islamaphobia, a woman wearing a hajib is an easy target these days," said Zead Ramadan, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations - New York. "Unfortunately, this turned ugly due to a lot of miscommunication."
Posted on 08/31/2011 11:12 AM by Jerry Gordon
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
In Libya, Dissension, And Not Only Over "Islamist" AbdelHakim Belhaj
From The New York Times:
Tripoli Divided as Rebels Jostle to Fill Power Vacuum
TRIPOLI, Libya — Fighters from the western mountain city of Zintan control the airport. The fighters from Misurata guard the central bank, the port and the prime minister’s office, where their graffiti has relabeled the historic plaza “Misurata Square.” Berbers from the mountain town Yafran took charge of the city’s central square, where they spray-painted “Yafran Revolutionaries.”
A week after rebels broke into Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s former stronghold, much of its territory remains divided into fiefs, each controlled by quasi-independent brigades representing different geographic areas of the country. And the spray paint they use to mark their territory tells the story of a looming leadership crisis in the capital, Tripoli.
The top civilian officials of the Libyan rebels’ Transitional National Council — now styling itself as a provisional government to be based in the capital — are yet to arrive, citing personal safety concerns even as they pronounce the city fully secure.
There are growing hints of rivalry among the various brigades over who deserves credit for liberating the city and the influence it might bring. And attempts to name a military leader to unify the bands of fighters have instead exposed divisions within the rebel leadership, along regional lines but also between secularists and Islamists.
They were all signs, one influential member of the council said, that point to a continuing “power vacuum” in the civilian leadership of the Libyan capital. But the jockeying for power also illustrates the challenge a new provisional government will face in trying to unify Libya’s fractious political landscape.
The country was little more than a loose federation of regions and tribes before Colonel Qaddafi came to power. His reliance on favoritism and repression to maintain control did little to bridge Libya’s regional, ethnic and ideological divisions. Nor did the rebels who ousted Colonel Qaddafi ever organize themselves into a unified force. Rebels from the western mountains, the mid-coastal city of Misurata and the eastern city of Benghazi each fought independently, and often rolled their eyes in condescension at one another.
And although the transition so far has been surprisingly orderly — almost no looting and little violence — Tripoli has become an early test of the revolution’s ability to bridge those divisions because in contrast to other Libyan cities liberated by their own residents, Colonel Qaddafi was ousted from Tripoli by brigades from other regions, and most remain in the streets.
Early steps toward unifying the brigades under a common command have brought out latent divisions among rebel leaders. Some became apparent when a fighter named Abdel Hakim al-Hasadi, sometimes known as AbdelHakim Belhaj, was named commander of a newly formed Tripoli Military Council.
Several liberals among the rebel leadership council complained privately that Mr. Hasadi had been a leader of the disbanded Libyan Islamist Fighting Group, which rebelled against Colonel Qaddafi in the 1990s. Some said they feared it was the first step in an attempt at an Islamist takeover. They noted that Mr. Hasadi was named commander by the five battalions of the so-called Tripoli Brigade, rather than by any civilian authority. And they complained about the perceived influence of Qatar, which helped train and equip the Tripoli Brigade and also finances Al Jazeera.
“This guy is just a creation of the Qataris and their money, and they are sponsoring the element of Muslim extremism here,” another council member from the western region said. “The revolutionary fighters are extremely unhappy and surprised. He is the commander of nothing!”
Mixed with the ideological concerns, however, was an equal measure of provincial rivalry over who did more to liberate Tripoli. Not only was Mr. Hasadi an Islamist, the council member argued, but he had done less than the western rebels in the fight for the capital.
“People in the west were saying to each other, ‘What? This kid? This is rubbish! What about our top commanders?’ ” the council member said.
Mr. Hasadi could not be reached for comment, in part because he was attending meetings in Doha, Qatar. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the Transitional National Council, said he made a point to take Mr. Hasadi along to a meeting with their NATO allies in Doha to show that despite his background, he poses “no danger to international peace and stability.” [oh, that should do it, that should be proof quite enough]
Hints of another schism appeared this week after news reports that the council’s prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril — who, like Mr. Jalil, is not present in Tripoli — was naming a former Libyan Army general, Albarrani Shkal, as the chief of the capital’s security.
Fighters from Misurata, considered to the rebels’ most formidable force, refused to accept his appointment, arguing that he was complicit in Colonel Qaddafi’s vicious crackdown on their city. In Misurata, about 500 protesters took to its central square to chant that the appointment would betray “the blood of the martyrs,” a correspondent for The Guardian reported, noting that the city’s local council registered a formal complaint with the national leadership.
By Tuesday night, Mr. Jabril had taken back his decision, said Alamin Belhaj, a Tripoli member of the transitional council.
Both conflicts over the selection of military leaders recall the uproar sparked by the murder of the rebels’ top military commander in Benghazi, General Abdul Fattah Younes. The murder, still unresolved, touched off allegations by some rebel leaders that he was killed by a brigade of Islamists, which they said sought revenge for his previous role as a top aide to Colonel Qaddafi. No one has been charged in the case.
Libyan Islamists say they just want a chance to compete in an open democracy, and they argue that they are more qualified than the liberals to disarm the fighters in the streets.
“They trust us more,” said Mr. Belhaj, the council member and a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood here, arguing that many Libyans fear that the revolution would be “stolen” by rich, Westernized and often expatriate liberals on the council.
All sides agreed, however, that the conquest of Tripoli has made it a crucible of regional rivalries. Although the early fighting was in the east, the final assault on Tripoli was led by rebel groups in the west and finished by seasoned fighters from Misurata.
Now members of nearly every brigade in Tripoli assert their group played the most heroic role in taking the city, or in breaking into the Qaddafi compound, or in taking the central square.
“We have it on video,” insisted Mahdi al-Harati, the deputy leader of the Tripoli Military Council, defending his claim that his brigade was first to the central square.
More than pride may be at stake, said Anwar Fekini, a French-Libyan lawyer with ancestral ties to the mountains who is a member of the national leadership council. “The people in the west say, ‘We paid a huge price, and we want to be in charge,’ and Misurata the same,” he said, adding that he argued Libyans should select their leaders on the basis of competence regardless of region.
Mr. Belhaj had another idea. He said he had asked the other local councils to withdraw their brigades from the city limits, to leave the capital to the Tripolitans.
Posted on 08/31/2011 10:35 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
The Question is: Is Islam a Religion?
The judge is applying the law to Islam as it is applied to religion in this country, assuming in this case that Islam is a religion like any other. The attorney for the plaintiffs, Joe Brandon, argues that Islam is not a religion
and therefore should not be subject to normal statutes concerning religious places of worship. Furthermore, he asks the judge to provide proof based on case law that Islam is a religion and claims the judge cannot do this because it doesn't exist. From The Tennessean
MURFREESBORO — A Rutherford County judge decided to uphold his earlier decision that the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has a right, by law, to build a bigger place of worship.
“Those who are adherents to Islam are entitled to pursue their worship in the United States just as are those who are adherents to more universally established faiths (in our community),” ruled Chancellor Robert Corlew III.
Opponents of the mosque had asked Corlew to reconsider the decision he made in May, which was that the 17 plaintiffs suing Rutherford County government can only challenge whether an open meeting violation occurred over the mosque’s approval.
No trial has been scheduled on whether the county failed to provide sufficient public notice before its Regional Planning Commission met May 24, 2010, to vote on the Islamic center’s plans to construct a 52,960-square-foot community center with a mosque on Veals Road.
“Chancellor Corlew expressed grave concern regarding the notice that was (given) to Rutherford County residents,” said Joe Brandon Jr., who is representing the plaintiffs. “Chancellor Corlew also said that if he found the notice to be insufficient that all permits issued up to this point will be declared void ab initio (from the beginning). We believe victory is certain from the issue of lack of notice. We’re glad that issues are becoming more crystallized to finally bring this case to a conclusion.”
Corlew alluded to the plaintiffs’ complaint that no public hearing on the proposed mosque was offered, but indicated it’s not a matter for the court to decide.
“We have a duty equally to treat those whose religious beliefs are similar to the majority beliefs and to those whose beliefs are very different from the majority,” Corlew wrote. “If the zoning laws are too favorable to those seeking to build places of worship, then citizens should prevail upon their elected representatives to change those ordinances, but until they do the Court must apply those laws equally to Protestant Christians, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists and others.”
The ruling also recognized that the county’s land use rules are somewhat unusual and need revision.
“Until those laws are modified, however, the duty of the county is to apply those laws without discrimination,” Corlew wrote.
Corlew’s latest ruling reiterated that Islam is a religion. Brandon disagreed with that.
“Chancellor Corlew seems to go on and on that it’s been decided that Islam is a religion, and we take issue with that,” Brandon said. “There’s no proof in this case that Islam is a religion. There is no case law or code that Islam is a religion.”
Posted on 08/31/2011 6:55 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Newly-Born South Sudan Proposes to Place Its Embassy in Jerusalem, Putting to Shame Many Nations Richer and More Powerful
If South Sudan follows through on this - and they will need all the courage and integrity they can muster, for they will be under enormous pressure to change their decision, and will be exposed to all manner of threats, bribes and lies from the Islamintern and its fellow travellers - one hopes that others ( I am thinking, for example, of the USA, and of Australia) may be shamed into emulating them.
As reported by Israel National News on 30 August.
'South Sudan Expresses Support For Israel as September Nears'
'South Sudanese officials tell visiting MK their country sees Israel as "an older brother".
'South Sudan "supports Israel and strengthens it as UN September declaration approaches", South Sudan's foreign minister, Deng Alor Koul, told visiting Israeli MK Danny Danon (Likud).
Hold to that position, Mr Koul, and you will be blessed. Hold to it, and your country with its tribes will stand in honour before the Lord...you will be called Righteous Among the Nations. - CM
'Danon asked Koul to vote against a UN General Assembly resolutiion that would recognize the Palestinian Authority as an independent state called Palestine.
"Palestine" is the English version of the name the Romans gave the province previously known as Judea after they succeeded in quashing Jewish independence there nearly 2000 years ago.
"The PA stops at nothing in its efforts to damage Israel and make sure that the conflict in the Middle East goes on forever", MK Danon told his hosts.
'South Sudan's President Salva Kiir told Danon that Hamas chiefs Khalid Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh had approached him and requested that he refrain from diplomatic ties with Israel. They said, among other things, that Arab countries have no ties with Israel.
And, it seems, in their arrogance these two sneering, threatening Muslim jihad gang bosses shot themselves in the foot; for it is forced Arabisation and Islamisation - assailing them on a genocidal scale - that the South Sudanese have for decades struggled to resist. - CM
Kiir said that he told them that he "sees Israeli embassies in Jordan and Egypt and that in any case, South Sudan is not an Arab country".
Well said, President Kiir. That's socking it to them! S Sudan is indeed not an Arab country, and your people have fought like lions to keep it a non-Arab and non-Muslim country; to prevent it from being devoured by the Empire of Islam, by the Arab Imperial Religion, namely, Islam. - CM
'He told Danon that his country would establish its embassy in the city of Jerusalem, rather than in Tel Aviv like most countries.
Please, President Kiir, I beg you, do that as swiftly as possible. Let your Embassy be seen in the Old City of Jerusalem; let it be there, with its flag proudly flying, well before the UN vote on the soi-disant 'Palestinians' in September; and then I can write to my Prime Minister and say: Why, since South Sudan have their embassy in Jerusalem, is the Australian embassy not there, also, right next to it? - CM
'The South Sudanese Parliament's Deputy Speaker, Daniel Awet Akot told Danon that when his country celebrated its first independence day, two months earlier, Israeli flags were hoisted alongside South Sudanese ones, as a token of appreciation and a will to emulate the Jewish state. "Israel is like Southern Sudan's older brother", he said.
'Generally speaking, Jews are held in high regard in eastern Africa, which has a grassroots brand of Christianity that is without a history of antisemitism, and where Israelis are known for their agricultural and military prowess and willingness to provide knowledge and aid.
'Potential for friendly relations with Israel is even greater in Southern Sudan, which was born out of a history of persecution by Muslims (to be precise, out of a history of attempted mass enslavement and genocide by Muslims - CM) and thus has a common enemy with Israel.'
Posted on 08/31/2011 2:31 AM by Christina McIntosh
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Eight confirmed dead in Chechnya suicide attacks
From Ria Novosti
At least eight people have been killed and 22 injured in two suicide attacks in the Chechen capital Grozny, local officials said on Wednesday. The attacks took place during celebrations to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan on Tuesday.
A man blew himself up when a police patrol tried to detain him near a local parliament building, and a second blast came just 30 minutes later. There were also reports of a third blast.
Chechnya's strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov said five policemen, an emergency official and a civilian were killed. . . Kadyrov said the attackers had "shown their real faces" by choosing "the most sacred day for all Muslims."
Posted on 08/31/2011 2:47 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
15 arrested in Playland melee over head scarves
From the Journal News of New York's Lower Hudson Valley
RYE — A melee broke out Tuesday afternoon at Playland Amusement Park when Muslim visitors became angry that the park was enforcing its ban on headgear by prohibiting the women from wearing their traditional head coverings on some rides.
Police from at least nine agencies converged on the park beginning at 3 p.m. after county police sought assistance in responding to the disturbance, which involved 30 to 40 people.
Two rangers were injured while breaking up a fight between visitors, and two visitors were charged with felony assault, police said. Another 13 people were arrested, most charged with disorderly conduct.
One of the rangers suffered an injured knee and the other an injured shoulder, said Westchester Deputy Parks Commissioner Peter Tartaglia.
The park was crowded with Muslims celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr, one of Islam's two major holidays. Most were from community groups in Westchester and New York City as part of a daylong event arranged by the Muslim American Society of New York.
Parks officials "painstakingly" told the organizer about the headgear ban, said Tartaglia. But he said that the rules might not have been communicated by the organizer to some attendees.
Three accidents on Playland rides that killed two children and a park worker between 2004 and 2007 were unrelated to clothing the victims were wearing. But the headgear ban was among safety rules that went into effect after those deaths. "It's a safety issue on rides. If it's a scarf, you could choke," Tartaglia said.
Accounts of what happened varied, but everyone agreed the dispute began after parkgoers were told the headgear ban applied to women wearing traditional Muslim head coverings, known as hijabs.
Tartaglia said once word of that got out there were "a lot of unhappy people." Tartaglia said park officials were in the process of arranging refunds when members of the Muslim group got into a scuffle with each other.
Earlier a park cashier told a Journal News reporter that a woman wearing a hijab either pushed or hit a ride operator who forbade her from going on the ride. She said a police officer tried to restrain the woman and the woman's husband took offense, at which point a multiple-person fight broke out.
Officials said late in the afternoon that they were slowly reopening the park to new visitors and that the group's religious ceremony planned for 9 p.m. might still occur. The organizer had put together the gathering with an offer of $20 ride-all-day wristbands and $3 spectator wristbands. Visitors had come from around the tri-state area to take advantage of the offer.
Brooklyn resident Amr Khater, who had come to the park about noon with his family, said his family was told about the hijab rule by park employees when they arrived. "Everybody got mad, everybody got upset," he said. "It's our holiday. Why would you do this to us?"
Sal Mohumed of Brooklyn said he hoped for a refund for himself and his two cousins. "I thought we would come and play in Playland," he said. "There's no playing here. Coney Island is better than this."
Posted on 08/31/2011 2:38 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
5 killed in powerful blast outside Quetta mosque
From The Express Tribune
QUETTA: At least least five people were killed and 16 injured when a powerful explosion rocked Gulistan Road in the Murriabad area of Quetta on Wednesday.
According to initial reports, the bomb was planted inside a car parked outside a mosque where Eid prayers were being held. The bomb was detonated when the people were returning home after Eid prayers.
Home Secretary Naseebullah Bazai said that it is not confirmed whether it was suicide attack or if the explosive device was planted in the car or if it was a lob rocket.
A police official said that it may be a sectarian attack as it took place in a Shiite dominant area.
The Shiite community of Quetta has announced that it will observe seven days of mourning to condemn the attack. Members of the Shiite community also gathered and staged a protest at the site of the blast where they chanted slogans against the government.
Posted on 08/31/2011 2:27 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Someone gave me two bags of windfall apples on Monday so today I am going to make and freeze some fruit pies. I picked blackberrys yesterday to add variety and you do not want to see the state of my hands as I type this!
A question for our knowledgeable and learned readers; what is this symbiotic relationship that the English hedgerow blackberry has with the stinging nettle?
Housewife wants to know.
Posted on 08/31/2011 1:49 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
What Four Muslim Journalists From Iraq And Afghanistan See In Libya, And What They Are Unable To Recognize
From The New York Times:
In Iraq and Afghanistan, War-Weary Eyes Turn Toward Libya
By AT WAR
At War asked four journalists from Iraq and Afghanistan to share their observations about the revolt in Libya.
Ali Hamdani is an Iraqi doctor who used to work as a journalist with The New York Times, The Times of London and NPR in Baghdad. He covered the trial of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. He now lives in the United States.
Watching Tripoli falling from the comfort of my living room in the United States felt very different from witnessing the fall of my own city, Baghdad, with dead bodies and the wreckage of Iraqi army tanks all around.
At that time it was very hard to understand how everyone except Iraqis genuinely believed that Iraq was heading toward a prosperous spring season, similar to the one being made readily available for the dreams of the Libyan people these days.
It is very difficult to stand and deliver a sound judgment of what is wrong and what is right when you watch the history of a nation being made on a 47-inch HD flat screen in a nice living room. [Ali Hamdan must be doing well -- and only a year into his stay in this country]
Yes, I do believe that history repeats itself, however, this time I hope it will not.
Getting rid of a dictator does not always mean the end of a tragedy. It does not guarantee a better replacement, either.
I personally believe that the worst impact of dictatorial regimes on their nations only begins after their removal, so I will not be surprised to hear Libyans soon praising the days of Qaddafi and his awful regime. Just like Iraqis who at some point desperately called for Saddam Hussein to be back in power, despite the fact that he had already been executed at that time.
It is obvious that Qaddafi’s days are numbered, if not over, just like Mubarak in Egypt, and Ben Ali in Tunisia. But is it always about one person or one name? It is more about a gambling game, a game in which not all the players are gone by simply getting rid of one dictator or another.
Libyans are passing through a critical period in the history of their nation, for which the only remedy is to seek a suitable replacement able to contain the damage and to cure the wounds caused by four decades of oppression and corruption.
In simple words, Libyans must spare no effort in order to be able to make their own future, but is that realistically possible?
Seeing the price for regular gas in a gas station just around the corner from my new house in the United States a few days ago simply answers my question. The price is now almost $1 higher per gallon than when I first arrived here last year.
The events in Libya had an impact on fuel prices here in the United States, and of course other countries in the world. People from these countries are not happy with such prices; neither are the presidents who want to be re-elected.
I pray for the Libyan people to be safe, but, sadly, I believe that they are unlikely to break the rule by preventing history from repeating itself. NATO’s missiles of freedom on Qaddafi’s residence at Bab Al-Aziziya will soon generate a huge bill for the Libyans to pay.
The season of spring will only come when judgments and decisions are being made by the people who are suffering on the ground and not from the comfort of the Situation Room in the White House.
Pictures in such rooms are gathered from behind a flat screen that may even deliver the color of blood in 3D these days. But it will always fail to tell you how badly it smells.
Gaia Anderson/Associated PressAug. 28: As the rebels moved toward Surt, families began to flee.
Mohamed Husain is a former Iraqi head of the newsroom in The New York Times’s Baghdad bureau.
As the Libyan people get close to achieving their main goal, to get control of the whole country, there are reports of shortages of food and water beside other basic needs and services such as electricity and gasoline. This leaves the country that been dominated by Colonel Qaddafi for more than 40 years in a shaken state in the hands of the young and inexperienced rebels.
I watched the television news and saw Libyans gathering around water tankers in Tripoli to fill their jerry cans, and another scene where a rebel checkpoint searched a car, its trunk filled with empty plastic water bottles and containers.
That scene brought to my mind the days of 2003 during the Iraq war, when I was driving my car seeking water for my family. At that time the capital, Baghdad, suffered for weeks from lack of gasoline, food and the absence of electricity and telephone services.
Aside from shortages of food, water, gasoline, medicine, electricity and other basic needs, we cannot compare the fall of Baghdad to the fall of Tripoli, where things seems relatively more calm and tranquil in Libya.
If the Libyan Transitional National Council receives the help it needs and puts in place a consistent plan to recover the capitol, then we will not see another fall similar to that of Baghdad.
During the Iraq war the regime of Mr. Saddam Hussein was toppled by an outside invasion, because the attempts from the Iraqi people did not succeed at all. This is unlike what has happened in Libya, where Libyans took the initiative and rebelled against the regime, avoiding the need for NATO and U.S military ground forces on Libyan soil.
I also see reports that a number of Colonel Qaddafi’s military barracks have been looted, just like during the Iraq war in 2003, when all the Iraqi Army camps were looted by civilians, and there were public markets for arms at cheap prices.
The circulation of those weapons became a nightmare for Iraqis, since many were used by militias and insurgents in bloody terrorist attacks, and later during the furious sectarian war from 2006-2007.
As for national security in Libya, we know that Colonel Qaddafi crushed the Islamic movements in Libya, just as Saddam Hussein’s regime did in Iraq, but that does not necessarily mean that there are no extremist Islamic movements [it certainly doesn't] or trends in Libya waiting for the appropriate time to surface. In Iraq during 2003, many extremist groups managed to move to Iraq, making Iraq the main front for their morbid ideology; Al Qaeda set up its Iraqi version, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which is still considered the most bloody terrorist movement in the country right now.
Hopefully the course of the Arab Spring will pass smoothly and without a tragic end, like the one after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, from which Iraq still needs much time to recover.
Duraid Adnan is an Iraqi journalist who works for The New York Times in Baghdad.
BAGHDAD — Watching the Libyans taking down one of Qaddafi’s statues reminded me of the fall of Saddam’s big statue in the center of Baghdad. The first thing I thought was, “They have no idea what is going to happen to them.”
We were watching every minute, especially the last days, when they got to the capital. We were thinking, “What is Qaddafi going to do, will he hide just like Saddam or will he commit a suicide?”
Even when we were not at work, instead of watching a movie or something, we kept it on the news. One of my colleagues said that he stayed awake watching the news until 3:30 a.m. When he came in the next day, he asked if it had happened or not. “Did they kill him yet?”
Libya brings strange feelings for Iraqis, and makes them want to see what will happen there. Maybe because we were not the ones that took Saddam down, so we see ourselves in the Libyans. The goal is the same, to take down the Mafia man, but there the tools were different.
Both Arab capitals suffered from a dictatorship that would never accept a different point of view. In Iraq, there was no Iraqi before 2003 who was capable of carrying a weapon against Saddam. It was in our minds that Saddam would know what someone in Basra was thinking. Saddam controlled Iraqis from the inside.
However, one thing seems to be on the right path in Libya: I heard one of the rebel leaders say that they would not break up the army; instead, he said, “We will clean it of the bad guys, not like what happened in Iraq.” That is a good thing, for everyone saw the bad results of the decision by L. Paul Bremer III, the American proconsul in Baghdad, to dismantle the Iraqi army.
I tell the Libyans, look at Iraq and its current situation. What did we get from it? Destruction and suffering. So one question can be asked for them: Is democracy worth it?
Iraq is different from Libya. We have different sects and nationalities here, we have Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Christians. I cannot even count how many different sects we have. It is complicated. In Libya they are mostly Sunnis. But there are people with and against Qaddafi. [He doesn't know about the tribes in Libya? He doesn't know that the nation-state is a new, foreign, and non-Muslim concept for Muslims. and in Muslim lands, there tends to be a different set of allegiances. For those who take Islam most to heart, their allegiance is to the Umma, the world-wide Community of Believers. For others, their loyalty tends to be limited, defined by circles of ever-diminishing intensity -- first to the family, then to the tribe, then to the ethnicity (Arab, Kurd, Berber, etc.) or sect (Sunni, Shi'a).
Both countries have large quantities of oil and here the question comes. Was it for that reason that America supported the rebels in Libya? [why shoudl they? Qaddafy was perfectly ready to sell oil to the West -- he had made his mercurial peace with the West? It is simply impossible for most Muslims to recognize that "oil" is not the explanation for Western behavior -- certainly not in Afghanistan, and certainly not in Iraq, where the two trillion dollars spent by the Americans cannot conceivably explain a desire for access to Iraqi oil. It's absurd, but in the minds of the Muslim masses, and not only the masses, they cannot conceive that Infidels, that Americans, might naively wish them well, wish to undo despotisms that they themselves are incapable of undoing, and not "for the oil" which is a meaningless phrase]
Sharifullah Sahak is an Afghan journalist who works for The New York Times in Kabul.
KABUL – People here are not really optimistic about the current changes in Libya. Afghanistan has a bitter experience of collapsed regimes from the fall of King Zahir Khan until now. It goes on and on.
We have witnessed the fall of different regimes here in Afghanistan, but every one of them had worse consequences than the one before, and many people fled or were killed, wounded or displaced. The same thing will happen in Libya, and the people of Libya should be ready.
The fight of the rebels to take control of Libya is similar to what happened in Afghanistan when the Taliban were thrown out by the international community. And it is similar to when the mujahideen overthrew President Najibullah’s government 20 years ago, only to start looting public assets and then flee to other countries.
The changes in Libya have paved the way for new adversities for the country because after the collapse of Qaddafi’s regime, people will take revenge and have it taken upon them.
Many Afghan analysts on television and radio say they believe that the current situation will take Libya toward instability and civil war.
Gen. Abdul Wahid Taqat, a military analyst, said that just as Western countries invaded Iraq and set it 200 years back, now it is the turn of Libya. “I am not happy with the current changes in this government, because now it will go into crisis, and the West will not help them, as they did not help Afghanistan after the Russians were expelled.”
Wahid Muzda, a political analyst, said that it was a good development that people take power, but asked why the West did not intervene in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.
“The West sees that its interest in Libya is its oil, and that’s why it interfered in this country,” he said.
“Hopefully this will bring a positive change to this country because during the protest the people of Libya were saying ‘Allahu Akbar’, so this is a good step for the Muslim world. But I am also concerned about the small armed groups who now have weapons, and also about war starting between the Libyan tribes over who will take control.”
Some believe that Qaddafi, who is a strong opponent of the West, will show up again as a militant leader in Libya.
When the Taliban were thrown out of government by the international community, some Afghans thought that was the end of them. But as we saw, they resurfaced and started their resistance with the help of neighboring countries. It may be the same thing with the Qaddafi regime. If he has hidden himself somewhere in Libya he may show up again with targeted killings and assassinations.
This is extremely dangerous for Libya because now even students, doctors, laborers, almost everyone has weapons and will establish their own gangs, just as we have warlords and criminals. It will be difficult for the new Libyan government to control these groups, to collect weapons and impose the rule of law. [but why should this be? What is it that makes such an outcome, in a Muslim state, nearly inevitable? Where does the aggression, the violence, the inability to compromise, the viewing of all outcomes as resulting in Victor and Vanquished, come from? It all comes froom the fact that these are societies suffused with Islam, and Islam itself -- Qur'an and Sunnah, with its figure of Muhammad -- is full of aggression, violence, refusal to compromise, and a belief that the only outcome, in the struggle between Believer and Unbeliever, is that of Victor and Vanquished.]
Instead of killings and fighting, the solution is peace and negotiations. [don't be silly]Just as the international community announced after 10 years that the problem of Afghanistan cannot be solved with fighting and that they would prefer to negotiate with the Taliban, so negotiations with the Qaddafi regime will be very useful to remove him from the scene and bring him to justice peacefully. If there are no negotiations then he will again be another terrorist leader and will pose another threat to the world.
But if the West and its allies in Libya keep pushing Qaddafi to surrender then Qaddafi will seek cover in a third country, as Osama bin Laden did, and plan attacks on other Western countries.
Posted on 08/31/2011 10:47 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Tuesday, 30 August 2011
In Yemen, What Al Qaeda Wants
From The Yemen Observer:
: Mohammed al-Kibsi
Aug 30, 2011
Over 26 al-Qaida militants and 10 Yemeni troopers, including a colonel, have been killed in fierce confrontations between the Yemeni forces and insurgents of al-Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) in Abyan province, over the past 24 hours, said an official military source on Monday.
The source added that 38 militants and 30 soldiers also were wounded when al-Qaeda militants intercepted advancing army troops in Dawfas, west of Zinjubar, capital of Abyan province.
Also an official source at the ministry of interior said that over 300 al-Qaeda operatives have been killed since the start of the battles between the Yemeni military and security forces and between al-Qaeda militants in Abyan province that broke out in May 2011.
According to local information from Abyan, Nasser Al Wahayshi escaped from Zinjubar to MuKairas on Thursday July 21, 2011 after the government troops and tribesmen tightened the noose on his fighters in the city and its outskirts.
Mukairas is close to Al Wahayshi village, Ghail Al Wahayshi in Al Baidah province.
“We , Mujahideen, the sons of the nations, we are from it and within it, we share with it the happy and unhappy times, and we are within the squares of change and freedom to establish the rule of Sharia, and to make Shura come, security return, and justice prevail,” Al Wahayshi said in his message to his Shaykh Zawahri.
“Our people have gone beyond the political parties that want to take the victory of the Umma for their interest to please the Americans and Crusading West,” He said. “
The parties represent the minority, and they are loyal to the Crusaders.” “As for the American Crusader enemy, they stood incapacitated towards the situation in Yemen, except by doing some intelligence work and air bombing with unmanned planes, with acceptance from the government and the opposition, and with silence from other institutions towards this intervention and penetration of airspace,” Wuhayshi said.
“We will not stand with our hands tied. Our war with this Zionist Crusader campaign is ongoing, for they are the ones who choose war, and their people stood behind them. We are people of war; we were born from its womb and we grew up in its midst. It is as if we were only created to fight them and bother them.” Wuhayshi also said that al Qaeda seeks to impose its brand of Islam across the globe, through force of arms.
“Our project is to institute the Shariah of Allah on Earth and reject the man-made laws and constitutions,” Wuhayshi said. “Nothing will rule the country other than the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger, Allah’s peace and prayer be upon him, [especially] not with words written in a constitution to deceive people: “Islamic Shariah is the source of legislation”.
Meanwhile the Yemen’s supreme defense and security council has hailed the rule of the Yemeni military and security forces in fighting al-Qaeda insurgents in Abyan and said that the troopers have been making heroic epics.
A statement issued by the defense council on Tuesday that coincided with the first days of Eid al-Fitr praised the rule of the Yemeni military and security forces and said that while the people of Yemen have been celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the heroes of the military and security forces have been fighting al-Qaeda insurgents, making heroic battles in defense of the country and its security, stability and its unity.
They also hailed the martyrs that shed their lives and souls for defending the country and kept loyal to the principles of their nations and to the constitution of Yemen until they lost their lives.
Posted on 08/30/2011 10:38 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald