by Jerry Gordon (January 2015)
Dr. Harold Rhode at Xian University China with Lecture Announcement
When Islam swept along the ancient Silk Road a millennium ago, it found new adherents in what is now the People’s Republic of China. One ethnic group that responded were the Uyghurs (pronounced “wee-ghurs”), an indigenous Turkic-speaking people who adopted Sufism. The Uyghur heartland was contested by Turkic groups, Mongols and China. In the 18th Century the Qing Dynasty in China asserted control over Xinjiang. However, during the 19th Century, the Czarist Russian advance across Central Asia conquered the neighboring Khanates of Kokand and Bukhara. That led to Kokand general Yaqui Bey establishing a de facto Uyghur state in Kashgar in 1865.
Uyghurs in Urumqi
The Qing dynasty in 1884, ultimately won back control over the agricultural heartland of Uyghur settlement in Xinjiang province. With the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and establishment of the Republic of China in 1911, the Uyghurs who harbored irredentist aspirations briefly rose up in 1931 to 1934 to create an East Turkestan state, only to be crushed by Chinese Hui Muslim Nationalist forces. The second East Turkestan state was created during WWII with Soviet assistance in 1943 which lasted until 1949, when the Communist People’s Republic of China vanquished Nationalist forces in the province. The Uyghur leadership of East Turkestan mysteriously died on a plane flight back from Moscow, some believe on orders from Stalin.
The PRC established Xinjiang as the Uyghur Autonomous Region in Xinjiang (UXAR). In 1955, the PRC began a program of conscious resettlement of Han Chinese and investment of billions to exploit the vast natural resources of Xinjiang that encompasses fully one/sixth the land area of the PRC. This was in line with China’s strategy of “Go West” to exploit the rich agricultural, oil and gas resources. The PRC has been building a new Silk Road Eurasian Land Bridge rail network through Xinjiang connecting Russian and Chinese Pacific ports across the adjacent Central Asian republics into Russia leading ultimately to ports in the EU. The resettlement and enormous investments came at the expense of Uyghur ethnic presence in Xinjiang. Today the Muslim Uyghurs comprise roughly 45 percent of the Xinjiang’s population, approximately 10 million with the balance being Han Chinese settlers. There is an estimated Uyghur diaspora of over one million. Uyghur refugees who fled Xinjiang after the PRC takeover in the early 1950’s found refuge in Turkey that included creation of a permanent community and economic opportunities. Under Islamist President Erdogan, that role has continued most recently reflected in a dispute with China over repatriation of Uyghurs from Thailand.
The East Turkestan Flag
Uyghur irredentism coupled with increasing Muslim extremism found support from Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the Taliban in Pakistan and Central Asian republics after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. That led to armed Uyghur separatist attacks under the banner of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement. This Muslim extremist separatist group, recognized as a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department seeks to establish a supra national Turkic state composed of “sections of Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).” According to a US State Department study Uyghurs have received “training and funding” and joined the ranks of Al Qaeda fighting US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Hasan Mahsum, a Uyghur from Xinjiang’s Kashgar region was killed “by Pakistani troops in 2003 during a raid on a suspected al-Qaeda hideout near the Afghanistan border.” His successor Abdul Haq was killed in Pakistan in 2010. Co-founder of the ETIM Memetuhut Memetrozi, serving a life sentence for terrorism in China was educated in a Madrassa in Pakistan. In 1996, China concluded the Shanghai Treaty “with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, using the accord to pressure Central Asian states to deter their ethnic Uighur minorities from supporting separatism in Xinjiang and to guarantee extradition of Uyghurs fleeing China.”
Deadly episodes involving Uyghur separatists have occurred. Probably the worst was 150 casualties in 2009 in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi caused by protests by Uyghur workers in the province of Guangdong against Han Chinese over alleged “racial violence.” In 2011 attacks were launched against Xinjiang officials, a police Station in Hotan “claiming four lives; bomb and knife attacks in Kashgar left at least twelve dead and over forty injured.” A 2013 car bombing attack in Tiananmen Square in Beijing killed five and injured 40. It was “officially blamed on the ETIM” by the PRC. It worsened in 2014, according to a Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounder on the ETIM:
A recent spate of knife attacks has heightened concerns. An assault outside a railroad station in Guangzhou in May 2014 marked the third of its kind since March, when a group of Uyghurs killed twenty-nine people at a railway station in Kunming, Yunnan province. In late April, a bomb and knife assault left three people dead outside a train station in Urumqi, Xinjiang. President Xi Jinping ordered Xinjiang authorities to take “resolute measures” and crush “violent terrorists” after the attack.
In March 2014, a leader of the Uyghur splinter group, the Turkestan Islamic Party, Abdullah Mansour vowed from his hideout in Pakistan to wage “a holy war against the Chinese,” whom he described as “an enemy of all Muslims.”
There is suspicion that among the foreign recruits of the Islamic State are Muslim extremist Uyghurs who are believed to have filtered into Syria via Turkey. China’s difficulty in controlling the rising Muslim fundamentalism in Xinjiang is reflected in recent draconian bans by Chinese authorities in Urumqi, of Muslim veils and head scarves for women and men growing long beards.
Hui Muslims, Source: Reuters
The problematic Uyghur Muslim extremist separatism and fundamentalism is apparently not reflected in another Muslim group in China, the Hui Muslims who number 11 million. The Hui can be found throughout China but are concentrated in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. The Hui people are ethnic Han Chinese who were converted by or intermarried with Persian and Arab traders who brought Islam to the Eternal Kingdom. Hui was also a term used to describe both Nestorian Christians and Jews who came to China. The last Chinese-Jewish congregation in Kaifeng was scattered at the time of the Taipeng Rebellion in the 1850’s. Hui people had illustrious leaders, including the fabled Admiral Zheng He who led the famed treasure fleets to Indonesia, India, Africa and Arabia in the 15th Century.
The short lived First East Turkestan Republic was ironically crushed by the 36th Hui Muslim Nationalist Division in battles at Kashgar in 1933 and 1934 led by Hui Generals, Ma Shaowu, General Ma Zhancang and General Ma Fuyuan. (Ma means Mohammed in Chinese). Clearly, the Hui people have evinced more loyalty to China than to Islamic Jihad imperatives. There is a reason for it. The Hui adopted their Islamic practices to fit the Confucian-influenced Chinese culture to the extent that their mosques have “traditional Chinese dynastic architecture with Islamic motifs.“
Against this background, we arranged to hold an interview with Dr. Harold Rhode who had spent several weeks in China this fall lecturing at universities throughout the country on Sunni Muslim extremism. The Chinese are interested in how Israel contends with this problem, while building one of the most innovative societies in a region known for its instability. This is our third interview with Dr. Rhode who retired as an Islamic Affairs expert in the Office of the US Secretary of Defense in 2010. See New English Review interviews, The Savior of Iraqi Jewish Heritage (Dec. 2013) and The Future of the Babylonian Jewish Archives (June 2014).
Jerry Gordon: Dr. Rhode thank you for consenting to this interview.
Harold Rhode: Thank you for inviting me, again.
Gordon: We’re here with Dr. Harold Rhode, a former Pentagon expert on Islamic Affairs in the Office of Secretary of Defense. We interviewed him about the rescue of the Babylonian Jewish Archives. The archives were restored by the National Archives and Records Agency and exhibited both in Washington D.C. and other locations in the United States. Dr. Rhode you have just come back from an interesting sojourn in China. Tell us about the auspices under which you went to China and what were the purposes of these talks?
Rhode: This was my third trip to China for an organization called SIGNAL (the Sino-Israel Global Network of Academic Leadership). Their goal is to strengthen academic intellectual ties between Israel, the Jewish people and China. This was a three week trip. Each of my previous trips were about the same length. On this trip I spoke at a few universities in Beijing. Then we went to Xi’An where thousands of terracotta soldiers, horses and other objects from 2000 years ago were discovered. From there I traveled to Kunming which is near the Burmese border to Yunnan University and from there to Chongqing for some academic conferences and lectures. Thereafter, I flew to Israel via Beijing and Moscow.
Gordon: What topics did you lecture on in China?
Rhode: A few things that interest the Chinese. First the Chinese are fascinated and intrigued by the Jewish mind. How Jews think about the world because the Chinese have enormous respect for Jews. They know that we’re about fourteen million people in the world, which is less than the statistical error of the Chinese census. (China has about 1.4 billion people.) How do we Jews, they ask, have so many Nobel prizes? The Chinese told me that we Jews have the 25% of the Nobel Prizes in the United States. Not that most American Jews would even know that number.
The Chinese are often seen as good copiers – not inventors. They admire enormously our ability to analyze, to invent, and to create. They would like to increase these skills and are looking for ways to do so. Given the nature of their culture – which historically has emphasized obedience to authority instead of questioning – it might not be so easy to get there.
Gordon: Have the Chinese invested in Israeli Venture Capital Investment?
Rhode: To a certain extent yes. There seems to have been a government decision in China to work with Israel. Israel has a number of the things that China needs intellectually. I’m told that a Ph.D in China is often occupied by largely translating something which is not in Chinese into Chinese. It seems it is not always like a Western Ph.D which involves a lot of rigorous intellectual analysis, and, at least in the past, creative thought. A Western Ph.D. requires that you know the material and then do something with it. The impression is that this is less so in China. There are fascinating reasons for this. Traditionally, in China you are not supposed to question your superiors. We Jews, on the other hand, question everybody and everything. We even question God. We Jews respect authority but we question it. In many cases, the Chinese seem to have great difficulty understanding how one can question authority, yet at the same time deeply respect that authority.
Gordon: Does this reflect Confucian ethics or the culture of the regime?
Rhode: Chinese culture is about 5,000 years old. In some ways, they ascribe to ancient ethics, ancient traditions. In Confucianism where you can question your teacher it is done very differently and more gingerly. It could seem to Westerners that it is rare, but Chinese culture has its own protocols of interaction.
Gordon: You went to lecture on a topic that you know well. It is something that the world is immediately concerned about which is Islamic extremism, in this case, Sunni extremism. Do the Chinese have an interest in that topic?
Rhode: Yes. They consider the terrorism sourced in Xinjiang to be very serious. Xinjiang is the Northwest Territories of China historically inhabited by a people called the Uyghurs who are a Turkic Sunni Muslim people. The Uyghurs number approximately 10 million people. Xinjiang is about 1/6th the land mass of China, and is rich in natural resources which the Chinese need. There are apparently more Han Chinese now in Xinjiang than there are Uyghurs. These Han were brought in to settle the province. The Chinese certainly have the people to do that. The Uyghurs are a Turkic people. Their language and their culture are very much related to the language and culture of the other Turkic peoples in the world including, the Turks of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and a few others. It is one language group, one family and the Chinese have this particular Muslim group in Xinjiang. There are other Muslim groups in China which we will address a little later.
China has a terrorist problem relating to this particular group of people, the Uyghurs. Not all Uyghurs, of course, are terrorists by any stretch of the imagination. But Uyghurs are involved with The Islamic State (ISIS/IS), in Iraq and Syria; some of them hold important positions in ISIS/IS.
Russia has a similar problem as the Chinese do with their Muslims. With the exception of the Azerbaijanis, and a numerically insignificant numbers of others, all former Soviet Muslims are Sunni. About one fourth of Russia’s population is Muslim. Over one third of the population of Moscow is legal and illegal resident Sunni Muslims. The Russians, the Chinese, the Indians, and the Israelis recognize this problem. If Americans had a little more sense, and definitely the same is true in Europe which has very little sense, they would all understand that they suffer from the same problem: Sunni fundamentalism. The latest version of this scourge is ISIS/IS. The fanatics all want to live in one united state: the Islamic caliphate. The word Caliphate comes from the Arabic word Caliph which means “the single ruler” who was to replace their prophet Muhammad who died in 632 CE.
The question back then was who was going to inherit and rule after him? Very deep in the Sunni psyche is a longing for being ruled by a Caliph, to be living in one centrally ruled Islamic State. That state includes the entire Arab world, non-Sunni Shiite Iran, Central Asia, and Xinjiang – today’s northwestern China. There is reason to believe that Turkey’s President Erdo?an wants to be that ruler. If not him, then maybe a member of the Ottoman family. Erdo?an and his Prime Minister Davuto?lu have tried to bring back the Ottoman ruling family, which ruled the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire from 1389 through the early 1920s. However, Erdo?an is in big trouble at home and may just end up falling flat on his face.
Gordon: President Erdo?an in Turkey has reached out to the Uyghurs.
Rhode: Yes, he sure has. Now what is interesting is the language in Northwest China is a dialect of Turkish, which is closely related to the language spoken in Turkey today. Turkish, I would say is about 30 percent intelligible to a Uyghur speaker. But that percentage increases the more Uyghurs and Turks from Turkey listen to each other’s languages. The rage in Xinjiang is movies from Turkey and especially among the young Uyghurs. What is interesting is these movies glorify Islamic history, especially the early Islamic conquests and the Turkish Ottoman Empire. These movies are produced in Turkey and they go like hotcakes in Xinjiang. It is these films and propaganda from Saudi Arabia and other rich Gulf Sunni Arabs that arouse fundamentalism among the Uyghurs in China. Sunni Islamic fundamentalism is an existential threat to China.
I’d like to explain what China, Spain, Israel, India, and the former Soviet Union have in common and why this is so important for politics today and the future of Sunni Islam. According to Islamic law – i.e., the Shari’a – any land that has been conquered by Muslims must be ruled by Muslims forever.
Now for example, Muslims ruled Spain from 712 CE to 1492 CE when the Muslims were kicked out of the Iberian Peninsula. There is a society today in Cordoba in Southern Spain which claims it is there to preserve the glorious heritage of Muslim Spain. However, when they are among fellow Muslims, this organization makes clear that their true reason for existence is they are preparing for the reconquest of Spain for Islam. They lost in 1492 that was 522 years ago. However according to Islamic doctrine Spain is Muslim because it was conquered and ruled by Muslims and it will thus always be Muslim.
Xinjiang in Northwest China was also conquered by Islam about a millennium ago. Therefore, according to the Shari’a, it is Islamic forever. China therefore faces the same problem with Xinjiang that Spain faces. The Uyghur Muslims who live in Xinjiang – Eastern Turkestan as the Uyghurs call it – will not come to terms with Chinese control of that territory, which, again from a Shari’a perspective – must be ruled by Muslims – i.e., not China – forever.
That is also the case for Israel. Muslims conquered what is today Israel in 637 CE, and, like Spain and Xinjiang, therefore must be ruled by Muslims forever.
This is how Sunni Islam understands these things. It is why, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that in any peace agreement, there must be two states for two peoples – a Jewish State for the Jews and a Palestinian – i.e., Muslim state for the Palestinians. He added that in such an agreement the Palestinians must agree that after signing the conflict is over, i.e., that they recognize Israel has a right to exist permanently within recognized borders.
The problem that the Palestinians and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) face is that they absolutely cannot accept any peace treaty which includes these statements. The same is true in Xinjiang in China; and the same is true in Spain.
The Arabic word for conquest, an Islamic conquest, is futuh. It comes from the Arabic Hebrew root meaning “open.” But in Arabic, that word has an additional meaning – i.e., a territory “opened for Islam” meaning conquered by Islam. That means that once such an “opening”/conquest happens, that territory is Muslim forever. It is Islamic forever so that is what Israel, a lot of the former Soviet Republics, Spain, Xinjiang in China, India, and Spain all share in common. These Islamic territories are Islamic forever. From an Islamic point of view, there cannot be any compromise on this issue. The Chinese recognize they have a problem here.
I have had a lot of dealings with Muslims from North Africa who talk to me quite openly about how they are going to reconquer Spain. Now we may think this is a bit crazy and bygones are bygones. You know we have a phrase in American English, “Oh that’s history.” Which means it’s over but not for these people. It’s not over; it is never over for these people. It is theirs forever which is why they cannot sign a final status peace agreement.
Now this says something unbelievably terrible about the truth of what we have to deal with including the United States, Russia, China, Israel, and Spain. That is there can be no compromise. The Western concept of the compromise – i.e., putting the past behind you – simply doesn’t exist in any of these Muslim realms.
However, that doesn’t mean that it’s hopeless. There are sources in the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book and the Hadith, which are the traditions attributed to their prophet Mohammed, when Mohammed was a minority and failing at first. If Muslims want to they can call on these traditions. The truth is they are earlier traditions in Islam and there is a tradition in the Shari’ a, that the later verses of the Qur’an which are the ones where Mohammed was already head of a state abrogate the earlier versions.
Nevertheless, there are these early traditions in the Qur’an where Muslims lived as a minority among others. Can Muslims call upon these traditions to reform their religion so that they can get along with others? Unfortunately I can only see one way and I hope I am wrong and I hate what I am about to say. That is, that the Muslims must undergo an enormous defeat, a conflagration where they lose. Then and only then can the good Muslims – the ones who realize that they need to get along with the rest of the world – be able to safely reinterpret their sources as we Jews did 2300 years ago when we lost sovereignty. We had to get along with others and we found ways to do so.
The Christians did the same in the 1600’s after the Thirty Years War when they were all killing each other off. The joke then was will the last one alive please blow out all of the torches. They found ways to reinterpret their sources, just like the Jews had done long beforehand.
But the Muslims have never had to do this. That will only happen when they suffer a massive defeat. Anybody who tries to do that right now suffers a very interesting fate. Usually it is death. Why? Because if you don’t follow the version of Islam that I do, this is the ISIS version, then I kill you. ISIS hates Sunni Muslims as well. They make Al Qaeda look moderate. Believe me if we defeat ISIS but don’t make the Islamic world suffer a terrible defeat, there will be another more extremist Sunni organization. They want this Caliphate. They want this extremism.
The only way that this can be defeated whether it’s Iraq, Syria, Russia, the Caucasus, Xinjiang in China or anywhere else is through a massive defeat. Sadly I do not see the American President prepared to do what is necessary to solve or to put this problem in its proper perspective.
Gordon…not only the United States but the world.
Rhode: I agree with you. I hate what I am saying. I wish it were not true. I wish the Sunni world had a concept of compromise.
Chinese Muslims may have the answer. There is a group of Chinese Muslims called Hui. They are ethnic Han Chinese Sunni Muslims. They have been living as a minority in Chinese society. Over the centuries, they seem to have figured out a way to get along with their non-Muslim rulers; this is, in a Western sense, compromise. Maybe these Hui Muslims have the answer. Maybe they could be a model for the Sunni world at large. There is only one problem. Most of Hui, when they travel to the Muslim world – i.e., to the Arab world, to Turkey, to Afghanistan – if they start talking the way they do they would be labeled as non-Muslims.
Gordon: They would be viewed as apostates.
Rhode: That’s the problem! Yes. Apostates and you know what the punishment for apostasy is in Islam? It’s death! It’s death without a trial. That’s what the Shari’a, the Islamic holy law says. At first a lot of the Chinese Muslims were arguing with me about what I’m saying. I said look, you have never been to the Middle Eastern Muslim world. You live as a minority within an enormously large society and you figured out a way to do it. This is a wonderful thing. But, will Muslims from other nations look at their experience as something they can emulate? Sadly, from experience, I doubt so.
In Xinjiang where the Uyghurs live, both Sunni Turkey and Shi’ite Iran are fanning the flames of dissent and discord in that area, and are creating problems for the Chinese government. I would hope the Chinese government would be more concerned about Turkish and Iranian involvement in China’s Uyghur fundamentalist movement than it seems to be. However, I’m an expert on Islam, not on China.
Gordon: How were the university audiences when you spoke about this issue in China?
Rhode: China is most interested in “balance and harmony.” They constantly talk about this side has to give a little and that side has to give a little. It’s sort of in an odd way even somewhat Western, you shake hands, you let bygones be bygones and you work together. The problem is that does not work in the Middle East. For example, the Chinese are trying to figure out a role where they could help solve the Arab-Israeli dispute. The problem in the Middle East there is no concept of letting bygones be bygones. Your family name is Gordon. Mine is Rhode. Imagine that your great-grandfather killed my great-grandfather, and the Rhode family has never avenged the Gordon family. So it would be my responsibility to take out you, your children, your family, your cousins, to make matters equal. The word ‘adalah in Arabic is usually, but incorrectly translated as justice. It really means balance, balance in the sense of revenge – not on truth or fairness.
The Chinese have a very difficult time understanding this because their society is not based on that concept. That is one of the reasons the Chinese are arming Iran and Saudi Arabia. They think that by doing so they can balance and harmonize and no one will kill each other. The problem is that in Iran, the rulers – most of whom are hated by the Iranian religious establishment – are extremists. They believe that if they have a war their savior, the Mahdi will come and save them. Thus, nuclear weapons are an inducement for them, not a deterrent. If these terrorist rulers of Iran used nuclear weapons, they believe that their savior would come out of the holy well in the city of Qum and save them.
The Chinese have a virtually impossible time understanding this because the Chinese don’t really understand the concept of an identity based on religion.
China obtains 60% of their oil from the Gulf. Now if the Iranians decide to block the Straits of Hormuz – the point from which all the Persian Gulf oil must exit – then the Chinese are up the proverbial creek. China knows America does not need Middle Eastern oil.
The Chinese just don’t yet get how the Middle East works. So far, they have not been able to understand the society which is based on revenge. That is a problem they face in getting involved in the Middle East. They are aware of it but they don’t understand it.
Gordon: Lee Smith has a book called The Strong Horse which explains this Middle East culture that you have described.
Rhode: Great man!
Gordon: From your conversation with people in China I gather they do not understand that.
Rhode: The Chinese believe in harmony and balance. They’re interested in making money and having a better life and for themselves and a better society for their children. Which is why they are frankly so interested in Israel. For example, they have serious water problems. Moreover, the pollution in parts of China is unbelievable.
Gordon: Part of their pollution problem stems from dependence on coal used to produce electricity, heat and power industry as well as their transportation system. Going back to the topic we were discussing, are the Chinese, in a kind of a Casablanca film scenario, “shocked, shocked” at what you told them about Sunni extremism? What do they perceive as the solutions?
Rhode: Good question. I’m not an expert on China or Chinese way of thinking. They know they have problems and they are interested in finding out ways of solving them especially when it comes to their energy needs. This is where Israel comes in. First of all Israel has a serious water problem but solved it. They achieved this through desalination and more importantly recycling 80 percent of their waste water. The Chinese need this sort of technology.
Second, Israel developed drip irrigation for agriculture. They have invented fascinating ways of using very little water to produce a lot of interesting, healthy crops in Israel. The Chinese need that. It is Israeli expertise and Israeli technology. Israel is a natural fit for China. The Chinese are obsessed with stability. The Middle East is anything but that. Since the so-called Arab Spring, the Chinese have realized that they have sustained serious losses. They lost a good deal of money in Libya. They have substantial money in other Arab countries as well. Israel, despite its many exterior challenges, is remarkably stable, which is what the Chinese are looking for – stability, balance, and harmony.
The Chinese seem to have decided that in their universities Middle Eastern centers which they are establishing, that in a few cases they are using Israel as a guide to help to set up these institutions and want Israeli academic expertise. There are a lot of Chinese students now in Israel studying all sorts of things. How does Israel make itself work? Many Chinese are fascinated by little Israel, and they want more connections.
Gordon: China is a member of the UN Security Council. We are in the midst of a Palestinian statehood recognition campaign from the Palestinian Authority. The most recent examples were the French National Assembly which passed its version of a “symbolic resolution recognizing a Palestinian state” and a similar symbolic resolution that passed the European parliament and the pending vote before the UN Security Council to end so-called Israeli occupation of the West Bank. We hope that doesn’t occur. How do the Chinese deal with those issues before the UN?
Rhode: During the recent summer war in Gaza, the Chinese were very much in the background. They were not criticizing Israel during this operation. The Russians really were not very much against Israel during the Gaza operation. The American people also strongly supported Israel. That is also the case for the American Congress.
They’re wonderful vis-a-vis Israel and they understand that Israel and the United States are based on the same values. As Jim Woolsey, the former head of the CIA said, Israel and the founders of the United States both base their culture and values, on the values of Mount Sinai – i.e., liberty, equality and freedom.
The American people, the Congress support Israel; however, the question is still out on the current Administration. I worked in the Pentagon for twenty-eight years. From my experience, I would say that by and large, many people in the State Department, CIA, and other parts of the government see Israel at best as a nuisance. The people running the White House at the moment from my experience are not particularly enamored of Israel, unlike the American people which clearly identifies with Israel.
Gordon: Jon Schanzer from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies pointed out the most sensitive line in a recent Jeffrey Goldberg article published by The Atlantic in October 2014. It was not about any expletive deleted characterization of Israeli PM Netanyahu but another line. A line from an unidentified senior official that perhaps in the future if a Palestinian statehood declaration comes up for consideration at the UN Security Council the US might abstain. That is a rather chilling remark given the kind of tradition that US government has held since the late 1960’s with regard to protection of Israel’s interests.
Rhode: I have an odd thought here. America is basically a religious country much to the chagrin of the academic community and much of the intellectual self-appointed establishment in the United States. I would call them the “I hate America crowd” that is teaching in universities and in some high schools in the United States. They are saying that the greatness of America is past.
Historically, there is something in the Bible in the Book of Genesis. God says very clearly to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those that curse you.” Let me explain the significance with regard how Americans feel towards Israel. I had an experience in the Pentagon right before I left in January of 2010. A secretary who had lived the California lifestyle and then became a born-again Christian showed me a tee-shirt that was available on the internet. It jokingly said, look what happens to you if you mess with the Jews and it’s based on that Biblical verse from the Book of Genesis. On the tee-shirt was printed: “Be careful. Look what happens to those who hurt the Jews. What happened to Egypt and the Pharaohs, the Hellenistic Empire, the Roman Empire, Spain, Russia, Soviet Union? At the bottom of the shirt was listed the word “Iran”! But that is not what interested her. What she was concerned about was not Iran. It was that if America abandons Israel would America then be on that list? I responded “God forbid!” I don’t believe for a moment that the American people or the Congress have those sorts of thoughts.
However, I do have questions from my 28 years in the American government about some of the people in this Administration. In the Administration, with the exception of the President and the Vice President, everybody else is appointed. They don’t represent the American people. That is what the Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives do. In the Executive branch, only the President and Vice President are elected the rest are there to administrate and by and large they do what they want. During the George W. Bush Administration there were many times that they would leak things specifically having to do with Iran to make George Bush look bad.
Now from my personal experience I watched the bureaucracy also withhold information from senior people because the bureaucracy didn’t like the way the former would be using the information to make decisions. Now that isn’t the case of course with the entire American bureaucracy but it is the case with a lot of it.
Gordon: Do you see that as a danger?
Rhode: Yes, It’s a danger.
Gordon: Who are the strong horses involved in world class support of terrorism now in the Middle East? I raise that because we had a recent visit in Northwest Florida from the Qatari Ambassador to the US.
Rhode: Let me put that in context. In 1979 forces of extremist Sunnis took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The Saudi Government had to make a deal. The Sunni government is a family, the Saud family along with the religious Wahhabi establishment. The radical Muslims who took over the mosque in 1979 said straightforwardly to the Sauds and the Wahhabi leadership you are not funding/supporting jihad, as you must, according to the Shari’a. Jihad is what we Muslims are all about. The deal the Saudi government made at the time with the Wahhabi religious establishment is that if you allow us to go into Mecca and to eliminate them, we – i.e. the Saudi government – will fund jihadism outside of Saudi Arabia. As a result, the Saudis and their allies in the Gulf funded extremist Sunni fundamentalism – i.e., jihadism – throughout the world.
The Saudis basically controlled Sunni fundamentalism at first. They fund mosques in the United States which teach vicious anti-Americanism. Forget about Jews. They hate Christians as well. This has come back to haunt the Saudis. There are a lot of businessmen in the Persian Gulf, especially in the Arab areas who fund all of this. Now Qatar is a tiny little place and it spends it’s time trying to stick its finger in the eyes of the Saudis. They have this satellite TV network, Al Jazeera. Saudi Arabia has its own TV satellite network called Al Arabiya which broadcasts out of the UAE in Abu Dhabi. Al Jazeera is in English but the English version has nothing to do with the Arabic one. The Arabic version is viciously anti-Western, viciously anti-Christian, viciously anti-American, and viciously anti-Israel. The English version which is what we get in America is al Jazeera America, outside of America there is Al Jazeera English. This is like “soft porn.” It is completely different from Al Jazeera in Arabic. The Qataris are funding this.
Turkish President Erdo?an and his fundamentalist Prime Minister Davuto?lu look the other way when ISIS crosses the border or comes through Turkey and sells its oil or obtains its weapons. These are people who are funding and pushing Islamic fundamentalism throughout the world. The Turks are very good at it right now. They obviously have abandoned the Turkish democratic secular tradition of the founding father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. The Iranians are funding all sorts of things, and helped fund ISIS in the beginning, even though ISIS is vehemently anti-Shiite. The Iranian government was also helping Al Qaeda. Both organizations wanted destruction of the Shiites but it got out of control. Just because the Iranians do it doesn’t mean they are going to succeed.
We should not think that because the Iranians are Shiites and ISIS and the Turks hate Shiites with a passion that bygones are not bygones. They are fighting a war which took place when their prophet died over who would inherit the mantle of Islam. That war forced the major division of Islam between the Shiites versus the Sunnis.
The Iranians, the Turks, the Qataris, a lot of businessmen in the Gulf, are the people funding and supporting Islamic terror. We Americans have chosen to look the other way. I am very aware that the US Treasury has done some very good work on this. However, are they allowed by the White House and the State Department to push their findings forward? I don’t know. I suspect in time that in the interest of good international relations with some of the people, especially the Arabists in the State Department are prepared to look the other way. By doing so here in the United States they are helping sign our own death warrant.
Gordon: I want to commend you for being clear-eyed about what threats that really afflicts the United States, Israel and the World at this moment And thank you for your intrepid adventures, some of which have really been on behalf of claiming the heritage of the Jewish people.
Rhode: Thank you Jerry. God be with you.
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