Archive for January, 2010

Who or what are we fighting?

Friday, January 8th, 2010

“It is not that Islam has been hijacked, rather different forces are fighting over control of the steering wheel.” — Barry Rubin

For the first time — as far as I can tell — in recorded history, a war is raging in which one side does not know the identity of its enemy.

This war has been underway since at least the 1990’s and pits the US and other Western democracies against various groups whose ideology is Radical Islamism.  It is not a ‘war on terror’ — which is a tactic, not an opponent — and certainly not ‘overseas contingency operations’, an expression that Orwell would have been proud to invent. But on the other hand neither is it a ‘clash of civilizations’ and the enemy is not Islam.

What exactly is Radical Islamism, how is it related to Islam, why do Islamists employ the tactic of terrorism, why are we fighting, and what can be done to defeat it?

Important questions, and it appears that the previous and present US administrations lacked and continue to lack answers.

The following is a short but incisive discussion of these questions. It should be required reading in Washington. — ed.


Radical Islamism: An Introductory Primer
By Barry Rubin

A young American named Ramy Zamzam, arrested in Pakistan for trying to fight alongside the Taliban, responded in an interview with the Associated Press: “We are not terrorists. We are jihadists, and jihad is not terrorism.”

What he says is well worth bearing in mind in order to understand the great conflict of our era. First and foremost, Jihadism or radical Islamism is far more than mere terrorism. It is a revolutionary movement in every sense of the word. It seeks to overthrow existing regimes and replace them with governments that will transform society into a nightmarishly repressive system.

And so one might put it this way: Revolutionary Islamism is the main strategic problem in the world today. Terrorism is the main tactical problem.

Read the rest here

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Obama’s no Polemarchus

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Rahm Emanuel is sick of Israelis and Palestinians. In an explosion of even-handedness, he stopped just short of calling for a pox on both of our houses:

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel recently told the Israeli consul in Los Angeles that the Obama administration is fed up with both Israel and the Palestinians, Army Radio reported on Wednesday.

Emanuel met with Jacob Dayan, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, about two weeks ago, after which Dayan briefed the Foreign Ministry. Emanuel told Dayan the U.S. is sick of the Israelis, who adopt suitable ideas months too late, when they are no longer effective, according to Army Radio.

The U.S. is also sick of the Palestinians who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, Emanuel reportedly said. — Ha’aretz

With respect to Israel,

Emanuel reportedly said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly acknowledged the two-state solution too late, and that the freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank came only after months of U.S. pressure.

Is it reasonable to think that the Palestinian and Israeli positions on Jerusalem borders, refugees, etc. would have been any closer together six months ago than today? After all, Olmert offered much more to the Palestinians in 2008 than Netanyahu will countenance today, without results. So why would it have helped to get Netanyahu to utter the magic words “two-state solution” — words which mean entirely different things to Israelis and Palestinians — or to impose a partial settlement freeze which will never be enough for the Palestinians?

No, what prevents a settlement is that what Israel can give without surrendering its right to exist is less than the minimum that the Palestinian leadership can accept. Welcome to the Middle East, as the old joke goes.

This should have been clear to the Obama Administration from the outset. But they continued to believe that all they needed to do was push a little harder. This backfired when US pushing for a settlement freeze gave the Palestinians an excuse to refuse to talk; of course they know that Israel isn’t ready to roll over yet, so why bother.

It’s a reflection of the shape of the conflict: it is not, as the Obama Administration sees it in the most charitable interpretation, simply a struggle over the territories and Jerusalem.  If that were the case, maybe it could succeed in beating the two sides into a two-state compromise in which neither would be entirely happy. Rather, it’s a struggle over whether there will be an Israel at all. The only ‘compromises’ possible in this situation are defined by how long the Jewish state exists before it’s swallowed up.

This is nothing new. Zionists have been saying it since Arafat demonstrated this when he chose war over a Camp David agreement. It’s interesting that US officials are capable of understanding the Israeli position — Israel wants peace within secure borders — but insist on misunderstanding that of the Arabs, who want all of ‘their’ land, from the river to the sea, under their control.

Emanuel added that if there is no progress in the peace process, the Obama administration will reduce its involvement in the conflict, because, as he reportedly said, the U.S. has other matters to deal with.

Does it ever! It’s tough being an empire in decline, dealing with internal and external barbarians every day. It certainly doesn’t need a diplomatic impasse with no positive payoff for US interests even if it did get what it wanted, which it won’t.

Actually, what America needs is a strong ally in the Mideast who can help it hold back Iran, which threatens to push Western influence entirely out of the region, and perhaps ultimately out of an Islamified Europe. It could have such an ally in Israel, which has great incentive to oppose Iran, which is trying to crush it between the pincers of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Nope, instead Obama plays engagement games with Iran while the centrifuges spin. At the same time, he uses the ‘peace process’ as a club to bludgeon Israel, for example by insisting on a pointless settlement freeze that is causing the nation to tear itself apart.

In Plato’s Republic, Polemarchus suggests that Justice is “helping one’s friends and hurting one’s enemies.” This may not be Plato’s favorite definition of Justice, but it certainly is part of successful international relations. Why is the US doing the opposite?

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Short takes for a busy week

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Mideastern surrealism

News item:

Iraq will demand that Israel pay compensation for bombing the unfinished nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, an Iraqi member of parliament told the Iraqi al-Sabah newspaper in an article published on Tuesday…

The Iraqi demand is based on UN Security Council Resolution 487, which was drafted following the bombing of the reactor in June 1981. The resolution harshly condemned Israel’s aerial attack and determined that Iraq had a right to demand compensation over the damages.

This is reminiscent of the time the Egyptians demanded that Israel compensate them for the gold and valuables taken by the bnei yisrael at the time of the exodus (in response to which someone said that Israel would gladly pay as long as they received back wages for 400 years of slave labor).


The rabbi’s strange perspective

Rabbi David Saperstein of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center will speak at our local Reform congregation, Temple Beth Israel, next Sunday. His subject: “Israel’s Three Most Vital Challenges: Peace, Equality, and Religious Freedom.”

Just to make things clear, ‘Peace’ means something like “making an agreement with the Palestinians to end the occupation of Judea and Samaria”, ‘Equality’ refers to the position of Arab citizens of Israel, and ‘religious freedom’ means ending the dominance of the Orthodox establishment over religious affairs (and funds) in Israel.

As Dave Barry, a very funny writer, always said, I Am Not Making This Up.

I don’t suggest that Rabbi Saperstein’s issues are unimportant, but I wonder how he missed these three:

  • The Iranian nuclear project
  • The 40,000+ rockets aimed at Israel by Hezbollah, plus thousands more by Iranian satellite Syria
  • The supply of rockets – much more powerful than the Qassams of the past — and other weapons now in the hands of Hamas

English assignment for the rabbi: get a dictionary and look up ‘vital’.

More to come, after his talk.


Bakri, the artist with a postmodern concept of truth

Last week I wrote about the possibility that Israeli Arab (excuse me, ‘Palestinian resident of Israel’) filmmaker Mohammad Bakri, who was responsible for the propaganda film ‘Jenin, Jenin’,  would be indicted for criminal libel. It turns out that he will not. But Attorney General  Menachem Mazuz said that he would support the appeal of several reserve soldiers in their civil libel suit against Bakri.


But people still take them seriously…

How did I miss this one? Not only is J Street funded by Arab and Iranian money, but the connections to Saudi Arabia are even closer than had been previously imagined, writes Lenny Ben-David. The close relationship between J Street and Qorvis Communications, the Saudi-employed PR firm, should remove all doubts that J Street is no more than an anti-Israel front group.



This blog has been in existence for a bit more than three years. There are 1311 posts, most of them written by me, and 985 comments, most by my old friend (of almost 50 years) Shalom Freedman from Jerusalem. My own favorite blogs are still The Rubin Report and Elder of Ziyon.

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It’s the ideology, stupid!

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Today’s morning NPR newscast was almost entirely devoted to Islamic terrorism: President Obama’s comments about the attempted airliner bombing ; news of yet another horrendous suicide bombing — at least one hundred dead — in Pakistan; the CIA operatives blown up in Afghanistan (OK, they were not exactly civilians, but we are in Afghanistan because of Islamic terrorism), and the attempt by a Somali assassin to murder Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.

I should mention that the words ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslim’ were not spoken in the newscast. Of course they didn’t need to be — what other kind of  ‘extremist’ would want to kill Westergaard, of Prophet-Muhammad-as-bomb fame? And we know that the pants-bomber identified as ‘Nigerian’ in the almost-tragedy on Christmas day was — as Charles Johnson used to say — a “non-Buddhist.”

President Obama’s weekly address, released today, included this:

Meanwhile, the investigation into the Christmas Day incident continues, and we’re learning more about the suspect.  We know that he traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies.  It appears that he joined an affiliate of al Qaeda, and that this group-al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America…

…our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and that we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and defend our country, even as we uphold the values that have always distinguished America among nations.

One might ask why he didn’t specify the ideology of this ‘network’. The answer — if one were even allowed to ask such a politically-incorrect question — would be that this might imply that all of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims were terrorists, while the murderous perpetrators of these crimes represent a tiny fraction of them, who have ‘hijacked’ the language of Islam for their un-Islamic purposes.

But it is not exactly correct to say that peace-loving Islam has been hijacked and replaced with something else. Rather, the concept of violent jihad, something that has always been part of Islam, has been emphasized and focused on by the radicals; and their approach has gained strength in the Muslim world. So it’s not exactly a well-defined ‘network’ of extremists whose ideology is different in kind from that of other Muslims, rather that a growing proportion of them have begun to see the West as an enemy of Islam which must be defeated. This is far more serious and difficult to deal with than a tiny group of extremist militants, but our leaders either don’t understand this or are afraid to articulate it.

For the same reason, it is considered absolutely unacceptable to ‘profile’ young male Muslim air travelers for special examination. But as has been said so many times, while not all young Muslim males are terrorists, most terrorists are young Muslim males. Although it is conceivable that al-Qaeda would recruit Jewish grandmothers, it’s unlikely; profiling airline passengers would improve the odds immensely.  But it seems that the desire to  “do what it takes” to defeat our radical Islamic enemies and defend our country is not strong enough to overcome the same taboo that prevents the President (or NPR) from uttering the phrase “Islamic terrorism”.

It’s also interesting to note that the President mentioned that Yemen is “grappling with crushing poverty”, although the Nigerian terrorist in question, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was neither Yemenite nor poor — in fact he was a member of Nigeria’s upper crust, the son of a bank chairman and former minister in the Nigerian government. He was influenced in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born (and also not poor) imam who allegedly gave Maj. Nidal Hasan a religious ruling that it was permissible to shoot American soldiers.

Barry Rubin provides the following snippet from a news report about the pants bomber:

In Funtua, Nigeria, Abdulmutallab’s hometown, they blame his wealth and foreign education for his becoming an Islamist revolutionary. A local student said, “We the children of the masses in this country, we don’t know anything about terrorism because our parents are poor.” Another resident added, “My only advice to the elite is to allow their children to mingle with the children of the masses so that [they] will have some of the traditional morals and values….”

He continues,

This is an extraordinarily important statement. Ideology, systemic failure of their own regimes and societies, and fear that the very attractiveness of Western life will transform them into similar modernized, secular societies — not poverty and Western foreign policy — are the real problems.

In addition, traditional Islam in most places was socially reactionary but also relatively moderate. While jihad was part of the sacred texts, no one was advocating that it be carried out. Suicide attacks were viewed as a heretical activity.

But just as leftism has succeeded in reinterpreting liberalism in many places, so has revolutionary Islamism reinterpreted conservative traditional Islam. Both movements have used deep-seated beliefs and values, but also made them into something quite different.

The Obama Administration should acknowledge that the United States confronts a huge — but not united — revolutionary movement which has major assets. Elements control Iran, Syria (not Islamist but allied with it), Sudan, the Gaza Strip, and now in part Lebanon, too. There are major elements in the Pakistani and Turkish governments that lend it aid and comfort. It is also fueled by Saudi Wahabi Islam and money. It is fighting in two dozen countries, from Indonesia, the Philippines, China, and Thailand in the east, to Morocco and even within Europe on the western flank. That movement is also challenging for authority in every Arabic-speaking country and trying to destroy Israel.

Like Presidents Truman and Clinton, Barack Obama needs a sign to place on or behind his desk:

It’s the ideology, stupid!

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