Archive for August, 2010

Obama’s obsequious outreach

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

I’m sure you know that our country is in a tough spot financially with a huge increase in debt, plans to cut Medicare, etc.  Localities and states are even worse off as the poor economy strangles revenues and results in slashing essential services. So doesn’t it make you feel good when your government spends money on really useful projects like this:

The imam behind a plan to build a mosque near Ground Zero is set to depart on a multi-country jaunt to the Middle East funded by the State Department — raising concerns that taxpayers may be helping him with the controversial project’s $100 million fund-raising goal.

Feisal Abdul Rauf is taking the publicly funded trip to foster “greater understanding” about Islam and Muslim communities in the United States, the State Department confirmed yesterday. “He is a distinguished Muslim cleric,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, when asked about the journey, reportedly to include stops in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar.

“I think we are in the process of arranging for him to travel as part of this program, and it is to foster a greater understanding about the region around the world among Muslim-majority communities,” he added. Crowley said no fund-raising for the mosque and cultural center during the trip would be permitted. “That would not be something he could do as part of our program,” he said.

Abdul Rauf said funds for the center will come from [American] Muslims and members of his congregation.

But a London-based Arabic-language newspaper that interviewed Abdul Rauf reported that he says he also will collect money from Muslim and Arab nations around the world — raising the possibility his goodwill mission could help him build contacts in oil-rich states. — NY Post

Even if there is no explicit fund-raising — and does anybody think that this trip will not result in money flowing to the Cordoba Institute? — how does this program advance US political goals?

Here is what Rauf said on “60 Minutes”, on September 30, 2001:

Feisal Abdul Rauf: It [9/11] is a reaction against the US government politically, where we espouse principles of democracy and human rights, and where we ally ourselves with oppressive regimes in many of these countries.

Ed Bradley: Are you in any way suggesting that we in the United States deserved what happened?

FAR: I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened, but United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.

EB: You say that we’re an accessory? How?

FAR: Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.

Is that the message that State wants to send to the Muslim world? That we’re sorry for the ‘bad behavior’ that forced you to kill us?

Rauf refuses to say that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Is this the position of the “Muslim communities in the US?” I hope not, but it’s Rauf’s.

The establishment seems to have selected this imam as an exemplar of ‘moderate Islam’ and seems to be going to great lengths to support him and to make him visible, in particular by pushing the Ground Zero mosque project despite the objections of many of the families of 9/11 victims. If our goal is to ingratiate ourselves with obsequiousness to the Muslim world, then he’s perfect — he represents Islam’s ‘justified’ victory over the US.

But that isn’t all. In an editorial yesterday, the Washington Times wrote,

Americans also may be surprised to learn that the United States has been an active participant in mosque construction projects overseas. In April, U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania Alfonso E. Lenhardt helped cut the ribbon at the 12th-century Kizimkazi Mosque, which was refurbished with assistance from the United States under a program to preserve culturally significant buildings.

The U.S. government also helped save the Amr Ebn El Aas Mosque in Cairo, which dates back to 642. The mosque’s namesake was the Muslim conqueror of Christian Egypt, who built the structure on the site where he had pitched his tent before doing battle with the country’s Byzantine rulers.

For those who think the Ground Zero Mosque is an example of “Muslim triumphalism” glorifying conquest, the Amr Ebn El Aas Mosque is an example of such a monument – and one paid for with U.S. taxpayer funds.

This must all be part of the same policy that brought us the beyond-absurd ‘outreach’ to Muslims by NASA. I imagine the discussion in the Oval Office went like this:

Barack Obama: What’s up with these Muslims, anyway?

State Department guy: Well, sir, they are angry and frustrated because of Western colonialism. And the Zionists — they don’t like them in Arab Jerusalem and Arab Tel Aviv.  And then people keep insulting Islam with cartoons and stuff. No wonder they had to crash those planes into the WTC!

BO: Yeah. How can we apologize for centuries of oppression?

SDG: How about this: we let them kill the Zionists. That would make them happy.

BO: I don’t know…the Zionists have nuclear weapons.

SDG: Well, suppose we  say that we’re sorry for the colonialism and the Zionists, and that Islamic society is every bit as good as the West.

BO: Hmmm… I like that. Write me a speech that says all that. Put in something about Muslim accomplishments in… what are they good at, anyway?

SDG: Rocket science, sir! Just ask the Zionists.

BO: Brilliant! Let’s get NASA on it right away.

This could be a little exaggerated, but it seems that the strategy is to try to get Muslim world to like us by bribery, flattery and — in the case of Feisal Abdul Rauf’s project — assuming a submissive posture.

None of this will work because there are fundamental ideological issues that can only be settled by one side or the other giving in. Even if we did give them the ‘Zionists’, their appetite for further conquest would only be whetted by their success.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Hizballah, a threat to the USA

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010
Hizballah fighters in West Beirut during May 2008 coup.

Hizballah fighters in West Beirut during May 2008 coup.

Hizballah, second only to al-Qaeda in the number of American citizens murdered, is the most powerful terrorist group in the world today. Hizballah  effectively controls Lebanon — thus finally putting an end to the idea of a state in which Muslims and Christians could share power — and will soon doubtless fight yet another war with Israel.

Hizballah has tentacles in numerous countries, and is especially powerful in Latin America. Originally financed from Iran, Hizballah now is also funded by drug operations in both hemispheres. It also receives contributions from Islamic charities around the world.

The degree of autonomy exercised by Hizballah is unclear, but its connection to Iran is close enough that it’s been called “the Foreign Legion of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.” It’s fair to say that one of the major factors that deters the US and Israel from military action against the Iranian nuclear program is the threat that Hizballah would both strike Israel with tens of thousands of rockets as well as unleash a wave of terror against American interests at home and abroad.

Hizballah is a tremendous threat to the US — probably more so than al-Qaeda — especially since it could easily infiltrate terrorists through our porous Mexican border.

So you would think that our foreign policy would be aimed at weakening it. You would think we would be doing our best to help keep weapons out of its hands.

You would think that if we knew that major parts of the Lebanese Armed Forces were controlled by Hizballah, we wouldn’t train them and give them advanced weapons.

You would think that we would help Israel, which directly confronts Hizballah. For example,  if Israel was spying on Hizballah (and giving information to the US), we wouldn’t beef up the Lebanese security services, which in effect work for Hizballah, so they can use our equipment to catch and kill the agents working for Israel.

You would think all of this, but you would be wrong, because you would not have reckoned with the sheer stupidity — or worse — of the US State Department.

WASHINGTON – The State Department is working to allay the concerns of members of Congress who have put a hold on funding to the Lebanese military, following last week’s deadly border incident with Israel, a spokesman said Tuesday.

“We understand that this incident has raised very legitimate questions on the Hill and we will continue to engage leaders on both sides of the aisle to help assuage concerns that exist,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

However, he defended US military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces [LAF] as something that’s “in our national interest and contributes to stability in the region.”  He added that the US has “no indications” that its training programs were in any way implicated in the incident.

Crowley also pointed to statements by Iran that it would fill whatever funding gap is left by the US with its own money as an example of the need for the US to keep up its contributions. “The statements by Iran are expressly the reason why we believe continued support to the Lebanese government and the Lebanese military is in our interest,” he said.

In addition to the recent border skirmish between Lebanon and Israel, House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Howard Berman cited more general concerns of Hizbullah involvement with the Lebanese army in placing a hold on $100 million in funds slated for 2010.

Crowley responded to the concern by saying that, “Hizbullah is a fact within Lebanese society and much of our effort in supporting the Lebanese military is in fact the very professionalization that we think helps mitigate that risk.”

The suggestion that the Lebanese Army “contributes to stability” by confronting Hizballah is ludicrous. Here are some facts:

The argument that ‘if we don’t buy them weapons, Iran will’ is completely absurd. It would only be worth considering if Lebanon were ruled by pro-Western forces. But it isn’t. That battle is over. Perhaps we could have supported that side more effectively, but we didn’t, and now we can’t make up for it by arming our enemies. This is yet another case of the US trying to influence bad actors by bribing them in advance, the ‘all-carrot, no stick’ policy. The result is that they take our guns and think we’re stupid. They’re right.

Hizballah directly confronts Israel, but Israel is prepared for the inevitable war. That is more than can be said for the US, where the threat from Hizballah is being studiously ignored. My prediction is that if we don’t start taking it seriously, Hizballah will make al-Qaeda look like pikers.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

The West Wing and the Saudis

Monday, August 9th, 2010
The West Wing cast. CJ Cregg (Allison Janney) is on the right.

The West Wing cast. CJ Cregg (Allison Janney) is on the right.

I’ve become a fan of the TV show “The West Wing”, which originally aired from 1999 through 2006. Every few weeks I watch a few episodes courtesy of Netflix, and now I’m up to season 3. I like it because the dialogue is entertaining, and because I see it as a kind of recent political archaeology, if that makes sense. The writers and consultants — who included one former presidential press secretary and various pollsters — were very plugged into the politics of the time, at least of the Clinton era, and the show provides a window into the way some of our political elite saw themselves.

Of course it’s a TV show and issues are presented without shades of gray. But the mildly liberal viewpoint — although sometimes conservative themes creep in — of the sympathetic characters represents an image of the conventional wisdom of the time. And it’s interesting to compare it to the political climate today. It hasn’t been that many years, but a lot has changed.

This past evening I watched an episode called “Enemies Foreign and Domestic,” which was shown for the first time on May 1, 2002. There were two notable moments. One involved the President saying that Beowulf was written in Middle English (it was Old English of course, a very different language). The other had to do with one of my favorite subjects, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The scene was a press briefing by CJ Cregg, the press secretary (Allison Janney) and one of my personal favorites — if I had writers, I would talk like she does. Cregg is informed just before the briefing of a horrific fire in Saudi Arabia. It was based on a real event which had happened that March:

One of the most widely criticized examples of mutaween enforcement of Sharia law came in March 2002, when 14 young girls died of burns or smoke asphyxiation by an accidental fire that engulfed their public school in Mecca. According to the statements of parents, firemen, and the regular police forces present at the scene, the religious police forcibly prevented girls from escaping the burning school by locking the doors of the school from the outside, and barring firemen from entering the school to save the girls, beating some of the girls and civil defense personnel in the process.

Mutaween would not allow the girls to escape or to be saved because they were ‘not properly covered’, and the mutaween did not want physical contact to take place between the girls and the civil defense forces for fear of sexual enticement. The CPVPV [Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice] denied the charges of beating or locking the gates, but the incident and the accounts of witnesses were reported in Saudi newspapers such as the Saudi Gazette and Al-Iqtisaddiyya. — Wikipedia

Cregg is beyond horrified at the stupidity and misogyny that this incident reveals, and bitterly excoriates the Saudis in front of the press corps:

CJ Cregg: Outraged? I’m barely surprised. This is a country where women aren’t allowed to drive a car. They’re not allowed to be in the company of any man other than a close relative. They’re required to adhere to a dress code that would make a Maryknoll nun look like Malibu Barbie. They beheaded 121 people last year for robbery, rape, and drug trafficking. No free press, no elected government, no political parties. And the royal family allows the religious police to travel in groups of six, carrying nightsticks, and they freely and publicly beat women. But ‘Brutus is an honorable man.’ Seventeen schoolgirls were forced to burn alive because they weren’t wearing the proper clothing. Am I outraged? No, Steve. No, Chris. No, Mark. That is Saudi Arabia, our partners in peace.

CJ received death threats shortly thereafter, which may or may not be connected to her outburst (I’ll find out in  a few weeks).

Like the Beowulf gaffe, this got my attention. And the reason is this: this dialogue would not be written today.

Cregg is a very sympathetic character, and I think that her voice would not oppose the point of view of the show’s creators. But today criticism of Saudi Arabia and Islam (there is also some dialogue about radical Muslims and bombs in the episode) is simply not done, at least not in public by the ‘responsible’ establishment.

What’s changed since May 2002? I think our culture digested 9/11 in different ways. Ordinary citizens got angry, but much of the political elite seemed, ironically, to develop a new-found respect for Islam and its political goals. Although this began to become discernible in Bush’s second administration, it has really come to full flower with the Obama presidency, which  brought us the Cairo speech, a tilt toward the Palestinians and away from Israel, and a prohibition against using the word ‘jihad’.

Another manifestation of this phenomenon is the embrace by much of the elite of the idea of a mosque overlooking the ruins of the World Trade Center, which has been called by opponents a ‘victory mosque’.

I don’t know what CJ Cregg would have said about this in 2002, but does anyone doubt that today her writers would have her appeal to the principle of religious freedom to support it?

A friend told me that the mosque controversy reminded her of the fable of the emperor’s new clothes. In that well-known story, everyone claimed that they could see clothes on the naked emperor because they had been told that they would be invisible to the hopelessly stupid or incompetent. Naturally nobody wanted to admit that they were stupid, so they extravagantly praised the emperor’s nonexistent garments.

Today we’re told that anyone who can’t see that the proposed mosque is a symbol of peace is a bigot opposed to religious freedom, which is much worse than being stupid!

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Friedman votes for niceness, still doesn’t get it

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Tom Friedman made some friends when he wrote this:

But there are two kinds of criticism. Constructive criticism starts by making clear: “I know what world you are living in.” I know the Middle East is a place where Sunnis massacre Shiites in Iraq, Iran kills its own voters, Syria allegedly kills the prime minister next door, Turkey hammers the Kurds, and Hamas engages in indiscriminate shelling and refuses to recognize Israel. I know all of that. But Israel’s behavior, at times, only makes matters worse — for Palestinians and Israelis. If you convey to Israelis that you understand the world they’re living in, and then criticize, they’ll listen.

Destructive criticism closes Israeli ears. It says to Israelis: There is no context that could explain your behavior, and your wrongs are so uniquely wrong that they overshadow all others. Destructive critics dismiss Gaza as an Israeli prison, without ever mentioning that had Hamas decided — after Israel unilaterally left Gaza — to turn it into Dubai rather than Tehran, Israel would have behaved differently, too. Destructive criticism only empowers the most destructive elements in Israel to argue that nothing Israel does matters, so why change?

But I am not buying it.

Certainly it’s a breath of fresh air compared to the rotten stench emanating from Oliver Stone, Philip Weiss, Max Blumenthal, Naomi Klein, and all the rest — including Friedman’s NY Times colleagues Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof. But Friedman, although perhaps a better human being than the others mentioned, still advocates policies that derive from a deep naivety about the intentions of the Palestinian (and other) Arabs.

And sometimes he slips in a little demonization himself. For example, he recently wrote this:

In Israel’s case, it found itself confronting enemies in Gaza and Lebanon armed with rockets, but nested among local civilians, and Israel chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties.

So maybe he’s not that great of a human being after all. But let’s get back to the issue of naivete. Here’s something he wrote in January 2009:

The Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank will not make any compromise deal with Israel as long as it fears that Hamas, from outside the tent, would denounce it as traitorous. Therefore, Job 2 for the U.S., Israel and the Arab states is to find a way to bring Hamas into a Palestinian national unity government.

Huh? Consider that the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) has created, and continues to create, expectations among its supporters that it will reverse the nakba and restore Palestinian honor. It continues to demand ‘right of return’, and cannot admit that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state. Despite agreeing to stop antisemitic incitement from its official media, it continues to allow it and to name schools and summer camps after terrorists. Then add to this the openly genocidal, Jew-hating Hamas as part of the Palestinian government! What do you think the chances for a peaceful solution would be then?

And this may not exactly be naivete, but something more cynical: Friedman supports the Saudi-Obama ‘linkage’ theory that says that a prerequisite for solving all of the problems of the Middle East, particularly Iran, is to force Israel back to 1949 borders. This was written in March:

Israel sees the question of preventing Iran from going nuclear as overriding and separate from the Palestinian issue, while the U.S. sees them as integrated. At a time when the U.S. is trying to galvanize a global coalition to confront Iran, at a time when Iran uses the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict to embarrass pro-U.S. Arabs and extend its influence across the Muslim world, peace would be a strategic asset for America and Israel.

I’ve argued that this is exactly backwards, and that Iran is deliberately exacerbating the conflict rather than passively benefiting from it. Further, there are so many issues — the struggle between conservative Arab regimes and Islamic radicals, Kurdish nationalism, Sunni-Shiite tension, Syrian and Hizballah aggression in Lebanon, the Turkish shift to the dark side — which are not dependent on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict! Why don’t they also make it harder to deal with Iran?

While I hope that Friedman has decided to keep a more civil tongue in his head than some others, he’ll have to go much farther to convince me that he’s anything more than a purveyor of the pernicious conventional wisdom and administration ‘line’.

Technorati Tags: ,

The URJ blows it

Friday, August 6th, 2010

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) has announced that it supports the Cordoba Initiative — the Ground Zero mosque:

We welcome the planned construction of the Cordoba House mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan. Although we fully recognize the strong sentiments that have characterized the debate over the center, we strongly believe that Cordoba House’s presence will reflect our nation’s historic commitment to religious liberty. After consulting with rabbinic and lay leaders of our New York area synagogues we express our belief that the decision to allow the Cordoba House to move forward best embodies our values and the interests of the New York community. We affirm our abiding commitment to the principle of religious freedom that ensures that houses of worship not be subject to discrimination and to the principle of religious equality that ensures the right of the Muslim community to locate and build its houses of worship like Jewish, Christian or other houses of worship…

We commend Mayor Bloomberg, who has always supported the rights of the Jewish community as he has those of all religious communities, for advocating the position that the New York community will be enriched by this Center and for his view that New York should not embody in its actions any form of religious intolerance or discrimination.

Their statement, like so many similar ones, appeals to the principle of ‘religious liberty’. It does not even obliquely mention the fact that a large group of 9/11 families have expressed their sincere desire to have the mosque built somewhere — anywhere — else.

Rabbi Meir said that a person who speaks excessive words of comfort to a mourner more than a year after his loss is like a doctor who breaks a patient’s leg again so he can reset it (Mo’ed Katan 21b, quoted in Telushkin, A Code of Jewish Ethics, Vol. II, p.134). So how much worse is it to tear open someone’s wounds over and over by building what he will perceive as a permanent monument to the murderers of his loved one?

The callous approach to the survivors — whose pain is simply ignored — is only part of the problem. By emphasizing the concepts of ‘religious freedom’ and ‘religious equality’ and contrasting them to “religious intolerance and discrimination” the URJ suggests that those of us who oppose it are bigots who deny religious freedom. One wants to say — “please, drop the straw men and ad hominem arguments and respond to our real concerns!”

If ‘intolerance’ and ‘discrimination’ were the motivation, then why would the critics of the project almost all say “build another mosque in New York if you wish — but in a different place?”

In addition to the question of respect for the mourners of 9/11, here are some other issues:

There is a Muslim tradition of building a mosque on holy or important sites of vanquished peoples. This mosque will clearly be perceived throughout the Islamic world as a sign of Muslim victory over America. If this were not the case, then why do they insist on this site? Why is moving it a mile or two unthinkable?

There are questions about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. He’s connected with the Perdana Global Peace Organization, the largest single contributor to the Free Gaza Movement, which in fact supports Hamas. He has refused to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization. Although he denies that he is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, he is close to several American groups which represent it in the US.

There are questions about the funding for the Cordoba Institute. The building will cost $100 million. Some of the $5 million price of the Burlington Coat Factory building may have come from Qatar, although Rauf says that it was all put up by NY Muslims.

I’ve come to think that this issue is really a litmus test which can tell us which of our ‘leaders’ truly get it, and which do not.

The URJ just flunked.

Technorati Tags: , , ,