Thursday, February 28, 2013

What John Kerry Doesn’t Know About Democracy and Also About Islam

By Barry Rubin

In practically his first outing as secretary of state abroad, John Kerry made some remarkable statements in a meeting with young Germans. The main thing being widely quoted is this:

“In America, you have a right to be stupid if you want to be,” he said. “And we tolerate it. We somehow make it through that. Now, I think that’s a virtue. I think that’s something worth fighting for.”

Of course, there’s a right to be stupid in America! Indeed, just this week it's been expanded into having a right to be simultaneously stupid and secretary of defense!

Yet is it stupid, as we will see in a moment, that Kerry accepts Reza Aslan as the authority he believes on Islam when Aslan wrote this:

"Pundits and politicians are already ringing the alarm bells. The common refrain you hear in the US: The Middle East is being overrun with religious radicals bent on oppressing women and destroying Israel. That is nonsense, of course."

To be fair, Kerry's statement about America the stupid was in the context of defending, albeit not very well, freedom of speech in America. (Kerry was obviously referencing President Barack Obama’s UN speech in his own talking points.)  How Kerry defends it is what's scary and dysfunctional.

He was basically saying: Yeah, we know that all these dumb people who don’t agree with us are wrong but we let them talk anyway because it works out okay in the end since nobody listens to them anyway. While he used the words “virtue” and “worth fighting for” those sentiments seem to be clumped onto the end for form’s sake. Kerry certainly doesn't say--or understand--that people have rights and government has limits. Instead, he talks as if the ruling elite tolerates such fools because it's so nice.

That is remarkably different from a more traditional defense of American liberty like: We have seen how in a free market place of ideas the best standpoints generally triumph, people are happier, and prosperity ensues. Or, we believe that people are endowed with rights by their creator and no one can or should take them away.

Now that standpoint is really “something worth fighting for” and Americans in the institution now run by Chuck Hagel have been doing so for a couple of centuries. No American goes into battle to defend the right to be stupid.

Oh, wait! Kerry apparently does think so since, as he put it, showing his superior grasp of the English language:  “You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

So, you have the right to be stupid but watch out because if you are you might end up in the armed forces fighting to defend the right to be stupid!

In contrast to a proper approach, Kerry makes the American system sound like letting the deranged walk the streets as homeless people, babbling incoherently but doing little harm. Sure, let them cling to their guns and religion while we smart people make all the decisions. He’s merely turning around a traditional left-wing critique of democracy that comes from Herbert Marcuse or Noam Chomsky, of “repressive tolerance.”

And that seems to be what Kerry and Obama really believe. Ironically, they are the modern-day equivalent of what used to be called right-wing reactionaries ruling a patriarchal society that consists of aristocrats and peasants.

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Another feature of Kerry’s performance was displaying the Obama Administration propensity for apologizing. The question Kerry was answering came from a young German Muslim who merely asked him about his views on Islam. There was no criticism of the United States. It was an invitation to go into a riff about America as a great, tolerant place not to cringe and insist that outside of stupid people the United States America isn’t horribly “Islamophobic.”

Implied in Kerry’s response was the video that supposedly inspired the Benghazi attack. As you know, this claim is either discredited or, in the words of Kerry’s predecessor, supposedly doesn’t matter. On the verge of his visit to the Middle East, repeating the false notes of the new Obama era national anthem—America the Guilty—is not a good idea.

Kerry added that he’s reading a book entitled No God but God by Reza Aslan, which he gushingly praises and accepts as his source on Islam. There are, of course, many books on Islam and Kerry is free to read whatever he wants. Yet the choice of this particular one is also revealing.

What Aslan says in his book fits perfectly with Obama’s Cairo and other speeches, so much so that one wonders if Obama recommended it to him. What’s interesting, though, is that Aslan himself is an Iranian-American who seems to act like a radical Islamist.

Rather than respond with documented arguments to those who disagree with his views, Aslan has been abusive to anyone going beyond a wonderful religion of peace characterization of contemporary Islam. Perhaps most disturbing, he is a board member of the National Iranian American Council, for all practical purposes the lobbying group in America for Iran’s regime.

One can say this last fact knowing that the organization’s leader, Trita Parsi, has just lost a law suit against a researcher who made the above accusation.

Aslan also consistently claims that there is a tidal wave of hatred against Muslims in America, using them as scapegoats for the bad economic situation. Have you noticed any such thing? He also advocates in tweets that people vandalize legal American Freedom Defense Initiative signs in the New York subway. “Hey New York! How many racist ads are left unscathed? Get busy.”

This doesn’t accord with what Kerry said in his talk in Germany: “….Our country is incredibly tolerant of people of all walks of life and different philosophies and religions.”

But Aslan clearly doesn’t understand that at all. Yet if he’s correct about Islam then shouldn’t he amend his own behavior? Perhaps, however, his performances reflect something about the accuracy of what he writes. And if his Islam is so moderate then why doesn’t he condemn—rather than lobby for—Iran’s regime?

A key factor in his approach is to blame any problem with the perception of Islam in the West to Western bigotry and ignorance. Why, then, isn’t there a lot of nasty stuff going on regarding Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, the Jains, or various other religions?

Any honest approach, no matter how supportive or apologetic for Islam, must acknowledge that certain political events have a relationship to this factor of fear and dislike. Once the issue of terrorism, radical ideology, and different interpretations of Islam (including those of such people as Usama bin Ladin and Ruhollah Khomeini) is discussed, though, Aslan would have to make counter-arguments. And to do that he would have to admit that there are certain statements in Islamic texts and events in Islam’s history that helped lead to these outcomes.

Aslan has said that "if you know one Muslim, it cuts in half the negativity rating you have toward Islam.” Makes sense. But that depends on who that "one Muslim" is. The main threat to Islam's reputation is not evil "Islamophobes" but radical or terrorist Muslims and the powerful ideology they have unleashed that runs the lives of several hundred million people, threatens many millions more, and has killed a lot of Americans.

How is Aslan’s idealized, apologetic, dishonest view going to help a U.S. secretary of state facing radical states driven by a passionately felt view that they are implementing proper Islam and that if you disagree they will kill you, not just deface their signs in New York subways?

Option A: Kerry lectures the Muslim Brotherhood on how it doesn’t understand Islam properly and tells them to read Aslan.

Option B: Kerry thinks that the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups are really moderate precisely because they are so eager to practice the religion of peace portrayed by Aslan.

Pretending there’s no elephant in the world doesn’t protect anyone from getting trampled. In fact, that makes it far more likely that people will get trampled.

PS: I am told by a reliable source that Aslan has defended the Muslim Brotherhood as moderate and in a Middle East literary anthology he edited refused to publish any story by an Israeli. Aslan is one of the most successful--perhaps the most successful--of stealth Islamists in influencing American elite opinion.

An Egyptian newspaper reports that a leading figure in the moderate opposition National Salvation Front has said that the organization's leaders will refuse to meet Kerry because of his pro-Brotherhood policy. Let's watch to see if they meet him during his visit to Cairo.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How "Argo" Condemns Hollywood and Fixing the NFL (Serious Humor and Satire)

By Barry Rubin

1. How "Argo" Blasts Hollywood.

Hollywood gave the film "Argo" the Academy Award for best picture. But wait a minute! Did the film industry members who voted for it understand what the film said?

To rescue five Americans trapped in Iran and hiding out from the Islamist revolution, the CIA seeks help from Hollywood. The plan is to pretend to make a movie in Iran and then smuggle out the State Department employees (who have been given refuge in the Canadian embassy)  as supposed members of the film crew.

BUT it is clearly explained in the film that the U.S. government knows that nobody in Hollywood will help since they don't want to take a risk; cooperate with the CIA, which they regard as evil; or lift a finger to save the Americans. Only one man--an independent director--is enough of an outcast and rebel rogue to help. The film is thus not a celebration of Hollywood as hero but a condemnation of the town for its anti-patriotic, narrow selfishness. Naturally, nobody in Hollywood noticed this plot theme.

There's a good parallel here with the kind of films Hollywood so often makes today which are consistent with this anti-patriotic theme. And, ironically, the Best Picture Oscar was handed out by Michelle Obama, backed by some soldiers in dress uniform. 

Yet here the irony builds. After all, it was the Obama Administration that did the opposite of Operation Argo: it refused to try to save four Americans, including the ambassador, who were killed in Benghazi.

So an award for a film about saving Americans is given by a representative of a government that did not save Americans in front of a cheering crowd of people who--according to that film--would have refused to help save Americans as both sides congratulate themselves on what great people they are!

Amazing chutzpah along with the assumption--almost totally correct--that no one would notice the hypocrisy.

2. Fixing a Big NFL Problem:

It has become fashionable of late to complain about the use of Native American names for football teams. One of those teams is the Washington Redskins.

But actually the Washington Redskins, the team of my home town which I still support, were not named originally after Native Americans at all. When the team originated in Boston in the 1930s it was named after one of the proudest moments of that city. Paralleling the theme of today's Boston Patriots team, the Redskins were named after the Boston Tea Party.

Why Redskins? Because the white, male, patriots who threw the tea into Boston harbor dressed up as Native Americans. It was, of course, a joke as the British certainly knew who they were.

Presumably, in today's framework the British would have called the operation a racist action and shamed the colonists into calling off the revolution. And one can envision students being taught today that it was doubly racist--I'm saying this as a joke but who knows?--because the patriots were also hoping that the British would blame the Native Americans and thus kill them off even faster!

Yet in 2013, with the criticism over the team being nominally named after Native Americans, it could  be a good idea to rename the team. There is a precedent for this since the Washington Bullets basketball team was renamed the Washington Wizards. In keeping with the silliness of PC, it's surprising that no one pointed out that wizard was the highest rank in the Klu Klux Klan. But I digress.

Thus, I propose an appropriate return to the team's original roots and spirit.

Washington's football team should certainly be renamed in a proper Politically Correct manner based on its original naming theme of commemorating the Boston Tea Party. That name, of course, would be :

The Washington Tea Partiers.

And keeping with that spirit its new logo could be a snake with the motto, "Don't Tread on Me!" Which certainly fits into a football context.

I can't see how President Obama could object to this idea in order to get rid of the "shameful" current team name. He might even be persuaded to lead the effort.

In addition, this idea could inspire him to create the National Panel for Naming Football Teams to Protect Sports Consumers which would come up with a list of approved names. The San Francisco Forty-Niners could be redubbed the Ninety-Niners; the Atlanta Falcons, the Atlanta Endangered Species; the New York Jets could be called the New York Solar Panels; the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Tampa Bay IRS Agents; and, of course,  the Dallas Cowboys, the Dallas Imperialist Committers of Genocide. Having grown up in Washington DC I think last that name would be perfect.

This article is published on PJMedia.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Who Will the Muslim Brotherhood Heed: Allah or Tom Friedman (and such people)? No Contest

Who Will the Muslim Brotherhood Heed: Allah or Tom Friedman (and such people)? No Contest

By Barry Rubin

Sigh. Forgive me. I really don't want to write this article but it is too good a case study of the contemporary Western foreign policy reporting, debate, and elite attitudes toward international affairs. And doing a better job is vital because this task involves the fate of millions of people; matters of war and peace; the most basic interests of the United States; and the decency of intellectual discourse.

I refer of course to:

Thomas L. Friedman's latest effort, "The Belly Dancing Barometer." Hey, tens of millions of lives are at stake so that's worth a flippant title and a goofy concept, right?

Friedman writes:

"Since the start of the 2011 revolution in Tahrir Square, every time the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood faced a choice of whether to behave in an inclusive way or grab more power, true to its Bolshevik tendencies it grabbed more power and sacrificed inclusion. [President] Morsi's power grab will haunt him.

"The Brotherhood needs to understand that its version of political Islam - which is resistant to women's empowerment and religious and political pluralism - might be sustainable if you are Iran or Saudi Arabia, and you have huge reserves of oil and gas to buy off all the contradictions between your ideology and economic growth. But if you are Egypt, you need to be as open to the world and modernity as possible to unleash all of the potential for growth." (New York Times)

So let me get this straight. Friedman is saying that you cannot trust the Brotherhood, it seeks total power and is antidemocratic. Hmm, What's he been saying the last two years? He's been an apologist for the Brotherhood, a cheerleader for the course taken by the "Arab Spring," and has constantly insisted that the democratic revolution is going well.

Indeed, in January 2012 I wrote an analysis of Friedman's coverage entitled, "Friedman Cheers as Egyptians are Enslaved." Now that it's too late he is supposedly outraged to see what's going on there.

Now he concludes that the Egyptian regime is not democratic at all but then draws no conclusion about how U.S. policy should change to adjust for his discovery?  Does Friedman now favor, as he hints in the article, using real pressure on Egypt if the regime continues to be repressive at home? Will he criticize Obama for not doing so?

But if Mursi [I'll stick with my transliteration] has "Bolshevik tendencies" might that not also lead to his doing something nasty to U.S. interests?

It's like identifying a mass murderer and then saying, "Do you really think you can get away with this without a vast criminal organization behind you?" rather than yelling, "Help, police! There's a mass murderer over there!"

And then on top of that he uses the "needs to understand" phrase so beloved of newspaper editorialists
but totally absurd in dealing with dictators. Well, what if they don't understand?  How about saying:

Herr Hitler needs to understand that he cannot conquer the whole world. Germany lacks the economic base to do so.

And do we now believe in economic determinism? Was the USSR sustainable? Can you imagine someone writing this in 1917 to the Bolsheviks?

Mr. Lenin needs to understand that the Soviet Union [yes, I know it wasn't founded until several years later but I'm trying to make a point here--BR] should abandon its Bolshevik tendencies because it will never work out.

Sure the Soviet Union failed but it took almost 75 years and there were tens of millions dead as a result.

And since when did a Middle Eastern radical dictatorship (even one that was elected) put economic pragmatism ahead of seeking its goals: the PLO or Palestinian Authority, Saddam Hussein? Gamal Abdel Nasser?  don't remember the Iranian government dropping the nuclear weapons' program because of economic sanctions.

Arguably, one such leader did bow to economic necessity to moderate. His name was Anwar al-Sadat and now his regime--under Sadat's successor, Mubarak--is the villain for America and the West.

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Note that Friedman never says: President Obama needs to understand that he cannot trust this Muslim Brotherhood regime, should see it as a threat to U.S. interests, and must work to undermine it.

Moreover, is Friedman correct and Mursi wrong? Is the world really going to cut off the money to Egypt if it keeps getting more Islamist? Will the US insist the IMF stop aiding the Egyptian regime or even stop sending it free weapons?

Aide: President Obama! The Muslim Brotherhood is grabbing more power and not being inclusionary!

Obama:  Jumping Saul Alinsky! We must cut off aid at once! Then he'll learn that he must be open to the world in order to unleash Egypt's potential for growth!

But wait! Egypt doesn't have a potential for economic growth! It isn't going to happen. The country has too many people and not enough resources. What if Mursi knows that Egypt isn't going to be the new China, with shining cities of high rises, factories pumping out consumer durables for export, and so on?

If he knows that there is no real chance for economic prosperity maybe that is why he follows the policies he does! Might it be that Mursi knows more about Egypt than Friedman or even Obama?

Perhaps Mursi could intimidate or blackmail those with oil and gas, as his predecessor Gamal Abdel Nasser did. And, after all, the Arab nationalists faced precisely the same problem as Mursi does and yet stayed in office for 60 years. Yes, they had the USSR but that hardly gave a lot of economic aid. Why can't the Islamists run Egypt for the next 60 years?

Or perhaps you can imagine this scene:

Aide: President Mursi! We must abandon Islamism! We can't afford it!
Mursi: Oh well, I guess the IMF is more important than Allah. Mu-ha-ha! Just kidding.

If you know anything about societies like Egypt, you would understand that these societies have a lot of flexibility. People can get along with far less than in the West and be a lot more passive in the face of suffering because that's the way they always had to live. This is a largely agricultural society. Some can go back to the villages, or be sustained by extended families, or tighten their belts. They have low expectations.

And the "Arab Spring" has not changed that fact. At least for a majority. What proportion of the Egyptian public lparticipated in those romanticized events before the Mubarak regime was overthrown in 2011? Say, 100,000 out of a population of 70 million? And many of them were Muslim Brotherhood cadre.

The Egyptian people also know they face repression and they have a deeply embedded ideology to comfort them and drive them onward. And why are they so poor and miserable? It's not Mursi but America, the West, Israel, and now even the Saudis blamed for their suffering.

Obviously, not everyone is going to believe this but enough will--or get bopped upside the head--to keep the regime in power. Wait until you see what's going to happen in Syria as a new dictatorship takes control there as well.

The one ray of hope in Egypt is that there are now four Islamist parties (Brotherhood, "moderates," radical Salafi, "moderate" (i.e., pro-regime) Salafi. If the democratic opposition wasn't  led by such a bunch of quarreling incompetent egomaniac politicians there might actually be some hope of defeating Islamists in the parliamentary elections due in a few months.

This is all a tragedy for the poor victims in the Middle East and a farce for the well-paid, much-honored careerist opportunists and ideologues in the West.

What's so frustrating about this mess is that not only are the policies so bad, and not only is the permitted debate so narrow, but that these people don't even try to come up with logical arguments because they know they can get away with any old trash and still get applauded.

Oh, something very dramatic is about to happen in Egypt but quite different from what pretty much everyone expects. I'll cover that in my next article on that country.

This article is published on PJMedia.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Book of Esther: A Political Analysis

By Barry Rubin

The Book of Esther, which is read on Purim and to which that holiday is dedicated, has been interpreted many ways. Yet there is much to be understood by analyzing the story in terms of political ideology and strategy.

Ahasuerus is the powerful king over Persia and much more. He holds a banquet and invites the leaders of all of the provinces to come in order to wield together his diverse empire by showing his wealth, strength, generosity, and bringing together his political elite in terms of fellowship and equality with each other.

While drunk, he orders Queen Vashti to come to the banquet to display herself. She refuses, for unspecified reasons, and his advisors urge him to depose her and select a new queen. A young Jewish woman, Esther, is among the candidates. Urged by her uncle Mordecai, she conceals her religiosity-ethnicity, enters the competition, and eventually wins.

At this point, the story introduces a new theme. The king makes Haman prime minister. Mordecai, for unspecified reasons, refuses to bow to him. On discovering Mordecai is a Jew, Haman resolves to destroy all the Jews in the empire.

The story provides a sophisticated analysis of antisemitism:

First, Haman’s antagonism toward all Jews springs from a personal and psychological conflict. This has often been true in history including today.

Second, that conflict is then dressed up in political language to justify it to the ruling authority and the masses.

Third, Haman provides the classic,  statement of non-theological antisemitism that could easily fit into the nineteenth and twentieth century and even today, mirroring the kinds of things hinted for example by nominee for secretary of defense Chuck Hagel. Haman explained:

“There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples…of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s law, and it is not in your majesty’s interest to tolerate them.”

In other words, the Jews comprise what would later be called a separate national group. It is impossible to assimilate them; they are disloyal due to dual loyalty; and despite their apparent weakness they plot against you.

I'm sure that Hagel is not antisemitic in any conscious way yet he echoes the same themes that Haman used. Haman might have said that he was not a "Jewish" minister but a "Persian" minister, who would not bow down to the Jewish lobby whose interests subverted those of the nation.  

A contemporary problem in understanding antisemitism today is that hegemonic political, intellectual, and informational forces in the West want to measure antisemitism by conscious intent and not by the use of well-worn historical (these are even in the Bible!) themes, though that is precisely the criterion that they do use in examining just about any other sort of bigotry. They also begin by excluded all non-Western populations from possibly being antisemitic. But Haman was residing in a non-Western society.  

Fourth, antagonism against the Jews camouflages a desire to loot their wealth, in other words material gain. 

The king agrees—after all, his most trusted courtier has just told him it’s a kill or be killed situation—and issues the decree for genocide.

In contradiction to these claims of Haman is Mordecai’s good citizenship. This would later become a major theme of Jewish assimilation—I don’t use the latter word in a pejorative sense here—that Jews must prove they are the best, most loyal citizens. Mordecai saves the king by uncovering a real plot against him. By his example, Mordecai shows Jews are not subversives and disloyal.

Yet Mordecai's good behavior is useless if the king doesn't know about it. Suppose mass media existed and hadn't covered Mordecai's behavior but reported on all of Haman's speeches? 

Especially remarkable is the behavior of Esther. Warned of Haman’s plan, Esther wants to do nothing lest she place herself at risk. After all, she is a fully “assimilated,” even hidden, Jew. But Mordecai reminds her: Do not imagine that you will escape because of your high position.  

It’s easy to suggest that this can be compared to the Nazi desire to kill all Jews on a “racial” basis. But there are many types of such situations. What’s especially interesting is that Esther’s situation shows how individual Jews can try to set themselves apart to be immune or even prosper from persecutions: converted Jews against steadfast ones in medieval times; “Modernized, semi-assimilated Jews against traditionalist immigrants in America and Western Europe; and anti-Israel Jews against pro-Israel ones and Israel itself today.   

What if Esther was not such a good person, or didn't have Mordecai to advise her? What if she knew that she would not be punished but in fact could benefit from remaining silent or even joining into the denunciation of the Jews of the day? Suppose she could have redefined the situation to say that there were in fact good, pro-Persian Empire Jews as opposed to those bad Jews who wanted to return from exile in the Persian Empire to the Land of Israel, from which her great-great-grandfather had been taken as  prisoner? 

Esther, fortified by the advice of her beloved uncle’s advice, an appeal to enlightened self-interest, and the only hint in the book of a divine role—her position was the Creator’s doing so she could fulfill this task--risks her life to stop the mass murders.

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In addition, Haman reveals part of his motivation. All his wealth, influence, and power, he explains, mean “nothing to me every time I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the palace gate” and refusing to bow to him. In other words, Haman’s antisemitism exceeds the bounds of rational calculation. Out of blind hatred, he is willing to risk his own destruction to wipe out those whose existence he refuses to accept. That’s pretty relevant for our times.

In contrast is Mordecai’s behavior. Made prime minister with absolute power by the king in Haman’s place, Mordecai does not seek to make the Jews the rulers (belying the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Islamist ideology) but only for defensive purposes.  

The king’s decree permitted the Jews to, “Assemble and fight for their lives, if any people or province attacks them” and inflict unlimited vengeance. True, the retribution is horrible in modern-day terms, extending to the innocent members of families, but limited in the context of that era.

In contrast to Haman’s claims they do not take their enemies’ property nor do they seek to conquer the empire, the Middle East, or the world. They just want to live and be left alone.

What does this story mean for us today in political, strategic, and intellectual terms?

The indecisive “Esthers” who so often populate the ranks of Western elites should take notice of how she resolved her dilemma. True, in their modern societies they can escape persecution because of their high positions. Indeed, by joining the lynch mobs they can even better secure their positions. They can use this method to appear more virtuous, to earn more praise. Yet in doing so they are not so much betraying a people they do not recognize as such but rather the principles of justice and intellectual honesty they claim as their new, post-ethnic, post-religious loyalty.

And, finally, the main Hamans of our age are ultimately gunning for them, not solely because they are Jews—since this applies equally to their Christian counterparts--but because of their countries’ policies and their societies’ values. This is true even if these modern-day, "pre-commitment" Esthers either claim that Haman is really moderate or merely specify that only some (right-wing? Zionist?) Jews are disloyal to the state and its liberal values and strategic interests in order to push a selfish, counterproductive agenda. If those bad Jews are defeated then Haman will leave everyone else alone. 

Haman could have lived in peaceful coexistence with the Jews and spent his time building up the kingdom and helping his own people. Only since he behaved otherwise could the king decree, “Let the evil plot…recoil on his own head.” In the Middle East’s modern history this has often happened. Those who have sought to destroy Israel have brought disaster onto their own heads and that of their own peoples.

Yet it is equally true, in the Middle East and in lands far away, the ideology of Haman remains very much alive, even unto Persia itself.


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Islamists to West: Put Up Your Hands and Hand Over Your Property!

By Barry Rubin

Here’s the perfect parable for understanding not just the contemporary Middle East but the wider world today. 

Two unarmed Finnish soldiers assigned to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) were observing along the Israel-Syria border from the Syrian side.  Armed men stopped their car. While the two Finns didn’t speak Arabic they were quickly made to understand that the men wanted their UN vehicle and their other possessions. 

Similar things have happened to Belgian and Italian soldiers in the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon. After this article was published more than 20 Filipino members of a UN inspection mission were kidnapped by Syrian oppositionists who demanded as ransom that the Syrian regime withdraw from a certain town!   

 In short, the supposed representatives of the world’s community were being mugged and they could do nothing about it, or at least nothing but to give in.

A Finnish officer explained that the men weren’t in fear of their lives; the gunmen just wanted their property.   
Now let me make it clear that I’m not criticizing the two soldiers. What are you going to do when you are unarmed and terrorists with guns hold you up? Yet this little story struck me as incredibly symbolic on several levels.

The world is constantly held up by terrorists and nowadays it tends to give in, if not to the specific operations to the narrative being imposed on it. We do see rescue operations sometimes—as in the Algerian army’s disastrous “rescue” in which all the technicians being held hostage at a gas field were killed—and sometimes we don’t, as in Benghazi while the U.S. government stood by as men it had sent into a dangerous situation were murdered.

Yet what happens is that even if the terrorists don’t always win in their military operations they succeed in intimidating the West to hand over its intellectual property—by suppressing its own debate—and sometimes to pay tribute money as well.  

As a reward for failing to fulfill its commitments and cheering on terrorist attacks, the UN’s General Assembly assigned non-member state status to the Palestinian Authority. Billions of dollars of U.S. aid go to Pakistan, which helps the Taliban and shields al-Qaida. Arms are handed over to Syrian Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Turkish government backs a terrorist group to create a violent confrontation with Israel (the IHH in the Gaza flotilla) and President Obama declares that regime to be his soul mate. Even after an official report that Hizballah carried out a terrorist attack in Bulgaria, the European Union won’t put it on the terrorism list.

There is a long list of such items. Terrorism mugs the West and gets paid off as long as it doesn’t overreach too much. Not attacking the World Trade Center is enough to make some group America’s “friend.”

One reason the West tends to yield is that it is unarmed. Not literally, of course, But unarmed in terms of its ideas, analysis, and understanding.

As for a good case study, take Lebanon, a few miles from where the two Finns were mugged and where the much larger UNIFIL force has received the same treatment. In 2006 the UN and the U.S. government promised Israel, as a condition for ending its war with Hizballah, that a much-enlarged UN force would keep Hizballah in southern Lebanon and help stop arms’ smuggling from Syria to Lebanese terrorists.

Hizballah has walked all over the UN (UN Resolution 1701) and the U.S. commitments without any cost to itself. UN observers have been regularly intimidated by Hizballah, which has moved back into southern Lebanon and built new fortifications. See here and here. The UN and the White House have not only done nothing but they haven’t even criticized Hizballah for this behavior.

General Alberto Asarta, the Spanish general who commands UNFIL forces in southern Lebanon, cannot praise Hizballah highly enough. The area, he explains, is "the best and most stable in the whole of the Middle East” thanks to Hizballah’s cooperation. It is "the most successful model when compared to the experiences of other UN peacekeeping missions around the world." And Hizballah has actually helped combat terrorist groups that sought to attack UNIFIL. Indeed, the cooperation with Hizballah is called—I kid you not--“The Partnership against Radical Islamic Terrorism.”

Memo to police forces: This could be a model for The Partnership against Crime to be formed in alliance with the Mafia. I can assure you that the Mafia is willing to help you from time to time against its competitors.

Did I mention that having won the last Lebanese elections—with a little help from violent intimidation and assassination of opponents—Hizballah now runs Lebanon? And did I mention that the new CIA director, John Brennan, is an apologist for Hizballah and has advocated normalizing relations between the United States and that terrorist group?

And, of course, unless hit with an Israeli air attack, Syria and Iran smuggle any weapons into Lebanon they wish without U.S. or UN objection or blockage. The effect of this smuggling is not only to set the stage for future Hizballah terrorism against Israel and a possible war, but helps to guarantee that Lebanon will continue to be in the hands of a terrorist group that is closely aligned with Tehran and advocates genocide against Jews.

Oh, and Israel is supposed to be the bad guy because it defends itself against muggers.

It’s bad enough to be mugged repeatedly but it’s even worse to provide the weapons and money for the assailants while also praising them. But that's precisely the moral of the story as far as Obama Administration policy is concerned: Except for a few exceptions who won't play politely (i.e., al-Qaida and part of the Taliban) if you're nice to the terrorists and they'll be nice to you.