July 15, 2007

In Country

By Michael J. Totten

I finally made it to Baghdad and am scheduled to begin an embed with a unit in a couple of hours. Getting from the U.S. to Kuwait was a royal pain, but it was as luxurious as a stay in a palace compared with getting from Kuwait to Baghdad in July during a war. If you're a "princess," don't ever come here.

I'll have some fresh material posted as soon as it is possible for me to do so.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:54 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

July 13, 2007

The Israeli Economic Miracle

By Noah Pollak

Against the backdrop of the events that typically cause Israel to be in the news -- the conflict with the Palestinians, war with Hezbollah, genocidal threats from Iran, and the like -- people often forget that there are normal things happening in Israel. And in many cases, extraordinary things, like the amazing performance of the Israeli economy over the past decade. Haaretz reports that the TA-25, the flagship index of the Israeli stock market, has increased forty percent in the last year. A period that has included a month of warfare, massive public discontent with the Israeli political echelon, and the takeover of Gaza by Hamas.


The TA-25's performance over the past year.

This remarkable record has been occasionally noted in the press. If you're curious, you can read pieces in the Financial Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Jerusalem Post. And this profile of one of Israel's leading venture capitalists by one of Israel's leading journalists, Ari Shavit, is fascinating.

What accounts for this growth? A vital factor is of course the Israeli culture, which embraces entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and ingenuity. But no economy, no matter how entrepreneurial its people, can flourish in the poisonous soil of socialism. Israel was always strangled by an overbearing bureaucracy, punitive levels of taxation, and suffocating regulatory policies. In 2003, Benjamin Netanyahu became Ariel Sharon's finance minister, and during his three-year tenure pushed through a set of market-friendly, and desperately needed, reforms. The resulting growth is more evidence that Netanyahu's greatest accomplishment in government is arguably his economic reforms; he is Israel's Thatcher, and the line we see today that ascends across the TA-25 index is in large part owed to Bibi.

Add Israel's to the list of economies that have been saved from self-destruction by simple and obvious market reforms.

Posted by Noah Pollak at 11:30 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

Embracing the Suck to Kuwait

By Michael J. Totten

KUWAIT CITY -- I have no breaking news to report. I haven’t even made it inside Iraq.

No one should expect a smooth and comfortable trip to Baghdad and Anbar Province – especially not in July – but things shouldn’t have gone south as soon as Chicago.

While listening to my iPod and waiting for my flight at the gate in Ohare Airport, I noticed some teenagers pointing in amazement at the sky outside the window. I pulled out my earbuds. “They can't make me get on an airplane right now," one of them said.

The sky boiled with evil black clouds. Lightning zotted across the heavens.

The kid needn’t have worried. No one was allowed to get on an airplane.

I waited sixteen hours in Ohare for a flight to Dulles International Airport in Washington. My flight to Kuwait from Washington left long before I arrived.

When I did finally arrive I had to wait another sixteen hours for a re-booked flight to Germany. In the meantime, every hotel in the region was full. Washington, apparently, had weather delays of its own. The entire eastern half of the United States was snarled in air jams. So I had to spend the night in the airport.

Dulles is not a nice airport. It is not where you want to spend sixteen hours.

Some European airports have nice lounge chairs where you can sort of get comfortable if long delays force you to sleep there. Not Dulles. Only uncomfortable chairs with no head or foot rests are stocked in that airport.

I found a dozen or so wheelchairs stashed in a corner and thought I’d be clever by wheeling one of them over to a row of chairs and giving myself a place to put up my feet. I stuck my noise-reduction earbuds in my ears, donned by sunglasses, put up my feet, and felt good to go. A bed would have been nice, but this beat the floor. I fell asleep instantly.

A half hour later I woke with no circulation in my feet -- the wheelchair was higher than the seat and my feet were too high. So I rolled onto the floor and slept flat on the savagely hard marble. All I could do was laugh at how crappy everything was. I was on my way to Iraq, not the Bahamas, and had no right to expect comfort of any kind. At least I was awakened by the BEEP BEEP BEEP of a guy driving a whatever-you-call it loaded with suitcases instead of a car bomb.

My flight didn’t leave until evening, and I’d be damned if I spent another whole day in an airport. So I took a taxi to the Adams Morgan neighborhood and had breakfast with Noah Pollak, who is briefly there from Jerusalem. I sure didn’t expect to see him any time soon.

We thought about walking around the neighborhood, but the heat and humidity turned the air into a thick nasty soup. So we watched a movie in an air-conditioned theater – A Mighty Heart, as it turned out, the film about the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. This was probably not the best choice of movies to watch on my way to Iraq, but everything else looked insufferably lame and this film turned out to be slightly okay. (The negative reviews are too harsh. It deserves two and a half stars at the worst.)

United Airlines rebooked me on a late flight to Frankfurt on Lufthansa and told me my luggage would be transferred to them and should arrive with me in Kuwait.

“Are you sure my bags will get there?” I said. The whole system was in chaos.

“They will get there, don’t worry,” the agent said.

My bags did not get here. I have no body armor, no helmet, no camera, no laptop, and only one change of clothes. Lufthansa swears my luggage will arrive here this evening, but pardon me if I’m skeptical. According to their online tracking system, they still have no idea where my bags are.

But hey! This is the kind of suck that isn’t too hard to embrace. I have a king size bed to sleep in after spending four days in the claustrophobic airport security and transportation regime. I can eat when I want and even shower. I may have to wash my socks in the sink, but at least I have a sink.

Postscript: Despite the various snags, I should be in Iraq soon enough.

I can’t publish dispatches on this Web site for free without substantial reader dontations, so please pitch in what you can. Blog Patron allows you to make recurring monthly payments, and even small donations will be extraordinarily helpful so I can continue this independent project.

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If you would like to donate for travel and equipment expenses and you don't want to send money over the Internet, please consider sending a check or money order to:

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Many thanks in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:55 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

July 9, 2007

On My Way to Kuwait

By Michael J. Totten

I'm leaving for Kuwait now, and should be in Iraq by the end of the week. Co-blogger Noah Pollak is coming out of hiding and will help keep fresh content on the site while I'm in travel limbo and out in the field gathering new material. Be nice in the comments and keep an eye on America for me while I'm away.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:46 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Syria Invades Lebanon

By Michael J. Totten

A few days ago Lebanese daily newspaper Al Mustaqbal quietly reported a limited Syrian invasion of Lebanon. (Via Naharnet.)

Syrian troops on Thursday reportedly have penetrated three kilometers into Lebanese territories, taking up positions in the mountains near Yanta in east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

The daily Al Mustaqbal, citing sources who confirmed the cross-border penetration, did not say when the procedure in the Fahs Hill overlooking Deir al-Ashaer in the Rashaya province took place.

The sources said Syrian troops, backed by bulldozers, were fortifying positions "in more than one area" along the Lebanese border, erecting earth mounds and digging "hundreds" of trenches and individual bunkers.

This happened immediately before I left town for two days. When I returned I was surprised to find no mention of this whatsoever anywhere else in the media. I assumed the story had to be false. How could Syria invade three kilometers into any region of Lebanon without triggering a diplomatic and media storm?

So I asked Michael Young, opinion page editor at Beirut’s Daily Star, if the story was bogus.

“It is true,” he said, “but the problem is that the 3 kilometers are in isolated areas, so that it isn't making headlines. However, the UN will be discussing border issues this week, I think, and that will be brought up. The Syrians are ratcheting up the pressure, but with the attack against UN troops in the south, they are, as one UN official put it, playing with fire.”

If Israel sent the IDF three kilometers into Lebanon and started digging trenches and building bunkers it would make news all over the world. But Syria does it and everyone shrugs. Hardly anyone even knows it happened at all.

Syria can, apparently, get away with just about anything. I could hardly blame Assad at this point if he believes, after such an astonishing non-response, that he can reconquer Beirut. So far he can kill and terrorize and invade and destroy with impunity, at least up to a point. What is that point? Has anyone in the U.S., Israel, the Arab League, the European Union, or the United Nations even considered the question?

Meanwhile, the Syrian government is evacuating its citizens from Lebanon in advance of…something they expect to happen after July 15, 2007.

It’s going to be an interesting summer.

Postscript: Later today I am flying to Kuwait and should be in Iraq by the end of the week. Keep watching this space for first-person narrative journalism from Baghdad, Anbar Province, and hopefully Baqubah.

I can’t publish dispatches on this Web site for free without substantial reader dontations, so please pitch in what you can. Blog Patron allows you to make recurring monthly payments, and even small donations will be extraordinarily helpful so I can continue this independent project.

Blog Patron Button.gif

If you prefer to use Pay Pal, that is still an option.

If you would like to donate for travel and equipment expenses and you don't want to send money over the Internet, please consider sending a check or money order to:

Michael Totten

P.O. Box 312

Portland, OR 97207-0312

Many thanks in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:06 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

July 5, 2007

Iraq Trip Confirmed

By Michael J. Totten

My media embed with the United States military in Iraq is confirmed. I leave Monday for Kuwait. The first part of my trip in country will include Baghdad and Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province.

The weather is supposed to be (ahem) lovely this time of year.

I'm going to be out of town for a day or so, but I'll be back here before I leave -- so don't go anywhere.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:06 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

July 2, 2007

The Islamist’s War Against Liberalism

By Lee Smith

(Editor’s note: Friend, colleague, and all-around smart guy Lee Smith, whom I know well from Beirut, Lebanon, wrote this essay specifically for this Web site. – MJT)

In an article in the June 4 New Republic, Who’s Afraid of Tariq Ramadan, Paul Berman reviewed some of the writings of Tariq Ramadan, and his career among the Western intelligentsia, specifically the New York Times, which has run several pieces on Ramadan, including a profile written by Ian Buruma. Berman concluded his article arguing that something in Western intellectual culture has changed. When journalists and intellectuals glide over the illiberal ideas of illiberal ideologues like Ramadan and attack liberal activists like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, then something has changed.

Ian Buruma.jpg

Ian Buruma

Now Ian Buruma has responded, sort of. In an op-ed last week syndicated in the Guardian and the LA Times among others, Buruma shows what has changed. It is an article riddled with errors of fact, inconsistencies and indirection. I want to go through parts of the article in detail. Buruma begins:

Bernard Kouchner, France's new foreign minister, has a long and distinguished record as an advocate of intervention in countries where human rights are abused. As a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, he stated that "we were establishing the moral right to interfere inside someone else's country." Saddam Hussein's mass murder of Iraqi citizens is why he supported the war in Iraq.
Kouchner, one of the subjects of Paul Berman’s last book Power and the Idealists, has held his new job now for a little more than a month, during which time he has traveled to Africa in an effort to redirect French policy there, in Chad and Sudan especially. So why is he being called to account for his stance on the Iraq war at this point? Does Buruma believe this might affect his credibility and thus his ability to perform his new job effectively? No, he is writing about France’s number-one diplomat in order to explain why Jews support the use of US force.
One should always be careful about attributing motives to other people's views. But Kouchner himself has often said that the murder of his Russian-Jewish grandparents in Auschwitz inspired his humanitarian interventionism… The fact that many prominent Jewish intellectuals in Europe and the United States - often, like Kouchner, with a leftist past - are sympathetic to the idea of using American armed force to further the cause of human rights and democracy in the world, may derive from the same wellspring. Any force is justified to avoid another Shoah, and those who shirk their duty to support such force are regarded as no better than collaborators with evil.
Kouchner, whose late father was Jewish, has consistently polled as the most popular political figure in France because his countrymen believe that he represents something important about the nation to the rest of the world, not because he is a Jewish intellectual. With the significant exception of Tariq Ramadan and his followers, Europe thinks of Kouchner not as a Jewish intellectual, but rather as a figure driven by humanitarian principles and universal values.


Bernard Kouchner

And as is it is not just the shoah that motivates prominent Jews, intellectuals and otherwise, from drawing attention to genocides like Darfur, it is not only the Jews who wish to prevent “another Shoah” – a Hebrew word for “catastrophe,” and synonymous with the noun typically used in the English-speaking world by Jews and non-Jews alike to refer to the murder of six million Jews.

If we were less haunted by memories of appeasing the Nazi regime, and of the ensuing genocide, people might not be as concerned about human rights as they are. And by no means do all those who work to protect the rights of others invoke the horrors of the Third Reich to justify Anglo-American armed intervention.

But the term "Islamofascism" was not coined for nothing.

It invites us to see a big part of the Islamic world as a natural extension of Nazism. Saddam Hussein, who was hardly an Islamist, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is, are often described as natural successors to Adolf Hitler. And European weakness, not to mention the "treason" of its liberal scribes, paving the way to an Islamist conquest of Europe ("Eurabia") is seen as a ghastly echo of the appeasement of the Nazi threat.

No one has ever called Saddam an Islamist, nor has Islamofascism ever been used to describe Baathism, though its ideological affiliations with National Socialism are well known.

As for the Islamist movement, it has long been compared to fascism and, as Martin Kramer shows, by some distinguished Orientalists with first-hand experience of both fascism and the Islamic world: Maxime Rodinson, a French Marxist whose parents died in Auschwitz, and Manfred Halpern, who was born in Germany, fled the Nazis in 1937, and joined the US Army to fight in Europe during WW2.

Of late the word Islamofascism been used, most notably by President Bush, not to elide Hitler and Saddam/ Ahmadinejad/ Bin Laden/ Nasrallah/ Hamas/ Bashar al-Asad, but rather to distinguish militant Islam from traditional Muslim practice as a way to signal that the US war on terror is against a type of Islam, not the world’s one billion Muslims.

What’s puzzling is that Buruma co-authored a book a few years ago with the Israeli historian Avishai Margalit, Occidentalism, arguing that militant Islam was consonant with a number of anti-Western, or anti-liberal ideas that had antecedents in the West, like fascism. It appears he is no longer interested in elaborating the thesis.

At any rate, what invites us to see Saddam as a natural extension of Nazism are the mass graves he filled with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. As for Ahmadinejad, there is his exterminationist rhetoric directed at Israel (“a world without Zionism”) and the US (“a world without America”) and threats to attack the Arab Gulf states.

Revolutionary Islamism is undoubtedly dangerous and bloody. Yet analogies with the Third Reich, although highly effective as a way to denounce people with whose views one disagrees, are usually false. No Islamist armies are about to march into Europe - indeed, most victims of Revolutionary Islamism live in the Middle East, not in Europe - and Ahmadinejad, his nasty rhetoric notwithstanding, does not have a fraction of Hitler's power.
Is Buruma still talking about Kouchner? The French Foreign Minister understands that most of the victims of Muslim-word authoritarianism are in the Middle East – his work with the Kurds dates back many years. Even in Europe most of its victims are Muslim and many of them women, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali who, as Berman and others have shown, gets mixed grades from Buruma.

Paul Berman.jpg

Paul Berman

It is true that Ahmadinejad has a fraction of Hitler’s power and many people are eager to keep it that way by preventing the Islamic Republic of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons program.

So why the high alarm about European appeasement, especially among the neoconservatives? Why the easy equation of Islamism with Nazism?
What does this have to do with Bernard Kouchner? Is Buruma trying to make an easy equation between a French socialist famous for his humanitarian work and American policymakers, military strategists and journalists affiliated with the Republican party? Kouchner has offered to mediate a dialogue between all parties in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, hardly a gesture that would bring him within the embrace of the neoconservatives, who understand the Party of God as part of a dangerous Iranian axis. So what is the connection between Kouchner and the neocons?
Israel is often mentioned as a reason. But Israel can mean different things to different people. To certain Evangelical Christians, it is the holy site of the Second Coming of the Messiah. To many Jews, it is the one state that will always offer refuge. To neoconservative ideologues, it is the democratic oasis in a desert of tyrannies.
It seems that in Buruma’s worldview even Christians are motivated primarily by self-interest. To most Christians, whether they have apocalypse on their mind or not, Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, as described in both testaments of the Christian Bible, and attested to in historical documents and the archeological record. To many Jews it is not a “refuge,” but a Jewish state where Jewish people have the right to determine their own fate, as a nation and as individuals. And while we are listing what Israel means to different people, it is worth noting that to some Muslims, including the president of Iran, the General Secretary of Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, it is a curse that must be wiped off the face of the earth.
Defending Israel against its Islamic enemies may indeed be a factor in the existential alarmism that underlies the present "war on terror." A nuclear-armed Iran would certainly make Israel feel more vulnerable. But it is probably overstated as an explanation. Kouchner did not advocate Western intervention in Bosnia or Kosovo because of Israel. If concern for Israel played a part in Paul Wolfowitz's advocacy of war in Iraq, it was probably a minor one. Both men were motivated by common concerns for human rights and democracy, as well as perhaps by geopolitical considerations.
If defending Israel was a factor, there is nothing odd about upholding the right of a UN member state to exist when its many enemies have threatened it with extinction. On a similar principle, Great Britain entered WW2. But if concern for Israel was a “minor one,” if it was indeed a factor at all, why does Buruma raise the issue to begin with? And how did Paul Wolfowitz get dragged into this? What is the connection between him and Kouchner?
Still, Islamist rhetoric, adopted by Ahmedinejad among others, is deliberately designed to stir up memories of the Shoah. So perhaps the existential fear of some Western intellectuals is easier to explain than their remarkable, sometimes fawning trust in the U.S. government to save the world by force.
Actually, Ahmadinejad’s rhetorical tactics are a bit more complicated. One, he denies the Holocaust ever happened, two, argues that the Palestinians should not have to pay for the sins of Europe (while also imploring Germany to stop succumbing to Zionist blackmail), and, three, threatens destruction of the Jewish state.

I cannot think of any Western intellectual who supported the Iraq war without qualification at the outset or since. However, the fact that some Western intellectuals are not automatically suspicious of US force does not need to be theorized or psychologized; it as easy to explain as their existential fear of another genocide. This is especially so in France, which US force liberated in 1944 from none other than the Nazis. While some French intellectuals are well known for their anti-Americanism, consider Andre Glucksmann who coined the phrase “the right to D-Day,” or the right to be liberated by a foreign power from a totalitarian and genocidal regime.

The explanation of this mysterious trust may lie elsewhere. Many neocons emerged from a leftist past, in which a belief in revolution from above was commonplace: “people's democracies" yesterday, "liberal democracies" today.
It is true that many neocons, at least from the first generation, emerged from a leftist past, but they were socialists or Trotskyists, and “revolution from above” was a Stalinist “commonplace.” “Peoples’ democracies” was the euphemism by which the Soviet Union maintained its hegemony over its Eastern European satellite states; only in Buruma’s mind is there a facile correlation between “peoples’ democracies” and liberal democracies.
Among Jews and other minorities, another historical memory may also play a part: the protection of the imperial state. Austrian and Hungarian Jews were among the most fiercely loyal subjects of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, because he shielded them from the violent nationalism of the majority populations.
How did we get from the City College cafeteria to the Austro-Hungarian empire? And now we have moved from Jews of the political left to Jews of the political right. Austrian conservatives were loyal to the emperor. The socialists obviously did not love royalty.

Moreover, it is worth noting that many Austrian Jews were loyal subjects not because they expected “protection,” but because they believed in the enlightenment values of Europe. The playwright Theodor Herzl did not think of himself a Jew, never mind expect to be shielded as one, but rather as an Austrian by nationality and a German by culture. It was when the founder of Zionism recognized that Europe had no intention to live up to its universalist principles that he began advocating a Jewish state where Jews could live as free men.

Polish and Russian Jews, at least at the beginning of the communist era, were often loyal subjects of the communist state, because it promised (falsely, as it turned out) to protect them against the violence of anti- Semitic nationalists.
It is not obvious that Russian and Polish Jewish communists who risked jail and death for their political commitments in the pre-communist era were motivated primarily by a desire to protect themselves. One could pick a better place to hide from the Cossacks than at the head of the Red Army, for instance. Nor is it clear how at the end of the communist era Jewish prisoners of conscience, like Natan Sharansky, were looking mostly to save their own skins. At any rate, what does this have to do with Kouchner? Or, how did Buruma get from a Jewish humanitarian to Jews ostensibly acting on self-preservation instincts?
If it were really true that the fundamental existence of our democratic Western world were about to be destroyed by an Islamist revolution, it would only make sense to seek protection in the full force of the U.S. informal empire.
If it were really true that Jews mostly look out for themselves and other Jews, and humanitarian Jews are moved to act by the specter of past Jewish catastrophes, and Jewish US officials are desperate to prevent future Jewish disasters, where Israel is considered a “refuge,” and the Jews of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Soviet Union sought to be “protected” and “shielded” by their overlords, then according to such logic it would only make sense to believe that Jews now seek American “protection.”
But if one sees our current problems in less apocalyptic terms, then another kind of trahison des clercs (treason of the intellectuals) comes into view: the blind cheering-on of a sometimes foolish military power embarked on unnecessary wars that cost more lives than they were intended to save.
In other words, Iraq is the price we are all paying for a Jewish interpretation of modernity.


In 2003 Tariq Ramadan posted an article on a Muslim Web site, www.oumma.com, in which he condemned several French writers of forsaking their reputations as "universalist" thinkers by taking positions based on narrowly sectarian, or what the French call “communitarian,” concerns. How else to explain that these intellectuals failed to condemn the policies of Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the war in Iraq. Ramadan's charge rested on the premise that these positions could not plausibly be rational, and must therefore be extra-rational, or emotional. Ramadan argued they took these positions because they are Jewish. Kouchner was one of the figures Ramadan accused. To Ramadan, Kouchner the humanitarian, the socialist and co-founder of Doctors without Borders, was a Jewish intellectual.

Tariq Ramadan.jpg

Tariq Ramadan

I am not sure Buruma meant to replicate so closely the argument of his New York Times profile subject. In fact it seems he disagrees in places. “The architect of this operation in the heart of the Bush administration is Paul Wolfowitz,” wrote Ramadan, “a notorious Zionist, who has never concealed that the fall of Saddam Hussein would guarantee a better security for Israel with its economic advantages assured." No, writes Buruma: “If concern for Israel played a part in Paul Wolfowitz's advocacy of war in Iraq, it was probably a minor one.”

“One should always be careful about attributing motives to other people's views,” Buruma writes, and then proceeds to attribute communitarian motives to Jews from Kouchner to Wolfowitz and other “prominent Jewish intellectuals” who may talk about humanitarianism, communism or liberal democracy but really see the world primarily as Jews. One should refuse to engage Islamists on their own terms, because this is what happens to liberal discourse when such ideologues are legitimized by Western journalists and intellectuals. And no doubt, compared to Sayyid Qutb, Ramadan is indeed a “moderate,” and according to that scale Ayaan Hirsi Ali is definitely an “enlightenment absolutist,” because anyone who stands for such universalist values is an “extremist.” But that is their scale; on ours, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a feminist and liberal activist, and an op-ed published in Western papers by a famous journalist that resorts to communitarian reasoning is a gross exception and not the rule.

Hirsi Ali.jpg

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In his article, Berman attributes the “string of bumbles, timidities, gaffes, omissions, miscomprehensions, and slanders” to two developments: First, “the unimaginable rise of Islamism since the time of the Rushdie fatwa. The second is terrorism.” I think that what he means by this is not that journalists and intellectuals are necessarily terrified of getting blown up in a London car bombing, but that they have incorporated the fearful messages of their subjects and responded accordingly. The issue has been with us much longer than we usually recognize.

In 1969, the American academic Richard P. Mitchell published a groundbreaking work on Egypt’s Islamist movement, The Society of the Muslim Brothers. Some of the Brothers didn’t like what Mitchell had to say in his largely sympathetic book and circulated a letter that asserted he was a CIA operative. The effort was meant to discredit and threaten him, a scholar who, according to the Muslim Brotherhood, was actually a front-line agent in the war to destroy Islam.

It is among the oldest of Islamist conceits, dating back to the end of the 19th-century, that any foreigner researching Islamic societies who is not writing primarily out of sympathy with his subject is an agent of Western empire. Edward Said’s Orientalism merely recast the Islamist paranoid style as postmodern critique. He found agents of empire everywhere in the Western media and academy; it was the basis of much his career. Since power determined textual strategies, there was no such thing as disinterested intellectual work and thus anyone whose work was not sympathetic to the subaltern was a racist. If you were in the academic industry, jobs, publishing contracts, committee appointments, etc., depended on it. If you were outside the academy, you were merely tarred as a racist, or, if an Arabic-speaking Middle Easterner like Fouad Ajami and Kanan Makiya, a “native informant,” that is to say, a traitor, just as progressive-minded Western intellectuals and journalists today question Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Muslim “authenticity.” Maxime Rodinson found more than a hint of Stalinism in Said’s methods; the author of Orientalism was an American takfiri.

It was Said who first naturalized Islamist discourse over a quarter of a century ago and as such helped set the terms by which Western intellectuals and reporters could exercise their vocation with respect to the Muslim world. Said was apparently surprised by the Rushdie fatwa and wrote an essay in defense of his friend, only showing that the bourgeois academic had failed to grasp his sources. The key historical episode then is Michel Foucault’s 1979 dispatches from Tehran. It is hardly coincidental that the guiding intellectual spirit of Orientalism was in love with Iran’s Islamic revolution. Foucault, the apostle of purgative violence, Foucault the suicide and the blood-letter, was hardly a useful idiot; unlike Said, he knew exactly what was unfolding before him.

By the time Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and decapitated in Pakistan everyone already knew the rules. What was so shocking? That his captors had been very public about their hatred of Jews? But we have internalized Islamist grievances enough to know the many, many issues the Muslim world has with the Zionist movement. What is new? That Western journalists and intellectuals are now manufacturing those arguments by invoking the ethno-religious background of a person to determine the quality of an idea. It can’t possibly derive from objective sources of universal principles, rather it must be serving some particular interest. If not Jewish interests, then maybe others.

Daniel Pearl.jpg

Daniel Pearl

Remember that the journalistic outrage over the Pearl murder wasn’t about the anti-Semitism of his assassins, but that the US government hadn’t done enough to explain to the murderers of American citizens that American law prohibits clandestine operators from using journalist cover. Didn’t they know that Pearl wasn’t really a CIA agent? Didn’t they understand that he was a sympathetic listener? And today, don’t they know that Haleh Esfandiari has counseled the US to engage with Tehran? Why do they go after the good guys? I mean, not that it’s ok to kill anyone, but Theo Van Gogh pissed off everyone and Ayaan Hirsi Ali has definitely hurt a lot of Muslim feelings.

Why do extremists go after Western moderates? Because that is how they redraw the boundaries of liberal discourse to their own liking. Because that is how they get Western journalists and intellectuals to mainstream their ideas about Jews and ostracize figures like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and other Muslim and Arab liberals. Because that is how Islamist moderates like Tariq Ramadan acquire shares of power. But really this is the same as asking, why do terrorists attack civilians? Because that is terrorism.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:33 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

The Killing Fields of Iraq

By Michael J. Totten

Killing Field Baqubah.jpg

Photo copyright Michael Yon

Michael Yon has published a disturbing essay with gruesome photos about what happened to a Sunni Arab village outside Baqubah, Iraq, after Al Qaeda took over.

Everyone had either fled or had been murdered. No one was left alive. Children were beheaded. Al Qaeda even butchered the animals.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:03 PM | Permalink | Comments Off
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