March 30, 2010

Quote of the Day

The present conflict seems to me to be following the twentieth-century pattern exactly, with one variation: the antiliberal side right now, instead of Communist, Nazi, Catholic, or Fascist, happens to be radical Arab nationalist and Islamic fundamentalist. Over the last several decades, a variety of movements have arisen in the Arab and Islamic countries--a radical nationalism (Baath socialist, Marxist, pan-Arab, and so forth) and a series of Islamist movements (meaning Islamic fundamentalism in a political version). The movements have varied hugely and have even gone to war with one another--Iran's Shiite Islamists versus Iraq's Baath socialists, like Hitler and Stalin slugging it out. The Islamists give the impression of having wandered into modern life from the 13th century, and the Baathist and Marxist nationalisms have tried to seem modern and even futuristic.

But all of those movements have followed, each in its fashion, the twentieth-century pattern. They are antiliberal insurgencies. They have identified a people of the good, who are the Arabs or Muslims. They believe that their own societies have been infested with a hideous inner corruption, which must be rooted out. They observe that the inner infestation is supported by powerful external forces. And they gird their swords. Their thinking is apocalyptic. They imagine that at the end they, too, will succeed in establishing a blocklike, unchanging society, freed of the inner corruption--a purified society: the victory of good. They are the heirs of the twentieth-century totalitarians. Bush said that in his address to Congress on September 20, and he was right.

It is worth remarking how often an antipathy for the Jews has recurred in these various movements over the years. Nazi paranoia about the Jews was an extreme case, but it would be a mistake to suppose that Nazism was alone in this. At the end of his life, Stalin, the anti-Nazi, is thought to have been likewise planning a general massacre of the Jews, of which the "doctors' plot" was a foretaste. The Nazi paranoia, just like Stalin's, was owed strictly to ancient superstitions and especially to psychological fears--the fears that were sparked by the mere existence of a minority population that seemed incapable of blending into the seamless, blocklike perfect society of the future. The Arab radical and Islamist antipathy to the Jews naturally displays a somewhat different quality, given that, this time, the Jews do have a state of their own. And where there is power, conflicts are bound to be more than imaginary. No one can doubt that Palestinians do have grievances and that the grievances are infuriating. Israel has produced its share of thugs and even mass-murdering terrorists. It has even managed, at this of all moments, to choose as its leader Ariel Sharon, whose appreciation of Arab and Islamic sensibilities appears to be zero. In these ways, the Israelis have done their share to keep the pot boiling.

Even so, how can it be that, after 120 years of Arab-Zionist conflict and more than 50 years of a Jewish state, the hostility to Israel seems to have remained more or less constant? For Israel's borders have been broad, but have also been narrow; its leaders have been hawkish and contemptuous, but have also been dovish and courteous; there have been West Bank settlements, and no West Bank settlements; proposals for common projects for mutual benefit, and no proposals. There have even been times, such as the 1980s, before the Russian immigration, when most of Israel's Jewish population consisted of people who had fled to Israel from the Arab world itself, instead of from Europe. And not even then, in a period when Israel, in its dusky-skinned authenticity, could claim to be a genuinely third-world nation, did the Israelis win any wider or warmer acceptance. Why was that, and why is it still?

It is because the anti-Zionist hostility may rest partly on the hard terrain of negotiable grievances; but mostly it goes floating along on the same airy currents of myth and dread that proved so irresistible to Nazis in the past. The anti-Zionist hostility draws on a feeling that Arab and Islamic society has been polluted by an impure infestation that needs to be rooted out. The hostility draws, that is, on a lethal combination of utopian yearning and superstitious fear--the yearning for a new society cleansed of ethnic and religious difference, together with a fear of a diabolical minority population. Does that sound like an unfair or tendentious description of Middle Eastern anti-Zionism? The curses of the clerics, the earnest remarks of the presidents of Syria and Iraq and other countries, the man-in-the-street interviews that keep appearing in the press and on radio--these are not pretty to quote. Even now the newspapers in parts of the Islamic world are full of stories claiming that the World Trade Center was attacked by (of course) a Jewish conspiracy. And so, the Arab and Islamic world burns with hatred for Israel in part because of issues that are factual, but mostly because of issues that are phantasmagorical.

From Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 30, 2010 12:36 PM
Paul Berman, another one of Bush's good liberal useful idiots, whoop de whoop...

1) Hostility towards Israel, of course, has varied quite significantly over time. Most significantly with the conversion of the Egyptian and Jordanian governments to the peace camps. Since 1979 there has been no existential threat to Israel and the Israelis have only themselves to blame for the mess they are in.

2) The reading of ideologies in the Arabo-Muslim world is nuanced and astute. But I would suggest - if we are really trying to understand history - then we should not be obsessed with ideas, but with really existing things. In particular, I don't think we see "ideologies" emerging to be slain, necessarily, by America like Saint George and the Dragon. We see more continuity in North-South relations and its inequalities than the ideas this or that collection of tin-pot despots has had.
Posted by: Ombrageux at March 30, 2010 1:55 pm
But I would suggest - if we are really trying to understand history...

And would you also suggest that we take advice on how to properly understand history from somebody who has repeatedly demonstrated ignorance about basic historical facts? :o

...then we should not be obsessed with ideas, but with really existing things.

Right. Because, ideologies don't kill people. People kill people. Or something.

So now you are advising us to ignore this ancient wisdom:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

-Sun Tzu, the Art of War

Either you are smarter than Sun Tzu or you want us to be defeated. Should I flip a coin?
Posted by: Craig at March 30, 2010 2:11 pm

I disagree with your 1).

There is a political, cold peace between Egypt/Jordan and Israel.

Their populaces are no less anti-zionist however. Egypt has it worse than Jordan in this respect (I think), but there is definite antipathy there.
Posted by: jooliz at March 30, 2010 2:14 pm
I always figured it was because Israel's continued prosperous existence is a daily poke in the eye to the surrounding Arab countries. None of Israel's neighbors have anywhere near the prosperity of the state of Israel, not to mention Israel is the only functioning democracy in a neighborhood of thuggish despots. The contrast between Israel and her neighbors is a simple but powerful reminder to the surrounding Arabs that their religion is not superior, their military forces are not superior, their political systems are not superior, and their standing of living is not superior to that of the Hebrews, despite all they have been told. So, all they have left is blind, jealous rage.
Posted by: Victor at March 30, 2010 2:41 pm
Maybe, I'm going out on a limb here, maybe it has something to do with Islam being a fundamentally anti-Jewish ideology? You know, like its founder, the ethnic cleanser of Jews from Arabia? The guy who promised that on judgment day every good Muslim would have a Jew to slay?

The ideology whose followers have been brutally oppressing and outright massacring Jews for 1400 years wherever they found them, from Western Europe to the Indian subcontinent?

Is there an elephant in this room, or is it just me?
Posted by: Squires at March 30, 2010 3:35 pm

That's how it is for some in the Arab world, but it's not that way in all Muslim cultures. Albanian Muslims, for instance, like Jews and Israelis and are suspicious of Arabs. There were more Jews in Albania at the end of the Holocaust than there were at the beginning because the locals refused to surrender them to the Nazi authorities.

The reason it's worse in the Arab world is because radical Islamism has been fused with racist Arab Nationalism. Atheist Arabs are as likely to hate Israel as fundamentalists.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 30, 2010 3:47 pm
Ombraguex: please explain how the Holocaust was not about ideas but about "really existing things" which, apparently, ideas aren't.

Yes, of course people have interests, but often they conceive those interests in terms of the ideological framework or sacrifice material interests for their ideas. It varies.

As for Israel having only themselves to blame, this is just another version of the tired "only Westerners have REAL human agency" nonsense. Hezbollah, Hamas, Arafat and Fatah are all active partners in the current mess.
Posted by: Lorenzo at March 30, 2010 5:24 pm
From a distance, Victor's perspective strikes my layman's logic as spot-on identification of a significant ingredient in a toxic soup.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 30, 2010 5:33 pm
And where are the Arab Microsofts, Apples, Dells, Boeings, Sonys and Hondas?
Posted by: Paul S. at March 30, 2010 6:14 pm
Ha. When I was reading this I thought 'this is almost as good as a Berman piece'. Terror and Liberalism is a must-read if one wants to understand the dynamics of the Islamic fundamentalism and totalitarian of the broader middle east. Go out and get it right now.
I did a little review of it myself here that Mr. Berman was kind enough to review (funny huh, he reviewed his review, after publication of course)

Pat Frost
Posted by: Pat at March 30, 2010 7:15 pm
The distinction between "Islamism" (political Islam) and Islam is a recent and mostly western intellectual construction. Islam is not just a personal faith; it is and always has been (that is the texts of Islam, which are, it seems to me, the best way to understand what Islam is, although not necessarily what all self-identified Muslims believe or practice) inherently political: it is a complete ideology which defines an individual's personal faith beliefs and gives rules for believer's interactions within a society as well as the place and status of non-Muslims, and additionally the interaction of Muslim polities with non-Muslim polities. As such Islam is political. Islam is Islamism. And as the Turkish prime minister said, although in reference to another western construction, "moderate Islam", "Islam is Islam and that's it":

Speaking at Kanal D TV’s Arena program, PM Erdogan commented on the term “moderate Islam”, often used in the West to describe AKP and said, ‘These descriptions are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.”
Source: Milliyet, Turkey, August 21, 2007 (from MEMRI)
Posted by: del at March 30, 2010 7:20 pm
There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.

And yet the AKP isn't the Taliban.

Those who dislike the word "moderate" will need to suggest a non-ridiculous alternative.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 30, 2010 7:33 pm
I'm a Muslim and I love Jews. I'm also fairly, but not very, liberal. I don't see a contradiction between those two things.
Posted by: Ali at March 30, 2010 10:48 pm
I don't see why so many people dislike Ariel Sharon. Maybe I don't know enough about him, but, as far as I know, he hasn't really done anything outrageously horrible. Has he?
Posted by: Ali at March 30, 2010 10:51 pm
Also, a Sufi is not a Wahhabi, nor is a Sunni a Shia, and Erdogan knows it.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 30, 2010 10:54 pm
Ali: I don't see why so many people dislike Ariel Sharon.

The invasion Lebanon when he was Defense Minister wasn't exactly a resounding success. Some pretty bad things happened on his watch, including the Sabra and Shatilla massacre. Elie Hobeika was the real culprit there, but Sharon was also partly responsible. He had to spend some time in Israel's political wilderness to atone for it.

He improved with age, as even some of his harshest critics will admit, but to others he will always be the "butcher of Beirut."
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 30, 2010 11:02 pm
"Also, a Sufi is not a Wahhabi, nor is a Sunni a Shia, and Erdogan knows it."

Yes. Sure. Although, as well, the soft and cuddly and all spiritual Sufi meme is a fantasy. But then what did Erdogan mean by his comment? It wasn't jest.

He was implicitly stating that western and non-Muslim calls for "reform" (better phrased as "enlightenment", since the Wahhabis were the back-to-the-roots "reformers") are not acceptable and will not have any effect: he was stating that, in his view, there is a core of beliefs and understandings. They are not to be questioned nor doubted nor moderated nor altered -- and they won't be on his watch.
Posted by: del at March 30, 2010 11:17 pm

You stated 3 things:

1) you are Muslim
2) you love Jews
3) you are fairly liberal

Why did you refer to and reject a contradiction between "two things"?

What do you mean by "liberal"?

How representative would you describe yourself to be?
Posted by: del at March 30, 2010 11:23 pm
squires: maybe it has something to do with Islam being a fundamentally anti-Jewish ideology?

squires sees a contradiction apparently. I don't blame him. Most Arabs are anti-semitic and illiberal, but then again expressing dissent could get you anything from being a social outcast to torture to capital punishment. A lot of Muslims from other countries such as Bosnia are probably better, but I don't really know much about them and I can't speak for them.

My definition of liberal: secular, tolerant of others regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation, democrat (with a small D), believes in freedom of religion, believes in equality of the sexes

By fairly liberal I meant that I do not suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome.
Posted by: Ali at March 30, 2010 11:42 pm

"if we are really trying to understand history"

Posted by: Gary Rosen at March 30, 2010 11:51 pm
Ombrageuxm, "Since 1979 there has been no existential threat to Israel and the Israelis have only themselves to blame for the mess they are in."

Funny thing that, when the President of Iran threatens Israel weekly and has pictures of himself taken with uranium enrichment facilities. When Hamas weekly shoots rockets into civilian towns. And when Hizbollah is seen stocking up tens of thousands of Katyushas.

Sooooo, maybe Israel is at risk of ONLY 1/2 of the country being rendered inhabitable and 1/2 the population being turned into refugees with no place to go. Yeah, I guess you're right, that's not an existential threat.

It's funny, no one ever talks about wiping Egypt off the map, or trading Syria back to other countries. Jordan is not worried about war wiping out 1/2 the country. Probably the only country in the area that can relate is Lebanon, except some of the factions that prefer to use their own country as a punching bag for Israel.

Here's what people don't get. Israel is attacked ... EVERY ... SINGLE ... WEEK (often multiple times in the same week). Oh, the attacks may be successfully repelled, or ONLY a few soldiers killed, or ONLY a transient farm worker killed, etc.

I mean, it's not like they're out to get us or anything...oh wait, yes they are.
Posted by: Akiva at March 31, 2010 1:50 am
Michael & Del,

I agree that the phrase "moderate Muslim" is not quite accurate, but more importantly, it cedes important intellectual real estate to the Wahhabi and similar strains. After all, it implies that more peaceful Muslims are not true or deep believers--that they are moderating their beliefs to get along with others. This may be what Erdogan is trying to avoid. In other words, it ultimately grants that the Wahhabi formulation is actually correct.

I think something like "tolerant Muslims" would be better.
Posted by: JBP at March 31, 2010 7:42 am
Of course it's not surprising the Arab world is going through the same paroxysms of anti-modern, anti-liberal reaction as we saw in Germany, Spain, Russia, China, Japan, etc. In all those countries premodern peasant populations (and pre modern elites) were forced to adjust to a radically new way of looking at the world and a radically new vision of society in a very short period of time. Jewish people, as one of the most successful groups in the modern world, becomes the symbol to these people of everything threatening about modernity (even in countries like Japan or North Korea where almost no one has ever met a Jew.) The difference between the Arab world and the European/Asian examples is that in every case in the latter the antiliberal forces eventually burned themselves out through horrific civil wars, purges, and/or external wars of conquest. The shaken survivors have generally turned their back on violence and thrown themselves enthusiastically into the project of joining the modern world (Russia maybe not as much as the others unfortunately). The Muslim world has, for better or worse, not really gone this trial by fire and has never been forced to directly confront the consequences of reaction. Most muslims still blame their problems on outsiders, even in Iraq. The open question is - can these societies evolve peacefully into modern states (Latin America has sort of managed to do that) or is worse still to come?
Posted by: Ivan N at March 31, 2010 8:19 am
Also Islam, historically, has been far less anti-Jewish than Christianity. This hardly even seems worth arguing about - there are thousands of years of evidence that this was the case. Every great city in the Ottoman Empire had thriving Jewish populations. There were no Muslim pogroms on the scale of what happened in Germany in the middle ages, in Russia, in Christian Spain, etc. And of course England was so intolerant they expelled all the Jews in the middle ages. Attitudes change and change again. In 1914 Germany was widely considered the European country most friendly to Jews. England, France and especially Russia were the most anti-Semitic. By 1933 things had turned 180 degrees, but now Germany is probably once again the best country for Jews in Europe. Islam has changed a lot over history, it can change again.
Posted by: Ivan N at March 31, 2010 8:26 am

Erdogan has worked long and hard to de-secularize and re-islamicize Turkish society. It may be true that he doesn't wish his efforts to increase Islamic observance to nevertheless be stigmatized by Wahhabis as watered-down Islam. However, although he has a slightly more modern-utilitarian outlook than some others, his "moderation" is illiberal in any conceivable western sense.
Posted by: del at March 31, 2010 1:37 pm
Ivan N.,

Actually the view of some that Islamic societies were liberal and friendly toward Jews is plain wrong.

Here is a part of a piece ("Marrakech"), appropriately from George Orwell:

"...When you go through the Jewish quarters you gather some idea of what the
medieval ghettoes were probably like. Under their Moorish rulers the
Jews were only allowed to own land in certain restricted areas, and
after centuries of this kind of treatment they have ceased to bother
about overcrowding. Many of the streets are a good deal less than six
feet wide, the houses are completely windowless, and sore-eyed children
cluster everywhere in unbelievable numbers, like clouds of flies. Down
the centre of the street there is generally running a little river of

In the bazaar huge families of Jews, all dressed in the long black robe
and little black skull-cap, are working in dark fly-infested booths that
look like caves. A carpenter sits cross-legged at a prehistoric lathe,
turning chair-legs at lightning speed. He works the lathe with a bow in
his right hand and guides the chisel with his left foot, and thanks to a
lifetime of sitting in this position his left leg is warped out of
shape. At his side his grandson, aged six, is already starting on the
simpler parts of the job.

I was just passing the coppersmiths' booths when somebody noticed that I
was lighting a cigarette. Instantly, from the dark holes all round,
there was a frenzied rush of Jews, many of them old grandfathers with
flowing grey beards, all clamouring for a cigarette. Even a blind man
somewhere at the back of one of the booths heard a rumour of cigarettes
and came crawling out, groping in the air with his hand. In about a
minute I had used up the whole packet. None of these people, I suppose,
works less than twelve hours a day, and every one of them looks on a
cigarette as a more or less impossible luxury.

As the Jews live in self-contained communities they follow the same
trades as the Arabs, except for agriculture. Fruit-sellers, potters,
silversmiths, blacksmiths, butchers, leather-workers, tailors,
water-carriers, beggars, porters--whichever way you look you see nothing
but Jews. As a matter of fact there are thirteen thousand of them, all
living in the space of a few acres. A good job Hitler isn't here.
Perhaps he is on his way, however. You hear the usual dark rumours about
the Jews, not only from the Arabs but from the poorer Europeans.

"Yes, MON VIEUX, they took my job away from me and gave it to a Jew. The
Jews! They're the real rulers of this country, you know. They've got all
the money. They control the banks, finance--everything."

"But," I said, "isn't it a fact that the average Jew is a labourer
working for about a penny an hour?"

"Ah, that's only for show! They're all money-lenders really. They're
cunning, the Jews." "
Posted by: del at March 31, 2010 1:46 pm
I hate to bring up the same issue, since it seems so boring to people here, but:

The munitions have killed 46 and maimed over 300 civilians since 2006, according to Lebanese army and UN figures.

Most of the victims are sappers, farmers and unsuspecting children, who mistake the shiny objects for toys.

I ask again, how does this compare to the number of Israelis killed or maimed by Hamas rockets?

And perhaps before Michael Totten writes again about sending pizza to IDF soldiers, he might consider a more worthy cause:


More than 197,000 cluster bombs have been defused since the end of the 2006 war, Fares said, but hundreds of thousands still threaten the people of southern Lebanon.

"We have cleared almost 52 percent of the 45 square-kilometre (17.3 square-mile) area affected but we have less demining teams with the cash shortage," he said.

-- 'They're terrified of another war' -- Maha Shuman Jebahi, of the Lebanese Handicap Welfare Association, said lack of funding meant more and more victims are left waiting for prosthetic limbs.
Posted by: Seth at April 2, 2010 11:37 am
Thanks for the info Seth.

What is the solution. Should combined Lebanese Army and IDF EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) Combat Engineering teams collectively de-mine South Lebanon? Or is that too explosive a suggestion?

I think part of the solution is the international community (Russians, Europeans, Americans, Arabs, Asians) training, equipping and funding Lebanese combat engineers.

Note that many countries are already deeply involved in training/equipping/funding the Lebanese Army.

I am troubled by Israel's failure to contribute to economic development and improved governance in Lebanon. [Not sure the Lebanese want the Israelis involved with helping them on governance; but at the very least Israel should be giving economic grants and facilitating Lebanese private sector growth.]
Posted by: anan at April 2, 2010 12:11 pm
Anan: I am troubled by Israel's failure to contribute to economic development and improved governance in Lebanon.

You should be. And do you know who you should be mad at? Syria and Lebanon. They won't allow Israel to contribute to economic development. And they sure as hell won't allow Israel to have anything to do with Lebanon's governance.

(I have no problem with the latter, by the way. One of Lebanon's biggest problems is that every powerful country in the region other than Israel mucks around in its internal politics. Lebanon would be in much better shape, and a threat to no one, if it were an unmolested island off the coast.)

You have a peculiar habit of blaming Israel for things that are in fact the fault of Israel's enemies.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 2, 2010 12:31 pm
"You have a peculiar habit of blaming Israel for things that are in fact the fault of Israel's enemies"

That's what antisemites like anand do, Michael. They are more addicted to blaming Jews than a junkie crawling through the gutter for a fix is addicted to heroin. At this point I would find it far more peculiar if he *didn't* blame Israel for any of the oppressions and savageries perpetrated by Israel's Muslim "neighbors".
Posted by: Gary Rosen at April 2, 2010 11:24 pm
"The munitions have killed 46 and maimed over 300 civilians since 2006, according to Lebanese army and UN figures."

Of course the Lebanese army and UN would never make anything up to make Israel look bad. The story is from AFP, who originally reported the al-Dura "story", right? Maybe the figures are true, but you remember the story about the boy who cried wolf, right, Seth?

"I ask again, how does this compare to the number of Israelis killed or maimed by Hamas rockets?"

Gee, I don't know. How does the number of German civilians killed in WWII compare to the number of American civilians? I guess Israel isn't allowed to defend itself as long as its enemies put civilians in harm's way so people like Seth will propagandize for them.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at April 3, 2010 12:37 pm
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