Commentary Magazine


Topic: cleric

Friends, Enemies–What’s the Diff?

Of course we know that Hamas’ acts of terror “must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation,” as a UN Human Rights council report stated earlier this year. Palestinian terrorism, while deplorable, is defensive and not to be confused with the morally and strategically unjustifiable terrorism of al Qaeda, who want to establish a global caliphate. Too bad someone forgot to tell Hamas:

A sermon last Friday by a prominent Muslim cleric and Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament openly declared that “the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital,” would soon be conquered by Islam.

The fiery sermon, delivered by Yunis al-Astal and aired on Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV, predicted that Rome would become “an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread though Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, even Eastern Europe…Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital, which has declared its hostility to Islam, and has planted the brothers of apes and pigs in Palestine in order to prevent the reawakening of Islam…Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our prophet Muhammad.”

So, the Pope visits the United States while simultaneously former U.S. President Jimmy Carter goes to talk righteousness with the gang who wants to unseat the Pope. This must be how Democratic diplomacy is going to restore America’s image abroad.

Of course we know that Hamas’ acts of terror “must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation,” as a UN Human Rights council report stated earlier this year. Palestinian terrorism, while deplorable, is defensive and not to be confused with the morally and strategically unjustifiable terrorism of al Qaeda, who want to establish a global caliphate. Too bad someone forgot to tell Hamas:

A sermon last Friday by a prominent Muslim cleric and Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament openly declared that “the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital,” would soon be conquered by Islam.

The fiery sermon, delivered by Yunis al-Astal and aired on Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV, predicted that Rome would become “an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread though Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, even Eastern Europe…Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital, which has declared its hostility to Islam, and has planted the brothers of apes and pigs in Palestine in order to prevent the reawakening of Islam…Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our prophet Muhammad.”

So, the Pope visits the United States while simultaneously former U.S. President Jimmy Carter goes to talk righteousness with the gang who wants to unseat the Pope. This must be how Democratic diplomacy is going to restore America’s image abroad.

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Getting Basra Wrong

On Sunday, Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called on Shiite militia members “to end all military actions in Basra and in all the provinces” and “to cooperate with the government to achieve security.” The New York Times thinks this is very bad news indeed—“a serious blow for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.” According to a story by Erica Goode and James Glanz in today’s Times, Iraqi forces are virtually helpless against the militias in Basra and Prime Minister Maliki is turning to Sadr to help him out of the jam. This means all sorts of apocalyptic things for the future of Iraq, as indicated by this:

Asked if the erosion of support for Mr. Maliki could cause his government to fall, Mr. Daoud [a former national security adviser and Shiite party leader] paused and said, “Everything is possible.”

Is it the “pause” that’s supposed to make that non-declaration seem ominous?

According to New York Sun Middle East columnist Nibras Kazimi, writing on his Talisman Gate blog, Goode and Glanz don’t simply have it wrong. Rather, we’re witnessing one of the greatest journalistic shell games in recent memory. On Sunday, Kazimi wrote:

Too bad the Mahdi Army is losing very badly. There were a rash of violent outbreaks here and there in Hillah Province and in al-Hamza in the last few days, but today the situation there is one where the Iraqi Army and police—the Scorpion Brigade in particular—are hunting down the Sadrists with a vengeance with the active help of the local population, according to a well-placed and influential source from Hillah.

Across Baghdad, the situation turned against the Mahdi Army prior to Muqtada al-Sadr’s muddled calls not to disarm on the one hand and to clear the streets on the other. Sadrists were breaking down in terms of logistics and coordination even before government troops had the wherewithal to rally and respond to the security challenges posed by these outlaws.

I’m not the only one to pick up on the clearer picture emerging out of Iraq: most of these charlatans posing as pundits and experts are not total imbeciles, just intellectual fakes, so they have enough sense to realize that the “meltdown” they were praying [for] has not materialized despite the best propaganda efforts of ‘Agent’ Glanz and the Associated Press. Now these talking heads are feverishly administering the necessary spin to fig-leaf why they seemingly got it so utterly wrong. They are either going with “Muqtada saved the day” or “The Americans and the British, i.e. the grown-ups, stepped in and changed Maliki’s diaper after he’d made a boo-boo”.

While Sadr has issued his ceasefire, there is no word on whether Prime Minister Maliki has agreed to Sadr’s request for lenience in dealing with Mahdi Army members. This hardly sounds like Sadr is calling the shots. In fact, if Kazimi is right, it seems like the discredited Sadr is trying desperately to deal himself back in to a game where unity and progress now trump the sectarian violence that is his strong suit.

On Sunday, Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called on Shiite militia members “to end all military actions in Basra and in all the provinces” and “to cooperate with the government to achieve security.” The New York Times thinks this is very bad news indeed—“a serious blow for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.” According to a story by Erica Goode and James Glanz in today’s Times, Iraqi forces are virtually helpless against the militias in Basra and Prime Minister Maliki is turning to Sadr to help him out of the jam. This means all sorts of apocalyptic things for the future of Iraq, as indicated by this:

Asked if the erosion of support for Mr. Maliki could cause his government to fall, Mr. Daoud [a former national security adviser and Shiite party leader] paused and said, “Everything is possible.”

Is it the “pause” that’s supposed to make that non-declaration seem ominous?

According to New York Sun Middle East columnist Nibras Kazimi, writing on his Talisman Gate blog, Goode and Glanz don’t simply have it wrong. Rather, we’re witnessing one of the greatest journalistic shell games in recent memory. On Sunday, Kazimi wrote:

Too bad the Mahdi Army is losing very badly. There were a rash of violent outbreaks here and there in Hillah Province and in al-Hamza in the last few days, but today the situation there is one where the Iraqi Army and police—the Scorpion Brigade in particular—are hunting down the Sadrists with a vengeance with the active help of the local population, according to a well-placed and influential source from Hillah.

Across Baghdad, the situation turned against the Mahdi Army prior to Muqtada al-Sadr’s muddled calls not to disarm on the one hand and to clear the streets on the other. Sadrists were breaking down in terms of logistics and coordination even before government troops had the wherewithal to rally and respond to the security challenges posed by these outlaws.

I’m not the only one to pick up on the clearer picture emerging out of Iraq: most of these charlatans posing as pundits and experts are not total imbeciles, just intellectual fakes, so they have enough sense to realize that the “meltdown” they were praying [for] has not materialized despite the best propaganda efforts of ‘Agent’ Glanz and the Associated Press. Now these talking heads are feverishly administering the necessary spin to fig-leaf why they seemingly got it so utterly wrong. They are either going with “Muqtada saved the day” or “The Americans and the British, i.e. the grown-ups, stepped in and changed Maliki’s diaper after he’d made a boo-boo”.

While Sadr has issued his ceasefire, there is no word on whether Prime Minister Maliki has agreed to Sadr’s request for lenience in dealing with Mahdi Army members. This hardly sounds like Sadr is calling the shots. In fact, if Kazimi is right, it seems like the discredited Sadr is trying desperately to deal himself back in to a game where unity and progress now trump the sectarian violence that is his strong suit.

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Does The Mayor Understand Democrats?

James: If you think Andrew Sullivan may not have his finger on the pulse of average voters, perhaps Ed Koch provides better insight into how the Reverend Wright controversy is being received. Koch explains what he thinks voters expected of Barck Obama:

What is it that I and others expected Obama to do? A great leader with conscience and courage would have stood up and faced down anyone who engages in such conduct. I expect a President of the United States to have the strength of character to denounce and disown enemies of America – foreign and domestic — and yes, even his friends and confidants when they get seriously out of line.
What if a minister in a church attended primarily by white congregants or a rabbi in a synagogue attended primarily by Jews made comparable statements that were hostile to African-Americans? I have no doubt that the congregants would have immediately stood up and openly denounced the offending cleric. Others would have criticized that cleric in private. Some would surely have ended their relationships with their congregation. Obama didn’t do any of these things. His recent condemnations of Wright’s hate-filled speech are, in my opinion, a case of too little, too late.

Koch is also troubled by Michelle Obama’s lack of pride in America pre-Obama-mania, noting: “This is a woman who has had a good life, with opportunities few whites or blacks have been given.”

So we are left to ponder: Are the liberal pundits or Koch more in tune with the sentiments of working class Democrats, who largely will decide the remaining primary contests? The voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana (all places pundits rarely visit) will tell us.

James: If you think Andrew Sullivan may not have his finger on the pulse of average voters, perhaps Ed Koch provides better insight into how the Reverend Wright controversy is being received. Koch explains what he thinks voters expected of Barck Obama:

What is it that I and others expected Obama to do? A great leader with conscience and courage would have stood up and faced down anyone who engages in such conduct. I expect a President of the United States to have the strength of character to denounce and disown enemies of America – foreign and domestic — and yes, even his friends and confidants when they get seriously out of line.
What if a minister in a church attended primarily by white congregants or a rabbi in a synagogue attended primarily by Jews made comparable statements that were hostile to African-Americans? I have no doubt that the congregants would have immediately stood up and openly denounced the offending cleric. Others would have criticized that cleric in private. Some would surely have ended their relationships with their congregation. Obama didn’t do any of these things. His recent condemnations of Wright’s hate-filled speech are, in my opinion, a case of too little, too late.

Koch is also troubled by Michelle Obama’s lack of pride in America pre-Obama-mania, noting: “This is a woman who has had a good life, with opportunities few whites or blacks have been given.”

So we are left to ponder: Are the liberal pundits or Koch more in tune with the sentiments of working class Democrats, who largely will decide the remaining primary contests? The voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana (all places pundits rarely visit) will tell us.

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A Recount in Iran

Yesterday, opposition reformists asked for a vote recount in Iran’s parliamentary elections, which took place Friday. Earlier in the week they had challenged the fairness of the vote.

Despite enjoying relatively strong support in Tehran, the reformists failed to win any of the 30 seats there. Allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, won 19 of the contests in the capital. Reformists have a chance to pick up seats in Tehran in runoff elections to be conducted either next month or in May. In the meantime, they called on the Interior Ministry to release vote counts from each of the polling sites in the capital. The Guardian Council, Iran’s constitutional watchdog, said that a full recount was not possible, but it promised a “random” recounting of ballot boxes. The government maintains that the election was fair.

Umm, no. Reformists were crippled before a single ballot was cast. The Guardian Council disqualified about 1,700 reformist candidates, with the result that reformists could contest only half the 290 seats at stake. Even so, Ahmadinejad seems to have lost support: the election was widely seen as a referendum on his policies.

In one sense, the president’s setback does not matter: he retains the confidence of the cleric who sits atop the theocracy, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet Ahmadinejad will now face a stronger opposition in parliament. Rigged political systems, like Iran’s, run on signals, and the signals from this election show that Ahmadinejad has lost popularity during his tenure, which could undermine his chances should he run for re-election next year.

Fortunately for the fiery president, many Iranians have simply tuned out of politics. Turnout in Tehran, for instance, appears to have been half the national rate of 60 percent announced by the Interior Ministry. And even in the conservative outlying areas there is fundamental discontent: polling shows that about 90 percent of Iranians want the right to choose—and remove—the supreme leader. That will never happen as long as the theocracy exists, however. The ayatollahs maintain their limited political system so that they can gauge shifts in public mood and react accordingly. So far, despite widespread popular dissatisfaction, the system has worked to keep the clerics in power.

Fortunately for us, limited systems like Iran’s do not stand the test of time. People either take elections seriously and push for real power or they ignore government institutions and force change from the streets. Iranians placed faith in reformers and were disappointed during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad’s predecessor. The real test for the ayatollahs will be the protests that will inevitably come.

Yesterday, opposition reformists asked for a vote recount in Iran’s parliamentary elections, which took place Friday. Earlier in the week they had challenged the fairness of the vote.

Despite enjoying relatively strong support in Tehran, the reformists failed to win any of the 30 seats there. Allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, won 19 of the contests in the capital. Reformists have a chance to pick up seats in Tehran in runoff elections to be conducted either next month or in May. In the meantime, they called on the Interior Ministry to release vote counts from each of the polling sites in the capital. The Guardian Council, Iran’s constitutional watchdog, said that a full recount was not possible, but it promised a “random” recounting of ballot boxes. The government maintains that the election was fair.

Umm, no. Reformists were crippled before a single ballot was cast. The Guardian Council disqualified about 1,700 reformist candidates, with the result that reformists could contest only half the 290 seats at stake. Even so, Ahmadinejad seems to have lost support: the election was widely seen as a referendum on his policies.

In one sense, the president’s setback does not matter: he retains the confidence of the cleric who sits atop the theocracy, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet Ahmadinejad will now face a stronger opposition in parliament. Rigged political systems, like Iran’s, run on signals, and the signals from this election show that Ahmadinejad has lost popularity during his tenure, which could undermine his chances should he run for re-election next year.

Fortunately for the fiery president, many Iranians have simply tuned out of politics. Turnout in Tehran, for instance, appears to have been half the national rate of 60 percent announced by the Interior Ministry. And even in the conservative outlying areas there is fundamental discontent: polling shows that about 90 percent of Iranians want the right to choose—and remove—the supreme leader. That will never happen as long as the theocracy exists, however. The ayatollahs maintain their limited political system so that they can gauge shifts in public mood and react accordingly. So far, despite widespread popular dissatisfaction, the system has worked to keep the clerics in power.

Fortunately for us, limited systems like Iran’s do not stand the test of time. People either take elections seriously and push for real power or they ignore government institutions and force change from the streets. Iranians placed faith in reformers and were disappointed during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad’s predecessor. The real test for the ayatollahs will be the protests that will inevitably come.

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The Kagans on Iraq

Like Abe Greenwald, I was struck by the New York Times‘ article on Tuesday that described the growing disenchantment of young Iraqis with the clerics.  And I share his assessment that it offers the hope of vindication for the Bush Doctrine.  History may come to see the Iraqi insurgency as the natural result of lifting the lid off of the Iraqi kettle: the pressure built up by Saddam, and fueled by Al Qaeda Iraq, had to blow off before a reaction, aided by the remarkable campaign led by General Petraeus, set in.

It is far too soon to start claiming victory.  The Times‘ story is based on a mere forty interviews, and as Frederick and Kimberly Kagan point out in their latest piece in the Weekly Standard, on “The Patton of Counterinsurgency,” “the war is still very much ongoing and victory is by no means assured.”  But the Kagans’ article also draws attention to the same trends the Times has discovered.  According to them, while there is widespread frustration with the Maliki government:

that frustration is increasingly expressed not simply as resentment of Maliki and his allies, but in a rejection of clerical government (the dominant Shia party south of Baghdad is controlled by a turbaned cleric, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim); of Iranian influence; and of regionalism, factionalism, and sectarianism. Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, are increasingly defining themselves as Iraqis, that is to say Arabs, rather than Sunnis or Shia.

That last sentence is the crucial one.  Across the Middle East, surveys repeatedly show that many people describe themselves as Muslim first and as a nationality second.  In Egypt in 2000, for instance, 80 percent of those surveyed replied that, above all, they were Muslim.   This is quite compatible with the reality that most Muslims are not Islamists.  Nor does anyone in the Middle East need to place the state before God to achieve democracy: state-worship is never desirable.

But as long as faith squeezes nationalism out of the public square, the various body politics of the region will be weak and divided, prone to manipulation by dictators and terrorists.  That is exactly what happened in Iraq.  Abe describes Iraq as moving towards a new faith in freedom. If the Times and the Kagans are right, it is more fundamental than that: it is the rise of a shared national identity, which is what makes freedom possible.

Like Abe Greenwald, I was struck by the New York Times‘ article on Tuesday that described the growing disenchantment of young Iraqis with the clerics.  And I share his assessment that it offers the hope of vindication for the Bush Doctrine.  History may come to see the Iraqi insurgency as the natural result of lifting the lid off of the Iraqi kettle: the pressure built up by Saddam, and fueled by Al Qaeda Iraq, had to blow off before a reaction, aided by the remarkable campaign led by General Petraeus, set in.

It is far too soon to start claiming victory.  The Times‘ story is based on a mere forty interviews, and as Frederick and Kimberly Kagan point out in their latest piece in the Weekly Standard, on “The Patton of Counterinsurgency,” “the war is still very much ongoing and victory is by no means assured.”  But the Kagans’ article also draws attention to the same trends the Times has discovered.  According to them, while there is widespread frustration with the Maliki government:

that frustration is increasingly expressed not simply as resentment of Maliki and his allies, but in a rejection of clerical government (the dominant Shia party south of Baghdad is controlled by a turbaned cleric, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim); of Iranian influence; and of regionalism, factionalism, and sectarianism. Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, are increasingly defining themselves as Iraqis, that is to say Arabs, rather than Sunnis or Shia.

That last sentence is the crucial one.  Across the Middle East, surveys repeatedly show that many people describe themselves as Muslim first and as a nationality second.  In Egypt in 2000, for instance, 80 percent of those surveyed replied that, above all, they were Muslim.   This is quite compatible with the reality that most Muslims are not Islamists.  Nor does anyone in the Middle East need to place the state before God to achieve democracy: state-worship is never desirable.

But as long as faith squeezes nationalism out of the public square, the various body politics of the region will be weak and divided, prone to manipulation by dictators and terrorists.  That is exactly what happened in Iraq.  Abe describes Iraq as moving towards a new faith in freedom. If the Times and the Kagans are right, it is more fundamental than that: it is the rise of a shared national identity, which is what makes freedom possible.

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The Moderate Supermajority

My CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald takes a gloomy view of a new Gallup survey that shows 93 percent of the world’s Muslims are moderates. “We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs,” he wrote.

First of all, I’d like to agree with Abe’s point that even this sunny survey suggests we still have a serious problem. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That’s 65 times the population of Gaza, and three and a half times the size of Iraq. One Gaza is headache enough, and it only took 19 individuals to destroy the World Trade Center, punch a hole in the Pentagon, and kill 3,000 people.

Some of the 93 percent supermajority support militia parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the West Bank’s Fatah. So while they may be religious moderates, they certainly aren’t politically moderate.

I’m less inclined than Abe to give the remaining Muslims — aside from secular terror-supporters — too hard a time. I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.

More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.

Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.

Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.

Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.

Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.

There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.

Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.

There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.

The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.

My CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald takes a gloomy view of a new Gallup survey that shows 93 percent of the world’s Muslims are moderates. “We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs,” he wrote.

First of all, I’d like to agree with Abe’s point that even this sunny survey suggests we still have a serious problem. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That’s 65 times the population of Gaza, and three and a half times the size of Iraq. One Gaza is headache enough, and it only took 19 individuals to destroy the World Trade Center, punch a hole in the Pentagon, and kill 3,000 people.

Some of the 93 percent supermajority support militia parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the West Bank’s Fatah. So while they may be religious moderates, they certainly aren’t politically moderate.

I’m less inclined than Abe to give the remaining Muslims — aside from secular terror-supporters — too hard a time. I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.

More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.

Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.

Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.

Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.

Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.

There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.

Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.

There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.

The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.

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Fascinating, What Does it Portend?

AFP reports that

A top Iranian cleric made a rare criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s verbal attacks on Israel on Wednesday, saying a foreign policy of “coarse slogans” was not in the national interest.

Hassan Rowhani, a former top nuclear negotiator who still holds several influential positions, said that Iran needed to show more flexibility and desire for dialogue in its dealings with the international community.

“Does foreign policy mean expressing coarse slogans and grandstanding?” Rowhani asked in a speech to a foreign policy conference in Tehran.

“This is not a foreign policy. We need to find an accommodating way to decrease the threats and assure the interests of the country.”

His comments came a week after the latest verbal attack on Israel by Ahmadinejad, who described the Jewish state as a “dirty microbe” and “savage animal” in a speech to a public rally….

Rowhani warned starkly: “If the international community thinks that a country wants to play troublemaker and eliminate others, it will not let the country do this and will confront it.

Clearly, at least some officials in Iran are becoming increasingly wary of an Israeli or an American strike on their nuclear facilities. But what does this really mean? Do these officials want to stop the nuclear program or merely tone down the rhetoric while they forge ahead?

Critical to understanding these issues is an exceptionally revealing speech given by Rowhani on September 30, 2005. Rowhani’s words have  been subjected to a close analysis by the Israeli analyst, Chen Kane, formerly an Israeli atomic energy officia and now of CSIS in Washington. Kane’s conclusions are chilling:

Rowhani suggested that Iran use the technical progress Iran had achieved by the time [his own] speech was delivered to create a nuclear fait accompli. He recommended accelerating Iran’s efforts on the technical front: “If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice, that we do possess the technology, then the situation will be different.”

Rowhani also advise[d] his audience, however, that this objective should be pursued while keeping the avenue for negotiation open, so as to allow Iran to improve its technical capabilities while postponing referral to the Security Council for as long as possible. Warning that Iran should avoid what in fact was to occur after Iran ended its suspension of enrichment activities, Rowhani cautioned, “I think we should not be in a great rush to deal with this issue. We should be patient and find the most suitable time to do away with the suspension. . . . we must move very carefully, in a very calculated manner.”
 

 

AFP reports that

A top Iranian cleric made a rare criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s verbal attacks on Israel on Wednesday, saying a foreign policy of “coarse slogans” was not in the national interest.

Hassan Rowhani, a former top nuclear negotiator who still holds several influential positions, said that Iran needed to show more flexibility and desire for dialogue in its dealings with the international community.

“Does foreign policy mean expressing coarse slogans and grandstanding?” Rowhani asked in a speech to a foreign policy conference in Tehran.

“This is not a foreign policy. We need to find an accommodating way to decrease the threats and assure the interests of the country.”

His comments came a week after the latest verbal attack on Israel by Ahmadinejad, who described the Jewish state as a “dirty microbe” and “savage animal” in a speech to a public rally….

Rowhani warned starkly: “If the international community thinks that a country wants to play troublemaker and eliminate others, it will not let the country do this and will confront it.

Clearly, at least some officials in Iran are becoming increasingly wary of an Israeli or an American strike on their nuclear facilities. But what does this really mean? Do these officials want to stop the nuclear program or merely tone down the rhetoric while they forge ahead?

Critical to understanding these issues is an exceptionally revealing speech given by Rowhani on September 30, 2005. Rowhani’s words have  been subjected to a close analysis by the Israeli analyst, Chen Kane, formerly an Israeli atomic energy officia and now of CSIS in Washington. Kane’s conclusions are chilling:

Rowhani suggested that Iran use the technical progress Iran had achieved by the time [his own] speech was delivered to create a nuclear fait accompli. He recommended accelerating Iran’s efforts on the technical front: “If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice, that we do possess the technology, then the situation will be different.”

Rowhani also advise[d] his audience, however, that this objective should be pursued while keeping the avenue for negotiation open, so as to allow Iran to improve its technical capabilities while postponing referral to the Security Council for as long as possible. Warning that Iran should avoid what in fact was to occur after Iran ended its suspension of enrichment activities, Rowhani cautioned, “I think we should not be in a great rush to deal with this issue. We should be patient and find the most suitable time to do away with the suspension. . . . we must move very carefully, in a very calculated manner.”
 

 

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Reuters’ Sadr Story Vanishes

Reuters, the news agency with a policy forbidding the word “terrorist” from their stories and a penchant for printing doctored photos as evidence of Israeli aggression, has done it again.

Yesterday, Reuters posted a story entitled “Sadr Expected to End Truce”, implying it was likely that Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr would end his Mahdi Army’s six-month ceasefire in Iraq. I can’t offer the URL of that story because once their cynical prediction was proved immediately wrong (today, Sadr announced that he’d be extending the ceasefire another six months) the link started bringing me to a new Reuters story entitled (surprise, surprise) “Iraqi Cleric Sadr Extends Militia Ceasefire.” Soon after that, the original headline disappeared from internet searches altogether. The only place on the web I’ve been able to find the old headline (which links to the new story) is way down in the comments section of the firedoglake blog.

For Reuters, flesh-and-blood events of global importance seem to be no more than malleable bits of code. Stories are offered, embellished, and pulled at their discretion. Moreover, this lack of regard for a news-hungry public reveals a consistent bias: deception is okay when expressing opposition to the hopes and aims of the U.S.

Reuters, the news agency with a policy forbidding the word “terrorist” from their stories and a penchant for printing doctored photos as evidence of Israeli aggression, has done it again.

Yesterday, Reuters posted a story entitled “Sadr Expected to End Truce”, implying it was likely that Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr would end his Mahdi Army’s six-month ceasefire in Iraq. I can’t offer the URL of that story because once their cynical prediction was proved immediately wrong (today, Sadr announced that he’d be extending the ceasefire another six months) the link started bringing me to a new Reuters story entitled (surprise, surprise) “Iraqi Cleric Sadr Extends Militia Ceasefire.” Soon after that, the original headline disappeared from internet searches altogether. The only place on the web I’ve been able to find the old headline (which links to the new story) is way down in the comments section of the firedoglake blog.

For Reuters, flesh-and-blood events of global importance seem to be no more than malleable bits of code. Stories are offered, embellished, and pulled at their discretion. Moreover, this lack of regard for a news-hungry public reveals a consistent bias: deception is okay when expressing opposition to the hopes and aims of the U.S.

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Ryan Crocker

I just left an on-the-record conference call in which Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, briefed some stateside pundits on how the situation looks at the end of the year. Not surprisingly, he said, that “2007 ends in a considerably better place than it began” and that he is “feeling a lot more encouraged than when I got here last March.” The key challenge now, of course, is to translate security progress into more political progress.

Crocker offered some encouraging signs of a “positive spiral engendered by security improvements,” including the fact that Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Vice President, recently met with Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior Shiite cleric, and that there were recently meetings between Sunni sheikhs from Anbar Province and Shiite sheikhs from Karbala Province. Those kinds of cross-sectarian meetings would not have happened a year ago.

He also pointed out that some of the Concerned Local Citizens groups in mixed parts of Baghdad that have taken up arms against extremists are composed of both Shiites and Sunnis. (The majority, however, are still exclusively Sunni, which makes sense, because they are operating in Sunni neighborhoods.)

Another welcome sign is that the central government is spending more of its budget and that the money is going out to Sunni and Shiite provinces alike “in a manner perceived as equitable.” In a related development, the Baghdad government recently agreed to pay pensions to tens of thousands of people who had been denied them because of their association with the Baathist regime. Crocker suggested this means that “they are paying for reconciliation.”

Trying to pass reconciliation legislation has, Crocker admitted, “been a slow, painful process.” Some of the bills, including one reversing previous de-Baathification decrees and another offering limited amnesty to some of those who have fought against coalition and Iraqi forces since 2003, are still winding their way through the legislative process. “They are making some progress,” he said. “They are going to have to make more.” He did add that the problem doesn’t seem to be Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki: “He’s a committed, dedicated person of great personal courage.”

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I just left an on-the-record conference call in which Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, briefed some stateside pundits on how the situation looks at the end of the year. Not surprisingly, he said, that “2007 ends in a considerably better place than it began” and that he is “feeling a lot more encouraged than when I got here last March.” The key challenge now, of course, is to translate security progress into more political progress.

Crocker offered some encouraging signs of a “positive spiral engendered by security improvements,” including the fact that Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Vice President, recently met with Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior Shiite cleric, and that there were recently meetings between Sunni sheikhs from Anbar Province and Shiite sheikhs from Karbala Province. Those kinds of cross-sectarian meetings would not have happened a year ago.

He also pointed out that some of the Concerned Local Citizens groups in mixed parts of Baghdad that have taken up arms against extremists are composed of both Shiites and Sunnis. (The majority, however, are still exclusively Sunni, which makes sense, because they are operating in Sunni neighborhoods.)

Another welcome sign is that the central government is spending more of its budget and that the money is going out to Sunni and Shiite provinces alike “in a manner perceived as equitable.” In a related development, the Baghdad government recently agreed to pay pensions to tens of thousands of people who had been denied them because of their association with the Baathist regime. Crocker suggested this means that “they are paying for reconciliation.”

Trying to pass reconciliation legislation has, Crocker admitted, “been a slow, painful process.” Some of the bills, including one reversing previous de-Baathification decrees and another offering limited amnesty to some of those who have fought against coalition and Iraqi forces since 2003, are still winding their way through the legislative process. “They are making some progress,” he said. “They are going to have to make more.” He did add that the problem doesn’t seem to be Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki: “He’s a committed, dedicated person of great personal courage.”

A wild card in all this remains the role of Iraq’s neighbors, particularly Syria and Iran, which have long been stoking the conflict. There have been mixed reports on whether the Iranians and Syrians have tamped down their efforts to destabilize Iraq, with conflicting claims being heard from the Pentagon and State Department.

Crocker was careful to take a middle-of-the-road position, saying, “I’m pretty modest about what I claim to know about Iran.” Crocker continued: “It’s unclear to me how much of what we’ve seen in throttling back of extremist militia activity represents an Iranian effort, how much of it is Sadrist leaders recognizing where good politics lie…. I’m making no assumptions. I’m handing out no certificates of good behavior.” This puts him at odds, seemingly, with some State Department colleagues back in Washington, who have been more effusive in attesting to Iran’s supposed change of behavior.

As for Syria, he said, there are “some indications of lessening numbers of foreign fighters slash suicide bombers coming across the border, but as far as we can tell that still remains the primary conduit for people who do really nasty things out here.”

He pointed out another aspect of Iraq’s foreign relations that hasn’t received the attention it deserves: the unwillingness of Arab countries to send ambassadors back to Baghdad despite the improving security situation. “It is past time,” Crocker said, “for Arab states to step up and be a positive, active influence in Iraq.” At the moment, they prefer to complain from the sidelines about Iranian influence without trying to get into the game themselves.

Crocker ended by saying that Iraqis no longer fear getting abandoned by the United States: “At the most fundamental level, there is a view that things are moving in the right direction, that security is improving, that the surge has worked, that Iraqi forces are more numerous and more capable, and therefore why on earth would we abandon a winning proposition?”

Good question. It’s one that some of the presidential candidates who are advocating a rapid drawdown of American forces should answer.

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Livingstone, Confused

In 2004, London Mayor Ken Livingstone—who has long held a soft spot in his heart for terrorists of the Muslim and (perhaps of weightier concern to his constituents) Irish variety—welcomed the fanatical Egyptian cleric (and al-Jazeera commentator) Yusuf al-Qaradawi to his city for a conference (see this great anti-Livingstone advertisement). Peter Tatchell, the heroic gay rights campaigner and anti-Islamist advocate, as well as Livingstone’s most vocal and persistent critic on this issue, offered this brief and all-encompassing summary of the Islamist “scholar”:

Qaradawi supports female genital mutilation, wife-beating, the execution of homosexuals, destruction of the Jewish people, suicide bombing of innocent civilians, and the punishment of rape victims who do not dress with sufficient modesty.

Yesterday, at the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site, in an exercise that truly strains belief, Livingstone published a piece supporting the British Labour government’s attempts to pass a law banning incitement to homophobic hatred.

Livingstone writes:

Consistency in the protection the law provides is essential for two reasons: to provide justice to the individuals concerned, and as a line drawn by society against prejudice. This is the approach I have taken towards the government’s impending Single Equality Act and it is the approach that politicians and government must adopt in providing equal protection against incitement to hatred.

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In 2004, London Mayor Ken Livingstone—who has long held a soft spot in his heart for terrorists of the Muslim and (perhaps of weightier concern to his constituents) Irish variety—welcomed the fanatical Egyptian cleric (and al-Jazeera commentator) Yusuf al-Qaradawi to his city for a conference (see this great anti-Livingstone advertisement). Peter Tatchell, the heroic gay rights campaigner and anti-Islamist advocate, as well as Livingstone’s most vocal and persistent critic on this issue, offered this brief and all-encompassing summary of the Islamist “scholar”:

Qaradawi supports female genital mutilation, wife-beating, the execution of homosexuals, destruction of the Jewish people, suicide bombing of innocent civilians, and the punishment of rape victims who do not dress with sufficient modesty.

Yesterday, at the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site, in an exercise that truly strains belief, Livingstone published a piece supporting the British Labour government’s attempts to pass a law banning incitement to homophobic hatred.

Livingstone writes:

Consistency in the protection the law provides is essential for two reasons: to provide justice to the individuals concerned, and as a line drawn by society against prejudice. This is the approach I have taken towards the government’s impending Single Equality Act and it is the approach that politicians and government must adopt in providing equal protection against incitement to hatred.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that “an intelligent person is one who can hold two contradictory ideas in mind simultaneously.” There’s a degree of truth in that assertion. But this is just ridiculous.

To be sure, hate-crimes laws are in and of themselves a specious proposition: aren’t all violent crimes, in the end, motivated by hatred? Proponents have not sufficiently explained why crimes committed due to the perpetrator’s racism or homophobia—as opposed to his hatred, say, for an ex-lover—should be treated more harshly, and such laws therefore run the risk of valuing certain victims more than others. The proposed law in Britain goes even further by rendering whole categories of speech illegal. Actual hate crimes already are prosecuted more vigorously than other violent crimes.

But the debate about the merits of the suggested law is an academic one and secondary to addressing the unmitigated gall behind Livingstone’s assuming the mantle of gay-rights champion. It’s frankly shocking that an ostensible progressive like Livingstone, who has hosted a prominent religious fascist advocating the execution of gays, would not see the inconsistency in his arguing on behalf of a law to ban incitement to violence against gays.

Normally, the reader comments section at the Guardian is rife with Stalinist apologetics and conspiratorial anti-Semitism. This time, however, the commentators outdo themselves in expressing amazement at how Livingstone could pen such an outrageously oblivious article without any mention of his own affiliations with inciters to homophobic crime. Were this bill law at the time Livingstone welcomed Qaradawi to London, the mayor quite possibly could have been prosecuted under its statues for aiding and abetting incitement to murder. Given his remarkable obtuseness, one cannot help but conclude that the irony of this situation is lost on Livingstone.

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A New Direction?

From the Politico today:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she would bring a new Iraq measure to the House floor shortly to provide $50 billion in funds for the war, while requiring U.S. troops to begin redeploying out of Iraq immediately and conclude by the end of next year. “In last year’s election, the American people called for a new direction; nowhere was that direction more called for than in the war in Iraq,” Pelosi told reporters. “And so in the next day or so, we [will] once again bring to the floor legislation that makes a distinction, a clear distinction: choose a new direction from the Bush foreign policy in Iraq.”

This is yet more evidence—as if we needed it—that the goal of leading Democrats is to withdraw American troops from Iraq, even if withdrawal destroys our chances of success.

How can one come to any other conclusion? After all, the surge has been more successful than anyone could have imagined. This year we have seen progress made in Iraq on almost every front.

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From the Politico today:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she would bring a new Iraq measure to the House floor shortly to provide $50 billion in funds for the war, while requiring U.S. troops to begin redeploying out of Iraq immediately and conclude by the end of next year. “In last year’s election, the American people called for a new direction; nowhere was that direction more called for than in the war in Iraq,” Pelosi told reporters. “And so in the next day or so, we [will] once again bring to the floor legislation that makes a distinction, a clear distinction: choose a new direction from the Bush foreign policy in Iraq.”

This is yet more evidence—as if we needed it—that the goal of leading Democrats is to withdraw American troops from Iraq, even if withdrawal destroys our chances of success.

How can one come to any other conclusion? After all, the surge has been more successful than anyone could have imagined. This year we have seen progress made in Iraq on almost every front.

Earlier this week, for example, we learned from Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil, Jr., commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, that American forces have routed al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) from every neighborhood of Baghdad and that violence had declined since a spike in June. Murder victims are down 80 percent from where they were at the peak, and attacks involving improvised bombs are down 70 percent, he said. General Fil attributed the decline to improvements in the Iraqi security forces, a cease-fire ordered by the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the disruption of financing for insurgents, and, most significantly, Iraqis’ rejection of “the rule of the gun.”

We’re seeing early reports (it’s still far too early to call it a trend) of refugees and displaced persons returning to their homes, which, if it continues, will be among the most compelling indicators of progress. People vote with their feet.

We have also seen substantial progress in the “war of ideas,” with Sunnis forcefully rejecting bin Ladenism. Earlier this week Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower, told Hugh Hewitt about this development that took place in September:

Sheik Salman al-Awdah is a very prominent cleric in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden himself lionized this man. But on two occasions, most recently at the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month that just concluded, Sheik Awdah condemned, personally condemned bin Laden. You know, my son, Osama, how long will this go on? You know, this stain on Islam. I mean, it was a direct repudiation of everything that bin Laden stood for.

Sheik Awdah’s “open letter to Osama bin Laden” asked:

Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocents among children, elderly, the weak, and women have been killed and made homeless in the name of al Qaeda? The ruin of an entire people, as is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . cannot make Muslims happy. Who benefits from turning countries like Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, or Saudi Arabia into places where fear spreads and no one can feel safe?

This is a stunning and important, if largely ignored, development.

In Iraq we’re also seeing some encouraging news on the economic front and very encouraging, even dramatic, progress on the local political front; “bottom-up” reconciliation is continuing apace. The main problem in Iraq lies with the central government and its unwillingness, still, to share power. Nevertheless, almost every important trend line in Iraq is positive. And yet to the likes of Speaker Pelosi, it matters not at all. She and her colleagues are ideologues in the truest sense—zealous and doctrinaire people committed to a path regardless of the evidence. And the fact that good news in Iraq seems to agitate her and other leading Democrats is astonishing, as well as unsettling.

Nancy Pelosi’s effort to subvert a manifestly successful (if belatedly implemented) strategy in Iraq is reckless and foolish—and it may succeed in driving down Congressional approval ratings, already at record lows, to single digits. Which is about where they belong.

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Is an al-Qaeda Nuclear Suitcase Bomb On the Way?

Norman Ornstein has an alarming piece on the Washington Post op-ed page this morning about the failure of our government to prepare to maintain continuity in the event of a devastating surprise terrorist attack with a weapon of mass destruction. This follows a June 12 op-ed in the New York Times by William J. Perry, Ashton B. Carter, and Michael M. May, stating that “the probability of a nuclear weapon one day going off in an American city cannot be calculated, but it is larger than it was five years ago.”

Building a nuclear bomb would be a formidable challenge for a terrorist group. Obtaining one would be a much easier route. How worried should we be? How real, in particular, is the loose nuclear-suitcase-bomb problem?

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Norman Ornstein has an alarming piece on the Washington Post op-ed page this morning about the failure of our government to prepare to maintain continuity in the event of a devastating surprise terrorist attack with a weapon of mass destruction. This follows a June 12 op-ed in the New York Times by William J. Perry, Ashton B. Carter, and Michael M. May, stating that “the probability of a nuclear weapon one day going off in an American city cannot be calculated, but it is larger than it was five years ago.”

Building a nuclear bomb would be a formidable challenge for a terrorist group. Obtaining one would be a much easier route. How worried should we be? How real, in particular, is the loose nuclear-suitcase-bomb problem?

I’ve long been skeptical that these things could be floating around. States that build nuclear weapons are well aware of their destructive potential and go to extraordinary lengths to keep them under control.

To be sure, there have been reports pointing in the other direction. In 1997, General Aleksandr Lebed, a Russian national security adviser, told CBS’s Sixty Minutes that the Russian military had 250 such weapons and had lost track of more than 100 of them. But was Lebed in a position to know? As James Kitfield pointed out in National Journal, other Russian authorities have asserted that the KGB was in charge of these devices, which would explain why the Russian military could not offer an accurate accounting of their numbers and whereabouts.

In his 2000 book, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, Yossef Bodansky stated that “there is no longer much doubt that bin Laden has finally succeeded in his quest for nuclear suitcase bombs.” But this claim was unsourced and seems difficult to credit. Although bin Laden has openly expressed interest in getting the bomb, and also obtained a fatwa from a Saudi cleric giving him divine permission to use one against American civilians, presumably, if he already had one in the 1990’s, we would have seen or heard it go off by now.

Still, the fact that there has been some sensationalist reporting does not mean there is no reason to worry. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal remains a chief concern. The country hemorrhaged nuclear-weapons technology for years when its atomic-energy program was being run by A. Q. Khan, who remains a national hero. Even if Khan is no longer in the loop, other elements within the Pakistani military and nuclear establishment might well offer to supply one to al Qaeda either for cash or to earn a place in heaven.

George Tenet adds significantly to our anxieties on this score. Although there are many things wrong with his recent memoir—and I point out some of them in The CIA Follies (Cont’d.) —what he writes about this problem seems credible. Immediately after September 11, it turns out, the U.S. government was uncertain whether or not al Qaeda already had such a device:

In late November 2001, I briefed the President, Vice President, and National Security Adviser on the latest intelligence. . . . I brought along with me my WMD chief, Rolf Mowatt-Larsen, and Kevin K., our most senior WMD terrorism analyst. During the ensuing conversation, the Vice President asked if we thought al Qaeda had a nuclear weapon. Kevin replied, “Sir, if I were to give you a traditional analytical assessment of the al-Qaeda nuclear program, I would say they probably do not. But I can’t assure you that they don’t.”

Tenet continues for many pages laying out precise intelligence about al Qaeda’s continuing efforts to obtain a nuclear bomb from Pakistan and from Russia. Whatever his flaws as a CIA director, Tenet was in a position to know all that can be known about this issue. His memoirs show that we do have reason to be afraid. But we shouldn’t be quivering in our boots. Rather, even as we work to avert a disastrous vacuum from forming in Iraq, we should be prosecuting the war against al Qaeda and allied Islamic terrorists with a vigor commensurate with what is at stake.

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Bad Character Assassination

Is torture ever permissible? The U.S. is in the midst of a great debate on this subject as the exigencies of counterterrorism collide with peacetime norms and traditions. But if inflicting pain during an interrogation is highly controversial, what about inflicting death before an interrogation?

We do this all the time on the battlefield, where killing enemy combatants before they kill us is accepted as the ordinary course of war. But now we are engaged in a shadow war off the battlefield, against terrorists who do not wear uniforms and operate in stealth. Is it permissible to strike them before they strike us?

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Is torture ever permissible? The U.S. is in the midst of a great debate on this subject as the exigencies of counterterrorism collide with peacetime norms and traditions. But if inflicting pain during an interrogation is highly controversial, what about inflicting death before an interrogation?

We do this all the time on the battlefield, where killing enemy combatants before they kill us is accepted as the ordinary course of war. But now we are engaged in a shadow war off the battlefield, against terrorists who do not wear uniforms and operate in stealth. Is it permissible to strike them before they strike us?

Let me be more specific. In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” This had been preceded by similar such restrictions issued by Presidents Ford and Carter.

These assassination bans, as the 9/11 Commission report makes clear, came to hamstring our policy against al Qaeda in the late 1990’s. After Osama bin Laden had successfully launched terrorist attacks against American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the CIA was ordered to find ways to put al Qaeda out of business. Elaborate plans were drawn up, but the assassination ban dominated the agency’s thinking; the upshot of all the preparations, states the 9/11 Commission staff report, was that “the only acceptable context for killing bin Laden was a credible capture operation.”

A plan designed to kill bin Laden outright was deemed unacceptable and illegal. Never mind that the U.S. had launched a fusillade of cruise missiles at one of his camps in 1998 to do just that; that was a military action, not a CIA covert operation.

One of the most memorable sentences in the entire 9/11 Commission report concerns the CIA contemplating action against bin Laden on a road leading to the Afghan city of Kandahar. James Pavitt, the assistant head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, “expressed concern that people might get killed; it appears he thought the operation had at least a slight flavor of a plan for an assassination.”

Not long afterward, the operation was called off. As a result, people did get killed—thousands of them—and not on the road to Kandahar but in lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon, and in rural Pennsylvania.

Islamist clerics around the world are still calling for suicide bombers to attack the United States. Jane Perlez of the New York Times reports on one such Pakistani cleric in today’s paper. If the CIA could from time to time engage in covert action against such avowed advocates of violence against the U.S., would they be so brazen? Would the madrassas in which they preach their hatred continue to be multiplying homicidal graduates?

President Bush can revoke the assassination ban at will. As the Congressional Research Service explains, he can most obviously do so by issuing a new Executive Order. As the CRS also points out, under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an Executive Order need not be published. In other words, Bush might already have revoked the ban and we would not know it—at least until homicidal clerics start disappearing.

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

There is no shortage of bad news from Iraq, such as the bombing of another market in Baghdad that reportedly killed 25 people on Tuesday, another suicide bombing near the Iranian border that killed fifteen people on Wednesday, and various other attacks around the country that killed seven U.S. soldiers and two marines. Yet amid the inevitable setbacks there are also some modest signs of progress.

On Saturday, U.S. Special Operations forces killed Sheikh Azhar al-Dulaymi, a major-league bad guy responsible for the daring operation in Karbala on January 20th, in which attackers disguised as U.S. troops invaded a government compound and killed five American soldiers. The U.S. military command said that intelligence indicated that Dulaymi had received training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and their Lebanese Hizballah puppets.

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There is no shortage of bad news from Iraq, such as the bombing of another market in Baghdad that reportedly killed 25 people on Tuesday, another suicide bombing near the Iranian border that killed fifteen people on Wednesday, and various other attacks around the country that killed seven U.S. soldiers and two marines. Yet amid the inevitable setbacks there are also some modest signs of progress.

On Saturday, U.S. Special Operations forces killed Sheikh Azhar al-Dulaymi, a major-league bad guy responsible for the daring operation in Karbala on January 20th, in which attackers disguised as U.S. troops invaded a government compound and killed five American soldiers. The U.S. military command said that intelligence indicated that Dulaymi had received training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and their Lebanese Hizballah puppets.

U.S. forces have also rolled up a gang of insurgents responsible for downing a string of our helicopters. As summarized by USA Today:

Enemy fighters shot down six military helicopters in January and February, killing 23 servicemembers. Heavy machine guns were used in four attacks and small arms in one assault. A missile was used to down one of the six helicopters. Two private contractor helicopters were also shot down during that time.

But, as the newspaper continues, “There haven’t been any fatal helicopter attacks since February.” This may be attributed to a combination of factors. One shouldn’t discount the role of pure, dumb luck, but American aviators have also successfully changed their operating procedures and have even managed to ambush the ambushers. As USA Today notes:

During the raids, U.S. forces combined air attacks with ground assaults that captured insurgents, [Maj. Gen. James] Simmons said. Information gathered in those raids revealed anti-helicopter tactics used by insurgents. The military used that knowledge to launch counter-ambushes, using U.S. aircraft to target the [insurgent] teams.

There is also some good news on the political front. This Washington Post story reports that Moqtada Al-Sadr, head of the Jaish al-Mahdi (the Mahdist Army, JMA), one of the largest and most violent Shiite factions, professes to be moderating:

The 33-year-old populist is reaching out to a broad array of Sunni leaders, from politicians to insurgents, and purging extremist members of his Mahdi Army militia who target Sunnis. . . . And moderates are taking up key roles in Sadr’s movement, professing to be less anti-American and more nationalist as they seek to improve Sadr’s image and position him in the middle of Iraq’s ideological spectrum.

Meanwhile, the other leading Shiite party is changing its name from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, dropping the “revolution” in its name to make clear that it is not seeking a radical overhaul of Iraqi society. This faction, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, is trying to lessen its ties to Iran and to remake itself as an Iraqi nationalist movement.

A measure of skepticism is in order about both changes—elements of JAM remain extremely violent, and both it and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council maintain strong subterranean links with the Iranian leadership. The latest steps may simply be tactical adjustments in their ultimate pursuit of power. Nevertheless they are positive steps, and they are being met with some Sunni reciprocation. There are reports of Sunni tribes in Diyala and other provinces forming their own groups to resist al Qaeda, following in the footsteps of the Anbar Salvation Council. And the original Anbar group is expanding its activities to other parts of the country. As this New York Times story reports:

In a hopeful sign on Tuesday, a Sunni tribal leader made a conciliatory public visit to Sadr City, the Shiite enclave in western Baghdad. Sheikh Hamid al-Hayis, leader of an alliance of Sunni tribes that recently began providing men to fight al Qaeda beside the marines in Anbar Province, met with backers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Salih al-Ugaily, a Sadr supporter in Parliament, said in an interview that the two sides had agreed on the need for reconciliation and to expedite holding provincial elections, a major demand of Sunni Iraqis, many of whom have said they feel disenfranchised after boycotting previous elections.

Neither security operations nor the political process is moving as quickly as anyone would like, but it would be a mistake to despair too soon. In particular it would be a mistake to give up on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and try to replace him with someone more to America’s liking—an option suggested in this Los Angeles Times article.

Maliki, for all his faults, has only been in office a year, and he is by many accounts improving. He is the third Iraqi leader hand-picked by American officials since Jerry Bremer gave up power in 2004. The previous two—Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al Jaafari—weren’t so hot. There is no reason to think that anyone who replaces Maliki would be any better, especially when one of the top potential replacements (at least in his own mind) is Allawi.

Replacing prime ministers means going back to square one. Better to work with the leader already in place, however imperfect, and to strengthen his hand by weakening through military action the Shiite and Sunni extremists who threaten the fragile political process. And this is, more or less, the strategy that General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker plan to follow, according to this Washington Post dispatch. We can only wait and hope for results.

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Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali a “Fundamentalist”?

The novelist Peter De Vries once observed that there are certain people who appear profound on the surface while deep down they remain superficial. This seems a fair characterization of anyone who could take seriously as an indictment the term “Enlightenment fundamentalist,” coined by Timothy Garton Ash to describe the fearless critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. As an act of verbal jujitsu, “Enlightenment fundamentalist” seems arresting at first. But just try to locate the intellectual and moral ties that bind, say, Sayyid Qutb to Baruch Spinoza, and you will come up empty-handed.

Hirsi Ali’s unapologetic preference for rationalism over “revealed” truth is not rooted in her own bone-chilling experiences, as she emphasizes in her new memoir, Infidel. (She was subjected to genital mutilation, arranged marriage, and regular beatings delivered by both kin and cleric.) Rather, through reading and common sense, she concluded that the open, secular society, where women are not treated as divinely licensed sex slaves, is self-evidently better than the closed, Islamic one, where they are.

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The novelist Peter De Vries once observed that there are certain people who appear profound on the surface while deep down they remain superficial. This seems a fair characterization of anyone who could take seriously as an indictment the term “Enlightenment fundamentalist,” coined by Timothy Garton Ash to describe the fearless critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. As an act of verbal jujitsu, “Enlightenment fundamentalist” seems arresting at first. But just try to locate the intellectual and moral ties that bind, say, Sayyid Qutb to Baruch Spinoza, and you will come up empty-handed.

Hirsi Ali’s unapologetic preference for rationalism over “revealed” truth is not rooted in her own bone-chilling experiences, as she emphasizes in her new memoir, Infidel. (She was subjected to genital mutilation, arranged marriage, and regular beatings delivered by both kin and cleric.) Rather, through reading and common sense, she concluded that the open, secular society, where women are not treated as divinely licensed sex slaves, is self-evidently better than the closed, Islamic one, where they are.

This did not stop Garton Ash from writing, apropos of Hirsi Ali’s previous book, The Caged Virgin, that her career exhibited “a pattern familiar to historians of political intellectuals.” As he put it, she “has gone from one extreme to the other, with an emotional energy perfectly summed up by Shakespeare: ‘As the heresies that men do leave/are hated most of those they did deceive.’” (It’s in keeping with such generous standards of analysis that Garton Ash fails to mention the high irony of the fact that his quotation’s source, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, lampoons the foolishness of . . . arranged marriage, one of Hirsi Ali’s bêtes-noires.)

In both of her books, Hirsi Ali shows that her disgust and outrage have been fueled not by a feeling of having been personally “deceived” but by the conditions she has witnessed around her. She ran for a seat in the Dutch parliament in order to force Holland to gather information about the incidence of domestic violence—including sexual abuse and incest—and the ethnic background of its perpetrators. She also wanted the government to “investigate the number of excisions of little girls that took place every year on Dutch kitchen tables.”

Right-thinking intellectuals may choose to ignore or rationalize Koranic injunctions like “Your wives are your tillage, go in unto your tillage in what manner so ever you will,” arguing that these are only interpreted literally in a few third-world countries. Yet Hirsi Ali, who grew up in Somalia and traveled with her divided family to Saudi Arabia and Kenya, stands as a living reply: these literalists really get around. They are now, in fact, comfortably ensconced in cosmopolitan cities like London and Amsterdam, where Theo van Gogh, her friend and collaborator on the film Submission, was pulled off his bicycle and shot to death by Mohammed Bouyeri in 2004.

What best refutes Garton Ash’s charge of fundamentalism is the demonstrable fact that, even in her newfound atheism, Hirsi Ali can still pay homage to the rituals of faith. She writes in Infidel: “People were patient with each other in the Grand Mosque, and communal—everyone washing his or her feet in the same fountain, with no shoving or prejudice. We were all Muslims in God’s house, and it was beautiful. It had a quality of timelessness. I think this is one reasons Muslims believe that Islam means peace: because in a large, cool place full of kindness you do feel peaceful.”

Now show me bin Laden’s public acknowledgment that the Bill of Rights has its charms, too.

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