Commentary Magazine


Topic: Islamist government

Gaza Through Fresh Eyes Reveals Normality, Not Horror

The image of the Middle East in general and the Palestinian territories in particular is one of squalor and bloodshed. There has been plenty of the latter throughout the years, but anyone who visits the Palestinian areas knows how far from the truth is the commonly held assumption that the West Bank and Gaza in particular are awful places where the inhabitants are barely hanging on for dear life. There are plenty of poor Palestinians – and more than a few living in poverty across the border in Israel, too. But many of the towns and cities on the West Bank are bustling, prosperous, and largely middle-class. And while no one will mistake Gaza for the Cote d’Azure, the reality of even that unhappy place does not conform to the image of Israeli-imposed horror.

But don’t take my word for it; just read this week’s Sunday New York Times Week in Review section for a glimpse of “Gaza Through Fresh Eyes,” a photo essay by Katie Orlinsky with text by Ethan Bronner. What did Orlinsky find in Gaza? As Bronner writes:

For some, it’s the relative modernity — the jazzy cellphone stores and pricey restaurants. For others, it’s the endless beaches with children whooping it up. But for nearly everyone who visits Gaza, often with worry of danger and hostility, what’s surprising is the fact that daily life, while troubled, often has the staggering quality of the very ordinary.

The pictures show that life is going on in a very normal fashion. They depict a busy intersection in Rafah, a Gaza beach scene, shoppers in Gaza city where wedding dresses are on sale, and fishermen and farmers. Even the photos that show the less happy side of Gaza – a girl living in a tent, a crowded tenement, and a pregnant widow whose husband died of unspecified war-related injuries (had he been a truly innocent bystander who fell to Israeli fire, we probably would have been told as much, which means it’s just as likely as anything else that he was a Hamas terrorist who died in a “work accident” when explosives blew up prematurely or that he was killed while trying to kill Israelis) – show scenes that are not exactly depictions of the Israeli atrocities that so many around the world are so worked up about.

Even more interesting is what the pictures don’t show. None tell us about the Islamist government of the region, which is imposing on the people not only its vow of war to the death against Israel but also an extremist religion. None, not even the saddest picture, tells the reader the true context of life in Gaza: the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to make peace despite many offers of statehood and recognition from Israel. And none show the fact that the region was completely evacuated by Israel five years ago, but instead of using their independence to better their lives, the Palestinians have chosen more war.

While pictures can tell us a lot about Gaza and even make it plain that life there isn’t all that terrible, they can’t tell us why Hamas and its followers still prefer war to peace.

The image of the Middle East in general and the Palestinian territories in particular is one of squalor and bloodshed. There has been plenty of the latter throughout the years, but anyone who visits the Palestinian areas knows how far from the truth is the commonly held assumption that the West Bank and Gaza in particular are awful places where the inhabitants are barely hanging on for dear life. There are plenty of poor Palestinians – and more than a few living in poverty across the border in Israel, too. But many of the towns and cities on the West Bank are bustling, prosperous, and largely middle-class. And while no one will mistake Gaza for the Cote d’Azure, the reality of even that unhappy place does not conform to the image of Israeli-imposed horror.

But don’t take my word for it; just read this week’s Sunday New York Times Week in Review section for a glimpse of “Gaza Through Fresh Eyes,” a photo essay by Katie Orlinsky with text by Ethan Bronner. What did Orlinsky find in Gaza? As Bronner writes:

For some, it’s the relative modernity — the jazzy cellphone stores and pricey restaurants. For others, it’s the endless beaches with children whooping it up. But for nearly everyone who visits Gaza, often with worry of danger and hostility, what’s surprising is the fact that daily life, while troubled, often has the staggering quality of the very ordinary.

The pictures show that life is going on in a very normal fashion. They depict a busy intersection in Rafah, a Gaza beach scene, shoppers in Gaza city where wedding dresses are on sale, and fishermen and farmers. Even the photos that show the less happy side of Gaza – a girl living in a tent, a crowded tenement, and a pregnant widow whose husband died of unspecified war-related injuries (had he been a truly innocent bystander who fell to Israeli fire, we probably would have been told as much, which means it’s just as likely as anything else that he was a Hamas terrorist who died in a “work accident” when explosives blew up prematurely or that he was killed while trying to kill Israelis) – show scenes that are not exactly depictions of the Israeli atrocities that so many around the world are so worked up about.

Even more interesting is what the pictures don’t show. None tell us about the Islamist government of the region, which is imposing on the people not only its vow of war to the death against Israel but also an extremist religion. None, not even the saddest picture, tells the reader the true context of life in Gaza: the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to make peace despite many offers of statehood and recognition from Israel. And none show the fact that the region was completely evacuated by Israel five years ago, but instead of using their independence to better their lives, the Palestinians have chosen more war.

While pictures can tell us a lot about Gaza and even make it plain that life there isn’t all that terrible, they can’t tell us why Hamas and its followers still prefer war to peace.

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Roger Cohen: Recidivist Appeaser of Iran

Last August, Martin Peretz wondered in his New Republic blog whether even the New York Times would let their columnist Roger Cohen continue to write about Iran. That’s because Cohen had earned a special place in the history of journalistic malpractice earlier in 2009 through a series of columns that sought to falsely portray the oppressed remnant of a once great Iranian Jewish community as living in freedom under the beneficent rule of the ayatollahs.

Peretz’s curious faith in the judgment of the editors at the Times was misplaced. Cohen continues to rattle away about Iran from his perch as an online columnist at the newspaper, providing readers with ever more convoluted rationalizations for the same policy he advocated last year: an American “engagement” that would eschew both the threat of force as well as any sanctions as means for attempting to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

The events of the past year have rendered this stance even more ludicrous than it was in February and March of 2009, as the rosy picture of the country that Cohen painted in his original columns was undermined by both the regime’s violent repression of internal dissent and the utter failure of the Obama administration’s attempts to engage Iran. Nowadays, even Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have come to the conclusion that they must pursue a serious sanctions regime to avoid being faced with the opprobrium that will be theirs if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is able to announce the development of a nuclear weapon on their watch.

But Cohen is having none of that and, instead, insists that even though the Iranian government is nasty, it must still not be threatened or even pressured. He begins his argument today with a blatant falsehood by claiming “Obama’s outreach has achieved this: the unsettling of Iran’s revolutionary power structure. That alone was worth the gambit.” But even the administration seems to understand that this piece of obsequious flattery isn’t true. A series of unmet deadlines set by Washington for Iran to come to its senses have only emboldened the Islamist government there to dig in its heels: they are now convinced that Obama is a weak leader who can be toyed with and then ignored in the same manner they have treated European efforts to resolve the nuclear question. Indeed, Obama’s refusal to speak up in a timely and forceful manner against the stolen presidential election that sent thousands of Iranians into the streets, only to be shot down, raped, and imprisoned, has contributed to a situation where it appears that the Iranian dissidents, whose sufferings Cohen attempted to cover last summer, are no longer able to mount effective demonstrations, let alone topple their oppressors.

Cohen’s response to this debacle is to prescribe more of the same, something he acknowledges that Obama’s foreign-policy team—which rightly sees itself as having been badly embarrassed by Iran’s lies and deceptions—is unwilling to do. Cohen’s fear is that having been mugged by the reality of the regime, whose depredations he once rationalized, Obama will now realize that the threat from a nuclear Iran is a factor that could ultimately destroy his presidency. In today’s lengthy diatribe, the Times columnist assembles all the same misleading arguments that Iran’s other shills have been hawking recently. He argues against isolation and sanctions against Iran, and views the threat of Western force to spike Ahmadinejad’s bomb as a greater evil than putting nuclear weapons in the hands of a Holocaust denier and terrorist funder who wants to destroy the State of Israel. His advice is to continue the sweet talk that Obama tried on Tehran last year and hope that eventually Iranian dissidents will somehow succeed, despite vigorous repression and without foreign help. He ignores the fact that Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would be strengthened immeasurably by a Western decision to let them go nuclear.

As has Cohen himself, whose credibility as a journalist was forfeited when he choose to fall in love with the romance of Persian culture, engagement of Iran has been comprehensively discredited over the last year. Let’s hope the Obama administration ignores Cohen and the rest of the chorus of apologists and appeasers doing Tehran’s bidding and chooses instead to finally start treating the threat from Iran seriously.

Last August, Martin Peretz wondered in his New Republic blog whether even the New York Times would let their columnist Roger Cohen continue to write about Iran. That’s because Cohen had earned a special place in the history of journalistic malpractice earlier in 2009 through a series of columns that sought to falsely portray the oppressed remnant of a once great Iranian Jewish community as living in freedom under the beneficent rule of the ayatollahs.

Peretz’s curious faith in the judgment of the editors at the Times was misplaced. Cohen continues to rattle away about Iran from his perch as an online columnist at the newspaper, providing readers with ever more convoluted rationalizations for the same policy he advocated last year: an American “engagement” that would eschew both the threat of force as well as any sanctions as means for attempting to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

The events of the past year have rendered this stance even more ludicrous than it was in February and March of 2009, as the rosy picture of the country that Cohen painted in his original columns was undermined by both the regime’s violent repression of internal dissent and the utter failure of the Obama administration’s attempts to engage Iran. Nowadays, even Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have come to the conclusion that they must pursue a serious sanctions regime to avoid being faced with the opprobrium that will be theirs if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is able to announce the development of a nuclear weapon on their watch.

But Cohen is having none of that and, instead, insists that even though the Iranian government is nasty, it must still not be threatened or even pressured. He begins his argument today with a blatant falsehood by claiming “Obama’s outreach has achieved this: the unsettling of Iran’s revolutionary power structure. That alone was worth the gambit.” But even the administration seems to understand that this piece of obsequious flattery isn’t true. A series of unmet deadlines set by Washington for Iran to come to its senses have only emboldened the Islamist government there to dig in its heels: they are now convinced that Obama is a weak leader who can be toyed with and then ignored in the same manner they have treated European efforts to resolve the nuclear question. Indeed, Obama’s refusal to speak up in a timely and forceful manner against the stolen presidential election that sent thousands of Iranians into the streets, only to be shot down, raped, and imprisoned, has contributed to a situation where it appears that the Iranian dissidents, whose sufferings Cohen attempted to cover last summer, are no longer able to mount effective demonstrations, let alone topple their oppressors.

Cohen’s response to this debacle is to prescribe more of the same, something he acknowledges that Obama’s foreign-policy team—which rightly sees itself as having been badly embarrassed by Iran’s lies and deceptions—is unwilling to do. Cohen’s fear is that having been mugged by the reality of the regime, whose depredations he once rationalized, Obama will now realize that the threat from a nuclear Iran is a factor that could ultimately destroy his presidency. In today’s lengthy diatribe, the Times columnist assembles all the same misleading arguments that Iran’s other shills have been hawking recently. He argues against isolation and sanctions against Iran, and views the threat of Western force to spike Ahmadinejad’s bomb as a greater evil than putting nuclear weapons in the hands of a Holocaust denier and terrorist funder who wants to destroy the State of Israel. His advice is to continue the sweet talk that Obama tried on Tehran last year and hope that eventually Iranian dissidents will somehow succeed, despite vigorous repression and without foreign help. He ignores the fact that Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would be strengthened immeasurably by a Western decision to let them go nuclear.

As has Cohen himself, whose credibility as a journalist was forfeited when he choose to fall in love with the romance of Persian culture, engagement of Iran has been comprehensively discredited over the last year. Let’s hope the Obama administration ignores Cohen and the rest of the chorus of apologists and appeasers doing Tehran’s bidding and chooses instead to finally start treating the threat from Iran seriously.

Read Less

Is Iran’s Choice Between Theocracy and Totalitarianism?

There has been no shortage of commentary trying to dissuade Americans from taking the Iran nuclear threat seriously. The arguments run the gamut from attempts to show that Iran’s leadership is reasonable to attempts to assert that it is the Islamic Republic’s right to develop nukes. But one of the consistent themes we’ve heard in the last year is that the Western emphasis on the statements and ill intentions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is wrongheaded. Time and again, we have been told that, as unpleasant as the Holocaust-denying and Israel-hating Ahmadinejad may be, he is not the real source of power in Iran. Rather, we are reminded, it is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei we should worry about. In the view of apologists for the rogue regime, the focus on the loathsome Ahmadinejad merely demonizes Iran rather than dealing with it.

That argument was undermined by the events of the past summer, when the Islamist government went all out to steal the presidential election for Ahmadinejad. If he were just Khamenei’s errand boy, why would the ayatollahs unleash its religious militia to murder and intimidate the masses of Iranians who took to the streets to protest the stolen election? At the very least, Khamenei’s decision to stand by Ahmadinejad, even at the price of the regime’s internal legitimacy, illustrated that the president is a key part of the ayatollahs’ plan to hold onto power, if not an essential element of the regime, itself.

But now, as President Obama is mounting a half-hearted and belated attempt to enact sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt its nuclear program, there comes a different point of view about Ahmadinejad’s importance. Jamsheed K. Choksy of Indiana University writes in Newsweek that not only is Ahmadinejad nobody’s errand boy but he has also become an independent power in his own right who may be challenging the ayatollahs.

According to Choksy, Ahmadinejad is regularly defying Khamenei and may have a different view about confronting the West than his alleged master. Choksy claims that Ahmadinejad, who has heretofore been considered an ardent backer of the theocracy, is putting forward a more pragmatic and less dogmatically religious approach to governance, including championing the rights of women. This may sound hopeful to some who would like to think that, even without foreign pressure or support for an internal rebellion, Iran ultimately could be able to reform itself and become a more moderate nation.

But don’t get too excited. The sort of government that Ahmadinejad might be aiming for may actually be more repressive and nationalistic than the current one. For Choksy, an Ahmadinejad victory over the mullahs will not be a victory for liberalism: “Together with the IRGC [the Iranian Revolutionary Guard] and Basij (a volunteer paramilitary group that has attacked opposition protesters), Ahmadinejad and his ilk are turning to totalitarianism, rather than the fundamentalism of Shiite clerics, to suppress the steadily growing democratic aspirations of the Green Movement.”

If Choksy is right, we ought not to be cheering for Ahmadinejad and his violent allies to take control from the clerics. But if this potential conflict is real, and that is far from certain, what it does mean is that there is more reason than ever for the United States to push hard for crippling sanctions on Iran as well as to speak up for the democracy movement. We cannot sit back and wait until we are faced with either a nuclear totalitarian Iran or a nuclear theocratic Iran. Either would be a disaster and a deadly threat to peace.  If there is a real division between the rogues that run Iran, now is the time to put the maximum amount of pressure on these tyrants.

There has been no shortage of commentary trying to dissuade Americans from taking the Iran nuclear threat seriously. The arguments run the gamut from attempts to show that Iran’s leadership is reasonable to attempts to assert that it is the Islamic Republic’s right to develop nukes. But one of the consistent themes we’ve heard in the last year is that the Western emphasis on the statements and ill intentions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is wrongheaded. Time and again, we have been told that, as unpleasant as the Holocaust-denying and Israel-hating Ahmadinejad may be, he is not the real source of power in Iran. Rather, we are reminded, it is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei we should worry about. In the view of apologists for the rogue regime, the focus on the loathsome Ahmadinejad merely demonizes Iran rather than dealing with it.

That argument was undermined by the events of the past summer, when the Islamist government went all out to steal the presidential election for Ahmadinejad. If he were just Khamenei’s errand boy, why would the ayatollahs unleash its religious militia to murder and intimidate the masses of Iranians who took to the streets to protest the stolen election? At the very least, Khamenei’s decision to stand by Ahmadinejad, even at the price of the regime’s internal legitimacy, illustrated that the president is a key part of the ayatollahs’ plan to hold onto power, if not an essential element of the regime, itself.

But now, as President Obama is mounting a half-hearted and belated attempt to enact sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt its nuclear program, there comes a different point of view about Ahmadinejad’s importance. Jamsheed K. Choksy of Indiana University writes in Newsweek that not only is Ahmadinejad nobody’s errand boy but he has also become an independent power in his own right who may be challenging the ayatollahs.

According to Choksy, Ahmadinejad is regularly defying Khamenei and may have a different view about confronting the West than his alleged master. Choksy claims that Ahmadinejad, who has heretofore been considered an ardent backer of the theocracy, is putting forward a more pragmatic and less dogmatically religious approach to governance, including championing the rights of women. This may sound hopeful to some who would like to think that, even without foreign pressure or support for an internal rebellion, Iran ultimately could be able to reform itself and become a more moderate nation.

But don’t get too excited. The sort of government that Ahmadinejad might be aiming for may actually be more repressive and nationalistic than the current one. For Choksy, an Ahmadinejad victory over the mullahs will not be a victory for liberalism: “Together with the IRGC [the Iranian Revolutionary Guard] and Basij (a volunteer paramilitary group that has attacked opposition protesters), Ahmadinejad and his ilk are turning to totalitarianism, rather than the fundamentalism of Shiite clerics, to suppress the steadily growing democratic aspirations of the Green Movement.”

If Choksy is right, we ought not to be cheering for Ahmadinejad and his violent allies to take control from the clerics. But if this potential conflict is real, and that is far from certain, what it does mean is that there is more reason than ever for the United States to push hard for crippling sanctions on Iran as well as to speak up for the democracy movement. We cannot sit back and wait until we are faced with either a nuclear totalitarian Iran or a nuclear theocratic Iran. Either would be a disaster and a deadly threat to peace.  If there is a real division between the rogues that run Iran, now is the time to put the maximum amount of pressure on these tyrants.

Read Less

Want to Protest a Wall? Go to Egypt

In the past few years, Israel’s security fence has become a major tourist attraction for leftist protesters appalled at the Jewish state’s chutzpah in erecting an obstruction against the Palestinian suicide bombers. The fence has been a major success and an integral factor in the defeat of the Palestinian terror offensive dubbed the second intifada, which took the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis earlier in the decade.

But those who want to demonstrate against barriers to keep the Palestinians from wreaking havoc on the region need not go to Israel these days. According to Haaretz, “Egypt has begun the construction of a massive iron wall along its border with the Gaza Strip.” The wall will be 10 kilometers long and will be made of slates of steel reaching 20 to 30 meters deep.

Apparently, Egypt is finally responding to pressure from the United States to shut down the massive smuggling of arms and other goods into Hamas-controlled Gaza. As the article states: “The smuggling industry is so institutionalized that tunnel operators purchase licenses from the Rafah municipality, allowing them to connect to electricity and water. Hamas has also been ensuring no children are employed in the tunnels, and is taxing all smuggled goods.” The tunnels also allow people to pass between Gaza and Egypt, “including terrorists who linked up with pro-al-Qaeda groups in Gaza.”

The point here is that the massive pressure on Israel to lift its limited blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory tends to ignore the fact that Egypt is equally interested in shutting down its border with Gaza. Though missile fire from Gaza has been aimed only at Israeli towns and villages, the Iran-backed Hamasistan that has arisen there is a threat to all its neighbors, Arabs as well as Israelis. Rather than trying to brand Israel as the perpetrator of war crimes against Gazans, those concerned with conditions in the crowded strip should instead remember that Egypt is just as involved with the blockade as are the Israelis. Even more important, sympathy for Gazans should be tempered by concern over the nature of their Islamist government. So long as the people of Gaza choose to be ruled by Hamas, they must understand that their neighbors will continue to build walls to keep themselves safe.

In the past few years, Israel’s security fence has become a major tourist attraction for leftist protesters appalled at the Jewish state’s chutzpah in erecting an obstruction against the Palestinian suicide bombers. The fence has been a major success and an integral factor in the defeat of the Palestinian terror offensive dubbed the second intifada, which took the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis earlier in the decade.

But those who want to demonstrate against barriers to keep the Palestinians from wreaking havoc on the region need not go to Israel these days. According to Haaretz, “Egypt has begun the construction of a massive iron wall along its border with the Gaza Strip.” The wall will be 10 kilometers long and will be made of slates of steel reaching 20 to 30 meters deep.

Apparently, Egypt is finally responding to pressure from the United States to shut down the massive smuggling of arms and other goods into Hamas-controlled Gaza. As the article states: “The smuggling industry is so institutionalized that tunnel operators purchase licenses from the Rafah municipality, allowing them to connect to electricity and water. Hamas has also been ensuring no children are employed in the tunnels, and is taxing all smuggled goods.” The tunnels also allow people to pass between Gaza and Egypt, “including terrorists who linked up with pro-al-Qaeda groups in Gaza.”

The point here is that the massive pressure on Israel to lift its limited blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory tends to ignore the fact that Egypt is equally interested in shutting down its border with Gaza. Though missile fire from Gaza has been aimed only at Israeli towns and villages, the Iran-backed Hamasistan that has arisen there is a threat to all its neighbors, Arabs as well as Israelis. Rather than trying to brand Israel as the perpetrator of war crimes against Gazans, those concerned with conditions in the crowded strip should instead remember that Egypt is just as involved with the blockade as are the Israelis. Even more important, sympathy for Gazans should be tempered by concern over the nature of their Islamist government. So long as the people of Gaza choose to be ruled by Hamas, they must understand that their neighbors will continue to build walls to keep themselves safe.

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Somalia’s Islamist Insurgency

The Middle East is not the only battlefront in the war on terror; Africa has long been a staging ground. The spectacular bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 put the issue of Islamism in Africa onto front pages, but the battle has hardly let up since then. Case in point: Somalia.

In December of last year, Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to overthrow an Islamist government that had taken control of the capital, Mogadishu, and declared a jihad against its Christian neighbor. The United States, rightfully, assisted the Ethiopian invasion by providing satellite imagery and bombing Islamist positions.

The American assistance to this vital anti-terrorism operation raised the usual cackles amongst some on the American Left, but mostly, it went unnoticed. The Ethiopian invasion was an open and shut case of a justified, state-level response to cross-border attacks. The United Nations’ senior representative in Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, however, begs to differ:

United Nations officials now concede that the country was in better shape during the brief reign of Somalia’s Islamist movement last year. “It was more peaceful, and much easier for us to work,” Mr. Laroche said. “The Islamists didn’t cause us any problems.”

Mr. Ould-Abdallah called those six months, which were essentially the only epoch of peace most Somalis have tasted for years, Somalia’s “golden era.”

This is a brazen statement by Ould-Abdallah, considering that the transitional government the Islamists overthrew, established in 2004, was supported by his employer as well as the African and European Unions and the United States. Claiming that the illegal, Islamist overthrow of this internationally-recognized government brought upon a “golden era” should merit Ould-Abdallah’s immediate termination as a United Nations official.

The grave situation in Somalia is of concern to the United States not just because of the humanitarian distress caused by famine and plagues, but also because of the political instability that has created a vacuum in which anti-Western, Islamist elements can prosper. If American policymakers wish to avoid another Afghanistan, they would do well to ensure that Somalia’s Islamist insurgency is defeated.

The Middle East is not the only battlefront in the war on terror; Africa has long been a staging ground. The spectacular bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 put the issue of Islamism in Africa onto front pages, but the battle has hardly let up since then. Case in point: Somalia.

In December of last year, Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to overthrow an Islamist government that had taken control of the capital, Mogadishu, and declared a jihad against its Christian neighbor. The United States, rightfully, assisted the Ethiopian invasion by providing satellite imagery and bombing Islamist positions.

The American assistance to this vital anti-terrorism operation raised the usual cackles amongst some on the American Left, but mostly, it went unnoticed. The Ethiopian invasion was an open and shut case of a justified, state-level response to cross-border attacks. The United Nations’ senior representative in Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, however, begs to differ:

United Nations officials now concede that the country was in better shape during the brief reign of Somalia’s Islamist movement last year. “It was more peaceful, and much easier for us to work,” Mr. Laroche said. “The Islamists didn’t cause us any problems.”

Mr. Ould-Abdallah called those six months, which were essentially the only epoch of peace most Somalis have tasted for years, Somalia’s “golden era.”

This is a brazen statement by Ould-Abdallah, considering that the transitional government the Islamists overthrew, established in 2004, was supported by his employer as well as the African and European Unions and the United States. Claiming that the illegal, Islamist overthrow of this internationally-recognized government brought upon a “golden era” should merit Ould-Abdallah’s immediate termination as a United Nations official.

The grave situation in Somalia is of concern to the United States not just because of the humanitarian distress caused by famine and plagues, but also because of the political instability that has created a vacuum in which anti-Western, Islamist elements can prosper. If American policymakers wish to avoid another Afghanistan, they would do well to ensure that Somalia’s Islamist insurgency is defeated.

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Hamas, Three Months After

It has been three months since Hamas took power in Gaza, and what a short, strange trip it’s been. In the beginning, Hamas spokesmen assuaged the consciences of credulous op-ed page editors everywhere with submissions that promised an enlightened, progressive Islamist government. One spokesman wrote in the New York Times that “Our sole focus is Palestinian rights and good governance.” He also said in a Washington Post op-ed that Hamas’s ambitions in Gaza are actually western ambitions: “self-determination, modernity . . . and freedom for civil society to evolve.” Another wrote, in the Los Angeles Times, that “Gaza will be calm and under the rule of law—a place where all journalists, foreigners, and guests of the Palestinian people will be treated with dignity.” (At the time he offered no word on how many yoga studios and organic food stands would be opened.)

The English-language spokesmen for Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups have long since mastered the democratic political lexicon, and the number of westerners eager to be taken in by such clichés has always been high. But now that Hamas has been in power for a quarter-year, it has an actual political track record to observe. And this record shows that Hamas, in defiance of the fervent wishes and predictions of its western apologists, has behaved exactly as many of us predicted at the beginning of the summer: In ideology, ambition, and style of governance, Hamas has come to resemble most closely its major regional patron, Iran.

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It has been three months since Hamas took power in Gaza, and what a short, strange trip it’s been. In the beginning, Hamas spokesmen assuaged the consciences of credulous op-ed page editors everywhere with submissions that promised an enlightened, progressive Islamist government. One spokesman wrote in the New York Times that “Our sole focus is Palestinian rights and good governance.” He also said in a Washington Post op-ed that Hamas’s ambitions in Gaza are actually western ambitions: “self-determination, modernity . . . and freedom for civil society to evolve.” Another wrote, in the Los Angeles Times, that “Gaza will be calm and under the rule of law—a place where all journalists, foreigners, and guests of the Palestinian people will be treated with dignity.” (At the time he offered no word on how many yoga studios and organic food stands would be opened.)

The English-language spokesmen for Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups have long since mastered the democratic political lexicon, and the number of westerners eager to be taken in by such clichés has always been high. But now that Hamas has been in power for a quarter-year, it has an actual political track record to observe. And this record shows that Hamas, in defiance of the fervent wishes and predictions of its western apologists, has behaved exactly as many of us predicted at the beginning of the summer: In ideology, ambition, and style of governance, Hamas has come to resemble most closely its major regional patron, Iran.

The new climate in Gaza is fearsome. Hamas has banned unapproved public gatherings, routinely beaten political opponents, intimidated journalists, and imposed a de facto regime of shari’a law. The internal purge continues, with regular death threats against Fatah loyalists and in many cases the firings of Fatah-associated doctors and other professionals. The only parts of the Gaza economy that still have a pulse are those bankrolled by foreign aid. In a long report in yesterday’s Washington Post, Scott Wilson gives readers a taste of the new Gaza:

After Friday prayers in recent weeks, Fatah supporters have marched through Gaza’s streets in protest against the Hamas administration. “Shia! Shia!” the demonstrators shouted, an insulting reference to the Sunni Muslim movement’s inflexible Islamic character and financial support from the Shiite government of Iran.

Their numbers have swelled into the thousands, and Hamas’s patience appears exhausted. The Palestinian Scholars League, an Islamic council dominated by Hamas clerics, issued a fatwa early this month prohibiting outdoor prayer.

The past three months have also been a test of the theory that power would moderate Hamas. After Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006, many people—including President Bush—predicted that a certain pragmatism finally would be forced on the Islamist group, and that it would be compelled to shift its focus from terrorism to the humdrum of daily governance.

But the decline of Gaza has not given Hamas’s leaders a moment’s pause in their pursuit of an external war against Israel and an internal war against Fatah. Rockets are fired from Gaza on a daily basis, and attempted infiltrations of Israel, many of them for the purpose of abducting another IDF soldier, are a regular occurrence. In many ways Hamas has been emboldened by the continued arrival, regardless of its terror war, of foreign aid money and water and electricity from Israel. Hamas, in other words, has been given the ability to run a consequence-free jihad.

The only good news to come out of all this is that at least for now, the movement to “engage” Hamas—most popular in Britain and Europe—has fallen into dormancy. Such calls might be revived as planning for the Bush administration’s regional conference intensifies, but the Hamas leadership may yet prove to be so ideologically stubborn and politically obtuse that even people like Daniel Levy and Colin Powell will not be able to help.

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The Turkish Trojan Horse

In an interview with Manfred Gerstenfeld for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Ayaan Hirsi Ali warned that

almost nobody in the West wants to understand that Islam’s problems are structural. Contemporary Islam hardly exists. Islam stopped thinking in the year 900 and has stood still for more than a thousand years. Western Muslims, however, live in an environment where you can think independently without your head being chopped off by somebody.

Hirsi Ali knows better than anyone else, of course, how precarious that freedom of thought can be—even in her former Dutch homeland, whence she was eventually forced to flee to the United States. Things may be bad in the Netherlands, but the threat there comes from a militant Muslim minority. How much more precarious must free speech be in Turkey, where the secular consensus instituted nearly a century ago by Kemal Atatürk is now being eroded by an Islamist government that enjoys majority support?

In a recent article in Die Welt, Hirsi Ali analyzes the efforts of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül to Islamicize Turkey. Rather than mount a direct attack on Atatürk’s secular legacy, which the Turkish military has defended by repeated military coups, they and other leaders of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) work in subtler ways, presenting themselves as “moderate” Islamists while appealing to the need for direct democracy in Turkey. (Michel Gurfinkiel, writing in the March 2007 issue of COMMENTARY, looks at the AKP more optimistically.)

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In an interview with Manfred Gerstenfeld for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Ayaan Hirsi Ali warned that

almost nobody in the West wants to understand that Islam’s problems are structural. Contemporary Islam hardly exists. Islam stopped thinking in the year 900 and has stood still for more than a thousand years. Western Muslims, however, live in an environment where you can think independently without your head being chopped off by somebody.

Hirsi Ali knows better than anyone else, of course, how precarious that freedom of thought can be—even in her former Dutch homeland, whence she was eventually forced to flee to the United States. Things may be bad in the Netherlands, but the threat there comes from a militant Muslim minority. How much more precarious must free speech be in Turkey, where the secular consensus instituted nearly a century ago by Kemal Atatürk is now being eroded by an Islamist government that enjoys majority support?

In a recent article in Die Welt, Hirsi Ali analyzes the efforts of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül to Islamicize Turkey. Rather than mount a direct attack on Atatürk’s secular legacy, which the Turkish military has defended by repeated military coups, they and other leaders of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) work in subtler ways, presenting themselves as “moderate” Islamists while appealing to the need for direct democracy in Turkey. (Michel Gurfinkiel, writing in the March 2007 issue of COMMENTARY, looks at the AKP more optimistically.)

This dissonance notwithstanding, these means are working. The AKP is undeniably popular: some 70 percent of the electorate say they would vote for Gül if the constitution were amended to allow direct elections for the influential post of president, as Prime Minister Erdogan demands. This popularity may well be the result of Turkey’s economic stabilization under Erdogan, as well as creeping Islamicization in state education and in the media. Recent mass demonstrations by Turkish secularists aside, it was only the warning of the military that persuaded Turkey’s constitutional court to rule against Gül’s nomination for the presidency.

While such direct military interference in the political and constitutional process runs counter to the letter and the spirit of the European Union (membership in which Erdogan has made the central plank of his foreign policy), Hirsi Ali condemns as “naïve” the demands of EU leaders for civilian control over the Turkish military as a condition of entry. The Europeans are, in her opinion, thereby unwittingly advancing the cause of transforming Turkey into an Islamic republic. She calls on Western liberals to recognize the unique role of the army in protecting Turkish democracy from Islam.

There is no doubt that Hirsi Ali is correct to identify this Turkish paradox—that liberty and democracy are only guaranteed by the threat of martial law. But she is also right that the liberal mindset finds such a paradox not only uncongenial, but intolerable. Most Europeans do not want Turkey to join the EU, where it would soon constitute by far the largest and youngest population. Even those who do favor Turkish entry—including the United States and Britain—insist on stripping away the political role of the army.

Seen from this perspective, the medium-term outlook for Turkey is grim. For Europe, however, the long-term outlook is even worse. As demographic trends in Europe cause Muslims to make up an ever larger proportion of the continental population, it will become impossible to resist pressure to accept an Islamist Turkey on its own terms.

Ancient Troy was sited on what is today Turkish soil. It is hard not to see Erdogan’s “moderate” Islamism as a potential Trojan horse in the heart of Western civilization.

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