Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kashmir

Combatting the Plague of Religious Extremism in Pakistan

The murder of Salman Taseer by one of his own bodyguards shows how perilous the situation in Pakistan is. We all know about how Islamist extremists have taken root in Pakistan’s tribal territories. But Taseer was governor of the Punjab, the country’s largest province, and one that is (or perhaps I should say was) far removed from the kind of violent extremism found on the frontier. Events of recent years — from the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto to the siege the same year of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, and now Taseer’s assassination — show how the plague of extremism is spreading and infecting Pakistan’s population centers.

The army and in particular its Inter Services Intelligence Agency have long played a double game, trying to preserve an essentially secular regime in Islamabad while also funding and training extremists operating in Afghanistan and Kashmir and even farther afield (e.g., the Mumbai attacks). Taseer’s death — for the sin of protesting the fundamentalist “blasphemy” laws that permit the persecution of anyone deemed offensive to the most conservative religious sensibilities — shows yet again how untenable that double game is. Sooner or later the army, which is the real power in Pakistan, must choose between the paths of moderation and extremism.

The United States can influence the choice only at the margins, but we must do what we can to signal to the army leadership that we will stand behind them if they decide to do more to take on the radicals. In this connection, it is highly useful that President Obama has agreed to NATO’s timeline not to transition security responsibility in Afghanistan until 2014. That should put to rest some immediate concerns about America’s fickleness as an ally and reassure the Pakistani army that we will stand with the forces of moderation in Pakistan should they do more to battle the growing religious extremism that threatens the very survival of the state.

The murder of Salman Taseer by one of his own bodyguards shows how perilous the situation in Pakistan is. We all know about how Islamist extremists have taken root in Pakistan’s tribal territories. But Taseer was governor of the Punjab, the country’s largest province, and one that is (or perhaps I should say was) far removed from the kind of violent extremism found on the frontier. Events of recent years — from the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto to the siege the same year of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, and now Taseer’s assassination — show how the plague of extremism is spreading and infecting Pakistan’s population centers.

The army and in particular its Inter Services Intelligence Agency have long played a double game, trying to preserve an essentially secular regime in Islamabad while also funding and training extremists operating in Afghanistan and Kashmir and even farther afield (e.g., the Mumbai attacks). Taseer’s death — for the sin of protesting the fundamentalist “blasphemy” laws that permit the persecution of anyone deemed offensive to the most conservative religious sensibilities — shows yet again how untenable that double game is. Sooner or later the army, which is the real power in Pakistan, must choose between the paths of moderation and extremism.

The United States can influence the choice only at the margins, but we must do what we can to signal to the army leadership that we will stand behind them if they decide to do more to take on the radicals. In this connection, it is highly useful that President Obama has agreed to NATO’s timeline not to transition security responsibility in Afghanistan until 2014. That should put to rest some immediate concerns about America’s fickleness as an ally and reassure the Pakistani army that we will stand with the forces of moderation in Pakistan should they do more to battle the growing religious extremism that threatens the very survival of the state.

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What the India-Pakistan Conflict Should Teach the West About the Middle East

A New York Times analysis yesterday discussed how the 63-year-old India-Pakistan conflict is undermining a vital American interest, one to which Washington has committed almost 100,000 soldiers: stabilizing Afghanistan so that it won’t revert to being a base for anti-American attacks. Pakistan’s fear of India, the report explained, spurs Islamabad to support the Taliban — the very people America is fighting in Afghanistan — as a bulwark against Indian influence in Kabul.

In short, resolving the India-Pakistan conflict could be vital to achieving America’s aims in Afghanistan. So why is Washington making no effort whatsoever to do so? Because, the Times explained, the conflict is not currently resolvable:

“It’s unfixable,” said C. Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “That’s why we’ll be working on this for the next 50 years. …

“If there was an easy way out of this, someone would have figured it out,” Professor Fair said. “But I don’t think it’s possible to untie this Gordian knot.”

It’s not that outside experts haven’t proposed various solutions, from formally dividing the disputed province of Kashmir (which is already divided de facto) to letting Kashmiris decide their own fate via a referendum. It’s just that none of the proposed solutions has ever proved acceptable to the parties that actually have to sign the deal: India and Pakistan.

The parallels to another conflict of almost identical duration, the Israeli-Arab one, are obvious. Here, too, outside experts have proposed various solutions, but none has yet proved acceptable to the parties that must actually sign the deals: Israel, the Palestinians, and Syria. That’s why, despite years of intensive negotiations and massive international involvement — both far exceeding anything ever tried with India-Pakistan — no agreement has yet been signed.

But there’s one huge difference between the two conflicts. In India-Pakistan, the West has recognized its inability to effect a solution and is therefore not wasting any time, money, or prestige on fruitless efforts. In the Israeli-Arab conflict, the delusion persists that it’s easily resolvable; indeed, “everyone knows the solution.” That this “solution” has repeatedly proved unacceptable to the parties themselves is somehow dismissed as unimportant. Therefore, massive amounts of Western time, money, and prestige continue to be spent on it to no avail.

Ironically, the one party spending almost no time, money, or prestige on this conflict is the Arab world — that same Arab world that, according to Western pundits, deems the Israeli-Palestinian conflict its No. 1 priority. That’s because Arab countries, unlike the West, are willing to acknowledge the facts: that the conflict is currently unsolvable, and that despite all the rhetoric about its importance, it actually matters little to the real regional problems.

Thus far, the peace-process fixation has caused nothing but harm: thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, and for Palestinians, an economic tailspin from which they have yet to fully recover. But the price has also been paid by millions of other people worldwide — all those to whom the time, money, and prestige the West has squandered on this conflict might actually make a difference.

A New York Times analysis yesterday discussed how the 63-year-old India-Pakistan conflict is undermining a vital American interest, one to which Washington has committed almost 100,000 soldiers: stabilizing Afghanistan so that it won’t revert to being a base for anti-American attacks. Pakistan’s fear of India, the report explained, spurs Islamabad to support the Taliban — the very people America is fighting in Afghanistan — as a bulwark against Indian influence in Kabul.

In short, resolving the India-Pakistan conflict could be vital to achieving America’s aims in Afghanistan. So why is Washington making no effort whatsoever to do so? Because, the Times explained, the conflict is not currently resolvable:

“It’s unfixable,” said C. Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “That’s why we’ll be working on this for the next 50 years. …

“If there was an easy way out of this, someone would have figured it out,” Professor Fair said. “But I don’t think it’s possible to untie this Gordian knot.”

It’s not that outside experts haven’t proposed various solutions, from formally dividing the disputed province of Kashmir (which is already divided de facto) to letting Kashmiris decide their own fate via a referendum. It’s just that none of the proposed solutions has ever proved acceptable to the parties that actually have to sign the deal: India and Pakistan.

The parallels to another conflict of almost identical duration, the Israeli-Arab one, are obvious. Here, too, outside experts have proposed various solutions, but none has yet proved acceptable to the parties that must actually sign the deals: Israel, the Palestinians, and Syria. That’s why, despite years of intensive negotiations and massive international involvement — both far exceeding anything ever tried with India-Pakistan — no agreement has yet been signed.

But there’s one huge difference between the two conflicts. In India-Pakistan, the West has recognized its inability to effect a solution and is therefore not wasting any time, money, or prestige on fruitless efforts. In the Israeli-Arab conflict, the delusion persists that it’s easily resolvable; indeed, “everyone knows the solution.” That this “solution” has repeatedly proved unacceptable to the parties themselves is somehow dismissed as unimportant. Therefore, massive amounts of Western time, money, and prestige continue to be spent on it to no avail.

Ironically, the one party spending almost no time, money, or prestige on this conflict is the Arab world — that same Arab world that, according to Western pundits, deems the Israeli-Palestinian conflict its No. 1 priority. That’s because Arab countries, unlike the West, are willing to acknowledge the facts: that the conflict is currently unsolvable, and that despite all the rhetoric about its importance, it actually matters little to the real regional problems.

Thus far, the peace-process fixation has caused nothing but harm: thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, and for Palestinians, an economic tailspin from which they have yet to fully recover. But the price has also been paid by millions of other people worldwide — all those to whom the time, money, and prestige the West has squandered on this conflict might actually make a difference.

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The Real Threat to Middle East Peace

David Ignatius’s account of a war game involving the United States, Israel, the Europeans, and Iran (and Gary Sick’s addendum) is a good guide to how the struggle over the Iranian nuclear program might play out:

The U.S. team — unable to stop the Iranian nuclear program and unwilling to go to war — concluded the game by embracing a strategy of containment and deterrence. The Iranian team wound up with Russia and China as its diplomatic protectors. And the Israeli team ended in a sharp break with Washington.

Let me try to flesh out what the “sharp break with Washington” might consist of.

It’s clear at this point that the Obama administration has reconciled itself to a nuclear Iran and even, I think, convinced itself that this won’t be such a bad thing. After all, China opened up to the West after it went nuclear. We dealt with the Russians after they went nuclear. The Indians and Pakistanis haven’t nuked each other, despite Kashmir and all the terrorism. Neither has Israel used nukes, for that matter.

In fact, Iran going nuclear might help remove the chip on the shoulder of the Islamic Revolutionaries by making them feel as important as they hope to be — because as we all know from our Iran experts, there’s an important psychological dimension to all of this; one must understand the legacy of colonialism and imperialism. The nuclear program will really be a socialization program, in other words. It is how Iran will be broken to the saddle of the international system.

So, if you’ve reconciled yourself to all of that, the next step is ensuring the smooth transition of the Middle East into a region with two, not one, nuclear powers. This is where the Israelis, and Israeli power, become a huge problem. Such a problem, I think, that the real challenge for Obama over the next year isn’t going to be dealing with the Iranians, it’s going to be deterring the Israelis.

The Iranians probably won’t test a nuke, so there will be no above-the-fold three-alarm headline when Americans suddenly will be forced to confront the fecklessness of their president. There will be no Soviet-tanks-rolling-into-Afghanistan moment. There will be ambiguity, enough of it for Obama to be able to maintain for a long time that we just don’t know whether Iran has gone nuclear because they’re still considering our latest offer to build reactors for them on the Galapagos Islands and they’ve requested another three weeks for deliberations.

The president is perfectly capable of muddling through the nuclearization of Iran. What would create huge problems is an Israeli strike. Obama would have to use the military to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. The “Arab street,” which he has worked so hard to befriend, would burn him in effigy from Algiers to Islamabad. The Zionist-Crusader axis would be denounced around the world. “Optics” are very important to Obama, quite more so than substance, and he would look as though he had completely lost control of the Middle East (which would be true). And once again, the world would descend into the kind of brutal struggle for power that is not supposed to happen during the Obama Era.

Yes, this is the real problem — the Israelis and their dangerous, rigid feelings of insecurity. So in my estimation, expect to see a major effort by the administration to keep the Israelis, not the Iranians, in check. It’s the logical thing to do.

David Ignatius’s account of a war game involving the United States, Israel, the Europeans, and Iran (and Gary Sick’s addendum) is a good guide to how the struggle over the Iranian nuclear program might play out:

The U.S. team — unable to stop the Iranian nuclear program and unwilling to go to war — concluded the game by embracing a strategy of containment and deterrence. The Iranian team wound up with Russia and China as its diplomatic protectors. And the Israeli team ended in a sharp break with Washington.

Let me try to flesh out what the “sharp break with Washington” might consist of.

It’s clear at this point that the Obama administration has reconciled itself to a nuclear Iran and even, I think, convinced itself that this won’t be such a bad thing. After all, China opened up to the West after it went nuclear. We dealt with the Russians after they went nuclear. The Indians and Pakistanis haven’t nuked each other, despite Kashmir and all the terrorism. Neither has Israel used nukes, for that matter.

In fact, Iran going nuclear might help remove the chip on the shoulder of the Islamic Revolutionaries by making them feel as important as they hope to be — because as we all know from our Iran experts, there’s an important psychological dimension to all of this; one must understand the legacy of colonialism and imperialism. The nuclear program will really be a socialization program, in other words. It is how Iran will be broken to the saddle of the international system.

So, if you’ve reconciled yourself to all of that, the next step is ensuring the smooth transition of the Middle East into a region with two, not one, nuclear powers. This is where the Israelis, and Israeli power, become a huge problem. Such a problem, I think, that the real challenge for Obama over the next year isn’t going to be dealing with the Iranians, it’s going to be deterring the Israelis.

The Iranians probably won’t test a nuke, so there will be no above-the-fold three-alarm headline when Americans suddenly will be forced to confront the fecklessness of their president. There will be no Soviet-tanks-rolling-into-Afghanistan moment. There will be ambiguity, enough of it for Obama to be able to maintain for a long time that we just don’t know whether Iran has gone nuclear because they’re still considering our latest offer to build reactors for them on the Galapagos Islands and they’ve requested another three weeks for deliberations.

The president is perfectly capable of muddling through the nuclearization of Iran. What would create huge problems is an Israeli strike. Obama would have to use the military to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. The “Arab street,” which he has worked so hard to befriend, would burn him in effigy from Algiers to Islamabad. The Zionist-Crusader axis would be denounced around the world. “Optics” are very important to Obama, quite more so than substance, and he would look as though he had completely lost control of the Middle East (which would be true). And once again, the world would descend into the kind of brutal struggle for power that is not supposed to happen during the Obama Era.

Yes, this is the real problem — the Israelis and their dangerous, rigid feelings of insecurity. So in my estimation, expect to see a major effort by the administration to keep the Israelis, not the Iranians, in check. It’s the logical thing to do.

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The Dems on God and Climate?

This Sunday, CNN will broadcast something called the “Compassion Forum” in which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama shoot the breeze on God, religion, etc. This is how CNN’s Roland Martin describes the event:

Sunday’s forum, which will be held at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, will allow each candidate to speak for 40 minutes on various moral issues, including poverty, global AIDS, climate change and human rights.

Climate change?

Now this is progress. Finally, the politico-media set is admitting that climate change is a religious matter. What else but faith could sustain the contention that the planet is boiling, when the United Nations World Meteorological Organization just announced that not only have temperatures been steady for that past 10 years, but it looks like things are getting . . . colder. So while families in Japan and India—India!—are being literally crushed to death by record snowfall, Ted Turner is composing cannibalistic Global Warming Armageddon scenarios. I wouldn’t miss the pious pronouncements on Sunday for all the snow in Kashmir.

This Sunday, CNN will broadcast something called the “Compassion Forum” in which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama shoot the breeze on God, religion, etc. This is how CNN’s Roland Martin describes the event:

Sunday’s forum, which will be held at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, will allow each candidate to speak for 40 minutes on various moral issues, including poverty, global AIDS, climate change and human rights.

Climate change?

Now this is progress. Finally, the politico-media set is admitting that climate change is a religious matter. What else but faith could sustain the contention that the planet is boiling, when the United Nations World Meteorological Organization just announced that not only have temperatures been steady for that past 10 years, but it looks like things are getting . . . colder. So while families in Japan and India—India!—are being literally crushed to death by record snowfall, Ted Turner is composing cannibalistic Global Warming Armageddon scenarios. I wouldn’t miss the pious pronouncements on Sunday for all the snow in Kashmir.

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Benazir Bhutto

Some cynics in Washington and New York pooh-poohed Benazir Bhutto’s tough-on-terrorism rhetoric. She was only posturing to get American support, they said—telling the administration what it wanted to hear. But she kept on repeating her pledges to crack down on Islamist militants even after she returned home after a lengthy exile. Today, those pledges cost her her life. Apparently the suicide bombers took her seriously, even if Georgetown sophisticates did not.

Her death brutally exposes how little success Pervez Musharraf has had in cracking down on the jihadists. They have only grown stronger on his watch. It is possible that no other government could have done better; some might even have done worse. But there is also little doubt that the military regime has been compromised by all the alliances it has struck over the years with extremist groups who were deemed to be fighting for Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The Bush administration has been making a grave mistake by so unreserverdly backing a regime so ambivalent in its commitment to the anti-terror fight. The restoration of democracy has been long overdue, and is finally, belatedly occurring: It’s a good thing Musharraf has stepped down as army chief of staff, but it’s unfortunate that he continues to cling to the presidency without submitting himself to a free and fair election.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Islamic factions are not popular with the people of Pakistan as a whole; they are polling only 4% at the moment, about what Ron Paul is getting in polls of Republican voters. Their support has never exceeded 12% in any election, and that only because Musharraf hobbled the mainstream parties from competing. Now their backing has cratered because of their failure to deliver on their good governance pledges in Northwest Frontier Province which they have been running since 2002.

There is a vast “silent majority” in Pakistan that abhors the militants and has come to detest military rule. They are waiting for a leader. Bhutto, for all her imperfections, could have been that leader. She won’t be now. Alas. But let us hope that she will at least become a martyr for the cause of Islamic democracy, and that her death will inspire others to carry on her brave struggle.

Some cynics in Washington and New York pooh-poohed Benazir Bhutto’s tough-on-terrorism rhetoric. She was only posturing to get American support, they said—telling the administration what it wanted to hear. But she kept on repeating her pledges to crack down on Islamist militants even after she returned home after a lengthy exile. Today, those pledges cost her her life. Apparently the suicide bombers took her seriously, even if Georgetown sophisticates did not.

Her death brutally exposes how little success Pervez Musharraf has had in cracking down on the jihadists. They have only grown stronger on his watch. It is possible that no other government could have done better; some might even have done worse. But there is also little doubt that the military regime has been compromised by all the alliances it has struck over the years with extremist groups who were deemed to be fighting for Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The Bush administration has been making a grave mistake by so unreserverdly backing a regime so ambivalent in its commitment to the anti-terror fight. The restoration of democracy has been long overdue, and is finally, belatedly occurring: It’s a good thing Musharraf has stepped down as army chief of staff, but it’s unfortunate that he continues to cling to the presidency without submitting himself to a free and fair election.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Islamic factions are not popular with the people of Pakistan as a whole; they are polling only 4% at the moment, about what Ron Paul is getting in polls of Republican voters. Their support has never exceeded 12% in any election, and that only because Musharraf hobbled the mainstream parties from competing. Now their backing has cratered because of their failure to deliver on their good governance pledges in Northwest Frontier Province which they have been running since 2002.

There is a vast “silent majority” in Pakistan that abhors the militants and has come to detest military rule. They are waiting for a leader. Bhutto, for all her imperfections, could have been that leader. She won’t be now. Alas. But let us hope that she will at least become a martyr for the cause of Islamic democracy, and that her death will inspire others to carry on her brave struggle.

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Breakdown in Pakistan

At first blush, recent events in Pakistan would seem to underscore the case for continuing to support General Pervez Musharraf, the country’s military dictator. Last week Musharrraf ordered the army to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad, which had been seized by radicals. Army commandos succeeded in their task, albeit at the cost of some 87 lives. Islamist radicals retaliated with a series of bombings over the weekend. Now comes word that the accord reached between the central government and tribal elders in North Waziristan last year has broken down. This was the treaty by which the government of Pakistan essentially ended all efforts to police this tribal area, in return for toothless promises on the part of the tribes to restrain the Taliban.

From Washington’s perspective, all this could be read as evidence that Musharraf remains the indispensable bulwark against Islamist extremism in this nuclear-armed nation. In reality, recent events demonstrate the disastrous consequences of decisions made over the years by Musharraf and other army commanders to reach a modus vivendi with Islamic radicals. The army, and its agency for Inter-Services Intelligence, have been using the radicals to stage attacks into Kashmir and Afghanistan. In return, they have looked the other way as these militants have expanded their influence in Pakistan proper. To be sure, this has been a relationship fraught with tensions—radicals have tried to assassinate Musharraf and he has sometimes cracked down on their activities. But Musharraf has never done as much as he keeps promising Washington he will do to suppress the Islamists—or as much as the majority of secular Pakistanis would like.

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At first blush, recent events in Pakistan would seem to underscore the case for continuing to support General Pervez Musharraf, the country’s military dictator. Last week Musharrraf ordered the army to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad, which had been seized by radicals. Army commandos succeeded in their task, albeit at the cost of some 87 lives. Islamist radicals retaliated with a series of bombings over the weekend. Now comes word that the accord reached between the central government and tribal elders in North Waziristan last year has broken down. This was the treaty by which the government of Pakistan essentially ended all efforts to police this tribal area, in return for toothless promises on the part of the tribes to restrain the Taliban.

From Washington’s perspective, all this could be read as evidence that Musharraf remains the indispensable bulwark against Islamist extremism in this nuclear-armed nation. In reality, recent events demonstrate the disastrous consequences of decisions made over the years by Musharraf and other army commanders to reach a modus vivendi with Islamic radicals. The army, and its agency for Inter-Services Intelligence, have been using the radicals to stage attacks into Kashmir and Afghanistan. In return, they have looked the other way as these militants have expanded their influence in Pakistan proper. To be sure, this has been a relationship fraught with tensions—radicals have tried to assassinate Musharraf and he has sometimes cracked down on their activities. But Musharraf has never done as much as he keeps promising Washington he will do to suppress the Islamists—or as much as the majority of secular Pakistanis would like.

What’s interesting, if hardly surprising, about the Red Mosque attack is how much support the government has received from opposition parties, not to mention the middle class in general. As noted by David Rohde in the New York Times,

A nightmare seemed to be unfolding last week when commandos stormed a hardline Islamic mosque in Pakistan’s capital. With at least 87 dead, it looked as if the clash could set off an Islamic uprising in the world’s only nuclear-armed Muslim nation.

Instead, few people attended protests organized by religious parties on Friday. What the battle at the mosque seemed to reveal was how complex Pakistani politics is, and how far Islamist radicals are from gaining widespread popular support, Pakistani and American analysts said.

“There was no uprising because the society is not radical and is more opposed to extremism than most commentators think,” said Frederic Grare, a Pakistan analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “The clash demonstrates that the majority of the people will back a policy aimed at reducing radicals’ influence.”

In short, Washington need not be unduly afraid of Pakistani democracy. The administration should live up to its own rhetoric and push Musharraf to abide by the constitution, which forbids him from continuing as both president and army chief of staff past this fall. If free elections—in which exiled opposition leaders can compete—are held, there is no reason to think that fundamentalist Islamic parties would win more than a small minority of the vote. This is yet another case where our democratic ideals are congruent with our strategic interests in suppressing Islamist terrorism.

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Today from the Archive

On the list of Queen Elizabeth II’s Birthday Honours was a knighthood for the Indian-born novelist and essayist Salman Rushdie. Rushdie said he was “thrilled and humbled to receive this great honour.”

The announcement drew the ire of extremists who have dogged Rushdie since the publication of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses. The Iranian foreign ministry has decried the knighting of this “hated apostate,” while protests have broken out in Malaysia, Kashmir, Pakistan, and London.

COMMENTARY is featuring, in our Today from the Archive section, pieces from Daniel Pipes, Midge Decter, and Hillel Halkin on the subject of Sir Salman, his novels, and the meaning of his literary achievement.

On the list of Queen Elizabeth II’s Birthday Honours was a knighthood for the Indian-born novelist and essayist Salman Rushdie. Rushdie said he was “thrilled and humbled to receive this great honour.”

The announcement drew the ire of extremists who have dogged Rushdie since the publication of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses. The Iranian foreign ministry has decried the knighting of this “hated apostate,” while protests have broken out in Malaysia, Kashmir, Pakistan, and London.

COMMENTARY is featuring, in our Today from the Archive section, pieces from Daniel Pipes, Midge Decter, and Hillel Halkin on the subject of Sir Salman, his novels, and the meaning of his literary achievement.

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