Commentary Magazine


Topic: Malaysia

Malaysian Plane Not First Missing Boeing

While investigators remain puzzled as to the whereabouts and fate of Malaysian Air flight 370, lost in the discussion is the fact that the Boeing 777 is not the first jumbo jet to go missing. In 2003, a Boeing 727 went missing on a flight from Angola to Burkina Faso. The plane disappeared in the wake of an intelligence warning about al-Qaeda planning a suicide aerial attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi. A worldwide search for the missing plane went nowhere and, despite FBI and CIA investigations, eventually the case faded from the headlines. Of course, that Boeing disappeared with only the pilot on board, rather than with a full complement of passengers.

Speculation on the fate of the Malaysian airliner is pointless, as information continues to trickle in about the last hours of flight 370. Two items remains constant, however. First is how vast swaths of sky remain largely uncovered by commercial aircraft and presumably the radar to track them. (When I first began to cross the Atlantic or Pacific on board U.S. naval vessels, one of the first things I noticed was what I didn’t see: aircraft contrails. While aircraft tend to follow certain circular routes, ships take quite a different routing that often does not coincide with relatively narrow flight paths. For what it is worth, the Indian Ocean is supposed to be even more desolate when it comes to air coverage).

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While investigators remain puzzled as to the whereabouts and fate of Malaysian Air flight 370, lost in the discussion is the fact that the Boeing 777 is not the first jumbo jet to go missing. In 2003, a Boeing 727 went missing on a flight from Angola to Burkina Faso. The plane disappeared in the wake of an intelligence warning about al-Qaeda planning a suicide aerial attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi. A worldwide search for the missing plane went nowhere and, despite FBI and CIA investigations, eventually the case faded from the headlines. Of course, that Boeing disappeared with only the pilot on board, rather than with a full complement of passengers.

Speculation on the fate of the Malaysian airliner is pointless, as information continues to trickle in about the last hours of flight 370. Two items remains constant, however. First is how vast swaths of sky remain largely uncovered by commercial aircraft and presumably the radar to track them. (When I first began to cross the Atlantic or Pacific on board U.S. naval vessels, one of the first things I noticed was what I didn’t see: aircraft contrails. While aircraft tend to follow certain circular routes, ships take quite a different routing that often does not coincide with relatively narrow flight paths. For what it is worth, the Indian Ocean is supposed to be even more desolate when it comes to air coverage).

And, second, despite protestations by some politicians and many pundits that the war on terror is over, the threat that terrorists might hijack a plane to use it in a future attack remains real. That in the intervening decade since the Boeing went missing in Africa there was no progress on tracking such planes simply shows the short attention span of American and international leaders and their continued tendency to drop the ball when it comes from learning from past episodes.

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State Sends Ambassador to Terror-Promoting London Mosque

As part of the White House’s public-diplomacy push, we sent Ambassador Louis Susman to an al-Qaeda-supporting mosque a few days ago. CBN’s Erick Stakelbeck has a report on the inspired act of “outreach to the Muslim world,” along with video of East London Mosque and a rundown of some of the radicals it’s hosted. Prominently featured is Anwar al-Awlaki, who couldn’t speak to assembled worshipers last year except by video link, on account of how we’re currently trying to kill him.

This is the same line of reasoning that has State dispatching President Obama to pro-Ahmadinejad mosques, sending pro-Iran apologists to Saudi Arabia, and funding domestic “dialogue” panels run by implacable Israel-haters. Hearts and minds have to be won, after all. And if you can’t do that, then pantomiming “listening” in a particularly obsequious way is apparently the second-best option.

It doesn’t work — in the case of Iran outreach, it’s actually been known to backfire spectacularly — but at least you’re doing something.

On the other hand, you kind of have to sympathize with our public-diplomacy people. They’ve been given the task of boosting our image in the Muslim world by “spreading the truth about American values.” That’s a huge problem if you accept the vaguely neoconservative point that Muslim anti-Western animosity comes not from understanding us too little but from understanding very clearly that we let women vote, Jews worship, gays not be murdered, etc.

And say what you will about that theory, it at least has the benefit of explaining why our public-diplomacy efforts have failed so spectacularly.

On a day-to-day level, there’s also the double bind of having to “speak the language” of audiences soaked in conspiracy theories and anti-Western animus. It’s no wonder that State’s Arab TV outlet, Al Hurra, ended up airing hour-long Nasrallah rants, whitewashing Iran’s Holocaust-denial conference, and accusing Israel of conducting an anti-Palestinian “holocaust.” Or that U.S. director of Near East Public Diplomacy, Alberto Fernandez, went on Al Jazeera and trashed American policy as “arrogant” and “stupid.” Or that Bush public-diplomacy chief Karen Hughes went to Malaysia and denigrated Israel’s efforts to defend itself from jihadists. Persuasion 101, after all, is that you have to connect with your audience.

All of which might be understandable if our outreach efforts weren’t also total failures. But they are.

Getting back to Britain specifically, just think: in a few years time, after Buckingham Palace is transformed into Buckingham Mosque, our diplomats will be able to take care of their ceremonial state duties and their goodwill Muslim outreach in the same place. How convenient will that be? The only catch is that the royal family will probably be disbanded under a Sharia regime, or at the very least evicted from Buckingham, so that might not work.

Although, you never know.

As part of the White House’s public-diplomacy push, we sent Ambassador Louis Susman to an al-Qaeda-supporting mosque a few days ago. CBN’s Erick Stakelbeck has a report on the inspired act of “outreach to the Muslim world,” along with video of East London Mosque and a rundown of some of the radicals it’s hosted. Prominently featured is Anwar al-Awlaki, who couldn’t speak to assembled worshipers last year except by video link, on account of how we’re currently trying to kill him.

This is the same line of reasoning that has State dispatching President Obama to pro-Ahmadinejad mosques, sending pro-Iran apologists to Saudi Arabia, and funding domestic “dialogue” panels run by implacable Israel-haters. Hearts and minds have to be won, after all. And if you can’t do that, then pantomiming “listening” in a particularly obsequious way is apparently the second-best option.

It doesn’t work — in the case of Iran outreach, it’s actually been known to backfire spectacularly — but at least you’re doing something.

On the other hand, you kind of have to sympathize with our public-diplomacy people. They’ve been given the task of boosting our image in the Muslim world by “spreading the truth about American values.” That’s a huge problem if you accept the vaguely neoconservative point that Muslim anti-Western animosity comes not from understanding us too little but from understanding very clearly that we let women vote, Jews worship, gays not be murdered, etc.

And say what you will about that theory, it at least has the benefit of explaining why our public-diplomacy efforts have failed so spectacularly.

On a day-to-day level, there’s also the double bind of having to “speak the language” of audiences soaked in conspiracy theories and anti-Western animus. It’s no wonder that State’s Arab TV outlet, Al Hurra, ended up airing hour-long Nasrallah rants, whitewashing Iran’s Holocaust-denial conference, and accusing Israel of conducting an anti-Palestinian “holocaust.” Or that U.S. director of Near East Public Diplomacy, Alberto Fernandez, went on Al Jazeera and trashed American policy as “arrogant” and “stupid.” Or that Bush public-diplomacy chief Karen Hughes went to Malaysia and denigrated Israel’s efforts to defend itself from jihadists. Persuasion 101, after all, is that you have to connect with your audience.

All of which might be understandable if our outreach efforts weren’t also total failures. But they are.

Getting back to Britain specifically, just think: in a few years time, after Buckingham Palace is transformed into Buckingham Mosque, our diplomats will be able to take care of their ceremonial state duties and their goodwill Muslim outreach in the same place. How convenient will that be? The only catch is that the royal family will probably be disbanded under a Sharia regime, or at the very least evicted from Buckingham, so that might not work.

Although, you never know.

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The War Against Extremism

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

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The Malaysia Example

Jackson Diehl, in an immensely important column, writes:

Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Malaysia’s political opposition, has become known over the past decade as one of the foremost advocates of liberal democracy in Muslim countries. … Lately, Anwar has been getting attention for something else: strident rhetoric about Israel and alleged “Zionist influence” in Malaysia. He recently joined a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur where an Israeli flag was burned. He’s made dark insinuations about the “Jewish-controlled” Washington public relations firm Apco Worldwide, which is working for Malaysia’s quasi-authoritarian government. Therein lies a story of the Obama era — about a beleaguered democrat fighting for political and personal survival with little help from Washington; about the growing global climate of hostility toward Israel; and about the increasing willingness of U.S. friends in places such as Turkey and Malaysia to exploit it.

Diehl explains that Anwar is being prosecuted. (“Freed after six years, he built a multi-ethnic democratic opposition movement that shocked the ruling party with its gains in recent elections. It now appears to have a chance at winning the next parliamentary campaign, which would allow Malaysia to join Indonesia and Turkey as full-fledged majority-Muslim democracies.”) But, once again, the Obama administration is of no help:

Obama said nothing in public about Anwar when he granted Najib a prized bilateral meeting in Washington in April. After a “senior officials dialogue” between the two governments this month, the State Department conceded that the ongoing trial again had not been raised, “because this issue was recently discussed at length.” When it comes to human rights, the Obama administration apparently does not wish to be repetitive.

Diehl provides a vivid example of why Obama’s foreign policy is precisely — and dangerously — wrongheaded. By ingratiating ourselves with Muslim despots, slapping around Israel, and downgrading human rights, we are systematically encouraging aggression and repression by Muslim governments. Rather than use a combination of carrots and sticks to encourage helpful conduct, we have given radicals every incentive to become more radical and have undercut moderates. It is the most counterproductive and, yes, uninformed foreign policy in memory. Obama says he “gets” the Muslim World, but he really doesn’t. If he truly understood the motives and incentives of these countries and the political landscape in which they operate, he’d being do the exact opposite of what he has been doing. Rather than telling radical Muslims what they want to hear, maybe it’s time to start telling Muslim governments what is expected if they want to have a productive relationship with the U.S. and avoid some adverse consequences. Now, that would be smart diplomacy.

Jackson Diehl, in an immensely important column, writes:

Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Malaysia’s political opposition, has become known over the past decade as one of the foremost advocates of liberal democracy in Muslim countries. … Lately, Anwar has been getting attention for something else: strident rhetoric about Israel and alleged “Zionist influence” in Malaysia. He recently joined a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur where an Israeli flag was burned. He’s made dark insinuations about the “Jewish-controlled” Washington public relations firm Apco Worldwide, which is working for Malaysia’s quasi-authoritarian government. Therein lies a story of the Obama era — about a beleaguered democrat fighting for political and personal survival with little help from Washington; about the growing global climate of hostility toward Israel; and about the increasing willingness of U.S. friends in places such as Turkey and Malaysia to exploit it.

Diehl explains that Anwar is being prosecuted. (“Freed after six years, he built a multi-ethnic democratic opposition movement that shocked the ruling party with its gains in recent elections. It now appears to have a chance at winning the next parliamentary campaign, which would allow Malaysia to join Indonesia and Turkey as full-fledged majority-Muslim democracies.”) But, once again, the Obama administration is of no help:

Obama said nothing in public about Anwar when he granted Najib a prized bilateral meeting in Washington in April. After a “senior officials dialogue” between the two governments this month, the State Department conceded that the ongoing trial again had not been raised, “because this issue was recently discussed at length.” When it comes to human rights, the Obama administration apparently does not wish to be repetitive.

Diehl provides a vivid example of why Obama’s foreign policy is precisely — and dangerously — wrongheaded. By ingratiating ourselves with Muslim despots, slapping around Israel, and downgrading human rights, we are systematically encouraging aggression and repression by Muslim governments. Rather than use a combination of carrots and sticks to encourage helpful conduct, we have given radicals every incentive to become more radical and have undercut moderates. It is the most counterproductive and, yes, uninformed foreign policy in memory. Obama says he “gets” the Muslim World, but he really doesn’t. If he truly understood the motives and incentives of these countries and the political landscape in which they operate, he’d being do the exact opposite of what he has been doing. Rather than telling radical Muslims what they want to hear, maybe it’s time to start telling Muslim governments what is expected if they want to have a productive relationship with the U.S. and avoid some adverse consequences. Now, that would be smart diplomacy.

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Turkish Flags

Turkey’s sharp turn against Israel under Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been much noted in the last couple of weeks. But a just-released report from Israeli analysts clarifies how close the flotilla confrontation of May 31 came to being a Turkish incitement to armed conflict.

The report was issued by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, or Malam, a private contractor that works with government intelligence agencies and is sometimes used to make disclosures to the public. Based on the material gathered in the flotilla incident by the IDF and other government agencies, Malam concluded that the Turkish government knew in advance of the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) activists’ intention to fight the Israeli navy.

The IHH group of 40 boarded M/V Mavi Marmara in Istanbul without being subjected to the security checks all other participants went through. The group was equipped with communications gear, gas masks, and security vests decorated with Turkish flags. IHH operatives used the ship’s upper deck as a headquarters, prohibiting other passengers from visiting it. Once onboard, the IHH group began pillaging the ship for the makeshift weapons with which its members attacked the Israeli commandos during the May 31 boarding. According to the Malam report:

Bülent Yıldırım, the leader of the IHH … was on the Mavi Marmara and briefed group members about two hours before the Israeli Navy intercepted the ship. Their main objective was to hold back soldiers by any means, and to push them back into the sea.

The Haaretz summary continues:

Files found on laptops owned by the IHH members pointed at strong ties between the movement and Turkey’s prime minister. Some of the activists even said that Erdogan was personally involved in the flotilla’s preparations.

The more we know, the less sudden or unexpected appears Erdogan’s latest threat to bring a Turkish naval escort to Gaza. In retrospect, the situation looks more like one engineered by Erdogan to justify a confrontation with Israel than mere opportunism. Erdogan’s profile as a moderate statesman has been eroding for some time, of course, as exemplified in his performance during the March 2010 Arab League Summit and his growing ties to Iran. But in light of his most recent actions, a little-remarked passage in a Muslim Brotherhood conference in January becomes freshly informative.

The conference in question took place in Beirut and was the seventh of the al-Quds (Jerusalem) conferences sponsored by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to concluding with the usual screed against Israel, the conferees addressed “special thanks” to Tayyip Erdogan and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, whose Perdana Global Peace Organization went on to sponsor three of the nine vessels in the recent Gaza flotilla, including M/V Rachel Corrie. Qaradawi is the founder of the Union of Good, the umbrella Islamist funding organization of which IHH is a member, and which Israel banned in 2002 due to its ties to terrorism.

Now Erdogan’s threat to bring a naval escort to Gaza coincides with the Union of Good’s announcement that it will send a convoy to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, recently opened by Egypt. Erdogan’s posture has gone well beyond rhetorical radicalism. Defense Secretary Gates’s comment yesterday — “Turkey … was pushed … by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the … organic link to the west that Turkey sought” — seems particularly ill-formulated in light of Erdogan’s purposeful and unmistakable posture. Even if Gates’s analysis were more accurate, it’s not relevant. The time for recrimination is past. Reacting to current reality is all that matters.

Turkey’s major opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has voiced strong criticism of Erdogan’s actions; the prime minister’s policies that undermine secularism and suppress political dissent are coming under increasing fire at home. The next national election is not until mid-2011, however. There’s a lot of time left for Erdogan to sponsor flotillas. According to an IHH “journalist” quoted by Haaretz, the recent flotilla is just the first of many.

Turkey’s sharp turn against Israel under Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been much noted in the last couple of weeks. But a just-released report from Israeli analysts clarifies how close the flotilla confrontation of May 31 came to being a Turkish incitement to armed conflict.

The report was issued by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, or Malam, a private contractor that works with government intelligence agencies and is sometimes used to make disclosures to the public. Based on the material gathered in the flotilla incident by the IDF and other government agencies, Malam concluded that the Turkish government knew in advance of the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) activists’ intention to fight the Israeli navy.

The IHH group of 40 boarded M/V Mavi Marmara in Istanbul without being subjected to the security checks all other participants went through. The group was equipped with communications gear, gas masks, and security vests decorated with Turkish flags. IHH operatives used the ship’s upper deck as a headquarters, prohibiting other passengers from visiting it. Once onboard, the IHH group began pillaging the ship for the makeshift weapons with which its members attacked the Israeli commandos during the May 31 boarding. According to the Malam report:

Bülent Yıldırım, the leader of the IHH … was on the Mavi Marmara and briefed group members about two hours before the Israeli Navy intercepted the ship. Their main objective was to hold back soldiers by any means, and to push them back into the sea.

The Haaretz summary continues:

Files found on laptops owned by the IHH members pointed at strong ties between the movement and Turkey’s prime minister. Some of the activists even said that Erdogan was personally involved in the flotilla’s preparations.

The more we know, the less sudden or unexpected appears Erdogan’s latest threat to bring a Turkish naval escort to Gaza. In retrospect, the situation looks more like one engineered by Erdogan to justify a confrontation with Israel than mere opportunism. Erdogan’s profile as a moderate statesman has been eroding for some time, of course, as exemplified in his performance during the March 2010 Arab League Summit and his growing ties to Iran. But in light of his most recent actions, a little-remarked passage in a Muslim Brotherhood conference in January becomes freshly informative.

The conference in question took place in Beirut and was the seventh of the al-Quds (Jerusalem) conferences sponsored by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to concluding with the usual screed against Israel, the conferees addressed “special thanks” to Tayyip Erdogan and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, whose Perdana Global Peace Organization went on to sponsor three of the nine vessels in the recent Gaza flotilla, including M/V Rachel Corrie. Qaradawi is the founder of the Union of Good, the umbrella Islamist funding organization of which IHH is a member, and which Israel banned in 2002 due to its ties to terrorism.

Now Erdogan’s threat to bring a naval escort to Gaza coincides with the Union of Good’s announcement that it will send a convoy to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, recently opened by Egypt. Erdogan’s posture has gone well beyond rhetorical radicalism. Defense Secretary Gates’s comment yesterday — “Turkey … was pushed … by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the … organic link to the west that Turkey sought” — seems particularly ill-formulated in light of Erdogan’s purposeful and unmistakable posture. Even if Gates’s analysis were more accurate, it’s not relevant. The time for recrimination is past. Reacting to current reality is all that matters.

Turkey’s major opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has voiced strong criticism of Erdogan’s actions; the prime minister’s policies that undermine secularism and suppress political dissent are coming under increasing fire at home. The next national election is not until mid-2011, however. There’s a lot of time left for Erdogan to sponsor flotillas. According to an IHH “journalist” quoted by Haaretz, the recent flotilla is just the first of many.

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The UN Farce Continues

Anne Bayefsky — who had a “j’accuse moment” and was roughed up by the UN thugs when she criticized the Goldstone Report before having her credentials snatched – reports on the latest outrage:

On Thursday, the General Assembly elected 14 members to its top human-rights body, the U.N. Human Rights Council. U.N. human-rights policymakers now include Libya, Angola, Malaysia, Qatar, and Uganda. On a secret ballot, a whopping 155 countries, or 80 percent of U.N. members, thought Libya would be a great addition.

Obama’s diplomats, sitting in the General Assembly Hall throughout the election, made no attempt to prevent the farce or even to object. On the contrary, Ambassador Susan Rice left the hall before the results were announced in order to hightail it to the microphone. Attempting to spin what was a foregone conclusion, she refused to divulge those states which the U.S. supported. When pressed, she said only that the Obama administration regretted some states on the ballot, but “I am not going to name names. I don’t think that it’s particularly constructive at this point.”

Which is worse — allowing another Muslim thugocracy into the clown show that is the Human Rights Council or the cowardice of Rice and the Obama team, which won’t come clean on precisely which thugocracies it is sucking up to? Rice’s remarks are beyond parody:

She described the countries on the Council — which include human-rights experts Saudi Arabia, China, and Cuba in addition to the incoming freshman class — as just “countries whose orientation and perspectives we don’t agree with.” And later on she described the election as one which “yielded an outcome that we think is a good reflection on the potential of the Human Rights Council.”

Rice was also asked to defend last month’s deal, made with the help of the Obama administration, which saw Iran withdraw its candidacy for the Council in exchange for a seat on the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). With no apparent sign of embarrassment, she responded that Iran had been on the CSW before, so it “was not something new.”

Bayefsky gets one thing wrong, however, when she writes: “The fact that the Council’s main priority is to demonize Israel and keep the spotlight off abominations around the world has had no impact on Obama’s calculations.” One can’t help but conclude it is because the council’s main function is to Israel-bash that a seat means so much to the despotic regimes and, in turn, becomes a trinket that the Obama team can dispense to get on the good side of Israel’s foes.

When Hillary Clinton delivered her disingenuous speech at AIPAC earlier in the year, she had the nerve to assert that the “United States has also led the fight in international institutions against anti-Semitism and efforts to challenge Israel’s legitimacy.” And she threw in this doozy: “This Administration will always stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself.” Why then does the administration fund the UN Human Rights Council and sit idly by as one human rights abuser after another is added to the body? Rather than leading the fight on Israel’s behalf, the Obama team is facilitating it and providing cover for those who persistently challenge Israel’s legitimacy.

And the officialdom of American Jewry? Still sending bouquets to Obama for nominating a Jew to the Supreme Court.

Anne Bayefsky — who had a “j’accuse moment” and was roughed up by the UN thugs when she criticized the Goldstone Report before having her credentials snatched – reports on the latest outrage:

On Thursday, the General Assembly elected 14 members to its top human-rights body, the U.N. Human Rights Council. U.N. human-rights policymakers now include Libya, Angola, Malaysia, Qatar, and Uganda. On a secret ballot, a whopping 155 countries, or 80 percent of U.N. members, thought Libya would be a great addition.

Obama’s diplomats, sitting in the General Assembly Hall throughout the election, made no attempt to prevent the farce or even to object. On the contrary, Ambassador Susan Rice left the hall before the results were announced in order to hightail it to the microphone. Attempting to spin what was a foregone conclusion, she refused to divulge those states which the U.S. supported. When pressed, she said only that the Obama administration regretted some states on the ballot, but “I am not going to name names. I don’t think that it’s particularly constructive at this point.”

Which is worse — allowing another Muslim thugocracy into the clown show that is the Human Rights Council or the cowardice of Rice and the Obama team, which won’t come clean on precisely which thugocracies it is sucking up to? Rice’s remarks are beyond parody:

She described the countries on the Council — which include human-rights experts Saudi Arabia, China, and Cuba in addition to the incoming freshman class — as just “countries whose orientation and perspectives we don’t agree with.” And later on she described the election as one which “yielded an outcome that we think is a good reflection on the potential of the Human Rights Council.”

Rice was also asked to defend last month’s deal, made with the help of the Obama administration, which saw Iran withdraw its candidacy for the Council in exchange for a seat on the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). With no apparent sign of embarrassment, she responded that Iran had been on the CSW before, so it “was not something new.”

Bayefsky gets one thing wrong, however, when she writes: “The fact that the Council’s main priority is to demonize Israel and keep the spotlight off abominations around the world has had no impact on Obama’s calculations.” One can’t help but conclude it is because the council’s main function is to Israel-bash that a seat means so much to the despotic regimes and, in turn, becomes a trinket that the Obama team can dispense to get on the good side of Israel’s foes.

When Hillary Clinton delivered her disingenuous speech at AIPAC earlier in the year, she had the nerve to assert that the “United States has also led the fight in international institutions against anti-Semitism and efforts to challenge Israel’s legitimacy.” And she threw in this doozy: “This Administration will always stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself.” Why then does the administration fund the UN Human Rights Council and sit idly by as one human rights abuser after another is added to the body? Rather than leading the fight on Israel’s behalf, the Obama team is facilitating it and providing cover for those who persistently challenge Israel’s legitimacy.

And the officialdom of American Jewry? Still sending bouquets to Obama for nominating a Jew to the Supreme Court.

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Iran Wants In

As we noted last month, Iran is making a bid for membership on the United Nations’s Human Rights Council. Yes, we’ve passed farce awhile back when Libya joined the august body of despotic regimes — which spends its time pronouncing on the imagined offenses of the one democracy in the Middle East. (Hint: it isn’t the Islamic Republic of Iran.) The Wall Street Journal‘s editors note that Iran wants a piece of the action:

Among its presumptive qualifications, says Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, is that last June’s elections were “an exemplary exhibition of democracy and freedom.” Other contenders vying for election include the Maldives, which bans the public practice of all religions save Sunni Islam; and Malaysia, whose judiciary is currently prosecuting opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on dubious charges of sodomy.

But the disgrace is not that Libya or Iran may sit on the Human Rights Council; it’s that the U.S. does. As the editors remark, “A year ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that by joining the Council—the Bush Administration had refused—the U.S. ‘will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system.’ Whatever they’re doing, it doesn’t seem to be working.” Well working for whom, I guess is the question. America’s presence on the Human Rights Council provides a patina of respectability to the thugs who appear periodically to condemn Israel, raise the banner for terrorists and their state sponsors, and dream up ways to impinge on the free expression of anyone who might criticize the less-than-admirable human-rights record in their own country.

If we want to stop the erosion of America’s moral standing in the world, a good way to start would be by leaving the Human Rights Council. And then we could actually begin condemning, loudly and specifically, the atrocities of the Iranian regime. Too much to ask? There’s always hope for change — but, regrettably, for the Obama administration that too often seems to stop at the water’s edge.

As we noted last month, Iran is making a bid for membership on the United Nations’s Human Rights Council. Yes, we’ve passed farce awhile back when Libya joined the august body of despotic regimes — which spends its time pronouncing on the imagined offenses of the one democracy in the Middle East. (Hint: it isn’t the Islamic Republic of Iran.) The Wall Street Journal‘s editors note that Iran wants a piece of the action:

Among its presumptive qualifications, says Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, is that last June’s elections were “an exemplary exhibition of democracy and freedom.” Other contenders vying for election include the Maldives, which bans the public practice of all religions save Sunni Islam; and Malaysia, whose judiciary is currently prosecuting opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on dubious charges of sodomy.

But the disgrace is not that Libya or Iran may sit on the Human Rights Council; it’s that the U.S. does. As the editors remark, “A year ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that by joining the Council—the Bush Administration had refused—the U.S. ‘will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system.’ Whatever they’re doing, it doesn’t seem to be working.” Well working for whom, I guess is the question. America’s presence on the Human Rights Council provides a patina of respectability to the thugs who appear periodically to condemn Israel, raise the banner for terrorists and their state sponsors, and dream up ways to impinge on the free expression of anyone who might criticize the less-than-admirable human-rights record in their own country.

If we want to stop the erosion of America’s moral standing in the world, a good way to start would be by leaving the Human Rights Council. And then we could actually begin condemning, loudly and specifically, the atrocities of the Iranian regime. Too much to ask? There’s always hope for change — but, regrettably, for the Obama administration that too often seems to stop at the water’s edge.

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Iran to the UN Human Rights Council?!

You think the UN can’t become more of a farce? You think the Obami can’t look any sillier for showing deference to the three-ring circus, most particularly the UN Human Rights Council? Think again. Claudia Rosett tells us:

While Iran’s regime bloodies its dissidents, the nuclear weapons-loving mullahs are seeking a treat for themselves at the United Nations: Iran is running for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Utterly perverse though it would be, Iran might snag that prize. The 47 seats on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council are parceled out among regional groups of UN member states. This year the Asian bloc has four seats opening up. Five contenders have stepped forward: Malaysia, Maldives, Qatar, Thailand—and Iran.

Why, how special that would be! As Rosett observes, “If Iran’s government wins a seat on this council, it would send a horrifying message to Iranian dissidents. They have been enduring mass arrests, beatings and murders in their quest for genuine human rights inside Iran.” And one can only imagine the new stream of Israel-bashing and anti-American venom that would spew forth should Tehran capture a seat.

But this is what comes from extending recognition to a murderous regime—one must then accept it as the legitimate representative of a member of the “international community.” And when one combines that with the fiction that the UN Human Rights Council is actually about human rights, then one winds up in the perverse world in which Ahmadinejad gets to pronounce on human rights and introduce all manner of resolutions that almost certainly will not be aimed at regimes that steal away protesters in the middle of the night, or at those those nations that turn a blind eye to honor killings, but rather to Israel, of course.

This development—indeed the potential of this ever coming to pass—should remind us how inept and foolhardy has been Obama’s engagement policy as well as his decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council. Rosett notes that on February 15, a report detailing Iran’s atrocities will come before the Council along with the mullahs’ own “Orwellian” report “claiming metiulous respect for human rights, as redefined by Tehran’s lights—arguing that because ‘the system of government in Iran is based on principles of Islam, it is necessary that Islamic standards and criteria prevail in society.'” It is a preview of things to come.

And from the Obami, can we expect robust opposition to Iran’s membership, a principled walk-out should Iran secure its seat, and a re-statement of our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon? No, no! That would only send the democracy protesters rushing into the arms of the regime and fritter away all the goodwill we have racked up (doing nothing to aid them), don’t you see? Welcome to the Alice-in-Wonderland diplomacy of the Obami. Feel safer yet?

You think the UN can’t become more of a farce? You think the Obami can’t look any sillier for showing deference to the three-ring circus, most particularly the UN Human Rights Council? Think again. Claudia Rosett tells us:

While Iran’s regime bloodies its dissidents, the nuclear weapons-loving mullahs are seeking a treat for themselves at the United Nations: Iran is running for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Utterly perverse though it would be, Iran might snag that prize. The 47 seats on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council are parceled out among regional groups of UN member states. This year the Asian bloc has four seats opening up. Five contenders have stepped forward: Malaysia, Maldives, Qatar, Thailand—and Iran.

Why, how special that would be! As Rosett observes, “If Iran’s government wins a seat on this council, it would send a horrifying message to Iranian dissidents. They have been enduring mass arrests, beatings and murders in their quest for genuine human rights inside Iran.” And one can only imagine the new stream of Israel-bashing and anti-American venom that would spew forth should Tehran capture a seat.

But this is what comes from extending recognition to a murderous regime—one must then accept it as the legitimate representative of a member of the “international community.” And when one combines that with the fiction that the UN Human Rights Council is actually about human rights, then one winds up in the perverse world in which Ahmadinejad gets to pronounce on human rights and introduce all manner of resolutions that almost certainly will not be aimed at regimes that steal away protesters in the middle of the night, or at those those nations that turn a blind eye to honor killings, but rather to Israel, of course.

This development—indeed the potential of this ever coming to pass—should remind us how inept and foolhardy has been Obama’s engagement policy as well as his decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council. Rosett notes that on February 15, a report detailing Iran’s atrocities will come before the Council along with the mullahs’ own “Orwellian” report “claiming metiulous respect for human rights, as redefined by Tehran’s lights—arguing that because ‘the system of government in Iran is based on principles of Islam, it is necessary that Islamic standards and criteria prevail in society.'” It is a preview of things to come.

And from the Obami, can we expect robust opposition to Iran’s membership, a principled walk-out should Iran secure its seat, and a re-statement of our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon? No, no! That would only send the democracy protesters rushing into the arms of the regime and fritter away all the goodwill we have racked up (doing nothing to aid them), don’t you see? Welcome to the Alice-in-Wonderland diplomacy of the Obami. Feel safer yet?

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Shell Pulls Out

Energy giant Shell has pulled out of a $10 billion deal for a liquid natural gas (LNG) project at Iran’s South Pars field. Spain’s energy company Repsol has also withdrawn from the deal, which had been signed a little over a year ago.

LNG is the new frontier of energy development for Iran in particular–Iran hopes to address its chronic gasoline shortages by running its car industry on liquid gas and aims to switch from being a net gas importer to profitable exporter. There were three LNG projects in the South Pars field: the one that Shell and Repsol just canceled, one run by France’s TotalFinaElf and Malaysia’s Petronas, and one by Indian giant Reliance and BP. But pressure is on all companies to leave Iran without the necessary technology needed to develop its LNG capabilities–no small task, given the complexity of the installations needed.

This is an important and necessary blow to Iran’s energy plans. According to news reports, this can be attributed mainly to U.S. pressure. But the uncertainties of the political horizon are no doubt another factor for companies to withhold investments. Ultimately, the reason why companies should not invest in Iran–quite aside from the ethical issue of giving succor to a regime like Tehran’s–is that it is not in their own economic interest. Hopefully, Shell’s turnaround–after the recent difficulties caused by the Swiss gas deal with Iran–will set a new precedent for European energy companies.

Energy giant Shell has pulled out of a $10 billion deal for a liquid natural gas (LNG) project at Iran’s South Pars field. Spain’s energy company Repsol has also withdrawn from the deal, which had been signed a little over a year ago.

LNG is the new frontier of energy development for Iran in particular–Iran hopes to address its chronic gasoline shortages by running its car industry on liquid gas and aims to switch from being a net gas importer to profitable exporter. There were three LNG projects in the South Pars field: the one that Shell and Repsol just canceled, one run by France’s TotalFinaElf and Malaysia’s Petronas, and one by Indian giant Reliance and BP. But pressure is on all companies to leave Iran without the necessary technology needed to develop its LNG capabilities–no small task, given the complexity of the installations needed.

This is an important and necessary blow to Iran’s energy plans. According to news reports, this can be attributed mainly to U.S. pressure. But the uncertainties of the political horizon are no doubt another factor for companies to withhold investments. Ultimately, the reason why companies should not invest in Iran–quite aside from the ethical issue of giving succor to a regime like Tehran’s–is that it is not in their own economic interest. Hopefully, Shell’s turnaround–after the recent difficulties caused by the Swiss gas deal with Iran–will set a new precedent for European energy companies.

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The World’s Largest Trope

Fareed Zakaria has stimulated an amusing discussion on the subject of whether America has lost its world supremacy because it no longer strives to build the biggest things on earth. Zakaria’s List of Giant Things Built Elsewhere

The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood…. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year….The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American….[O]nly ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

–so displeased the businessman-blogger Jim Manzi that he went to Wikipedia to prove Zakaria was talking out of his hat, and, I fear, he succeeded:

Iran already had the world’s largest oil refinery by 1980. Russia had already built the world’s tallest Ferris wheel in 1995, topped by Japan in 1997. Canada had already built the world’s largest mall by 1986. Malaysia had already built the world’s tallest building in 1998. I couldn’t find any data on Bollywood in 1998. Using this data for 2001 and estimating back three years, it looks like Bollywood was already larger than Hollywood in 1998 in terms of films produced and total number of tickets sold.

Fareed’s larger point is that the rest of the world is on the rise, and that we are entering a “post-American world.” Like all superficially convincing Grand Theories of Everything, this one seems inarguably true for about three minutes. Then you spend a few seconds thinking deeply about it, as Manzi did, only to come up with a dozen ways in which it is false.

Still, Fareed has hit on something very interesting in this ill-conceived list of ways in which America is now #2, but it has nothing to do with the other nations and everything to do with America. What does it mean that this country evidently cares less and less about building capitalist monuments?

It may mean nothing more than we don’t have to — that the country itself is the capitalist monument par excellence, with a GDP that is almost triple what it was 25 years ago and a per capita income of nearly $46,000. When America began its frenzy of construction, it was trying to prove something; now it needs to prove nothing.  And Americans have gotten wise to the ambiguous nature of capitalist monument-building, since inevitably such things happen only with a considerable amount of taxpayer expenditure with no hope of return except to the private developer who takes on little risk and gets most of the reward.

Nonetheless, this does suggest America has lost some of its striver’s hunger. In New York City, for example, no major project can get off the ground, not even construction at Ground Zero. But this too is a double-edged sword. Most respectable opinion in the city supported a mammoth project in downtown Brooklyn to build a Frank Gehry stadium with 16 apartment buildings around it on the grounds that the stadium would sit on a platform above a rail yard in a mostly blighted neighborhood. Some people living an entire neighborhood away began to protest wildly and irrationally.

But in the five years since it was first proposed, the Brooklyn project has made less and less sense. The neighborhood, like the borough, has improved so radically that it really does seem as though the state’s power of eminent domain is being used to remove a perfectly functional middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood for the benefit of a private contractor (in this case, a developer named Bruce Ratner). And with the credit crunch now underway, it appears the project may die on the vine anyway.

On the one hand, the inability of very liberal New Yorkers to tolerate economic development offers a small-scale portrait of some of what ails this country. On the other hand, the notion that state power shouldn’t be used in this way and that private citizens can band together to prevent it is part of what makes this country such a remarkable world-historical experiment.

Fareed Zakaria has stimulated an amusing discussion on the subject of whether America has lost its world supremacy because it no longer strives to build the biggest things on earth. Zakaria’s List of Giant Things Built Elsewhere

The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood…. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year….The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American….[O]nly ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

–so displeased the businessman-blogger Jim Manzi that he went to Wikipedia to prove Zakaria was talking out of his hat, and, I fear, he succeeded:

Iran already had the world’s largest oil refinery by 1980. Russia had already built the world’s tallest Ferris wheel in 1995, topped by Japan in 1997. Canada had already built the world’s largest mall by 1986. Malaysia had already built the world’s tallest building in 1998. I couldn’t find any data on Bollywood in 1998. Using this data for 2001 and estimating back three years, it looks like Bollywood was already larger than Hollywood in 1998 in terms of films produced and total number of tickets sold.

Fareed’s larger point is that the rest of the world is on the rise, and that we are entering a “post-American world.” Like all superficially convincing Grand Theories of Everything, this one seems inarguably true for about three minutes. Then you spend a few seconds thinking deeply about it, as Manzi did, only to come up with a dozen ways in which it is false.

Still, Fareed has hit on something very interesting in this ill-conceived list of ways in which America is now #2, but it has nothing to do with the other nations and everything to do with America. What does it mean that this country evidently cares less and less about building capitalist monuments?

It may mean nothing more than we don’t have to — that the country itself is the capitalist monument par excellence, with a GDP that is almost triple what it was 25 years ago and a per capita income of nearly $46,000. When America began its frenzy of construction, it was trying to prove something; now it needs to prove nothing.  And Americans have gotten wise to the ambiguous nature of capitalist monument-building, since inevitably such things happen only with a considerable amount of taxpayer expenditure with no hope of return except to the private developer who takes on little risk and gets most of the reward.

Nonetheless, this does suggest America has lost some of its striver’s hunger. In New York City, for example, no major project can get off the ground, not even construction at Ground Zero. But this too is a double-edged sword. Most respectable opinion in the city supported a mammoth project in downtown Brooklyn to build a Frank Gehry stadium with 16 apartment buildings around it on the grounds that the stadium would sit on a platform above a rail yard in a mostly blighted neighborhood. Some people living an entire neighborhood away began to protest wildly and irrationally.

But in the five years since it was first proposed, the Brooklyn project has made less and less sense. The neighborhood, like the borough, has improved so radically that it really does seem as though the state’s power of eminent domain is being used to remove a perfectly functional middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood for the benefit of a private contractor (in this case, a developer named Bruce Ratner). And with the credit crunch now underway, it appears the project may die on the vine anyway.

On the one hand, the inability of very liberal New Yorkers to tolerate economic development offers a small-scale portrait of some of what ails this country. On the other hand, the notion that state power shouldn’t be used in this way and that private citizens can band together to prevent it is part of what makes this country such a remarkable world-historical experiment.

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Cuddling Kafir Law

In Malaysia Islamic lawyers want to extend an existing ban on cuddling between unwed Muslims to cover flirty infidels, too. Here’s Reuters:

Experts in sharia law, which currently applies only to Malaysia’s majority Muslims, proposed at a seminar that there should be a civil law to deal with non-Muslims found committing the Islamic crime of khalwat, or close proximity, with a Muslim.

This may come as devastating news to Barack Obama, who has pledged to meet with leaders of all Muslim nations and, in his own terminology, “bridge the gap” between Muslims and Westerners. A teleconference may have to suffice, after all.

“The Muslims can be sentenced in sharia courts and the non-Muslim partners can probably be sentenced in the civil courts, to be fair to both parties,” said a senior Malaysian sharia-court judge.

Novel use of the word “fair.”

In Malaysia Islamic lawyers want to extend an existing ban on cuddling between unwed Muslims to cover flirty infidels, too. Here’s Reuters:

Experts in sharia law, which currently applies only to Malaysia’s majority Muslims, proposed at a seminar that there should be a civil law to deal with non-Muslims found committing the Islamic crime of khalwat, or close proximity, with a Muslim.

This may come as devastating news to Barack Obama, who has pledged to meet with leaders of all Muslim nations and, in his own terminology, “bridge the gap” between Muslims and Westerners. A teleconference may have to suffice, after all.

“The Muslims can be sentenced in sharia courts and the non-Muslim partners can probably be sentenced in the civil courts, to be fair to both parties,” said a senior Malaysian sharia-court judge.

Novel use of the word “fair.”

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Big Moves in Malaysia

For the past several decades Malaysia, along with its neighbor, Singapore, one of the primary exhibits pointed to by those intent on extolling the virtues of benign authoritarianism. Ever since winning independence from Britain in 1957, the country has been ruled by the National Front, a political bloc dominated by the United Malays National Organization, representing the country’s ethnic Malay majority.

Under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled from 1981 to 2003, the government pursued a policy of economic diversification. Formerly dependent on mineral mining and plantations, Malaysia turned into a high-tech manufacturing powerhouse. Its per capita GDP, at $14,400, is now higher than Thailand’s, Turkey’s, or Bulgaria’s. That wealth is instantly visible to anyone who visits Kuala Lumpur, which is full of high-rise office buildings, expensive malls, and ritzy restaurants.

But now the National Front’s control is cracking, and that is a good thing. The Wall Street Journal sums up the recent election results:

Although the National Front mustered just enough seats to form the next national government, it lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time in almost 40 years.

Exceeding its most optimistic forecasts, an alliance of three opposition parties also secured control of five of Malaysia’s 13 state administrations. The opposition now controls the crucial states of Penang and Selangor, home to much of Malaysia’s industrial base and to billions of dollars in U.S. and other foreign investments.

“This is a major political earthquake,” said Ibrahim Suffian, executive director of polling firm Merdeka Center in Kuala Lumpur. “The monopoly of power has now been broken.”

Indeed it has. Along with another of its neighbors, Indonesia, Malaysia is now starting to show that “Islamic democracy” is not an oxymoron. This is a development to be applauded in the long run, though in the short run it will undoubtedly cause some dislocations, especially for a business class that has gotten cozy with the ruling party.

For the past several decades Malaysia, along with its neighbor, Singapore, one of the primary exhibits pointed to by those intent on extolling the virtues of benign authoritarianism. Ever since winning independence from Britain in 1957, the country has been ruled by the National Front, a political bloc dominated by the United Malays National Organization, representing the country’s ethnic Malay majority.

Under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled from 1981 to 2003, the government pursued a policy of economic diversification. Formerly dependent on mineral mining and plantations, Malaysia turned into a high-tech manufacturing powerhouse. Its per capita GDP, at $14,400, is now higher than Thailand’s, Turkey’s, or Bulgaria’s. That wealth is instantly visible to anyone who visits Kuala Lumpur, which is full of high-rise office buildings, expensive malls, and ritzy restaurants.

But now the National Front’s control is cracking, and that is a good thing. The Wall Street Journal sums up the recent election results:

Although the National Front mustered just enough seats to form the next national government, it lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time in almost 40 years.

Exceeding its most optimistic forecasts, an alliance of three opposition parties also secured control of five of Malaysia’s 13 state administrations. The opposition now controls the crucial states of Penang and Selangor, home to much of Malaysia’s industrial base and to billions of dollars in U.S. and other foreign investments.

“This is a major political earthquake,” said Ibrahim Suffian, executive director of polling firm Merdeka Center in Kuala Lumpur. “The monopoly of power has now been broken.”

Indeed it has. Along with another of its neighbors, Indonesia, Malaysia is now starting to show that “Islamic democracy” is not an oxymoron. This is a development to be applauded in the long run, though in the short run it will undoubtedly cause some dislocations, especially for a business class that has gotten cozy with the ruling party.

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Singapore Plays with Fire

Scarcely had I sent off my posting about the risks Singapore runs with its Islamic and Malay neighbors by hosting guest workers from the People’s Republic of China than I spotted an even more worrying report.

A headline in my Chinese language morning paper, the World Journal, announced “Singapore and China Conclude Military Cooperation Agreement,” adding “Neighboring States View with Concern.” Singapore’s neighbors, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, all have maritime territorial disputes with China, mostly concerning islands in the South China Sea. Last November China took another step toward claiming that entire body of water when she created a government administration for three island groups–the Sansha–none of which she legally controls. China’s latest plan to build three aircraft carriers and more nuclear attack submarines would fit well with the ambition to annex this territory. Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Hanoi, among others will be asking: Does Singapore now plan to host those ships?

Singapore’s leaders have a track record of botched attempts to cultivate economic and political relations with China while ignoring neighbors. On the economic side, an ambitious Singapore Industrial Park was inaugurated in Suzhou in 1994. The huge investment lost almost a hundred million dollars and the Singaporeans sold out at a loss. State-owned Raffle’s Holding bought Brown’s Hotel in London in 1997, truly a gilt-edged stock, only to sell in 2003, reportedly in order to acquire shopping centers in China. On January 8 of this year China’s government humiliatingly slapped down a bid by Singapore Airlines to take a stake in China Eastern Airlines.

Worse, politically, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien-loong, regularly echoes China’s assertions that her massive military buildup threatens no one, while failing to address the genuine danger. Last June, for example, speaking to a regional conference, Lee observed “that Washington and Tokyo are worried about China’s military build-up . . .But most Asian countries see China’s actions not as a threat to regional security, but as a specific response to the cross-straits situation”–a doubtful assessment to say the least.

Singapore’s tilt toward China is not going unnoticed, either in the island itself, or in the region (though it gets next to no coverage in the American press). It has already cost the island state financially. If it continues, it will undermine security and regional trust as well.

Scarcely had I sent off my posting about the risks Singapore runs with its Islamic and Malay neighbors by hosting guest workers from the People’s Republic of China than I spotted an even more worrying report.

A headline in my Chinese language morning paper, the World Journal, announced “Singapore and China Conclude Military Cooperation Agreement,” adding “Neighboring States View with Concern.” Singapore’s neighbors, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, all have maritime territorial disputes with China, mostly concerning islands in the South China Sea. Last November China took another step toward claiming that entire body of water when she created a government administration for three island groups–the Sansha–none of which she legally controls. China’s latest plan to build three aircraft carriers and more nuclear attack submarines would fit well with the ambition to annex this territory. Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Hanoi, among others will be asking: Does Singapore now plan to host those ships?

Singapore’s leaders have a track record of botched attempts to cultivate economic and political relations with China while ignoring neighbors. On the economic side, an ambitious Singapore Industrial Park was inaugurated in Suzhou in 1994. The huge investment lost almost a hundred million dollars and the Singaporeans sold out at a loss. State-owned Raffle’s Holding bought Brown’s Hotel in London in 1997, truly a gilt-edged stock, only to sell in 2003, reportedly in order to acquire shopping centers in China. On January 8 of this year China’s government humiliatingly slapped down a bid by Singapore Airlines to take a stake in China Eastern Airlines.

Worse, politically, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien-loong, regularly echoes China’s assertions that her massive military buildup threatens no one, while failing to address the genuine danger. Last June, for example, speaking to a regional conference, Lee observed “that Washington and Tokyo are worried about China’s military build-up . . .But most Asian countries see China’s actions not as a threat to regional security, but as a specific response to the cross-straits situation”–a doubtful assessment to say the least.

Singapore’s tilt toward China is not going unnoticed, either in the island itself, or in the region (though it gets next to no coverage in the American press). It has already cost the island state financially. If it continues, it will undermine security and regional trust as well.

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Singapore Plays with Fire

I had a strong sense of trouble lurking beneath the surface when a Singaporean colleague recently wrote me about the growing numbers of Chinese from the People’s Republic who are coming to Singapore. The reason: to fill jobs left vacant as native born Singaporeans continue to emigrate at what is perhaps the second highest rate in the world (an estimated 26.11 per thousand, second only to East Timor.)

Singapore is a small but strategically situated country of great prosperity (per capita income is over $20,000). It’s surrounded by perhaps 300 million mostly Muslim Malays and Indonesians. The Chinese and the Muslim peoples have never gotten on very well. The danger for Singapore is that the Malaysians and Indonesians could come to perceive Singapore as a cat’s paw for China. That would lead to disaster for the island state–yet it appears to be the direction in which Singapore is moving.

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I had a strong sense of trouble lurking beneath the surface when a Singaporean colleague recently wrote me about the growing numbers of Chinese from the People’s Republic who are coming to Singapore. The reason: to fill jobs left vacant as native born Singaporeans continue to emigrate at what is perhaps the second highest rate in the world (an estimated 26.11 per thousand, second only to East Timor.)

Singapore is a small but strategically situated country of great prosperity (per capita income is over $20,000). It’s surrounded by perhaps 300 million mostly Muslim Malays and Indonesians. The Chinese and the Muslim peoples have never gotten on very well. The danger for Singapore is that the Malaysians and Indonesians could come to perceive Singapore as a cat’s paw for China. That would lead to disaster for the island state–yet it appears to be the direction in which Singapore is moving.


Instead of permitting immigration from Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore appears to be seeking guest workers from China. This is already causing ill-feeling inside Singapore, as the Singaporeans have only the remotest connections with China. A colleague recently emailed me:

[a close friend] told me that the number of PRC’s/ex-PRC’s in Singapore is quite large and is still on the rise. This is creating tension and resentment among the native-born Singaporeans because the PRC’s cannot speak English, are taking away jobs, and are behaving arrogantly towards native Singaporeans.

For example, my friend and his wife had trouble ordering food in a [food court] coffee-shop because none of the PRC stall-owners understood English or even Singaporean-accented Mandarin. One might assume that my friend’s wife wouldn’t have any inherent bias against PRC’s because she is [educated in the Singapore Chinese-language stream]. Additionally, while my friend was having dinner at a restaurant with his PRC neighbours, one of them stood up in the restaurant and started haranguing a waiter. This PRC gentleman then went on to sneer at the waiter (in front of everyone at the restaurant) for being a native-born Singaporean.

Instead of permitting immigration from Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore appears to be seeking guest workers from China. This is already causing ill-feeling inside Singapore, as the Singaporeans have only the remotest connections with China. My colleague emailed me:

If PRC Chinese become a significant presence in Singapore, then that country’s ties with its immediate neighbors, always delicate, will be inflamed. Furthermore, friends such as the United States will have to think twice about sharing intelligence and technology.

Most Singaporean émigrés leave because of the stifling atmosphere of the country and the political and intellectual lock-step enforced by the government. A looming internal problem would be solved, and a potential external disaster avoided, if that government would begin to democratize, and to allow its people to develop their talents–in Singapore, not abroad.

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Cold(er) War

Yesterday, a submersible lowered a titanium Russian flag onto the Arctic seabed, near the North Pole, at a depth of almost 14,000 feet. Canada immediately mocked Moscow’s stunt. “This isn’t the 15th century,” said Ottawa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter MacKay. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory.’ ”

International law permits Russia, Canada, the United States, Denmark, and Norway, the nations with coastlines inside the Arctic Circle, to enforce 200-mile exclusive economic zones north of their shores. The Kremlin, however, claims a bigger zone that includes the seabed under the North Pole. It maintains that the Lomonosov Ridge, which runs under the Pole, forms part of Siberia’s continental shelf. Canada and Denmark maintain competing claims to the same ridge. (Why do so many nations want the Ridge? Because a receding polar cap may someday make drilling for hydrocarbons there feasible.)

Russia is not the only nation to make outsized claims on continental shelves. China, for instance, believes it has rights to a good portion of Japan’s coastline. China also maintains claims on the continental shelves of the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam (as well as the entire South China Sea).

The United States is party to few economic-zone disputes. Nonetheless, it is the final guarantor of the international system. As such, it should be taking a greater interest in making sure that claims are settled peacefully—and that the rights of free passage are protected—whether or not the Senate sees fit to ratify the controversial Law of the Sea Convention, as the Bush administration wants it to do. And the first item on our agenda should be to talk openly and pointedly to Beijing and Moscow about their grand claims and methods of bolstering them.

Yesterday, a submersible lowered a titanium Russian flag onto the Arctic seabed, near the North Pole, at a depth of almost 14,000 feet. Canada immediately mocked Moscow’s stunt. “This isn’t the 15th century,” said Ottawa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter MacKay. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory.’ ”

International law permits Russia, Canada, the United States, Denmark, and Norway, the nations with coastlines inside the Arctic Circle, to enforce 200-mile exclusive economic zones north of their shores. The Kremlin, however, claims a bigger zone that includes the seabed under the North Pole. It maintains that the Lomonosov Ridge, which runs under the Pole, forms part of Siberia’s continental shelf. Canada and Denmark maintain competing claims to the same ridge. (Why do so many nations want the Ridge? Because a receding polar cap may someday make drilling for hydrocarbons there feasible.)

Russia is not the only nation to make outsized claims on continental shelves. China, for instance, believes it has rights to a good portion of Japan’s coastline. China also maintains claims on the continental shelves of the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam (as well as the entire South China Sea).

The United States is party to few economic-zone disputes. Nonetheless, it is the final guarantor of the international system. As such, it should be taking a greater interest in making sure that claims are settled peacefully—and that the rights of free passage are protected—whether or not the Senate sees fit to ratify the controversial Law of the Sea Convention, as the Bush administration wants it to do. And the first item on our agenda should be to talk openly and pointedly to Beijing and Moscow about their grand claims and methods of bolstering them.

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Blame the Victims

If you find Karen Armstrong’s argument that the creators and publishers of the Muhammad cartoons were guilty of “failing to live up to their own liberal values” to be outrageous, you should see the non sequitur that follows: “When 255,000 members of the so-called ‘Christian community’ signed a petition to prevent the building of a large mosque in Abbey Mills, east London, they sent a grim message to the Muslim world: western freedom of worship did not, apparently, apply to Islam. There were similar protests by some in the Jewish community, who . . . should be the first to protest against discrimination.”

What Ms. Armstrong does not say, though she must surely be aware of it, is that the controversy about the building of Europe’s largest mosque in London’s East End has nothing whatever to do with freedom of worship. London already has more mosques than any other city in Europe, and there are no restrictions on the practice of Islam in Britain, any more than there are restrictions in the United States or other western countries. The London Markaz, as the proposed “megamosque” would be known, is not a response to local Muslim communities, but the project of a global Islamist missionary organization, Tablighi Jamaat. The complex would include a mosque and other facilities for 70,000 worshipers—that is 67,000 more than the largest British cathedral—to be built next to the site of the 2012 Olympics. The religious compound is designed to attract Muslim pilgrims from all over the world, and to serve as the “Islamic quarter” for the games. The cost, an estimated £100 million ($200 million) would be paid by Saudi Arabia.
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If you find Karen Armstrong’s argument that the creators and publishers of the Muhammad cartoons were guilty of “failing to live up to their own liberal values” to be outrageous, you should see the non sequitur that follows: “When 255,000 members of the so-called ‘Christian community’ signed a petition to prevent the building of a large mosque in Abbey Mills, east London, they sent a grim message to the Muslim world: western freedom of worship did not, apparently, apply to Islam. There were similar protests by some in the Jewish community, who . . . should be the first to protest against discrimination.”

What Ms. Armstrong does not say, though she must surely be aware of it, is that the controversy about the building of Europe’s largest mosque in London’s East End has nothing whatever to do with freedom of worship. London already has more mosques than any other city in Europe, and there are no restrictions on the practice of Islam in Britain, any more than there are restrictions in the United States or other western countries. The London Markaz, as the proposed “megamosque” would be known, is not a response to local Muslim communities, but the project of a global Islamist missionary organization, Tablighi Jamaat. The complex would include a mosque and other facilities for 70,000 worshipers—that is 67,000 more than the largest British cathedral—to be built next to the site of the 2012 Olympics. The religious compound is designed to attract Muslim pilgrims from all over the world, and to serve as the “Islamic quarter” for the games. The cost, an estimated £100 million ($200 million) would be paid by Saudi Arabia.

The London Markaz project is a statement of Islamist triumphalism, intended to send out a signal to the billions watching the Olympic Games. While Mayor Livingstone has expressed support, there has been local opposition to the Markaz from the start. After it emerged that some of the terrorists involved in recent incidents in Britain and elsewhere were linked to Tablighi Jamaat (which is often described as the “antechamber” to terrorism), many Abbey Mills residents of all faiths became seriously concerned about the prospect of a vast Islamist fortress in their neighborhood. The concern about the Markaz is shared by many British Muslims, as well, most of whom are from South Asia, and have no sympathy for the Wahhabi fundamentalism that the new mosque undoubtedly will propagate. Ms. Armstrong seems to turn a blind eye to the neighborhood’s concerns about the mosque. She concludes her Guardian article: “Our inability to tolerate Islam not only contradicts our western values; it could also become a security risk.”

Armstrong’s visit to Malaysia should have shown her what intolerance really means. The country’s former prime minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad, notoriously told a Muslim conference in 2003: “The Nazis killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.” In any western country, a politician who talked like this would be finished. But Dr. Mahathir is still treated with reverence in Malaysia.

It is shocking that an influential writer such as Karen Armstrong, who is regarded by millions as an expert on Islam, and whose best-sellers include Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time and The Battle for God, cannot bring herself to tell the truth about Islamic intolerance. Even when her own books become victims of an intolerant government, Karen Armstrong finds it easier to blame the victims.

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Karen Armstrong, Islam, and Intolerance

Writing in Saturday’s Guardian, Karen Armstrong, a popular historian of comparative religion, describes how she was invited by the Malaysian government last month to give two public lectures. On arriving in Kuala Lumpur, however, she was “surprised” to discover that this same government had banned three of her books as “incompatible with peace and social harmony.”

She does not mention the fact that the government in question is an Islamist one, which relentlessly persecutes the 40 percent of Malays who are non-Muslims. This is in spite of the fact that the Malaysian constitution, while establishing Islam as Malaysia’s official religion, also guarantees that “other religions may be practised in peace and harmony”—the same phrase that was used as an excuse to suppress Ms. Armstrong’s books.
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Writing in Saturday’s Guardian, Karen Armstrong, a popular historian of comparative religion, describes how she was invited by the Malaysian government last month to give two public lectures. On arriving in Kuala Lumpur, however, she was “surprised” to discover that this same government had banned three of her books as “incompatible with peace and social harmony.”

She does not mention the fact that the government in question is an Islamist one, which relentlessly persecutes the 40 percent of Malays who are non-Muslims. This is in spite of the fact that the Malaysian constitution, while establishing Islam as Malaysia’s official religion, also guarantees that “other religions may be practised in peace and harmony”—the same phrase that was used as an excuse to suppress Ms. Armstrong’s books.

Malaysia is sometimes cited as a model for a Muslim state. Yet it is a country where children have their identity cards stamped with their faith, which they are then not allowed to change for the rest of their lives. Malays must be Muslim, or else lose their legal status as Malays, which entitles them to preferential treatment. Some 9 percent of the population are Christians, but they enjoy no official status, and are subject to constant harrassment. Conversion to Christianity is a criminal offense in most of the country. Ethnic Indians, who are mostly Hindu, and ethnic Chinese, who are mostly Buddhist or Confucian, are also treated as second-class citizens. All other religions are persecuted by shari’a courts and by an increasingly intolerant government. Churches and temples are often demolished. None of this is mentioned in Karen Armstrong’s article.

Most authors react to censorship with anger and indignation. Not Ms. Armstrong, who says that “my books seemed so popular in Malaysia that I found myself wondering if the veto was part of a Machiavellian plot to entice the public to read them.” She blithely ignores both the censorship and the campaign of forced Islamicization of which it forms a part, and instead takes the opportunity to wag her finger at those in the West who defend free speech.

She chastises the Danish cartoonists and their publishers who lampooned Muhammad for “failing to live up to their own liberal values, since the principle of free speech implies respect for the opinions of others.” So free speech is only permissible as long as nobody raises an objection? One begins to see why Ms. Armstrong is so unconcerned about governments like that of Malaysia.

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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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