Commentary Magazine


Topic: Morocco

Where Is the International Community When You Need It?

When we had last left the story of the ongoing tragedy in Western Sahara, the chief of police of the Polisario Front (the “liberation group” that has blocked a plan for autonomy put forth by Morocco and continues to warehouse Sahrawis in dismal conditions) had denounced his own rebel movement and championed the Moroccan autonomy plan, despite fears he would be arrested. He fled to Mauritania and was planning on rejoining his family in the Tindouf camps and continuing his advocacy. But the Polisario Front would have none of it:

Polisario top security official Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was arrested on Tuesday evening by the militia of the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front upon his arrival in the border post leading to the Tindouf camps, coming from the Mauritanian territory, international media reported.

Polisario militiamen, who were on board of two vehicles, arrested Ould Sidi Mouloud, in the region of Mhiriz, before taking him to unknown destination, according to Al Arabiya sources.

So much for freedom of travel. So much for freedom of speech. Earlier in the day, Sidi Mouloud, we are told, “urged the United Nations and all international human rights organizations to support him to preserve his right of free speech and his physical integrity.” Not quickly enough, it turns out.

And where is the “international community”? Humanitarian groups have called on the UN to take action. For example:

The Leadership Council for Human Rights this morning called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to seek the release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the 42 year old police inspector of the Polisario.

Sidi Mouloud was arrested yesterday by Algerian and Polisario authorities after speaking out in favor of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Western Sahara.

“Not only is Sidi Mouloud’s arrest illegal — all he did was speak his mind; I don’t remember freedom of speech having been removed from the list of fundamental rights — it raises concerns for his overall safety,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights. “The last senior figure to come out in support of the Autonomy Plan, Mahfoud Ali Beiba, had a sudden and unexpected heart attack immediately after his announcement.”

We should not get our hopes up that the UN will spring him. But this does raise once again a fundamental question. Morocco has presented an autonomy plan to the UN, which the Obama administration supports, but the UN has done nothing while Algeria and its pets in the Polisario Front maintain their grip on the throats of the Sahrawis and commit violations of human rights. Why doesn’t the UN agree to the plan and then use its persuasive powers (we keep hearing they have some) to implement it? Oh, is the UN Human Rights Council too busy bashing Israel?

The Obami have great faith in the efficacy of multi-lateral institutions. Perhaps it’s time to put that faith to the test and challenge the UN to end the suffering and the abuse of fundamental rights in Western Sahara.

When we had last left the story of the ongoing tragedy in Western Sahara, the chief of police of the Polisario Front (the “liberation group” that has blocked a plan for autonomy put forth by Morocco and continues to warehouse Sahrawis in dismal conditions) had denounced his own rebel movement and championed the Moroccan autonomy plan, despite fears he would be arrested. He fled to Mauritania and was planning on rejoining his family in the Tindouf camps and continuing his advocacy. But the Polisario Front would have none of it:

Polisario top security official Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was arrested on Tuesday evening by the militia of the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front upon his arrival in the border post leading to the Tindouf camps, coming from the Mauritanian territory, international media reported.

Polisario militiamen, who were on board of two vehicles, arrested Ould Sidi Mouloud, in the region of Mhiriz, before taking him to unknown destination, according to Al Arabiya sources.

So much for freedom of travel. So much for freedom of speech. Earlier in the day, Sidi Mouloud, we are told, “urged the United Nations and all international human rights organizations to support him to preserve his right of free speech and his physical integrity.” Not quickly enough, it turns out.

And where is the “international community”? Humanitarian groups have called on the UN to take action. For example:

The Leadership Council for Human Rights this morning called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to seek the release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the 42 year old police inspector of the Polisario.

Sidi Mouloud was arrested yesterday by Algerian and Polisario authorities after speaking out in favor of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Western Sahara.

“Not only is Sidi Mouloud’s arrest illegal — all he did was speak his mind; I don’t remember freedom of speech having been removed from the list of fundamental rights — it raises concerns for his overall safety,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights. “The last senior figure to come out in support of the Autonomy Plan, Mahfoud Ali Beiba, had a sudden and unexpected heart attack immediately after his announcement.”

We should not get our hopes up that the UN will spring him. But this does raise once again a fundamental question. Morocco has presented an autonomy plan to the UN, which the Obama administration supports, but the UN has done nothing while Algeria and its pets in the Polisario Front maintain their grip on the throats of the Sahrawis and commit violations of human rights. Why doesn’t the UN agree to the plan and then use its persuasive powers (we keep hearing they have some) to implement it? Oh, is the UN Human Rights Council too busy bashing Israel?

The Obami have great faith in the efficacy of multi-lateral institutions. Perhaps it’s time to put that faith to the test and challenge the UN to end the suffering and the abuse of fundamental rights in Western Sahara.

Read Less

Smackdown: Convoy vs. Flotilla

Perhaps the biggest recent news in Gaza-blockade busting is the lack of enthusiasm for it shown by some regional governments. Beirut delayed the departure of the Lebanese “women’s flotilla” flagship, M/V Maryam, for much of July. After Maryam was finally allowed to leave Lebanon, the authorities in Greek Cyprus, the staging point for Maryam to pick up additional passengers, denied the ship permission to depart for Gaza. The flotilla organizers have so far been unable to mount the effort by any other means. A separate aid ship departing from Syria this past weekend simply headed for the Egyptian port of El-Arish, near the Rafah border crossing from Egypt into Gaza, rather than attempting to break the naval blockade.

Three vehicle convoys are now preparing to converge on Gaza, but they, like the Syrian ship, will assemble near Rafah in Egypt. One convoy, arranged by the Hamas-linked Viva Palestina activist group, left from London this weekend. Departures are planned from Morocco and Qatar as well. Reporting suggests that the convoys from Europe and Africa will be composed largely of passenger vehicles, reinforcing their character as publicity stunts rather than humanitarian aid missions.

The convoy from Casablanca has already hit a snag, however, and some elements of it are currently delayed in Morocco. Algeria has granted permission to cross its territory only provisionally and unofficially, a posture that Moroccan factions consider unsatisfactory. The Egyptians, meanwhile, refused to allow a Viva Palestina convoy to use the Rafah border crossing in January 2010, deporting British activist George Galloway and banning him from further activities in Egypt. Cairo’s foreign ministry has reiterated the ban this week, emphasizing that aid-convoy vehicles will not be allowed to use the border crossing. Any cargo they bring will have to be reloaded on an Egyptian-managed official convoy.

The refusal of Greece and Egypt to collude in blockade-running attempts is encouraging. By making order a priority, they eliminate the convenience third-party territory represents for activists originating from Turkey, Syria, or Lebanon. Other European authorities could take a lesson from them.

An interesting development thousands of miles away merits a mention as well. The New Zealand-based organization Kia Ora Gaza, while fundraising at a university in Hamilton last week, was startled to encounter push-back against its vituperative anti-Israel appeal (“one non-Jewish student … described [it] as ‘hate-preaching’”). Kia Ora Gaza activists were reportedly “told by Iraqi and Iranian students that they ‘were playing straight into Hamas’s hands.’” After an hour of being challenged by attendees, the Kia Ora Gaza group cut its event short and left, having taken in very few donations (one attendee counted a total of three).

No single event should be regarded as definitive, of course, but the trend here is positive — and very different from the narrative adhered to by the mainstream media. At times it seems as though the only ones who don’t “get it,” when it comes to Hamas, Islamism, and the cause-célèbre of Gaza, are the Western leftist elites.

Perhaps the biggest recent news in Gaza-blockade busting is the lack of enthusiasm for it shown by some regional governments. Beirut delayed the departure of the Lebanese “women’s flotilla” flagship, M/V Maryam, for much of July. After Maryam was finally allowed to leave Lebanon, the authorities in Greek Cyprus, the staging point for Maryam to pick up additional passengers, denied the ship permission to depart for Gaza. The flotilla organizers have so far been unable to mount the effort by any other means. A separate aid ship departing from Syria this past weekend simply headed for the Egyptian port of El-Arish, near the Rafah border crossing from Egypt into Gaza, rather than attempting to break the naval blockade.

Three vehicle convoys are now preparing to converge on Gaza, but they, like the Syrian ship, will assemble near Rafah in Egypt. One convoy, arranged by the Hamas-linked Viva Palestina activist group, left from London this weekend. Departures are planned from Morocco and Qatar as well. Reporting suggests that the convoys from Europe and Africa will be composed largely of passenger vehicles, reinforcing their character as publicity stunts rather than humanitarian aid missions.

The convoy from Casablanca has already hit a snag, however, and some elements of it are currently delayed in Morocco. Algeria has granted permission to cross its territory only provisionally and unofficially, a posture that Moroccan factions consider unsatisfactory. The Egyptians, meanwhile, refused to allow a Viva Palestina convoy to use the Rafah border crossing in January 2010, deporting British activist George Galloway and banning him from further activities in Egypt. Cairo’s foreign ministry has reiterated the ban this week, emphasizing that aid-convoy vehicles will not be allowed to use the border crossing. Any cargo they bring will have to be reloaded on an Egyptian-managed official convoy.

The refusal of Greece and Egypt to collude in blockade-running attempts is encouraging. By making order a priority, they eliminate the convenience third-party territory represents for activists originating from Turkey, Syria, or Lebanon. Other European authorities could take a lesson from them.

An interesting development thousands of miles away merits a mention as well. The New Zealand-based organization Kia Ora Gaza, while fundraising at a university in Hamilton last week, was startled to encounter push-back against its vituperative anti-Israel appeal (“one non-Jewish student … described [it] as ‘hate-preaching’”). Kia Ora Gaza activists were reportedly “told by Iraqi and Iranian students that they ‘were playing straight into Hamas’s hands.’” After an hour of being challenged by attendees, the Kia Ora Gaza group cut its event short and left, having taken in very few donations (one attendee counted a total of three).

No single event should be regarded as definitive, of course, but the trend here is positive — and very different from the narrative adhered to by the mainstream media. At times it seems as though the only ones who don’t “get it,” when it comes to Hamas, Islamism, and the cause-célèbre of Gaza, are the Western leftist elites.

Read Less

Speaking Truth to Power

I’ve been following the ongoing tragedy in the Western Sahara, where the Polisario Front, the Soviet-style “liberation” group, in concert with Algeria, is seeking to thwart a resolution of the humanitarian crisis and the internment of thousands in camps in Algeria. In August, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the head of the Polisario’s police force, managed to get out of the camps and announced support for the Moroccan government’s plan for autonomy for the Western Sahara. But once again, the Polisario has flexed its muscles.

It seems that the Polisario has threatened Sidi Mouloud with arrest if he visits the Tindouf Refugees camps and shares his views in support of an autonomy plan that could end the virtual imprisonment of those living in squalor. In an interview with French TV, Sidi Mouloud declared, “To freely express one’s opinion is treason?” Well, to those trying to maintain a grip on a population and who will not even permit those in the camps to be counted by international relief agencies, the answer is yes.

Other press reports indicate that Sidi Mouloud has left Mauritania for Tindouf to confront the Polisario and advocate in favor of Morocco’s autonomy proposal. He is the highest-ranking official to break with the Polisario and plainly represents a threat to the group. It would, of course, be helpful if the “international community” intervened to protect him from arrest and torture, but its record on the Western Sahara has generally been one of inactivity. Meanwhile, thousands remain interned without right of travel.

I’ve been following the ongoing tragedy in the Western Sahara, where the Polisario Front, the Soviet-style “liberation” group, in concert with Algeria, is seeking to thwart a resolution of the humanitarian crisis and the internment of thousands in camps in Algeria. In August, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the head of the Polisario’s police force, managed to get out of the camps and announced support for the Moroccan government’s plan for autonomy for the Western Sahara. But once again, the Polisario has flexed its muscles.

It seems that the Polisario has threatened Sidi Mouloud with arrest if he visits the Tindouf Refugees camps and shares his views in support of an autonomy plan that could end the virtual imprisonment of those living in squalor. In an interview with French TV, Sidi Mouloud declared, “To freely express one’s opinion is treason?” Well, to those trying to maintain a grip on a population and who will not even permit those in the camps to be counted by international relief agencies, the answer is yes.

Other press reports indicate that Sidi Mouloud has left Mauritania for Tindouf to confront the Polisario and advocate in favor of Morocco’s autonomy proposal. He is the highest-ranking official to break with the Polisario and plainly represents a threat to the group. It would, of course, be helpful if the “international community” intervened to protect him from arrest and torture, but its record on the Western Sahara has generally been one of inactivity. Meanwhile, thousands remain interned without right of travel.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

A Human Rights Breakthrough, No Thanks to the International Community

In April I wrote about the ongoing humanitarian crisis and political conflict concerning the Western Sahara. Morocco has offered an autonomy plan that would provide self-rule for Sahrawis and end the suffering of those warehoused in refugee camps in Algeria, which is actively working along with the Polisario Front (a 1970s Soviet-style “liberation” group) to thwart a resolution of the conflict. Now there seems to have been an important breakthrough. The Polisario’s police chief has broken with his comrades and their Algerian patrons, according to this report:

At a press conference Monday (August 9th) in Smara, Western Sahara, Police Inspector-General Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said that the proposed initiative to give extensive autonomy to the Sahrawis was the best possible solution to the Western Sahara conflict.

It would allow them to preserve their culture, he said.

“In the past, we had two conflicting options: either to integrate into Morocco or become independent. Today we have a third option that helps us achieve our main objective, which is the Sahrawi distinction,” the police chief added.

How did this come about? Well, unlike those in the camps, who are denied full freedom of movement (you’d think the “human rights” groups and the flock of self-styled “humanitarian” groups would find this outrageous, but their focus is primarily on life in the Middle East’s only democracy), Ould Sidi Mouloud was able to wrangle a short visit with his family:

“After 31 years of separation, I was able to meet with my father and my relatives in Smara. I took the opportunity to tour Morocco. I was impressed by Morocco’s major progress in different sectors, and the major development boom in the Sahrawi territories, which made me change my position,” he said. …

“I wish this press conference had taken place at the camps, but we have no media or communication means over there. Tindouf camps are located in the middle of the desert, an area cut off from the rest of the world, and Polisario controls everything over there,” he stated. …

“There isn’t one single family that has all its members in only Tindouf or only Morocco. For instance, I was abducted from Smara with my mother and my four siblings during a Polisario raid in 1979. I was only 11 years old. We left behind my wounded father and four dead, three women and a child.”

Child abductions? Denial of basic human rights? You’d think the media would be interested in this sort of thing. But no, they’ve got other priorities.

In the meantime, however, this latest development may help weaken the Polisario’s grip on world public opinion. “It is time for Algeria to let the Sahrawi refugees living in Tindouf camps express and discuss their preferences and aspirations, and come up with what is best for them,” proclaimed African Federation of Strategic Studies chief Mohamed Benhamou. Yes, self-determination for those living in misery in the camps should be something the members of the “international community” would all get behind, unless, goodness gracious, there are many nations that don’t share our values and concerns.

In April I wrote about the ongoing humanitarian crisis and political conflict concerning the Western Sahara. Morocco has offered an autonomy plan that would provide self-rule for Sahrawis and end the suffering of those warehoused in refugee camps in Algeria, which is actively working along with the Polisario Front (a 1970s Soviet-style “liberation” group) to thwart a resolution of the conflict. Now there seems to have been an important breakthrough. The Polisario’s police chief has broken with his comrades and their Algerian patrons, according to this report:

At a press conference Monday (August 9th) in Smara, Western Sahara, Police Inspector-General Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said that the proposed initiative to give extensive autonomy to the Sahrawis was the best possible solution to the Western Sahara conflict.

It would allow them to preserve their culture, he said.

“In the past, we had two conflicting options: either to integrate into Morocco or become independent. Today we have a third option that helps us achieve our main objective, which is the Sahrawi distinction,” the police chief added.

How did this come about? Well, unlike those in the camps, who are denied full freedom of movement (you’d think the “human rights” groups and the flock of self-styled “humanitarian” groups would find this outrageous, but their focus is primarily on life in the Middle East’s only democracy), Ould Sidi Mouloud was able to wrangle a short visit with his family:

“After 31 years of separation, I was able to meet with my father and my relatives in Smara. I took the opportunity to tour Morocco. I was impressed by Morocco’s major progress in different sectors, and the major development boom in the Sahrawi territories, which made me change my position,” he said. …

“I wish this press conference had taken place at the camps, but we have no media or communication means over there. Tindouf camps are located in the middle of the desert, an area cut off from the rest of the world, and Polisario controls everything over there,” he stated. …

“There isn’t one single family that has all its members in only Tindouf or only Morocco. For instance, I was abducted from Smara with my mother and my four siblings during a Polisario raid in 1979. I was only 11 years old. We left behind my wounded father and four dead, three women and a child.”

Child abductions? Denial of basic human rights? You’d think the media would be interested in this sort of thing. But no, they’ve got other priorities.

In the meantime, however, this latest development may help weaken the Polisario’s grip on world public opinion. “It is time for Algeria to let the Sahrawi refugees living in Tindouf camps express and discuss their preferences and aspirations, and come up with what is best for them,” proclaimed African Federation of Strategic Studies chief Mohamed Benhamou. Yes, self-determination for those living in misery in the camps should be something the members of the “international community” would all get behind, unless, goodness gracious, there are many nations that don’t share our values and concerns.

Read Less

What’s in a Name?

Michael Lame of the decidedly non-partisan Re-Think The Middle East provides some useful background on the history of Cordoba for which the Ground Zero mosque is to be named. He writes:

Many writers have waxed rhapsodic about a golden age of peace and prosperity in Muslim Spain. But is that really what it was like? “Nostalgia is the enemy of historical understanding,” warns historian Richard Fletcher, author of Moorish Spain. “The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was a land of tranquility.”

The 800 years referred to by the Cordoba Initiative constitutes the entire era of Muslim rule in Spain, stretching from 711 to 1492. Yet Cordoba itself, the cultural and for long periods of time the political capital of al-Andalus, succumbed to Christian conquest (or reconquest) in 1236.

Imam Rauf’s book, What’s Right with Islam: a New Vision for Muslims and the West, narrows the pertinent time frame, explaining that the Cordoba Initiative is “named after the period between roughly 800 and 1200 CE, when the Cordoba Caliphate ruled much of today’s Spain.”

But Rauf’s nostalgia should concern us, and give pause to his defenders. As Lame notes:

The idea of an Andalusian golden age, when Christians and Jews lived contentedly under Muslim rule, has become a fixture of Western historical thinking over the last hundred years. But is it true?

Professor [Richard] Fletcher weighs in on the question: “Early medieval Spain was multicultural in the sense of being culturally diverse, a land within which different cultures coexisted; but not in the sense of experiencing cultural integration. Toleration for Christians and Jews as ‘Peoples of the Book’ is enjoined by the Koran. But in practice it was limited – Christians under Islamic rule were forbidden to build new churches, to ring church bells, to hold public processions – and sometimes it broke down altogether. In 1066 there was a pogrom in Granada in which its Jewish community was slaughtered. Thousands of Christians were deported to slavery in Morocco in 1126. Thoroughly dismissive attitudes to Christians and Jews may be found in the Arabic literature of al-Andalus. It is a myth of the modern liberal imagination that medieval Islamic Spain was, in any sense that we should recognize today, a tolerant society.”

Lame advises that we should be aware of what Rauf’s “tolerance” entails:

One should not forget that Cordovan tolerance was predicated on Islamic rule. Jews and Christians, once they accepted their status as dhimmi, protected albeit subservient peoples, could participate in the intellectual, artistic, and economic life of the broader community. But one fact was clear throughout medieval Spain, that a single faith was dominant – Islam in the south and Christianity in the north – and the other religious communities were allowed to remain at the pleasure, or rather the sufferance, of the dominant religious-political power.

Sufferance as the basis for a multi-religious society is not a model that will appeal to 21st century Christians, Muslims, or Jews. For that reason alone, Cordoba is a questionable symbol of inter-faith co-existence. A better model might be … New York City!

In fact, New York has so many mosques that the question of tolerance of Muslims in America is not in doubt, except in the minds of the mosque’s defenders, who equate the placement of the mosque with religious “freedom.” Now, Rauf can hardly be ignorant of the history of Cordoba, as many of his defenders seem to be. He has, in the selection of his mosque’s name and placement, chosen to carry a message to his fellow Muslims and the world at large. It’s not a message the any of us, especially the left, which is supposedly opposed to religious domination of societies (or is that only a rule for Christians?), should embrace.

Michael Lame of the decidedly non-partisan Re-Think The Middle East provides some useful background on the history of Cordoba for which the Ground Zero mosque is to be named. He writes:

Many writers have waxed rhapsodic about a golden age of peace and prosperity in Muslim Spain. But is that really what it was like? “Nostalgia is the enemy of historical understanding,” warns historian Richard Fletcher, author of Moorish Spain. “The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was a land of tranquility.”

The 800 years referred to by the Cordoba Initiative constitutes the entire era of Muslim rule in Spain, stretching from 711 to 1492. Yet Cordoba itself, the cultural and for long periods of time the political capital of al-Andalus, succumbed to Christian conquest (or reconquest) in 1236.

Imam Rauf’s book, What’s Right with Islam: a New Vision for Muslims and the West, narrows the pertinent time frame, explaining that the Cordoba Initiative is “named after the period between roughly 800 and 1200 CE, when the Cordoba Caliphate ruled much of today’s Spain.”

But Rauf’s nostalgia should concern us, and give pause to his defenders. As Lame notes:

The idea of an Andalusian golden age, when Christians and Jews lived contentedly under Muslim rule, has become a fixture of Western historical thinking over the last hundred years. But is it true?

Professor [Richard] Fletcher weighs in on the question: “Early medieval Spain was multicultural in the sense of being culturally diverse, a land within which different cultures coexisted; but not in the sense of experiencing cultural integration. Toleration for Christians and Jews as ‘Peoples of the Book’ is enjoined by the Koran. But in practice it was limited – Christians under Islamic rule were forbidden to build new churches, to ring church bells, to hold public processions – and sometimes it broke down altogether. In 1066 there was a pogrom in Granada in which its Jewish community was slaughtered. Thousands of Christians were deported to slavery in Morocco in 1126. Thoroughly dismissive attitudes to Christians and Jews may be found in the Arabic literature of al-Andalus. It is a myth of the modern liberal imagination that medieval Islamic Spain was, in any sense that we should recognize today, a tolerant society.”

Lame advises that we should be aware of what Rauf’s “tolerance” entails:

One should not forget that Cordovan tolerance was predicated on Islamic rule. Jews and Christians, once they accepted their status as dhimmi, protected albeit subservient peoples, could participate in the intellectual, artistic, and economic life of the broader community. But one fact was clear throughout medieval Spain, that a single faith was dominant – Islam in the south and Christianity in the north – and the other religious communities were allowed to remain at the pleasure, or rather the sufferance, of the dominant religious-political power.

Sufferance as the basis for a multi-religious society is not a model that will appeal to 21st century Christians, Muslims, or Jews. For that reason alone, Cordoba is a questionable symbol of inter-faith co-existence. A better model might be … New York City!

In fact, New York has so many mosques that the question of tolerance of Muslims in America is not in doubt, except in the minds of the mosque’s defenders, who equate the placement of the mosque with religious “freedom.” Now, Rauf can hardly be ignorant of the history of Cordoba, as many of his defenders seem to be. He has, in the selection of his mosque’s name and placement, chosen to carry a message to his fellow Muslims and the world at large. It’s not a message the any of us, especially the left, which is supposedly opposed to religious domination of societies (or is that only a rule for Christians?), should embrace.

Read Less

Kristof Defames Another Country

As reflexively hostile and uniformed as Nicholas Kristof is regarding Israel, his bile-filled columns on the topic are a model of impartial scholarship compared to his take on Morocco. In the midst of another dreary rant on Israel and the West Bank (Does he think we don’t know that Israel has repeatedly tried to give the Palestinians their own state or that the West Bank is a model of economic development in the Middle East?), he throws this in from left field: “After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: It is Morocco’s robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there.”

Huh? Without recounting the entire history of the region, suffice it to say that the Western Sahara was not “stolen” from anyone. (Spain ceded it to Morocco.) The Moroccans have proposed — with the enthusiastic bipartisan cheers from Congress and the Obama administration — to afford the people living there autonomy. However, the Polisario Front, a 1970′s leftover pro-Soviet liberation group, and the Algerian government have blocked that plan. Instead, in Algeria, the Sahrawi people are kept warehoused in camps and a humanitarian crisis is perpetuated.

Come to think of it, Morocco is a lot like Israel. Both are the targets of leftists’ slander, and both suffer the unfortunate fate of a diverse, open, and tolerant society whose presence is an anathema to Islamic fundamentalists.

As reflexively hostile and uniformed as Nicholas Kristof is regarding Israel, his bile-filled columns on the topic are a model of impartial scholarship compared to his take on Morocco. In the midst of another dreary rant on Israel and the West Bank (Does he think we don’t know that Israel has repeatedly tried to give the Palestinians their own state or that the West Bank is a model of economic development in the Middle East?), he throws this in from left field: “After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: It is Morocco’s robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there.”

Huh? Without recounting the entire history of the region, suffice it to say that the Western Sahara was not “stolen” from anyone. (Spain ceded it to Morocco.) The Moroccans have proposed — with the enthusiastic bipartisan cheers from Congress and the Obama administration — to afford the people living there autonomy. However, the Polisario Front, a 1970′s leftover pro-Soviet liberation group, and the Algerian government have blocked that plan. Instead, in Algeria, the Sahrawi people are kept warehoused in camps and a humanitarian crisis is perpetuated.

Come to think of it, Morocco is a lot like Israel. Both are the targets of leftists’ slander, and both suffer the unfortunate fate of a diverse, open, and tolerant society whose presence is an anathema to Islamic fundamentalists.

Read Less

Religious Intolerance in the Middle East: Where Should We Focus?

In the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog, Menachem Rosensaft looks at Morocco’s expulsion of  Christian missionaries who were accused of proselytizing at a Moroccan orphanage earlier this year. As Rosensaft explains:

A group of Republican members of Congress have taken up the cause of the expelled Christian missionaries, which is, of course, their right. Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Anh Cao (R-La.) recently convened a [briefing] at which they urged Morocco to allow the deportees to return.

At the [briefing], some of the rhetoric turned ugly. Rep. Wolf called for the suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Morocco and compared the Moroccan government to the repressive Ceaucescu regime in Romania during the 1980′s. Rep. Pitts went further and likened the measures taken by the Moroccan authorities to “some of the tactics used by the Nazis.”

Rosensaft provides some much-needed perspective on the incident. Morocco, as he observes, is the least of our concerns when it comes to suppression of religious freedom in the Middle East:

The Kingdom of Morocco is a Muslim nation where Jews and Christian are able to practice their religions openly. Synagogues and churches stand alongside mosques, and the Moroccan government is a rare beacon of tolerance in an otherwise mostly religiously xenophobic Muslim world. Both King Muhammed VI and his late father, King Hassan, have publicly placed the Moroccan Jewish community under royal protection. As Rabbi Marc Schneier, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, reminds us, “during World War II, when Morocco was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco .” Moroccan law simultaneously guarantees freedom of religion and criminalizes proselytization. Morocco has also been a stalwart ally of the United States and the West.

Rosensaft notes that an anti-proselytizing law, common throughout the Middle East, is what is at issue and what was the basis for the missionaries’ expulsion. Rosensaft concludes:

Non-Muslims enjoy far greater freedom of religion in Morocco than in most other Muslim countries, and Americans who go there are fully aware that proselytizing is prohibited. There are no allegations that the Americans involved were tortured or physically mistreated. They were simply expelled from Morocco for refusing to abide by its laws.

Rosensaft is not alone in raising a cautionary flag. The World Jewish Congress last week wrote to the House Foreign Affairs Committee members and co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Reps. Wolf and James McGovern. The letter included this:

As Chairman of the World Jewish Congress United States, I have met with Moroccan leaders on several occasions to discuss our shared commitment in building ties of communication, reconciliation and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities. I am aware first hand that the Kingdom of Morocco is determined to strengthen interfaith relations. As has historically been the case, Morocco’s leaders continue to promote dialogue based on tolerant speech, good intention and honored objectives.

Morocco in the Middle East is a paradigm of religious freedom and tolerance. The Jewish community of present-day Morocco dates back more than 2,000 years. During World War II, when France was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco. There are centuries old synagogues, old-age homes, and kosher restaurants throughout Morocco that are well kept by Muslims. And, there are close ties between Morocco and the State of Israel.

Raphael Benchimol, the rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, also wrote to Wolf this month, urging him to consider Morocco’s record on religious tolerance. He included this account of a synagogue trip this February:

We visited the sites of Moroccan synagogues, places of historic and religious importance to the Moroccan Jewish community, and the final resting places of many of the righteous Moroccan rabbis and sages who have rested in Morocco, in harmony, for thousands of years. Never once during our stay did I see any lack of religious tolerance or freedom. Never once did I sense the “precarious” situation you describe vis-à-vis our religion. To the contrary, I always felt safe and secure to pray and visit any of the Jewish sites without any fear whatsoever. The Muslim citizens of each of the cities we visited were polite, courteous and respectful of our religious tour. Indeed, I observed how many of the locals have a deep reverence for our holy sites. …

To give you an idea of how important the Jewish “minority religion” is to the King and to the Moroccan government, this past May we hosted a special event at our synagogue where several representatives of the Moroccan government, including Ambassador Mekouar, were present. Serge Berdugo, a Jewish Ambassador of the King of Morocco, beautifully presented to our congregants “His Majesty’s gracious and holy plan to identify, refurbish and protect all the Jewish cemeteries and mausoleums in Morocco.” The Ambassador also proudly announced that “as Commander of the faithful, His Majesty safeguards the sacred values of His subjects, Jew and Muslims alike.” This positive message as well as the gracious offer of the King was received with deep gratitude and sheer excitement by the entire congregation.

There is a disturbing pattern of religious oppression and intolerance in Muslim countries – but not in Morocco. The unfortunate situation at the Christian orphanage (how many of those exist in Muslim countries?) should not obscure this. As a savvy analyst explains, “They should never have let evangelicals run orphanages; that was the mistake. When a kid has no home to return to, the religious influence of those acting in loco parentis is inevitable.” But that is a discrete issue, and resolvable by the Moroccan government. It would seem that the best use of the time and focus of Congress — which is at least making a good effort to pick up the slack from an administration utterly indifferent to the issue of religious freedom — would be to focus on the worst actors in the Muslim World, not the best.

In the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog, Menachem Rosensaft looks at Morocco’s expulsion of  Christian missionaries who were accused of proselytizing at a Moroccan orphanage earlier this year. As Rosensaft explains:

A group of Republican members of Congress have taken up the cause of the expelled Christian missionaries, which is, of course, their right. Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Anh Cao (R-La.) recently convened a [briefing] at which they urged Morocco to allow the deportees to return.

At the [briefing], some of the rhetoric turned ugly. Rep. Wolf called for the suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Morocco and compared the Moroccan government to the repressive Ceaucescu regime in Romania during the 1980′s. Rep. Pitts went further and likened the measures taken by the Moroccan authorities to “some of the tactics used by the Nazis.”

Rosensaft provides some much-needed perspective on the incident. Morocco, as he observes, is the least of our concerns when it comes to suppression of religious freedom in the Middle East:

The Kingdom of Morocco is a Muslim nation where Jews and Christian are able to practice their religions openly. Synagogues and churches stand alongside mosques, and the Moroccan government is a rare beacon of tolerance in an otherwise mostly religiously xenophobic Muslim world. Both King Muhammed VI and his late father, King Hassan, have publicly placed the Moroccan Jewish community under royal protection. As Rabbi Marc Schneier, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, reminds us, “during World War II, when Morocco was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco .” Moroccan law simultaneously guarantees freedom of religion and criminalizes proselytization. Morocco has also been a stalwart ally of the United States and the West.

Rosensaft notes that an anti-proselytizing law, common throughout the Middle East, is what is at issue and what was the basis for the missionaries’ expulsion. Rosensaft concludes:

Non-Muslims enjoy far greater freedom of religion in Morocco than in most other Muslim countries, and Americans who go there are fully aware that proselytizing is prohibited. There are no allegations that the Americans involved were tortured or physically mistreated. They were simply expelled from Morocco for refusing to abide by its laws.

Rosensaft is not alone in raising a cautionary flag. The World Jewish Congress last week wrote to the House Foreign Affairs Committee members and co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Reps. Wolf and James McGovern. The letter included this:

As Chairman of the World Jewish Congress United States, I have met with Moroccan leaders on several occasions to discuss our shared commitment in building ties of communication, reconciliation and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities. I am aware first hand that the Kingdom of Morocco is determined to strengthen interfaith relations. As has historically been the case, Morocco’s leaders continue to promote dialogue based on tolerant speech, good intention and honored objectives.

Morocco in the Middle East is a paradigm of religious freedom and tolerance. The Jewish community of present-day Morocco dates back more than 2,000 years. During World War II, when France was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco. There are centuries old synagogues, old-age homes, and kosher restaurants throughout Morocco that are well kept by Muslims. And, there are close ties between Morocco and the State of Israel.

Raphael Benchimol, the rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, also wrote to Wolf this month, urging him to consider Morocco’s record on religious tolerance. He included this account of a synagogue trip this February:

We visited the sites of Moroccan synagogues, places of historic and religious importance to the Moroccan Jewish community, and the final resting places of many of the righteous Moroccan rabbis and sages who have rested in Morocco, in harmony, for thousands of years. Never once during our stay did I see any lack of religious tolerance or freedom. Never once did I sense the “precarious” situation you describe vis-à-vis our religion. To the contrary, I always felt safe and secure to pray and visit any of the Jewish sites without any fear whatsoever. The Muslim citizens of each of the cities we visited were polite, courteous and respectful of our religious tour. Indeed, I observed how many of the locals have a deep reverence for our holy sites. …

To give you an idea of how important the Jewish “minority religion” is to the King and to the Moroccan government, this past May we hosted a special event at our synagogue where several representatives of the Moroccan government, including Ambassador Mekouar, were present. Serge Berdugo, a Jewish Ambassador of the King of Morocco, beautifully presented to our congregants “His Majesty’s gracious and holy plan to identify, refurbish and protect all the Jewish cemeteries and mausoleums in Morocco.” The Ambassador also proudly announced that “as Commander of the faithful, His Majesty safeguards the sacred values of His subjects, Jew and Muslims alike.” This positive message as well as the gracious offer of the King was received with deep gratitude and sheer excitement by the entire congregation.

There is a disturbing pattern of religious oppression and intolerance in Muslim countries – but not in Morocco. The unfortunate situation at the Christian orphanage (how many of those exist in Muslim countries?) should not obscure this. As a savvy analyst explains, “They should never have let evangelicals run orphanages; that was the mistake. When a kid has no home to return to, the religious influence of those acting in loco parentis is inevitable.” But that is a discrete issue, and resolvable by the Moroccan government. It would seem that the best use of the time and focus of Congress — which is at least making a good effort to pick up the slack from an administration utterly indifferent to the issue of religious freedom — would be to focus on the worst actors in the Muslim World, not the best.

Read Less

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Why the Western Sahara Matters

Most Americans know little or nothing about the conflict over the western Sahara or the self-styled “liberation” group the Polisario Front (originally backed by the former Soviet bloc). The Obama administration and Congress are focused on other problems in the Middle East. But the conflict that has ensnared Morocco, Algeria, and tens of thousands of Sahrawi (natives of the disputed territory) refugees warehoused in camps in Algeria poses a humanitarian crisis and creates another hotbed of terrorism and the narco-smuggling that accompanies it.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Most Americans know little or nothing about the conflict over the western Sahara or the self-styled “liberation” group the Polisario Front (originally backed by the former Soviet bloc). The Obama administration and Congress are focused on other problems in the Middle East. But the conflict that has ensnared Morocco, Algeria, and tens of thousands of Sahrawi (natives of the disputed territory) refugees warehoused in camps in Algeria poses a humanitarian crisis and creates another hotbed of terrorism and the narco-smuggling that accompanies it.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Read Less

The Women of Morocco

We have had a series of horror stories reminding us of atrocious treatment of girls and women in a great number of Muslim countries. Whether it is Yemen or Turkey or Saudi Arabia, the picture of brutality is grim, indeed. But there is an exception in the region, one that gets little attention.

I had the opportunity to meet today with two Moroccan female legislators (yes, that’s noteworthy enough). Morocco suffers what might be considered the fate of pro-Western, modernizing countries of the Middle East — it is ignored rather than held up as an example and an alternative to the oppression and repression of Muslim fundamentalism and to the institutionalization of misogyny one finds in so much of what Obama lumps into the “Muslim World.”  Zahra Chagaf is the elected representative from Tarfaya in southern Morocco, which is the focus of the dispute over the fate of the Western Sahara (and the dangerous exploitation by the Polisario Front and Algeria. More about all that in a later post.) She is fluent in  multiple languages, and on the topic of women, she speaks in French. (My rusty high school French is assisted by an able translator.) She explains that twelve years ago, a huge legal and political change occurred in Morocco. ” There were only two female legislators in parliament in 2000,” she explains. “Now there are 40 of us. On the municipal level [the equivalent of our state level], 0.5 percent were women in 2000. Now there are 12 percent, about 4,000 people.” She emphasizes that this was accompanied by a new family code that afforded women new rights, and by the outlawing of sexual harassment and discrimination. Five government ministers are women, and there are 15 female ambassadors.

How did this come about, I ask — why is Morocco so different?  She explains that it came from “civil society.” The groundswell came both from “women in the country and men with an open outlook.” She emphasizes that in the south, her own region, women have always been involved in the “social, political, cultural” life of the country, and unlike in other Muslim countries, within the home, Moroccan women also exercise power and influence. She stresses: “It is the women who raise the children… Education is more important than any legal change.”

Mbarka Bouaida is another member of parliament, elected to represent TanTan, also in southern Morocco. She could be any New York investment banker or associate in a large law firm, smartly dressed in a gray pantsuit, sporting shoulder length hair. She also speaks multiple language and converses with me in fluent English. What’s different about Morocco? She smiles. “It is a matriarchal society,” she begins. She also emphasizes the role of women in southern Moroccan society but adds that Morocco is also a Mediterranean country, culturally distinct from much of the rest of the Middle East. In southern Morocco, she notes: “Women were much more active in society before the legal environment changed. Women have been active in business. Most of the business people in the south are women. Women have always acted very freely in deciding matrimonial aspects  and who they marry.” (The contrast to other Muslim countries is plain.) Even in the naiton’s resistance to French and Spanish rule, women were active, she continues, and also recalls that in the 1950s, the princess was among the first Muslim women to give a speech in public without the veil.

The challenge to Morocco, the women explain, is to expand the role of women and hold back the threat of Muslim fundamentalism that would reverse the nation’s progress. Mbaraka explains: “We need to have more [freedom for women] and protect against extremism. We see extremists interpreting the Koran… We need to continue to communicate and provide education.” And what of the women in the rest of the Middle East? Well, Zahra explains that they do meet with women from Yemen, Syria, and Saudi Arabia — where she emphasizes, “The  women have no rights!” The effort of other Muslim countries to repress and brutalize their own women is made more difficult in the modern era. As she explains, “You can see what is going on [in other countries], and you don’t have to put up with it.”

The Morocco example leaves one with mixed  emotions. On one hand, it is a shining example of reform and modernization, one we hope is emulated by its neighbors. But as  the women made so very clear, Morocco is different than many of his Muslim neighbors. And in emphasizing the differences, one comes back to the bleak condition of women in those other Muslim countries in which the cultural and social predicate for the advancement of women is sorely lacking. As another commentator observed with regard to Afghan women, the challenge for America (and one could say for enlightened nations like Morocco as well) is great, namely to help women:

“…unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

We and our Moroccan allies have our work cut out for us.

UPDATE: An informed reader emails to add that the King of Morocco deserves a share of the credit for this societal transformation — “for siding with these women against the more reactionary forces in society. In a poll last year that found him very popular, the one area where there was a lot of criticism was… women’s rights! Lots of men thought he was going too fast.” (More on the poll and on the family code can be found here.) If only other Muslim nations were fortunate enough to have such leadership.

We have had a series of horror stories reminding us of atrocious treatment of girls and women in a great number of Muslim countries. Whether it is Yemen or Turkey or Saudi Arabia, the picture of brutality is grim, indeed. But there is an exception in the region, one that gets little attention.

I had the opportunity to meet today with two Moroccan female legislators (yes, that’s noteworthy enough). Morocco suffers what might be considered the fate of pro-Western, modernizing countries of the Middle East — it is ignored rather than held up as an example and an alternative to the oppression and repression of Muslim fundamentalism and to the institutionalization of misogyny one finds in so much of what Obama lumps into the “Muslim World.”  Zahra Chagaf is the elected representative from Tarfaya in southern Morocco, which is the focus of the dispute over the fate of the Western Sahara (and the dangerous exploitation by the Polisario Front and Algeria. More about all that in a later post.) She is fluent in  multiple languages, and on the topic of women, she speaks in French. (My rusty high school French is assisted by an able translator.) She explains that twelve years ago, a huge legal and political change occurred in Morocco. ” There were only two female legislators in parliament in 2000,” she explains. “Now there are 40 of us. On the municipal level [the equivalent of our state level], 0.5 percent were women in 2000. Now there are 12 percent, about 4,000 people.” She emphasizes that this was accompanied by a new family code that afforded women new rights, and by the outlawing of sexual harassment and discrimination. Five government ministers are women, and there are 15 female ambassadors.

How did this come about, I ask — why is Morocco so different?  She explains that it came from “civil society.” The groundswell came both from “women in the country and men with an open outlook.” She emphasizes that in the south, her own region, women have always been involved in the “social, political, cultural” life of the country, and unlike in other Muslim countries, within the home, Moroccan women also exercise power and influence. She stresses: “It is the women who raise the children… Education is more important than any legal change.”

Mbarka Bouaida is another member of parliament, elected to represent TanTan, also in southern Morocco. She could be any New York investment banker or associate in a large law firm, smartly dressed in a gray pantsuit, sporting shoulder length hair. She also speaks multiple language and converses with me in fluent English. What’s different about Morocco? She smiles. “It is a matriarchal society,” she begins. She also emphasizes the role of women in southern Moroccan society but adds that Morocco is also a Mediterranean country, culturally distinct from much of the rest of the Middle East. In southern Morocco, she notes: “Women were much more active in society before the legal environment changed. Women have been active in business. Most of the business people in the south are women. Women have always acted very freely in deciding matrimonial aspects  and who they marry.” (The contrast to other Muslim countries is plain.) Even in the naiton’s resistance to French and Spanish rule, women were active, she continues, and also recalls that in the 1950s, the princess was among the first Muslim women to give a speech in public without the veil.

The challenge to Morocco, the women explain, is to expand the role of women and hold back the threat of Muslim fundamentalism that would reverse the nation’s progress. Mbaraka explains: “We need to have more [freedom for women] and protect against extremism. We see extremists interpreting the Koran… We need to continue to communicate and provide education.” And what of the women in the rest of the Middle East? Well, Zahra explains that they do meet with women from Yemen, Syria, and Saudi Arabia — where she emphasizes, “The  women have no rights!” The effort of other Muslim countries to repress and brutalize their own women is made more difficult in the modern era. As she explains, “You can see what is going on [in other countries], and you don’t have to put up with it.”

The Morocco example leaves one with mixed  emotions. On one hand, it is a shining example of reform and modernization, one we hope is emulated by its neighbors. But as  the women made so very clear, Morocco is different than many of his Muslim neighbors. And in emphasizing the differences, one comes back to the bleak condition of women in those other Muslim countries in which the cultural and social predicate for the advancement of women is sorely lacking. As another commentator observed with regard to Afghan women, the challenge for America (and one could say for enlightened nations like Morocco as well) is great, namely to help women:

“…unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

We and our Moroccan allies have our work cut out for us.

UPDATE: An informed reader emails to add that the King of Morocco deserves a share of the credit for this societal transformation — “for siding with these women against the more reactionary forces in society. In a poll last year that found him very popular, the one area where there was a lot of criticism was… women’s rights! Lots of men thought he was going too fast.” (More on the poll and on the family code can be found here.) If only other Muslim nations were fortunate enough to have such leadership.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

The leg tingler who says Sarah Palin doesn’t know anything turns out not to know anything: “There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like watching Chris Matthews get his a– demolished on Celebrity Jeopardy. … Do I smell a Wolf Blitzer repeat? If you aren’t watching tonight, how else would you learn that the Rocky Mountains actually run through California? Christo is on fire!”

The latest in the Fort Jackson food poisoning investigation is here. A new wrinkle: it is not clear whether the suspects were U.S. citizens or part of an outreach program to non-citizens who can speak “fluent Arabic, Dari, Pashto, or some other needed language.”

Par for the course for Chicago pols: “Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) said yesterday that the White House offered him a federal job in an effort to dissuade him from challenging Sen. Arlen Specter in the state’s Democratic primary.” You kind of see why Blago thinks “everyone” trades jobs and public offices.

It’s not hard to figure out why Obama “seems incapable of speaking to Muslims without slyly suggesting he is one of them.” (We saw that “in his Cairo address, he basically so bloated up the early relations between Morocco and America that his version amounted to a virtual falsehood … [and] he still thinks his speech to the university in Cairo was historic.” ) Answer: Obama has a bloated view of his own importance and has adopted the Left’s Third Worldism, in which the “Muslim World” — another fiction! – is oppressed by the West. (Recall that he also told us Palestinians are like enslaved African Americans.)

Martin Feldstein on Obama’s deficit blame-mongering: “The administration’s projected $18.5 trillion debt in 2020 would be more than double the size of the debt when Mr. Obama took office. The annual interest on that debt would exceed $800 billion, requiring a 36% rise in the personal income tax just to pay that interest.  Mr. Obama complains about the problems he ‘inherited.’ But the key to shrinking the nearer term deficits is to avoid his costly new initiatives.’ Feldstein complains that instead Obama is focused on tax hikes which “would hurt incentives, hurt the recovery, and hurt the economy’s long-term growth.”

Andy McCarthy, prosecutor and critic of the Obama-Holder criminal-justice approach to terrorism, does the impossible: he gets treated fairly in the New York Times. Yes, read the whole thing.

Charlie Cook says that “if I had a choice of the Republican Party’s problems right now or the Democratic Party’s problems, I think you could triple the Republican Party’s problems and I’d still rather have their problems than the problems facing Democrats.” It’s that kind of year.

Minority Whip Eric Cantor says that if Obama is going to jam through ObamaCare with reconciliation, then forget the “bipartisan” health-care summit. He seems to have a point — the hamhanded Democrats shouldn’t have rolled out their “we’ll do it anyway” plan before the summit. What were they thinking?

Yuval Levin thinks it’s crazy talk: “The apparent decision to push Obamacare through reconciliation gives new meaning to the term political suicide. It will almost certainly fail, for one thing. And it will persuade rank and file Democrats in Congress that their leaders have lost their minds, and so will badly divide the Democratic caucus and make for a very difficult year to come for them.”

I’m not the only one who noticed that Tim Pawlenty has an authenticity problem.”When I read that the governor ‘appealed to the tea-party movement, calling its critics a ‘brie-eating’ elite from ‘Ivy League schools’ who don’t like ‘Sam’s Club Republicans’ who ‘actually like shopping at places like Wal-Mart,′ I thought just one thing: The guy’s a phony. And patronizing, too. Good grief.” Yeah, but it’s only 2010.

The leg tingler who says Sarah Palin doesn’t know anything turns out not to know anything: “There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like watching Chris Matthews get his a– demolished on Celebrity Jeopardy. … Do I smell a Wolf Blitzer repeat? If you aren’t watching tonight, how else would you learn that the Rocky Mountains actually run through California? Christo is on fire!”

The latest in the Fort Jackson food poisoning investigation is here. A new wrinkle: it is not clear whether the suspects were U.S. citizens or part of an outreach program to non-citizens who can speak “fluent Arabic, Dari, Pashto, or some other needed language.”

Par for the course for Chicago pols: “Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) said yesterday that the White House offered him a federal job in an effort to dissuade him from challenging Sen. Arlen Specter in the state’s Democratic primary.” You kind of see why Blago thinks “everyone” trades jobs and public offices.

It’s not hard to figure out why Obama “seems incapable of speaking to Muslims without slyly suggesting he is one of them.” (We saw that “in his Cairo address, he basically so bloated up the early relations between Morocco and America that his version amounted to a virtual falsehood … [and] he still thinks his speech to the university in Cairo was historic.” ) Answer: Obama has a bloated view of his own importance and has adopted the Left’s Third Worldism, in which the “Muslim World” — another fiction! – is oppressed by the West. (Recall that he also told us Palestinians are like enslaved African Americans.)

Martin Feldstein on Obama’s deficit blame-mongering: “The administration’s projected $18.5 trillion debt in 2020 would be more than double the size of the debt when Mr. Obama took office. The annual interest on that debt would exceed $800 billion, requiring a 36% rise in the personal income tax just to pay that interest.  Mr. Obama complains about the problems he ‘inherited.’ But the key to shrinking the nearer term deficits is to avoid his costly new initiatives.’ Feldstein complains that instead Obama is focused on tax hikes which “would hurt incentives, hurt the recovery, and hurt the economy’s long-term growth.”

Andy McCarthy, prosecutor and critic of the Obama-Holder criminal-justice approach to terrorism, does the impossible: he gets treated fairly in the New York Times. Yes, read the whole thing.

Charlie Cook says that “if I had a choice of the Republican Party’s problems right now or the Democratic Party’s problems, I think you could triple the Republican Party’s problems and I’d still rather have their problems than the problems facing Democrats.” It’s that kind of year.

Minority Whip Eric Cantor says that if Obama is going to jam through ObamaCare with reconciliation, then forget the “bipartisan” health-care summit. He seems to have a point — the hamhanded Democrats shouldn’t have rolled out their “we’ll do it anyway” plan before the summit. What were they thinking?

Yuval Levin thinks it’s crazy talk: “The apparent decision to push Obamacare through reconciliation gives new meaning to the term political suicide. It will almost certainly fail, for one thing. And it will persuade rank and file Democrats in Congress that their leaders have lost their minds, and so will badly divide the Democratic caucus and make for a very difficult year to come for them.”

I’m not the only one who noticed that Tim Pawlenty has an authenticity problem.”When I read that the governor ‘appealed to the tea-party movement, calling its critics a ‘brie-eating’ elite from ‘Ivy League schools’ who don’t like ‘Sam’s Club Republicans’ who ‘actually like shopping at places like Wal-Mart,′ I thought just one thing: The guy’s a phony. And patronizing, too. Good grief.” Yeah, but it’s only 2010.

Read Less

Andrew Roberts’ History Lesson

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

On that “deadline”: “Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates says Americans should expect a significant U.S. military presence in Afghanistan for two years to four years more. Just as in Iraq, the United States eventually will turn over provinces to local security forces, allowing the United States to bring the number of troops down steadily, according to Mr. Gates.”

Gen. David Petraeus: “In fact, as the secretary explained, this would be a district-by-district, as the conditions obtain, as the security situation is sufficient for the Afghan security forces that will be working hard to develop are capable of taking on those tasks. … And again, there’s no — there’s no time line, no ramp, nothing like that.” He politely sidesteps a direct answer to the question: “General, honestly, would you have preferred no time line to be set publicly?”

Bill Kristol on Copenhagen: “The equivalent of the entire carbon footprint of Morocco is what we’re going to emit into the atmosphere so these guys can get together and talk pointlessly in Copenhagen.”

The voters seem to have other priorities: “For the first time in Gallup’s 25 year history of asking Americans to choose between economic growth and environmental protection, a majority sided with the paper money over the trees. … It’s got to be hard to pass a historic climate change bill when public support for climate change legislation is at historic lows.” Or in the middle of a scandal about just how certain the science is.

Hmm, probably not the best damage-control tactic: “Baucus: Relationship wasn’t an ‘affair.’ ”

Marty Peretz is still waiting for that “new beginning between America and the Muslim World”: “The fact is, as Barack Obama refuses to grasp, Islam needs to shoulder responsibility for what is done in its name. For what is not rejected–in most cases, not at all rejected–by the sages of present-day Islam. Since the president has taken to lecture Americans about ‘one of the world’s great religions,’ which I believe it to be, he might also take to studying why so many of its elders in schools of theology and other authoritative men have embraced, publicly embraced, the gangsters in their midst.”

Really, did you think Obama’s approval and disapproval trend lines would cross in less than a year?

Sen. Ben Nelson seems not to like much of anything about ObamaCare: “He has not only taken an uncompromising position on abortion, demanding stronger language to prohibit federal funding of abortion. He has also voted against every Democratic amendment so far, aside from those that received unanimous support from the body. Nelson’s voting record on the bill suggests a general dislike for key aspects of it.”

On that “deadline”: “Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates says Americans should expect a significant U.S. military presence in Afghanistan for two years to four years more. Just as in Iraq, the United States eventually will turn over provinces to local security forces, allowing the United States to bring the number of troops down steadily, according to Mr. Gates.”

Gen. David Petraeus: “In fact, as the secretary explained, this would be a district-by-district, as the conditions obtain, as the security situation is sufficient for the Afghan security forces that will be working hard to develop are capable of taking on those tasks. … And again, there’s no — there’s no time line, no ramp, nothing like that.” He politely sidesteps a direct answer to the question: “General, honestly, would you have preferred no time line to be set publicly?”

Bill Kristol on Copenhagen: “The equivalent of the entire carbon footprint of Morocco is what we’re going to emit into the atmosphere so these guys can get together and talk pointlessly in Copenhagen.”

The voters seem to have other priorities: “For the first time in Gallup’s 25 year history of asking Americans to choose between economic growth and environmental protection, a majority sided with the paper money over the trees. … It’s got to be hard to pass a historic climate change bill when public support for climate change legislation is at historic lows.” Or in the middle of a scandal about just how certain the science is.

Hmm, probably not the best damage-control tactic: “Baucus: Relationship wasn’t an ‘affair.’ ”

Marty Peretz is still waiting for that “new beginning between America and the Muslim World”: “The fact is, as Barack Obama refuses to grasp, Islam needs to shoulder responsibility for what is done in its name. For what is not rejected–in most cases, not at all rejected–by the sages of present-day Islam. Since the president has taken to lecture Americans about ‘one of the world’s great religions,’ which I believe it to be, he might also take to studying why so many of its elders in schools of theology and other authoritative men have embraced, publicly embraced, the gangsters in their midst.”

Really, did you think Obama’s approval and disapproval trend lines would cross in less than a year?

Sen. Ben Nelson seems not to like much of anything about ObamaCare: “He has not only taken an uncompromising position on abortion, demanding stronger language to prohibit federal funding of abortion. He has also voted against every Democratic amendment so far, aside from those that received unanimous support from the body. Nelson’s voting record on the bill suggests a general dislike for key aspects of it.”

Read Less

A Talk in Tehran

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reports that two organizations at Tehran University will host a May 26th conference on “Israel’s End” in order to coincide with “the sad 60th anniversary of Palestine’s occupation by the Zionists.”

Here’s the IRNA:

The guests of the conference that would be attended by Iranian and foreign students of universities in Tehran will be intellectuals and university professors from Egypt, Venezuela, Morocco, Lebanon, Indonesia, the United States, Pakistan, Argentina, India, Iraq, Syria, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, France, Tunisia, and a number of other countries.

In March, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement, one of groups organizing the upcoming confab, offered a bounty of more than $1 million for the assassination of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mossad director Meir Dagan, and military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.

What kind of student activist group has a cool million laying around in a mercenary fund? The kind under the guidance of the “Council for Spreading Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Thoughts.” Yes, that is a real, government-organized council. And yes, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement is under their direct influence. So, the May 26th international conference on the liquidation of Israel is, in its turn, an Ahmadinejad-sponsored event. It’s hard to say whether or not IRNA’s claim of U.S. attendees is genuine–but there’s little reason to doubt that some American academics would jump at this golden opportunity.

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reports that two organizations at Tehran University will host a May 26th conference on “Israel’s End” in order to coincide with “the sad 60th anniversary of Palestine’s occupation by the Zionists.”

Here’s the IRNA:

The guests of the conference that would be attended by Iranian and foreign students of universities in Tehran will be intellectuals and university professors from Egypt, Venezuela, Morocco, Lebanon, Indonesia, the United States, Pakistan, Argentina, India, Iraq, Syria, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, France, Tunisia, and a number of other countries.

In March, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement, one of groups organizing the upcoming confab, offered a bounty of more than $1 million for the assassination of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mossad director Meir Dagan, and military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.

What kind of student activist group has a cool million laying around in a mercenary fund? The kind under the guidance of the “Council for Spreading Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Thoughts.” Yes, that is a real, government-organized council. And yes, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement is under their direct influence. So, the May 26th international conference on the liquidation of Israel is, in its turn, an Ahmadinejad-sponsored event. It’s hard to say whether or not IRNA’s claim of U.S. attendees is genuine–but there’s little reason to doubt that some American academics would jump at this golden opportunity.

Read Less

Spurious Spurlock

“Super Size Me” creator Morgan Spurlock begins his new documentary by comparing the supposed trauma of learning he was about to become a father with the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden,” a supposed comedy in which Spurlock tours various places in the Arab world and Israel (Morocco, Egypt, the West Bank, Tel Aviv, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and finally Afghanistan and Pakistan) begins with soaring-through-the-clouds airplane footage meant to evoke the point of view of the 9/11 attackers as they began their descent over New York City. In Spurlock’s narration, he speaks of how wonderful it is to experience the joy of waking up to realize it’s a beautiful day, only to be shocked when the whole thing is wiped out in a sudden unexpected moment. Cut to Spurlock’s wife announcing (in a moment obviously staged for the cameras) that she is pregnant.

Such bad taste is characteristic of the film, which is intended to downplay fears of terrorism and consequently is sure to delight the liberal press that praised every distortion in “Super Size Me.”

Spurlock’s vision is the squishy liberal view, the standard Westchester County wine-sipper’s wisdom, about the post-9/11 world. It isn’t that America is to blame for the attacks, exactly. But if only we were a little more sensitive to the suffering of the Arab world–if only we built them more schools and hospitals and resolved the Israeli/Palestinian issue and maybe sent them a card on Mother’s Day–they probably wouldn’t hate us.

In each country, Spurlock finds a couple of scholars and journalists to deliver that view. When he gets tired of listening to them he simply tells us in voice-over that we should think this, as we regard a cringe-inducing series of animated sequences in which Bin Laden and other terrorists are portrayed as dancin’ rappers or pictured on mock baseball cards (wearing caps with the AQ logo). This film is literally a cartoon version of the Islamist threat.

“Super Size Me” creator Morgan Spurlock begins his new documentary by comparing the supposed trauma of learning he was about to become a father with the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden,” a supposed comedy in which Spurlock tours various places in the Arab world and Israel (Morocco, Egypt, the West Bank, Tel Aviv, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and finally Afghanistan and Pakistan) begins with soaring-through-the-clouds airplane footage meant to evoke the point of view of the 9/11 attackers as they began their descent over New York City. In Spurlock’s narration, he speaks of how wonderful it is to experience the joy of waking up to realize it’s a beautiful day, only to be shocked when the whole thing is wiped out in a sudden unexpected moment. Cut to Spurlock’s wife announcing (in a moment obviously staged for the cameras) that she is pregnant.

Such bad taste is characteristic of the film, which is intended to downplay fears of terrorism and consequently is sure to delight the liberal press that praised every distortion in “Super Size Me.”

Spurlock’s vision is the squishy liberal view, the standard Westchester County wine-sipper’s wisdom, about the post-9/11 world. It isn’t that America is to blame for the attacks, exactly. But if only we were a little more sensitive to the suffering of the Arab world–if only we built them more schools and hospitals and resolved the Israeli/Palestinian issue and maybe sent them a card on Mother’s Day–they probably wouldn’t hate us.

In each country, Spurlock finds a couple of scholars and journalists to deliver that view. When he gets tired of listening to them he simply tells us in voice-over that we should think this, as we regard a cringe-inducing series of animated sequences in which Bin Laden and other terrorists are portrayed as dancin’ rappers or pictured on mock baseball cards (wearing caps with the AQ logo). This film is literally a cartoon version of the Islamist threat.

Read Less

Ask Ayman

Taking a page from our own rich tradition of advice columnists, Ayman al-Zawahri recently decided to answer the questions that Al Qaeda supporters most desperately wished to ask. Why haven’t we seen a picture or video of Sheikh Osama in years? The lion of jihad is alive and well, says Ayman. But he seemed happier talking about the ethical nuances of infidel-killing. Someone asked:

Excuse me, Mr. Zawahri, but who is it who is killing with Your Excellency’s blessing the innocents in Baghdad, Morocco and Algeria?

A very good question. And a surprisingly forthright answer:

We haven’t killed the innocents, not in Baghdad nor in Morocco, nor in Algeria, nor anywhere else,” he said…”If there is any innocent who was killed in the Mujahideen’s operations, then it was either an unintentional error or out of necessity.

In other words: We will be as savage as we want. Please shut up about it already because it is a necessity, as defined by us. As jihadist propaganda goes, this is shabby stuff. Osama always did it better. Where did he go, anyway?

Taking a page from our own rich tradition of advice columnists, Ayman al-Zawahri recently decided to answer the questions that Al Qaeda supporters most desperately wished to ask. Why haven’t we seen a picture or video of Sheikh Osama in years? The lion of jihad is alive and well, says Ayman. But he seemed happier talking about the ethical nuances of infidel-killing. Someone asked:

Excuse me, Mr. Zawahri, but who is it who is killing with Your Excellency’s blessing the innocents in Baghdad, Morocco and Algeria?

A very good question. And a surprisingly forthright answer:

We haven’t killed the innocents, not in Baghdad nor in Morocco, nor in Algeria, nor anywhere else,” he said…”If there is any innocent who was killed in the Mujahideen’s operations, then it was either an unintentional error or out of necessity.

In other words: We will be as savage as we want. Please shut up about it already because it is a necessity, as defined by us. As jihadist propaganda goes, this is shabby stuff. Osama always did it better. Where did he go, anyway?

Read Less

Rice’s Misplaced Priorities

Barely three months after the entire Arab world allegedly united around Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Bush administration is struggling to keep its Annapolis “process” relevant. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will embark on yet another trip to Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, aiming to calm the crisis in Gaza that has postponed Israeli-Palestinian talks indefinitely.

As usual, the odds are stacked against Rice. In the past five days, over 100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, while Hamas has added to its Qassam rocket repertoire, firing longer-range Iranian-made Grad rockets at Ashkelon. Meanwhile, pro-western Arab states that supported peace at Annapolis are backing Hamas: Jordan has accused Israel of a “flagrant violation” of international law, while Saudi Arabia has compared Israel’s offensive to Nazi war crimes.

Indeed, a diplomatic breakthrough at this moment is so unlikely as to beg the question: why is Rice even bothering? After all, insofar as the current fighting in Gaza will likely be confined to the strip, relatively few strategic interests are at stake. In this vein, Egypt has reportedly doubled its Rafah border troops and permitted only four injured Palestinians to cross into Sinai amidst the fighting, while Hamas’ call for 50,000 Palestinians to breach the Erez crossing and storm into Israel failed miserably.

Yet the same cannot be said of the ongoing presidential crisis in Beirut, where the implications will likely be felt beyond Lebanon’s borders. For starters, Syria has been widely accused of interfering with Lebanon’s political process. Meanwhile, Hezbollah—which has stalled negotiations and demanded veto power in the next cabinet—has turned its attention abroad in the wake of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination. In recent weeks, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has declared preparations for another war with Israel, while an al-Manar correspondent was recently arrested in Morocco planning attacks against Jewish targets with an al-Qaeda offshoot.

To its credit, the Bush administration recognizes the potential for Lebanon’s crisis to extend beyond Lebanon. On Thursday, the administration announced that the USS Cole would be stationed off the Lebanese coast to warn Syria against further interferences. The move further pressed Hezbollah, with Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah acknowledging, “We are facing an American threat against Lebanon.”

Yet if the Bush administration is to translate this military maneuver into a political victory, it must undertake a serious diplomatic campaign to shore up support for the pro-western Lebanese majority while its adversaries feel threatened. Within the region, such support clearly exists: on Monday, Egypt and Saudi Arabia separately blamed the Asad regime for the political crisis, while Kuwait has announced the deportation of foreigners who mourned for Mughniyeh.

Given the urgency of the situation in Lebanon and potential opportunities for advancing U.S. policy in this theater, Rice’s focus on the Israeli-Palestinian arena during her upcoming trip is severely misplaced. While Middle East peace would be the Holy Grail of any diplomat’s legacy, Rice’s failure to meaningfully pursue diplomatic channels regarding Lebanon might give her a very different legacy. Indeed, if Hezbollah follows through on its rhetoric while Israel battles Hamas in Gaza, it will mark the second two-front Arab-Israeli war of Rice’s tenure.

Barely three months after the entire Arab world allegedly united around Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Bush administration is struggling to keep its Annapolis “process” relevant. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will embark on yet another trip to Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, aiming to calm the crisis in Gaza that has postponed Israeli-Palestinian talks indefinitely.

As usual, the odds are stacked against Rice. In the past five days, over 100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, while Hamas has added to its Qassam rocket repertoire, firing longer-range Iranian-made Grad rockets at Ashkelon. Meanwhile, pro-western Arab states that supported peace at Annapolis are backing Hamas: Jordan has accused Israel of a “flagrant violation” of international law, while Saudi Arabia has compared Israel’s offensive to Nazi war crimes.

Indeed, a diplomatic breakthrough at this moment is so unlikely as to beg the question: why is Rice even bothering? After all, insofar as the current fighting in Gaza will likely be confined to the strip, relatively few strategic interests are at stake. In this vein, Egypt has reportedly doubled its Rafah border troops and permitted only four injured Palestinians to cross into Sinai amidst the fighting, while Hamas’ call for 50,000 Palestinians to breach the Erez crossing and storm into Israel failed miserably.

Yet the same cannot be said of the ongoing presidential crisis in Beirut, where the implications will likely be felt beyond Lebanon’s borders. For starters, Syria has been widely accused of interfering with Lebanon’s political process. Meanwhile, Hezbollah—which has stalled negotiations and demanded veto power in the next cabinet—has turned its attention abroad in the wake of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination. In recent weeks, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has declared preparations for another war with Israel, while an al-Manar correspondent was recently arrested in Morocco planning attacks against Jewish targets with an al-Qaeda offshoot.

To its credit, the Bush administration recognizes the potential for Lebanon’s crisis to extend beyond Lebanon. On Thursday, the administration announced that the USS Cole would be stationed off the Lebanese coast to warn Syria against further interferences. The move further pressed Hezbollah, with Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah acknowledging, “We are facing an American threat against Lebanon.”

Yet if the Bush administration is to translate this military maneuver into a political victory, it must undertake a serious diplomatic campaign to shore up support for the pro-western Lebanese majority while its adversaries feel threatened. Within the region, such support clearly exists: on Monday, Egypt and Saudi Arabia separately blamed the Asad regime for the political crisis, while Kuwait has announced the deportation of foreigners who mourned for Mughniyeh.

Given the urgency of the situation in Lebanon and potential opportunities for advancing U.S. policy in this theater, Rice’s focus on the Israeli-Palestinian arena during her upcoming trip is severely misplaced. While Middle East peace would be the Holy Grail of any diplomat’s legacy, Rice’s failure to meaningfully pursue diplomatic channels regarding Lebanon might give her a very different legacy. Indeed, if Hezbollah follows through on its rhetoric while Israel battles Hamas in Gaza, it will mark the second two-front Arab-Israeli war of Rice’s tenure.

Read Less

Al-Manar Correspondent Arrested

In a series of counterterrorism raids undertaken earlier this week, Moroccan authorities arrested 32 individuals suspected of planning attacks against domestic targets. Among those arrested was Abdelhafid Sriti, a correspondent for Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite television station.

In light of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s threat of an “open war” on Israel in response to the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh last week, Sriti’s arrest appears significant. Nasrallah’s eulogy at Mughniyeh’s funeral has been interpreted as foreshadowing attacks on Jewish and Israeli interests abroad—Hezbollah doesn’t distinguish between the two—and the Jewish community of Morocco has been the previous target of Islamist terrorists. On May 16, 2003, a Jewish cemetery, Jewish community center, and Jewish-owned Italian restaurant, among other Casablanca targets, were hit in the deadliest series of terrorist attacks in Morocco’s history. Indeed, it is possible that Hezbollah has already begun planning its response to the Mughniyeh assassination, deploying its “media wing” in the immediate service of terror against one of the Muslim world’s most freely accessible—and therefore vulnerable—Jewish communities.

More concretely, however, the apparent involvement of an al-Manar correspondent in a Moroccan terrorist ring should serve as a stark reminder of the international dimension of Hezbollah’s operations. Far from “Lebanonizing”—i.e., increasingly participating in domestic Lebanese politics and thereby moderating, as many “experts” have claimed—Hezbollah has continually developed its relationship with Islamist organizations worldwide for the enhancement of its terrorist capabilities. In this vein, the Moroccan Islamist Badil al-Hadari party has been implicated in planning the attacks, while the Moroccan government has arrested Abdelkader Belliraj—a Moroccan national who lived in Belgium—as the network’s leader. In short, Hezbollah has found good company with militant Islamists well beyond Lebanon’s borders.

Finally, Sriti’s arrest should reinforce the extent to which al-Manar plays a critical role in Hezbollah’s terrorist activities—not only in the satellite transmission of radical Islamist ideology, but in the operational aspects of planning attacks. For this reason, policymakers should closely monitor Morocco’s investigation of Sriti, as this might provide key details regarding al-Manar’s non-media activities.

UPDATE: The AP is now confirming that the arrested Moroccan terrorist ring was targeting local Jews, though bizarrely omits the fact that an al-Manar correspondent was among those arrested.

In a series of counterterrorism raids undertaken earlier this week, Moroccan authorities arrested 32 individuals suspected of planning attacks against domestic targets. Among those arrested was Abdelhafid Sriti, a correspondent for Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite television station.

In light of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s threat of an “open war” on Israel in response to the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh last week, Sriti’s arrest appears significant. Nasrallah’s eulogy at Mughniyeh’s funeral has been interpreted as foreshadowing attacks on Jewish and Israeli interests abroad—Hezbollah doesn’t distinguish between the two—and the Jewish community of Morocco has been the previous target of Islamist terrorists. On May 16, 2003, a Jewish cemetery, Jewish community center, and Jewish-owned Italian restaurant, among other Casablanca targets, were hit in the deadliest series of terrorist attacks in Morocco’s history. Indeed, it is possible that Hezbollah has already begun planning its response to the Mughniyeh assassination, deploying its “media wing” in the immediate service of terror against one of the Muslim world’s most freely accessible—and therefore vulnerable—Jewish communities.

More concretely, however, the apparent involvement of an al-Manar correspondent in a Moroccan terrorist ring should serve as a stark reminder of the international dimension of Hezbollah’s operations. Far from “Lebanonizing”—i.e., increasingly participating in domestic Lebanese politics and thereby moderating, as many “experts” have claimed—Hezbollah has continually developed its relationship with Islamist organizations worldwide for the enhancement of its terrorist capabilities. In this vein, the Moroccan Islamist Badil al-Hadari party has been implicated in planning the attacks, while the Moroccan government has arrested Abdelkader Belliraj—a Moroccan national who lived in Belgium—as the network’s leader. In short, Hezbollah has found good company with militant Islamists well beyond Lebanon’s borders.

Finally, Sriti’s arrest should reinforce the extent to which al-Manar plays a critical role in Hezbollah’s terrorist activities—not only in the satellite transmission of radical Islamist ideology, but in the operational aspects of planning attacks. For this reason, policymakers should closely monitor Morocco’s investigation of Sriti, as this might provide key details regarding al-Manar’s non-media activities.

UPDATE: The AP is now confirming that the arrested Moroccan terrorist ring was targeting local Jews, though bizarrely omits the fact that an al-Manar correspondent was among those arrested.

Read Less

Sarkozy, Nuke Salesman

Nicolas Sarkozy has earned high marks for reorienting French diplomacy in a more pro-American direction. But he is also undertaking a little-noticed and potentially dangerous initiative. This Financial Times article reports that he is actively promoting the sale of French nuclear-power technology to Middle Eastern countries:

Since becoming president in May he has signed nuclear co-operation agreements with Morocco, Algeria and Libya as well as overseeing the sale of two nuclear power stations to China.

France is also looking to provide nuclear facilities or technical assistance to Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Egypt and Jordan.

The motive for this initiative is undoubtedly innocent: The French nuclear power industry leads the world, and Sarkozy no doubt figures he can help his economy by generating more sales. He is also probably interested in strengthening French influence in a region that it has long seen as its backyard.

But the outcome may be not-so-innocent. Every nation that has acquired nuclear weapons since the 1940′s has done so initially by launching a “nuclear power” program. The expertise and facilities needed to generate nuclear power can readily be converted to create nuclear weapons. The West barely nipped Libya’s nuclear program in the bud in 2003. What is Sarko thinking in helping Libya to rebuild its capacity? Even giving aid to more pro-Western regimes (such as those in Egypt and Jordan) is a dubious move, since they might be tempted to acquire a nuclear arsenal if Iran leads the way. The result could be a destabilizing nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.

The French claim there will be enough safeguards built in to their sales to prevent such a scenario. Let us hope so. But it still seems like an unnecessary risk simply to earn a few more euros.

Nicolas Sarkozy has earned high marks for reorienting French diplomacy in a more pro-American direction. But he is also undertaking a little-noticed and potentially dangerous initiative. This Financial Times article reports that he is actively promoting the sale of French nuclear-power technology to Middle Eastern countries:

Since becoming president in May he has signed nuclear co-operation agreements with Morocco, Algeria and Libya as well as overseeing the sale of two nuclear power stations to China.

France is also looking to provide nuclear facilities or technical assistance to Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Egypt and Jordan.

The motive for this initiative is undoubtedly innocent: The French nuclear power industry leads the world, and Sarkozy no doubt figures he can help his economy by generating more sales. He is also probably interested in strengthening French influence in a region that it has long seen as its backyard.

But the outcome may be not-so-innocent. Every nation that has acquired nuclear weapons since the 1940′s has done so initially by launching a “nuclear power” program. The expertise and facilities needed to generate nuclear power can readily be converted to create nuclear weapons. The West barely nipped Libya’s nuclear program in the bud in 2003. What is Sarko thinking in helping Libya to rebuild its capacity? Even giving aid to more pro-Western regimes (such as those in Egypt and Jordan) is a dubious move, since they might be tempted to acquire a nuclear arsenal if Iran leads the way. The result could be a destabilizing nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.

The French claim there will be enough safeguards built in to their sales to prevent such a scenario. Let us hope so. But it still seems like an unnecessary risk simply to earn a few more euros.

Read Less

America’s New CEO’s

As the Republican presidential candidates compete to see who can bash immigrants the hardest, Citigroup has just appointed Vikram Pandit, a super-smart financier born in India, to be its CEO. As this New York Times article notes, he joins thirteen other CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies who were not born in this country: “The head of the Altria Group was born in Egypt, for example. PepsiCo’s is from India, the Liberty Mutual Group’s is a native of Ireland, and Alcoa’s was born in Morocco.”

Perhaps one of the GOP candidates can cut a TV spot bemoaning lost jobs for American plutocrats and promising that in his administration WASP’s will regain their rightful places atop the corporate hierarchy.

Actually, the fact that the top management jobs are no longer the exclusive preserve of the proverbial man in the gray flannel suit is good news. It means that American companies are doing a great job of drawing on talent from all around the world. In the short term, of course, that can be disorienting and aggravating for the clubby golfing types who had come to look on top-level corporate jobs as theirs almost by divine right. In the long term, however, it means that American companies will be more competitive than insular rivals in other countries, thereby making this country even more prosperous and vital. Something similar is happening on lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder: the short-term pain of immigration is generally offset by long-term gains.

That’s easy to lose sight of amid all this immigrant bashing. To be sure, Republicans claim to be all in favor legal immigration; it is only illegal immigration they claim to oppose. But the reality is that a lot of undocumented immigrants are also making a positive contribution to this country. In any case, the distinction between legal and illegal quickly gets lost in the debate, when a lot of the leading Republicans sound like they’re simply aggravated by too many foreigners coming here.

Keep it up, guys, if you want to lose the votes of Latinos—and those of our newest CEO’s.

As the Republican presidential candidates compete to see who can bash immigrants the hardest, Citigroup has just appointed Vikram Pandit, a super-smart financier born in India, to be its CEO. As this New York Times article notes, he joins thirteen other CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies who were not born in this country: “The head of the Altria Group was born in Egypt, for example. PepsiCo’s is from India, the Liberty Mutual Group’s is a native of Ireland, and Alcoa’s was born in Morocco.”

Perhaps one of the GOP candidates can cut a TV spot bemoaning lost jobs for American plutocrats and promising that in his administration WASP’s will regain their rightful places atop the corporate hierarchy.

Actually, the fact that the top management jobs are no longer the exclusive preserve of the proverbial man in the gray flannel suit is good news. It means that American companies are doing a great job of drawing on talent from all around the world. In the short term, of course, that can be disorienting and aggravating for the clubby golfing types who had come to look on top-level corporate jobs as theirs almost by divine right. In the long term, however, it means that American companies will be more competitive than insular rivals in other countries, thereby making this country even more prosperous and vital. Something similar is happening on lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder: the short-term pain of immigration is generally offset by long-term gains.

That’s easy to lose sight of amid all this immigrant bashing. To be sure, Republicans claim to be all in favor legal immigration; it is only illegal immigration they claim to oppose. But the reality is that a lot of undocumented immigrants are also making a positive contribution to this country. In any case, the distinction between legal and illegal quickly gets lost in the debate, when a lot of the leading Republicans sound like they’re simply aggravated by too many foreigners coming here.

Keep it up, guys, if you want to lose the votes of Latinos—and those of our newest CEO’s.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.