Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nigeria

Helping Nigeria in the Long Term

I am deeply ambivalent about the current cry to #freeourgirls–the international Twitter campaign to pressure Boko Haram, a Nigerian terrorist group loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda, to release some 300 girls it has kidnapped. Like everyone else I am appalled at the brutality and inhumanity of Boko Haram, which has even some jihadists disassociating themselves from its actions. And I am sympathetic in principle to the idea of the U.S. working with the Nigerian government to free the captives. 

As Michael Rubin notes, this is the kind of humanitarian mission that can engender a lot of goodwill. The problem is that such goodwill can evaporate quickly–as it did in Pakistan after the U.S. helped provide relief following a 2005 earthquake. Pakistanis were grateful but today that country remains as anti-American as ever, with 74 percent of those surveyed by Pew in 2012 describing the U.S. as an enemy.

Read More

I am deeply ambivalent about the current cry to #freeourgirls–the international Twitter campaign to pressure Boko Haram, a Nigerian terrorist group loosely affiliated with al-Qaeda, to release some 300 girls it has kidnapped. Like everyone else I am appalled at the brutality and inhumanity of Boko Haram, which has even some jihadists disassociating themselves from its actions. And I am sympathetic in principle to the idea of the U.S. working with the Nigerian government to free the captives. 

As Michael Rubin notes, this is the kind of humanitarian mission that can engender a lot of goodwill. The problem is that such goodwill can evaporate quickly–as it did in Pakistan after the U.S. helped provide relief following a 2005 earthquake. Pakistanis were grateful but today that country remains as anti-American as ever, with 74 percent of those surveyed by Pew in 2012 describing the U.S. as an enemy.

What we really need in Pakistan is the same thing we need in Nigeria: not one-off humanitarian assistance but a sustained and serious commitment to nation-building. It is the lack of effective governance that has allowed Pakistan and to a lesser extent Nigeria to become a playground for jihadists ranging from al-Qaeda to the Haqqani Network and Boko Haram. Whatever the fate of those poor kidnapped girls–and everything practicable should be done to liberate them–many more innocents will die in Nigeria unless the government can reduce its rampant corruption and increase its effectiveness such that it can effectively curb Boko Haram in the future.

That is a big job, and one primarily for the Nigerians. But the U.S. also has a stake in the outcome because we don’t want Islamist extremists destabilizing the No. 1 oil producer in Africa. Unlike Michael, I do believe that nation-building is a job for the U.S. military–at least, it is a job that the military has been doing ever since the Lewis and Clark expedition laid the foundations for America’s expansion from sea to shining sea. But it is not a job for our military alone. There needs to be a major interagency effort–with a big contribution from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, not just the Department of Defense–to help Nigeria to build more effective and accountable governmental institutions starting with its security forces.

This is obviously a long-term project that will not offer a quick payoff such as a mission to rescue the kidnapped girls. But it has the potential to do more good in the long run.

Read Less

Of Military and Humanitarian Missions

Using military assets to rescue the school girls kidnapped in Nigeria has become the crie du jour among the broader policy community. Admittedly, I am sympathetic as well to using tools in the American arsenal, although under no circumstances should that include boots on the ground: Nigeria is a corrupt morass and a major part of the story there—that the first lady of Nigeria at first denied the kidnapping and then targeted and had arrested family members of the kidnapped girls, accusing them of manufacturing the crisis to embarrass her husband—hasn’t fully made it into the Western press.

Nevertheless, if U.S. drones can survey territory not easily accessible and locate the girls or their captors, and if that enables the ability of Nigerian Special Forces to rescue them, it’s an excellent use of U.S. resources. If Ospreys are needed to ferry troops or provide transport, perhaps that further involvement would be worth it. The goodwill brokered by enabling such a rescue against a group so roundly hated in Nigeria and more broadly in Africa would be a great investment.

Read More

Using military assets to rescue the school girls kidnapped in Nigeria has become the crie du jour among the broader policy community. Admittedly, I am sympathetic as well to using tools in the American arsenal, although under no circumstances should that include boots on the ground: Nigeria is a corrupt morass and a major part of the story there—that the first lady of Nigeria at first denied the kidnapping and then targeted and had arrested family members of the kidnapped girls, accusing them of manufacturing the crisis to embarrass her husband—hasn’t fully made it into the Western press.

Nevertheless, if U.S. drones can survey territory not easily accessible and locate the girls or their captors, and if that enables the ability of Nigerian Special Forces to rescue them, it’s an excellent use of U.S. resources. If Ospreys are needed to ferry troops or provide transport, perhaps that further involvement would be worth it. The goodwill brokered by enabling such a rescue against a group so roundly hated in Nigeria and more broadly in Africa would be a great investment.

Faced with criticism regarding how the United States distributes and spends foreign aid, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) often complain that the United States spends just a tiny proportion of its budget on foreign assistance, and that USAID should actually have a larger budget. A successful rescue of the school girls in Nigeria, however, could bring greater benefit to America’s image than all the money the State Department has spent in Nigeria over the past two decades.

When it comes to goodwill and effectiveness, such reality is the rule rather than the exception. The U.S. military is the largest and most effective humanitarian organization in the world. Nation-building should not be its mission—much of what the public complains about in Iraq and Afghanistan are actually the result of ill-advised nation-building and mission creep, not the military’s initial goals—but the military has often been used in rescues and emergency relief. The United States received tremendous goodwill for its emergency relief in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Once again, the weeks of work the U.S. Navy and Marines did trumped decades of U.S. foreign assistance to countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia.

The Navy was likewise on the front lines of operations in the wake of the Japan earthquake and tsunami, and the Haiti earthquake. Again, in each instance, the military exercised a capability neither the United Nations nor any NGO has, and the help offered by the military was far more effective and created greater goodwill than decades of work by the State Department and USAID. The video of rescues of Iranian fisherman likewise are a huge boon to the image of America.

How ironic it is that the Obama administration wants to trim the Marine Expeditionary Units and the Carrier Strike Groups so responsible for these successes, or that it seems to want to double down on an aid agency that has decades of expensive failure to its name. Perhaps it is time to value and enhance the capability of the military to do work that so promotes pro-American sentiment rather than throw good money after bad.

Read Less

The Backlash Against Boko Haram

When Islamist terrorists seized more than 1,000 school children in Beslan, North Ossetia, abusing and ultimately murdering hundreds, the international response was pure and utter revulsion. Chechen and Daghestani separatists—and even many Islamists—could stomach no excuse for the action and rejected the religious justification espoused by the mostly Ingush and Chechen terrorists. Indeed, rather than enhance the Chechen or Daghestani causes, the Beslan massacre marked the end of most remaining international and Islamist sympathy for the their struggles against a brutal and abusive Russian regime.

If there is any silver lining to the horror occurring in northeastern Nigeria, it is that Boko Haram’s kidnapping of several hundred Nigerian school girls—and the leader’s threats to sell them off like chattel—may be a bridge to far for even those sympathetic to more militant strains of Islamism. And make no mistake, what Boko Haram is doing is rooted in Islam, albeit an archaic and twisted interpretation of it far from the mainstream. Indeed, anyone who denies the religious component has simply ignored the statement of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader and the man apparently responsible for the kidnapping, in his claim of responsibility:

Read More

When Islamist terrorists seized more than 1,000 school children in Beslan, North Ossetia, abusing and ultimately murdering hundreds, the international response was pure and utter revulsion. Chechen and Daghestani separatists—and even many Islamists—could stomach no excuse for the action and rejected the religious justification espoused by the mostly Ingush and Chechen terrorists. Indeed, rather than enhance the Chechen or Daghestani causes, the Beslan massacre marked the end of most remaining international and Islamist sympathy for the their struggles against a brutal and abusive Russian regime.

If there is any silver lining to the horror occurring in northeastern Nigeria, it is that Boko Haram’s kidnapping of several hundred Nigerian school girls—and the leader’s threats to sell them off like chattel—may be a bridge to far for even those sympathetic to more militant strains of Islamism. And make no mistake, what Boko Haram is doing is rooted in Islam, albeit an archaic and twisted interpretation of it far from the mainstream. Indeed, anyone who denies the religious component has simply ignored the statement of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader and the man apparently responsible for the kidnapping, in his claim of responsibility:

My brethren in Islam, I am greeting you in the name of Allah like he instructed we should among Muslims. Allah is great and has given us privilege and temerity above all people. If we meet infidels, if we meet those that become infidels according to Allah, there is no any talk except hitting of the neck; I hope you chosen people of Allah are hearing. This is an instruction from Allah. It is not a distorted interpretation it is from Allah himself. This is from Allah on the need for us to break down infidels, practitioners of democracy, and constitutionalism, voodoo and those that are doing western education, in which they are practicing paganism…

We know what is happening in this world, it is a Jihad war against Christians and Christianity. It is a war against western education, democracy and constitution. We have not started, next time we are going inside Abuja; we are going to refinery and town of Christians. Do you know me? I have no problem with Jonathan. This is what I know in Quran. This is a war against Christians and democracy and their constitution, Allah says we should finish them when we get them.

According to SITE Monitoring, however, a subscription service which monitors and translates Islamist (and other extremist) websites, Boko Haram’s actions have become too much for even many extremists to accept: It is one thing to talk about religious war in theory; it is quite another thing to see the human toll when it is implemented in practice. Let us hope that the girls are rescued with minimal casualties, both among the hostages and those seeking to free them. And let us also hope that men like Abubakar Shekau will soon join the masterminds of the Beslan attack in hell. But, most of all, let us hope that those who until now might have been following and–in  the case of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar–funding these radical preachers will see in these Boko Haram actions not righteousness, but true evil. Perhaps out of this horror, Nigeria can turn a corner.

Read Less

Where Is America’s Anti-Corruption Strategy?

Boko Haram’s kidnapping schoolgirls and its threats to sell them like chattel horrifies the international community, highlights the dangers of certain strains of Islamist thought, and has led to a decision to utilize American assets to help locate the hostages. There may be much more to the story than simply the headlines, however. It’s no secret that Nigeria is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Indeed, some reports place the embezzlement by Nigerian leaders at $400 billion since 1960.

A report in the Italian daily Il Foglio yesterday highlighted the rumors that Boko Haram couldn’t have conducted its operation without the complicity of corrupt officials. The Open Source Center provided a translation:

Read More

Boko Haram’s kidnapping schoolgirls and its threats to sell them like chattel horrifies the international community, highlights the dangers of certain strains of Islamist thought, and has led to a decision to utilize American assets to help locate the hostages. There may be much more to the story than simply the headlines, however. It’s no secret that Nigeria is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Indeed, some reports place the embezzlement by Nigerian leaders at $400 billion since 1960.

A report in the Italian daily Il Foglio yesterday highlighted the rumors that Boko Haram couldn’t have conducted its operation without the complicity of corrupt officials. The Open Source Center provided a translation:

Some sources, that Il Foglio has spoken with, referred to the possible involvement of members of the police and the intelligence services in transforming the high school students into human shields, to prevent the intervention of the military. The second reason that makes international intervention necessary is the high level of corruption in the country, from which it is alleged that the jihadist groups, led by Abubakar Shekau, also profit. These groups allegedly benefit from consolidated collusion among certain political and government circles. On Sunday came news alleging that the former Governor of the Nigerian Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi, had his passport withdrawn on direct orders from the President, Goodluck Jonathan, and that he has been prevented from leaving the country to go to France. Sanusi was suspended in February from his post as Governor of the central bank, after accusing the national oil company of having fraudulently siphoned off more than 14 billion euros from public funds. Some of these funds allegedly later ended up, according to our talking-partners, in the hands of important political and government figures, as well as — and this is even more deplorable — in the hands of Boko Haram, in order to guarantee the security of oil installations. Obviously Lamido Sanusi was allegedly stopped, before his departure for France, by none other than the men from the “Secret Service for the Security of the State.” In other words, the security service that is most compromised with the Boko Haram jihadists.

Just because a European paper says it doesn’t make it true, nor does it diminish the ideological and theological component to Boko Haram. But it is important to recognize that corruption likely enables such groups to thrive, be it Boko Haram in northern Nigeria or Osama Bin Laden monitoring al-Qaeda from Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Back in 2005, I wrote a piece for Lebanon’s Daily Star calling corruption the real bane of the Middle East. I shouldn’t have limited that to the Middle East, however. While terrorism victimizes hundreds and perhaps thousands of people, corruption impacts hundreds of millions. It threatens to unravel all that has been done in Afghanistan, and it continues to undercut Iraq’s growth and development. While the State Department often talks about the need for foreign aid, it does far less to explain how that aid will be shielded from the impact of corruption or, indeed, whether flooding a country with money and resources might actually make that corruption worse. The World Bank, for its part, is no better: rather than address growing corruption, it simply ignores it or covers it up.

Corruption did not cause Boko Haram nor create al-Qaeda, nor does it alone explain the Taliban. Nevertheless, the failure of the West to create a comprehensive strategy to root out corruption enables the phenomenon to spread like a cancer, depressing societal immunity, and enabling groups like Boko Haram and al-Qaeda a broader ability to act. Rather than throw millions of dollars at problems as they occur, perhaps it is time for Secretary of State John Kerry to outline what America is doing to weed out corruption among its aid recipients, and the metrics if any that the State Department is using to judge its success.

Read Less

Address, Don’t Deny Religious Component to Boko Haram

News out of Nigeria continues to horrify, as the radical Islamist group Boko Haram refuses to release kidnapped school girls and now threatens to sell them into marriage, slavery, or worse. Boko Haram, whose very name in Hausa professes the sinfulness of Western education, roots its belief in religion although, as is so often the case, it often confuses pure theology with local custom. For its victims, however, such footnotes are academic. The group has become infamous in Nigeria for the slaughter of Christians. Boko Haram is neither the first nor will it be the last group to spark outrage on the world stage by embracing and imposing retrograde religious interpretation on society.

The shock of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was that it shook faith in the forward momentum of history. The shah was far from perfect, but he actively sought to modernize his country. That he did so unevenly and brokered few means to dissent legally simply threw fuel on the Islamist backlash that ultimately ushered in reactionary cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Far from being the “progressive force for human rights” that William Miller, now with The Iran Project described, or a man whom the United States should trust, as Princeton University’s Richard Falk suggested, Khomeini took women, minorities, and much of Iranian society headlong into the past, stripping Iranians of centuries of rights and brutalizing them in manners once thought condemned to centuries past. The problem is not Shi’ism, per se, but rather Khomeini’s and his successor Ali Khamenei’s interpretation. To this day, their exegesis remains a minority view, forced on society at the barrel of a gun, with dissenting clergy marginalized, imprisoned, or worse.

Read More

News out of Nigeria continues to horrify, as the radical Islamist group Boko Haram refuses to release kidnapped school girls and now threatens to sell them into marriage, slavery, or worse. Boko Haram, whose very name in Hausa professes the sinfulness of Western education, roots its belief in religion although, as is so often the case, it often confuses pure theology with local custom. For its victims, however, such footnotes are academic. The group has become infamous in Nigeria for the slaughter of Christians. Boko Haram is neither the first nor will it be the last group to spark outrage on the world stage by embracing and imposing retrograde religious interpretation on society.

The shock of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was that it shook faith in the forward momentum of history. The shah was far from perfect, but he actively sought to modernize his country. That he did so unevenly and brokered few means to dissent legally simply threw fuel on the Islamist backlash that ultimately ushered in reactionary cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Far from being the “progressive force for human rights” that William Miller, now with The Iran Project described, or a man whom the United States should trust, as Princeton University’s Richard Falk suggested, Khomeini took women, minorities, and much of Iranian society headlong into the past, stripping Iranians of centuries of rights and brutalizing them in manners once thought condemned to centuries past. The problem is not Shi’ism, per se, but rather Khomeini’s and his successor Ali Khamenei’s interpretation. To this day, their exegesis remains a minority view, forced on society at the barrel of a gun, with dissenting clergy marginalized, imprisoned, or worse.

The same was true with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The notion that the Central Intelligence Agency created the Taliban is silly, the product of anachronistic and lazy analysis. Some Afghans embraced the Taliban in the years after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan because the group promised security, but the group itself was quickly co-opted by Pakistan. Ever since the loss of East Pakistan and its subsequent independence as Bangladesh in 1971, leaders in West Pakistan—or simply Pakistan as it became—embraced religious radicalism as a glue to hold their fissiparous country together. While more than a decade of war has conditioned Americans to see infiltration across the Afghanistan/Pakistan border as one way from Pakistan into Afghanistan, throughout much of the last century, Afghan irregulars were infiltrating—if not outright invading—Pakistan.

Because the ethnic fault lines in Pakistan are seldom far beneath the surface of society, sponsoring the Taliban—and thereby prioritizing religion over Pashto identity—was meant to immunize the Northwest Frontier Province from the attractiveness of Pashto nationalism. That it came upon the blood and repression of Afghan women was a price the Pakistani leadership was willing to bear. The shear brutality of the Taliban shocked the world, even though the State Department was more than willing to normalize ties with the group. The Taliban really were a throwback to the twelfth century, albeit harboring a twentieth and now twenty-first century technology to kill.

Any number of other religious radicals has reinterpreted faith to justify horror. The Muslim Brotherhood has justified the murder of those who do not share their vision, and some Brotherhood theologians have contributed directly to the vision embraced by al-Qaeda.

There is a tendency among many to deny the religious component to much modern terrorism. That is what drives, for example, UN bodies to try to criminalize so-called Islamophobia, and also drives local groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to stigmatize and punish free speech and open debate. To do so is a mistake, and to deny that those from Boko Haram’s leaders to 9/11 hijackers to the Beslan child murders were not motivated by Islam, however twisted and irregular an interpretation, is disingenuous.

Too many who deny the role of religion say that Islam is misunderstood. Jihad, for example, means not Holy War but an internal struggle to improve oneself. While it is true that a 21st century interpretation of jihad prioritizes internal struggle or defensive fighting, there is a logical flaw inherent in embracing only the most evolved interpretation of jihad. Islamist radicals dismiss 21st century society as a perversion, corrupted by Western thought and liberalism. They uphold instead an interpretation of centuries past as the golden age of Islamic civilization and so strip away centuries of religious interpretation as illegitimate and corrupt. Just as zealous Christians might have burned a woman at the stake 500 years ago for the sin of publicly reading the Bible, the manner in which Boko Haram treats local girls and women is rooted in an interpretation of Islam that it seeks to revive from the past.

While I fully support the separation of church and state that the U.S. Constitution demands (although I agree with Jonathan’s interpretation here), too many American policymakers use that separation to paralyze the American policy response on the global stage. American diplomats and officials should not promote religion but they cannot ignore it either, as it plays a far greater place in the world than perhaps it does in the fairly elite schools from which many diplomats come. Peoples from Afghanistan to Iran to Nigeria are engaged in a battle of religious interpretation. Those who would deny a relationship between Islam on one hand, at least as practiced by the Taliban and Boko Haram, and terrorism and misogyny on the other simply surrender the battlefield to those promoting extreme interpretations.

Too often, American officials and religious activists, whether out of excessive political correctness or some other motive, dismiss religious motivation to terrorism by decreeing that the actions of those radicals—Taliban stoning women in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda hijacking planes in America, or Boko Haram kidnapping and selling girls in Nigeria—do not represent true Islam. Make no mistake: It is not the job of any American official—from the president on down—to determine what true religion is. We have to accept that religion is what its practitioners believe it to be in any time and place; what the president says, an ambassador says, or a professor of theology says is simply academic.

Denying horror won’t make it go away. Nor is it the place of the United States to preach. But just as radicals in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and elsewhere promote these horrific groups—the Turkish government has apparently supplied Boko Haram—it behooves the United States to support those seeking to roll them back, be they Egyptian generals, Indonesian Sufis, or Moroccan mourchidat. While America promotes and encourages religious tolerance and seeks to strengthen liberal and moderate interpretations of Islam, those who feed and justify Boko Haram’s ideological hate—even if American allies—must be recognized for what they are: culpable in terrorism.

Read Less

Tape Suggests Turkey Supports Terror

This winter has been a turbulent one in Turkey, as a political dispute between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his former political ally, Islamist movement leader Fethullah Gülen has led to a series of revelations and leaks, each more embarrassing than the last. Initially, the leaks centered on corrupt ministers, like former European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış, who apparently enriched themselves on Erdoğan’s coat tails. Then they exposed how Erdoğan bullied the press. The latest leaks of recorded phone calls suggest something more nefarious afoot.

For the past several years, sectarian violence has escalated in Nigeria, and Islamist groups such as Boko Haram have conducted horrific massacres against Christian men, women, and children. Now, it seems, Turkey may have had something to do with that. The most recent leaked tapes record a conversation between an advisor to Erdoğan and the private secretary of the CEO of Turkish Airlines. The Turkish Airlines official, according to the tape, said that he does not feel comfortable with the (secret) weapons shipments to Nigeria, and he asks whether those weapons “are to kill Muslims or Christians.” The context of the conversation suggests he worries only after the former instead of the latter. The prime minister’s advisor, however, tries to assure him and says he will check with Hakan Fidan, the director of Turkish intelligence and get back to Turkish Airlines with an answer.

Read More

This winter has been a turbulent one in Turkey, as a political dispute between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his former political ally, Islamist movement leader Fethullah Gülen has led to a series of revelations and leaks, each more embarrassing than the last. Initially, the leaks centered on corrupt ministers, like former European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış, who apparently enriched themselves on Erdoğan’s coat tails. Then they exposed how Erdoğan bullied the press. The latest leaks of recorded phone calls suggest something more nefarious afoot.

For the past several years, sectarian violence has escalated in Nigeria, and Islamist groups such as Boko Haram have conducted horrific massacres against Christian men, women, and children. Now, it seems, Turkey may have had something to do with that. The most recent leaked tapes record a conversation between an advisor to Erdoğan and the private secretary of the CEO of Turkish Airlines. The Turkish Airlines official, according to the tape, said that he does not feel comfortable with the (secret) weapons shipments to Nigeria, and he asks whether those weapons “are to kill Muslims or Christians.” The context of the conversation suggests he worries only after the former instead of the latter. The prime minister’s advisor, however, tries to assure him and says he will check with Hakan Fidan, the director of Turkish intelligence and get back to Turkish Airlines with an answer.

Turkish Airlines, for its part, denies that they have smuggled arms, but it is a state company and no other state company has been able to stand up to the prime minister, nor has there been any indication that any of the telephone calls, while illegally recorded, are inaccurate in content.

There is already great evidence that Turkey has supported al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Syria, and the prime minister is quite open about his support for Hamas and, at times, Hezbollah as well. That Turkey appears to be supporting terrorism in Nigeria takes the problem outside the realm of the Arab-Israeli conflict and, if true, makes Turkey a full-blown sponsor of terrorism. Why any congressman remains in the Congressional Turkey Caucus is beyond me. And why, so long as such allegations hang over Turkish Airlines, U.S. authorities continue to allow it to fly over American cities or handle baggage transferred onto American airlines is a question that more responsible congressmen should begin to ask.

Read Less

Speaking out Against Injustice

Last month I wrote a piece urging Christians to speak out against the rising persecution of gays overseas, including (but not limited to) harsh new laws that were recently passed in Nigeria.

I was glad, then, that Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Andrew Walker, Director of Policy Studies for the ERLC, wrote an article for Canon & Culture in which, while reasserting the orthodox Christian belief that sexuality is to be expressed within the one-flesh union of the marriage of a man to a woman, they also wrote that they believe “laws criminalizing homosexual activity to be unjust and an affront to the image of God embedded in all persons.”

Governments that “single out persons for harassment and fear of their lives represent, in our view, a State that has overstepped its bounds drastically and unjustly. And in our view, repressive regimes that target homosexuals fall into this category.” Messrs. Moore and Walker go on to say that as Baptist Christians, “our own history has shown us what injustice can happen when a state applies the Old Testament Mosaic code … to the civil state.” And they insist the church “should stand faithful both to a biblical vision of sexuality and at the same time decry laws—whether in Africa or the Middle East or Russia—that would mistreat homosexual persons.”

Some Christians, I suppose, might have a viscerally negative reaction to what Moore and Walker are saying, though it’s hard to imagine how one could justify such a thing. To do so would be a disfigurement of the Christian faith. The more likely reaction is to ignore the issue, to let others worry about it, to assume that speaking out against the persecution of gays overseas is an implicit embrace of the gay rights agenda.

Read More

Last month I wrote a piece urging Christians to speak out against the rising persecution of gays overseas, including (but not limited to) harsh new laws that were recently passed in Nigeria.

I was glad, then, that Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Andrew Walker, Director of Policy Studies for the ERLC, wrote an article for Canon & Culture in which, while reasserting the orthodox Christian belief that sexuality is to be expressed within the one-flesh union of the marriage of a man to a woman, they also wrote that they believe “laws criminalizing homosexual activity to be unjust and an affront to the image of God embedded in all persons.”

Governments that “single out persons for harassment and fear of their lives represent, in our view, a State that has overstepped its bounds drastically and unjustly. And in our view, repressive regimes that target homosexuals fall into this category.” Messrs. Moore and Walker go on to say that as Baptist Christians, “our own history has shown us what injustice can happen when a state applies the Old Testament Mosaic code … to the civil state.” And they insist the church “should stand faithful both to a biblical vision of sexuality and at the same time decry laws—whether in Africa or the Middle East or Russia—that would mistreat homosexual persons.”

Some Christians, I suppose, might have a viscerally negative reaction to what Moore and Walker are saying, though it’s hard to imagine how one could justify such a thing. To do so would be a disfigurement of the Christian faith. The more likely reaction is to ignore the issue, to let others worry about it, to assume that speaking out against the persecution of gays overseas is an implicit embrace of the gay rights agenda.

That strikes me as wrong on many levels. And while I am very wary of saying precisely what Jesus would do and say in the 21st century, we do know what he did say and do in the first century. Jesus was drawn to those in the shadows of society – the outcast, the despised, those who were powerless, wounded, reviled, and the object of scorn. And Jesus himself was a dispenser of grace, the healer of broken lives, an agent of reconciliation.

I understand that is not all Jesus was. Nor do I have any interest in pitting moral rectitude against love and welcome or turning faith into a crude instrument to advance a political agenda. And there are countless things that can lay claim on our moral attention – from aiding homeless shelters and crisis pregnancy centers to those rescuing orphans and restoring them to families and communities, from preventing religious persecution overseas to aiding those suffering from AIDS and malaria in Africa. There are worthy organizations like Best Friends, a school based character education program for girls that begins in the sixth grade and continues until high school; and the International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. And there are of course countless acts of decency and kindness that occur every day that are unpublicized and help those who are suffering and need encouragement.

Few of us do this as much as we should; our energies and interests are directed elsewhere, inward rather than outward, most often toward increasing our own comfort and wealth and station in life. My point is that if we were able to free ourselves from preconceptions that sometimes distort our vision; if we were to see things not through the prism of ideology but rather through the prism of mercy and compassion; if we would begin to love as we have been loved, we would find ourselves moved to act against all sorts of suffering and injustices we now overlook. When I’ve come across such individuals in my own life — they tend to be rare — they have shown me what lives touched by grace can be like.   

We shouldn’t kid ourselves; taking concrete steps to redress injustice is far better than simply speaking out about it. But speaking out about it is better than not, which is why what Messrs. Moore and Walker have done is commendable.

Read Less

Christians Should Speak Out Against the Rising Persecution of Gays Overseas

The New York Times published a story on Nigeria, whose president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed a harsh law criminalizing homosexuality throughout the country last month. As a result, arrests of gay people have multiplied.

The Times story begins with a young man being whipped 20 times on the courtroom bench, leaving him covered with bruises. It goes on to say that the Nigerian president’s national ban “has redoubled the zeal against gay people here and elsewhere… Officials here in Bauchi say they want to root out, imprison and punish gays.” It goes on to report this:

Homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 African countries, according to Amnesty International, and carries the death penalty in Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia, as well as Shariah-governed northern Nigeria. Recently Uganda’s president declined to sign a bill that carried a life sentence for gays, though he called them sick. In Senegal, where the press regularly “outs” gays, same-sex relations carry a penalty of five years.

It seems to me that there’s an opportunity for Christians both overseas and in America to condemn what’s happening–to do so in a manner that is well-considered and effective and doesn’t bend when it comes to upholding the dignity and rights of the human person. Even if the appeals fall on deaf ears, calling attention to and criticizing injustice is a moral requirement.

Read More

The New York Times published a story on Nigeria, whose president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed a harsh law criminalizing homosexuality throughout the country last month. As a result, arrests of gay people have multiplied.

The Times story begins with a young man being whipped 20 times on the courtroom bench, leaving him covered with bruises. It goes on to say that the Nigerian president’s national ban “has redoubled the zeal against gay people here and elsewhere… Officials here in Bauchi say they want to root out, imprison and punish gays.” It goes on to report this:

Homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 African countries, according to Amnesty International, and carries the death penalty in Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia, as well as Shariah-governed northern Nigeria. Recently Uganda’s president declined to sign a bill that carried a life sentence for gays, though he called them sick. In Senegal, where the press regularly “outs” gays, same-sex relations carry a penalty of five years.

It seems to me that there’s an opportunity for Christians both overseas and in America to condemn what’s happening–to do so in a manner that is well-considered and effective and doesn’t bend when it comes to upholding the dignity and rights of the human person. Even if the appeals fall on deaf ears, calling attention to and criticizing injustice is a moral requirement.

One need not endorse same-sex marriage to believe that the rising tide of anti-gay legislation in other parts of the world is quite troubling, that gays deserve to be defended against persecution, and that the Christian church is one institution that might have some power, at least in some nations and in some circumstances, to make a positive difference. 

Quite apart from the moral merits of this approach, think about the witness it would signal to the world if Christians spoke out in defense of gays in Nigeria and elsewhere and why they deserve protection against imprisonment and violence. 

It strikes me that this is an easy call, that it’s clearly the right and decent thing to do. There are plenty of wounded travelers on the roads of cities all across the globe. The Christian faith is best served when its adherents choose not to pass on the other side.

Read Less

U.S. Can’t Afford to be Out of Africa

There hasn’t much foreign policy discussion this election season, either in the Republican primaries or in the general election campaign. Certainly, there has been some lip service paid to Iran, but it is like pulling teeth to get either candidate to talk about Afghanistan, let alone any other country.

If there are two lessons policymakers across the aisle should learn from the pre-9/11 era, it is that problems ignored do not go away, and that no matter how remote a security vacuum is, it can still pose a threat to American national security.

It is time both the Obama administration and Romney’s foreign policy team take Africa seriously. Over the past four years, security has declined significantly across a continent too often forgotten in Washington’s policy debate.

Read More

There hasn’t much foreign policy discussion this election season, either in the Republican primaries or in the general election campaign. Certainly, there has been some lip service paid to Iran, but it is like pulling teeth to get either candidate to talk about Afghanistan, let alone any other country.

If there are two lessons policymakers across the aisle should learn from the pre-9/11 era, it is that problems ignored do not go away, and that no matter how remote a security vacuum is, it can still pose a threat to American national security.

It is time both the Obama administration and Romney’s foreign policy team take Africa seriously. Over the past four years, security has declined significantly across a continent too often forgotten in Washington’s policy debate.

Take, for example:

  • Mali: Once labeled by Freedom House to be the most democratic, Muslim-majority country, a  March coup enabled Islamists and Taureg separatists to seize control over the Saharan north of the country. Not surprisingly, the alliance between Tuareg and Islamists did not last, and Islamists consolidated control, implementing strict Islamic law and destroying UNESCO world heritage sites. Northern Mali now threatens to become a safe-haven for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The group which profits from drug smuggling networks as far south as Mozambique now has not only the material but also the territory to plot something bigger than beheading French tourists, all the more so since they seem to have taken possession of much of Muammar Qadhafi’s loose weaponry.
  • Nigeria: The seventh-most populous country on earth is also one of Africa’s most diverse. While counter-terror experts once celebrated the demise of al-Qaeda’s short-lived Nigerian affiliate, the rapid growth of the violent Boko Haram jihadist group should concern just about everyone. Boko Haram’s slaughter of Christians threatens to take sectarian violence to a new level. The spread of jihadism into Nigeria’s urban slums, let alone state failure, would also have profound repercussions.
  • Somalia has actually been somewhat of a good news story in recent months, although if there’s one lesson from recent Somali history, it is that no one should take positive security trends for granted in the Horn of Africa.

We can chase Joseph Kony around Africa’s Great Lakes region, and his capture or killing would strike a blow for human rights. But, while it’s all well and good to pursue a humanitarian policy, the White House should never forget those areas that could pose a growing threat to American national security. Radical Islamism and state failure is never a good mix. There is no easy answer about what to do in Mali, Nigeria, and Somalia, but failing to have a conversation is policy malpractice.

Read Less

Support for Terrorism Falls…but More Slowly Than During the Bush Years

In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Joshua Muravchik points out that public support for terrorism is still dropping in Islamic countries, but more slowly than it did during the Bush years.

Using the results from the most recent Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, Muravchik focuses on attitudes toward terrorism in several Muslim countries. The results are mildly encouraging for America, he writes, but not necessarily for Mr. Obama and his outreach efforts.

In summarizing the data, Muravchik writes:

The survey gauges attitudes toward three crucial terrorism-related subjects: al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings. The good news is that the proportion of pro-terror opinion continues to decline. The bad news is that the minority holding such views remains considerable.

For example, 20% of Egyptians, 23% of Indonesians and 34% of Jordanians say they hold favorable views of al Qaeda. Asked whether they have confidence that bin Laden will “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” 19% of Egyptians, 25% of Indonesians and 14% of Jordanians responded positively. On the question of suicide bombing, 20% of Egyptians, 20% of Jordanians and 15% of Indonesians said it is “often” or “sometimes” justified (as opposed to “rarely” or “never”).

These results seem to reflect well on Mr. Obama’s engagement project, according to Muravchik, since a few years ago, these measures of support for terrorism were much higher. But he adds that the Pew report also offers a time-sequence chart, dating back to 2003, of answers to the question about bin Laden. And it shows

an encouraging decrease in support for terrorism—but the largest drop came when George W. Bush was president. The sharpest decrease in terror support in Indonesia, Turkey and Lebanon came between 2003 and 2005; in Jordan, between 2005 and 2006; and in Nigeria and Egypt between 2006 and 2007.

Only in Pakistan was the largest drop between 2008 and 2009—but the poll was taken in April 2009, so Mr. Bush was in office more than Mr. Obama during that one-year interval. From 2009 to 2010, the one full-year interval of Mr. Obama’s presidency for which Pew offers data, the decline was negligible everywhere except in Jordan, where the drop-off was smaller than it was from 2005 to 2006. [emphasis added]

In exploring the reasons for this, Muravchik concludes that “the data are too slender to sustain the claim that Mr. Bush’s policies succeeded in turning much of the Muslim world against terrorism. But they are substantial enough to inform our understanding that Mr. Obama’s approach has achieved little in this regard.”

My own hunch is, as Muravchik suggests, that the actions of al-Qaeda may be the crucial variable. As its savagery became more and more apparent in Iraq and elsewhere, large portions of the Islamic world turned against it and militant Islam more broadly.

But of course, Mr. Obama’s promise to transform the attitudes of the world didn’t take any of this into account. Through the force of his personality and charm, the wisdom of his policies, and his worldwide apology tours, Obama was going to win over the Muslim world in a way that was inescapable and unprecedented. The president’s speech in Cairo, you may recall, was going to be a tipping point in how the Muslim world viewed us and terrorism.

But like so many other hopes and dreams set forth by Mr. Obama, it hasn’t turned out that way. Not by a long shot.

In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Joshua Muravchik points out that public support for terrorism is still dropping in Islamic countries, but more slowly than it did during the Bush years.

Using the results from the most recent Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, Muravchik focuses on attitudes toward terrorism in several Muslim countries. The results are mildly encouraging for America, he writes, but not necessarily for Mr. Obama and his outreach efforts.

In summarizing the data, Muravchik writes:

The survey gauges attitudes toward three crucial terrorism-related subjects: al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings. The good news is that the proportion of pro-terror opinion continues to decline. The bad news is that the minority holding such views remains considerable.

For example, 20% of Egyptians, 23% of Indonesians and 34% of Jordanians say they hold favorable views of al Qaeda. Asked whether they have confidence that bin Laden will “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” 19% of Egyptians, 25% of Indonesians and 14% of Jordanians responded positively. On the question of suicide bombing, 20% of Egyptians, 20% of Jordanians and 15% of Indonesians said it is “often” or “sometimes” justified (as opposed to “rarely” or “never”).

These results seem to reflect well on Mr. Obama’s engagement project, according to Muravchik, since a few years ago, these measures of support for terrorism were much higher. But he adds that the Pew report also offers a time-sequence chart, dating back to 2003, of answers to the question about bin Laden. And it shows

an encouraging decrease in support for terrorism—but the largest drop came when George W. Bush was president. The sharpest decrease in terror support in Indonesia, Turkey and Lebanon came between 2003 and 2005; in Jordan, between 2005 and 2006; and in Nigeria and Egypt between 2006 and 2007.

Only in Pakistan was the largest drop between 2008 and 2009—but the poll was taken in April 2009, so Mr. Bush was in office more than Mr. Obama during that one-year interval. From 2009 to 2010, the one full-year interval of Mr. Obama’s presidency for which Pew offers data, the decline was negligible everywhere except in Jordan, where the drop-off was smaller than it was from 2005 to 2006. [emphasis added]

In exploring the reasons for this, Muravchik concludes that “the data are too slender to sustain the claim that Mr. Bush’s policies succeeded in turning much of the Muslim world against terrorism. But they are substantial enough to inform our understanding that Mr. Obama’s approach has achieved little in this regard.”

My own hunch is, as Muravchik suggests, that the actions of al-Qaeda may be the crucial variable. As its savagery became more and more apparent in Iraq and elsewhere, large portions of the Islamic world turned against it and militant Islam more broadly.

But of course, Mr. Obama’s promise to transform the attitudes of the world didn’t take any of this into account. Through the force of his personality and charm, the wisdom of his policies, and his worldwide apology tours, Obama was going to win over the Muslim world in a way that was inescapable and unprecedented. The president’s speech in Cairo, you may recall, was going to be a tipping point in how the Muslim world viewed us and terrorism.

But like so many other hopes and dreams set forth by Mr. Obama, it hasn’t turned out that way. Not by a long shot.

Read Less

A Response to John Derbyshire

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are. Read More

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are.

Let’s now turn to Derbyshire’s characterization that America is becoming the “welfare provider of last resort to all the world’s several billion people”: he is more than a decade behind in his understanding of overseas-development policy.

President Bush’s policies were animated by the belief that the way to save lives was to rely on the principle of accountability. That is what was transformational about Bush’s development effort. He rejected handing out money with no strings attached in favor of tying expenditures to reform and results. And it has had huge radiating effects. When PEPFAR was started, America was criticized by others for setting goals. Now the mantra around the world is “results-based development.” Yet Derbyshire seems to know nothing about any of this. That isn’t necessarily a problem — unless, of course, he decides to write on the topic.

Beyond that, though, the notion that AIDS relief in Africa is AFDC on a global scale is silly. We are not talking about providing food stamps to able-bodied adults or subsidizing illegitimacy; we’re talking about saving the lives of millions of innocent people and taking steps to keep human societies from collapsing. Private charity clearly wasn’t enough.

On the matter of Derbyshire’s claim that AIDS relief in Africa is unconnected to our national interest: al-Qaeda is actively trying to establish a greater presence in nations like Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria, which have become major ideological battlegrounds. And mass disease and death, poverty and hopelessness, make the rise of radicalism more, not less, likely. (Because of AIDS, in some countries nearly a half-century of public-health gains have been wiped away.)

Many things allow militant Islam to take root and grow; eliminating AIDS would certainly not eliminate jihadism. Still, a pandemic, in addition to being a human tragedy, makes governments unstable and regions ungovernable. And as one report put it, “Unstable and ungoverned regions of the world … pose dangers for neighbors and can become the setting for broader problems of terrorism … The impoverished regions of the world can be unstable, volatile, and dangerous and can represent great threats to America, Europe, and the world. We must work with the people of these regions to promote sustainable economic growth, better health, good governance and greater human security. …”

One might think that this observation very nearly qualifies as banal — but for Derbyshire, it qualifies as a revelation.

For the sake of the argument, though, let’s assume that the American government acts not out of a narrow interpretation of the national interest but instead out of benevolence — like, say, America’s response to the 2004 tsunami that hit Indonesia and other nations in the Indian Ocean. Why is that something we should oppose, or find alarming, or deem un-conservative? The impulse to act is, in fact, not only deeply humane but also deeply American.

In a speech in Lewiston, Illinois, in 1858, Abraham Lincoln, in quoting from the Declaration (“all men are created equal … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable right”), said:

This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.

This belief about inherent human dignity does not mean that America can solve every problem in the world or that we shouldn’t focus most of our energy and treasure on America itself. But if the United States is able, at a reasonable cost ($25 billion over five years), to help prevent widespread death, that is something we should be proud of it. (A recent Stanford study found that PEPFAR was responsible for saving the lives of more than a million Africans in just its first three years.)

Derbyshire seems to take an almost childish delight in advertising his indifference to the suffering of others, at least when the others live on a different continent and come from a different culture. Back in February 2006, when more than 1,000 people were believed to have died when an Egyptian ferry sank in the Red Sea, Derbyshire wrote:

In between our last two posts I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don’t care about Egyptians.

Cultivating what Adam Smith (in The Theory of Moral Sentiments) called “sympathy” and “fellow feeling” is a complicated matter. Suffice it to say that very few of us care about the suffering and fate of others as much as we should. Yet most of us aren’t proud of this fact; we are, rather, slightly embarrassed by it. Not John Derbyshire. He seems eager to celebrate his callousness, as if it were a sign of manliness and tough-mindedness. I haven’t a clue whether this is a pose, done for shock value or some such thing, or real. All we can do is judge Derbyshire by his public words. And they are not only unpersuasive; they are at times downright ugly.

Read Less

Arming the Terrorists: Try, Try Again

Nigerian authorities opened cargo containers this week to find a large shipment of unauthorized arms at their port. Tightened surveillance in East Africa may be forcing Iran to ship arms to Hamas from transfer points further and further from Gaza: Israeli authorities suspect that the arms shipment, which was dropped off by an Iranian ship in July disguised as construction materials, was intended for Hamas.

On first glance, the implied route seems prohibitive. Getting the shipment to Gaza from a Nigerian port would still involve one or more transit paths that are under vigilant surveillance by regional authorities. Land transport to Egypt is the least likely method; besides poor road quality and the problems of highway bandits and border crossings, there was apparently no arrangement made for follow-on handling of the arms shipment inside Nigeria.

The way the cargo was dropped off suggests that it was supposed to be transshipped through Lagos to another port, perhaps somewhere on the North African coast. A local report indicates the agent in Nigeria was an Iranian businessman who has gone into hiding. The advantage of the swap in Nigeria would have been that a non-Iranian ship carried the arms cargo into the Mediterranean, where Israeli and U.S. intelligence, between them, are fully embedded with most port authorities.

The shipment was essentially orphaned at the drop-off point, however. A Nigerian official reports that there was a ham-handed attempt at bribing the port authorities to turn a blind eye to the cargo, which arrived without proper documentation. When that didn’t work, the drop-off ship simply left the port. The cargo sat unprocessed in its containers for months.

It’s possible that the arms were destined for the Shia Muslim Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. If they were, this would be the first detected instance of Iran trying to arm that insurgency directly. But Boko Haram’s arms route reportedly snakes across the northern border with Algeria, an arrangement dictated by the fact that the central government and the Christians of Nigeria’s south hold the ports. Moreover, Iran has been cultivating economic ties with Nigeria in the hope of importing uranium. Jeopardizing that relationship by arming an insurgency would appear counterproductive even to the unique geopolitical perspective in Tehran.

Perhaps the best news, if this was an arms shipment intended for Hamas, is that the Iranians seem to have miscalculated the law-enforcement environment in Nigeria’s ports. Presumably they will learn from this failure and prepare better for the next attempt. There are a lot of West African ports to choose from. We can be certain Iran will try again.

Nigerian authorities opened cargo containers this week to find a large shipment of unauthorized arms at their port. Tightened surveillance in East Africa may be forcing Iran to ship arms to Hamas from transfer points further and further from Gaza: Israeli authorities suspect that the arms shipment, which was dropped off by an Iranian ship in July disguised as construction materials, was intended for Hamas.

On first glance, the implied route seems prohibitive. Getting the shipment to Gaza from a Nigerian port would still involve one or more transit paths that are under vigilant surveillance by regional authorities. Land transport to Egypt is the least likely method; besides poor road quality and the problems of highway bandits and border crossings, there was apparently no arrangement made for follow-on handling of the arms shipment inside Nigeria.

The way the cargo was dropped off suggests that it was supposed to be transshipped through Lagos to another port, perhaps somewhere on the North African coast. A local report indicates the agent in Nigeria was an Iranian businessman who has gone into hiding. The advantage of the swap in Nigeria would have been that a non-Iranian ship carried the arms cargo into the Mediterranean, where Israeli and U.S. intelligence, between them, are fully embedded with most port authorities.

The shipment was essentially orphaned at the drop-off point, however. A Nigerian official reports that there was a ham-handed attempt at bribing the port authorities to turn a blind eye to the cargo, which arrived without proper documentation. When that didn’t work, the drop-off ship simply left the port. The cargo sat unprocessed in its containers for months.

It’s possible that the arms were destined for the Shia Muslim Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. If they were, this would be the first detected instance of Iran trying to arm that insurgency directly. But Boko Haram’s arms route reportedly snakes across the northern border with Algeria, an arrangement dictated by the fact that the central government and the Christians of Nigeria’s south hold the ports. Moreover, Iran has been cultivating economic ties with Nigeria in the hope of importing uranium. Jeopardizing that relationship by arming an insurgency would appear counterproductive even to the unique geopolitical perspective in Tehran.

Perhaps the best news, if this was an arms shipment intended for Hamas, is that the Iranians seem to have miscalculated the law-enforcement environment in Nigeria’s ports. Presumably they will learn from this failure and prepare better for the next attempt. There are a lot of West African ports to choose from. We can be certain Iran will try again.

Read Less

Obama Not Interested in Religious Freedom

Leonard Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Freedom (which recently issued a report on religious oppression and discrimination), in an interesting interview explains what has escaped the grasp of Obama:

Promoting the freedom of religion or belief promotes stability and security by reducing resentment, tension, hostility, and extremism. Countries that discriminate against and harass religious minorities, and that enforce blasphemy and other repressive laws, tend to embolden extremists who seek to impose their own orthodoxy. Countries that look the other way when religious minorities are being attacked by private individuals foster a climate of impunity, which similarly creates space for extremism. And, countries that crack down on peaceable religious practices of non-majority faiths create feelings of resentment on the part of oppressed minorities, which in turn can drive young men in those minority faiths to separatist movements and terrorist training camps.

Leo is emphatic that “the U.S. government must do more to make the promotion of freedom of religion a more central feature or objective of our foreign-policy agenda” but diplomatically declines to compare the Obama administration with the Bush team.

He does note, however, that it would be a good idea to fill the position of ambassador for International Religious Freedom. And he focuses on  countries whose lack of religious freedom has gone unaddressed by Obama: “The impunity of Nigeria and Egypt, the use of religion to stoke civil war in places like Sudan, the imposition in countries such as Pakistan of blasphemy laws that result in public punishment of and private violence against dissenters and minorities — these are among the chilling reminders of how fragile human dignity is elsewhere in the world.”

Most telling is the administration’s reaction to the commission’s report: “There hasn’t been much of a response yet.” That’s par for the course. It is not a topic that interests Obama; indeed the calls from religious and political human-rights activists for Obama to step up to the plate in defense of those fighting political and religious oppression (in Iran, China, Sudan, Burma, Egypt, and elsewhere) are no doubt an annoyance to a president whose foreign policy is built on ingratiating himself with despots. Leo advises:

The administration should make freedom of religion an integral part of the negotiations that are taking place with countries such as China, Iran, and North Korea. And, in the close bilateral relations we have with countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, we must send the message that we expect more and better from them. All too often, freedom-of-religion issues either are ignored altogether or are not linked into a broader strategic dialogue respecting stability, security, development, and peace.

Don’t expect this to change until there is a new president.

Leonard Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Freedom (which recently issued a report on religious oppression and discrimination), in an interesting interview explains what has escaped the grasp of Obama:

Promoting the freedom of religion or belief promotes stability and security by reducing resentment, tension, hostility, and extremism. Countries that discriminate against and harass religious minorities, and that enforce blasphemy and other repressive laws, tend to embolden extremists who seek to impose their own orthodoxy. Countries that look the other way when religious minorities are being attacked by private individuals foster a climate of impunity, which similarly creates space for extremism. And, countries that crack down on peaceable religious practices of non-majority faiths create feelings of resentment on the part of oppressed minorities, which in turn can drive young men in those minority faiths to separatist movements and terrorist training camps.

Leo is emphatic that “the U.S. government must do more to make the promotion of freedom of religion a more central feature or objective of our foreign-policy agenda” but diplomatically declines to compare the Obama administration with the Bush team.

He does note, however, that it would be a good idea to fill the position of ambassador for International Religious Freedom. And he focuses on  countries whose lack of religious freedom has gone unaddressed by Obama: “The impunity of Nigeria and Egypt, the use of religion to stoke civil war in places like Sudan, the imposition in countries such as Pakistan of blasphemy laws that result in public punishment of and private violence against dissenters and minorities — these are among the chilling reminders of how fragile human dignity is elsewhere in the world.”

Most telling is the administration’s reaction to the commission’s report: “There hasn’t been much of a response yet.” That’s par for the course. It is not a topic that interests Obama; indeed the calls from religious and political human-rights activists for Obama to step up to the plate in defense of those fighting political and religious oppression (in Iran, China, Sudan, Burma, Egypt, and elsewhere) are no doubt an annoyance to a president whose foreign policy is built on ingratiating himself with despots. Leo advises:

The administration should make freedom of religion an integral part of the negotiations that are taking place with countries such as China, Iran, and North Korea. And, in the close bilateral relations we have with countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, we must send the message that we expect more and better from them. All too often, freedom-of-religion issues either are ignored altogether or are not linked into a broader strategic dialogue respecting stability, security, development, and peace.

Don’t expect this to change until there is a new president.

Read Less

New Pew Poll on Muslim Opinion

The good news is that Muslims in the Middle East tend not to like the Islamists in their own countries. The bad news is that they tend to like the Islamists in other countries.

Hamas has a 37 percent approval rating in the Gaza Strip, but Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, enjoys 65 percent and 71 percent approval in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively.

Question for the peace processors: Is peace likely when two-thirds of Palestinians think that Hassan Nasrallah is a great guy?

Other interesting tidbits: Nigeria appears to have the highest rate of cognitive dissonance among the countries surveyed, with 81 percent approving of President Obama while 54 percent approve of Osama bin Laden. Where does bin Laden earn his second-highest approval rating, at 51 percent? From the Palestinians. I know that the politically correct, “know hope” thing to say is that the Palestinians overwhelmingly want peace; but as we see again from Pew, the public-opinion data simply do not shown this to be true.

A summary of the survey is here.

The good news is that Muslims in the Middle East tend not to like the Islamists in their own countries. The bad news is that they tend to like the Islamists in other countries.

Hamas has a 37 percent approval rating in the Gaza Strip, but Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, enjoys 65 percent and 71 percent approval in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively.

Question for the peace processors: Is peace likely when two-thirds of Palestinians think that Hassan Nasrallah is a great guy?

Other interesting tidbits: Nigeria appears to have the highest rate of cognitive dissonance among the countries surveyed, with 81 percent approving of President Obama while 54 percent approve of Osama bin Laden. Where does bin Laden earn his second-highest approval rating, at 51 percent? From the Palestinians. I know that the politically correct, “know hope” thing to say is that the Palestinians overwhelmingly want peace; but as we see again from Pew, the public-opinion data simply do not shown this to be true.

A summary of the survey is here.

Read Less

Third Time Is the Charm?

More than a week after the bombing attempt and following two half-hearted press conferences and an ensuing avalanche of criticism, the president in his weekly address acknowledged that this was an al-Qaeda operation:

We know that he traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies.  It appears that he joined an affiliate of al-Qaeda, and that this group–al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America.

This is not the first time this group has targeted us.  In recent years, they have bombed Yemeni government facilities and Western hotels, restaurants and embassies-including our embassy in 2008, killing one American.  So, as President, I’ve made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government-training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence and working with them to strike al-Qaeda terrorists.

It is not clear why he felt compelled to bring up the issue of poverty. As this report notes, the president “did not point out that the would-be bomber was from a very wealthy family in Nigeria.” But the president is plainly on the defensive and responding to the substance of his critics’ complaint. He recalled taking his oath of office, asserting: “On that day I also made it very clear-our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and that we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and defend our country, even as we uphold the values that have always distinguished America among nations.”

But as with his Oslo speech, which offered more robust language in defense of American interests, this speech then raises the question: why don’t his policies meet his belated and tougher rhetoric? And if we are on war footing, why did it take a week for Obama to even get his rhetoric in order? If Obama intends to demonstrate his resolve and seriousness in fighting a war waged on our civilization, then he might do well to re-evaluate his criminal-justice model (and the legalistic language that infected his initial remarks), which is inappropriate to the task at hand. As Andy McCarthy points out:

The criminal case is complicating the President’s ability to do his jobs as president and commander-in-chief.  This morning, Obama declared flatly that Mutallab conspired with al-Qaeda in a heinous attempted terrorist attack. It was refreshing to hear the president not hedge with “alleged” this and “alleged” that. . . But, of course, defense counsel will now claim the president is hopelessly prejudicing Mutallab’s ability to get a fair trial — in Detroit or anyplace else — by smearing him in the press and eviscerating the presumption of innocence.  . .

The Mutallab case is an unnecessary, insignificant distraction from the real business of protecting the United States. And it is all so unnecessary.  It will be forever until we can have a trial of Mutallab, anyway:  From here on out, everytime something happens in Yemen, Mutallab’s lawyers will try to use it to their litigation advantage, repeating that the president has so tied Mutallab to terrorism in Yemen that there is no prospect of a fair trial. So why not transfer him to military custody as an enemy combatant, detain and interrogate him for as long as it is useful to do so, and then, in a year or three, either charge him with war crimes in a military tribunal or, if you insist, indict him the criminal justice system?

The inherent contradiction remains for Obama: he cannot provide the image of resolute wartime leadership while pursuing a set of policies that undermines our anti-terrorism efforts. The words can change, but it is the mindset and policies that are the root of the problem.

More than a week after the bombing attempt and following two half-hearted press conferences and an ensuing avalanche of criticism, the president in his weekly address acknowledged that this was an al-Qaeda operation:

We know that he traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies.  It appears that he joined an affiliate of al-Qaeda, and that this group–al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America.

This is not the first time this group has targeted us.  In recent years, they have bombed Yemeni government facilities and Western hotels, restaurants and embassies-including our embassy in 2008, killing one American.  So, as President, I’ve made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government-training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence and working with them to strike al-Qaeda terrorists.

It is not clear why he felt compelled to bring up the issue of poverty. As this report notes, the president “did not point out that the would-be bomber was from a very wealthy family in Nigeria.” But the president is plainly on the defensive and responding to the substance of his critics’ complaint. He recalled taking his oath of office, asserting: “On that day I also made it very clear-our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and that we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and defend our country, even as we uphold the values that have always distinguished America among nations.”

But as with his Oslo speech, which offered more robust language in defense of American interests, this speech then raises the question: why don’t his policies meet his belated and tougher rhetoric? And if we are on war footing, why did it take a week for Obama to even get his rhetoric in order? If Obama intends to demonstrate his resolve and seriousness in fighting a war waged on our civilization, then he might do well to re-evaluate his criminal-justice model (and the legalistic language that infected his initial remarks), which is inappropriate to the task at hand. As Andy McCarthy points out:

The criminal case is complicating the President’s ability to do his jobs as president and commander-in-chief.  This morning, Obama declared flatly that Mutallab conspired with al-Qaeda in a heinous attempted terrorist attack. It was refreshing to hear the president not hedge with “alleged” this and “alleged” that. . . But, of course, defense counsel will now claim the president is hopelessly prejudicing Mutallab’s ability to get a fair trial — in Detroit or anyplace else — by smearing him in the press and eviscerating the presumption of innocence.  . .

The Mutallab case is an unnecessary, insignificant distraction from the real business of protecting the United States. And it is all so unnecessary.  It will be forever until we can have a trial of Mutallab, anyway:  From here on out, everytime something happens in Yemen, Mutallab’s lawyers will try to use it to their litigation advantage, repeating that the president has so tied Mutallab to terrorism in Yemen that there is no prospect of a fair trial. So why not transfer him to military custody as an enemy combatant, detain and interrogate him for as long as it is useful to do so, and then, in a year or three, either charge him with war crimes in a military tribunal or, if you insist, indict him the criminal justice system?

The inherent contradiction remains for Obama: he cannot provide the image of resolute wartime leadership while pursuing a set of policies that undermines our anti-terrorism efforts. The words can change, but it is the mindset and policies that are the root of the problem.

Read Less

Where Oh Where Is Hillary?

Nile Gardiner at the Daily Telegraph writes: “The White House should send a search party to track down Hillary Clinton. America’s foreign policy chief has been missing from the world stage for several days, and has become as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel at the height of the French Revolution.”

Come to think of it, we haven’t seen or heard from her since the Flight 253 bombing attack. Nada on the issue of the State Department’s own role in the security debacle that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get onto the plane. (As Elliott Abrams noted, “His multiple-entry visa to the U.S. was not canceled by State, not even after his own father alerted U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria of the danger he might present.”) And not a peep on Iran. The “Where in the World is the Secretary” locator (I am not making this up) on the State Department website puts her in the environs of Washington D.C.

Maybe she is hiding at home, assuming, correctly, that anyone who shows up on camera (e.g., Janet Napolitano, the president) gets savaged. Maybe she is the fall-gal when we get the “how we messed up” report. (Prediction: It won’t say that treating terrorists like criminal defendants or releasing terrorists to Yemen is a problem.) Or perhaps she is studying up on the 2010 senate and gubernatorial races. There must be a race in some state she could run in and win, right? After all, she is the most admired woman in America (well, she’s in a statistical tie with Sarah Palin). She might not stay that way if she hangs out with the Obami much longer.

Nile Gardiner at the Daily Telegraph writes: “The White House should send a search party to track down Hillary Clinton. America’s foreign policy chief has been missing from the world stage for several days, and has become as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel at the height of the French Revolution.”

Come to think of it, we haven’t seen or heard from her since the Flight 253 bombing attack. Nada on the issue of the State Department’s own role in the security debacle that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get onto the plane. (As Elliott Abrams noted, “His multiple-entry visa to the U.S. was not canceled by State, not even after his own father alerted U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria of the danger he might present.”) And not a peep on Iran. The “Where in the World is the Secretary” locator (I am not making this up) on the State Department website puts her in the environs of Washington D.C.

Maybe she is hiding at home, assuming, correctly, that anyone who shows up on camera (e.g., Janet Napolitano, the president) gets savaged. Maybe she is the fall-gal when we get the “how we messed up” report. (Prediction: It won’t say that treating terrorists like criminal defendants or releasing terrorists to Yemen is a problem.) Or perhaps she is studying up on the 2010 senate and gubernatorial races. There must be a race in some state she could run in and win, right? After all, she is the most admired woman in America (well, she’s in a statistical tie with Sarah Palin). She might not stay that way if she hangs out with the Obami much longer.

Read Less

A Systematic Failure, Certainly

Four days after an al-Qaeda-supported Islamic terrorist nearly butchered 278 people, two days after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “the system worked,” and a day after a slovenly and disengaged performance in which Obama told us that the Christmas Day bomber was really an “isolated extremist,” Obama emerged once again to assure us that, well, okay, we had a “catastrophic breach” of security and a “systematic failure.”

As more details trickle out, we learn that the bomber was likely aided by al-Qaeda and inspired by the same imam who was Major Nadal Hassan’s e-mail pal. Not isolated at all, was he. And now we learn just how catastrophic was the failure:

The father of terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab met with the Central Intelligence Agency at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, and told of his son’s likely radicalization, according to the CIA.The initial meeting Nov. 19 led to a broader gathering of multiple U.S. agencies the next day, including representatives of the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and the CIA, in which the information was shared, a U.S. official said.

With no hint of irony, some hapless official tells us (on background, of course) that “it is unclear whether intelligence officials in Washington effectively collected and analyzed all the relevant information gathered in Nigeria, pointing toward a possible lapse that could have helped prevent Mr. Abdulmutallab getting on the plane he attempted to bomb.” Let me take a stab at that one: they didn’t effectively collect and analyze all the relevant information because Abdulmutallab got on the plane and almost incinerated hundreds of people. So what were Napolitano and the president talking about up until now? Were they trying to flim-flam us or were they grossly and inexcusably unprepared and ill-informed?

This is a scandal of the first order. On this one there is no George W. Bush to blame. There is only the president and his tragically clueless administration. Unlike the  pre-9/11 bits of data, which never wound up in the right hands, in this case we had a specific bomber, a specific tip, and the imam was literally in our gun-sights (reports say he escaped the predator attack). And the intelligence community was given it all on a silver platter. This is the quintessential failure to connect dots. Had the detonator not failed or an alert passenger not intervened, we would have had not a catastrophic failure but a catastrophe.

Two suggestions for the president: end the vacation and fire some people. And if he wants to show that he isn’t cowering from an increasingly infuriated public, he would do well to hold a press conference and answer each and every question put to him. If he chooses not to, the scandal may turn into Obama’s political hurricane, akin to Katrina. Perhaps it already has.

Four days after an al-Qaeda-supported Islamic terrorist nearly butchered 278 people, two days after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “the system worked,” and a day after a slovenly and disengaged performance in which Obama told us that the Christmas Day bomber was really an “isolated extremist,” Obama emerged once again to assure us that, well, okay, we had a “catastrophic breach” of security and a “systematic failure.”

As more details trickle out, we learn that the bomber was likely aided by al-Qaeda and inspired by the same imam who was Major Nadal Hassan’s e-mail pal. Not isolated at all, was he. And now we learn just how catastrophic was the failure:

The father of terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab met with the Central Intelligence Agency at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, and told of his son’s likely radicalization, according to the CIA.The initial meeting Nov. 19 led to a broader gathering of multiple U.S. agencies the next day, including representatives of the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and the CIA, in which the information was shared, a U.S. official said.

With no hint of irony, some hapless official tells us (on background, of course) that “it is unclear whether intelligence officials in Washington effectively collected and analyzed all the relevant information gathered in Nigeria, pointing toward a possible lapse that could have helped prevent Mr. Abdulmutallab getting on the plane he attempted to bomb.” Let me take a stab at that one: they didn’t effectively collect and analyze all the relevant information because Abdulmutallab got on the plane and almost incinerated hundreds of people. So what were Napolitano and the president talking about up until now? Were they trying to flim-flam us or were they grossly and inexcusably unprepared and ill-informed?

This is a scandal of the first order. On this one there is no George W. Bush to blame. There is only the president and his tragically clueless administration. Unlike the  pre-9/11 bits of data, which never wound up in the right hands, in this case we had a specific bomber, a specific tip, and the imam was literally in our gun-sights (reports say he escaped the predator attack). And the intelligence community was given it all on a silver platter. This is the quintessential failure to connect dots. Had the detonator not failed or an alert passenger not intervened, we would have had not a catastrophic failure but a catastrophe.

Two suggestions for the president: end the vacation and fire some people. And if he wants to show that he isn’t cowering from an increasingly infuriated public, he would do well to hold a press conference and answer each and every question put to him. If he chooses not to, the scandal may turn into Obama’s political hurricane, akin to Katrina. Perhaps it already has.

Read Less

Teaching Moderate Islam

The New York Times features a fascinating story about how a Turkish Islamic scholar who lives in the United States is creating schools in Pakistan, Nigeria, and other countries that combine a secular Western curriculum with a moderate brand of Sufi Islam. The schools are the brainchild of Fethullah Gulen, and they are funded by Turkish businessmen. Times correspondent Sabrina Tavernise describes the schools as follows:

They prescribe a strong Western curriculum, with courses, taught in English, from math and science to English literature and Shakespeare. They do not teach religion beyond the one class in Islamic studies that is required by the [Pakistani] state. Unlike British-style private schools, however, they encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set examples in lifestyle and prayer.

Tavernise also offers a great example of how these schools can spread moderation when she recounts this encounter between the Turkish school principal and some locals in the Pakistani city of Karachi:

When he prayed at a mosque, two young men followed him out and told him not to return wearing a tie because it was un-Islamic.

“I said, ‘Show me a verse in the Koran where it was forbidden,’ ” Mr. Kacmaz said, steering his car through tangled rush-hour traffic. The two men were wearing glasses, and he told them that scripturally, there was no difference between a tie and glasses.

“Behind their words there was no Hadith,” he said, referring to a set of Islamic texts, “only misunderstanding.”

This seems like exactly the kind of project that the United States should be promoting. Of course, as Terry Teachout noted in COMMENTARY in an article on the CIA’s Cold War activities, there is a stigma that comes with covert American funding if it is uncovered. Therefore we need to think about creative ways, perhaps using foundations, to fund moderate schools of the sort that Fethullah Gulen seems to be building. In the long run, such efforts can do more than cruise missiles or Predators to defeat our enemies-and the enemies of the vast majority of moderate Muslims.

The New York Times features a fascinating story about how a Turkish Islamic scholar who lives in the United States is creating schools in Pakistan, Nigeria, and other countries that combine a secular Western curriculum with a moderate brand of Sufi Islam. The schools are the brainchild of Fethullah Gulen, and they are funded by Turkish businessmen. Times correspondent Sabrina Tavernise describes the schools as follows:

They prescribe a strong Western curriculum, with courses, taught in English, from math and science to English literature and Shakespeare. They do not teach religion beyond the one class in Islamic studies that is required by the [Pakistani] state. Unlike British-style private schools, however, they encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set examples in lifestyle and prayer.

Tavernise also offers a great example of how these schools can spread moderation when she recounts this encounter between the Turkish school principal and some locals in the Pakistani city of Karachi:

When he prayed at a mosque, two young men followed him out and told him not to return wearing a tie because it was un-Islamic.

“I said, ‘Show me a verse in the Koran where it was forbidden,’ ” Mr. Kacmaz said, steering his car through tangled rush-hour traffic. The two men were wearing glasses, and he told them that scripturally, there was no difference between a tie and glasses.

“Behind their words there was no Hadith,” he said, referring to a set of Islamic texts, “only misunderstanding.”

This seems like exactly the kind of project that the United States should be promoting. Of course, as Terry Teachout noted in COMMENTARY in an article on the CIA’s Cold War activities, there is a stigma that comes with covert American funding if it is uncovered. Therefore we need to think about creative ways, perhaps using foundations, to fund moderate schools of the sort that Fethullah Gulen seems to be building. In the long run, such efforts can do more than cruise missiles or Predators to defeat our enemies-and the enemies of the vast majority of moderate Muslims.

Read Less

“Free Speech” at Harvard

A new drama loosely focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about to unfold at Harvard. Professor J. Lorand Matory, a signatory of the 2002 Israel divestment petition, plans to introduce a resolution calling for “free speech” at the next faculty meeting. Foremost among Matory’s concerns is his belief that criticism of Israel has been stifled on campus.

It’s no longer interesting to note that those accusing Israel’s supporters of stifling speech are among the least-stifled people in the world. Indeed, Matory is so uncensored that he recently published an article alleging censorship—a right that true victims of censorship do not, by definition, enjoy. As he has frequently spoken out against Israel in statements and articles, his opponents have a strong case in declaring his proposed motion bogus.

But Matory’s proposal deserves more consideration. After all, it calls for affirming “free speech,” strangely scorning “academic freedom,” the typical catchphrase employed by professors defending their vocal disdain for Israel. No doubt unintentionally, this selective phraseology properly accounts for Matory’s own limitations: he possesses no professional or experiential qualifications that would make his criticisms of Israel remotely academic. Constitutionally guaranteed “free speech” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however uninformed, is thus the most he can reasonably demand.

Read More

A new drama loosely focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about to unfold at Harvard. Professor J. Lorand Matory, a signatory of the 2002 Israel divestment petition, plans to introduce a resolution calling for “free speech” at the next faculty meeting. Foremost among Matory’s concerns is his belief that criticism of Israel has been stifled on campus.

It’s no longer interesting to note that those accusing Israel’s supporters of stifling speech are among the least-stifled people in the world. Indeed, Matory is so uncensored that he recently published an article alleging censorship—a right that true victims of censorship do not, by definition, enjoy. As he has frequently spoken out against Israel in statements and articles, his opponents have a strong case in declaring his proposed motion bogus.

But Matory’s proposal deserves more consideration. After all, it calls for affirming “free speech,” strangely scorning “academic freedom,” the typical catchphrase employed by professors defending their vocal disdain for Israel. No doubt unintentionally, this selective phraseology properly accounts for Matory’s own limitations: he possesses no professional or experiential qualifications that would make his criticisms of Israel remotely academic. Constitutionally guaranteed “free speech” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however uninformed, is thus the most he can reasonably demand.

In this vein, his admissions during a lengthy phone interview I conducted with him were stunning. After he presented his essential thesis that Israel is a racist, apartheid state, I asked Matory what books had inspired his views. Matory was unable to name a single book or author, saying that he was “largely informed by the international press.” When asked why he hadn’t traveled to the region to examine the conflict’s complexities firsthand, Matory said that he wouldn’t go to Israel on principle, but that such a trip was hardly necessary: he has plenty of Israeli friends and neighbors, stateside. But had he ever spoken with these Israeli friends and neighbors, or Israeli colleagues and students—he claimed to have had many—regarding the conflict? “Not that I recall,” he conceded.

The most bizarre moment in our conversation, however, involved a biographical detail. Matory recalled that the Sabra and Shatilla massacre had catalyzed his disillusionment with Israel, saying that he read about the massacre in the Boston Globe while eating lunch as an undergraduate at Harvard’s old Union dining hall, and had vomited at the table in disgust. Yet this story is impossible: Matory graduated in June 1982, while the massacre took place in September 1982—when he would have been studying in Nigeria on a Rotary Scholarship. “I hadn’t realized that,” Matory said.

Naturally, Matory’s severe gaps in memory, research, experience, intellectual curiosity, and knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict should prevent him from achieving academic credibility in this area. And his proposed resolution (perhaps unintentionally) recognizes this, calling for “free speech” rather than “academic freedom”—an appreciable distinction insofar as Matory often speaks on Israel freely, but not in an academically serious manner.

Rather than making him a martyr by contesting his proposal, the faculty should unanimously approve his superfluous demand for free speech with a yawn. Or perhaps some apprehension: the more freely Matory speaks on foreign affairs, the more his lack of seriousness will be exposed, and the worse Harvard looks.

Read Less

Cleaning Up Israel

The sorry spectacle of Israel’s political system going through one financial scandal after another—the latest involves finance minister Abraham Hirchson, accused of embezzling large sums of money when he headed an HMO in the 1990’s—is more than just an embarrassment. Coupled with the growth of organized crime and frightening rumors of its inroads into politics and law enforcement, these scandals are making Israelis feel these days as if they were living in a Jewish Sicily.

Is it that bad? Probably not, although it’s hard to say. Corruption in Israel is something that, even today, you’re far more likely to read about in the newspapers than to experience personally. Israel is still a country whose citizens assume, when dealing with government officials, the police, or business contacts, that they are facing someone honest. It’s not some third-world state or banana republic where you routinely slip money into your car registration papers when you’re asked for them by a traffic cop, leave a gift on the desk of the official you’ve applied to for a building permit, or promise a kickback to the executive you’re negotiating a contract with. But then again, I don’t suppose that routinely happens in Sicily, either.

Read More

The sorry spectacle of Israel’s political system going through one financial scandal after another—the latest involves finance minister Abraham Hirchson, accused of embezzling large sums of money when he headed an HMO in the 1990’s—is more than just an embarrassment. Coupled with the growth of organized crime and frightening rumors of its inroads into politics and law enforcement, these scandals are making Israelis feel these days as if they were living in a Jewish Sicily.

Is it that bad? Probably not, although it’s hard to say. Corruption in Israel is something that, even today, you’re far more likely to read about in the newspapers than to experience personally. Israel is still a country whose citizens assume, when dealing with government officials, the police, or business contacts, that they are facing someone honest. It’s not some third-world state or banana republic where you routinely slip money into your car registration papers when you’re asked for them by a traffic cop, leave a gift on the desk of the official you’ve applied to for a building permit, or promise a kickback to the executive you’re negotiating a contract with. But then again, I don’t suppose that routinely happens in Sicily, either.

In this sense, Israel is in the third and murkiest of the three categories that you can divide the world’s countries into. There are countries in which corruption hardly exists and no one would dream of trying to solve his problems by resorting to it. There are countries in which it is omnipresent and everyone understands that it is the only way to get things done. And there are countries, like Israel, in which the rules are simply not clear, and you never know if a bribe will pay off, be dismissed by whoever it is offered to with an indignant glare or weary smile but no worse, or land you in jail. Most people would never run the risk, but most people have also heard rumors or stories of others who have run it successfully. This makes corruption a phenomenon that everyone is aware of but of whose true dimensions no one has a clear idea.

The fact of the matter is that, even in cleaner times, Israel was always a country in which the rules were never quite clear. I’ve heard it said that there are countries, like Japan, in which “yes” never means “yes.” But in Israel, “no” has never meant “no.” It has always meant, “Let’s argue and negotiate.” And in Israel, you negotiate with everyone: the phone company about its bills, the storekeeper about his prices, the teacher about his marks. You don’t generally do this by offering bribes. You do it by reasoning, wheedling, shouting, crying, pleading, threatening, joking. Only suckers take “no” for an answer.

It took me a while to learn this when I immigrated to Israel in 1970. One of my first lessons came when filling out my first Israeli income-tax return. When it came to house expenses such as electricity and water bills—on which, as a self-employed writer living at home, I had a right to a partial deduction—the accountant scratched his head and said, “You know what? Let’s try deducting 50 percent.”

“What do you mean, let’s try?” I said. “What are the rules?”

“There are no rules,” said the accountant. “And even if there are, they’re too complicated to figure out.”

“Then why don’t you call the tax authorities and ask?” I suggested.

My accountant looked at me with astonishment. Clearly I had been born, not yesterday, but sometime in the previous hour. “If I ask, they’ll tell me it’s 10 percent,” he said. “Let’s put in for 50.”

We put in for 50, and it worked. Since then, I’ve deducted 50 percent of my house expenses from my tax returns every year. Is that what the law permits me to do? Don’t ask me, I just do it.

All this has a certain charm. It can be frustrating and unnerving, of course—there’s something to be said for knowing where you stand, instead of having to find out ad hoc each time—but it has made Israel in many ways a much more flexible place to operate in than other countries. Although people complain about Israeli bureaucracy, Israeli bureaucrats are models of human kindness compared to bureaucrats I’ve encountered in other places. You can actually get them to change their minds or make an exception for you if you’re skillful enough in presenting your case.

Such a modus operandi becomes deadly, however, the minute corruption enters into it. It’s one thing for an official behind a desk to give you the permit he really shouldn’t have given you because you’ve burst into tears or turned out to be his third cousin once-removed. It’s another thing for him to give it to you because a wad of cash has fallen unnoticed from your wallet while you were leaving. And this, once rare, is becoming a more and more accepted practice.

If Israel is not going to end up in corruption category 1, it is going to have to change its ways of doing things and learn to go by the rules—everywhere. In some ways this will be too bad. Just last week my wife phoned the cable TV company and got it to lower the rates it charges us by threatening to move to a rival. An Israel you can no longer do this in will be a less simpatico place. But it will also be a cleaner one.

Indeed, if one wants to be optimistic, this is what is happening in Israel right now. Case after case that might have gone unprosecuted before is now ending up in the courts, the cases of ranking politicians not excepted. It looks bad, and it is bad. But eventually, the lesson may sink in. There may be a golden mean between Denmark and Nigeria, but if you have to choose, it’s a lot better to be Denmark.

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.