Across the Bay

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Hope is on the Way

Michael Young commented on the foreign policy portion of John Kerry's pathetic speech at the DNC.

Young noted how Kerry did not mention democracy in the ME at all:

" I noticed that Kerry mentioned not once democracy in the Middle East. In fact, his only mention of democracy came in the rather mildewed context of Berlin, where his father was once stationed, and where, Kerry noted, “it and the world were divided between democracy and communism.” There, he added, “I saw the fear in the eyes of people who were not free.”

Evidently, however, Kerry didn’t have the balls to take the extra step and argue that a similar grand global dividing line today exists in the Middle East, where fear and the absence of freedom are rampant, but also where autocratic regimes have never been as weak, illegitimate or scared; and where the U.S. would do well to take advantage of this situation before the inevitable hurried scramble home.

It comes as no surprise of course, as this commentary makes clear. (Cf. this earlier post).

So the proponents of democracy in the ME have such exciting things awaiting them: The "stimulating" speeches and visions of John Kerry, and the "ground-shattering" foreign policy of Colin Powell who's back at the helm guiding the Bush administration to new and fascinating horizons.

The Trifecta from Hell

Here's a perfect example of the "trifecta from hell" -- the UN, the Arab League, and Colin Powell -- at work. Marvel at the sterility.

The UN, to no one's surprise, issued a toothless resolution on the Darfur genocide, threatening -- get this -- not "sanctions," for that's too harsh of a word, but "interruption of economic, communications or diplomatic activities." Woooo, scary!!

This "PC resolution" has been claimed, rightly, as a victory by the murderous Khartoum government. In the words of the gloating Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail:

"The friends of the Sudan and the Sudanese diplomacy have succeeded in trimming the resolution and curbing its extremity and aberration."

Ismail said his ministry had set out a two-pronged plan to counter the draft resolution:

"either to block its adoption altogether or to strive, in cooperation with our friends, to remove from it such references as genocide, ethnic cleansing and other extreme points and apparently this is what we have so far succeeded in achieving just hours before the vote."

But never fear, Colin Powell is here:

"It is not an easy task for them to turn off this janjaweed crowd and other militias that may be out there.

There is a concern that we don't want to put so much on the Sudanese government that (it) causes internal problems that might make the situation worse.

Yes of course, the poor Sudanese government! We wouldn't want to disrupt their afternoon mass rape.

No stinking pile of manure would be complete without the Arab League. The Daily Star report explains:

"The Arab League is cautioning the West against threatening sanctions on Sudan, a move some in the Arab world see as a US pretext for toppling another Arab government."

Those damned Westerners! Can't a government exterminate an ethnic group in peace any more?

Voicing such frustrations was the Arab League spokesman Hossam Zaki:

"Many would say that the US administration, as well as some European countries, have found in the Darfur crisis a long lost pretext to put the government under the sword of international sanctions." (Emphasis added.)

It's all a conspiracy I tell you! Don't laugh, do you think I'm joking? Here it is, you knew it was coming!

"How come the Security Council ... and those with a humanitarian agenda are so active when it comes to such a situation, when they turn a blind eye to the miserable situation in the Palestinian territories."

So let's see, the Sudanese Jihad against the southern non-Muslim population that preceded the Darfur genocide doesn't even factor in the imagination of Zaki. This dubious "situation" in Darfur is a "long lost pretext" to topple another Arab government, so the government is victim! This is a new twist on the pathological Arab victimology!

Besides, how dare we even suggest that this "situation" with a bunch of °abīd is even close in magnitude to the suffering of the Palestinians? So since the Palestinians are in a "miserable situation," who gives a damn about the Fur?

And there you have it folks, we're finally back to normal in the ME, with the trifecta back in full throttle, after a short leave of absence due to Iraq. Incidentally, during that absence, a genocidal regime was actually removed, and sanctions that did nothing but harm the population and enrich their tormentor (and some dudes at the UN), were finally lifted. But enough of that type of nonsense now, the super best friends are back.

Monday, July 26, 2004

The End of Islam?

Notorious Islamist Azzam Tamimi wrote a review of Khaled Abou El Fadl et al., Islam and the Challenge of Democracy in The Daily Star that is really important to read. Not that I am an admirer of Tamimi -- the opposite is true -- but he has made a couple of honest statements and one careful distinction between liberalism and democracy from which other Islamists usually (deliberately or not) shy away.

Here's what I think is the core statement of the entire review:

"Democracy is seen by these Islamic thinkers as consisting of two components: a cultural aspect that is incompatible with Islam and a procedural aspect that Muslims can learn and benefit from. There is no way the liberal secularist component of democracy can be espoused by the Muslims because it contradicts the essence of their faith. It is simply a case of two directly opposed world views: in the Islamic view divine revelation is the source of reference whereas in the liberal tradition man is self-referential. It is therefore a futile effort to try and re-formulate Islam in order to espouse liberalism; this would simply be the end of Islam as a divine revelation."

Of course you have your usual stock of confused analogies, like those we've seen with Qaradawi. For instance, the conflation of Shura and Sharia with political participation and rule of law.

You also have your share of hypocrisies (I'm leaving aside the many infuriating distortions for the sake of my and your blood pressure!), such as this statement here:

"There is no reference in either his prologue or his epilogue to the many broken promises of liberal democracy or to the undeniable historical link between the most liberal democratic nations and imperialism.

The hypocrisy should be obvious, as Islam has practiced nothing but imperialism throughout its lifespan!

This is coupled with the usual pathological victimology and shift of agency:

"However, that decline and growing inferiority to the West was later enforced by colonialism and is now sustained by a world order that claims to be liberal and democratic under the leadership of the US.

My own research, (see "Rachid Ghannouch:i A Democrat Within Islamism," OUP), argues that the world order, the modern territorial state and the policy of enforced secularization are the real culprits for democracy's absenteeism in the Muslim world.

And this is of course solved by the classic Islamist cure-all:

"But that decline, in my view (and it is a view shared by many in the Muslim world), was the product of deviation from rather than adherence to the true path of Islam."

But all this nonsense aside, I noticed that these Islamists simply cannot break with their Islamic outlook when dealing with democracy. For example, take how Tamimi and Khan talk about "democracy in theory" and "democracy in practice." This dichotomy so resembles their own (faulty) essentialist postulations on Islam (hence the often-used label: "true Islam", which of course is a false premise). This all comes from the position of holding the Quran to be literally the immutable eternal divine Truth on one hand, and the interpretations of human beings, which are relative (although the issue of Sunna is problematic here) on the other. Of course anyone with half a brain realizes the problem of how to access the immutable Truth (bear with me here!) without the interpretive faculties of men and women! If the Truth (assuming of course there is such a thing) is accessible in an essentialist sense, then there should be no dichotomy, but naturally there is! This is all in complete contrast to democracy as a messy, historical, and thoroughly human endeavor. It's not static, it's dynamic. It's a work in progress. It's anti-utopian. So to me, hearing the categories of "theory" and "praxis" is too platonic to bear! It's a theological framework. It misses the whole point of democracy. That's the same reason why I reject Shura and Sharia as analogies with democracy. The former are theological terms and forcing them is little more than a theologizing of democracy (similar to Cole's "sacralization of learning" and Faruqi's "Islamization of knowledge").

There's also a fundamental paradox. If Tamimi is throwing out the baby with the bath water by connecting America to liberal democracy (theory and practice), then he should throw out Islamic democracy with its Muslim incarnations! This is why he and his likes need the problematic dichotomy of "true Islam" vs. "Muslim practice," or "theory and praxis." It's an absolutist theory that denies the primacy of rational interpretation. But then again, such is the state of Sunni Islam anyway! Tamimi is criticizing Abou El Fadl precisely for dismissing this entire way of thinking:

"Abou El Fadl declares 'absolute' Sharia is impossible to implement because it can always be re-interpreted."

In the end Tamimi did us all a favor by verbalizing what any one with a brain knew. Now if only those trying to square the circle would take heed. If you're going to approach Islam or religion from an essentialist perspective, you'll hit a dead end.

Now people should have a lot to think about whenever they hear these oft-repeated clichés:

"The cause of democracy in the Muslim lands has not been served by this publication, which will only be seen by Muslims as another attempt to undermine their religion. It is as if Muslims have to buy the commodity of democracy at the cost of their own faith and culture or (as in Iraq and Afghanistan) at the cost of their own freedom and dignity. If democracy is indeed compatible with Islam, and this is what most Muslims today believe the case to be, then the last thing Muslims need to be told is that they need to abandon both their culture and their faith in order to be democratic. For it is a lie, and a lie which undermines the cause of democracy in the Muslim world."

What Islamists really think is that their "pure," divine, and eternal system is obviously superior, and consequently is in no need of reform. That system should be the corrective to all others, including democracy, just like it was a corrective to all previous religions and ideologies (so Cole's relativistic, Baha'i-inspired "universe of Prophets" -- see posts "Sacrilicious" and "Cole Nidre" below-- is nothing more than a fantasy that would make Tamimi laugh hard, especially if he recognized its Baha'i overtones!)

So, while frog man Chirac believes that the Islamic world is in no need for "missionaries of democracy," Tamimi, while wholeheartedly agreeing with him on that one, firmly believes that the democratic world (especially the French laïcité) desperately needs "missionaries of Islam."

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Horan of Arabia

The great State Department Arabist Hume Horan has passed away. He died from cancer at the age of 69. Those of you who've read Kaplan's The Arabists might agree with me that he's without a doubt the most interesting figure featured in that book.

Martin Kramer made a couple of posts on Horan that you might want to look at.

From May to November 2003, Horan was a senior adviser to Amb. Jerry Bremer at the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, where he dealt with religious and tribal issues. Not too long ago he wrote an account (PDF) of his stay in Iraq, as well as his views on the whole endeavor, in the March issue of the Foreign Service Journal. As Martin Kramer said, Horan knew how to tell a story. Did he ever. See for yourself.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Beyond Liberalization: What Exactly Are We Talking About?

Daniel Brumberg wrote an illuminating article in the Wilson Quarterly that's worth looking at.

Brumberg lays out the differences between democratization and liberalization, as well as his view on how to move forward. In the superficial talk about democracy from within vs. democracy from the outside, clear definition of what exactly is being sought after is lost (for instance, see this piece by Marina Ottaway on confusing women's rights with democracy).

I've stressed the issue of lexicon and definition in my posts, and this article is a very good expansion on that theme. Take a look.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Importing Democracy

Tharwa Project had a couple of items from a a recent issue of Democracy Digest that I thought had some interesting points on the issue of importing/exporting democracy.

The first piece, entitled "Modernization, Not Democratization, Dominates Mideast Reform Agenda," echoes earlier comments I've made here (see also Michael Young) that the true nature of "reform" that the ME regimes have in mind is actually economic prosperity, or modernization, and not a true makeover of the system and indeed, the culture (once again, the issue of lexicon emerges. Two different concepts of reforms and two different concepts of democracies. Just because the same word is used, it doesn't mean we're talking about the same thing).

The piece mentions the three major perspectives dominating the discourse:

"The liberal democratic perspective seeks full democracy in Arab states, and calls for free and fair elections, term limits for Arab rulers, and an end to emergency security laws and controls on civil society. Largely associated with a minority of secular, Westernized professionals and intellectuals, this perspective is represented by the Alexandria Declaration of March 2004. The moderate Islamist perspective endorses some liberal reforms but has the ultimate objective of a state based on 'authentic' Islam, in accordance with Shari'ah. This view, which also sees reform as a way to rid the region of Western political and cultural influence, is typified by the reform program of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Most Arab regimes espouse yet a third perspective which can be described as modernization, in which gradual reforms are intended to create efficiently-governed and economically-successful states, but not democracies. Modernizing reforms include expanding political participation among women and youth, improving judicial and electoral administration, and lifting some limits on media freedom - all without touching the core structure of the state. The Tunis Declaration issued at the recent Arab League summit encapsulates this approach. So far, Hawthorne argues, Arab governments are largely pursuing reform initiatives that fall into this third category.

The article also points to a major crux:

"The liberal democratic perspective is likely to remain the weakest for the foreseeable future, says Hawthorne, due to the political weakness of its proponents, the strength of the security apparatus in Arab states, and the fact that the US and Europe tend, in practice if not in rhetoric, to support the modernization approach."

Well yeah, but that's because the Arab world, in the EU's perspective (articulated so eloquently by Monsieur Chirac), does not need "missionaries of democracy." But of course...

The second item, entitled "Can Democracy be Exported?" quotes briefly from two seemingly opposing perspectives on the matter. Sadiq al-Azm apparently buys into the notion that "democracy best arises within the Arab world itself." On the other hand, André Gerrits counters by reminding us that "two thirds of the world's democracies were related to some kind of intervention by other nations." This is the position that I've been advocating on this blog, and I've backed it up with historical examples specific to the ME. This position also uncovers the hypocrisy of those who dismiss the "clash of civilizations" theory, and stress the interactions of civilizations (viz. Edward Said), but nevertheless reject the inter-civilizational pollenation in this particular case! Effectively, they're espousing the Islamists' and Arab nationalists' xenophobia -- more accurately, "misoxenia" -- and their fantasies of a autochthonous "purity" as the only remedy of their ills.

Gerrits further criticized the fake nihilistic relativism that I've been challenging as well:

""political and cultural relativism that has characterised development aid for a long time is altogether foreign to democracy advancement"

The whole thing is taken from Politeia and can be read in its entirety here. In a comment relevant to the modernization/democratization dichotomy, Gerrits notes the essential difference between the two initiatives:

"While the export of democracy is at most a side-effect in development, in democratic intervention it assumes centre stage."

As for Gerrits' question, "How would we react if the Saudi Arabian government started to provide Muslim political parties with trainers and money?" All I can say is "where the hell have you been pal!?" Seriously...

Finally, I must quote this paragraph by al-Azm:

"The Turkish experiment, with the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is very interesting. It could bring about a reconciliation between Islam, democracy and the secular state. It is no coincidence that this process takes place in the one Muslim country that has any serious experience with a secular order and a separation of Church and State. It elicits reactions from very different milieus in the Arab world. The nationalists, who have regarded Turkey for a long time as the former ‘occupier’ of Ottoman times, see now with some envy that the Turks do succeed in maintaining the integrity of their territory and do not give in to the separatist demands of the Kurds for instance. The leftists, who were critical about the Nato-membership of Turkey, have to admit that a country that is culturally very close to us does succeed in developing a secular and democratic model. Very interesting is the reaction from the islamists, who have always denounced Kemalism for its secular nature. In their most recent political programme, the Muslim Brothers do not utter a word about the restoration of the caliphate or the introduction of the sharia. Instead they emphasise the importance of free elections. Last but not least, the Arab rulers have a fascination for Turkey. The way Erdogan refused to cooperate in Bush’ invasion of Iraq made them green with envy. One of the reasons why the Americans took no for an answer was that they acknowledge the legitimacy of the parliament. And what Arab ruler can refer to a democratically chosen parliament when confronting Bush?"

Leaving the last section aside, the first part is what's most interesting. In many ways I take it to be supportive of my position! It's the same problem with which I nailed Rashid Khalidi, and that is 1- the absence of an Arab model, and 2- the invocation of a model that was severely influenced by Europe.

What this does however is give credence (perhaps inadvertantly?) to Kemalist forced secularization (Lewis and Ajami would be proud!). Here, the debate on Abdel Rauf's position, that the reader Rami commented on, would take on a whole new shape: reconciliation between Islam and the secular state becomes contingent on a forced experience of Western-influenced secularization! Yet, as al-Azm noted (which put a smile on my face!), the Arab nationalists (who hate the Turks. Just read Ghassan Tueni of An-Nahar) tried that and failed, because their project was never really secular, just authoritarian and Occidentalist, and a biform of the Islamic umma. This should make you appreciate more the ramifications of Joshua Landis' post on secularism and Baathism. (I am hoping to write on this in more detail in an upcoming post).

So Azm's example of Turkey is, as he realizes, the perfect example of the necessity and benefits of Western intervention, that would then lead to the (relative) success of a local system, with all its cultural specificity. The reverse position, that of the Arabs, is a perfect example of the opposite: total failure.

Arabism at its Most Ugly

I've mentioned earlier that I was perparing a lengthy post on Darfur and Arab silence/complicity. But as you can tell from the scattered posts lately, I've been held back with tons of work. However, I couldn't let this Op-Ed by Julie Flint pass without comment. Flint has been an unrelenting voice against the horrors committed by the Arabs in Sudan.

Flint nails the ethos of the Arabists like no one else. She truly captures it in all its ugliness, and it's worth quoting at length:

"If there was any doubt about that support or silence, it was dispelled at the issue of the report at the Press Syndicate building in Beirut this week. The opportunity to engage in a debate about the monstrous goings-on in Darfur was lost as Khartoum's ambassador in Lebanon was allowed to hijack the presentation of the report and turn it into a platform for Sudan's lies and propaganda.

Ethnic cleansing by government forces in Darfur? An invention of the people who brought you Abu Ghraib and who lied about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction! (Loud applause.) A conspiracy against the Arabs! (Louder applause.) Rape? What nonsense! Not more than two cases, the ambassador declared - apparently unaware that, under the relentless accumulation of facts, his own government had been compelled to set up committees to investigate accusations of rape in Darfur and help victims through criminal cases.

I recognized few of the faces from the media at the news conference. Where were the grandees of Lebanese journalism, the editorial writers who are respected not only in their own country, but also across the Arab world? Here was a report - researched mainly by Arabs - about a human rights catastrophe that has left 1.5 million Sudanese Muslims homeless and that may kill 300,000 people by year's end. A catastrophe, it has been said, that will probably go down as one of the greatest crimes of our lifetimes. Rwanda in slow motion.

Where were they all? And who was responsible for throwing neutrality in the dustbin by permitting the Sudanese ambassador to speak to his heart's content (and beyond) from a preferential seat on the podium, from where he questioned the integrity of Amnesty International, heaped scorn on human rights concerns and brazenly asserted that he would offer a visa to Sudan - but only to an "Arab" researcher "under my supervision." (Ecstatic applause.)

These paragraphs contain in them a distillation of the essence and spirit, as well as the daily workings of, Arabism. Flint knew it too:

"This was "Arabism" at is most ignorant, its most ugly, its most cruel; blind, uncaring and bigoted."

Or she could simply have said: "This was Arabism. Period."

Reading this piece was like a test-case review of all the pathologies of Arabism. It was like going down a list! The epic speeches, the self-absorbption, the vanity, the complete denial and distance from reality. In short, everything that I've labeled "pathological" on this blog.

Flint once again summarized it perfectly:

"No debate. Just grandstanding and tub-thumping."

This of course has to be coupled, as we've seen above, with the sickening, yet typical, transfer of agency to the US (so the US is hypocritical, but the Arabs using that excuse to cover up for a massive genocide is the peak of integrity!! This is third-worldist relativism/nihilism at its finest, and it should give people who take that anti-American junk as actually meaningful, something to think about.)

Arab racism is also on display:

"The Arab silence on Darfur is reminiscent of the silence that followed the gassing of thousands of Iraqi Kurds by the former regime of Saddam Hussein. Arab states have turned their eyes away while an Arab government working with Arab proxy forces has created what relief officials call the greatest humanitarian disaster in the world today. Their silence is all the more shocking because the victims of this disaster, although not of the same ethnic origin as their oppressors, are, like them, of the Muslim faith."

Gassing the Kurds didn't matter because, let's face it, they're Kurds! It was easy for Edward Said to deny it. This disdain is integral to the Arab narrative! The massacre of the Shi'a didn't really bother the Sunni Arab order. Similarly, the mass murder of Africans is completely inconsequential for the Arabs. Afterall, in the Arab hierarchy of relevance, where does a bunch of °abīd rank next to the sacred cause of the Palestinians, and now the recently added "Iraqi resistance"? (°abīd is the Arabic word for "blacks." Literally, it means "slaves." You could draw a parallel with the use of the English "Nigger." Although, to be precise, the process is somewhat more complex. Nigger came to be derogatory, whereas °abd, used in this context, doesn't actively carry the connotation of slavery, even when that semantic range is part of the word's history. However, the word °abīd can be, and is, easily used in a derogatory, and very racist, sense.)

There is one thing that Flint left out in that paragraph. She left out that other still unresolved horror show in Sudan where the victims where not Arabs nor Muslims, i.e. the southern Sudanese. Official Jihad had been waged against them for years, and the Arab media's silence was just as deafening then as it is now with Darfur.

There you have it, Arabism at its finest. And this deadly ideology is still bought as the banner of self-determination and liberalization of the "Arabs"?! To paraphrase Flint:

"It was (and remains) false. It was (and remains) dangerous. And, to those of us who have seen the human (and intellectual) tragedy that is (Arab nationalism), it was terribly, terribly depressing."

Saturday, July 17, 2004

The Missionary Position

Lee Smith wrote a terrific piece in Slate yesterday, that pretty much summarizes all the main points I've been trying to make on this blog recently.

Smith writes:

"Some of Qaradawi's fans, like historian Raymond William Baker, note that the sheikh favors democracy, even writing a fatwadeclaring that democracy is compatible with Islam. However, Shaker Al-Nabulsi, a Jordanian intellectual who lives in the United States, argues that Qaradawi's Islamist democracy is a ridiculous contradiction in terms. Democracy, Nabulsi writes, "is not a religious council, nor the obligation to promote virtue and eliminate vice. … Democracy is not religious tolerance, justice, or any other religious value. Democracy is a civil principle, not a religious value.""

For those who aren't familiar with how Qaradawi conceives of democracy (cf. my earlier comments on "lexicon"), here's a translation of his views from his website:

" for those who claim that democracy is against Islam, who ever said so? Some have said that democracy is an imported heresy, and every heresy leads astray, and every deviation leads to hellfire. I say to them, no, the essence of democracy is not imported; the essence of democracy is shūra (Islamic consultation), it's religious advice (sic!), it's the command to do good and abstinence from the (religiously) forbidden, it's freedom of expression and criticism; these are all Islamic issues and clear Islamic teachings, and what's new are the tools and styles and guarantees...
I've said it more than once, that before we ask for the implementation of Islamic sharia, we want the liberation of the people, we want to give freedom to our people, and if freedom is given Islam will flourish, and the Islamic da'wa (call for conversion) will flourish, and Islamic thought will flourish, as well as Islamic behavior, because Islam is the thought of the people, and the people are believers in God, the Quran and Muhammad and they've never apostated...
We want, brothers, for our umma to walk the walk of freedom and democracy, even when I hate to use foreign words, however if we understand the meaning of democracy in its bounds and limits, it is the democracy of Islamic society which believes in Islam as a reference, and in sharia as its ruler and believes in Islamic values as a guide, and believes in Islamic doctrine as a basis for its identity, this democracy for this society, this society cannot allow what God has forbidden or forbid what God has allowed, nor can it drop what God has dictated or legalize what God has not allowed.
" (Emphases added.)

This is the "democracy" that Qaradawi and Islamists have in mind. However, as Nabulsi wrote, "democracy is not religious tolerance, justice, or any other religious value. Democracy is a civil principle, not a religious value.…" Thus, as Smith put it, true democracy "leaves little room for... those Islamist democrats who believe that the source of political sovereignty is God."

Therefore, Jacques Chirac's stupid, hypocritical, and damaging statement aside, the US must indeed maintain an aggressive "missionary" (Chirac's term) attitude. The worst thing is to revert back to defensive sterility, especially in the face of such a sick destructive scene that has (as we've seen) "overflown" and "hit the fan", splashing people all around (Asia, Europe, Africa and North America). Doing that would bring us to the ludicrous, nihilistic, state where Ghaddafi's Lybia is lecturing the US on democracy!

I Get No Respect I Tell Ya!

Elaph ran this hilarious story on Lybia's intent to sue Colin Powell for "his insults against the Lybian people, and his defamation of all Lybians."

Apparently this is in reference to a speech that Powell made at the American Institute for Peace last Thursday. The report doesn't include any quotes form that speech, but the Lybian News Agency said that his talk shows how Powell is "ignorant of the democratic system which is established on the power of the people (sic!)."

The Agency added:

"Colin Powell should have looked at and followed more closely the true democracy in Lybia (sic!)... and he should have paid attention to the issue of democracy in the US where two parties control the fate of the entire American people, and monopolize the rule over it exclusively (sic!)."

This is the real value of Colin Powell in the ME!! He commands neither respect nor fear, and that's why everyone wants him to be in charge! Michael Young once wrote on Powell's sad and sterile legacy, especially in the ME. The guy is not taken seriously by true reformers, and while supposedly admired by the preservers of the status quo, they actually give him zero respect and snub him regularly.

That's what the Arab world means when they say they want a "modest" America back! I.e., one they can sue and bullshit with nihilistic nonsense, like Lybia lecturing the US about true democracy! This is the "dialogue of civilizations" you see, where everyone is equal and no one "imposes" anything on anyone. Can't wait till Kerry takes office!

The best would be if Chirac backs them up by sending "missionaries of democracy" to the US! Why not? Powell is being slapped around left and right anyway!

It's a mad mad mad world...

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Losing my Religion

Here's a piece by yet another Teacher of Wisdom, Shibley Telhami. The piece serves as a good example of the persistent recycling of Arab nationalist constants. All the major points of that bankrupt narrative are present in the piece.

Telhami starts with what he thinks is a revealing insight:

"One of the most stunning moments after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime was the rush of tens of thousands of celebrating Iraqi Shiites into the streets in response to the call of their most revered leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. It was a stark demonstration of Shiite power, one that may have unnerved those Americans who believe in the possibility of a secular, democratic Iraq."

This is an example of those Sunni Arab nationalist scarecrows. Shiites are presented as hordes of religious fanatics, and the alternative is of course the preservation of the carcass of "secular Arab nationalism." This motif has been used since the Khomeinist revolution to maintain an autocratic Sunni Arab nationalist order in the ME (and I don't mean to dismiss the Shiite issue). It lies behind the US role in the Iraq-Iran war, and behind the decision not to remove Saddam from power at the end of the first Gulf War. In fact, the same line was repeated before this war, as an excuse not to undergo it. But for some reason, Telhami presents it as a bombshell of sorts!

"The moment was also a harbinger of a larger trend across the Middle East, one that poses difficult, long-term challenges for U.S. foreign policy: More and more Arabs identify themselves as Muslims first."

Leaving alone the unaddressed question of why this presents a challenge for the US, and the issue of the options that the US has, my reaction to this supposed news flash is: when did the Muslim Arabs not identify themselves as Muslims first!? Actually, and far more importantly, who says that their identification as Arabs did not carry with it a strong marriage between Arabism and (Sunni) Islam? In other words, who says that for a Muslim, "Arab" precludes or is separate from "Muslim"?

The myth that Telhami embraces is that Arab nationalism is somehow "secular." The two post-Nasserist examples he provides -- Baathist Syria and the PLO -- are in fact proof of the opposite! Again, I refer you to Joshua Landis' paper on religion, politics and society in Syria. As for the PLO, like all the other presumably "secular" Arab nationalist regimes, it walked a very thin rope with religion (because, of course, it has to!) always using religious terminology, imagery and motifs. For instance, the use of the Aqsa Mosque as a symbol is one. The other example, which is ironically used to prove the PLO's secularism, is Arafat's inclusion of the Christians every time he talks about Palestine. But the fact that Arafat has to make that addendum or reminder goes to show that it's not automatic! But more broadly, it was always this way, or at least (for those who still have nostalgia for this stupid ideology) it was certainly doomed to end up with a complete blurring of the lines with regard to religion. For one, all the terminology used in Arab nationalist rhetoric had parallels and predecessors in the Islamic lexicon. A quick browsing of Muslim Arab nationalist writers reveals the close association they had in their mind between Arabism and Islam. Even the Christian Arab nationalists ended up with this inevitable conclusion. After all, the founder of the Baath, Michel Aflaq, ended up converting to Islam. That serves as a perfect analogy to what I'm saying here.

Here's another example of the blurring of the lines between religion and secularism that emanates from Arab nationalist rhetoric. In a recent speech at the "al-Quds conference" held in Beirut on 6/23, the secretary general of the Council of Middle Eastern Churches Gerges Salehrecited the Arabist creed:

"Jerusalem is not the city of one people alone, for it was founded before the (time of the) Jews and it has persisted with an Islamic-Christian character.
Therefore, Jerusalem (al-Quds) and its people call on us, Muslims and Christians, to put our hands together to be a source of support and back-up for its inhabitants. The goal is for all of us to work to preserve the Arab Islamic and Christian heritage of the city of Jerusalem (al-Quds) because this is a universal heritage and it is our duty to preserve it. And I find this conference an important step towards that goal and I pray to God, blessed be his name, to help us succeed in this regard out of loyalty to Jerusalem (al-Quds) and its people, and to the cultural-religious heritage that binds us together.

Jerusalem (al-Quds) brings us all together as believers in the one God whom we worship. Jerusalem (al-Quds) is the place of our common witness as Arabs, and the title of our effort (Jihad) for a world of justice, freedom, and right.

I'll come back to this speech in my upcoming post on Darfur. It makes clear all the points I talked about, namely the complete unity between the Arab nationalist discourse and the religious discourse used for the Palestine problem (the fact that the speaker is Christian shows you how pathetic those Christians, who are still trying to resurrect the fantasies promised by Arab nationalism, really are. More importantly, and tragically, it shows that for over a hundred years, Christians and true secularists have not found an ideology or discourse that can compete with the Islamic one).

But this has always been the case, so why does Telhami act as if it's a revelation?! In fact, his own statements are proof of the opposite of his claims. Here's a good example (one that naturally follows a shifting of the blame on the American interference in Iraq):

"Once the Baath institutions collapsed, the primary organizations capable of mobilizing large crowds were religious."

Telhami never stops to ask why the masses so readily follow the clerics if, as he claims, they didn't identify themselves first and foremost as Muslims in religious terms.

An additional Arab nationalist constant that finds its way to Telhami's piece is the Palestine issue:

"[I]ts [the embrace of Islam as a primary identifier] accelerated growth today is in part the result of the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2000, the subsequent rise of the latest Palestinian intifada and the Israeli response to it. Not only did the breakdown of talks weaken the PLO and empower its Islamist opponents, especially Hamas, but the conflict with Israel also began to be seen increasingly in religious, rather than nationalist, terms."

Apparently, denial isn't just a river in Egypt. But the transference of agency, and the prevalence of the passive continue to dominate Telhami's piece:

"The Iraq war and the way the war on terrorism have been perceived in much of the Islamic world have further intensified identification with being a Muslim. Increasingly, Muslims view the war on terrorism as a war on Islam. Conversely, many Americans now regard Islam as the source of the terrorist problem."

You see, it's only because of the American war on terror that Muslims are identifying themselves more and more in Islamic terms! It doesn't even dawn on Telhami that the US was attacked by people hoisting an Islamic identity, and using an Islamic rationale, framed in a reading of Islamic history and religious texts, and that the Islamic world has yet to produce a counter-narrative to theirs that is as popular and dominant.

Telhami falls back instead on a cliché that is a hallmark of bankrupt Arab nationalist "intellectuals", and that is the role of the despots:

"These trends have provided Islamic groups with increasing grass-roots potential limited only by the operating space allowed them by insecure authoritarian governments."

Well here's a news flash for Telhami: Islamism (in its various forms) has become the mainstream with the help of the regimes, and not just despite of them, as these regimes need the legitimacy of Islam! Some secularist order this is! For examples, read Lee Smith's latest piece in Slate (see below) and Geneive Abdo's book No God but God, both on Egypt. Joshua Landis' paper on Syrian religious education is also helpful.

Here finally Telhami tells why it would be so bad for the US if religion takes over (as if the US can do anything about how Muslims feel and think! It's even funnier since Telhami and his likes are telling the US not to do that!) :

" The hope for a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, one rooted in the idea of two states living side by side in peace, is a nationalist one. If the conflict becomes religious, it's difficult to envision a peaceful solution."

It all comes back to Palestine... How original. Once again, Telhami doesn't address the issue from the point of view of the Muslims and whether they ever saw Israel really divorced from religion. But to put this responsibility on the shoulders of the US is not only infantile, it's paradoxical, and once again exemplifies my point on the bizarre relationship these intellectuals have with the US. While these people express their distaste for the American "empire", they nevertheless are effectively calling on it to, as Bernard Lewis once put it, "fulfill its imperial duties."

This is therefore a perfect piece to demonstrate the complete helplessness and bankruptcy of the secularist intellectual scene in the ME, and how it's stuck with its delusional fantasy of Arab nationalism's alleged Paradise Lost. It still hasn't hit them that this "paradise" promised by Arab nationalism never was nor will it ever come via that ideology. If anything, it was a mirage, or, worse still, one of the gates of the Inferno!

Friday, July 09, 2004

Beware the Trust-Fundamentalists

Lee Smith wrote a very interesting piece in Slate today, which really touches on important topics I've tried to grapple with on this blog, namely the issue of regime change and the democratization and liberalization of the ME.

On one hand, the piece helped with some points I was stuck with, but on the other, it remained silent about the crux of the problem. For instance, Smith makes a very interesting and daring point on the need for liberalization to come first before democratization. If you recall my discussion with Joshua Landis, people think democracy first, but then faced with an illiberal culture they shy away, or propose slow and inviting engagement. That, in essence, is Landis' position on Syria. Of course, in Syria's case, Landis concluded that with religious education for example, Bashar Assad is the worst possible candidate for reform because he's a minority Alawite, and thus, cannot touch the Sunni religious education without losing all legitimacy.

So Smith turns this around and starts by pushing liberalism first, tied to conditions and incentives for aid packages:

"Certainly, the United States should demand a full range of reforms tied to any aid packages for Egypt, but those reforms should be focused on liberalization rather than democratization."

I.e., exactly what Landis calls for, only aimed directly at the heart of the problem: education and liberalization of the culture, not just the economy or the political system.

But here's the crux, isn't that the problem!? Doesn't this bring us back to square one? I.e, how to bring Islam to the 21st c., not as a pseudo-reincarnated fossil of the 7th c., but as a dynamic modernizing, and intellectually liberalized and pluralistic culture, i.e. similar to what happened with Christianity in the West.

Smith is aware of this, as evident from his indictment of Arab intellectuals, the raison d'être of this blog:

"Egypt's political and intellectual leadership should have prepared the nation for peace and democracy long ago, but instead it indulged in the violent political rhetoric and ideological habits that have galvanized the region's furies over the last 50 years."

That is why, in the end, the "intellectuals" are indeed as guilty, if not more guilty than the clerics or the dictators. That's why it's a cultural problem involving all facets of society.

So Smith's gloomy picture is understandable:

"[T]he country's immediate future is not more democracy, but yet another dictatorship ultimately controlled by the military, and it is unlikely U.S. officials will argue that it should be otherwise."

Smith doesn't elaborate on what measures exactly are to be taken to push for liberalization and re-education without arousing the toughest of defensive, and Occidentalist, attitudes. Already the Arabs, backed by Europe and the watered-down G8-contaminated US ME democracy initiative, have already anticipated this and are calling for "democracy from within" with no interference from the West. This means that we're going nowhere. After all, snail man Jacques Chirac pontificated that the Arabs "don't need missionaries of democracy." Instead, he said:

"The conflicts ravaging the region are today the paramount obstacles to its development ... We must take measure of the resentments and frustrations from one end of the Arab world to the other, fueled by the daily spectacle of violence and humiliation in places so laden with history and symbols."

What was Michael Young's term again? Ah yes, "Pipe Dream."

Quel Dommage.

Sacralize This!

It just dawned on me today that a parallel exists to Juan Cole's "sacralization of learning" apologia (see below, "Cole Nidre" and "Sacrilicious"). It didn't hit me at the time, but that idea sounds awfully similar to the thought of Islamist Ismail Faruqi, mentor to none other than that other apologist John Esposito.

Esposito summarizes Faruqi's worldview in his Makers of Contemporary Islam (Oxford, 2001) which he co-authored with his protégé John Voll. Esposito writes:

"Like ibn Abd al-Wahhab, he was bitterly critical of the corrosive effects of Sufism and outside cultural influences on Islam and convinced of the need to see all of Muslim life as rooted in the doctrine of tawhid, God's unity or oneness.

Islam was to be the primary referent in all aspects of life. At the same time, Faruqi was an heir to the Islamic modernist legacy with its emphasis on Islam as the religion of reason. Reason and revelation were means to knowledge of the divine will: 'knowledge of the divine will is possible by reason, certain by revelation.' We can see in Faruqi's writings the twofold influence of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Muhammad Abduh, both of whose works included a study of tawhid. ...
Like Abduh and Abd al-Wahhab, he grounded his interpretation of Islam in the doctrine of tawhid, combining the classical affirmation of the centrality of God's oneness with a modernist interpretation (ijtihad) and application of Islam to modern life. Tawhid is presented as the essence of religious experience, the quintessence of Islam, the principle of history, of knowledge, of ethics, of aesthetics, of the ummah, of the family, of the political, social, economic, and world orders. Tawhid is the basis and heart of Islam's comprehensive worldview: 'All the diversity, wealth and history, culture and learning, wisdom and civilization of Islam is compressed in this shortest of sentences -- La ilaha illa Allah [There is no God but God].'
Islam is presented as the religion of nature, true humanism, ethics and society. Tawhid provides a unity to nature, personhood, and truth that subordinates them to God and, in turn, resolves any concern about a conflict between religion and science, affirms the ethical dimension of Islam, and legitimates the need to rediscover the Islamic dimension of all knowledge through a process of Islamization. Al-Faruqi clearly affirmed the integral or essential relationship of Islam to all of reality: 'The Islamic mind knows no pair of contraries such as 'religious-secular,' 'sacred-profane,' ' church-state,' and in Arabic, the religious language of Islam, has no words for them in its vocabulary.'
" (pp. 29-30. Emphases added.)

The affinities between "sacralization of learning" and "Islamization of knowledge" are clear. The shahada is of course the same. Oh, and just in case it's not known, Abd al-Wahhab is the founder of the notrious movement, Wahhabism.

I had traced some of this thought back to Asharism and al-Ghazzali, especially with regard to reason and revelation, mentioned in the quote above. What neither Esposito nor Cole mention is that the other face of this coin, and integral to Abd al-Wahhab's vision of tawhid (lit. "unification"), is converting the world to this vision. Here's a quote from Adonis' magnum opus Ath-Thābit wal-MutaHawwil ("The Constant and the Variable," vol. 3) on Abd al-Wahhab's doctrine of tawhid:

"For man to believe in tawhid is, therefore, for him to complete himself. This perfection of the self must be in tandem with the perfection of others, i.e. through the call for conversion (da'wa) to the shahada of tawhid: 'la ilaha illa Allah'.
Proclaiming tawhid by itself, or knowning its significance, acknowledging it, and calling others to convert to it, are not sufficient things, since they have to be in tandem with 'cursing what is worshipped beside God' in word and in deed, and to be innoncent of it. This innocence is two-faced: the first is loving the 'unifiers' (muwaHHidīn) and supporting them. The second is hating the polytheists (mušrikīn) and bearing animosity towards them. Thus is the identity between learning ('ilm) and belief, between word and deed.
" pp. 78-79. (Emphasis added.)

Martin Kramer mentions Esposito and Faruqi, along with his "Islamization of knoweldge" theory, in Islam Obscured, a chapter of his book Ivory Towers on Sand. Kramer brings up another crucial point to our discussion:

"Esposito, without choosing Islam, nonetheless became a convert to Faruqi's mission—which, according to the former, consisted of 'present[ing] Islam in Western categories to engage his audience as well as to make Islam more comprehensible and respected.'

Esposito embraced Faruqi’s method. Americans would never understand a presentation of Islam in its own categories—that would take more knowledge and empathy than most students, journalists, and officials could be expected to muster. But they might see Islam and Islamist movements more favorably, were they presented in Western categories. Fundamentalism was one such category, but it had strong pejorative associations, more likely to excite suspicion than respect. Why not place Islamist movements in the political category of participation, or even democratization?

This notion of "lexicon" is of utmost importance. It's at the heart of my use of terms like "dragoman" and it's the basis of my critique of Cole's interpretation of the shahada and Islam's view of prophecy and Muhammad's message. If you remember, Cole placed Muhammad in a universe of prophets, and described Allah in "de-narrativized", one could say multiculturalist, even Jeffersonian, terms. That's precisely what Kramer notes with regard to Esposito and Faruqi. It's evident even to a half-wit that "sacralizationg of learning" is far more agreeable than the blunt "Islamization of knowledge." However, the two are quite similar I would say.

Of course Faruqi and Esposito are not the only figures. More recently you have Yusuf al-Qaradawi (scroll till you find the relevant entries), Azzam Tamimi (PDF), and Tariq Ramadan.

For more, see the following debates between one "Abu Aardvark" on one hand, and Martin Kramer and Lee Smith on the other, on Qaradawi and Ramadan respectively.

There is one thing that all the twists and turns cannot change, and that is squaring tawhid("unification") with Jeffersonian democracy and its "wall" between Church and state is not possible (I am hoping to write on this topic in the near future, basing my post mainly on Arkoun and Hervieu-Leger). To use the title of Sabiha Khemir's novel, Muslims can either continue "waiting in the future for the past to come" in its illusionary authenticity and immutability, and thereby continue to uncritically "Islamize" everything they face in modernity, or they can start "critiquing the discourse of the sacred" (a variation of another book title by Sadiq Al-Azm) and truly join a multiculturalist world, in pursuit of life (not "martyrdom"), liberty (and thereby diversity, not homogeneity/tawhid) and happiness.

Kerry On

The Daily Star has this commentary by Thomas Melia and Jennifer Windsor on the US promotion of democracy in the ME.

They criticized John Kerry's regressive position on the issue:

"we were disappointed when Senator John Kerry recently said that democracy and human rights would not top the list of "priority concerns" his administration would highlight in dealing with critical countries such as China, Russia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Kerry said, instead, that traditional national security concerns - containment of nuclear weapons, the fight against terrorism, and so on - had to be addressed more urgently.
For Kerry to shy away from the cause of freedom in order to distinguish himself from the Bush team's overstatements about how easily democracy could come to Iraq would be a terrible retrogression. To suggest that democracy promotion is inconsistent with bolstering American security is just plain wrong. This is not a choice that Americans are being called on to make.

This squares nicely with my point on the Arab schizophrenic relationship with Bush and the "neocons" (that all-inclusive term!). I've touched on it with the Rami Khouri piece and the Rashid Khalidi talk at UCLA (and earlier with Shibley Telhami's piece). They want the people who maintain the status quo back in power and they think that they will somehow support their "cause"! It's mind boggling. They accuse Bush of being insincere about the ME democracy project, but here's Kerry explicitly stating that his concern boils down to containment, i.e. the old policy of stagnation, or in other words, exactly what the autocrats want!

Now that should make those Arab "intellectuals" happy! Hey at least it's multilateral and it involves -- oh joy! -- the EU and the UN!! Can you feel the excitement!?

The piece tried ending on a hopeful note:

"Kerry's recent remarks may not reflect the entirety of his thinking on this complex issue. We hope it is his intention, if elected, to enhance rather than diminish the promotion of democracy and human rights abroad. Too many democrats around the world, in prison or on the run, are counting on America to continue to do the right thing."

Yes, but Arab "democrats" have to come to terms with what exactly they're asking for first, and stop being all over the place. They should also quit repeating bankrupt clichés and adopting useless dogmatic positions that amount to cutting their nose to spite their face.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Interview with a Dissident

Reason published an interview conducted by Michael Young with Lebanese academic Samir Kassir.

The interview deals with several interesting themes, among which is the issue of Syrian reform. On that topic Kassir said:

"If you mean by Syrian reform a reform conducted by the regime, I've always been skeptical of this. In all that I've written since Bashar Assad inherited power from his father, I never succumbed to the illusion that he would willingly reform his regime. At the same time, I saw in the process of succession an opportunity for Bashar to gain real legitimacy by undoing what his father had done. That's why I've been asking for the release of political prisoners, the ending of the state of emergency, and political liberalization, including allowing freedom of expression, as prerequisites for this new legitimacy. I have refused to see the small steps Bashar has taken in this regard as gifts we should thank him for.

That doesn't mean things haven't changed in Syria. But they have changed thanks to the courage of intellectuals and political militants who decided to voice their demands publicly, through the press—the Lebanese press I should add—or through the so-called Manifesto of the 99 and other manifestos. If the "Damascus Spring" [the short-lived period of relative openness that followed Bashar's arrival to power in June 2000] means anything, it is embodied in the courage and the quest for freedom expressed by the Syrian opposition. The Syrian regime understood this and cracked down on dissidents. But that hasn't worked. Though the opposition in Syria is not in good shape, it has widened its margin of expression, though not enough to propose an alternative to the Ba'ath regime.

Michael Young had labeled the placing of the task of reforms in the hands of the ME authoritarian regimes, with no outside compulsion, a "pipe dream."

Another very interesting theory by Kassir on the Syrian "presence" in Lebanon follows:

" When I meet my friends from the Syrian opposition, I feel the issue of Lebanese independence has imposed itself and that nobody questions the need to put an end to this hegemony. However, this doesn't mean they are willing to give top priority to the issue. As one Syrian dissident once told me: "We want to address the core issue, the Ba'ath regime's hegemony over Syria; once we've done that, its hegemony over Lebanon will fall apart." But I maintain the reverse is also true." (Emphasis added.)

Kassir also defines the nature of the Syrian "presence" in Lebanon:

" Let's try to characterize this Syrian-Lebanese relationship. It is not an occupation, nor is it a free association between two sovereign countries. Rather, Lebanon is a Syrian protectorate, similar to what we used to see in Eastern Europe under Soviet rule. I should add it is also a mafia-type protectorate, since Lebanon is not only a place of strategic importance for the Syrian regime, it is also a place where Syria's ruling elite, in association with Lebanese counterparts, exploits all kinds of, often illicit, economic and business opportunities."

Kassir made an insightful remark on the cultural and ideological traffic between Lebanon and Syria during Syria's occupation of Lebanon. While the traditional Lebanese freedoms provided Syrian dissidents with media to express their views, Syrian Baathism, via the Syrian-appointed Lebanese President Lahoud and other cronies, has seeped through to Lebanon:

"The security-oriented system preceded Lahoud. But it was under his mandate that Lebanon became a security-obsessed state. It is under his mandate that Lebanon has made great strides toward becoming a Ba'athist kind of regime, where security officials see citizens as enemies, or at best children who must be controlled. It is under this president's mandate that freedom of expression has been the most restrictive, although we have managed to counter this."

Kassir also betrays some of that bizarre confused relationship I've talked about between some ME intellectuals and the oft maligned "neocons." Kassir chastized the US for its backing of dictators (realpolitik) while proclaiming its desire for ME reforms and democratization:

"[T]he liberal West must also be liberal in the Middle East: It must abandon its support for dictatorships, even those considered as moderates and allies. Look what happened with Libya: Once Muammar al-Qaddafi renounced his nuclear ambitions, Bush and Blair acclaimed him. What a message when you are calling for democracy in the Middle East."

The problem is that this is exactly what the neocons and "idealists" in the Bush administration have criticized as well! Yet, the Arab intellectuals are calling for the return to power of the people who preach such realpolitik that Kassir is criticizing!

Regardless, it's an interesting interview that's worth looking at.

There goes the Neighborhood

Michael Young analyzed the apparently paradoxical maneuverings of Iraq's neighbors (see also "Burning Cole" below):

"... Iraq has been caught up in a cycle where, thanks to the activities of surrounding states, the ambient fear of instability may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy of outright warfare. In supposedly defending their interests, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey may precipitate the very conflict they wish to avert."

Young warns that these neighbors, especially the weaker ones, are playing with fire:

"In that context, is it really so desirable for the US to pick up and leave Iraq, or even indicate a desire to do so? Assad and Khatami would like that to happen, but only the Iranians have the backbone to resist Iraq's descent into chaos. A mere sorcerer's apprentice, Syria would be swallowed up by a war next door, with little assurance that even the Jordanians would make it through without heavy bruises."

Young's overall assessment of the neighbors' actions as "paradoxical" and of the regional consensus as "volatile" answers some of the points raised by Joshua Landis in a recent post where he wrote:

"I doubt the Syrian government wants chaos in Iraq, as Wolfowitz has recently suggested. Having Islamic militants ruling Iraq would be worse than the Allawi government from a Syrian perspective. All the same, the strong US presence in the neighborhood rankles, especially at a time when the US refuses to acknowledge legitimate Syrian interests in the region."

Finally, Young has the same reservations that I have when it comes to the involvement of neighboring countries:

"The idea of a regional solution to the insecurity in Iraq is as bogus as that of a UN solution. Whether one supports American intervention in Iraq or not, the equation is a simple one: Without US soldiers on Iraqi soil for the foreseeable future, the probability of a breakdown there will remain high. Those who ridicule Iraqi sovereignty on that basis, namely that foreign forces remain in the country, should set aside dogma and embrace common sense.

Just ask the Iraqis themselves, who last week turned aside a Jordanian offer to send troops to their country. The reason? Iraq just doesn't trust its neighbors, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said, albeit more gently. He's right.

But don't let Juan Cole hear you say that!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Dr. Rami and Mr. Khouri

The Oriental Sage Rami Khouri has thrown at us more of his precious food for thought. In an op-ed in the Daily Star, Khouri regurgitated your typical Arab pathologies. His silly piece serves as yet another text book case why the Arabs are where they are, and why they don't even realize it. Consider this statement:

"I am delighted that Saddam Hussein and some of his key associates are facing the full force of judicial accountability. I wish them a fair trial, and an appropriate verdict and fate as determined by the rule of law. I also wish all this were so simple - because it is not."

Let's leave aside Khouri's hypocrisy about his "delight" at seeing Saddam tried (remember this statement of his, nailed by Makiya: "Saddam Hussein's fearlessness in standing up to our enemies...appeals to the new spirit of the Arab world--a spirit that says we'd rather die on our feet than live groveling on the ground." -- Cruelty and Silence, p. 244). The pathological inability to deal with individual local problems away from conspiracy theories is mind boggling, and shows why the Arabs are left with nothing. It's because they always play a zero sum game. (The only place that didn't play that game was pre-war Lebanon. It was when everyone reverted to "all or nothing at all" mentality -- a direct result of the pressure of Arab nationalism -- that Lebanon disintegrated. It's also because of that mentality that the Palestinian issue is still unresolved when it could have been had the Palestinians agreed to earlier proposals of partition.) Why is Saddam's murderours brutality not "so simple"? Why is his facing trial such a tainted event? Why can't Arabs seize on a good thing and build on it and apply true self-criticism (as opposed to cutting their nose to spite their face)? Khouri is quick to reveal the warped logic behind such idiotic reasoning:

"[T]he criminality that happened in Iraq under the Baathists did not occur in a vacuum, isolated from the behavior of other Arab regimes or totally alien to the self-interest of American foreign policy. Trying Saddam Hussein while simultaneously acquiescing in the wider abuse of power throughout the Middle East, and the double standards of American and Israeli policies, is only partial progress - but progress nevertheless that must be built upon."

Nothing exemplifies the reigning psychosis of the Arab world better than that statement. 1- Preference for the "passive mood" and transference of agency and blame shifting. 2- Weaving in the ubiquitous and ever-present Palestinian narrative of victimology (despite the fact that what's happening at the hands of the Arabs in Sudan seriously challenges the exclusivity of the Palestinian suffering in the Arab narrative).

With regard to the first point, it's really outrageous on Khouri's part to portray the Americans, and American Realpolitik, as directly responsible for Saddam's legacy of genocide. But this brings us to the schizophrenic dilemma I've pointed out earlier in my post on Khalidi. The US can't get it right in the eyes of Khouri or Khalidi. Here Khouri blames the horrible legacy of ME regimes on the Realpolitik of US foreign policy, while Khalidi is supposedly urging the US to act only according to Realpolitik (as if Khalidi really gives a damn about US interests!). So it's damned if you do damned if you don't. The schizophrenia (that I once touched on in a comment on Shibley Telhami) becomes more pronounced here:

"The United States may or may not grapple with these issues in due course, but for the rest of us in the Middle East our deeper dilemma remains undented by events in Iraq: How can autocratic and irresponsible regimes throughout the Middle East be held accountable? Who can do this if the citizens themselves are unable to do so?

What is the appropriate role for the international community in fighting tyranny and promoting good governance? How can all nations in this region live according to a single standard of international law and legitimacy?

That's a very good question, one that I've been dealing with in my "Dream On" series (part III still to be posted, and it involves Khouri). But unfortunately, it reveals the love you/hate you relationship with the US. Khouri knows well that the Iraqis needed outside help to topple Saddam, but he can't get himself to say it. Instead he resorts to condescending and contemptuous columns on the "ignorance" of the US as opposed to the "sophistication" of the EU and the Arabs (a topic that I will comment on soon). Thankfully, Rami Khouri's useless ranting got called by one "Jacob Blues":

"Khouri adds further excuses for American ignorance and Arab ethnic superiority by stating we're biased and have provided our support to the "wrong type" of people whether it is Israel or Arab leaders. This is topped off with the old canard that the Arab people still nurse the wounds of old injustices, whether it is European colonialism, or the Middle Ages crusades. The America which misunderstands the Arab and Muslim mind is also the same nation which came to the aid of those in Bosnia, Kuwait and Lebanon.
Americans understand the Arab world. We understand the rhetoric that comes from its leadership; we understand the voices of the "street;" and we understand the actions of its influential figures, both nation-state, and independent actors. What we have seen is a region awash in problems, but unable to muster the will to acknowledge them, let alone provide local pro-active peaceful solutions to them whether it is ethnic, political, or religious conflict.

Moreover, perhaps nothing is more hilarious and indicative of Khouri's confusion than his sudden adoption of a "one size fits all" single standard, when his entire premise lately has been that the US can't force things from the outside on a culture that it doesn't understand, and that each country must bear out its own path! Then again, who can figure out Khouri? One day he's a cultural relativist, the next he's found the light with absolutism!

The Michael Moorish charge of American responsibility is based on the infamous Rumsfeld-Saddam meeting and the American role in the Iraq-Iran war. But, as Elie Kedourie wrote, that amounts to miscalculation on the part of US policy makers (hat tip, Martin Kramer). They were faced with two bad options and decided that Saddam was to be backed to face the potential spread of Khomeinism (a fear by the way that has been hypocritically revisited this time around by the opponents of the war and Arab nationalists. Of course, the first time around in Gulf War 1, it was due to that Sunni Arab nationalist myth that Khomeinism was projected as more spreadable than it actually was.) The true failure according to Kedourie, and many others, was the decision not to take out Saddam back then (once again, at the urging of the Sunni Arab world who warned, like they did this time around, that all hell would break loose). However, the problem here is that Khouri was opposed to that war as well! This leaves him with a pretty confused, if not schizophrenic, argument. You can't have it both ways. But Arab "intellectuals" and columnists have made a living doing just that.

Furthermore, Arab nationalism, or any Arab intellectual or ideological failure, never factors in in Khouri's distorted narrative. For instance, his own disgusting attitude quoted above in the aftermath of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, which was echoed by many an Arab intellectual and columnist, is never once mentioned. Recall, e.g., Fawwaz Trabulsi's and Edward Said's laughable portrayal of Saddam as the victimized wretch who is put in a spot where he was made to "follow the script that was written out for him" (sic. See Makiya's book.) It all comes back to outside responsibility. All we have is a charge leveled at "the regimes" and by extension, at their supposed sponsors, the Americans. How different is this view from Bin Ladin's? But more importantly, and Khouri never ventures to answer this, what does this say about the prevailing ethos in Arab societies and Arab culture today?

Bringing up the Palestinian issue is mere (predictable) icing on the cake. Now Iraq has been added to this narrative of victimology. Viewing everything through that lens is doing nothing beyond keeping the Arabs mobilized outwards and away from their self-inflicted, and regime-inflicted miseries. This attitude has taken a life of its own. Take these two outlandish examples. The first is by Al-Jazeera's Ramzy Baroud (and I'll come back to him in a later post):

"There is no way on earth, despite the lack of cohesiveness of Arab leaders, that you can convince the average Egyptian, for example, that the invasion of Iraq was not a violation of his own space and values. While the understandable despising of Saddam Hussein by many Iraqis explains the cheers of joyous crowds upon his toppling, the Arab street elsewhere was disheartened by the news. It was not simply the admiration of Saddam that harbored such bitterness, but the indescribable loathing of occupation."

Does this really need comment!? I mean beyond the obvious hypocrisy of using the Egyptian example where emergency laws have been in place for decades and then talking about "violation." Or perhaps, the convenient silence about that southern neighbor of Egypt's where violations of a whole different nature are taking place, with no expressions of "loathing" or of "solidarity" filling the airwaves. But, in order to highlight Baroud's inconsistency, Khouri's point on the Palestinians should be judged in light of a previous piece by Baroud critiquing precisely the use of the Palestinians as an excuse! Back then he wrote the following:

"[T]he persistence of some Arab countries on placing the solving of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a prerequisite to democratic reform seems rather self-defeating.
But how long can Arab governments wave this sword? Do Arab women have to be denied proper education, Arab public political representation and Arab nations an integrated economic system, until Israel's Ariel Sharon decides to end his colonial reign in the West Bank and Gaza?

As cruel and costly as the Arab-Israeli conflict has been, I still fail to see the connection.
" (Emphasis added)

For more, see this earlier post of mine.

The second example is this jaw-dropping statement by Shibley Telhami:

"Don't underestimate the extent to which, for many people in the Arab world, it's humiliating ... It's akin to having a black sheep in the family whom you don't like, whom you resent, whom you're frustrated with -- but when he's (punished by) an outsider, it becomes a collective humiliation."

How is the trial of Saddam a humiliation of Arabs? More accurately, and infinitely more importantly, how is the trial of Saddam a humiliation of Iraqis? How can anyone in their right mind say that? How can the pathological narrative attain such power as to force an identification of murderer tyrant and brutalized people? (A massive-scale Stockholm syndrome of sorts!) All this for what purpose? To maintain the bankrupt attitude of rejectionism towards the West? Makiya also put his finger on this problem, which he labeled "that other ever so destructive dictum of Arab cultural nationalism":

"[N]ever wash your dirty laundry in public, and especially not where a westerner can see you." (Cruelty and Silence, p. 321)

Telhami echoed that sick sentiment when he talked of Saddam as a "black sheep of the family" who's now on public trial. It's that same mind frame that allows Arabs to be totally blind to the atrocities committed by one of their own in Sudan today, and be obsessively focused on the US instead. (I'm preparing a post on Darfur to be posted soon.)

These general attitudes have been covered by Kanan Makiya in his truly remarkable aforementioned book. Unfortunately it has fallen on deaf ears. If Arabs maintain their victimological attitude of conspiracy theory Occidentalism and passive-aggressive rejectionism, they'll remain trampled under foot and preserve their unenviable place at the bottom of the world scale.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Burning Cole

It's truly dizzying to track the flip-flopping of Juan Cole, and trying to make sense of it is an even more challenging task. In a new post, Cole commented on PM Allawi's interview with George Stephanopoulos. Among Cole's brilliant comments was the following on the young confused cleric Muqtada Sadr.

"He pressed Allawi on the issue of Muqtada al-Sadr, and received the response that al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army might well be amnestied if they cooperate with the caretaker government and seek to join the system. Since trying to exclude the Sadrists from Iraqi politics would be a recipe for disaster down the road, Allawi's response seemed measured and promising. (Of course, Muqtada may decline the offer, but then the responsibility will lie with him)."

So now Muqtada would be to blame if he refuses to join the Iraqi political scene (which he did. He's calling for blood again. He declared an end to the truce and snubbed Allawi's proposal of an amnesty.) But what does this really mean? Cole never says what should be done if that occurs. Is he implying that violence is warranted now? If so, was the US right then in militarily defeating Sadr? Who knows.

At the time, Cole said that the US was, naturally, dumber than a headless chicken for using force. Now, in a terrible new post on alleged Israeli involvement at Abu Ghraib (note that the Kuwaiti involvement still hasn't received attention from Cole) Cole had this to say:

"You have to move violently against the violent, but then you have to deny them public support by winning hearts and minds and turning off potential recruits and enablers."

Yet, when the US was doing just that in Iraq, Cole was blasting them for using force and saying that they are creating more supporters for the insurgents. I guess that doesn't apply anymore! Now Cole is all about violence! I'll come back to comment on the Israelis/Abu Ghraib post, and its deep pathologies, at a later time.

But what's more stunning is Cole's chronic habit of misquoting and misreading his sources (this practice reveals to a certain extent what he wants to see and read) and I've caught him doing that several times, where he totally misrepresented and misquoted his sources.

He's back at it here. Now I don't know if he's basing his information on another source beside the one he linked to (or a different version thereof), but if he did he should have said so, because the conclusions he draws are not supported by the piece in the link. For instance, Egypt is not mentioned once in the entire piece, yet Cole didn't hesitate to state that Allawi "seemed especially warm toward Syria and Egypt, and in other words was talking like an old-style Arab nationalist in regional terms." (No less! This of course is because Cole wants Allawi to be a typical Arab nationalist.) I wonder if the mention of Egypt is due to Amr Moussa's statement about his desire to see a "collective Arab involvement on this issue" (of sending troops to Iraq.) Now they all want to move in!

There is no favorable attitude towards Syria (or Iran) either. In fact, Allawi said in the interview that Iran and Syria have not done enough to keep fighters from going to fight in Iraq and he's still negotiating with them asking them to stop that practice, and he hopes to get a positive response. Cole interpreted this diplomatic discourse as old-style Arab nationalism!

There is no explicit mention of welcoming Jordanian (or any other neighboring) troops. Allawi kept it vague, saying that he's looking to expand and to get troops from "various countries, especially Arab and Islamic countries." He said this in tandem with a warning against negative interference and a plea to neighboring countries to "act responsibly" and "positively"!

More importantly, the remarks against the involvement of neighboring countries are not restricted to Zebari, they were also echoed by President al-Yawer (see my "Thanks, but No Thanks!" post.) So to label them "standard IGC" (whatever that means!) is nonsense, and frankly I think it exemplifies the contempt towards the Kurds that is typical of Cole, and Arabists in general. (Why single out Zebari and not mention al-Yawer? Just a thought!) You see, the Kurds are now the "new Maronites", i.e. those who "betrayed the family" by looking westward for help, so now they're perceived as the US' pets (note also the rumors of Israeli training of Kurds in the north. I'll have a post on that in the near future.)

On the issue of Iran and Syria, Asad and Khatemi issued a statement about their desire to see neighboring countries (i.e. Syria and Iran!) getting involved in reconstruction efforts and in stablizing the scene. Never short on humor, Khatemi said:

"Regional states, namely Iran and Syria, can have an important role, nay, a better role compared to the US when it comes to efforts in restoring peace and stability, and in establishing a democratic regime in Iraq. (sic!) " (My translation.)

As for Yemenis looking for a "radical alternative," Cole's analysis is weak and all over the place. Also, as a friend mentioned to me, Cole never considers the alternative that the Yemenis are willing to commit troops because of aid from the US (remember, the Yemeni leader was the only Arab guest at the G8 summit.)

All in all, it's a travesty, but somehow typical of Cole in general.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Comments and Counter-Comments

There seems to be a confusion about some of the things I wrote in my "Portrait of a Dragoman" post. Two anonymous readers have left comments, and both reflected similar misunderstandings of my post.

The first Anonymous said that I was putting 2 and 2 together to get 5, because of my statement on the Ottoman empire being a "constitutional democracy." Well I thought it was somewhat obvious but that was intentionally an over-the-top sarcastic caricature, which I moved beyond immediately to focus on the real points: 1- the two (grossly oversimplified) examples provided by Khalidi were of non-Arab nations and 2- the role of European intervention in the case of the Ottoman empire (tanzimat) was conveniently left out.

So, in response to the second Anonymous, I am well aware that the ME contains more than just Arabs. But that doesn't address the lack of Arabs in the list of experiments with constitutionalism OR (that's just for you!) democracy. As for the news flash about Ottomans being Turks, I appreciate the heads up, but that wasn't the point. The point was to separate the Ottoman empire from the post-empire Turkish nation-state. The rationale behind that should be rather obvious!

Furthermore, I'm afraid that your chronology is quite confused. The Young Turks had nothing to do with the 1876 tanzimat. The movement began in 1889 and reached its peak in 1908 (the tanzimat were started in 1839). It was in the summer of 1908 that the Sultan yielded to the officers' requests and reactivated the constitution of 1876. Abdul Hamid had suspended it in 1878 and the Young Turks wanted it back. They didn't create it, nor was its creation due to their pressure. Rather, it was due to European pressure, especially on the issue of minority rights and equality (i.e. the fundamental shift from "toleration" to "rights"). But there's another point here. I never denied the presence of a constitution (even when I qualified it). I once again refer you to my two initial points above.

But since we're discussing misrepresentations, let's address your (inadequate) analogy. If you're trying to imply that the extent of the European role was cultural and ideological influence on the Young Turks, you are seriously misrepresenting history. I admitted my caricature, but you seem to actually believe your statement to be serious. Nevertheless, I never denied the role of Turkish reformists, just like I don't deny the potential and crucial role of reformists in the Arab countries today. However, just as the Turkish reformers and minorities benefitted from European pressure and intervention, it is imperative that reformers in the Arab world turn away from their rejectionism (such as that displayed by Khalidi) and their fake mantras about democracy "not coming from the outside" or not coming with the "barrel of a gun" (then don't bring up the Turkish military coup or the fact that the tanzimat remarkably came after a military defeat at the hands of Muhammad Ali, and the European military intervention, etc.) Spare me. (By the way, I will draw another analogy to Iraq. Many Young Turks were exiles in Europe where they got their ideas and had the freedom to express them. So Arab critics today should be very careful when dismissing Iraqi exiles. At least, if you want to do so, don't bring up the Ottoman experience! You'd fail on all levels!) Furthermore, you leave out another crucial point. If the reforms were homegrown and not perceived as European-inspired, why then was there a terrible reaction and opposition to them by the Muslim population in resentment of the new-found rights given to non-Muslims, because of European pressure? I have argued that this resentment is mirrored by the attitude of Arabists today vis à vis the Kurds (to be honest, vis à vis all minorities in the ME).

Finally, the Young Turks had the benefit of appearing towards the end of the Ottoman empire, when it was at its weakest. They also benefitted from a weak brother of the Sultan as well as sympathetic relatives of his. Furthermore, they had much of the military on their side. That's why they were capable of taking advantage of European pressure and drive home their demands (and they still were persecuted in the beginning). Now compare that scenario to Saddam's Iraq. Did any of those conditions exist? More importantly, were the intellectuals of the Arab world actually actively trying to attack Saddam and the ideology that sustained him? On the contrary, they were more fervently defending it. All this meant that a foreign intervention was necessary to provide the Iraqi dissidents with the space they needed. Khalidi therefore has it wrong on so many fronts.

Kerr Review

Thanks to Prof. Kramer, I got a hold of an htm version of Kerr's review of Orientalism, which I had promised to upload. I recommend that you take a look.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Mossadegh and Me

An Anonymous reader left the following comment in response to my "Portrait of a Dragoman" post:

"Though your comments are generally clear, supported, understandable and agreeable, I am troubled by your characterization of Mossadegh Iran. Your description clearly suggests a perhaps not broadly, a somewhat representative populist movement. You diminish it a little too conveniently, attributing to it the cause of it's own demise. For me, this weakens an otherwise compelling and educated POV."

Your point is well taken, and I agree that my characterization could be seen as dismissive. However, that was not my intention. All I wanted to show was that there is a lot more to the picture than the simplistic picture that Khalidi wants to draw (Mossadegh = liberal, democratic, nationalist, and all around great. Then comes the bad CIA = foreign malicious US intervention that ruined, and continues to ruin, it for liberal nationalist democrats in the ME. If only you bad American leave the ME alone... you'll see democracy flowing in the streets.) This (rather Occidentalist) view tends to eliminate all the internal dynamics and the Iranian players, rendering as sole (malevolent) agents the outsiders, and depicting the "natives" as nothing more than passive victims, who only react to what's imposed on them. That overall worldview (that I have sometimes labeled "passive-aggressive") and attitude is a hallmark of post-Orientalist scholars of the ME. It's not only bad scholarship, it's also dangerous, as the piece by Lee Smith makes abundantly clear. For more, see the following essay by Martin Kramer (from his book Ivory Towers on Sand. If you haven't read Kerr's review of Orientalism, I strongly encourage you to do so. I will see if I can upload a PDF copy of it. Kerr, followed by Kramer, nails Said for neglecting to foresee how Islamists would use his thesis to reject anything Western. Kramer has another relevant chapter of his book online.)

Thank you for your feedback, and I hope I made my point clearer.

One Step Ahead

Lee Smith wrote a very sharp piece for Slate chastising journalists for not using their heads when interviewing Islamic experts on the topic of beheadings and Islam.

"If the press recognizes that most Muslims don't want to behead infidels, then infidels should be given the benefit of the doubt as well. Of course we won't kill our Muslim friends and neighbors, but we really wish the Muslims who are lending their expertise to our infidel press would tell the truth. Otherwise, this conversation between cultures isn't going to work. We are surely destined for a very violent clash of civilizations if one dialogue partner will lie about something that is written down for anyone —even American journalists if they make the effort —to read."

Smith puts forward a similar thesis to my earlier piece on dragomans:

"[A]nother lesson, one Said probably did not intend, was lost on many Western writers. Since Islamists have typically understood Western writers and researchers to be in league with the enemy, it is logical to assume that Islamists will
generally not cooperate with them unless it is to their own advantage. In fact, Islamists and others will often use Western journalists and academics to carry their message.

Indeed, like Smith says, there are verifiable facts and dragomans shouldn't be able to get away with their nonsense (e.g. Buthaina Shaaban's hilarious madrassa episode, quoted so often on this blog!)

N.B. One anal linguistic detail in Smith's piece that I couldn't not comment on (because that's the kind of guy I am!!!) is the Assyrian etymology he provides. The verb in Assyrian/Babylonian (collectively refered to as Akkadian) is ragāmu doesn't include in its semantic range as primary the meaning "to translate". It primarily means "to shout, to speak" and "to prosecute, raise claim". Still, the form targumānu (also in Amarna Akkadian) -- the original form of the loan word dragoman -- is attested with the meaning "interpreter." However, I. J. Gelb contested the relation of the form to the root *rgm, and saw little reason to consider the form of Akkadian origin ("The Word for Dragoman in the Ancient Near East" Glossa II [1968] 93-104.) Stephen Kaufman in his The Akkadian Influences on Aramaic wrote: "Although it is almost certainly foreign, perhaps Hittite, in origin, the word could have entered Aramaic through Akkadian but may not have. The -ān nominalizing suffix is at home in both Akkadian and West Semitic." p. 107. So it could be that my and Smith's etymology are both wrong, and that the word came from Anatolia all along! To be sure, the widespread use of the form and its cognates in Aramaic (targmānâ) and Hebrew (mĕtargēm) and later in Arabic (tarja/umān and mutarjim) with that specific meaning ("interpreter") suggests a rather complex history.

Now please don't use this boring technical footnote as an excuse to never check out this site again! Hey... are you still awake?!

Portrait of a Dragoman

I've used the term "dragoman" several times on this blog in reference to people like Juan Cole, Rashid Khalidi, Joseph Masaad and their ilk, and a friend asked me to elaborate a bit on what I mean by that term.

"Dragoman" was the title of interpreters in the Ottoman court whose job was to translate correspondence between the Ottoman court and its European counterparts. The word comes from the semitic root *rgm "to speak". It's a loan word in Turkish that found its way back into Arabic (tarjaman). Some readers might be familiar with the term from the word Targumim, which are Jewish Aramaic translations/interpretations of the Scriptures.

The thing about dragomans was they consciously and systematically manipulated their translations/interpretations, sugarcoating when necessary, and thus deliberately misleading. I've linked to an interview with Bernard Lewis where he discussed the Dragomans, which are part of the title of his latest book.

I've borrowed this term from Lewis and applied it to ME scholars who act similarly to their Ottoman predecessors. They consciously sugarcoat and selectively inform their Western audience of the ME about which they are writing.

A prime example is the following talk by Rashid Khalidi at UCLA. Just marvel at the way Khalidi selects and omits and manipulates information at will.

For instance, no one who has studied the ME can say the following with a straight face:

"It is a myth that the Middle East has no experience with democracy or constitutionalism. There were constitutions in the Middle East, in Turkey in 1876 and Iran in 1905. The French and British supported antidemocratic regimes. The United States did the same, with the overthrow of the Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953. What this administration seems to mean by a democratic government in the Middle East is a government that does as it is told."

First of all, it wasn't "Turkey", it was the Ottoman empire. To say that the Ottoman empire was a constitutional democracy is ludicrous. But regardless, this doesn't say anything about the so-called Arab countries and indeed Khalidi doesn't mention even one. Similarly, the Mossadegh affair was in Iran, a non-Arab country! (In fact, if one wishes to be cute, what this suggests is that in their revolt against the Ottoman empire, Arab nationalists were revolting against a constitutional democracy, only to replace it with military dictatorships! Which brings us back to square one, the removal of such regimes!)

More importantly, it's a lie to obscure the fact that the 1876 instance that Khalidi mentions was in fact part of the Tanzimat, the reforms imposed on the Ottomans by the European powers! Let me quote a post-Orientalist historian, Leila Tarazi-Fawaz:

"The Ottoman government was in the midst of change which had begun to affect sectarian relations among its subject peoples. The change was a response to a general political, military, and economic decline which made it a prey to the ambitions of rival European powers and to the emerging aspirations to autonomy and independence by subject peoples of the empire, attracted to the European-inspired ideology of nationalism. Evidence of Ottoman decline was there for all to see, not least in Syria which the Ottomans could not even keep hold of in the 1830s and reconquered only with the help of Europe. To check Ottoman decline the government launched the Western-inspired reforms known as the tanzimat, or orderings, a series of laws promulgated between 1839 and 1876, which were intended to strengthen the Ottoman empire by centralizing its administration, the only effective avenue for change. The Tanzimat introduced a new principle of equality between the empire's Muslim and non-Muslim populations, and the Muslims began to lose ground to outsiders. Christians, who along with Jews and other dhimmis or protected people had been a separate class of citizens (they paid special taxes and did not serve in the army), gained privileges. The Tanzimat provided the legal basis for their growing influence by making all Ottoman subjects, regardless of religion, equal before the law." (An Occasion for War: civil conflict in Lebanon and Damascus in 1860, p. 22. Emphasis added.)

So, there are two points that discredit Khalidi in this paragraph: 1- All the elements that he's boasting about were non-existent before the tanzimat, which were directly influenced by Europe. Equality before the law and minority rights were unheard of before the introduction of European-based ideas and reforms. 2- Ideas of secular nationalism, which have produced the intellectual matrix that gave birth to people like Khalidi, also owe their existence to Europe and its intervention, which makes Khalidi's statement doubly hypocritical! To negate European intervention is to negate the advent of the ideology that gave birth to Khalidi's intellectual predecessors. On second thought, that might not be such a bad idea!

Also worth mentioning is the fact that these new-found rights for minorities produced what remains one of the best systems the Christians have experienced in Lebanon, the mutasarrifiyya, which was a direct result of the tanzimat and it gave the Lebanese a form of autonomy that also translated to economic prosperity. Khalidi doesn't mention that these reforms, which brought rights to minorities, were met with great resentment by the Muslim population, a resentment that ironically Khalidi mirrors today when he expresses his views on Western interference, even when that same interference was the only reason the reforms ever took place in the Ottoman empire! Are we to think that because these reforms and these new-found rights came because of European pressure, they're somehow "bad"? Would it have been better to keep minorities oppressed as second class citizens so as to avoid European intervention? But that's the same logic Khalidi employs when dealing with Iraq. It would have been better to leave Saddam and his family to brutalize the Iraqis, for that is better than an American intervention! Do the Iraqis share that sentiment?!

I repeat that there were backlashes against minorities (the 1860 massacres for instance) after the European intervention. But is that reason enough to say that minority rights shouldn't have been sought?! Do you think any Christian or Jew believed that?! Do you think the Kurds believe it today?! Khalidi speaks of the ever-present memory of colonialism. There is another ever-present memory among minorities in the ME. The sound of "ishmil" (walk to your left!) still rings loud in many a Christian ear in the Levant. When the Ottomans were ruling (with their constitutional democracy!!!) non-Muslims were not allowed to walk on the right side of the road when there was a Muslim walking there. The Muslim would say "ishmil" (walk to your left!).

An autonomy similar to the mutasarrifiya is what the Kurds are asking for today, and the same resentment that the minorities faced in Ottoman times, the Iraqi non-Arab minorities are facing again today from Arab nationalists, and Arabist scholars.

Therefore, Khalidi has some nerve to say "[t]he experts were also right to warn about the impossibility of imposing democracy from the barrel of a gun" only to turn and give an example of supposed "native" reforms (a lie of course) that was the direct result of intervention of Western power!

The Mossadegh affair is one of those stories that get taken out of context and circulated as propaganda. Yes, the CIA was involved in the overthrow of Mossadegh. But there are two elements that are always left out in this story. First is the nature of the Mossadegh movement and its constituency. I.e., was it really a liberal democratic movement that had massive popular appeal, as the people who promulgate this story seem to suggest? Second, no one mentions the involvement of Iranians themselves in the overthrow of Mossadegh. Who was against the party in Iran itself? Why didn't anyone lift a finger to help him? Also, no one says anything about what happened to his movement aftewards, during the Khomeinist revolution.

Mossadegh's base was very limited, and did not have broad appeal among the population. Consider this statement by Mehrzad Boroujerdi, reviewing Mark Gasiorowski's book on the subject:

"The author's [Gasiorowski's] identification of the National Front (led by Mossadeq) as the main political organization of the modern middle class (p. 84) may be somewhat of an oversimplification, considering the eclectic constituency base of that party, which drew support from disgruntled bazaaris and the Qashqai tribe, in addition to the urban secular middle class." (Review of US Foreign Policy and the Shah: Building a Client State in Iran, in The American Political Science Review [1992], p. 1103. Emphasis added.)

The National Front was a coalition of contradictory ideologies. More importantly, it was first and foremost a nationalist movement, whose nationalism preceded its liberalism. That's why its "liberalism" was easily coopted by Bazargan who was religious (therefore, what would have prevented the movement from moving towards religion anyway? It certainly needed it to gain broad support, and that's proven by the appeal of the Khomeinists especially to the rural population.) Other competing parties did exist, and many of them were complicit in the overthrow. But all this doesn't matter to Khalidi. The transference of agency is common in the ME. No one takes responsibility for their actions, and everyone is a victim of foreign intervention. What the Iranians did in the Mossadegh coup is naturally left out of the picture. I thought only Orientalists were reductionists!

Lastly, like I said earlier, both of Khalidi's examples are from non-Arab nations! What does he have to say about Arab despots? Only the usual, that he and those like him "loathe" them. That's all cute but it amounts to nothing. Furthermore, there is nothing in there about the Arab nationalism that sustained/s Saddam and his peers, and about those academics who adhere to it were winking to the likes of Saddam, and keeping their mouths shut as he murdered on, just like they're keeping quiet today as another Arab regime is committing yet another holocaust in Sudan, not too long after the first one against non-Muslims came to somewhat of a rest (thanks again to international pressure and not native reform, and surely not to outcries by the likes of Khalidi!) In fact, if we want to be perfectly honest, the "experts" didn't really seem to loathe Saddam all that much when Edward Said doubted the veracity of his gassing of the Kurds, and de facto supported his invasion of Kuwait. Or take Rami Khoury for instance who hailed Saddam as the model of the "new Arab." Don't forget Fawwaz Trabulsi or the luminary Noam Chomsky. All their statements are nailed by Kanan Makiya in his Cruelty and Silence. You see, for every dragoman there is someone who tells it like it is.

But there is a kind of schizophrenia involved here as made clear by this statement:

"The stench of hypocrisy hovers over a regime claiming to support democracy that supports undemocratic regimes such as the Saudis and now Libya."

You can't say the US was wrong to go to war against a despotic regime and then criticize it for its support of the Saudis or Mubarak. But that shows how Khalidi misses the internal debate within the administration between the preservers of the status quo and those who want to topple it, and it shows the schizophrenia I once mentioned in reference to Shibley Telhami on this blog. Khalidi wants to simultaneously criticize the US' effort to remove the worst dictator since Stalin, and attack the proponents of that policy in the administration, calling them neo-imperialists (what? no Likudnik charge?)!

But in doing so, Khalidi exposes a couple more inconsistencies:

"The Baath regime in 2003 posed no threat to the United States, although it was deadly to its own people. In 1991 all of Iraq's neighbors feared Iraq and its weapons. This was not true in 2003. Not one neighbor of Iraq felt threatened enough by Iraq to support the U.S. war effort openly (Kuwait did so covertly)."

Khalidi should have said this to Edward Said before the late professor wrote his book on Iraq the US and Israel where he charged that the whole purpose of the war was to give strategic help to Israel and subdue the Arabs (as if Saddam was uplifting them!) Juan Cole has been echoing this sentiment on his blog. If Iraq was no threat to anyone, then why does Israel need a US intervention on its behalf!? Secondly, the reason why Arab neighbors didn't interfere was because they were frightened that the war would cause internal revolutions and the demise of their regimes.

Said's terrible thesis endorsed the worst pathologies of Arab nationalism and its warped vision of "power" and machismo. Khalidi echoed similar pathologies when he spoke of nationalizing the Iraqi economy! Yes, that's the real way forward, state-controlled economy. Look at Syria, it's flowing with milk and honey! In fact, Syria is slowly but surely seeking to privatize its economy. Lybia is begging foreign investors to move in. Economists there are even making room for that in Ghaddafi's little green book! The bankrupt systems of the ME -- bankrupt by such ideologies as Arab nationalism and the Baath -- have zero infrastructure and 100% (government) corruption (cf. this recent post by Joshua Landis for an example). They need foreign and private corporations to take over. You give a little to get a little. That's the way it goes. These corporations create jobs and make the economy run.

But overall, the paradox is clear. One moment Khalidi is upset that the US backs totalitarian regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt (which he doesn't mention, neither does he mention the Libyan WMDs!), but then simply glances over the fact that the Iraqi Baath was "deadly to its own people"! I.e., the US should not interfere to help Arabs, it should only interfere when its interests are in jeopardy. Wait! I thought that's why the Arabs hated the US according to Khalidi's logic! Never does it occur to Khalidi to take seriously the earlier position by Bush (before the preservers of the status quo, that Khalidi is so eager to bring back interfered) when he said that the US interests are tied in the long term to the freedom and prosperity of the peoples of the ME, and that the US was thus actively backing democratic change in the region. No, Khalidi prefers the useless paralyzed new approach adopted by the G8. He must feel so much better now! Oh, I forgot that he lives and teaches in NYC.

This is a 101 introduction to the workings of a modern day dragoman. Sugarcoating, misrepresenting, omitting, and falsifying.