Across the Bay

Saturday, October 30, 2004

A.S.S. Cole

As soon as I heard of the Lancet report which claimed that about 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the war, I had a wager with a friend that this ridiculous report (see why below) will be picked up by the usual birdbrain fools and preached as gospel truth.

Speaking of nitwits, Juan Cole, Mr. "Informed Comment," Prof. "I convey very complex social and intellectual realities" (and hot air), has jumped on this story with his usual abandon and over-the-top rhetoric. Here's a slice:

"The troubling thing about these results is that they suggest that the US may soon catch up with Saddam Hussein in the number of civilians killed."

But wait, Cole is not convinced of Saddam's murder toll (just like Said wasn't sold on Saddam's gassing of the Kurds). After all, this is "Informed Comment." We take our academic integrity very seriously around here folks! Hence the following comment:

" How many deaths to blame on Saddam is controverial. He did after all start both the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War. But he also started suing for peace in the Iran-Iraq war after only a couple of years, and it was Khomeini who dragged the war out until 1988. But if we exclude deaths of soldiers, it is often alleged that Saddam killed 300,000 civilians. This allegation seems increasingly suspect."

I see, so the number of Saddam's victims is suspect (over the course of three decades, two wars, a genocide, and specialized death troops and death chambers), but the Lancet report is "very tight."

Very tight?! This goes to show how foolish Juan Cole really is, and how he jumps on data that fits his ideological bias with reckless abandon, even when he knows squat about the material he's talking about. Here's what people who really are informed said about the report:

"Beth Osborne Daponte, senior research scholar at Yale University's Institution for Social and Policy Studies, put the point diplomatically after reading the Lancet article this morning and discussing it with me in a phone conversation: "It attests to the difficulty of doing this sort of survey work during a war. … No one can come up with any credible estimates yet, at least not through the sorts of methods used here.""

You may want to test Cole's own "scientific" calculation, which includes the following estimate: "The toll in Sadr City or the Shiite slums of East Baghdad, or Najaf, or in al-Anbar province, must be enormous."

The funny part was when Cole said "Burnham is quite humble about it not being definitive." I'll say! Understatement of the year! Here's how not definitive it really is. As the Kaplan Slate piece explains:

"It means that the authors are 95 percent confident that the war-caused deaths totaled some number between 8,000 and 194,000. (The number cited in plain language—98,000—is roughly at the halfway point in this absurdly vast range.)

This isn't an estimate. It's a dart board.
"

The contrast between poseur Cole's eagerness, as well as his hilariously stupid, and totally uninformed categorical statements with Fred Kaplan's piece is simply astonishing.

It is estimated that the Lebanon war, over the brutal span of 15 years, which included random as well as targeted aerial bombardment, random artillery bombardment as well as targeting of schools and hospitals, booby-trapped cars aimed exclusively at civilians, snipers picking off civilians, kidnappings of civilians, wholesale slaughter of villagers in sectarian cleansing campaigns, etc., claimed ~150,000 deaths (2-3 times the total of deaths of all Arab-Israeli wars combined from '48 to the present). So let me put it this way: there is no way in hell that the US military campaign (including aerial bombardment) claimed 100,000 deaths in less than 2 years! This is leaving aside the incredibly faulty methodology of the Lancet report.

Nevertheless, when things do calm down, the US needs to conduct an honest and methodologically sound study and figure this out. Whatever the number of deaths, it includes innocent people, not just enemy combatants. It's both a matter of courtesy as well as a matter of importance for the military in order to assess its operations.

But intellectual honesty and methodological sanity leaves no room for advocate poseurs like Cole. Good going Professor! Keep it "tight!"

Update: Here are a couple more people who are preaching the Lancet report's number. First is Mark LeVine of UC Irvine, a jaw-dropping idiot in a league all his own. He's done it at least twice now. First in a perfectly horrible guest editorial on guru Juan Cole's site, and the second in an equally barf-inducing piece on TomDispatch. Second is Patrick Seale in one of his text-book opinion pieces (they all sound the same anyway), after the re-election of President Bush. Both Mark "Indiana Jones" LeVine and Patrick "Third World" Seale have put forth the silly proposition of a truce and dialogue with the Ben Laden types. LeVine even created a new Arabic historical category for it which he called "dar al-hudna." Won't somebody PLEASE notice him!

Of course, this is hardly surprising! I bet that Robert Fisk has gorged on it as well, but ever since they started charging money to read his garbage, I found it as the perfect excuse to stop reading him altogether. Not that I lose sleep over that. In fact, my doctors say my blood pressure has suddenly shown much improvement!

Friday, October 22, 2004

The O'Arab Factor

Lee Smith addresses the topics raised in my previous post ("Lieven Let Die") in an excellent piece in Slate today.

Smith provides a brief account of the birth of the Arab nationalist and Islamist movements, as well as the reason for the common perception of the opposition between the two:

"[W]hy do people believe that Arab nationalism and Islam are opposed? Kedourie showed that it was the nationalists themselves who spread the idea. Among other things, they were "aware that their Western patrons and protectors looked with fear and aversion on Islam as a political force." The result is that the misunderstanding lives on, which is why analysts have been at great pains to itemize, mistakenly, the differences between, say, Baathism and Islamism."

While Smith defines the basic common grounds, à la Berman, in terms of liberalism and totalitarianism/fascism, he also examines a point that I didn't elaborate on enough, and that is the power struggle (as opposed to the ideological struggle) between Arab nationalist regimes and Islamist movements:

"Of course Saddam persecuted Islamists, just as he went after anyone who challenged him or the legitimacy of his regime. He also butchered Kurds, Shiites, and other Baathists. Syrian Baathist Hafez Assad destroyed the city of Hama, a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold, not because he was picking on the town's fanatical Sunni element, but because the Brotherhood threatened his power and had tried to kill him. Still, like his son Bashar today, Hafez used Islamist terror when it was in his interests, which was only when it was outside his country."

But it's Lee's conclusion that's the major point, which is one that I too tried to raise (less articulately):

"Just as our government has ill-served the American people by habitually failing to explain its reasoning, then it is all the more important that journalists and intellectuals build constructively on each other's work to articulate and understand difficult and complex ideas. Regardless of the historical connections between Islamism and Arab nationalism, it's possible to make a very good argument against the administration's conduct of the war on terror—but it's hard to see the virtue of making one based on a faulty understanding."

Last but not least, Joshua Landis gets his share of quotes in there, as his post on Baathism and Secularism that both Smith and I quote (see post below) is essential reading.

You heard it here first folks!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Lieven Let Die

The Nation published a review of The Fight Is for Democracy: Winning the War of Ideas in America and the World (George Packer, ed.) by Anatol Lieven.

The piece is basically a polemic against the "traitors" of the Left, the so-called "liberal hawks." This soap opera has been going on for a while now (I've touched on it with Hitchens, Berman, Cooper, Klein, etc. see below. For Chomsky and Chomskyites, see here) and the progressive Left simply cannot stand people who supported the Iraq war (thus, far more importantly to them, went along with the Bush administration! Now who can do that!?).

Hence Lieven's beautiful statement about what to do with these bad seeds:

"Today, the Democratic Party should encourage these figures to take the same route to the Republican Party as their Scoop Jackson predecessors, but much more quickly, and give them a strong push along the way. For as long as they continue seriously to influence Democratic thinking, they will make it much more difficult for the Democrats to emerge as a clear foreign policy alternative to the Republicans, and much more difficult for a genuine national debate on foreign policy to take place in the United States--particularly when it comes to strategy in the Middle East and the war on terrorism."

Ah yes, "Intellectual cleansing;" the Stalinist impulse was never truly exorcised from the Left. But I really don't care to waste my time or yours with this nonsense.

The only reason I decided to post on this long review was a section on Paul Berman, whose book (Terror and Liberalism), I very much enjoyed, despite some serious reservations. Lieven takes it on with predictable venom, as Berman, like Hitchens before him, has become the black sheep of the new Left. Let me quote it at length:

"Berman's central argument in his book Terror and Liberalism is perhaps the most historically illiterate and strategically pernicious of all the lines advanced by liberal hawks and their de facto allies on the right. This is the suggestion that secular radical Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism are essentially the same phenomenon, since both are supposedly expressions of an antiliberal, totalitarian international ethos and tradition stemming originally from the Europe of Fascism and Communism. "The Baathists and the Islamists were two branches of a single impulse, which was Muslim totalitarianism--the Muslim variation on the European idea," he writes. The "global war on terror" is therefore a continuation of America's past struggle against Nazism and Communism. In Berman's view,


'The totalitarian wave began to swell some 25 years ago and by now has swept across a growing swath of the Muslim world. The wave is not a single thing. It consists of several movements or currents, which are entirely recognizable. These movements draw on four tenets: a belief in a paranoid conspiracy theory, in which cosmically evil Jews, Masons, Crusaders and Westerners are plotting to annihilate Islam or subjugate the Arab people; a belief in the need to wage apocalyptic war against the cosmic conspiracy; an expectation that post-apocalypse, the Islamic caliphate of ancient times will re-emerge as a utopian new society; and a belief that meanwhile, death is good, and should be loved and revered.'


By dating the start of this "wave" to twenty-five years ago, Berman identifies it temporally with the Iranian revolution. This was, of course, a Shiite revolution in a Persian land, fed by Iranian nationalism; yet Berman attributes to this wave an Arab identity. Baath Arab nationalism began more than four decades earlier. It has absolutely no interest in restoring the "Islamic caliphate of ancient times." This is indeed the dream of Al Qaeda and its Islamist allies, but the Baath is dedicated to creating one modern, united Arab nation under the quasi-Fascist rule of the Baath Party. In other words, with the exception of a common hostility to Israel, this whole picture is a farrago of nonsense. Daniel Ellsberg has written that one central problem for the United States in Vietnam was that there wasn't a single senior or middle-ranking US official who could have passed an elementary exam in Vietnamese history and culture. The American government today has no lack of Middle East experts in the State Department and the CIA; indeed, many predicted the disaster in Iraq well before the invasion. The problem is that the ranks of the US intelligentsia are packed with pseudo-experts who are willing to subjugate the most basic historical facts to the needs of their ideological or nationalist agendas.

Berman, this "man of the Left," offers a portrait of "Islamic fascism" that is hardly distinguishable from that of such hard-line right-wing members of the Israeli lobby as Daniel Pipes. In terms of historical literacy, the argument is the equivalent of suggesting that because nineteenth-century European socialism and clerical conservatism shared a deep hostility to bourgeois liberalism, they somehow formed part of the same ideological and political tendency. In terms of strategic sense, it is equivalent to an argument that the United States and its allies should have fought Nazism and Soviet Communism not sequentially, but simultaneously. This strategy was indeed promoted by Churchill in the winter of 1939-40. If it had been followed, it would have insured Britain's defeat and a dark age for the world.

In other words, this "analysis" deliberately promotes and justifies the most dangerous aspect of the Bush Administration's approach to the war on terrorism: the lumping together of radically different elements in the Muslim world into one homogeneous enemy camp. As we can see in Iraq, this has been a magnificently successful example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It has created a perfect situation for Al Qaeda and its allies, on a scale they could never have achieved without massive US help.

Of course, as far as the Baath tradition is concerned, the existence of a strong inspiration by European Fascist thought is not in doubt. It was explicit in the original Baathist ideological writings, and especially that of the Syrian Michel Aflaq, one of the founders of the Baath Party. But Aflaq was a Christian Arab, and his pan-Arab nationalism, though violent, racist and extreme, was also secular and modernizing. He believed religion, whether Islamic or Christian, had no place in Arab politics.

In both Iraq and Syria, the overall tone of Baathism remained secular. In this, the Baath were following the original Italian Fascist model. The Fascists had their roots in bitterly anticlerical Italian radical nationalism, Mussolini himself having been a Socialist leader until the First World War. When in power, like Saddam Hussein's Baath in the 1990s, the Italian Fascists made pragmatic deals with religion in the form of the Catholic Church; but in Italy and Germany, Fascism was never in any sense influenced by or close to the Christian religion. This does not, of course, make the Baathists or the Fascists more likable. It does make them very different from the forces of political religion.

Like their Fascist predecessors, on the one hand, the Baath ideologues have regarded religious allegiances and beliefs as backward, superstitious obstacles to modernization and development. On the other, they have seen them as fomenters of sectarian discord in what should be the united Arab nation. This ideological stance underlies the ferocious persecution in the past of the Islamists in Baathist Syria and Iraq, and the bitter hatred between the Baath and the fundamentalists. Of course, both the Baath and the fundamentalists have been hostile to the West and Israel, but for largely different reasons. In the case of the Baath, this reflects first and foremost secular pan-Arab nationalism. Islamist radicals for their part often draw strength from local ethnic and national resentments, whether Kashmiri, Chechen, Pashtun, Palestinian or Sunni Iraq Arab; but their central allegiance is always to the idea of the undivided umma, or transnational community of all (or, for Al Qaeda, right-thinking Sunni) Muslims.

By refusing to make this basic distinction between Arab nationalists and Islamists, Berman demonstrates the same disastrous, willful ignorance that led the Bush Administration into Iraq in the belief that by overthrowing the Baath they would also strike a mortal blow at Islamist terrorism. This applies with even greater force to the failure of Berman and others to make the critical distinction between Shiite and Sunni Islam, and between the different national agendas of Iran and various Arab states.

It is bad enough that most of the American public is incapable of making this distinction, without the error being actively encouraged by so-called experts. In consequence, the Bush Administration may be stumbling toward an attack on Iran's nuclear program that could have the most disastrous consequences for Iraq, Afghanistan and the entire American position in the Middle East--without even a truly serious national debate taking place in the United States on the subject of US-Iranian relations.

This brings me to the parallel drawn by Berman, Pipes and others between the war on terrorism and the cold war. There are indeed very useful lessons to be learned from the cold war, but they are diametrically opposed to the ones presented by these authors. The cold war was indeed an ideological struggle waged across much of the world against a range of "Communist" opponents. These opponents, however, differed immensely among themselves, and a belated recognition of this was central to America's eventual victory.

The Communist movements all shared a basic ideological hostility to Western capitalism but differed greatly in their degrees of ideological fanaticism and in their different and often mutually hostile national sentiments and interests. A good many Communists either started as enemies of the United States and then became allies, or need never have been enemies in the first place, as in Ho Chi Minh's case. American policy toward Vietnam was characterized by the demonization of all Communists as irredeemably fanatical and hostile to the United States, the imposition on an alien culture and tradition of rigid American ideological paradigms uninformed by serious local research, and the lumping of all Communists into one undifferentiated enemy camp. We know the consequences.

Given the threat posed by Al Qaeda and its Sunni extremist allies to virtually every state and elite in the Muslim world, and given the savage divisions between these forces, the Shiite tradition and secular Arab nationalists like the Baath, there was a cornucopia of opportunities after September 11 to seek Muslim allies in the war on terrorism. From this point of view, for the Bush Administration to have succeeded in uniting Shiite radicals, Baath die-hards and Sunni extremists in Iraq; to have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq while simultaneously threatening Iran and Syria; and to have alienated both Turkey and Saudi Arabia--this almost defies description. It is a kind of baroque apotheosis of geopolitical cretinism.
"

Where to start? This is such a pile of vindictive nonsense. First, let's throw the bitter, contemptuous charge leveled at Berman back at Lieven: he's "historically illiterate" and he's the one who "[couldn't] have passed an elementary exam in [Middle Eastern] history and culture." What Lieven is repeating here is classic Arab nationalist propaganda.

Yes, Berman is guilty of overly subordinating the Islamist and Arabist ideologies to European fascism, and I'll return to him later in the post. All the same, the traditional, heavily ideological (Arab nationalist) interpretive categories applied to the Baath, Arab nationalism, and their relation to Islam -- here taken as gospel truth by Lieven -- need serious revision.

Joshua Landis, who, last time I checked, wasn't part of the Israeli lobby, has already addressed these problematic categories in a post on the Baath and its alleged secularism. Landis wrote:

"The whole notion of a “secular” Ba`th needs correcting. Ba`thism is often referred to as a secular movement and non-religious version of Arab nationalism, but this just isn’t true.
...
Ba`thism is based on the big “T” Truth and is a transcendent faith. Both the founders of Ba`thist thought, Michel `Aflaq (Greek Orthodox)and Zaki al-Arsuzi (Alawite Muslim), discovered early in their careers that their party would never appeal to the broad masses of the Sunni heartland without making it perfectly clear that Ba`thism was not secular or based on earthly truths. They both insisted that Ba`thism was part and parcel of the Islamic worldview embraced by most Syrians. `Aflaq was so adamant about placating Muslim and religious sensibilities that he became known among his friends as Muhammad `Aflaq (and indeed he converted to Islam before his death). His genius lay in his ability to align Ba`thism with Islam.
" (Compare this to p. 56, Ch. 3, in Berman's book.)

Similarly, Elie Kedourie wrote in his essay "Religion and Nationalism in the Arab World" (in Islam in the Modern World and Other Studies (New York: 1980) pp. 53-66:

"The younger generations who were becoming enthusiastic Arab nationalists did not feel that there was anything in the circumstances of the Arab world that required a confrontation between Arabism and Islam: the struggle for Arab independence and unity -- a struggle directed against European-Christian powers and against Zionism -- was in no way weakened or harmed by Islam, or any Islamic figures on institutions. One can even go further and say that Islam actually gave great strength to Arab nationalism.
...
On the level of practical politics, then, not only was there no opposition between Islam and Arabism, there was actual co-operation. But this co-operation was not formulated or incorporated in the doctrine of Arab nationalism until after the second world war.
...
[T]o define the Arab nation in terms of history is -- sooner rather than later -- to come upon the fact that Islam originated among the Arabs, was revealed in Arabic to an Arab prophet. Great significance must be attached to this tremendous fact. The ideologies of Arabism drew in the main two consequences which, in spite of their difference of emphasis, yet produced a new theoretical amalgam in which Islam and Arabism became inseperable.

Thus, Ba'thist doctrine, as articulated by its most influential exponent, the Damascene Greek Orthodox Dr. Michel 'Aflaq, held that Muhammad the Prophet of Islam was also ipso facto
the founder of the Arab nation, and was to be venerated as such by every Arab nationalist, whether Muslim or not. 'Aflaq ... declared that Islam 'represented the ascent of Arabism towards unity, power, and progress.' In such a perspective, we may say, Islam is seen as the product and expression of the Arab national genius.
" p. 55. (Emphasis added.)

Kedourie goes on to discuss a Muslim theorist, the Baghdadi Dr. 'Abd al-Rahman al-Bazzaz:

"Bazzaz categorically stated that the apparent contradiction between Islam and Arab nationalism which is still present in the minds of many people is due to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. He eloquently showed how Islam appeared in an Arab environment, was revealed to an Arab, and embodied the best Arab values. Islam was certainly a universal religion, but it is the religion of the Arabs par excellence. The position of the Arabs in Islam, he said, was like that of the Russians in the Communist world, i.e., it was a special and privileged position. There could in no way be a contradiction between Islam and Arabism: 'the Muslim Arab, when he exalts his heroes, partakes of two emotions, that of the pious Muslim and that of the proud nationalist.' We can go even further and affirm that Islam and Arabism largely overlap; and where they do not, they are not in opposition. Moreover, Arabism exalts the original Arab values which obtained at the time of Muhammad , and in doing so it purifies Islam that had become tainted with foreign corruption, and restores its true essence." p. 56.

That final statement is seminal, as we shall see shortly. It is the key link, the crossover between Arabism and Islamism (aka. the movements of Islamic "reform").

Back to Kedourie, who concludes:

"Thus the ideology of Arab nationalism which was fashioned during and immediately after the second world war, and which holds the field today, in one way or another affirms a fundamental unbreakable link between Islam and Arabism. In doing this, it articulates the unspoken assumptions of Muslim Arab nationalists, and chimes in with their feelings and practical experiences." p. 56. (Emphasis added.)

There are several other nuggets and quotes to back this up, ranging from Arab writers to Nasser himself (for the original Arabic behind my translations, see here):

Anwar 'Abd al-Malik: "The relationship between Islam and Arabism is not a relationship between two separate parties. Rather, it's a relationship of an organic, radical, and formative tie. A true 'urwa wuthqa."

Adel Hussein: "Islam is the other face of Arabism."

Mounah al-Solh: "Islam is another name for Arab nationalism."

Idem: "There is no non-Muslim Arab. That is if the Arab is true to his Arabism."

Idem: "There is no love for Arabs that could be coupled with repulsion from Islam, just as there is no loyalty in Islam that could be coupled with conspiring against Arabs."

Dr. Naji Ma'rouf: "The Arab, if he takes his Arabism to the end, is closer to Islam, and the Muslim, if he takes his Islam to the end, is closer to Arabism."

Dr. al-Habib al-Janahani: "The amalgamation between the concepts of Arabism and Islam is total."

The logo of the Arab League: "You are the finest nation (umma) that has been brought out to the world" (Surat al-Umran, 110).

Gamal Abdel Nasser (from the official yearly book of the United Arab Republic, 1959): "The UAR [i.e., the short-lived union between Egypt and Syria under Nasser] represents the largest Arab force in the Arab world. In it live around 28 million people that make up a people homogenous in its make-up, which speaks Arabic, believes in Arabism, and has Islam for religion."

Lieven should have done his homework before opening his "historically illiterate" mouth. His comments on Michel Aflaq are so ideological (the "Arab nationalism is an ideology blind to religion as its main proponents were Christians" myth) and totally uncritical.

But what about the other side, the Islamists? What do they have to say about Arabism? How close are their views to the ones explored briefly above? The best place to look is the writings of Syrian Islamist Rashid Rida, a contemporary of the nascent Arab nationalism. The central common doctrine, as Kedourie pointed out, is the primacy and supremacy of the Arab element in Islam. I quote Adeed Dawisha (Arab nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair [Princeton and Oxford: 2003] pp. 20-22) and Albert Hourani (Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939 [reissued with a new preface, Cambridge: 1983] pp. 228-232) on Rida and his writings (because both are in English, for the sake of the general readership. The originals are referenced in the respective books.) I remind you that in the traditional categorization that Lieven swallows hook, line and sinker, Rida is anti-Arab nationalism. He's the forefather of the Islamists who abhorred the "secular" Arab nationalism, and hailed its defeat in '67. Nevertheless, we'll see how these categories are inadequate, outdated, and incredibly misleading (esp. as a basis for foreign policy, which is where Lieven takes his argument).

Dawisha writes:

"More perceptible 'Arabist' proclivities are found in the writings of another leading Islamist, Rashid Rida (1865-1935). Rida's writings on the structure and reform of the Islamic world tended to give Arabs pride of place. To Rida, the Arabic language was the only language 'in which the doctrines and laws of Islam could be thought about.' Accordingly, to invest the office of the Khalifa with the Ottoman rulers in Istanbul was a travesty. Indeed, Rida goes even further by insisting that Islam, in fact, 'had been undermined by the Ottoman rulers.' ... Worst of all, in Rida's eyes, the Turks 'usurped the [office of the Khalifa] from the 'Abbasids and so took it out from the hands of the Quraysh clan [i.e., the Arabian clan of the Prophet. T.] which had been chosen by God to spread the Qur'an over the world, after it had given Islam its prophet, its language, and its adherents.' And while the Ottomans had certainly built a great empire, it is dwarfed by the early Arab conquests. ... 'I want to say that the greatest glory in the Muslim conquests goes to the Arabs, and that religion grew, and became great through them; their foundation is the strongest, their light is the brightest, and they are indeed the best Umma. In these and other writings, there is no mistaking the conscious ethnic distinction between the Arabs and the Ottoman Turks, in which the pride of place goes to the Arabs. Indeed, later on, in the wake of the 1916 Arab revolt, Rida advocated political separation and statehood for the Arabs."

Naturally, it would be unfair to call Rida an Arab nationalist, as his ethnic sentiment was clearly subordinate to the larger Islamic umma, but the overlap is unmistakable. That is why Aflaq and the rest understood that Arabism needs to be subordinate to Islam, as it was for Rida. Indeed, that is exactly what Arabists did. Therefore, the modern prevalent identity in the ME is precisely this Arabic Islam. For that reason, I strongly criticized Shibley Telhami when he acted as if the prevalence of Islamic identification in the ME was somehow novel.

I will pick up Albert Hourani's comments on Rida, but first I'd like to quote his discussion of Shakib Arslan, who perhaps better embodies the amalgam of Islamism and Arab nationalism (despite the fact that he was a Druze. So in Lieven's refined sense and knowledge of Islamic sectarianism, he, like the Shiite Khomeini, should not even be considered. For that matter, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani should be cast out as well, since he was most probably a Shiite! For the record, many Sunni Islamist were excited at the success of the Khomeinist revolution in Iran). Hourani writes on Arslan's thought:

"The Europeans have this dynamism more than anyone else in the modern world, and that is why they have conquered the world: they are willing to sacrifice their lives and money for their nation, they have a loyalty which none of them will betray, they have in brief that fanatical devotion which is the basis of the strength of nations. All this the Muslims once had and can have again, but in a different way. The Europeans are active because they have abandoned their other-worldly religion and replaced it by the principle of nationality, but Muslims can find such a principle of unity and loyalty in their religion itself. For the second distinguishing sign of Islam is that it has created a single community: not simply a Church, a body of men linked by faith and worship yet separated by their natural characteristics, but a community in every sense. The long history of the caliphate, the spread of a common culture, and many centuries of intermarriage, have created an umma which is both a Church and a kind of 'nation': it is held together by unity of religion, of law, by equality and mutual rights and duties, but also by natural links, and in particular that of language, since Arabic is the universal language of devotion, doctrine, and law wherever Islam exists." p. 229. (Emphasis added. For more on Arslan, see this review article by Martin Kramer. Kramer agrees with Cleveland that "Arslan never made the full passage to Arabism, but formulated an all-embracing Islamic nationalism, which included but transcended the Arab cause.")

Now, compare that formulation with the quote from Nasser above, or those from Aflaq.

With Rida, his Arabo-centric Islam led him to strongly identify with Wahhabism, and he defended it fiercely. Furthermore, he repeated much older tensions within Islam (cf. the Shu'ubiyya movement and the tension between 'Arab and 'Ajam). Here's the quote in Hourani's book on Rida's attitude towards Zoroastrians and how they corrupted true Islam, the religion of the Arabs:

"[Mysticism was introduced by Zoroastrians] to corrupt the religion of the Arabs and pull down the pillars of their kingdom by internal dissension, so that by this means they could restore the rule of the Zoroastrians and the domination of their religion to which the Arabs had put an end in Islam." p. 232.

For Rida, as for the Wahhabis and the Jihadist movements today, the purest Islam is that of the first generation in Arabia. In that, he follows the line set by al-Ghazali and other medieval salafi schools which have shaped contemporary Islam. Modern mainstream Islam is their product. In that regard, it can be said that on a certain level, Tariq Ramadan is the 21st c. reincarnation of Rida in his drive to present a hyper-orthodox Islam, cleansed of superstition and culture-specific "corruptions." (See also Landis' quote from Zaki al-Arsuzi). Plus ça change.

V. S. Naipaul has documented this fascination with the Arabian Islam in non-Arab Muslim countries like Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia (see his Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey [New York: 1981]). He has characterized the spread of Arabian Wahhabist Islam as an aspect of Arab cultural imperialism. Moreover, as a friend recently remarked to me, this Arabo-centric Islam creates, contrary to traditional views, a sort of Arab priesthood in Islam (what I call a "hieratic class"). This is exactly what Rida's views on the primacy of the Arab element in Islam amount to. This phenomenon is what we see today with Al-Qaeda, and what was once called the "Afghan Arabs." A recent article on the BBC site says it nicely:

"Bin Laden, assumed to be in hiding - possibly in Pakistan - with his deputy Ayman Al-Zawahri, remains a powerful figurehead for those favouring global Islamic revolution or, as some analysts believe, a global resurgence of Arab influence on the back of the call to Islam." (Emphasis added. Hat tip, Matt Frost.)

In light of all the above, this statement by Lieven encapsulates his "cretinism":

"By refusing to make this basic distinction between Arab nationalists and Islamists, Berman demonstrates the same disastrous, willful ignorance that led the Bush Administration into Iraq in the belief that by overthrowing the Baath they would also strike a mortal blow at Islamist terrorism."

This view is not only hopelessly ideological in its deference to Arab nationalist myths, it's also incredibly outdated (talk about historical and geopolitical cretinism), and spectacularly misses the point about the state of society and culture in the ME.

As I remarked in my critique of Telhami, the so-called "secular regimes" of the ME are active players in this dynamic. I refered to Joshua Landis' excellent paper on religious education in Syrian state-controlled public schools (a real must-read). I also refered to Geneive Abdo's book on Egypt, No God but God, where she shows the bottom-up takeover of society by Islamists, and the active role of the government in that regard.

The old dichotomies and interpretive categories that ME experts and older State Department Arabists continue to throw at us need a thorough reconsideration. The Left's alliance with this view was commented on by Hitchens in a piece for Slate:

"[A]n interesting aspect of this whole debate: the increasing solidarity of the left with the CIA. The agency disliked Ahmad Chalabi and was institutionally committed to the view that the Saddam regime in Iraq was a) secular and b) rationally interested in self-preservation. It repeatedly overlooked important evidence to the contrary, even as it failed entirely to infiltrate jihadist groups or to act upon FBI field reports about their activity within our borders. ... But many liberals lately prefer, for reasons of opportunism, to take CIA evidence at face value."

I don't mean here to resurrect the old Saddam-had-links-with-Al-Qaeda argument (which is perhaps Hitchens' position, and the position that the Left keeps attacking as untrue). This is not the point. The point is that the categories of "secular Arabism" vs. "Islamism" are no longer valid (if they ever were. The regimes who fought Islamists didn't do so out of dogmatic disagreement! Proof is that all the "secular" leaders sought Islamic legitimacy, from Nasser to Assad.) The amalgamation of Arabism and Islamism, what I've called "Arabo-centric Islam," is now the dominant narrative in the ME, as evident from Telhami's reaction that I blasted and the poll he quotes. The dynamic between the regimes and the Islamic clerical establishments is inextricable, as was shown by Abdo in Egypt, and Landis in Syria. It is this dynamic (and the export of Jihad to the West) that is the problem. "Secular" and "Islamist" dichotomies are completely invalid, despite the tensions between regimes and Islamist movements.

But Berman, despite pointing out to the essentially similar totalitarianism of both movements, doesn't take the Islamic element (i.e. the religious element) seriously enough (maybe because of his Leftist roots?). In making it a more European phenomenon, he inadvertently echoes the notion of "Western corruption of true Islam." Sure it's historically accurate that both movements were influenced by European romanticism and fascism, and Stalinism. It's also helpful for modern audiences to be able to compare the phenomenon to familiar evils. But, like Ajami said of Ian Buruma's book, Occidentalism, this risks of over-familiarizing the threat. As Joshua Landis put it to me in a private email: "Berman placed Islam into a narrative that all Westerners know very well -- utopianism leads to totalitarianism. It doesn't matter whether it is Hitler or Stalin or Bin Laden. Try to change humans into an ideal and you get tyranny."

Bottom line is that religion needs to be taken much more seriously (and thus, the modern state of Islam needs to be taken seriously as a porblem, and not approached in the manner of that sinister apologetic troll, Yvonne Haddad, who recently decried the fact that some are calling for the modernization and reformation of Islam. [Subscription required.]) This led Alexander Joffe, in a review of Berman in Forward Magazine (Oct. 3, 2003), to ask Berman why Islamic theology itself was left unadressed.

Religion influences culture just as much as it's influenced by it. That is a primary element in the state of the ME today, and the Islamic world in general. Maintaining erroneous intepretive categories in US foreign policy and silencing critical approaches in American academia will certainly exacerbate the problems, not help solve them.

Update: I just remembered this passage from Raymond Hinnebusch quoted by il primo cretino Patrick Seale (see my "FreundLee Reminder" post):

"To many Arabs and Muslims, the struggle with imperialism, far from being mere history, continues, as imperialism reinvents itself in new forms. The Middle East has become the one world region where anti-imperialist nationalism, obsolete elsewhere, remains alive and where an indigenous ideology, Islam, provides a world view still resistant to West-centric globalization." (Emphasis added.)

This illustrates perfectly the amalgamation of Arab nationalism, Islam, and the "anti-imperialist" Third Worldism of the Left. The trifecta from hell that's been at the heart of the disastrous ME. Every junky has an enabling dealer.

Update 2: Reader Matt Frost, who kindly passed me the BBC link above, has picked up on this post on his website, Secret Plans, and summarized his own criticism of Lieven's position as follows:

"Lieven, for all his pompous bluster about understanding the complexity and diversity of the Arab/Muslim world, hews to a simplistic ideological vision that leads into a strategic dead end. Presumably his “cornucopia of opportunities after September 11 to seek Muslim allies in the war on terrorism” includes enlisting the forces of fascist Arab nationalism against the jihadis. While this might be an effective tactical measure, as a strategy it is futile and morally corrupt. The idea that Baathism, of all things, is an acceptable antidote to jihadism is a crippling delusion. Such an approach would maintain the squalid status quo of the Arab world, in which the only political choice is between different flavors of fascism."

Update 3: Shiite cleric Fadlallah adds these nuggets to our list:

"Muslims do not feel that there is a contradiction between Islam and Arabism."

"Islam is a source of strength for the Arabs and Arab nationalism, just as Arabism is a source of strength to Islam."

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

I Cretini

In my post on "anti-Orientalists" I made a reference to a recent op-ed by primo imbecile Patrick Seale. In that piece, there was a quote (quoted approvingly and with great admiration and relief by Seale) from an American group called American Respect. Read it and weep:

"A full-page advertisement in The New York Times two Sundays ago by an anonymous group calling itself americanrespect.com denounced America's 'profound misunderstanding' of the causes of terrorism and the mistaken war against Iraq. 'Terrorists are not inherently malevolent," the group declared; 'they are filled with passion and a sense of being aggrieved - as true of Al-Qaeda as the Palestinians under Israel ...' Muslims 'view U.S. foreign policy and aid to be heavily biased in favor of Israel and a significant threat to Islam ...'"

I've already slammed Seale and his likes on this issue of "dialoguing with the Jihadists," and I have quoted Christopher Hitchens, Jesse Walker (and the piece he linked to on Foucault and Islamism), and Marc Cooper, and their criticism of the Left's indulgence of Islamism and Jihadism. Martin Kramer has done more criticism and satire of these kinds of people (especially in the case of Hippie Prof. Mark LeVine, aka. Indiana Jones!) and today he quotes Gilles Kepel on the subject. Here's the quote:

"A number of former communists and fellow travelers of the left have been supportive of the Islamists. They see the Islamists as the embodiment of the masses. The communist cadres used to call these people useful idiots and the term still holds."

How true.

Update: Martin Kramer shares his thoughts on "dialoguing" with Islamists.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The Anti-Orientalists: What are They Good For?

For those who might find this interesting, I have been carrying a discussion with a reader, Bech, in the comments section of my "Matters of Reason" post.

I will only paste my latest reply to Bech here instead of the comments section. For his comments and my previous replies, please click on the link above.
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"I think Bernard Lewis has always made tendentious argument. I mean one of his papers is entitled "Muslim Rage", since when if you're a scholar do you lump-sum 'muslim' in a homogeneous entity that can feel 'rage'. this stinks propaganda as much as extreme anti-orientalist rethoric."

I believe the article you're referring to is "The Roots of Muslim Rage." Look, I'm not here to defend Lewis' work. Altough, statements such as the following from the article, put a dent in your characterization:

"We should not exaggerate the dimensions of the problem. The Muslim world is far from unanimous in its rejection of the West, nor have the Muslim regions of the Third World been the most passionate and the most extreme in their hostility. There are still significant numbers, in some quarters perhaps a majority, of Muslims with whom we share certain basic cultural and moral, social and political, beliefs and aspirations;"

The subtitle alone puts more qualification than you give it credit for. Furthermore, Lewis is hardly the only scholar with this view. See this interview with the late Maxime Rodinson (French). However, I will point out a couple of things:

1- The anti-Orientalists (as we've accidentally agreed on calling them!) have made, and continue to make, similar and more egregious statements. For instance, how many times have you heard how America's foreign policy doesn't sit well in "the Muslim world" or "the Arab world" or, (as pointed out by Martin Kramer) "the Arab street." Now can anyone tell me what the hell is the "Arab street"? Whatever points you want to make against Lewis for using the term "Muslim Rage," the "Arab street" rests on similar "lump-sum" (as you put it) and worse. It rests on a hegemonic political ideology (what they accuse the Orientalists of legitimizing) which is Arab Nationalism of course. Arab Nationalism allows you to group incredibly diverse groups into an "Arab" monolith, an "Arab street." In fact, I would argue that the term, especially with the addition of "street" to it validates a comment made by another reader, Matt Frost, that I quoted in the past. In response to a statement by Chirac, Matt wrote:

"Your quote from Chirac: "We must take measure of the resentments and frustrations from one end of the Arab world to the other..."

This summarizes, in a single phrase, the pernicious status quo approach to the Middle East -- the tendency to treat the Arab-Islamic population as but a bundle of fantasies, neuroses, and repressed desires to be analyzed and then accommodated. This perspective nourishes the Arab intellectuals' ideology of grievance, against which you argue so well.

It also nurtures the dangerous idea that in the West, ordinary people want things like good schools, good governments, and a safe life for their children, while in the Mideast, people want nothing more than to settle centuries-old disputes and affronts to collective honor.
"

Now, this kind of statement is hardly Chirac's invention. One hears it from Arabists and ME "experts" left and right. Just read some of the garbage by Rashid Khalidi, Joseph Masaad, Juan Cole, Hamid Dabashi, Rami Khouri, Patrick Seale, Jonathan Raban, et al. So, "Muslim Rage" is a no-no, but "Muslim grievances" or "Muslim humiliation" is ok? The funny thing is that effectively, these apologists end up acknowledging "Muslim Rage" but only if seen as a result of "American Policy."

This is not to mention the grandiose statements about a "Shiite International" and their rage in response to American policy in Iraq (this is courtesy of Iraq expert Juan Cole), or a "transcendent Shiite-Sunni unity" (Cole, and see imbécile extraordinaire Patrick Seale's latest in the Daily Star. When the US says al-Qaeda and Iran, or Hizbullah and Sunni salafis are working together, Cole musters his expertise on Islamic sectarianism to patronizingly instruct us on how ignorant we are of Muslim complexities. But neither he nor Seale have a problem saying precisely that!), etc. So whenever they want, they lump them together, just as long as it's in the context of "resistance" to the US. Therefore, hypocrisy penetrates and permeates the Third-Worldist and Post-Colonial discourse.

2- I'll combine this one with your comment on Campus Watch, where you said: "I mean you just can't criticize Israel without being stamped on this site?! And this in the name of 'Academic Instegrity'."

I would hardly call that statement fair. I have my own reservations about Campus Watch, or perhaps some of their decisions. However, did you read that article by Dabashi in Al-Ahram? There is a whole bunch of this type of trash penned by Joseph Masaad and others. For instance, see my last post on Juan Cole. Now all these people claim that they're making legitimate criticism of Israeli policy. That's all bullshit. One can make legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, but this is a whole other beast. Cole claims to criticize Sharon but ends up casting suspicions on the Sephardic Jews! Dabashi, on his first ever visit to Israel, wrote a perfectly anti-semitic article. Masaad is little more than a rabid maniac who spits out the words "nazi" and "racist" like spasms. To expose these people for the frauds they are is perfectly legitimate as far as I'm concerned.

"Anyway, Bernard Lewis has worked in political spheres too and is famous for dangerous proposal (along with James Woolsey, the CSP/JINSA freak) such as restoring the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq in order to displace the rest of gaza and west bank palestinians to jordan. And this just one example."

Evidence, evidence, evidence??? I've heard Cole ejaculate prematurely quite often on the issue of the "neocons" being held together by a desire to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians. And he signed a letter before the Iraq war warning that Israel is going to take advantage of the Iraq war to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians out of the West Bank. Did any of that materialize?!

"In sum, maybe anti-orientalists went a bit too far in their stigmatizations but this does not mean that people like Bernard Lewis, guys working in MEMRI, Daniel Pipes, etc. aren't working with an ideological background (implicitly or explicitly)."

It's not whether they went too far or not. It's a matter of doing exactly what they claim to oppose. It's hypocrisy and fraud pure and simple. As for Pipes or Lewis, I don't think they deny that they have a particular ideology. We all do to one extent or another. One question is whether it's intellectually honest to attack their ideology while hypocritically presenting another one as "authentic" or "native" to their subjects under false pretense.

"These ideological elements are very dangerous for people in the Middle East. They create wars for one thing.
On the other hand I don't think that 'Anti-Orientalists' could ever contribute to drastic political restructuring, creating wars and killings.
"

Nonsense! The ideology of most Anti-Orientalists is Arab Nationalism: a bloody, belligerent, racist, and fascistic failed-ideology! The other is an apology for Islamism: an even more bloody, belligerent, racist, and fascist ideology. You want dangerous? Minimizing those two ideologies under the guise of such attacks on Lewis led to a complete failure and complacency before 9/11 and has maintained a horrendous status quo in the ME under the guise of "realism" (actually based on quasi-racist views on the region, from the anti-Orientalists themselves! Here's an interesting note. Clovis Maksoud, the senile Arab Nationalist at the American University, has called for lobbying against lifting the sanctions on Iraq in the aftermath of the recent Iraq war, in order not to convey legitimacy on the Coalition "occupation"!)

"Anyway, loving liberal values shouldn't make you drop into semi-fascistic propos."

In light of the above, I wonder who's "semi-fascistic."

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Contact the Bay

To whom it may concern, there's now an email address you can write me on. It's in the profile (to your left): across_the_bay@hotmail.com.

People have asked for a short bio and an email address and here they are. Can't say I'm not a nice guy, despite my foul mouth!