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The ‘Jihad at Home’ Case: New UK Terror Trial

“Almost nightly he was using the laptop,” police officer Paul Brereton told the court, “and described how on a standard night she would be massaging oil into his feet while he would look at this [extremist] material.”

The trial of Shasta Khan, which opened in Manchester, England, last week, relates to an alleged plot to carry out a bombing campaign against the city’s Jewish community. Her husband, Mohammed Sajid Khan, 33, has already pleaded guilty. The prosecution alleges that couple began “to make preparations to carry out a terrorist attack on British soil, with the most likely target being an Orthodox Jewish area in Prestwich. Between them they made preparations, and acquired substances bought in supermarkets and information to help them in making explosives, and began the process of assembling an improvised explosive device.”

The New Arab Pitch on Israel

At the annual US-Islamic World Forum, held last week in Doha, Qatar, some Arab participants made a pitch for the “reset” button to be pressed on the triangular relationship between the USA, Israel, and the Arab world. I think we will be hearing a lot more of this.

The pitch came in three parts.

First, an analysis. The Arab-Israeli dispute is the main obstacle to a better relationship between the Arab world and America. The main cause of last year’s Arab awakening was the people’s anger at their own leaders’ failure to be accountable to the people. On no issue was this lack of accountability plainer than their collusion with Israel in a fake “peace process.” When the US favors Israel, it does terrible damage to its reputation in the Arab world, as well as acting against its own interests. If the US could only focus upon its actual strategic interests (rather, it is implied, than passively remaining in thrall to the Israel lobby) then the US-Arab relations could go from strength to strength.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the Four 'No's

I was in Doha last week for the US-Islamic World Forum—three days of debate between 247 people from 31 countries on the theme “New voices, new directions.” Held annually since 9/11, the forum builds “bridges of understanding between the United States and the Muslim World” through the creation of “networks of American and Muslim leaders across government and civil society.”

Mostly I came away inspired. I will never forget the passion with which Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakul Karman spoke of the courage of Yemeni women whose street protests have rocked not just the regime but also age-old male prejudice. “At first they made fun of us. But then we women swept through the streets and they stopped laughing.”       

But the forum also left me troubled in two respects.

The BBC and the 'Jewish Lobby'

When Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer published The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy in 2007, they took pains to distance themselves from the notion of a “Jewish lobby.” No, their “Israel lobby,” they insisted, was composed of “a loose coalition of individuals and organisations … made up of both Jews and gentiles.” In a passionate letter to the New York Times, they protested:

We never employ the term in our book. Indeed, we explicitly rejected this label as inaccurate and misleading, both because the lobby includes non-Jews like the Christian Zionists and because many Jewish Americans do not support the hard-line policies favored by its most powerful elements. The Israel lobby, we emphasized, is defined by its “specific political agenda … not the religious or ethnic identity of those pushing it.”

Greek Neo-Nazis? Why the Center Cannot Hold

In Greece this week, 750,000 voters cast ballots for the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn. Economic crisis and austerity is squeezing the political center and the extremes of left and right are exploiting the discontent by targetting “economic globalization,” the “loss of national sovereignty to the EU,” and, in the case of the fascistic right, “mass immigration.”

Returning Fascism from Europe's Left

A (still tiny) red-brown left is emerging. It is using fascist ideas, assumptions, and tropes—not last about the Jews and about capital being “Jewish”—in pursuit of ostensibly left-wing ends.

This week’s exhibit is the ravings of a leading Norwegian academic Johan Galtung, the left-wing founder and doyen of the field of peace studies no less, who suggested that Israel’s Mossad may have given Anders Breivik his orders to massacre so many young social democrats.

Galtung goes on to say that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the czarist-era propaganda concoction often called a warrant for genocide, is worth reading (“It is hard to believe that the Russian secret police was able to be so specific”), especially as a guide to the present (“It is impossible to [read it] today without thinking of Goldman Sachs”). 

A Very English Islam

Islam in the West is “de-territorialized,” says the French writer Olivier Roy. He means it is “less and less ascribed to a specific territory and civilizational area” and he thinks this is dangerous because it helps to form an environment of vulnerability that the Islamist recruiters—all skilled entrepreneurs of identity—exploit.

First, de-territorialization increases the appeal of the construct of a “global Ummah” as a transnational fellowship of belief and membership. Second, it undermines the authority of the local ulema, or religious scholars. Third, according to Quintan Wiktorowicz, it allows Islamist movements to present themselves as “autonomous interpreters capable of assessing the divine sources of Islam without bias.”

Extremism in Britain's House of Lords

In 1998, Nazir Ahmed became the first British Muslim to become a life peer in the British upper chamber, the House of Lords. This week, he was suspended by the Labor Party.

According to Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper, while Ahmed was in Haripur, Pakistan, he said, “If the US can announce a reward of $10 million for the captor of Hafiz Saeed, I can announce a bounty of 10 million pounds on President Obama and his predecessor, George Bush.” Hafiz Saeed is the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group suspected of perpetrating the 2008 Mumbai massacre of 166 people.

Israel's Iran Dilemma

The Iranian regime has long been committed to the destruction of the state of Israel. Its program to build a nuclear weapon is close—just how close is unclear—to reaching the “zone of immunity,” after which a dash to produce nuclear weapons cannot be stopped. This combination of eliminationist anti-Semitism and nuclear capacity has placed the most fateful decision since the founding of the state on the shoulders of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak: whether or not to conduct pre-emptive military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Should ‘Coordinated Unilateralism’ Replace the Peace Process?

The latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, held in Amman, have ended in mutual recrimination. For two decades, participants have gone in search of a permanent status agreement that would solve all issues and end all claims. They have told themselves that such a deal would be supported by virtually “all reasonable people.” But with no final agreement after years of trying, might it be the very search for a comprehensive and negotiated deal that is the problem?

The obstacles have less to do with bad faith and more to do with certain intractable characteristics of the conflict.

The Specter of the ‘New Communism’

A specter is haunting the academy—the specter of the “New Communism.” Astonishingly, a worldview recently the source of immense suffering and misery, and responsible for more deaths than fascism and Nazism, has made a comeback.

The leading proponents of the New Communism are the “academic rock-star” Slavoj Zizek and the philosopher and ex-Maoist Alain Badiou. Other leading figures are Michael Hardt, Gianni Vattimo, Bruno Bosteels from Cornell University, Alessandro Russo, Judith Balso, and Alberto Toscano. 

All spoke at “The Idea of Communism,” a conference held in London in 2009 that attracted nearly 1000 people paying more than 100 pounds each. Since the conference, a little publishing industry has grown up, making the “New Communism”  respectable on campus.

Pascal Bruckner and the Tyranny of Guilt

An eternal movement: critical thought, at first subversive, turns against itself and becomes a new conformism, but one that is sanctified by the memory of its former rebellion. Yesterday’s audacity is transformed into clichés. Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency. A whole intellectual intercourse is established: clerks are appointed to maintain it like the ancient guardians of the sacred flame and issue permits to think and speak.

— Pascal Bruckner, The Tyranny of Guilt

My daughter was sitting in a university lecture one day when the professor put a rhetorical question to the class. “I mean, how many of you are proud to be British?” Her voice dripped with disdain (and, if you know how these things work, also with threat: don’t you dare put your hand up!).

The Palestinian Morning After

morning after. noun; plural, mornings after. a moment or period of realization in which the consequences of an earlier, ill-advised action are recognized or brought home to one.

The Palestinian “September” has come and gone. The standing ovation in which President Abbas basked in New York is only a warm memory, and all those portraits carried aloft in Ramallah are back in storage. Now, after the party, comes the morning after.

As I feared when writing at World Affairs in September (here and here), Palestinian unilateralism has damaged the prospects for Palestinian statehood. Adventurism in New York, far from producing a state in Palestine, has triggered a crisis in the Palestinian Authority (PA) itself.

Lessons on Radicalization from George Eliot

The attraction of young, idealistic Muslims to the pompous frauds of radical Islamism is often hard to fathom. Only by understanding that radicalization is a fundamentally expressive act, a questing after coherence and meaning, can we grasp it. And the supreme portrayal of what we might call supply-side “radicalization” is George Eliot’s ardent young Dorothea Brooke in her great novel Middlemarch, later hailed by Virginia Woolf as “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.” I believe it is unparalleled as a depiction of how the mix of youth, idealism, illusion, and projection can open up an individual to a disastrous detour in their life-project.  

Projection

In the provincial town of Middlemarch in the years before the great reform bill of 1832, Dorothea Brooke, young and idealistic, noble but ignorant, enters a disastrous marriage to a much older man, Mr. Casaubon, a “dried bookworm towards fifty,” a petty and egotistic scholar with the touch of the charlatan about him. (His book, The Key to all Mythologies, will never be written, and he knows it.)

The Rise and Rise of Conspiracism

One of the reasons that the extremes of left and right touch—think of Anders Breivik plagiarizing the Unabomber manifesto, or those far-leftists marching under the banner “we are all Hezbollah now”—is that they have a shared commitment to conspiratorialism.

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