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Wild Rumors As News in the Arab World

During the horrible fighting in Bosnia in 1995,the Onion proposed that the US should send vowels to that country. “For six years, we have stood by while names like Ygrjvslhv and Tzlynhr and Glrm have been horribly butchered by millions around the world,” said the satiric paper, channeling President Clinton. “It is time the people of Bosnia finally had some vowels in their incomprehensible words.”

In a like spirit of laughing through our tears I propose to send something to the Arab world: epistemology. In Arab news media—print, broadcast, and cybernetic—you can say almost anything you want, and people will believe it, so long as it pertains to Jews. 

Civilians or Plainclothes Combatants in Gaza Death Toll?

Could it be that most of the Palestinians who died in Gaza were combatants? The claim that the vast majority were civilians fueled a global anti-Israel outpouring during the war in Gaza to which even our own State Department and White House contributed. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of August 13th 1,965 had died in Gaza of whom 1,417, about 72 percent, were civilians. This office has issued running totals daily that have been the basis for virtually all news reports on the subject. But these reports beg the question of how the OCHA knows who is a “civilian.” And, moreover, the numbers themselves suggest a very different assessment from what the OCHA offers.

The Left’s Fixation with Israel

“Israel has broken my heart: I’m a rabbi in mourning for a Judaism being murdered by Israel,” reads the devastating headline in Salon.com. But it turns out the author is not really a rabbi. He is Michael Lerner, a lifelong radical activist who was ordained by no seminary but who calls himself a “rabbi” in the same sense that Al Sharpton calls himself a “reverend.” He has spent the last decades in homespun clerical garb, relentlessly bashing Israel and debasing Judaism.

Starting as a founder of the violent “Seattle Liberation Front,” he moved on after 1960s radicalism petered out to declare himself a “psychotherapist,” pursuing the same political agenda by analyzing the “psychodynamics of American society” and founding the “Institute for Labor and Mental Health.”

Encouraging Al-Qaeda Kidnappers with Appeasement

It turns out that financing for al-Qaeda and like groups does not come primarily from oil-rich sheikhs but from closer to home. According to a blockbuster piece of investigative journalism by the New York Times, while once “Al Qaeda received most of its money from deep-pocketed donors . . . counterterrorism officials now believe the group finances the bulk of its recruitment, training, and arms purchases from ransoms paid to free Europeans.” The sums would be beyond the means of most private individuals, so the money comes from European governments, although they shamefacedly and mendaciously deny it. The paper found that “Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008.”

Nothing Shocking About Kerry’s Coddling of Hamas

Israel was shocked by Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic maneuvers regarding Gaza. David Horovitz, the editor of the Times of Israel, a man who takesmiddle-of-the-road positions and chooses words carefully, called it a “betrayal” of an ally. Kerry snubbed Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, closeted himself with Turkey and Qatar, Hamas’s two main Islamist Sunni backers, and produced a proposal that, unlike the Egyptian cease-fire plan already on the table, incorporated most of Hamas’s demands while ignoring Israel’s, notably Israel’s need to defang Hamas of its offensive capabilities, especially the tunnels reaching under the border.

Libya: The Next Great Betrayal?

The West’s refusal to come to the aid of Libya’s lightly-armed freedom fighters as they face planes, tanks, and heavy weapons may turn the Libyan civil war into the first great betrayal of the 21st century, reminiscent of many that stained the last century.

The classic among such episodes was the Spanish civil war of 1936–39. The morality play embedded in many tellings of this story grows blurry on second look because Communists came to dominate the Loyalist side. But this might not have been so had the West been less cowardly. As it was, while the US, France, and the UK maintained a policy of non-intervention, Mussolini and Hitler threw their own forces into the battle on the side of Francisco Franco’s Nationalists. They used Spain as a testing ground for the world war that they were emboldened to launch. Nor was the lesson of Spain lost on the heads of other states, including Stalin, who learned that if you wanted to be on the winning side, you’d be wise to follow Hitler.

Make Libya a No-Fly Zone

Muammar Qaddafi is willing to fight to the last Libyan to cling to power. The stakes in this mounting battle are bigger than Libya itself.

One of the tragic realities of politics is that while dictators do get overthrown, it is usually only the more moderate ones. Outright tyrants are harder to topple.

Yes, Mubarak’s rule rested on force and intimidation (and corruption). But Mubarak had little Egyptian blood on his hands, and in the end he went peacefully (although not of his own free will). Tunisia’s Ben Ali was more repressive, and perhaps he would have shed blood. But the army switched sides at the get-go, so this was never tested. Sadly, however, those regimes that are insouciant about killing their own citizens often prevail. “A whiff of grapeshot,” as Carlyle characterized Napoleon’s actions against rebels in Paris, usually works.

US ‘Intelligence’: Blinded by Ideology

President Obama is reported to be upset that US intelligence agencies failed to foresee Egypt’s unrest, and he has apparently ordered an accounting. Experience, however, teaches that political events almost always surprise us, and the real problem with America’s intelligence analysts is one that Obama probably does not want to hear.

True, no one predicted Egypt’s rebellion — or Tunisia’s, or Iran’s Green movement in 2009 or its Islamic revolution in 1978–79 or the downfall of the Soviet empire in 1989 or North Korea’s invasion in 1950. One could go on ad infinitum. Intelligence analysis is nothing like gazing into a crystal ball.

But there does seem to be something amiss in our spy agencies, although it confounds the Hollywood trope that the CIA is filled with rightwing super-patriots. On the contrary, it seems that the analysis divisions (as opposed to the operations people responsible for derring-do in the field) are so dominated by left-liberal ideologues that too little rigorous analysis takes place.

Egypt and the Way of Revolutions

Nothing in politics is certain. But history offers some guides to what we can expect from the Egyptian revolution.

First, revolutions are highly contagious, although the speed at which they spread varies. The American revolution of 1776 inspired the French to revolt 13 years later. In the single year of 1848, some 50 peoples across Europe rose in rebellion. Over the course of roughly a decade from the late 1970s to late 1980s, one country after another in Latin America sloughed off dictatorship for democracy. In 1989, Communism was overthrown in every outpost of the Soviet empire and then in the Soviet Union itself. The odds are that the upheaval that started in Tunis (or perhaps in Iran in 2009) and has spread to Egypt will spread farther. These infections usually travel within regions. Whether it is all at once or over the course of the next few years, no Arab regime can count on being immune, nor can the Iranian mullahs.

What Egypt Portends: Three Scenarios

The uprising in the streets of Egypt could remake our world. Turmoil is contagious. The revolt in little Tunisia kindled the timber in Egypt. If the flames are not smothered fast in Egypt, which is still the most influential country of the Arab world, the conflagration will spread across the region.

Three rough scenarios beckon. Only one is less than momentous. If the loyalty of the army holds and the protests are quashed, Egypt will go through a period of intensified repression accompanied by promises of reform that will focus on economics — although in the end they won’twork because the threat of instability will scare away investors. Mubarak will pull back from passing power to his son, Gamal, because that would cause renewed anger. The country would become more of a military dictatorship and less of a party-ruled state. And it might muddle along that way, as it has already for generations. The consequences would be sad for Egyptians, not so major for the rest of the world.

Why Tunisia’s Revolution Must Have Been a Mirage

The sudden overthrow of Tunisia’s strongman, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has inspired a spate of speculation by journalists and analysts about which throne may shake next while the controlled press of nearby dictatorships are at pains to explain why “it can’t happen here.”

Well, maybe not. But then again it couldn’t happen in Tunisia, either, and as far as I can see, no one predicted that it would. The regime, according to the ratings of Freedom House, was one of the four most repressive among the 17 states of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). And the repression seemed to have worked: all opposition parties had long since been crushed. Ben Ali had been in office for 23 years while his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, had ruled for 31, and between them that accounted for the entire history of Tunisia as a country independent of foreign rule.

More on the Epistemology Deficit and ‘Moderate’ Islamism

My last two blogs were, respectively, about the Muslim epistemology deficit and the mirage of moderate Islamism. As if the gods of punditry had pulled my name out of a hat for blessings, this week’s news is chock full of dramatic new developments in these very stories.

First, on epistemology. I had noted reports in the Palestinian press that the Israeli Mossad had trained rats to infest the homes of Arab residents of Jerusalem while passing over those of their Jewish neighbors and that a high Egyptian official had attributed lethal attacks on bathers to Mossad-trained sharks who apparently avoided Israeli tourists. Now, Saudi news organizations have reported the capture of an Israeli Mossad spy bird.

The bird is a vulture, and its exact mission has yet to be deciphered. How did the Saudis discover that this particular vulture was not a run-of-the-mill consumer of carrion, but an Israeli spy? Because the creature wore a leg bracelet on which were imprinted the words “Tel Aviv University.”

The Mirage of Moderate Islamism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s faltering attempt to repair relations with the government of Turkey brings into clear focus the uselessness of trying to deal with so-called “moderate” Islamists.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan continues to demand that Israel apologize for its part in the “flotilla” incident this May in which nine Turkish citizens died from Israeli gunfire. In an interview this week, Netanyahu again refused this request but spoke in most conciliatory terms and rebuked his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who had recently said that it is Turkey that owes Israel an apology.

Lieberman is a verbal bomb-thrower and ill-suited for the position he holds. His views toward the Palestinians make agreement more difficult. But on Turkey he was completely right. In the flotilla episode, Israel was a victim of Turkish aggression.

Epistemology to the Muslim World

In a recent article, Khaled Abu Toameh, the Palestinian journalist who moved from the Palestinian press to the Jerusalem Post so that he could practice his profession with integrity, recalled that “Mahmoud Abbas’s official news agency, Wafa, reported that Israel had released poison-resistant rats to drive Arab residents of Jerusalem out of their homes.” The Wafa report claimed that “settlers flood the Old City of Jerusalem with rats.” Abu Toameh added sardonically: “It is not clear how these rats were taught to stay away from Jews, who also happen to live in the Old City.”

The Council in Wonderland

The Council on Foreign Relations has just issued a report advocating that Washington get out ahead of the demands for adding more permanent seats to the UN Security Council by advocating an enlargement plan of its own. The Alice-in-Wonderland quality of this document is revealed in the second paragraph, which asserts that “Few subjects arouse as much passion as altering the size of the UNSC.” Right, except maybe curling, philately, and whether I should wear black socks or navy today.

Like the figures in Plato’s parable of the cave, the authors of the CFR report seem to have read the UN Charter but never observed the UN in action — or followed any other real world events of the past 65 years. The report warns that without enlargement, the Security Council will become “increasingly ineffective in addressing today’s security challenges,” which is like saying that without a paint job, Grant’s Tomb will become increasingly immobile.

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