Sunday, February 27, 2005

Tolerance and the Erosion of Society

What do we mean when we say 'tolerance'? We use the word all the time, especially in regards to 'diverse communities'. I believe that 'tolerance', at least in today's circumstances, does not mean what we think it does.

The idea of tolerance was originally devised to keep various Christian sects from fighting each other, as a way of preseving society in the face of religious strife. John Locke wrote in 'A Letter Concerning Toleration,' "I esteem that toleration to be the chief characteristic mark of the true Church." The Letter was a profoundly religious document. The idea, crudely put, was that members of the various Christian sects would argee not to fight each other over their doctrinal differences in the interest of society at large. Despite their sectarian disputes the members of these sects still shared a sense of a larger civil society. They shared the same broad Christian heritage, the same European and national history, the same language. Tolerance existed inside a larger cultural framework of historical, religious and historical meaning. 'Tolerance' was an idea that supported society as a whole.

Today though 'tolerance' has lost that meaning. How so? First, 'tolerance' is no longer tolerance as such because nothing is intolerable. I mean that literally. Nothing, no behaviour, no symbol, no speech, is deemed intolerable by what we laughably call our standards. "Wait," you say, "of course some things are intolerable. Child molesting, for example." No, child molesting and other such henious behaviors, rape, arson, etc, are illegal. They are outside the discourse of tolerance by the nature of their illegality. I ask, what legal behavior is considered intolerable in the public square?

More than that though, even if some individual found something intolerable, at say the mall or an airport, what methods are recognized for expressing intolerance? None. The only thing intolerable, to paraphrase Madonna, is intolerance itself.

What we mean by 'tolerance' today is really 'mutual indifference' or more accurately 'mutual indifference to legal behavior.' We simple don't care or at least act as if we don't care how other people behave, the speech they use or the symbols they display, so long as it at least appears to be legal.

Tolerance is supposed to be the lubricant of that paragon of civic virtue, the diverse community. Yet by definition members of a community must share something in common and the community itself must have limits so that some are excluded. However this is not the case. None are excluded. All are welcome. The virtues of tolerance and diversity have trumpted those of community.

Go to a mall in a big city. Walk around and watch people for an hour. Diversity and tolerance as mutual indiffernce are on display at every turn. If you don't think and let yourself be drawn into the regime of enforced frivolity you'll come away impressed at the achievements of the diverse society. However, you'll be wrong. Look again at the mallgoers. What do they share? Language? No. Many of them do not speak English, many others do not write it, even more do not read beyond a mere functional capacity. The others don't share one single language in common. Nationality? No, again. Many are not American citizens. Some are here illegally. Religion? Give me a break. Even those who are nominally Christian are largely ignorant of the tradition. History, culture, or (getting desperate now) values? Please. No, the only thing these people have truly in common is commerce. They all spend US dollars. But this is not a community much less a society. This is merely a marketplace.

Which brings me back to mutual indifference. Why have we allowed 'tolerance' to devolve into mutual indifference? I think there are three factors.

One - market forces tend to search for the largest possible pool of consumers regardless of other factors. If there were enough Nazis in America with enough purchasing power Hallmark would issue a Hitler's birthday card for their celebrations. The marketplace would try to water-down the holiday by replacing its symbols with something bland and unlikely to give offense as has happened with Christian holidays, Snowmen and Bunnies domesticating Christmas and Easter. (Perhaps a friendly cartoon bat for Hilter's Birthday, maybe known as Reich Day or Aryan Day.) One consumer's money is as good as the next's. Merchants don't care if the buyer is an illegal alien or a 12-year-old girl wearing a t-shirt that says "Slut" or an Islamist in a full beard and robes.

Two - we lack a common reference point to determine what is intolerable. Since we no longer live in a society but rather in a number of unrelated societies residing inside an indifferent economic structure we have lost any way of declaring that certain behaviors, speech or symbols are inappropriate, intolerable or simply wrong. In the past one could appeal to religion or civic virtue to shame fellow citizens into adopting acceptable behavior. Today that is impossible. One individual may protest the actions of another individual but unless they happen to share some common norm (which is increasingly unlikely) they will simply disagree and that's that. "Who are you to tell me how to live, asshole?" is the common way to put this.

Three - a widespread attitude that combines fear of conflict with resignation with a misguided "live-and-let-live" attitude. "I won't tell others how to live and they won't tell me." Again, this is a indifference masquerading as tolerance.

In the name of human freedom we have abandoned all constraints on behavior and expression except the legal ones. Arguments referring to morality or even politeness have lost the power to persuade or shame because we no longer share definitions of morality with our fellow shoppers. Some view wearing fur as a sin and see homosexuality as acceptable. Others believe the opposite. But these are presented as merely opinions without the force of a larger, common tradition or comtext. Whom is to say who is right? We can all agree that the mall closes at ten so let's leave each other alone and get in line behind the guy wearing this t-shirt. You may be offended but isn't that really your problem? He has a right to express himself.

We have then has played an ironic trick on ourselves. Tolerance was originally an idea used to support a society whose members shared much in common. Today it is an idea that has been part of the erosion of society. Mutual indifference is the perfect value to support the smooth functioning of the marketplace, whose shoppers share little or nothing in common. We tolerate anyone except those who are actively trying to kill us. Even then we tolerate people who share their ideas and propagate their symbols.

Europe Before the Explosion

Must read article in today's Sunday Times (U.K.), "Putting the fear of God into Holland." It provides an excellent overview of the situation in Holland before examining the troubles in other European countries. In contains some great quotes.

Hirsi Ali: "The essentials of Islam are not compatible with liberal democracy. In the Koran and the Hadith, it says that woman is below man, that nonbelievers have to die, and that people who renounce Islam have to die immediately."

All agree, however, in the new climate in Holland, that open debate is essential. "Hiding is not a good strategy," (Ahmed) Aboutaleb (a Dutch Moroccan politician) says. (Karim) Traida (an Algerian film director) puts it more bluntly: "I say — say it, now, before the explosion." ...

Meanwhile native Dutch are emigrating from Holland in record numbers. Why? "The Dutch are living in a kind of pressure cooker atmosphere," says Paul Hiltemann, Dutch emigration expert. "Dutch demographers say their country has undergone one of Europe's fastest and most far-reaching demographic shifts, with about 10 percent of the population now foreign born, a majority of them Muslims." Holland is at the cutting edge of Europe in this regard.

Western Europe is undergoing the largest population shift since the 7th and 8th centuries. This is happening just as the advent of a federal Europe, and the decline of traditional faith, are already straining its old identity.

Is the EU part of the problem, or should it impose a solution? Some say that it is undermining the validity of the nation state, without creating a coherent alternative. ... "Europe has no cultural or political identity," argues Shmuel Trigano, a professor at the University of Paris-Nanterre. "Nor does it have common values. ... The crisis in European identity, he has written, is likely to have "unforeseen and profound consequences".

There's that word again - identity. How can the Europeans resist the Islamists if they don't know who they are? Under what banner can they rally to combat the forces of jihad? Traditionally there have been two methods of organizing and mobilizing people: religion and nationalism. Both have been driven to extinction in Europe by the EU and its institutions.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, has said that Christianity in Britain is "almost vanquished". Cardinal Adrianis Simonis of Utrecht believes that the "spiritual vacuity" of Dutch society has left the Netherlands open to an Islamic cultural takeover. "Today we have discovered that we are disarmed in the face of the Islamic danger," he said recently.

"Political leaders ask whether the Muslims will accept our values," he said. "I ask, 'What values are those? Gay marriage? Euthanasia?'" The cardinal said that the time when Christians "would fight and die for their faith" were long past, but he hoped "tragic acts" like the van Gogh murder "will force us to recover our identity".

This is the opportunity that I keep writing about. Identities are not static things sitting on shelves. Identities can be created by political forces. In a few decades the map of Europe could look quite different if current identities are reformed. To quote the political philosopher Ernest Gellner, "Nations do not so much create nationalism as nationalism creates nations."

Does Steyn Read Rant Wraith?

I'm not the only one predicting the rise of ideological entrepreneurs in a Europe seething with Muslim/native animosity. Regarding Bush's recent European trip, Mark Steyn writes
"The president, in other words, understands that for Europe, unlike America, the war on terror is an internal affair, a matter of defusing large unassimilated radicalized Muslim immigrant populations before they provoke the inevitable resurgence of opportunist political movements feeding off old hatreds."
Opportunists yes, although I would use that term in a non-judgmental way. Old hatred? Perhaps, although one should not underestimate the appeal of new hatreds too.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Terror Mosque

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, assused of plotting to assassinate President Bush, attended Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, VA. The NYT has an article about the mosque and the growing and "politically active" muslim community. Here's a short list of local terrorists:
  • "Mr. Abu Ali also had clear ties to several defendants in a case involving 11 Northern Virginia Muslims accused of plotting to wage war against American forces and allied nations overseas." (9 of the 11 "were convicted last year on charges including conspiring to wage war against American allies and illegal possession of weapons.")
  • "That case was followed by the indictment of Ali al-Timimi, a charismatic leader known for his fiery sermons at a storefront mosque in Falls Church. Prosecutors say Mr. Timimi, who is awaiting trial in May on terrorism-related charges, urged his followers, including some of the men in the Virginia Jihad case, to wage holy war against the United States."
  • "In another case, Abdurahman Alamoudi, a prominent Arab-American from Falls Church, pleaded guilty last year to charges of laundering money from Libya and taking part in a foiled plot by President Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya to assassinate a Saudi prince." (Alamoudi founded the American Muslim Council, and the Veteran Affairs Council, one of two organizations approved to nominate muslim military chaplains.)
  • Ahmed Omar Abu Ali's "father works as a computer programmer at the Saudi Embassy and leads morning prayers there." (Yes, I'm including the Saudi Embassy among local terrorists. Duh.)
The recent Freedom House report "Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Fill American Mosques" gathered its source documents from 15 mosques and Islamic centers throughout the country. Dar Al-Hijrah mosque was among those sources. (Other source document were gathered at a mosque in Herndon, VA, and two mosques in DC. More than a quarter of the sources for that report were collected in the metro area.)

This is the part where I'm supposed to say that Ahmed Omar Abu Ali is innocent until proven guilty and blah blah blah. Meanwhile in the real world, something is wrong with the "muslim community" of northern Virginia and DC. They are not all terrorists but if you count the terrorists, their accomplices and fund raisers, those inciting terror, the active supporters and the passive sympathizers, and those who simply turn a blind eye but don't notify the authorities, then really, who is left?

Friday, February 25, 2005

It Was Only a Matter of Time

Bombing in Tel Aviv nightclub. 3 dead, at least 53 injured, some seriously. Islamic Jihad claims responsibility.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Temple Mount Fears

From the Jerusalem Post:
Police, ( Deputy Internal Security Minister Yaacov) Edri said, have recently stepped up their presence on the Temple Mount out of fear that Jewish and Muslim extremists might perpetrate an attack, which, he warned, would create for Israel an unprecedented international crisis. ... Edri said that some of the scenarios police are preparing for include an attack on the compound by air or a suicide bombing at the entrance to one of the mosques.
That is a nightmare scenario I can't even begin to contemplate.

Confusion in Lebanon

On one hand Syria says it will withdraw its troops from Lebanon per "a 1989 Arab-brokered agreement." The Syrians are even ready to work with the U.N. on the withdrawl. Kofi Annan has called for Syrian troops to leave Lebanon by the end of April.

On the other hand there are reports that "Syrian forces began distributing weapons to groups supporting Damascus and the 1.4 million expatriate laborers in the country." Hezballah has threatened that pressure against Syria could lead to another Lebanese civil war. The Pakistani Prime Minister said that a Syrian troop pullout could destabilize Lebanon.

The Other Lesson of 1989

There's been a lot of talk comparing popular anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Over by the Martyr's Monument, Lebanese students have built a little tent city and are vowing to stay until Syria's 15,000 troops withdraw. They talk like characters in "Les Miserables," but their revolutionary bravado is the sort of force that can change history. "We have nothing to lose anymore. We want freedom
or death," says Indra Hage, a young Lebanese Christian.
I guess the lesson of the Berlin Wall is that "people power" can defy the will of an exhausted dictatorship and change the life of a nation. I remember the watching the Wall come down. It was wonderful and I think the world has taken the lesson to heart.

Before we get carried away I'd like to remind everyone of another lesson from another event in 1989, Tiananmen Square. I was a college student at the time and seeing other college students, people more or less like me and my friends, stand up to the Communist Autocrats moved me. I remember watching the footage on cable tv: thousands of young people together day and night in an atmosphere of hope that combined protest, street festival and study session. I can still see the handmade Goddess of Liberty rising over the crowd.

Then it all came to a horrible end. Seeing the massacre unfold, essentially live on tv from the house I shared with my roommates, left a lasting impression on me. I learned a valuable lesson: people can always be shot and the survivors shipped to labor camps; if you hit the young idealists hard enough they will limp home to nurse their wounds and mourn their dead but they won't cause trouble; as long as the army remains loyal no protest, no matter how popular, can bring down a dictatorship; there is always a military solution.

The young Lebanese idealists may yet force the Syrians out. They may even sound impressive in the Western media. "We're going to stay here, even if soldiers attack us," says Hadi Abi Almouna, a Druze Muslim. "Freedom needs sacrifices, and we are ready to give them." But everyone should remember Tiananmen. The Syrians haven't left Lebanon yet. Nothing has changed on the ground. The Syrian military could still mow down a few thousand students and protesters, 'disappear' others and send the rest into exile. The world would bitch and whine but is anyone going to do anything about it? No. We would mourn the dead and have memorials and get on with our lives.

The lessons of Tiananmen are especially applicable to Arab dictatorships and shouldn't be forgotten.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Voted Most Likely to be a Suicide Bomber

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 23, was accused yesterday of planning to assassinate President Bush. You may have heard that he was the valedictorian of his high school in Alexandria, VA . What you may not have heard is that he attended the Islamic Saudi Academy, an institution funded by Saudi Arabia. Lots more detail are available over at The Jawa Report. From the Philadelphia Daily News:
The school's former comptroller, arrested last year after videotaping the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland, has been labeled by federal agents as a high-ranking member of the terrorist group Hamas.
It gets better. Ali's father works for the Saudi Embassy. Regular readers can guess what I think about that.

Ali's lawyers claim he was tortured by the Saudis. Why would they torture a boy who went to their school and whose father works at their embassy? Perhaps they didn't.
(F)ederal prosecutors said Wednesday in court filings that also rejected his contention that he was tortured while held in Saudi Arabia. ... Abu Ali never complained about his treatment during several meetings with an American diplomat in Saudi Arabia, according to the filing. Moreover, an American doctor examined him Monday and found "no evidence of physical mistreatment on the defendant's back or any other part of his body."
Interesting indeed. Look at this photo of his parents. He has ties to the Saudis and he attended and taught children at Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center, a mosque also attended by two of the 9/11 hijackers. Does that make Ali guilty? Not in the eyes of the law. But in the squinted, bloodshot eyes of Rant Wraith, you bet your ass. I'd hate to see him spend 80 years in federal prison where he can proselytize to other prisoners. Maybe there's a spot for him in solitary or in the super-max prison where they keep the Unibomber.

Ynet in English

Israelis largest daily, Ynet, has launched an English edition online for those of us with less-than servicable Hebrew. Just browsing through I found two interesting stories.

Guy Bechor says Christians are paying price of shift to religious categorization.
In the past decade, Christians have almost completely vanished from the Israeli Arab community and Arab world’s leadership. ... An especially low natural growth rate coupled with stepped-up emigration have dropped their share to 1.7 percent of Israel’s population (160,000). ... These data have led the Vatican to estimate Christian communities in the region will vanish in several years.
On the disengagement front, a popular rabbi is calling for settlers not to resist when they are required to leave their homes this summer. "On the day of the evacuation, we will get up and leave our homes without using force," Rabbi Shlomo Aviner told Ynetnews.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

News from Gaza

Violence in Gaza and Jenin.

In Gaza City, masked gunmen kidnapped and murdered a senior officer with the Palestinian Authority's Military Intelligence Force. ... A few hours later, the slain officer's friends and relatives burned tires and closed streets with sand barriers, disrupting traffic.

In another incident, gunmen kidnapped and later released the director of the library at the American University near Jenin. The gunmen told him that had mistaken him for the dean of the law faculty, Dr. Amin Dawwas, who they were planning to kill.
In response, the university administration suspended studies indefinitely and called on PA Chairman Mamoud Abbas to intervene to end the state of lawlessness and chaos in the West Bank.

Meanwhile Israel is moving to disarm Jewish settlers in Gaza.

Israeli police said Tuesday they would disarm Jewish militants who threaten violence ahead of a Gaza pullout and assign nearly all its field officers to evacuate settlers and control protests -- signs of mounting concern the withdrawal could turn bloody.

But What About the Root Causes?

Belgium skips addressing the root causes and goes right for the pre-emptive strike. From Expatica:
Four politicians from different political parties have cooperated on a plan to exclude extremists from power in Belgium. Francis Delperee, from the francophone Christian social party CDH, has drawn up a law which would require all Belgian politicians to commit to respecting the European Convention on Human
Rights and the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights. ... If the proposal becomes law, it could eventually
lead to the banning of the Vlaams Belang whose previous incarnation as Vlaams Blok was last year judged "racist" by Belgian courts.
This exactly the wrong thing to do. I believe Vlaans Belang receives about a third of the votes cast in Antwerp. If V.B. and other such parties are outlawed, how are their supporters supposed to participate to the political life of the nation? How can they express their concerns and voice their positions if the parties that represent them are outlawed? They can't. And that's the point of the proposal.

How will the V.B. supporters respond? Will they suddenly embrace the CDH or Greens? Or will the outlawing of their party only reinforce their view of themselves as a beseiged minority, as victims? Rather than listening to V.B. and other like parties and trying to bring them into the mainstream, the other parties prefer to brand them, and by implication their supporters, as criminals.

In the long run this is not in the interest of Belgium. The resentment and anxiety of the supporters will not go away just because V.B. is outlawed. Indeed the resentments will increase. All this is laying the groundwork, opening the market if you will, for a future ideological entrepreneur, someone who can take advantage of the situation to forge a "new political movement." They can outlaw a political party but they can't outlaw forces that create it.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Civil Disobedience and 'Disengagement'

I don't think most people have a sense of how dramatic and divisive Sharon's disengagement plan is. A significant portion of Israelis are very torn up about this. The American MSM is doing a terrible job reporting this. While we may not agree with their motives I think it is important that we understand what is at stake.

Many "right-wing" activists are planning acts of civil disobedience. Others are considering going farther. There is also a desire among certain individuals to carry out an attack on the Temple Mount, (Kach activist) Federman said. "No one wants the mosques there," he said. "But people are torn between the desire to bring them down and the fear [the Muslims] will build a more beautiful mosque after the destruction."

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Rules of Disengagement

Ariel 'The Bulldozer' Sharon signed the law today authorizing the forced evacuation of thousands of Israelis from Gaza and four communities in northern Samaria. Sharon now faces threats from the Right as well as a movement among Jewish soldiers not to participate in the forced evacuation.

Of course for all the personal and political risk that Sharon is facing it's not enough for the PA which described the Gaza pullout as "insufficient."

The real news here is the precedent the evacuation will set. Remember, despite all the 'international pressure,' the Israelis in Gaza have not broken any Israeli law. For better or worse, Israelis are being forced from their legal homes for political reasons. (I happen to think this is the right move for Israel but that's irrelevant.) The logical outsome of this precedent was articulated by Knesset Member Arieh Eldad.

Arabs who celebrate the expulsion of Jews by other Jews in the framework of the "disengagement" plan could be the next to be expelled. "The same rules that allow the expulsion of Jews now could lead to the expulsion of Arabs in the future," he said.


The Crying of Threat 49

Al-Qaeda's own Dr Doom, Ayman al-Zawahiri issued yet another in a long series of threats today.
"If you Western nations believe that these carton governments will protect you from our responses then you are deluded. Your real security lies in
cooperating with the Muslim nation on the basis of respect and ending
aggression."Your new crusader campaign will end, God willing, in defeat as did those that preceded it but after the deaths of tens of thousands, the destruction of your economy and exposing you in the pages of history."
There is some symbolism at work with his attire. He wore a white turban and had a machine gun at his side. When bin Laden released his tape right before election day he did not display a weapon. Are they playing Good Jihadist/Bad Jihadist or is there something more here?

New Political Forces

Earlier I wrote about the Coming Rightist Wave. I point my readers to three stories on that front this week.

DutchReport has a post about growing Hindu/Muslim tensions in Holland. In Dutch parlance Muslims are referred to as Moroccans.

Morrocans shoved dog faeces through the mailbox, broke into the temple twice, took a statue, urinated inside and stole money from the moneybox. Mister S. Ramdhani, a Hindu priest, says: “They spit, don’t let visitors pass through, robbed two elderly ladies and then threatened them not to press charges. Our secretary was attacked with a stick.” ... Young Hindu’s are so fed up with the situation they want to take matters into their own hands.
This sounds much like what Filip Dewinter, leaded of the Vlaams Belang in Belgium. In last Monday’s NYT he said, "Other political parties, they are very worried about the Muslim votes and say let's be tolerant, while we are saying - the new political forces in Europe are saying - no, we should defend our identity."

Dutch Reporter comments in an email that the term “Rightist” is incorrect. That is true as the Hindus in Holland indicate. They are not right in the traditional sense. Dewinter described vague “new political forces.” I use ‘Rightist’ for lack of a better term. Clearly they are not secular, democratic socialist, leftists.

The NYT reports again from Belgium, this time on the increasing numbers of European Jews joining Right parties.
(M)”any of Europe's 2.4 million Jews feel abandoned by the left.” ... "We have a common enemy, a common struggle," said Mr. Dewinter. He called Israel "the forward post of the free West fighting radical Islam" and said Jewish culture is "one of the main cultures of European civilization, but we can't say
the same of Islam."
Finally, Christopher Caldwell continues his series of reports on the Islamization of Europe, this time from Sweden. “There is white flight in Sweden, with the natives very actively segregating themselves from the foreigners. "The areas that we call 'segregated' are actually very mixed," he says. "The segregated part of the country is the Swedish part."”

None of these indicate anything more than new energy on the right end of the political spectrum. There is as yet no new ideology. However, over the next few years a space will open on the right for an “ideological entrepreneur” to market a new set of ideas about the problems facing Europe: immigration, demography, economics, etc. Being anti-Islam isn’t enough. A coherent ideology has to provide a narrative for mobilizing and organizing people. It takes imagination and hard work.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Suggested Magazine Reading

Since I won't be writing a lot today, I thought I'd suggest some magazines to fill the void. Aside from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition there are some interesting magazines out this month. Next time you are at a magazine stand, at an airport for example, you might check out some of these.

Popular Mechanics does a great service in this month's issue with a story called "9/11 Lies." The editors systematically debunk a number of 9/11 conspiracy theories. I doubt anyone reading this blog believes these "alternate histories" (certainly I don't) but it is still helpful to see them so thoroughly dismantled. Great photos and graphs. Even if you don't get the magazine, flip through it or read the article online. Plus there's a review of the Honda Ridgeline pickup truck. (They liked it.)

The New Republic has two cover stories on the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal. These days it's not just right-wingers and isolationists who are pissing all over the U.N. Now magazines that supported Kerry are blaming Kofi Annan and faulting the U.N. system. The tide may be turning.

Commentary has some thought-provoking pieces this month on the difficulties facing Muslims who convert to other religions and on Europe's demographic and economic problems. Norman Podhoretz follows up with the sequel to his great article "World War IV" and the always interesting Victor David Hanson asks "Has Iraq Weakened Us?"

The 2/14 issue of The Weekly Standard has a cover story on the Iraqi election by Reuel Marc Gerecht. Among other things, he lays out the case for a U.S. funded C-SPAN-style free satellite channel to broadcast the debates in the Iraqi National Assembly across the Arab world. The sight of elected Iraqis debating issues would, he says, do more to undermine dictators and embolden reformers than anything the U.S. could do directly. Persuasive. Plus the back page parody is the funniest take on Chinese house arrest you are likely to find.

Finally, for the more religiously minded there a fascinating article in the current Policy Review (the journal of the Hoover Institute at Stanford), "Understanding Jihad: An Authentic Islamic Tradition." I've underlined numerous passages in my copy, even in the footnotes. Really a fine read. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Funeral

The Lebanese army is on alert the day of Hariri’s funeral. Reuters says the funeral turned into an anti-Syria protest. People were chanting "revenge" and "Syria out." The country is shut down for mourning. This assassination was a major operation. The former PM traveled with bodyguards in armored vehicles. A carbomb weighing nearly one thousand pounds blasted them apart. This was a major operation requiring complex logistics and communications. Obviously Hariri was under surveillance for some time.

When anything like this happens in Lebanon you have to look at the major players: the Syrians, who still have thousands of troops in the country; and Iran, Syria’s partner in Lebanon and the patron of Hezbollah, the terrorist group that is also a major Lebanese political party.

Syria. In France, Lebanon's most prominent exile, former army commander Gen. Michel Aoun, said Tuesday that he suspects Syria was behind the assassination. The Syrians "totally control the country," Aoun said on France-Info radio. "Nothing moves without it being controlled by the Syrians."

Could something like this assassination have occurred without the consent or involvement of the Syrians? Not likely unless they are far less competent than anyone imagines. But the Syrian regime is not monolithic. Parts of the Syrian government could have been involved without the knowledge of other parts. Indeed it doesn’t take a conspiracy minded person to see that this assassination could be the symptom of rivalries within the Syrian regime.

If this assassination occurred without the knowledge of Assad, the ophthalmologist dictator of Syria, then he should be shitting in his pants. This could very well be a ‘proof of concept’ for his very own assassination. If he approved of the assassination then he isn’t particularly good at this sort of thing. This bombing looks like it is strengthening anti-Syrian sentiment among the Lebanese.

Iran. What did the Iranians know and when did they know it? If they knew nothing then perhaps the Syrians are not quite the lapdogs some may think. If they didn't know then you have to wonder just how pissed off they are. What are their next steps? If they did know, then what are their motives? Are the Shiite theocrats punishing the Sunnis (Hariri was a Sunni as all Prime Ministers must be) for allying with the Maronite Church in calling for a full Syrian withdrawal? Is the Iranian government (or part of it) trying to destabilize Lebanon? Are hardliners making a move by proxy against whatever "moderate" forces are still inside the Iranian regime?

This assassination was a signal. But who is sending it to whom?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Road From Damascus

US recalls ambassodor from Syria over the assassination of Hariri. The EU says it "sees no immediate need to change EU relations with Syria." They don't want to piss off Syria's patron Iran. But the EU does support an investigation into the bombing. It's a criminal matter, you see.

Sorry for the lack of posts the past few days. It's not that I don't have things to say. I have, as they say, professional obligations. Thanks for your patience.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Nuclear Irony

The irony is thicker than the bullshit.
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament chair Kate Hudson told the gathering in London: "Today we are calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq, but we must equally raise the call to build mass popular awareness of the danger - don't attack Iran."
Did you get that? The chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is arguing that we should allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons. Do these people even listen to themselves?

From the "God I Hope So Department"

The U.S. is using drones to spy on Iranian nuke sites. Sunday's Washington Post has the details. The drones, launched from "military facilities in Iraq, use radar, video, still photography and air filters designed to pick up traces of nuclear activity." They are used to "seek evidence of nuclear weapons programs and detect weaknesses in air defenses."

First, I freaking hope so. Second, if true, this validates the strategic rationale for invading Iraq. Third, this explains the "UFO mania" that swept Iran late last year.

The Coming Rightist Wave

The NYT of all places has an article this morning on Flemish Interest, currently the strongest party in Flanders (that's the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, not Homer's neighbor). One third of the residents of Antwerp support the party. And Flemish Interest is not alone.
From the Freedom Party in Austria to the National Front in France to the Republicans in Germany, Europe's far right has made a comeback in recent years, largely on the strength of anti-immigration feelings sharpened to a fear of Islam. That fear is fed by threats of terrorism, rising crime rates among Muslim youth and mounting cultural clashes with the Continent's growing Islamic communities.
I wrote about this months ago in This Is What Terrorism Does. Don't dismiss these parties as neo-Nazis or budding fascist movements. Sure they contain such elements but the European left still contains Stalinists but we don't smear the Social Democrats as Stalinist. One third of Antwerp ain't fascist. The story here is that Europeans aren't as suicidally "tolerant" as their elites.

"Other political parties, they are very worried about the Muslim votes and say let's be tolerant, while we are saying - the new political forces in Europe are saying - no, we should defend our identity."

Moderate Muslims and center-left politicians are not doing enough to alleviate the concerns that drive these parties. Indeed they seem to be doing everything they can to increase the rightist fears. (M)"ost of Europe's Muslim politicians have allied themselves with socialists or other left-leaning parties. But radical Muslims are also getting involved, and in many ways they are helping to validate the fears that keep parties like Vlaams Belang alive."

It's a strategic disaster for the left to be seen as partners of the Muslim parties. People will remember. Plus, you have guys like Jean-François Bastin, a Belgian convert to Islam who heads the Young Muslims Party (does that name sound familiar?).

He calls Osama bin Laden "a modern Robin Hood," and the World Trade Center attacks "a poetic act," "a pure abstraction." His 23-year-old son is in jail in Turkey on charges that he was involved in the bombings there that killed 61 people in November 2003.

But don't worry. "Were not talking about Shariah now," he says. The implication/threat being that he will talk about it in the future. What if a rightst leader said, "We not talking about expulsion now"? Somehow I think that would cause an uproar. But talk about sharia is all over the continent right now, so his statement is not shocking.

These rightist parties will grow quickly over the coming years. Every terror attack will spur more growth and will damage the left parties who have allied themselves with Muslims. These moderate Muslims will be thrust into an impossible position, seen as a Fifth Column by growing rightist movements and attacked as apostates and traitors by the Islamists. Their numbers will shirk as many leave politics out of fear or despair, or leave Islam altogether like Hirsi Ali in Holland.

Indeed Europe's next assassination may very will be that of a Moderate Muslim leader, for example the Muslim mayor of Amsterdam. It won't really matter if he is killed by a Muslim or a Dutch, the effect will be the same: to drive moderate Muslims out of the public realm.

The center-left governments are facing a dilemma over these growing rightist movements. They could crack down and outlaw them. Belgium outlawed the Vlaams Blok last November because the supreme court deemed it racist. If they don't have a legitimate political party the rightists will go underground and organize in secret. They could assassinate leftist or Islamist politicians or start a campaign of arson attacks against mosques (we saw scattered arson in Holland after the van Gogh murder; next time it will be organized and much more disciplined.)

If the governments allow rightist parties to contest elections they risk losing votes and polarizing the electorate and further radicalizing the Muslim population. And allowing the rightists into mainstream political discourse is no guarantee that underground groups will not commit assassinations or other criminal acts.

In the interest of full disclosure (and in case you couldn't tell) I sympathize with these rightist movements. They aren't jackbooted soccer hooligans. They are an expression of the frustration and anxiety of the native populations in the face of increasing Islamist agitation. What do you expect the indigenous Europeans to do?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Another Victory for the Blogosphere

Eason Jordan had resigned from CNN. Let's recap for those who just joined us.
  • Trett Lott, forced down as Senate majority leader.
  • Howard Raines, resigned.
  • Dan Rather, retired after an independent investigation.
  • Jeff Gannon, out.
  • Nancy Rabinowitz, the academic at Hamilton College who invited the notorious Ward Churchill to speak, has resigned "under duress" as director of the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture. (She will continue to teach literature.)

The lesson for public figures is simple: millions of people are listening, watching and reading. If you fuck up, apologise quickly because stonewalling only gives the story time to hit millions of blogs and become part of the Web archive. Bloggers, like the people who read them, are forgiving. But the cover-up, the arrogance, the elitism, will bury you.

It's a new world guys. These are the new rules. Sink or swim baby.

Michael Scheuer's Dark Vision

Readers will know that I have a running argument with Michael Scheuer, a.k.a. Anonymous, author, " Imperial Hubris." I won't rehash that here. But I'm surprised that liberal critics of the Bush administration embraced Scheuer and his line that al Qaeda attacked us, not because of who we are but because of our foreign policies, especially our support for Israel. This surprises me because Scheuer presents a vision of the War on Terror that anyone to my left would find exceptionally dark. Scheuer recently spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations and the host of the discussion read this quote from Imperial Hubris.

"To secure as much of our way of life as possible, we will have to use military force in the way Americans used it on the fields of Virginia and Georgia, in France and on Pacific islands, and from skies over Tokyo and Dresden. Progress will be measured by the pace of killing and, yes, by body counts. Not the fatuous body counts of Vietnam, but precise counts that will run to extremely large numbers. The piles of dead will include as many or more civilians as combatants because our enemies wear no uniforms.

"Killing large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure. Roads and irrigation systems; bridges, power plants, and crops in the field; fertilizer plants and grain mills--all these and more will need to be destroyed to deny the enemy its support base. Land mines, moreover, will be massively reintroduced to seal borders and mountain passes too long, high, or numerous to close with U.S. soldiers. As noted, such actions will yield large civilian casualties, displaced populations, and refugee flows. Again, this sort of bloody mindedness is neither admirable nor desirable, but it will remain America's only option so long as she stands by her failed policies toward the Muslim world."

That's pretty bleak if you are to the left of, say, Attila the Hun. This is similar to the possibility I addressed in The Worst of the Worse Case Scenarios. The choice we face today isn't between fighting wars or not fighting wars. It's between fighting wars and rebuilding the nations we defeat or obliterating those nations altogether. I can't think that anyone wants to later.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

I Am a Jew

Or at least I'll say so in a public service announcement, especially if it will get me close to Beyonce. Leonardo DiCaprio and Beyonce Knowles are among the pop stars involved in the "I Am a Jew" ads.
Several stars of the pop charts and the silver screen have agreed in principle to film public service announcements denouncing worldwide anti-Semitism and identifying with the Jewish people. MTV is donating studio time for filming the ads, which are to appear in Europe, the US and even Israel.
Russel Simmons is a driving force behind the campaign, which will feature gentile performers only. Simmons is especially interested in getting Latin, black and Asian artists involved.
"Anti-Semitism is growing so quickly around the world... I want to do everything I can to fight it," he said. "People forget how quickly the world can change. I mean, it was only yesterday that [Jewish] people were being put in ovens."
Amen brother. Now, back to Beyonce.

Leftist Lawyer Convicted of Aiding Terror Groups

Good news indeed. Lynn Stewart, attorney for the blind cleric of jihad Omar Abdel-Rahman, was convicted today in NYC.

Stewart faces up to 20 years in prison on charges that include conspiracy, giving material support to terrorists and defrauding the U.S. government.

Update: Very interesting debate over at the Democratic Underground about this case. I was surprised to find that some were pleased at the conviction and believe it was a just verdict. Predictably others think the whole thing was a government setup. Looks like some reasonable people are standing up to what post 42 calls "agenda blinded zealot." Quotes:

3. Unbelievable. This is worse than jailing political dissidents!!!
32. Welcome To Amerika!
5. The right outcome. She helped the sheikh communicate and maintain his terrorist network and organization. I hope she rots.
18. She did NOTHING of the sort. This is one of the darkest days in the history of the American legal system.
14. I agree with the jury on this one.
36. Her position is simply that what she did ought not be a crime. I am basing this based on what I have heard her ADMIT TO freely and without coersion. Case closed.
58. This is a very sad day in America.

Europe to Iran: We're Okay with Your Nukes

On the same day that the North Koreas admitted they have nuclear weapons, I read this quote in today's NYT, about Secretary Rice's visit to France.
"I told her that it is my sense that public opinion in Europe, and maybe even elected officials, are ready to accept the idea that Iran may have some kind of nuclear weapons capability with some limitations," said Nicole Bacharan, an expert on the United States at the Institute of Political Studies.
What exactly are "some kind" of nuclear weapons? I thought there was pretty much one kind, the kind that level cities and kill people. And what kind of limitations can she be talking about? If the mullahs are going to build the things why would they recognize any limitations at all?
For his part, Mr. Parmentier said he told her, "We in Europe believe that it is more likely the regime would fall if we are opening up to Iranian society rather than closing off."
Really? I remember everyone saying just the opposite about South Africa in the 80s. We weren't going to play Sun City, right? Boycott South Africa bumper stickers were everywhere. Universities and governments divested from the South African economy because no one wanted to support apartheid. Yet now the Europeans want to "open up" to a tyrannical regime bent on building nukes. What's the logic behind this?

I prefer Bush's simple statement, "Don't develop a nuclear weapon." It would be a shame if someone blew up your R&D facilities in the middle of the night. Actually no, it wouldn't be a shame.

Frontline's 'House of Saud' - 1980 to Today

This is the third and final post critiquing the Frontline episode House of Saud. The first detailed Saudi history prior to 1932. The second covered 1964-1979.

Frontline covered the jihad in Afghanistan and mentioned, though not in any detail, the Saudi funding of Saddam during the Iraq-Iran War (which from the Saudi prespective was a Sunni-Shia war). But the show glossed over important domestic developments in the 1980s, notably changes in the Kingdom's economy and demographics.

Economics: The Saudi's started the 1980s flush with cash from years of high oil prices. However, prices were so high that oil fields in other countries, which had previously been unprofitable, came on line. The price of oil dropped and remained stagnant throughout the decade and beyond. This eroded the logic of the Saudi state. Today's NYT, in an article on the so-called Saudi elections, summarizes the problem.

Saudi Arabia's vast oil wealth was used to forge a distinctive social contract. The ruling princes agreed to share the wealth via a cradle-to-grave welfare system - free medical care, education and virtually free housing - while in exchange Saudis would not question how they were ruled. In the 1980's as oil revenues tumbled, those guarantees started to crumble, too. The wait for
interest-free housing loans stretched to a decade, for example, and cushy government jobs were no longer handed to all college graduates.
Standards of living started dropping and have not stopped. What looked like a great social deal in 1978, everything was free, no one worked hard but no one had a voice in government, increasingly seemed like a scam or worse, heresy. Robert Baer writes, "Per capita income over the last twenty years has fallen by more than 60 percent." This wouldn't matter so much to the older generation, who still remembered the harsh poverty of the desert tribes before oil was discovered. But that generation was aging and, more importantly, in an ever-shrinking minority. Which brings us to the second development that Frontline overlooked, population growth.

Demographics: Saudi Arabia has one of the highest birth rates in the world. Over the past two decades this has created a wave of young Saudis who only remember the Kingdom after the oil boom. The CIA Factbook says that 38% of the population is under 14. Another source puts it at 43% under age 15. The birth rate at nearly 30 per 1000. The population growth rate is 2.44%. That's almost 6 children per woman. The population in the mid-1970s was 7 million. Today it is 25 million. By 2025 it will be 41 million. This is not something to be glossed over or ignored. This is a nightmare. (Yemen is actually worse. Half the country is under 14. The growth rate is 3.4% and the birth rate is a staggering 43 per thousand. That's over 7 children per woman.)

The combination of a declining standard of living and a young population makes the country a textbook case for the J-Curve theory of revolution. One of the earliest posts on this blog explains it in more detail. Basically, it's a theory of relative deprivation. People who have always been poor don't revolt. Poor people who have known greater prosperity in the recent past do. And who is always on the front line of any revolution, manning the barracades, storming the palaces: young men. Saudi Arabia has a surplus of young, relatively deprived young men.

Frontline mentioned the strict moral codes of Wahhadism but I don't think this was given enough emphasis in light of the large number of young Saudis. Baer writes, "It's easier for a young Saudi man to hitchhike to Afghanistan than to hook up with a young Saudi girl." The repression is extreme. No movie theaters. Music is outlawed so there are no concerts, much less dance clubs. Unemplyment figures are hard to come by but estimates range from 25-40%. Certainly for the young it is at the high end of the estimates. The only acceptable social outlet is the mosque. Or they stay at home and watch al-Jazeera.

Frontline covered the 1991 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the social shockwave of basing hundreds of thousands of infidel American troops of Saudi soil. This story has been repeated often in a variety of formats. But Frontline, like almost everyone who tells this familiar tale, failed to ask the key question: Why couldn't the Saudis defend themselves?

They had spent easily a hundered billion dollars since 1970 buying the best US equipment and training. Saudi Arabia spends more per capita on defense than any country in the world and has done so for years.

In 1989 its expenditures of US$14.7 billion ranked eleventh among countries of the world. Nonetheless, this level of spending reflected a declining trend from a peak of US$24.8 billion reached in 1983. ... The share of gross national product (GNP) originally earmarked for defense in 1990 was 16.9 percent, materially below the peak of 22 percent reached in 1983 but still about twice as high as the Middle East as a whole. Defense outlays constituted 35.5 percent of central government expenditures in 1989.
Even today the Saudis spend more on defense than South Korea. The amount of American-made military hardware sold to the Saudis is stunning. They had the best hardware that the US, Britian and France could sell them. Given all this, why couldn't the Saudi army fortify its border with Kuwait and grind down Saddam's army?

There are two answers, one general and one specific. The general answer is that the Saudi can't defend themselves because the Saudis can't do anything. Foreign labor performs all the real work in the Kingdom, from wasking clothes and picking up garbage, to construction, to the oil industry. Why should defense be any different? The specific answer is that a lot of the defense spending is wasted in corruption and graft. A lot of it is spend on the Saudi Arabia Nation Guard whose job is to protect the royal family from internal rebellion. But I think that isn't the real story. The true answer is that dispite all the equipment and training over decades, the Saudis simply do not know how to use what they have. Their culture does not create or support the kind of soldier required to use the complex tools at their disposal, nor does it promote indenpendent thinking or problem solving. The equipment is useless without strategy and tactics.

Everything must stop five times a day for prayer. Shops close. Traffic halts. Do you think that the clerics exempt military training from this schedule? Since women are not allowed to drive, soldiers whose families are too poor to afford a chauffer, must leave the bases before sundown to drive around their mothers and sisters.

It is a hierarchical society, one of deference and obedience, as Frontline showed with commoners paying homage to the prince. The values of this culture are not the values of a modern fighting force. This is a weakness common to all Arab armies but particularly so in the case of Saudi Arabia. Non-Commissioned Officers corp is based on longevity rather than professionalism or leadership. For example, "there does not seem to be an understanding of what we would consider to be basic logistical standards, like fuel testing, or spare parts management."

Finally I think Frontline gave scant attention to the current political situation in the Kingdom. The show mentioned King Fahd's stroke in 1996. He is still the head of state on paper but politically the nation is adrift. I think it is too simple to claim, as Frontline did, that Crown Prince Abdullah is now the country's de facto ruler.

Abdullah, the King's half-brother, is engaged in power struggle with the other "Sudayri Seven," Fahd's full brothers by a woman of the Sudayri tribe. They hold powerful positions in the Kingdom and often contradict Abdullah. The three most powerful brothers, Nayef, Sultan, and Salman, are the Interior Minister, the Defense Minister, and the governor of the Riyadh region, respectively. The other players in the power struggle are Fahd's favorite wife, Jawhara al-Ibrahim and her son Abd-al-Aziz, named for his grandfather, the founded of the Kingdom.

Notice that Fahd is still King despite being virtually brain-dead. When he dies, the power struggle will come to a head with each of these players asserting their right to rule. That, however, is not the worst case scenario. Abdullah is 83. All of the Sudayri Seven are in their 70s. For all their faults they grew up in the desert and spent their lives in the government. Fahd wasn't King until he was 61. By contrast his son Abd-al-Aziz, known as Azouzi ('deary'), is about 30. He can afford to wait out his old uncles. Then what? How could a spoiled, thirtysomething prince rule a nation of 25 million people, most half his age, raised on Wahhabism, al-Jazeera and frustration? He can't.

The inevitable death of Fahd will be a huge political blow to the fragile dynamics of the Kingdom's leadership. Whether Azouzi succeeds him or not, in the near future Saudi Arabia will be lead by the 3rd generation of the royal family, a generation that did not know Ibn Saud, with no memory of life before oil, who have only known wealthy and privilege. Their illiterate grandparents lived in tents and ate locust for the protein. They drive Mercedes sedans and travel in private jets. Do they really understand the people they are supposed to govern? Can they possibly appreciate their precarious situation? Or are they as soft and decadent as I imagine, overripe fruit ready for the Islamist revolution to pluck?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Saudi Propagation of Hate in U.S.

On January 28 Freedom House issued a report on Saudi publications in the U.S. This has been all over the blogs and the media since it was released but I wanted link to it for the archive. The report "is based on a year-long study of over two hundred original documents, all disseminated, published or otherwise generated by the government of Saudi Arabia and collected from more than a dozen mosques in the United States."

Guess what the report found? The Saudi documents "assert that it is a religious obligation for Muslims to hate Christians and Jews" and "promote contempt for the United States because it is ruled by legislated civil law".

The 95-page pdf of the report is available from the link. It's worth your time and it's free.

Frontline's 'House of Saud' - 1964 to 1979

This is the second in a series of posts criticizing Frontline's episode, House of Saud. The first explained what I saw as shortcomings in their presentation of the history of Saudi Arabia prior to 1932. Now I want to look at what Frontline left out regarding Saudi history from 1964 to 1979. Much of this involves Saudi-Egyptian relations.

In 1952 King Farouk abicated, leaving Egypt to the Free Officers, lead by Nasser. The Suez Crisis of 1956 rised Nasser's prestige among Arabs outside of Egypt. A nationalist, pan-Arabist and socialist Nasser's popularity threatened the Saudi. Meanwhile, secular Ba'athist had taken control of Iraq and Syria. All of these countries were aligned with the USSR. Saudi Arab was being surrounded by godless communists.

In 1962 a military coup overthrew the monarchy in Yemen, on the Saudis southern border. Yemen plunged into civil war. This quickly turned into a proxy war between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Nasser backed the nationalists. King Faisal backed the royalists. This proxy war is often overlooked, as is was by Frontline, but I think it deserves more study. It is, to my knowledge, the most intense intra-Arab fighting since WWII and the most intense intra-Muslim fighting until the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Schwartz writes that as a response to this proxy war the Saudis founded "the Muslim World League - a kind of Islamic "International" - as a buffer against Nasserism."

Thomas Lippman, in Inside the Mirage, writes of the Egyptian-Saudi conflict in Yemen, "At the height of that conflict, when dissident Saudi officers defected to Cairo and Egyptian warplanes actually bombed a few Saudi towns, the State Department circulated a memorandum to other agencies detailing the threat to Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom's inability to defend itself." That memo, for all intents and purposes, would be rewritten at least twice more.

The war was a nightmare. (Hosnini Mubarak, then an Egyptian Air Force Captain, was dispatched to Yemen.) Mary Anne Weaver in A Portrait of Egypt writes that "the Egyptians were accused, in their frustration, of dropping poison gas on their pro-Saudi Royalist foes. One could say that the war in Yemen was Egypt's Vietnam." The Yemeni war finally ended, not due to anything that the Saudis did, but because Egypt lost the Six-Day War.

The Egyptians cracked down on domestic dissent, especially on the Muslim Brotherhood, seen as a religiously-inspired threat to Nasserism and indeed to Nasser personally. He blamed the Brotherhood for an assassination attempt. Nasser built concentration camps for the Brothers in the desert. One of those incarcerated was Sayyid Qutb, the chief theoretician of jihad. He wrote his major works while in prison. Qutb was tortured and finally hanged in 1966.

As part of their anti-Egyptian efforts the Saudis gave many of the Muslim Brothers asylum. The scholars received professorships at Saudi universities. These included Muhammad Qutb, Sayyid's brother. One of his students was later Osama bin Laden. Frontline mentioned that the Saudis welcomed many scholars from Egypt but I think the context is worth understanding. These scholars were jihadists theocrats and fanatically anti-nationalist. Many had been tortured. It's hard to overstate the historical importance of this migration.

This influx of Muslim Brotherhood thinkers represents an injection of extremist non-Wahhabi Sunni Islam into the heartland of Wahhabism. The hybridization of these two ideologies would see a perfect parallel years later when an offshoot of the Brotherhood, al-Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad, merged with bin Laden's Wahhabist army to form al Qaeda.

Frontline did a good job of covering the rise of Saudi Arabia in the 1970s. By the end of the 70s the Saudi were on top of the world: awash in cash, their Egyptian enemies humbled. However 1979 deserves it's own two hour episode. Four events threatened the Saudis that year: the Iranian Revolution, the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Shi'ite clerics overthrew the Shah of Iran, another anti-communist pro-American royal leader. Remember that the Wahhabis despised the Shi'a since the sect was founded. This pushed them into an uneasy alliance with the Ba'athist Saddam Hussein, a Soviet client but a Sunni. Frontline had some great footage of King Fahd presenting Saddam with a gold-plated gun.
The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty meant that Egypt was switching sides in the Cold War. Egypt would receive billions in US aid. And the hated Jews were in a stronger position, their southern border secured. The Saudis cut off diplomatic relations with Egypt as a result. Then, as Frontline explained, a direct descendent of the Ikhwan lead a takeover of the Great Mosque in Mecca. Frontline summarized the events like this, "The standoff lasts for several weeks before the Saudi military can remove the insurgents."

Note quite. The Mosque takeover was a stunning blow to the Saudis and a direct challenge to their legitimacy. Yet, despite Frontline's claim, the Saudi military did not remove the insurgents. Aburish simply says that the Saudi armed forces failed to suppress the rebellion. Robert Baer, former CIA agent and author of Sleeping with the Devil, says that they "127 Saudi troops died in a pitched battle" but failed to retake the Mosque. Both agree that a special French police team was flown in to storm the Mosque. This is an example of defeat in victory for two reasons. The Saudi troop, for whatever reason, could not retake the holiest site in Islam after spending billions on US military hardware and training. Worse yet, they had to bring in infidels to do it for them. Aburish writes that non-Muslim French forces were given a "special dispensation to enter holy Mecca." I'd like to know why Frontline simply ignored this.

Frontline did cover that the Saudis responsed to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by essential engaging in a proxy war, encouraging fanatical domestic jihadist to fight the godless communists. But Frontline only touched on the other proxy war. The Saudis, along with the Kuwaitis, were loaning money to Saddam Hussein, funding his war against the hated Iranian Shiites. Both of these wars would bare bitter fruit for the Saudis.

But that is the subject of my last post on the topic.

Frontline's 'House of Saud' - History

I watched the Frontline special, House of Saud, last night. As a primer on Saudi history it would be hard to beat. There wasn't much new in the show but the images, especially the archival footage from the early 20th Century, were great. Some pictures are worth a thousand words. If you haven't yet seen it I do recommend it, though at two commercial-free hours it is rather long.

I have my criticisms of course, which I will detail in the next few post. First, Frontline did not give enough of the history of the Saud clan or the Wahhabi sect. The show began with the Saud family, lead by Ibn Saud, forming an alliance with the Wahhabist Ikwan and conquering the penninsula in the early 20th Century.

However, the Wahhab-Saud alliance goes back to the mid-1700s. Stephen Schwartz writes of this in The Two Faces of Islam: "By 1788, the Wahhab-Saud alliance controlled most of the Arabian Penninsula. (Starting in 1792 they extended) their raiding over the next three years to Medina, Syria and Iraq. These campaigns saw mass murder and rape of Shi'a Muslims as well as abherents of the Hanafi and other legal schools rejected by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab."

The Wahhab-Saud war against Shi'ism was particularly gruesome. Schwartz writes of their "extraordinary hatred" of Shi'ism. In 1801, the Saud-Wahhabists sacked the Shia holy city of Karbala, now in Iraq. In Wahhabism: A Critical Essay, Hamid Algar writes: "According to some accounts, the raid took place precisely on Muharram 10, the day on which Shi'is gather to commemorate the his martyrdom (Imam Husayn). If such was the timing of the assault, it must have been deliberately chosen to inflict maximum insult and pain on the Shi'is."

Algar then quotes a "matter-of-fact account of the atrocity" by a Saudi chronicler.

"The Muslims [i.e. the Wahhabis] scaled the walls, entered the city by force, and killed the majority of its people in the markets and in their homes. Then they destroyed the dome placed over the grave of al-Husayn by those who believe in such things. They took whatever they found inside the dome and its surroundings. ... They stayed in Karbala for no more than morning, leaving around midday with all the property they had gathered and having killed about two thousand people."
These attacks on the Shia holy cities were a great shock to the Shi'a. Indeed Yitzhak Nakash, in The Shi'is of Iraq, says these attacks were a major factor in the rise of Shi'ism in Iraq. At that time Shi'as were a minority based mainly in the holy cities. The Shi'a lacked "a tribal army" to defend their shrines. "The Wahhabi attacks of Najaf and Karbala reinforced the sectarian idenity of the Shi'i ulama and increased their motivation to convert the tribes."

At this point the Wahhab-Saud alliance posed a threat to the Ottoman Empire, recently stunned by Napolean's invasion of Egypt. In 1811, Sultan Mahmed II dispatched Muhammad Ali Pasha, the overlord of Egypt and an Albanian tough guy, to subdue the Wahhab-Saudi rebels. Muhammad Ali was ruthless and brilliant. After an initial defeat he used artillery and, in Schwatz's words, "swept through western Arabia. ... Al Sa'ud's men fled before the punitive advance of the Ottoman army." Captured Wahhabi leaders were sent to Istanbul "where they were paraded through the streets before being executed, their severed heads posted in the imperial precincts." By 1818 the seat of Saud power was destroyed and the fouth Saud leader was sent to Istanbul and executed.

But like this was only a temporary setback for the Wahhabist Sauds. Which leads to my second criticism of the show. They ignored the role of the British in the rise of the House of Saud. By the later half of the 19th Century, the British were encroaching on Ottoman territory and were looking for local clients. The Saud clan was restless and looking for a patron. Algar: "The first contact was made in 1865, and British subsidies started to flow into the coffers of the Saud family, in ever growing quantity as World War One grew closer." In 1915 Ibn Saud agreed to a treaty, making his domain a British protectorate.

WWI destroyed the Ottoman Empire and left a power vacuum in the penninsula. Here is where Frontline begins the story. But it wasn't as simple as Ibn Saud and his Ikhwan allies riding around on camels conquering the Arabian Penninsula. Ibn Saud was aided in his conquest by a sinister British former colonial official and Muslim convert, St. John Philby (yes, the father of Russian spy Kim Philby). Philby Sr. served as an advisor, a sort of consigliere to the Saud ganster family, until his death in 1960. Strange that Frontline should leave out such an intriguing and pivotal figure.

As Frontline states, by 1925 the Saud family had conquered Mecca and Medina and united the Arabian Penninsula. However, Frontline glossed over what this entailed. Algar: "The second Wahhabi-Saudi conqest of the penninsula came at a cost of some 400,000 killed and wounded. In cities such as Ta'if, Burayda, and al-Huda, straightforward massacres were carried out by the Ikhwan. The governors of the various provinces appointed by Ibn Saud are said to have carried out 40,000 public executions and 350,000 amputations in the course of subduing the penninsula." Said Aburish, in The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of the House of Saud, supports these figures adding that "the Ikhwan did not take prisoners." He claims that over a million people fled the territories conquered by Ibn Saud, becoming refugees in neighboring countries.

Frontline had nothing to say about the resistence to Ibn Saud. Aburish: "Between 1916 and 1928 there were no fewer than 26 anti-House of Saud rebellions by the Bedouins and each of them ended with the Ikhwan-led forces of Ibn Saud indulging in mass killings of mostly innocent victims, including women and children." Some tribes "show the after-effects of these massacres to this day, for there is a gap of a whole generation."

Frontline also gave little attention to the destruction of the Ikhwan, saying simply that Ibn Saud "crushed" them. How? Remember that the Ikhwan enabled Saud's conquest of the penninsula. Where did he suddenly get the power to crush so mighty a force? With British-supplier equipment, including armored personnel carriers. In a Saudi version of The Night of the Long Knives, the Ikhwan suffered a major defeat at the village of Sabila. Five thousand Ikhwan were killed. The survivors tried to flee to British-held Kuwait and Iraq but they encountered RAF air raids (which in the open desert you can imagine were quite devastating). The final few hundred Ikhwan surrendered and were handed over to Ibn Saud who imprisoned them.

This brings us to 1932 when Ibn Saud proclaimed himself King of Saudi Arabia, the only nation in the world named for a living family. I will continue my criticisms of the Frontline episode in subsequent posts.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I Can See Using PowerPoint

but 48 slides is too many.

The Spread of Cartmanism

The NYT says that some of the whiners are actually following through on their promises and are moving to Canada. "The number of U.S. citizens who are actually submitting Canadian immigration papers and making concrete plans is about three or four times higher than normal," said Linda Mark, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver.

They are leaving America, says the Times, because they are "fed up with a country they see drifting persistently to the right and abandoning the principles of tolerance, compassion and peaceful idealism they felt once defined the nation."

The article quotes several whiners, like Melanie Redman, 30. "I don't want to participate in what this administration is doing here and around the world. Under Bush, the U.S. seems to be leading the pack as the world spirals down." She adds, "I just can't bear to pay taxes in the United States right now."

Here's Jerry Gorde, 53. "I think George Bush's re-election, in itself, is nothing compared to what happens, over the next 10 to 15 years, if he gets to make three or four appointments to the Supreme Court. I foresee a much darker period in front of us."

Okay fine, that's their right. It's a free country after all. But here's where the veins in my head pop out. Jason Mogus, a Canadian whose Website provide information to Americans about moving north, says this, "Not everybody is prepared to live their political values, but these are people who are."

First, I thought their political values were about tolerance and compassion. Yet they are so intolerant of the political values of their fellow Americans that they will leave the country. I thought their values were about democracy and representative government. But instead accepting the outcome of an election, instead of staying here and trying to persuade others, instead of engaging in the process, instead of working to spread the beliefs they are supposed to cherish, these people pack up and move.

On second thought, maybe moving to Canada does reflect their true political values, values I define as Cartmanism. When the obnoxious South Park character doesn't get his way he is notorious for saying, "Screw you guys, I'm going home." Then he leaves. That's what these whiners are doing. They show no faith in democracy or the America people. When they don't get their way, when it turns out that most Americans aren't that thrilled about some of their ideas, these people pack their Volvos and say, "Screw you guys, I'm going to Canada."

They are indeed living their political values, but those are not the values they proclaim. They are the values of exclusion, cowardice, retreat, abandonment, despair.

Again, fine with me. Whatever. Losers. But what will they do when Canada doesn't meet their expectations? Where to next? Will they become upper-middle class political refugees searching the globe for the perfect nation, as tolerant and pacific and liberal as they are, no more and no less? Good luck.

Europe's Red State?

Troops in Iraq. Lower taxes. Tougher asylum laws. "The center-right bloc stands to win a clear victory today." Meanwhile Left candidates are "facing their worst election in decades -- 90 years by one calculation." Sound familiar?

This is Demark. The ruling center-right party is likely to retain power based on "a popular crackdown on asylum-seekers and cuts in Denmark's high taxes."