Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tom Segev on Gaza

A great piece from respected historian Tom Segev in Ha'aretz.

. . .Israel is striking at the Palestinians to "teach them a lesson." That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom - via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey. The bombing of Gaza is also supposed to "liquidate the Hamas regime," in line with another assumption that has accompanied the Zionist movement since its inception: that it is possible to impose a "moderate" leadership on the Palestinians, one that will abandon their national aspirations. . .
One of the funny things I've been noticing about political commentary on Middle Eastern issues - particularly relating to the Levant - is that the further a given commentator is from the situation, the more hysterical he tends to be. I noticed this during the internal fighting in Lebanon last may. The reporters in Atlanta screamed bloody murder while Beirut's main English paper was pretty sanguine about the whole thing.

It's probably not new. The motivation for the first Crusade was similar propaganda that was spread by the Catholic Church - that the infidel Arabs who controlled the Holy Land were slaughtering the Christians and defiling the Churches. None of it was true, but it got people into the streets.

The same is true about the current bombing of Gaza. People on both sides are screaming "Nazi" at eachother, while the more complex realities are better captured by the people on the ground.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Obituary for Samuel Huntington

The man who coined the phrase "Clash of Civilizations" died on Christmas eve. The Hindustan Times recently carried this short, but informative article about the man:

. . . If the Huntington thesis survived, it was because of 9/11 and all that came afterwards. Today the most fanatical Huntingtonians are Osama bin Laden, the Arab street and the Bajrang Dal. It remains the best intellectual fit for their own conspiracy theories to explain the decline of the Arab world and legitimise their biases.

Huntington continued to produce books based on interesting concepts for which he had no supporting evidence. Among his last was a claim that Mexican immigrants to the US were endangering the country because they, unlike other immigrants, weren’t integrating fast enough. It was as weak as the Clash, but no crisis helped to propel this thesis into the limelight. . .

I started into (but never finished) most famous book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order back in the late nineties, not too long after it came out. I was sort of impressed by it at the time - it did provide a framework to understand the post-Soviet era, and I hadn't done that much reading in the field at that point. Huntington made the interesting observation that both Islamic and Western philosophy and theology were dualistic and universalist - they believe in Good and Evil, and they believe that they have the right answer for everyone. For this reason, said Huntington, they were destined forever to be in conflict.

The thesis, however, has increasingly been proven to be nonsense, its fundamental weakness being in its definition of a "civilization." The only "civilizations" it reasonably described were "the West" and "Islam," while everyone else got an awkward label that didn't really seem to fit. The "Sinic" civilization didn't seem to say much more than "Post-Mao China and current allies." The "Orthodox" civilization didn't say much more than "Latent Russian sympathy for ethnoreligiously similar peoples."

More importantly, the dualism and universalism that Muslims and Westerners share has never been shown to be the reason for their conflict. Bin Laden, for example, in his video after the New York/Washington attack, made fairly reasonable, fairly material demands: troops out of Arabia, end the occupation of the Palestinians, and end the sactions on Iraq. There is no evidence that the subsequent hostility create by the "Global War On Terror" had anything to do with ideology - everybody knows that America didn't invade Iraq to install a democracy, and that Muslim militants aren't travelling to Brazil or Ireland in a search for defenseless Christians to blow up.

Samuel Huntington's Clash got it wrong. Joe Strummer's Clash, on the other hand, was definitely on to something.

They should have made him a prof at Harvard.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Elusive Palestinian Surrender

Yet again, the IDF will be asked to "exercise restraint" as it crushes the Palestinians. According to Ha'aretz, at least 230 Gazans are dead, with over 700 wounded. We will be told how Palestinians have been firing "indiscriminately" (to use the words of one Zionist spokesman) at Israeli civilians, while both the causes and the effect of those pitiful rocket attacks - most of them with homemade weapons - will not be examined; more people die in American school shootings in a year than have died in seven years of Qassam attacks.

And isn't Hamas being oh-so-dastardly by resuming fire as soon as the ceasefire ended? How this latest chapter began, however, will be entirely forgotten, when Israel imposed an embargo on the territory it had supposedly "disengaged" from because it's silly people used their new democracy to elect the wrong people. "The Arabs will just use their tunnels to re-arm!" was what we heard from zionists who opposed the truce. Obviously, they did, but the tunnels also became a way to keep a million people from starving. Hamas agreed to the calm because they thought it would be a step towards getting the siege lifted. For most zionists, however, openly negotiating with the leading Palestinian party is taboo.

This is just as it was before negotiations with the PLO started in 1991, after the Madrid conference. Before then, Arafat and the PLO were supposedly Public Enemy #1, and numerous operations had been launched to smash the organization, including the IDF's initial invasion of Lebanon. As with people everywhere, Israel needed to see tomorrow's enemy rushing at it before it could bring itself to talk to today's.

After all, why would you want peace with the Palestinians when, at long last, their surrender seems so close?

All of that, however, is history. It's lost on those of us who rely on CNN or CanWest Global for our news. Instead, having launched the last massacre in 2006, having blocked their food and fuel, having abducted them by the thousands, and having taken their homelands by force, Israel will be asked that this time, this time, would it please show some "restraint"?"


I received this in an e-mail from a local lawyer who is active on these issues. I can't think of a way to describe it. . .

"A Christmas Card from the Children of Bethlehem"

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

The Proud Islamist would like to wish all my Christian friends a very Merry Christmas. I find your celebration to be quite endearing, and your practices and beliefs to be delightfully quaint.

The rest of you may resume your orgy of mindless materialism and aimless consumption.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

From Somalia to Gaza - A familiar pattern

It's getting repetitive. Muslim government X defies the interests of the West, and is immediately is demonized for treatment of its own people - as if their rights were ever the concern. Following adequate hoopla, it is brought down by a coalition of Western forces or their allies. The mission was supposed to be a cakewalk, but suddenly the cheerleaders and sensible liberals here in West come upon the bewildering realization that we were not welcomed with open arms, and wonder at how ungrateful the occupied population was, or how the powers that be had "failed" to plan properly.

Inexplicably, a motley crew of low-tech fanatics and nationalists send us packing, while those of us who knew the war was a bad idea to begin with are saying "I told you so," but it doesn't do any good: a country that once had an imperfect - perhaps even repressive - but stable, government is now in utter chaos. We failed to bring freedom and democracy, not because we didn't have a good Marshall Plan, but because we never intended to make one anyways. The wise amongst us always knew that it was never about beliefs and values as much as it was about making a small number of people very rich.

I'm talking about Iraq, I'm talking about Afghanistan, I'm talking about Palestine, and I'm talking about Somaila.

Over a year ago, in Noveber 2007, I made this comment on the situation in Somalia:

And that's the rub - the ICU is still a more legitimate government than the Ethiopians, with more local support and a better chance of being interested in Somalia, as opposed to maintaining a the integrity of the Ethiopian state, which is probably the main concern (to be charitable) in Addis Ababa. By entering Somalia, the Ugandans under the AU are providing stability to an order that is inherently unstable, and propping up the power of an aggressor instead of helping a popular, egalitarian Somali political movement to govern Somalia.
The result of the Ethiopian pullout will be a worse situation than Somalia had since the ICU united the capital.

Ha'aretz's Daniel Levy sees the parallels between this, and what the IDF is contemplating doing to Gaza, under the principle, established by the Americans, that democracy is only good if our friends win the elections. The whole article isn't long, and worth a thorough read.
Gaza is not yet Somalia. But the warning signs are there. There was nothing inevitable about the disintegration of Somalia. It happened as a result of misguided policies - notably of the current Bush administration and Ethiopia - which should not be repeated by Israel in Gaza.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

On Jargon

"Obscurity implies complexity, and complexity implies importance."

- John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Is irreverence possible anymore?

"Is nothing sacred?"

The phrase is often said jokingly, to express hyperbolic disgust over the transgression of some minor tradition. "Pizza with artichoke on it? Is nothing sacred!?" Really, though, what do we have today that IS considered sacred?

That less and less is actually considered taboo in most Western countries is considered by some to be a good thing. I generally agree - this is almost part and parcel of the freedom of expression. The tearing down of taboos means the opening up of new avenues of social and political discourse. We are free to talk about teen pregnancy, STDs, racism, sexism, and abuse of power by all traditional authority figures. We are free to make asses of ourselves, just as much as people are free to point out how assinine we are.

Shock-value entertainment thrives in this environment. Want to see women fight over a wealthy man? Tune in every Wednesday night at 8. Want to become an overnight celebrity? Write a book insulting a religion. Want to make your movie a box-office hit? Gore and sex are your guarantors, but please, go further than the last movie did.

I don't claim that this is new. For the Romans, watching people kill eachother or be torn apart by lions was also wholesome public entertainment. That said, where in "Western" civilization do we find reverence anymore?

There are some topics that still cannot be mocked or exploited for public entertainment. It's still considered bad taste to make fun of victims of domestic abuse or sexual violence. War veterans and cancer patients are also considered above reproach. This is not reverence, though, this is pity, or in the case of veterans, respect.

As for religion, those doors seem to have been flung wide open. Prophets, scriptures, saints, icons, and the Almighty himself are not spared. To ridicule religion seems so overdone that it is cliché.

Today, irreverence is impossible, because that would imply that there was something we revered.

I am not sure that this is a bad thing. If we are free to criticize, then we don't have to hide the thoughts that we might have been silently concealing, and by expressing them we give ourselves the benefit of hearing the response.

That said, reverence is not just a quality of the revered, it's also an emotion that we feel. I wonder what would happen to a society where no one ever felt it.

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Why NATO hasn't "won" - Alternative answer

Following my previous post on why NATO is having trouble crushing the "Taliban" (which seems to have become a catchword for anybody who resists NATO or the Karzai regime), I posed the question to a couple of new acquaintances of mine who have spent time in Afghanistan working with NATO outreach programmes.

According to them, there were several reasons why NATO, with its massive advantages, is still not able to vanquish the Taliban.

1. The Taliban know the terrain by heart. NATO forces don't

2. They kill and terrorize anybody suspected of collaborating with NATO. Consequently, it's hard to find allies on the ground. (Which, ostensibly, NATO would never do to people cooperating with the Taliban . . .)

3. They are good at using the Internet to communicate and call up support rapidly.

4. They currently control major ground supply routes, so while NATO has more resources, it also costs more for NATO to do anything.

5. They move in small groups, whereas NATO moves in large ones. They know where NATO is going and when it's leaving, whereas NATO lacks that information on the Taliban.

6. The population often distrusts foreign forces, particularly Westerners, remembering experiences with the British and the Soviets, as well as recalling how America forgot them once the Soviets were routed. They don't understand that this time, we really ARE trying to help them.

I can't help but snicker a little at that last one.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Eid Mubarak. . .

. . . especially to those who have made the momentous journey this year.

To the rest of you, take a day off, spend time with your family, count your blessings, and pray for the New Year.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Random politics

I recently received an inexcusably stupid robo-call on my answering machine (yes, answering machine. Yes, the kind with two tape cassettes. Yes, it is over 20 years old. Back when electronics were built to last) from the Konservative party. I might take a moment to get into the details later, but if you awoke last night at 3AM, drenched in sweat, screaming "I wonder what The Proud Islamist thinks about the coalition!!!!!" then the answer is: I support it. In the long run, it might backfire politically on the liberals, but from a principled point of view, it was the right thing to do.

(For those of you who haven't been following the situation, the excellent CBC journalist Neil MacDonald tried to explain it to Americans like this. The old man over at Atlas Hugged also has a lot of insight on this sort of thing; he amazingly predicted it in October.)

People who have been protesting against it as being undemocratic don't understand a parliamentary democracy. People who say that the Liberals are being hypocrites after criticizing Harper for trying to do the same to Martin are ignoring the critical difference - back then, Harper did not have the confidence of the House.

People who say that Harper is being a hypocrite for labeling the coaltion as a deal with "separatists" are bang on. Harper did indeed propose the same thing before Martin went out; he just lacked any ability to make it a reality.

People who say that "separatists" shouldn't be allowed to influence the government have either been living on another planet for the last 40 years, or they hate both Canada and democracy.


In unrelated news, here is an interesting exchange between Imam Zaid Shakir and a reader of his New Islamic Directions website, on the election of Barack Obama. It is long, but worth at least a skim through, especially if you don't understand why people like me are critical of liberal America's latest saviour.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why can't NATO win?

Much has been made of the fighting spirit of Afghans, particularly the Pashtun (or Pat'hans, as they are commonly known). Every conqueror since Alexander the Great who has swept through Asia has found Afghanistan to be the end of his enterprise. Though their code of honour and hospitality is legendary, so is their ferocity; Pashtuns don't like outsiders waltzing in and telling them what to do. Afghanistan's resistance to British colonialism was immortalized in this famous painting of a British Army doctor, Dr. William Brydon, returning back to British India from the disasterous campaign.

The painting, by a British noblewoman, was called "Remnants of an Army."

That was then, though. Looking back at those times, it seems relatively obvious why the British, who dominated all of India with a relatively small force, were not able to do the same in Afghanistan. I am no historian, but we can safely assume that they were beaten by their opponents' advantages in knowing the terrain and the weather, in having shorter supply lines, and in being versed in a type of warfare that the British army was not built to prevail in.

The famous Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu, author of the ancient but oft-quoted Art of War, wrote that there were 5 factors which would determine victory or failure. He called these The Moral Law, Heaven, Earth, The Commander, and Method and Discipline. In less stilted terms, these meant public approval, weather, terrain, leadership, and training and discipline.

Today in Afghanistan, NATO commanders have been broadcasting waves of pessimism about their mission. Whatever the nuances, it appears that NATO, which is in Afghanistan entirely at the Bush regime's behest, will not have everything its own way. The top military men in situ think that some sort of compromise with hostile elements will be necessary in order for NATO to be able to achieve its stated objectives.

Afghanistan has been the graveyard of foreign armies for a long time, but this current situation is surprising. How is it exactly that a rag-tag band of religious zealots are giving the most powerful military alliance in the world a run for its money? Finger-pointing at Pakistan becomes the knee-jerk reaction, but even if Pakistan were the problem, it is hard to see why NATO can't defeat a Pakistani proxy.

Using Sun-Tzu's analysis, NATO's technological and organizational advantages should give it total dominance. With aerial surveillance, satellite surveillance, all-terrain armoured vehicles, guided weapons, unmanned drones, multi-billion-dollar training programmes, unified command structures, and staggering numbers of academics and corporations devoted to fine-tuning the military machine, NATO should have no trouble putting Heaven, Earth, the Commander, and Method and Discpline on its side of the ledger, or at least neutralizing them. The British were still using swords, riding horses, and firing single-shot rifles, all of which were easy for their Afghan opponents to match. Afghanistan today does not manufacture satellites or tanks.

Which leaves the Moral Law. Clearly, those who oppose NATO's presence in Afghanistan, and who are willing to do so with violent force, are not universally hated by the people they live amongst. It is impossible to operate a guerrilla force if all regions and segments of society believe that your cause is unjust. The corollary to that is that NATO is not universally loved by Afghan people either.

If that is the case, then what is being billed as "liberation" is exactly the opposite.

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