Trump is right, no blank check

COULD DONAL TRUMP, of all people, help mend American democracy?

I bet you’ve read the story about the third presidential debate in some major newspaper yesterday. Chris Wallace, the moderator, asks the Republican presidential nominee if he would commit himself to accepting the results of the November 8th vote, whatever that might be.

“I will look at it at the time,” Trump replied. “What I have seen is so bad. First of all, the media is so dishonest and corrupt and has … poisoned the minds of voters.” He went on to suggest that Hillary Clinton’s corporate patrons and her campaign were rigging the election against him.

Trump’s comment has sent shudders through the American media and political establishments.

“Donald Trump Won’t Say If He’ll Accept the Result of Election,” exclaimed the Page One banner on the New York Times lead story. The reporters, Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin, put us on notice that Trump’s “remarkable statement” had “cast doubt on American democracy,” besides “horrifying” Clinton, his Democratic rival and partner in the debate.

“At third debate, Trump won’t commit to accepting election results,” bewailed the Washington Post headline.

The headline on a Boston Globe column warned: “Donald Trump undermines the legitimacy of our democracy.”

Call me dumb, but I don’t get it. I’m baffled by the widespread hysteria sparked by Trump’s comment. I thought that the GOP nominee was saying simply that this electoral process has been corrupted so pervasively that its outcome could become suspect and may need to be reviewed. What’s wrong about that?

In fact, the American electoral process, especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizens v. United decision, has put up American democracy on an auction bloc for special interests to bid on. Jimmy Carter, Noam Chomsky and other American statesmen and intellectuals have been telling us that we no longer have democracy in this country. What we have is a plutocracy. And I agree with them. So do most Americans.

Just glance through the posts on your Facebook News Feed, or ask the lady next to you at a Starbucks counter, about what’s going on in the two presidential campaigns. You would immediately know, if you already haven’t, what “the world’s greatest democracy” has come to: money flooding the election campaigns; candidates selling public trust for personal gains; public officials appear to be lying under oath to hide a candidate’s illegal activity; government agencies, especially arms of the Justice Department, potentially violating the law to get someone elected, or needlessly immunizing someone against possible perjury; and so on. Yet the most surprising thing about it all, to me at least, is that nobody seems to care – or dare – to stand up and say, “Enough is enough! Let’s fix the mess.”

Amnesia and resignation appear to have paralyzed us against the long-overdue clean-up of our political system, which probably is envied by crooked politicians in some of the autocratic and pseudo-democratic countries. Frankly, I’d have liked to see Al Gore take a stand against the Republican shenanigans that cost him the presidency in 2000. Maybe Richard Nixon should have asked for a thorough review of 1960 voting in Chicago. As we know, “the Daley machine,” created by then Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, rigged the presidential election in his city that year in favor of  John F. Kennedy.

Our lethargy in the face of the meltdown of our democracy reminds me of death sentences given to Pakistani Muslims who are accused of having lost their faith in Islam. Nobody challenges those draconian fatwas or rulings, even though many Pakistanis are disgusted with them. The reason: nobody wants to be accused of running afoul of what some moronic clerics have, because of their loopy reading of scripture, proclaimed as Islamic canons.

In America, religion has been disestablished by the Founding Fathers, wisely of course. But most Americans, as most people in the world, still need religion, or some other belief system. Anthropologists tell us that faith in a creed establishes order, security and goals in believers’ minds, without which their lives lose their meaning and purpose.

In our secular American society, capitalist democracy has virtually replaced Christianity and become a “public religion,” to borrow sociologist Robert Bellah’s phrase. You call the process into question, however unfair and venal it might be, and all hell breaks loose. Trump’s refusal to accept the election results three weeks before the voting will actually take place is “horrifying,” not just to Hillary Clinton, but, as we’ve noted, to most of the American media and intelligentsia. Can someone help me understand how you may begin to rescue our democratic institutions from the ubiquitous clutches of interest peddlers unless you challenge their knavery and misdeeds that are ailing those institutions and contorting their output.

Trump is the most reckless ignoramus that the Republican Party has nominated to be our president since George W. Bush. A Trump presidency would be, not only fraught with danger, but a disgrace for America as well. Luckily, opinion polls show that he’s going lose the election big time. And he should.

All the same, I find myself, strangely as it seems, defending his refusal to pre-approve the results of the election. Yes, many other losers in presidential races chose to forfeit beforehand their right to recheck voting results, should there be serious irregularities in the process. But what has that accomplished? It has served only to perpetuate the biennial and quadrennial charade, called the “democratic process,” and has practically disenfranchised us by mortgaging our unfettered constitutional right to choose our government and legislatures to special interests of all kinds

I’d hope that Trump’s challenge to our failing electoral system would inspire others to break the taboo against trying to clean it up.

– Mustafa Malik is an international affairs analyst in Washington. He hosts the blog: Muslim Journey (http://muslimjourney.com).

 

Did CIA try to bump off Erdogan?

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN has upped the ante in his row with the Obama administration, which has heated up since last month’s failed coup in Turkey. The Turkish president now has jumped onto the lap of America’s geopolitical rival, Vladimir Putin.

Erdogan’s meeting Tuesday with his Russian counterpart in a czarist palace outside St. Petersburg has opened what he called – correctly, I believe – “a new page” in Turkish-Russian relations. The two erstwhile foes agreed on a raft of trade, economic and strategic ties between their countries. Some Turks are calling it Erdogan’s “counter-coup” against the United States, which they believe masterminded the botched military coup to overthrow the democratically elected Turkish government.

The St. Petersburg meeting was a 180-degree turn for a man who used to admire America with a passion. The United States was a “model of democracy which Europe should follow,” Erdogan, then disgraced mayor of Istanbul, told me during an interview at his office on August 2, 1998. He was packing to leave the office as he had lost his mayoral job upon his conviction in a Turkish court for reciting a provocative “jihadi poem” at a public gathering.

Putin had fallen out, spitefully, with Erdogan last November when Turkish troops shot down a Russian fighter jet that had strayed into Turkish airspace. That’s all forgotten now. The Turkish guest addressed his Russian host as “dear friend” three times in 10 minutes during their meeting.

Erdogan’s trip to Russia, his first abroad since the failed coup, was meant, partly, to be his tribute to the man he believes had saved his life and government. On the night of July 15 Russian intelligence officers at the Khmeimin airbase in Syria intercepted coded radio signals about preparations for an uprising by military units in Turkey. At Putin’s behest, they called Erdogan at a seaside Turkish resort to alert him about it. A squad of rebel soldiers, they told the Turkish leader, was in flight with orders to “capture or kill” him. Less than 15 minutes after the Erdogan and his family had left the Marmaris resort by an aircraft, 25 renegade Turkish soldiers barged into the hotel where he was staying, looking for him. Erdogan must have thanked his stars for making up with the Russian president a month earlier.

The Turkish president and his associates have accused the CIA of organizing the attempted rebellion in collusion with Erdogan’s arch rival Fethullah Gulen, a multi-billionaire Turkish cleric, living in Pennsylvania. The unorthodox Muslim cleric has built a vast network of schools, businesses and charities in Turkey and dozens of other countries. Critics say the pro-American Gulen has been planning to use his support base in his native Turkey to rule that country as a political and spiritual leader, as a Turkish Ayatollah Khomeini, so to speak. Except that unlike the Islamic fundamentalist revolutionary of Iran, Gulen is a pragmatic, modernizing religious leader.

The belief that the United States engineered the attempted putsch is widely shared by the Turkish public, 69 percent, according to one poll, and by several Turkish media organizations. Some print and electronic news outlets have detailed the alleged American complicity. The Yeni Safak (New Dawn) newspaper, based in Istanbul, has named retired U.S. Army Gen. John F. Campbell as “the man behind” the rebellion. The pro-government paper wrote that Campbell had been recruiting Gulenists in the Turkish armed forces for the coup for eight months. The general, the paper said, had been working with some 80 CIA operatives and distributed $2 billion among Turkish military officers and others through the Nigerian branch of the United Bank of Africa. Yeni Safak obtained most of the information from testimonies of the putschists in Turkish custody.

Then while the uprising was being crushed by angry crowds who had poured into the streets of Ankara and Istanbul at the call of their president, someone spotted a groups of distinguished foreigners behaving suspiciously at a luxury hotel on Princes’ Island outside Istanbul. Henri J. Barkey, a well-known former CIA official and Gulen’s mentor, was watching the insurrection on TV, along with 17 others. Among them, according to one account, was Graham E. Fuller, another former top-ranking CIA officer and long-time Gulen patron. Barkey had instructed the management of the Splendid Palas hotel to set up gadgets for connection to American TV channels.

“I will make a live interview with CNN International,” Barkey had informed them, “and with Voice of America.”

Gulen’s relationship with the CIA began in the 1980s and thickened in 1999 when he defected to the United States to escape capture by the then Turkish government, which had obtained a taped speech by him, instructing his followers to infiltrate government agencies to eventually seize the government. “Move into the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence,” he told them, “until you reach all the power centers.”

In the United States, Fuller was among three CIA-linked Americans who pushed for Gulen’s permanent residency, despite opposition from the State and Homeland Security departments. The other two were George Fidas, a 31-year CIA veteran, and Morton Abramowitz, U.S. ambassador to Turkey during 1989-1991, who is suspected to have been collaborating with CIA projects.

Some of my Turkish interlocutors have been saying that the CIA is the main source of Gulen’s staggering wealth ($25-$50 billion) and his schools and charities in Central Asia. Among those who exposed his CIA connection was the former head of Turkey’s foreign intelligence service, known by its Turkish acronym MIT (the “Turkish CIA”). In 2011 Osman Nuri Gundes published a book, saying Gulen’s Central Asian schools were honeycombed with CIA agents operating as “native-speaking English teachers.”

Regime Change

The CIA reportedly tapped Gulen to use him in a broader U.S. program to get Islam and Muslims to fight communism. The collaboration allegedly continues as part of the CIA’s and neoconservatives’ fight against Islamist movements, one of the many pie-in-the-sky American programs to fight Muslim extremism and terrorism. In any case, they included Erdogan’s AKP in the program.

Unlike Turkey’s Islamic fundamentalist organizations of earlier times, the AKP is a moderate or conservative Muslim party. But American neocons, intelligence agencies and leading media operations continue to consider it a typical Islamist party. They have been as hostile to Erdogan and the AKP as they are to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its imprisoned leader Mohammed Mursi. One can see their animosity toward Erdogan in the writings and rhetoric of Fuller, Barkey, Abramowitz, Michael Rubin, Frank Gaffney, Daniel Pipes and others. They have been castigating Erdogan’s Islamic “agenda” and “authoritarian” rule and making no secret of their impatience for a regime change in Ankara.

Intriguingly, on March 21 Rubin wrote an article on the American Enterprise Institute website under the headline, “Could there be a coup in Turkey?” He wrote: “The Turkish military would suffer no significant consequence should it imitate [Egyptian coup leader and now president] Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s game plan in Egypt, no one should be surprised if Turkey’s rocky politics soon get rockier.”

Some of these neocons and intelligence operatives have also been defending Gulen against Ankara’s repeated calls, being made for years for his extradition to answer charges in courts for his alleged subversive activities (before the recent coup attempt). The Erdogan government has ratcheted up those calls since the July 15 mutiny. The Obama administration’s persistent refusal to hand over Gulen to Turkey has deepened many Turks’ suspicion about alleged U.S. collusion with Gulen to overthrow the Erdogan government.

President Obama and other American officials have strongly denied allegations of a U.S. role in the Turkish rebellion, and Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to visit Turkey later this month to underscore U.S. support for that country and Erdogan’s democratically elected government. Gulen, too, has flatly denied any complicity in the uprising, although he said some of the Turkish troops who participated in it could be among his supporters.

I don’t expect Turkish-America ties to snap overnight. Relations between the the two old allies have survived Turkey’s invasion of Northern Cyprus in 1974, which infuriated President Lyndon Johnson; the Turkish parliament’s rejection of Americans’ plans to use their airbase in southern Turkey during the 2003 Iraq invasion; and other glitches.

But the dissension between Ankara and Washington has been too real, and going on for too long, to ignore. If I were to pick a time when the feuds began, I would say it was Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 U.S.-led war against Iraq to roll back its invasion of Kuwait.

Iraq used to be Turkey’s No. 1 trading partner, and relations between the two Muslim neighbors were cordial. The Turks were opposed to the war, but were “bullied” into it “despite our misgivings about it,” then Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit complained to visitors. As a NATO member, then impoverished and dependent on U.S. military aid and trade, Ankara couldn’t afford to turn down the U.S. demand to join the conflict. The war and the devastating U.S.-sponsored trade embargo on Iraq that followed completely ruptured Turkey’s trade and commercial relations with Iraq. A decade later the Ankara-based newspaper Turkish Daily News reported that Turkish trade with Iraq had dropped to 8 percent of its 1990 volume, costing Turkey between $80 billion and $100 billion.

“We have become America’s serfs,” Faris Estarda, a college graduate and centrist political activist working at Alibaba rug store near Istanbul’s Sultanahmet square, lamented to me during my 1999 trip. “They [the Americans] would start a war with a country to enlarge their empire or take out a government they don’t like, and they would order us pick up the guns and march. Or let them use Incirlik [U.S. military base in southern Turkey]. We can’t say no. Whatever that does to our economy, our relationships, we can’t say no.”

Freedom, Dignity

By the time the George W. Bush administration decided to invade Iraq, however, Turkish society and politics had changed dramatically. The democratic upheaval spearheaded by Erdogan and his AKP had ushered in an unprecedented economic boom and buoyed the Turks with a spirit of freedom and dignity they hadn’t felt sine the early 1920s when they defeated the victors of World War l to liberate Turkey from their occupation. Before and during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Turks were denouncing it as “unjust,” “imperialist,” and so forth. Erdogan, still on good terms with the United States, planned to help with the American war plan. But the Turkish parliament overwhelmingly rejected Washington’s request to use its Incirlik airbase for bombing runs in Iraq.

American politicians and foreign policy community were enraged. Many of them blamed the Turkish rebuff on the AKP-led Islamic resurgence. Ever since, relations between the two NATO partners have been deteriorating, mainly because U.S. strategic and policy objectives are clashing with Turkey’s security and economic interests.

During the Iraq war, the United States depended heavily on Kurdish and Shiite militias to do most of the ground fighting against Saddam Hussein’s Sunni Arab forces. The Bush administration didn’t want to use U.S. ground forces on front lines, fearing American casualties would erode U.S. public support behind the war.

To compensate for their support in the war, Americans let Shiites monopolize political power in Baghdad, and what has had more far-reaching consequences, looked the other way as the Shiite government and militias began a massive purge of Sunni Arabs from the military, bureaucracy and security forces. Simultaneously, Shiite militants and public went on ethnically cleansing Sunni Arabs from Shiite-majority towns and cities. That led to the rise of ISIS as the only defender of Sunni Arab victims of the U.S. invasion and Shiite pogrom. The tragedy that befell Sunni Arabs in Iraq spawned anger and anguish among many Sunni Turks across the border.

But it was America’s coddling of the Kurds that took – and is still taking – the heaviest toll on Turkish-U.S. relations. Iraqi Kurds had been fighting for decades, often against American resistance but with Israeli support, to create an independent or autonomous “Kurdistan,” comprising the three Kurdish-majority provinces in northern Iraq. As a price of their help with the U.S. war effort, the United States endorsed their Kurdistan project. Turkey objected to the project strenuously as it feared that the autonomous Kurdish territory in Iraq would become a staging ground for attacks into Turkey by secessionist Turkish Kurds. And it did. Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorists have been fighting since 1984 for an autonomous or independent territory in southeastern Turkey, just as their ethnic kin had been in northern Iraq. PKK guerrillas now infiltrated Iraqi Kurdistan and began attacking targets in Turkey from there. The Erdogan government urged Washington over and over to expel the PKK guerrillas from northern Iraq. Americans did little in response, except denounce the PKK and ask the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq to throw them out, which the KRG ignored.

Besides its dependence on the fighting muscle of Iraqi Kurds, the United States also saw Iraqi Kurdistan as a strategic asset. After the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki rejected, under Iranian pressure, U.S. plans to build military bases in southern or central Iraq, the Pentagon and the CIA saw Iraqi Kurdistan as an alternative host to U.S. bases. Last month the Pentagon signed an agreement with the KRG to build five bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, apparently to carry out surveillance and launch military missions in the Middle East.

PKK guerrillas not only were using northern Iraq for their terrorist campaign in Turkey. They also made common cause with fellow Kurds in northern Syria, whom the United States has been using in its fight against ISIS. In the fog of the Syrian civil war, the Kurdish militia in Syria, known by its Kurdish acronym YPG, has staked out an autonomous region of their own, known as Rojava. The YPG has been supportive of the PKK and its secessionist struggle in Turkey. The Kurdish terrorists from Turkey have getting arms, ammunition and other logistical support from their fellow Kurds in Syria.

The Obama administration practically has ignored Ankara’s pleas to expel PKK fighters from Rojava, as it did before in Iraqi Kurdistan. Erdogan’s aides say the Turkish president was first befuddled by Obama’s indifference to his pleas. For months now, he has reportedly been convinced that the availability of Iraqi Kurdish territory for U.S. military bases has downgraded Incirlik’s importance to Washington, and Turkey’s, for that matter. America’s need for the YPG to fight ISIS is cited as the main reason the United States has been indifferent to the Syrian guerrilla group’s support for and collaboration with the PKK.

A widely circulated exchange at a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing was taken by Ankara as evidence that the United States is ready to forget about the Turks to preserve its ties to PYG. In April

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter told the Senate panel that he believed YPG was aiding the PKK in its terrorist activities in Turkey. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who had returned from an investigation of the Turkish-PKK conflict, concurred with Carter’s assessment. The Texas Republican criticized the administration for “arming people inside of Syria who are aligned with a terrorist group” that was destabilizing Turkey. Arming the PKK-aligned Kurdish guerrillas in Syria was “the dumbest idea in the world,” he added.

The State Department immediately got its spokesman to disown the defense secretary’s comments. John Kirby told the press that Carter’s remarks on YPG was “his views and the Pentagon’s views.” The YPG was “not a designated foreign terrorist organization” and hence the United States had no problem arming them, he added. Kirby ignored Carter’s and Graham’s concerns about the threat that the YPG’s support for the PKK has posed to Turkey.

The Obama administration has a decision to make. If it thinks security and strategic relations with Turkey would continue to serve U.S. strategic interests, it has to accommodate two crucial demands of the Turks. First, the Obama administration needs to get its Syrian and Iraqi allies to stop aiding and abetting the PKK. Secondly, it should extradite Gulen to Turkey to answer allegations in Turkish courts about his role in the July 15 armed insurrection and other subversive operations.

An unwillingness to meet the two crucial Turkish demands would signal to the Turks that their assumption is right: Turkish-U.S. security and strategic relations have outlived their usefulness. Who knows, they may have.

  • Mustafa Malik covered Turkey as a newspaper correspondent and conducted fieldwork there and in Europe on Ankara’s relations with the European Union. He hosts the blog ‘Muslim Journey’ (http://muslimjourney.com)

Erdogan’s hello to Egyptians

THAT WAS A second in Turkish history. Democratic forces, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, overwhelmed Turkish military units that had attempted to overthrow the country’s democratically elected government.

It was a spectacular triumph for Erdogan, and more to the point, the democratic fervor and aspirations of the Turkish masses.

The first time Erdogan and the Turks foiled a military plot to overthrow their civilian government was in 2012, when the government of then Prime Minister Erdogan roped up hundreds of coup mongering military officers and soldiers, 322 of whom were sent to prison after lengthy trials. Since 1960 the power hungry Turkish military had overthrown four democratically governments.

During and after yesterday’s abortive military uprising, the Erdogan government arrested more than 2,800 military personnel, suspected of participating in what the president termed “an act of treason.” He vowed that the plotters would “pay a heavy price.”

I have known Erdogan for a while and am familiar with his commitment to democracy. He’s a single-minded man. He can be impulsive, too. But don’t get worked up by “authoritarian” and “autocratic” labels put on him by his detractors in Turkey and abroad. Most of them have been raving about his Islamic political background right from the beginning. They abound in the American media and political circles. These Americans have forgotten about slavery, the disenfranchisement of women, Jim Crow, and the enduring racism – all of which coexisted with the democratic process. Erdogan may be an imperfect practitioner the democratic art, but he’s the father of full-fledged democracy in Turkey, founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, an autocrat.

Erdogan impressed me with his commitment to true democracy during my first interview with him nearly two decades ago. A journalism fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, I had been on a research trip through Western Europe and Turkey to assess the spread of Islamism among Turks and its possible impact on Ankara’s bid for accession to the European Union.

Then mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan had been convicted by a secularist court for reciting a poem at a public meeting that the judges said could have incited religious hatred. Intriguingly, the poem had been composed by an agnostic sociologist who was also a protagonist of secular Turkish nationalism. Zia Gokalp’s poem, entitled “Soldier’s Prayer,” likened Turks to Islamic soldiers, mosques to their military barracks and minarets to their swords.

Following Erdogan’s conviction, the ultra-secularist government of the day sacked him from his job as mayor. On August 2, 1998, when I arrived to interview him in Istanbul, the disgraced mayor was packing to vacate the mayor’s office. Apparently because of his belief that his political career would survive the conviction and a subsequent prison term, he showed a keen interest in Turkey’s accession to the EU.

He was eager to know what my interlocutors in France, Germany and Belgium had said about Turkey’s EU membership.

“Do they want us in,” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Some of them said they were concerned about your military’s grip on your democratic process.”

“I share their concern. We, our party [the Islamist Virtue Party], have been the worst victims of military coups.”

The previous year the army, which considered itself the guardian of Turkish secularism, had thrown out the democratically elected government of the Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, Erdogan’s mentor. The generals accused Erbakan of posing a threat to the country’s secular political system.

Most EU officials, I said, wanted to see Turkey “a real democracy before they take a serious look at your membership application.”

“We want Turkey to be a full democracy. That’s one of the reasons we want to join the European bloc. That would help us secure democracy.”

I have since watched him, as prime minister and president, replace Turkey’s military-supervised, elitist political system with a full-blown democracy, as it can be in the ethnic contexts of the Turks and Kurds and their Islamic tradition. I’ve watched him reiterate his commitment to democracy over and over.

Yesterday I remembered Erdogan’s democratization campaign as I watched crowds pouring into the streets and squares of Ankara and Istanbul, facing down the rebellious troops and their tanks and rolling back their short-lived rebellion. And I was wondering why Egyptians couldn’t do the same thing in July 2013, when a military junta overthrew the democratically elected Islamist government of President Mohammed Mursi. Why couldn’t Egyptian crowds chase Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Sisis’s forces back into the barracks? Al-Sisi and his troops probably were more brutal than Turkey’s rebel soldiers and officers. They have mowed down hundreds of protesters, imprisoned and hanged hundreds of others and unleashed a reign of terror in Egypt.

My take on it is that unlike in Turkey, democratic consciousness and aspirations in Egypt have yet to jell among the public. In their 7,000-year history, Egyptians had never known elections and democracy until 2012, when Mursi was elected president and his fellow Islamists won a parliamentary majority. The Turks, on the other hand, have been having elections and nurturing a multi-party democratic process, albeit with occasional military interruptions, for some six decades now.

Democracy never takes root in a society in one smooth push. It’s a messy and long-tern business. The British took seven turbulent centuries to become a pro in the art. The Americans have been practicing it through slavery, a Civil War, Jim Crow and racism, whose latest manifestation has been a spate of killings of African Americans by white policemen and the slaughter of five white police officers by an African American man.

As I see it, four years ago Egyptians had a trial run of democracy. I bet the barbarity to the Sisi dictatorship is fueling a second, more determined democratic uprising in Egypt. A more enduring Arab Spring.

  • Mustafa Malik, an international commentator in Washington, hosts the blog: Muslim Journey (http://muslimjourney.com).

 

Terrorism feeding on U.S. amnesia

WHILE AMERICA MOURNS the slaughter of 49 innocent people in Orlando, Florida, by an ISIS-inspired Muslim man, the CIA director warns that more of this kind of tragedy may be in store for the West. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams and other terrorist groups are throwing evermore killers into the West, John Brennan said.

He also told the Senate Intelligence Committee that ISIS already “has a large cadre of Western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West.”

What’s going on!

Six weeks ago the man who leads the State Department’s counterterrorism programs assured us, a group of journalists, that while “it’s understandable that [people] would be worried” about terrorist attacks in America, “chances of you dying in a terrorist attack are very low.” Justin Siberell said the United States has put in place programs in many countries, which are “addressing the roots of radicalization [of Muslim youths] and disrupting the recruitment into terrorist organizations,” and that supposedly had lessened the threat from ISIS and other terrorist groups.

When I mentioned to Siberell that I saw units of ISIS and Al Qaeda mushrooming in different countries, he said those were “highly localized” events, and that the Obama administration was working with the countries involved to “develop the tools” that would “help governments better address these threats.”

The diplomat apparently was trying, pathetically, to cast a smokescreen around the administration’s dismal failure to “destroy” anti-Western terrorist groups that it promised over and over to accomplish. That failure was glaring at us in Orlando, San Bernadino, Boston, Paris, Brussels, London, Madrid and other Western sites.

So why is it that terrorism has so blatantly defied the West’s anti-terrorism wars, diplomacy and surveillance programs? As I see it, the medicine isn’t working or is aggravating the affliction because the prognosis isn’t right. The West, especially America, attributes Muslim terrorism to one expression of Islam or another. Some folks also link Muslim terrorism to poverty, backwardness, autocratic repression and other problems plaguing Muslim societies.

President Obama is being roasted by Republicans for not calling Muslim violence against the West “radical Islamic terrorism,” as they do. The president’s main argument against using an Islamic label on terrorism is that that would alienate many Muslims around the world. Deep down, he believes that some strands of Islam are indeed fueling murderous proclivity among some Muslim youths. He told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic that “the real problem” fomenting Muslim terrorism is “the fact that some currents of Islam have not gone through a reformation that would help people adapt their religious doctrines to modernity.”

Obama seems to be oblivious to the fact that Islam has been going steadily through religious and social reforms since the late-colonial era, but it’s not following the path that Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli did a half millennium ago. The leaders of the Protestant Reformation broke away from the long-established Christian doctrines and tradition, while Islam has been reforming and evolving from its core beliefs, values and epistemology.

My grandfather was a traditional Muslim cleric who got up at 3 a.m. every night and prayed till sunrise and devoted the last 23 years of his life in prayers, teaching children the basics of Islam and building and managing a tin-shed mosque in the hill town of Haflong in northeast Indian state of Assam. My father, an Islamic scholar and political activist, was deeply concerned about the plight of impoverished and repressed Muslim minority in British India. He worked simultaneously with a Muslim clerical organization and Mahatma Gandhi’s Hindu-dominated Indian National Congress to struggle for the liberation of Indians from British colonial rule. I’m a Western-educated secular Muslim, but I defend and take pride in Islamic principles of community, charity and justice. And I seem to have inherited from my father concern for Muslims and lower-class Hindus in India and Bangladesh. Like most other Muslim families around the world, mine has been evolving, peacefully and steadily, from our Islamic religious and cultural roots.

I don’t believe that Westerners who view Islam as an inherently obscurantist and violent religion, offshoots of which are breeding terrorists, are innately hostile to Muslims or their faith. I see most of them unfamiliar or inadequately familiar with Islam and Muslim values and worldviews. As we have seen in the past, encounters with unfamiliar people and cultures often breed many Americans’ hostility toward those people and their values. Remember the days Americans thought Jews were “greedy,” Irish “dirty,” Germans “swarthy,” Poles “stupid,” and Italians “mafia,” and denounced Chinese as harbingers of “yellow peril”? How many Americans today use any of those labels for any of these racial and ethnic categories? For most Americans and other Westerners, Muslims are the new kids on the block or the horizon. No wonder they’re “terrorists.”

Yes, for several decades now a bunch of Muslim terrorist groups from across the Mediterranean and their fellow travelers in the West have been committing acts of terror against Westerners. And Westerners, unsurprisingly, are anguished and enraged by these terrible incidents. What surprises me, though, is that most Western politicians and intellectuals who blame Islam and or some of its strands for terrorist acts don’t seem ever to ask of themselves this question: Why did Muslims in developing countries admire America and view it as the only good Western country when European nations had colonized and plundered their lands and slaughtered and persecuted them? The Muslim world then was more deeply steeped in Islam, more impoverished, far more backward, and lived under as brutal kings and dictators. Muslim admiration and good will for the United States was fostered, mainly, by the US abhorrence of European colonialism. That good will turned into gratitude after Woodrow Wilson announced his Fourteen Points, an outline for peace negotiations at the end of World War I, which underscored the “right of self-determination” for colonized peoples. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the would-be founder of Pakistan, was so taken with Wilson’s anti-colonial stance that a decade later, in 1928, he outlined a 14-point demand for political and cultural rights of British Indian Muslims.

Anti-American sentiments in the Muslim world have been fueled, as I mentioned elsewhere, by America’s economic exploits and military invasions and incursions in many Muslim countries. The exploitation of mineral and other resources in Muslim countries began with the 1944 Anglo-American Petroleum Agreement, dividing Middle Eastern oil between the United States and Britain. And it continues. America’s military, intelligence and diplomatic offensives in the Muslim world date back to 1948, when the Harry Truman administration became the first in the world to recognize and support the state of Israel, set up by European Jews on the land they had ethnically cleansed of more than 700,000 of its native Palestinians. Muslim grievances against America deepened through the overthrow or destabilization of democratic and other Muslim governments by successive American administrations, who installed or supported repressive pro-American dictatorships and monarchies. U.S. military aggression and interventions in Muslim societies reached a high watermark with the outright invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

As during the Crusades and the colonial era, Muslims have always proclaimed the sanction of their faith in their struggle against foreign aggression and hegemony. But ever since the Crusades, the sources of their hostilities with Western countries have, almost always, been Western aggression, exploitation or hegemony, not Islam or any of its theological branches. The same is the case with anti-Americanism, smoldering today around the Muslim world, strands of which have, deplorably, degenerated into terrorism.

Yet most, but not all, American and Western politicians and pundits fail to see the connection between Western policies and actions and Muslim hostility toward the West. Many of us know, and in fact several American politicians, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), have said publicly, that ISIS was born as a Sunni Arab response to America’s invasion of Iraq and replacement of its Sunni Arab regime with Shiite ones. Under Shiite governments, Sunni Arabs in Iraq have been slaughtered, persecuted, thrown out of their jobs and driven away from their homes and lands. Two days ago Iraq’s Shiite government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, with American-trained, equipped and guided troops and American air support, completed the war in mostly Sunni Fallujah against Sunni guerrillas from ISIS. The devastating U.S. bombardment and Shiite ground war have all but emptied Fallujah of its population, who have fled into intense suffering. I’m afraid many of the thousands of Sunni Arab youths who have fled Fallujah will join ISIS to try to avenge their travails on America.

At last month’s State Department briefing, I asked Siberell if he thought U.S. invasion of Iraq, support for its Shiite regime and military interventions in other Muslim countries had contributed to the emergence of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other anti-American terrorist organizations.

“I reject the suggestion,” replied the terror-fighting diplomat, “that the United States is responsible for all these different terrorism movements you’ve mentioned.”

America’s refusal to take a hard look at the sources of terrorism and its bombing of Muslim countries and demonization and witchhunt of Muslims are only helping to strengthen and multiply terrorist groups. The CIA’s Brennan wants us to brace for more acts of terror by these groups without saying what we or our government can do about them. I wonder how long this self-destructive amnesia has to continue before American political elites, especially policy makers, begin to take a bold and honest look at the real causes of the horrible tragedies being unleashed by vengeful terrorists.

  • Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, is the host of the blog ‘Muslim Journey,’ (http://muslimjourney.com).

 

 

Iran deal: Break it and you own it

(A version of the article was published on May 23, 2016, in Masthead, the journal of the Association of American Opinion Writer)

ABSTRACT: Does the Iran nuclear deal remain in danger? The Obama administration been steadfastly defending the accord between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. Stephen Mull, the U.S. diplomat charged with overseeing its implementation, told me during a State Department briefing that blocking Iran’s paths to acquiring nukes has been the goal of “several [U.S.] administrations for many years,” and that the accord does precisely that. Yet congressional Republicans remain unreconciled to the agreement, and some have threatened to scrub in the next Congress.  Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, has already called for the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic, arguing that Tehran violated a U.N. Security Council resolution by testing its Shahab-3 ballistic missile. I argue that scrapping deal would be a calamitous blunder for America. It would compel the United States to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, leading to war between the two countries. And Iran, with its military power and network of militias and activists throughout the “Shiite Crescent,” could wreak havoc to U.S. strategic and security interests and institutions in west Asia.

Paul Ryan tried to suppress a touch of elation when he declared that the Iran nuclear deal was “starting to unravel.” The House speaker echoed the anticipation, widespread among his fellow Republicans and the Israeli right, that the next administration and Congress would junk the agreement between P5+1 nations and Iran.

It reminds me of a Jay Leno spoof. “A retired Air Force colonel said that U.S. military operations are already under way in Iran,” the comedian told his TV audience. “You know what that means? That means that it’s time to break out the old ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner!”

On May 1, 2003, 11 days after U.S. troops roared into the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, President George W. Bush arrived in a fixed-wing aircraft to the bow of USS Abraham Lincoln. The aircraft carrier was anchored just off the San Diego coast. As TV cameras rolled furiously, the 43rd president, wrapped in a flight suit, flashed confident smiles and gave a self-congratulatory talk. But the war president’s ebullience was overshadowed by a long banner hanging behind him, declaring: ‘Mission Accomplished.”

The real Iraq war would begin soon. Droves of Iraqi guerrillas would stream into the streets and alleys of Iraqi cities and towns and engage U.S. and allied forces in a long, ferocious struggle.  In the decade that followed, close to 1 million Iraqis and 4,000 American troops would perish. The Iraqi state and society would come unglued. And the Islamic State terrorist nightmare would unfold, posing a persistent threat to American and European security.

Behind Leno’s insightful joke lurks a chilling warning about the possibility of America blundering into a war with Iran, triggered by the rejection of the Iran nuclear deal. But could the next administration really scrub the accord?  Stephen Mull, the U.S. diplomat charged with seeing through the implementation of the accord, wouldn’t rule it out. “It’s not a treaty,” he told me. “The next president can tear it up.”  He was explaining to a group of us from the Association of Opinion Writers the details of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the official name of the Iran accord.

Mull said, during the State Department briefing, that Iran’s agreement with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia) and Germany, called p5+1, already had achieved a major foreign policy goal, pursued by “successive U.S. administrations for many years”: the elimination of the threat from a nuclear-armed Iran. The JCPOA had, the diplomat continued, got Tehran to slash its stockpile of 1,2000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride to just 300, a 98 percent cut. It bars the Islamic Republic from enriching uranium above 3.67 percent, far below the level required to make a nuke. The Iranians, too, had to reduce their stock of 19, 000 uranium-enriching centrifuges to only about 5, 000. And their nuclear sites had been “open for inspection 24/7” by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “Iran has implemented this deal in completely good faith.”  All these and and other provisions of the pact had, Mull emphasized, “cut off every possible way for Iran to make nuclear weapons.”

But a majority of the Republican-majority in Congress has been dead-set against the JCPOA. Forty-seven U.S. senators have sent an open letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warning Iran’s supreme leader: “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen.”

The deal could to come up for review by the next president, whoever that is. Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, has denounced it as “horrible” and vowed to scrub it, if elected president.  Democrat Hillary Clinton has long been hostile to Iran.  As President Obama’s secretary of state, she had to lead the U.S. diplomatic team to negotiate the Iran deal, and she obviously has to defend it on her presidential campaign trail. Yet hours after the United States dropped its part of the multilateral sanctions against Iran, as required by the JCPOA, Clinton demanded slapping new U.S. sanctions on it, citing Tehran’s testing of its Shahab-3 ballistic missile. The JCPOA doesn’t bar such tests, but she argued that Tehran was “violating UN Security Council resolutions with its ballistic missile program.”

America can, as Mull pointed out, scrub the agreement. But then? Their internal political feuds notwithstanding, the Iranians are a deeply patriotic nation, large swaths of which are pulsating with revolutionary zing. Iran’s population and military power are more than thrice those of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. America can start a conflict with the Iranians and throw a “Mission Accomplished” party after a likely initial victory.

But it’s only Iran that could end such a war. With its network of activists and militias across the “Shiite Crescent,” the Islamic Republic could set the Middle East on fire, which probably wouldn’t stop before consuming many of America’s interests and endangering its hegemony in Muslim west Asia.

On Aug. 5, 2002, Colin Powell, always a reluctant warrior, was trying, unsuccessfully, to dissuade President Bush from invading Iraq. The secretary of state told the president that the war being planned could land America into a costly and long-lasting quagmire, and told Bush about a pottery barn rule: “If you break it, you own it.”

Maybe someone should remind our anti-Iranian hawks of Powell’s caveat, again.

  • Mustafa Malik worked as a reporter, columnist and editor for the Hartford Courant, Glasgow Herald and other newspapers and think tanks. He writes about international affairs for various American and overseas newspapers and journals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hijab and Muslim women

Muslim women’s headgear, or hijab, is “a symbol of a dangerous purity culture” among people “obsessed with honor and virginity.”

I realize that Asra Nomani, who made this comment, has acquired an Islamophobic prejudice about hijab.  Many Westerners, especially Islam-baiters, say that the hijab is imposed by bigoted Muslim men on unwilling women. Ms. Nomani was born into a Muslim family in India but has lived in America since she was 4. In her New York Times op-ed, however, she describes herself as a “mainstream Muslim woman,” and maintains that the hijab “has divided Muslim communities … since the Saudi and Iranian regimes promulgated puritanical interpretations of Sunni and Shia Islam.”

I was also born in India, and lived in the Indian subcontinent for three decades. I have had the opportunity to continually travel through Middle Eastern and other Muslim countries on research and reporting stints. I somehow missed the division in Muslim communities over wearing the hijab, which Ms. Nomani has mentioned. And I had thought that most Middle Eastern women had been covering up their heads since the dawn of history.

As far as I know, Persian women wore head covering in the fifth century B.C., if not before.  That was a millennium before Islam was born. Many Byzantine Christian women used to wear headscarves as well. Arab women have been wearing them, especially when outdoors, since time immemorial.  Headscarves protected their long hair from getting messed up by sand, wafted by winds.  In arid deserts water was scarce, and most of them could not afford frequently washing their hair. The scarf also protected their fair skin (a symbol of beauty in Asia) from the scorching 110°F-115°F sun.  For the same reason, Arab men, since long before Islam, have been wearing the kaffieh scarf around their heads and cheeks.

When Islam came to Arabia in the seventh century, Muslim men and women kept most of their pre-Islamic dress code: men’s beard, turban and robe; women’s body wrapper and hijab.  But, as Ms. Nomani has rightly pointed out, the Quran does not specifically enjoin Muslim women to wear the hijab.

The Islamization of hijab began with an unremarkable incident.  One day, in Medina, some women from Prophet Muhammad’s family went shopping, some bareheaded.  Several rowdy men from the street jeered at them and made snide remarks about their physical features. When Muhammad heard of the incident, he instructed them to cover up their heads and bodies when they went outdoors.

Muslims the world over try to emulate many social practices associated with the Prophet and early Muslims, and many attach religious merits to them. It is like Christians wearing the cross around their necks and Jewish men putting on the kippa.

Since the late colonial era, many Muslims have attached new significance to the hijab and other Islamic symbols: pride and authenticity.  Anti-colonial movements spurred identity consciousness among Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other colonized peoples. They expressed that consciousness through the revival of their native religious cultural symbols.

Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were Hindus who led the struggle for India’s independence from British colonial rule. Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan were Muslims who spearheaded the movement to create the Muslim Pakistan out of British India. All four were Oxford-educated barristers (lawyers), and during their years in Britain all donned Western clothing.  As the four barristers plunged into their independence struggles, Gandhi and Nehru switched back to the Hindu dress code, and Jinnah and Liaqat to Islamic clothing (although Jinnah waited longer to do so).

In time, the trend toward religious and cultural revival permeated among the masses in societies colonized by the British, French, Dutch and other European powers. Elements among their elites, however, hung on to the lifestyles of the colonial rulers. They included Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey; Riza Shah (father of Muhammad Riza Pahlavi), who launched a Westernization campaign in Iran; Habib Bourguiba, the leader of the Tunisian independence movement; and others.

The Islamization of most Muslim societies has continued steadily, alongside their modernization and pursuit of Western education, knowhow and political models. It has surged again with a vengeance in response to the Jewish occupation of Palestine, American invasion and domination of Muslim countries, and U.S.-sponsored coups and U.S. support for oppressive governments in several of these countries. The current wave of Muslim militancy and terrorism against the United States and its allies is largely part of that reaction.

So is the hijab’s popularity among Muslim women, many of them Western educated.  In most non-Western countries, including Muslim ones, male domination of women is a tradition, and the virginity of unmarried women is a cherished value. Many Muslim men, no doubt, require their wives and daughters to wear the hijab in public, as typical Hindu men would bar their daughters from socializing with Muslim or Christian men. But most Muslim women wear the hijab with pride, and take offense at any criticism of the practice.

I encountered some of them during trips to Turkey. Strolling the upscale Istiqlal Caddsi in Istanbul, the tree-shaded Ataturk Bulvari in Ankara, and other Turkish urban centers, I would often come across young women in hijab chatting away with their older, bareheaded female companions, sometimes locking arms.

I engaged some of them in chitchats, and learned that the older women grew up during Turkey’s “Kemalist” era (mid-1920s through mid-1990s). Turkey was then going through an intense, if controversial, Westernization campaign, launched by the ultra-secularist Ataturk. Ataturk and his followers, the Kemalists, banned many Islamic symbols, including the hijab, from many public institutions.  Many Turks who grew up then still feel uncomfortable about adopting those Islamic symbols.  Among them are some of the older, uneducated, Turkish women. Many of their daughters and nieces, on other hand, resent the Kemalist Westernization drive, even though they may have acquired a secular Western education and appreciate Western values of freedom and democracy.

These young women believe that the abandonment of Islamic symbols and embrace of European ones by the Kemalists were an uncalled for insult to their proud Turkish Islamic heritage and culture.  One of them told me that the Kemalists were social “parasites,” and herself an authentic “heir” to Ottoman Turkey. The Ottomans, she reminded me, were the dominant European power for “two hundred years,” (actually from 1453 to 1529) and one of the greatest Islamic empires. These Muslim women’s worldview was explained by, among others, the renowned British social anthropologist Ernest Gellner (1925-1995).

“Contrary to what outsiders suppose,” wrote the Cambridge University professor, “the typical Muslim woman in a Muslim city doesn’t wear the veil because her grandmother did so, but because her grandmother did not [emphasis original]: her grandmother in her village was far too busy in he field, and she frequented the shrine without a veil, and left the veil to her betters. The granddaughter is celebrating the fact that she has joined her grandmother’s betters.”

I would encourage Asra Nomani to go on an extended trip to our native India and Muslim countries and communities elsewhere.  She would, I believe, better appreciate Muslim women’s attachment to the hijab.

  • Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog: Muslim Journey (http://muslimjourney.com).

 

 

 

Gaping cracks in liberalism

“Bernie Sanders won’t beat Hillary” Clinton. And “Jeremy Corbyn probably won’t be Britain’s next prime minister.” All the same, “liberalism is living dangerously,” and you would be wise to “hedge [your] bet” against its demise. After all, “all orders pass away.”

I was floored by these year-end thoughts of Ross Douthat, a right-wing columnist for the New York Times. Douthat has been a card-carrying apologist for liberalism. Classical liberalism, that is. The ideology that says  the right to life, liberty, property and social equality has been bestowed on us by nature. Not the “liberal” label that Donald Trump or Newt Gingrich would use to demonize Sanders, Noam Chomsky or Paul Krugman.

A traditionalist Catholic, Douthat resents Pope Francis’s “ostentatious humility.” He believes that the pope’s humble lifestyle and progressive words and deeds are a ruse to camouflage a “plot.” That plot is meant to recognize the remarriage of divorced Catholics, give them the sacrament of the Eucharist, and sidestep other long-established Church rules. The columnist opposes any dramatic deviation from the Catholic tradition.

For all his worries about liberalism, Douthat remains its inveterate defender. He points out, proudly, that liberalism’s past ideological rivals such as fascism and communism have failed.  So would, he predicts, the “vision of a new Islamic empire,” proclaimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS).  So would Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “Stalinist nostalgia.”

What, then, is bothering him?  Why wouldn’t he bet on the survival of the liberal, capitalist system? Well, the Harvard alumnus says he sees some “cracks in the liberal order.”  What are they? The Black Lives Matter movement continues to show its “potency.”  Trump is drawing big crowds, despite his “boastful authoritarianism” and bizarre antics. Streams of Democratic voters, on the other hand, are romping and whooshing to “crypto-Marxist” Sanders’ rallies, as though mesmerized by his socialist rhetoric. More worrisome, polls are showing Americans’ “declining faith in democracy.”

The spectacle is as bleak in Europe, according to Douthat. The European Union project is wobbling from a surge of ethnic nationalism, separatism, and economic crises, especially in Greece, Hungary and Poland.   If that was not all, Angela Merkel’s decision to accept “a million Middle Eastern refugees” jangles his mind with the specter of an Islamized Europe, as envisioned in Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission.

Douthat’s concerns are legitimate, except that he is rather late to recognize them.

A host of other Western intellectuals and polemicists already have. They are dismayed by the havoc the liberal capitalist order is wreaking everywhere. The top 5% of Americans are soaking up of most of the national income and wealth. The incomes of most people in the lower rungs of American society are dropping or stagnating. Families and communities are breaking down. Carbon emissions threatening the existence of the human species. And so on.

By and large, liberals seem to have become tone deaf about it. They continue to cherish in the old-line liberal mantra that you can solve the world’s problems and improve human conditions everywhere by holding on to and spreading liberal values and institutions (democracy, secularism, nationalism), and capitalist tools and processes (technology, trade, production and consumption). If free trade is costing American jobs and depressing American wages, charge ahead with it, anyway. Never mind democracy is facilitating, instead of stopping, capitalist greed and social injustices in the West. Spread it around, nonetheless. Except for a circle of sociologists and philosophers (among them Peter Berger, David Martin, Grace Davie, Daniele Herview-Leger, and very lately Jurgen Habermas), most Western scholars and intellectuals are caught up in this charade.   They react to the blowbacks of what has been called the “crisis of liberalism” with clichés and canned answers from received knowledge.

Question: Why are Greek and Hungarian economies in a mess?

Answer: Well, their leaders are irresponsible and have not learned the rules of capitalism and the market economy.

Q: Why are xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia surging in Europe?

A: Europeans are scared stiff by “the invasion” Muslim workers and refugees. These Islamic reactionaries would not assimilate into their host societies and threaten to tear up the liberal order in Europe. Naturally, people are losing patience with them.

Years ago I read in a medical journal that people afflicted with terminal cancer go through several stages before reconciling with their fate. The first is the stage of denial: The prognosis can’t be right. Let us have a second opinion. It follows spasms of anger: Why me? Why couldn’t my doctors find it out before it spread?

There is no denying the fact that the Enlightenment, the harbinger of liberalism, has changed our world, mostly for the better, beyond the imagination of our ancestors. As Isiah Berlin aptly said, “The intellectual power, honesty, lucidity, courage, and disinterested love of the truth of the most thinkers of the eighteenth century remain to this day without parallel.”  The problem is that they went a bit overboard with their mission. The mission to create a brave new world with the flawed premise of universality of rationalism. They revolted, rightly, against the abuses and corruption of the Roman Church. But they lost sight of the ennobling teachings of the Christian faith that Jesus and Paul brought to the world: humanity, compassion, community, and aversion to greed and materialism. They threw the baby out with the bath water.

The Enlightenment’s Achilles’ hill has been a basic misconception about human nature. The belief, which is credited to Rene Descartes but can be traced to Plato, is that we are all alike in our basic mindsets and style of reasoning. That our deeds and proclivities can be ascertained with the kind of scientific methods that Isaac Newton used to determine the laws of motion. This old argument has been challenged by curious minds since the dawn of ontological thinking – from Greek sophists to David Hume  to  Giambattista Vico to Richard Rorty to my friend George McClean, professor emeritus of philosophy at Catholic University in Washington. They all maintain that we are cultural products, that our thought processes and value judgment are conditioned by our cultural environment, not by any universally applicable standards. “[T]here is no such thing as a human nature, independent of culture,” as Cliffort Geertz puts it presciently.

Liberal rationalists reject this view and hold on to their a priori notion that liberal recipes for progress and fulfillment would apply everywhere.  Among the latest disasters caused by this belief and attitude was the Iraq war. The invasion of Iraq was planned by neoconservative Ph.Ds. to plant Western-style liberal democracy in Iraq’s traditional Muslim society. From there, they said, such democracy would spread to other Muslim countries.  The devastation of Iraq, loss of nearly a million Iraqi lives and the birth of ISIS have been among the outcome of this experimentation.

Liberalism is all about methods. It does not relate to the sources of realities. Newton saw an apple falling from a tree, and discovered the law of gravity. One of the most momentous, epoch-making scientific discoveries ever. Humanity will forever remain indebted to him for it. The questions that Vico would have asked the renowned physicist, and remain unanswered to this day: Why was the gravity there? Or the apple?

Our friend Douthat is worried about the “cracks” he sees in the liberal social and political model, and appears to be getting reconciled with the prospect of its demise because “all orders pass away.”

Would he ever wonder why?

Maybe we should follow up on the question another day.

  • Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog: Muslim Journey (http://muslimjourney.com).

 

 

 

 

‘Radical Islam,’ Islam, liberalism

The U.S. Army chief of staff, Gen. Mark Milley, appears to be out of sync with his commander-in-chief on the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The general says ISIS is a product of “radical Islam or militant Islam,” which endangers Western societies based on liberalism.

President Obama and his administration have been protesting the linking of Islam in any form to ISIS, or any other group of Muslim terrorists.  “We are not at war with Islam,”  Obama says. “We are at war with people who have perverted Islam,”

Milley argues that ISIS has emerged from an Islamic “movement out there going on for 100 years.”  That movement is committed to building “an alternative way” of life to the one cherished by liberal Western societies.  “And that’s the challenge of radicals within the Muslim Allamah, from Morocco all the way to Indonesia, from the Caucuses to the Blue Nile.” The general apparently meant “ulema,” Muslim clerics and scholars; instead of “allama,” which means a scholar in Islamic jurisprudence and philosophy.

I agree, partly, with both the president and the general. They reminded me of a debate on Islam that took place years go between two of the West’s best-known scholars on Islam: Bernard Lewis of Princeton University, and Mohammed Arkoun of Sorbonne University in Paris (who died in 2010). The colloquium was hosted by the Library of Congress in Washington in its Jefferson Building meeting hall.

Lewis, an Orientalist Jew, basically argued that Muslim societies were lagging behind most of the rest of the world in human development and economic progress because of their fetish with Islam’s anti-modern values and principles. Arkoun, a French Muslim of Algerian descent, countered that economic progress was only part of what Islam was about. Islam’s core mission was to pursue social justice, he said.  Lewis retorted that Muslims had not “made much progress” in building just societies. Arkoun agreed, but reminded his interlocutor that Islamic principles were “adaptive” to Muslims’ evolving social environments. “The world,” he added, “isn’t done with Islam, I suppose.”

Lewis was right in saying that Muslims have been ignoring their faith’s prescription for pursuing social justice. Justice in Islam means not only adjudication of grievances and disputes, but also achieving or maintaining social equilibrium through fair treatment of people. Muslims have indeed been doing injustices to one another and destabilizing ordered societies since the early days of the faith. Not long after the death of Prophet Muhammad, his followers plunged into bloody succession struggles and internecine warfare. Sectarian, ethnic and tribal strife among Muslims continued, off and on, throughout Islamic history.

Yet Muslims’ struggle for justice, or against what they perceive be injustices, bursts forth in times of conflict with non-Muslim faith groups, hegemons and civilizations. Islam inherited the concept of justice from faith-based cultural patterns that evolved during the Axial Age in societies in between the Nile River in Egypt and Sudan and the Oxus River in Afghanistan and Central Asia. The Axial Age spanned the 8th through the 3rd century B.C. Justice became the bedrock principle of those traditions, especially early Judaism and later early Christianity and Islam.

During the Axial Age, Middle Eastern peoples did not have a central authority or a judicial apparatus to administer justice among individuals and communities. Rules of justice administered by an omnipotent God, equipped with the tools of heaven and hell, became the most effective principle of organizing societies and maintaining peace and order. Western liberalism, Western Christianity and the Indic religions of Hinduism and Buddhism are focused on the individual – individual freedom, individual enlightenment, individual emancipation from birth cycles, etc. But monotheistic religions were founded on the principle of social justice.

While secular liberalism has replaced religion in the public spheres of the Judeo-Christian West, most Muslim societies remain anchored to principle of justice, however widely it may be flouted. The call of justice (more than that of freedom) shapes the moral standards, influences the choice of personal and social goals in most Muslims societies, and inspires Muslims into achieving those goals. Arkoun was obviously referring to this Islamic paradigm in his encounter with Lewis.

What makes the concept of justice potent in Muslims’ encounters with their non-Muslim adversaries is another seminal Islamic concept: the umma. As Milley has pointed out, the spirit of umma resonates among Muslims “from Morocco all the way to Indonesia, from the Caucasus to the … Nile.”  Umma solidarity took hold among Muslims during the early phase of their faith, when they were involved in continual conflicts with non-Muslim communities, states and empires. It revived during the Crusades, anti-colonial struggles, and many local conflicts against non-Muslims. Today the spirit of umma is fueling Muslim resistance to non-Muslim invasions, occupation and hegemony, which many Muslims consider acts of injustice.  Whether Muslim perception of these “injustices” is correct is debatable.  But the sense of injustice that has fostered solidarity among swaths of the Muslim umma against American and Western hegemons is not.

In Western and many other non-Muslim societies such solidarity is evoked by people’s allegiance to their nations. The concept of nationalism is alien to Islam. It was imported into Muslim realms (many non-Muslim ones) during the last phase of European colonialism. Political elites in these countries have since been trying to work through the institutions of nations and nation-states. But many everyday Muslims’ attachment to their religious institutions and communities remains alive, and when the crunch comes, it tends override their loyalty to their “nation-states.”  Today there are few Iraqis in Iraq: there are only Sunni Arabs, Sunni Kurds, Shiite Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, and other ethnic and sectarian communities. Similarly, Syria has few Syrians, Lebanon, few Lebanese, and so on.

Of course you would not condone, let alone support, the killing and persecution that ISIS and other Muslim terrorist organizations have carried out against innocent people. I bet you are not prepared, either, to condone or justify the slaughter of nearly 1 million Iraqis, or the horrors of Abu Gharib, which followed the unjust and uncalled for American war in Iraq. You can, too, have legitimate debates over the causes that have pitted ISIS, the Taliban and other militant Muslim groups against their foreign and domestic adversaries. Yet their bitter enmity against these adversaries is a reality. So are the sources that this enmity is feeding on.

The American president and army chief of staff have sidestepped this reality, while trying to explain the danger posed by ISIS and other Muslim terrorist groups.  They are preoccupied with military tools and strategies that Obama believes would “degrade and destroy” ISIS.

A recent editorial in the British newspaper The Independent appears to have reminded them of the folly behind this strategy. Citing the outcome of the 14-year-long multinational war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the editorial says that “the most reliable estimates indicate that the Taliban controls or heavily influences at least half of the country. As talk grows of putting ‘boots on the ground’ in Syria, we should remember where this got us in Afghanistan – nowhere.”

Islamic history and values would yield some productive ideas about dealing with ISIS or ‘radical Islam.’

  • Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog Muslim Journey (http://muslimjourney.com).

 

 

 

 

ISIS war beckons kurdish state

ON SUNDAY NIGHT President Obama called on Turkey, again, “to seal its border with Syria.” He was giving a status report on America’s war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Last week Defense Secretary Ashton Carter demanded, somewhat impatiently: “Turkey must do more to control its often porous border” with Syria. Other American politicians and strategists have been voicing the demand, continually.

Americans’ concern is real. Through the Turkish-Syrian border, ISIS gets a good deal of its recruits, arms and other supplies from other countries. What is the problem with the Turks? you would wonder. Why can’t they just close their damned border to those God-awful “Islamic terrorists”?

Well, sealing off Turkey’s 566-mile border with Syria is no easy task. Not any easier than shutting down the U.S. border with Mexico. The real problem, though, is deepening strains in U.S.-Turkish relations over the Kurdish agenda. I would not call it a crisis point yet, but the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is fuming over what it sees as America’s persistent disregard of Turkey’s stability and security concerns. Ankara has been warning Americans that their indifference to Kurdish separatism in Syria and arms supplies to Syria’s Kurdish guerrillas have posed an existential threat to Turkey.

In Syria, the  Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), has been fighting ISIS at America’s prodding, while expanding an autonomous Kurdish region they carved out in northern Syria in the fog of the Syrian civil war. They have named the territory Rojava. The Turks are alarmed to see the YPG joining up with their own Kurdish militants belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Since 1984 the PKK has waged a violent on again, off again campaign to create an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey, where Kurds are a majority of the population. The Erdogan government says it supports the fight against ISIS, whoever carries it on. What scares the Turks is the growing fraternity and collaboration between the PKK and the YPG.

Groups of Kurdish activists in Turkey, Syria and Iraq – and some in Iran – have aspired for a common independent state ever since their historic homeland was split between these four countries in the wake of World War I. The total Kurdish population in the region and elsewhere is between 28 million and 35 million, which makes the Kurds the largest ethnic group without a nation-state. The Kurdish territory in Syria has been a PKK stronghold since the Turkish secessionist group emerged in the late 1970s. PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, now facing a suspended death sentence in Turkey, lived in Syria for years and from there conducted armed raids into military and civilian targets inside Turkey. The ties between the PKK and Kurdish activists in Syria endure. They have been strengthened by droves of PKK fighters – more than 1,400 according to Ankara – joining the YPG’s separatist campaign in Syria. In return, Kurdish guerrillas in Rojava are supplying the PKK with arms and ammunition, some of which are supplied by the United States.

Israeli-Kurdish ties

The Obama administration has practically turned a deaf ear to Turkish complaints that the YPG threatens to help heat up the Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey. The reason for the American insouciance is obvious. Syrian and Iraqi Kurds are the United States’ only dependable allies in that troubled region. Some American lawmakers have called the YPG “our ground force” against ISIS. But as the YPG reclaims territories from ISIS control, it adds them to its autonomous domain. Rojava abuts the Kurdish-inhabited southeastern Turkey, and also Iraqi Kurdistan Iraq. Thus the silhouette of a “greater Kurdistan” is forming. Whether Kurdish separatists in Turkey can actually cleave southeastern Turkey off the Turkish state is another question.

For decades the United States resisted the Kurds’ separatist activities in Turkey and Iraq. Washington did not want to alienate Turkey, a valued NATO member, or destabilize Iraq. The un-answered question remains whether America’s deepening ties to the Kurds would eventually make it jilt the Turks.

I feel sorry for the Kurds, a non-Arab, non-Turkic people belonging to the Sunni branch of Islam. They have been persecuted and sometimes slaughtered by Arabs and Turks and used and abused by America, pre-Revolutionary Iran and, to an extent, Israel. Iraqi Kurds’ under-the-radar ties to Israel heightened their tensions with Arabs. Enmity with Arabs is what has fostered mutual empathy between the Kurds and Israeli Jews.

The Kurds’ struggle for an independent Kurdish state reached a high watermark in 1920, when the victors of World War I promised them one. The Western allies signed a treaty in Sevres, abolishing the Turkish-dominated Ottoman Empire, which they had defeated in the war, and allotting its territories to different countries and communities. The Sevres treaty stipulated, among other things, an autonomous Kurdistan, comprising part of Anatolia (the Asian part of Turkey), whose coastal territory would be annexed by Greece. And so on.

The Kurdish homeland project died in 1922 when a ragtag Turkish army, led by its gifted general Mustafa Kemal, defeated and expelled the British, French, Italian and Greek occupation forces from what would emerge as the modern Turkish sate.

“We lost our freedom when the Turks won theirs,” Laila Serhati, a Kurdish activist from the Turkish city of Adiyaman, told me in Berlin in 2000. A PKK sympathizer, she was organizing protests in Germany against the Turks’ capture of Ocalan in Kenya with the help of the CIA and, more painfully for the Kurds, Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

Iraqi Kurds’ fervor for independent Kurdish state drove them into the arms of outsiders who had an ax to grind against the Iraqi government. More often than not, they were betrayed by those who used them, beginning with the then Iranian monarch, Shah Muhammad Riza Pahlavi. The shah of Iran wanted to give Iraq’s Saddam Hussein a good shellacking for stonewalling an Iranian bid to get a piece of the Shat e-Arab waterway, which marks the boundary between the two countries. A 1937 treaty had given Iraq jurisdiction over the whole stream.

The shah tried to get the redoubtable Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa Barzani to step up his armed struggle for an independent or autonomous Kurdish state in Iraq. The shah promised Barzani all kinds of help in the insurrection. Tempting as the Iranian’s offer was, Barzani did not take a bite. He did not trust the Iranian tyrant.

American betrayal

So in 1972 the shah brought up the issue with Nixon and Kissinger, who had stopped over in Tehran on their return from Moscow, after concluding the historic SALT I arms control treaty with the Soviet Union. Could they get the Kurds to resume their secessionist struggle? inquired the Iranian ruler. An earlier Kurdish uprising for independence had been put down by Baghdad in late 1960s. The monarch was America’s top cop in Muslim Middle East. Yet Nixon apparently did not want to get personally involved in his dirty game. The American president asked him to “work it out with Henry.”

No Machiavellian game was too dirty for Kissinger, however. He jumped at the shah’s scheme as a child would at a lollypop. Kissinger met Barzani – the father of Masood, the current president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan — and persuaded the Kurdish chieftain to restart his insurgency with renewed resolve and courage. The United States and Iran would “support you all the way,” assured the U.S. national security adviser.

In 1974 Mustafa Barzani waged a ferocious war against the Iraqi army, aided by two Iranian divisions and U.S. and Israeli arms, cash and intelligence. The conflict cost more than 10,000 lives on both sides, but it succeeded in delivering Saddam to the shah and Kissinger. The Iraqi leader agreed to revisit the Shat el-Arab issue. In 1975 Saddam signed a treaty in the Algerian capital of Algiers, relinquishing half the waterway to Iran, as demanded by the shah. As part of the bargain, the United States and Iran agreed to cut Barzani loose.

Eight hours after the signing of the Algiers treaty, America and Iran stopped all aid, including food, promised to Iraqi Kurds. The next day the Iraqi army began wreaking vengeance on the Kurds. It was brutal. The crackdown cost thousands of Kurdish lives, and drove nearly 200,000 Iraqi Kurds into neighboring counties. Barzani desperately tried to call Kissinger, now U.S. secretary of state. Kissinger did not take his calls. The State Department would not respond to his urgent requests for aid. The Gerald Ford administration even “refused to extend humanitarian assistance” to the victims of Saddam’s horrific retribution, noted Rep. Otis Pike, Democrat of New York, who led a congressional investigation into the sordid affair. The Israelis – 3,000 of whom had been smuggled by Iraqi Kurds from Iraq and Iran into Israel — also ignored Kurdish calls for help.

The Pike Commission issued a damning report on the American “betrayal” of Turkish Kurds. Kissinger dismissed it contemptuously.

“Covert action,” he said, “should not be confused with missionary work.”

Fast-forward 27 years. Americans were at the door of the Iraqi Kurds again. The George W. Bush administration was planning to invade Iraq. Along with an air war, there would be a ground offensive from the north. But the administration wanted to keep American soldiers out of harm’s way, as much as possible. Would the Kurdish Peshmerga militia lead the charge? The leadership of Iraqi Kurds did not quite trust the Americans, or their “ironclad assurance” that they would not abandon the Kurds this time. Yet Masood Barzani (His father was now dead) and other Kurdish leaders decided they could not afford to alienate the world’s sole superpower.

Barzani’s argument that persuaded his associates to lead America’s ground war was related to me in 2010 by an old Iraqi acquaintance. Salam Asoufi, a correspondent for Agence France-Presse in Baghdad, had fled Iraq in the midst of the U.S. invasion and was working as a low-level employee at the Abu Dhabi mayor’s office. I met him there during a journalistic stint to the United Arab Emirates.

Asoufi had covered U.S.-Kurdish relations for AFP during the run-up to the war. He recalled that Masood Barzani had some difficulty persuading his associates to return to the battlefield against Saddam, again at American behest.

“We will lose some lives again,” he said to them. “We have lost a lot of them. We are where we were. This time I believe we will get closer to our destination…. It will be a lot closer without [Saddam]. I am not counting on Americans’ help, or anybody else’s help. I am counting on ourselves. Our love for Kurdistan.”

Barzani was right. The United States was – and still is – unwilling to support a declaration of independence by Kurds, in Iraq, Syria or Turkey. It does not want to be accused of destabilizing the region. But Saddam was gone along with his military. The Shiite and Sunni Arabs were busy slaughtering one another. Who could stop Iraqi Kurds from carving out an autonomous homeland? Moreover, the United States came to view the Iraqi Kurdistan as an alternative territory for U.S. military bases, for which it could not get permission elsewhere in Iraq.

U.S. bases

One of America’s key objectives in its invasion of Iraq was to set up a string of military bases there. In 2004 General Jay Garner, the first U.S. proconsul in Iraq, announced that the United States would be building a number of military bases in northern and southern Iraq, and that those bases would stay there “for the next few decades.” The Pentagon spent several years building those bases, apparently without consulting anybody who would have known how Iraqis felt about American military presence in their country. In the end, the otherwise pro-America government in Baghdad had to tell U.S. officials that the Iraqi public would not be hospitable to their military bases.

Now that anti-American terrorism is stalking many parts of the Middle East and North Africa and the future of several pro-American Arab regimes is uncertain, American military strategists have been pushing for U.S. bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. And Kurdistan authorities are only too eager to accommodate them, partly to seal their autonomy against any encroachment from Baghdad. The Pentagon already has set up an airbase near Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Ostensibly, it would be used to conduct reconnaissance on ISIS and other terrorist networks. Some 3,500 U.S. military and civilian personnel have been stationed there, and the base is scheduled to expand.

And, as I mentioned, the YPG, the Kurdish militia in Syria, has got undeclared U.S. blessings for Rojava, the autonomous Kurdish statelet in Syria. Given America’s dependence on the YPG to fight ISIS, it has no choice but to support Syrian Kurds’ territorial ambition, or at least look the other way as they pursue it.

On Tuesday (December 9) I was watching on television the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. war against ISIS. Getting the YPG guerrillas to fight ISIS and meeting “what they need” to step up that fight were the main theme of the hearing. Sen. Joe Manchin, Republican of West Virginia, glowed as he mentioned Syrian Kurds’ success in grabbing lands from the “caliphate.” So did some others. The only senator who made an implied reference to the consequences of the YPG’s land grab was Mike Lee, Republican of Utah. Was the YPG’s “goal shifting” regarding Rojava? he asked Gen. Paul Selva. The Air Force commander replied that he could answer Lee’s question only in a classified setting.

The Turkish government is alarmed by all this because it knows, as do many political observers in and outside the region, about the Kurds’ long-cherished dream of having an independent greater Kurdistan, in which the protagonists of the project want to include a large swath of Turkey. Arabs in Iraq and Syria are apparently reconciled with the Kurdish goal. They have little control over their countries, roiling in civil conflict, terrorism and anarchy. They also can’t resist U.S. geopolitical interests in the region, which require active Kurdish support.

While the Turks are concerned about the greater Kurdistan movement, they are in no mood to let it dismember their country. Turkey has a powerful military, which would resist the disintegration of the country. So would nearly 80 percent of its (non-Kurdish) population. Would the protagonists of greater Kurdistan have to settle for half a loaf rather than none: a state comprising Kurdish communities only in Iraq and Syria?

♦ Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Muslim Journey’ (http://muslimjourney.com).

How Islamic ‘Islamic terrorists’?

It was bloodcurdling!

On Friday night when I saw on my television screen Islamic State terrorists mowing down unsuspecting Parisians, chills ran down my spine. Those Muslim killers, most of them French-born, slaughtered 132 people and wounded 350 others.

The same kind of horror had also struck me when I saw mangled bodies of Pakistani children and women crushed by bombs from American drones. It did, too, when I struggled to keep my eyes on the pictures of a pyramid of naked bodies in Iraq’s Abu Gharib prison; of a naked man cowering before a howling dog, its leash being held by a smiling American soldier; and other Iraqi prisoners tortured by CIA interrogators, limping or nursing their wounds.

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, anguishing over the Paris carnage, are making clarion calls for not only the obliteration of the IS but also the defeat of “radical Islam.” Rep. Peter T. King, Republican of New York, has reiterated his earlier calls for greater “surveillance” of American Muslim communities.

“We have to find out,” he said, “who the radicals are. We have to find out what’s going on in the mosques, which are often incubators of this type of terrorism.”

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson excoriated President Obama for refusing to call the Paris tragedy an act of “radical Islamic terrorism.”  Governors of more than half of American states have announced they would not accept Syrian refugees because those refugees may include Muslim terrorists. And the socialist French President Francois Hollande has declared “war against terrorism … against radical Islam.” A Fox News commentator echoed demands from an assortment of American media pundits and politicians to organize a global coalition to stamp out, not just the IS, but “radical Islam.”

Is the West really at war with “radical Islam”? And can Hollande and the proposed global coalition accomplish what George W. Bush’s “global war on terrorism” could not? The GWOT, which raged for a decade in many Muslim societies, did “smoke out” Al Qaeda from its caves in Afghanistan’s Hindukush Mountains, as Bush had vowed to do. But his administration could not have been gloating over its “mission accomplished” when it saw Al Qaeda, chased out of Afghanistan, was mushrooming in at least three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe.

Anti-Western terrorism did not exist in Iraq until the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country.

During my four research and reporting trips to Iraq in the 1990s and earlier, I came to know of Iraqis as among the kindest and most hospitable people anywhere. In 1991 Alexandra Avakion, a New Yorker working as a photographer for the Sunday Times of London, told me that she felt “embarrassed by [Iraqis’] generous hospitality” to her.

“Our [trade] sanctions have devastated the Iraqi economy,” she added, as we were traveling in a car from Baghdad to to Babylon. “A half-million children have died of malnutrition because of [the sanctions]. If they had done this to America, I would’ve thrown stones at Iraqi visitors to America.”

Well, cruelty can be infectious. The IS was born of the 2003 U.S.-led war in Iraq. The unwarranted and foolish American invasion and occupation of that country triggered mass slaughter and ethnic cleansing of its Sunni Arab minority by its Shiite majority, whom the Bush administration had brought to power in Baghdad. Outrage and anguish over the American and Shiite cruelties and injustices drove many Sunni Arabs into an alliance with Iraqi soldiers and commanders thrown out of their jobs by the American occupation force. And they formed the IS to avenge the nightmare they were suffering from the American invasion and the Shiite pogrom.

Similarly, Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group in Lebanon, was born in 1982 to resist the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terrorist organizations were created to fight the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Many of these militants are practicing Muslims, some belonging to the obscurantist Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam. Some are secular. They all say their struggle against their transgressors is their religious duty.

Historically, Muslims – religious and secular – have invoked Islam to inspire their coreligionists to join their movements against foreign aggression or domination. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a thoroughly secular and Anglicized Muslim statesman, harped continually on Islam to galvanize Indian Muslims behind his struggle to create the “Muslim homeland” of Pakistan.

“God is one,” Jinnah thundered before a mammoth Muslim crowd in 1946 in my hometown of Sylhet, Bangladesh. “We have one Quran. Our Umma [the global Muslim community] is one. O Muslims, unite like one man. Nobody on earth can stop your march to Pakistan.”

Pakistan would be created a year later.

An uncle who had attended that rally, told me years later that many in the crowd knew that the leader of the Pakistan movement almost never practiced Islamic rites and drank alcohol every day, even though drinking is strictly forbidden by Islam. Yet his references to Pakistan and Islam “made the crowd jump and spin, throw their umbrellas into the air, and shout ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great]. Some cried out of joy.”

Mahatma Gandhi, the would-be father of Independent India, was an Oxford-educated barrister like Jinnah. Unlike Muslim Jinnah, however, Gandhi was a deeply religious Hindu. And he had proclaimed that his goal was to make India a “Ram rajya,” a Hindu holy land.

Many societies have summoned their religions or secular ideologies to perk up what essentially have been ethnic, nationalist, anti-colonial and expansionist movements. Struggles against foreign occupation and domination, in particular, have almost always been waged in the name of religions, traditions and cultures. How different is the IS’s ‘Islamic’ campaign against the French and American aggression and hegemony from George W. Bush’s declaration that the 9/11 terrorists “have attacked our freedom”? Or Tony Blair’s assertion that Al Qaeda wanted to “change our way of life”? The IS’s use of the Islamic label for its fight against foreign aggression and domination is as misleading as Bush’s and Blair’s invocation of their secular values in waging war against a Muslim country.

IS terrorists remind me of my boyhood hero Khudiram Bose. Khudiram was a young anti-colonialist activist in India, who belonged to a radical Hindu nationalist group, the Jugantar. He was hanged by India’s British colonial establishment in 1908 for accidentally killing two British women in the town of Muzaffarpur in Bihar state. Hindu nationalists had been angered by a British magistrate’s harsh prison terms and death sentences to their fellow anti-colonialist activists. The Jugantar had assigned Khudiram and Profulla Chaki, another militant, to kill that magistrate when he would be traveling to a club in Muzaffarpur. One day when the magistrate’s special carriage arrived at the gate of the club, Khudiram threw a bomb into it. But that day two British women, instead of the magistrate, were taking that carriage to the club. Both were killed.

Half a century later I, a Muslim boy in a neighboring state, would be chanting the widely popular Bengali-language song, extolling the Hindu nationalist’s “martyrdom”:

“Ekbar biday de ma ghure ashi

“Hasi hasi porbo phnasi dekhbe bharatbasi….”

(Farewell, Mother! Here I go on my journey/I will be putting on the hangman’s noose, smiling, for all India to see….)

Many places, schools, and monuments in eastern India have since been named after Khudiram. During our 1981 visit to the Victoria Memorial Museum in Kolkata (Calcutta), my wife and I saw Khudiram’s portrait hanging on a museum wall, alongside those of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, and other leaders of the Indian Independence movement. On my visit to the Victoria Museum last year, however, I did not see Khudiram’s portrait on that wall. Times have changed. India is now fighting militants struggling for the independence of Kashmir, Assam, Jharkhand, and other territories, and Indians call them terrorists. Also, since 9/11 Indian governments have been supporting the U.S. “war on terror” and, in return, the United States has denounced Kashmiri insurgents as terrorists.

The IS terrorists who enacted the Paris massacre obviously were riled by France’s recent military intervention in Syria and also, perhaps, by stories of French colonial occupation of their country after World War I. For many Syrians, the French have been the most hated Western nation. In the Syrian countryside, you can still hear anecdotes of French colonialists’ racial hubris and brutality. Pierre Janaszak, a radio presenter in Paris, saw a terrorist shooter on Friday yelling: “It’s the crime of [French President Francois] Hollande. It’s the fault of your president. He shouldn’t have attacked Syria.”

All the same, I call the Paris shooters terrorists, as do about everybody else. But given the source and nature of their violence, what would you call the Boston Tea Party, the Massachusetts Minutemen and the Sons of Liberty who fought the British during the American Revolutionary War? How would you label the bands of privateers who, during the Revolution, chased and bombed British navy ships from their bases in Boston, Portsmouth, Salem, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and elsewhere?

Americans and Europeans must, of course, fight the IS and other terrorist groups that may be attacking or threatening to attack their countries and people. But the West needs to remember two things. One, these terrorists are no more fighting for Islam than America was fighting for democracy in Iraq. Secondly, bombing from the air, putting American boots in Syria or Iraq, or outsourcing the anti-IS war to Kurdish guerrillas could heighten, rather than diminish, the terrorist threat to the West. It would be profitable to remember the lessons of the U.S.-led war on terror during the last 14 years.

If anything can effectively tackle the terrorist threat against the United States, Europe – and indeed Israel – that would be acknowledging and addressing the source of the menace: foreign aggression, occupation and hegemony.

♦ Mustafa Malik, who hosts the blog Muslim Journey (http://muslimjourney.com), is an international affairs commentator in Washington.