God help Israel

I SUSPECT that you can still make a buck selling snake oil to folks at the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper laments that John Kerry’s plan to install cameras on Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in East Jerusalem wasn’t working. Palestinians and Israelis were still fighting and dying.

Surprise! Surprise!

Apparently Rory Jones, the writer, and his desk editor and the copy editors at the Journal who put out the story believed that monitoring visitors to the Al Aqsa compound would defuse Palestinians’ anger at encroachment on the mosque site.  I bet others do, too. Al Aqsa is one of Islam’s holiest shrines. It’s adjacent to ruins of the historic Jewish temple.

Palestinians youths erupted in anger after a rush of marauding Jewish extremists and other Jews to Al Aqsa and its vicinity.  They attacked a number of Jews with knives. Some of the victims died. Israeli security forces responded by killing five times more Palestinians.

Just about everybody in Israel and Palestine knows that the new wave of Palestinian unrest has been spawned by Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine, the unremitting construction of Jewish settlements on Palestinians’ lands, and the abandonment of the peace process by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“There will not be calm without political prospects to definitively end the occupation,” Nabil Shaath, a prominent Palestinian leader, said the other day.

Kerry knows it all too well. Before and after his recent trip to Israel and Jordan, he said, in coded words, that the new flare-up of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians stemmed from Israel’s continued settlement construction in the West Bank and Palestinians’ despair from the collapse of the peace process. Why, then, has he orchestrated the camera gimmick? Does it make sense?

Well, it does. The sad fact is that Kerry and his boss, President Obama, just don’t have the spunk to tell the glaring truth to the Israelis that it’s past time they wound up their anachronistic colonial enterprise.  That it’s fast driving them to the precipice.

I miss Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Dwight Eisenhower. Though a light-weight leader, Bush senior had the guts to face down AIPAC and Israel’s powerful allies in the American political establishment, and tell the recalcitrant Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir to stop gobbling up Palestinians’ lands, and head out to Madrid to talk peace with them.  On 30 October 1991 the former head of the Jewish terrorist gang Irgun tucked his tail between his legs and marched on to Madrid.

Carter paid dearly for his moral stand on the Palestinian issue. In 1978 his prodigious efforts got then Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to sign a peace treaty at Camp David.  In the following months the American president realized that Begin was going back on his commitments regarding the Palestinians. Those commitments included full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories, cessation of Jewish settlement construction in those territories, and improvement of Israel’s human rights record in Palestine. Israeli persecution and suppression of Palestinians, he said, were “one of the worst examples of human rights abuse I know.”

So on 10 March 1979 the president flew in to Jerusalem, hoping to get the Israeli prime minister make good on at least some of his promises about the Palestinians. Realizing that his host was stonewalling him on every Palestinian grievance he had raised, Carter exploded and gave Begin a piece of his mind. As the deeply disappointed president was heading for the airport for his return flight, a New York Times reporter asked an assistant to Begin’s if Carter was flying straight to Washington or would be stopping at Cairo to brief Sadat on his talks with the Israeli leader.

“We haven’t decided whether to send him to Washington or back to Georgia!” replied the Begin aide.

Carter knows that AIPAC’s all-out campaign against his reelection was a key reason he lost the 1980 presidential race.  Though a one-term president, he will shine as one of the moral titans in American history.

Eisenhower’s dealings with David Ben-Gurion, during his second tour as Israel’s prime minister – and with the British and French governments – were a high watermark of America’s moral standing and global leadership.

Ike was incensed by the Israeli-British-French occupation of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula following the 1956 Suez War. The Israelis and their European allies were retaliating against the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. They wanted to use Sinai as a bargaining chip to force Nasser to relinquish Suez. The American president wouldn’t put up with their bullying. He issued a diktat of sorts to Ben-Gurion, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden and French President Rene Coty, demanding they pull their troops out of Sinai. They all complied, without a whimper of protest.

President Obama is a good man and a true patriot. But he’s just cut out of different cloth than those presidents were made of. It was so sad to see our president endure meekly all the taunts, vitriol and humiliation that Netanyahu, the leader of a client state, was dishing out to him year after year.  All of that while the Obama administration was flooding Israel with more arms, ammunition and economic aid (Can you believe it’s now $4.5 billion a year!) than any other in history.

All the same, if you look at the faces of Palestinian youths jeering and throwing stones at the heavily armed Israeli troops occupying their land, you can see they aren’t very impressed by Israel’s military might. From my conversations over the years with Palestinian intellectuals and politicians – in Israel/Palestine and the United States – I was struck by a sense of history and optimism exuded by some of them.

Some of my Palestinian interlocutors recalled the sacrifices other peoples had to make to liberate themselves from European colonial subjugation. Jack Khazmo, then editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem newsmagazine Bayadir al-Siasi, described Israeli colonialism as “the last gasp of Charles Darwin.” The ideology behind European imperialism and colonialism derived from Darwin’s thesis of the “survival of the fittest.” The fittest here happened to be, as you have guessed, the white races. Imbued with the idea of their racial superiority, European invaders roared into impoverished and mostly defenseless countries of Asia and Africa; colonized and brutalized their inhabitants and looted their resources, saying the invaders were there to “civilize” those inferior races.

Many European, i.e. Ashkenazi, Jews who built and dominate Israel added to that superiority complex the notions of their being God’s “chosen people.” Some quote the Bible to justify their claim to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean:

“Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” (Genesis 15: 18)

I was surprised to hear two atheist Russian Jews who had immigrated to Israel alluding to the “promised land” concept to claim that the old Palestine (Israel, the West Bank and Gaza) belonged to the Jews. One of them was a Ph.D., looking for a teaching job. At one point he ridiculed ultra-Orthodox Jews’ “obsession” about religious praxis and customs. I was traveling with them on a bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

A few days later I related that conversation to a Palestinian businessman in Amman, Jordan.  Moneif Hijjeh pointed out that Jews, Christians and Muslims worsted the same God and followed the “Abrahamic tradition.” He asked me if God had given all of Palestine to Abraham’s descendants, didn’t the Arabs, the children of Abraham’s son Ishmael, inherit it as well?

“Come on, Moneif!” interjected a Moneif’s business associate Khalil Awad, who had joined us for lunch at the restaurant of Amra Hotel in Amman, where I was staying. “They don’t need to justify stealing our land, where we have been living since Abraham migrated there.  Did the Nazis need to justify cleansing Germany of Jews and Gypsies?”

The racial or ethnic hubris betrayed by many Israeli Jews seems associated more with colonialism than God’s pledge to Abraham. Israeli Jews – a majority of them atheist, socialist, or otherwise secular – justify their colonization of Palestine the same way many Indian Hindus – also mostly secular – defend discriminating against Muslims and justify the demolition of the historic Babri Mosque in northern India. God Rama, they argue, was born on the spot where Muslim Emperor Babur built the mosque in 1527. Those Hindus don’t need any historical or archaeological evidence (in fact there is none) to prove that God Rama descended on earth in human form, let alone being born on the mosque site.

Haider Abdel Shafi, who had led the Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, attributed the Jews’ claim to a Jewish state in Palestine to “their purely colonialist mentality.” On a visit to Washington the following year the leftist Palestinian leader told me that he was “hopeful, but not sure” that the Israelis would concede a Palestinian state, as the Palestinians were expecting them to do. If the Israelis tried to “perpetuate their occupation [of Palestinian territories],” he warned, “colonialism can become their nightmare. I hope they are reading the history of colonialism”

If the history of colonialism has any lesson, it’s that hegemonic powers’ military and economic might usually don’t impress people struggling for freedom from their colonial subjugation. If it could, my parents’ generation wouldn’t have been able to throw British colonialists out of the Indian subcontinent.  In the 1940s Great Britain was the greatest military power and the largest empire on earth on which the sun never set, while Indians were among the world’s poorest and most backward peoples.  Winston Churchill, then British prime minister, dismissed the rising tide of independence movements in British colonies as some miscreants’ “subversive activities.” He berated Mahatma Gandhi as a rabble-rousing “half-naked fakir,” or beggar. India and Pakistan won their independence in 1947. Other British colonies followed suit in quick succession.

Abdel Shafi’s foreboding flashes on my mind as bloodletting between Palestinians and Israelis takes an ominous turn. If a “nightmare” actually befalls Israel, the Obama administration, along with other American administrations, and Israel’s gung-ho supporters on Capitol Hill can’t shirk their responsibility for it. Americans’ blanket support for Israel, regardless its behavior, has emboldened the Israelis to go on settling the Palestinian lands ever more impudently, illegally and in the face of global protests.

I can see clouds darkening on Israel’s horizon. If I were an Israeli Jew, I would worry about my children’s future in Israel.  But I see that most Israelis are a lot braver than me.  They apparently have decided to live by the sword.  God help them and their children.

  • Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog Beyond Freedom (http://beyond-freedom.com).

 

 

 

 

Declare Middle East nuke-free

Persian Gulf monarchies are petrified by the anticipated Iran nuclear deal, being negotiated in Geneva. Last week Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates threatened to try to acquire nuclear weapons technology if they didn’t get one of two things from the Iran deal.

One, they wanted the Islamic Republic’s uranium enrichment program shut down completely. Iran would never agree to that. Secondly, if the program is allowed to continue, albeit at a reduced level, the United States should sign a security pact with them. In practical terms, that would mean insuring the security of their thrones from external and internal threats.  These Arab rulers know that the Iranians have better things to do than lurch into a military adventure. On the other hand, domestic threat to their regimes has heightened since the Arab Spring.

The Obama administration knows that too, and the president recently said so publicly. He said the real security threat facing the Gulf Arab monarchies could come from their disenfranchised and “alienated” public. In recent weeks the administration let the Gulf Arab governments know that while America would be willing to defend their countries against external aggression, it wouldn’t intervene in their domestic feuds and unrest. The message left the Arab royals mopey and grumpy.

The White House had invited all six monarchs of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to meet the president on Wednesday to discuss the Iran deal and their security concerns. Led by the Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, four of the six kings declined the president’s invitation, sending in their surrogates, instead. Obama apparently ignored the snub and made the best of the occasion. He reiterated to his guests America’s “ironclad” commitment to defend their countries against any “external” aggression.

Meanwhile, some American media pundits and others have voiced concern about the possibility of Saudi Arabia following up on its vow to seek the nukes. If it does, the Pakistanis would find themselves in a thorny dilemma. The Saudis underwrote Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program with the apparent understanding that Islamabad would supply them with the nuclear technology if they need it. Moreover, the kingdom has been a generous benefactor to Pakistan for decades. In fact, because of the late Saudi King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, the current Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is alive today. Then Pakistani military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who had overthrown then Prime Minister Sharif in a 1999 military coup, was bent on killing him. Fahd pressured Musharraf into sparing Sharif’s life and sending him  to exile in Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, it would also be very hard for Islamabad to defy the inevitable American pressure against sharing its nuclear knowhow with the Saudi kingdom. The Sharif government’s – and top Pakistani generals’ – decision to let the Americans kill Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan showed the efficacy of Washington’s clout over Pakistan. (The United States demanded Pakistani cooperation in the U.S. Navy Seals raid on the bin Laden compound after a Pakistani intelligence officer had tipped off the CIA station chief in Islamabad about the Al Qaeda chief’s whereabouts in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.)

All the same, the whole brouhaha about nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is a smokescreen around the root cause of the bugaboo: the Israeli nuclear arsenal. Americans would let Israel hold on to its more than 200 sophisticated nukes and then try to keep Arabs and Iranians from pursuing nuclear weapons capability. America’s prodigious exercise to keep Iran from approaching a nuclear “breakout” is meant to deprive the Iranians of a deterrent against Israeli nukes, if they wanted one.

Iranians and Arabs have long been calling on the international community to declare the Middle East a “nuclear-free zone.” That would be the best and most effective nonproliferation program for the region. But Israel and America wouldn’t heed their call because such an arrangement would require Israel to abandon its nuclear weaponry.

It’s about time Americans reviewed their perilous policy on the Israeli nukes to forestall the danger of proliferation in that increasingly unstable region. Washington should get  the U.N. Security Council to designate the Middle East a nuclear-free zone.

  • Mustafa Malik, a columnist in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Beyond Freedom’ (http://beyond-freedom.com).

 

 

Fighting phantom terror

THE ISLAMIC STATE has sent new shock waves through the world by capturing more than 200 Syrian and Egyptian Christians. The terrorist group’s gruesome killing of other hostages has heightened concerns among many about the fate of these hostages.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration and the Iraqi government reportedly have shelved their long-publicized plans to try to retake Mosul. The second-largest Iraqi city has been under IS occupation since last summer. If true, the news would further embolden the IS terrorists. They probably will further consolidate their occupation of the Syrian and Iraqi territory, which is already larger in size than the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the IS campaign of terror goes on. The New York Times describes it as a “rampage reminiscent of Tamerlane or Genghis Khan.” The reporter Anne Barnard depicted the horror as “entire villages emptied, with hundreds taken prisoners, others kept as slaves; the destruction of irreplaceable works or art; a tax on religious minorities, payable in gold.”

The last time the Middle East saw such repugnant sights was during the American invasion of Iraq, spotlighted by Abu Gharib; and of Afghanistan, where American soldiers not only slaughtered countless innocent Afghan and Pakistani men, women and children, but showed little concern for the humanity of their victims. Nothing symbolizes the dehumanization of the Afghans as the pictures of U.S. soldiers peeing before rolling cameras on the corpses of Afghan guerrillas. The pictures, like those from Abu Gharib, weren’t isolated events. We know from leaked reports of CIA atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan that high echelons of the Bush and Obama administrations were aware of these war crimes or condoned them after learning about them.

Leave aside the morality of the two administrations’ insensitivity toward these Muslim peoples and their values. What worries me most is that this see-no-evil, hear-no-evil attitude is a stumbling block to the search for a solution to the U.S.-Islamic imbroglio. In fact the same attitude has led American policy makers to decide that the Muslim rage against America and the West is actually confined to a fanatic fringe of Muslim societies. Studies after studies have shown that more than 80 percent of people in most Muslim societies are seething with anti-American rage. The IS and other Muslim terrorist groups enjoy tacit or vocal support of large numbers of people in these societies.

Most Americans apparently don’t know about it because American politicians and flag-waving American news media are more interested in mud-slinging against Islam, variously described, than looking inward into America’s role in the confrontation. In a prayer breakfast three weeks ago Obama condemned the IS for “twisting and distorting” religion for their heinous acts. But he also reminded his audience that Christians had engaged in similar crimes in the past.

“[R]emember,” the president said, “that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Nobody questioned the validity of his remarks, but his words triggered an avalanche of fury among Western politicians and intellectuals. Rudy Giuliani blamed the president’s upbringing for his reference Christian extremism. “I do not believe,” added the former mayor of New York, “that the president loves America.”

Sen. Ted Cruz also didn’t dispute the veracity of Obama’s comments. But the Texas Republican blasted him for not mentioning Islam as the source of IS terrorism. “The words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ do not come out of the president’s mouth,” fumed the presidential hopeful, “The word ‘jihad’ does not come out of the president’s mouth. And that is dangerous.”

“Any use of the word ‘Crusade,’’ said the University of London historian Thomas Asbridge, “has to be made with great caution.” Asbridge, who has written a series of books about medieval history, didn’t say why “great caution” needs to be used in references only to the Crusades, but not to Muslim extremism.

Their own neocolonialist attitudes and policies toward the Muslim world remain hidden to most Americans and Westerners in their dangerous blind spots.   Americans, especially American policy makers, need to remember that the IS, and its predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq, didn’t exist before the uncalled for and catastrophic Iraq war. The IS, appallingly cruel as it is, emerged as the only defender of the members of Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority who had survived the horrifying slaughter, ethnic cleansing and persecution by the successive U.S.-backed Shiite governments. Iraq’s sectarian Shiite leaders had collaborated with the George W. Bush administration in its invasion of Iraq. Most of them had returned to Iraq from exile “on the backs of American tanks,” said Columbia University scholar Rashid Khalidi.

In Afghanistan, Pashtun guerrillas, who organized as the Taliban militia, never had an argument with the United States until it invaded and occupied their country. In fact the CIA collaborated with Pashtun guerrillas, then known as the mujahedeen, or freedom fighters, during their 1980s war against the Soviet invaders. The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan not only made the Taliban hostile to America, but also led to the birth of the Taliban in Pakistan.

An of course, 9/11 was a direct fallout of the 1991 deployment of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden, a Saudi citizen who was America’s ally in the Afghan war against the Soviets, was among the most vocal Saudi voices against the U.S. troop presence in “the land or Muhammad.” Expelling “the Crusaders” from the Muslim holy land was the first item on bin Laden’s agenda, as he outlined in his 1996 fatwa. Seventeen of the 19 plane hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi citizens.

In April 2003 when America finally pulled out its troops and base from Saudi Arabia (under pressure from the Saudi monarchy, scared by 9/11), Al Qaeda groups in the Middle East celebrated it as a vindication of 9/11.

Western politicians and intellectuals are deluding themselves and their people by blaming Muslim terrorism on Islam, “radical Islam,” “Islamic extremism,” “a twisted [Islamic] ideology,” and so forth. Of course some of the Muslim terrorism stems from Muslims’ sectarian and ethnic fissures. But most of it has been a reaction to foreign occupation.

A study of Britain’s prestigious think tank Chatham House has found that foreign occupation and domination is the wellspring of modern terrorism: Palestinian, Lebanese, Tamil, Kurdish, Buddhist, Chechen, Kashmiri, and so forth. In one of the most comprehensive studies of suicide terror attacks during 1980-2004, Robert Pape found that 95 percent of them were targeted at what the terrorists considered foreign occupation of their or their allies’ homelands.

In his landmark book Dying to Win, the University of Chicago professor recalls that Arabs learned suicide terror techniques from Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka and Marxist Kurds in Turkey. He says terrorists use religion as an inspiration only when they have “a religious difference” with the occupying or hegemonic power.

I’m afraid that even if the Obama administration’s repeatedly articulated plans to “defeat ISIL ever materialized, that of itself wouldn’t diminish Muslim terrorism against America and its allies. The Bush and Obama administrations succeeded in expelling Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, only to see it spread to the Middle East and north and West Africa. America and the West have to come to grips with the root cause of the Muslim rage against them: foreign occupation and hegemony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terror bred by grievances, not Islam

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S speech at this week’s terrorism conference in the White House sounded to me like a broken record from the George W. Bush administration. Bush and his advisers attributed Muslim terrorism to Islam.

“Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him,” said John Ashcroft, Bush’s attorney general. “Christianity is a faith where God sent his son to die for you.”

President Obama, too, believes that Islam is a major source of Muslim terrorism. His aides have lined up a group of Muslim clerics, activists and governments to present a “moderate” interpretation of Islam to their fellow Muslims. But unlike his Republican predecessor, Obama is more sensitive about the sentiments of mainstream Muslims, who resent linking their religion to heinous acts like terrorism. Hence he camouflaged his reference to Islam with the phrase “distorted ideology.”

The Muslim “religion,” in the sense religion is understood in the West, has little to do with terrorism. I tried to explain in my last segment that Islam, unlike Western Christianity, doesn’t segregate a Caesar’s domain from God’s. All Muslim domains, private and public, belong to God. In practical terms, the Muslim public sphere is suffused with Islamic values and social outlook.

Of late that the Muslim public sphere has all but submerged under waves of anti-American and anti-Western sentiments. Surveys after surveys have shown that between 72% and 94% of populations in Muslim countries are hostile or antipathetic to America. Their antipathy derives mainly from U.S. foreign and defense policies toward Muslim societies.

Muslim societies are modernizing fast, while becoming more and more attached to Islamic values and Islamic cultural patterns. They’re more concerned about Islamic causes and the global Muslim community.

Obama’s attribution of Muslim terrorism showed his gross misunderstanding of Islam as well as the motives that propel some Muslims into acts of violence. The president came into office with very little grounding in international affairs, and has stuffed his administration with holdovers from the Bush and Bill Clinton administrations. He is, unfortunately but unsurprisingly, getting the same kind of off-the-wall, jingoist advice that doomed both previous administrations’ Muslim world policies.

Islam, as I said, is a both a private- and public-sphere religion. These days most Muslims are channeling their grievances against America or their own governments in the public sphere through the democratic process. They’re engaged in democratic movements and, when permitted, pushing their agendas through the electoral process. It signals a dramatic and healthy evolution of these movements since the late 1960s and early 1970s, when their watchword was “Islamic revolution.” Those days some of my Islamist acquaintances in Pakistan and Bangladesh espoused armed struggle against the “enemies of Islam” at home and abroad.

Among them is Motiur Rahman Nizami, the head of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party in Bangladesh, now on the death row for his alleged involvement in the killing of Bangladeshi independence activists in 1971. I met him in 2003 after the Jamaat had won the second-largest number of seats in a Bangladeshi parliamentary election, catapulting him to the post of industries minister.

His sparsely furnished office was tucked away in the Motijheel business district in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.

Did the Jamaat “still believed in armed struggle?” I asked.

He smiled, and instead of answering my question directly, he said, “Democracy is the best tool for us to spread the message of Islam.”

Because Islamic spirit and values are spreading quite rapidly in most Muslim countries, mainstream Islamists everywhere have come to believe that they no longer need violent methods to pursue their Islamization agenda. They’re avidly participating in democratic activism.

A second group of Islamists, known as terrorists, continue armed struggle to achieve their goals. They’re generally focused on resisting occupation and aggression by armed opponents. They include Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad in Kashmir, Riadus Salikin and the Islamic International Brigade in Chechnya, the ETIM in China’s Xinjiang province, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Levant, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Chad and Niger, and so on. All these terrorist groups see themselves fighting to liberate their peoples from foreign occupation or defend them against domestic persecution.

Obama was talking, specifically, about the Islamic State terrorism in Syria and Iraq. The IS emerged to defend Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, who suffered horrible persecution and ethnic cleansing from the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Iraqi Shiite governments and Shiite militias and the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria. As many other terrorist groups do, the IS also has engaged in gruesome slaughter and brutal persecution of innocent civilians. The world shouldn’t tolerate such crimes.

The fact remains, however, that these terrorist groups have been fighting for political, not religious, causes. They’re inspired or instigated by political and social grievances, not by the Quran or some “distorted ideology” based on it. Whether their causes or methods of operation are justified (Nobody would justify the slaughter of innocent people), is another matter.

 

Cow, crescent and star

 Published in  Middle East Policy, Washington, D.C.; December 5, 2014

Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, is investigating the impact of Hindu nationalism on liberal values and democratic institutions in his native India. Earlier, he conducted fieldwork on religious movements and nationalist experiments in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent as a fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the University of Chicago Middle East Center.

LAST MONTH President Obama accepted India’s invitation to be the chief guest at its Republic Day celebrations. He will be the first American president to do so.

I was in Kolkata (Calcutta), India’s “cultural capital” when this was announced. Most of my interlocutors there were euphoric about the news, especially the supporters of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatya Janata Party (BJP). Narendra Modi, the BJP leader and prime minister, had invited the American president to the January 26, 2015, events. On that date 67 years ago, newly independent India adopted its democratic constitution.

Most Hindu nationalists in India viewed Obama’s gesture as America’s acceptance of Hindu nationalism.  I saw it as the president’s doing business with a democratically elected government that happens to be Hindu nationalist. Two years ago, the Obama administration embraced the Islamist government of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who had come to power through a free and fair election. The Morsi government has since been overthrown in a military coup, and Morsi languishes in jail.

Nevertheless, secularists and liberals in the West who throw a fit on hearing the word “religious fundamentalist” or “militant” might consider following Obama’s lead on the issue. Not that we should approve of religious militants’ violence or other destructive conduct, if they engage in it. However, we need to understand the sources of their militancy and encourage their evolution into more peaceable social or political categories, and participation in the democratic process is one of the best roads to that goal. So far, though, bombing Muslim militants has been America’s and NATO’s preferred method of dealing with them, it has served only to multiply them and bolster their capabilities.

Today religious values and ethos permeate most postcolonial societies, whether Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or others. Unfortunately, the religious upsurge also has ratcheted up interfaith hostility in many countries. The BJP is a glaring example. The party and allied Hindu nationalist organizations plan to change India’s traditionally multi-cultural society into one based on Hindu religious and cultural values. They have come a long way toward that goal, but their march has been accompanied by widespread discrimination and violence against Muslims, India’s largest religious minority, numbering around 160 million people.

Modi has long been in the vanguard of the movement to Hinduize Indian society. He was banned from visiting the United States for nearly a decade for his alleged connivance in the horrific anti-Muslim riots of 2002. Nearly 2,000 Muslim men, women and children were hacked, beaten and burned to death by Hindu mobs. The all-important question haunting many Indian minds, including mine, is whether these faith-based communal conflicts will abate. And if they do, how?

I disagree with those who fear that the new wave of religious resurgence, especially among Muslims, might lead to the kind of sectarian or interfaith bloodbaths that ravaged Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Some historical records show that 35 percent of the population perished in those waves of intra-Christian militancy. But these are different times. Thanks to the spread of the Enlightenment values of freedom, tolerance and humanism, people around the world are increasingly getting used to divergent ideologies, religions and cultures. Everyday people in most countries are more tolerant of the religious or ethnic Other than they were 50 years ago.

The growing acceptance of the Other has been facilitated by globalization and the 24/7 electronic and digital interaction across countries and continents. Of course, most diehard liberals (Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls them “liberal fundamentalists”) and religious militants have yet to feel the winds of pluralism and contestation with discrepant ideologies, faiths and communities. I also do not rule out further aggravation of Muslim hostility by the military aggression and political and diplomatic tutelage America and its allies are using around the Muslim world. But I see this approach running its course before too long, as its futility and backlash begin to dawn on its practitioners.

Meanwhile, there has been a growing search among intellectuals, the media and others for the sources of the what is commonly known as religious militancy and violence. A host of sociologists and social scientists has concluded that the religious pull being felt by people in postcolonial societies stems, in large measure, from their quest for dignity and authenticity. This is also fostered by their pervasive exposure to Western ideas of freedom and selfhood. Modernity’s corrosive effects on societies are another source of religious upsurge. “Modern societies,” says Daniele Hervieu-Leger, a leading French sociologist, “may corrode their traditional religious base; at one and the same time, however, these societies open up new spaces and sectors that only religion can fill.”

Postcolonial societies aren’t generally receptive to the liberal tools of mediation, elections and so on, to settle what they see as existential issues: foreign domination, preservation of religious and cultural values, and basic communal interests. Many Western societies have no qualms about waging war over lesser questions.

Liberalism, is a uniquely Western ideology; it cannot be planted holistically in most non-Western societies.  The liberal concepts of church-state separation, individualism and freedom without responsibility emerged largely as reactions to anomalies in European traditions. Those include the long and bloody religious conflicts, the church-state power struggle and the sanctity of individual property rights in the Germanic tribal cultures. Societies that were unaffected by these historical trends and experiences have mostly been inhospitable to most of the liberal values that are germane to Eurocentric civilization.

Hence most of Europe’s former colonies are modernizing, while cherishing the basic aspects of their religious and other traditions.  Peoples outside the West can, of course, profitably cultivate many of the useful institutions that have evolved from Western ideas, experience and endeavors. Indeed they have been enriching their lives and societies by embracing many of those ideas and institutions — democracy, the rule of law, scientific inquiry and so forth. But they’re doing so to the extent these pursuits can be adapted to their core religious and cultural norms.

The view that liberalism is a specifically Western ideology and that aspects of it will not work in many non-Western societies, is shared, to different degrees, by a growing number of sociologists, philosophers and historians. Among them are Peter Berger, David Martin, Grace Davie, Karen Armstrong, Amy Goodman, Steve Bruce, Ernest Gellner and Charles Taylor. They also include many non-Western intellectuals who are committed to liberal and leftist causes and worldview.

Susnata Das is professor of history at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata. The leftist Hindu intellectual complained that Hindu-Muslim tensions had increased in India since the BJP had come to power in New Delhi seven months earlier. Asked about his take on the Gujarat “riots,” the professor took exception to my use of the word. We were talking in our native Bengali language. Getting excited about his viewpoint, he switched to English: “It was NOT a riot. It was pogrom.” With portraits of Vladimir Lenin, Friedrich Engels and India’s socialist icons watching us from his office walls, Das described some of the horrifying details of the Gujarat carnage. He blasted Modi and his BJP for their anti-Muslim “bigotry, pure bigotry, and hate,” which he said had unleashed recurrent Hindu violence against Muslims.

Then, scratching the back of his head, indicating a sense of resignation, my interviewee lamented that India’s once-powerful leftist and secularist movements had been “losing ground” to Hindu nationalism. That was because, he added, many Indians are “turning back to their religious and cultural traditions.” The same can be said of people in many other non-Western countries. They are forswearing many features of liberalism with which they began their journeys as citizens of independent states and substituting them for their own religious institutions and idiom.

The “Muslim homeland” of Pakistan was founded by a thoroughly secular and Anglicized Muslim statesman. He did not practice the Islamic faith, and he drank gin in the afternoon and whiskey in the evening, though drinking alcohol is strictly forbidden by Islam. In August 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah declared in Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly (parliament) that his new nation would guarantee complete freedom to practice any religion, but that religion would have no role in the affairs of the Pakistani state.

The father of the nation assured Pakistanis,

You are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state.

Yet the Islamization of Pakistani society and laws began less than a decade after Jinnah’s death in 1948. It reached a peak under the government of another staunchly secular Pakistani leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. That left-leaning populist came to power as president when grassroots Islamization campaigns had spread to large swaths of Pakistan and threatened his government. In September 1972, he said to me in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, “You can’t be a democrat and secular [in Pakistan] at the same time.” I had asked him about the pressure from the Islamist political parties Jamiatul Ulama-i-Islam and Jamaat-i-Islami to enshrine the Sharia, Islamic canon law, in a constitution that was being drafted in parliament.  “The National Assembly has been elected by the people,” he reminded me. “Most of our people are devout Muslims.”

I was prompted to ask for the interview with the non-practicing Muslim politician after he had made a clarion call to Pakistanis “to make this beautiful country an Islamic state, the bravest Islamic state and the most solid Islamic state.” The U.S.-educated “socialist” Zulfikar Bhutto’s new constitution declared Pakistan an “Islamic state.” It proclaimed that “all existing laws shall be brought in to conformity with the injunctions of Islam,” and that no new laws would be enacted that would be “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.” Later, as prime minister, Zulfikar Bhutto endorsed other measures, excluding the Ahmadiya sect from the traditional Islamic mainstream; changing the weekly holiday from Sunday to Friday, the Islamic Sabbath; and taking other measures, all of which turned Jinnah’s secular Pakistan into an Islamic state.

Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Tunisia and most other postcolonial Muslim states also founded their political structures on liberal — sometimes socialist — models. Today most of them have reworked those models to accommodate Islamic tenets and code of conduct. Some Muslim states continue to maintain formally secular political systems, mostly for Western consumption. But Islam pulsates in the life of their Muslim citizens. This category of Muslim states includes Indonesia, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Mali, Senegal, Djibouti and Gambia.

Hindu or Muslim societies aren’t the only ones facing a religious upsurge in their once-secular public space. The world’s only Jewish state was founded as a fiercely secular polity.  In its declaration of independence in 1948, Israel announced that it “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights” and “guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture to all citizens irrespective of religion, race or sex.” These principles formed the bedrock of Israel’s Basic Law.

Beginning in the late 1970s, however, the ultra-orthodox and orthodox branches of Judaism began to Judaize Israeli politics and culture, gradually reducing Palestinians and other non-Jews to second-class citizens. The racial and religious apartheid that became pronounced under Prime Minister Menachem Begin has culminated in the policies of the  Benjamin Netanyahu government.

Despite the state-sponsored discrimination and suppression of Israeli Palestinians, however, the state’s Basic Law still recognizes the equality of all Israeli citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity. In a widely cited ruling, former Israeli Supreme Court President Aharon Barak articulated the state’s doctrine of equality. “It is true,” he wrote, “members of the Jewish nation were granted a special key to enter, but once a person has lawfully entered the home, he enjoys equal rights with all other household members.”

That could soon change. The “Jewish nation-state” bill, which the Netanyahu government has approved and will be pushing through the Knesset (parliament), would confer national and group rights only to Israel’s Jewish citizens. It would override the “individual rights” to be conceded to Palestinian and other non-Jewish citizens. If passed, it would institutionalize anti-Palestinian apartheid, undermine democracy and turn Israel into a Jewish Pakistan. Netanyahu has fired two of his Cabinet members who opposed the bill (and disagreed with him on some other issues), paving the way for new elections.  Public-opinion polls show that religious and right-wing Jewish parties are more popular in Israel than ever; the bill could sail through the new parliament.

These “religious” tides aren’t specific to religions. Secular ideological and nationalist ferment has also fueled intergroup militancy. And it has often been as malevolent and bloody as movements carried out under religious banner. Karen Armstrong points out that the liberal French revolutionaries enacted some of history’s most savage massacres among the opponents and victims of the Revolution:

Early in 1794, four revolutionary armies were dispatched from Paris to quell an uprising in the Vendée against the anti-Catholic policies of the regime. Their instructions were to spare no one. At the end of the campaign, General François-Joseph Westermann reportedly wrote to his superiors, ‘The Vendée no longer exists. I have crushed children beneath the hooves of our horses, and massacred the women.… The roads are littered with corpses.

Ironically, no sooner had the revolutionaries rid themselves of one religion than they invented another. Their new gods were liberty, nature and the French nation, which they worshiped in elaborate festivals choreographed by the artist Jacques Louis David. The same year that the goddess of reason was enthroned on the high altar of Notre Dame cathedral, the reign of terror plunged the new nation into an irrational bloodbath, in which some 17,000 men, women and children were executed by the state.

Europe’s bloodiest religious and ideological cataclysms occurred during its transitions from one ideational paradigm to another: from Roman to Germanic to Christian, from Christian to liberal, from liberal to socialist and communist, and from nationalist to imperialist and colonialist.

The religious and ideological movements in today’s postcolonial societies indicate similar processes of transition. They mark the transition from colonial-era liberal political paradigms to postcolonial indigenous ones. For many Muslim societies, it also represents the struggle to transform Western hegemonic political and security structures foisted on them into native Islam-oriented ones. Foreign tutelage in these Muslim states is sustaining repressive despotism, while native Islamic movements reflect the priorities and aspirations of the public.

The challenge before most of the former European colonies is two-pronged. One is to douse the extremist and violent impulses of the activists struggling for social renewal. They would abate in the course of time, as have previous episodes of Muslim extremism and violence. The other, which is more complex and long-term, is to build bridges between clashing religious, sectarian and ethnic communities: Hindus and Muslims in India; Sunnis and Shiites in Pakistan; and Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, Sunni Kurds and Assyrian Christians in Iraq.

These communal tensions and conflicts have been touched off partly by the unraveling of the political institutions introduced during colonial rule. European powers and Westernized native elites carved out these states overnight, splitting sectarian and ethnic communities among different states without consideration of their inhabitants’ cultural affiliations or economic interests. Yet the citizens of these artificial entities were expected to identify primarily with state institutions and laws. Those citizens have mostly proved unable to foot that bill. They feel strong communal bonds with their religious and ethnic communities that often span more than one of these states.

There are not many true Lebanese in Lebanon. Lebanese citizens are primarily Maronites, Shiites, Sunnis and Druze. There are almost no real Iraqis in Iraq, only Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, Sunni Kurds and members of other religious, ethnic and tribal communities.

When people identify strongly with their nations or states, they view citizens of other states as the rival Other and compete and sometimes fight with them. When religion or ethnicity claims their deeper allegiance, they are prone to rivalry and hostility toward other ethnic or religious communities.

As the older nations and states matured, they learned, often the hard way, the perils of interstate hostility. Europe, once the most violent continent, has all but jettisoned conflicts between states.  Similarly, as religious and ethnic communities in postcolonial states would begin to mature, they would also learn the grief and misfortune caused by communal hostility. They would then be more disposed to living peaceably with one another.

 

GOP win to prompt new wake-up call

Tuesday night’s Republican electoral victory poses an insidious threat to freedom and democracy in America.

Yet if you believe in the American democratic system, you have to accept the argument that a majority of the American voters wanted to freeze the minimum wage at its starvation level, allow unbridled carbon emissions and deny healthcare to millions of Americans.

These were among the campaign pledges made by the newly minted Senate majority leader, Mich McConnell, and a lot of his fellow Republican congressional candidates. While celebrating victory, McConnell has vowed to “pass legislation” to put those pledges into effect.

I don’t believe, though, that most Americans would want to see the cruel Republican agenda carried through. I agree with the New York Times’ interpretation of the elections.

“Republicans ran on no message,” wrote the Times‘ editorial board, “except that [President] Obama was always wrong, and voters on Tuesday said they were angry with the country’s direction and political gridlock, taking their fury out on the president’s party because he is in charge.”

I bet the incoming Senate majority leader will have a rough time getting most of his agenda off the ground. In post-election statements Obama has asserted that he wouldn’t let the healthcare law be repealed or minimum wage kept frozen, and that he will push hard for immigration reforms and stand firm on his other key priorities.

But yes, a majority of American voters voted for the Republicans who ran on their sock-it-to-em, pro-Wall Street agenda.  And that agenda threatens America’s founding principles of equality, and indeed, freedom.

Freedom includes freedom of opportunity, which lends it any meaning at all. We’re familiar with the statistics of shocking income inequality in America. In 2012 the top 1% of American households (making $394,000 a year or more) scooped up a fifth of the national income. The figure broke the previous record set in 1928, the eve of the Great Depression. America today offers fewest opportunities for upward mobility in the Western civilization.

Studies show that only 6% of children born in low-income American families will make it to the top income ladder.  The current generation of American youth is going to be the first in American history to earn less than their parents’ generation.

Corporate corruption and plunder, abetted mostly by Republicans, have dried up many of the opportunities that make freedom a reality. We still have some of what metaphysicians call “negative freedom,” meaning absence of barriers to doing things we want to do.

Let me try to illustrate this through an anecdote about a boisterous party arranged by a group of American soldiers in Germany at the end of World War II. They were celebrating President Harry Truman’s announcement that they would soon be returning home. They had invited to their party some Soviet troops who also had been fighting the Nazis.

As the American revelers got a bit tipsy and wild, one of the Soviet soldiers asked why they had to get so crazy about their demobilization.

“Hey,” retorted an American G.I., “We’re going to be free in our land of freedom! You Commies are used to living under Stalin’s tyranny. You’ll never understand what freedom means.”

“Tell me what freedom means,” asked the Soviet Communist.

“It means I can yell in front of the White House: ‘Truman is a jerk!’” You, buggers, will be shitting in your pants at the thought of saying anything like this in the Kremlin.”

“Sure,” replied the Soviet soldier, “I can yell in front of  the White House and at the Kremlin that ‘Truman is a jerk!’”

The point is the Communist didn’t have the “negative freedom” to call Stalin a jerk in the Kremlin. Legal and social barriers had suppressed his freedom of expression, which Americans, mercifully, didn’t – and don’t – have.

The things that really matter in life, however, require “positive freedom,” which entails the availability of the wherewithal to fulfill what we freely desire.

Larry Ellison or Charles Koch can hop in his private jet and enjoy a fabulous weekend or month in the idyllic Alpine valley of Interlaken, or try to savor “eternal bliss” in India’s sub-Himalayan fairyland of Garhwali. But most of the bottom 90% of Americans also would like to do that. Surveys show that their real incomes are less today than were in 1987, and that they’re struggling harder to pay their home mortgages, car insurance and utility bills. They can’t materialize their freedom to spend a weekend in an Alpine or Himalayan Shangri-La because they don’t have the positive freedom, the resources, to do so.

The fading of freedom in America has accelerated since the Republican “Reagan Revolution” kicked off the current era of wanton corporate loot. Americans businesses and corporations have been maximizing their profits by racing for automation, throwing workers out of jobs; freezing wages; curtailing employees’ health and retirement benefits; and other tools of exploitation. All these have drastically shrunk Americans’ ability to enjoy comfortable and meaningful lives, which they’re theoretically free to do.

The erosion of freedom in America, and the consequent impoverishment of the human condition here, has been aggravated by the hijacking of the democratic process by the Wall Street. The right-wing majority in the Supreme Court has helped speed the process with its Citizens United judgment. Thanks to that ruling, Tuesday’s congressional elections were the most expensive in American history, most of the campaign funds being dished out by the corporate tycoons. Seven decades ago H.L. Menken had said, “We have the best Congress money can buy.” And the Wall Street was the highest bidder for the incoming Congress.  In fact congressional support for or indifference to The Wall Street’s unbridled depredation has turned American democracy into an oligarchy.  The point was underscored by a <a href=http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746/>Princeton University study</a>, put out in April.

Republicans in the 113th Congress will surely try to lavish on the Wall Street the goodies it paid for through their campaign coffers. Those goodies would include freezing of the minimum wage, loosening curbs on environmental degradation, denying healthcare to many Americans, and so forth. Obama will, as I mentioned, resist their retrograde actions, but the control of Congress has, at least for now, made them a stumbling block to freedom and justice in America.

All the same, I remain an optimist about America’s future.  I’m hoping that the fuddy-duddy, mostly clueless, GOP back numbers on Capitol Hill will mess things up badly, giving Americans a fresh wake-up call. The last wake-up call was given them by the Great Recession. It was precipitated the reckless deregulation, budget cutting and war spending of Republican George W. Bush administration. And in 2008 irate voters gave the progressive Democrat Obama a rounding mandate to embark on bold, progressive reforms.

Sadly, however, the 44th president didn’t seem to have much of a vision or the backbone, and he got bogged down in his futile drive to win Republicans’ goodwill, instead of pushing hard the popular mandate he had got from Americans. Later, when he tried to salvage some of his election mandate, it was too late. He had lost much of his political capital and with it the ability to persuade congressional Republicans to cooperate on his agenda.

Well, few societies have reformed themselves, economically or politically, in one go. Hegel has been wrong about many things, but history has vindicated his “dialectic” process of social evolution time and again.  Simply put, it says that a social or ideological model triggers a contradictory one. The two models clash inevitably, only to produce a more dynamic and progressive third formation, synthesizing the good elements of both mutually antagonistic systems.  Polls have shown that Americans are getting increasingly peeved at their economic and political institutions catering to the top social ladder, which has been exploiting them. I believe it’s only a matter of time before the bulk of the bottom 90% Americans will decide they’ve had enough of the Republican-Wall Street skullduggery, and try again to cut it out through the electoral process. They may have to repeat the process several times until they succeed. And they have to succeed if freedom and democracy should endure in America.

 Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Beyond Freedom.’

 

ISIS could trigger Arab revolution

On the darker upper strip of my computer screen I saw my eyebrows rising, as I read, for the first time, President Obama’s mission in Iraq and Syria. Now, as his aides and spokespersons drone on and on about that mission, I get ticked off or, alternately, amused.

Can the United States and its allies really “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL)?

Personally, I deplore this war because of the deaths and devastation it’s going to cause, and the piles of dough we, American taxpayers, are squandering on it. So far the war’s price tag is estimated to be $1 billion a month. It’s likely to rise.

Yet I also see the war having a far-reaching, liberating effect on Arab societies. I see it reviving and strengthening the Arab Spring, which Arab monarchies and dictatorships had foolishly thought they had behind them. More on this in a minute.

Meanwhile, I’m afraid Obama isn’t going to “destroy” ISIS. Remember his repeated vows to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” Al Qaeda during the Afghanistan war? Thanks mainly to that war, Al Qaeda and its many affiliates have mushroomed in the Middle East, North and West Africa, and elsewhere. If Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam had any lesson for the United States, it’s that conventional military establishments, however powerful, can’t defeat modern guerrilla forces that are ready to die to end their oppression and avenge their subjugation and humiliation.

Afghan Mujahedeen taught this lesson to the Soviet Union in the 1980s, then the world’s largest conventional military juggernaut. The Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian guerrilla groups in Gaza have driven it home to Israel, the superpower in Middle East.

Ignoring these glaring lessons and lurching into a new war in the hope of stamping out the world’s most powerful Muslim guerrilla force is just insane. Albert Einstein defined “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

The gruesome atrocities that ISIS has committed against civilians in Iraq and Syria are indeed heinous and inhuman. They’re repugnant to Islamic tenets and principles. Beheading innocent civilians, killing Yazidis and Christians or converting them to Islam by force are certainly not part of the “jihad,” struggle authorized by Islam, they claim to have waged.

Islam sanctions two kinds of jihad. The greater jihad,  jihad al-kabir, is the struggle to resist one’s own immoral impulses and actions. The lesser jihad,  jihad al-saghir, is armed struggle to defend one’s community or territory against outside aggression. ISIS obviously has proclaimed the lesser jihad against the Shiite government and militias in Iraq, the Alawite government in Syria as well as America and its allies. Islam would probably support its armed struggle if it is, or was, meant to resist the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Shiite pogrom against Sunni Arabs in Iraq or the suppression and oppression of people by the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria.

But Islamic law strongly prohibits its inhuman atrocities against civilians, mentioned above. These crimes belong to the categories of the brutal torture, murder and humiliation of mostly innocent Muslims in Abu Gharib, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere by American forces. They’re as barbaric as American soldiers peeing on Afghan Muslim corpses, or Israelis slaughtering Gazan children.

In any case, the more America and its allies beat up on ISIS, the more it will attract recruits and monetary support from fellow Sunnis from around the world. Already, some 3,000 American and European Sunni youths and many thousands more from the Muslim world have joined the guerrilla organization. I expect the trend to accelerate in the months and years ahead.

It reminds me of a comment an Iraqi friend made to me during one of my three research trips to Iraq. In 1991 Subhy Haddad, a veteran Iraqi journalist, was working for the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. I had him over for lunch at Baghdad’s Sagman Hotel, where I was staying.

Between bites on his eggplant Domla – eggplant with meat, vegetables and spices stuffing – Haddad said I wouldn’t be able to interview some of the Shiite intellectuals and politicians I had on a list. About half of them had fled to Shiite Iran to escape then Sunni Arab President Saddam Hussein’s persecution. If Sunni Arabs (as different from Sunni Kurds) ever got knocked out of power, he continued, Shiites would wreak vengeance on them. Iraq’s Sunni Arabs “would then turn to their fellow Sunnis in the region” for support. Iraqis, he added, were “more loyal to their ethnic groups than to Iraq.”

I remembered Haddad when successive Shiite governments in Baghdad and their brutal militias began slaughtering Sunni Arabs after the United States had overthrown the Saddam regime. Many of those persecuted Sunni Arabs joined Al Qaeda in Iraq to resist the U.S. invasion and the Shiite pogrom. ISIS has resumed that struggle and strengthened it manifold.

That the United States sired ISIS is missing from American discourse on that militant group. Senator Carl Levin was a rare exception. “ISIS did not exist before our invasion of Iraq,” said the chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee at a hearing on the issue. “They are a consequence of our invasion of Iraq.”

Levin echoed a chorus of voices from politicians and pundits in the Middle East. ISIS is “the product of foreign invasion,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

And America’s expedition against ISIS is going to produce the same results as did its war against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: spread and bolster the movement, aggravating threats to American security.

If the Sunni Arab militancy in Iraq and Syria has alarmed the United States, it has spawned panic among Arab monarchies, which are its next targets. In fact ISIS, the Al Qaeda offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist militant groups already are calling for the ouster of repressive Arab monarchies. No wonder five of those monarchies – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates – have jumped on America’s anti-ISIS bandwagon in a desperate effort to save their thrones.

The thousands of Arab youths from Persian Gulf countries who are honing their fighting skills in this war will one day return home. They will almost inevitably revive and fire up the simmering revolutionary movements against their tyrannical monarchies, the most formidable they ever faced.

I don’t expect many of these anachronistic power structures to survive another Arab generation.

  • Mustafa Malik is an international affairs commentator in Washington. He covered seven Middle Eastern countries as a newspaper reporter and conducted fieldwork in five as a research fellow for the University of Chicago Middle East Center.

 

 

Gaza, Pakistan and ignoble US legacy

The anti-government protests now raging in Pakistan and the travails of Hamas in Palestine remind me of Nurul Amin, my mentor. He served, at different times, as prime minister of Pakistan and Bangladesh, which was then East Pakistan.

In February 1972, in Rawalpindi, Amin was telling me about the political intrigues that had led to several military-bureaucratic coups against democratic governments in Pakistan. “Did you notice,” he asked, “that all of those who threw out democratic governments kept promising to give us ‘true democracy’?”

Nevertheless, the elder statesman was hopeful of the eventual triumph of democracy in Pakistan and elsewhere. Like the proverbial cat, he said, “democracy has nine lives.” Pakistanis would take time to cultivate “the art of democracy and guard it” against usurpers, as did most Western countries. Until then “you will see our generals and politicians giving lip service to democracy,” while scrambling to “grab power by any means.”

In Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party won the 2013 parliamentary elections, which it probably rigged. Opposition leaders Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, instead of working to insure that the next elections are free and fair, have paralyzed parts of Islamabad, the capital, with crowds agitating for Sharif’s resignation as prime minister. I wonder if they’re playing into the hands of Pakistan’s notoriously power-hungry army generals. In the past, Pakistani generals have used most of the country’s major political crises as excuses for military coups against civilian governments.  I’m especially disappointed by Imran Khan’s role in this anti-democratic drama. I admire his progressive social and political agenda.

Egypt is another stark example of the betrayal of democracy. In 2012 Egyptians had their first-ever free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections. Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood won and formed the government. But the Egyptian military and “liberal” groups didn’t like it. They called in the army and got President Mohammed Mursi’s democratic government overthrown, returning to the military-led pseudo-dictatorship with which they’re more familiar.

More ironic is the assaults on Palestinian democracy by the world’s most eloquent advocate of democracy and human rights: the United States. In 2006 the Palestinians, prodded by Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials, held their first-ever free and fair elections. Hamas won the parliamentary vote by a landslide and formed the government. The Americans and Israelis didn’t like it. Instead of congratulating the Palestinians for ushering in democracy in hostile environment, they instigated the losers in those elections, the Fatah, to stage a coup against the Hamas-led government. President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader, held on to power in the West Bank, now in the ninth year into his four-year term! Hamas continued to rule the Gaza Strip, as it carried on its armed struggle to liberate Palestinians from the Israeli colonial rule.

That wasn’t the end of the punishment Hamas has suffered for winning the Palestinian elections. With American blessings, Israel collaborated with pro-Israeli Egyptian dictatorships to place the 1.8 million people of Gaza under a most gruesome economic blockade. Americans and Israelis had hoped that the extreme hardships caused by the blockade would turn Gazans against their Hamas regime. They haven’t.

Israel remains undaunted by these setbacks. Early last month the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led Israel into its third war against Hamas, vowing to disarm it and other Islamist groups in Gaza. The war ended with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad standing and valiantly fighting the invading forces. In a charade of truce talks held in Cairo, Israel and Egypt pressured the Islamists relentlessly to achieve what the powerful Israeli armed forces couldn’t: Disarm Hamas. They couldn’t. Hamas and Jihad have resumed their armed struggle for freedom, while Israel rains its U.S.-supplied bombs on the already devastated Gaza.

Sadly, America has set the precedents for the assaults on democracy in non-Western societies. Successive U.S. administrations coddled all five Pakistani dictatorships that had supplanted democratic governments. Besides, America used the CIA to overthrow nearly a dozen democratic governments in South and Central America, the Middle East and Asia, and replaced them with repressive pro-American dictatorships.

All the same, I see the masses in Pakistan and around the world pulsating with democratic fervor. I remember Nurul Amin’s prediction about the eventual success of democratic movements. Britain went through seven turbulent centuries – marked by regicide, religious pogroms, and bloody ethnic and trans-national warfare – to mature as a full-blown democracy.

America needed two centuries to settle down as a real democracy. American women didn’t win their voting rights until 1920 and African Americans didn’t achieve theirs until 1965. As I wrote elsewhere, developing countries should be able to build enduring democratic institutions much faster than did Westerners. Among other things, the dramatic spread of education and modernization will help them to do so.

As an American citizen, however, I’m troubled by the United States’ legacy in man’s epic march toward freedom and fulfillment. When future historians would be recounting democratic movements in non-Western societies, they wouldn’t, I’m afraid, condone America’s continual hostility to those the edifying and heroic human endeavors.

The United States can’t expect to regain its moral stature in the world until it realigns itself with forces of freedom and democracy. A good place to start would be Palestine. The Obama administration should dissociate America from the scandalous anachronism of Israeli colonialism. It should stop shielding Israel against charges of war crimes in Gaza, brought by the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Nothing could have been more shameful for Americans than seeing their government casting the solitary vote against opening the U.N. investigation.

This Gaza war is a watershed in Palestinians’ 66-year struggle for freedom and independence from Israeli subjugation. It has shown that Israel, the superpower in the Middle East, could slaughter more than 2,000 Gazans and destroy their homes, economy and infrastructure, but couldn’t dent their resolve to rid themselves of Israeli suppression and oppression. It has shown, too, that the world, with the deplorable exception of the United States, has little patience for Israeli colonialism.

I know that Palestine will jettison, sooner than later, Israel’s colonial tutelage. I don’t know how long it will take America to jettison its ignoble role as the lone defender of the world’s lone colonial power.

  • Mustafa Malik, an international affairs columnist in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Beyond Freedom,’ http://beyond-freedom.com.

 

 

Surviving 70 years of nuclear jingoism

As Hiroshima Day dawns, why are we still tempting nuclear fate?

It is a wonder we have survived all these decades, given US policies on nuclear armament since Hiroshima

Noam Chomsky for TomDispatch, part of the Guardian Comment Network

Wednesday 6 August 2014 05.19 EDT

Seventy-years ago today the Harry Truman administration launched the scariest era of mankind by incinerating Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear bombs, invented by the United States. It has imbued every successive American presidency with a proclivity for dangerous jingoism. Noam Chomsky commemorates the 70th anniversary of the historical event in a highly instructive article, published in the Guardian and TomDispartch.  He wonders if ‘divine intervention’ has preserved the human species through this era of irrational era of brinkmanship. We consider the article  a must-read, and present below its important excerpts and the link.

– The Host, Beyond Freedom

EXCERPTS:

Some reflections on the grim [U.S. nuclear strategy] were offered by General Lee Butler, former head of the US strategic air command (Stratcom), which controls nuclear weapons and strategy….

He termed the US strategic plan of 1960, which called for an automated all-out strike on the communist world, ‘the single most absurd and irresponsible document I have ever reviewed in my life’….

The Russians, far behind in industrial development and technological sophistication, were in a far more threatening environment. Hence, they were significantly more vulnerable to [nuclear] weapons systems than the US….

Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill at the Yalta Conference in 1945. Photograph: PhotoQuest/Getty Images

One indication of possible opportunities to blunt the threat [of a nuclear war] was a remarkable proposal by the Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin in 1952, offering to allow Germany to be unified with free elections on the condition that it would not then join a hostile military alliance. That was hardly an extreme condition in light of the history of the previous half-century during which Germany alone had practically destroyed Russia twice, exacting a terrible toll.

Reviewing recent research in Soviet archives, one of the most respected cold war scholars, Melvyn Leffler, has observed that many scholars were surprised to discover ‘[Lavrenti] Beria – the sinister, brutal head of the [Russian] secret police – propos[ed] that the Kremlin offer the west a deal on the unification and neutralization of Germany,’ agreeing ‘to sacrifice the East German communist regime to reduce east-west tensions’ and improve internal political and economic conditions in Russia – opportunities that were squandered in favor of securing German participation in Nato….

John F. Kennedy arriving in the USSR for talks with Nikita Khrushchev. Photograph: Hank Walker/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

That conclusion was underscored repeatedly in the years that followed. When Nikita Khrushchev took control in Russia in 1953 after Stalin’s death, he recognized that the USSR could not compete militarily with the US, the richest and most powerful country in history….

Accordingly, Khrushchev proposed sharp mutual reductions in offensive weapons. The incoming Kennedy administration considered the offer and rejected it, instead turning to rapid military expansion, even though it was already far in the lead. The late Kenneth Waltz, supported by other strategic analysts with close connections to US intelligence, wrote then that the Kennedy administration ‘undertook the largest strategic and conventional peacetime military build-up the world has yet seen … even as Khrushchev was trying at once to carry through a major reduction in the conventional forces and to follow a strategy of minimum deterrence, and we did so even though the balance of strategic weapons greatly favoured the United States’. … In 1963, Khrushchev again called for new reductions. As a gesture, he withdrew troops from East Germany and called on Washington to reciprocate. That call, too, was rejected….

The Soviet reaction to the US build-up of those years was to place nuclear missiles in Cuba in October 1962 to try to redress the balance at least slightly. The move was also motivated in part by Kennedy’s terrorist campaign against Fidel Castro’s Cuba, which was scheduled to lead to invasion that very month, as Russia and Cuba may have known. The ensuing ‘missile crisis’ was ‘the most dangerous moment in history,’ in the words of historian Arthur Schlesinger, Kennedy’s adviser and confidant.

As the crisis peaked in late October, Kennedy received a secret letter from Khrushchev offering to end it by simultaneous public withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba and US Jupiter missiles from Turkey. The latter were obsolete missiles, already ordered withdrawn by the Kennedy administration because they were being replaced by far more lethal Polaris submarines to be stationed in the Mediterranean.

Kennedy’s subjective estimate at that moment was that if he refused the Soviet premier’s offer, there was a 33% to 50% probability of nuclear war – a war that, as President Eisenhower had warned, would have destroyed the northern hemisphere. Kennedy nonetheless refused Khrushchev’s proposal for public withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba and Turkey; only the withdrawal from Cuba could be public, so as to protect the US right to place missiles on Russia’s borders or anywhere else it chose.

It is hard to think of a more horrendous decision in history – and for this, he is still highly praised for his cool courage and statesmanship.

Ten years later, in the last days of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser to President Nixon, called a nuclear alert. The purpose was to warn the Russians not to interfere with his delicate diplomatic manoeuvres designed to ensure an Israeli victory, but of a limited sort so that the US would still be in control of the region unilaterally. And the manoeuvres were indeed delicate. The US and Russia had jointly imposed a ceasefire, but Kissinger secretly informed the Israelis that they could ignore it. Hence the need for the nuclear alert to frighten the Russians away. The security of Americans had its usual status.

Ten years later, the Reagan administration launched operations to probe Russian air defenses by simulating air and naval attacks and a high-level nuclear alert that the Russians were intended to detect. These actions were undertaken at a very tense moment. Washington was deploying Pershing II strategic missiles in Europe with a five-minute flight time to Moscow. President Reagan had also announced the strategic defence initiative (“star wars”) programme, which the Russians understood to be effectively a first-strike weapon, a standard interpretation of missile defence on all sides. And other tensions were rising.

“Naturally, these actions caused great alarm in Russia, which, unlike the US, was quite vulnerable and had repeatedly been invaded and virtually destroyed. That led to a major war scare in 1983. Newly released archives reveal that the danger was even more severe than historians had previously assumed. A CIA study entitled A Cold War Conundrum: The 1983 Soviet War Scare concluded that US intelligence may have underestimated Russian concerns and the threat of a Russian preventative nuclear strike. The exercises “almost became a prelude to a preventative nuclear strike,” according to an account in the Journal of Strategic Studies.

It was even more dangerous than that, as we learned last September, when the BBC reported that right in the midst of these world-threatening developments, Russia’s early-warning systems detected an incoming missile strike from the United States, sending its nuclear system onto the highest-level alert. The protocol for the Soviet military was to retaliate with a nuclear attack of its own. Fortunately, the officer on duty, Stanislav Petrov, decided to disobey orders and not report the warnings to his superiors. He received an official reprimand. And thanks to his dereliction of duty, we’re still alive to talk about it.

The security of the population was no more a high priority for Reagan administration planners than for their predecessors. And so it continues to the present, even putting aside the numerous near-catastrophic nuclear accidents that occurred over the years, many reviewed in Eric Schlosser’s chilling study Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. In other words, it is hard to contest General Butler’s conclusions….

The record of post-cold war actions and doctrines is hardly reassuring either. Every self-respecting president has to have a doctrine. The Clinton doctrine was encapsulated in the slogan ‘multilateral when we can, unilateral when we must’. In congressional testimony, the phrase ‘when we must’ was explained more fully: the US is entitled to resort to ‘unilateral use of military power’ to ensure ‘uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources.’ Meanwhile, Stratcom in the Clinton era produced an important study entitled Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence, issued well after the Soviet Union had collapsed, while Clinton was extending President George Bush Sr’s programme of expanding Nato to the east in violation of promises to Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev – with reverberations to the present.

That Stratcom study was concerned with “the role of nuclear weapons in the post-cold war era”. A central conclusion: that the US must maintain the right to launch a first strike, even against non-nuclear states. Furthermore, nuclear weapons must always be at the ready because they “cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict”. They were, that is, constantly being used, just as you’re using a gun if you aim but don’t fire one while robbing a store (a point that Daniel Ellsberg has repeatedly stressed). Stratcom went on to advise that “planners should not be too rational about determining … what the opponent values the most”. Everything should simply be targeted. “[I]t hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed… That the US may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be a part of the national persona we project”. It is “beneficial [for our strategic posture] if some elements may appear to be potentially ‘out of control’, thus posing a constant threat of nuclear attack – a severe violation of the UN charter, if anyone cares.

Not much here about the noble goals constantly proclaimed – or for that matter the obligation under the non-proliferation treaty to make ‘good faith’ efforts to eliminate this scourge of the earth….

Barack Obama [came] with pleasant words about working to abolish nuclear weapons – combined with plans to spend $1trn on the US nuclear arsenal in the next 30 years, a percentage of the military budget ‘comparable to spending for procurement of new strategic systems in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan,’ according to a study by the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Barack Obama in control room of US operation to capture Osama bin Laden. Photograph: PETE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

Obama has also not hesitated to play with fire for political gain. Take for example the capture and assassination of Osama bin Laden by navy Seals. Obama brought it up with pride in an important speech on national security in May 2013. It was widely covered, but one crucial paragraph was ignored.

Obama hailed the operation but added that it could not be the norm. The reason, he said, was that the risks ‘were immense’. The Seals might have been ‘embroiled in an extended firefight’….

The Seals were ordered to fight their way out if apprehended. They would not have been left to their fate if ‘embroiled in an extended firefight’. The full force of the US military would have been used to extricate them. Pakistan has a powerful, well-trained military, highly protective of state sovereignty. It also has nuclear weapons, and Pakistani specialists are concerned about the possible penetration of their nuclear security system by jihadi elements. It is also no secret that the population has been embittered and radicalised by Washington’s drone terror campaign and other policies.

While the Seals were still in the bin Laden compound, Pakistani chief of staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was informed of the raid and ordered the military “to confront any unidentified aircraft,” which he assumed would be from India. Meanwhile in Kabul, US war commander General David Petraeus ordered “warplanes to respond” if the Pakistanis ‘scrambled their fighter jets’. As Obama said, by luck the worst didn’t happen, though it could have been quite ugly. But the risks were faced without noticeable concern….

As General Butler observed, it is a near miracle that we have escaped destruction so far, and the longer we tempt fate, the less likely it is that we can hope for divine intervention to perpetuate the miracle.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/06/hiroshima-day-nuclear-weapons-cold-war-usa-bomb

 

 

Manufacturing an ‘existential threat’

Here’s a searing expose of the ominous U.S.-Israeli narrative about Iran’s nuclear program. It shows how American neocons and the Israeli right wing made Iran’s peaceful nuclear program into an “existential threat” to Israel and sold it to the world. It reminds me of the “mushroom cloud” invented and propagated by the neocons during the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war. I commend the story, published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, to our visitors.

The Host

Dangerous rebranding of Iran’s peaceful program

In a new book and in a conversation with Haaretz, U.S. historian Gareth Porter charges that U.S. and Israeli policies on Iran have been based on fabricated evidence.

By Shemuel Meir, Haaretz, May 31, 2014 | 5:54 AM

A narrative is a story that we tell ourselves, and not necessarily what happened in reality. For example, the “Iranian threat” narrative, which has become the common wisdom in Israeli public discourse. A new book by Gareth Porter, an American historian and researcher specializing in U.S. national security, shows how the actual state of the Iranian nuclear program does not match the Iranian threat narrative.

The book’s title, “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Nuclear Scare” (Just World Books), already tells us that it is going against the current. Porter appears to be the only researcher who has read with an unprejudiced eye all the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency from the past decade. He also had access to American intelligence reports on the Iranian issue from recent decades. In addition, Porter interviewed generations of American officials and analyzed the testimony of senior officials before Congress.

The result is a highly detailed and well-documented book for all interested in understanding how we arrived at the Iranian nuclear crisis, and the “attack scenarios,” and invented facts and intelligence reports whose purpose was to support the preconceptions. At the same time, the book is invaluable for those wishing to understand what is being discussed in the intensive nuclear talks that have been taking place Iran and the superpowers (or, more accurately, Iran and the U.S.) since the signing of last November’s interim agreement, which surprised many Israelis.

According to Porter, it was a hidden political agenda of U.S. decision makers (from long before Israel entered the picture) that gave rise to the Iranian nuclear crisis. This is one of the book’s main subjects, and the starting point for a discussion with which we in Israel are unfamiliar.

The story begins with U.S. support for the Iraqis during the 1980s Iraq-Iran war. The critical point comes with the collapse of the Soviet empire. According to Porter, that event and the end of the Cold War pulled out the rug from under the CIA’s raison d’être. The solution the Americans found to continue providing the organization with a tremendous budget was the invention of a new threat – the merging of weapons of mass destruction (an ambiguous term in itself) and terror. Iran, which rose to the top of the list, provided the threat that “saved” the CIA.

The empowering of the CIA’s organizational interests was reinforced by the gallant neoconservatives, led by ideologues Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton, who had in the meantime reached senior positions in the government. They launched a campaign to delegitimize the Islamic Republic with the aim of toppling the regime (using the sanitized term “regime change”).

Running through Porter’s book is the well-substantiated claim that U.S. and Israeli policies on Iran derived from their political and organizational interests, and not necessarily from careful factual analysis of the Iranian nuclear program, which was subject to IAEA monitoring, or of the intentions of the Iranian leadership.

According to Porter, no systematic analysis was made of the goals of the Iranian nuclear program, and neither U.S. nor Israeli policy makers devoted any thought to why all of Iran’s official declarations on the subject were in line with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Furthermore, in U.S. discussions until 2007, and in Israel until today, hovering overhead is the nuclear “axiom” that Iran is dashing toward a bomb via the route of uranium-enrichment centrifuges. Porter and the IAEA found no proof of the dash to the bomb.

Following is Haaretz’s interview with Porter, conducted via email.

You have spent years of research analyzing IAEA reports, intelligence reports and interviewing officials about the Iran nuclear issue. What motivated you to write your latest book?

“It was the realization that a narrative about the Iranian nuclear issue had gained unchallenged credence, but that I had discovered over the years a number of major ‘anomalies’ – important facts that could not be reconciled with the narrative. I also came to realize that I was the only journalist who was closely tracking the evidence surrounding the issue. And finally – and perhaps most importantly – I realized that it is was impossible to convey the truth … in an article or series of articles; I had to write a book.”

Is it fair to say that your book shows us that the whole nuclear crisis as it has unfolded over the past 10 years is about U.S. and Israeli attempts to prevent Iran from developing a non-militarized nuclear program, even though such a program is permitted under the NPT, and that this obscured the fact that Iran never intended to develop nuclear weapons?

“Yes, I put considerable emphasis on the early history of the interaction between Iran’s nuclear program and policy, and the policies of the United States and Israel toward the program. I show how the Reagan administration’s intervention, beginning as early as 1983, to pressure Germany and France to refuse to cooperate with Iran in completing the Bushehr reactor, and to refuse to provide the enriched uranium reactor fuel for Bushehr, meant that Iran had to either give up its nuclear rights under the NPT altogether or go to the black market, in defiance of U.S. policy, to get its own independent enrichment capability. And despite subsequent U.S. and Israeli charges that Iran was interested in enrichment for nuclear weapons, there was and is no evidence whatever to support that charge.”

In my Haaretz blog, I emphasize the paradigm change of the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, and still valid today, which concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The Israeli public is unaware of this halt. Furthermore, many commentators believe that U.S. intelligence “corrected” itself and that the 2007 estimate has been annulled. Could you enlighten our readers about the important 2007 NIE?

“The 2007 NIE broke with previous NIEs [in 2001 and 2005], which had concluded that Iran was then running a nuclear weapons program. It concluded instead, with ‘high confidence,’ that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons. That conclusion was of course opposed by the Bush administration and Israel, because it had been the charge that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons that justified the threat of military force against Iran. And it did indeed make the ‘military option’ irrelevant to U.S. policy for the rest of the Bush administration and for much of the Obama administration.”

According to the 2007 NIE, however, some nuclear weapons research was carried out in Iran until 2003. Could you elaborate on what kind of research was undertaken; when, where and by whom, and what its scope was?

“Precisely who was carrying out research and what kind of research is still completely unclear, despite my effort to get any additional information on the subject from Thomas Fingar, who was in charge of the estimate. What was said by U.S. intelligence officials to be ‘snippets of conversation’ intercepted by U.S. intelligence in 2007 appears to indicate that some research related to nuclear weapons was being undertaken. But how many people were involved remains entirely unclear. And the testimony of the French ambassador to Tehran, as well as other evidence presented in my book, strongly suggests that the Supreme National Security Council had not authorized it and was not happy that it was going on.

“Not only did [Iran’s then-president] Hassan Rouhani order it halted in October 2003, when he was named the first coordinator of Iran’s nuclear policy, but Rouhani prevailed on the Supreme Leader to declare any work on nuclear weapons illicit under Islam in order to compel the researchers to give up their work on weapons. Understanding that episode correctly is clearly necessary to comprehending Iran’s nuclear policy accurately.

“Unfortunately, as I argue in my book, the evidence indicates that the team of intelligence analysts, who had been wrong about the existence of a nuclear weapons program in 2005 and again in an early draft of the 2007 estimate, got it wrong in their conclusion that the Iranian government had an actual nuclear weapons program [before] late 2003.”

In your book, you explain in great detail the sought-after “smoking gun,” i.e. the mysterious “laptop studies” and the Parchin “bomb test chamber.” The Israeli public is unfamiliar with the details of these “cases.” Could you explain the “possible military dimensions” and comment on the credibility of the “evidence”?

“I devote an entire chapter to the ‘mysterious laptop documents’ and show that they were actually fabricated by Israeli intelligence and given to the Mujahedin-e-Khalq [a militant Iranian opposition group] to pass on to German intelligence in mid-2004. The ‘giveaway’ that they were fabrications is the fundamental error in a series of studies depicting efforts to integrate a nuclear weapon into the Iranian intermediate-range missile, which shows the Shahab-3 that Iran had abandoned in 2000 in favor of a much-improved model that was first tested in August 2004 – too late to correct the mistake before the papers were passed to the MEK.

“Among the indicators that the documents originated in Israel is the fact that the MEK is not sophisticated enough to have fabricated such a large number of documents, and the well-known history of the terrorist organization’s close working relations with Israeli intelligence. Equally important is the fact that former IAEA director general ElBaradei revealed in his memoirs that Israel had passed on documents and intelligence reports to the IAEA directly in 2008 and 2009, which depicted Iran work on nuclear weapons even after 2003 – obviously prompted by the 2007 NIE.

“Those documents included information alleging that Iran had built a large metal cylinder to carry out tests of nuclear weapons designs at its Parchin military base. The IAEA made that allegation a major news theme by publishing it in its November 2011 report.  But no other evidence except the Israeli intelligence report has ever been produced to support that highly dubious charge. “

The emphasis in your book is on the centrifuges and the “enrichment track to the bomb.” Can you comment on the Arak heavy water reactor that is linked in Israel to the “plutonium track” and is behind the preemptive scenarios that have been developed in the Israeli press.

“The main weakness of the argument that Arak is an Iranian scheme for a ‘plutonium track’ to a nuclear weapon is simple: Iran has already agreed to arrangements under which it would be prevented from maintaining control of the plutonium produced by the reactor. In other words, all of the plutonium would be exported to another country. But there is a second major reason that it is not the threat that is being claimed: To build a plutonium reprocessing plant requires extensive construction as well as time, and it cannot be concealed.”

What is your assessment of the current negotiations between Iran and the P5+1? Is a final agreement to close the Iranian file on the table?

“I am pessimistic about the outcome of these talks, in the coming months at least, because the Obama administration – influenced by the false narrative surrounding the issue and overconfident about its ability to pressure an Iran it assumes has been significantly weakened by the sanctions – is planning to demand that Iran give up all but a very few thousand of its 19,000 centrifuges for many, many years. That demand, based on a notion of Iranian ‘breakout’ that is quite divorced from reality, is an obvious deal-breaker. Iran cannot and will not agree to give up its ability to provide nuclear fuel for more nuclear plants, for which it is planning. In my view, this demand will lead to a much higher level of tensions unless and until it is substantially altered.”

In your view, what is behind the Israeli-Iranian rivalry? Is there a chance for Israeli-Iranian détente following the achievement of a final agreement in the Vienna talks and the possibility of new openings in U.S.-Iran relations?

“In my view there have been political considerations on both sides of the Iran-Israel relationship that have stood in the way of a detente over the past 15 years: On the Israeli side, the first Netanyahu government in 1996 was actually willing to give detente a try, so there is no inherent reason why it could not happen again. It was the opportunity to use the U.S. to put intense pressure on Iran, if not to use force for regime change, that swayed successive Israeli governments to take the ‘existential threat’ approach to Iran. If and when the U.S. pursues a truly independent policy toward Iran, that Israeli motive will disappear.

“On the Iranian side, the main obstacle to softening of its attitude toward Israel, in my view, has been the degree to which taking a hard line toward Israel makes Iran popular in the Sunni Arab street and counterbalances, at least to some extent, the anti-Iran policy of the Sunni regimes. So Iran-Israel detente has become hostage, to a great extent, to both the pro-Israel stance of the U.S. and the Sunni-Shi’a cold war.”

A final question: Is there a possibility that you are wrong, that you have been misled by some optimistic and naïve theories?

“My operational principle as an investigative journalist is that if there is a single verifiable fact that conflicts with my general understanding of an issue, I need to look more closely to understand why that anomaly exists. In the case of Iran’s nuclear program, I have found an unbroken string of anomalies that undermine the credibility of official U.S.-Israeli narrative, but I have yet to find a single fact that would invalidate my reconstruction of the history of the issue.”

The writer, a former IDF analyst and associate researcher at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, is an independent researcher on nuclear and strategic issues, and author of Haaretz’s “Strategic Discourse” blog (in Hebrew).