Saudi betrayal of Palestinians

 

AS I NOTE the Saudi, Israeli and American governments coming together on the same platform to confront Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah, I wonder how my father would’ve reacted to the event.

Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, has been prodding Israel to go to war with the pro-Iranian Hezbollah organization, apparently to divert the Saudi public’s attention away from the regime’s badly botched interventions in Yemen and Syria.  Ofer Zalzberg, a researcher at the International Crisis Group in Jerusalem, reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far been wary of taking on the powerful Hezbollah. Netanyahu, though, has hyped his propaganda blitz against Iran and Hezbollah, apparently to throw a smoke screen around the serious corruption charges he and his wife face in Israeli courts. And Iran-phobia, among other things, has driven Donald Trump, America’s Christian president, to join the anti-Iranian alliance of the Muslim crown prince and Jewish prime minister.

I don’t recall a time since the early seventh century when governments from all three Abrahamic faiths forged an alliance against a common adversary. My late father was an Islamic scholar in the Indian state of Assam and what is now Bangladesh. He used to say that in the Arabian town of Medina, in the early 620s, the Islamic community, or umma, consisted of all three Abrahamic faiths groups: Muslims, Christians and Jews. Eventually, that community split into three. “Baba,” as I called my father, was steeped in the orthodox Islamic version of Muslim history. He blamed the split on Jewish and Christian “betrayal” of Muslims, which included a Jewish attempt to kill the Prophet Muhammad.

The Americans and Israelis have been joined at the hip for decades, while the Muslim world – including Saudi Arabia – viewed Israel as its archenemy because of its occupation of Palestine and ethnic cleansing and persecution of Palestinians. The House of Saud was especially vociferous about its support for Palestinians because most Palestinians are Muslims and it claimed its legitimacy to its service to Islam, which was born in what is now Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi and other Arab autocracies used to be on pretty good terms with Iran during the decades it was also was under an autocracy. The Arab autocracies became wary of Iran after its Islamic revolutionaries overthrew the repressive pro-American monarchy of Shah Muhammad Riza Pahlavi, and replaced it with a populist Islamic government. The Arab monarchs and dictators feared that Islamic populism might spill over to their societies, threatening their despotic rule.

The fear of populist and democratic “subversion” also prompted Arab monarchies to oppose the Arab Spring of 2011-2012 and rally behind the military putsch in Egypt that overthrew that country’s democratically elected government of President Mohammed Mursi.  Mursi belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, the leading Islamic movement in the world. Many Muslims had long questioned the House of Saud’s claim to Islamic legitimacy. Now its hostility toward the Muslim Brotherhood eroded that claim further.

Apologists of the Saudi monarchy have had a hard time defending its Islamic credentials. They included Walid Arab Hashim, an economics professor at King Abdul Aziz University in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. During a research trip to the kingdom in 1991, Hashim told me about many activities of the monarchy to promote Islamic causes and institutions around the world.

I told him about many un-Islamic activities I had known members of the Saudi royal family to have indulged in during their visits to the United States. I also asked if hereditary rule could be justified by the teachings of the Quran or the traditions of the prophet of Islam.

I didn’t expect him to give forthright answers to these questions to a foreign journalist, which would likely have cost him his job, and he didn’t. He told me that his country’s ruling dynasty was “a biped animal.” One of its two legs rested on Islam, as its founder, King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, had come to power in the 1920s in alliance with the Wahhabi Islamic movement. The monarchy remained “dedicated to the service” of Islam, he added. Its other leg, he said, rested on Arab tribalism, which historically had supported dynastic rule.

“Which leg does it first put forward,” I asked the professor, “Islam or the dynasty?”

He laughed, without giving me an answer.

I thought I got the answer in July 2013 when the House of Saud ganged up with the Egyptian army General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to get Mursi’s Islamic government toppled and replaced by Sisi’s brutal military dictatorship. Later that year I ran into an official of the Jeddah-based World Muslim Congress (Motamar Al- Alam Al-Islami) who was visiting Washington. The organization is funded by the Saudi government and carries on Islamic outreach and charity work in different countries. I asked the gentleman about the rationale behind the Saudi government’s campaign against Egypt’s Mursi government and support for the military dictatorship that overthrew it and also it’s increasing hostility toward Iran.

He told me on condition of anonymity that both the Brotherhood and Iran had posed “a threat” to the monarchy. Echoing Hashim, the professor in Jeddah, he said the Saudi government had been funding and supporting “many very important programs for Muslims and Islam” around the world. Among them he mentioned Saudi Arabia’s financial and diplomatic support for Palestinians and other “oppressed” Muslim groups. He claimed that the Saudi-led Arab decision to “ostracize Israel in the Middle East has kept Israel from annexing the West Bank and Gaza.”

I recalled his comment as I observed the the Saudi crown prince lurch into the embrace of Netanyahu, while Israel continues to occupy Palestine and expropriate Palestinian lands by building and expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  Except for Iran and perhaps Qatar, other Persian Gulf states are hopping into the Saudi train to Israel.  I wonder what incentive, except the Palestinians’ own fighting spirit, would ever persuade Israel to concede the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

I guess if Baba were alive today he wouldn’t have called the Saudi-Israeli-American entente against Iran and Hezbollah a reunion of Abrahamic faiths. More likely, he would’ve branded bin-Salman’s genuflection to Netanyahu a betrayal of the Palestinians and the umma, most or which remains morally committed to the liberation of Palestine from Israeli colonial occupation.

  • Mustafa Malik is an international affairs commentator in Washington, who hosts this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kurdish fiasco an ‘America first’ cause

WHEN PATRICK HENRY vowed to “live free or die,” he couldn’t have known about today’s Kurdish dilemma in Iraq. Two weeks ago 92 percent of Kurdish voters in northern Iraq voted in a referendum to create an independent state, consisting of the three Iraqi provinces where they’re in a majority. Unfortunately for them, the outcome has been, not independence, but curbs on their freedom to travel, economic hardships, and political isolation in the region. Now very few Iraqi Kurds seem ready to risk further hardships pushing for independence, let alone die fighting for the cause.

Iraq already has banned air travel in and out of its semi-autonomous “Kurdistan.” No Iraqi government can expect to stay in power if it were to allow the dismemberment of the country. And the Turkish government has announced it’s going to shut off the oil pipeline of the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which runs through Turkey, carrying 5.5 million barrels of crude oil daily and providing more than 90 percent of the KRG’s annual budget.  Ankara fears that the secession of a Kurdish enclave in Iraq would embolden its own Kurdish militants, who have been carrying on a terrorist campaign since 1984 to create an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, like the Baghdad government, had urged the KRG over and over not to hold the referendum.

Two days ago Baghdad announced that it’s now going to host a summit among Iran, Turkey and Iraq to decide on further measures to punish the KRG for its secessionist move.

Poor Iraqi Kurds! Their grievances remind me of a Mexican official’s response to President Trump’s demand that Mexico pay his proposed wall along its boundary with the United States. An aide to President Enrique Peña Nieto told the Trump administration, facetiously of course, that Mexico would be happy to pay for the wall provided it’s “built along the northern boundaries of New Mexico and Arizona.” He was obviously alluding to the fact that those American sates used to be part of Mexico until the United States grabbed them by force.

Kurds in Iraq – and in Turkey, Iran and Syria – have a similar grievance. In reality, their plight as minorities in those Middle Eastern countries originated in the imperialist machinations of a century ago. When France and Britain were gobbling up territories of the defeated Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, they promised the Kurds an autonomous statelet, which they said could eventually become an independent nation-state. That commitment was mentioned in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. Little did the Kurds know that oil under their soil would turn out to be the stumbling block to their independence, just as resources in many other developing countries had cost theirs. Lure of resources drove European powers into invading and colonizing most of the non-Western world.

In the 1920s as Britain was settling down in its Iraqi colony (bestowed on it under the League of Nations mandate), the British-owned Iraq Petroleum Company struck oil near Kirkuk, in the middle of the Kurds’ “promised land” of an autonomous state. Out the window went the British and French pledge for a “Kurdistan.” The two imperial powers now decided to split the more resourceful part of the centuries-old Kurdish homeland between the British colony of Iraq and neighboring French colony of Syria and dole out the remainder of the territory to Turkey and Iran.

Thus 35 million Kurds have become the world’s largest ethnic community without a state of their own, languishing as minorities in four states and refugees in many others. During trips to Iraq and Turkey, the word I often heard Kurds mention as the source of their quandary was “betrayal” – betrayal by British and French colonial powers. Throughout the century that followed the fourfold partition of their land Kurds in one country or another have struggled off and on for a national homeland or homelands.

In Turkey bloody terrorist attacks by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and bloodier government reprisals have cost nearly 40,000 lives in three decades. In Iraq separatist uprisings by the Kurdish Peshmerga militia led to equally brutal government crackdowns, including a chemical attack in the Halabja village by the Saddam Hussein government.

Thanks to America’s need for the Kurdish Peshmerga militia to fight its wars against the Saddam government and then against the Islamic State, the United States has helped set up Iraqi Kurdistan with wide local autonomy.  But Washington never agreed to support Iraqi Kurds’ secessionist scheme.  In northern Syria Kurds have taken advantage of the five-year-long Syrian civil war to carve out a territory they call Rojava, which they aspire to turn into an autonomous or independent Kurdish stare. The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad is also perturbed by the Rojava campaign and the adrenaline it could get from the KRG referendum in Iraq. Last week Damascus denounced the KRG for its referendum. In Iran Kurdish separatism is less assertive than in any of the three other countries. But Tehran, too, worries about a spillover of the Kurdish ferment in its neighborhood, and the Iranian government has decried the referendum in northern Iraq. The United States and several European countries have also been concerned that a Kurdish independence movement in Iraq could threaten the stability of the state system in that region. The Trump administration repeatedly warned KRG President Masoud Barzani not to stage the referendum.

Barzani couldn’t but have known that in the teeth of the strong regional and international opposition his referendum would open a Pandora’s box, instead of promoting Kurdish independence. True, the Kurds lost their territories to the four states against their will, just as Mexicans lost part of their land to America against theirs. But plenty of water has flowed down the Euphrates and Mississippi rivers since America and the four Middle Eastern countries took shape and evolved as nation-states.  The aide to the Mexican president can’t expect to wrest Texas, New Mexico or Arizona back from America anymore than Kurds in Iraq – or Turkey, Syria or Iran – stand a reasonable chance of tearing up those nation-states to create one or more independent Kurdish states.

The Kurds could achieve their goal of national independence in one of two ways: by the force of their own arms or through the military or diplomatic intervention of a major power or powers. Bangladesh, South Sudan and East Timor gained their independence in one or the other of the two processes. But Kurds in none of the four countries have the armed capability to secede, and support for their cause in the international community is zero (Oops! I forgot the vociferous Israeli support for the KRG’s independence project).

You would wonder why, then, the KRG president went ahead with his ill-fated referendum. I think his fast dwindling support base among Iraqi Kurds has something to do with it. Barzani was elected KRG president by the regional legislature in 2005. Since then he has turned into an autocrat, ruling the territory without a mandate since his term of office expired in August 2015. His blatant nepotism, rampant corruption in his government and a sharp downturn in the region’s economy have heightened his people’s discontent against him.  But the aspiration for an independent homeland still animates most Kurdish minds and hearts in Iraq. If he held the referendum to shore up his popularity among Kurds, their overwhelming yes vote shows that he made a good bet. But sadly, their euphoria was short-lived.  Media reports show that it already has died down and most Kurds are worried, instead, about the onset of the economic and political crisis, spawned by the neighboring states’ virulent reactions to the referendum.

I think the international community should get to work to help resolve the Kurdish imbroglio. The United States, which has used Iraqi Kurds in two major wars, is morally obligated to step in to pull them out of the quagmire. The Kurdish predicament also offers the Trump administration an opportunity to get away from its own quagmire created by the president’s reckless stands on the climate change accord, Iran nuclear deal, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and other issues. He should get Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to take the lead in an international initiative to bring about a reconciliation between Iraqi Kurdistan and its neighbors. Because such an effort would bolster America’s standing in the world, it would be part of Trump’s “America first” agenda.

  • Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts this blog.

 

 

 

 

No ‘cakewalk’ to Pyongyang, please

ON WEDNESDAY I was about to head out to a seminar on cyber security at Wilson Center in Washington when I peeked into the Internet to check the latest news.

“U.S. quietly plans to occupy North Korea after war,” a banner headline in London’s The Sun newspaper screamed at me. I remembered that President Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had said, too, that military action against North Korea is a  possibility.

The story led to a Newsweek link. Clicked, it opened a piece in which German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was quoted as saying that a war between the United States and North Korea “could be deadliest conflict in history,” more catastrophic than the Second World War.

The seminar was about security threats from North Korea, China and Russia.  James Lewis, vice president of Center from Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, talked about a “deterrent” against cyber threats from Pyongyang.

I told him that North Koreans had been saying that their nukes are meant to be “a deterrent against American invasion.”  I also mentioned that I had heard Sunni Arab leaders in Iraq lamenting that if Saddam Hussein had a few nuclear weapons he could’ve “deterred the U.S. invasion” of 2003, sparing both Iraq and America the “unnecessary and catastrophic war.”

Lewis nodded, apparently signaling that he was aware of it.

Continuing, I inquired if Iranians wanted to have “a couple of nukes,” which they insisted they never did, won’t those warheads also serve as a deterrent against Israeli or U.S. military action? I couldn’t conceive, I added, of Iranians wanting to “commit national suicide” by initiating a nuclear conflict with Israel or the United States.

I asked the CSIS executive what he thought of Kim Jong-un’s reasoning for a nuclear deterrent against a U.S. invasion.

The panelist didn’t answer my question, but warned, instead, that North Koreans “would be deluding themselves” if they thought that a few nukes “would give them immunity” against the U.S. military power. The United States could “get rid of the problem” posed by Kim, regardless of his nukes.

Was he hinting at a possible regime change in North Korea? I wondered.

Explaining the reason America was determined to prevent North Korea and Iran from acquiring nuclear arms, Lewis said, such weaponry could tempt those countries “to evade their responsibilities under international law, to violate international law,” and threaten their neighbors and international security.

I thought of asking him the obvious question of whether the United States and other nuclear powers weren’t potentially violating international law over and over because they sat on nuclear stockpiles.  Nuclear arsenals have given them the ability to commit illegal aggression against non-nuclear countries. Also, they have equipped them with veto powers at the U.N. Security Council, practically shielding them against accountability for violations of international law. But I didn’t want to get into an argument with the panelist.

Martin C. Libicki from the U.S. Naval Academy, another panelist, picked up on my comment about Iran. He said Iranians would be “right to think that Israel can do things with its [nuclear] capabilities that its neighbors can’t.”  But the Israelis needed that capability for their national security, added the professor of cyber security studies.

Their comments reminded me of a complaint that my Pakistani mentor had made to me several times in the early 1970s. Nurul Amin was prime minister and later vice president of Pakistan, and I worked as his press aide.  He would lament to me about America’s “blatant and illegal” military interventions, and often regime change, in Iran, Lebanon, Vietnam, Congo, Ghana and elsewhere. “Independence from colonial rule lets us [Asian and African nations] have our own brown and black rulers,” he would say, “as long as we toe their lines.”

On the subway train back home from Wilson Center, it occurred to me that Nurul Amin’s comment of the Cold War era doesn’t quite apply to the new world we live in. Yes, in 1953 the CIA under the Eisenhower administration could have Iran’s democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq easily overthrown in a military coup. But by 1979 Iran’s Islamic revolutionaries bundled out the brutal pro-American monarchy of Muhammad Riza Pahlavi, whom the Americans had installed in Tehran.

In 1958 the Iraqi army overthrew the pro-Western monarchy in Iraq while Muslim insurgents in neighboring Lebanon rose up against the pro-Western Christian minority government of President Camille Chamoun. Chamoun asked for U.S. help, and the Eisenhower administration immediately rushed some 14,000 troops to Lebanon. The Muslim insurgents ran for cover and the invading American troops hit the beaches in Beirut.

“We drank a lot,” as the U.S. Marines corporal Thomas Zmecek would recall later. “We were provided with swimming trunks and swam with the daughters [of Christian hosts] and had a grand time.”

Twenty-five years later a U.S.-led multinational force was stationed in Lebanon to intervene in a brewing civil war between the Israeli-backed Christian forces and Syrian-backed Muslim and Druze activists. When opposition forces threatened the presidency of Maronite Christian Amin Gemayel, the Reagan administration, prodded by the Israelis and Secretary of State George P. Schultz (against the strenuous objection of Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger) ordered an American contingent to rush to West Beirut to protect the Gemayel regime. But the new Lebanese generation didn’t go into hiding as had their parents and uncles in 1958. They were infuriated by the America intervention in their internal affairs and began to mobilize to resist it. But one of them, a Shiite Muslim, spared them a prolonged fight. He went on a suicide mission, piling up explosives onto a truck and detonating it at a U.S.-French Marines barracks in Beirut, killing 241 American and 58 French servicemen. That led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Lebanon.

American politicians and bureaucrats have had difficulty grasping the changed social ethos and worldviews of contemporary generations of post-colonial societies. Many people who grew up under European colonial rule or in the shadow of the colonial era were tolerant of Western military interventions and hegemony. Their children are not. Born in independent countries and exposed to Western values of freedom and democracy, disseminated by myriad communications media, they’re mostly allergic to foreign domination and presence of foreign troops on their lands.

American neocons and Cold War retirees who planned the Iraq war were ostriches with their heads buried in the sand, without having a clue about the dynamics of the Muslim youth of the day. During the run-up to the war neoconservative security expert Ken Adelman proclaimed he was “reasonably certain” that the Iraqis would greet invading U.S. troops “as liberators.” He probably was musing over Lebanese Christians reveling at the arrival of U.S. troops in 1958. Or maybe images of Koreans hailing U.S. Marines under Gen. Douglas MacArthur after their heroic victory in Battle of Inchon was flashing back on his mind.

But in 2003 Iraq had a fiercely independent-minded breed of Arabs who, despite their sectarian feuds, were deeply hostile to foreign domination, as I had observed during three trips in previous years. Their resistance to the U.S. invasion led to the rise of the Islamic State, sectarian blood-letting, unraveling of the Iraqi state, and the security of America and the West.

I’m not sure that the United States can launch a successful invasion of North Korea. Unlike Iraq, that Communist country is believed to have between six and 16 nuclear weapons, most or some of which are in locations unknown to Americans.  “It is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, [intelligence] collection nations that we have to collect against,” Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, told Congress in May. Even if America can succeed in taking out all of Kim’s nukes before an invasion, which is extremely unlikely, I doubt that North Koreans would hail American invaders as “liberators” anymore than did Iraqis.  North Koreans are extremely xenophobic people, usually suspicious of foreigners.  A U.S. occupation force would very likely get bogged down in the Hermit Kingdom for years, which the war-wary American public is unlikely to accept.

If the Trump administration blunders into an invasion of North Korea, I’d be as concerned about the catastrophe it would spawn for Americans and Koreans as is Gabriel, the German foreign minister.

– Mustafa Malik, an international affairs columnist in Washington, hosts this blog.

Kushner: The son-in-law also rises

DONALD TRUMP HAS told The Times of London that Jared Kushner will be trying to negotiate a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians.

“Jared is such a good lad,” explained the new president, “he will secure an Israel deal which no one else has managed to get. You know, he’s a natural talent, he is the top, he is a natural talent.”

No one would dispute Trump’s description of his son-in-law as “a good lad,” or “a natural talent.” The problem is that the 36-year-old billionaire businessman has no government experience. Peacemaking is a diplomatic job, and Kushner never had a diplomatic stint. He has little familiarity with the Middle East or the actors involved in the long and knotty conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Kushner is reported to be talking with Henry Kissinger about his impending debut in diplomacy, but chatting with an old celebrated diplomat isn’t the same thing as juggling adroit belligerents and pulling off a diplomatic breakthrough in, of all places, Israel and Palestine, the graveyard of hundreds of peace projects, undertaken by wizards in the field through decades past.

Moreover, Kushner is unlikely to have any credibility among the Palestinians. A practicing Orthodox Jew, Kushner identifies with right-wing Israeli causes such as building Jewish settlements in Palestinian land and moving the U.S. Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The depth of the Jewish businessman’s commitment to his faith showed when he broke up with his then fiancée, Ivanka Trump, because she was unwilling to convert to Judaism, and didn’t marry her until she agreed to do so. On Jewish Sabbath, Orthodox Jews aren’t supposed to drive. Hence Kushner and his wife have bought a $5.5 million home in Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood within walking distance of the local Chabad synagogue.

Kushner is reported to be Trump’s most trusted adviser, who has been the main – if not the only – reason the incoming president made his pledge to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The son-in-law drafted the speech that the father-in-law gave last March at the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In it Trump declared that, if elected president, he’d “move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”

Israel occupied Jerusalem during the Six-Day War and its annexation of the city violates international law. Palestinians plan to make Jerusalem capital of the state they have been struggling to create. Which is why no country, including the United States, has yet recognized Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem and none, including the United States, has set up its embassy there.

Kushner, too, is reported to have been behind Trump’s appointment of David M. Friedman, an ultra-right American Jewish lawyer, as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. Since long before Trump announced his plans for move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Friedman has pushing for it.

Kushner has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to projects to build Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. These settlements are illegal under international law and intended to block the creation of any Palestinian state. Kushner and his wife also belong to the powerful Orthodox Jewish movement Chabad-Lubavitch, which has been a major sponsor of West Bank settlements.

Chabad views Orthodox Jews as the only true Jews. The movement’s literature says that it is Orthodox Jews’ “duty to exterminate [Jewish infidels] with one’s own hands.” Chabad’s founder and spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, proclaimed that the “bodies” of Jews and non-Jews “should be considered completely different species.”

“An even greater difference exists,” he said, “in regard to the soul … a non-Jewish soul comes from three Satanic spheres, while the Jewish soul stems from holiness.” A Jewish soul being divine, “a Jew was not created.”

Rabbi Schneerson and his followers always supported Israeli wars and opposed Israel’s withdrawal from any of its occupied territories. They believe that divine favors attend Jews who occupy and settle lands which, the Bible says, was once inhabited by Hebrews.

Allan Brownfeld, editor of the American Council for Judaism’s periodical, Issues, says that “thousands of [Schneerson’s] Israeli followers played an important role in the election victory of Binyamin Netanyahu” as Israeli prime minister. “Among the religious settlers in the occupied territories, the Chabad Hassids constitute one of the most extreme groups. Baruch Goldstein, the mass murderer of Palestinians, was one of them.” Schneerson died in 1994, but his followers adhere to his beliefs and zealously pursue his projects.

Palestinians are worried about Kushner’s appointment as Trump’s senior adviser, his peacemaking stint, and his affiliation with Chabad. They suspect that his anticipated initiative to engage them in peace talks with Israel is intended to be a smokescreen behind which the Trump administration would be helping Israel to tighten its grip on the West Bank.

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

 

 

Hijab and Muslim women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

‘Islamic bomb’ scare, again!

“Persuading Pakistan to rein in its nuclear weapons program should be an international priority.

“The major world powers spent two years negotiating an agreement to restrain the nuclear ambitions of Iran, which doesn’t have a single nuclear weapon. Yet there has been no comparable investment of effort in Pakistan.”

The New York Times Editorial Board

HERE AGAIN is an ‘Islamic bomb’ alert! And the scaremongers this time aren’t some Islamophobic American politicians, but the editorial board of America’s greatest newspaper.

We just saw that American and European governments get struck by amnesia when someone asks about Israel’s formidable nuclear arsenal of 200 or more nukes, but they did not rest until quarantining Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.

The same way they and the “free press” in the West have been scaring the Westerners about Pakistan’s ‘Islamic bomb’ for four decades. They have been doing so ever since Pakistan’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto regime felt compelled to begin exploring a bomb after India had detonated its first nukes in 1974. Three years earlier, the Indira Gandhi government in New Delhi had invaded and dismembered old Pakistan. Pakistanis – not just politicians and generals, but everyday workers and shoppers – were scared to death of India getting nuclear bombs, besides having conventional military forces that were three times bigger than Pakistan’s. To allay the widespread panic, one evening Z.A. Bhutto went before TV cameras to assure his nation that he would do all he could to counter Indian nukes.

“We shall eat grass,” he paraphrased an earlier comment in his innately colorful language, “and make the bomb, and fight India for a thousand years.”

The phrase “eat grass” was meant to show how hard it would be for impoverished Pakistanis to spare their meagre resources to build a nuclear deterrent against the India, but that after India had once broken up their old country, people in what was left of Pakistan had no choice but pursue the bomb.

Yet the Times editorial board is mum about India’s nuclear weapons stockpile, and wants Pakistan to unilaterally disarm!

It reminds me of the late Pakistani statesman Mahmud Ali, who had been angered by Henry Kissinger’s brutal pressure on Z.A. Bhutto to dismantle Pakistan’s nascent nuclear program. In his August 1976 meeting with Bhutto in Lahore, the U.S. secretary of state even warned that the Pakistani prime minister would “make a horrible example of yourself,” if he defied the American instruction. (The quote is from Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography, Daughter of Destiny). Ten months later Gen. Ziaul Haq overthrew the enormously popular Pakistani prime minister and hanged him in 1979, despite intense international pressure to spare the life of the democratically elected prime minister.

Meanwhile, about two months after the fateful Kissinger-Bhutto meeting, Mahmud Ali, a former minister in the Z.A. Bhutto Cabinet, had told me on the phone from Islamabad about Bhutto’s decision to brush aside “the enormous American pressure to terminate our nuclear program.”

“See,” added my political mentor, “Christians can have the bombs. Jews can have them. The Hindus can have them, too. And Russian and Chinese Communists also can. No problem. If only a poor Muslim country tries to have a couple of them to defend itself against a mortal enemy … skies would be coming down.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/opinion/sunday/the-pakistan-nuclear-nightmare.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region

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.