Iran deal: Break it and you own it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hijab and Muslim women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Gaping cracks in liberalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would he ever wonder why?

Maybe we should follow up on the question another day.

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

 

 

 

 

‘Radical Islam,’ Islam, liberalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

ISIS war beckons kurdish state

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

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

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

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

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

Israeli-Kurdish ties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American betrayal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. bases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Islamic ‘Islamic terrorists’?

It was bloodcurdling!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistan would be created a year later.

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

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

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

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

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

“Ekbar biday de ma ghure ashi

“Hasi hasi porbo phnasi dekhbe bharatbasi….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘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.