The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists by Charles Kurzman. (Oxford University Press, 2011) 204 pages.

Written by admin on August 4th, 2011

Often heard following the 9/11 attacks was the scary prediction that if only one percent of the world’s one billion Muslims joined al-Qaeda, at least one million terrorists would soon be launching attacks against the U.S. and its allies. The subsequent years have shown that forecast to be pure hogwash, tinged with a little anti-Islamic bigotry. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism, worldwide terrorist acts from 2005 through 2008 – excluding attacks occurring in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan – averaged about 6,600 yearly, hardly the number you’d expect from a million person assault.

Nor has the United States been inundated by Islamist inspired terror attacks. According to Would-Be Warriors, 2010 Rand Corporation study, from 9/11 to the end of 2009, 46 publicly reported cases of domestic radicalization and recruitment to jihadist terrorism occurred in the United States. Only 125 persons were identified in the 46 cases and half of the cases involved only a single individual. The report’s author, Brian Jenkins, one of the toughest but fair-minded analysts on terrorism, also pointed out that “the volume of domestic terrorist activity was much greater in the 1970s than it is today.” That decade, Jenkins calculated, saw 60 to 70 terrorist incidents, most of them bombings, on U.S. soil every year—a level of terrorist activity 15 to 20 times that seen in most of the years since 9/11, even counting foiled plots as incidents.

Equally specious have been the repeated claims that while “all Muslims are not terrorists, all terrorists are Muslim.” The FBI’s publication Terrorism 2002 -2005 calculated that Islamic extremists accounted for only six percent of all terrorist acts on U.S. soil from 1980 to 2005; in contrast, Jewish radical groups accounted for seven percent, Latino groups 42 percent, and “extreme left wing groups” 24 percent, and “others” 16 percent.

This is not to dismiss the real threat that domestic terrorism poses to the United States or to minimize the tens of thousands of individuals killed or injured in worldwide terrorist attacks. But these figures plainly deflate the alarmist “Muslim as terrorist” hyperbola that continues to abound a decade after 9/11. The anticipated million man march of al-Qaeda suicide bombers was a delusion but continues in personalities as diverse as Sean Hannity, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Glenn Beck.

Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wants to know why, if roughly one-fifth of mankind is Muslim and they all supposedly hate the West and embrace martyrdom, are there not more Muslim terrorists? The short answer is that the vast majority of Muslims – well more than 99 percent – reject al-Qaeda’s goals.  Kurzman points to numerous opinion polls evincing that the number of Muslims eager for a theocratic state ruled by Sharia law is a distinctly small minority.  Secularists number a fifth to half of the population in various Muslim majority countries and liberal Muslims – those supporting an Islamic government following democratic procedures – account for about half the populace, including in countries such as Saudi Arabia. A 2007 Pew Research poll found that majorities in 13 out of 14 Muslim societies agreed that religion should be kept separate from government policy.

Kurzman wants the American public to “turn down the volume on terrorism debates” and “put the threat of Islamist terrorism in perspective.” Given how the U.S. media immediately assumed that the slaughter in Norway was perpetrated by Islamists, he faces a towering, up hill battle. But Kurzman offers convincing arguments for those willing to listen. The surprising numbers of opinion polls that regularly monitor public attitudes in Arab and Muslim communities evince support for his views. They show that the vast majority of Muslims are repulsed by terror attacks against civilians and that such acts turn public opinion against al-Qaeda and its affiliates. He also introduces the idea of “radical sheik” to explain to why internet forums and young Arab musical groups laud Islamist attacks on the U.S. and the West. Young Muslims, he counsels, express sympathy for “Bin Ladin and his ilk as heroes of anti-imperialism and Islamic authenticity – without actually wanting these revolutionary movements to succeed.” This widespread “symbolic endorsement” of radical Islam, Kurzman points out, has “not translate into support for revolutionary goals or potential collaboration with terrorism.” Radical Islamists appear to have the upper hand in Muslim communities because so long as they use violence, “their visibility far outweighs their numbers.”

Kurzman makes the case that radical Islamists are under ideological siege and losing the war of ideas among Muslims. Socially conservative but non-violent Muslim televangelists attract thousands of more adherents than the barkers of revolutionary Islam. Eclipsing radical Islamist doctrine has been the evolving tradition of liberal, democratic Islamic thought that has sought to modernize Muslim majority countries while paying fidelity to socially conservative Islam. Kurzman’s critique of liberal and revolutionary Islam should be mandatory reading for anyone insisting that Islam inherently stifles creative political thinking or condemns its adherents to a backward, violent theology. Progressive Islamic opinion has been publicly stifled in the Arab world partly by the murderous attacks of radical Islamists but more so by repressive Arab governments that view such voices as threats to their hold on power. Facilitating such silence has been the U.S. and its Western allies. In the U.S., Kurzman points out, such silence has been enforced by ignoring or belittling the proponents of liberal, democratic Islamic thought. “Expert pessimism about the potential for Islamic liberalism,” Kurzman explains, “has a long heritage in the West.”

Kurzman is one of the few analysts to admit that there is little Washington can do to change the Arab world’s deep hostility toward the United States, absent a meaningful change in U.S. foreign policy – a nil prospect.  But most Muslims view the U.S. as a threat to their national security and religion yet still maintain positive attitudes toward American culture and society. Kurzman urges U.S. policymakers to take advantage of the latter. Published before the current “Arab Spring,” he suggests that Washington replace its traditional, narrow question of how a policy will affect U.S. “national interests” with how will a policy effect the groups and movements that share American values and care about democracy. Forging alliances with such groups in the long term will help to secure U.S. national interests and further isolate radical Islamists. Readers seeking insight into the political cross-currents emerging from the Arab Spring without fear mongering rhetoric over radical Islam would do well to read The Missing Martyrs.

 

The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris by Peter Beinart. (New York: HarperCollins, 2010). 482 pp. Reviewed by Mel Gurtov.

Written by admin on June 26th, 2011

In this Council on Foreign Relations publication, Peter Beinart presents another in a long line of critics of American foreign policy who take aim at exceptionalism.  His critique falls into the “liberal” camp; it does not seek to follow in the footsteps of Noam Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, or any other radical dissection.  But like them, Beinart directly addresses the question why U.S. leaders, regardless of party, persist in intervening abroad to spread American values and secure supposedly vital interests.

The analysis was completed as Barack Obama took office, so the George W. Bush administration is the most recent one discussed.  In addition, Beinart also devotes particular attention to the presidencies of Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Johnson—not just to the decision makers, but also to the foreign-policy intellectuals who stood behind them and gave policy a veneer of establishment authority.  As Beinart sees it, hubris is the fundamental problem—an unstoppable virus to which, when it comes to foreign-policy adventurism, no U.S. leader is immune.  To a greater or lesser degree—he cites FDR and, somewhat strangely, Ronald Reagan (do Central America and the extraordinary nuclear-weapon buildup not count?) as having departed from the norm—all administrations played on the American people’s fears (of communism or terrorism), presumed that the “can-do” spirit would overcome all difficulties, and proceeded to use force abroad in places both important and insignificant to the national interest.

“A wise foreign policy,” Beinart writes, “starts with the recognition that since America’s power is limited, we must limit our enemies.”  The limitations of power, even a superpower’s power, are the pivotal element in his analysis.  If U.S. leaders recognized those limitations, he argues, our fears would not take over clarity of thinking and purpose.  What America needs is another George Kennan—someone who never allowed ideology or idealism to lead the country into crusades; someone whose area expertise created clarity about the enemy’s own limitations.  Evidently, Henry Kissinger need not apply.

Might greater humility about what the United States can accomplish abroad and a larger role for country and regional expertise undermine what the author calls “assumptions about American omnipotence”?  These changes are no doubt necessary.  But are they sufficient?  Examining Beinart’s analysis of the Iraq invasion in 2003 provides some answers.

Beinart’s case study is strongest when discussing Bush’s personal motives and Colin Powell’s beleaguered situation.  And Beinart is undoubtedly correct, as so many inside studies have determined, about the deeper forces that explain the Iraq invasion: the cockiness of US leaders; Bush’s idealism about spreading freedom and democracy; and a pervasiveness blindness to Middle East history and culture at the highest level.  Still, Beinart’s study of the Iraq war would be more compelling if he had delved into other domestic sources of US policy, such as bureaucratic politics (for example, the pressure placed on the intelligence community to mold its findings to conform with official policy, and groupthink in the decision-making process); the role of Middle East oil in US policymaking; Dick Cheney’s promotion of an expanded definition of presidential power; and the neoconservatism movement’s determination, well in advance of 9/11, to push a more militant, specifically Reaganesque, foreign policy (embodied in the Project for the New American Century and the “Vulcans” study group).  Beyond hubris and the hyped fears of terrorism that Beinart so well describes lay the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld team’s effort to firmly establish American hegemony in the Middle East.

Beinart’s conclusion is commendable: America’s real security depends, as FDR once said, on the success of the grand experiment at home.  President Obama’s June 22, 2011 speech on Afghanistan reflected this view, providing some hope that the extraordinary expenditures on two Middle East wars would be in some major part diverted to address the country’s array of economic and social problems.  But don’t hold your breath: Even if some diversion takes place, Pentagon spending will continue its upward path, arms transfers to repressive regimes such as Pakistan’s will go forward, and the prerogatives of presidential power will continue to be used to override legal and legislative barriers.  Thus, the beat goes on.

Mel Gurtov  is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Oregon and Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective.  He previously served on the research staff of the RAND Corporation (1966-71), where he was co-author of the Pentagon Papers.  He has published twenty books and numerous articles on East Asian affairs, U.S. foreign policy, and global affairs.

 

Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East by Asef Bayat (Stanford University Press, 2010) 304 pages, index. Reviewed by Kaveh Ehsani.

Written by admin on April 27th, 2011

What a timely book! Or should we call it prophetic? Published a year before the uprisings that have begun reshaping the contours of the region’s authoritarian politics, this book offers great insights into, and a provocative comparative and analytical framework for comprehending the often overlooked social dynamics underlying the current upheavals across North Africa and the Middle East. Bayat takes aim at debunking two prevalent tropes. The first is the idea of Middle Eastern exceptionalism, the widespread notion that the politics of this particular region is uniquely immune to democratization and popular sovereignty due to intrinsic political deficiencies and cultural inertia (read Islam, patriarchy, the corruption caused by petrolic wealth, etc.). The second is the notion that these societies are inherently weak and bereft of the autonomous social organizations and the culture of citizenship needed to challenge corrupt authoritarian states, the intolerant sectarian violence of radical Islamists, or the ravages of neo-liberal economics.

This book challenges the resulting conventional wisdom of many experts and pundits, both local and international, that in this region meaningful change can come only as a result of external pressure (military, economic, political) or internal violence. Instead, Life as Politics offers a brilliant alternative perspective on public life by taking seriously the daily lives and the social agency of ordinary people, hence its subtitle “How ordinary people change the Middle East.” Bayat’s central argument is that formal social movements, like trade unions, student organizations, political parties etc. have little chance of withstanding the repression of authoritarian states. When states are challenged openly, they respond with violence. This intolerance is not inherent to this region, but a byproduct of geopolitical calculations, especially of the self-interested western support of Israel as well as the dictatorial regimes that control the region’s oil resources. In spite of repression and chronic maldevelopment, the politics of the region are under constant challenge, not necessarily through the organized resistance of social movements, but through what Bayat calls the “non-movements” of ordinary people pursuing their self interests in the public domain.

By “non-movements” the author means “the collective actions of non-collective actors” (pp. 14-20) – the urban poor taking over public spaces for informal housing or street vending, the unemployed engaged in the informal economy, the housewives empowered through engagement in neighborhood and informal social services, young people aspiring to normal life chances by seeking fun in spite of the moral condemnation of Islamists or state authorities, etc. What distinguishes these non-movements from formal political challenges to the existing order is the fact that they are driven not by organized leadership, formal organization, or specific ideologies, but by the atomistic and self-interested practices of daily routines.  They involve vast numbers of ordinary urban subaltern subjects of all kind whose common practices of survival and their pursuit of individual life chances and material security undermine the rigid and undemocratic political architecture of police states. The recent events in Iran following the 2009 election, and then in Tunisia and Egypt, and the subsequent wildfires of public discontent across the region, seem to confirm Bayat’s arguments.

In spite of its theoretical contribution, especially the focus on the notion of “non-movements” of ordinary people as political agency, this is not a book of pure theory. Far from it! Bayat’s strength has always been a combination of accessible and lucidly argued theoretical sophistication, accompanied by rigorous comparative empirical research and analysis. Most of the chapters of this book have been previously published, but here they have been selected specifically to support and expand the book’s central theme. The introduction, titled “The art of presence”, is an original essay in which the author presents his main theoretical arguments. This important essay will become, rightly, the centerpiece of much debate about the nature of social agency in the region. Chapter 2 is a seminal critique and debunking of the 2002 UN Arab Human Development Report, an important document that supports the Middle East exceptionalism discourse. Part 1 of the book (chapters 3-7) titled “Social non-movements” analyzes the “quite encroachment of the ordinary” daily life by the young, the urban poor, social activists, and women. Part 2 (chapters 8-12) titled “Street politics and the political street” analyzes the spaces of urban life and how ordinary people’s activities reclaim the city and the streets from neo-liberal developers, intolerant Islamists, and authoritarian states. Part 3 looks at the prospects of political change, especially by focusing on the emergence and the discursive development of “post-Islamism”, the intellectual and social movement of the pious activists and thinkers who want a place for religion in political and public life, but not at the expense of human rights and democracy.

Life as Politics is written in a clear and accessible prose. It is a wonderful book to use in a multitude of interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate courses on social movements, the Middle East, urban sociology, and political economy. Its insights into the micro dynamics of the Middle East were prescient and anyone interested in finding a provocative, insightful, and timely analysis of the ongoing transformations in this region will be rewarded by reading this book. I cannot but endorse it most enthusiastically.

Having said this, I also have some critical remarks to make. Bayat’s notion of “non-movements” as a sort of emancipatory politics is certainly thought provoking, but also problematic. Liberal and utilitarian political theories are imbued with the notion of atomistic self-interested individuals who, while selfishly pursuing their personal happiness, inadvertently benefit the common good not through design and benevolence, but through the unintended consequences of their fragmented actions. These are the arguments of Adam Smith, J.S. Mill, and James Madison in the Federalist Papers (Not to mention Hayek). Indeed, it is hard to argue with the separate elements of Bayat’s argument: Which progressive person of the left would not support destitute urban squatters from claiming land for housing when the state fails miserably to protect their rights and ensure their entitlements as citizens? And it would be difficult not to support the rights of the young and the unemployed to don fashionable outfits and turn officially solemn religious festivals into public parties and festive occasions. But “non-movements” do not necessarily lead to democratic empowerment or a more just society. Urban squatters do not resolve the pressing housing question. At best, they alleviate the plight of the individual squatters by turning what had been common property into the private property of the lucky few. This is dispossession of the commons by another means. Young Iranian supporters of the Green movement may have displayed great integrity by their adherence to non-violence, but the apparent absence/rejection of serious ‘ideological’ debates within this movement may reflect the hegemony of neo-liberal ideas about the economy and the market rather than a sign of non-sectarianism.

To claim and to show how ordinary people’s daily routines undermine the tyranny of the markets, authoritarian states, and moralist Islamists is vitally important. Life as Politics convincingly debunks the orientalist myth of Middle East exceptionalism by showing that there is indeed politics and agency among the subaltern. Whether this political agency of ordinary people’s daily struggles can develop an institutionalized form of democratic politics, however, will require good old fashioned political organizing and ideological battles. I don’t think Bayat is advocating a liberal-utilitarian model of politics here, but the notion of ‘non-movements’ needs a more rigorous and critical articulation.

Kaveh Ehsani is an assistant professor of international studies at DePaul University and an editor of Middle East Report

 

“Does Terrorism Work?” by Eric D. Gould and Esteban F. Klor, Quarterly Journal of Economics (2010)

Written by admin on March 30th, 2011

That governments never negotiate with terrorists is a refrain well worn but false. Two Israeli scholars have now challenged the veracity of the parallel argument – that terrorism does not coerce governments into changing their policies. In the first systematic examination of whether terrorism is an effective strategy to achieve political ends, they conclude that Palestinian terror attacks forced Israel to accommodate Palestinian goals. Terror attacks “significantly affects the preferences and attitudes of Jewish Israelis” and the attacks “induced the local population to exhibit a higher willingness to grant territorial concessions.”  But at some point the violence reaches a tipping point where Israeli attitudes harden and Israeli opinion refuses further thought of concession.

Writing in the October 2010 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Professors Eric Gould and Eseban Klor compared over time Jewish Israeli opinion and civilian Israeli fatalities based on statistical data derived from political attitude surveys of Israeli citizens conducted from 1969. They determined with the use of regression analysis that “terrorism brought about a leftward shift of the entire political map in Israel over the last twenty years, including the position of right-wing parties who are traditionally less willing to grant territorial concessions to the Palestinians.”  Terrorism prompted Israeli voters to move to rightwing parties but those parties in turn moved “leftward” in their political views, by which Gould and Klor mean they moderated their political stance.  Left-leaning groups supported right-wing parties “only because the right-wing parties are moving to the left.” The “Likud’s position in 2009,” the authors point out, “is to the left of the left-wing Labor party’s platform in 1988.”

Gould and Klor conclude their study reveals that “terrorism can be an effective strategy” because right-wing Israeli parties were forced to concede “concession to the Palestinians.” But while the rhetoric of Israel’s right-wing parties may have changed, the facts on the ground expose an entirely different reality. The Likud may be talking the language of territorial concession but it consistently has pursued the goal of territorial annexation.

Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has been relentless. Since 1993 when Israel signed the Oslo Accords, Israel’s West Bank settler population grew from 116,300 to 289,600 in 2009. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem puts the total settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem at over 300,000. Only photographs can capture the reality of settler colonization in the West Bank.

Land confiscation in the occupied territories has been persistent, with Jewish settlers now holding about 42 percent of the land.  A map revealing the extensive swath of West Bank land that Israel is permitted to control for “security” purposes under the Oslo Accords is jaw dropping and underscores claims that the territorial compromise as envisioned by Israel and the United States subjugates Palestinians to a Bantustan-like existance.  Human Rights Watch documented the existence of two-tier system of laws, rules, and services that Israel operates in the West Bank that favors Jewish settlers but imposes harsh conditions on Palestinians.  The cumulative result of such policies, concludes University of Chicago’s  John Mearsheimer, is that the “two-state solution is now a fantasy” as Israel incorporates the occupied territories into a ‘Greater Israel.’”

Gould and Klor correctly concluded that Palestinian violence  successfully coerced Israeli pubic opinion to accept territorial compromise, but the suggestion that it was an “effective strategy” toward achieving Palestinian independence is woefully misplaced.

 

Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, and the United States: U.S. Congressional Research Service Reports

Written by admin on February 2nd, 2011

The U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) is an often overlooked gold mine of information on U.S. policy on an array of topics, including foreign affairs.  A division of the Library of Congress, it offers analysis of issues for members of congress and their staff and is written by individuals knowledgeable in their chosen field. While some of its reports are classified, most can be found on line.

Reports issued by CRS’s division of foreign affairs are predictably stilted but their descriptive content is indispensable for those seeking data on U.S. foreign military and economic assistance, succinct histories of U.S. foreign relations, and summarizes of U.S. policy concerns toward select countries. It’s a bonanza of information collected in one place. The Middle East division has been particularly busy in recent months, having issued 12 reports in January 2011 and December 2010, compared to their monthly average of two. Issues include political reform in Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait, U.S. relations toward Syria and Lebanon, background reports on Hezbollah and Hamas, and U.S. foreign aid to Israel.

The most recent releases are Tunisia: Recent Developments and Policy Issues and Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations. The 13 page Tunisia report was written soon after President Ben Ali fled the country and highlights following the Tunisian uprising the “potential implications for Congress related to the oversight to U.S.-Tunisian bilateral relations and assistance.” It offered the understated prediction that “many analysts believe the events in Tunisia could affect political stability in other countries in the region with authoritarian-leaning, Western-backed regimes.”

The 28 page report on Egypt, released January 18, 2011 at the rise of the Egyptian rebellion, presents an overview of Egypt’s political structure and parties and U.S.-Egyptian relations, including a chart showing U.S. aid to Egypt from 1948 to the present.  It recognizes the tension between some U.S. policy makers advocating an “orderly” transfer of power from Mubarak to new leadership that insures “Egypt’s peace with Israel, U.S. access to the Suez Canal, and general bilateral military cooperation” and others wishing to see in Egypt “a genuine democracy even if it empowers the Muslim Brotherhood.”

CRS also issued in early January 2011 Iran Sanctions, a report detailing the evolution of international sanctions against Iran.  It succinctly reviews the myriad of U.S. sanctions legislation, U.N. resolutions, and action by other countries against Iran.  It outlines the policies that target Iran’s energy sector, restrict its ability to make or import gasoline, and isolate Iran from the international financial system. The report states that by “all accounts,” sanctions is “having a growing effect on Iran’s economy” by intensifying “the effects of Iran’s economic mismanagement and key bottlenecks.” But the CRS study concedes that a “consensus [opines] that sanctions have not, to date, caused such an Iranian policy shift.” It suggests that the White House and Congress may be promoting Iran’s domestic opposition by “emphasizing measures that would sanction Iranian officials who are human rights abusers, facilitate the democracy movement’s access to information, and express outright U.S. support for the opposition.”

The report’s author, Kenneth Katzman, is prominent among Washington’s Middle East foreign policy establishment and a long time Iran watcher, having started his career at the CIA’s Middle East analytic section and authoring one of the earliest books on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. He has written an extensive series of fact laden CRS publications on Iran, with one title, Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, periodically updated. Glenn Greenwald, however, considers him a neocon whose opinions “reveal the grotesque indifference and banal evil that characterizes much of America’s war-loving Foreign Policy Community.”

 

Palestine: Sixty Years Later: Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank 2008-2009 by Thomas Suarez (Americans for Middle East Understanding, 2010) 112 pages plus photos.

Written by admin on December 30th, 2010

Individuals insisting that the Palestinians reject peace with Israel found affirmation in a report analyzing Palestinian political opinion expressed in social media.  P@lestinian Pulse: What Policymakers Can Learn From Palestinian Social Media, examined an array of West Bank and Gaza-based internet resources to conclude that Hamas exhibited “little desire for a negotiated peace with Israel,” “most Fatah supporters embraced the notion that Israel was an enemy, rather than a peace partner,” and half its members seek “armed conflict and terrorism against Israel.” And if that was not sufficient argument for the Obama Administration to discard the Palestinians, the study warned that Hamas was aligned with “Salafists such as al-Qaeda” and that Iran’s influence in the territories goes unchallenged.

P@lestinian Pulse comports with the views of its sponsoring entity: the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a self-described “policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism” whose policy recommendations echo Likud party viewpoints. The report may be exaggerated hyperbola but there is no dispute that the Palestinians deeply hate their 60 years of Israeli military occupation. An overwhelming majority of Palestinians believe that Israel aspires to annex Palestinian lands, while denying them political rights or expelling them from the West Bank. That P@lestinian Pulse chose not to ask why such hostility toward Israel exists is characteristic of rhetoric that dismisses Palestinians as worthwhile political actors and deeply affects public opinion.

Palestine: Sixty Years Later provides a forceful explanation for Palestinian anger against Israel. It’s a full bore assault against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, rejecting assumptions of symmetry between Israel and Palestine or presumptions that Israel acts in self-defense.  Thomas Suarez thesis is straight-forward: the Zionist movement since its earliest days has sought to cleanse the land of non-Jews. Zionist acceptance of 1948 U.N. partition plan was only a tactical concession and the subsequent 20 years of conflict was geared toward conquering all of Palestine. Israel’s military provokes Arab attacks in order elicit a whole slough of attacks in the name of self-defense. By cloaking every offensive action as a defensive one, Israel successfully reversed the identity of the victim and aggressor. That is why, Suarez explains, statistics demonstrating vastly greater Palestinian casualties and suffering have no meaning in the West. The “peace process,” says Suarez, has always been a distraction from the reality of on-going Israeli aggression, whether it be attacks on Gaza or the settlement construction in the West Bank.

That last claim resonates today as Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu chose settlement construction over continued talks with Palestine Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Likewise, notwithstanding Netanyahu’s endorsement of an emasculated Palestinian state, the official platform of the ruling Likud Party of which he is chairman, “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river” and affirms that Jewish settlement of “Judea and Samaria” “is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.” That the mainstream media considers Likud’s policy statements insufficiently newsworthy to report underscores Suarez’s complaint about a compliant and uncritical media.

Readers may dispute Suarez’s historic critique of Israel but his photographs of contemporary Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank are incontestable. They offer an unnerving portrait of a people and a land under an inconsolable occupation. Israel’s fixed presence in Gaza was replaced by what Suarez makes clear is a suffocating land, air, and sea blockade. Photos illuminate everyday life, depicting children dressed in traditional as well as contemporary dress, at school, playing on the streets, or at home with family. Images of vendors at the seashore and merchants hauling produce on mule-drawn carts adds to the sense of normality. But as the photos shift to scenes of collapsed buildings destroyed during “Caste Lead,” Israel’s 2008 attack on Gaza, a child standing on the rubble of his home, or a family standing next to a UNICEF supplied tent they now call home, it become evident that Gaza is anything but normal. Most unnerving was a photo of a bomb crater so deep that it dwarfed the people standing atop its lip. It suggested the depth of terror the people of Gaza suffered under Caste Lead.  Photos of the tunnels that Gazians rely on for goods and products smuggled from Egypt underscored their everyday hardships.

Separate chapters on East Jerusalem and the West Bank provide similar images telling a similar story: Palestinians at work, at home, and at play but always enveloped in Israel’s intruding occupation. The value of this photo essay lay in its capability to remind its readers that Palestinians are people like themselves, wishing the best for their families, but living under extremely harsh conditions. The photos counter publications such as P@lestinian Pulse that propagates accounts of senseless Palestinian violence. Suarez’s narrative accompanying the photos provides a powerful indictment against Israel’s practices and ultimate goal of erasing the Palestinian presence. Critics rightfully will complain that he is partisan. But images of the military checkpoints, soldiers enforcing Jewish-only neighborhoods in Hebron, and the wall cutting through West Bank communities make clear why Palestinians resist Israel’s occupation.

 

Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War by Andrew J. Bacevich. New York: Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2010. Reviewed by James Roth.

Written by admin on November 30th, 2010

Every US president since President Truman, says Andrew Bacevich, a retired U.S. Army colonel and now a Boston University history professor, has endorsed “the American credo,” a belief that it is up to “the United States – and the United States alone – to lead, save, liberate, and ultimately transform the world.” It is a creed that requires no proof, accepted on faith, and must express itself in practice. This is Bacevich’s third book within four years critiquing American power and this time he explores the rules by which the American creed is expressed.

The rules, characterized as a “sacred trinity,” are “an abiding conviction that the minimum essentials of international peace and order require the United States to maintain a global military presence, to configure its forces for global power projection, and to counter existing or anticipated threats by relying on a policy of global interventionism.” (Emphasis in original). The credo and trinity have been remarkably resilient in the face of misadventures in Cuba, Vietnam and now Iraq and Afghanistan but Bacevich concludes they “constitute the essence of the way that Washington has attempted to govern and police the American Century…. From the era of Harry Truman to the age of Barack Obama, that consensus has remained intact.  It defines the rules to which Washington adheres; it determines the precepts by which Washington rules.”

The book’s title therefore carries a double meaning: Washington rules the world (or tries to), and it follows rules. Much of the book is devoted to the ways in which Washington has failed to rule the world and how it has failed to learn from its failures; but primarily, it is about the changing meaning of the rules.

Bacevich persuasively argues that Washington is now engaged in a state of permanent war.  This has be said by others but Bacevich adds a novel twist by suggesting that since the Korean War, the rules by which the Pentagon played changed from seeking to win wars to that of avoiding defeat, usually by dragging out the conflict for an indeterminable time.  It was during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that permanent war became firmly established. “Not even the most hawkish proponents of American global leadership,” Bacevich observed,”  – not Allen Dulles or Curtis LeMay, not Maxwell Taylor or McGeorge Bundy – had ever proposed committing the United States to a policy of war without foreseeable end.  Yet over the course of George W. Bush’s presidency, open-ended war became accepted policy, hardly more controversial than the practice of stationing U.S. troops abroad.”

Bacevich concludes that such conduct simply won’t work.  The credo cannot be fulfilled by military means, and the heavy reliance on military operations threatens national bankruptcy and diverts resources of all kinds from productive domestic projects.  The credo itself is suspect, given that it requires a certain American exceptionalism and will inevitably collide with the aspirations of foe and friend alike.

A serious weakness in the book is Bacevich’s insistence on seeing the conduct of war only as a product of decisions by politicians and military brass, principally the latter.  He levels severe criticisms at some popular figures, including a withering critique of Gen. David Petraeus and his counterinsurgency handbook. But nowhere are economic factors mentioned.  In a discussion of Eisenhower’s farewell address, the corporate side of the military-industrial-complex equation gets short shrift, and it never comes up again.  The military requirements of corporate globalization never figure in his account.

Another short coming of the book is the absence of any discussion of the geopolitical significance of the Middle East and of US interests in the region. The discussion of Iraq focuses wholly on the conduct of the war with no comment on the economic and political reasons for going to war.  This omission is inexplicable, particularly when Alan Greenspan admitted in 1997 that the prime motive for the war against Iraq was oil. The absence of such questioning avoids discussion of potentially overwhelming contributing factors in the development of a policy of permanent war. Similarly, not taking into account the diverse and fractured cultural and political-economic features in the Middle East sidesteps discussion of one of the most influential considerations in determining why military forces will not succeed there.

The absence of a broader context precludes a full recognition of why the US has become so dependent on the military to conduct its foreign relations. But the value of Washington Rules lies in illuminating the personalities that shaped U.S. security policy and built the institutions that carried out that policy and which today sustains the Washington consensus for permanent war.

***

James Roth is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Regis University in Denver, Colorado

 

Major Farran’s Hat: The Untold Story of the Struggle to Establish the Jewish State by David Cesarani (Cambridge, MA 2009) 218 pp.+71 pages of notes.. Reviewed by Paul Scham

Written by admin on November 4th, 2010

“Serious” history and murder mysteries are generally considered two distinct genres.  As a historian who enjoys a good thriller or mystery, I know the difference; the former I use for research or assign it to my classes; the latter I read before I go to sleep (unless it’s really good and I stay awake to read it, usually with unfortunate results the next morning).

“Major Farran’s Hat”, however, scrambles up the genres and can’t be classified as either; making it necessarily both.  This book, which dismantles the firewall between two very different kinds of writing, also illustrates why they should normally be kept separate, though in this case the marriage mostly works.

Author David Cesarani, a British academic historian of Zionism and Jewish history, has written this book with impeccable use of the usual scholarly apparatus (41 pages of endnotes and 13 of bibliography).  The book focuses on a little-known episode in the frenzied period in 1947 when the British Mandate over Palestine was coming to its end, under attack (in very different ways) by the Hagana, Etzel (the “Irgun”) and Lehi (the “Stern Gang”).

Alexander Rubowitz was a 16 year old supporter of Lehi, the most violent of the Jewish militias, which specialized in kidnapping and murdering British soldiers and civilians alike and which was therefore particularly loathed by the Mandatory authorities.  On May 6, 1947, a year before the State of Israel was proclaimed, he was abducted while distributing placards and murdered by a British patrol, led by Major Roy Farran.  The subsequent emergence of the story, the formal acquittal of Farran, and Lehi’s revenge (including a letter bomb that killed Roy Farran’s brother Rex), are recounted in this book in a context which makes their connection with the world-historical events unfolding around them breathtakingly clear.

Cesarani asserts that “the scandal that erupted around [these events] shook the British Mandate to its foundations and helped erode whatever legitimacy remained for British rule”. Perhaps somewhat overstated. But perhaps not. It clearly added fuel to fires already burning. As someone who has studied and taught this period for years, I must admit I had never heard of it.  It deserves to be better known as a remarkable vignette that encapsulates much of the violence and anger of this period.  However, since Caesarani does not even attempt to give Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle a run for their money, the obscurity in which it has heretofore dwelt is not likely to be seriously endangered.

Cesarani has clearly done his homework.  We are walked through the backgrounds of the British officials most involved with the case, especially Major Farran himself, as well as the mandatory police and military infrastructure.  The post-World War II–pre-Independence atmosphere is recreated with the high drama it deserves.  And the plot’s twists and turns are narrated with (almost) a novelist’s skill and (definitely) a historian’s factual precision.

However, the murder-mystery atmosphere is negated by the book’s beginning on page 1 with a factual account of the murder, so we are in no suspense about who the murderer really is.  Trying to understand why he put it there, in clear violation of Mystery Writing 101, I realized the author really had little choice.  Even though Farran was actually tried by a British court-martial in September 1947, a few months after the incident, and acquitted for lack of evidence, neither Cesarani nor his readers have the slightest doubt of Farran’s guilt.  Technically, there were problems with admissibility of evidence and with the fact that Rubowitz’s body was never found, which were cited in the acquittal.  But Cesarani is clear that the British authorities, by then desperate to relinquish the Mandate and leave, had no desire to have one of their own found guilty of murder in the Mandate’s 11th hour.

The book works as a provocative historical footnote.  Its documentation is superb, its reasoning is first-rate and its location in the confluence of great events is outstanding.  Nevertheless, it doesn’t have the suspense, motivation, conflicting alibis, and multiple suspects that usually mark a first-rate thriller.  Cesarani’s fundamental constraint, that he lacked the novelist’s freedom to play fast and loose with the facts, means the book proceeds slowly and methodically, fine for history but slow for mystery.

However, to be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will recommend it to friends.  But I think anyone with any interest in the period will almost certainly enjoy it, with the added bonus of having no problem with not being able to put it down.

“Wait!” you say.  “Don’t stop now!  What about the hat?”  “What with the strange and clumsy title?”

Simple.  Didn’t you figure it out? Major Farran left his hat at the scene of the abduction, by which he was traced.  Without it, Rubowitz’s disappearance would almost certainly never have been solved though, in my view, this wouldn’t have changed history.

***

Paul Scham is a Professor of Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, and teaches courses on the Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

The Muslim Revolt: A Journey through Political Islam by Roger Hardy (Columbia University Press, 2010) Reviewed by Hicham Safieddine

Written by admin on October 22nd, 2010

In his introduction to The Muslim Revolt: A Journey through Political Islam, Roger Hardy asks the hard and pertinent question “Why another book about political Islam.” As a journalist who has covered political Islam for decades, he hopes his book will explain political Islam to a public that remains “perplexed” and “maddened” by this subject matter.  The author offers a succinct and informed summary of the political and intellectual history and present-day conditions of the Islamic world. His argument is the culmination of three decades of travels and encounters in the Islamic World and Hardy weaves his intellectual and physical journey into two intertwined narratives. The first is that of exploring the role of Islam in local and regional states and societies such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, East Asia and East Africa. The second is a much more daunting task: building an “overarching narrative” that tells the “story of Islam” from its beginnings in the time of European colonialism to the emergence of what he terms the global jihadists of today.

Assuming the existence of such an overarching narrative creates an unresolved tension in the book. Hardy is empathetic to several of the political struggles across this world and exhibits a keen sense of understanding of the nuances shaping them. He recognizes the problem of such an endeavour is the unavoidability of generalizations while trying to shun, as he puts it, endorsing Muslim exceptionalism that both critics and apologists of Islamism fall into.  This exceptionalism is the assumption that Islamic societies are uniquely afflicted by some condition that separates them from the rest of the global society and they cannot be understood within the same socio-economic and political frameworks applied to other non-Muslim societies. Yet, it is not clear how Hardy can avoid such exceptionalism when he employs the concept of a “Muslim Revolt” to refer to phenomena as wide-ranging and disparate as the intellectual revival movement of the late 19th century by reformers like Muhammad Abduh and the domestic strife in Indonesia in today’s world.

Moreover, Hardy’s suggestion that the age-old adage of Muslims revolting due to some unfinished business of accepting modernity reinforces the erroneous notion of the Islamic World’s exceptionalism. Early attempts at modernization in the 18th and 19th century resulted in numerous clashes between Islamic communities and the West but it was not on account of irrational resistance to change. What sparked local reaction to Western-styled modernization was mainly the question of control and power. For example, laying out a railway across Greater Syria was not an issue in itself under the reign of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. It was who got to control the railway and the impact it had on routes of trade, surplus extraction, and the autonomy of local powerbrokers.

Much of the same can be said about today’s conflicts. Framing these conflicts within their political and economic dimensions would have gone a long way to dispel the exaggerated notion of Muslim exceptionalism. The language and discourse by which these conflicts are articulated in the Islamic world may very well be different compared to other societies. But why turn this into the defining feature, as Hardy does? Identifying problems common to Muslim and non-Muslim countries caused by globalization would have countered beliefs – that Hardy clearly rejects – that Muslim societies are incapable of democracy or orderly social change.

Hardy explores the colonial role of the Dutch for example in Southeast Asia but tells his reader very little about the specific interests and operations of British colonialism.  Discussion of the current American Imperialism does not go beyond the general reference to oil and security.

One of the thorniest and most contested conflict that is central to addressing the roots of the “Muslim Revolt,” is the Palestinian Israeli conflict. Hardy admits that. Yet, it is conspicuously absent from the book. Islamic movements engaged in this conflict, such as Hizbullah and Hamas, have captured the attention of Islamic and political scholars as well as the public imagination. But they are mentioned only in passing. Chapters on other movements like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Islamists of Turkey and Iran, or the salafis of Saudi Arabia do provide informative analysis and interesting anecdotes about the people behind these movements. But they indirectly privilege the notion that the problem between the “West” and “Islam” is one of understanding and not a complex clash of interests and ideologies often couched in ethical and moral paradigms easier to justify and defend than the driving forces beneath them.

Shortly after 9/11, one might have welcomed Hardy’s book as a starting point to explore the question of political Islam among a shocked and apprehensive public in the West. But one decade – and a plethora of books and articles on the subject – later, readers might expect a lot more than that, something Hardy commendably aims for but falls short of.

Hicham Safieddine is a journalist and researcher of Middle East based inToronto, Canada.

 

Jewish Terrorism in Israel by Ami Pedahzur and Arie Perliger (Columbia University Press. 2009) Reviewed by Cheryl A. Rubenberg

Written by admin on September 15th, 2010

Jewish Terrorism in Israel analyzes most of what the authors have defined as “the 309 Jewish terrorist attacks between 1932 and 2008,” hypothesizing that while acts of terror may result from vengeance, more importantly they occur in the social context of “networks.” To illustrate their thesis they provide charts of detailed networks of the Jewish Underground, the Kahane Network, and the Amir Brothers Network. They are especially concerned with the structures and processes related to terrorism, and state in conclusion: “The case studies investigated in this book illustrate how counterculture communities based on totalistic ideologies are breeding grounds for religious terrorist groups.”

Methodologically the writers have relied on four prominent distinctions to identify an individual or group as terrorist: the use of violence; a political motive that motivates the violence; an intention to strike fear among the victims and their community; and the victims must be civilians or non-combatants. The databases from which their information was gathered included a vast array of official documents, interviews with former terrorists, civil and spiritual leaders as well as “comprehensive surveys of the communities where terrorist groups originated.” Also collected was “detailed information on each of the 309 Jewish terrorist attacks perpetrated in Palestine and the State of Israel between 1932 and 2008.” (Emphasis added.)  Implying that there were 309 attacks in total during those 66 years is a major underestimation and signals a chronic shortcoming of the book when it comes to identifying Jewish terrorist acts; there are nearly as many terrorist attacks in the West Bank every year.

To suggest that Jewish terrorism has existed for all time and to reinforce the perception about the unbroken link between modern Israel and its ancient imagined past, Pedahzur and Perliger devote most of their first chapter to the terrorist groups that fought Hellenistic and Roman rule in Palestine — the Hashmonai revolt, the Zealots, and the Sicarians. Then they jump to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which are covered in a scant page and a half. The second chapter deals mainly with the Etzel (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Gang). Some of the operations of these groups are mentioned, overwhelmingly those against the British, although the authors note that Etzel “. . . terrorize[d] Palestinian citizens[sic] in the attempt to sow fear in their communities . .” The assassination of Lord Moyne is detailed and the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte is mentioned. Most of the massacres (e.g. Dayr Yasin) against Palestinians are omitted. This chapter presents Jewish terrorism as part of the struggle against British colonialism in the establishment of a “sovereign and democratic Jewish state” while almost entirely neglecting the terrorism against Palestinians.

Subsequent chapters examine other specific terrorist incidents. The 1980 assassination attempt against three Palestinian mayors was posited as a vengeful response to a Palestinian terrorist attack (i.e., the killing of six yeshiva students in Hebron) but not once do they suggest that a Palestinian attack was revenge for an Israeli action. Palestinian terrorism is presented in a vacuum throughout the text (the Occupation is barely acknowledged) until the final chapter. The authors further argue that the attacks on the mayors were part of a violent campaign by Jewish groups to overturn the Camp David accords and prove to the Israeli government that their opposition was a force with which to be reckoned.

Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 massacre of 29 Muslims at prayer is situated in a network of Kahanists and radical rabbis in Kiryat Arba (e.g. Baruch Marzel and Moshe Levinger). The authors essentially adopted the findings of the State Commission of Inquiry that concluded besides Goldstein’s “deep distress and frustration at the implementation of the Oslo Accords,” vengeance was also a motivation because of “continuing Palestinian violence against the settlers, which he saw as a direct result of the peace agreements and the Israeli surrender to Palestinian demands.” Pedahzur and Perliger failed to note, however, that there was a minimum of Palestinian violence against Israelis at the time and Goldstein was a known racist who, when serving as an IDF physician, refused to treat non-Jews. Their main analysis of Goldstein’s massacre involves the Kahanist counterculture, which they detail extensively and of which Goldstein was “a central figure.”

In chapter five the authors shift to Jewish violence against Jewish Israelis and the terrorism of radical settlements plus the Bat Ayin Underground that attacked Israelis and Palestinians. Iconoclastic groups are also discussed, such as the Uzi Meshulam Cult, the Ein Kerem Group, and the Lifta Gang.

In their concluding chapter Pedahzur and Perliger compare Jewish terrorism with Islamic terrorism and to a lesser extent Christian terrorism.  They find commonalities among the three but with one significant distinction:  Islamic based terrorist are “more inclination to inflict mass casualties . . . The only aggression committed by Jewish terrorists that could fall into the category of a mass casualty attack by Baruch Goldstein in February 1994, in which twenty-nine people were killed.” (Emphasis added).

The foregoing statement borders on the absurd. Jewish groups have been engaging in mass terrorism since the beginning of the Yishuv through today. Using their aforementioned four distinctions to identify an individual or group as terrorist, it is clear that terrorism can be perpetrated by a state as well as non-state actors. Palestinian scholars have long documented widespread Zionist violence against Palestinian civilians for political purposes during the 1948 War.  The emergence of the “new historians” in Israel has brought the knowledge of such systematic atrocities to a larger audience. Ilan Pappé tells of how “Israeli troops of all backgrounds, ranks and ages” carried out mass killings of Palestinians as part of a campaign to ethnically cleanse the land of Arabs.  According to Benny Morris, the Israelis were responsible for 24 massacres during the war. Its unsettling that Pedahzur and Perliger fail to even mention these events in their study.

During the Yishuv, terrorism was primarily the purview of the Irgun and Stern Group; after the state was formed, terrorism was perpetrated by sub-state actors such as Unit 101 and the Mossad as well as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli Air Force (IAF). Massive retaliatory raids against Palestinian villages in the West Bank and Gaza that began in the 1950s expanded throughout the subsequent 30 years to include whole towns and cities in Lebanon.  These raids purposely targets civilians, constituted collective punishment, and under the authors’ definition, represent terrorist acts.

Pedahzur and Perliger offer useful profiles of individual terrorists and their presentation of terrorist “networks” and how they form and function is particularly insightful.  But their habit of discounting Israeli terrorist violence, be it from irregular forces or sanctioned by the state, greatly limits the book’s pedagogical value.

***

Cheryl A. Rubenberg is formerly an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Florida International University and the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Palestinians in Search of a Just Peace (2003) and is the editor of the Encyclopedia of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2010)

 
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