Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
Daniel Pipes, in the NY Sun (Sept. 28, 2004):
What do Muslims believe regarding freedom of religious choice? A Koranic verse (2:256) answers: "There is no compulsion in religion"(in Arabic: la ikrah fi'd-din). That sounds clear-cut and the Islamic Center of Southern California insists it is, arguing that it shows how Islam anticipated the principles in the U.S. Constitution. The center sees the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof") as based on concepts in the Koran's nocompulsion verse.
In a similar spirit, a former chief justice of Pakistan, S.A. Rahman, argues that the Koranic phrase contains "a charter of freedom of conscience unparalleled in the religious annals of mankind." To a Western sensibility, this interpretation makes intuitive sense. Thus does Alan Reynolds, an economist at the CATO Institute, write in the Washington Times that the verse signifies the Koran "counsels religious tolerance."
Were it only so simple.
In fact, this deceptively simple phrase historically has had a myriad of meanings. Here are some of them, mostly premodern, deriving from two outstanding recent books, Patricia Crone's "God's Rule: Government and Islam" (Columbia University Press) and Yohanan Friedman's "Tolerance and Coercion in Islam" (Cambridge University Press), augmented by my own research. Proceeding from least liberal to most liberal, the no-compulsion phrase is considered variously to have been:
Abrogated: The passage was overridden by subsequent Koranic verses (such as 9:73 "O Prophet! Struggle against the unbelievers and hypocrites and be harsh with them").
Purely symbolic: The phrase is a description, not an imperative. Islam's truth is so obvious that to coerce someone to become a Muslim does not amount to "compulsion"; or else being made to embrace Islam after defeat in war is not viewed as "compulsion."
- Spiritual, not practical: Governments may indeed compel external obedience, though they of course cannot compel how Muslims think.
- Limited in time and place: It applied uniquely to Jews in Medina in the seventh century.
- Limited to non-Muslims who live under and accept Muslim rule: Some jurists say it applies only to "Peoples of the Book" (Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians); others say it applies to all infidels.
- Excludes some non-Muslims: Apostates, women, children, prisoners of war, and others can indeed be compelled. (This is the standard interpretation that has applied in most times and places).
- Limited to all non-Muslims: Muslims must abide by the tenets of Islam and may not apostatize.
- Limited to Muslims: Muslims may shift from one interpretation of their faith to another (such as from Sunni to Shia), but may not leave Islam.
- Applied to all persons: Reaching the true faith must be achieved through trial and testing, and compulsion undercuts this process. Massive disagreement over a short phrase is typical, for believers argue over the contents of all sacred books, not just the Koran. The debate over the no-compulsion verse has several important implications.
First, it shows that Islam - like all religions - is whatever believers make of it. The choices for Muslims range from Taliban-style repression to Balkan-style liberality. There are few limits; and there is no "right" or "wrong" interpretation. Muslims have a nearly clean slate to resolve what "no compulsion" means in the 21st century.
Conversely, nonspecialists should be very cautious about asserting the meaning of the Koran, which is fluid and subjective. When Alan Reynolds wrote that the no-compulsion verse means the Koran "counsels religious tolerance," he intended well but in fact misled his readers.
Further, many other areas of Islam have parallels to this debate. Muslims can decide afresh what jihad signifies, what rights women have, what role government should play, what forms of interest on money should be banned, plus much else. How they resolve these great issues affects the whole world. Finally, although Muslims alone will make these decisions, Westerners can influence their direction. Repressive elements (such as the Saudi regime) can be set back by a reduced dependence on oil. More liberal Muslims (such as the Ataturkists) can be marginalized by letting an Islamist-led Turkey enter the European Union.
What non-Muslims do also has potentially a great impact on whether "no
compulsion in religion" translates into religious tolerance or permits
(as in the case of Salman Rushdie) a license to kill.
Posted on: Thursday, September 30, 2004 - 17:44
As the presidential debates approach, some anxious Democrats are taking comfort in the five-inch height advantage of their candidate, who stands 6 feet 4 inches to George W. Bush's 5 feet 11 inches. They remember, all too well, the 1988 presidential debates between George H.W. Bush and Michael S. Dukakis.
At the time, the newspaper columnist Charles Krauthammer described the elder Bush as "tall and terrible. He whined. He stumbled. He looked nervous and hyperactive. From the first question about drugs, he was on the defensive." Then Krauthammer also mentioned the results of a focus group of undecided voters convened by The Washington Post, who ultimately leaned toward Bush. After the candidates shook hands, one member had explicitly mentioned the six-inch gap in height.
The focus-group participants had cited other factors, of course, but the possibly fatal handshake was added to the capital's political lore. "Half to two-thirds of what people take away is visual rather than verbal," a Republican pollster told The New York Times in 1996. "It's huge." To some Democrats, that principle implies the need for a physically imposing candidate. After the initial surge of Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, some supporters of rival Democrats stooped to open heightism, deriding Dean as an example of "short man's syndrome."
How did it come to this? Why is stature now considered such a political advantage -- or liability?
It's easy to blame the tube for fostering a flight from serious issues into glitter, froth, and measuring tape. But taller was seen as better in the 19th century, too, and long before. The already imposing Lincoln may have chosen his signature stove-pipe hat to further accentuate the strong point of his appearance. Herodotus heard that the Ethiopians made the tallest and strongest men their kings.
Still, height was not considered destiny. James Madison's nickname, "Little Jemmy" -- his height is usually given at 5 feet 4 inches -- was not politically fatal. Lincoln's shorter opponents and their fans accepted and even flaunted their stature. Stephen A. Douglas was famous as the "little giant," and Gen. George B. McClellan, whatever his failings as a Civil War commander, won the 1864 Democratic nomination as "Little Mac," a phrase his troops had always used affectionately. (A brilliant military engineer, he was also compared admiringly with Napoleon earlier in his career.) Friend and foe spent little time talking about height. It was a given, to be used derisively or positively.
That attitude changed toward the end of the century. Timothy A. Judge, a professor of management at the University of Florida, and Daniel M. Cable, an associate professor of management and organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who study height and success, have observed in a recent analysis of the literature on the topic in the Journal of Applied Psychology that William McKinley, elected in 1896, was the last president shorter than the average man. And there were signs of the end of the good-natured banter of the waning century. McKinley's journalistic critics portrayed him as a "little boy" controlled by his big nursemaid, the Republican boss Mark Hanna, and the growing big-business trusts.
Fear of the big began to mix with mockery of the small. An unpublished University of Iowa dissertation by Michael Tavel Clarke, "These Days of Large Things: The Culture of Size in America, 1865-1930" (2001), suggests that the interest in personal size and strength was partly a response to the emergence of industrial combinations and other corporate giants that threatened to crush individuality. At the same time, the scientific professionals of the late-19th and early-20th centuries regarded small stature in Africa, Asia, and Europe as a throwback to primitivism and feared its importation. Eugenic interpretations of stature abounded.
Posted on: Thursday, September 30, 2004 - 09:28
With the presidential elections weeks away, politicians are in full cry. While Iraq dominates, the federal deficit is getting its share of attention. That's understandable, seeing that for the fiscal year 2004, which ends on Friday, the government will report spending $422 billion more than it took in. Even in D.C., that's real money, greater than the GNP of all but 15 countries. But the figure bears little relationship to reality. It's nothing more than the result of major-league book-cooking that would get any corporate management a nice long stretch in Club Fed.
Just consider. In FYs 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001, the federal government ran up"surpluses" amounting to $558.5 billion. So the national debt was reduced by $558.5 billion in those years, right? No, it increased by $400.7 billion.
Only in D.C.
Wall Street learned more than a century ago that management could not resist the temptation to keep corporate books in self-serving ways. As a result, as the great Wall Street banks and the NYSE came to dominate capitalism in the 1880s and '90s, they began to insist that books be kept according to consistent standards, now known as"generally accepted accounting principles," and that they be certified by independent accountants. Corporations that refused found that they could not get their shares underwritten or listed on the NYSE. Only in 1934 did the newly-born SEC make GAAP and independent certification legally mandatory.
Unfortunately, no such requirements prevent Congress and the president from keeping the books in ways that make themselves look good. In 1968, LBJ made a huge budget deficit disappear by simply making Social Security, with its large surplus being paid into the Social Security Trust Fund, an on-budget item. So all the hue and cry coming from people running for election this fall about the deficit, is so much, well, hue and cry. If any of them were serious about dealing with the fiscal problems, they'd propose reform of the government's bookkeeping methods as a first step. That, after all, is the only way we'll know what the deficit or surplus actually is.
As with corporations, someone from the outside has to decide exactly how to keep the books and inspect them for accuracy. Something analogous to the Federal Reserve, which keeps the awesome power to create money out of the hands of politicians, is needed. Fed members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for 14-year terms, with a chairman appointed from among them for a four-year term. They can only be removed for cause. A Federal Accounting Board, similarly structured, should set rules for how the government keeps its books and have the power to inspect those books.
You'll know when the politicians are actually serious about dealing with the federal deficit when they subject themselves to the same accounting strictures that every corporation faces. Until then, it's just talk -- pay no attention.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 29, 2004 - 06:57
... Some Lessons Learned
After lending a helping hand in a disaster, a natural response is to consider, “What if this happened to us? How would we fare? What lessons can be learned?” Professionals managing museums, libraries, archeological sites, and other heritage resources, who ask these questions and look through the “fog of war” in Iraq, will find many poignant lessons emerging. Beyond the six lessons suggested below, additional heritage preservation lessons will emerge for those who seek them from the events in Iraq. Whether the lessons are new or old, they are worthy of review and contemplation in the context of the preservation of Iraqi cultural heritage.
Lesson 1: Museums, libraries, and sites are symbols of authority. As symbols of the ruling authority, museums, libraries, and historic sites are targets for those fighting against that authority. Although personal profit motivated much of the looting at the Iraqi National Museum, anger at Saddam Hussein’s regime and the Ba’athist Party was also a factor. As Donny George said:
The people saw the Americans firing on the gates of Saddam’s palaces and then opening the doors to the people and saying: ‘Come and take this stuff, it’s yours now.’ So they started, and it became a sort of rage as they attacked every government building. I don’t make excuses but, you know, after 30 years of a regime like that, pressure builds up on people. Most of them were not educated, andto them the museum was just one more government building. They didn’t just take antiquities but 95% of the office furniture, all computers, most of the cameras. My office was two feet deep in papers; my desk was broken into three pieces and I found my chair 100 yards away."As symbols of authority throughout history, museum collections have been traditional war booty. Saddam Hussein demonstrated this lesson when, six weeks after invading Kuwait, Iraq seized collections from the Kuwait National Museum and shipped them to Baghdad for storage in the Iraqi National Museum. Iraq subsequently returned the collections under terms of a United Nations resolution. After castles, many of which have become museums, museums became the traditional place to store a national treasure. There can be little doubt that they are symbols of the ruling authority.
Similarly, archeological sites are part of a country’s cultural patrimony; they are protected by law and are symbols and targets. Saddam Hussein left little doubt about his understanding of this principle, when he rebuilt the ancient cities of Babylon and Nineveh in an attempt to validate his regime. When he learned that original Babylonian bricks were stamped with the name “Nebuchadnezzar II” and the equivalent of “605 BC,” he wanted a similar statement on reconstruction bricks acknowledging his role. They say, “In the reign of the victorious Saddam Hussein, the president of the Republic, may God keep him, the guardian of the great Iraq and the renovator of its renaissance and the builder of its great civilization, the rebuilding of the great city of Babylon was done in 1987.”
Following the events of September 11, 2001, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) greatly increased the security at its iconic sites, such as the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall, and the Washington Monument, which are highly vulnerable symbols of the United States. In recent years, managers of museums and national sites have needed no reminding of this vulnerability. Likewise, the museums in Iraq learned this lesson long ago. The staff has evacuated the collections of the National Museum many times, beginning with the Iran–Iraq war in the 1980s.35 Although U.S. museums and sites have increased their security, few would be able to implement evacuation plans on the scale of and in the timeframe demonstrated by the Iraqi National Museum.
Lesson 2: Early news of war or disaster is often wrong (in unpredictable ways). “It is very common for the first information following a crisis to be wrong, and when I say wrong, I mean wrong. So let us all try to be responsible in how we speak about this issue until we know the facts, and let us dedicate ourselves to gathering the facts as expeditiously and efficiently as possible,” said the secretary general of the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO) –Interpol when he addressed the May 6 meeting on cultural property looting in Iraq.
Acting precipitously based on early news can be a political liability, a step in the wrong direction that will have to be retraced, and a catalyst for disharmony with other parties who are critical to the resolution. All of these mistakes occurred in the Iraqi National Museum case.
The first news reports, on April 12 and in the weeks following, erroneously reported that looters had taken 170,000 artifacts from the National Museum. This figure was followed by reported figures of 50,000, 270,000, 90,000, 200,000, 1,200, 10–15%, and fewer than 100 before U.S. and Iraqi museum officials clarified the original misunderstanding. By mid-May Colonel Bogdanos called 170,000 a “gross, if dramatic, exaggeration.”
Museum authorities were reported as “blaming shoddy reporting amid the ‘fog of war’ for creating the impression that the majority of the institution’s 170,000 items had been looted.”38 As Donny George explained:
There was a mistake. Someone asked us what is the number of pieces in the whole collection. We said over 170,000, and they took that as the number lost. Reporters came in and saw empty shelves and reached the conclusion that all was gone. But before the war, we evacuated all of the small pieces and emptied the showcases except for fragile or heavy material that was difficult to move.
Following these announcements, the numbers on missing items that U.S. and Iraqi museum authorities cited were similar, and evolving at the same rate. As of the end of July, that figure was estimated at 13,50040 and remained at that level into September.
Within a week of the looting, three members of the president’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee had resigned. The chairman’s letter of resignation cited “the wanton and preventable destruction” of Iraq’s National Museum of Antiquities.42 Immediately, following the first news, scholars sought to explain the magnitude of the looting of the National Museum by comparing it with other major cultural disasters. It was called the greatest cultural disaster of the last 500 years. Several scholars said that not since the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258 had there been looting on this scale.43 The American Schools of Oriental Research compared the museum looting to “the sack of Constantinople, the burning of the library at Alexandria, the Vandal and Mogul invasions, and the ravages of the conquistadors.” One commenter said it is “a tragedy that has no parallel in world history; it is as if the Uffizi, the Louvre, or all the museums of Washington DC had been wiped out in one fell swoop.”44 Now that the figures have been drastically revised downward and the “fog” is beginning to clear, some have expressed second thoughts about these comparisons.45 Some journalists—and, according to reports, at least one professional colleague— have been critical of the Iraqi museum officials for not correcting the misunderstanding about the 170,000 items sooner. A defensive backlash from some parts of the press sought to discredit both the Iraqi museum authorities and the scholars who had commented on the early news, and even pit one against the other. A few individuals took the bait and some strong words were exchanged. One journalist reported, “[Donny] George is now quoted as saying that that items lost could represent ‘a small percentage’ of the collection and blamed shoddy reporting for the exaggeration.” A scholar, who heard Donny George speak at the British Museum at the end of April, commented, “Is it not a little strange that quite so many journalists went away with the wrong impression, while Mr. George made little or no attempt to clarify the context of the figure of 170,000 which he repeated with such regularity and gusto before, during, and after that meeting.”46 Other scholars responded in letters to the editor:
[The reporter] would have us believe that unscrupulous, Ba’athist curators of the Iraq museum in Baghdad have deliberately overplayed the pillaging and destruction on April 9-11.... At no time did George claim ... that the entire contents of the museum had gone ... our high opinion of the character of Dr. George and hiscolleagues has been formed over two decades of working with them.... George deserves the world’s praise, not its condemnation, for saving so many of Iraq’s treasures....
Cultural heritage professionals are in the position of both releasing information to the press, as the Iraqi museum authorities did, and reacting to information that others release, as American, European, and other scholars and professionals did in response to the news of the Iraqi museum looting. Care must be taken not to succumb to the immediate questions of the press seeking to fill the public’s 24/7 appetite for facts, figures, and opinions, especially ones that create “shock and awe” and will make headlines. Knowing that the first news is often wrong, waiting for the “fog of war” to lift before making definitive decisions or statements may be prudent. If, however, a statement is incorrect or misinterpreted, an immediate correction is in order to avert the ballooning of misunderstandings and hard feelings. In addition, designating a single person or office in the museum as a primary point of contact with the press is essential to ensure consistency of information.
Posted on: Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 16:39
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (9-23-12)
I know that it is faintly ridiculous that Cat Stevens a.k.a. Yusuf Islam was deported on Wednesday from the U.S. after the airplane he was on was diverted to Maine, on the grounds that he is a dire security threat to the country. David Letterman in his monologue allowed darkly as how the Feds were no doubt gunning for Gordon Lightfoot next. He also wickedly observed that despite Osama Bin Laden being at large, what with Cat Stevens deported and Martha Stewart in jail, he felt a lot safer.
But I have a hard time rushing to Yusuf Islam's defense because I never forgave him for advocating the execution of Salman Rushdie in 1989. He endorsed Khomeini's "fatwa" or death edict against Rushdie for the novel, Satanic Verses. He later explained this position away by saying that he did not endorse vigilante action against Rushdie, but would rather want the verdict to be carried out by a proper court. These are weasel words, since he was saying that if Khomeini had been able to field some Revolutionary Guards in London to kidnap Rushdie and take him to Tehran, it would have been just dandy if he were then taken out and shot for having written his novel. In my view, that entire episode of the Khomeini fatwa showed how sick some forms of Muslim activism had become, and served as a foretaste of al-Qaeda's own death warrant served on a lot of other innocent people.
And, the disavowal wasn't even consistent. The AP reported on March 8, 1989, that "Cat Stevens Endorses Rushdie Death Sentence Again," writing:
Former pop singer Cat Stevens reiterated his support for the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death sentence against Salman Rushdie, saying the author's treatment of Islam was"as good as stabbing Moslems in the heart." ..."It's got to be seen as a deterrent, so that other people should not commit the same mistake again," Stevens said in an interview with the television show "World Monitor," produced by the Christian Science Monitor ... Stevens, who said the novel's treatment of Islam was"as good as stabbing Moslems in the heart," suggested that Rushdie should repent writing the book." If he manages to escape (the death sentence) he still has to face God on the day of judgment," he said. "So I would recommend to him to sincerely change his ways right now."
At the time, Rushdie's life was in imminent danger, and Cat Stevens was skating pretty close to inciting to murder. (What else is the "deterrent" he is talking about?)
So, to steal from Bill Maher:
NEW RULES: If you advocate the execution of novelists for writing novels, you and John Ashcroft deserve one another.
Posted on: Friday, September 24, 2004 - 19:16
One consequence of Sept. 11 was the emergence of an academic industry, which for lack of a better term can be called jihad studies. You'd have thought such a speciality would already exist, yet for decades students of Islam and Arabia recoiled from the subject. At scholarly conferences there would be two dozen lectures with titles such as"The problem of Ottoman heroic narratives," but not a peep about the problem of holy warriors.
Scholars are playing catch-up, and not just Middle East specialists. Militant Islam is now being studied in departments of political science, psychology and international affairs. It's an interdisciplinary affair. One widely circulated paper,"Genesis of Suicide Terrorism," was written by an anthropologist and appeared in the journal Science.
If you ask me, though, the most compelling analysis of the current threat belongs to a professor of medieval history, of all people. Richard Landes teaches at Boston University where, as director of the Center for Millennial Studies, he has become a leading authority on apocalyptic religious thinking.
Although his expertise is Christianity, it occurred to him that Islamism, whose adherents seek to create utopic Islamic societies, is best understood as an apocalyptic phenomenon. He spelled out his ideas in a long interview earlier this month with a Jerusalem-based think tank. Apocalyptic theology, he says, is characterized by"a belief that a cosmic transformation is imminent." And when this belief sweeps up"groups, movements and whole populations," we have an apocalyptic moment in history.
Since Sept. 11, the foreign-policy set has agreed that Islamism has expansionist goals and a totalitarian structure. Some analysts have even used the term Islamofascism. Mr. Landes spells out the connections. Osama bin Laden, Iran's mullahs and an untold number of clerics across the Middle East are apocalyptic activists, just as Hitler and his disciples were. The Nazi's"thousand-year Reich" was literally a millennial kingdom.
"Nazism exploded from a toxic cocktail of conspiracism (and) rage at a perceived humiliation of the German people," says Mr. Landes. The Arab-Muslim world is today the epicentre of conspiracy thinking, its inhabitants also consumed with their own perceived humiliation.
Nazism required followers to have" complete contempt for human life." The cult of the suicide bomber -- the fetishizing of death -- suggests a similar pathology in parts of the Arab-Muslim world. The Nazis promised salvation, embodied in the worldwide triumph of the Aryan race; Islamists promise salvation, embodied in the establishment of Allah's rule on earth. Both movements sought -- or seek -- to harness modern technology in the effort to re-make the world. Nazi death camps were models of industrial efficiency; Islamists teach themselves to fly jet planes and use encoded computer programs.
In each, the figure of the Jew plays a starring role. The Nazis saw the destruction of the Jews as a necessary, purifying step on the path to victory. Mr. Landes calls the Holocaust an"apocalyptic deed."
Meanwhile, the creation of Israel is known across the Muslim world as the Naqba, an apocalyptic-type catastrophe. This explains why the genocidal anti-Jewish propaganda in the Arabic mass media mirrors Nazi literature. Islamists, too, see themselves as engaged in cosmic battle, and in this battle the Jews (or Zionists) are"Satan's agents in the world."
Mr. Landes finds further parallels."As Hitler screamed about Jewish plots to conquer the world and enslave mankind, he was hatching precisely those plans." Today, Arab leaders accuse Israel of practising collective punishment by destroying the homes of suicide bombers when in fact it is suicide bombings that represent"the most heinous form of collective punishment -- the random killing of innocent civilians."
Apocalyptic yearnings are not inherently dangerous. Many religions envision a better world. Even secular political movements (who among us was not an idealist in university?) can have a tinge of messianism. Apocalyptic thinking becomes deadly when it supposes that" cataclysmic destruction" is necessary to bring about the messianic age.
The Sept. 11 attacks were an effort to spark cataclysmic destruction. A nuclear bomb smuggled into Tel Aviv, or London, could be another such spark.
Traditional political terrorism was easier to fight because the perpetrators had demands that, at least in theory, could be addressed. Those who are motivated by an apocalyptic vision have non-negotiable aims, as the world learned from Hitler. It's significant that the Sept. 11 hijackers never bothered to make demands, presumably knowing that no mortal being could meet them.
There's another lesson. Marginal ideas tend to stay on the margins. That's why the flat-earth society and the temperance movement never really got anywhere. But introduce apocalyptic elements and everything changes.
"Successful millennial movements, like the Nazis, spread from the fringes to the centre," says Mr. Landes."And in cultures that are vulnerable to apocalyptic messages -- e.g., the conspiracist and disoriented Arab world -- technology greatly amplifies its impact."
It's interesting that a historian of the Middle Ages is able to articulate, better than any professional security strategist, exactly what is at stake in this global conflict.
Posted on: Friday, September 24, 2004 - 10:54
John Kerry is right to accuse President Bush of "colossal failures of judgment" in Iraq. These range from decisions taken in the early days of the occupation, such as the premature disbanding of Iraq's army, to more recent missteps, such as allowing Fallouja to become a terrorist sanctuary.
Reading the depressing headlines, one is tempted to ask: Has any president in U.S. history ever botched a war or its aftermath so badly?
Actually, yes. Most wartime presidents have made catastrophic blunders, from James Madison losing his capital to the British in 1814 to Harry Truman getting embroiled with China in 1950. Errors tend to shrink in retrospect if committed in a winning cause (Korea); they get magnified in a losing one (Vietnam).
Despite all that's gone wrong so far, Iraq could still go either way. (In one recent poll, 51% of Iraqis said their country was headed in "the right direction"; only 31% felt it was going the wrong way.)
Lest we be too hard on Bush, it's useful to recall the travails of the nation's two most successful commanders in chief, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.
Lincoln is remembered, of course, for winning the Civil War and freeing the slaves. We tend to forget that along the way he lost more battles than any other president: First and Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Chickamauga.... The list of federal defeats was long and dispiriting. So was the list of federal victories (e.g., Antietam, Gettysburg) that could have been exploited to shorten the conflict, but weren't.
As the Union's fortunes fell, opponents tarred Lincoln with invective that might make even Michael Moore blush. Harper's magazine called him a "despot, liar, thief, braggart, buffoon, usurper, monster, ignoramus." As late as the summer of 1864, Lincoln appeared likely to lose his bid for reelection. Only the fall of Atlanta on Sept. 2 saved his presidency.
Most of the Union's failures were because of inept generalship, but it was Lincoln who chose the generals, including many political appointees with scant military experience. He ultimately won the war only by backing Ulysses Grant's brutal attritional tactics that have often been criticized as sheer butchery.
Roosevelt had more than his share of mistakes too, the most notorious being his failure to prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor, even though U.S. code breakers had given him better intelligence than Bush had before Sept. 11. FDR also did not do enough to prepare the armed forces for war, and then pushed them into early offensives at Guadalcanal and North Africa that took a heavy toll on inexperienced troops. At Kasserine Pass, Tunisia, in 1943, the U.S. Army was mauled by veteran German units, losing more than 6,000 soldiers.
The Allies went on to win the war but still suffered many snafus, such as Operation Market Garden, a failed airborne assault on Holland in September 1944, and the Battle of the Bulge three months later, when a massive German onslaught in the Ardennes caught U.S. troops napping.
Though FDR bore only indirect responsibility for most of these screw-ups, he was more directly culpable for other bad calls, such as the decision to detain 120,000 Japanese Americans without any proof of their disloyalty. Like Lincoln, who jailed suspected Southern sympathizers without trial, Roosevelt was guilty of civil liberties restrictions that were light-years beyond the Patriot Act. And, like Bush, Roosevelt didn't do enough to prepare for the postwar period. His failure to occupy more of Eastern Europe before the Red Army arrived consigned millions to tyranny; his failure to plan for the future of Korea and Vietnam after the Japanese left helped lead to two wars that killed 100,000 Americans....
Posted on: Friday, September 24, 2004 - 10:47
John Kerry is being pilloried for his shocking Senate testimony 34 years ago that many U.S. soldiers—not just a few "rogues"—were committing atrocities against the Vietnamese. U.S. military records that were classified for decades but are now available in the National Archives back Kerry up and put the lie to his critics. Contrary to what those critics, including the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, have implied, Kerry was speaking on behalf of many soldiers when he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971, and said this:
They told stories that at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam, in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.
The archives have hundreds of files of official U.S. military investigations of such atrocities committed by American soldiers. I've pored over those records—which were classified for decades—for my Columbia University dissertation and, now, this Voice article. The exact number of investigated allegations of atrocities is unknown, as is the number of such barbaric incidents that occurred but weren't investigated. Some war crimes, like the Tiger Force atrocities exposed last year by The Toledo Blade, have only come to light decades later. Others never will. But there are plentiful records to back up Kerry's 1971 testimony point by point. Following (with the names removed or abbreviated) are examples, directly from the archives:
"They had personally raped"
On August 12, 1967, Specialist S., a military intelligence interrogator, "raped . . . a 13-year-old . . . female" in an interrogation hut in a P.O.W. compound. He was convicted of assault and indecent acts with a child. He served seven months and 16 days for his crimes.
"Cut off ears"
On August 9, 1968, a seven-man patrol led by First Lieutenant S. entered Dien Tien hamlet. "Shortly thereafter, Private First Class W. was heard to shout to an unidentified person to halt. W. fired his M-16 several times, and the victim was killed. W. then dragged the body to [the lieutenant's] location. . . . Staff Sergeant B. told W. to bring back an ear or finger if he wanted to prove himself a man. W. later went back to the body and removed both ears and a finger." W. was charged with assault and conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline; he was court-martialed and convicted, but he served no prison time. B. was found guilty of assault and was fined $50 a month for three months. S. was discharged from the army before action could be taken against him.
"Cut off heads"
On June 23, 1967, members of the 25th Infantry Division killed two enemy soldiers in combat in Binh Duong province. An army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) probe disclosed that "Staff Sergeant H. then decapitated the bodies with an axe." H. was court-martialed and found guilty of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline. His grade was reduced, but he served no prison time.
"Taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power"
On January 10, 1968, six Green Berets in Long Hai, South Vietnam, "applied electrical torture via field telephones to the sensitive areas of the bodies of three men and one woman . . . " Four received reprimands and "Article 15s"—a nonjudicial punishment meted out by a commanding officer or officer in charge for minor offenses. A fifth refused to accept his Article 15, and no other action was taken against him. No action was taken against the sixth Green Beret.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 11:10
Daniel Pipes, in the NY Sun (Sept. 21, 2004):
Should law enforcement profile Muslims?Amnesty International USA answers emphatically no. It asserts in a report issued last week that"law enforcement's use of race, religion, country of origin, or ethnic and religious appearance as a proxy for criminal suspicion" has harmed some 32 million persons in the United States. It even claims that this practice"undermines national security."Law enforcement, of course, categorically denies any form of profiling. But I agree with Amnesty that profiling takes place. Specifically, it has held terrorist suspects for whom there is no probable cause to arrest by calling them"material witnesses" to a crime.Consider the case of Abdullah al Kidd, an American convert to Islam was held by American authorities as a material witness for two weeks in early 2003, then released. Asked why he was held, Norm Brown, an FBI supervisor, cited three"red flags":
- Mr. Kidd's having listed on a Web site jihad as an interest; the FBI interpreted this as a reference to a holy war. Mr. Kidd's having"sold tapes and books containing the teachings of radical sheikhs" when he lived in Idaho.
- Mr. Kidd's owning a video that"had to do with the hijacking and terrorist events on September. 11, 2001."
But I, a specialist on militant Islam, engage on a routine basis in all three of Mr. Kidd's"red-flag" activities. My website discloses a keen interest in jihad; I have personally and institutionally disseminated the teachings of radical sheikhs; and I have assembled an archive of materials about 9/11. As a non-Muslim, however, these activities have (so far) not aroused suspicions.Clearly, Mr. Kidd was held in part because of his Islamic identity. Nor was he the only Muslim in America whose religion was a factor in his arrest.
Ayub Ali Khan and Jaweed Azmath, two Indian Muslims, were men arrested on 9/12 while riding a train and carrying about $5,000 in cash, black hair dye and boxcutters were detained for a year on suspicion of being part of the 9/11 operation. Eventually exonerated and freed, they claimed to have been profiled. This is self-evidently correct: Had the two not been Muslim, the police would have had little interest in them and their boxcutters.
Brandon Mayfield: the FBI had fifteen fingerprints that it thought might match the one sent from Spain and connected to the bombings there on March 11, 2004. Of the 15 potential suspects, it zeroed in on the Muslim, namely Mr. Mayfield, perhaps because of his multiple connections to Islamists and jihadists. Mr. Mayfield was released after 16 days in prison, when the fingerprint match proved faulty.
Abdallah Higazy: suspected with owning an air-to-ground transceiver found in a hotel across the street from the fallen World Trade Center, he was detained for a month before a pilot claimed the transceiver.
More broadly, Anjana Malhotra notes that of the 57 people detained as material witnesses in connection with terrorism investigations,"All but one of the material witness arrests were of Muslims." In the murky area of pre-empting terrorism, in short, it matters who one is.So, yes, profiling emphatically does take place. Which is how it should be. The 9/11 commission noted that Islamist terrorism is the" catastrophic threat" facing America and, with the very rarest of exceptions, only Muslims engage in Islamist terrorism. It would therefore be a mistake to devote as much attention to non-Muslims as to Muslims.Further, Amnesty International ignores that some instances of preemptive jailing have worked. It has foiled terrorism (Mohammed Junaid Babar, Maher Hawash, Zakaria Soubra, James Ujaama) and dealt with other crimes (Mohdar Abdullah, Nabil Almarabh, Omar Bakarbashat, Soliman S. Biheiri, Muhammad Al-Qudhai'een).Plenty of material witness cases have yet to be decided, such as those of Ismael Selim Elbarasse, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Jose Padilla, Uzair Paracha, and Mohammed Abdullah Warsame, and could lead to convictions.Amnesty International has laid down the gauntlet, placing a higher priority on civil liberties than on protection from Islamist terrorism. In contrast, I worry more about mega-terrorism – say, a dirty bomb in midtown Manhattan – than an innocent person spending time in jail.
Profiling is emerging as the single-most contentious issue in the current war. Western governmental authorities need to stop hiding behind pious denials and candidly address this issue.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - 10:47
Frontpage Interview's guest today is Bat Ye'or, the world's foremost authority on dhimmitude.
Her latest study is Islam and Dhimmitude. Where Civilizations Collide. Her forthcoming book, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, will be published in January 2005.
FP: Bat Ye'or, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Bat Ye'or: Thanks for inviting me to your prestigious magazine.
FP: First things first, can you explain the term "Eurabia" to our readers?
Bat Ye'or: Eurabia represents a geo-political reality envisaged in 1973 through a system of informal alliances between, on the one hand, the nine countries of the European Community (EC)which, enlarged, became the European Union (EU) in 1992 and on the other hand, the Mediterranean Arab countries. The alliances and agreements were elaborated at the top political level of each EC country with the representative of the European Commission, and their Arab homologues with the Arab League's delegate. This system was synchronised under the roof of an association called the Euro-Arab Dialogue (EAD) created in July 1974 in Paris. A working body composed of committees and always presided jointly by a European and an Arab delegate planned the agendas, and organized and monitored the application of the decisions.
The field of Euro-Arab collaboration covered every domain: from economy and policy to immigration. In foreign policy, it backed anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism and Israel's delegitimization; the promotion of the PLO and Arafat; a Euro-Arab associative diplomacy in international forums; and NGO collaboration. In domestic policy, the EAD established a close cooperation between the Arab and European media television, radio, journalists, publishing houses, academia, cultural centers, school textbooks, student and youth associations, tourism. Church interfaith dialogues were determinant in the development of this policy. Eurabia is therefore this strong Euro-Arab network of associations -- a comprehensive symbiosis with cooperation and partnership on policy, economy, demography and culture.
Eurabia is the future of Europe. Its driving force, the Parliamentary Association for Euro-Arab Cooperation, was created in Paris in 1974. It now has over six hundred members -- from all major European political parties -- active in their own national parliaments, as well as in the European parliament. The creation of this body and its policy follow the 23 resolutions of the "Second International Conference in Support of the Arab Peoples", held in Cairo in January 1969. Its resolution 15 formulates the Euro-Arab policy and its all-embracing development over thirty years in European domestic and foreign policy.
It stated: "The conference decided to form special parliamentary groups, where they did not exist, and to use the parliamentary platform for promoting support of the Arab people and the Palestinian resistance." In the 1970s, pursuant to the wishes of the Cairo Conference, national groups proclaiming "Solidarity with the Palestinian Resistance and the Arab peoples" appeared throughout Europe. These groups belonged to different political families, Gaullists, extreme left or right, communists, neo-Nazis -- but they all shared the same anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism. France has been the key protagonist of this policy, ever since de Gaulle's press conference on 27 November 1967 when he presented France's cooperation with the Arab world as "the fundamental basis of our foreign policy".
FP: Is Europe's dependence on Arab oil a predominant factor in its pro-Arab policy?
Bat Ye'or: No, I don't think so. Arab leaders have to sell their oil; their people are very dependent on European economic, health and technological aid. America made this point during the oil embargo in 1973. The oil factor is a pretext to cover up a policy that emerged in France before that crisis. The policy was already conceived in the 1960s. It has strong antecedents in the French 19th century dream of governing an Arab empire and the exploitation of antisemitism to strengthen Arab Muslim-French solidarity against a demonized common enemy. Eurabia is not only a web of various agreements covering every field. It is essentially a political project for a total demographic and cultural symbiosis between Europe and the Arab world, where Israel will eventually dissolve. America would be isolated and challenged by an emerging Euro-Arab continent that is linked to the whole Muslim world and invested with tremendous political and economic power in international affairs. The policies of "multilateralism" and "soft diplomacy" express this deepening symbiosis. The Euro-Arab agreements are merely the tools for the creation of this new "continent." Eurabia is also based on the vision of Christian-Muslim reconciliation and has been strongly advocated by religious Christian bodies.
FP: For a moment, France looked like it was totally lost. But it seems to have adopted a new foreign policy, more oriented toward Europe. What is your view of this?
Bat Ye'or: France and the rest of Western Europe cannot change their policy anymore. Their future is Eurabia. Period. I don't see how they can reverse the movement they set in motion thirty years ago. Nor do Eurabians want to modify this policy. It is a project that was conceived, planned and pursued consistently through immigration policy, propaganda, church support, economic associations and aid, cultural, media and academic collaboration. Generations grew up within this political framework; they were educated and conditioned to support it and go along with it. This is the source of the strong anti-American feeling in Europe and of the paranoiac obsession with Israel, two elements that form the cornerstone of Eurabia. The new French orientation toward Europe indicates that France will work within Europe, and particularly with the new Eastern member states of the European Union, to convince them to forgo their Atlanticist vision and reorient their alliances toward the Arab Muslim world. This was French policy in the 1960s when Paris became the advocate of the Arab cause in the European Community. Until 1971, France had been isolated in the EC in its anti-Israel stance. European Community critics accused it of bias toward the Arab world. Faced with the oil crisis, the nine EC countries -- under French and German leadership -- unified their views regarding the Middle East conflict and this generated the Euro-Arab Dialogue's overall development.
FP: Tell us about the Prodi project where Tariq Ramadan and others have collaborated.
Bat Ye'or: Prodi's project is the fulfillment of Eurabia. It is called the "Dialogue between Peoples and Cultures in the Euro-Mediterranean Area."
It was requested by Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission, and accepted at the Sixth Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Foreign Affairs Ministers in Naples on 2-3 December 2003. It represents a strategy for closer Euro-Arab symbiosis to be implemented by a Foundation that will control, direct and monitor it. Last May the European ministers of foreign affairs accepted the creation of the Anna Lindh Foundation for the Dialogue of Cultures with its seat in Alexandria, Egypt. Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, murdered by an insane man, was a key advocate of the Palestinian cause and the boycott of Israel. Lindh was known for her criticism of Israeli and American policies of self-defense against terror. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was a close friend, calling her a "true European."
The Foundation will endeavor through numerous means to reinforce links of mutuality, solidarity and "togetherness" between the Northern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean, that is, Europe and the Arab countries. The authors of the project carefully avoid such characterizations since -- in the spirit of Edward Said -- they are judged anathema and racist. This is explained in the report's text, but I use them for clarification. It is the Eurabian context, representing a totally anti-American and anti-Zionist culture and policy, that explains the strong reaction against the war in Iraq -- itself integrated into the war against Islamic terrorism. A terrorism that Eurabia has denied, blaming Israel's "injustice and occupation" and America's "arrogance" instead. Eurabia has transformed Islamic terrorism into a cliche: "America is the problem" in order to consolidate the web of alliances that support its whole geostrategy.
FP: What is the significance of Solana's declaration?
Bat Ye'or: Solana is strongly implicated in the EU Arabophile and pro-Palestinian policy conducted intensively under Prodi as a European self-protective reaction to the American war against terror. If one examines the EC/EU declarations since 1977 on the Arab-Israeli conflict, one notices that they espouse Arab League decisions and positions: the 1949 armistice lines imposed on Israel, although never recognized as international boundaries; the creation on those boundaries of a Palestinian state not mentioned by UN resolution 242; the acknowledgement of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, and of Arafat as its leader, with the obligation for Israel to negotiate exclusively with him; and initially the refusal of separate peace treaties. The EU adopted all these Arab League requests as well as repeated threats of economic and cultural boycott against Israel, constantly demanded by the Europeans' close Arab allies and their powerful lobby, the Parliamentary Association for Euro-Arab Cooperation. On 3 March 2004, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, when asked about U.S. proposals to requested democratic reforms in Arab states, declared:
"The peace process always has to be at the center of whatever initiative is in the field. . . Any idea about (reform of) nations would have to be in parallel with putting a priority on the resolution of the peace process, otherwise it will be very difficult to have success." (Reuters, "Solana: Mideast peace vital for Arab reforms"; see also Neil MacFarquhar "Arab states start plan of their own Mideast", International Herald Tribune, March 4, 2004.)
Solana just repeated the opinion of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after his meeting with him. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa shared this opinion and refused to consider any reforms in Arab countries before the settlement of the Arab-Palestinian conflict¨Da settlement whose overall conditions imply Israel's destruction. Hence, any democratization and change of Arab societies demanded by the West are linked by the Arabs to its participation in Israel's demise. This link was rejected by Senior U.S. State Department official Marc Grossman when visiting Cairo on 2 March 2004. He said that the democracy plan should not depend on a settlement of the Middle East conflict. But Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Maher, answered him:
"Egypt's position is that one of the basic obstacles to the reform process is the continuation of Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people and the Arab people."
According to Reuters, Amr Moussa, speaking at the opening session of a regular ministerial meeting, declared:
"The Palestinian cause...is the key to stability or instability in the region, and this issue will continue to influence in all its elements the development of the Arab region until a just solution is reached."
Eurabian notables, whether Chirac, de Villepin, Solana, Prodi, or others, have continuously stressed the centrality of the Palestinian cause for world peace, as if more European vilification of Israel would change anything in the global jihad waged in the US, in Asia, and from Africa to Chechnya the latest horrendous tragedy in Ossetia is but one example. In such a view, Israel's very existence, not this genocidal jihadist drive, is a threat to peace. The Euro-Arab linkage of Arab/Islamic reforms to Israel's stand is spurious and only demonstrates, once more, Europe's subservience to Arab policy. Numerous Arab and Islamic Summits have imposed the centrality of their Palestinian policy on the world and requested that all political problems should be subordinated to it. The EU likewise.
FP: You often refer to a Euro-Arab Palestinian cult. What do you mean by it?
Bat Ye'or: It means precisely this Palestinian centrality that's promoted in Europe as a key to world peace. However, the Euro-Arab Palestinian cult goes much deeper than a political tool used for a Euro-Arab Partnership policy against America and Israel. It is linked to theological currents of Judeophobia and a replacement theology based on the Palestinization of the Bible and the rejection of its Jewish roots in order to delegitimize Israel's history and rights on its land. The Euro-Arab Palestinian cult symbolized the redemption of Christianity and Islam and their reconciliation on the ashes of Israel, the work of Satan -- a belief propagated by the media's continuous demonization of Israel, and Palestinian victimization. This cult brings together neo-Nazis, Judeophobes, anti-Americans, communists and jihadists. It is a revival of Nazi anti-Jewish and anti-Christian trends, particularly in its hatred of Christian Bible believers and America, the country that was determinant in the defeat of Nazism and Communism. In the 1930-40s, the Nazis had strong links with Palestinians, and those sympathies and alliances continued throughout the years after World War II, thriving in the Euro-Arab Palestinian cult that submerged Western Europe under the umbrella of the gigantic Euro-Arab Dialogue apparatus.
FP: But what does the public in Europe think about their Eurabian future? Are they aware of it? Do they go along with it?
Bat Ye'or: The public ignores this strategy, its details and functioning, but there is a strong awareness, anxiety and discontent over the current situation and particularly the antisemitic trends. This Eurabian policy, expressed in obscure wording, is conducted at the top political level and coordinated over the whole EU, spreading an anti-American and antisemitic Euro-Arab sub-culture in every social, media and cultural sector. Oriana Fallaci has given voice to this general opposition. But there are also many others. They are boycotted, sometimes fired from their jobs, victims of a type of totalitarian "correctness" imposed mainly by the academic, media and political sectors.
FP: What have you to say about the French journalists taken hostage and France's reactions?
Bat Ye'or: Chirac hoped that they would be liberated as a favor to French Arabophile and pro-Palestinian militancy, a dhimmi service for Arab policy that deserves a favor not granted to others. This tragedy has revealed France's good relations with terrorist organizations such as Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and others. It has also uncovered France's dependency on its considerable Muslim population for its home and foreign policies, as it appeared earlier that their advocacy would determine the liberation of the hostages. But the incredible conditions subsequently put by the terrorists prove that Islamist terrorists apply the same rules to all infidels. It also demonstrates the inanity of a policy of collusion and denial that has always whitewashed Islamic terrorism to avoid confronting it and has constantly transferred its evils onto its victims.
France's situation illustrates, in fact, what threatens the whole of Europe through its demographic and political integration within the Arab-Muslim world, as promoted now by the Anna Lindh Foundation. France with Belgium, Germany and perhaps Spain is ahead of the rest of Europe. Britain, Italy and to some extent the East European countries are less marked by the subservience syndrome of dhimmitude which consists in submission and compliance to Muslim policy or face jihad and death. Dhimmitude is linked to the jihad ideology and sharia rules pertaining to infidels and represents the complex historical process of Islamization of the Judeo-Christian, Buddhist, Hindu civilizations across three continents.
America has the choice of forgoing its liberty and adopting the European line of dhimmitude and supplication, or maintaining its resolve to fight the war against terrorism for freedom and for universal human rights values.
FP: John Kerry has stated repeatedly that he will 'rebuild alliances' with Europe, which he maintains President Bush has disrupted, particularly with nations such as France and Germany. Can you discuss how your scholarship on 'Eurabia' may affect the validity of this claim by Senator Kerry?
Bat Ye'or: Anti-Americanism was very popular from the late 1960s onward, when European communist and extreme-leftist parties then represented powerful political forces. It was a decisive factor in the Gaullist pursuance of a strong united Europe, and a major and essential pillar of the Euro-Arab policy and alliances in the 1970s. De Gaulle opposed Britain's participation in the European Community in 1961 and 1967 because of its Atlantic leanings. The Euro-Arab Dialogue construct, which determined the whole European policy toward the Arab-Muslim world, was basically anti-American already in the 1970s. Europe is a sinking continent and the rebuilding of alliances will be at the price of America's security and freedom.
The violent European anti-Bush trends are linked to a European internal situation. Bush's declared war on Islamic terrorism unveiled a reality carefully hidden in Europe and has exposed its extreme fragility -- a situation that was compensated by an explosion of anti-Americanism and antisemitism organized by Eurabian networks. Senator Kerry's declaration is inaccurate given the Euro-American context of cultural, political and economic rivalries preceding Bush's election, and especially the emergence of a new and complex situation that the European and American public have not yet fully understood. This is the threat of a global jihad, with its ideology, strategy and tactics, coordinated with its cells worldwide. The difference between Europe and America is that Europe denies it because it cannot nor does it wish to fight for certain values already forfeited. We see here the collision of two radically opposed strategies.
FP: Is there any optimism that we can have for Europe? How about to win this war against Islamism?
Bat Ye'or: Maybe the recent developments revealing France's failed policy and the horrendous ordeals of children and parents in Ossetia will induce Europeans to bring their politicians and media to accountability. The war against a global jihadist terrorism can be won only if the civilized world is united against barbarity. Until now European democracies supported Arafat, the initiator of jihadist terrorism, hostage-taking and Islamikazes. The war will be won if we name it, if we face it, if we recognize that it obeys specific rules of Islamic war that are not ours; and if democracies and Muslim modernists stop justifying these acts against other countries. The policy of collusion and support for terrorists in order to gain self-protection is a delusion.
FP: Bat Ye'or, thank you, our time is up. We'll see you soon.
Bat Ye'or: Thank you Jamie.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 21, 2004 - 23:40
Beginning with the Republican National Convention, President George W. Bush has attempted to recapture the label of compassionate conservative so missing from four years of tax breaks for America’s wealthiest citizens and record deficits to fight an unnecessary war in Iraq which largely provides corporate welfare for such companies as Halliburton. But does this fortunate son really understand the meaning of compassion and the policies needed to aid those Americans suffering from manufacturing jobs leaving the country.
I was born in Texas four years after the President, but we never moved in the same circles. We had no Prescott’s or Herbert Walker’s in my family. In fact, my father only had the initials F. C. He worked as hard as he could to take care of his family, but he wasn’t able to provide me with entrance into Yale, an appointment to the Texas Air National Guard, an oil company to run into the ground, a baseball team of my own for a tax break, or an entourage of his political cronies.
Instead, my father dropped out of school around the third grade during the Great Depression to help support his brothers and sisters. And he never stopped doing strenuous manual labor until he was disabled by a massive coronary in his early 40s. For all his hard work and military service in Europe during the Second World War, he accumulated few economic assets but acquired a loving family. He never quite understood how the system worked, and reading was always difficult for him. But he certainly enjoyed the Western comic books I read to him.
So how did we survive? My memories of summer and fall in the 1960s include chopping and picking cotton in the fields with my father, brother, mother, and grandparents. The pay for chopping cotton in the hot Texas Panhandle sun was 75 cents an hour. Despite all his efforts to make ends meet selling cars and working for the railroad, my father was not going to be able to get me out of the cotton fields. It was the intervention of compassionate government programs that paved my way out of the cotton fields.
My first job beyond agricultural labor came digging graves at the local cemetery. The employment was part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Neighborhood Youth Administration. Lyndon Johnson was another Texan with many faults. But lack of real compassion was not one of them. In an address at Howard University, Johnson stated that the measure of a society is how those at the bottom are treated and not the fortunate sons. Johnson’s Great Society offered the promise of education and job training which was sacrificed on the alter of Vietnam as the President could not let go of his fears that he would be called soft on communism.
Johnson’s war in Vietnam convinced me that college and a deferment might be in my self-interest as all the spots in the Air National Guard seemed taken. College opened ideas and opportunities to me which I had never envisioned, but the educational experience would have been impossible without student loans and work study programs. In addition, the food stamp program helped place food on the table. Compassionate programs, not standardized testing, helped educate and feed me during some difficult times.
This sense of community and compassion in action, rather than the rhetoric of caring, is part of the American mainstream and should be the birthright of all its citizens, not just its fortunate sons.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 21, 2004 - 01:22
An exchange, featured at FrontPageMag.com (Sept. 15, 2004):
Chechen Solidarity at the New York Times
By Phyllis Chesler
[Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D., is the author of 12 books including Woman's Inhumanity to Woman and The New Anti-Semitism. She may be reached through her website www.phyllis-chesler.com]
The gruesome, graphic beheadings of Jews and Americans, the spectacularly simultaneous suicide airplanes, the human suicide bombers are all hard acts to follow. What can sicken, shock, and punish us even more? Al-Qaeda loyalists and other serial killers are literally dying to answer this question.
Thus, radically evil Islamist terrorists took hundreds of small children hostage, tortured them, shot some in the back as they tried to escape--and within six days the New York Times published a piece by Harvard Emeritus Professor Richard (not Daniel) Pipes ("Give the Chechens a Land of Their Own" September 9, 2004) which hastens to assure us that not all Islamist terrorists are the same, the bell did not toll for us in Beslan, that heretofore unimaginable alliances--perhaps even with Russia--may now be inevitable. Pipes explains that the Chechen terrorists are not like al-Qaeda's terrorists because the Chechen goal is not world-wide domination; they only seek the "limited objective of independence." If Russia would simply appease them by granting them a sovereign Muslim state, all will be well. He writes: "The Russians ought to learn from the French (in Algeria)" and, similarly, grant Chechnya independence.
Excuse me: Does Pipes really believe that the French "solution " to Algeria is an unmitigated success story? Tell that to the thousands of Algerian Muslim girls and women whom paramilitary Algerian Islamists have kidnapped off the streets, turned into sex and domestic slaves, then killed, often be-headed, when they become pregnant or tried to escape. Tell that to the journalists, intellectuals, and feminists whom Algerian Islamists have silenced, tortured, exiled, and murdered.
Both Franz Fanon and V.S. Naipaul understand how well the formerly colonized internalize the worst values of the colonizer. Based on my own experience in Afghanistan, I also understand that incredibly savage customs flourish freely all of which pre-date colonization : e.g. polygamy, suttee, foot-binding, the veiling and sequestration of women, female genital mutilation, stoning to death for adultery, amputation for theft, etc. Sometimes, in retrospect, colonization has improved matters somewhat in terms of hygiene, medicine, economy, and education for both genders and for the impoverished.
Based on their withdrawal from Algeria, the French have the solution to terrorism? Tell that to the French who, in Paris, Marseilles, and Lyons are living with an unruly, separatist Algerian presence that seeks to Islamize both France and Europe, veil their women, and achieve sha'ria law as a civil right. Talk to the French Jews who have been killed, threatened, and humiliated mainly by French North African Muslims-- who are using French Jews as surrogate pawns in the battle for Palestine (code word for the battle for Allah against the infidel). France's so-called "success" in Algeria did not prevent the two French journalists from being kidnapped by Islamist terrorists nor did the anti-war stance of the two Italian female humanitarian workers prevent their kidnapping.
The aim is to terrify, not communicate, the aim is to subjugate and obliterate, not to compromise.
Pipes also minimizes the nature of the centuries-old criminality of the Chechen population, a group which, even he admits, did side with Hitler against Russia. Pipes declares that the Chechens HAD to "eventually resort" to terrorism because they were, after all, "occupied" by Russia. Pipes calls Chechnya a “tiny colonial dependency" and he urges Russia to "let it go." If Russia did, would the Chechens then follow the Palestinian model and launch state-sanctioned attacks against Russia forever because Russia is not Muslim, is too western, or simply because it has "more," and is both envied and feared?
Today, occupation is viewed as far more terrible than terrorist violence; terrorists are not evil but are, "freedom fighters," "militants," "insurgents." Even the ethnic Arab Muslim Janjaweed in Sudan are called "insurgents," and "fighters," not terrorists, in the pages of the most liberal and left newspapers, the Times included. Progressive professors are condemning the U.S. State Department for having revoked Tariq Ramadan's visa to teach at Notre Dame. Meanwhile, French feminists have contacted me, frantically, to explain that Ramadan's views on women are very dangerous. For some, this is a great dilemma: Whether America should or should not grant civil rights and immigrant status to those who seek to overthrow our way of life--and who will do so by using those very rights against us.
I think we should not do so at this time. But, I also think the decision should be carefully made.
But, the greater the Islamist horror, the more certain Western intellectuals, Pipes included, want to reason with it, understand it, appease it. True, the Islamists committed beastly acts of terror against civilians but it was understandable: they were "occupied," "colonized," "humiliated," "unemployed."
By the way, did those Russian children ever "occupy" Chechnya?
No matter. Pretending to understand evil allows reason to prevail--if only as an illusion. Lance Morrow, in his excellent and beautifully written meditation about "Evil," observes that "evil" is present when children are attacked.
I agree with Richard Pipes that " compromise " is preferable. But how can the civilized world compromise with a suicide bomber or a suicide airplane? Un-doing the education that created terrorists will take 50-100 years or more as will exporting the ideas and practices of democracy and women's rights to a region and a religion that has been totally hijacked by infidel- and woman-hating killers.
One cannot "compromise" with evil. One must do battle with it.
Richard Pipes Responds:
[Richard Pipes, Professor Emeritus at Harvard, is one of the world's leading authorities on Soviet history. He is the author of 19 books, the most recent being his new autobiography Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger.]
Ms. Chesler has written an impassioned criticism of my New York Times OpEd page article of September 9, urging the Russian government to grant the Chechen's independence. Her passion is understandable because the Beslan events were, indeed, utterly revolting. But emotion tends to becloud reason which is always necessary, even when dealing with barbarities.
To begin with, let me dispute her attribution to me of the view that "Russia's 'occupation' of Chechnya somehow justifies Chechen terrorism." I try to understand Chechen terrorism and the ways of ending it: understanding is not justifying.
Secondly, Ms. Chesler in her indignation clearly has not thought out her assertion that France's action in granting Algeria independence was a failure. If it is true that France's withdrawal was followed by terror within liberated Algeria, the same can be said of nearly all ex-African colonies. Would she propose, therefore, that we re-colonize Sudan or Rwanda in order to stop the massacres? Is she advocating a revival of global imperialism?.
I nowhere "admit" that the Chechens sided "with Hitler against Russia." I merely say that Stalin accused them of collaboration and had them exiled en masse -- including children and aged people. The barbarities the Russians inflicted on the Chechens are outrageous: they include the destruction of Groznyi which has been turned into rubble and forced hundreds of thousands to flee the republic.
Granting the Chechens independence in the age of decolonization is not appeasement but righting an old wrong.
Posted on: Saturday, September 18, 2004 - 03:54
Posted on: Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 23:52
Thomas Palaima, in the Austin American-Statesman (Sept. 11, 2004):
Four years ago, I was asked to write a post-mortem on the 2000 presidential campaign. It appeared in the American-Statesman on the day after the election and was titled "The end of an uninspiring campaign." The drama of the Florida vote-count fiasco is what sticks now in most of our minds, but campaign 2004 has given me queasy feelings of déjà vu, so I checked back.
Sure enough. Unless things change, campaign 2004 will have the same effects as campaign 2000 - the rotten taste of elections run as exercises in advertising and packaging and spin; strong divisions encouraged and exploited among citizens of different political views, classes, ages, genders, sexual orientations, religions, income levels and regional backgrounds; and pandering to the selfish concerns of individual voters rather than encouraging thoughts about the common good.
This should come as no surprise, given that Karl Rove has masterminded the campaign for President Bush in both elections. Instead of exploring the real issues that should concern us, we are caught up in personality issues. Anyone remember all the senseless fuss about Al Gore's woodenness? Is President Bush really in touch with the working class because he wears an open collar, speaks English not so good and chops wood on his Crawford ranch? Is Dick Cheney really sure terrorists will attack us if John Kerry is elected?
Is single-mindedness of vision the mark of a good leader? Is it firm and unwavering determination to see policies through? Or is it a myopic inability to understand and adjust to complex and changing circumstances? Is flip-flopping a lack of commitment to values? Or is it the natural result of a 20-year career as a U.S. senator studying and voting on issues in an ever-changing world?
Back in the year 2000, I reported that David Walker, comptroller general of the United States, an appointee of Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton, had criticized both candidates for not addressing the staggering economic problems this country would face in year 2011, when the first baby boomers reach age 65.
Not only has that still not happened four years later - and conditions contributing to the economic disaster Walker predicted have only deteriorated - but we now are running a costly and bloody war - aka "mission accomplished" - with no end in sight. The annual federal deficit has hit an all-time record. Yet our conservative vice president breezily tells us not to worry. Next year's projected large addition to the deficit should not be record-setting.
What can we do? Here is my opinion, or rather that of Sam the Lion in "The Last Picture Show." We should all say firmly his true Texan words: "I've been around that trashy behavior all my life. I'm getting tired of putting up with it."
Let's accept that a candidate who attends elite Yale University and then volunteers to serve as a soldier anywhere in Vietnam is a manipulating careerist with no sense of duty. Let's accept that his later impassioned testimony before congressional hearings at a time when even the president of the United States was seeking ways of extracting us from Vietnam was cowardly and uncomradely.
Let's accept that former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes is a politically motivated liar. He does not now regret helping the other candidate, from the same educational and social milieu, avoid service in Vietnam by joining the Texas Air National Guard. And let's even accept that working stateside on a political campaign and being grounded for failure to perform routine National Guard duties showed courageous respect for the men being drafted, volunteering, serving and dying in Vietnam.
Finally, let's accept that flip-flopping with the American people about the motives for going to war in the Middle East showed honest resolve.
Let's put aside all that trashy stuff and ask the candidates and their handlers to focus on the real issues. We could start with two main sets of questions.
What is the economic picture for the next decade, factoring in the 2011 time bomb and the costs of the war in Iraq and the "unwinnable" war on terror? Where are the new jobs created by the Bush tax-cut trickle down going to come from, and what sorts of jobs will they be? How will we curtail the deficit?
What is the strategy for an "end game" in Iraq? What will the criteria be for any major commitment of troops and resources elsewhere? Will Congress have a say, or will this remain a unilateral decision of the White House?
And let's all just say no - to trashy campaigning.
Posted on: Monday, September 13, 2004 - 23:12
Michael Radu, in the newsletter of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (Sept. 3, 2004):
Russia is under assault by Islamic terrorists. On August 24, two Russian airliners were blown up, leaving 90 people dead.A week later, a car bomb near a Moscow subway station killed another ten people, and the next day, September 1, Islamist terrorists took hundreds of hostages in a North Ossetia school, including many children. At this writing, scores of people are reported to have died. Far from remaining a localized affair, the Chechen conflict is becoming an open wound in Russia's flank, a cultural, ethnic, and religious clash with no end in sight and with growing international ramifications.
Two common aspects to these attacks deserve highlighting: their Middle Eastern roots and their being carried out by women. Based on the limited intelligence available, none ofthese attacks was a strictly Chechen operation. The Islambouli Brigades, an Al Qaeda-associated group previously known for attacks in Pakistan, has taken credit for the plane and subway bombings. The Brigades is named for Egyptian army lieutenant Khaled al-Islambouli, the main author of the assassination of President Anwar Sadat (for which he was executed). Islambouli, whose brother Mohammed is an Al Qaeda operative, was a member of the Egyptian Islamic Group, led by Ayman al Zawahiri, now Bin Laden's second in command.
The link between Chechen rebels and international terrorism, including al Qaeda, is not new. Indeed, ever since the first Chechen war (1992-96), Islamists from all over the Middle East and beyond have gone to Chechnya to fight the Russian infidel. While it is true that Chechen Islam was traditionally rather syncretic and mostly under the influence of Sufi brotherhoods, some warlords, most prominently Shamil Basayev, have been attracted to Wahhabism--and by Saudi and other Gulf money, weapons, and volunteers. It was one of those volunteers, Bin Saleh al- Suwailem, Samir, a.k.a. Khatab--a Saudi whose life and career strongly resembled Bin Laden's--who, together with Basayev, invaded the Russian province of Daghestan in 1999, thus provoking the present Chechen war. A number of European Muslims, from France and the UK, have also joined the Chechens, while the self-proclaimed Chechen Islamic Republic was only recognized by the Taliban. Chechens were trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and fought against the United States in that country in 2001.
The extent to which Russian brutality and clumsiness have radicalized many Chechens could be debated, as could Moscow's often exaggerated claim that all Chechen resistance is Wahhabi and attributable to non-Chechen mercenaries. What is not arguable is the fact that the most effective, violent, and well-trained elements in Chechnya are indeed Islamists, part and parcel of the Al Qaeda nebula, whose methods are imports from the Middle East.
The perpetrators of those attacks were Chechen women, the so-called Black Widows, who are specially trained for suicide operations and have committed such acts in the past. The involvement of women in suicide terrorist attacks is becoming more and more common both in and beyond Russia, where they began in 2002. Indeed, the two suicide bombers who killed three policemen and a child in Tashkent on March 29, 2004, were women. One of them, Dilnoza Khalmuradova, was 19 years old.
One may wonder how the use of women suicide bombers is consistent with Islamic views of the role of women. In May 2003, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is dean of Islamic Studies at the University of Qatar, a regular Al Jazeera contributor, and perhaps the most influential Sunni cleric today, managed to find a way: "The act [of suicide terrorism] is a form of martyrdom for the cause of Allah . . . A woman should go out for jihad even without the permission of her husband."Qaradawi notes that terror groups could benefit because women "may do what is impossible for men to do." Hence, these women are allowed to violate Islamic teachings, "avoid wearing the veil, and be without a male escort." (Cited inClara Beyler, "Female Suicide Bombers: An Update,"http://www.ict.org.il/)
The Russian response to these developments has been, so far, a mixture of denial, incompetence, contradictory policies, and naivete. Moscow has repeatedly denied either that there is a war in Chechnya or that the conflict involves a significant portion of the Chechen population, instead claiming that it is all about Wahhabi terrorism incited by outsiders. It has organized several meaningless "elections"in Chechnya, the latest on August 29, notwithstanding that as long as it does not control the territory, no elections in Chechnya could conceivably be legitimate. In military terms, four years into the recent round of violence, the Russian military still cannot even seal the borders of Chechnya--a small state, even if its terrain is difficult.The fact that Chechnya-based terrorists could repeatedly strike into Russia proper, including Moscow, and that the recent mass kidnapping took place in North Ossetia, historically the most pro-Russian (and the only Orthodox) of all the northern Caucasian regions, only underscores this fact.
Nor has Russia's policy of blackmailing the southern Caucasus states of Georgia and Azerbaijan in an effort to elicit their help in dealing with Chechnya been successful. Indeed, what is the incentive for Georgia, which borders Chechnya, to help the Russians seal the border, with Moscow openly arming and encouraging separatists in Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Or why should nearby Azerbaijan stop arms shipments to Chechnya, if Moscow is encouraging Armenia to annex a third of the Azeri territory?
So far, Moscow's response to the school kidnapping has been to convene a meeting of the UN Security Council. What exactly Moscow intends by this--to have blue helmets replace the Russian troops in the Caucasus mountains? to ask the UN declare the Chechen resistance a terrorist organization?--is not clear.
That said, the Chechen conflict has clearly become an open-ended problem in international politics. Unless some drastic--and improbable--reforms make the Russian military become efficient and the government pulls itself together, Moscow will have no "victory" any time soon. At the same time, the increasingly Islamist Chechen leadership, with its persistent use of terrorism and its close ties to international terrorist networks, makes the possibility of a Chechen state a frightening, if remote, prospect. Indeed, even before Chechnya was infiltrated by Islamists, during the country's brief independence (1996-99), the Chechens had demonstrated a complete inability to operate as an independent state. Chechnya (or "Ishkeria) became a black hole of criminal gangs, smuggling, and crossborder violence- -and matters have only gotten worse since.
The Chechnya conflict has itself begun to spawn international terrorists. According to France's antiterrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, the authors of a planned 2003 chemical attack in Paris that was prevented at the last moment were a network of Islamists trained in Georgia's Pankissi Gorge area. Their leader was one Menad ben Chellali, the oldest son of a radical imam from near Lyons who had trained in Afghanistan in 2001. Menad's brother and imitator, Murad, was captured in Afghanistan, detained in Guantanamo, and is now in a French jail.
Western sympathy for the Chechens should be reassessed in light of these developments. Perhaps, unlikely as it may seem, even the New York Times will bring itself to label as terrorists (rather than "guerrillas" or "armed insurgents") those who take school children hostages and murder their fathers. (See "Hostage Crisis Unfolds in Russia as Guerrillas Seize School," New York Times, September 1,2004.) The understandable initial sympathy for the Chechens-- a people treated atrociously by Russia and the Soviet Union -- should not excuse what is done in their name today.
Posted on: Sunday, September 12, 2004 - 16:32
Jack Rakove, in the SF Chronicle (Sept. 5, 2004):
Scholars use the term critical election to describe those contests that crystallize broad changes in the electorate, when voting blocs shift their loyalty from one party to another, new political alignments form, and one party achieves dominance over the other. There was a time, not so long ago, when Bush political adviser Karl Rove (who knows his history) was hoping that the 2004 election would prove to be critical in just this way.
It would finally cement the comfortable majority that Republicans have believed to be tantalizingly in reach since Ronald Reagan captured the presidency a quarter-century ago.
The other"Mission Accomplished" the banner on board the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln was subliminally conceived to herald was when President Bush prematurely celebrated the end of active fighting in Iraq. (And was it only chance, Michael Moore might wonder, that made a ship named Lincoln the site for this ultimate media event, linking the most recent Republican president with the party's first winner, even though the GOP's current homeland lies in the ex-Confederate states that Lincoln forced to remain in the Union?)
At this point in the campaign, Rove and other Republicans will be happy to snatch any victory they can, leaving a lasting realignment of the national electorate to another day and another candidate.
The 2004 election will still be a critical one -- but for two other reasons than those scholars invoke.
First, with less than two months to go, it seems likely to perpetuate the same bitter aftertaste that has soured our politics the past four years. That aftertaste is likely to linger longer in Washington than elsewhere in the country. An election in which the current administration narrowly retains power, or in which John Kerry captures the White House but Republicans retain control of Congress, is likely to exacerbate the pungent acrimony that permeates the national government.
There is a second, more obvious sense in which this election appears critical. Even if we recognize that no president can assure our security against the limitless threats we now confront, profound questions remain about the kind of security policy we ought to pursue in the post-Sept. 11 world we are doomed to inhabit indefinitely. This election is critical for the simple reason that it will determine who will manage the struggle against terror during the next four years.
Of course, a democratic election may not be the best means to determine which contender is better qualified to discharge this responsibility. The fact that each candidate can be portrayed in a heroic pose -- the president rallying the workers at Ground Zero, the senator on his swift boat in Vietnam -- contributes nothing to an informed choice. And if the campaign seriously addressed the likelihood that a nuclear device will be detonated in an American city in the next five years, we might all be too depressed to go to the polls anyway.
Perhaps it is better, then, that the campaign already seems to be developing its own bipolar dynamic. On the one hand, both candidates are trying to stake out basic, if rather obvious, positions on terrorism and national security. But out on the campaign trail, where their paths keep crossing, other seemingly conventional issues come to the fore: employment, the deficit, outsourcing, prescription drug benefits.
There are two basic explanations for this oscillation between the urgent and the mundane. One is that whatever color of the day homeland security czar Tom Ridge may choose, we cannot live our lives in a perpetual state of anxiety about terrorism. The desire for normalcy (that favorite word of Warren G. Harding, who succeeded a Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson, who cared too much about foreign policy) naturally reasserts itself. And so it should. Until the next catastrophe occurs and we reluctantly appoint another commission to examine our omissions, we should not be surprised that Americans remain concerned with those other forms of domestic security we traditionally know as employment, health, and education.
The second explanation, though, owes something to the peculiar way in which we elect our presidents. If our presidential elections were truly national, terrorism and the war in Iraq would be the decisive issues on which the campaign would be fought. But as we learned -- or at least were reminded four years ago -- we don't really have a national election, even for president. Instead, we have, in theory, 51 campaigns. But because the outcome in roughly two-thirds of the states is already a foregone conclusion, the contest will probably take place in a baker's dozen or so states.
At the moment, the critical states on which the election will pivot form an inverted U that circles solidly Republican Indiana and solidly Democratic Illinois. It begins in Ohio, swings north and west through Michigan and Minnesota, and heads south through Wisconsin into Iowa and Missouri. It seems inevitable that both campaigns will crisscross this region frenetically from now until the cows of Iowa come home in November. This is also the old Rust Belt, where the loss of manufacturing jobs remains a pressing issue that should give Kerry a further advantage.
In these closely divided states, issues of national security will doubtless have bite. But so will all the other concerns that the parties calculate are most likely either to turn out their supporters or sway undecided voters whose very existence leaves partisans in both parties puzzled.
Thus this campaign seems destined to have a surreal quality. The election is arguably as critical a vote as we have cast for decades -- at least since 1968, or even going back to the 1940s. ...
Posted on: Sunday, September 12, 2004 - 16:16
Gil Troy, in the Montreal Gazette (Sept. 10, 2004):
Let's face it, most of us lied. Three short years ago, amid the unspeakable carnage of Sept. 11, with the Pentagon aflame, the World Trade Centres towers collapsed, one hijacked plane still smoldering, so many of us said, "Our lives will never be the same." The phrase, which became a mantra for a month - a long time in our throwaway society - was partially a fear, partially a vow.
Those ugly September days, the fear, throughout the West, not just in the United States, was palpable. Many feared a wave of similar attacks. Many feared a world of constricted choices. Many feared the Third World War had begun - and would be as enveloping and incendiary as the previous world wars had been for Europe.
Amid the terror, however, there also was some hope, there were some prayers. Many re-evaluated the Gay 1990s, the times of peace and prosperity, and found them wanting. And many of us vowed to love life more, to hug our loved ones harder, to search for meaning more intensely, to spend more time doing great and selfless things, rather than pursuing small and entertaining diversions.
In the early stages of the public mourning, a proposal to commemorate Sept. 11 as a day for national volunteer service in the U.S. proved popular.
To our good fortune, most of the fears the attacks generated have not been realized. To what should be our great chagrin, most of those idealistic vows have been broken.
The war that has emerged is more subtle, confusing, paradoxical and intermittent, than many anticipated. It is, indeed, a world-wide war, with periodic paroxysms in Russia, Indonesia, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Israel. As people could not fail to notice amid the hundreds killed by bloodthirsty thugs in Russia last week, there is an aberrant, despicable, hate-filled, nihilistic Islamicist ideology uniting and motivating those who bomb a school in Beslan, a nightclub in Bali, trains in Madrid, housing complexes in Riyadh and buses in Jerusalem, Beer Sheba, Haifa and Tel Aviv. But there have been no repeat performances in the U.S., and the spectacularly grotesque terrorist incidents in the West have been one-shot deals; waves of terror have been more common in the Middle East and Central Asia.
The unity and clarity of Sept. 12 have dissipated in bruising battles among allies over Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran. The United Nations has proved flamboyantly irrelevant and quite useless in this war. More disturbingly, the West itself has seemed spectacularly ill-prepared to root out this threat systematically. As Europeans and Americans have faced off in a surprisingly acrimonious fight where hatred of George W. Bush seems to rival distaste for Osama bin Laden in "enlightened" circles, dollars still flow into terrorist coffers and the rogue state of Iran marches toward nuclear capability.
Amid this confusion, most of us have broken our vows - because we could.
The good news is that George W. Bush was right. We could return to our shopping malls and traffic jams and other prosaic concerns. There is a certain power, some courage involved, in refusing to let terrorism define our lives. But in the quest to return to what U.S. President Warren G. Harding called "normalcy," Bush - and his fellow leaders - failed to push their fellow citizens toward the better version of themselves that emerged ever so briefly amid Al-Qa'ida's carnage.
Aside from the small but ever-growing group of victims of terrorism and the soldiers mobilized to fight, the vast majority of us have returned to our Sept. 10 state. We might tut-tut more frequently over the morning headlines; the more sensitive among us might occasionally have nightmares or curtail some travel plans - but most of us have returned to our bubble and reinforced it.
In the United States, whether or not they agree with the administration's decisions and strategy, Americans have allowed a small minority of servicemen and women and their families to carry the ball in the ensuing battles.
In Canada, because Al-Qa'ida has so far failed to target Canadians on Canadian soil directly, most people prefer to dismiss this as America's headache. In Europe, even with almost monthly busts of terrorist cells in Hamburg, London, Paris and Brussels, it has become fashionable to deem this whole mess America's fault.
Politics aside, the overwhelming and unifying fact for the vast majority of Westerners is that the great promise of modern individualistic, capitalist, liberal democracy persists - we continue to be left alone, and continue to prefer to avoid the call of history and dodge broader communal needs, shopping till we drop, dancing the night away, entertaining ourselves silly.
We are "bubble people" because we can be.
That is the great gift of modern Western civilization. It is also the great curse. Let us hope and pray it won't be the cause of our decline and fall amid forces of evil that are more persistent, fanatic and systematic.
Posted on: Friday, September 10, 2004 - 16:53
Richard Pipes, in the NYT (Sept. 9, 2004):
The terrorist attack in Beslan in Russia's North Caucasus was not only bloody but viciously sadistic: the children taken hostage by pro-Chechen terrorists were denied food and drink and even forbidden to go to the bathroom, then massacred when the siege was broken. It is proper for the civilized world to express outrage and feel solidarity with the Russian people. But to say this is not necessarily to agree with those - including President Bush and President Vladimir Putin of Russia - who would equate the massacre with the 9/11 attacks and Islamic terrorism in general.
In his post-Beslan speech, Mr. Putin all but linked the attack to global Islam: "We have to admit that we have failed to recognize the complexity and dangerous nature of the processes taking place in our own country and the world in general." Reports that some of the terrorists were Arabs reinforce that line of thinking. But the fact is, the Chechen cause and that of Al Qaeda are quite different, and demand very different approaches in combating them.
Terrorism is a means to an end: it can be employed for limited ends as well as for unlimited destructiveness. The terrorists who blew up the train station in Madrid just before the Spanish election this year had a specific goal in mind: to compel the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq. The Chechen case is, in some respects, analogous. A small group of Muslim people, the Chechens have been battling their Russian conquerors for centuries.
At the close of World War II, Stalin had the entire Chechen nation exiled to Kazakhstan for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. Khrushchev allowed them to return to their homeland but they continued to chafe under Russian rule. Because Chechnya, unlike the Ukraine or Georgia, had never enjoyed the status of a nominally independent republic under the Communists, the Chechens were denied the right to secede from the Russian Federation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And so they eventually resorted to terrorism for the limited objective of independence.
A clever arrangement secured by the Russian security chief, Gen. Alexander Lebed, in 1996 granted the Chechens de facto sovereignty while officially they remained Russian citizens. Peace ensued. It was broken by several terrorist attacks on Russian soil, which the authorities blamed on the Chechens (although many skeptics attributed them to Russian security agencies eager to create a pretext to bring Chechnya back into the fold). A second Chechen war began in 1999, of which there seems no end in sight.
This history makes clear how the events in Russia differ from 9/11. The attacks on New York and the Pentagon were unprovoked and had no specific objective. Rather, they were part of a general assault of Islamic extremists bent on destroying non-Islamic civilizations. As such, America's war with Al Qaeda is non-negotiable. But the Chechens do not seek to destroy Russia - thus there is always an opportunity for compromise.
Unfortunately, Russia's leaders, and to some extent the populace, are loath to grant them independence - in part because of a patrimonial mentality that inhibits them from surrendering any territory that was ever part of the Russian homeland, and in part because they fear that granting the Chechens sovereignty would lead to a greater unraveling of their federation. The Kremlin also does not want to lose face by capitulating to force.
The Russians ought to learn from the French. France, too, was once involved
in a bloody colonial war in which thousands fell victim of terrorist violence.
The Algerian war began in 1954 and dragged on without an end in sight, until
Charles de Gaulle courageously solved the conflict by granting Algeria independence
in 1962. This decision may have been even harder than the choice confronting
President Putin, because Algeria was much larger and contributed more to the
French economy than Chechnya does to Russia's, and hundreds of thousands of
French citizens lived there....
Posted on: Friday, September 10, 2004 - 15:16
Ronald Steel, in the Nation (Sept. 2004):
It did not take long for a term that not long ago was slanderous to become a cliche. Suddenly everyone has discovered, and accepts as a commonplace, that the United States possesses an empire. For some our newly acknowledged imperial status is a source of celebration, for others of lamentation, but it is in any case something that cannot be denied. It is no longer even a choice, but rather a simple reality.
Of course the United States is an empire, and in most respects the most powerful that the world has ever seen. Given the current global balance of power--where the only serious rival has self-destructed, and aspirants to the title have a long way to go before being considered seriously--there is nothing else that it can be. Even an American government that tried to practice restraint, self-denial and mutuality would still be the dominant factor in any political equation. It sets the agenda even by its absence. Consider the cases of Bosnia, where the bloodshed did not end until the United States intervened, and Rwanda, and today Sudan, where it continued unabated because the United States chose to stand aside....
Our sense of aggrieved innocence usefully masks the violence of our own history and the motivations for many of our foreign wars. But this is not generally taught in our textbooks. Some argue, as does British economic historian Niall Ferguson in Colossus, his rhapsody to the imperial tradition, not merely "that the United States is an empire but that it has always been an empire." He rightly observes that the American nation was no sooner founded than its leaders embarked on an energetic program of expansion that--through diplomacy, conquest and theft from its original inhabitants--brought into the ever-expanding Union all the lands east of the Mississippi, then the vast territories of Louisiana, followed by Texas and a third of Mexico, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Caribbean and Pacific islands seized from Spain, and the once-independent kingdom of Hawaii. Not to mention the informal economic empire in Latin America, about which a US secretary of state declared in 1895, "today the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and...its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition."
Our empire did not become global until 1945, when the defeat and the ensuing political and economic collapse of the great imperial powers--Germany, Britain, France and Japan--shattered the existing global balance. The United States emerged from World War II with overwhelming power and an expansive self-confidence. It had grown enormously richer during the war, shedding the self-doubt and overcoming the economic depression of the 1930s. Backed by a triumphant military machine, it had the capacity and the self-awareness to advance its interests and its values around the globe.
The awareness of the new role that the United States could play was vividly expressed in early 1941 by Henry Luce, months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the nation into a two-front war. Americans, wrote the publisher of Time and Life magazines in an essay he modestly titled "The American Century," must "accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world, and in consequence exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit." Even George W. Bush would not have expressed the sentiment so baldly.
The project was not only political but also territorial, and it took shape, geographer Neil Smith powerfully argues in American Empire: Roosevelt's Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization, as part of a comprehensive global vision dating back to the early decades of the twentieth century. "The American Century, understood as a specific historical period," Smith demonstrates, "was built with an equally specific but largely unseen geography." In this geography of history, he examines the construction of the imperial space through the influence of Isaiah Bowman, the influential geographer who mapped out for Woodrow Wilson the new boundaries of post-World War I Europe, and for Franklin Roosevelt the American presence in post-World War II Europe and its colonies. More than a biography, this is an intellectually invigorating challenge to the assumption that globalism is a process that can be divorced from specific territorial and political objectives.
If the emerging American empire was not based on the formal acquisition of territory, a territorial concept was inherent in the construction of economic and political control. This was the continuation and expansion of the prewar pattern. Following World War I the United States--unlike its French, British and Japanese allies--claimed no spoils from those it had defeated. Instead it focused on economic expansion (and continued suzerainty over Latin America). Its goal then, and now, was a global Open Door for American trade and investment....
George W. Bush may be more crude in his language and his methods than previous Presidents, but he is following the same road map. It will take more than exhortation to persuade him or his successors to do otherwise.
Indeed, it will be extremely difficult, if even possible, to behave dramatically differently. Style is one thing, substance another. Bush offends by his style. He enjoys confrontation and the humiliation of those opposed to his will. Consider his treatment of old allies like the French and Germans in the run-up to the Iraq war. Another President, like John F. Kennedy, would have put the mailed fist in a smooth glove. Yet this, with more nuance, will likely be the path pursued by John Kerry should he succeed Bush. Both his campaign speeches and his choice of advisers reaffirm an imperial role. The difference is a matter of style.
The United States today is what it is, and has been at least since 1945: a great imperial power with global interests to protect and advance. George W. Bush strikes a discordant key. Yet in most respects he sings the familiar tune, and it is unlikely to change in any major way, regardless of who occupies the White House, until the tectonic plates of the global power equation have moved into a new alignment. In the meantime, what we may have most to fear is not major war or crippling terrorist attacks but, as Brzezinski has warned, whether "global hegemony could endanger American democracy itself."
Posted on: Friday, September 10, 2004 - 15:11
... Thirty years ago, when the terrorism debate got underway, it was widely asserted that terrorism was basically a left-wing revolutionary movement caused by oppression and exploitation. Hence the conclusion: Find a political and social solution, remedy the underlying evil — no oppression, no terrorism. The argument about the left-wing character of terrorism is no longer frequently heard, but the belief in a fatal link between poverty and violence has persisted. Whenever a major terrorist attack has taken place, one has heard appeals from high and low to provide credits and loans, to deal at long last with the deeper, true causes of terrorism, the roots rather than the symptoms and outward manifestations. And these roots are believed to be poverty, unemployment, backwardness, and inequality.
It is not too difficult to examine whether there is such a correlation between poverty and terrorism, and all the investigations have shown that this is not the case. The experts have maintained for a long time that poverty does not cause terrorism and prosperity does not cure it. In the world’s 50 poorest countries there is little or no terrorism. A study by scholars Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova reached the conclusion that the terrorists are not poor people and do not come from poor societies. A Harvard economist has shown that economic growth is closely related to a society’s ability to manage conflicts. More recently, a study of India has demonstrated that terrorism in the subcontinent has occurred in the most prosperous (Punjab) and most egalitarian (Kashmir, with a poverty ratio of 3.5 compared with the national average of 26 percent) regions and that, on the other hand, the poorest regions such as North Bihar have been free of terrorism. In the Arab countries (such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but also in North Africa), the terrorists originated not in the poorest and most neglected districts but hailed from places with concentrations of radical preachers. The backwardness, if any, was intellectual and cultural — not economic and social.
These findings, however, have had little impact on public opinion (or on many politicians), and it is not difficult to see why. There is the general feeling that poverty and backwardness with all their concomitants are bad — and that there is an urgent need to do much more about these problems. Hence the inclination to couple the two issues and the belief that if the (comparatively) wealthy Western nations would contribute much more to the development and welfare of the less fortunate, in cooperation with their governments, this would be in a long-term perspective the best, perhaps the only, effective way to solve the terrorist problem.
Reducing poverty in the Third World is a moral as well as a political and economic imperative, but to expect from it a decisive change in the foreseeable future as far as terrorism is concerned is unrealistic, to say the least. It ignores both the causes of backwardness and poverty and the motives for terrorism. ...
Posted on: Thursday, September 9, 2004 - 00:19