Posts Tagged Muslim Brotherhood

Did the left give up on Israel or did Israel give up on the left?

I hear a lot of talk from the Zionist left and right about the abysmal state of the Israeli left. Take, for example, this report by Elisheva Goldberg on the recent Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) march in Tel Aviv:

The Israeli Left’s Identity Issues – The Daily Beast.

The trouble is this: when “leftism” becomes an identity element, it makes leftist politics involuntary. It turns marching with ACRI from a political act of free will into a necessary expression of self. It turns human rights activism from a fight for political victory into a fight for acknowledgement and recognition. And—most crucially—it turns the left from a movement of social change into a group of people who love each other, but have given up on winning and instead are just doing their best to preserve their community. Ella’s last comment to me was that “we need to feel that we’re part of something so that we can get up and go to work every day.” These ACRI marchers feel they’ve lost—and so they have. They’ve decided they’re content just to feel loved and appreciated by each other—and so they will be.

There are plenty of explanations for this from both sides.

Ask someone from the right, and they will tell you that the left’s policies failed — Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Hizballah fired rockets for 6 years until a brutal and bloody war; Israel withdrew from Gaza and Hamas took over and fired rockets for 6 years and counting, despite two brutal and bloody wars; Barak sat down with Arafat and made a generous offer and all we got in return was an intifada; Olmert sat down with Abbas and made another generous offer and we got nothing out of it; the Palestinians and Arabs continue to spread antisemitism in schoolbooks, on TV, and everywhere else; the Muslim Brotherhood is taking over the Middle East; they all hate us and they want to kill us like they did in the intifada, so  we need to be strong and defend our borders and prepare for the impending apocalypse by buying a camper-van and moving next to Ramallah so we can improve our security by burning down some Palestinian olive trees.

Ask someone from the left and you’ll hear all about how Israel’s continuing occupation of the Palestinians is eroding its moral character and transforming it into some kind of proto-fascist society — everyone goes to the army, and so militancy is being bred into the society; years of controlling the Palestinians and relating to them only as soldier to controlled society has led to them being seen not as humans, but as some kind of lesser creatures; the failure to halt the settlement enterprise has put Israel in permanent control of the West Bank and made the two-state solution impossible, meaning there is some kind of apartheid system in place; the religious-Zionist camp has become increasingly racist and has begun to have more influence over the secular right and over the haredim; Likud is being taken-over by Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin, the Kahannists are the fastest-growing Knesset faction, they all hate us and want to kill us like they killed Rabin, so we may as well just give up and smoke pot in our run-down bauhaus apartment building in Tel Aviv while talking about how much smarter we are than everyone else and complaining that we don’t have jobs.

That’s not to say that there’s no merit in these theories. Maybe we can learn from both of them — for example, I don’t mind the idea of smoking pot near Ramallah and talking about how smart I am.

One thing that I do want to point out is that the two narratives are completely polarised in a way that is quite revealing of their respective mentalities: the Zionist left blame everything on the Israeli right and the Zionist right blame everything on the Arabs.

This annoys me, especially when I read things like this article by Peter Beinart, where he talks about how Obama has given up on Netanyahu without even mentioning that Obama may have also given up on Abbas — because it can’t be Abbas’ fault, the Israeli right is to blame for everything. Likewise for the many articles (I don’t have an example in front of me, but there’s no shortage) that keep talking about how much Israel just wants peace and it’s all the Arabs’ fault, as though the ruling party didn’t just preselect a lot of people who openly oppose a Palestinian state (the part about Danon and Feiglin taking over the Likud is true).

But anyway, that’s beside the point. I am going to posit another explanation for the state of affairs. We have a bad tendency in the Jewish community to think that we are the only ones affecting anything — when really, on a global scale, we are quite minor players. It’s probably some degree of internalised oppression resulting from antisemitic conspiracy theories, but that’s a different discussion.

A while ago, I read this piece on the geopolitics of Israel by George Friedman, which made a point that has stuck with me:

The Geopolitics of Israel: Biblical and Modern | Stratfor.

Israel exists in three conditions. First, it can be a completely independent state. This condition occurs when there are no major imperial powers external to the region. We might call this the David model. Second, it can live as part of an imperial system — either as a subordinate ally, as a moderately autonomous entity or as a satrapy. In any case, it maintains its identity but loses room for independent maneuvering in foreign policy and potentially in domestic policy. We might call this the Persian model in its most beneficent form. Finally, Israel can be completely crushed — with mass deportations and migrations, with a complete loss of autonomy and minimal residual autonomy. We might call this the Babylonian model.

Israel is a small fish in a big pond, but is very strategically located and therefore will always be in someone’s interests to control. When great powers compete over Middle East hegemony (as they tend to do), Israel can either survive as a client state, or be subsumed.

Until fairly recently, Israel was a client of the Western secular left. At the moment, Israel is a client of the Christian right. Europe — dominated by the secular left — has been becoming increasingly anti-Israel for a variety of reasons (and correlated with a dramatic rise in antisemitism throughout the continent). The Western academic left has essentially fallen to the Edward Said mentality and now speaks about Israel as though it were the root cause of everything that is evil in this world. A similar attitude pervades the UN (which is essentially where the academic left go on secondment when they are tired of academia).

Meanwhile, support for Israel in the Christian right has never been stronger. The massive Evangelical population in the US has become fanatically pro-Israel. In response to the growing cultural tensions in Europe and the ‘unholy alliance’ between the secular left and the ultra-conservative Islamists, the European right has begun to shift strongly towards Israel. I often hear remarks in Australia that the conservative Christian right is more pro-Israel than the Jewish community, and I think there is genuinely some truth to that assessment.

What does this mean? Put simply, Israel needs to maintain itself as a client state in order to survive. It can no longer rely on the secular left for support as, in a fit of post-colonial guilt and profound ‘Orientalism’, the secular left has determined that since the Islamists were fighting against George Bush, and they don’t like George Bush, the Islamists must be ‘part of the global left‘. Never mind all that stuff about hanging the homosexuals, stoning adulterers, and killing the women in your family for ‘dishonourable’ behaviour. That part’s not important.

In other words, the Israeli right has huge support from the global right, and the Israeli left is being scorned by the global left. Given the dynamics of Israel, it is small wonder that the left is in disarray.

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Gaza: if the current strategy isn’t working that well, why not try something stupid?

 

Israel has been hit with hundreds of rockets over the past couple of weeks. There is nothing new about this — Israel has been hit with thousands upon thousands of rockets for the past decade or so — except that the situation is becoming untenable.  The people of southern Israel are tired of living in bomb shelters, periodically closing schools, and having to make a decision every night about whether or not it’s safe to sleep in the second story of their homes and put the bomb shelter too far away to reach should a rocket land overnight.

Before anyone says anything, I am not trying to downplay what the Palestinians in Gaza are going through. I am trying to explain how Israelis are feeling and how they are thinking. Whatever else may be said about the rocket fire, it is not ‘harmless’ at all, it is terrifying for the people who have to live through it on a daily basis. The casualty rate is low only because of the insane precautions that the population has to go through, but being under constant threat is no way for 1/5 of the country to live.

The entire Israeli public are demanding that something be done. This crosses any kind of partisan and factional lines that you could imagine. Even those who are generally in the peacenik camp have been amping-up their rhetoric. Holding an outstretched hand does not seem like a great idea when you’re being shot at. Wheat we are looking at, potentially, is a repeat of 2008/09’s Operation Cast-lead. It’s an outcome that nobody wants, but if it’s the only way to stop these attacks, it may be needed.

Well, there have been a couple of alternatives floated. Take Nervana Mahmoud, for example:

The End Of Deterrence – The Daily Beast.

Going to war, however, is not the only option. There is potential for a political out, as some analysts advocate, including Khalid Elgindy of Brookings. A smart move would address both elements of the problem: the lack of a state that Israel can deal with and the non-state players. The solution for Gaza is two-fold, a conditional acceptance of Mahmoud Abbas’s U.N. bid in return for demanding that the Egyptians reinstate the U.N.-recognized Abbas government in Gaza and empower his security team to run the Rafah border. In addition, Israel announces its willingness to engage with the emerging Sunni alliance—Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt—to formulate a plan to dismantle Gaza militants’ military capabilities in return for lifting the siege. Such a gambit could snooker Hamas supporters into either accepting the deal, offering alternatives, or a rejection, which would make them appear to be the opponents of a political solution.

Clearly, among the different schools of foreign policy, Mahmoud falls into the ‘remedial class’. Let’s break this down item-by-item. First, Mahmoud wants Israel to offer to the Egyptians — who are led by the Muslim Brotherhood, let me remind you — that Israel will provisionally accept a UN bid that Egypt has not really expressed much investment in, in return for Egypt forcibly expelling the MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD-offshoot Hamas regime and instead installing a secular-nationalist Palestinian regime led by corrupt officials whose relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood could be best described as ‘sworn enemies who have been killing each other for years’. Do I have that right? Just checking we’re on the same page.

And then part two of this genius plan is for Israel to show that it is ‘willing to engage’ with Egypt, Turkey and Qatar. That would be the Egypt that has just decided to stop supplying Israel with natural gas, the Turkey that has just suspended all formal relations with Israel, and the Qatar that never had formal relations with Israel. Leaving Qatar to one side for a second, Mahmoud is suggesting that Israel engage with its two former allies, both of which have become increasingly belligerent towards Israel as a result of Islamist parties taking over.

Right.

I like this idea better:

State of Gaza – JPost – Opinion – Editorials.

Today, Hamas functions as the official political leadership of the entire Gaza Strip. The party sets both domestic policies – such as the institution of Shari’a law – and foreign policy. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh represented the entire Gaza population when he welcomed the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. And the emir effectively recognized Hamas as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians living in Gaza.

Recognizing Hamas as responsible for what happens inside Gaza – which has clear geographical borders – would serve Israel’s interests. Instead of struggling to distinguish among a myriad of players – Hamas, Salafis and international jihad-affiliated terrorist groups, as well as the Gaza civilian population – Israel should view the “state of Gaza” and its Hamas government as directly responsible for any act of aggression emanating from the territory under its control. Israel’s response to such attacks would, therefore, be directed against the territory of Gaza as a whole.

It makes no sense for Israel to provide an enemy state with electricity, fuel and other goods as it currently does. This makes sense only if a fabricated distinction is made between those in Gaza who fire at Israel and the wider “innocent” population. In reality, however, the majority of Gaza’s population continues to support Hamas, which rules the entire Gaza Strip domestically and represents it internationally.

In contrast, if Hamas provides stability and prevents smaller terrorist groups operating inside Gaza from firing on Israeli civilians, Israel could reciprocate by providing fuel and electricity and keeping trade borders open.

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Arab democracy blooming from Spring, but not what you’re thinking

An item in the International Herald Tribune reveals that Jordan is beginning to develop a genuine civil society that is independent of Government. What has led to this? Well, not the common people rising up against their dictator — King Abdullah is one of the Arab rulers who looks to be emerging from the “Spring” mostly unscathed. Also, if there’s one lesson from the past year, it’s that in most cases the Arab public do not want democracy and will not vote for progressives or reformists — rather, they overwhelmingly support the Muslim Brotherhood.

The civil society that I am referring to, in fact, comes from the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the carnage in Syria and one very wealthy Jordanian man whose conscience couldn’t bear to see them suffer.

Jordanian Donors Privatize Relief – NYTimes.com.

RAMTHA, JORDAN — Nearly every day, Thaer Al-Bashabsheh drives his BMW to the end of an unmarked road in Ramtha, in the northwest of Jordan, to check on the hundreds of refugees who occupy a five-building apartment complex donated by his family to house people fleeing from Syria.

In the past four months, aid workers say, more than 10,000 refugees — mostly from the southern Syrian city of Dara’a and central Homs — have made their way through the camp. Mr. Bashabsheh says one woman, who arrived with a bullet wound in her shoulder, recounted how she had been carrying her 3-year-old son when government forces shot him in the head, the bullet going through his skull and out the other side through her shoulder.

A 25-year-old man who died of a heart attack at the border is buried in the Bashabsheh family cemetery.

“When I’m go through the camp teardrops come to my eyes because I see kids my son’s age. It kills me to see them shoeless and dirty,” Mr. Bashabsheh, 36, said in an interview. “There’s a guy who lost his leg, and I see an old man, 95 years old, who cannot move and is sitting under the shade of a tree.”

“This is not a life.” …

The family subsidizes the camp for Jordan’s Interior Ministry at a personal cost of about 280,000 Jordanian dinars, or $395,000, per year. They also provide food, water, clothing and cigarettes for those who have fled President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Mr. Bashabsheh said. The camp is supposed to hold only 600 people, but at one point it overflowed with 2,000 refugees, according to local news reports.

“You know, daily, my father is taking from the bank 1,000 Jordanian dinars, going to the camp, coming back in the night” without a dinar left in his pocket, Mr. Bashabsheh said, puffing on a Cuban cigar.

As I have mentioned many times, elections are the final step towards democracy and not the first. Steps like wealthy Jordanians feeling obligated to spend their personal money helping those less fortunate is a step towards democracy. This is the start of the classic Hobbesian “social contract”, whereby the society is united by common values and the ruling class is a part of that society and not a separate entity that spends its time consolidating power and wealth (as is the case in the vast majority of Arab states).

This idea can be exemplified by people like Andrew Forrest, the mining magnate who today outlined his new initiative to employ Indigenous Australians. He laments the decades of well-meaning enslavement of our Indigenous community through keeping them poisoned through welfare and not affording them accountability for their own actions. Instead, he is taking them into his company on his own initiative and giving them the skills they need for the dignity of being productive citizens.

Work is the key to living free of the curse of welfare and shame | thetelegraph.com.au.

There will be some who will dismiss this great cause if I neglect to mention an important truth. A truth I have seen best taught by Aboriginal elders, leaders and scholars – some of whom are in this room.

I understand what they are saying to me: “When it comes to having the respect of others, being Aboriginal is not an achievement in itself”. It is not a right, a reward, or anything else that one earns by effort. It is a simple fact of birth which can be upheld with respect or cheapened by the actions of the indigenous individual. The same is true for all of us.

Those parents of Aboriginal youth who stereotype their own people through misbehaviour cannot turn a blind eye to the impact of their example. Nor can they blame anyone else. The family unit so deeply and traditionally honoured in indigenous culture means elders and parents take responsibility. No longer can they say: “There are no jobs, there is no place for me.”

The expectation is no different for Aboriginal people than for every other Australian. No segment of our society can excuse or blame bad behaviour on Aboriginality.

But we must make sure that the opportunity to work is well and truly there, and our expectation of their duty just the same as for any other Australian.

Of course, Forrest has been made a nemesis by Treasurer Wayne Swan, who figures that he — not Forrest — should be determining how Forrest’s money should be spent (probably on more welfare).

Meanwhile, as the Project on Middle East Democracy has reported, Tunisia is also seeing an incredible amount of civil society activity and looks to be the only Arab revolution that may actually lead to democratic rule. The situation in Tunisia is largely because Tunisia has been the only Arab country that did not elect an Islamist majority in Parliament — the ruling Ennahda party has had to form a coalition with secular groups. This is more proof that the centralisation of power is the enemy of freedom, a lesson that many in Australia could do well to learn.

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The Middle East trust deficit

Don’t you love it when someone succinctly puts exactly what you feel? Gershon Baskin using the “both sides” equivalency, but being right:

Encountering Peace: Q&A on the fu… JPost – Opinion – Columnists.

Q: The Palestinians breached every agreement they ever signed with Israel, how can we trust them?

A: Israel and the PLO, representing the Palestinian people, signed five agreements. Every one of those agreements was breached by both sides. Neither side fulfilled its obligations, and the breaches were substantive in all of the agreements.

…Breaches upon breaches piled up and created a total breakdown. The failure of both sides to implement in good faith and to repair the damage in real time led to a total collapse of trust between the parties. The basic idea of an interim period (of five years) was to develop the trust that would be required to negotiate the main issues in conflict.

That trust never developed – quite the opposite. Today, objectively speaking, there is absolutely no reason why Israel and Palestine should trust each other – they have completely earned the mistrust that exists between them.

… There is no possibility for progress without negotiations, yet while both sides recognize this truth it seems that the complete absence of trust, what I call the “trust deficiency,” is more powerful than the desire to reach an agreement at this time. This is enhanced by the complete belief on both sides of the conflict that there is no partner for peace on the other side. Both sides say that they want peace, and both sides blame the other for lack of any progress.

Yup, that’s pretty much the situation. Abbas doesn’t trust Bibi; Bibi doesn’t trust Abbas; neither of them trust Obama; Obama is sick of them both; Obama, Abbas and Bibi all don’t trust Hamas and Hamas’ leaders don’t even trust each other, let alone anyone else.

The Israelis don’t trust the Palestinians because Israeli concessions are just met with violence and condemnations; the Palestinians don’t trust the Israelis because no one in Israel can agree on anything and the same government seems to have 5 different policies; the Palestinians don’t trust each other because every second person is an informant for Israel or secretly working for whichever of Hamas/Fatah the first person is worried about; the Jordanians don’t trust the Palestinians because Arafat tried to overthrow King Hussein in the ’70s; the secular Egyptians don’t trust the Palestinians because Hamas is too close to the Muslim Brotherhood; the Israelis don’t trust the Egyptians because they think they’re all Muslim Brotherhood; The Muslim Brotherhood don’t trust Fatah because they’re against Hamas…

I’m going to stop here, you get the picture. Anyone see a way out?

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Human Rights Watch and letting Muslim states have the rulers they want but don’t deserve

A whole long list of NGO officials have come out in criticism of Human Rights Watch and its CEO Kenneth Roth, slamming Roth for his hypocrisy in supporting Islamist regimes that are serial abusers of human rights. As usual, my bold:

Women and Islam: A Debate with Human Rights Watch | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.

You say, “It is important to nurture the rights-respecting elements of political Islam while standing firm against repression in its name,” but you fail to call for the most basic guarantee of rights—the separation of religion from the state. Salafi mobs have caned women in Tunisian cafes and Egyptian shops; attacked churches in Egypt; taken over whole villages in Tunisia and shut down Manouba University for two months in an effort to exert social pressure on veiling. And while “moderate Islamist” leaders say they will protect the rights of women (if not gays), they have done very little to bring these mobs under control. You, however, are so unconcerned with the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities that you mention them only once, as follows: “Many Islamic parties have indeed embraced disturbing positions that would subjugate the rights of women and restrict religious, personal, and political freedoms. But so have many of the autocratic regimes that the West props up.” Are we really going to set the bar that low? This is the voice of an apologist, not a senior human rights advocate.

Nor do you point to the one of the clearest threats to rights—particularly to women and religious and sexual minorities—the threat to introduce so-called “shari’a law.” It is simply not good enough to say we do not know what kind of Islamic law, if any, will result, when it is already clear that freedom of expression and freedom of religion—not to mention the choice not to veil—are under threat. And while it is true that the Muslim Brotherhood has not been in power for very long, we can get some idea of what to expect by looking at their track record. In the UK, where they were in exile for decades, unfettered by political persecution, the exigencies of government, or the demands of popular pressure, the Muslim Brotherhood systematically promoted gender apartheid and parallel legal systems enshrining the most regressive version of “shari’a law”. Yusef al-Qaradawi, a leading scholar associated with them, publicly maintains that homosexuality should be punished by death. They supported deniers of the Holocaust and the Bangladesh genocide of 1971, and shared platforms with salafi-jihadis, spreading their calls for militant jihad. But, rather than examine the record of Muslim fundamentalists in the West, you keep demanding that Western governments “engage.”

A side note, but the term “sharia law” is a tautology – Sharia means “Islamic law”.

Meanwhile, the parts in bold are very important. All across the Muslim world, horrible acts like honour killings become the norm not necessarily because they are official state policy, but because regimes will publicly condemn these acts whenever they are criticised while not actually taking any steps to prevent them.

In fact, they often condemn with one arm while encouraging with the other – as the letter above pointed out.  Qaradawi is not a fringe radical, he is a celebrity cleric with his own show on Al Jazeera Arabic and one of the most prominent spiritual leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood; yet he encourages violence, terror and intolerance with impunity.

This is another example of the “third-worldism” that I wrote about recently. HRW are refusing to listen to the Muslim Brotherhood when they say that homosexuality is a crime punishable by death, Jews are a plague on humanity and should all be killed, Christians should be expelled from Egypt and women should be not seen and most definitely not heard. All it takes is for Muslim Brotherhood members to say “we are committed to the rights of women” and HRW believes that they must be “moderate”. Remember that the “rights” that they speak of are not what our Western minds think when we hear “women’s rights”.

HRW replies

The HRW response is also very revealing:

In the introduction to Human Rights Watch’s most recent World Report, released on January 22, Kenneth Roth wrote that Western governments cannot credibly maintain a commitment to democracy if they reject electoral results when an Islamic party does well. That was the hypocritical stance of the West when, for example, it acquiesced in the Algerian military’s interruption of free elections that the Islamist Salvation Front was poised to win and then in the brutal suppression of that party in the early 1990s, or when President George W. Bush cut short his “democracy agenda” after Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006 and the Muslim Brotherhood did better than expected in Egyptian parliamentary elections in 2005.

Western governments should reject this inconsistent and unprincipled approach to democracy. Human Rights Watch called on Western governments to come to terms with the rise of Islamic political parties and press them to respect rights. As rights activists, we are acutely aware of the possible tension between the right to choose one’s leaders and the rights of potentially disfavored groups such as women, gays and lesbians, and religious minorities. Anyone familiar with the history of Iran or Afghanistan knows the serious risks involved. However, in the two Arab Spring nations that have had free and fair elections so far, a solid majority voted for socially conservative political parties in Egypt, and a solid plurality did so in Tunisia. The sole democratic option is to accept the results of those elections and to press the governments that emerge to respect the rights of all rather than to ostracize these governments from the outset.

Notice that they pulled the “Bush card”. This is an argument reminiscent of the Reduction ad Hitlerum fallacy, a corollary of Godwin’s Law, whereby anything that George W Bush did is considered to be wrong by virtue of the fact that he did it. It’s an argument used by the kind of idiots who genuinely think Bush was comparable to Hitler, not to mention the kind of idiots who would assume that something must be bad just because someone they don’t like did it. That said, Bush was wrong – HRW just don’t understand why.

Bush was not wrong to reject Hamas after they were elected, he was wrong to let them stand for election in the first place. Hamas was always very open about what it was: an organisation that opposed democracy, advocated Medieval morality, called for genocide and committed violence – hell, you can learn all that by just watching their TV channel:

What Bush and HRW do not understand is that the mere fact that a government is “elected” does not make a for a democracy. This is a historical fact that actually can be proven by a Hitler comparison: the Nazis were elected into power in Germany. A measure of whether a government is democratic is not how it comes into power initially, but how it stays in power.

Elections are the last step in forming a democracy, not the first. The single most important component of a democracy is the rule of law – the rulers must be under the law, there must be some kind of peaceful mechanism for removing them from office. In order for that to happen, the society needs a separation of powers – the rulers must be accountable to the legal system and not the other way around; the use of physical force (i.e. army and police) must be separate from both. There also has to be some kind of mechanism for the legal system to find information about the rulers’ activities to see if they must be removed from power and the rulers must be unable to stop this information from getting out: you need freedom of political communication.

Even a society with: the rule of law; free speech; and an independent judiciary, army and government; is not ready for popular elections. For the people to elect their leaders, they need to be informed enough about the different options to make a decision; there needs to be a well-established media and at least two realistic options to vote for who can scrutinise each other, otherwise any election will automatically go to whoever has the most widespread networks (i.e. the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood).

Also, it is perfectly acceptable to exclude parties who are openly anti-democratic. Israel has banned “Jewish terrorist” Meir Kahane’s party from running in the Knesset for that exact reason.

Finally, the most important thing to realise is that democracy does not happen overnight. Rushing into elections is stupid, it will only put revolutionaries into power and if there is anything to be learned from post-colonial Africa, it’s that revolutionaries do not generally make great rulers.

Let Islamists be Islamists and treat them like Islamists

Tragically, while HRW are (I believe genuinely) trying to avoid imposing Western morality onto the Arab people, they are in fact doing something arguably worse. Rather than openly trying to change Arab societies into something resembling Western ones, they are approaching the Arab peoples with an entirely Western mindset and just treating them as though they are Western, no matter how much they themselves reject Western values. This attitude is extremely destructive, it will result in more Afghanistans and less Indonesias.

We must be honest with ourselves and we must be willing to take Arab parties at their word. We want an Egypt that does not oppress women, homosexuals, Jews and Christians; we want an Egypt with democratic institutions where people are not persecuted for anti-government or “un-Islamic” activities. The Muslim Brotherhood do not want this Egypt and they say that openly – why do we refuse to believe them?

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Extreme left view on the Middle East

 

My last post received the following comments on Facebook:

  • SN: But that would involve admitting that they’ve got it all wrong; that Arabs are subjugated not by Israel but by the leaders that the far left have supported, actively or tacitly, for the last 4 decades. And admitting they’re wrong isn’t something they’re known for…

  • XW: I’ll turn my Facebook profile photo to a celebratory green square the day Gaddafi is knifed.
    I wonder how many Trots that supported the Gaddafi-funded second flotilla to Gaza will also cheer his downfall?

I’m still constantly amazed by the extreme left’s ability to actually bypass any sort of logical thought process but still have such strong opinions on everything.

Apparently:

The West are hypocrites for propping-up dictators in the Middle East so that worse dictators don’t take over, especially since the protests are about freedom and democracy, so the Muslim Brotherhood won’t take over. Also, the Muslim Brotherhood are actually really nice people and if they do take over, they’ll be a free and democratic regime and not like the other Islamist revolutions in Afghanistan and Iran.

But the Taliban and the Iranians aren’t really as bad as you think, and really it’s the US and Israel that created the problems in those countries by propping-up the Shah and supporting the resistance to Russia. It was also not the USSR’s fault that Khomenei turned-out to be a brutal theocrat or that they left a huge power vacuum in Afghanistan after 20 years of conflict so that the Taliban could take over, because we don’t criticise left wing regimes, even ones as far gone as the USSR, and let’s face it, we can blame the US.

And George Bush’s policy of pro-democracy initiatives in the Middle East like supporting education and free press was colonialism at its worst, besides the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and his support for Israel, of course. However when the Middle East then rises-up, it’s democracy at its best and Obama is displaying colonialism at its worst by not doing enough to support democracy through initiatives like education and free press.

And when the democratically-elected Iraqi government is sending planes to evacuate its citizens from an unstable Egypt, because they feel safer in Iraq, we need to pull all the remaining troops out of Iraq now so that they can rebuild their country free of colonial influence. This is what they were trying to do a few years ago before that Nazi Bush introduced his “Surge”. [Editor’s note: at the time, they were blowing each other up in massive sectarian violence, killing dozens of people each day].

And of course, when Netanyahu is concerned about who will take over in Egypt because Israelis are worried about maintaining the peace treaty that has prevented war for 32 years, Israel is supporting dictatorship and anti-democracy. But when Israel congratulates the democratic movement in Egypt, they are lying and just angling to oppress the Palestinians more. And when an angry mob tries to beat-up and rape a non-Jewish American reporter screaming “Jew! Jew! Jew!” and when the Muslim Brotherhood call for war with Israel, they’re just kidding really, because they’re nice people after all.

I just can’t understand how they don’t see the holes in that whole theory. Particularly when they win prizes for writing this kind of crap. Paul McGeough, I’m looking at you

 

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How Much Do We Know About Egypt?

Good point by David Frum that I thought would be worth re-posting:

How Much Do We Know About Egypt? | FrumForum.

80 million people in the country. 17 million in Cairo. 200,000 protesters in Tahrir Square. Only the ones who speak English appear on our TV.

When we talk about the reach of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egyptian society – or conversely the appeal of democracy – we are talking about things about which nobody knows very much and probably nobody can know very much. One out of seven Egyptians cannot read. Half of them live on less than $2 a day. What do they think? What do they want? And it may be an equally urgent question to know: who leads, guides and controls what they think and want?

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Apparently the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t so bad

Well, according to Carrie Wickham, some associate professor in political science from Emory University.

The Muslim Brotherhood After Mubarak | Foreign Affairs.

Although the Brotherhood entered the political system in order to change it, it ended up being changed by the system. Leaders who were elected to professional syndicates engaged in sustained dialogue and cooperation with members of other political movements, including secular Arab nationalists. Through such interactions, Islamists and Arabists found common ground in the call for an expansion of public freedoms, democracy, and respect for human rights and the rule of law, all of which, they admitted, their movements had neglected in the past

….The factions defy easy categorization, but there seem to be three major groups. The first may be called the da’wa faction. It is ideologically conservative and strongly represented in the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau and local branch offices. Its main source of power is its control over bureaucratic operations and allocation of resources. Because it has also managed to control the socialization of new recruits, it has cultivated loyalty among the youth, particularly in rural areas. The second faction, who we might call pragmatic conservatives, seems to be the group’s mainstream wing. This group combines religious conservatism  with a belief in the value of participation and engagement. Most of the Brotherhood’s members with legislative experience, including such long-time parliamentarians as Saad al-Katatni and Muhammad Mursi, fall into this category. The final faction is the group of reformers who chose to remain with the Brotherhood rather than breaking off. Advocating a progressive interpretation of Islam, this trend is weakly represented in the Guidance Bureau and does not have a large following among the Brotherhood’s rank and file. Yet ‘Abd al-Mun’em Abu Futuh, arguably the Brotherhood’s most important reformist figure, has become an important model and source of inspiration for a new generation of Islamist democracy activists — inside and outside the Muslim Brotherhood. Interestingly, Futuh first suggested that the Brotherhood throw its weight behind a secular reform candidate last February, prefiguring the Brotherhood’s support for Mohamed El Baradei, the opposition’s de facto leader, today.

Sounds great right? Pragmatic conservatives, weakly represented reformers. They are even altruistic apparently – they are more concerned with bringing freedom to Egypt than with gaining power themselves:

The Brotherhood knows from experience that the greater its role, the higher the risk of a violent crackdown — as indicated by the harsh wave of repression that followed its strong showing in the 2005 parliamentary elections. Its immediate priority is to ensure that President Hosni Mubarak steps down and that the era of corruption and dictatorship associated with his rule comes to an end. To achieve that, the Brotherhood, along with other opposition groups, is backing El Baradei. The Brotherhood also knows that a smooth transition to a democratic system will require an interim government palatable to the military and the West, so it has indicated that it would not seek positions in the new government itself. The Brotherhood is too savvy, too pragmatic, and too cautious to squander its hard-earned reputation among Egyptians as a responsible political actor or invite the risk of a military coup by attempting to seize power on its own.

Could there be a downside? Well, of course they are a little bit racist sometimes and they have a tiny history of violence before massive crackdowns on their movement, but you can’t just look at the small picture! There’s more to them than violence and hatred, you see:

Those who emphasize the risk of “Islamic tyranny” aptly note that the Muslim Brotherhood originated as an anti-system group dedicated to the establishment of sharia rule; committed acts of violence against its opponents in the pre-1952 era; and continues to use anti-Western, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric. But portraying the Brotherhood as eager and able to seize power and impose its version of sharia on an unwilling citizenry is a caricature that exaggerates certain features of the Brotherhood while ignoring others, and underestimates the extent to which the group has changed over time.

Ah wait, it goes deeper than this. Turns out there are a few little…sticking points, shall we say, in the Brotherhood’s ideology:

Still, it is unclear whether the group will continue to exercise pragmatic self-restraint down the road or whether its more progressive leaders will prevail. Such reformers may be most welcome among the other opposition groups when they draft a new constitution and establish the framework for new elections, but they do not necessarily speak for the group’s senior leadership or the majority of its rank and file.

It remains to be seen whether the Brotherhood as an organization — not only individual members — will accept a constitution that does not at least refer to sharia; respect the rights of all Egyptians to express their ideas and form parties; clarify its ambiguous positions on the rights of women and non-Muslims; develop concrete programs to address the nation’s toughest social and economic problems; and apply the same pragmatism it has shown in the domestic arena to issues of foreign policy, including relations with Israel and the West. Over time, other parties — including others with an Islamist orientation — may provide the Brotherhood with some healthy competition and an impetus to further reform itself.

What was that about human rights? So apparently these “reformers” are not all that influential amongst the leadership or the membership (so where exactly are they?) and may not influence the Brotherhood to abandon its own ideology and accept things like women’s rights, freedom of expression and not attacking Israel. In fact, numerous spokesmen (and I use the gendered term purposefully) have said or implied that they will abrogate the peace treaty with Israel and return to a state of war:

Rashad al-Bayoumi said the peace treaty with Israel will be abolished after a provisional government is formed by the movement and other Egypt’s opposition parties.
“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel,” al-Bayoumi said.

Wickham seems to spend most of this essay clutching at the straws of a minority faction of reformers in the Brotherhood with no real influence in order to gloss over the Brotherhood’s less “savoury” policies and sit there with fingers crossed, hoping somehow that outside influence will change the way the Brotherhood operates. The reality is that while they have been muted by vicious government crackdowns, the Brotherhood is still the Brotherhood – their core ideology is Al-Banna’s literalist Islam which is extremely racist, sexist, violent and intolerant. If they gain power, they wouldn’t just be “less open to US and Western interests”, they would aggressively oppose any and all Western Interests and create a more violent and chaotic Middle-East, while supporting terror groups such as Hamas and helping the Brotherhoods in other countries overthrow the regimes there.

To illustrate my point, I’ll end with a poem that Egyptian Brotherhood luminary Sayed Qutb wrote about America after he spent a few years there:

Its shaky religious convictions. Its harmful social, economic and ethical condition. Its notions of the Trinity, sin and sacrifice, which do not convince the mind nor the conscience. Its capitalism, with its monopolies, its usury and its ugly sombreness. Its selfish individualism, which lacks solidarity except when forced by law. Its materialist, trifling and dry conception of life. Its beastly freedom, which they call ‘the mingling of the sexes.’ Its white slavery, which they refer to as ‘the emancipation of women.’ Its stupid, clumsy, aberrant and unrealistic marriage and divorce laws. Its harsh and evil racial segregation.

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The Muslim Brotherhood may not be as popular as everyone thinks

Interesting point by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman:

China, Twitter and 20-Year-Olds vs. the Pyramids – NYTimes.com.

The Brotherhoods have had it easy in a way. They had no legitimate secular political opponents. The regimes prevented that so they could tell the world it is either “us or the Islamists.” As a result, I think, the Islamists have gotten intellectually lazy. All they had to say was “Islam is the answer” or “Hosni Mubarak is a Zionist” and they could win 20 percent of the vote. Now, if Egypt and Jordan can build a new politics, the Muslim Brotherhood will, for the first time, have real competition from the moderate center in both countries — and they know it.

This may be true, but I’m not quite as optimistic. The problem is that these alternative secular parties won’t develop overnight – they will need to be grassroots movements representing blocks of citizens (i.e. merchants, ethnic groups, labour movements etc.) and it is not yet clear how Egyptians will choose to divide themselves. Egypt is not quite an ethnic clusterfuck like Lebanon, Iraq or Afghanistan, but there still may be sectarian problems if a transition to some form of democracy is mismanaged.

To foster an environment in which democracy would be possible would require a benign dictatorship making a series of reforms to allow a viable secular opposition to develop. Without this, the Brotherhood has too much power and influence to be allowed free reign.

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What a riot: unrest in the Arab world, the Muslim Brotherhood and why Obama just doesn’t get it

I’ve been concentrating on other endeavours over the past three-or-so weeks, however with the aeroplane-based wifi that American Airlines seems to provide, I now have time to comment on the dramatic events that seem to be changing the face of the Middle East as I type. As everyone will be aware, this began with mass popular protests in Tunisia resulting in the as yet relatively benign ousting of long-time dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The reality here is that in the greater Arab world, Tunisia is one of the least volatile countries. As outlined by John Thorne in The National, Tunisia has an extensive recent history of forced secularisation, allowing for a minimalist Islamist presence:

Islam came to Tunisia in the 7th century with Arab armies sweeping across North Africa, and cities such as Tunis and Kairouan became centres of Islamic learning. French colonialism from 1881 injected secularist ideas into Tunisian society.

That set the stage for the policies of Habib Bourguiba, who ruled Tunisia after independence in 1956 and believed that Islamic tradition impeded the building of a modern state.

During Bourguiba’s three-decade rule, a new family code was enacted that gave women equality with men in key areas, the hijab was restricted, and Islamic schools and courts were shut down.

The lack of extreme sentiment in Tunisia is what allowed the revolution to maintain such a positive and peaceful atmosphere (at least so far). This is VERY different from the situation in other Arab countries.

The events grabbing the most headlines, of course, are the protests in Egypt – which look likely to end the 30-year reign of dictator Hosni Mubarak. What a lot of people, particularly the Obama administration, fail to grab is that Egypt is not Tunisia. At all.

It is understandable that, after realising that Arab dictators are not absolutely invulnerable and that mass popular actions can topple autocratic regimes, the people of Egypt decided to give this a shot. Mubarak’s ailing health had been the topic of headlines anyway, and widespread speculation that he was grooming his son Gamal for office had led to a lot of discontent amongst Egypt’s masses. The problem is that Mubarak for years has been a stalwart of Western policy in the region and has led one of the two most powerful Arab countries into clamping-down on extremists and minimising conflict in the region. We may not be so lucky with his successor, who could be:

Gamal Mubarak

The New Yorker‘s Joshua Hammer did some excellent coverage last year of this year’s planned presidential elections in Egypt, which explains the different parties and their positions.

Mohamed ElBaradei, Gamal Mubarak, and the race to succeed Hosni Mubarak : The New Yorker.

Gamal Mubarak is widely seen as a symbol of nepotism and privilege. “A lot of Egyptians don’t like the perception that there is a dynastic process here,” the Western diplomat said. “This is a republic.”

Hammer goes on to explain that while a gifted economist, Gamal Mubarak’s “trickle-down” policies have led to an increasing rich-poor divide in Egypt and the view that he is only interested in furthering his own privileged class.

Mohamed ElBaradei

The other major contender is formar International Atomic Energy Agency president and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei – who has been sending mixed signals about his candidacy. While his achievements, particularly with the dismantling of Libya’s nuclear program, are undeniable, he does look less than ideal on a number of levels. In particular, he displayed a reluctance to aggressively pursue Iran over its nuclear program; his departure last year from the IAEA allowed the US to dramatically step-up its attempts at imposing sanctions on Iran. Also, extremely worryingly, he had this to say about Israel and the Palestinian resistance:

Palestinian violence [is] the only path open to the Palestinian people, because “the Israeli occupation only understands the language of violence.”

(As I have previously observed, the Palestinian resistance has a far, far superior path open – state building.)

These attitudes certainly raise certain doubts regarding ElBaradei’s foreign policy plans. Despite being a seasoned diplomat, it appears that he has a tendency to appease extremists and that he is not too friendly towards Israel. This means that the Egypt-Israel peace treaty could be in jeopardy. This treaty, formed several years after the last war between Israel and it’s more powerful neighbours, began the era of relative peace between Israel and the Arab world and continues to be possibly the single most stabilising factor in the Arab/Israeli conflict – there is apparently an Arab saying that goes “you cannot make war without Egypt”. It’s dissolution would be extremely dangerous and could lead to an unprecedented war in the region.

ElBaradei has been a little evasive on the issue, saying:

…again, the whole issue of peace in the Middle East is an issue which everybody – nobody wants to go to war, Fareed. Nobody was – not want not to have peace in the region, but as you know, the (inaudible) the credibility is not really whether you are supported by a dictator here. It’s whether you have a fair-handed policy, vis-a-vis the Palestinians. And that is really the question. The criteria is not the reaction of the Egyptians. And you’ll get the same reaction under Mubarak, under a democracy. The people feel they are unfairly treated. There is a double standard vis-a-vis the Palestinian issue, and that will continue.

But if you want to have Egypt and the rest of the Arab world have into policy as recognition of Israel, well, you need to review your policy. And however, you know, whatever, what – whatever is going to happen, you know, I am confident that dialogue, negotiation between democracies is much more effective than dialogue between dictators who are in no way representing their people.

Also, as noted here, he may not even last long as a leader as he does not seem to possess the strength that is required of Egyptian rulers, who had a habit of being assassinated before the ruthless policies of Mubarak came into effect.

Muslim Brotherhood

Speaking of these assassinations, the big elephant in this room is, of course, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. For those of you who don’t know, Egypt was the cradle of the Brotherhood – the movement that began modern Islamism as we know it. Their brand of politicised Islam eventually led to Al Qaeda and all of the other Islamic terrorist groups and individuals we know today; however, they also now exist as an arguably non-violent political group (very arguable – they did assassinate the last two Egyptian presidents) with the goal of transforming Muslim states into Islamist ones. As Hammer notes:

Parliamentary elections were also held in 2005, and one opposition group performed significantly better than expected: the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party that supports Sharia law and has engendered such violent offshoots as Egyptian Islamic Jihad. (The Brotherhood renounced violence in 1970.) Although the organization has been officially banned since 1954, independent candidates who openly supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s positions were allowed to run for Parliament, and won eighty-eight seats—a fifth of the total. Many Brotherhood candidates portrayed the Mubarak regime as corrupt. The ruling party still controlled three hundred and eleven out of four hundred and fifty-four seats, but the strong showing of the Islamists was a shock.

This shows that the Brotherhood has a large popular support base and regardless of who takes over in Egypt, will wield considerable power. As noted here, the brotherhood, which is the parent organisation of Hamas, is already unequivocally calling for an end to the peace treaty with Israel. There is also a considerable concern for Egypt’s minority Christian group, which has been under attack in recent months.

The key question is: how much power will they have and how will this affect Egypt’s policies? Whichever way you look at it, the outcome is grim. The Muslim Brothers are a powerful force and every regime in the Middle East is struggling to contain them. If ElBaradei or anyone else takes over, it is unlikely that they will be strong enough to crush them and so will have to appease them in some way – most likely by cooling relations with Israel and America and turning the strongest Western ally in the Middle East into something a little less reliable. The problem is that by trying to nudge Mubarak out of power, Obama has guaranteed that Mubarak will not be as friendly as he once was if he does cling to power. I am very concerned for the future here…

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