Filed under: Islam
Conor Friedersdorf has a post at his new digs at Forbes.com on the people who warn that Islamic radicalism poses a threat of imposing sharia law in the US. As is his generally admirable credo, he remains relentlessly polite throughout; the strongest language he uses is a sarcastic “Please.”
I’m of two minds on this. Friedersdorf is part of a phalanx of young conservativish writers (including Jim Manzi, Reihan Salam and others) who insist on courtesy in their opinion writing. In some cases such respectfulness gives your argument added weight. I’m concerned, however, that in some cases it fails to make it clear to the reader that the people you’re talking about are fracking idiots or shameless hucksters. This is certainly the case wrt to anyone invoking the threat of sharia law in the United States, and I don’t think I could stomach writing a post that pretended for even a moment to address such a prospect seriously. This particular piece by Friedersdorf, while on the money in terms of its content, comes off a bit simple; it goes too far towards acceptance of the terms in which its adversaries speak. I’m not really sure that in the long run our political discourse is well-served by treating jingoism and bigotry with respect.
Going back to the question of whether the European Parliament elections made Europe more “right-wing,” there are two new data points. The first is Benjamin Weinthal’s article in the Jerusalem Post today following his interview with Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders.
When asked about commentaries in the German media labeling the Freedom Party as “extreme right” – a term typically reserved for neo-Nazi parties in Germany – Wilders said that is “totally ridiculous” and an “insult to the the Dutch people” because the party is now the “biggest party in Holland” according to polls.
The Freedom Party should be viewed within a liberal Dutch tradition, he said, noting that “we are not for cutting social welfare and are for more health care” and because of our “friendship for Israel, the extreme right demonstrates against us.”
Wilders is an Islamophobe who supports ethnic cleansing in Europe and in Israel/Palestine. But as we can see, the understanding of what is meant by “right-wing” is considerably more complicated in Europe than in the US (where it’s getting pretty complicated lately, too).
The second point comes from the interesting NY Times op-ed a couple of days ago by German EU Parliamentarian Alexander Lambsdorff.
There has always been a presence of extremism in the European Parliament, just as in many national parliaments across Europe.
In this election, however, the success of Geert Wilders’ populists in the Netherlands was touted as a sea change in European politics. It was not. He gained 4 out of 25 Dutch seats, while Jean-Marie Le Pen’s share of the vote in France was halved to 10 percent. Le Pen lost the four seats to be taken by Wilders and they both, together with the other extremists, will remain as marginal to the political process in Brussels as they have been in the past.
The four main parties governing the European Parliament are still decidedly pro-democracy and pro-European. Extremist groups may be receiving much media attention, but their influence in Parliament remains nonexistent.
Lambsdorff argues in essence that the rise of the extreme right in Scandinavia (the Netherlands, Finland, and Denmark, as far as I know, now all have strong anti-Muslim parties) has been balanced by the decline of the extreme right in France. There are several interesting things to think about here. Maybe France, which had a much stronger nationalist right from the late 40s through the 80s than northern Europe, is simply on a different political cycle than Scandinavia. Or maybe France is ahead of Northern Europe in its approach to the Muslim immigrant question, because it deals with the issue as part of the legacy of its colonial empire in North Africa, rather than as an unintended result of the guest-worker programs of the ’60s and ’70s or of political asylum programs in the ’80s and ’90s. In any case, it’s another reminder to stop painting “Europe and Islam” with such an unsophisticated broad brush.
I have no idea. But I thought it’d be a good opportunity to post that photo.
Anyway, Finnish President Hallonen is addressing the closing session of the IPI congress, and she just said “I still support the Nordic model, even after those elections.” I’m not exactly sure what that means. It’s my understanding that the far-right Finnish party that won about 15% of the vote in the European Parliament elections the day before yesterday (about par for the EU) doesn’t oppose the standard social planks of the Nordic system — high taxes, generous social benefits, an emphasis on public goods and strong education. They just want to kick out the Roma and the Somalians. And maybe the Russians — that’s never quite clear to me here.
Says the President. And he’s right. But does everyone really know it to be true? I mean, it is true. Israel has to halt its settlements. For that matter, it has to tear up about half the existing settlements, at a minimum, and it almost certainly needs to agree to allow East Jerusalem to become the capital of a Palestinian state, even if it remains under nominal international jurisdiction of some form; and in short it needs to do about fifteen things everyone knows are politically impossible without earthshaking changes in the Israeli political landscape. And the same goes for the Palestinians.
But does everyone know it to be true? When I was 12 years old and living in a neighborhood of Jerusalem called Katamon, I remember walking to school every morning and looking with bafflement and vague trepidation at the ultra-orthodox kids, their pale faces, hunched shoulders and dangling ear-locks, under the black brims of their hats, walking to their separate National Religious Party-funded ultra-orthodox school. And they looked back at me with the same suspicion and incomprehension. What did they know to be true? What was being taught to them in those schools? Whatever it was, it led them to steal land from Palestinians and call it God’s will. What do they know now? Have they learned anything different?
And what did we know? What did they teach us in our schools? They taught us that Israel had been established in 1948 in righteous fire and blood, that the Jews (as in that scene in “Exodus”) had asked the Arabs to stay, that the Palestinians had left of their own accord because their governments had told them the Jews would be driven into the sea in six weeks and they could come back after it was over. They taught us a lie. And we never thought to wonder: if it were me, would I really have behaved that way? Why would Arab governments have asked Arabs to leave? Why would Palestinians have obeyed? Does this make sense? The name of our neighborhood, Katamon, was an Arab name; the oldest, most beautiful houses were Arab houses with rounded arches and painted ceramic tiles. We never thought to ask: who owned this house in 1947? Why did they leave? Why didn’t they come back? Did I suspect the truth, deep down, but repress it because of the guilt it implied? One hopes so. The alternative would be that the truth I “knew” was only the lies — that when those ultra-orthodox kids, now grown up, steal Palestinian land, destroy their olive trees, stone them and beat them up, they are “acting on what they know to be true”.
This point by Australian counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen (via Robert Farley and Matthew Yglesias), about the weakness of targeted airstrikes in combatting insurgency, is a very good one. The one quibble I’d have is over this:
Governments typically make several mistakes when attempting to separate violent extremists from populations in which they hide. First, they often overestimate the degree to which a population harboring an armed actor can influence that actor’s behavior. People don’t tolerate extremists in their midst because they like them, but rather because the extremists intimidate them. Breaking the power of extremists means removing their power to intimidate — something that strikes cannot do.
I think it’s creating a false dichotomy to say that people tolerate extremists not because they like them, but because they’re intimidated. The success of a revolutionary movement, be it Maoist or Islamicist, rests on a mix of popular appeal and coercion. Like the Taliban, the Viet Cong were respected by the local population for their patriotism (or, in the Taliban case, their piety) and for their capacity to dispense rough but honest justice; they were also feared for their capacity to assassinate political enemies. For that matter, successful governance by any government involves elements of popularity (elections) and intimidation (prison).
By all accounts, and according to my one Pakistani friend in the tribal areas, the Taliban are strikingly unsuccessful at sustaining popularity in areas they take control over, so in their case the scale leans towards intimidation. This, it seems to me, may be a good reason to leave them alone, restrict ourselves to a minimal role in that war, and watch them fail.
The Washington Post yesterday published a crazy op-ed by a former Bush speechwriter named Marc Thiessen, who argued as follows:
Critics claim that enhanced techniques do not produce good intelligence because people will say anything to get the techniques to stop. But the memos note that, “as Abu Zubaydah himself explained with respect to enhanced techniques, ‘brothers who are captured and interrogated are permitted by Allah to provide information when they believe they have reached the limit of their ability to withhold it in the face of psychological and physical hardship.” In other words, the terrorists are called by their faith to resist as far as they can — and once they have done so, they are free to tell everything they know. This is because of their belief that “Islam will ultimately dominate the world and that this victory is inevitable.” The job of the interrogator is to safely help the terrorist do his duty to Allah, so he then feels liberated to speak freely.
The policy outlined here by Abu Zubaydah for Al-Qaeda prisoners is exactly the same policy that was followed by American POWs in Hanoi during the Vietnam War. According to John McCain, the policy established among US POWs in Vietnamese camps was as follows: you should resist efforts to coerce you into revealing information or making taped propaganda statements denouncing the US and its war efforts to the best of your ability. But if your efforts to resist are exhausted and you feel you are at the breaking point, go ahead and make a concession, the smallest one you feel your captors will accept, and do so in clean conscience, knowing you’ve done your best. Then go back to resisting to the best of your abilities. In “Survivors,” Zalin Grant’s oral history of the POWs, Air Force Col. Ted Guy, who was the senior US officer at “the Plantation,” the camp where McCain was held until 1970, describes the policy as follows:
I told them [new POWs who had just arrived] through commo that I had made a tape. I said, ‘Yes, they got me to that point in 1970 where I was very low and under a lot of mental pressure. I thought I could get word out to my family if I made a tape [denouncing the US]. The promise was broken so I quit. I expect everybody in this camp has a different breaking point, depending on how long you’ve been captured and your mental attitude on any given day. Some days you will be called in for interrogation and won’t be able to resist at all. Okay, make the damn tape. But don’t do it every day. Next time make them take you to that point or further. As far as writing, if you can write your family, go ahead, but don’t sell your soul to do it.”
– “Survivors: Vietnam POWs Tell Their Stories,” Zalin Grant, P.287
After he returned to the US, John McCain spent some time at the National War College, where in 1974 he wrote a paper analyzing the US Armed Forces’ Code of Conduct for POWs in light of the Vietnam experience. In discussing the Code’s Article V, “I am bound to give only my name, rank, serial number, date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the best of my ability,” McCain wrote as follows:
It is patently obvious that if enough mental and physical pressure is applied in the proper manner, it is unlikely that any man can not be forced to submit to some degree. …The article states further, “I will evade answering further questions to the best of my ability.” This should mean that a deviation from name, rank, serial number and date of birth does not necessarily mean that a prisoner of war has committed a violation of the code of conduct if he is temporarily forced to “fall back” from that position and has resisted to the best of his ability; that is the most our country should ask of him.
– Commander John S. McCain, “The Code of Conduct and the Vietnam Prisoners of War,” National War College, April 8, 1974
Clearly, John McCain had been influenced by Muslim theology when he wrote this. And it appears that he welcomed the help of his Vietnamese captors who, in 1968, obligingly beat him over the course of 3 days so viciously that he felt he had been pushed to his breaking point, and was able in good conscience to record a short tape for Voice of Vietnam radio admitting that he had committed war crimes against the Vietnamese people and thanking them for their kind treatment of him.
Seriously, it never fails to amaze me that people can interpret perfectly universal human attitudes, such as the belief that a prisoner tortured by the enemy should not feel self-hatred when he finally succumbs and tells his torturers whatever they want to hear, as if they were bizarre recondite elements of Muslim theology that make Muslims different from you and me, and render it perfectly acceptable to treat them as non-humans.
In his positive review in Slate of Reza Aslan’s “How To Win a Cosmic War”, Alan Wolfe takes Aslan to task for exaggerating European anti-Muslim politics:
Explaining why European Muslims are alienated, he points to a bill introduced into the Dutch parliament to outlaw the Quran; he does not mention that it, and its proponent Geert Wilders, were laughed out of existence.
Unfortunately Wolfe is out of date here, and Aslan is right. Over the past few months Geert Wilders and his disgusting party, the PVV (Partij voor de Vrijheid, or “Party for Freedom”), have leaped into first place in the Dutch polls, beating out all the longstanding heavyweights on both the right (Christian Democrats, Liberals) and left (Labor, Socialists, D66, Green-Left). According to the latest polls, if elections were held today, Wilders would win 32 seats in the Dutch Tweede Kamer, with the Christian Democrats in second place at 28. It’s hard to believe this idiocy is actually happening, but it is.
Filed under: Islam
Roger Cohen’s excellent op-ed on Iran is getting a lot of deserved praise. He quotes an Iranian reader who responded to his earlier equally good column on the country’s Jewish community:
Far from the cradle of Middle Eastern Islamist zealotry, she suggested, “Iran — the supposed enemy — is the one society that has gone through its extremist fervor and is coming out the other end. It is relatively stable and socially dynamic. As my father, who continues to live there, says, ‘It is the least undemocratic country in the region outside Israel.’ ”
This is an incredibly important insight. Vietnam, like Iran, has gone through its extremist fervor and, in the late ’80s, began coming out the other end. Because the Soviet bloc collapsed between 1989-91 and the US felt it had won the cold war, Washington was able to recognize the no-longer extremist nature of Vietnamese politics, reestablish relations, and begin cultivating the country as an ally. But because of the ongoing confrontation with extremist Islamicism and the US’s fealty to Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian war, Washington has been unable to shift its Iran policies to reflect the changed nature of Iranian politics.
Totalitarianism is inherently unstable. It’s horrible, but it only lasts a few decades at most. Every newly totalitarian nation goes through a phase of violent expansionism, when it tries to export its revolution. Then that period ends and the society, with its new elite, tries to settle into a normal and gradually more pluralistic equilibrium. Iran did have a phase of violent expansionism in the early 1980s, when it tried to subvert Saudi Arabia etc., but its expansionary energy was exhausted in the Iran-Iraq war, and for over a decade it has been trying to normalize. The US ought to be trying to accommodate that transition, not undermine it.
Rory Stewart has a typically brilliant column in today’s NY Times. His first point echoes some familiar truths from the Vietnam War: ideology can get you very confused about who your friends and enemies are, and which enemies are only enemies because you decided to fight them. And if you, as an occupying power, turn the strongest locally rooted political structures into your enemies, you are never going to win.
…counterterrorism is not the same as counterinsurgency. Counterterrorism requires good intelligence and Special Forces operations, of the sort the U.S. was doing in 2002 and 2003. Recently, however, NATO has become involved in a much wider counterinsurgency campaign, involving tens of thousands of troops. The objective now is to wrest rural areas from Taliban forces.
But many of the people we are fighting have no fixed political manifesto. Almost none have links to Al Qaeda or an interest in attacking U.S. soil. We will never have the troop numbers to hold these areas, and we are creating unnecessary enemies. A more considered approach to tribal communities would give us better intelligence on our real enemies. It is clear that we do not have the resources, the stomach, or the long-term commitment for a 20-year counterinsurgency campaign. And the Afghan Army is not going to take over this mission.
Anne Applebaum has an irritating column today in Slate praising Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I like Ayaan Hirsi Ali (to the extent that one can be said to “like” a media personality one has never met), partly because she speaks Dutch with a level of idiomatic correctness which I am unlikely ever to attain despite being married to a Dutch woman, and partly because she weds contrarian aggression and graceful hauteur in a fashion I really, uh, dig in chicks. (Viz. the wife.) But Applebaum singles out her most questionable qualities for praise — the qualities that demand indulgence rather than admiration. Here’s a line that really bugged me:
After Sept. 11, 2001, horrified by some of the things Osama Bin Laden was saying, she reached for the Quran to confirm a hunch: “I hated to do it,” she wrote, “because I knew that I would find bin Laden’s quotations in there.”
Why does Applebaum have to take, as a sign of Ali’s great bravery, her willingness to consider the idea that Islam is inherently pro-terrorist? I mean, I know why Applebaum does this, but it really, really bugs me that she does. Let’s put it this way: something suggests to me that Torquemada probably quoted the Bible, on occasion.