Archive for foreign policy

Why Do They Hate Us? They Don’t.

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2012 by loonwatch

Mona Eltahawy, an Arab-American journalist, created a firestorm when Foreign Policy Magazine published her article “Why Do They Hate Us?”.  If you thought the they and us refers to Muslims and Americans, you’d be wrong.  In fact, they is Arab men, and us is women.  Her article is a stabbing critique of Arab culture, which she finds to be heavily misogynistic.

If that wasn’t provocative enough, she goes further: according to her, these Arab men hate women.  ”Yes: They hate us. It must be said.”  To prove her argument, she issues a challenge: “Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses [against women] fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion.”  The rest of the article is a recitation of that litany, interspersed with jazzy catchphrases such as “[w]e are more than our headscarves and our hymens” and “poke the hatred in its eye.”

There is no way to deny the basic premise that the status of women’s rights in the Arab world is abysmal.  Why then did Mona Eltahawy evoke such a hostile reaction from even the Arab women whose rights she seeks to protect?  The easy answer, one that Eltahawy and her supporters might argue, is that these women are simply brainwashed.  Too much “Islamism” in their little brains.  The problem with this argument is that it’s sexist.  It’s basically saying Arab women are too stupid to think for themselves.

The real reason that Arab women recoil after reading Eltahawy’s article is that, while she tries to connect to them based on their gender, she attacks other aspects of their core identity: their race, nationality, religion, and culture.  In fact, her racist (and somewhat babbling) screed is nothing short of a vicious attack on their entire civilization.

Eltahawy cites “a toxic mix of culture and religion” as the source of the abuses against women.  Oddly, she later says, “You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our ‘culture’ and ‘religion’ to do X, Y, or Z to women.”  Yet, it is Mona Eltahawy herself who is arguing precisely that.

By attacking their core identity, Eltahawy has succeeded in alienating her own audience.  Imagine, for instance, an American feminist arguing for greater rights for African women, while at the same time assailing the black race, African culture, and traditional tribal religion.  How receptive or thankful do you think these African women would be?  How pleased would the black or African community be if someone was writing articles about how backwards their culture is?

Mona Eltahawy’s article engages in trite, racial stereotypes.  Legitimate problems in the Arab world are sensationalized.  They hate women.  What an absurd exaggeration!  They have mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters–and it is reasonable to assume that, like other human beings on earth, they love them.

A man can love his wife and still abuse her.  He can have undying affection for his daughter but still wrong her in horrible ways.  But, by going so far as to say they hate women, Eltahawy has dehumanized them.  One recalls similar invective against Palestinian parents: they don’t love their children.  The message being sent is: they are worse than animals.

Women’s rights is an area of concern in many parts of the developing world, not just the Arab world.  Why single out Arabs?  Women face major obstacles in India.  Should we demonize the Hindu religion and the great Indian civilization?

Eltahawy lists off “a litany of abuses”, bringing up extreme cases to make her point.  By citing isolated cases and stacking them all up together, she ends up portraying an imbalanced and biased picture of the Arab world.

Racists don’t see nuance.  They lump all people of a certain group altogether.  That’s exactly what Mona Eltahawy does in her article.  She paints the entire people of that region–or at least its men–with one broad bush.  They hate women.  All 170 million of them.

In fact, not all Arabs are alike.  During my travels in the Muslim world, I saw all sorts of people, with a broad diversity of views.  I met conservative Muslims, liberal Muslims, atheists, Christians, Communists, hippies, you name it.  No sweeping generalization could be made about them (aside for, perhaps, their disgust of American foreign policy).

It is true that I was deeply disturbed by the mistreatment of women, religious and ethnic minorities, poor people, servants, and animals.  But, I also met people there–men, no less–who were also deeply disturbed by these things and would have no part in it.

Just as the viral Kony 2012 video drew criticism for reinforcing the idea of White Man’s Burden, so too does Mona Eltahawy’s article tap into historically racist Orientalist attitudes towards the Arab world.

By firmly pegging abuses against women to the Arab culture and Muslim religion, Mona Eltahawy’s article was nothing short of bigotry.  Indeed, one could hardly tell the difference between Eltahawy’s article and what could normally be found sprawled on numerous Islamophobic websites, such as Robert Spencer’s JihadWatch and Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs.  It is almost a surety that her article will be approvingly cited on such sites, which pit “our civilized, freedom-loving civilization” against “those barbaric, women-hating peoples.”

Had Mona Eltahawy been just any ole’ Islamophobe hacking away at the keyboard–had she been a Robert Spencer or a Pamela Geller–her article would hardly have made headlines.  It would have been just one of thousands and thousands of such hateful rants on the internet by anti-Muslim trolls.  But, like Irshad Manji and Asra Nomani, Mona Eltahawy has an official “I’m a Muslim” card.  That’s even better than the official “I’m an ex-Muslim” card that bigots like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Nonie Darwish proudly carry.  It’s probably even a step above the “I’m a former jihadi terrorist” gold card.  Eltahawy holds the platinum card and gets extra points for being a woman.

As other pundits have noted, Mona Eltahawy is–along with Irshad Manji, Asra Nomani, Tarek Fatah, Zuhdi Jasser, etc.–acting in the role of the “native informant.”  Monica L. Marks writes on the Huffington Post:

Why Do They Hate Us?” asks the latest cover of Foreign Policy magazine. Beneath the title stands a cowering woman wearing nothing but black body paint resembling the niqab, or full Islamic face veil.

Egyptian feminist Mona Eltahawy authored the article. Her central contention — that Arab Muslim culture “hates” women — resurrects a raft of powerful stereotypes regarding Islam and misogyny. It also situates Ms. Eltahawy’s work within a growing trend of “native informants” whose personal testimonies of oppression under Islam have generated significant support for military aggression against Muslim-majority countries in recent years.

Books by these “native voices” — including Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “Infidel,” Azar Nafisi’s “Reading Lolita” in Tehran, and Irshad Mandji’s “Faith Without Fear” — have flown off the shelves in post-9/11 America despite being roundly rebuffed by leading feminist academics such as Columbia University’s Lila Abu-Lughod and Yale’s Leila Ahmed. Saba Mahmood, another respected scholar, noted that native informants helped “manufacture consent” for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by serving up fear-inducing portrayals of Islam in “an authentic Muslim woman’s voice.”

Although such depictions have proven largely inaccurate and guilty of extreme generalizations, they have become immensely popular. Why? Because these native “testimonials” tell us what we in the West already know — that there’s something inherently misogynistic about Muslims and Arabs.

By stirring up our sympathies and reinforcing our prejudices, individuals like Ms. Hirsi Ali and Ms. Eltahawy have climbed to the top of the media ladder. Their voices are drowning out the messages of more nuanced, well-respected scholars.

Marks goes on to say:

Her fault lies in extrapolating broad cultural judgments from context-specific abuses, implying that Islam and Arab culture writ large are have toxically combined to create a hopelessly backward region that “treats half of humanity like animals.”

These native informants just tell us what we want to hear.  Their job is to increase hatred of Arabs and Muslims, something that is needed in order to sustain our multiple wars of aggression in that part of the world.

Native informants do not help fix the problems they point to.  Why, for example, did Mona Eltahawy choose to publish her article in Foreign Policy, an American magazine?  Why didn’t she write it for an Arab/Arabic publication, with a primarily Arab readership?

Instead she chose Foreign Policy Magazine, which was founded by none other than Samuel P. Huntington.  His famous Clash of Civilizations theory pit the Judeo-Christian West against the Muslim world.  How very fitting that Mona Eltahawy’s us vs. them article was published in the magazine he founded.

Eltahawy’s audience is clear:

You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our ‘culture’ and ‘religion’ to do X, Y, or Z to women.

Monica Marks writes:

 It is important for her readers, however, to understand the dangers of sensationalist coverage that over-simplify complex matters of gender, politics, and religious observance in Muslim-majority countries.

History is rife with examples of seemingly women-friendly arguments hijacked in the service of imperialistic and aggressive ends. While emotional and sensationalist portrayals such as this most recent Foreign Policy cover will sell copies, they do little to deepen our understanding of the contexts and conditions shaping women’s oppression in Arab countries today.

Indeed, the issue of human rights was routinely used by the colonial powers to justify the conquest and expropriation of land.  The Americas, including the land that is now the United States, was brutally conquered and stolen by Europeans on this very basis.  The indigenous peoples were portrayed as savages needing civilizing.  The white man would bring them “democracy”, “freedom”, and “civilization” (Operation Iraqi Freedom?).

In her article, Mona Eltahawi enumerates numerous abuses Arab women face.  However, none of these inhumanities–not even female genital mutilation–can be considered as problematic as the cannibalism and human sacrifice that the indigenous peoples of the Americas sometimes engaged in.  And yet, whatever failings the indigenous peoples had in their culture and civilization, it is now widely understood who the real savage was.

We can continue to pat ourselves on the back for how civilized we are, how free our women are, how we are so much better than them.  But, none of that will change the fact that we are the ones waging wars of aggression and occupation in the Muslim world.  We are the ones killing hundreds of thousands of their innocent men, women, and children.

It was in another article, also published in Foreign Policy with almost the exact same title–Why They Hate Us?–that Prof. Stephen Walt calculated the number of Muslim lives the U.S. has extinguished:  “a reasonable upper bound for Muslim fatalities…is well over one million, equivalent to over 100 Muslim fatalities for every American lost.”  To use a jazzy catchphrase of my own: mutilating a baby girl’s genitals is horrible, but dropping a bomb on her head is much worse.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Foreign Policy: Mosquebusters

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2012 by loonwatch

Excellent piece by Spike Johnson exposing the “Mosquebusters.” Their strategy is to stop the building of all mosques using zoning laws, etc. Looks like the Islamophobic argument about “taqiyya” in reverse:

Mosquebusters

by Spike Johnson

LONDON — It is winter, the middle of December, and I find myself making an odd phone call. Pacing around my living room, I kick at the carpet as I dial the number.

“Hello?” I say.

“There’s no time,” the man on the other end of the line answers immediately. His name is Gavin Boby. We have e-mailed before, but I introduce myself again, explaining my background: education, photography and video experience, that sort of thing.

Boby’s tone is measured and businesslike. “It sounds like you have skills that could be of use. Muslims are very bad losers,” he says matter-of-factly. He’d like me to act as a witness, he tells me, videotaping his court appearances and searching the Internet for “targets.” The conversation is taking me into uncomfortable territory; my voice wavers, and I begin to flounder. Boby doesn’t notice. “I’ll send you instructions on how we work,” he says and hangs up. I have just become a Mosquebuster.

The Mosquebusters, or the Law and Freedom Foundation as they’re officially known, are part of a new wave of anti-Islamic campaigners in England with links to more established anti-immigrant groups such as England Is Ours and Stop Islamisation of Europe. Like many of these groups, the Mosquebusters fear that traditional British culture, laws, and values will disappear with the changing face of Britain and worry that extremist interpretations of sections of the Koran urge Muslims to kill non-believers and take slaves.

Until mid-February, the Mosquebusters advertised for volunteers, under a campaign called “No More Mosques,” on the website of the ultra-nationalist English Defence League (EDL), a group that organizes anti-Islamic street marches that often decend into brawls, riots, and arrests. The EDL and other anti-Islamic groups have no problem convincing their members to parade in public yelling insults like “Muslim bombers off our streets!” and “Allah is a pedophile!,” but the Mosquebusters have a quieter, perhaps more insidious approach: In offices and city halls, they are crafting legal cases against mosque construction applications across the country. It’s a war against Islam, but one that often resembles a bureaucratic turf battle more than a clash of civilizations.

Mosquebusters leader Boby, known as The Lawman, is careful to draw the distinction between religion and race. “It is primarily about the division between Islamic and non-Islamic society, and the lawless violence at the heart of Islamic doctrine and practice,” he says in his manifesto. Boby dressesconservatively, with a black suit, white button-down shirt, and pastel neck tie, done up tight. He is clean shaven, his brown hair cropped close, and his small eyes squint behind wire-framed glasses. He has the look of a typical middle-aged businessman. And most of the time, he is.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., he runs a planning application company in Bristol, in western of England. He is a qualified barrister with undergraduate and graduate law degrees. But what Boby really wants is “an army of people, about 500 across the country,” as he says in one of his online motivational videos. As I watched the recording from my flat in East London, while digesting one of his instructional e-mails on bureaucratic mosque-busting, Boby leaned closer to the camera, maintaining eye contact: “It is very important that mosques are stopped.” (Read the rest)

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2012 by loonwatch

(image from an Islamophobic website)

DISCLAIMER: LoonWatch has not endorsed any candidate for President of the United States.  This article should not be seen as such.

Islamophobes absolutely hate Ron Paul.  Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs–the King and Queen of Islamophobia on the internet–dedicate page after page on their hate blogs lambasting the Congressman and presidential hopeful.

Why do they hate Ron Paul so much?

There are three major reasons why they detest him:

(1) Ron Paul stands up for American Muslims against Islamophobia.  For example, he defended the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” arguing that the entire controversy was “all about hate and Islamophobia.”

(2) He has been one of the most vocal opponents of the Bush-Obama curtailments of civil liberties that specifically target Muslims.

(3) Paul is the only major presidential candidate to oppose America’s wars in the Muslim world.  Even more importantly, Ron Paul links reason #1 above (the Lesser Islamophobia) to reason #3 (the Greater Islamophobia), arguing that “in order to perpetuate this foreign policy…they have to perpetuate this hate toward Islam.”

This third reason is also why mainstream politicians and the mainstream media dislike Ron Paul and have tried their utmost to destroy him.  Fox political pundit Bill O’Reilly argued that Paul’s views on foreign policy “disqualifies him” as a candidate for president.  Here is exactly what O’Reilly said:

His foreign policy disqualifies him in my eyes as an American…

Bill O’Reilly has inadvertently touched upon something very deep and meaningful:  ”As an American,” foreign policy must include waging war.  To do without war would simply be un-American.

One recalls the words of H. Rap Brown, the chairman of the civil rights group Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who famously declared in 1967:

Violence is as American as cherry pie.

Brown uttered this statement during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.  While blacks were being beaten up and hosed down in the streets of America, the United States was raining death down upon the Vietnamese population halfway across the earth.

H. Rap Brown was not the only one in the civil rights movement who linked the struggle of blacks in America to the struggle of the darker skinned peoples of the world.  For instance, Martin Luther King, Jr. called America “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” for its war-making:

The Soviet Union brought attention to America’s “Negro problem.”  Michael L. Krenn writes on pp.89-90 of Race and U.S. Foreign Policy During the Cold War:

By 1949, according to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, “the ‘Negro question’ [was] [o]ne of the principal Soviet propaganda themes regarding the United States.” “[T]he Soviet press hammers away unceasingly on such things as ‘lynch law,’ segregation, racial discrimination, deprivation of political rights, etc., seeking to build up a picture of an America in which the Negroes are brutally downtrodden with no hope of improving their status under the existing form of government.”  An [American] Embassy official believed that “this attention to the Negro problem serves political ends desired by the Soviet Union and has nothing whatsoever to do with any desire to better the Negro’s position.”

Apparently, only the United States is allowed to saber rattle and invade countries on the grounds that the “existing form of government” is discriminatory or unjust to part of its population.

With the world’s spotlight on America’s treatment of its darker-skinned citizens–and those same citizens linking their struggle to America’s foreign wars against darker-skinned peoples–the United States moved in the direction of racial integration in the 1970′s.  America’s longest war was also grudgingly brought to an end.

But today, despite the fact that we have been waging wars for two decades in the Muslim world and in just the last couple years bombed over half a dozen Muslim countries, the anti-war movement is, at least compared to the 1960′s and 70′s, all but dead.

Ron Paul is one of the only major political figures–and the only major presidential candidate–to oppose America’s wars.

And that is why he is in the cross-hairs of anti-Muslim bigots, who see the world in apocalyptic holy war terms: the jihad will bring an end to Western civilization as we know it so we must destroy them first!  This is their fundamental world view, which is why sustaining and protracting the wars against the Muslim world is their greatest desire.

Ron Paul threatens that paradigm.  He dares to cogitate that it is our military interventions in the Muslim world that result in Islamic terrorism against the United States and her allies.  He had the chutzpah to include 9/11 in this: “They attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years.”

In the American national discourse, this is next to blasphemy.  But, in the rest of the world (especially in Muslim countries), this is not just common knowledge, it’s common sense.  In fact, nothing could be more obvious.

It’s precisely because this idea is so obvious and self-evident that it must simply never be uttered in the United States.  Anyone who does so must be condemned as unpatriotic and, worse, as Unserious.  Such a person’s character must be viciously attacked.

That’s exactly what is happening to Ron Paul.  Unfortunately, Paul deserves much of the blame for making himself such an easy target.  The racist newsletters are a gold-mine for his opponents.  Pamela Geller gleefully called them a “bombshell,” arguing that his presidential bid is now “unrecoverable” and that “[h]e is done.”

The evidence against Ron Paul, that he wrote those vile things against black people, is certainly very strong.  The only saving grace for Paul is the fact that those racist screeds do not sound anything like him.  Whether or not this alone can outweigh the proof against him, I do not know.  Whatever the case, Paul’s delay in disassociating himself from the letters, his ever-changing excuses, and his questionable associations are enough to condemn him.  (A balanced article on Ron Paul was written by the indefatigable Glenn Greenwald.)

Under normal circumstances, I’d have nothing but absolute contempt for Ron Paul.  In fact, even if he didn’t have such racism-related baggage,  a progressive like myself would have nothing to do with a man who wants to get rid of social welfare programs, the Department of Education, etc. etc.  When it comes to domestic issues, there is probably very little Ron Paul and I would see eye-to-eye on.  Worse yet, I find many of his views on such matters to be outside the realms of reasonableness–I’d go so far as to call them loony.

Yet, many progressives like myself are finding themselves inexorably drawn to Ron Paul.  That is because he is the only major presidential candidate to oppose America’s wars.  Stated another way: the rest of the candidates–including the incumbent president (who expanded the War on Terror)–are war-makers.  Ron Paul is the only peace candidate.

This says a lot about the state of our union more than it does about Ron Paul.  War-making has become such a staple of American life that the only man who stands a chance (and a slim one at that) of bringing an end to Endless War is a loony, fringe candidate with a questionable and possibly racist past.

I have been criticized by some Islamophobes for daring to say anything positive about Ron Paul.  But, the fact that a person of my views (a progressive peacenik) is forced to consider Ron Paul is indicative of how truly violent and warlike our country has become (or, rather, has always been).  This underscores my main counter-argument to the Supreme Islamophobic Myth: we, as part of the Judeo-Christian West, have been and are still, just as, if not more, violent and warlike than the Muslim world.

This fact is underscored even more by the fact that the reason why Ron Paul has been “disqualified” as a realistic candidate is because, in the words of Bill O’Reilly, of his peace-loving foreign policy.  Imagine, for instance, if an Iranian candidate for the Iranian presidency could never realistically win unless he advocated for war against other countries.  What would it say about Iranians if they, by convention and consensus, refused to elect someone who advocated peaceful relations with the rest of the world?

One would expect that progressive peaceniks like myself would have more options to choose from than just one candidate.  But because warmongering is an essential component of being president of the United States (and serving in the military is almost a prerequisite to getting elected–imagine if Iranians would demand that their leaders must have sometime in their lives fought jihad), there is virtually nobody to vote for.

In an earlier article, I wrote of how war has been a part of the American psyche since the very beginning, from 1776 all the way to the present.  We’ve never gone a decade without a major war, and no president in our history can truly be considered a peacetime president.  Yet, somehow even after waging wars for more than 91% of our existence, we look at ourselves as peace-makers and “those Moozlums over there” as violent and warlike.

A verse from the Quran is most fitting here: “When it is said to them: ‘Do not make mischief on earth,’ they say: ‘We are but peace-makers.’  In fact, they are the mischief-makers, but they realize it not.” (2:11-12)

*  *  *  *  *

Something else that reinforces my argument is the fact that even Ron Paul, the single peace proponent in the presidential race, does not seem to oppose war based on peacenik principles.  He usually raises financial and political arguments against the wars, instead of humanitarian ones: We’re bankrupting ourselves.  Or: These wars result in terrorism (against us).

Our moral compass should not be dictated by money or self-interest.  We should oppose these wars because killing innocent civilians is morally atrocious.  This is what should be the main argument:

Not this:

Let me clarify: there is nothing wrong with raising financial and political arguments as secondary reasons to end the wars.  In fact, I would encourage doing so.  But, the primary motivation behind opposing wars should be less self-centered (the war is costing us too much money, they may retaliate with terrorism against us, too many of our young soldiers are risking their lives over there), but more humanitarian towards the victims of our aggression: we are killing innocent civilians.

Ron Paul’s emphasis on financial and political reasons, as opposed to humanitarian concerns, seems to be consistent with his ideology.  (After all, he supported Israel’s bombing of Iraq in 1981 and seems unconcerned if Israel bombs Iran on its own accord.  This indicates to me that it is not the dead in Iraq or Iran that bothers him so much, but only that it would cost us money to kill them or would risk retaliation against us for doing so.)  What does it say about America if even the one and only supposed peace candidate is against wars not out of humanitarian reasons but financial and political concerns?

Even if I am being too harsh on Ron Paul and it’s just a political consideration to focus on financial and political reasons, what does it say about us Americans that we can only be convinced based on our wallets and not on our consciences?

*  *  *  *  *

I don’t say this very often, but Pamela Geller was absolutely right when she said  about Ron Paul that “[h]e is done.”  He most certainly is.  And so dies the only candidate who could have ended America’s Endless Wars.

One should point out, however, that just because the Islamophobes have found the Kryptonite that will kill Ron Paul (the racist newsletters) this doesn’t change the fact that Paul’s foreign policy views were correct.

Let this be a lesson to groupies and fan boys of Ron Paul, a lesson that groupies and fan boys of Barack Obama should also heed: do not put your hopes in a man, because if you do, that man will often, if not always, disappoint you. Put your faith in a conviction instead.  If you hold on tightly enough to the conviction and not the man, it will persevere.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.  

DISCLAIMER: LoonWatch has not endorsed any candidate for President of the United States.  This article should not be seen as such.

Iranian ‘plots’ and American hubris

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2011 by loonwatch

An insightful piece by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverret on the repercussions of the so called “Iranian plot.”

Iranian ‘plots’ and American hubris

Editor’s note: Flynt Leverett teaches international affairs at Penn State and is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Hillary Mann Leverett teaches U.S. foreign policy at American University and is CEO of a political risk consultancy. Together, they write The Race for Iran. They both held senior positions on Middle East policy at the State Department and National Security Council.

(CNN) — Calls by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary Hillary Clinton to “unite the world in the isolation of and dealing with the Iranians,” in response to an alleged Iranian plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador in Washington, reflect a hubristic misapprehension of reality.

The Obama Administration mistakenly believes it can exploit the accusations for strategic advantage. In fact, they are likely to play to Iran’s advantage, not America’s.

The U.S. foreign policy community profoundly misunderstands the Islamic Republic’s national security strategy. The Islamic Republic seeks to defend itself not primarily by conventional military power, in which it is deficient, but by forging ties to proxy allies around the region-actors with the ability to affect on-the-ground outcomes in key regional settings who are inclined to cooperate with Tehran.

In some cases, these actors are discrete political movements, often with paramilitary capabilities, for example, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shia political parties-cum-militias in Iraq.

In other situations, Tehran sees public opinion as its chief ally. By contrasting some regimes’ cooperation with the United States and Israel with its own posture of “resistance” to American and Israeli ambitions to regional hegemony, Tehran cultivates “soft power” across the Middle East.

Iran conceives its strategy, especially in a period of relative decline in America’s standing, as one that constrains unfriendly regimes in the short term and undermines them in the longer term. Over the last decade, it has helped the Islamic Republic reap significant political and strategic gains in important theaters across the Middle East-Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories.

With the advent of the Arab awakening at the end of last year, Iranian decision-makers are confident that some Arab states’ shift toward governments more reflective of their peoples’ attitudes and concerns-and, hence, more inclined to pursue more independent foreign policies vis-à-vis the United States and Israel-will work to Iran’s advantage.

Iranian policymakers correctly calculated that virtually any successor to Saddam Hussein ‘s regime in Iraq would be a net positive for Iranian interests. Now, they calculate that a successor to the Mubarak regime in Egypt is bound to be less enthusiastic about strategic cooperation with the United States and Israel and more receptive to Iran’s message of resistance.

Iran’s strategy toward Saudi Arabia runs very much along these lines. Tehran’s approach is to highlight Saudi collusion with Washington and (at least indirectly) with Israel on important regional issues, thereby attracting support from ordinary Saudis-not just Saudi Shia but also Sunnis who dislike their government’s pro-American stance.

In the short term, Iran seeks to constrain the Saudi government from cooperating in military strikes or other coercive actions against it by making this an unpopular prospect for much of the Saudi population.

In the longer term, Iran is working to transform the regional balance of power from one in which the United States, the Saudis, and other American allies dominate to one in which American, Israeli, and Saudi influence is marginalized by the diplomatic realignment of Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Turkey, post-Saddam Iraq, and now Egypt.

The Saudi leadership tries to push back by portraying Iran as an “alien”, Shia/Persian element in its environment. At times, this helps the Kingdom hold the line against the Islamic Republic’s soft power offensive. But the long-term trend is toward rising Iranian influence. In this context, the notion of an Iranian government plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States simply has no logic.

History also suggests we treat the Obama Administration’s claims of Iranian government complicity with deep skepticism.

For eight years, during 1980-1988, the fledgling Islamic Republic had to defend itself against a war of aggression launched by Saddam Hussein — a war of aggression financed primarily by Saudi Arabia. Nearly 300,000 Iranians were killed in that war. But, during the entire conflict, the Iranian government never targeted a single Saudi anywhere in the world.

This is not because the Islamic Republic loves the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is because Iran’s national security strategy ultimately depends on appealing to the Saudi public not to support attacks against Iran, by harnessing popular anger over Israeli actions and U.S. overreach in the war on terror.

Killing a Saudi Ambassador would have exactly the opposite effect. Whatever Mansour Ababsiar and his cousin may have talked about, it is wholly implausible that the Iranian leadership decided that this was a smart thing to do.

The Obama Administration’s calls for more concerted action against Iran will ultimately backfire-because they will be seen in most of the Muslim world (outside Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab monarchies closely linked to Saudi Arabia) as the United States yet again leveling dubious life-and-death charges as the pretext to contain or even eliminate another Muslim power.

President Obama, his advisers, and all Americans need to ask themselves if this is really the time to bring the United States even closer to another Middle East war fought in blind defiance of the region’s strategic realities.

Salon: Iraq foots the bill for its own destruction

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2011 by loonwatch

Some people have wondered why I focus so much on America’s many wars: isn’t this site about Islamophobia, not U.S. foreign policy? Although it is true that LoonWatch is primarily a site documenting and refuting Islamophobia, I strongly believe that there exists an intimate link between Islamophobia and America’s Endless Wars.

For one, America’s foreign policy is itself Islamophobic.  Our wars are launched thanks to Islamophobia within the most jingoist elements of American society, the neoconservatives, the Zionists (both Jewish and Christian), etc.  It finds an audience within the general public, which has a very poor opinion of Islam.  Our wars can only be sustained by ratcheting up fear-mongering and Islamophobia.  Our wars conveniently serve to complete the loop by feeding Islamophobia itself, as Muslims are Other-ized as the enemy.

Islamophobia operates under the assumption that it is Islam itself that makes Them Hate Our Freedoms.  They hate us (and some of them attack us) because we are the Infidels.  The reality, of course, is that they hate us not for our freedoms or the fact that we are infidels, but the fact that we bomb them, invade them, and occupy them.  As the article below shows, we also make them foot the bill for their own destruction:

Iraq foots the bill for its own destruction

By Murtaza Hussain

When considering the premise of reparation being paid for the Iraq War it would be natural to assume that the party to whom such payments would be made would be the Iraqi civilian population, the ordinary people who suffered the brunt of the devastation from the fighting. Fought on the false pretence of capturing Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, the war resulted in massive indiscriminate suffering for Iraqi civilians which continues to this day. Estimates of the number of dead and wounded range from the hundreds of thousands into the millions, and additional millions of refugees remain been forcibly separated from their homes, livelihoods and families. Billions of dollars in reparations are indeed being paid for the Iraq War, but not to Iraqis who lost loved ones or property as a result of the conflict, and who, despite their nation’s oil wealth, are still suffering the effects of an utterly destroyed economy. “Reparations payments” are being made by Iraq to Americans and others for the suffering which those parties experienced as a result of the past two decades of conflict with Iraq.

Iraq today is a shattered society still picking up the pieces after decades of war and crippling sanctions. Prior to its conflict with the United States, the Iraqi healthcare and education systems were the envy of the Middle East, and despite the brutalities and crimes of the Ba’ath regime there still managed to exist a thriving middle class of ordinary Iraqis, something conspicuously absent from today’s “free Iraq.” In light of the continued suffering of Iraqi civilians, the agreement by the al-Maliki government to pay enormous sums of money to the people who destroyed the country is unconscionable and further discredits the absurd claim that the invasion was fought to “liberate” the Iraqi people.

In addition to making hundreds of millions of dollars in reparation payments to the United States, Iraq has been paying similarly huge sums to corporations whose business suffered as a result of the actions of Saddam Hussein. While millions of ordinary Iraqis continue to lack even reliable access to drinking water, their free and representative government has been paying damages to corporations such as Pepsi, Philip Morris and Sheraton; ostensibly for the terrible hardships their shareholders endured due to the disruption in the business environment resulting from the Gulf War. When viewed against the backdrop ofmassive privatization of Iraqi natural resources, the image that takes shape is that of corporate pillaging of a destroyed country made possible by military force.

Despite the billions of dollars already paid in damages to foreign countries and corporations additional billions are still being sought and are directly threatening funds set aside for the rebuilding of the country; something which 8 years after the invasion has yet to occur for the vast majority of Iraqis. While politicians and media figures in the U.S. make provocative calls for Iraq to “pay back” the United States for the costs incurred in giving Iraq the beautiful gift of democracy, it is worth noting that Iraq is indeed already being pillaged of its resources to the detriment of its long suffering civilian population.

The perverse notion that an utterly destroyed country must pay reparations to the parties who maliciously planned and facilitated its destruction is the grim reality today for the people [of] Iraq. That there are those who actually bemoan the lack of Iraqi gratitude for the invasion of their country and who still cling to the pathetic notion that the unfathomable devastation they unleashed upon Iraqi civilians was some sort of “liberation” speaks powerfully to the capacity for human self-delusion. The systematic destruction and pillaging of Iraq is a war crime for which none of its perpetrators have yet been held to account (though history often takes[though history often takes time to be fully written] time to be fully written), and of which the extraction of reparation payments is but one component.

Glenn Greenwald: The true definition of “Terrorist”

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , on June 22, 2011 by loonwatch

(cross-posted from Salon)

In late May, two Iraqi nationals, who were in the U.S. legally, were arrested in Kentucky and indicted on a variety of Terrorism crimes.  In The Washington Post today, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — writing under the headline:  “Guantanamo is the place to try terrorists” –castigates Attorney General Eric Holder for planning to try the two defendants in a civilian court on U.S. soil rather than shipping them to Guantanamo.

To make his case, the war-loving-but-never-fighting McConnell waves the flag of cowardly manufactured fear that is both his hallmark and the hallmark of uniquely American political rhetoric on Terrorism (“my constituents do not think that civilian judges and jurors in their community should be subjected to the risk of reprisal for participating in a terrorist trial“); relies on the ignoble example of Chuck Schumer and other New York Democrats who demanded that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not be tried in Manhattan; and, as usual, issues vacant cries of war-uber-alles to justify abandonment of basic legal safeguards (“our top priority in battling terrorism should be to find, capture and detain or kill those who would do us harm”).  Along the way, McConnell — as most right-wing politicians are now forced to do given the continuity with Bush 43 — praises Obama’s overall national security approach:

The administration has shown admirable flexibility in making decisions concerning national security and has shown that it is willing, on occasion, to put safety over ideology. President Obama launched a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, ignored calls to hastily withdraw from Iraq and recently agreed to extend the Patriot Act without weakening its provisions or making them harder to use.

Indeed, the Kentucky Republican ends his Op-Ed with an appeal to Obama’s “flexibility”; the President, he urges, should “let Holder know that our civilian courts are off-limits to foreign fighters captured in the war on terrorism.”

McConnell’s criticism of Holder is patently absurd; the very idea that we should start rounding up people who are legally on U.S. soil and shipping them to Guantanamo — rather than trying them in a real court — is menacing, and the fear he invokes (they’ll kill us if we put them on trial) is as fictitious as it is cowardly.  But far more interesting than McConnell’s trite fear-mongering is the notion that these two individuals are “Terrorists.”  Just as McConnell’s Op-Ed did, in all the reporting thus far on this case, the fact that their alleged acts constitutes Terrorism has been tacitly assumed (AP: ”2 Iraqis charged in Ky. with terrorism plotting”; ABC News: “Kentucky Terror Case”; PoliticoMcConnell:  Get Terror Case out of Kentucky”).

But look at what they’re actually accused of doing.  Those above-linked news reports as well as the unsealed indictment make clear that there are two separate categories of acts forming the basis for these allegations.  The first is that one of the men, Waad Ramadan Alwan, admitted to working with the “Iraqi insurgency” to attack American troops during the first three years of the war.  From the indictment:

It was that activity which the FBI trumpeted when announcing the indictments:

WASHINGTON—An Iraqi citizen who allegedly carried out numerous improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and another Iraqi national alleged to have participated in the insurgency in Iraq have been arrested and indicted on federal terrorism charges in the Western District of Kentucky. . . .

According to the charging documents, the FBI has been able to identify two latent fingerprints belonging to Alwan on acomponent of an unexploded IED that was recovered by U.S. forces near Bayji, Iraq. . . . Alwan had also allegedly told the CHS how he had used a particular brand of cordless telephone base station in IEDs. Alwan’s fingerprints were allegedly found on this particular brand of cordless base station in the IED that was recovered in Iraq.

The second set of acts involves a plot apparently concocted by the FBI, and then presented to Alwan through the use of an informant, to ship weapons and money to “Al Qaeda in Iraq.”  I realize that the very mention of the phrase “Al Qaeda” is supposed to stop the brain of all Decent People, but as even AP acknowledges, that group is little more than an insurgency group specific to Iraq, devoted to attacking foreign troops in their country:

Neither is charged with plotting attacks within the United States . . . . Their arrests come after FBI Director Robert Mueller said in February that his agency was taking a fresh look at Iraqi nationals in the U.S. who had ties to al-Qaida’s offshoot in Iraq. The group had not previously been considered a threat in the U.S.

Indeed, the FBI — in touting the plot they created and induced Alwan to become part of — acknowledged that the plot was devoted exclusively to attacking U.S. troops in Iraq, not civilians:

Over the course of roughly eight years, Waad Ramadan Alwan allegedly supported efforts to kill U.S. troops in Iraq, first by participating in the construction and placement of improvised explosive devices in Iraq and, more recently, by attempting to ship money and weapons from the United States to insurgents in Iraq. His co-defendant, Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, is accused of many of the same activities, said Todd Hinnen, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

According to the charging documents, beginning in September 2010, Alwan expressed interest in helping the [confidential human source] CHS provide support to terrorists in Iraq. The CHS explained that he shipped money and weapons to the mujahidin in Iraq by secreting them in vehicles sent from the United States. Thereafter, Alwan allegedly participated in operations with the CHS to provide money, weapons — including machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, Stinger missiles, and C4 plastic explosives — as well as IED diagrams and advice on the construction of IEDs to what he believed were the mujahidin attacking U.S. troops in Iraq.

There is no suggestion in any of these reports or documents, not even a hint, that either of the accused ever tried to stage any attacks in the U.S. or target civilians either in the U.S. or Iraq.  Leaving aside the fact that this seems to be yet another case where the FBI manufacturers its own plotswhich they entrap people into joining, and then praises itself for stopping them, the alleged crimes here are confined entirely to past attacks on U.S. invading forces in their country and current efforts to aid those waging such attacks now.

One can have a range of views about the morality and justifiability of Iraqi nationals attacking U.S. troops in their country.  One could say that it is the right of Iraqis to attack a foreign army brutally invading and occupying their nation, just as Americans would presumably do against a foreign army invading their country (at least those who don’t share Mitch McConnell’s paralyzing fears and cowardice).  Or one could say that it is inherently wrong and evil to attack U.S. troops no matter what they’re doing or where they are in the world, even when waging war in a foreign country that is killing large numbers of innocent civilians.  Or one could say that the American war in Iraq in particular was such a noble effort to spread Freedom and Democracy that only an evil person would fight against it.  Or one could say that it’s always wrong for a non-state actor to engage in violence (a very convenient standard for the U.S., given that very few nations around the world could resist U.S. force without reliance on such unconventional means).  And one can recognize that most nations, not only the U.S., would apprehend those engaged in attacks against their troops.

But whatever one’s views are on those moral questions, in what conceivable sense can it be called “Terrorism” for a citizen of a country to fight against foreign invading troops by attacking purely military targets?  This is hardly the first case where we have condemned as Terrorists citizens of countries we invaded for fighting back against invading American troops.  The U.S. shipped numerous people to Guantanamo, branded them Terrorists, and put them in cages for years without charges for doing exactly that (indeed, the Obama administration prosecuted at Guantanamo the first child soldier tried for war crimes, Omar Khadr, for throwing a grenade at U.S. troops in Afghanistan).

I’ve often written that Terrorism is the most meaningless, and thus most manipulated, term in American political discourse.  But while it lacks any objective meaning, it does have a functional one.  It means:  anyone — especially of the Muslim religion and/or Arab nationality — who fights against the United States and its allies or tries to impede their will.  That’s what “Terrorism” is; that’s all it means.  And it’s just extraordinary how we’ve created what we call ”law” that is intended to do nothing other than justify all acts of American violence while delegitimizing, criminalizing, and converting into Terrorism any acts of resistance to that violence.

Just consider:  in American political discourse, it’s not remotely criminal that the U.S. attacked Iraq, spent 7 years destroying the country, and left at least 100,000 people dead.  To even suggest that American officials responsible for that attack should be held criminally liable is to marginalize oneself as a fringe and unSerious radical.  It’s not an idea that’s even heard, let alone accepted.  After all, all Good Patriotic Americans were horrified that an Iraqi citizen would so much as throw a shoe at George Bush; what did he do to deserve such treatment?  The U.S. is endowed with the inalienable right to commit violence against anyone it wants without any consequences of any kind.

By contrast, any Iraqi who fights back in any way against the U.S. invasion — even by fighting against exclusively military targets — is not only a criminal, but a Terrorist: one who should be shipped to Guantanamo.  And this notion is so engrained that no media account discussing this case would dare question the application of the “Terrorism” label to what they’ve done, even though it applies in no conceivable way.

One sees the same manipulative dynamic at play in how the U.S. freely tries to kill foreign leaders of countries it attacks.  The U.S. repeatedly tried to kill Saddam at the start of the Iraq War, and — contrary to Obama’s early pledges — has done the same to Gadaffi in Libya. NATO has explicitly declared Gadaffi to be a “legitimate target.”  But just imagine if an Iraqi had come to the U.S. and attempted to bomb the White House or kill George Bush, or if a Libyan (or Afghan, Pakistani, or Yemeni) did the same to Obama.  Would anyone in American political circles be allowed to suggest that this was a legitimate act of war?  Of course not:  screaming “Terrorism!” would be the only acceptable reaction.

It’s hardly unusual that an empire declares that its violence and aggression are inherently legitimate, and that any resistance to it — or the very same acts aimed at it — are inherently illegitimate.  That double-standard decree, more or less, is a defining feature of an empire.  But the nationalistic conceit that all of that is justified by coherent, consistent principles of “law” — or can be resolved by meaningful application of terms such as “Terrorism” – is really too ludicrous to endure.

UPDATE:  Bolstering the definition of Terrorism I provided above, Jonathan Schwarz several years ago documented how establishment political and media circles in the U.S. routinely referred to the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon as “Terrorism.”   As Schwarz wrote:

Whatever else you might say about those bombings, they weren’t terrorism, at least if words have any meaning. They were attacks on military targets.

But this goes really, really deep in U.S. political culture. The basic idea is: we are allowed to send our military anywhere on earth to do anything to anyone. And if someone tries to fight back—even by targeting our military when it’s stationed in their country and killing them—that is fundamentally AGAINST THE RULES.

Propping up that warped mindset is the central purpose of the term Terrorism.

Robert Pape: What Drives Suicide Terrorists?

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Politics, Loon Violence with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2010 by loonwatch

Robert Pape’s studies are starting to be taken more seriously in the government but the media and popular perception creators haven’t gotten the message yet.

What really drives suicide terrorists?

By Robert Pape / December 9, 2010

Chicago

From the 9/11 hijackers to the double agent whose suicide attack in Afghanistan killed seven CIA employees last December, many people want to know what drives some Muslims – many of whom are middle class and well educated – to kill themselves in attacks on Americans and others in the West.

After examining 2,200 suicide attacks around the world since 1980 – the most comprehensive analysis ever conducted – I’ve concluded that the answer is both simple and disturbing. What drives them is deep anger at the presence of Western combat forces in the Persian Gulf region and other predominately Muslim lands.

Popular accounts of these suicide terrorists give the impression that most of them are globe-trotting extremists radicalized by militant networks to strike outside their homeland for religious or other transnational causes. These accounts are false.

Five key members of Al Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP)

What the evidence shows

In the 2,200 suicide attacks since 1980, over 90 percent of the attackers carried out strikes in their home countries, often just miles from their homes, to resist foreign occupation of land they prize.

Hence, Lebanese carried out the suicide attacks against Israel’s occupation of Lebanon; Turkish Kurds carried out the suicide attacks by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party against the Turkish military presence in their home areas; and Iraqis, Saudis, Syrians, Kuwaitis, and Jordanians carried out the suicide attacks against America’s military occupation of Iraq and the US threat to countries adjacent to Iraq.

Afghanistan is a prime example. We can identify 93 suicide attackers who have killed themselves to strike targets, mostly US and Western troops, in Afghanistan in recent years.

More than 90 percent are Afghan nationals and another 5 percent are from border regions of the country, while only 5 percent are from areas of the world beyond the immediate zone of conflict.

In other words, suicide terrorism in Afghanistan is not part of some global jihad looking for a place to land, but regional opposition to foreign military presence.

We’re missing the real threat

Transnational suicide terrorists do exist. But, they are exceptions to the rule. Understanding that transnational suicide attackers are “black swans” has important implications for explaining their existence. For years, many have sought to explain how an individual becomes a transnational terrorist by seeking to track points along a spectrum of radicalization.

The basic idea is that there is a large pool of potential extremists who become progressively radicalized either through elite manipulation (religious leaders in mosques) or through social and economic alienation. Hence, policymakers embrace the idea of eavesdropping on many thousands of Muslims in the United States and Europe. This has done little to find terrorists, but a lot to scare many loyal citizens.

The fundamental problem with the “spectrum of radicalization” approach is that it is looking for many “white swans” that do not exist, while missing the rare black swans that might.

Consider the London suicide attacks in July 2005. Even if we restrict the pool of potential extremists to the 1.6 million Muslims living in Britain then, the spectrum of radicalization approach would expect more “homegrown” suicide attackers by orders of magnitude. After all, tens of thousands of British Muslims had met fundamentalist leaders in mosques, lost their jobs, or faced social difficulties that they might view as related to their ethnic or religious backgrounds. But just four men launched the attack.

Further, after a year-long investigation, MI5 found little evidence that any of the four London bombers were economically or socially alienated in significant ways. Mohammad Khan, the leader, was a mentor at a primary school with an exemplary employment record. Shezhad Tanweer drove his own red Mercedes to work in one of his father’s several businesses and was a trophy-winning cricket player. Another was known for going to night clubs and talking about girls and cars. None had a history of outbursts or violence, or other signs of significant opposition to British life.

What they did share was deep anger at Western occupation of kindred Muslim populations. Mr. Kahn and Mr. Tanweer left martyr videos to explain their motives.

“Your … governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world,” Khan said. “Until we feel security, you will be our targets.”

Recent so-called homegrown terrorists in the United States also reveal little social alienation, but deep anger at foreign occupation. Faisal Shahzad, who was sentenced to life in prison for planning the failed May 1 Times Square car bomb, cited US military activity in his family’s native Pakistan and the presence of US troops in various Muslim countries as reasons for his desire to kill American civilians.

While religion contributes in many cases to increased feelings of loyalty toward a kindred community that may be oceans away from an individual’s country of citizenship, the primary cause of these horrible phenomena is foreign occupation.

US approach is counterproductive

The US approach in countering this threat has done more harm than good. By simultaneously occupying two Muslim countries and cracking down on Muslim Americans, the US has angered elements of an entire population and made it more likely that they would feel more loyalty to their kindred communities abroad.

Further, aggressive surveillance missed the one behavior trait that the American and British transnational terrorists had in common: self-initiated efforts to communicate with representatives of Al Qaeda and other known terrorist groups to receive approval for their actions.

Counterterrorism operations should focus on what makes these rare events dangerous – that is, the point at which politically active groups seek detailed information and actual materials for lethal action, commonly from international terrorist organizations or their local representatives.

Top 5 attacks linked to Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki

Law enforcement attempts to track large numbers of young Muslim men would incorrectly profile and target an entire community. Such manpower takes resources away from the most productive counterterrorism measure: the search for specific preparations for violent acts.

Robert A. Pape is professor of political science at the University of Chicago and co-author of “Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It.”