What Makes a Muslim Radical?

John L. Esposito, professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University, has teamed up with Dalia Mogahed, executive director of Muslim studies for Gallup, to study the perspectives of “radical” and “moderate” Muslims in several countries. On the basis of a comparison of the views of 9,000 Muslim respondents who thought the 9/11 attack was justified [“radicals”] and those who thought it was not justified [“moderates”] Esposito and Mogahed have discovered that, contrary to popular wisdom, “radicals” are better off than “moderates,” and expect to be better off in the future; they are better educated than “moderates,” and are not more “hopeless” than the moderates. The difference between them seems to be that radicals tend to feel that the West threatens and attempts to control their way of life whereas “moderates” are more eager to build ties with the West through economic development.
Esposito has been vilified by the far right for his efforts to explain what the Muslim world is like. I hope his work will be looked at carefully but chances are that, as usual, this report will be read as just another attempt to mitigate Bush’s fabricated “war on terror”.


Why Are So Many Afraid to Call Iraq a Civil War?

Most of us are so pessimistic about the course of affairs in the Middle East and Central Asia that we can’t envision things getting worse. But they keep on getting worse. Yesterday was an example: Once again George W. Bush denied that there is a civil war in Iraq. Then on the Jim Lehrer News Hour there was a serious discussion about whether the fighting in Iraq can be called a civil war. Somehow admitting that it was a civil war seems a threshold; it would mean something new and important if the war can be called a civil war. But Thomas Friedman sees it as even worse than a civil war, “This country is so broken it can’t even have a proper civil war. There are so many people killing so many other people for so many different reasons – religion, crime, politics – that all the proposals for how to settle this problem seem laughable. … [In the Bosnian civil war] leaders . . . could cut a deal and deliver their faction. But Iraq is in so many little pieces now, divided among warlords, foreign terrorists, gangs, militias, parties, the police and the army, that nobody seems able to deliver anybody. Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war – it’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down. This is not the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It’s Hobbes’s jungle.” At least in his view, Iraq has descended below a threshold we could scarcely imagine. The nearest analogue to such an image is the convoluted carnage in Darfur, which is being called genocide. The wreckage of decisions made, bridges crossed and burned, continues to compound.

Middle East Specialists Wanted by U.S. Government

I, along with many others no doubt, have received an advertisement for a specialist of Islam and social affairs in the Middle East and Central Asia. “Level of Education: MA/MS or PHD in History, Anthropology and Religion with emphasis on Iraq, Middle Eastern, Afghanistan and Southwestern Asia …” Yes, if only such people were in abundance, and already involved in our government. In fact, the government has had a number of smart people whose opinions the administration studiously avoided lest they deflect them from its stated agendas. Now the government wants such people, now that the mess has been made, now that this administration has discovered that it is not possible to confront the outside world without knowing something about it. I wish them well in finding such competent people. And to those who take the job I offer my prayers, that they will be wise and discerning in their advice, and that they will be listened to, that their warnings will be heeded, etc.

U.S. Carried Out Madrasah Bombing

So it turns out that what seemed obvious but that everyone “in the know” denied was indeed what it seemed to be: the US did the bombing in Bajaur after all, not the Pakistani army, as was claimed. And again there appears to have been tragic “collateral damage.”

It is regrettable that the truth is so hard to come by, when government announcements are involved. Surely the officials would have known that the truth would eventually come out, to the embarrassment of both governments. Or are our governments innured to scorn and ridicule? By now it should be evident to anyone who pays attention that these government officials *as officials* will misrepresent the truth over and over again. Surely they recognize that the end result of such mindless dissimulation is a general cynicism about virtually everything they say. Someday they might need to cry “wolf” and mean it.

Pashtuns in Pakistan Speak Out Against the Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan

On November 20 there was a remarkable gathering of Pushtun leaders in Peshawar, Pakistan. Remarkable because most of these leaders were coming out openly against Pakistan’s support of the Taliban. Musharraf has been insisting that the Taliban are Afghans and are not really supported by Pakistan; and he says Pakistan is doing all it can to control insurgents who might sometimes cross the border into Afghanistan. Not so, says this group of Pushtuns. It is time, they say, that Taliban violence in both Pakistan and Afghanistan come to an end. And they called upon the Musharraf government to cut its ties with the radical Islamic movement. Those attending are described as “hundreds,” all Pushtuns, in “a peace jirga”, or tribal council. The real values of Pushtun society are, one of them said, “being drowned out in a sea of blood” owing to the Taliban insurgency. According to one speaker, “The Taliban [is] not the creation of Pashtun society, but the creation of the Pakistan army.” Another described the Taliban “as the tail of the ISI” (Pakistan’s intelligence directorate). “We are caught in the middle of warmongers, extremists and militants.” This is great news: Finally those who are fed up with the carnage and brutality are speaking up. Lets hope Musharraf and the army – who really do control Pakistan – will admit the deception and bring an end to the war. Well, lets hope anyway. [The Taliban are essentially a Pushtun movement and most of the Pushtuns are in Pakistan: about 40 million versus 12 million in Afghanistan.]

Journalists Killed in Iraq

Bob Herbert points to a UN report that says that among the 7,000 killed in the civil war in Iraq in the last two months eighteen journalists have been killed. Raad Jaafar Hamadi, reporter for Al-Sabah in Baghdad, was shot to death in the streets on November 22, 2006. Other staff of the newspaper have been attacked in the recent past: “One of its technicians was shot and killed in Baghdad on Sept. 9. In August a car bomb exploded in the paper’s office parking lot in the capital, killing one person and wounding 30.” Altogether, 92 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the war began and 36 other employees and associates of media organizations have been killed, all but one of them Iraqi. The loss of any human being is a tragedy; every life is precious in the sight of God. But the loss of journalists – the targeting of journalists – has special significance: it is the loss of those who might reveal to the outside world what is happening. When a journalist is killed or intimidated from describing what he/she sees or can collect from others who have seen events, the world looses access to what is happening among human beings. Without them there would only be silence, darkness. Well, not silence but propaganda, since those in power prefer to tell stories that enhance their own interests. And that is the point, of course. That’s why those who are trying to get to the truth are targeted. We grieve for the loss of life, and we grieve for the loss to the world when access to information on the human condition is stolen by an assassin’s bullet. Ana Politkovskaia is dead; Daniel Pearl is dead; and now Raad Jaafar Hamadi is dead. Again, the ancient wisdom warns: “men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil; they would not come into the light lest their deeds be exposed.” Let us hope that those who seek the truth will be free to expose to the light what they know.

Jewish Extremists Attack Human Rights Worker in Israel

It’s troubling that the media have so far said little or nothing about an attack on a Swedish woman in Israel who was trying to protect Palestinian children. The main source for it is International Solidarity Movement. I found it on the site of MPACUK, which describes itself as “a non-profit making organisation working with the community, helping Muslims to help themselves. We are not a charity but a unique Empowerment System; the first of it’s kind for Muslims in Europe and it is our aim to defend Muslim interests and Islam throughout Britain and the world.” The story they tell is the following “Jewish Settlers attack Swedish woman,” 23 November 2006]:

“A 19-year old Swedish human rights worker had her cheekbone broken by a Jewish extremist in Hebron today. Earlier the same day at least five Palestinians, including a 3-year-old child, were injured by the settler-supporting extremists, . . . Palestinian schoolchildren on their way home were also attacked. The Israeli army, which was intensively deployed in the area, did not intervene to stop the attacks.” [The woman] “walked through the Tel Rumeida checkpoint with a small group of human rights workers (HRWs) to accompany Palestinian schoolchildren to their homes. They were confronted by about 100 Jewish extremists in small groups. They started chanting in Hebrew “We killed Jesus, we’ll kill you too!” … . After about thirty seconds of waiting, a small group of very aggressive male Jewish extremists surrounded the international volunteers and began spitting at them, . . . Then men from the back of the crowd began jumping up and spitting, while others from the back and side of the crowd kicked the volunteers. The soldiers, who were standing at the checkpoint just a few feet behind the HRWs, looked on as they were being attacked.” . . . [As she fell to the ground] the group of Jewish extremists who were watching began to clap, cheer, and chant. . . . . The extremists, . . . . were allowed to stay in the area and continued watching and clapping as the HRWs tried to stop the flow of blood from the young woman’s face. Some, . . . even tried to take photos of themselves next to her bleeding face, giving the camera a “thumbs-up” sign.” [At least one of the attackers was in fact from France.] . . . [It turns out that] The settlers in Tel Rumeida encourage Jewish tourists to come to support them, as a way of making up for their small numbers. Today, hundreds had come from tours in Israel for a special event – many from overseas: France, England and the United States.

Iraqi Civilian Deaths Continue to Climb

The Lancet medical journal, in a report issued in October, estimated that 655,000 Iraqi people have been killed as a result of the March 2003 US-UK invasion of Iraq. The report was criticized by the Wall Street Journal but one of authors of the study, Les Roberts, replied in a way that seems worthy of respect by the scientific community. Of course, getting accurate numbers in wartime is impossible, but the methods used by the Lancet scientists were disciplined. The point is, the news seems to be worse the more we know about what is going on in Iraq. [Peace, Earth, and Justice News, “Media alert: Lancet report co-author responds to questions”.]

Bloomberg has just reported (11/22/06) that “Iraqi Civilian Deaths Reached Record High in October (Update2).” The article says “A total of 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in October, a monthly record, and most were victims of sectarian conflict,” according to a United Nations report. “Hundreds of bodies continued to appear in different areas of Baghdad handcuffed, blindfolded and bearing signs of torture and execution-style killing,” the UN said. “Many witnesses reported that perpetrators wear militia attire and even police or army uniforms.” … “The influence of armed militias is growing, and torture continues to be rampant despite the government’s commitment to address human rights abuses,” the UN said.

The word “genocide” for what is going on in Iraq has just been used by a UN official on TV. The colossal blunders of the last six years seem to be compounding. Where will it all end?

Opium, Militants and the Porous Afghan Borders

On Nov. 20, Sixty Minutes showed a segment on the opium trade in Afghanistan. It showed some large fields of poppies and tracked the affairs of a merchant who was smuggling large amounts of opium out of the country into Iran whence it would be transported to Europe. The higgle-haggle with the farmer was typical Afghan: “This product is wet; it’s not what I was looking for. But since you are under such difficulty now, with such a large family, I’ll give you ….” The process – negotiation, loading, shipping, transferring to other shippers, etc. — was pretty much in the open, although the smugglers did not act with complete impunity: their convoy of several vehicles crossing the border into Iran had, at one point, to turn back because of the danger – apparently the Iranian officials were not in the employ of the smugglers like the Afghanistan police, whose attempts to stop them were perfunctory. To me, the most significant part of the story was that all the
communication was in Pushtu. Sixty Minutes did not say where the poppy fields were or where the crossing point was into Iran but it clearly was within Pushtu speaking territory. Presumably Uzbeks and Tajiks and others are involved in the drug trade but here the producers and dealers were Pushtuns.
At this time the Pakistanis are noting the rising importance of Pushtuns for their affairs. Imtiaz Gul, in The Friday Times [“Jirgas as panacea?”, November 17-23, 2006 – Vol. XVIII, No. 39] attacks the recent talk about solving problems through “jirgas” the Pushtun custom of collectively consulting notable figures to result problems. Gul describes a debate over whether jirgas can solve the many problems among Pakistan’s Pushtuns. And of course the Taliban, both as a problem and as participants in the jirgas, figure prominently in this argument. Gul notes that the carnage on both sides of the border – Pushtu areas in either case – has been huge:
he says 3,000 in Afghanistan south and southeast quarters and the loss of life in the strike on a madrassah in Bajaur (at least 80 dead, some said to be children) and in retaliation the suicide bomber attack on a military instillation in Dargai (at least 42 dead and 20 wounded). These clashes have generated a new focus on Pushtuns and the need to convene jirgas to bring out a modicum of social order. Gul says that the idea of jirgas was broached at the White House (unpalatable?) dinner that brought Presidents Karzai and Musharraf together. Somehow the use of the Pushtun word “jirga” to indicate a council meeting is supposed to evoke images of consensual decision making; it’s a view the Afghanistan government, especially under Da’ud, promoted as part of the Pushtu -mongering of that administration. Gul says their has even been talk of a cross-border jirga: again, I wonder if it can produce the results hoped for. The most encouraging thing about this talk is that it is taking place. By now the Pakistani military has to be eager for some kind of resolution. Well, at least some kind of reduction in the violence. Do they really want to stop producing those holy war fighters who would be ready to die for Islam in Kashmir? That would be a profound turn-around in policy. And if it ever takes place it surely will make a huge difference in the prospects for peace.

War on Terrorism Doomed to Failure?

Patrick Seale in Al-Hayat (Nov 17, 2006) notes that Dr Louise Richardson, in a recent book, What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat, has written what many others of us have been saying – shouting into the wind – for some time: “‘The declaration of a global war on terrorism has been a terrible mistake and is doomed to failure.'” The difference now is that this desperate assertion is finally getting a hearing. Seale points out that finally there is now a discussion in the decision making circles about the condition of the world after six years of Bush II’s foreign policy. At least now the nature of the situation can be discussed, now that no one is claiming that the “liberal media” have exaggerated the problem. Seale also quotes George Soros: “The war on terror cannot be won.” Rather, “an endless war against an unseen enemy is doing great damage to our power and prestige abroad and to our open society at home. It has led to a dangerous extension of executive powers; it has tarnished our adherence to universal human rights; it has inhibited the critical process that is at the heart of an open society; and it has cost a lot of money.”
What to do about so great a disaster is, finally, the new question. U.S. Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of US forces in the Middle East, says he has the answer: the solution is to fight it out in Iraq. This he declared in congressional committees last Wednesday. But at the same time he rejected calls to either boost U.S. troop levels to quell the violence or to start a phased withdrawal from Iraq. And in a speech last Friday he said that if the world does not find a way to stem the rise of Islamic militancy, it will face a third world war.
Dangerous as the situation is, as he presents it, he doesn’t want to increase the level of US commitment to Iraq. That seems like more of the same: On the one hand our leaders tell us that the situation is desperate; on the other hand they don’t want to make the kind of commitment that would be necessary to deal with a situation so desperate that it could lead to world war III. Given such doublemindedness, what hope is there that a serious commitment will be made to address the ever worsening situation in the Middle East and Central Asia?