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Scholar and Columnist Professor Barry Rubin Passed Away at 64

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet: Professor Barry Rubin, one of the great intellectual defenders of Israel, passed away Monday morning. Our condolences to the family. Professor Rubin will be greatly missed by all of us at JewishPress.com.

His Facebook page carried this message:

To our great sadness, Barry Rubin passed away this morning. He was surrounded by his wife and children. Your love, support, and prayers have been greatly appreciated. There will be shiva and a funeral, details to follow soon.

Barry Rubin’s was a rare voices of clarity in the Israeli academia and in Jewish media. He was one of the good guys.

A native of the United States, Barry Rubin was director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA), and a professor at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel. He was also editor of the journal Turkish Studies.

His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). He wrote regularly in his blog, Rubin Reports, which was regularly featured on the JewishPress.com website. He is also Middle East editor and columnist at PJMedia.

Barry Rubin described his professional life:

It’s like an iceberg. What you see is only a small portion of what goes on behind the scenes, including contacts with people all over the region, sometimes people whose lives would be in danger if it were known they were talking to me. As an Israeli, I often find it’s much easier to talk with Turks, Iranians and Arabs because we are on the same page – especially in private – about understanding the reality of the region compared to the fantasies often held in Western academic, media and governmental circles.

He is survived by his wife Judith Colp Rubin and their two children.

Is Fear of Blaming Islam Greater than a Need to Fight Terrorism?

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

“The lights are going out in the enlightenment” Professor Barry Rubin told The Jewish Press in an interview this week.  “Too many reporters have no interest in reporting accurately, too many professors have no interest in speaking accurately, and too many policy makers have no interest in promulgating responsible policy.”

Rubin was talking about the reluctance to name revolutionary Islamism – Rubin calls this the “mysterious motivation,” and he refuses to be cowed into playing that avoidance game.

Rubin wrote a very important article about this after he watched the mainstream media and Western politicos twist themselves into pretzels in an effort to avoid the obvious. Rubin explains that the West seems to believe that if we admit the ideology and movement of  Islamism threatens Western society, that will have radical implications for our worldview.

As a result, Rubin points out, most current policy makers and opinion shapers prefer to avoid any policy that considering Islamism as the motive for terrorism would necessitate.  The fear of short term pain is indulged at the expense of preventing the real danger that will follow.  And we are being lied to – “albeit for virtuous reasons” – by the politicians and the mainstream press.

What is the fear which leads to the conclusion that “doing nothing has become better than doing anything”? The fear is that speaking the truth: that the Tsarnaev brothers acted in accordance with their (or at least the older brother’s) understanding, as well as that of many Muslims, of what Islam requires will lead to disaster.  It will cause widespread hatred of Muslims to be unleashed, the specter of Islamophobia to spread, racism will again become rampant, and all the things that a hoped-for post-racist America tried to put behind it will again spread throughout the land.

But the failure to take Islam into consideration might be the very reason why, despite the warning the U.S. was given by Russia that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was “a radical Muslim and a strong believer” the U.S. nonetheless watched Tsarnaev leave the country for Russia and allowed the case file on him to expire during the time Tsarnaev was in a heavily radicalized Muslim territory of Russia, and why other terrorists have also been able to launch attacks.

In a telephone interview from his home in Tel Aviv, The Jewish Press spoke with Rubin, the director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.  Rubin is the author of more than two dozen books on topics including terrorism, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, the PLO, Israel, the Middle East and Islam, which have been published by the most esteemed publishing houses including the Oxford, Yale, Harvard and Cambridge University presses.

First Rubin lists off and explains the many ways the Tsarnaev brothers’ “mysterious motive” to maim and murder Americans has been and continues to be aggressively obfuscated. The list includes fingers pointed at a troubled youth; the Chechen code of honor; immigrants’ malaise; and unemployment.  Read his article, it is well worth seeing how he lays out this case.

Rubin then flips to the other side, and explores the justifications used to avoid saying Islamic extremism is a motivating factor in terrorism generally, and was so in the Boston Marathon Bombings specifically.

These reasons fall primarily into two groups; the first, that by linking the act of terrorism with Islam, even the movement of Islamism, it will unleash a wave of Islamophobic violence, and two, that such attacks are really our (that is, that of the U.S. and of the West) fault.

Rubin, an honest-to-goodness liberal (not “progressive”) finds these lists of false motivations and obviously flawed self-blame theories not just foolish, but dangerous.

A variant of the “you can’t link Islam to terrorism” problem is to insist that the only kind of Islamist strategic threat dangerous to the United States is the one that emanates from al Qaeda.

“If it isn’t al Qaeda, it supposedly isn’t our problem,” is how Rubin described to The Jewish Press this refusal to look directly at the problem.  “In Syria, for example, up to three dozen radical Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have received arms due to U.S. supported policies but only one – the direct affiliate to al Qaeda – is barred from this program,” Rubin said.

The connection between Islamism and terrorism has to be dealt with forthrightly – sometimes the motivation for a terrorist act will be Islamist terrorism, and sometimes it won’t be, but when it is and we avoid naming it, we are setting ourselves up for a continuation, a metastases of the problem.

AMERICAN MUSLIMS AREN’T COWED

Did Israel `Apologize’ to Turkey? Well, No, Not Exactly

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Israel apologizes to Turkey, reads every headline. That simply isn’t true in the sense it is taken to imply. To understand what happened one must examine the long negotiations on this issue.

The issue began when several ships were sent to break the Israeli sanctions on the Gaza Strip in May 2010. These sanctions were put on by Israel—Egypt, then under the government of President Husni Mubarak, had its own restrictions—against a radical Islamist regime in the Gaza Strip that openly rejected peace, used terrorism, and called for genocide against the Jews and the elimination of Israel.

This flotilla was not interested in helping the people of Gaza. It refused to land the cargos in Israel and have them passed across the border after inspection. Rather, the goal was to help Hamas. A key role in the flotilla was played by the IHH, an Islamist group that has been involved in terrorism, backed by Turkey’s government.

These ships were intercepted by Israel’s navy and after warnings were seized. On all of the ships this happened without any injuries except on the Mavi Marmara, where radical jihadists with weapons had sworn to fight. They attacked the arriving soldiers, injured several, and took a couple of soldiers hostage. At that time the soldiers opened fire and several Turkish citizens were killed.

It is important to understand that the flotilla issue was not the cause of Israel-Turkish problems, which had begun long before. The real basis was the election of an Islamist government in Turkey. Discussions inside the Israeli government for years had known Prime Minister Erdogan’s hatred for Israel but did not want to be seen as responsible for any breakdown of relations.

During the talks, Erdogan made three demands:

  • * Israel must apologize completely.
  • * Such an apology implies a legal responsibility to pay reparations.
  • * Erdogan insisted that Israel drop the embargo against the Gaza Strip.

Israel rejected these demands and instead offered:

* To say it regretted the clash and the loss of life. This is like saying: If I offended anyone I’m sorry.
* It offered to pay voluntarily as a humanitarian gesture, not as part of a guilty plea, the families of those killed.
* Israel rejected any change on its policy toward the Gaza Strip.

Erdogan angrily rejected Israel’s offer.

Now, a compromise has been reached, apparently with some help from President Barack Obama. The agreement, which includes restoring normal bilateral relations, has been portrayed as some sort of Israeli surrender.

That is simply not true. The agreement is much closer to Israel’s position. There is no change on Israel’s strategic policy toward the Gaza Strip at all. While the word “apology” appears in Netanyahu’s statement, it is notably directed at the Turkish people, not the government and is of the sorry if your feelings were hurt variety.

Moreover, Israel denied that it killed the Turkish citizens intentionally, a situation quite different from what Erdogan wanted, and offered to pay humanitarian assistance to families.

Should Israel have expressed regret when it should instead receive an apology from the Turkish government for helping to send terrorists to create a confrontation?

On purely moral grounds, no. Yet as I pointed out Israel did not abandon its long-standing position on the issue. It does not want an antagonism with the Turkish people nor one that will continue long after Erdogan and his regime are long out of office. Perhaps this was undertaken to make Obama happy and in exchange for U.S. benefits. But what has happened is far more complex than onlookers seem to be realizing.

Perhaps these seeming word games and niceties are beyond the interest or comprehension of many people, but everyone involved directly on this issue knows exactly what is happening. Erdogan knows very well that this was not a Turkish victory—except in public relations– though Israel won’t object to letting it be claimed as such.

Israel acted to try to reduce the tension with Turkey but without any illusions that the Erdogan regime would now be friendly. Indeed, there were implications that Erdogan was breaking his commitment on the deal. Immediately afterward, he said that a legal case against Israeli officers for alleged responsibility in the death of the Turks would continue and he was not yet sending back his ambassador to Israel. This might be posturing for a few hours or a real deal-breaker. We will see.

Obama’s role in this deal is not clear. (I have made clear to readers that I’m not just bashing Obama reflexively but I will also continue to analyze his actions as accurately as possible.) Did he put any pressure on Erdogan or Netanyahu? Did he promise either or both sides some benefits for making a deal? Not yet clear.

The danger is that this is the kind of arrangement that is all too common in the region. The media proclaim progress; the political leaders say what they want; but nothing changes in reality. One possibility is that Obama doesn’t understand (or doesn’t care) how deeply Erdogan’s anti-Israel feeling runs just as he doesn’t understand how deeply that is true for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Still, this deal is clearly in U.S. interests since it supposedly heals a rift between two countries that are close allies to itself in Washington’s eyes. As I said above, let’s see if this deal sticks or if there is any progress in fixing Israel-Turkey relations in the coming weeks.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

How to Use American Influence

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Colonial powers – France, Britain, Belgium and Russia, in particular – believed there was no substitute for their own armies and officials to ensure that their colonies stayed in line. Instead of colonial occupation forces, the US takes its money, arms, training and agenda abroad. It is a specifically American conceit that people in other countries and other societies want our social and governmental blueprint as well as our money, medicine and weapons.

As the Syrian civil war expands, a U.N. Commission of Inquiry finally determined that, “The conflict has been overtly sectarian… government forces and its militias, dominated by Alawites, have been attacking Sunnis — who are “broadly (but not uniformly)” backing the armed groups opposing President Bashar al-Assad’s government. And anti-government armed groups have been targeting Alawites.”

This is not news. It has, however, prompted another spasm of the belief that US support for this side or that, this person or that, could have or would have produced in Syria a secular, moderate and tolerant revolution, led by those who would be America’s friends. The estimable Barry Rubin blames “the deliberate decisions of President Barack Obama and other Western leaders. Even if one rationalizes the Islamist takeover in Egypt as due to internal events, this one is US-made.”

It is hard to see the difference between the “internal events” in Egypt that made the Brotherhood victory “inevitable,” and “internal events” in Syria that could have produced a different outcome. In both countries, the Brotherhood had been repressed and suppressed in the most brutal ways. Hafez Assad killed an estimated 20,000 people in the Brotherhood stronghold of Hama in just a few weeks in 1982; Junior has a long way to go. In neither country did the supporters of Muslim Brotherhood go away or lose their fervor – the opposite. And in both places, lifting the lid brought the Muslim Brotherhood back from underground.

Rubin adds, “Obama and others believe that they can moderate the Muslim Brotherhood and this will tame the Salafists… This is going to be the biggest foreign policy blunder of the last century.” It may be a blunder, but it would be the same one Rubin makes in the other direction. Both believe American military, economic and political support can moderate or redirect longstanding ethnic and religious beliefs and hatreds. They both believe American “influence” can create moderate, tolerant governments in the Middle East, North Africa and Southwest Asia.

The counter-argument is the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Libya.

The Oslo Accords were predicated on the mistaken belief that international economic support would create a moderate, liberal Palestinian state living peaceably next to Israel. The US also believed that with American training and financial support, Palestinian “police” would “dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.” Palestinians are the world’s largest per capita recipients of international assistance. The US has spent nearly $500 million a year on the Palestinian Authority, including $100 million each year for “security forces” under the tutelage of an American three-star General. Separately, the US is the largest single donor to UNRWA; $2.2 billion in its first 50 years (1950-1999) and $2.18 billion in the last 13 years (2000-2012). In 2012, the US contribution will be $249 million.

What have we achieved? After a Palestinian war against Israel in 2000 (with terrorists using our training) and a civil war, the PA is corrupt, bankrupt and no closer to democracy or accepting Israel as a permanent part of the region than it was before the application of our money or our “influence.” The “armed struggle” promoted by Hamas is finding ever more favor with Palestinians as PA President Mahmoud Abbas seeks “unity” with his erstwhile enemies. Abbas openly defied President Obama on negotiations, UN recognition and the internationalization of the conflict. He threatens “retaliation” against Israel if its citizens choose Netanyahu in the upcoming election. PA-Israeli security cooperation has been faltering and there are open clashes between Palestinians and the IDF.

But if the US got nothing for millions to the Palestinians, it is currently getting nothing for billions in military and economic aid to Egypt. The aid was to have ensured a pro-American military, adherence to the Israel-Egypt peace treaty and security in Sinai. Since 1987, the U.S. has spent about $1.25 billion annually for arms plus about $250 million in economic support. Additional millions were spent on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) between to help Egypt create civil society organizations to provide wider space for political parties and media.

US Policy Turning Syria into Anti-Western, Antisemitic Islamist State

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

In his recent article, “The Revolt of Islam in Syria” (Jerusalem Post, December 12, 2012) Jonathan Spyer, a senior fellow at the GLORIA Center, points out compelling information about the new Western-backed leadership in Syria.

The bottom line: If this is Syria’s new government, then Syria now has an Islamist regime. This is happening with the knowledge and collaboration of the Obama Administration and a number of European governments. It is a catastrophe and one that’s taking place due to the deliberate decisions of President Barack Obama and other Western leaders. Even if one rationalizes the Islamist takeover in Egypt as due to internal events, this one is U.S.-made.

As Spyer points out, U.S. and European policy can be summarized as follows:

“To align with and strengthen Muslim Brotherhood-associated elements, while painting Salafi forces as the sole real Islamist danger. At the same time, secular forces are ignored or brushed aside.”

The new regime, recognized by the United States and most European countries, as the legitimate leadership of the Syrian people, is the Syrian National Coalition, which has also established a military council.

Spyer’s detailed evidence for these arguments–much of which comes from raw wire service reports, praise is due to Reuters in this case–is undeniable. And if we know about these things there’s no doubt that the highest level of the U.S. government does so as well.

Why is this happening? Because Obama and others believe that they can moderate the Muslim Brotherhood and it will tame the Salafists, despite massive evidence to the contrary. This is the biggest foreign policy blunder of the last century and the cost for it will be high. It should be stressed that such a strategy is totally unnecessary and the alternatives have been ignored, the real moderates are being betrayed.

Here is some of the proof for these assertions:

–“The founder of the Free Syrian Army, former Syrian Air Force Colonel Riad Asaad, is notably absent [from the leadership]. General Mustafa al-Sheikh, the first of his rank to defect to the rebels, is also not there. Sheikh is known for his fierce opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood. Hussein Haj Ali, the highest ranking officer to defect so far, was similarly absent.” These men are all anti-Islamists.

–“A Reuters report on the new joint military council calculated that the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies account for about two-thirds of the 263 men who met in Antalya and formed the new body. Salafi commanders are also there.” In other words, the Islamists will get the overwhelming share of weapons provided under U.S. sponsorship, Turkish oversight, and Qatari and Saudi financing. And the United States has not objected to the arming of Salafist super-extremists as long as they aren’t affiliated to al-Qaida.

–“The new council is headed by Brigadier Selim Idriss, who is described as a non-ideological military man. But his deputies, Abdel-basset Tawil of Idleb and Abdel-Qader Saleh of Aleppo governate are associated with the Salafi trend.” In other words, there’s a non-Islamist front man for what will be an Islamist-controlled army.

–“The domination by the Muslim Brotherhood of the new military council mirrors the movement’s leading position in the new civilian leadership body – the Syrian National Coalition. The leader of this coalition is Ahmed Mouaz al-Khatib, former Imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.

“Khatib is closely associated with the Damascus Branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The leader of the new coalition has a long history of antisemitic, anti-Western and anti-Shia remarks. (He praised Saddam Hussein, for example, for “terrifying the Jews” and wrote an article asking if Facebook was an “American-Israeli intelligence website.”) He is also an admirer of the Qatar-based Muslim Brotherhood preacher Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

–“Within the body headed by Khatib, the Muslim Brotherhood dominated Syrian National Council controls around 27 of the 65 seats on the executive body of the new coalition. There are also Islamists and fellow travelers among the non-SNC delegates. The Brotherhood is by far the best organized single body within the coalition. One secular delegate at the first full meeting of the coalition accused the MB of ‘pushing more of its hawks into the coalition, although it already has half of the seats.’”

Why They Love Osama, Hate Obama, and How Obama Uses the Same Tactics at Home

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Visit Rubin Reports.

Why are tens of thousands of Middle Eastern Muslims chanting about how much they love Osama bin Ladin and how much they hate Barack (Hussein) Obama?

Simple. Because bin Ladin was a Muslim and an Arab (for the Arab demonstrators) and thus he was one of their people, someone from their side, whatever tactical disagreements they might have had with him. And Obama isn’t. No amount of groveling, apology, or money will change that fact. Isn’t that clear?

I should quickly add that many Muslims don’t support the Islamists. In elections in Libya and Tunisia, a majority voted for non-Islamist parties. Even in Egypt when the showdown came in the presidential election the Muslim Brotherhood candidate won by only a narrow margin. Most Lebanese don’t support the Islamists (the main force of which is Hizballah, a Shia group). There are, of course, plenty of Islamists and they have lots of sympathizers. They can cite chapter and verse from Islamic holy texts.

Yet that doesn’t make all Muslims supporters of revolutionary Islamism or advocates of Shia totalitarian states, no matter how many times people who are ignorant about Islam and the Middle East run their little rants. Those rants are just as false as the “Islam is a religion of peace” nonsense.

But that’s not my point here. The key element for this article is this:

When solidarity along group lines takes priority and the line is that all of “us” must unite against the “other” no matter what truth, logic, or justice dictates then that means serious trouble.

Well, guess what? That is the line of the Obama Administration and its Newest Left supporters. All African-Americans should support the regime because Obama is Black and anyone opposing him is a racist. All “Hispanics” should support the president because he really wants open borders and the turning of all illegal immigrants into citizens, while everyone else is a racist.

All women should support the ruling group and leftist ideology because it wants to give them free birth control and anyone on the other side hates women. And everyone who receives a government check has to support the regime or someone might take away their check. Actually what’s most likely to take away their check is the bankruptcy of the programs due to over-spending.

In other words, the dominant forces in the mass media and academia and the current government and their supporters are tearing America apart by inciting interest groups to hate each other, make war on each other, and give loyalty primarily to their group no questions asked.

And this is precisely the kind of thing that makes Middle Eastern Muslims who even if they were Islamists–like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist groups—hated bin Ladin when he was alive opportunistically turn him into a martyr. The creation of a hysterical mob mentality for political gain is not restricted to the Middle East.

Visit Rubin Reports.

Post-Mortem on the Muhammad Protests

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

As Muslim crowds dissipate and American diplomatic missions return to normal activities, here are three final thoughts on the riots that began this Sept. 11 and killed about thirty:

The movie really did matter: The Obama administration dishonestly skirted responsibility for the murder of four Americans in Libya by claiming that the attack was a protest that got unpredictably out of hand against the “Innocence of Muslims” video.

In response, leading analysts have concluded that the video hardly mattered anywhere. Barry Rubin scorns the video as a “phony excuse for the demonstration” in Egypt. Michael Ledeen upbraids the administration for claiming “that attacks against Americans aren’t attacks against Americans at all, but attacks against a video.” “It is not about a video,” writes Andrew McCarthy, “any more than similar episodes in recent years have been about cartoons, teddy-bears, accidental Koran burnings, etc.” Hussein Haqqani dismisses the protests as a “function of politics, not religion.” For Victor Davis Hanson, the video and similar incidents “are no more than crude pretexts to direct fury among their ignorant and impoverished masses at opportune times against the United States, and thereby gain power.” Lee Smith speculates that “blaming the video is part of some complex public diplomacy campaign.” Cliff Kinkaid flatly calls the video “a diversion intended to save Obama’s presidency.”

I respect and learn from all these writers, but disagree about the video. Yes, individuals, organizations, and governments goaded the mobs – indeed, there always needs to be some instigator who mobilizes Muslims against an offending statement, text, drawing, or video. But it would be a mistake to see the mob as but a tool of clashing interests (such as Salafis vs. Muslim Brothers in Egypt) or American political imperatives. Rage directed at the video was heartfelt, real, and persistent.

The person of Muhammad has acquired a saint-like quality among Muslims and may not be criticized, much less mocked. German orientalist Annemarie Schimmel pointed out (in her 1985 study on the veneration of Muhammad) that his personality is, other than the Koran, “the center of the Muslims’ life.” Outrage among Muslims over insults to his person is sincere.

Note, for example, the notorious section 295-B of Pakistan’s Criminal Code, which punishes any defamation of Muhammad, even if unintentional, with execution. These regulations have so much support that two prominent politicians, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated in 2011 merely for voicing opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Their murders had nothing to do with the West and certainly were not diversions in a U.S. presidential campaign.

Trends: As someone who’s been watching that clash since Khomeini’s time, I ascertain three main trends. First, Muslims increasingly devote themselves to the political imperative of preserving Muhammad’s sanctity. Second, Western governments and elites (i.e., journalists, lawyers, intellectuals, artists) have become increasingly timid over time when facing Islamist fury, willing to apologize, appease, and placate; for one appalling example, see the U.S. embassy in Cairo‘s effusions on this Sept. 11, as a mob raged outside. Third, Western non-elites have increasingly responded to Islamists with a You-want-to-be-insulted-well-take-this! attitude that includes Koran burnings, “Defeat Jihad” ads, belligerently offensive French cartoons, and a promised roll-out of Muhammad movies.

Obama vs. Morsi: The American and Egyptian presidents offered starkly different views on the freedom to blaspheme in their speeches to the United Nations last week. Barack Obama insisted that “in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how we respond. And on this we must agree: there is no speech that justifies mindless violence.” Mohamed Morsi disagreed: “The obscenities recently released as part of an organized campaign against Islamic sanctities is unacceptable and requires a firm stand. We have a responsibility in this international gathering to study how we can protect the world from instability and hatred.”

In brief, each side has an approach and method (free speech vs. prohibition of blasphemy) which it considers fundamental to its identity and forward with a certain reverence. Ever since the Khomeini edict against Salman Rushdie in 1989, each side intends to impose its way on the other side, suggesting that this clash of wills has just begun.

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