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Posts Tagged ‘islamists’

New Moderates: Syrian Rebels, Iranian President, and the Taliban

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Let’s say that you feel Iran is the bigger of the two evils and that Tehran, Hizbollah, and Russia cannot be allowed to have a victory in the Syrian civil war. Therefore, the United States has to supply weapons to the rebels despite the fact that they are America-hating Islamists. I can understand that argument but let’s explore the adventure that the United States and European Union is about to embark on.

The cost is the U.S. backing for the Sunni Islamist takeover of much of the Middle East. The benefit is…denying Syria to Iranian influence after 30 years. Of course, it won’t be under U.S. influence. And many wars may flow from this policy: A Sunni Islamist regime’s war on Israel, Hizbollah in Lebanon, the Syrian Kurds, and possibly Iraq (Sunni versus Shia) and Jordan (Islamist subversion to help the Muslim Brotherhood).

If the United States supplies enough weapons to just keep the rebels going, that would be one thing. But American policymakers are likely to be carried away–as often happens to Americans in this situation–and to see rebel victory as the equivalent of good, the heroic freedom fighters battling for the liberation of puritanical Sharia.

It is surprising that it doesn’t seem to bother a lot of people to support an antisemitic, anti-Christian, anti-woman, anti-gay movement that has already committed atrocities, whose leading organization also once collaborated with the Nazis, and about 20 percent of which consists of al-Qaida supporters? 
 
Also we have just seen the proliferation of weapons and terrorists following the U.S.-sponsored support of Islamists after the Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan wars.

Moreover, don’t count the rebels out yet despite the hysteria that Assad is winning. Five weeks ago everyone claimed the rebels were winning. Moreover, while I don’t want the Syrian regime to win, let’s remember that two short years ago the Obama Administration was courting Syria as a potential ally, treating what was still a dreaded dictatorship as if it was one step from singing, “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Visiting U.S. officials and members of Congress became apologists for the regime. For those remembering these events, the current scene is disgusting. Suddenly Syria became a ferocious dictatorship. It was always a ferocious dictatorship. Suddenly it became an ally of Tehran, a stance that the Obama Administration claimed two short years ago that it was going to reverse. In fact, it has been an ally of Iran for more than 30 years.

How short are memories. Analogies to other recent events are also often ridiculous–World War Two, the Spanish Civil War–made by people who know nothing about Syria. In Iraq, for example, there were viable democratic forces and the United States had real leverage over the situation. While one might want the overthrow of the Assad regime, that just isn’t true in Syria.

In Syria, the United States has not just accepted but backed from the start an exile leadership that not only was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood but which refuses to even allow a significant representation by liberal moderates and the Kurds! If U.S. policy, soon to be paying the bills and giving the weapons, cannot achieve that then why give help without conditions? Again, one wants the Assad regime to fall but cannot Washington even extract any political price for this support of the rebels? From Turkey to get more support for U.S. policy toward Iran from Ankara? No.

Will the murder of Christians and other rebel atrocities incur any penalties on U.S. backing or not? Everyone should know that the United States cannot protect one Syrian civilian from murder and persecution by the rebels. Who is doing who a favor?

The strategic issues have also not been fully thought out. Iran is not Nazi Germany and it is going to get nuclear weapons no matter what happens in Syria. Its ability to project influence into the Arab world is limited to Lebanon–where the United States has always accepted it before–and to a lesser degree to Syria and a bit to Iraq. One can make the case that the Sunni Islamists, without a big source of money or arms, are less threatening than Iran. Yet that depends, too, on how Sunni Islamist policy, which largely means the Muslim Brotherhood, develop. What is needed here are cool-headed evaluations; what we see is bordering on hysteria.

There’s something in the U.S. military culture called “mission creep,” that means the task given the U.S. army is extended far beyond the original intention. Also, in military affairs nothing turns out to be as easy as you expect. If, for example, the rebels can’t win otherwise will there need to be a no-fly zone? Or more intervention? All to produce a likely result of an anti-American terrorist-sponsoring dictatorship? Or perhaps it can be bought off for a while by sending billions of dollars of aid to subsidize a Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship. Already we see the war hysteria building.

So let’s say that Obama sets a policy of sending only limited numbers of light weapons to moderate forces. Naturally, though, the U.S. trainers will not be able to vet every trainee. We know that’s true and there will no doubt be terrorist-minded and extremist soldiers whose skills will increase thanks to Uncle Sam. Many of them are young. Perhaps some of them won ‘t retire after the Syrian civil war ends.

But what’s really worrisome is the next step. Suppose the rebels still aren’t winning. The aides and experts and advisers then explain to the White House that unless more and better weapons are sent then “our” side will lose. That can’t happen, right? It will be an even more humiliating loss to the Russians, Iranians, Hizbollah, and the Syrian regime that not so long ago—just over two years ago–was Obama’s good buddy.
At that point, there comes escalation: more weapons, more American involvement, better arms. That is going to be a big temptation and who is going to stand up and say, “No.”
Now think of the opposite outcome. The rebels quickly reverse the tide of battle and they are winning. In that case, the officials say, “Just a little more aid and we can have a big victory.” Once again, mission creep.

And what would the U.S. government do if and when the rebels start murdering civilians. Imagine, there are people who don’t support Israel and want the United States to reduce help because it is “immoral” doing certain things. But they are going to accept rebels cutting off the heads of people, wiping out dozens of civilians, shooting prisoners, and even eating a few body parts of murdered Syrian prisoners?

All of these things have already happened and will happen more. And, here’s the big thing, the United
States will have no leverage to affect this behavior. The leaders are not in control; the rebels don’t want to do America’s bidding. Will the aid be cut off at that point? No. Too many reputations will be on the line; too much political capital will have been extended.

Meanwhile the Sunni Muslim side and particularly the Sunni Islamist side will urge the United States on, promising it anything if it puts their friends in power. Obama will believe that the Arabs love America and will support U.S. interests. Until, of course, the day after they take over—or say several months afterward—when the Muslim Brotherhood turns on America and the Salafists attack Israel.

There is, however, one possible way out: if the United States can say Iran made us do it by escalating its own involvement in the war. There is something peculiar happening after the Iranian presidential election.  On one hand, the media throughout the West is proclaiming that Iran is now moderate, forgetting that the same thing (the election of a relatively moderate president 16 years ago) without changing anything. On the other hand, though, Iran seems to have become more aggressive and threatening after the election. The Iranian supreme guide directly insulted Obama, saying he was a puppet of Zionist interests and was only elected in a phony process, unlike the freedom enjoyed in Iran. The point is that Iran may have overplayed its hand, throwing away a wonderful opportunity to fool the West and get sanctions reduced while still building nuclear weapons.
At any rate, this is a big mess and it will not turn out well.

Speaking of big messes, to consolidate the Obama Doctrine–allying or engaging with Sunni Islamist extremists–the United States is now entering public negotiations with the Taliban.  The Afghan Taliban, you might remember, was a partner in the September 11, 2001, attacks and has been unrepentant. The supposed price will be that the Taliban, which is killing Americans on a daily basis in Afghanistan, may merely renounce al-Qaida. But since al-Qaida doesn’t exist any more in Afghanistan this is  hardly significant. Mere words from the no-doubt-trustworthy Taliban–or will even an apology be required–will make up for the murder of around 3000 Americans.  According to U.S. policy, there is a radical and moderate wing of the Syrian rebels, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood regime, the Turkish stealth Islamist regime, probably now the Iranian regime, and several others as well no doubt.

The Taliban has been calling the Afghan government an American puppet and the Afghan government reacted to news of the talks angrily, with a feeling of betrayal, and broke off its own talks with the United States. Sound like a pattern? The U.S. government siding with enemies and subverting historical allies?

Oh, and four American soldiers were killed by a Taliban attack the same day as these diplomatic developments happened.

Finally, the new Iranian president has been declared a moderate by much of the Western establishment. First, it is assumed he is a moderate. True, he was the person out of desperation who was supported by the opposition but he has a long record as a key national security official who does not differ from the main political line. Second, he is powerless because the supreme guide is in charge.

Imagine a “Cold War” in which the United States would have taken the Communist side and you get a picture of current U.S. policy.

Obama Doctrine: Backing Muslim Radicals Despite 10 Western Failures

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

There is a long history of Western powers believing that they could manipulate or work with radical Arabic-speaking states or movements to redo the regional order. All have ended badly.

–During the 1880s and 1890s, Germany became convinced that it could turn the forces of jihad against British, French, and Russian rivals. The kaiser presented himself as the Muslim world’s friend and German propaganda even hinted that their ruler had converted to Islam.

–In World War One, the Germans launched a jihad, complete with the Ottoman caliph’s proclamation. Wiser heads warned that the Ottoman ruler didn’t have real authority to do so or that the raising of the jihad spirit could cause massacres of Christians in the empire. They were ignored.

As a result, few responded to this jihad; Armenians were massacred, at times with the at least passive complicity of the German government.

–Nevertheless, Adolf Hitler, whose close comrades included many veterans of the earlier jihad strategy, tried the same approach in World War Two. This time, the Jews in the Middle East were to be the massacred scapegoats. Yet despite close collaboration by the leader of the Palestine Arabs, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, and the Muslim Brotherhood, among others, the defeat of the German armies along with other factors (incompetence, unkept Arab promises, and German priorities) prevented this alliance from succeeding.

By the way, the Nazi collaborators were the same Muslim Brotherhood to which the United States is allied today. There are huge amounts of archival evidence, including documents showing Nazi payments to the Brotherhood and providing them with arms for a rebellion to kill Christians and Jews in Egypt.

There is no evidence that the Brotherhood has changed its positions. The story above is told in a new book, by Barry Rubin and the brilliant scholar Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East which will be published by Yale University Press in January 2014. It will be an explosive rethinking of Middle Eastern history which could not be more timely.

Incidentally, might one think that the Western mass media might mention that the chief U.S. ally in the Arab world—one of whose branches is now receiving American weapons—were Nazi collaborators who have never abandoned their anti-Western, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish views?

How much has the Brotherhood visibly reconsidered its ideology since the man who is still its leader, Muhammad al-Badi, explained in  October 2010 that the Egyptian regime would be overthrown and then the Brotherhood would wage jihad on a weak and retreating America?

–In 1939 the British offered to sell out the Balfour Declaration and the promise of a Jewish homeland in order to gain Arab support in the coming war. The Islamist-radical nationalist faction rejected these offers, though moderate Arabs wanted to accept them. After World War Two, the British decided to try to secure their interests in the region. Most students are probably being taught today that this was through Israel’s creation. In fact, of course, the British were opposed to this outcome. They believed, understandably, that it would be better to court the Arabs. The result was the creation of the Arab League, a body that the British thought they could control. Of course, the Arab League would become a vehicle for anti-Western radicalism.

–During the early 1950s, the United States thought that it could do something both good and in its interests. It would support the takeover by moderate elements who would modernize their countries. No more would America be held responsible for corrupt dictators but would receive gratitude from liberated people living in prosperity. The first case was encouragement for the Egyptian coup of 1952, the one which brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power ultimately.

The result of the British and American efforts to harness radical Arab nationalism–which led to decades of violence and war in the region is told in Barry Rubin, The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict which you can read online or download for free. A variation of this reformist as a U.S. strategy took place in Iran, which you can read in Barry Rubin, Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran which you can read online or download for free.

It Was Erdoğan’s Fault

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Translated to English by Sally Zahav

For about a week now, Turkey has been in an uproar. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have burst into the streets inf almost a hundred cities all over the country, in noisy, audacious protest against the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A few people have been killed, about 1500 have been injured and about 2000 arrested. The spectacles from the streets of Turkey were reminiscent of the mass demonstrations of January 2011 in Tunisia that eventually caused President bin ‘Ali to flee, and in al-Tahrir Square in Cairo, which resulted  in the overthrow of Mubarak, and the demonstrations in the beginning of what was called the “Arab Spring” in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. The question arises – is it now Turkish society’s turn to rid itself of Prime Minister Erdoğan and perhaps the religious “Justice and Development Party ” as well, which has governed the country since 2002 as a single party, without need for a coalition because it has a majority in parliament.

The answer to the question is “probably not,” that is, the rule of Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party does not seem to be in immediate danger, for several reasons:

The first and principal reason is that, after all, Turkey is a democratic country, even if its democracy is not perfect, and in a democratic country, the prime minister is replaced by means of elections, not demonstrations. In contrast to the Kurdish minority, the Turkish nation, in all of its sectors, sees Turkey as its country, and the government is considered legitimate, despite the substantial criticism about how it functions. There is not an overwhelming desire to overthrow the government, but rather to improve the way it functions and correct the direction in which it is pulling Turkish society. The slogans heard in the demonstrations express the  demonstrators’ rage  over the behavior of Erdoğan, and actually, it is his personality that is the focus of the demonstrations. One of the signs in the demonstrations showed Erdoğan next to Hitler, both giving the Nazi salute, and for anyone who didn’t understand the image, “Erdoğan = Hitler” was written.

The second reason is that the regime truly wants to turn down the flames, and therefore, on most days of the demonstrations and in most places, there were no policemen positioned near the demonstrations, in order to minimize as much as possible the contact with officials and to minimize the potential for people to be injured, and indeed,  by mid-week only a small number of fatalities, about five, was reported, hundreds of injured and about one thousand arrested. Compared to Egypt or other Arab countries that have been afflicted by the “Arab Spring,” the situation in Turkey is much better, at least in this phase.

The third reason that Erdoğan will remain in power is that the larger the demonstrations against him, the more justified he will be — if he wants — to bring out millions of Turks to demonstrate to support him and his performance. His supporters as well as his opposition know well that during the past eleven years he has brought Turkey to a position of economic power, certainly compared with Europe, which gave him a slap in the face when it refused to allow Turkey to join the European Union. He — the Islamist — took the refusal hard, because the real reason that Turkey was not accepted to the Union is because Turkey is an Islamic country, and Europe does not want to grant membership to 80 million Muslims. For these past five years, since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, Erdoğan has been smiling at Europe all the way to the bank. If Turkey had been a member of the European Union it would have had to support — among others — Greece, and there is nothing the Turks want less than to support the Greeks.

For the sake of comparison: In Turkey the GNP per person is about $14,000 per year, while in Egypt it is less than half of that — about $6,000. The distribution in Egypt is much worse than in Turkey; that’s why there are millions of Egyptians who live on 2 dollars per day, while in Turkey the economic success pervades many strata of the population. True, there are pockets of poverty in Turkey as well, but they do not have the critical mass and they are not so severely  impoverished — as in Egypt — to bring millions into the streets to demonstrate against the regime because of their poverty and hunger.

Dissatisfaction

The demonstrations against Erdoğan stem from a sense among his opposition that he has crossed the line in Turkey too, on a number of matters.

The first matter is cultural. Turkey is an arena in the battle between Islamic tradition and the secular-nationalist heritage of Mustafa Kemal “Atatürk” (the father of the Turks) who founded modern Turkey after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. With his rise to power, toward the end of 1923, he imposed a secular nationalist agenda on the country, encouraged the drinking of alcohol and made “raki” the national drink, despite its being alcoholic. He did away with  compulsory compliance with Islamic Shari’a, imposed on the Turks civil marriage and divorce, changed the written language from Arabic characters to Latin characters, closed madrassas, dismissed imams, forbade the wearing of turbans, encouraged women to walk in the streets without a head covering–like the women in Europe–and promoted the political and civil rights of women. His successor, President İsmet İnönü, continued in his path until 1950. Thus, for almost 30 years, the citizens of Turkey underwent a difficult “educational program” intended to strip them of “Islam” and garb them in a modern secularism that would be liberal in every way, except for its treatment of religion.

In parallel, the bazaar — the shuk -- developed as a result of several factors. These factors include economic stability, an air of “business first,” European markets and travelers who came in hordes to enjoy the pleasant climate, the inviting beaches and the “everything is included” service. The military, the parliament, the presidency and the high court all comprised a system that was expected to “adhere to the constitution,” meaning the secular aspect of the state.

This reeducation worked well in the cities, because there the regime had an effective presence, and the various branches of the regime could monitor the application of the anti-Islamic laws and principles. In the cities, a cultural elite developed that included people of the theater, authors, poets, journalists, politicians, lawyers and doctors, as well as economists and accountants, with an impressive representation of women among this modern, “European” elite. As is the way of the elite in the world demographically, this group has a low birth rate, mainly because women usually have plans in addition to being a wife and a mother.

The trend toward secularism was problematic in the villages, because there the regime had a small, even marginal footprint, and tradition remained the name of the game. The farther a village was from an urban center, the more traditional were its residents, and, as a result, the birth rate in the villages remains high. Thus, for 90 years–four generations–since Atatürk began the cultural revolution, the secular citizens have become a minority in Turkey and traditionalists have become the majority. This fact was expressed in parliament when Necmettin Erbakan’s religious “Welfare Party” won the elections in 1996. The secular sector did not accept their defeat and demanded the high court–a secular stronghold in those days–to outlaw the religious party. The court did so, and Erbakan was forced to quit in 1997.

About six years afterward, in 2003, Erbakan’s student, Erdoğan, assumed power after winning a majority in parliament with his “Justice and Development” Party. Most of the secular sectors were left out of the loop politically, and for Erdoğan and his friends it was a sort of revenge  for the decades when the religious were sidelined and oppressed. Since the Islamic party rose to power it has made changes in the Turkish public arena: the Islamic courts were brought back to deal with matters of divorce, women were allowed to enter universities with head covering, and attempts were made to forbid abortions and the drinking of alcohol. Military  officers were replaced with the Islamic regime’s faithful, and parallel changes were made in the high court following a referendum that called for such changes.

The secular sectors object to these pro-Islamic trends, and for the past 11 years they have been trying to stop the process by which Islam is gradually resuming the position it occupied before the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The restless youth who burst into the streets a week ago carried  banners that were red, the color of the Turkish nation; in contrast, the banners that the adherents of Islam carried in their demonstrations against the war in Iraq in 2003 were green. The red Nationalist versus the green Islamic, and in the struggle for dominion in the Turkish culture, color indicates your cultural identity.

Dictatorial Traits

The second matter that brought the demonstrators out into the streets was Erdoğan’s dictatorial behavior: in recent years he has sent almost a hundred journalists to prison because of their criticism of him. The government of Turkey, under his leadership, monitored what Turkish Internet users put on social networks, mostly Facebook and Twitter. The police take liberty in putting down demonstrations against Erdoğan ruthlessly and mercilessly, using gas mixed with water, and even rubber coated bullets that cause much pain–even though they’re not lethal. In recent demonstrations, one protester lost his eye as a result of being hit by a rubber coated bullet. Erdoğan’s crude and raucous style angers many, many Turks, who feel degraded by his arrogance.

The agreement that Erdoğan reached lately with the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan, also angered many of those who see the Turkish nation and its rights as overriding principles. They see this agreement as a surrender to Kurdish terrorism, and from their point of view any surrender to the Kurds harms the Turkish character of the country.

Erdoğan’s foreign policy also gets a significant amount of criticism: his involvement in Syria has worsened the chaos there, and Turkey has lost out in Arab world markets where Syria served as a bridge to Turkey. The Syrian refugees in Turkey–approximately 200 thousand, possibly more–are a burden on the Turkish budget, and the tension on the border between Turkey and Syria does not contribute to the quiet necessary for economic prosperity. Many secular Turks view unfavorably Erdoğan’s support for the Syrian rebels, who identify with al-Qaeda, just as they object to his blatant sympathy with the Hamas movement in Gaza, and they accuse him of creating the Mavi Marmara affair. They do not agree with the Israeli response, which was, in their opinion, unreasonably brutal, but, in parallel, there are more than a few among them who think that the event began as an unjustified provocation by Erdoğan.

Erdoğan’s raucous style of speaking, the dismissive way he treats his political opposition, his attention to religious trappings and his activist foreign policy in the Middle East arouses concerns among his opposition that he is trying to restore the Ottoman Empire and become a modern-day sultan. These concerns have increased in the past two years as he began to transfer authority from the prime minister to the president, with the intention of being elected president in 2014, and having the authority to rule like the presidents of the United States, France and Brazil, who serve as executive heads of their countries.

The Taksim Events

The Taksim Quarter is in the heart of Istanbul and it is the stronghold of the modern nationalist state. At the center is Ğezi Park, with hundreds of ancient trees, among which Atatürk liked to stroll. Plans to improve the place include building a mosque and uprooting trees, which seemed to secular citizens like an Islamic blow to the symbols of secularism and Turkish nationalism. This blow was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the spark that ignited the secular public and sent it into the streets, to defend Taksim Square with their bodies, to defend the symbols of the nation, the culture, the arts, democracy and the right to speak out and voice criticism.

There are rumors that among those who stood to benefit from the changes in Taksim Square were two real estate agents who are personally close to Erdoğan. This kind of rumor creates the impression that the regime is corrupt, giving away national symbols to the prime minister’s cronies.

Erdoğan blames foreigners for stirring up the masses against him, and uses conspiracy theories in his defense. “Communists,” he calls them, and his spokesmen claim that those who are stirring up demonstrations are no more than a handful of people on the fringe, who belong to  the radical Left. The Turkish media minimized their coverage of the events of last week so as not to give free publicity to the initiators of the demonstrations and so that the public would not be encouraged to join them. Erdoğan himself transmits a “business as usual” attitude–he went out this week on a tour of North African countries. He is also supposed to go to Gaza this month, in clear defiance of the president of the United States, whose Secretary of State John Kerry tried to dissuade him from going there.

What’s  Next?

As things appear now, the demonstrations do not endanger the government in Turkey, and don’t significantly damage Erdoğan’s image. There are analysts who claim that the demonstrations even strengthened his position among the religious groups, because they fear the resurgence of the secular and their return to power. Here I share with my readers what I heard myself, when I visited Turkey last summer and met with senior people from the ruling religious party. There were those among them who expressed considerable resentment regarding the crude style of the prime minister, his impulsiveness, the arrogant way he relates to anyone outside of his inner circle, and the raucousness that he has brought into the country’s political discourse. They also disagree with the way he relates to Israel. Some of them even claimed that they are embarrassed by him, but they have no choice but to support him, because he knows how to excite the masses; a different leader might be pale and unattractive and the result would be the return of the secularists to power.

Erdoğan will have to draw conclusions from the demonstrations even if they stop, because if he continues to behave as he has done so far, the demonstrations might continue and even intensify. If this happens, Turkey’s economy would pay a high price because of reduced tourism, since tourists don’t set foot in unstable countries (Look at Egypt, Tunisia and, of course, Syria).

It is reasonable to assume that in the near future Erdoğan will be more responsive to people from his party who disagree with his style of speaking and his micromanagement style. He may even free some of the jailed journalists. In the situation created following the demonstrations it will be difficult for him to continue with his changes to the constitution that are intended to strengthen the position of the president at the expense of the prime minister, because the public is more aware today than in the past of his ambition to amass power and perhaps become the sultan of the Neo-Ottoman Turkish Empire.

Can Erdoğan make a basic change to the country, to his behavior, to his personality? It is reasonable to assume that he cannot, and, therefore,  in the future, the streets of Turkey will probably see more demonstrations, violence, wounded and killed, and each time the questions will arise: is Turkey really a democracy? Do the ruling elite know how to protect the civil rights of those who are not part of it? Doesn’t this country have more peaceful and orderly ways to influence the regime’s behavior through legitimate action?

It seems that more than a few years will pass before Turkey becomes an inseparable part of European culture, and by the time that happens, Europe will likely become an integral part of Islamic  culture…

An Alternative Opinion

Those who research Islam have differences of opinion about whether there can be a nexus between the requirements of Islam and democratic values. Islam is divine law, while democracy is based on laws created by a legislative body. Divine law is permanent, while parliamentary law is relatively transitory. Islam determines punishments such as cutting off the hand of a thief while democracy tries to rehabilitate him. In Islam the state is the main mechanism for imposing the commandments of religion (Shari’a) while democracy prefers a separation of religion and state. In Islam the religious figure rules in the name of Allah (as in Iran) and democracy is led by a group of elected individuals in the name of the people.

Despite this, Turkey is an example that shows, especially after 2002, that there is a nexus between Islam and democracy, and the proof is Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party.


It could be that the events of the past week shatter the Turkish example too, because difficult questions do arise from them: Is the rage of the secular citizens directed against Erdoğan personally or against the Islamic culture that he represents? And if he is so democratic, why does his opposition equate him with Hitler and the Nazis? And why does he need to use such violent and undemocratic means to break up the demonstrations that should be allowed in a democracy? And perhaps all this “democracy” of his was only a means to take control of the state and then to impose Islam upon it? And if he puts journalists in prison because they criticized him, will he allow politicians to criticize him when it is time for the next elections?


All of these doubts are an expression of the fear that actually a nexus
between Islam and democracy is not possible, and even the Turkish example worked for only a limited time period. Meanwhile, an Israeli has written a book on Turkey entitled “Demo-Islam” and it will be interesting to see if the theory will stand up to the test of reality.

Originally published at Israel and Terrorism.

Muslim Acts of Beheading in the West

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

The gruesome murder of a soldier outside London by a Muslim convert, Michael Adebolajo, brings to mind that throat slitting and beheading are Islamically sanctioned forms of execution. Although these occur particularly often in the course of family-related crimes – think, for example, of the case of Aasiya Hassan in suburban Buffalo, N.Y., killed by her husband in 2009, stabbed with two hunting knives more than forty times in the face, back and chest, then beheaded – this monstrous form of violence is also used in non-family instances. Some of those that took place over the past decade in the West in chronological order include:

In addition, Ibragim Todashev, who was shot and killed yesterday while being interviewed about the Waltham murders, reportedly grabbed a knife and stabbed an officer several times, including in the head, possibly an attempt on his neck. In any case, it was so threatening that the officers used deadly force and on the spot killed Todashev.

This list (to be updated as needed) is only part of the story: other characteristically Muslim crimes taking place in Western countries include honor killingsfemale genital mutilation, and slave holding. These, sadly, are among Islam’s contributions to the lands of immigration.

Postscript: What this analysis does not cover: (1) Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg, and other Westerners murdered in Pakistan, Iraq, and other non-Western places. (2) Meir Kahane, Hitoshi Igarashi, and other prominent individuals assassinated in the West but not beheaded; Theo van Gogh is the only person listed both here and at “Islamist Assassinations in the West.” (May 23, 2013)

Originally published at DanielPipes.org and The National Review Online, The Corner.

Erdogan Praised at White House as He Subverts US Interests

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

“So fragile was the structure of their reality that a single unsubsumed consciousness, a solitary ripple in their little pond was enough to roil the waters into a frothing, burbling foam.” —Norman Spinrad, The Void Captain’s Tale (1985)

Consider five factors that had no effect on the very warm reception given by President Barack Obama to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

–While the U.S. government has pressured Erdogan not to visit the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Erdogan announced in the White House Rose Garden that he would do so. An alleged U.S. ally says publicly in front of Obama while being hosted by him that he is going to defy the United States.

This is not some routine matter. With previous presidents, if an ally was going to do something like that he would say nothing at the time and then months later would subvert U.S. policy. Or better yet the foreign leader would not do so. To announce defiance in such a way is a serious sign of how little respect Middle East leaders have for Obama—and U.S. policy nowadays—and how little Obama will do about it.

–Equally bad is the fact that Erdogan directly promised Obama that he would conciliate with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cooperated because Obama asked him to do so. That’s what U.S. allies do. But immediately Erdogan showed he would pay no attention to the agreement he made.

His negotiators subverted it in several ways, including the demands for ridiculously large amounts of money, the delay in the promised return of the Turkish ambassador to Israel, the continuation of legal action against Israeli officials involved in the Mavi Marmara affair, when Israeli soldiers were attacked by Turkish terrorists demanding to sail to Gaza to deliver equipment to Hamas.

So a second time Erdogan betrayed Obama and make the president look foolish (that is, if anyone in the mass media pointed it out). Again, there was no U.S. criticism of the move or apparent pressure to make Erdogan keep his promise.

There are three other ways that Erdogan has subverted U.S. interests with minimal costs. In fact, the Obama Administration has usually furthered this behavior.

–Some small U.S. diplomatic protests were made about the growing internal repression in Turkey and human rights’ violations there. Increasingly, the country lives under a reign of intimidation even as the Western media mostly ignores this situation. Since the United States keeps praising him, Erdogan can demoralize his opponents, who cannot hope for foreign help, even as he carries on a policy of spreading anti-Americanism in Turkey.

The political power of the Turkish armed forces–the traditional guarantor of the republic and stability in the country was dismantled by Erdogan with U.S. approval. The Turkish media was subverted with only an occasional American squeal of complaint. Now he’s destroying the independent judicial system, the last barrier to his assault on democratic rule. The U.S. embassy in Turkey consistently warned about what has been happening; the White House ignored this information.

–With the Obama Administration’s permission, the Turkish government violates the sanctions against Iran with ever-larger trade and major bilateral cooperation projects. Erdogan’s consistent defenses of Iran’s policies (though the two countries are at odds over Syria) have been forgiven and forgotten by the White House.

–Finally, in many ways the Turkish government has been taking the lead on setting U.S. policy toward Syria. It was Erdogan who largely determined that the official opposition exile leadership would be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, a path followed by Obama. (I can’t prove it but I’ll bet that Turkey’s regime promised Obama that if he would declare support for the rebels verbally and let them be armed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia then Assad would easily fall. I’d also bet that Erdogan assured Obama that if the president helped the rebels a moderate government would emerge in Syria.)

Meanwhile, Obama has praised Erdogan unstintingly. Obama thinks Erdogan is the very model of a “moderate Islamist” and since Obama’s strategy is to support such people in much of the Arab world, Erdogan has been his guide to the region, though this has meant supporting the radical Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood. What is especially ironic is that Obama believed that Erdogan’s goals were essentially the same as those of the United States while Erdogan was in fact following a profoundly anti-American policy designed to bring hostile Islamist governments to power. Remember this is no longer the old Western-oriented Turkey of previous decades but a radical–if concealed–Islamist regime.

Who’s More Dangerous: Sunni or Shia Islamists?

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

There is a passionate, but somewhat academic debate, over the following issue: Which is the greater threat, the Sunni Muslim Islamists (Egypt, Tunisia, Gaza Strip, and perhaps soon to be Syria) or the Shia Muslim Islamists (Iran, Lebanon, at the moment still Syria)?

I would say the answer would be the Iran-led Shia bloc. But two reservations: the margin isn’t that big and it also depends on the specific place and situation.

To begin with, Iran is still the greatest strategic threat in the region. It is moving as fast as it can toward nuclear weapons and it is still the main sponsor of terrorism. At the moment, it is still, too, the most likely state that would initiate an anti-Western war, though that possibility is smaller than often believed. It has lots of money.

What has gone largely unnoticed is that it is almost the middle of 2013 and the Obama Administration has barely begun negotiations with Iran that will probably drag on without success for a year or more. In addition, after Iran’s June elections, which will presumably pick a radical who is less obviously extremist than current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the U.S. government and mass media will probably proclaim a new era of Iranian moderation.

Iran is also the main backer of Islamist revolution in Bahrain (where it has failed); Lebanon (where its Hizballah clients are the strongest force); and Syria (where its regime ally is in serious trouble).

One final point is that Tehran is having some success in drawing the Iraqi (Shia) government into its orbit. Baghdad is certainly cooperating with Iran on defending the Syrian regime, though one should not exaggerate how much Iraq is in Iran’s pocket. At any rate, nobody would want the Iraqi regime to be overthrown by the al Qaeda terrorist opposition.

So a strong case can be made that Iran is the greatest threat in the region.

On the other hand, however, a Great Wall of Sunnism has been built to prevent the extension of Iranian influence except for Lebanon. The Sunni bloc contains few Shia Muslims. The Muslim Brotherhood, the even more radical Salafists, and other Sunni Muslims (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, for example) have said that the Shias are a worse threat than Israel.

Perhaps the fear of Iran provides some common cause with the West. But this is also a scary proposition since the Obama Administration’s promotion of Sunni Islamism (Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, and even Turkey) could use this point as an excuse. Perhaps America could be said to be building a united front against Iran, but at what price? Turning over much of the Arab world to repressive, anti-American, and anti-Semitic Sunni Islamism as Christians flee?

There is also another weakness of Sunni Islamism, however, that also makes it seem relatively less threatening. In contrast to Iran, the Sunni Islamists do not have a wealthy patron comparable to Iran. They can depend on money from Qatar and to some extent from Libya, but they have fewer resources. Sometimes the Saudis will help Sunni Islamists, but only if they tone down their warlike and anti-Western actions. There is no big banker for Sunni Islamist destabilization of the Middle East.

Equally, they do not have a reliable source of arms, in contrast to the Shia who have Iran and also at times Russia. True, in Syria the Sunni rebels have U.S. backing to get weaponry and arms from Libya and elsewhere paid for by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Yet Syria is an exceptional case. The Saudis are not going to finance the Muslim Brotherhood and its ambitions. Bahrain has declared Shia Hizballah to be a terrorist group even while the European Union refuses to do so.

So arguably one could say that the Shia Islamists and Iran are a bigger danger. But a second danger is a U.S. or Western policy to promote Sunni Islamism as a way to counter the Shia, a strategy that has intensified regional dangers and the suffering of Arab peoples. Then, too, there’s the fact that al Qaeda is a Sunni Islamist organization, and the al Qaeda forces are getting stronger in Syria.

One would have to be very foolish to want to see Sunni Islamism make further gains, to overthrow the monarchies in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, or Bahrain, as well as the Algerian regime. One would also have to be foolish–but here the Obama Administration is so–to want to see Muslim Brotherhood regimes succeed in Egypt, Tunisia, the Gaza Strip, and Syria.

Why Russia Supports Iran

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Recently, PM Netanyahu traveled to the Kremlin to try to talk Russian President Vladimir Putin out of sending advanced weapons, including the S-300 air defense system, to Syria.

Although I wasn’t there, my guess was that Netanyahu said something like, “don’t do this, because if you do we will have to bomb them.” In particular, the S-300 would make it much harder for Israel to interdict arms transfers to Hizballah, or prevent possible chemical attacks against Israel by Syrian rebels or Hizballah, if they should get control of some of Assad’s arsenal.

According to American officials, Netanyahu’s arguments were not successful:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute trip to Russia on Tuesday apparently did not change the Russians’ intentions to also deliver the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Syria. According to the [Wall St.] Journal, U.S. officials believe that Russia is moving more quickly than previously thought to deliver S-300 surface-to-air defense systems to Syria. U.S. officials told the paper that the S-300 system, which is capable of shooting down guided missiles and could make it more risky for any warplanes to enter Syrian airspace, could leave Russia for Syrian port of Tartus by the end of May.

Together, the S-300 anti-aircraft and anti-missile system, and the Yakhont anti-ship system, would pose a formidable threat to any outside intervention in Syria, based on the international Libya model. The anti-ship missiles would be a serious threat to the Israeli navy, as well as the facilities above Israel’s newfound underwater gas reserves. The S-300 could threaten Israeli military and civilian aircraft flying Israeli airspace, and not just over Lebanese and Syrian airspace.

Providing weapons like this to the unstable Syrian regime (or even a stable one) is remarkably irresponsible; but then, this is Putin. My guess is that Putin countered with threats of his own if Israel interferes with Russian actions.

Dore Gold explains which weapons Israel considers “game changers” that it cannot permit to fall into the hands of Hizballah:

a. Chemical weapons.

b. Iranian surface-to-surface missiles equipped with heavy warheads, like the Fateh 110, which has a highly destructive 600 kg. warhead as compared to the 30 kg. warhead on Hizballah’s Katyusha rockets that it launched against Israel in the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

c. Long-range anti-aircraft missiles, like the Russian-manufactured SA-17, which can limit the freedom of action of the Israeli Air Force if deployed by Hizballah in southern Lebanon. The SA-17 uses a mobile launcher. Israeli diplomacy has been especially concerned with the Russian sale of even more robust S-300 anti-aircraft missiles by Russia to Syria, though there are no indications that Hizballah is a potential recipient of this system.

d. Long-range anti-ship missiles, like the Russian supersonic Yakhont cruise missile, that has a range of 300 km. and can strike at Israeli offshore gas rigs in the Eastern Mediterranean. Russia recently sent a shipment of the missiles which will be added to an initial inventory of 72 missiles received first in 2011.

If Iran manages to prop up Assad at the price of turning Syria into a wholly-owned satrapy, then I’m not sure that it would be much better than if Hizballah itself had the weapons, from an Israeli point of view. Israel’s deterrence will be markedly weakened if the decision to use such weapons is taken out of the hands of a semi-autonomous Syrian regime and placed in Iran.

What motivates the Russians?

I think they have decided correctly that control of the Muslim Middle East hangs in the balance, with the main players in the struggle being Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni elements, and Turkey. I think they have decided that the “strong horse” is Iran and the Shiites. In addition, Russia faces challenges from Sunni Islamists within Russia itself and in Muslim states bordering it.

Russia has also always been unhappy with a Western-aligned nuclear power like Israel so close by. In fact some historians have suggested that the Soviets provoked Syria and Egypt to make war on Israel in 1967 in order to justify a strike on Israel’s nuclear facility in Dimona. Israel is also shaping up to be a future rival to Russian domination of the natural gas supply to Europe. An Iranian victory — and incidentally the end of the Jewish state — would be just fine for them.

Ugly? You bet. The forces opposing the Iran-Russia axis include the hostile and economically devastated Egypt, the super-extreme Sunni Salafists (some allied with al-Qaeda), the neo-Ottoman Islamist Turkish regime, Saudi Arabia — and the United States, which may or may not still be a formidable military power, but certainly does not appear to have the resolve to confront Iran, not to mention Russia.

But Israel has survived, even thrived, against similar odds before.

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