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Archive for the 'Middle East' Category

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Olivier Roy: The cold choice — jobs or jihad

Olivier Roy

“In the final analysis, the victory of the Islamists is part of the normalisation of the Arab world.”—Olivier Roy

In the most recent issue of the New Statesman , Olivier Roy, author of Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways, examines the “Arab Winter” and the possible impact of Islamist victories in the Egyptian election.

Roy challenges the Western prejudice which sees Islam as incompatible with democracy and the Islamist victory as necessarily being a threat to the ideals of democracy, pluralism, and good governance that characterized the Arab Spring. Ultimately, as Roy suggests, the Islamists will have to respond to the current situation in Egypt and the fact that the Arab Spring did not have the kind of Islamic ideological component of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Roy writes:

The Islamists are certainly neither secularists nor liberals, but they can be democrats. It is not the convictions of political actors that shape their policies but the constraints to which they are subject. The Islamists are entering an entirely new political space: this was not a revolution in which a dictatorship was replaced by a regime that resembled its predecessor. There have been elections and there will be a parliament. Political parties have been formed and, whatever the disappointments and fears of the secular left, it will be difficult simply to close down this new space, because what brought it into being in the first place – a savvy, connected young generation, a spirit of protest – is still there. Islamist movements throughout the region are constrained to operate in a democratic arena that they didn’t create and which has legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

(more…)

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Jonathan Lyons: A New Model for Understanding the World of Islam

Islam Through Western Eyes, by Jonathan Lyons

“This model, then, calls for the compilation of a new, hidden history of Islam that fills in those areas declared off limits by the anti-Islam discourse. But, first, we must radically rephrase the West’s favorite polemical question—What’s wrong with Islam?—to a less comfortable query: What’s wrong with us?”—Jonathan Lyons

We conclude our week-long feature on Islam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism by Jonathan Lyons by excerpting, fittingly enough, from the conclusion. In the final chapter Lyons offers a new way for the West to approach the Muslim world:

I propose a new model for approaching the world of Islam—a “hidden history,” as it were, of its practices, beliefs, and culture. To begin with, we must acknowledge that the established Western discourse of Islam does not—or, at the very least, does not necessarily—reflect the reality of Islam itself, what I have referred to earlier as “Islam qua Islam.” Rather, this discourse is the product of a process that has embedded a particular discursive formation in Western thought. Here, then, are the roots of what Sutton and Vertigans have identified as the prevailing “caricature of Islam” (2005:31). Chapters 4, 5, and 6 established ample grounds for such an assertion, and many more examples beyond the scope of this inquiry might likewise be marshaled in support.

Next we must deliberately remove the central pillars of the thousand-year-old anti-Islam discourse and examine what remains behind. Or, to return to the question posed at the outset, we must ask, When we open this particular window, what is it that we see that has not been seen before? Were we to set aside these central notions—that Islam is inherently violent and spread by the sword; that Muslims are irrational, antiscience, and thus antimodern; and that they are sexually perverse and hate women—as flawed representations of the nondiscursive reality of Islam, then whole new vistas of possible relationships between East and West will begin to open up before our eyes.

(more…)

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Jonathan Lyons on Islam and Women

Jonathan Lyons, Islam Through Western Eyes

The Bush administration adopted and perpetuated the established discourse of Islam and women for the benefit of specific Western interests—in this case, the military occupation and political and economic domination of Muslim societies…. Bush and his fellow social conservatives were able to obscure their own opposition to women’s advancement at home by contrasting the freedoms of Western women with those of women suffering under Islam.”—Jonathan Lyons, Islam Through Western Eyes

In his book Islam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism, Jonthan Lyons examines Western, frequently misguided views on Islam. In the chapter on Islam and women, Lyons “traces the emergence of th[e] discourse of Islam and women from within the greater anti-Islam narrative, commencing with the Enlightenment and progressing to the war on terrorism.” This discourse, Lyons argues, has been used to further various political and ideological agendas.

Lyons concludes the chapter by examining how in recent years, the West, particularly the media, has looked to the veil and women’s sexuality as a kind of barometer of progress and modernity. Here is an excerpt from the chapter:

This narrative of the veil, sexuality, and Western notions of modernity and progress reaches its height, however, whenever the subject is postrevolutionary Iran. Since the victory over the U.S.-backed shah in 1979 and the creation of the Islamic Republic, Iranian women have been required to veil in public. In the early years, dress requirements were extremely strict—no hair showing, no makeup or nail polish, no open-toe shoes, and so on—and at times brutally enforced by religious vigilantes. These practices have been relaxed significantly in recent years, and some middle-class and upper-class urban women now adopt colorful and personal expressions of the hijab that do little to disguise the figure or fully cover the hair.

Both the official line and public opinion toward this dress code have a complex and nuanced history (Abdo and Lyons 2003), but the Western media have universally seen and shown it as a reliable barometer of progress or lack thereof by secular civil society at the expense of the ruling religious establishment. In this schema, then, the more lipstick and hair visible to visiting foreign correspondents, the less secure the conservatives’ grip on power and the better the chances of popular revolt against the Islamic system.

(more…)

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Udi Aloni on Israeli Apartheid

Udi Aloni, What Does a Jew Want?“A couple of years ago I approached my ardently Zionist mom, a woman who carried a weapon for the Jewish community of Jerusalem in 1948, and asked her a simple question: ‘Mom, is all this apartheid?’

With the sigh of a betrayed lover she indicated that, yes, this is apartheid. My heart broke.”—Udi Aloni

In an essay for Salon, Udi Aloni, author of What Does a Jew Want?: On Binationalism and Other Specters , challenged a recent New York Times op-ed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone denying the practice of apartheid in Israel.

Aloni, who grew up in Israel and whose parents adhered to a humanistic Zionist ideology, ultimately came to the realization that Israel practiced a form of apartheid in its treatment of Palestinians. Apartheid in Israel however, is different than it was in South Africa as Aloni explains:

The two states embody different sets of interests and power structures, and while in some ways it has been crueler in Israel, in others it is more liberal. The main difference between the two is that in South Africa apartheid was an explicit tenet of the judicial system, while in Israel the entire judicial system conceals and cleanses the praxis of government-led apartheid.

(more…)

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Udi Aloni Directs an Arab Adaptation of “Waiting for Godot”

Udi Aloni

Last night, The Freedom Theater a troupe in the Jenin refugee camp, performed “Waiting for Godot at Columbia University’s Miller Theater. The play was directed by Udi Aloni, author of What Does a Jew Want?: On Binationalism and Other Specters. As described in a recent New York Times article, Aloni became the director after the founder of the The Freedom Theater, Juliano Mer Khamis was murdered outside the troupe’s building.

Udi Aloni, who had been Mer Khamis’s friend, decided to step in as director after learning of the murder. The production breaks with several conventions relating to “Waiting for Godot,” including the casting of women in the roles of Vladimir and Estragon. As BatoolTaleb, who plays Estragon, explains, “Waiting for Godot” has special resonance for Palestinians and The Freedom Theater: “Everyone in life is waiting, with his own goals to reach. For us in our situation in Palestine, we are waiting for freedom, and for us in the Freedom Theater, we are working for the future, waiting for something to happen that will change something.”

The article describes Mer Khamis’s reputation for putting on plays that were controversial among both Palestinians and Israelis. His productions challenged Arab patriarchal conventions as well as the Palestinian authority. Mr Aloni describe Mer Khamis as ““loved and hated in Tel Aviv and loved and hated in Jenin…. some people said he was a Palestinian in Israel and an Israeli in Palestine, and then somebody else said, no, he was a Palestinian in Palestine and an Israeli in Israel. But I say he was a Palestinian Jew in Israel and a Palestinian Jew in Palestine.”

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Udi Aloni and Judith Butler

Udi Aloni

Udi Aloni’s What Does a Jew Want?: On Binationalism and Other Specters includes interventions and conversations with Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, and Judith Butler. All three figures have been commentators of Aloni’s work and have joined him in conversation about Israel and Palestine. The following is an excerpt from a conversation between Aloni and Butler, originally published Haaretz:

Udi Aloni: Why Israel-Palestine? Is this directly connected to your Jewishness?

Judith Butler: As a Jew, I was taught that it was ethically imperative to speak up and to speak out against arbitrary state violence. That was part of what I learned when I learned about the Second World War and the concentration camps. There were those who would and could speak out against state racism and state violence, and it was imperative that we be able to speak out. Not just for Jews, but for any number of people. There was an entire idea of social justice that emerged for me from the consideration of the Nazi genocide.

I would also say that what became really hard for me is that if one wanted to criticize Israeli state violence – precisely because that as a Jew one is under obligation to criticize excessive state violence and state racism – then one is in a bind, because one is told that one is either self-hating as a Jew or engaging anti-Semitism. And yet for me, it comes out of a certain Jewish value of social justice. So how can I fulfill my obligation as a Jew to speak out against an injustice when, in speaking out against Israeli state and military injustice, I am accused of not being a good enough Jew or of being a self-hating Jew? This is the bind of my current situation.

Let me say one other thing about Jewish values. There are two things I took from Jewish philosophy and my Jewish formation that were really important for me… well there are many. There are many. Sitting shiva, for instance, explicit grieving. I thought it was the one of the most beautiful rituals of my youth. There were several people who died in my youth, and there were several moments when whole communities gathered in order to make sure that those who had suffered terrible losses were taken up and brought back into the community and given a way to affirm life again. The other idea was that life is transient, and because of that, because there is no after world, because we don’t have any hopes in a final redemption, we have to take especially good care of life in the here and now. Life has to be protected. It is precarious. I would even go so far as to say that precarious life is, in a way, a Jewish value for me.

(more…)

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Udi Aloni — A Manifesto for the Jewish-Palestinian Arabic Hebrew State

Udi Aloni, What Does a Jew Want?The following is an excerpt from What Does a Jew Want? On Binationalism and Other Specters, by Udi Aloni with Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, and Judith Butler. We have also posted the book’s epilogue in its entirety.

A specter haunts the Middle East, the daunting specter of Palestinian-Jewish binationalism. All the world’s powers have joined hands to conduct a holy war to the bitter end, until that specter is defeated. One can read the entire modern history of the region as the history of a violent lasting conflict instigated to deny and expel that specter.

Now, after one hundred years of conflict, with no solution in sight, the time has come to present binationalism in all its glory.

J’accuse.

We are already a decade into the twenty-first century, and still the only visible change in the Middle East is deterioration. The everyday relation between the Jewish and Palestinian nations, the two nations living in this shared land, is a clear and deteriorating relationship of occupier to occupied, dominance to weakness, manifesting exploitation, racism, humiliation, landgrab, and violence. It is true that on the symbolic level relations are much more complex, but the bottom line is that the Jewish nation is sovereign inside territorial contiguity, enjoying democratic, economic, and cultural freedom.

In contrast, the Palestinian nation is divided between five different physical, economic, and cultural provinces that are hermetically separated in a way that does not allow the existence of a political community. The silence of the Western world, and its massive support for Israel, perpetuate this flagrantly illegal situation. The West is better off letting the Jewish nation guard, in an immoral manner, the immoral wall in the immoral frontier state so as to keep the conflict away from the heart of the empire, where there is still a semblance of the rule of law. Leaders in the Arab world (or the Muslim world, depending on one’s point of view) are better off placing the Palestinian people as a human bulwark against the West, while they are free to both conduct commercial relations with the West and maintain an apparent ideological arena through which they criticize the West in the symbolic realm.

In the symbolic realm relations are much more complex: they are not about the balance of power, financial profit, or control of land, water, and natural resources. In this realm one also has to consider overt and covert theological structures. It is about relations of longing, jealousy, and passion, the simultaneous desire for sameness and separateness. Thus, this small piece of land containing the names Israel and Palestine has become an intense critical mass containing all the tensions between East and West, between North and South, between religions, and between religions and secular thought. The Middle East has become the place where the world brings together all the ideological oppositions, like a testing ground for various ideological explosions. Therefore, one moment before this ancient mythology-infested place implodes into a black hole powerful enough to swallow the whole world, we propose binationalism as the only living alternative.

Binationalism is perhaps the only possibility for a new place, a new beginning and a new language, the only possibility for Israel-Palestine, for the Middle East, and maybe for the entire world.

(more…)

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Paul Pillar on Iran

Paul Pillar

Paul Pillar’s recently published Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform explores some of the missteps in reorganizing intelligence in the wake of al-Qaeda attacks. One of the most crucial challenges facing U.S. intelligence and foreign policy today is, of course, Iran and its nuclear program.

As Paul Pillar has argued that Western intelligence cannot detect a decision that hasn’t been made about Iran’s nuclear program and cannot be completely relied upon. He writes in a recent post for The National Interest that the United States should seriously consider Iran’s offer to allow nuclear inspectors of its activities. Pillar argues:

It would be a mistake to respond as Americans have too often responded, which is to assume the worst about the intentions on the other side and to act in a way that would make sense only if that assumption were true, even though we don’t know it to be true. It would make far more sense to act with the realization that as far as we know the Iranian statement could be anything from a major breakthrough to a phony bit of rhetoric. The only way to find out is to explore the unexplored road and talk with the Iranians about it. If the favorable possibility turns out to be true, talking could be the first step toward a comprehensive safeguards agreement. If the unfavorable possibility turns out to be true, little or nothing is lost; in fact the Western case for pressuring Iran would be strengthened by demonstrating that the West is willing to go the extra mile.

Paul Pillar also recently participated at a public briefing at the Atlantic Council, in which they discussed a recent report they issued, How Reliable is Intelligence on Iran’s Nuclear Program? You can read a summary or listen to the panel discussion here.

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Interview with Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

Arshin Adib-MoghaddamThe Public Record recently interviewed Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, author of A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations: Us and Them Beyond Orientalism. In the interview Adib-Moghaddam, who was born to Iranian parents in Turkey, discussed the continuing controversy over Iran’s nuclear program, the Western media’s depiction of Iran, the future of Iran-West relations, and the prospect of Iran’s Green Movement.

Adib-Moghaddam argues that no one has proven the existence of Iran’s nuclear program and it is used to punish Iran for having an independent foreign policy. More specifically, the West legitimizes sanctions in Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons when what it really wants is to contain Iran’s growing power in the region. Adib-Moghaddam contrasts this with Israel, a nation which in fact does have a nuclear program but one that does not receive the same type of scrutiny as Iran’s. He contextualizes this in light of his book:

I have argued in “A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations” that justice in world politics is the surface effect of a series of constellations that can be manipulated towards particular ends. So justice is a product of politics and diplomacy rather than an objective value that is universally applicable. At the same time I reject the notion that world politics has to be anarchic, that the Hobbesian idea of a war of all against all is inevitable. It was Europe and then the United States that constructed and supervised this unjust order. It is not due to some kind of natural law. So it can be changed. The Israeli nuclear programme must be seen within this larger context of an unjust world order that continues to produce hypocrisies on major issues facing human kind…. The reform of the international institutions must do away with the hierarchy inscribed in them. One way of dealing with this would be to turn the United Nations Security Council into a rather more representative body that would reflect the emerging non-western world order.

(more…)

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam on The Metahistory of the Clash of Civilizations

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, author of The Metahistory of the Clash of Civilizations: Us and Them Beyond Orientalism recently gave a fascinating interview about his book at e-IR as well as offering commentary about the situation in Bahrain for CNN.

In his interview, Adib-Moghaddam explores why the idea of a clash idea is such a part of today’s political culture and the ways in which it negates dialogue and engagement. The “clash regime” is not only a convenient tactic for politicians or limited to those on the fringe but has won wide acceptance in the West and championed by the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis. As he explains, Adib-Moghaddam is also interested in tracking the history of the clash idea or how the “them” was constructed in the West. He charts this development beginning with the wars between Greece and Persia following it through colonialism and up to the present “war on terror.”

Despite the persistence of the us vs. them mentality, Adib-Moghaddam holds out the possibility of an alternative:

In the case of the United States, the recent wars that the country waged always also had a civilizational component; the Vietcong, the Iraqi army, the Taliban were/are presented as barbarians who have to be subdued by force. It is no coincidence that the target of imperial wars is always evil, that the ‘other’ is dehumanized. A civilizational discourse incubates an insidious form of hegemonic superiority, most of the time with racist undertones. Soldiers have to be persuaded into pulling the trigger, they have to have a great deal of animosity if not hatred of the other side. What makes matters worse, at least from an ontological perspective, is that the mainstream theories of international relations, (neo)realism at the helm of them, rationalize war as a normality of international life. There is no respite, kill or be killed, perennial anarchy; that is thought to be the inevitable and ahistorical essence of the international system. We can’t get away from conflict, or so we are told. The last chapter of the book attempts to add to the counter-cases to such pessimism. It refutes the logic of war and the calls for homogeneity, authenticity, undisturbed identity underlying the clash regime. To that end, I experiment with those fields of human endeavor – poetry and music, for instance – where dissonance does not beget conflict, where difference is mitigated, where the poetry of Omar Khayyam can be interpreted as a critical theory of the subject. So while it is necessary and prudent to acknowledge analytically that there continues to be a cultural system, a clash regime that negates dialogue and engagement, it is equally true to acknowledge that there have existed movements towards a counter-regime.

(more…)

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Christopher Davidson on Political Repression in the United Arab Emirates

Christopher Davidson

In the current issue of Foreign Policy, Christopher Davidson, author of Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success: The Vulnerability of Success and Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond, discusses the increasingly repressive tactics in the United Arab Emirates.

In the face of increasing calls for political reform and events of the Arab Spring, the rulers of the UAE have imprisoned activists and increased censorship. Davidson looks at current conditions which is characterized not only by political repression but growing unemployment and an increasing disparity between rich and poor. In assessing the future of the UAE Davidson writes:

Overall, the UAE regime seems to be following Saudi Arabia’s direction on the Arab Spring. No protests or dissent of any kind will be tolerated, even if that means political prisoners have to be taken and the country’s international reputation damaged in the process. The arrests have broken several clauses in the UAE’s Constitution, notably Article 26, and have served to warn the entire national population that nobody is above reproach. The move is ill calculated and dangerous, and smacks of poor leadership, as any remaining space for communication and honest dialogue between the ruling elite and the population has now been closed off. As such, the UAE’s future political stability is now a little less certain than it was a week ago.

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Judith Butler — Implicated and Enraged

Judith Butler
“I only feel implicated and enraged when Israel claims to represent the Jewish people, since there are myriad strands of diasporic Judaism and Jewishness that have never felt represented by Israel, that no longer feel represented by that state, and who dispute the legitimacy of that state to represent the Jewish people or Jewish values.”—Judith Butler

The Immanent Frame
recently posted an interview with Judith Butler in which she discussed recent events in the Arab World, Israel, and her essay from The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, “Is Judaism Zionism?”

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Nathan Schneider: Let’s take a specific example. Would the revolution be “betrayed,” in your view, if, say, the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt? Or if something comparable to the regime in Iran were to emerge?

JB: If the Muslim Brotherhood is elected to positions in government, and the elections are free and unconstrained, then that is a democratic outcome. Whether or not one wishes for that outcome, it cannot be contested as undemocratic if it follows from open and free elections. Democracy often means living with results that we find difficult, if not abhorrent. But I have been somewhat shocked that, in the face of this most impressive of uprisings, the “specter” of the Muslim Brotherhood is raised time and again as a way of diminishing and doubting the importance of this mass movement and revolutionary action. I think those biased against Islam will have to get used to the idea that demands for democratization can and do emerge within Muslim lexicons and practice, and that democratic polities can and must be composed of various groups, religious and not. Islam is clearly part of the mix.

NS: What do you think the Arab uprisings mean for Israel, surrounded by them on all sides as it is?

JB: We can only hope that the movement toward greater democratization will affect Israel as well, so that we can finally see widespread public demands for Israeli Palestinians to be treated on an equal basis, widespread public acknowledgment that the occupation is illegal according to every standard of international law, and a similar affirmation of the right to self-determination of Palestinians. The public acknowledgment of these obvious truths would, in fact, constitute one of the most remarkable advances in the democratic revolutions underway. I think as well that any legitimate democracy would have to provide restitution to those inhabitants whose lands were confiscated. So let us hope that democratization finally comes to Israel and Palestine.

(more…)

Friday, March 18th, 2011

William Duggan on a Marshall Plan for the Middle East

Earlier this month, William Duggan co-author with R. Glenn Hubbard of The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty, appeared on Bloomberg News to talk about alternatives to existing financial aid models for Middle East countries:

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Columbia University Press Authors on Egypt

Egypt

Yesterday on the Al Jazeera website, Larbi Sadiki, author of The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses, wrote an op-ed that considers the potential successors to Mubarak in Egypt. Her article is just one of many by Columbia University Press authors that have analyzed recent events in Egypt. Here is a partial list of other recent essays and op-eds:

Marc Lynch’s blog on the Foreign Policy website has had a series of posts on the situation in Egypt and Obama’s reaction. Lynch’s twitter feed @abuaardvark is also an excellent way to stay on top of events. (Lynch is the author of Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today)

Chistopher Davidson, who has written on Dubai and Abu Dhabi, contributed to Current Intelligence with a piece on how events in Egypt will affect the Gulf States. His twitter page @dr_davidson is also a great resource for news about the Arab world.

Mohammad Salama, co-editor of the forthcoming German Colonialism: Race, the Holocaust, and Postwar Germany, wrote a piece for Antiwar.com on the history of Mubarak’s rule and what it means for Egypt and the Arab world that it is now coming to an end.

In Current Intelligence, Alex Strick van Linschoten, co-editor and co-translator of My Life with the Tailban, links the situation in U.S. and Afghanistan and the United States’ resistance to bold political action.

Carrie Wickham, author of Mobilizing Islam: Religion, Activism and Political Change in Egypt asks Where does Muslim Brotherhood fit in Egypt’s moment?

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

The Afterlife of Sayyid Qutb

Qutb

Marc Lynch recently praised John Calvert’s Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism, calling it one of the best books of the year in The Atlantic and Foreign Policy.

John Calvert himself recently contributed an essay to the Foreign Policy site, The afterlife of Sayyid Qutb. In it, Calvert discusses the way that the Muslim Brotherhood continues to invoke the example of Qutb, who is considered a pivotal figure in the evolution of radical Islamism. However, conservatives and reformers within the movement see Qutb’s legacy and implications in very different ways. Calvert writes, “Muslim Brothers will continue to evoke Qutb, either as a model to be followed, or as an avatar of dangerous and outmoded thinking.”

The current conservative leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood have “evoked Qutb’s legacy in order to shore up the spiritual, intellectual and organizational strength of the movement.” Calvert asks:

Why has the Muslim Brotherhood’s new leadership made a point of bringing to the fore aspects of Qutb’s ideology? What aspects of Sayyid Qutb’s discourse do they find appealing and/or politically useful? It seems that the conservatives are interested in Qutb’s emphasis on shoring up the spiritual, intellectual and organizational strength of Muslims. Reviewing the recent history of the Brotherhood, they see that the reformers’ efforts to work within the system, contest elections and move Brotherhood thought in a more liberal direction has only led to crackdowns by the state. The time is ripe, conservatives say, to affect a tactical withdrawal. Not a hijra – or migration — to remote places, but a strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood’s core values, which the reformers have compromised though their accommodations.

(more…)

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Obama’s new bid to engage the Muslim World — A Post by Roger Hardy

Roger HardyIn light of Obama’s trip to Indonesia, Roger Hardy, author of The Muslim Revolt: A Journey Through Political Islam, looks at the administration’s attempts to wins the “hearts and minds” of the Muslim world in an op-ed on the BBC.

Of course, one of the signature moments in the first months of Obama’s presidency was his speech in Cairo offering a “new beginning.” However, as Hardy points out “recent polls in that, in key parts of the Muslim world, [Obama's] credibility has slumped. In part this is because Obama has followed the policies of the Bush administration.” Hardy writes:

Although President Obama has made some crucial changes – prohibiting torture, and banishing the term “war on terror” from official discourse – he has stuck with many of the security policies of his predecessor.

Covert operations in Afghanistan – fresh details of which were revealed by Mr Woodward – have been stepped up.

Issues surrounding the status of prisoners in Guantanamo, and whether and where they should stand trial, are unresolved.

Strikes by Predator drones against suspected al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan have increased.

Hardy concludes by writing:

Offering an outstretched hand to the Muslim world – whether in Cairo or Jakarta – is a sign of a president reluctant to put all his faith in military power.

He believes global problems require “soft-power” solutions, not just Predator strikes.

But two years after his election, many in the Muslim world and beyond have yet to be persuaded he can deliver.

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Avner Cohen on Israel Dostrovsky, “last of the nuclear mohicans”

Avner Cohen, The Worst-Kept SecretIn an op-ed published in Ha’aretz, Avner Cohen, author of The Worst-Kept Secret, remembers Israel Dostrovsky, one of the key figures in the development of Israel’s nuclear program, who recently passed away.

Cohen views Dostrovsky, who played various roles in Israel’s defense program from the very beginning, as embodying “Ben-Gurion’s ideal of a Zionist scientist—a researcher who divided his time between science and security.” He helped to get Israel’s nuclear program off the ground in the 1950s and later stepped in to organize the various components of the Dimona program. Cohen writes, “The principles of caution and internal review that [Dostrovsky] established are still, to this day, fundamental elements in the way Israel conducts itself in this realm.”

Cohen concludes the piece by describing his conversations with Dostrovsky about contemporary Israel and the possibility of a nuclear Iran:

It was the lucidity of his thought in particular that intensified the strong sense of sadness, almost depression, that I felt upon hearing his words. He was anxious about the country’s future and fate. At the base of his anxiety was the feeling that it had lost its compass, that it was moving toward self-ruin. It was saddening to realize that someone who had devoted so much of his life to ensure the physical existence of the Zionist homeland seemed to be losing his faith in and assurance of the Zionist project.

We spoke also about Iran’s nuclear plans. Once again, he expressed a deep pessimism. He thought it was very likely that Iran already had a bomb in the basement; at all events, he was convinced Iran could well have had enough fissile material for the preparation of a bomb or two. He also believed that one should treat with gravity the possibility that Iran would use a bomb to destroy the Zionist enterprise. I was amazed to realize just how little faith the person who built Israel’s existential deterrence had in its actual value as a means for preventing destruction.

I couldn’t help but ponder what the true legacy was of this son of giants.

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

New York Times review Avner Cohen’s The Worst-Kept Secret

Avner CohenIn the conclusion of his review in the New York Times, Ethan Bronner calls The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb, “thoughtful, measured and deep, and very much worthy of wide consideration.”

Bronner praises Avner Cohen for his analysis of Israel’s nuclear program as well for the ways in which it affects Israel society. Cohen, who supported Israel’s decision to develop a bomb as well as its policy of not admitting to having nuclear weapons, now views it is a hindrance. Bronner writes:

Mr. Cohen delves deeply into the Israeli psyche as he analyzes — and debates — the reign of nuclear ambiguity. He argues that the bomb represents for the Jewish people the link between shoah and tekumah, that is between the Nazi holocaust and national revival through the creation of the State of Israel. Nuclear weapons are the embodiment of “never again,” Israel’s unofficial motto.

Mr. Cohen views the development of the bomb as wise and considers the early years of opacity successful. But he says it’s time for a new policy. The current level of secrecy is a betrayal of Israel’s democratic values, he argues, and in a world faced with Iran’s profession of peaceful purpose for its nuclear program, Israel’s honesty and reliability should not be open to question.

For more on the book, you can read its epilogue or browse the book via Google Preview.

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

From Empathy to Denial wins The Washington Institute Book Prize

From Empathy to DenialThe Washington Institute announced that From Empathy to Denial: Arab Responses to the Holocaust has won the Gold Prize.

The Washington Institute Book Prize, now in its third year, was established to highlight new nonfiction books on the Middle East and is among the world’s most lucrative literary awards.

The following is from the prize jury commendation:

From Empathy to Denial is the definitive exposé of a deeply held prejudice obscured by politics and partisanship. Through painstaking sifting of Arabic sources, the authors carefully measure the psychological barriers that block Arab comprehension of the Holocaust’s significance for Israel, Jewry, and the world. In so doing, Meir Litvak and Esther Webman tell a neglected story behind the persistence of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Silver Prize went to The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon’s Life Struggle, by Michael Young (Simon & Schuster)

The Bronze Prize was awarded to: Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, by Jeffrey Herf (Yale University Press)

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Rashid Khalidi and Menachem Klein on the Middle East Peace Process

“Moreover, as an Israeli I do not see my government building public trust in the peace talks or in the Palestinian partner, nor expressing serious desire to achieve peace and building public enthusiasm for it.”—Menachem Klein

Room for Debate, an online feature on the New York Times website invited Rashid Khalidi, author of Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness , and Menachem Klein, author of the forthcoming, The Shift: Israel-Palestine from Border Struggle to Ethnic Conflict to contribute to a discussion responding to the question, “Will Netanyahu or the Israeli government ever be able to bring the settler movement on board in any peace process?”

Rashid Khalidi argues that “if the Obama administration accepts the myth that dismantling settlements is impossible for Israel, there are no prospects for peace.” Khalidi believes that the settlements were a project to colonize Palestinian land that has been supported by the Israeli government since 1967. He also suggests that settlers would move with suitable incentives and that the United States could help finance housing settlers within Israel’s borders.

Menachem Klein, who is an Israeli, shares Khalidi’s pessimism about Israel’s commitment to the peace process. His piece, entitled “A Lack of Commitment” also focuses on how the Israeli state has been the main supporter of the settlers.

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