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The Iraq catastrophe – III

Yazidis in the Sinjar mountains (photo: Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Yazidis in the Sinjar mountains (photo: Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Iraq is such a catastrophe—with the destruction of its Christian heritage, massacres of Yazidis, et on en passe—that I can hardly bear to read about it. But read about it I do. One essential article read recently—on August 10th, to be precise—was in the NY Times, by reporters Tim Arango and Eric Schmitt, on how “U.S. actions in Iraq fueled rise of a rebel.” The rebel in question is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-appointed “caliph” of ISIS. As one learns in the NYT enquête, Al-Baghdadi was a nobody before the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, and would have no doubt remained a nobody had it not been for that invasion and occupation. Iraqis—and Syrians, and everyone else—do have agency, of course, and are responsible for their actions, but what is currently happening in Iraq really is a consequence of US policy. What the US did in Iraq in 2003 was the original sin. There is simply no denying this.

A few other essential articles and papers read of late (all of which appeared before the destitution of PM Nouri al-Maliki):

The International Crisis Group published a 9-page briefing on June 20th—just after my last Iraq posting—, “Iraq’s jihadi jack-in-the-box.” The lede: The jihadi surge is the tragic, violent outcome of steadily deteriorating political dynamics. Instead of a rash military intervention and unconditional support for the Iraqi government, pressure is needed to reverse sectarian polarisation and a disastrous record of governance.

Peter Harling, the ICG’s senior MENA adviser—and no doubt the principal author of the above report—, had a piece in the July issue of Le Monde Diplomatique entitled “Taking Iraq apart.” The lede: Nouri al-Maliki’s incompetence and sectarianism have led to the disintegration of the Iraqi state—and now, unsurprisingly, the ISIL insurgents have declared an Islamic caliphate in the territories they control in Iraq and Syria.

Yezid Sayigh, the very smart senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, had an essay dated July 24th—that originally appeared in Arabic in Al-Hayat—, entitled “ISIS: Global Islamic caliphate or Islamic mini-state in Iraq?” The summary: Unless Baghdad offers meaningful political reconciliation and reintegration, ISIS will tighten and deepen its rule of its mini-Islamic state in Iraq.

Stathis Kalyvas, the Arnold Wolfers Professor of Political Science at Yale University—and also very smart—, had an analysis, dated July 7th, on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog of “The logic of violence in the Islamic State’s war.” Stathis is one of the leading specialists in world social science of the subject of civil wars—and of war-related violence more generally—, so anything he has to say on it is worth reading.

And Patrick Cockburn, who knows Iraq comme sa poche, has a rather discouraging piece, dated August 1st, in the current LRB on how “ISIS [is] consolidat[ing].”

ISIS is, of course, as fanatical, indeed evil, as one can get, and with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi & Co making Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri et al looking like quasi liberals, but there has nonetheless been some nonsense recounted about them in this regard, e.g. the report late last month, and that went viral, of ISIS having ordered the cliterodectomy of all the women in Mosul. The report, emanating from a not-too-competent UN official, turned out not to be true, though which should have been apparent from the outset. I was immediately skeptical of the story and was surprised to see, via social media, that numerous persons who should have known better gave it credence. My reaction was that nothing should be put past the madmen of ISIS but that this one was particularly outlandish even for them. But even if it were true—even if ISIS had indeed ordered the excision of the one million-plus women in Mosul—, there is no way they could have carried it out. It wouldn’t be possible. In cultures where female genital mutilation is practiced, it’s women who perform the act, usually older ones with specialized cutting skills, as it were. Men have nothing to do with the operation. So who in Mosul would do such a thing, particularly as all the women there would be horrified, to put it mildly, by the very idea? And their menfolk too. So would the ISIS crazies enter homes to inspect vaginas? If so, the men of Mosul—every last one—would rise up and kill them, or try to. If ISIS were to seek quick, violent defeat, this would be the fastest way to do it.

So when one reads of some particularly lurid story of ISIS or other jihadist violence or gratuitous cruelty—one that stretches credulity—, make sure that it’s verified before taking it at face value and/or spreading it on social media.

Zeev Sternhell addressing Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity rally,  'Anata-Jerusalem, November 11 2011

Zeev Sternhell addressing Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity rally,
‘Anata-Jerusalem, November 11 2011

Haaretz has a must read interview, dated August 13th, with historian and activist Zeev Sternhell. The lede: Israel Prize laureate and renowned scholar Zeev Sternhell fears the collapse of Israeli democracy, and compares the current atmosphere with that of 1940s’ France. The time we have left to reverse this frightening trend is running out, he warns…

Sternhell is, of course, a leading scholar of fascism but I don’t know if I go along with his contemporary use of the term; on this question, I follow my friend—and specialist of Italian fascism—Frank Adler, who argues that fascism was a historically specific phenomenon of the interwar period in Europe and doesn’t apply to any regime in the postwar era (and on this, see the recent blog post en français by historian André Robert in regard to the French Front National). But apart from these historial quibbles what Sternhell has to say is important. For those maxed out on their monthly Haaretz quota, here’s the whole piece (introduced by journalist Gidi Weitz and who conducted the interview)

At 1 A.M. on a day in September 2008, Prof. Zeev Sternhell opened the door of his home on Agnon Street in Jerusalem, intending to enter an inner courtyard. As he turned the handle, a thunderous explosion rocked the building. Sternhell, who a few months earlier had received the Israel Prize in political science, was lightly wounded by a bomb hidden in a potted plant.

A year later, the police apprehended the perpetrator of the attack: Yaakov (Jack) Teitel, a resident of a West Bank settlement. At one time, Teitel was an informer for the Jewish Department of the Shin Bet security service. In his interrogation, it turned out that his crimes included the murder of two Palestinians.

“I chose Sternhell as a target because he is held in high regard, he’s a left-wing professor,” Teitel told the interrogators. “I didn’t want to kill him, because that would turn him into a martyr. I wanted to make a statement.” Teitel was sentenced to two life terms. After the assault, Sternhell said in the hospital that “the act in itself reveals the fragility of Israeli democracy.”

I asked Sternhell now whether he thinks that very soon, we will no longer be able to claim that we are the only democracy in the Middle East.

“Indeed, we will no longer be able to say that,” he replied, adding, “There is no doubt that the main state authorities do not act with the same determination against the right and against the left, or on the eastern side of Continue Reading »

putin rides bear

Here’s the latest in my occasional series of links to interesting articles on the ex-Soviet Union (the last one in April), this prompted by David Remnick’s report in the August 11th issue of The New Yorker, “Watching the eclipse,” on the political evolution of Russia—and eclipse of democracy there—since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. The lede: Russia’s President sees himself as the leader of a new anti-Western, conservative axis, and his actions in Ukraine have made him a hero at home… Remnick’s narrative is framed by the experience of his friend Michael McFaul, political scientist and Russia specialist at Stanford, who was US ambassador to Moscow from January 2012 until resigning this past February. At some 11,500 words the piece is long but well worth the read.

While I’m at it, one good article I’ve saved, that dates from April 18th but is not time sensitive, is a special report by Reuters journalists David Rohde and Arshad Mohammed on “How the U.S. made its Putin problem worse.”

Here’s a 52-minute documentary that first aired on French public television in December 2013, “Russie, au cœur du goulag moderne.”

And in May M6 had a 1 hour 18 minute “enquête exclusive” entitled “Moscou au cœur de tous les extrêmes,” which may be viewed here.

Death to the Jews?

www.marianne.netFaut-il-rebaptiser-La-Mort-aux-Juifs_a240600.html

I have been bombarded for the past several weeks, mainly via social media, by reports from Anglo-American and Israeli websites—each one more alarmist and hysterical than the other—of an apparent upsurge of antisemitism in France. As for the comments threads accompanying these, the France-bashing has been such that I can no longer look at them. To read the Francophobic Jews and right-wingers—mainly American though not only—on these threads, one would think another Rafle du Vél’ d’Hiv is imminent. I have much to say on this subject and will have a special post on it soon, but, in the meantime, need to say something right now about the latest brouhaha—that I naturally learned about via social media—, which is the letter sent two days ago by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to the French Ministry of Interior expressing shock at the discovery of a rural locality in the Loiret, some 100 km south of Paris, called “La-Mort-aux-Juifs,” and requesting that the name be changed. The Wiesenthal Center letter expressed particular shock, moreover, that the existence of a place with such a name could go “unnoticed during seventy years since the liberation of France from the Nazis and Vichy.”

The reason why La-Mort-aux-Juifs went unnoticed all these years was precisely because practically no one had heard of it. The story is presently all over the French media, which is precisely where Frenchmen and women are learning that such a locality exists. A couple of things. First, La-Mort-aux-Juifs has been called a “village” or even “town” in English-language reports, which is inaccurate. It is a “lieu-dit”—which may be translated as “locality” (literally: said place)—, in the commune of Courtemaux (population 239)—itself a place practically no one outside the eastern Loiret has heard of. Communes are the smallest administrative units in France (of which there are some 36,681 in the 101 departments of metropolitan and overseas France, the majority with populations of under 500). Most communes have lieux-dits—which are sometimes indicated, sometimes not—, referring to a bit of the commune that had a specific identity in centuries past. As for La-Mort-aux-Juifs, it consists of two houses and a farm (above photo), is on a country road probably taken by no one except the few people who live around there, and is not indicated on any sign. In other words, even if one drove through the place, one would not know of the lieu-dit’s name.

Secondly, it is not even clear what the name of this lieu-dit is supposed to signify. As a piece in Marianne pointed out—and that I had been wondering about—La-Mort-aux-Juifs does not, in fact, translate as “death to the Jews.” Without the definite article “la” and the dashes—which are generally the rule in place names in France—, it would indeed mean this. But the definite article and dashes change the meaning, which is indeterminate but may simply indicate a place where Jews were killed—maybe even massacred—eight or nine centuries ago. For all one knows, the lieu-dit may have even been named this to commemorate such an event, to remember a tragedy…

As has been reported, the anti-racist association MRAP in fact learned of the existence of the lieu-dit in the early 1990s and sought (unsuccessfully) to have the name changed. Pour l’info, the MRAP is left-wing—it was a longtime front group of the Communist party and retains an affinity with it—and has organizationally participated in some of the pro-Palestine/anti-Israel demonstrations in French cities over the past month. Just sayin’.

Amos Yehoshua-Shavit

Dove-of-Peace-Don-Sutherland-Flickr-CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0

Adam Shatz, LRB contributing editor and funny guy, has a very amusing parody on +972 of hand-wringing liberal Zionists, “‘Living with political depression in Tel Aviv is harder than dying in Gaza’.” As it happens, Max Blumenthal, who is somewhat of a dumbfuck was fast on the draw, took Adam’s satire in the first degree—thinking that “Amos Yehoshua-Shavit” was an actual “Peace Now leader & top liberal Zionist author”—, i.e. he thought it was serious, as he tweeted seriously before quickly deleting (happily there are screen captures)

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 02.27.45

Is Mondoweiss stupid?

Alexander Gerst 23 Jul 2014

Or, I should ask, the people who edit Mondoweiss, plus the blogger Roland Nikles, whose post on Moshe Feiglin Mondoweiss published the other day (and that was uncritically posted on FB by a prominent MENA historian, which is where I saw it). Now I have no objection to anything Nikles has to say about the unspeakable Feiglin. On the S.O.B., we are in 100% agreement. What got me was this

Over the past month Israel bombed countless targets in Gaza, killed more than 1,800 Palestinians (mostly civilians), wounded in excess of 9,000, destroyed in excess of 10,000 homes, the strip’s only power plant, hospitals, schools, and other infrastructure, and lost 64 Israelis in the process (Haaretz’s tally). The onslaught lit up the sky to outer space.

The paragraph was followed by the above photo, followed in turn by this

If this bombardment speaks a language, it speaks the language of Moshe Feiglin.

The photo of the apparent bombardment was taken by German astronaut Alexander Gerst on July 23rd from the International Space Station. Gerst, who’d been tweeting numerous photos from outer space, had the above one and with this text (as Nikles does not explain or link to the tweet, here it is)

My saddest photo yet. From #ISS we can actually see explosions and rockets flying over #Gaza & #Israel

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen the pic, as various persons posted it in social media. So where are the explosions and flying rockets?

What I see in the photo is Israel (on a west-east axis), with Ashdod to Haifa in the upper right quadrant, Amman the lit up splotch on the bottom right, and El-Arish, Egypt, on the upper left. The streaking lines—what are apparently taken to be flying rockets—link Beersheba with Qiryat Gat (upper right) and Dimona (bottom left; I can’t say where the other little ones emanate to or from). I have no idea what these streaks are but they have nothing to do with Gaza and are definitely not rockets. And they certainly do not involve explosions (who knows, maybe they’re highways, all lit up like in Belgium).

In this outer space photo, Gaza city is the less lit up bit of what it geographically south of Ashqelon. Now I do happen to find this sad, but because so relatively little of the densely populated Gaza strip is lit up, not because it’s exploding or being hit by rockets, of which one sees none at all in the pic. Do people have any idea of what they’re looking at? Don’t they know their geography? Astronaut Gerst may be forgiven for his ignorance of this but the editors of Mondoweiss—who spend their waking hours obsessing about I-P—and all the others who approvingly linked to the pic? Not at all. They have no excuse.

ADDENDUM: In the interest of fairness and balance I should say that Mondoweiss is not stupid 100% of the time. It can, on occasion, run a worthy piece, e.g. the post on July 15th (with updates) by Sam Knight, on the Rue de la Roquette synagogue incident in Paris, which is the most accurate and comprehensive I’ve seen on it in English. I’ll link to it when I do my (long overdue) post—in the coming days, inshallah—on the Gaza war demos, French Jews, and antisemitism in France.

The Gaza war – XIII

Northern Gaza, August 5 2014 (photo: AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Northern Gaza, August 5 2014 (photo: AFP/Mahmud Hams)

[updates below]

With the ceasefire holding—for now at least—voilà a few bilans of the month-long war.

Aaron David Miller, writing in FP (August 6th), asks “Who won the Gaza war?” Assigning a grade to each of the principal actors, the rank order is: Egypt, Israel, Palestinian Authority, the US, Hamas. In other words, Israel won (more or less), Hamas did not.

Nahum Barnea, in a different take (August 7th), says that “In some wars, both sides lose.” He explains why he believes Israel lost, less so why Hamas did.

In an op-ed (August 6th), TOI’s David Horovitz, offering “10 thoughts at the end (maybe) of the summer 2014 Israel-Hamas war,” says that “Israel might have won [but that] Hamas certainly lost.” This sounds right to me, for the moment at least.

More bilans to follow in the coming days, très certainement.

UPDATE: Yehuda Ben-Meir, a former academic and member of the Knesset, asserts in a Haaretz op-ed (August 8th) that “Israel won the Gaza war in a big way.” The lede: After wreaking destruction on the population of Gaza and losing its only strategic card, Hamas is agreeing to what it rejected three weeks ago. Could there be any greater and more obvious defeat?

2nd UPDATE: Gershom Gorenberg, writing in The American Prospect (August 7th), has a very good analysis, “It isn’t about the tunnels. So what is the Gaza conflict really about?” The lede: The Israeli government’s tactical goals shifted repeatedly. At no point, it appears, has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a strategic political vision.

3rd UPDATE: Gershon Baskin posted a must read commentary on his FB page today (August 8th): The end of the ceasefire, the renewal of war and the end game.

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