Archive for January, 2013

mali-france-conflict photo ERIC FEFERBERG

It’s been over two weeks since France launched its intervention in Mali, which I’ve been following closely and have been intending to write about, but haven’t gotten around to until now. And as all sorts of people more knowledgeable than I have been on the story and weighing in with analyses and commentary, I was wondering if I had anything original to add. But then, numerous persons not more knowledgeable than I (of which more below) have also been tossing out their opinions and on high-profile websites, so if they can, pourquoi pas moi? And a few faithful readers have indeed asked what I think of the French action—and about the situation in Mali more generally (on which I posted three times last year)—, so voilà, here’s my two cents.

  • First, François Hollande did the right thing in sending French troops to Mali en catastrophe, with the sudden, unanticipated Ansar Eddine/AQIM/MUJWA offensive across the demarcation line, seizure of Konna, and the manifest goal of the Islamist fanatics to seize the airport at Sevaré and then advance on Mopti just down the road. This would have been a disaster and could not be allowed to happen, so Hollande had no choice but to act illico. The narco-jihadists had to be stopped and quickly. If they had taken Mopti—Mali’s second city—it would have been a cakewalk to Bamako in view of the worse than pitiful state of the Malian army. Now it is possible that Ansar Eddine & Co would not have advanced on Bamako, as argued by Andrew McGregor of The Jamestown Foundation: fighting in southern Mali and trying to occupy Bamako and its hostile population would have been too tall an order for the Tuaregs and their non-Malian allies, and of which they were no doubt well aware. Perhaps. But this couldn’t be left to chance, and certainly not with the thousands of French and other European expatriates in the capital. The French would have had absolutely no choice but to intervene had an assault on Bamako come to pass but the costs would have been infinitely greater than they are now.
  • A narco-jihadist takeover of Bamako—and thus the entire country—and the consequent collapse of the Malian state would have been a catastrophe of the first order. First, the humanitarian consequences, of the huge numbers of civilians killed and the even huger number of refugees fleeing to neighboring states, some of these only recently exiting from major instability or civil wars of their own (Ivory Coast, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone). And, as is too well-known, the presence of large numbers of war refugees in an African state can only engender instability and very big problems—humanitarian, political—in that state. Secondly, once ensconced in Bamako—and after the inevitable bloodbath and destruction—there would be no getting Ansar Eddine and its Al-Qaida allies out of there. Bamako would become a Kabul circa 1998 (or perhaps 1992-96, when rival groups fought each other and destroyed the city in the process). Thirdly, it wouldn’t end there. A Mali turned into an Afghanistan circa 1996-2001—and with Al-Qaida in the saddle—would be a grave threat to its neighbors—most with weak states and armies no stronger than Mali’s—, particularly Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, and, above all, Senegal. A domino effect is not to be excluded here, particularly in view of the increasing influence of Wahhabi-style Islam across west Africa, including in Senegal. But the threat would also extend to Europe and the US. If Senegal and Mauritania were to succumb in turn, Al-Qaida Islamists in league with Latin American drug cartels would be in control of the Atlantic coast of west Africa. The security threat to the West here is, I think, rather obvious. So, IMHO, the French decision to intervene was a no-brainer.
  • It is being said that everyone supports France’s Mali intervention—and which is backed up by UNSC resolutions and all that—but that the French are also on their own. Both are true. The EU, US, ECOWAS, African Union, and Arab states (most of them) are all supportive of the French, and the Russians and Chinese haven’t said a thing against (and why would they? as they hardly have an interest in Al-Qaida gaining a durable foothold in an African state). But France’s European Union allies are making it clear that their support of France will be moral and modest at most. And absolutely no boots on the ground. The Brits, burned by Iraq and Afghanistan, will offer light logistical support at most; the Germans, typically prudent, are giving the thumbs up but little more; Italy, forget it; and the Spaniards, terrified of terrorist attentats, even restricted French air force overfly rights on their territory over a four-day period, authorizing them on a case-by-case basis so reported Le Monde the other day. This is crazy, if not downright scandalous. To paraphrase a well-known Parisian islamologue pundit, France’s solitude in a conflict whose stakes concern all of Europe, and particularly its southern rim, voids the European Union of its very essence and meaning. Indeed.
  • As for the US, the Obama administration is supportive of the French and has offered logistical support—transporting soldiers and equipment in C17s, offering satellite intelligence, and now refueling tankers—but has been holding back (until today at least). So the Americans don’t want another Afghanistan. And, as it happened, the American engagement with the Malian army over the past four years, as the NYT reported two weeks ago, was a complete fiasco. But west Africa is a lot closer to the US than is Afghanistan and, for the reasons mentioned above, there are real security interests at stake, not to mention economic as well, as a radical Islamist Mali would inevitably send shock waves into Nigeria and strengthen Boko Haram and other fanatical Salafists there. And immigration from west Africa into the US has become significant over the past three decades, with a lot of movement back and forth. So there is no avoiding increased American support of the French intervention. Troops are out of the question, of course, but increased logistical support may be needed (i.e. drones).
  • The key regional actor, obviously, is Algeria. Algeria’s game in Mali over the past year—which the well-informed blogger Andy Morgan, writing last July, called “masterful”—is well known (of trying to split Ansar Eddine—Malian Tuareg Islamist fanatics, with whom one may presumably deal—from AQIM/MUJWA—transnational terrorist jihadist fanatics, with whom one may absolutely not deal). (BTW, see Andy Morgan’s other posts on Mali and the Sahel; they are very interesting). The Algerians decreed northern Mali to be their chasse gardée and told France and everyone else to either fall in line behind their diplomatic strategy or butt out. The Algerians were being a pain in the rear, as can be their wont, but were defending their interests (at least as the Algerian military defined them). But Algeria’s game blew up in its face with the Ansar Eddine/AQIM/MUJWA offensive of 2½ weeks ago. The alacrity with which the Algerians allowed the French air force overfly rights was striking. Given Algeria’s relationship with France—which may be mildly characterized as neurotic—and its psychosis over its sacrosanct sovereignty, this was amazing indeed. Lucid Algerian analysts have favored the move (overtly or implicitly)—e.g. journalists Omar Belhouchet, Akram Belkaïd, Kamel Daoud—but most Algerians are uncomfortable to shocked by the tacit alliance with France (though Algerian public opinion seems to have evolved somewhat since the hostage crisis at Tiguentourine). What is clear is that Algeria, however much it may have been part of the problem, is a necessary part of the solution. The Algerians are not going to openly send troops into northern Mali—and will certainly not be seen openly collaborating with the French—but unless Algeria wants to be “Pakistanized,” as Kamel Daoud put it, it will have to do all it can to seal its southern border and eradicate the jihadists down that way. So France, the US, and everyone will have to continue indulging the Algerian regime, and regardless of how it deals with hostage crises involving their citizens.
  • Mali has shown that it hardly has a functioning state and an even less of a functioning army. However one evaluates the presidency of ATT over the past decade—I’ve read contradictory arguments by specialists, some arguing that it was positive (that ATT was a visionary and a democrat), others negative (that ATT’s elections were less than free and fair and that his rule was heavy-handed)—, there is no denying Mali’s deliquescence. My faith in the argument that democracy could take root in poor countries suffered a blow with what has happened in Mali. One thing is for sure, though, which is that Mali is not a nation, never has been, never will be. The Tuareg are akin to the Iraqi Kurds: they want independence and absolutely not to be in the country of which they are a part. But as an independent Azawad, like an independent Kurdistan, is not going to happen—they’re landlocked and every bordering state is hostile to the prospect—, the only solution is autonomy or a confederal arrangement. Hardly an original thought on my part. At least there’s a prospective Tuareg partner for this, the MNLA, and that can retake the initiative if/when Ansar Eddine is brought to heel.
  • Critiques of the French intervention that excoriate French colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, the FrançAfrique blah blah are so stupid, asinine, idiotic, and utterly irrelevant that they do not merit a response. Some of these critiques have been penned by trendy leftist academics (e.g. here and here), others by nutty bloggers (e.g. here), who, until proof to the contrary, have no greater knowledge of or insight into Mali (or the history of French colonialism) than do I or any other halfway informed person. Other critiques of the same tenor issue from Arab (mainly Algerian) and African tiersmondiste intellos frozen in the 1970s and who operate in their own intellectual and political universe (for one prolific and representative case, see here). No point in responding to them. That thankless polemic may be assumed by their Arab/Algerian and/or African detractors (as, e.g. this Senegalese academic has done with that overrated bloviator Tariq Ramadan). (For those who haven’t been paying attention, the FrançAfrique and French neocolonialism are dead; a thing of the past; they’re over; finished).
  • Numerous, marginally less stupid critiques of the French intervention have insisted on the link between the jihadist takeover of northern Mali and the NATO Libya intervention, of the perverse effects of the latter and its engendering of the former. I wish to know if these critics of the Libya intervention warned loudly of the impact a collapse of the Qadhafi regime would have on Mali while the intervention was underway, i.e. in 2011—and if any insist that they did, I invite them to furnish documentary proof of their prescient warnings. But even if one or two of these brilliant Cassandras can do this, so what? (for my view of the Libya intervention, see here). Not every perverse effect can be anticipated when undertaking an urgent course of action and, in any case, the eventual impact on the Malian Tuaregs was hardly a clinching argument against ridding Libya and the world of the psychotic Qadhafi regime once that opportunity presented itself.
  • Yet other critiques have warned of France getting bogged down in an endless Afghanistan-like conflict and from which the lessons have not been learned, or so it is asserted (e.g. here). Retort: Mali is not Afghanistan (see below). The comparison is specious. And then there are critiques coming from within the French political class, e.g. the howler from Valéry Giscard d’Estaing evoking “neocolonialism”—the same Giscard who sent troops to Kolwezi and palled around with Emperor Bokassa—, or the neo-pacifist Dominique de Villepin warning against engrenages (quagmires) and wondering how France could have been infected with the “neoconservative virus” (whatever neoconservatism has to do with anything here), or of Jean-Luc Mélenchon deploring the fact that the parliament wasn’t consulted before the intervention (as if the French parliament is ever consulted on such matters, and particularly before they happen), or of UMP personalities (J-F Copé, L.Wauquiez etc) breaking with the union sacrée and criticizing Hollande because France is all alone in Mali and without its EU partners (these very same UMP personalities who uncritically supported every unilateral action of Sarkozy). Quite simply, any critique of the French intervention with a valid point or two but that is not policy relevant, that does not propose an alternative course of action, is worthless, in my book at least.
  • What is remarkable about the intervention is how French soldiers are being welcomed by the Malian people as saviors (the scènes de liesse in Gao today offering the latest spectacle). Given how unpopular and unloved the French are in their former African colonies, this is something indeed (in this respect, I challenge anyone to visit francophone Africa and ask people how they feel about France; one will not find many positive responses). Not even leftist/tiersmondiste detractors of the French will deny that the Malian people are greatly pleased and relieved by the French intervention.
  • It has almost gone without saying that the French are not only on their own in Mali—and that a Malian/ECOWAS fighting force to take over from them is illusory—but that the conflict against the heavily armed, well-trained, and highly motivated and fanaticized narco-jihadists will be a long one, and for which France lacks the men and resources. Maybe but I’m not convinced. As asserted above, Mali is not Afghanistan. Ansar Eddine is not the Taliban (not in numbers) and there is no Waziristan-like sanctuary. The narco-jihadist forces number in the thousands at most and though well-armed from Qadhafi’s arsenal, can only get around in pick-ups in the open desert, which is perfect terrain for air power and drones. The Tuaregs are not Pashtuns and northern Mali is not southern Afghanistan. And Ansar Eddine and its AQIM/MUJWA cohorts are not Qadhafi’s Libya and with its resources. They are also not fish in the water in the areas they have occupied. Au contraire, they rather manifestly appear to be hated by the population under their yoke. If Algeria, Niger, and Mauritania can effectively seal their borders, the narco-jihadists—bereft of gasoline to fuel their pick-ups and with reinforcements choked off—can well be asphyxiated. Some may retreat into the Adrar mountains. They can stay there (and where the Algerians could make discreet incursions to smoke them out). The French, despite limitations in manpower, will have the logistical support they need. And they have the Malian population behind them. If the MNLA can gain the upper hand among the Tuaregs—and with part of Ansar Eddine rallying to it—and make a deal with whoever is in power in Bamako—and brokered by the French—, the intervention could wind up successfully in a matter of months. Call me Pollyannaish but I think this is definitely in the realm of the possible.

Voilà my two cents. For others on the same page as mine, see David Rodhe’s defense of the French intervention in The Atlantic, Gregory Mann’s post in the Africa Is a Country blog—plus this one in The Guardian—, Jean-François Bayart’s in Le Monde, and this by François Heisbourg, also in Le Monde. This Timbuktu Who’s Who from last July is also useful. À suivre.

mali_le point_26012013


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bennett plan

[update below]

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new far right phenom—and who is sure to be a player after tomorrow’s election—, has advanced this “practical program for managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The argument, which is clearly convincing a certain number of people there—the video has gotten a huge number of hits—is slick and clever. But not only is the plan specious and disconnected from reality—does anyone seriously believe Israel could get away with doing something like this?—it also achieves the exact opposite of one claim Bennett makes, which is that “it will abolish the claims of those who accuse us of apartheid.” In fact, it would be the culmination of what was envisioned in apartheid South Africa, of the majority of blacks (here Palestinians) confined to Bantustans without rights of citizenship or sovereignty. Bennett’s scheme would, in fact, be even worse for the Palestinians in areas A and B than were the South African Bantustans, as the latter were destined to enjoy a fictive sovereignty, to be formally considered as independent states, but which here would be denied to the Palestinians. Moreover, the South Africans designated tribal leaders and other personalities to whom they ceremoniously handed over authority; so who would Israel’s Palestinian interlocutors be under Bennett’s plan? (As it so happened, BTW, Israel entered into formal relationships with “independent” South African Bantustans in the 1980s—such as no other country did apart from South Africa itself—, as I took note of while in Tel Aviv at the time).

Bophuthatswana mission, Tel Aviv, November 1985 (photo: Arun Kapil)

Bophuthatswana mission, Tel Aviv, November 1985 (photo: Arun Kapil)

(That was quite a big mission for a tiny, fictive country formally recognized by no state save one—South Africa—and which was known for nothing other than a luxury casino-resort, where white South African men could make remunerated contact with women of various races. I observed a to-and-fro of men from the mission, wearing sunglasses and none Bophuthatswanians. Intriguing.)

In any case, if Bennett’s plan were to become reality—which it won’t—and Area C is annexed to Israel, would we continue to witness scenes such as occurred in the south Hebron hills three days ago, near the Susya settlement, as one may see in the video here. This kind of thing happens every week in the south Hebron hills—where the settlers are the most fanatical and the occupation most brutal—, in this case, the occupation of Palestinian farm land by the settlers of the Mitzpe Yair outpost, which is “unauthorized” but, as always, is backed up by the army. (I was in this precise area four years ago and took photos, which I will post at a later date.) So what was that about apartheid, Mr. Bennett?

Umm el-Arayes, South Hebron Hills, 19 January 2013

Umm el-Arayes, South Hebron Hills, 19 January 2013

ADDENDUM: Shaul Magid, Professor of Modern Judaism and Religious Studies at Indiana University, has a post on TDB’s Open Zion blog on “Why [he] like[s] Naftali Bennett” (he’s being ironic).

UPDATE: Dani Dayan, chairman of the West Bank settlers’ Yesha council, was interviewed last week on BBC TV. He’s slicker than Naftali Bennett and less extremist. Definitely worth watching. Too bad the BBC interviewer was such an insufferable jerk, constantly cutting Dayan off and not asking the right questions.

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i will vote too_daam

[update below]

Asma Aghbarieh-Zahalka. Note that name. She’s the chef de file of Israel’s presently tiny but up-and-coming new left formation, the Da’am Workers Party. I hadn’t heard Asma A-Z or Da’am until a couple of weeks ago but thanks to Israeli academician Avner Cohen‘s publicity campaign on FB, I know about them now. Da’am, though resolutely leftist, has no filiation with Israel’s old Moscow-line communist party (today, Hadash), nor does not it seem afflicted with neo-Trotskyism. And it is explicitly a mixed Jewish and Arab party, eschewing both anti-Zionist and Palestinian nationalist rhetoric (differentiating it from Balad and other Israeli Arab parties). Its discourse centers on socio-economic issues à la Occupy Wall Street and on bringing both Israeli Jews and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel together on this basis (as Israel’s 99%). The party naturally opposes the occupation and advocates a Palestinian state within the ’67 borders and with E.J’lem as the capital, but I have seen no mention of the ‘right of return’ in its online literature (even though much of Asma A-Z’s family are descendants of ’48 refugees in Gaza; she’s from Jaffa herself). Good. No possibility of attracting Jews otherwise. And Da’am is supportive of the Arab uprisings, denounces the Ba’athist regime in Syria, and is critical of both Hamas and corruption in the PA. Da’am’s English website is here and the English version of its press organ, Challenge, is here.

As for Asma A-Z, I think she’s great! See this portrait of her by Avner Cohen in Haaretz last week, this one today by AP, and this in the webzine +972. A YouTube interview with her in English may be seen here and a series of campaign videos subtitled in English here. A video in Arabic and Hebrew is here. Asma has been interviewed on television during the campaign (e.g. here, here, and here) and though I don’t understand a word of what she’s saying, she looks and sounds impressive. Here’s hoping Da’am breaks the 2% threshold next Tuesday and that Asma is elected to the Knesset. If I were Israeli I would vote for her no doubt about it!

UPDATE: Da’am didn’t cross the threshold, needless to say, so Asma A-Z won’t be going to the Knesset. Next time, inshallah. (January 23)

asma aghbarieh zahalka

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Israel’s new right

habayit hayehudi

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below]

David Remnick has a lengthy, must read article in The New Yorker on the rightward lurch of Israeli politics, personified in the country’s new hard right phenom, Naftali Bennett, whose party, Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home)—which advocates annexing the West Bank and rejects any notion of a Palestinian state—is presently polling 12% of the vote for next Tuesday’s election, which is very good for a party led by someone whom few had heard of a year ago. If the number holds, Habayit Hayehudi will finish in at least third place, and maybe even second, making it a certain coalition partner in Netanyahu’s next government. Very discouraging and depressing. Bennett and his party are the Israeli equivalent of the most hard-line Tea Party GOPers in the U.S. House of Representatives. In European terms, Bennett is, as a friend observed, akin to new look far right populists like Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders: slick, modern, consumerist, tech-savvy, avoiding explicit racist appeals but all the while pandering to people’s worst fears and worst instincts. But whereas the French and American rights suffered electoral defeats last year, the Israeli right continues to progress, and with its religious zealots increasingly in the vanguard. In this respect, Israel is definitely a part of the Middle East, no doubt about it.

UPDATE: One explanation for the rightward lurch in Israel and bright prospects for politicians like Naftali Bennett is a considerably higher voter participation rate in West Bank settlements compared to Israel proper. Take a look at this map, slide the mouse over different localities, and compare. If the high participation rate in the settlements were replicated across the country—not to mention among Israel’s Arab voters—, the representation of right-wing, pro-settler parties would no doubt drop appreciably. (h/t Bradley Burston)

2nd UPDATE: Watch Habayit Hayehudi candidate Jeremy Gimpel joke to an audience of Christians in Florida about blowing up the Dome of the Rock and building the Third Temple. Gimpel, who hails from Atlanta, is in the 14th position on his party’s list and will likely win a seat in Tuesday’s election.

3rd UPDATE: Michael Singh, an analyst at WINEP, relativizes the rightward drift of Israeli politics.

4th UPDATE: Time magazine (dated Jan. 18th) has a lengthy interview with Naftali Bennett.

5th UPDATE: Bennett’s party ended up with 12 seats and 9.1% of the vote. On Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party arrived in second place with 19 seats, I thought this piece by Yossi Klein Halevi was interesting. (January 24)

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Tiananmen Square, Beijing (Photo: Oded Balilty/Associated Press)

Tiananmen Square, Beijing (Photo: Oded Balilty/AP)

I had a post with this title back in October ’11, on the L.A. smog of past decades and in which I asked how libertarians would have dealt with it in the absence of state regulation and environmental legislation. I never got any kind of response, needless to say—not from a free-marketeer, at any rate, though one did send an email with a link to an article about how anti-pollution regulations hinder job creation, or something like that, but that in no way addressed my question. Now we’ve been reading about the off-the-scales smog alert in Beijing the other day and comparisons with the infamous London pea soup fog that afflicted that city for well over a century, until the first clear air laws were enacted there in the 1950s. London was hardly the only city with a present-day Beijing-like smog problem, of course. The Atlantic has a piece today on smog in Pittsburgh through the mid 20th century. Incredible to think that people lived with this (as they live with it today in Beijing and elsewhere). Scroll down and click on the link of the photo show of what Pittsburgh looked like at noon.

So I repeat my question to libertarians, and to anti-government Tea Party GOP types more generally: if they had their way and government got out of the business of environmental regulation—and with clean air and other such acts repealed in the interest of an unfettered free market, not to mention abolishing subsidies for mass transit—, what do they think would happen pollution-wise? If there were a return to the smog status quo ante—an inevitability, one would presume—what would they propose doing about it, if anything?

I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for a response.

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Continuing with the Evil Kingdom, a.k.a. Saudi Arabia—see previous post—, I just learned of this book by Qanta Ahmed, a British-born medical doctor of Pakistani origin who practices and teaches medicine in New York, and has written numerous articles and commentaries over the past several years on Islam, Islamism, the Middle East—and notably Saudi Arabia—, and related subjects. In this book, which came out in 2008, Dr. Ahmed writes about her experiences as a physician—and a woman—in Saudi Arabia, where she lived and worked in the late ’90s-early ’00s, of how the interpretation and practice of Islam there so brutally clashed with her own, and which both reinforced her Islamic faith and fueled her hostility toward Islamic obscurantism. What brought me to Dr. Ahmed and her book—she looks to be a most interesting person and I’ll be sure to read the book in the near future—was an op-ed she published this week in The Times of Israel, “Israel’s jihad is mine.” Talk about a provocative title and from a Muslim no less. I assumed that the sensationalist title was just a hook for the reader and would not figure in the text of the article—in which she expresses her dim view of Hamas and Islamism, and with which I do not disagree—, but, sure enough, it did. I would have perhaps left mention of jihad out of the piece but it is gratifying to see a believing Muslim publicly express the viewpoint that she does. And Dr. Ahmed is no Aayan Hirsi Ali (for whom I have rather less intellectual admiration). She had an interview last June, “Debunking the fallacy of Muslim victimhood,” that is quite good. She can be followed on Twitter here.

in the land of invisible women

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Colombo, Sri Lanka, 8 July 2011 (Photo: Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

Colombo, Sri Lanka, 8 July 2011 (Photo: Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

[update below]

That’s how a friend—who travels frequently to the Middle East for work—referred to Saudi Arabia to me in an email the other day, after reading about the judicial murder there of Rizana Nafeek, the young Sri Lankan woman who worked as a domestic slave servant in that benighted country. I responded with something I’ve been saying since early in the last decade, which is that the creation of Saudi Arabia in the 1920s—of the conquest of the Hijaz (civilized) by the Wahhabi tribes of the Najd (uncivilized)—was one of the great tragedies of the 20th century. Now I’m not one to essentialize countries but there are two in this world that I consider to be particularly depraved and malevolent, and in almost every respect—politically, geopolitically, culturally, morally, you name it—, one being Russia, the other Saudi Arabia. And insofar as both countries are able to project power and influence beyond their borders, they are also dangerous, particularly in their respective regions. It is hardly a surprise that most of the peoples and nations that border Russia fear and loathe that country. Just to go to Warsaw and ask around (for the anecdote, some eight years ago a Russian student of mine—from a Vladimir Putin-supporting family and who was not particularly politicized herself—told me that Russia’s neighbors had good reason to fear her country). As for Saudi Arabia, just ask a few dozen people at random in Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, Tunis, Casablanca, or anywhere else in the Arab world what they think of Saudis (not just the royal family but also as people). Answer: a significant majority will tell you that they’re barbarians (as the Muslim Sri Lankans in the photos here manifestly deem them to be). It may not be nice to essentialize a whole people in such terms—and it is certainly not reputable intellectually—but that’s the reality of how Saudis are viewed by those—mostly other Arabs and Muslims—who’ve had to deal with them.

I’m thinking about this at the present moment, having just read Indian-Kashmiri journalist Basharat Peer’s commentary in The New Yorker on Rizana Nafeek’s beheading. Read it and fume. And if you want to fume some more, see the links in my post of 18 months ago on this same subject. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if Saudi Arabia could be broken into three parts?: an independent Hijaz restored to the Hashemites (and with Jordan becoming a Palestinian state—including the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, of course); the oil-rich, Shi’ite-majority Gulf coast area a United Nations protectorate (and with the oil revenues used to fund the UN and its specialized agencies, the World Bank, and IMF); and the Saudis in the Najd left to fend for themselves, bereft of oil and the holy places. Just dreaming…

UPDATE: The web site Migrant Rights has an informative post on “Who failed Rizana Nafeek?,” which is severely critical of the Sri Lankan government’s handling of the affair.

(Photo: AFP)

(Photo: AFP)

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renaud dely la droite brune

Je viens de lire cet excellent livre sur l’évolution de la droite parlementaire—précisément, l’UMP—ces dix dernières années, c’est-à-dire, sous l’ère Sarkozy (Sarko étant devenu le chef de file de l’UMP pendant le deuxième mandat de Chirac). L’auteur Renaud Dély, Directeur de la rédaction du Nouvel Observateur—et l’un des meilleurs journalistes de la politique française—, livre un réquisitoire dévastateur contre le sarkozysme et son projet—largement réussi—de “décomplexer” la droite en la rapprochant idéologiquement et politiquement du Front national. Dély, l’auteur de l’une des meilleures enquêtes sur le FN, sait de quoi il parle. Il consacre un chapitre entier sur Patrick Buisson, le Raspoutine maléfique et ultradroitier de Sarkozy (et de Jean-François Copé aujourd-hui), et sur le FN sous Marine Le Pen. Un livre à lire absolument.

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Following from my last post, I just read another (somewhat) Egypt-related article, this one a review essay in the August-September 2012 issue of Policy Review of Ian Johnson‘s A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West, a book that purports to reveal an apparent US collusion with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood going back to the 1950s, specifically a covert relationship between the CIA and Said Ramadan, MB founder Hassan al-Banna’s son-in-law and spiritual heir—and father of Tariq Ramadan—, who lived in exile in West Germany, then Switzerland, from the mid 1950s on. The notion that the US has long supported Islamist movements across the Muslim world has been out there since the 1980s and fervently believed by many—and fueled by the misconstrued, misunderstood US support of the Afghan “freedom fighters” against the Soviet Union—but there has never been anything to it (e.g. it has been widely believed by secular Algerians—and more than a few French observers—that the US supported the FIS and its successors during that country’s tumultuous political conjuncture in the 1990s; the notion is pure fantasy, a complete figment of some collective imagination and which I have argued against for decades, but there is no refuting it for those who believe it dur comme fer). That the US could have actively cultivated the Egyptian MB, and at any point along the way, has never made sense to me. So I was skeptical of Johnson’s thesis—summarized here in the NYRB—, needless to say, but was willing to give it a look, so I got hold of a copy and read it en diagonale. Not convinced.

Reading John Rosenthal’s Policy Review essay confirmed my assessment. Rosenthal, who writes on security issues and is a German-speaker—thereby enabling him to look at Johnson’s original source material plus others—, pronounced Johnson’s supposed revelation of a CIA-Said Ramadan collaboration to be without foundation, that Johnson in no way proves it in his book. In his essay Rosenthal refers extensively to a book published in Germany (as yet untranslated into English) shortly after Johnson’s and on precisely the same subject, A Mosque in Germany: Nazis, Secret Services, and the Rise of Political Islam in the West, by Stefan Meining. This work, which carries more extensive documentation from American and German archives than does Johnson’s, comes up with no evidence pointing to a US-MB collusion. So for me at least, Rosenthal’s essay settles the issue.

What Meining’s book does do, as Rosenthal explicates, is document some of the liaisons dangereuses between German intelligence and Islamist movements over the decades—continuing from the extensive Nazi collaboration with Muslims during WWII (Haj Amin al-Husseini, the recruitment of Bosniaks and anti-Soviet Muslims from the Caucasus and Central Asia into the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS, etc)—, and of a general German complaisance toward Islamists. So if one is looking for covert Western collusion with the MB & Co., look to Bonn and Berlin, not Washington.

Eine Moschee in Deutschland

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Cairo: A Memoir

Gamal Abdel Nasser and Eric Rouleau, 1963

Gamal Abdel Nasser and Eric Rouleau, 1963

[update below]

As it’s still vacation for moi, I’ve been catching up on some reading, notably in trying to work my way through a mountain of articles I’ve printed out over the past year. One fascinating one I just read is this English translation of an excerpt of Eric Rouleau’s memoirs, published in the Summer 2012 issue of The Cairo Review of Global Affairs (of the American University in Cairo; the memoirs themselves were published in October by Fayard). Rouleau was Le Monde’s grand reporter, mainly in the Middle East, from the 1950s to the mid 1980s, after which he embarked on a second career as a diplomat (as French ambassador to Tunisia and Turkey, entre autres). In this excerpt Rouleau—an Egyptian Jew born and raised in Cairo (his veritable name is Elie Raffoul)—recounts his visit to Cairo in 1963 at the invitation of the Egyptian state—his first back there since his forced departure from the country twelve years earlier, when he was threatened with legal prosecution for “Zionist and communist activities” (though he had never adhered to either creed)—, his interactions with intellectuals such as Mohamed Hassanein Heikal and Lotfi El-Kholi, and, above all, his audience with Nasser. Very interesting. Reading Rouleau’s account—and being transported back to that period—makes me want to read the book ASAP.

I regularly followed Rouleau reportages in Le Monde in the late 1970s-1980s and had the opportunity to see him speak, at a public talk he gave at the University of Chicago in 1984. Don’t remember much of what he said except that I was impressed.

On Nasser, this YouTube—of him making sport of the Muslim Brotherhood (in 1966)—has been making the rounds over the past year. Between Nasser—warts and all—and Egypt’s current president, my choice is clear.

UPDATE: Eric Rouleau died on February 25th 2015. Michael Young, the Lebanese journalist and commentator, has a remembrance of him in NOW (February 27th). And Alain Gresh, in Al-Araby al-Jadeed English (March 10th), writes on “Eric Rouleau: The great journalist of the Near East.”

Eric Rouleau Dans les coulisses du Proche-Orient

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Determined to vote!

Voting line in Miami, 4 Nov. 2012 (photo credit: Ian Koski/pic.twitter.com/wuMcXz3D)

Voting line in Miami, 4 Nov. 2012 (photo credit: Ian Koski/pic.twitter.com/wuMcXz3D)

This is the title of an article by Elizabeth Drew in the December 20th NYRB that I just read, on the Republicans’ failed effort to suppress voter turnout in the November election in states where they control the machinery of government, notably Florida and Ohio. Plenty has been written on the disgraceful, Third World-like spectacle of voters in the world’s richest and most powerful democracy spending hours in line in the two aforementioned states, among others—as well as on the admirable determination of those voters to cast their ballots, despite the Republicans’ concerted efforts to thwart it—, but it really does need to be reiterated that in no other advanced democracy would such spectacles even be conceivable, let alone happen. E.g. in the 2007 French presidential election, when just about everyone voted—84% of registered voters (and with some 95% of the voting-age population registered)—, the wait time at the polling stations was ten minutes max. Even with the longer ballot in the US—with numerous electoral mandates to vote for—there is no reason whatever that one shouldn’t be able to get in and out of a polling station in half an hour at most. Only in America—i.e. in those parts of America controlled by the Republican party—is there a concerted effort to suppress voting, to make the most fundamental civic act in a democracy as difficult as possible. It’s a goddamned f-ing disgrace.

Elizabeth Drew, in her otherwise impeccable analysis, does make one peculiar comment in passing and with which I will nitpick

Inevitably, after a contentious election all sorts of proposals are brought forth to improve the election system, including the hoary and perpetually futile argument over eliminating the electoral college—which would lead to a campaign focused on New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston and a probable Democratic advantage; less populous states that benefit from the current system are most unlikely to agree to its being changed.

I will not argue with Ms. Drew over the futility of trying to eliminate the electoral college—which should happen but never will—, but will tell her that the notion that an elimination of the electoral college would result in an election being focused on NYC, L.A., Chicago et al—metropolises that are entirely ignored in presidential campaigns, BTW—is a lot of poppycock. There is no reason whatever to think such a thing would happen. In statewide elections—governor, senator, etc—candidates campaign throughout the state, not just in areas where their voters may be concentrated. E.g. in a gubernatorial election in Illinois, the Democratic candidate campaigns downstate and not just in Chicago and the Quad Cities. In France, presidential candidates campaign throughout the country, in cities and towns big and small, and in rural areas. If the electoral college were abolished and with the president elected by a national popular vote, not only would candidates hold rallies in Long Island and Houston, the Bay Area and Omaha, but one would see the Democrat campaigning  in Alabama and the Republican in New Jersey. The electoral map for both candidates would be greatly expanded, and with so many more Americans implicated in the campaigns. Wouldn’t that be nice? One can hardly argue that such a fundamental change would constitute a regression. Not that it will ever happen, of course.

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[updates below]

Ringing in the new year with the fiscal cliff psychodrama, Michael Tomasky has a commentary in TDB giving Obama somewhat of a break. The president is up against crazy people in Congress. Mainly from the South. Whenever there’s a major political problem in the US—nowadays as 225 years ago—it’s invariably because of the South. Tomasky thus begins

While most liberals were stewing at Barack Obama yesterday for his “capitulation” on tax rates, I confess that I was feeling philosophical about it, and even mildly defensive of him. He is negotiating with madmen, and you can’t negotiate with madmen, because they’re, well, mad. I also spent part of yesterday morning re-reading a little history and reminding myself that rascality like this fiscal-cliff business has been going on since the beginning of the republic. So now I’d like to remind you. It’s always the reactionaries holding up the progressives—and usually, needless to say, it’s been the South holding up the North—and always with the same demagogic and dishonest arguments about a tyrannical central government. We’ll never be rid of these paranoid bloviators, and if no other president could stop them I don’t really see why Obama ought to be able to.

Reactionaries in the goddamned f-ing South. Without the South, there is no Tea Party. The GOP would be a normal conservative party, not an extreme right-wing party. Nothing to be done about it, of course, except maybe let demography do its handiwork. After we’re all dead.

As for the deal voted by the Senate and how to judge Obama, I defer to Paul Krugman, as I invariably do on these matters.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan weighs in on Obama’s “long game.”

2nd UPDATE: Ezra Klein in WaPo says “Calm down, liberals. The White House won.”

3rd UPDATE: Peter Coy, economics editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, analyzes “The Fiscal Cliff Deal and the Damage Done.”

4th UPDATE: John Judis in TNR asserts that “Obama Wasn’t Rolled. He Won!

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