Archive for April, 2013

Imad Mughniyeh in the cockpit of TWA flight 847, June 1985

Imad Mughniyah in the cockpit of TWA flight 847, June 1985

[updates below]

Continuing from my previous post, Mark Perry has a fascinating investigative report on the Foreign Policy website on Hizbullah Über-terrorist Imad Mughniyah, who got his just desserts in a quiet Damascus neighborhood on 12 Feb. ’08. I normally find Perry’s writings dodgy but this one is good. Among other things, he says that we don’t know who was responsible for Mughniyah’s killing, though rather strongly suggests that it may have been the Syrian regime itself. I suspected this myself from the outset—I didn’t believe the Israelis were responsible, as I doubted they were capable of pulling off such an operation in the heart of the Syrian capital—and said so to my (pro-Bashar) Palestinian-Syrian friend as we drove by the spot where Mughniyah met his end (see pics below). She concurred, saying that it smelled like an inside job.

Whatever the case, the world is not poorer with the eradication of Imad Mughniyah.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports (January 30, 2015) that the CIA and Mossad together carried out the Mughniyah assassination. Well, how about that!

2nd UPDATE: The CIA-Mossad hit on Mughniyah is also detailed in Newsweek (January 31, 2015), though this account makes it out to be a mainly CIA operation, with the Mossad playing a support role. Whatever the case, if the WaPo and Newsweek accounts are more or less accurate—and I have no a priori reason to believe that they are not—then I will return to my original circumspection as to Mark Perry’s reporting.

3rd UPDATE: Matthew Levitt of WINEP has an article in Politico Magazine (February 9, 2015) on “Why the CIA killed Imad Mughniyeh.” The answer: “It was paying back a generation-old blood debt,” i.e. the CIA was exacting vengeance for Hizbullah’s April 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut—which wiped out the CIA station there—and the kidnapping/murder of CIA station chief William Buckley the following year, both of which were planned by Mughniyah.

Imad Mughniyeh was blown up in this spot (photo: Arun Kapil)

Imad Mughniyah was blown up in this spot (photo: Arun Kapil)

Iranian Cultural Center, Damascus.  Imad Mughniyeh was blown up to the right of the building (photo: Arun Kapil)

Iranian Cultural Center, Damascus.
Imad Mughniyah was blown up to the right of the building (photo: Arun Kapil)

Entrance to Baalbek, Lebanon.  Effigy of Imad Mugniyeh on a tank (photo: Arun Kapil)

Entrance to Baalbek, Lebanon.
Effigy of Imad Mughniyah on a tank (photo: Arun Kapil)

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aqmi mali

Journalist Kremena Krumova of Epoch Times—a publication that is new to me—has a useful “guide to understanding terrorism” and with good quotes by specialists (two of whom I know personally).

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The Boston bombers – V

bruce beattie

John Cassidy of The New Yorker has a must read counterfactual reflection on what the fallout from the Boston bombing would have been had

the Tsarnaev brothers, instead of packing a couple of pressure cookers loaded with nails and explosives into their backpacks a week ago Monday, had stuffed inside their coats two assault rifles—Bushmaster AR-15s, say, of the type that Adam Lanza used in Newtown. What would have been different?

For starters, a lot more people would have been killed. But would the Tsarnaevs have been labeled “terrorists” (as Adam Lanza and Aurora shooter James Eagan Holmes were not)? Would their AR-15s have been designated as “weapons of mass destruction” (as the Tsarnaevs’ IED has been)? And what would have happened to the gun control bill in Congress? Read Cassidy’s examination here. And marvel once again at what a crazy country America is when it comes to guns.

Nate Silver had a post the other day on his FiveThirtyEight blog with poll data showing that Americans have a growing resolve to live with the threat of terrorism. In other words, Americans are, in fact, less hysterical over incidents of terrorism than the media makes them out to be. And they are certainly less so than politicians.

John Avlon of TDB has a column that is not really related to Boston—but is to the subject of my previous post, of politicians being idiots—, in which he expresses concern over adherence to conspiracy theories by growing numbers of GOP elected officials. “GOP lawmakers embrace the crazy.” I think we’ve known that for a while now.

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Boston Bombing Idiot Watch


I’ve been stocking links over the past week of particularly idiotic, asinine statements made by American commentators and politicians about the April 15th Boston bombing and the identification of the Tsarnaev brothers as the perpetrators. The bombing was certainly horrible but in terms of casualties was not quite on the same level as what happens on an ordinary day in Syria or Iraq. And it was not comparable to the wave of terrorist bombings in France in 1986 or 1995—or even of Mohamed Merah last year—, though which did not provoke in France anything approaching the unhinged reactions of high-profile US pundits and pols in the wake of Boston.

Of all the idiocies mouthed over the past week, the one whose author most deserves to be punched in the face for—figuratively if not literally—is Bill Maher. Maher—whom I will admit to having found amusing and on target on occasion over the years—is apparently considered a liberal, but what he says here about the “dangerous doctrines” of Islam—as if “Islam” is some organic being that thinks for itself and above and beyond its 1.5 billion or whatever believers—is proof in the pudding that liberals can be as idiotic as conservatives. Anyone who can mouth such essentialist bullshit—and on national television no less—is not only an idiot but a raving idiot, and who is forever discredited in my intellectual book.

Another liberal idiot is Bob Beckel, Fox News talking head and onetime Dem politico, who says that the US should suspend the granting of visas for a period of time to foreign Muslim students wishing to study at US universities. So US visa forms will henceforth ask applicants to state their religion—as do a handful of countries in the world, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran—and with consular officials no doubt posing the question orally… Sure. I’m sorry but anyone who can seriously advance this proposition—and again, on national television no less—is an idiot. And a bigot too. End of discussion.

Despite these two nominally liberal nitwits—and I’m sure there are more—the great majority of idiotic statements have, of course, come from the right. E.g. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is considered a hot prospect for ’16, also evoked a visa suspension. If Rubio is indeed elected POTUS down the road, how much would one like to bet that he implements this? My personal assets are not considerable but I will lay them all on the line that he will have no memory of having made such a statement back in ’13. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), for his part, was the first off the bat last week, with his batty statement about 19 year-old American citizen Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s “ties to radical Islamic thought” justifying him being tried as an “enemy combatant.” Likewise with Sen. Dan Coates (R-IN), which prompted IR prof and blogger Daniel Drezner to ask “Will the Senator from the state of half-assed thinking please go sit in a corner?

Um, whatever happened to the US Constitution and its Bill of Rights? I thought these people considered it to be a quasi sacred document.

And then there were the digs at Boston liberals, notably by Arkansas state rep. Nate Bell, who tweeted that they were probably cowering at home wishing they had AR-15s with high-capacity magazines. When I read stuff like this my visceral view that the wrong side won the Civil War—that America would be a much better country without the South and Southerners—is reinforced.

But there are plenty of boneheaded idiots in the North as well, e.g. NY state senator Greg Ball—a GOPer, of course—, who asserted that not only should torture be applied to Dzhokhar T. but that he (Ball) would administer it personally. I would submit that Sen. Ball should be strapped up to the gégène himself. Pourquoi pas?

Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter have also said crazy ass stuff but that’s normal for them and requires no mention, let alone links.

On the overall Weltanschauung of the right on the Boston bombing, Jon Stewart summed it up here. Touché!

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Le Repenti


I just saw this terrific film by Merzak Allouache (English title: ‘The Repentant’; in Arabic: التائب). It is Allouache’s best film ever IMO and one of the best ever to come out of Algeria (and is certainly the best ever Algerian-directed film with a political theme). The “repentant” is a young Islamist fighter who, benefiting from the 1999 law conferring amnesty on members of armed Islamist groups (and updated in 2005), flees the maquis, turns himself in to the authorities—who press him into being an informer—, and tries to reintegrate into civilian life, while seeking to settle an affair from his years as a guerrilla/terrorist, the details of which are only revealed toward the end. It’s a riveting film and with an excellent screenplay that bears out the complexity of the Algerian sale guerre—of armed Islamists vs. the Algerian state—of the past two decades. There are no caricatures, either with the characters or the politics. And the acting is first-rate, as is the cinematography (it’s set in the western High Plateau, mainly in El Bayadh).

I normally pay no attention to reviews of Algerian films, as the critics (French, American, etc) lack the requisite knowledge of Algeria to properly assess what they’ve seen. And this one presents additional challenges, as any description of the plot will almost inevitably contain spoilers (as did, e.g., Le Monde’s review, which basically gave the whole thing away). The pic has been reviewed by two American critics, who saw it at Cannes last year; one, from The Hollywood Reporter, was off-the-wall; the other review, by Jay Weissberg in Variety, absolutely, totally nailed it. It’s an excellent review and tells the reader precisely what s/he needs to know about the film, and without spoilers. I couldn’t have written it better myself. Here it is

A beautifully made, deeply emotional drama that catches auds up in its troubled protags’ lives, all the way to a staggering finale.

After several misfires, Merzak Allouache delivers not just his best film of the past decade, but arguably his best in 36 years in the helmer’s seat. Tracking a former jihadist and a separated couple whose lives were destroyed five years earlier, “The Repentant” is a beautifully made, deeply emotional drama that catches auds up in its troubled protags’ lives, all the way to a staggering finale. Though cinema is awash in Islamic fundamentalist themes, Allouache goes beyond mere issues with his intimate approach and narrowed focus. This is one Algerian movie that could finally see worldwide exposure, including Stateside.

Allouache not only strips the story down to basics but reduces the exposition: Background details are spare, and what’s not said is more powerful than what is. This suppression is tied to the helmer’s message of a country paralyzed by a self-imposed gag order, in which the past remains an unbearable weight that cannot be discussed. But as “The Repentant” demonstrates, the past is very much alive, and a refusal to confront it head-on allows fear, corruption, and fanaticism to thrive.

In the late 1990s, the Algerian government attempted to end years of terrorism by offering jihadists amnesty. Islamic fighters came down from their hideouts, registered with the authorities as “repentants,” and were integrated into society. Rachid (Nabil Asli) runs away from his fundamentalist compatriots in the mountain and reports to the cops; the police chief, Redouane (Mohamed Takiret), gets him a job with embittered cafe owner Salah (Hacene Benzerari), and Rachid appears to be fitting into normal life.

Then, he meets pharmacist Lakhdar (Khaled Benaissa). What actually transpires between these two isn’t seen or heard: first a one-sided phone call that visibly upsets Lakhdar, then a meeting that isn’t shown. What’s clear is Lakhdar’s intense isolation: He lives in a bare apartment, drinking copious amounts of wine and watching Chinese television at night, though presumably he doesn’t understand the language. Like everything else in his life, the boob tube merely fills the hours, since Lakhdar’s only engagement is with his inner demons.

After meeting Rachid, he calls his ex-wife, Djamila (Adila Bendimerad), who angrily makes the long drive to see him. They exude tension when together, uncertain how to behave and unsure if the chasm between them can be bridged. When she snaps that she can’t go back to the same hell as five years earlier, he replies, “Go back? I’m still in it.” They tensely wait for Rachid to call again, yet Allouache withholds explanation of how these three fit together until late in the film. Before the wrenching finale (bring hankies), all that’s clear is that Djamila and Lakhdar had a daughter who died five years earlier.

Many of Allouache’s films express disheartened concern over the rise of fundamentalism (“Bab el Oued City,” “The Other World”), but in “The Repentant,” possibly for the first time, he’s fully engaged with a jihadist’s psyche. Rachid’s escape from his Islamist life is real, and his desire for re-entry into society feels genuine. He has a childlike appreciation of the world around him, yet there’s something else that prevents him from fully assimilating; his denial of past atrocities isn’t convincing, and a skirmish with a revenge-seeker reveals an animal-like violence that’s never far from the surface. On one level, Rachid really may be sorry for what he did, but his personality shift following inculcation into the cult of terrorism can’t be completely buried.

All three leads deliver perfs of stunning emotional depth and complexity, quietly embodying the conflicts raging within. Only Djamila explodes, and when she does, Bendimerad’s expression of rage and grief is devastating. Young d.p. Mohamed Tayeb Laggoune displays a firm control of his handheld camera, appropriately responding to emotions onscreen. Visuals reflect the story’s intimacy while capturing the region’s empty landscape, whose vastness can feel crushing.

The film has unfortunately—though not unexpectedly—not been a box office hit in France. It opened in Paris 2½ weeks ago and is fading fast. The French highbrow movie-going public—the kind that goes to see non-French and non-Hollywood films—is not interested in Algeria (pre- or post-1962), no matter how well-reviewed the film may be. But Algerian-origin audiences in France aren’t interested either. With the exception of Rachid Bouchareb’s ‘Indigènes‘—which was as much about France as it was Algeria—every last movie with an Algerian theme has either been a box office failure in France or simply not found its public, including in the immigrant population. E.g. one not too bad Algerian film I saw back in 2006, ‘Barakat!’, I was the only person in the theater (and which was in the Latin Quarter no less). Algerians are just not a cinema-going people, and certainly not serious cinema (I know I’ll get into trouble with some for saying this but I don’t care, because it’s true). There are hardly any cinemas in Algeria and most that exist are for young males only—adults and women do not set foot in them—and show trash. And that culture carries over into the immigrant community in France. And when Algerians do go to the movies, they show little to no interest in movies by Algerian directors. C’est dommage.

But if French and Algerians are not going to see ‘Le Repenti’, Americans and others should. So if you have a chance to see it, do so. You won’t regret it. Et si vous êtes à Paris, voici les séances actuellement.

the repentant

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Donetsk 15 juin 2012

Conservative commentator Rod Dreher explains (via The Dish) why so many American conservatives have a problem with France. In short: France has a great culture and which makes some Americans insecure. The French also know how to live the good life and Americans are suspicious of that. Watch here.

The Dish post also links to a piece Dreher wrote for NRO in 2003, “I like France: A defense of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” in which, while denouncing France’s Iraq policy, he defends the country’s culture. I will wager that Dreher would probably want to take back his criticism of the French on Iraq (which France was of course right about), as well as his line about them “find[ing] it difficult to stand up to Islamic terrorism,” a domain in which the French have won kudos even from American conservatives.

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The Boston bombers – IV


A couple of links. Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco and Carola Suárez-Orozco, dean and professor respectively at UCLA, have an op-ed in the NYT on “Immigrant kids, adrift,” in which they discuss a study of theirs that finds

that the second generation — American-born kids of immigrant parents — assimilate, and even excel, to a greater extent than the “1.5 generation” (children who immigrate in or before their early teens).

This seems true from my own observations over the decades. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were members of the 1½ generation.

And the WSJ has a most interesting reportage on how Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s “Turn to religion split [his] home.” After converting to radical jihadism Tamerlan succeeding in convincing his mother to don the hijab but his father sharply opposed his new posture, and which, it seems, led to the parents’ divorce. This dynamic is not infrequent in Muslim immigrant families in North America and Europe.

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