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Monday, February 09, 2009

Why We Hear the Muslim World All Too Well

By Barry Rubin

Message to New York Times: Read your own op-ed page.

The Times and other American media and educational institutions are giving increasing amounts of space to people from the Moslem-majority and Arabic-speaking states to understand their view on the world. Sometimes, however, they have a hard time hearing what is said.

Here is what the newspaper’s editorial for February 8 claims and urges:

We don't know if there is any mixture of incentives or sanctions that can wean Iran of its nuclear ambitions. But we are certain that the Bush administration never tried to find it. This means not only direct talks, but also far more persuasive diplomatic incentives, including a credible offer of improved relations and security guarantees.”

And this, of course, is what the Obama administration is going to do with Iran and Syria. Others urge the same techniques are applies to Hamas, Hizballah, and even—though this is rarer—the Taliban and al-Qaida.

But to understand why this belief is so misguided one merely need read…the Times of February 8, within inches of the above-quoted editorial.

I’m referring here to the truly shocking op-ed by Alaa al Aswany entitled, “Why the Muslim World Can’t Hear Obama.” A better title would be, “Why the Muslim World Won’t Hear Obama.”

The piece is overlong, convoluted, and not particularly well written. It should be noted that the author, a novelist among other things, is considered a moderate.

Alas, for moderation in the Arab world.

There are two themes: the one against Israel and the one against Arab governments. Because these have not been resolved, the author says, all of President Obama’s apologies and efforts are a big yawn.

So what would the author—and presumably all the Arabs and Muslims—want Obama and America to do? Well, to put it briefly, help overthrow all the Arab governments and help wipe Israel off the map.

I wrote the above sentence in a particularly blunt way but it really does not exaggerate the message here.

First of all, Egypt and other Arab states are dictatorships: “Here in Egypt, we don't have previous or future presidents, only the present head of state who seized power through sham elections and keeps it by force, and who will probably remain in power until the end of his days.”

Wait a minute, though! Remember the last president of the United States, the one who pushed for democracy and criticized the governmental systems? The Arab world didn’t seem too thrilled about him. Egyptian intellectuals screamed this was imperialist interference in internal affairs and so on. So after all those years of bashing Bush for—rightly or wrongly—proposing dictatorships be replaced with democracy are we to believe that they will now bash Obama for proposing to work with the existing regimes?

This, of course, is an unsolvable problem. Whatever the United States does here is going to be wrong. There is no way America can please Iran. Well, I take that back. If America helps it overthrow all those bad Arab dictatorships and replace them with Islamist regimes then Iran will probably be happy.

And Alaa al Aswany will be able to read the Times more easily, as a political refugee living in New York.

Then there’s point two:

We expected him to address the reports that the Israeli military illegally used white phosphorus against the people of Gaza. We also wanted Mr. Obama, who studied law and political science at the greatest American universities, to recognize what we see as a simple, essential truth:
the right of people in an
occupied territory to resist military occupation.”

Regarding “essential truth,” isn’t the Times supposed to publish things that are factually correct? Israel has already been cleared of the phony white phosphorus charge. So why is this article allowed to repeat it? Here is indeed a lesson: people in the Arab world often lie about you. No matter what you do, how much aid you give, how many concessions you offer or implement, it will be said: you didn’t do anything. Give more. Pay more. Apologize more. Change more.

But perhaps the most important and chilling sentence of the op-ed is this, and if people were paying attention to such things nowadays they would be thoroughly shocked:

We also wanted Mr. Obama, who studied law and political science at the greatest American
universities, to recognize what we see as a simple, essential truth: the right of people in an occupied territory to resist military occupation.”

What are the implications of this sentence: that the United States should endorse terrorism and violence in at least three conflicts. According to the terrorist forces, Afghanistan and Iraq are under foreign occupation. If Obama was to do as suggested, he would be backing attacks not only on civilians and governments there but also the killing of American soldiers.

As for the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, south Lebanon, and much of the West Bank and still faces attacks. In 2000, Israel proposed to make peace based on a two-state solution with a Palestinian state having its capital in Jerusalem. The Palestinian side turned it down.

Since Hamas and other radical forces assert that Israel is an occupying power, attacking it—which includes firing rockets at civilian targets—is legitimate. Moreover, if there is any occupation left, it is due to the political strategy of the Palestinian Authority in rejecting a political solution.

Yet that is far from the entire problem here. For much or most of the Muslim and Arab world views all of Israel as “occupied territory.” The only way for occupation to end is for Israel to end. The author here does not make clear what land is being discussed, though the op-ed easily could have limited the territory in question to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem. Have no doubt how most Muslims and Arabs read the phrase about occupied territory: Obama must abandon Israel altogether.

So how can Obama appease or please the Muslim-majority world? We are told by this moderate: by backing the right of Hamas and Hizballah to attack Israel.

This, then, is the supposed moderate position, the minimum way by which Obama can make friends in the region. Clearly, the author here doesn’t speak for everyone. Certainly the relatively moderate Arab regimes and their supporters want more U.S. support for themselves.

Yet there is much truth in this article’s stance. The only way for America to “win over” this public opinion and the radical groups is to surrender to them or join them. President Obama and editors of the Times, please hear what you are being told here, and despair of ever satisfying such enormous and dangerous demands by some combination of charm and concessions.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, write me at

Monday, February 02, 2009

If You Love Palis You Should Hate Hamas

Barry Rubin

Let's say that you love the Palestinians, are sympathetic to Arabs, and are indifferent to Israel.

Presumably, you favored the ceasefire with Hamas to stop Palestinian suffering.

But what else?

What next?

What is the solution

from your point of view, from the Palestinian point of view?

The answer is: you should support the downfall of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Let me explain why:

First, only the Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the West Bank, is capable of making peace with Israel because Hamas does not want to do so and demands total victory and Israel's extinction. But without a negotiated peace, the conflict will go on forever and the vestiges of occupation will not end.

There will not be a Palestinian state.

Even if you believe the world should pressure Israel into major concessions, Israel will not give way even under the greatest pressure if Hamas is involved because that would be suicidal. And with Palestinian leadership divided into two regimes, no negotiation can succeed any way.

If Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, progress toward peace is impossible. No peace, no dismantling of settlements (on the West Bank, they've already been dismantled in the Gaza Strip. Remember? When Israel withdrew completely and turned the Gaza-Egypt border over to the Palestinians?]. No peace, no Palestinian state. No peace, no serious economic construction and stability. No peace, no resettling of Palestinian refugees in a country of their own.

Second, Hamas is a disaster for Palestinians as a ruler. It is creating a repressive Islamist state where freedom will be extinguished, women treated as third-class citizens, and children will be brought up to be suicide bombers. While Hamas has had social welfare programs to recruit supporters and support the families of those it has ensured would be martyrs, it has no interest in educational, health, infrastructure, and job creation or anything but waging war.

In addition, Hamas will never get much, if any, economic support from the international community whereas with a PA government, as has been shown previously, billions of dollars of aid money has been given. The resources Hamas gets are mainly plowed into waging war. For Hamas, Palestinians are instruments for waging jihad, privileged to become martyrs to the cause. If the Palestinians were to get their own state or enjoy higher living standards, Hamas fears they will become content with the status quo and abandon the struggle. For Hamas, that is a fate for Palestinians worse than death--their deaths.

Of course, the PA is, to put it mildly, far from perfect. It is plagued by corruption and inefficiency though over the last year it has shown marked improvement. Why did Hamas win the election? Partly due to the PA's shortcomings; largely due to the internal divisions of Fatah which rules the PA. After all, if so many Fatah candidates hadn't run against each other, the race would have been very close.

At the same time, it is important to remember that the current Hamas government is not an elected government. Hamas signed a coalition agreement with Fatah then staged a coup to seize power completely, killing and expelling its rival. The current regime is thus not the product of the people's choice but of a takeover. To cite two examples, the Communists in 1917 Russia and the National Socialist Party in 1932 Germany, both won elections. But they then seized power, outlawed the opposition, and held on for a long time. The Hamas pattern is similar.

Third, in material terms, Hamas has led and will continue to lead to massive bloodshed and suffering. Blame it on Israel if you wish, but remember something rather important: the Israel-West Bank border is completely quiet. There are no sanctions, no blockade. Indeed, Israel supports other countries giving aid and even weapons to the PA, albeit with limits in the latter case. Israel isn't fighting "the Palestinians" it is fighting Hamas. Why? Because Hamas is fighting Israel.

Even if you have the most negative possible view of Israel: go on, throw out all your nastiest adjectives and biggest anti-Israel claims. The fact is that Israel exists and will continue to do so. It will also continue to defend its citizens--you can call it aggression if you want.

But these are facts. With the PA and peaceful strategies, individual Palestinians can enjoy relatively good lives and hope for the future. With Hamas, since it is going to spend decades in the martyrdom business and seeking Israel's extinction through violence, the fact is there is going to be a lot of violence. Even if Israel doesn't react to the first hundred of thousand missiles, mortar shells, and cross-border terrorist attacks, eventually it will do so. And we will see something like the current situation over and over again.

Finally, Hamas is a disaster for Arabs in other countries and for the Arabic-speaking world in general. The survival and strengthening of Hamas will help spread radical Islamism and terrorism to other countries at even higher levels.

Many Arabs and Muslims will die, be wounded, and suffer.

There will be more attacks and political turmoil in Egypt and Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, North Africa and the Gulf.

These events will have nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with the kind of revolutionary movement Hamas represents. And this includes a long-term, internal Palestinian civil war as well.

So if you want to march for a ceasefire, campaign for a Palestinian state, and criticize Israel, just remember this: don't struggle to support those who will do more harm to the people you purport to care for--even if you blame Israel for it, the cause will be Hamas's policies--than anything else.

If you want to help in real terms, let's work together for a peaceful diplomatic resolution, a two-state solution, in which Palestinians have their own country, receive massive international aid, children can live in security, and there is real peace. For that goal, you will find the overwhelming majority of

of Israelis will agree with you. But remember, too, Hamas doesn't.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center

Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya P.O. Box 167 Herzliya, 46150 Israel

Email: Phone: +972-9-960-2736 Fax: +972-9-956-8605

Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel