BACKGROUND & CHARACTER
JUDGES & COURTS
If there was any question as to why the Democrats were refusing to hold a debate sponsored by Fox News, last night’s broadcast of the YouTube debate on CNN should be self explanatory.
Many of the questions chosen among thousands of YouTube submissions appeared to be selected more for their entertainment value than for the way the question addressed a specific issue. And those questions that did confront an issue were so general in nature it allowed even the dumbest of candidates (Biden) to hit it out of the park. In the midst of a war involving 160,000 Americans in Iraq, there was no question – not one – about terrorism. And given the recent eruption on Capitol Hill over immigration, not one question was directed toward that issue either.
Instead, you had people asking questions in costume. Or with props as the poor fellow who asked a question about gun control while cradling his rifle and calling it “my baby”. Senator Biden, not getting the joke, called the young man “mentally unbalanced” and suggested he shouldn’t even possess a gun. Most of the questions were the kind of earnest citizen kinds of questions you hear at a televised town hall meeting. And Anderson Cooper obliged the Democrats beautifully by doing his earnest reporter shtick which may not be very deep or penetrating as far as getting at the truth but sure looks good on TV.
I have yet to see a Democratic debate moderated by anyone who actually wants to hold these politicians feet to the fire and get them off their talking points in order to address the substance of an issue. Contrast CNN’s kid gloves treatment of Democrats with Chris Wallace’s boring in on Giuliani’s abortion flip flops or Romney’s switcheroo on gay marriage when the Republican candidates debated on Fox News last month. Their answers left them wide open to criticism by other candidates on the stage which made for a somewhat more lively night.
The problem is that the public won’t give the GOP any credit for going on CNN nor will they penalize the Democrats for not going on Fox. It’s a shame because the Democrats are not only losing out on twice the audience they would get appearing on Fox but would also benefit by delineating and sharpening their differences a little bit.
What’s ailing contemporary Middle East studies? A symposium earlier this month at Stanford University provided a clue.
A paranoid fixation on imagined American and Israeli “empire”; the refusal to accept legitimate criticism; an insulated, elitist worldview; an inability to employ clear, jargon-free English; and a self-defeating hostility towards the West: these vices and more were made clear at “The State of Middle East Studies: Knowledge Production in an Age of Empire.”
Professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University Hamid Dabashi captured the symposium’s theme by asserting that the “Middle East is under U.S./Israeli imperial domination” and that America is an “empire without hegemony,” engaged in a “monopolar imperial project.”
Yet no one defined this “empire” or “imperialism.” Nor did attendees learn what events in the Muslim world precipitated a more expansive U.S. foreign policy in the region after Sept. 11, 2001, or why Israel might have legitimate concerns about its bellicose neighbors.
Only Nur Yalman, professor of social anthropology and Middle Eastern studies at Harvard University, made reference to Islamic terrorism. He also reported on the atmosphere of political unease in both Egypt and Turkey from whence he had just returned.
Also popular was equating criticism of Middle East studies with a U.S./Israeli/Jewish plot. Dabashi condemned Middle East scholar and critic Martin Kramer, calling his book, Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, an agent of “U.S. and Israeli intelligence.” Yalman bemoaned a speech Kramer gave last year on the relatively stable geopolitical situation of Jews today, implying that such a condition represented a threat to Muslims. Dabashi denounced David Horowitz, Stanley Kurtz, Daniel Pipes, and Campus Watch for, as he put it, “helping Bush in his crusading war against Islamic terrorism.”
Dabashi also singled out Stanford’s Hoover Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, accusing them of acting, horror of horrors, in “the service of national security.” He was particularly aggrieved that with the ascendance of these think tanks, Middle East studies were no longer under the strict purview of the “academies.” He didn’t mention that higher education’s failure to adequately address the subject has been the cause of this evolution.
The late Columbia University English and comparative literature professor Edward Said was the undisputed godfather of the day, with countless references to his theories on post-colonialism and Orientalism. Like Said, several speakers rejected what they saw as Western condescension and hostility towards the Muslim world. Yet it was they who seemed mired in antagonism.
Discussion about the plight of women in the Muslim world was marred by anti-Western sentiment. Professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of California, Berkeley, Minoo Moallem, dismissed such concerns as being part of an “imperialist narrative.”
University of Washington anthropology and law professor Arzoo Osanloo picked up on this theme by decrying “Western, paternalistic attitudes towards Muslim women.” Osanloo was concerned that “Islamic liberalism” would be “obscured by Western involvement,” particularly in Iran.
Osanloo tried to focus on “Islamic feminism,” but her insistence that women had made great strides in post-Islamic revolution Iran through the use of Sharia law was a stretch. It didn’t help that she omitted any reference to the Iranian regimes’ current crackdown, including brutal beatings, on unveiled women and their arrest and detention of Haleh Esfandiari, the Iranian-American director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.
Osanloo’s stated desire to “move beyond the binarism of East vs. West” was belied by an attitude of stubborn opposition to everything Western. There was no acknowledgement by any of the women present that Western culture has given them lives that would be the envy of their counterparts in the Middle East.
Similarly, the willful blindness of a group of scholars and students denouncing the West from their positions of power and privilege in the favored surroundings of Stanford University came across as utterly hypocritical.
Hamid Dabashi and Minoo Moallem’s reliance on academic jargon added to the esoteric nature of the proceedings. Schooled on a philosophical foundation of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucoult, and the obsession with semantics over objective reality found therein, both speakers were largely incomprehensible.
Expressions such as “diasphoric cultural mediators,” “amphibian intellectuals,” “contextualization,” “performance of the self as its own other,” the “inability to handle the otherness of the other,” “Eurocentric partriarchy,” “imperialist masculinist,” “gendered Orientalism,” and the obscure statement, “regions are not facts but artifacts,” provide just a sampling.
It was excruciatingly boring at times, and the fact that they read straight from their own work only made it worse. The young man nodding off in his chair during Moallem’s talk was an indication that the audience may not have been entirely engaged.
Thankfully, the other speakers spoke in plain English and Yalman even stated at one point that he was “uneasy with the abstract nature of the conversation.”
Indeed, those concerned with the negative influence such academics may be having on future generations should be comforted by the very real possibility that their students rarely understand a word they’re saying.
Cinnamon Stillwell is Northern California Representative for Campus Watch. She can be reached at email@example.com.
By James Lewis
Unlike a football game, progress in the Arab-Israeli conflict comes in inches, not yards. But in the midst of all the pessimism there is genuine movement on the Gordian Knot of the entire seven decades of struggle: The Arab refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Because that knot is now slightly unraveling under the pressure of the Iranian threat to Sunni Arab nations (which is all Arab nations minus half of Iraq).
With a looming nuclear Iran fifty miles away, the Saudis cannot afford war with Israel. Tehran has already stirred up riots during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and Saudi legitimacy rests on protecting the holy places.
Specifically, the Arab League, led by the Saudis and Jordanians, has now publicly offered to recognize Israel. That offer comes with conditions that make it unworkable on the surface, although it may provide a basis for further negotiation. But the big breakthrough is implicit, as usual in the complex maneuvering characteristic of that part of the world. When the United States recognized Communist China after many years of passionate refusals, all the preliminary negotiations were conducted in secret between Henry Kissinger and Chinese Foreign Minister Chou En-lai. Nixon’s public trip to China just put the official stamp on well-established secret understandings. There are now many reports of secret conversations between Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel.
Remember that Anwar Sadat was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood after Egypt openly recognized Israel. No other Arab nation dared to follow Sadat’s example. Twenty years later, Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak that he, Arafat, would be assassinated if he agreed with the generous Israeli peace proposal that would have established a Palestinian state. So the peace agreement never occurred. Offering recognition of Israel involves a great personal risk for all the Arab leaders involved. The terrorists are always out there, ready to kill any peace makers.
But the Arabs do not want a nuclear Iran trying to control the holy places of Mecca and Medina, with the ultimate possibility of radioactive fallout drifting across the Persian Gulf. For the Sunnis, Ahmadinejad represents a deviant strain of Islamic heresy, which cannot be allowed to control the two holiest cities of pilgrimage. Saudi preachers make worse denunciations about the Shi’a than they do about the infidels.
The implicit message in the Arab League proposal comes in the very use of the word “Israel” and in the public goal of diplomatic recognition. Tehran and its puppets, Hezb’allah and Hamas, won’t even use the name “Israel” — it’s still the “Zionist entity” for them. In international diplomacy, using a nation’s name is to recognize it implicitly. And the open goal of the Arab proposal is public recognition. You can’t do that unless you are implicitly granting Israel’s right to exist in peace, and you can’t do that unless you are willing to terminate the de facto state of war that has existed since 1948. So this proposal breaks the logjam in public, even while posing unworkable preconditions. Inch by inch.
Israel has publicly rejected the Arab League proposal. But that’s only the cover story. Prime Minister Olmert has also praised the “great wisdom” of Saudi King Abdallah, without giving any details. News leaks of phone conversations between the sides are common.
So — it’s agonizingly slow, but progress. Underneath, there is very likely to be selective intelligence sharing on Iran and the common terrorist threat from Hezb’allah and Al Qaeda. There may be talks about giving Israel overflight permission in any attack on Iranian nuclear facilities — on condition that it be successful. When Israel knocked out Saddam’s nuclear reactor in 1981, the French, who had built the reactor, secretly provided blueprints and work schedules to the Israeli Air Force. When the strike occurred, it had pinpoint accuracy and French technicians were sleeping at home and in no danger. (Surprise!).
Some of that is probably going on right now among the players who do not want an Iranian nuke — which is all of them. Nobody but nobody wants a psychotic regime armed with nukes next door.
So there are grounds for cautious hope. This is a dangerous time. But Arabs have lived with Israel’s nuclear program for decades, and they don’t feel threatened by it. Like America’s nuke program, it is carefully designed never to be used except in extremis. Don’t attack Israel, and Israel will never use its nukes.
That kind of rationality does not apply to Tehran, with its Armageddon martyr complex
If Iran were fifty miles from our shores, even the Denial Demagogues would have to get worried. Ironically, the new threat from Iran has made the Arab world more prepared for peace than ever before.
James Lewis blogs at http://www.dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/.
U.S. Officialdom vs. Middle East Reality
By P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | April 23, 2007
“U.S. State Department hails
Israel’s geopolitical transformation,” says a recent headline on WorldTribune.com. The article says that “The United States regards the endorsement by
Israel’s major right-wing parties of a unilateral Palestinian state as extremely positive. An outgoing senior Bush administration official said the decision by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank in 2005 marked the end of the nationalist ideology of the ruling Likud Party.”
The outgoing official—Peter Rodman, assistant defense secretary responsible for Pentagon international security affairs from 2001 until February 2007, now with the Brookings Institutions—added that: “This is an extraordinarily positive evolution in Israeli politics.”
But he lamented: “And the Palestinians elect a Hamas government that wants to go back to the 1946 borders or God knows what their position. This is insane and suicidal, literally and figuratively for the Palestinians. This is their choice. Right now, the diplomacy is frustrated because of who is the interlocutor.”
Rodman appears never to have suspected a causal link between Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank in summer 2005—not to mention the previous twelve years of capitulation to and empowerment of Palestinian terror movements—and the election in January 2006 of Hamas, whose main rallying cry was precisely its success in using violence to drive Israel into retreat. Rodman also sees Hamas’s popularity among the Palestinians as a form of baffling insanity instead of connecting it to the obvious growing popularity of jihadism, Islamism, and anti-Israeli hatred and violence in the
Middle East at large.
The article, however, cites another “
U.S. official” as affirming that: “Rodman’s assessment reflected that of most career officers in both the Pentagon and State Department. The official said that during the Bush administration, senior officials urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President George Bush to support
Sharon’s plan for a unilateral withdrawal. . . .”
The official is quoted directly as saying that: “The overriding U.S. assessment continues to be that any Israeli withdrawal is a positive development and bolsters
U.S. influence in the Arab world.”
Returning to Rodman, the article cites him as saying that: “the Bush administration has sought to strengthen Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to convince Palestinians to recognize
Israel. . . . He said the United States was ready to pressure
Israel to accept any compromise with the Palestinians.”
One wonders if these officials ever bother with a casual reading of the Israeli press to check if these venerable orthodoxies are holding water. Just this weekend, for instance, they could have read “Senior IDF officer confirms Iran training militants in
Gaza” and found out that:
Southern Command Major General Yoav Galant has confirmed that Iranian terror and guerrilla experts are in the Gaza Strip training Palestinian terror organizations. Galant says the Iranians are the source of most of the know-how coming to the West Bank, Lebanon and
Iraq on the use of land mines, explosives and anti-tank missiles.
…Galant said terrorists move freely between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and from there to Syria, Lebanon and
Iran for training. “Iranians also come to
Gaza to inspect the situation and hold training exercises,” he said.
Galant contends that the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the military wing of [Mahmoud Abbas’s] Fatah, has already become an Iranian organization.….
Galant said he believes a large number of Iranian terror experts are operating in the Gaza Strip, receiving know-how, money and equipment from abroad, mainly from Iran, to carry out attacks on
Galant said Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees are investing major efforts in sending suicide bombers into
Israel. Hamas is not active right now, “but is ready to attack at a moment’s notice.”
He said Hamas smuggled 30 tons of explosives from Sinai to the Gaza Strip last year for use against
Since we know that “any Israeli withdrawal is a positive development and bolsters U.S. influence in the Arab world,” apparently there is nothing here for
U.S. officials to be perturbed about. So probably they also would not be much interested in “Gaza a ‘no-go’ zone for journalists since BBC reporter’s kidnapping,” which reports that: “The foreign press corps has abandoned the Gaza Strip in the five weeks since the kidnapping of BBC reporter Alan Johnston” and that “some of the smaller groups [in Gaza] with suspected ties to al-Qaida, are trying to emulate the kidnapping of foreigners in Baghdad.”
Masked gunmen on Saturday morning blew up large parts of the American
School in the Gaza Strip after stealing equipment and furniture….
No group claimed responsibility for the predawn attack on the school, but Palestinian Authority security sources said they did not rule out … that it was carried out by a local al-Qaida-linked group….
“This [said the sources] is the only international school in the Gaza Strip and it’s one of the most important academic institutions.”
Last year, unidentified gunmen kidnapped two staff members, one Dutch and the other Australian. The two were later released unharmed. Since then all the teachers have left, leaving the school under exclusive Palestinian control.
No one was injured in the attack, but heavy damage was caused to the building…. The attackers overpowered a number of guards before detonating a series of explosive charges inside the school….
A Fatah spokesman in the
West Bank said the attack was in the context of attempts by “forces of darkness” to turn the Gaza Strip into a Taliban-style country. He added that those behind the attack were also responsible for bombing Internet cafes, theaters and music shops and for assaults on young women in the Gaza Strip.
But, after all, the Likud Party is making progress in abandoning its nationalism, so why worry about details like “Terrorists Launch Seven Rockets at Sderot, Negev”:
Palestinian Authority terrorists in Gaza fired seven rockets into the Negev Saturday evening and Sunday, injuring several people and damaging a home in Sderot. Six members of a family were treated by emergency services for shock after one of the first rockets slammed into their home, causing extensive damage….
In a joint statement, the Islamic Jihad, the Hamas-controlled Popular Committees and Fatah’s Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the Saturday rocket attacks…. They declared that the barrage was retaliation for an Israeli counter-terrorism operation in Jenin earlier Saturday, in which three PA terrorists were killed—two of Fatah and one of Islamic Jihad.
And “Hamas seeks control of security in
West Bank” informs us that the beneficent trend is spreading:
Having failed to establish a military force in the
West Bank parallel to the one it has in the Gaza Strip, Hamas is instead working to infiltrate its operatives into the official [PA] security branches, a high-ranking officer in the IDF Central Command warned on Thursday….
“If this continues they will eventually take over the security forces,” warned a senior Israeli defense official….
The officer … said Hamas was involved in terrorism “at all of its levels” and that its infiltration of a car bomb into Tel Aviv on [Passover] night with the intention of carrying out an attack was supported by Damascus-based Hamas Khaled Mashaal as well as its local West Bank and
Gaza terror chiefs.
The officer said that after the car-bomb attack attempt, the IDF rebuilt roadblocks that it had removed in the Kalkilya area as part of a gesture by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in December.
These are, to repeat, gleanings from a single weekend. They relate to Gaza and the West Bank from which
Israel has withdrawn fully and partially, respectively. Perhaps officials like those mentioned in the World Tribune article can explain why it should automatically be U.S. policy to push for and applaud Israeli land concessions even when these lead to the further political, military, and ideological empowerment of actors like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al-Qaida, Fatah, and Iran, to marked destabilization through increased terrorism and combat, to intensified anti-Israeli and anti-American hatred throughout the Arab/Muslim world as images of the violence are beamed far and wide, and to the descent of Palestinian society into poverty, chaos, and Islamism.
Perhaps these officials can also explain how the other major recent Israeli withdrawal—from southern Lebanon in 2000—was a “positive development” and how the boost in Hezbollah’s popularity and power, and the current crisis in Lebanon that largely stems from that boost, serve U.S. interests.
And perhaps they can disclose the calculus of how many Israeli lives are worth sacrificing to “gestures” to Abbas.
Orthodoxies are hard to question even when they fly so blatantly in the face of facts. Notions like the “road map” and the “two-state solution” are recipes for further aggravating the situation graphically evident in this weekend’s Israeli press; they presume an Arab-Muslim moderacy toward
Israel that does not exist to any significant degree. It makes no sense for the United States to keep fighting the jihadists in other places and keep working, in effect, to strengthen them against the
Middle East’s one solidly democratic, pro-Western outpost—while always encouraging trends of appeasement in the outpost itself.
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