Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Juan Cole & Ken Livingstone on justifications for terrorism

This is a postscript to my recent criticism of Juan Cole for some unwise remarks he made concerning the alleged root causes of terrorism. To avoid any possible misunderstanding, I feel honor-bound to make it as clear as possible that Cole has never supported, condoned, or justified the terrorist murder of civilians, including Israeli civilians. One may quarrel with him on other matters, but not on this one.

What I said in my open message to Cole regarding "bad excuses for terrorism" was:
I am sure you didn't intend this argument... to be read as a simplistic "explanation" and apologia for the long-term strategy of indiscriminate terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, which I know you do not endorse. But I'm afraid that it comes across this way. So you may want to refine or reconsider this "analysis".
In case anyone thought my first sentence quoted here was ironic, it was not. It seemed clear to me that Juan Cole did NOT intend to endorse or excuse a strategy of terrorist attacks on civilians. (Some people who enthusiastically cite his blog do in fact make excuses for terrorist murders of civilians, or at least Israeli civilians, but Cole is not responsible for that.) Cole is worth arguing with on such matters, in my opinion, precisely because his views are worth taking seriously (even on matters where I happen to think his views are often problematic, unreliable, or incorrect).

=> By way of illustration and contrast, I reproduce an item from September 2004 which has once again become timely, since it concerns someone who DOES consistently condone, excuse, and/or whitewash terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians--the allegedly "progressive" mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

--Jeff Weintraub

==============================
Juan Cole & Ken Livingstone on justifications for terrorism – The case of Yusuf al-Qaradawi
Tuesday, September 7, 2004

In July 2004, the Islamic cleric and jurist Yusuf al-Qaradawi (born in Egypt, currently living in Qatar) visited London at the invitation of the Muslim Association of Britain and the "left-wing" mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. Livingstone praised Qaradawi as a man "who preaches moderation and tolerance", and dismissed critics of Qaradawi by noting that "Those who raise uncomfortable truths are denounced by those who would rather not consider them."

Livingstone's formulation seems a little odd, given the kinds of "uncomfortable truths" preached by Qaradawi, some of which were summed up in a recent New Statesman article by Nick Cohen (the full article is below).
In July, Yusuf al-Qaradawi arrives in London to meet the leaders of the Muslim Association of Britain - co-organisers of the great anti-war demonstration of February 2003 - and Ken Livingstone, the "left-wing" mayor of London. Al-Qaradawi's Islam Online website is available for the world to read. It supports the murder of Israeli civilians and declares that "on the hour of judgement, Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them". Homosexuals, the website continues, are depraved and abominable and should be put to death to cleanse Islamic society of its "perverted elements". As for women, they must be kept in their place. Wives are forbidden to rebel against their husbands' authority. A husband may beat his wife "lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive parts". Rape victims must carry a portion of the guilt if they dress "immodestly".

The liberal media treat al-Qaradawi's views with tact and circumspection. BBC News Online barely mentions them, and instead describes al-Qaradawi as an "articulate preacher and a good communicator". If Livingstone has qualms about al-Qaradawi's endorsement of murder, racism, homophobia and misogyny, they don't show. He sends the limousine anyway.
Of course, the name "Cohen" may make some people suspicious since, as Qaradawi has helpfully pointed out, "The iniquity of the Jews, as a community, is obvious and apparent." Actually, Cohen doesn't consider himself Jewish, despite that name, but it's well known that we're sneaky, too.

So in case anyone remains in doubt about whether all this accurately describes the character of Qaradawi's teachings, it is also worth considering the following critique of Qaradawi by the scholar of Islam Juan Cole, whom no one could conceivably accuse of being Islamophobic, Bushite, neo-conservative, Zionist, or Jewish.

Cheers,
Jeff Weintraub

=============================
Juan Cole ("Informed Comment")
September 1, 2004
Qaradawi Calls for Attacks on Americans in Iraq

Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an old time Muslim Brotherhood cleric resident in Qatar, has called for Muslims to "fight" Americans in Iraq, whether troops or civilians, because they are occupiers. Al-Jazeerah.net says,

"All of them (US military personnel and civilians) are invaders who came from their country to invade our country and fighting them [in Iraq] is a duty," said his office director Essam Talima on Thursday, quoting a fatwa or ruling on religious law by al-Qaradawi.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that he actually called for civilians to be kidnapped, as a way of pressuring the Bush administration to get back out of Iraq.

As for the question of the presence of US troops, there either will be an elected Iraq parliament by February 1, or there won't. If there is, it will have the authority to ask US troops to leave if it so desires, and that should be the decision of the Iraqi population as a whole (it is currently divided on this matter), not of al-Qaradawi. If there isn't, I expect a popular movement led by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to force elections and an early departure of the US. Either way, Iraqis should decide this matter, preferably at the ballot box or through demonstrations, not by killing people.

As for al-Qaradawi's call for American civilians in Iraq to be attacked, it is absolutely despicable. It is also contrary to classical Islamic law, as the Abdul Mu'ti al-Bayyumi of the al-Azhar Seminary noted only a few days ago.

I heard al-Bayyumi on al-Jazeerah speaking eloquently about the Islamic duty to avoid harming civilians. He said the same thing to al-Sharaq al-Awsat: "Civilians who do not fight and do not take part in the fighting may not be killed or kidnapped. They must be treated well. If he does participate in the fighting against Muslims, in any way, it is permitted to treat him as a combatant."

Another figure at al-Azhar, Shaikh Abdul Subur Shahin, supported Qaradawi on this issue.

Al-Qaradawi seems to hold that occupying Muslim land is a casus belli that authorizes Muslim vigilante action against the occupying troops. Here, he is unilaterally drafting the civilians into this war. He condemned the September 11 attacks, apparently because he did not accept al-Qaeda's argument that the US was occupying Muslim lands. But the logic of Muhammad Atta and Ziad Jarrah was the same as al-Qaradawi's with only the difference that they had a different premise--that informal hegemony is equivalent to occupation.

Al-Qaradawi was let into the UK to speak to various audiences this summer. I hope the UK government knows that the implications of his ruling are to urge Iraqis to attack British civilians and troops, as well. His visit there is controversial, but he is defended by many Muslim organizations:
'The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella organisation representing some 400 different bodies, condemned media attacks on al-Qaradawi, describing him as "a voice of reason, understanding and wisdom".'
There is something very wrong with the Muslim Council of Britain if it thinks this. And its members should reflect that al-Qaradawi is contributing to negative stereotypes about Muslims by calling for violence against civilians.

A lot of people nowadays give the early Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which formed al-Qaradawi, a pass. But they forget the vigilante attacks on Egyptian judges, the assassination of a prime minister, and the attacks on Egyptian Jews, by the Secret Apparatus of the party in the 1940s. The MB in Egypt nowadays has evolved more toward the mainstream, though there are extremists at the fringes. Al-Qaradawi came out of the old Muslim Brotherhood before it turned toward parliamentary politics, and still worships the false idol of terror.
=======================
The New Statesman
Monday, August 16, 2004
Where have all the children of the left gone?
Nick Cohen

Those who used to burn with anger against oppression and were united in fraternity with the vulnerable are today all too happy to whitewash Saddam's regime and applaud Michael Moore's films. By Nick Cohen

Three mementoes of a steamy summer which prove, if proof were needed, that the principled left was a 19th- and 20th-century phenomenon.

1) The hit of the season is Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, a sort of Fox News for liberals. Among the many clunking contradictions and honking errors, one unforgivable scene stands out. Moore brushes aside the millions forced into exile and mass graves by Saddam Hussein, and decides to present life in one of the worst tyrannies of the late 20th century as sweet and simple. Boys scamper to barber shops. Merry children fly kites. Blushing lovers get married.

At the end of the film, leftish audiences in America and Europe show they are more than prepared to forgive and forget. They rise to their feet and applaud.

2) In July, Yusuf al-Qaradawi arrives in London to meet the leaders of the Muslim Association of Britain - co-organisers of the great anti-war demonstration of February 2003 - and Ken Livingstone, the "left-wing" mayor of London. Al-Qaradawi's Islam Online website is available for the world to read. It supports the murder of Israeli civilians and declares that "on the hour of judgement, Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them". Homosexuals, the website continues, are depraved and abominable and should be put to death to cleanse Islamic society of its "perverted elements". As for women, they must be kept in their place. Wives are forbidden to rebel against their husbands' authority. A husband may beat his wife "lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive parts". Rape victims must carry a portion of the guilt if they dress "immodestly".

The liberal media treat al-Qaradawi's views with tact and circumspection. BBC News Online barely mentions them, and instead describes al-Qaradawi as an "articulate preacher and a good communicator". If Livingstone has qualms about al-Qaradawi's endorsement of murder, racism, homophobia and misogyny, they don't show. He sends the limousine anyway.

When they meet, the mayor embraces the priest as a fellow dissident. "Those who raise uncomfortable truths are denounced by those who would rather not consider them," he says.

3) As so often before, you find more of what you need to know in the alternative than in the mainstream media. In August, [http://www.crookedtimber.org] a part of the explosion of political journalism on the internet, investigates John Laughland. He is a regular at the Spectator, and in the course of his work has defended nearly every repressive state on the planet from Belarus to Zimbabwe. As might be expected, he has found that Jean-Marie Le Pen isn't so bad. "Le Pen's views on immigration are the same as Norman Tebbit's," he told readers of the Spectator, "while his views on urban blight, social collapse and the decline of traditional values can be found every week in the columns of the Daily Mail . . ." In May 2002, the Guardian cited the piece as proof that "when they're down . . . they [the Tories] can always go lower".

The ding-dong isn't surprising. The Conservative press, like the Conservative Party, has to accommodate views from the centre through to the far right. The liberal media have always enjoyed rubbishing their Conservative enemies and vice versa. Laughland has every right to express his opinions. Tory editors have every right to publish them. Liberals have every right to denounce them.

As Crooked Timber points out, Laughland's subsequent appearances in the Guardian are more novel. But then editors, including the editors of this magazine, like pungent comment pieces and hope they will stir an angry reaction from the readers.

What is telling is that, with the odd exception, Laughland's defences of Robert Mugabe and Slobodan Milosevic and his condemnation of Tony Blair's concern for the people of Darfur as a sick cover for the Prime Minister's true desire to launch a colonial war for Sudanese oil don't provoke an angry reaction.

The obvious conclusion to draw at the moment is that we are living in a rerun of the 1930s, and the liberal left is once again sucking up to tyranny. It is easy to think that way. Look at how the democratic left in Britain proved its futility and played into Tony Blair's hands when it allowed the Marxist-Leninist Socialist Workers Party to lead the anti-war movement. Look at the Independent, which has abandoned its founding principle of separating news from comment, so its front pages can imitate the manners of the Mail and scream at readers that the troubles of the world are the fault of democratic governments.

Yet the idea that history is repeating itself fails to take account of the weirdness of the times. If the fact that the anti-war movement was as much under the control of the religious fundamentalists of the Muslim Association of Britain as the political totalitarians of the SWP doesn't convince you, look again at the three examples I gave. They are all symptoms of a left that has swerved to the right. Saddam Hussein may have slavishly followed Stalin's methods of dealing with his opponents, but his Ba'ath Party was inspired by Nazi Germany and its programme of exterminating impure ethnic minorities was recognisably fascist. If al-Qaradawi had been a white French or German politician, Livingstone and his kind would have denounced him as a neo-fascist and picketed his hotel. Laughland is scarcely a Nazi. He is what he says he is, a Tory on the Tebbit wing - which flaps on the far right of the party. His foreign policy suggestions are none the less accepted by liberals without protest.

I could go on - the rehabilitation in liberal circles of Douglas Hurd, the Pontius Pilate of the Balkans and Slobo's former business partner, is worth a study of its own. But the point I want to make is that nothing like this has happened before.

Historians may see the similarities between the slave empires of Nazi Germany, communist Russia, and Maoist China as more important than the differences, but the differences meant an enormous amount to millions of people at the time. However selective their condemnations and hypocritical their double standards, they knew they were against the far right in its political or clerical guise. (Or, in the case of the Catholic fascisms of France and Spain, its political and its clerical guise.) The solidity of the conviction imposed constraints - however critical the old left was of capitalist democracies, there were alternatives to democracy that it would never tolerate. The constraints also brought honour because they instilled the ideal of fraternity. The victims of far-right regimes were guaranteed support through the international backing from the democratic and the totalitarian left.

Ask an Iraqi communist or Kurdish socialist today what support they have had from the liberal left and they won't detain you for long. Apart from the odd call from the Socialist International, there has been none worthy of the name. One expects the totalitarian left to be stuffed with creeps, but the collapse of the democratic left strikes me as catastrophic. Why couldn't it oppose the second Gulf war while promising to do everything possible to advance the cause of Iraqi democrats and socialists once the war was over? Why the sneering, almost racist pretence that Saddam had no honourable opponents?

The ineluctable answer is, I'm afraid, that there no longer is a left with a coherent message of hope for the human race. The audiences at Michael Moore films don't look at his propaganda images of kite-flying kiddies and pull themselves up short by thinking of what happened to their comrades in Iraq. They have no comrades. They don't support Saddam. They don't support his foes. They have no policy to offer. The noise of their self-righteous anger is merely a cover for an indifference bred by failure.

Marxist-Leninism is as dead as any idea can be - it made the fatal blunder of putting its ideas into practice and died of shame. Fifty years ago, there were revolutionary socialist movements in dozens of countries ready to take power. Today there isn't one, and the world is a better place for that. The nobler traditions of the social-democratic left are also under enormous strain. It seems that Tony Blair or Gordon Brown is about as good as it can get in Britain. Europe has leaders who appear more left-wing on paper, but to date they have failed to pull the Continent away from stagnation.

Unless you believe that the failure of the world's peoples to look leftwards is all the result of brainwashing by the corporate media, you have to conclude that the left is dead. The anger that propelled it is still there, and although it won many battles, some of the oppressions it fought against remain as grievous as ever.

The pity of the aftermath is that while the honourable traditions of the left are forgotten, the worst flourish and mutate into aberrations that would have made our predecessors choke.

This article first appeared in the New Statesman. For the latest in current and cultural affairs subscribe to the New Statesman print edition.

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