Thursday, September 30, 2004

Julie Flint - Darfur & the Insecurity Council (Beirut Daily Star)

To repeat Michael Walzer's lapidary formulation (

It is a good idea to strengthen the UN and to take whatever steps are possible to establish a global rule of law. It is a very bad idea to pretend that a strong UN and a global rule of law already exist.

Jeff Weintraub

Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
September 28, 2004

On Darfur, behold the Insecurity Council

By Julie Flint
Special to The Daily Star

Julie Flint researched and co-authored a recent Human Rights Watch report on Darfur, "Darfur Destroyed." She wrote this commentary for The Daily Star.

The UN Security Council this week begins a third round of deliberations on Darfur, where as many as 10,000 people are now dying every month. The council is unlikely to do more than it has in the 10 months since a UN official first called the calculated slaughter by the government of Sudan "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world." It will "urge ... reiterate ... demand," but do nothing that will force a change of behavior on Khartoum. Thus will it ensure once again that it fails to live up to its "primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security," as set out in Article 1 of the UN Charter.

The Insecurity Council - let's call a spade a spade here - is an unrepresentative, undemocratic, unmonitored forum that has failed twice in the last decade to do anything whatsoever to respond to mass murder: first in Rwanda, in 1994, and now in Darfur. What it does - or, more to the point, doesn't do - is determined by five nations who have a right of veto simply because they were on the winning side of a war that took place more than half-a-century ago, in a very different world.

The five permanent members of the Security Council are today the largest arms traders in the world, investing billions of dollars in the research, development and manufacture of lethal weapons. Because of their veto power, they determine the final shape of decisions with which all UN member states are obliged to comply. But they are wholly unrepresentative of the present membership of the UN - especially the countries of the southern hemisphere - and such critical regions as Africa, Latin America and the Arab and Islamic worlds are all excluded from their charmed circle.

The reports of the African Union's hopelessly overstretched, under-resourced monitoring force in Darfur should leave no doubt about the veracity, or lack thereof, of Khartoum's insistence that the bloodshed in Darfur is merely a local difficulty, regrettable trouble among tribes. Despite the AU's best efforts, its mission chief, Colonel Anthony Amedoh of Ghana, lamented in an interview with The Scotsman newspaper this month that "everything is falling apart." He remarked: "There are so many clear violations by the Sudanese government. They're using aircraft where they're not supposed to and they're moving their forces all the time. They are not complying at all, but we can't stop them from violating the cease-fire, we can just report it. They just deny it and don't stop what they are doing."

But just as America prevented any action against its ally Israel during the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, so China, Khartoum's largest arms supplier and all-important partner in oil exploration and exploitation, will ensure that no action is taken to halt the government-sponsored death and destruction in Darfur.

The Security Council passed its first, derisory resolution on Darfur on July 30 - 16 months after the crisis erupted. It set a 30-day deadline for the regime to act on disarming and bringing to justice the so-called Janjaweed, its proxy militia in Darfur, but failed to threaten Khartoum with any specific sanctions in the event of noncompliance. A second resolution on Sept. 18 threatened "additional measures" - an oil embargo or sanctions against individual members of the regime - if Khartoum persisted in ignoring the UN's demands. Oil embargo? Fat chance. China will veto. The ink wasn't dry on the September resolution before Beijing made that very clear. It said it would reject any resolution that sought to impose sanctions on Khartoum. Hands will be wrung, but nothing will be done. The killing in Darfur will continue.

Security Council reform has been on the UN's agenda for more than a decade, and has been stuck in the mud for almost as long - not least because those who most benefit from the status quo are also those who must approve the council's transformation. A 16-member group - the so-called High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change - has a Dec. 1 deadline to present to Secretary General Kofi Annan recommendations on how the UN can transform itself into an organization for the 21st century. The group is said to favor expanding the council from two tiers of 15 members to three tiers of 24 members. But composition is only part of the problem - some believe the lesser part.

The Security Council decides UN policy in secret session. It is wholly unaccountable. It debates behind closed doors and its deliberations remain behind closed doors. In her book, "Conspiracy to Murder," a detailed account of the planning and execution of the Rwandan genocide, British journalist Linda Melvern revealed that in the first three weeks of the genocide, when 10,000 people on average were being killed every day, the council did not discuss at any length this slaughter of civilians. The United States and Britain rejected suggestions that the UN's small and wholly inadequate peacekeeping force in Rwanda should be reinforced. Their reason? "Economy."

"It is only by reporting the decision-making within the council - holding the governments to account for their decisions - that there can ever be any meaningful reform," Melvern says. "What happened over Rwanda is one of the greatest scandals of our age. To blame the UN Security Council is a tactic for avoiding scrutiny. The founders of the UN intended that each country justify its own policy in public session. This is not the way it works anymore."

In April 1994, the then president of the Security Council, New Zealand Ambassador Colin Keating, suggested that council meetings be videotaped and a copy of the video given to each member government to show how "UN policy" was decided by the few. Many of us have suggested that the Sudanese officials responsible for the government's militia policy be named and shamed, and subjected to targeted sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans.

But it's surely also time to name and shame those in the Security Council whose actions make the body that is responsible for the maintenance of global well-being unworthy of its name.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Cat Stevens & Salman Rushdie (Juan Cole + Steven Schwartz)

Juan Cole ("Informed Comment")
September 23, 2004
Cat Stevens Deported

I know that it is faintly ridiculous that Cat Stevens a.k.a. Yusuf Islam was deported on Wednesday from the US after the airplane he was on was diverted to Maine, on the grounds that he is a dire security threat to the country. David Letterman in his monologue allowed darkly as how the Feds were no doubt gunning for Gordon Lightfoot next. He also wickedly observed that despite Osama Bin Laden being at large, what with Cat Stevens deported and Martha Stewart in jail, he felt a lot safer.

But I have a hard time rushing to Yusuf Islam's defense because I never forgave him for advocating the execution of Salman Rushdie in 1989. He endorsed Khomeini's "fatwa" or death edict against Rushdie for the novel, Satanic Verses. He later explained this position away by saying that he did not endorse vigilante action against Rushdie, but would rather want the verdict to be carried out by a proper court. These are weasel words, since he was saying that if Khomeini had been able to field some Revolutionary Guards in London to kidnap Rushdie and take him to Tehran, it would have been just dandy if he were then taken out and shot for having written his novel. In my view, that entire episode of the Khomeini fatwa showed how sick some forms of Muslim activism had become, and served as a foretaste of al-Qaeda's own death warrant served on a lot of other innocent people.

And, the disavowal wasn't even consistent. AP reported on March 8, 1989, that "Cat Stevens Endorses Rushdie Death Sentence Again," writing:
Former pop singer Cat Stevens reiterated his support for the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death sentence against Salman Rushdie, saying the author's treatment of Islam was "as good as stabbing Moslems in the heart." . . . "It's got to be seen as a deterrent, so that other people should not commit the same mistake again," Stevens said in an interview with the television show "World Monitor," produced by The Christian Science Monitor . . Stevens, who said the novel's treatment of Islam was "as good as stabbing Moslems in the heart," suggested that Rushdie should repent writing the book. "If he manages to escape (the death sentence) he still has to face God on the day of judgment," he said. "So I would recommend to him to sincerely change his ways right now."
At the time, Rushdie's life was in imminent danger, and Cat Stevens was skating pretty close to inciting to murder. (What else is the "deterrent" he is talking about?)

So, to steal from Bill Maher:

NEW RULES: If you advocate the execution of novelists for writing novels, you and John Ashcroft deserve one another.

posted by Juan @ 9/23/2004 06:01:30 AM

Weekly Standard
September 22, 2004 5:43:00 PM
Is Cat Stevens a Terrorist?
Why Yusuf Islam was turned away from the United States.
by Stephen Schwartz

On Tuesday, U.S. authorities diverted a United Airlines London-Washington flight to Bangor, Maine, where the ex-pop singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, now as Yusuf Islam, was questioned by federal security agents, and then ordered deported back to Britain. Yusuf Islam, it turns out, is on the official "no-fly list."

This action will doubtless provoke loud and prolonged guffaws from those who consider American security policies to be excessive. But a look at the career and associations of Yusuf Islam since he became a Muslim in 1977 shows that the decision was correct.

Yusuf Islam is already well known for his public endorsement of the death sentence issued by Ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie in February 1989. "Salman Rushdie, indeed any writer who abuses the prophet or indeed any prophet under Islamic law, the sentence for that is actually death," he said at the time. In addition, he has been barred from entering Israel because of alleged financial aid given to terrorist groups.

Is the singer a terrorist himself? Probably not. Is he an active sympathizer of terrorist groups? Perhaps not as much as he was in the past.

But Yusuf Islam is most certainly a fundamentalist Muslim, whose views are radical enough to set him at odds with the great majority of the world's Islamic adherents, and they are no better expressed than in his comments on his own field of expression: music.

Wahhabism, the state religion in Saudi Arabia, and the inspirer of al Qaeda, is especially known for its hatred of music. In Wahhabi theology, all music except for drum accompaniment to religious chanting is haram, or forbidden. For anybody who has had contact with Muslim civilization, this is a fairly shocking bit of information, since music is one of the great glories of Islamic culture.

Yusuf Islam has demonstrated his sympathy for this posture on several occasions. Above all, he is careful to point out his caution about bucking the Wahhabis in this realm. In 1997, he released an album titled I Have No Cannons That Roar, dedicated, he said, to the cause of the Bosnian Muslims. In an interview with Stephen Kinzer, appearing in the New York Times on December 8, 1997, he commented on the project, "I've . . . used a very conservative approach. You only hear my own voice, a slight choral accompaniment and drums. Let's say that's the safest option according to certain Islamic schools of thought. I've made minimal use of musical instruments, and in some schools of thought in Islam musical instruments are disapproved of."

This attitude was particularly dissonant given that Bosnian Muslim music is anything but conservative, and Bosnian songs about the recent war used violins, accordions, and numerous other instruments considered haram by radical Islamists. One popular Bosnian soldiers' ballad included a verse declaring devotion to their "old songs," which would be anathema to Wahhabis. But for Yusuf Islam, honoring the Bosnians, who had shed their blood defending their religious identity, was less important than honoring fundamentalism.

The album itself has been advertised in a misleading way by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), part of the "Wahhabi lobby" that imposes Saudi theology on the majority of American Sunni Muslims. The ISNA website falsely describes Yusuf Islam as "the primary composer and lyricist" of the album. Actually, he wrote only two of the songs. Most of the rest were composed by a Bosnian poet, Dzemaludin Latic, who is notably moderate in his views and--full disclosure here--a close friend of mine. When I saw him in Sarajevo a month ago, Dzemo Latic was writing a memorial article for Czeslaw Milosz, something Yusuf Islam would probably never think of doing. And the Bosnian songs on that album employ haram instruments.

Yusuf Islam's own website further reveals his fundamentalist and radical bent. It celebrates his collaboration with a notorious American Islamist, Shaikh Hamza Yusuf [Hanson]. Hamza Yusuf was known before September 11 for his radical preaching. In 1991, Hamza Yusuf "gave a provoking speech about why 'Jihad is the Only Way,'" at an International Islamic Conference held at the University of Southern California by the local unit of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), a front for the al Qaeda-allied Jama'at-i-Islami movement in Pakistan. The same Los Angeles event was addressed by Imam Siraj Wahhaj, an unindicted co-conspirator named in 1995 in a plot to blow up New York City monuments.

At the 21st ICNA Annual Convention, held at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, in 1996, Imam Hamza Yusuf declared, "I am a citizen of this country not by choice but by birth. I reside in this country not by choice but by conviction in attempting to spread the message of Islam in this country. I became Muslim in part because I did not believe in the false gods of this society whether we call them Jesus or democracy or the Bill of Rights or any other element of this society that is held sacrosanct by the ill-informed peoples that make up this charade of a society. . . . [T]here should be no voting or debate . . . [W]e have no room for ayes or nays."

After September 11, Hamza Yusuf adopted moderate camouflage and boasted of meeting with and "advising" President George W. Bush. However, at this year's convention of the Islamic Society of North America, on September 3, 2004, Hamza Yusuf declaimed, "the Republican party is basing an entire political platform, in the most powerful military nation on the earth . . . on the idea that Islamic fanatics are a threat to the security of this country, and this must be condemned. . . . I have never believed in my lifetime that a presidential election had any significance. . . . We must reject what is happening in the current administration in our name. . . . Those neoconservatives . . . that claim that this country was designed by people that wanted Christianity to be the law of the land . . . are telling a grave lie to the people of the United States." Hamza Yusuf followed up these rantings with fantasies of Islamic conquest of the United States and an endorsement of none other than Patrick J. Buchanan as a defender of "indestructible" Islam.

Those who scoff at the idea that the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens could end up on the U.S. government's "no-fly list" only show how unfamiliar they are with his beliefs and most prominent associations and activities over the last two decades.

Stephen Schwartz is the author of The Two Faces of Islam.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Karl Polanyi, Alexis de Tocqueville, & Muqtada al-Sadr

[A message to a neo-conservative friend. --Jeff Weintraub]

I originally sent out the item below in October 2003, but it occurs to me that it is worth revisiting, because it further explains why the Bush people have been blowing it so badly in Iraq. A lot of them talk about the successful democratic reconstruction of West Germany and Japan after World War II, but it is clear that most of them have no sense at all of how and why those reconstructions actually worked. (And, furthermore, a lot of them are no doubt ideologically incapable of understanding how they worked.) Instead of fostering the social (and socio-economic) foundations of successful democratization, they have at best been ignoring them and in some ways actually undermining them further.

In a society brutalized by despotic rule and fragmented by tribal, religious, and ethnic antagonisms, in which all independent intermediate associations have been pulverized, the collapse of a despotic regime always carries the risk of disorder, massive dislocation, physical and psychological insecurity, and growing desire for authoritarian solutions (if nothing else works). This is especially true if you have large numbers of unemployed and otherwise dispossessed and economically marginalized men who feel they have no stake in the success of the new order. Given these conditions in post-Saddam Iraq, it's no wonder that Islamic-fundamentalist groups (combining violent thuggery with social-service networks, dispute-resolution mechanisms, and a concrete sense of community) have done well in filling this social vacuum. What is crucial the emergence of alternative (more secular & democratic) forms of intermediate association, collective action, social cooperation, and social solidarity to counterbalance them. (In both West Germany and Japan, it so happens that unions played a crucial role in this respect, and the occupation authorities--even the one headed by MacArthur in Japan--did everything they could to strengthen and encourage them. And as someone knowledgeable about the history of the neo-conservative movement, you are aware of the critical role played by non- and anti-Communist unions in Europe, supported by the AFL-CIO and sometimes indirectly by the CIA, during the early Cold War years.)

It's also crucial to make sure that as many people as possible have steady, paid work (even if the ways of providing this work are not the most economically efficient).

In post-Saddam Iraq, by contrast ... well, you know what the record has been. Outside of the Kurdish areas (which the Kurds are running themselves, under the leadership of two nationalist/social-democratic parties) and also the Mosul area (while David Petraeus was running it), the CPA strategy has systematically fostered increased atomization, insecurity, political incapacity, a vacuum of social services and of (non-religious) social cooperation, continuing massive unemployment, and a reconstruction program centered on large-scale oligopolistic crony capitalism that marginalizes Iraqis. This is not only a question of massive incompetence and failure to plan ahead (though that's a lot of it), but also of a fundamentally misguided, faulty, and ideologically blinkered agenda.

If there is going to be any chance to reverse this debacle, getting rid of the present crew is obviously the first step. But, frankly, I have to admit that sometimes I'm not sure whether the US is really capable (politically, ideologically, institutionally) of conducting democratic "nation-building" now in the ways it was after World War II. I certainly hope I'm being too pessimistic about that!.

Cheers (but not cheery),
Jeff Weintraub

Subject: Juan Cole on land reform, unions, & democratization
Date: Wed, 12 Nov 2003 14:59:17 -0500
From: Jeff Weintraub
To: undisclosed-recipients

By the way, here are some pertinent thoughts from Juan Cole's website. (The last 4 paragraphs merit special attention.)

Jeff Weintraub

From Juan Cole's "Informed Comment"
October 31, 2003

Mitchell: Land Reform Essential for Democracy

Professor Timothy Mitchell, of the New York University Political Science Department, spoke on contemporary Middle East affairs in Ann Arbor on Thursday. Mitchell is among the more original and insightful thinkers about the region. One point he made was that successful democratization, whether in Japan, India or elsewhere, has always been preceded by land reform. And, he pointed out, this sort of measure is completely absent from the American planning for the Iraqi economy. He said that the Baath years had seen enormous inequalities in landed wealth reemerge. We know that Saddam gave property to Sunni Arabs in Kurdish and Shiite regions, and rewarded the clan chieftains who supported him.

I have myself long felt that insufficient land reform is at one root of Pakistan's failures as a democracy. Whereas India's Zamindari Act of 1952 liquidated the big landlords and rajas of the British colonial regime, Pakistan's governments made only baby steps in this direction (under Ayub Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto--though many of Bhutto's measures were reversed by the regime of Gen. Zia al-Haq in the 1980s under the guise of the "Islamization" of Pakistani law). Pakistan's current prime minister is a big landlord from Baluchistan who once called on the army to suppress his peasants, in Zia's time. Big landlords generally don't find it in their interest for their peasants to vote independently, so they use party politics as a way of controlling the peasant farmers and keeping them powerless.

So far the CPA plan for Iraq appears to be to just let businessmen and wealthy landlords run wild, with all the risks of repeating the disastrous errors made in post-Soviet Russia.

Mitchell also wryly pointed out that the main form of American economic activity in Iraq hasn't been market driven at all, but rather has consisted of a few big corporations with pre-arranged contracts feeding safely at the public trough (the $20 bn. Congress just passed for Iraqi reconstruction will largely go to these champions of the free market).

I'd add that it is widely recognized that the trade unions played key roles in Japanese and German reconstruction and prosperity after WW II, whereas Bremer has been dissolving all such associations. It is not clear that the Iraqi workers will even retain the right to organize or strike (this right has largely been denied to US workers over the past 30 years, as judges have permitted corporations to engage in union-busting with impunity).

I'd say that one could forgive the Iraqis if they conclude that the American system in Iraq is a form of state socialism, with Bremer playing the Politburo, giving orders and exercising a veto even though no one elected him to office, and Halliburton and Bechtel playing state-supported industries. Perhaps it looks more like Cuba so far than like capitalist democracy.

posted by Juan Cole at 9:07 AM

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Not an illegal war (Normblog)

(Guest-posted on the weblog of Norman Geras - Normblog)
Not an illegal war
(by Jeff Weintraub)

Many opponents of the Iraq war, recently including Kofi Annan, continue to repeat the mantra that the war was 'illegal', as though this were an obvious and established fact. On the contrary, this claim happens to be clearly incorrect. (Or at least, to put the matter in the most generous and open-minded way I can bring myself to do, this claim is very uncertain and far from self-evident.)

The very thought of explaining all the reasons once again makes me tired. But some - though far from all - of the key arguments are touched on clearly and concisely in a discussion by Matthew Yglesias, who writes for the progressive-Democratic magazine The American Prospect as well as blogging up a storm. Yglesias's credibility in making these arguments is enhanced by his having concluded that the war was a bad idea - on substantive policy grounds, not legalistic ones - and his hostility to the Bush administration. I happen to disagree with him on the first point, but it does suggest that his analysis of the legal issues is not simply an effort to rationalize his substantive position on the war.

His sensible advice to other opponents of the Iraq war (and of George Bush) is that endlessly harping on legalistic objections to the war is not only inaccurate but also politically and morally misdirected. But all this is secondary to the fact that his arguments here about the legality of the war are solid and convincing on their own terms (and carefully formulated, even understated - in fact, I believe that they can be developed more fully and strongly).

Many people have said that their bedrock reason for opposing the Iraq war was that it violated international law - meaning, essentially, that it was not explicitly authorized by the UN Security Council. This is a logically coherent position, though incorrect and in some cases disingenuous. But some of these people also argue (or imply) that the supposedly illegal character of the war was a valid reason for governments to vote against it in the UN Security Council in the first place. That makes no sense. Yglesias ends his discussion by saying:

The nations that refused to vote a second resolution were acting poorly in their capacity as judges - as expositors of international law - but acting well in their capacity as policymakers. Since the UN Security Council is not a court, but a policymaking body, that strikes me as perfectly appropriate. But still, the dispute must be seen for what it was - a policy dispute in which the US, UK, and Spain outlined a bad policy, and other nations outlined a better one - not a legal controversy.
(See also here.) Actually, whatever one thinks of the policy (or policies) put forward by the US, UK and Spain, it is quite wrong to say that the governments who opposed them in the Security Council 'outlined a better one'. They did not. The reality is that they pursued, with individual shadings and variations, a strategy of disingenuous and irresponsible obstructionism, without ever offering a serious and constructive alternative to the US-British position. But leaving this problem to one side, Yglesias is quite right to stress that this was fundamentally 'a policy dispute' and 'not a legal controversy'.

If the governments of France, Russia, China, and Germany had wanted to make the war a legal one by the criterion they often invoked - i.e., authorization by the UN Security Council - then all they had to do was vote in the Security Council to authorize the war. (By refusing to do so, incidentally, they were effectively refusing to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which they had passed unanimously.) Their 'legal' objections to the war were just a red herring. The real disagreements lay elsewhere. (Jeff Weintraub)


Matthew Yglesias (A Reality-Based Weblog
September 20, 2004
Blix at the UN

I've gotten some criticism from the left for my post on the technical legal status of the war, so let me provide some supporting documentation.

Paragraph 4 of Security Council Resolution 1441 states:
Decides that false statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq pursuant to this resolution and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations and will be reported to the Council for assessment in accordance with paragraphs 11 and 12 below;
Paragraph 11 states:
Directs the Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC and the Director-General of the IAEA to report immediately to the Council any interference by Iraq with inspection activities, as well as any failure by Iraq to comply with its disarmament obligations, including its obligations regarding inspections under this resolution;
Hans Blix's report states, among other things:
In my earlier briefings, I have noted that significant outstanding issues of substance were listed in two Security Council documents from early 1999 (S/1999/94 and S/1999/356) and should be well known to Iraq. I referred, as examples, to the issues of anthrax, the nerve agent VX and long-range missiles, and said that such issues "deserve to be taken seriously by Iraq rather than being brushed aside...". The declaration submitted by Iraq on 7 December last year, despite its large volume, missed the opportunity to provide the fresh material and evidence needed to respond to the open questions. This is perhaps the most important problem we are facing. Although I can understand that it may not be easy for Iraq in all cases to provide the evidence needed, it is not the task of the inspectors to find it. Iraq itself must squarely tackle this task and avoid belittling the questions.
Thus, the process outlined in Paragraph 11 reveals that Iraq was in violation of its obligations pursuant to Paragraph 4. Paragraph 13, meanwhile, states:
Recalls, in that context, that the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations.
Now you get into some thorny issues about legislative history and interpretation as to what "serious consequences" means. As I say, the legal basis of the war would have been much clearer had their been a second resolution specifically authorizing such action. Nevertheless, under the circumstances, and in light of SCR 687 and other earlier Iraq resolutions (which, per Paragraph 1 Iraq was in material breach of, thus percipitating SCR 1441) which were adopted as part of a cease-fire agreement to halt an ongoing war, it's not at all implausible to regard this as authorizing the use of force unless SCR 1441 were to be superceded by another Iraq resolution, which it was not.

Some correspondents seem to be putting a lot of weight on the fact that Hans Blix, the man charged with delivering the relevant Paragraph 11 report, opposed the war. But Blix's objections were policy objections. He thought, rightly, that Iraqi breaches of its requirements could be better dealt with through a slight tightening of the screws and a continuation of the inspections process than via war. Nevertheless, that was a policy judgment, not a legal one.

At any rate, one could make out an argument that the war was illegal, but such an argument would need to rest on the construal of "serious consequences" not on the fact that Iraq was in material breach of its obligations. As I said in the previous post, I think that for war critics to focus on these legalistic objections is a serious political mistake because it makes Saddam Hussein out to be the aggrieved party here. The wrongheadedness of the war, however, does not lie in the fact that it unfairly deprived Saddam and the Iraqi Baath Party of power. The nations that refused to vote a second resolution were acting poorly in their capacity as judges -- as expositors of international law -- but acting well in their capacity as policymakers. Since the UN Security Council is not a court, but a policymaking body, that strikes me as perfectly appropriate. But still, the dispute must be seen for what it was -- a policy dispute in which the US, UK, and Spain outlined a bad policy, and other nations outlined a better one -- not a legal controversy.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Juan Cole on the (Iraqi) politics of Fallujah

In terms of the political significance of the fighting in Fallujah, these comments by Juan Cole bring out a crucial point: This battle looks dramatically different to Iraqi Shiites and Kurds (about 80% of the population) than it does to Sunni Arabs (about 20%).

Most Iraqi Shiites are fed up with the Americans (for which it's hard to blame them). But, to the extent that the Sunni "insurgency" is strong, they seem to hate and fear that more. Otherwise, I suspect, the US presence in Iraq would long ago have become untenable.

Many of the Sunni insurgent groups, on the other hand, seem to be quite willing to push Iraq toward all-out civil war, and even seem to welcome it. This might seem a little counter-intuitive, given that they would be greatly outnumbered, but at least some of the Sunni insurgent groups may feel confident that they would win anyway (especially with help from outside Iraq), while others may simply not see a more attractive alternative. (And apparently some Sunni Arabs believe, unlike anyone else, that they're actually a majority.) One key question is whether or not some of the Sunni political forces can be presented with a combination of carrots and sticks that might convince them that a strategy of political accommodation makes more sense. (And, of course, whether such an attempt can and will be made by non-Sunni Iraqi political forces. At this point, no sensible person would expect any constructive political action from the people running the US occupation.)

Depending on a lot of imponderables, the after-effects of the current fighting could help push the different Iraqi ethno-religious & political forces toward some kind of rough accommodation ... or this split could turn out to be a harbinger of all-out civil war (something that hasn't really happened yet).

--Jeff Weintraub

[P.S. - the bolding in the first quoted passage is mine]

Juan Cole ("Informed Comment")

Friday, November 12, 2004

[ .... ]

Hannah Allam and Yasser Salihi discuss the US military raids on the houses of prominent leaders of the Association of Muslim Scholars, including Hareth al-Dhari, on Thursday. Al-Dhari is among the more popular Sunni Arab leaders, and has called for a boycott of the January elections, as well as vocally denouncing the US assault on Fallujah.

Later on Thursday, the US arrested Sheikh Mahdi al-Sumaidi, a leader of the Salafi (Sunni fundamentalist) movement, who had denounced Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani for declining to intervene in the Fallujah crisis. He had also apparently called for armed resistance against the Americans. The Americans raided the Ibn Taymiyah Mosque to get him (Ibn Taymiyah was a medieval preacher who tried to convince Muslims to be intolerant.)

Sistani's silence has been thunderous, as has that of most other Shiite leaders with the exception of Muqtada al-Sadr. Tellingly, there have been no sympathy demonstrations in cities like Basra or Nasiriyah. The Shiites know that the guerrillas in Fallujah had mostly supported Saddam, and that they are responsible for attacks on Shiites. Only if this fissure were overcome could an Iraqi nationalist movement emerge. Until then, the US can successfully divide and rule.

For more on Fallujah see Mark Levine's op-ed at and Tom Engelhardt's trenchant introduction.
posted by Juan @ 11/12/2004 06:04:28 AM

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Sistani calls for Peaceful Resolution of Fallujah Crisis

Az-Zaman: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shiite spiritual authority, called Friday for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Fallujah. His representative in Karabala, Ahmad al-Safi al-Najafi, said that the position of the grand ayatollah toward the bloody events in some regions of Iraq is that a peaceful resolution of the conflict is required. Speaking before thousands of worshippers at the Mosque of Imam Husain in Karbala, he said that the grand ayatollah had the same attitude to the fighting in Fallujah as he had had to that in Najaf, that is, the implementation of a peaceful solution on the basis of the sovereignty of the regime, law, and the evacuation of foreign forces and of gunmen with unlicensed arms. Sistani also condemned all loss of innocent life.

Sistani has been criticized recently for not speaking out against US attacks on Sunnis in the way he had with regard to Najaf, a Shiite center. Sistani likes to present himself as concerned for the welfare of all Iraqis, not just of his Shiite followers. But he has only called for peace in Fallujah when the fighting is already largely over with. That move will look cynical to a lot of Sunni Arabs.

posted by Juan @ 11/13/2004 06:16:11 AM

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Juan Cole - How bin Laden sees the war

A characteristically intelligent, substantial, and illuminating analysis by Juan Cole, which is usefully thought-provoking whether or not you fully agree with it in the end. (I find most of it convincing, though not quite all.) It's especially valuable because of its clear and compact summing-up of Al Qaeda's long-term strategy and the larger world-view that lies behind it. Based on everything I know, this account of how the war looks from Al Qaeda's perspective (and they do see it as a war, which is a crucial point) is very much on target, and it clears up a lot of confusions and mystifications in current discussions.

To help put this analysis in perspective, it is worth bearing in mind that Cole supported the anti-Taliban war in Afghanistan, and has always been impatient with arguments that it was somehow "racist," anti-Islamic, illegal, or otherwise illegitimate. He did not oppose the Iraq war (he quite explicitly "declined to oppose" it), unambiguously welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein & his regime, and genuinely favors the successful & democratic reconstruction of Iraq. On the other hand, he did not actively support the Iraq war, either. He objected to the WAY it was undertaken, was concerned that the Bush administration would make a mess of the post-Saddam occupation & reconstruction of Iraq, and has become increasingly outraged and alarmed as this has in fact occurred. (It's hard not to sympathize with him there.)

Some of you may find Cole's conclusions alarming, and I think they SHOULD be alarming. The practical implication of this piece, as I see it, is that at this point we need a different (better, more intelligent, and more effective) strategy for dealing both with the reconstruction of Iraq and with the challenge posed by Al Qaeda & affiliated Islamist terrorist networks. (A good first step might be to put in a new team to run the US government.)

Jeff Weintraub

Juan Cole ("Informed Comment)
Saturday, September 11, 2004

September 11 and Its Aftermath

In order to evaluate the aftermath of September 11, we first must understand that event. What did al-Qaeda intend to achieve? Only if we understand that can we gauge their success or failure.

From the point of view of al-Qaeda, the Muslim world can and should be united into a single country. They believe that it once had this political unity, under the early caliphs. Even as late as the outbreak of World War I, the Ottoman state ruled much of the Middle East, and the Ottoman sultans had begun making claims to be caliphs (Muslim popes) from about 1880. In the below map, blue indicates heavy Muslim populations, green means medium, and yellow means the Muslims are a significant minority.

From al-Qaeda's point of view, the political unity of the Muslim world was deliberately destroyed by a one-two punch. First, Western colonial powers invaded Muslim lands and detached them from the Ottoman Empire or other Muslim states. They ruled them brutally as colonies, reducing the people to little more than slaves serving the economic and political interests of the British, French, Russians, etc. France invaded Algeria in 1830. Great Britain took Egypt in 1882 and Iraq in 1917. Russia took the Emirate of Bukhara and other Central Asian territories in the 1860s and forward. Second, they formed these colonies into Western-style nation-states, often small and weak ones, so that the divisive effects of the colonial conquests have lasted. (Look at the British Empire and its imposition on much of the Muslim world, e.g.:)

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was not an unprecedented event from the point of view of Bin Laden and his followers. Far from it. It was only the latest in a long series of Western predations in Muslim lands. The British had conquered Palestine, Jordan and Iraq, and had unilaterally opened Palestine to Jewish immigration, with the colonized Palestinians unable to object. The Russians had taken the Caucasus and Chechnya in the early nineteenth century, and had so brutally repressed the Muslims under their rule that they probably killed hundreds of thousands and expelled even more to the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey).

From al-Qaeda's point of view, the Soviet attempt to absorb Afghanistan was the beginning of the end of the colonial venture. They demonstrated that even a superpower can be forced to withdraw from a Muslim land if sufficient guerrilla pressure is put on it.

Bin Laden sees the Muslim world as continually invaded, divided and weakened by outside forces. Among these is the Americans in Saudi Arabia and the Israelis in geographical Palestine. He repeatedly complained about the occupation of the three holy cities, i.e., Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.

For al-Qaeda to succeed, it must overthrow the individual nation-states in the Middle East, most of them colonial creations, and unite them into a single, pan-Islamic state. But Ayman al-Zawahiri's organization, al-Jihad al-Islami, had tried very hard to overthrow the Egyptian state, and was always checked. Al-Zawahiri thought it was because of US backing for Egypt. They believed that the US also keeps Israel dominant in the Levant, and backs Saudi Arabia's royal family.

Al-Zawahiri then hit upon the idea of attacking the "far enemy" first. That is, since the United States was propping up the governments of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc., all of which al-Qaeda wanted to overthrow so as to meld them into a single, Islamic super-state, then it would hit the United States first.

The attack on the World Trade Center was exactly analogous to Pearl Harbor. The Japanese generals had to neutralize the US fleet so that they could sweep into Southeast Asia and appropriate Indonesian petroleum. The US was going to cut off imperial Japan from petroleum, and without fuel the Japanese could not maintain their empire in China and Korea. So they pushed the US out of the way and took an alternative source of petroleum away from the Dutch (which then ruled what later became Indonesia).

Likewise, al-Qaeda was attempting to push the United States out of the Middle East so that Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia would become more vulnerable to overthrow, lacking a superpower patron. Secondarily, the attack was conceived as revenge on the United States and American Jews for supporting Israel and the severe oppression of the Palestinians. Bin Laden wanted to move the timing of the operation up to spring of 2001 so as to "punish" the Israelis for their actions against the Palestinians in the second Intifadah. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad was mainly driven in planning the attack by his rage at Israel over the Palestinian issue. Another goal is to destroy the US economy, so weakening it that it cannot prevent the emergence of the Islamic superpower.

Al-Qaeda wanted to build enthusiasm for the Islamic superstate among the Muslim populace, to convince ordinary Muslims that the US could be defeated and they did not have to accept the small, largely secular, and powerless Middle Eastern states erected in the wake of colonialism. Jordan's population, e.g. is 5.6 million. Tunisia, a former French colony, is 10 million, less than Michigan. Most Muslims have been convinced of the naturalness of the nation-state model and are proud of their new nations, however small and weak. Bin Laden had to do a big demonstration project to convince them that another model is possible.

Bin Laden hoped the US would timidly withdraw from the Middle East. But he appears to have been aware that an aggressive US response to 9/11 was entirely possible. In that case, he had a Plan B: al-Qaeda hoped to draw the US into a debilitating guerrilla war in Afghanistan and do to the US military what they had earlier done to the Soviets. Al-Zawahiri's recent message shows that he still has faith in that strategy.

The US cleverly outfoxed al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, using air power and local Afghan allies (the Northern Alliance) to destroy the Taliban without many American boots on the ground.

Ironically, however, the Bush administration then went on to invade Iraq for no good reason, where Americans faced the kind of wearing guerrilla war they had avoided in Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda has succeeded in several of its main goals. It had been trying to convince Muslims that the United States wanted to invade Muslim lands, humiliate Muslim men, and rape Muslim women. Most Muslims found this charge hard to accept. The Bush administration's Iraq invasion, along with the Abu Ghuraib prison torture scandal, was perceived by many Muslims to validate Bin Laden's wisdom and foresightedness.

After the Iraq War, Bin Laden is more popular than George W. Bush even in a significantly secular Muslim country such as Turkey. This is a bizarre finding, a weird turn of events. Turks didn't start out with such an attitude. It grew up in reaction against US policies.

It remains to be seen whether the US will be forced out of Iraq the way it was forced out of Iran in 1979. If so, as al-Zawahiri says, that will be a huge victory. A recent opinion poll did find that over 80 percent of Iraqis want an Islamic state. If Iraq goes Islamist, that will be the biggest victory the movement has had since the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. An Islamist Iraq might well be able ultimately to form a joint state with Syria, starting the process of the formation of the Islamic superstate of which Bin Laden dreams.

If the Muslim world can find a way to combine the sophisticated intellectuals and engineers of Damascus and Cairo with the oil wealth of the Persian Gulf, it could well emerge as a 21st century superpower.

Bin Laden's dream of a united Muslim state under a revived caliphate may well be impossible to accomplish. But with the secular Baath gone, it could be one step closer to reality. If you add to the equation the generalized hatred for US policies (both against the Palestinians and in Iraq) among Muslims, that is a major step forward for al-Qaeda. In Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda has emerged as a dissident political party. Before it had just been a small group of Bin Laden's personal acolytes in Afghanistan and a handful of other countries.

Although the United States and its Pakistani ally have captured significant numbers of al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a whole new generation of angry young Muslim men has been produced. Al-Qaeda has moved from being a concrete cell-based terrorist organization to being an ideal and a model, for small local groups in Casablanca, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and elsewhere.

The US is not winning the war on terror. Al-Qaeda also has by no means won. But across a whole range of objectives, al-Qaeda has accomplished more of its than the US has of its.

Nicholas Kristof, "Reign of Terror" (NYTimes)

A prefatory note: What is going on in Darfur is without question a massive atrocity, including ethnically-targeted mass murder on a large scale, mass rape, ethnic cleansing, and other brutalities. This constitutes more than sufficient justification for urgent action--and, as I've noted before, this is not ONLY a humanitarian crisis requiring large-scale relief work, but even more fundamentally a massive crime requiring a political solution. However, at this point I would not quite be willing to call it "genocide," since that is a term that I think should be used very carefully and sparingly. On the other hand, (a) there are good arguments to suggest that the Darfur atrocity already does meet the technical legal definition of "genocide" according to the Genocide Convention, and (b) there is a good chance that it could turn into full-scale genocide, if the Darfur refugees (who number over a million) die of hunger, disease, and continuing violence over the next several months. If nothing serious is done to stop this atrocity, there's a good chance that this could be the outcome. And so far, as Kristof points out in this article, nothing serious seems to be getting done.

As I said in an earlier message over two months ago, which unfortunately remains very timely:

The appalling fact is that practically no one with any clout in the so-called "international community" is doing anything serious to stop this. To their credit, UN officials from Kofi Annan on down have sounded the alarm (and Annan has even publicly raised the possibility of outside intervention). But in practice, the UN is powerless to act except on the initiative of member states, particularly the most powerful member states, which has not been forthcoming. In fact, this unpleasantness in Darfur did not prevent Sudan from being re-appointed to its seat on the UN Human Rights Commission (on the nomination, believe it or not, of the African regional bloc, apparently untroubled by the Sudanese government's mass murders of black Africans over the years in the southern and now western Sudan). (This is also, by far, the largest mass atrocity being committed against Muslims anywhere in the world--though by other Muslims--but I am not aware of any serious responses from the wider Islamic world, governmental or otherwise. The lack of even verbal condemnation by the Arab League is, of course, not surprising.)

Again, to give credit where credit is due: The US government (for complex reasons of US domestic politics and long-term diplomatic involvement in Sudan) has begun to play a significant constructive role. (The mobilization of an unusual coalition linking African-American groups, Christian groups from right and left, and Jewish groups opposed to the genocidal mass murder of ethnic minorities, has had a significant impact in this respect.) It has openly condemned the campaign of ethnic cleansing and ethnic cleansing in Darfur, explicitly recognizing that it is not only a humanitarian crisis requiring massive relief aid, but also--and fundamentally--a deliberate crime requiring a political solution. The US delegation at the UN strongly protested Sudan's reappointment to the UN Human Rights Commission . The US sent the Secretary of State to Darfur, a significant gesture, and while Powell was in Sudan he said forthrightly to the Sudanese government that the Janjaweed (the government-backed Arab militias who play the main role in this atrocity) "must be broken." And the US is attempting to coordinate more international pressure on the Sudanese government (so far without many visible results).

The US government should be pressed to do more [ .... ]. But the larger situation is that, as far as I know, at this point the US government is the ONLY one that has undertaken ANY serious initiatives to stop this atrocity and to prevent a gigantic, entirely foreseeable, humanitarian catastrophe in the coming months. This is a scandal. Those of you who are citizens of European countries, in particular, should do what you can to urge your governments to do something serious (in terms of diplomacy, political pressure, and urgent humanitarian relief, at the very least) ... or, at the minimum, not to obstruct a serious response. Obviously, only a JOINT response by some significant segment of the "international community" can address this crisis in any constructive way.

In the meantime, humanitarian relief organizations like Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, and so on have played a very useful role, not only though their directly humanitarian efforts, but also because their people on the spot have been in the forefront of bringing news about this atrocity to the world. (The Sudanese government understands this, which is a major reason why they are trying to prevent people from relief and human-rights organizations from getting into Darfur.) Contributions to them would, therefore, indirectly help to promote a political solution, which is the fundamental necessity.

Cheers (but not cheery),
Jeff Weintraub

New York Times
September 11, 2004


Reign of Terror


In my last visit to the Darfur area in Sudan, in June, I found a man groaning under a tree. He had been shot in the neck and jaw and left for dead in a pile of corpses. Seeking shelter under the very next tree were a pair of widows whose husbands had both been shot to death. Under the next tree I found a 4-year-old orphan girl caring for her starving 1-year-old brother. And under the tree next to that was a woman whose husband had been killed, along with her 7- and 4-year-old sons, before she was gang-raped and mutilated.

Those were the refugees sheltering under just four adjacent trees. Thousands of other victims with similar stories stretched as far as the eye could see.

So I salute the Bush administration for formally declaring on Thursday that the slaughter is a genocide. But as we commemorate the anniversary of 9/11, let's remember that almost as many people are still dying in Darfur every week as died in the World Trade Center attack.

"There's kind of a reign of terror that exists," said Kenny Gluck, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders in the Netherlands.

Even in the camps where Doctors Without Borders is present, he says, Janjaweed gunmen often rape women or execute men who go off to seek firewood. So now, he said, many families are making an agonizing choice: they are sending their small children out at night to gather wood because small children are less likely to be murdered or raped.

So I've got some questions.

For President Bush Why don't you turn up the heat on Sudan? How about consulting urgently with the leaders of our allies about how to exert more pressure on Sudan? How about inviting victims to the White House and denouncing the genocide from the Rose Garden? How about threatening a no-flight zone in Darfur unless Sudan cooperates?

For France and Germany I sympathized with your opposition to the war in Iraq. But are you really now so petty and anti-Bush that you refuse to stand with the U.S. against the slaughter in Darfur, or even to contribute significant sums to ease the suffering?

Does the Chirac government really want to show the moral blindness to Sudan's genocide that the Vichy regime did to Hitler's?

For the Islamic world You're absolutely right to hold Israel's feet to the fire over its often brutal treatment of Palestinians, but why don't you also care about dead Sudanese? In August, according to a human rights monitoring group, Israel killed 42 Palestinians, including fighters. In the same period, according to the World Health Organization, more than 10,000 people died in Darfur - virtually all of them Muslim.

Islamic Relief is doing an excellent job, but the Muslim victims of Darfur are getting far more help from Jewish and Christian aid groups than from Islamic charities.

For the United Nations Agencies like the U.N. World Food Program are working heroically to keep the victims alive, but the U.N. as a whole has failed to respond to Sudanese atrocities. Mostly that's because of the failure of member states, but I'm afraid that some of the responsibility has to be charged to a man I like and respect: Kofi Annan.

I hate to say it, but the way things are going, when he dies his obituary will begin: "Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary general who at various points in his career presided ineffectually over the failure to stop genocide, first in Rwanda and then in Sudan, died today. "

One of the people I met on my last trip to Darfur was Hatum Atraman Bashir, who was pregnant with the baby of one of the 20 Janjaweed raiders who murdered her husband and gang-raped her. A few days ago, I received an e-mail note from an aid worker in the International Rescue Committee, which is assisting Ms. Bashir, saying that she had given birth but could not produce milk for the baby - a common problem because of malnutrition.

The lives of Ms. Bashir, her new baby and about one million others are at stake as we dither over how to respond to the genocide. And so far we've failed them.

In Wednesday's column quoting Bob Mintz, who was at the Alabama National Guard base where George W. Bush apparently wasn't, I bragged that my interview was his first with a national news organization. It turns out that he spoke to CBS in February. Mea culpa.

re: "A Darfur Thought" by Matt Yglesias

Matthew Yglesias asks:

Would not a western military intervention against a Sunni Arab Islamist regime aimed at imposing a de facto partition on the country have some serious implications for the war on terrorism?

Yes. That's one reason why it would probably be best (or least worst) to send in military forces primarily from African Union countries, particularly Nigeria. They would require funding and logistical support from the US & European countries, as well as political & diplomatic pressure from those countries to get the Khartoum government to agree to their deployment. Also, I'm afraid, the experience of Liberia and Sierra Leone suggests that they will need to be stiffened by at least a few troops from western countries. (I have read several reports of Darfur refugees saying that they won't feel safe to go home until they see "white faces," since they regard African troops as too easy to bribe and a bit dangerous themselves.)

All these steps certainly carry with them strong possibilities for unpleasant side-effects. (Greeks, for example, still haven't forgiven the US for helping to stop mass murder, mass rape, & ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia.) Even if most of the troops are Africans (even, say, Muslims from Nigeria), jihadists can still blame the whole thing on Jews & Crusaders. And, unfortunately, I don't see any satisfactory "solution" to the underlying political crises of Sudan in the foreseeable future, so any intervention is likely to be messy and long-term.

On the other hand, the alternative is to do nothing serious about this massive atrocity--which I would not call "genocide" now, but which could well turn into genocide if most of the refugees die of hunger, disease, and violence over the next few months. Despite all the risks (and almost certain downsides) outlined above, I see this option as unacceptable.

At this point, whether or not any serious attempt is made to stop this atrocity depends primarily on what the European governments do--which in turn will depend crucially on whether or not there is a mobilization of western public opinion against the Darfur atrociity that is strong enough to put pressure on European governments to do something, and to overcome their understandable inclination to play it safe. My guess, right now, is that nothing effective will get done, and a decade from now this whole catastrophe will be remembered as a second Rwanda. Let's hope not, however.

Jeff Weintraub

P.S. I'm not at all sure it's right to suggest that an intervention to stop the genocide would be likely to lead to a partition (or even de-facto partition) of Sudan. Even the rebel groups don't aim for that, as far as I can tell, which makes this situation quite different from (say) Kosovo.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

some random thoughts on "terrorism"

Hi Gang,

Some brief and tentative remarks on some issues that I know of are of interest to all of you. Any reactions would be appreciated (though, of course, I will be neither shocked nor offended if you have other priorities).

Among other things, I'm trying to figure out whether there are any clear and adequate ways to draw (appropriate) analytical distinctions between varieties of "terrorism," and between "terrorism" and other forms of political violence & mass murder. I have seen a lot of typologies, definitions, and (implicit or explicit) characterization. But (in my humble opinion) none of the ones I've seen fully works. Perhaps this is a hopeless quest (and "terrorism" belongs to a category that might be called "essentially imprecise concepts")? Any thoughts?

Jeff Weintraub

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Beslan - Muslim leaders condemn killers (Observer)
Date: Wed, 08 Sep 2004 11:51:24 -0400
From: Jeff Weintraub
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

"Terrorism" is a difficult term to pin down, not only because of the conceptual and ideological complexities involved, but also because it has gone through a range of different, sometimes sometimes overlapping, historically significant meanings. In the current era, one central meaning of "terrorism" (though not the only one) is the indiscriminate and deliberately conspicuous murder of ordinary civilians for political purposes.

(This distinguishes it, for example, from the deliberate killing of armed combatants in warfare; the accidental killing of civilians in the course of conflicts; and the targeted assassination of combatants, military and/or political leaders, government officials, etc. All these raise their own ethical and political issues, and the last is also a form of terrorism, but all of them differ from the indiscriminate murder of civilians in that they make some attempt to discriminate between legitimate and prohibited targets, and this strikes me as a qualitative difference.)

(Although the conceptual grounds are a little more hazy, I would also distinguish "terrorism" from some other forms of mass murder of civilians, ranging from small-scale local massacres to genocide. While these kinds of mass murder often do aim for a terrorizing effect, among other aims, other purposes predominate, and the social and political dynamics of these atrocities are often different in practice from terrorism--for example, whereas terrorism makes no sense unless it is conspicuous, and in fact "publicity" is often one of its central aims, genocidal or quasi-genocidal campaigns of ethnically-targeted mass murder are often concealed or denied, as in the cases of the Nazi Holocaust or the current Darfur atrocity. At all events, genocidal mass murder seems to me to be a distinctive kind of crime, on a level different from terrorism. But I am still thinking through these issues, since the conceptual and socio-historical ambiguities aren't easy to resolve completely, and any relevant thoughts or suggestions would be welcomed.)

One of the unfortunate developments of the last several decades has been a tendency for "terrorism" in the sense I indicated above (that is, terrorism aimed at the indiscriminate and conspicuous murder of ordinary civilians) to be increasingly accepted as a legitimate mode of political conflict--or, at least, as something which should be "excused," "explained," and/or justified rather than condemned. This acceptance (or even approval) of terrorist attacks on civilians helps make this tactic more useful and effective, while reducing its political costs, which helps to fuel a self-reinforcing process. I think it is increasingly clear that the long-term effects have been pernicious, not least because they involve a dangerous erosion of some crucial moral boundaries.

It is therefore heartening to read that the spectacle of the terrorist atrocity in Beslan, with its televised images of kidnaped and murdered children, has provoked widespread dismay and revulsion in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and even some soul-searching about the moral and political costs of tolerating or glorifying the terrorist murder of civilians. This response is obviously not universal, and it may be transitory, but it is certainly welcome.

Without wanting to discount that, I can't resist mentioning a few flies in the ointment. Ever since the 9/11 attacks, there have been periodic condemnations of "terrorism" in general terms by (some) Muslim clerics, political leaders, and other spokesmen. However, I notice that many journalistic accounts either miss or gloss over the troubling fact that even those spokesmen who condemn "terrorism" or attacks on civilians (especially children) in the abstract often make an exception, implicit or explicit, when it comes to the murder of Israeli or Jewish civilians (including children)--which are not "terrorism," but rather "martyrdom" or "resistance." As far as I can tell from the latest news reports, this generally continues to be true after the Beslan massacre. In many cases, this exception is indicated by omission, but not always. And there are also examples of the characteristic mixture of denial and demonization:

Ali Abdullah, an Islamic scholar in Bahrain who follows the ultra-conservative Salafi stream of Islam, also condemned the school attack as 'unIslamic'. However, he insisted Muslims were not involved and revived an old conspiracy theory: 'I have no doubt that this is the work of the Israelis, who want to tarnish the image of Muslims.'

However, there are also signs that the Beslan atrocity has produced a genuine shock, and with luck it may help to propel a deeper and more thoroughgoing reconsideration. Let's hope so.

=> To avoid any possible misunderstanding, I want to emphasize some further points as clearly and forcefully as I can:

None of this criticism of the Beslan atrocity, and of the kind of terrorism it exemplifies, in any way justifies or excuses the fact that Russia has been fighting an incredibly brutal, destructive, and often appalling war in Chechnya, marked by extensive atrocities (on both sides!), massive civilian deaths, and pervasive violations of the laws of war, including murder, rape, and kidnapping of civilians by Russian troops and security services. However, the opposite is also true. Nothing about the Russian war in Chechnya in any way justifies or excuses this kind of terrorist massacre, which ought to be unreservedly condemned whatever one thinks about the Chechen war.

Yours in struggle,
Jeff Weintraub


Hi X,

One of the people who sent me a response to my original message was an Israeli historical & political sociologist who is an old friend of mine. We'll probably have a series of e-mail exchanges on the subject of "terrorism." I thought that some of the points in this first exchange might be of interest to you. (He said he didn't mind if I shared some bits of his message with you, but I've suppressed his name for reasons of privacy.)

Jeff Weintraub

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: some random thoughts on "terrorism"
Date: Thu, 09 Sep 2004 11:12:39 -0400
From: Jeff Weintraub


I am very glad that you decided to take on the role of the wise man and offer your comments and direct some important articles in your friends' way. In my case, your reflections will have further airing as I am scheduled to teach a course on International Terrorism next year.

Thanks for the kind (though excessively generous) words. I'm glad to hear that you're planning to teach a course on that subject., and it would be nice to talk about it further.

I would like to engage you more length but will be very brief this time.
My two quick comments, which support your views, are these.

1. In extending the implied criticism of the notion that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, and they have no other meanings, you are quite right in focusing on the indiscriminate nature of their violence. It is by breaking the international law of war, the Geneva and Hague Conventions (1860's, 1899, 1907, 1949) and for that matter Islamic law on the highly regulated jihad, which separate military and civilian populations in categories and territory; prohibit the use of certain weapons, chemical and biological weapons; the hurting of non-combatants, taking civilians as hostages; recognizing neutrality of countries and their citizens, upholding rights of diplomats, etc. that they become terrorist. The distinction between terrorists and others is that the latter are law-abiding. International terrorists disdain any limited areas of combat or neutral territory. When states or their soldiers violate such rules, e.g. wantonly kill civilians during combat, their acts are treated as ‘war crimes’ which can be adjudicated by courts. But, consequently, it is imperative to uphold that law, otherwise the differences will blur and the meaning of law will be cheapened.

All of this is quite right (especially the last point).

I do want to mention, once again, a related issue that has more to do with political sociology than with legality. That has to do with how we can best characterize and identify "terrorism"--and different varieties of terrorism. (I have deliberately not said "define" terrorism, since talking about "definitions" in this context would suggest a misleading picture of the degree of precision we can achieve or ought to aim for.)

You and I agree that "terrorism" belongs in a larger category of deliberate attacks on civilians and non-combatants (which either are or ought to be unlawful). But that category is larger than "terrorism." It also includes, for example, genocide ... or the historically common kinds of inter-communal massacres exemplified by Damour or Sabra & Shatila. Now, it's true that some of these forms of mass murder of civilians have, as one aim among others, the goal of generating terror and panic. (For example, the Luftwaffe machine-gunned columns of fleeing refugees in Belgium and France in 1940, which helped increase panic and snarl up the roads that the British and French forces were trying to use. Schrecklichkeit, as they say. And ethnically-targeted massacres, even small-scale ones, are often useful for stampeding people into mass flight and facilitating ethnic cleansing.) So there are some continuities and ambiguities. But it would be unrealistic and unhelpful to simply describe all forms of indiscriminate murder of civilians as "terrorism." (For example, genocide is quite obviously not the same thing as terrorism.)

In specific cases, I usually find it pretty easy to distinguish between terrorism and other forms of violence against non-combatants. But I am still not satisfied that I have really pinned down the criteria for making the relevant analytical distinctions. That's especially difficult because what's needed is not just to create a tidy conceptual scheme that will satisfy the analytical philosophers (or a set of distinctions sufficient to satisfy the requirements of legalism), but to clarify the differences in ways that are socio-historically meaningful and illuminating..

So we'll probably have to be content with some rough-and-ready, flexible, and tentative concepts & distinctions. But in the process of getting there, a lot of significant issues will have to be worked through. So I'd be interested in hearing any further thoughts you have on these matters.

=> Also, of course, there are different types of actions or strategies that it makes sense to call "terrorism," but which should nevertheless be distinguished. For example, the kind of "terrorism" practiced by the Russian Socialist Revolutionaries and, usually, by the Irgun (i.e., targeted assassinations & attacks on soldiers and officials) is very different from the kind of "terrorism" practiced by Al-Qaeda and its affiliates (i.e., large-scale indiscriminate murder of civilians). Some groups will practice both, of course (e.g., Hezbollah), but the distinction between them is both morally and sociologically important. (Incidentally, Paul Berman has some interesting remarks on the historical slide from the first to the second type in his disappointingly uneven but often illuminating book Terror and Liberalism.)

=> There is also the interesting fact that the terms "terrorism" and "terrorist" emerged (unless I am mistaken) during the French revolution to describe forms of state terror (or state-sponsored terror), whereas nowadays they are usually applied to non-state actors. But that opens up a wide range of issues that would require further discussion ... another time ...

=> Apologists for terrorism sometimes raise the question of why the indiscriminate bombing of cities (practiced by all sides during World War II) shouldn't also be called "terrorism"--especially since part of the intent is to break the will of the enemy's population. Despite the dubious and even despicable motives of some people who make such points, the issues they raise are worth considering. I certainly believe that, at this point in history, the indiscriminate carpet-bombing of cities should be considered a war crime & crime against humanity, and outlawed as effectively as possible. However, I don't think it's useful to simply lump it in the category of "terrorism" ... though it would take a while to spell out my reasons.

This leads to the next point:

2. Like anarchists of old, terrorist still use the "propaganda by the deed" method: expecting that repression will serve to mobilize their supporters. It did then and does now.

Right. Incidentally, do you know Malise Ruthven's (hasty, opinionated, but excellent) book A Fury for God? One theme he emphasizes is the continuity of the tactic of "propaganda by the deed" from 19th-century anarchism to contemporary Islamist radicalism.

Of course, one of the most remarkable treatments (and justifications) of the use of terrorism as a revolutionary strategy for polarizing the situation, generating reprisals, and forcing people to take sides is Pontecorvo's "Battle of Algiers" (which I assume you might want to show in a course like the one you're planning). (Also, by the way, do you remember Godard's mid-1960s film "La Chinoise"?)

Yours in struggle,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Incidentally, "propaganda by the deed" serves a lot of functions, and stimulating repression is only one of them. As our friend bin Laden helpfully explained in one of his conversations, it is also a show of strength ... and if the targeted opponent fails to respond, that helps, too.

The Observer (London)
September 5, 2004

Muslim leaders condemn killers

David Smith
Sunday September 5, 2004
The Observer

Islamic leaders in the Middle East yesterday denounced the slaughter of children in Russia as 'unIslamic', as commentators asked unusually soul-searching questions about the region and terrorism.

Even the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's biggest Islamic group, condemned the bloody siege in Beslan. Its leader, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, said that kidnappings may be justified but killings are not. He added: 'What happened is not jihad [holy war] because Islam obligates us to respect the souls of human beings; it is not about taking them away.'

While some Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East have long supported fellow Muslims fighting in Chechnya, such was the barbarity of the hostage takers that few voices spoke in support of the actions in Ossetia. Egypt's leading Muslim cleric, Grand Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, was quoted as saying during a Friday sermon: 'What is the guilt of those children? Why should they be responsible for your conflict with the government? You are taking Islam as a cover and it is a deceptive cover; those who carry out the kidnappings are criminals, not Muslims.'

Ali Abdullah, an Islamic scholar in Bahrain who follows the ultra-conservative Salafi stream of Islam, also condemned the school attack as 'unIslamic'. However, he insisted Muslims were not involved and revived an old conspiracy theory: 'I have no doubt that this is the work of the Israelis, who want to tarnish the image of Muslims.'

But the reaction was overwhelmingly filled with revulsion. Abdulrahman al-Rashed wrote an article in the pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper under the headline: 'The Painful Truth: All World Terrorists are Muslims!'

Al-Rashed said that Muslims will not be able to cleanse their image unless 'we admit the scandalous facts... Our terrorist sons are an end-product of our corrupted culture. The picture is humiliating, painful and harsh for all of us.' His extraordinary critique was echoed by Ahmed Bahgat, an Egyptian Islamist. Writing in the pro-government newspaper, Al-Ahram , he said hostage-takers in Russia and Iraq are only harming Islam. 'If all the enemies of Islam united and decided to harm it... they wouldn't have ruined and harmed its image as much as the sons of Islam have done by their stupidity, miscalculations and misunderstanding.' Horrifying images of the dead and wounded students 'showed Muslims as monsters who are fed by the blood of children and the pain of their families'.

Associated Press
September 4, 2004

Siege Prompts Self-Criticism in Arab Media

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- Muslims worldwide are the main perpetrators of terrorism, a humiliating and painful truth that must be acknowledged, a prominent Arab writer and television executive wrote Saturday, as Middle East media and officials expressed horror at the bloody rebel siege of a Russian school.

Unusually forthright self-criticism followed the end of the hostage crisis, along with warnings that such actions inflict more damage to the image of Islam than all its enemies could hope. Arab leaders and Muslim clerics denounced the school seizure as unjustifiable and expressed their sympathy.

Russian commandos stormed the school Friday in Beslan, Russia; it had been taken over by rebels demanding independence for Chechnya. Russian officials said Saturday that the death toll was in the hundreds - many of them children.

Images of terrified young survivors being carried from the scene aired repeatedly on Arab TV stations. Pictures of dead and wounded children ran on front pages of Arab newspapers Saturday.

"Holy warriors" from the Middle East long have supported fellow Muslims fighting in Chechnya, and Russian officials said nine or 10 Arabs were among militants killed.

"Our terrorist sons are an end-product of our corrupted culture," Abdulrahman al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya television wrote in his daily column published in the pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. It ran under the headline, "The Painful Truth: All the World Terrorists are Muslims!"

Al-Rashed ran through a list of recent attacks by Islamic extremist groups - in Russia, Iraq, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen - many of which are influenced by the ideology of Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of the al-Qaida terror network.

"Most perpetrators of suicide operations in buses, schools and residential buildings around the world for the past 10 years have been Muslims," he wrote. Muslims will be unable to cleanse their image unless "we admit the scandalous facts," rather than offer condemnations or justifications.

"The picture is humiliating, painful and harsh for all of us," al-Rashed wrote.

Contributors to Islamic Web sites known for their extremist content had mixed reactions on the hostage crisis, with some praising the separatists. Others wrote that people should wait until the militants had been identified before implicating Arabs in the drama.

Ahmed Bahgat, an Egyptian Islamist, wrote in his column in Egypt's leading pro-government newspaper, Al-Ahram, that hostage-takers in Russia as well as in Iraq are only harming Islam.

"If all the enemies of Islam united together and decided to harm it ... they wouldn't have ruined and harmed its image as much as the sons of Islam have done by their stupidity, miscalculations, and misunderstanding of the nature of this age," Bahgat wrote.

The horrifying images of the dead and wounded Russian students "showed Muslims as monsters who are fed by the blood of children and the pain of their families."

Mohammed Mahdi Akef, leader of Egypt's largest Islamic group, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, said in general, kidnappings may be justified, but killings are not. He said the school siege did not fit the Islamic concept of jihad, or holy war.

"What happened yesterday is not jihad because our Islam obligates us to respect the souls of human beings; it is not about taking them away," Akef told The Associated Press.

Ali Abdullah, a Bahraini scholar who follows the ultraconservative Salafi stream of Islam, condemned the school attack as "un-Islamic," but insisted Muslims weren't behind it.

"I have no doubt in my mind that this is the work of the Israelis who want to tarnish the image of Muslims and are working alongside Russians who have their own agenda against the Muslims in Chechnya," said Abdullah.

An editorial in the Saudi English-language Arab News put some blame for the bloody end to the school siege on Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he couldn't afford to lose his "tough-man image." But it added that "the Chechens, with the choice of their targets, had put themselves in a position where no one would shed tears when the punishment came. They reached a new low when they chose toddlers as bargaining chips."

Heads of state from Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait and Yemen offered their sympathy Friday to Russian officials and to the families of people caught up in the hostage drama. A prominent Muslim cleric also denounced it.

"What is the guilt of those children? Why should they be responsible for your conflict with the government?" Egypt's top Muslim cleric, Grand Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, was quoted as saying during a Friday sermon in Banha, 30 miles north of Cairo.

"You are taking Islam as a cover and it is a deceptive cover; those who carry out the kidnappings are criminals, not Muslims," Tantawi, who heads Al-Azhar University, the highest authority in the Sunni Islamic world, was quoted by Egypt's Middle East News agency as saying.

© 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Fareed Zakaria - The Lonesome Doves of Europe (September 2002)

As Fareed Zakaria pointed out in this 2002 piece, fecklessness, dishonesty, and cynical irresponsiblity in international affairs are hardly restricted to the present US administration. The persistent unwillingness (or inability) of major European governments to take constructive action in response to major world problems, instead of leaving that responsiblity to the US whle complaining about or obstructing whatever the US does, tends to be implicitly driven or even explicitly justified on grounds of narrow and short-term national "self-interest." But is actually quite unwise, short-sighted, and ultimately self-defeating. And the hypocritical attempts to inflate the role of international institutions, including the UN, while in practice cynically using these institutions to promote narrowly selfish agendas, undermines the legitimacy and effectiveness of these institutions just as much as the arrogant unilateralism of some elements in the US government--in fact, by discrediting international institutions and rendering them contemptible, this kind of cynical and irresponsible pseudo-realpolitik strengthens the credibility of "unilateralists" in the US and elsewhere.

Former US Presidential candidate Howard Dean said this pointedly in 2004, with respect to Europe's failure to take any significant action to help stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur (Europe should act on Darfur), in an appeal that remains pertinent today:

Every day that goes by without meaningful sanctions and even military intervention in Sudan by African, European and if necessary U.N. forces is a day where hundreds of innocent civilians die and thousands are displaced from their land. Every day that goes by without action to stop the Sudan genocide is a day that the anti-Iraq war position so widely held in the rest of the world appears to be based less on principle and more on politics. And every day that goes by is a day in which George Bush's contempt for the international community, which I have denounced every day for two years, becomes more difficult to criticize. [….]
My challenge to the U.N. and Europe is simple: if you don't like American diplomacy under George Bush, then do something to show those of us in opposition here in the U.S. that you can behave in such a way that unilateralism is not necessary.

What makes this situation even worse is that European governments are supported in this short-sighted posture of pseudo-realpolitik and hypocritical moralism by wide sectors of European public opinion, especially educated public opinion. Europe's repeated failures and geopolitical abdications, going back to the debacle of the former Yugoslavia, tend not to promote serious self-reflection, but instead smug reassertions of superior morality and geopolitical sophistication. (There are a few admirable exceptions among European statesmen and public intellectuals--Tony Blair and Bernard Kouchner and even, on the whole, Joschka Fischer come to mind--but the point is that they are isolated and, in Blair's case, increasingly vilified exceptions.)

=> Fareed Zakaria offered similar advice to Europeans, in a more "realist" vein, in September 2002, during the international debate over how to respond to the problem posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq "The Lonesome Doves of Europe").
Blair's speech [to Parliament on Iraq] is important because he speaks not simply as a Briton, but as a European. For many months now Europe has been asking whether the United States would handle Iraq unilaterally or through the United Nations. The ball is now in Europe's court. How will it handle Iraq?

The record is not encouraging. For the past 10 years France and Russia have turned the United Nations into a stage from which to pursue naked self-interest. They have used multilateralism as a way to further unilateral policies. [....]

Europe's major powers have been insistent that the United States work more often through multilateral institutions for broad goals. In the past the Bush administration has been far too reluctant to do so. But now Europe has to decide whether it truly wants multilateralism to work--or simply be a cover for politics as usual.

If France and Russia seek a world in which nations act purely on the basis of interest and power, they will get it. In it, America will do just fine. [...]
That last sentence has turned out to be incorrect, but otherwise Zakaria's advice remains correct and important. America has not done "just fine"--but neither has the rest of the alleged "world community." Vaclav Havel, like Tony Blair, warned at the time that the problem posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a real problem, and that "Leaving the United States alone in this might be immensely dangerous." Well, yes. Reflections on this international political and diplomatic debacle should occasion some reflection and soul-searching all around, and not only in the US. If developments since 2002 are taken as a vindication of the short-sighted,cynical, irresponsible European policies that played a crucial role in bringing about the debacle in the first place, the long-term results will be unfortunate.

--Jeff Weintraub
September 30, 2002, U.S. Edition

The Lonesome Doves of Europe
By Fareed Zakaria

Two events have set the course of the Iraq crisis so far: President George W. Bush's speech to the United Nations and Iraq's letter apparently allowing the weapons inspectors back in. The third will take place on Tuesday, when Tony Blair addresses the British Parliament and releases his Iraq dossier. Washington and London have delayed all movement toward a new U.N. resolution until the speech is delivered. They believe it will create new momentum for action just as Bush's speech did two weeks ago.

Blair's speech is important because he speaks not simply as a Briton, but as a European. For many months now Europe has been asking whether the United States would handle Iraq unilaterally or through the United Nations. The ball is now in Europe's court. How will it handle Iraq?

The record is not encouraging. For the past 10 years France and Russia have turned the United Nations into a stage from which to pursue naked self-interest. They have used multilateralism as a way to further unilateral policies. The dust from the gulf war had not settled when the French government began a quiet but persistent campaign to gut the sanctions against Iraq, turn inspections into a charade and send signals to Saddam Hussein that Paris was ready to do business with him again. "Decades from now, when all the documents are available, someone is going to write an eye-opening book about France's collusion with Saddam Hussein in the 1990s," says Kenneth Pollack, who worked at the CIA and the NSC during those years.

The Russians have also been more interested in cozying up to Iraq than disarming it. There are more than 200 Russian companies in Iraq, doing deals that total at least $4 billion. Moscow has been Iraq's most dependable ally in the Security Council, routinely endorsing its objections about sanctions and inspections. It helped sabotage the most recent efforts to create "smart sanctions," which would have dropped broader economic barriers in favor of targeted ones against Saddam's regime.

Moscow also led the charge against the appointment of Rolf Ekeus as the chief weapons inspector in January 2000, a campaign that is worth recalling. After Russia and France had vetoed about 25 names, Kofi Annan decided to put forward someone whose qualifications he thought were unimpeachable. Ekeus had headed up the original inspections team to Iraq after the gulf war. In that role, he had been patient but clever, finding more Iraqi weapons programs than any expert had imagined. Russia, joined by France and China, vetoed the appointment.

And then there is Germany, which cannot even claim the rationale of national interest for its bizarre actions. Pandering to public opinion, Gerhard Schroder has broken with 50 years of tradition and publicly denounced American foreign policy. He has encouraged an atmosphere of anti-Americanism in his country, which hit its lowest note when his Justice minister compared President Bush to Hitler. Schroder is opposed to an attack on Iraq, even if the United Nations authorizes it. He must think Saddam is harmless, except that his own chief of intelligence, August Hanning, told The New Yorker last year, "It is our estimate that Iraq will have an atomic bomb in three years." Oh, well, no need to worry about it, then.

Not all of Europe's leaders are this shortsighted. Speaking to a small group of American journalists, Czech President Vaclav Havel warned against making concessions to aggressive dictators, as Britain and France did in the 1930s. "It is necessary to take action against deadly evil, even using force if that is needed," he said. "Leaving the United States alone in this might be immensely dangerous."

Dangerous for Europe more than the United States. Europe's major powers have been insistent that the United States work more often through multilateral institutions for broad goals. In the past the Bush administration has been far too reluctant to do so. But now Europe has to decide whether it truly wants multilateralism to work--or simply be a cover for politics as usual.

If France and Russia seek a world in which nations act purely on the basis of interest and power, they will get it. In it, America will do just fine. As the president's recent national-security-strategy document makes clear, it will remain the "hyperpower." But as France and Russia might have noticed, they're not very powerful anymore. They have seats on the United Nations Security Council only because they won the last great war 50 years ago. (I use the word "won" loosely when speaking of France.) Unless they act responsibly, they are now in danger of losing the next one.