Monthly Archives: February 2011


Wouldn’t it be wonderful if my previous two Blogs were wrong?

How great would it be if democracy and a sound economic structure, employment, education, job opportunity and all the other good things emerged for the Arab people after their brave and vocal uprisings throughout the Arab world?

Perhaps I did lean toward a doomsday scenario when I wrote that the vacuum created by the overthrow of dictators would result in the religious extremists taking over.  Maybe, just maybe, a transition to equality where there is not such a gaping disparity between the rich and greedy in power with the majority who are poor and hopeless, would cancel out a desire for an Islamic Republic. After all, the Koran teaches that this life is merely a preparation for the afterlife. Frankly, if there is little hope for the basic necessities on earth, embracing religion would provide hope after death. But is that really what people want?

It is possible that I was relying too much on the Iran model of change, where change from the Shah to the Ayatollah was negligible at best, horrendous at worst. Why not assume the people really want positive change where one ism is not necessarily replaced with another, where their lives on earth would be better and they had the luxury of living rather than anticipating how great it will be at Allah’s table.

Time will tell if I was wrong but more important it seems, is the general impression that Al Qaeda can’t seem to get a foot hold into those Arab countries that are currently in turmoil, whether it is Libya, Egypt, Yemen, or Bahrain. What gives? What happened to the most treacherous terrorist organization in the world led by the quintessential bloodthirsty killer ever to walk this earth? The whole point of their terror tactics is to spread their belief that the United States and her allies foist their evil self-serving brand of democracy on the world. Their mission is to destroy these countries and any other nation that does not embrace extremist Islam as the way toward salvation. And, where do they strike? Anywhere they can, which means anywhere there is a security gap or where they sense disarray and weakness as in an Arab country in turmoil without a bonafide leader and cohesive government.

If my previous scenarios were wrong and, in fact, the uprisings on the streets of Cairo and Tripoli and other cities in the region result in some kind of transition toward democracy, the world can breathe a bit easier for several reasons. Those Arab people who were tenacious in their resistance to their leaders will have succeeded in deposing despots who have enriched themselves at the expense of providing the basic necessities of human life. Those countries will finally be able to guarantee men, women, children, and the elderly a future that affords dignity, nourishment, education, and a decent level of comfort for all – equally.

But what about the rest of us who have tried in vain to rid the world of Al Qaeda and in the process sacrificed thousands of lives?

The bad news is we failed at the expense of our youth who died in combat and thousands of citizens of those countries we invaded who also died during the civil wars that ensued.

The good news is that given the failure of Al Qaeda to step in and take over those Arab nations who have or who are in the process of toppling their leaders should assure us that the terror group who gave us 9/11 and many other horrific acts where thousands were killed, has lost its power, organization, connections, and influence. If that is indeed the case, which one of those countries in the western world who joined us in our so-called effort to smoke out Al Qaeda in remote parts of the world would, today, continue pouring billions in the war effort and justify sacrificing their soldiers? The obvious response at this point would be that, given the impotence of Al Qaeda, they and we should withdraw our troops from those war zones and, instead, focus on our own internal economic problems. And, among those problems would be finding a viable alternative to being held hostage at the gasoline pumps.

At the moment, I, like millions of others, am watching the bloodshed in Libya. What strikes me are the differences in our reaction to what occurred in Egypt to what is now going on in Colonel Ghadaffi’s Jamariya. Events are changing by the moment. As of today, the United States has branded Ghadaffi “delusional” and “out of touch with his people’s needs.” In fact, during a press conference at the White House, the spokesperson for President Obama asked the international press how he, Ghadaffi, could smile and laugh while his supporters slaughtered his people?  Only last week, the United States position was that the “Libyan people must decide what they want to do.” How many people were killed in the four days since we changed our official position?  This falls under the heading of real politik.

Mubarak was an important friend of the United States and Israel notwithstanding his brutality at home, while Ghadaffi was only recently demoted from terrorist status when he imprisoned the men who brought down the Pan American flight in Lockerbee more than a decade ago and agreed to a financial settlement with the victims’ families.

I met Ghadaffi in 1986, face to face, in his bombed villa at Babal Aziz. In fact, my interview with him for US News and World Report was the first after we, the Americans, bombed him. When I hear the words “no-fly zone” and “sanctions,” it reminds me of 1986 when we drew a line in the sand and the Colonel stepped over that imaginary line, which resulted in several squadrons of F-111s dropping bombs over Tripoli. Truth be told, I hesitated writing about my experiences in Libya and about my impressions of Ghadaffi who, at the time, resembled more Tom Jones than his image today, which is more like a bloated elderly woman. I was waiting to see if his words to me which were recorded and published in US News and World Report, still were a crucial part of his agenda for his people.

More on that tomorrow…

The Color Red

After doing numerous radio interviews in the past several days on the situation in Egypt, and getting such diverse reaction from listeners, and from my last Blog, Freedom Is Just Another Word for Nothing Left To Lose, I realized it was important to explain several inalienable facts that had somehow eluded me.

One of those facts is to provide the historical impact of the Muslim Brotherhood not only on Egypt but on the entire Arab world. The other is to understand that like it or not, any discussion, debate, uprising, or war in the Arab world directly affects Israel. And, what affects Israel is taken into serious political consideration in the United States.

Beginning with Israel, the question often arises as to why we, in the United States, are prone to support Middle East dictators and absolute monarchs who, while not the paragons of human rights, have been willing to maintain peace accords with Israel. Even more pointed is why we, in the United States, have our fate and our moral compass so intrinsically entwined with that Spartan little democracy in the middle of the Arab world.

Even to the most cold-blooded, Israel is a country which hardly ever evokes a neutral reaction. The most simple example of this either/or, black and white mentality when it comes to the Jewish State, happened to me several years ago. Traveling throughout the West Bank and Gaza filming a documentary about women suicide bombers entitled Army of Roses, Palestinians would ask me, “Are you for or against suicide bombing?” I would always reply that I am against inhumanity of any kind.” The next question was almost predictable. “Are you in favor of the Israeli occupation?” And I would say no, that I was in favor of a peaceful two-state solution. But I could see the reaction on the faces of the people in the street. How could I be against blowing oneself up under the guise of freedom or liberation and not be against the Palestinians having a homeland. It just didn’t seem to make sense to them—the them who were taught that dying while taking the enemy along was the highest honor they could achieve.

The inevitable emotional response to Israel covers a vast spectrum of reasons. Beginning with a powerful Jewish lobby and a fervent Evangelical population that would neither vote for nor tolerate a candidate for President of the United States coming out in favor of compromising Israel’s security for a Palestinian state is a more cynical reason why we in America are Israel’s best friend. The other reason is more historic. Once upon a time when the Soviet Union existed in its old form and supported the Arab world either with weapons or training camps for terrorists, Israel was the only bastion of democracy in that region. Continuing on to certain phrases or comparisons such as Sarah Palin using the words “blood libel,” to describe banal accusations that had been hurled at her, to others calling the genocide in Africa or Cambodia or Serbia a “Holocaust,” to comparing what happened to six million Jews during the Nazi regime to any other unspeakable massacre, is often construed as trivializing the enormity of that dark era in European history. That is one memory that does not disappear quietly into the annals of history. As recently as last week, the head of the SNCF, the company that runs the trains in France, made a formal apology to the Jewish community for having transported French citizens to the death camps.

On one of the radio programs I did the other day, another guest joined the discussion, a man who was the head of a Jewish organization, cited by Reuters to be the most “anti-Israel organization” in the United States. The debate began and continued rather calmly until he stated that the entire Arab world was willing to recognize Israel and cement peace treaties with her if she would just retreat to the pre-1967 borders. Technically, that is true. Realistically, it is nonsense. The Israeli offer of withdrawal at the expense of maintaining strategic depth was never enough. The Golan would go to Syria, the West Bank to Jordan, Gaza to the Egyptians, and half of Jerusalem as capital of a Palestinian State. Of course, the other extreme side of that equation is that the current Israeli Prime Minister persists in building illegal settlements on Palestinian land. As for peace in exchange for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders or a full stop to building new Israeli settlements, they are both possible compromises in the world of make-believe. In the real world, Hamas, the Hezbollah, along with the different more extreme factions of the PLO, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and of course Iran (though a bit out of the loop of the Middle East) constantly call for the destruction of the State of Israel. And, if their leaders are retrained enough not to actually make those statements, there are organizations within those countries which are tolerated that do call for the disappearance of Israel. Which gets me to the second inalienable fact that had somehow eluded me since the uprising in Egypt began.

Many American experts believe and they are not wrong that every prominent Islamic movement in the United States and throughout the world is based on the edicts and controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Currently, affiliate branches of the organization are present in more than one hundred countries worldwide. Beginning in the 1930s, the group had links to the Nazi movement, and were closely aligned with the Mufti of British Mandate Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Hussaini, who spent time in Germany with Nazi leaders, and who mobilized Palestinians to fight in the German army. Ultimately Hussaini was imprisoned by the British for his Nazi sympathies.
The late PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat, while an engineering student at Cairo University, joined the Muslim Brotherhood and fought alongside them in the 1940s until 1954 when they were banned in Egypt after the Brotherhood was accused of trying to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser. Banned though not forgotten as the organization still has the support of about one-third of the population. Those political candidates who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood and who run for office manage to get on the ballots as “Independents.”

When the unrest began in Cairo last month, initially the Muslim Brotherhood was not involved, at least not glaringly. As the days went by and a vacuum of leadership became increasingly obvious, the Brotherhood became vocal, present, and even part of the attempt at a “peaceful transfer of power.” Unfortunately, this is an old story that has been tried and tested successfully. It falls under the heading of what I call the fatal cocktail—dead-end economy, men and women who have no futures, a huge disparity between rich and poor with no middle class, and a belief in religion and God that teaches that life is just a preparation for the afterlife. Add to that, as I have written numerous times, is the fact that the Muslim organizations provide more sustenance and basic necessities for the people than either the despotic rulers or absolute monarchs don’t. The Arab world is not the United Kingdom where the people get some kind of a vicarious thrill seeing their monarchy dressed to the nines with enough jewels on their garments to feed the entire West Bank. How long can Arab leaders be that dull and insensitive to imagine that human beings will continue to starve while their leaders are basking in luxury?  It happened in the Soviet Union. Eventually it happens everywhere where someone raises the consciousness of the people.

The classic argument is that the men and women in the streets in Cairo are college- educated, intellectual, intelligent, and don’t want an Islamic regime that puts them back to the 12th century. The reality is that part of that fatal cocktail does not become apparent in the beginning of any “peaceful” or not-so-peaceful power transition. Get rid of one dictator at a time before you implement the real and complete agenda.  For example…

On Monday, Muhammad Ghannem, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt told the Arabic-language Iranian news network Al-Alam that the people should “prepare for war against Israel.” Ghannem reportedly told Al- Alam that the Suez Canal should be closed immediately, and that the flow of gas from Egypt to Israel should cease “in order to bring about the downfall of the Mubarak regime.” Ghannem went on to praise Egyptian soldiers deployed by President Hosni Mubarak for using restraint in not “killing their brothers.” The Muslim Brotherhood has not survived for all these decades because they were not in touch with the street. They would never, at this point, announce that if they came to power, all those educated women would be obliged to cover their bodies and heads or risk beating, stoning, or worse. The protestors in Tahrir Square understood the future in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. The problem is that not many people watching the events unfold throughout the rest of the world really understood or had even heard of the Muslim Brotherhood and its historical impact not only on Egypt but on the entire Arab world.

Perhaps the most sophisticated approach to the ideology of Pan-Islam began in the1920s and 1930s when, in 1928, Hassan al-Banna, an Islamic scholar and Sufi schoolteacher, founded the Muslim Brotherhood or Muslim Brethren.  The son of an Imam, Al-Banna was responsible for the policies of the organization as they concerned Egypt’s domestic affairs. Eventually, as the movement spread to other Arab countries, Al-Banna developed his vision of Pan-Islamic Nationalism when he preached that Islam and was both religion and state.  Al-Banna stated that “Islam does not recognize geographical boundaries, nor does it acknowledge racial and blood differences, as they view all Muslims as one Umma. The Muslim Brethren consider this unity as holy and believe in this union, striving for the joint action of all Muslims and the strengthening of the brotherhood of Islam, declaring that every inch of land inhabited by Muslims is their fatherland …”

As of today, the Brotherhood is a trans-national movement and the largest political opposition organization in the majority of Arab nations. The Brotherhood is financed by contributions from its members who are required to allocate a portion of their income to the movement. Some of these contributions are from members who live in oil-rich countries. Its coffers are deep. Forgetting about Israel for the moment and even about the United States, why is the Muslim Brotherhood so dangerous?

If the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power in Egypt, there is the risk that Jordan, the Gulf States, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia will fall. Just as Iran serves as a base for Shiite Islamic terrorism, Egypt could serve as a base for Sunni Islamic terrorism.  Iran presently is the patron of the terrorist Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, and Egypt could be the patron for Hamas terrorist forces in Gaza. While Mubarak blocked access to forces attempting to provide weapons to Hamas from the Sinai, one might imagine that the Sinai would become a superhighway through which Hamas could get some of the most sophisticated terrorist military equipment. Historically, there has been antipathy between Sunni and Shiite nations, as seen during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. The hatred that Sunni and Shiite Muslim fundamentalists feel towards Israel, however, has resulted in recent collaboration between the terrorist Shiite state of Iran and the terrorist Sunni forces of Hamas. If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, one could envisage a peaceful collaboration between Shiite and Sunni. After all, both want to destroy Israel and expel the Jews from the Middle East. How to prove these nightmare scenarios?

There have been several on the ground realities that are still in place throughout the Arab world. Though the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is deplorable, Israel is wrongly blamed as the sole reason the Palestinian people have suffered. When was the last time that Palestinians in Gaza were allowed to turn left instead of right to seek day labor in Egypt and not just through the Eres crossing into Israel? Who remembers when Palestinians could walk across the Allenby Bridge into Jordan to work? Who remembers that Palestinians were expelled from lower Jordan in September1970 by the head of the Hashemite Kingdom, a term that has been immortalized in the terror group, Black September? How many know that Jordan was the home to millions of Palestinians and even today, the majority of Jordan’s population is Palestinian? Who realizes that the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan is a kingdom constructed and concocted by the British? And, as for the rights of Jews throughout the Arab world, it is almost as deplorable as the absence of rights for Palestinians. How many Arab countries afford Jews the same human rights as Muslims? How many extremist Muslim organizations have attacked Israeli, American, and European citizens, as well as their installations throughout the world?

The most glaring reality check, however, is one that unites Israelis and Palestinians. While it is a fact that the world uses euphemisms to describe their anti-Semitic feelings, claiming they are “anti-Zionist,” the world, most pointedly the Arab world, has expelled and mistreated the Palestinians by using them as an example of the inhumanity of the Israeli occupation, including leaving them to languish in abysmal conditions in refugee camps. And that condition began when the Jordanians occupied the West Bank before 1967. The pros and cons of this uprising in Egypt are as contradictory as the most prescient issue in the Middle East—the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is inevitably at the root of all conflict in that part of the world. And, that’s why whenever there is tension, it invariably involves Israel and the United States.

When it comes to the Middle East, nothing is black or white. The tragedy is that though there are those who are intuitive enough to strive for gray, the color that dominates is the color red for bloodshed.

FREEDOM IS JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE…Kris Kristofferson and Janis Joplin – Me and Bobby McGee

The Middle East is exploding. People want freedom. The young and old are tired of despotic rulers depriving them of human rights. They are fed up with corrupt institutions and stagnant political order.

The core problem within these countries in North Africa, the Gulf, and throughout the rest of the Arab world is the growing population of young men and women who are educated and ambitious, while unemployed, frustrated, resentful, and muzzled. The other problem, even more dire, is a misconception of freedom when the alternative to autocratic and repressive leaders are regimes controlled by extreme Islamic fundamentalists.

One of the earliest examples of this failed political transition was in Iran during the revolution in 1979. Who doesn’t remember the Iranian protestors against the Shah who lined Fifth Avenue with placards, petitions, and mock-ups of torture machines? After a year of living in exile in Neauphle-le-Chateau in France, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran, took power, and set up a government ruled by dictatorial Mullahs. The result of freedom from the Shah became a country led by the Ayatollah where squads of young thugs roamed the streets, arresting people who listened to music, held hands with the opposite sex, or stoned women who were not covered from head to toe in black burkas. Pretty soon, Iranian protestors could be seen once again on Fifth Avenue with placards, petitions, and those same mock-up torture machines, only this time they were protesting the brutal regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Freedom was a distant dream. Never mind Jimmy Carter and his doomed do-gooder foreign policy back then to rid the world of the Shah instead of putting pressure on the Persian ruler to create more equality. Carter believed the alternative would be democracy. Instead, Iran became what it is today in a mere three decades—a country led by an ignorant lunatic who spews anti-Semitism and is several years away from the ability to deliver a nuclear bomb.

In Algeria, in 1992 when there was an attempt at elections, the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front almost won a majority in the Parliament. In response, the government canceled elections. The Algerian dictator was brutal but he and his cohorts clearly understood that the alternative to his brand of brutality would be a religious dictatorship. Not that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika cares about human rights. He cared about saving his wealth and power. The result in Algeria was that human rights remained elusive.

Again, even more recently in Tunisia in January 2011, the country’s president, Zine al Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee the country after twenty-three years of a ruthless grip on his people. A state of emergency was declared and the ineffectual prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, appeared on television to announce that he was running what he described as a “temporary government.” There is no doubt that it is only a question of time—months at the most—before the all-powerful Islamic party will promise the people equality and a better life, take over the army, and impose religious rule.

The irony is that Islamic leaders fulfill those promises of a better life if compared to the violent dictatorships of Arab leaders from Morocco to Egypt to Jordan, Syria, and beyond. The reason that Hamas and the Islamic Fundamentalists throughout the West Bank and Gaza win the hearts and minds of the Palestinians is because they provide education, technological training, and such basics as food, warm clothes, and shelter for an otherwise desperate population. They are rich organizations. They get billions in donations from Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia who is home to the violent Wahabi Muslims. And, there are many other states that support the extremist religious groups. The fact that the more moderate leaders in that region talk peace with Israel is no incentive for the Palestinians to trust them. The only hearts and minds the more moderate Palestinians are winning are those in the United States and Israel.

Societies which have been oppressed for decades have no idea how to achieve freedom. More to the point, the American version of freedom or democracy is completely foreign to those living throughout the Arab world. Our idea of liberation fails on almost every attempt, whether in Iraq or throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Our misconception that people in those distant lands will embrace our brand of freedom is not only naïve but dangerous, as the people we are trying to liberate end up viewing us as oppressors. This predictable formula is similar to the countries that had no idea how to make the transition from living under a brutal but decrepit Soviet Empire in 1989 to the fall of the Berlin Wall which supposedly brought freedom. What happened instead was that criminal bands and former communist leaders rule Russia today, either behind the scenes or blatantly on the streets. Either regime that deposes dictatorships—mafia clans or extreme religious leaders—results in a deprivation of human rights, anarchy, and sets societies back thousands of years when it comes to social, cultural, and economic progress.

An article in the Sunday New York Times on 30 January, quoted an American woman whose son was currently in Egypt as an exchange student. Though she was worried about his safety given the riots going on there to depose Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, she also believed that her son was witness to a great moment in history. According to her, he was privileged to observe the Egyptian people fighting for freedom. But what really caught my eye was an article in the same edition that reported how gangs of armed men attacked at least four prisons across Egypt to free thousands of Muslim militants. As they sacked the jails, apparently the police temporarily vanished from the streets.

Predictably, the majority of Egyptians believe that once Mubarak leaves the country, freedom will reign and chaos will end. The reality, if history is any lesson, is that Islamic Fundamentalists will take over, promise people a better life, and tragically make good on those promises.  What is even more tragic of course is the price people will and have paid for that so-called, on-the-surface better life.

In exchange for the youth having the opportunity to be educated and technologically trained, they will find themselves indoctrinated into a philosophical army that deplores America, intends to obliterate Israel, and ultimately will be willing to die for their cause.

In exchange for improved social services where children will not starve and the elderly will be cared for, women will lose any gains they had made when it comes to 21st century equality.

The truth is that the United States would rather see despots ruling Arab countries than risk Islamic Fundamentalists taking over, gathering strength, and attacking American installations at home or throughout the world. France, Germany, and England, to name a few European countries which have burgeoning Arab populations that are not afforded the same rights as their citizens, consider an Arab world ruled by Fundamentalists to be dangerous to peace within their own borders. These fears are not unfounded, which only makes the solution to this dilemma—the lesser of two evils—almost impossible to achieve.

The one possible solution to avoid secular anarchy or religious totalitarianism as an alternative to either a communist or fascist dictatorship lies within the definition of democracy, freedom and liberty. We, in America, and they, in other foreign democracies, must determine what kind of democracy, freedom, and liberty apply to those countries that have never experienced anything but autocratic rule. If we continue to foist our brand of freedom, liberation, or democratic rule on those inexperienced nations, we and they are doomed to relive Janis Joplin’s words…”Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”