Friday, August 31, 2012

Satire: No Outer Space Invasion Should Interfere with President Obama's Fundraising Schedule

This article is published here.

By Barry Rubin

Note: The following is my daydream of a New York Times editorial a few weeks hence, after the craziness regarding the hurricane and the Republican convention. It is intended to be over-the-top satire that might make you laugh. The point is, though, that things have become so totally bizarre that I wouldn't rule out something like this happening.  

Under any circumstances, the appearance of an alien attack fleet would seem to be a cause for alarm. Of course, we are not referring to good “aliens,” the people sneaking across our borders in the hope of getting citizenship and the ability to vote in elections—not necessarily in that order. No, we are referring to the aliens from the star system of Alpha Orionis whose space ships are even now circling our planet.

As everyone knows by now, the aliens have broadcast a threat that unless their demands are met within 24 hours they will start destroying one American state a day, killing all forms of life within its borders. There are those who have wrongly concluded, however, that the president should immediately cease his fundraising activities and that the schedule of the Democratic Convention be altered.

We view this as short sighted, mainly pushed by the far-right faction that has taken over the Republican Party. There is a big difference between an alien attack that bodes ill for the survival of all Americans and a hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast. No one would suggest that the president prefers to be partying while Americans were dying horribly. It's just that doing so is his personal duty, made perhaps less onerous by the fact that some of the specific states that might be wiped out, say Arizona or Utah for example.

Fund-raising and nominating conventions are a necessary part of the American political process. Consequently, these are legitimately the highest priority for a president compared to, say, dealing with the wrecked economy, massive unemployment, inflation, the takeover of Egypt by a genocidal-oriented totalitarian regime, and such relatively secondary problems.

Finally, we should address the potential advantages of the destruction of America by the space invaders’ advanced weapons. The U.S. debt would be wiped out overnight. Since no one would be alive to look for work the unemployment rate would be zero. And we would have achieved perfect equality. As an added bonus, the United States, a country that has done so much damage in the world, would be gone and the rest of the globe’s people would be free to pursue their development without fear of someone stealing their resources. Well, someone other than those from Alpha Orionis at least.

We do not know much about the culture or even the skin—if they have skin—or the gender—if they have gender—of the voyagers from Alpha Orionis. But we can certainly say that they are part of the universe’s rainbow of diversity. 

Who is to say that Homo Sapiens, that breed which has ravished this planet environmentally, is superior to these visitors? Perhaps they have free birth control pills and recycling, the main features of a truly advanced civilization.
In short, who are we to judge?

But one thing is clear: threats of the imminent destruction of America should not disrupt the president’s schedule or the Democratic Party convention. That would be truly silly.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Where Are the Muslim Anti-Islamists? They’re the People Battling and Being Murdered by the Islamists

Where Are the Muslim Anti-Islamists? They’re the People Battling and Being Murdered by the Islamists

By Barry Rubin

A reader asks: where are all these tens and even hundreds of millions of Muslim anti-Islamists.

I wrote an entire book about the liberals and moderates called The Long War for Freedom. There are a number of scholars who have written such books, even analogies of moderate Muslim writings. Oh, yes, and then there is every book and article written by non-Islamist Muslims over decades.  

The problem today is that we are caught between two lies. The mainstream Western lie is that Islam is a religion of peace full stop. There is nothing at all militant in its texts. A small fringe of extremists have misinterpreted it or are even heretics. So all Muslims are moderates pretty much, either moderate moderates or moderate Islamists. And anyone who says otherwise is an Islamophobic racist.

That is a lie.

But then there are those—far smaller in number and lacking power in the mainstream media or universities but present in other places—who say Islam is the problem full stop. It is inevitably militant, extremist, and violence. There is no such thing as political Islamism because all Muslims want Sharia dictatorships. So the radicals are proper representatives and there are few or no moderates at all. And anyone who says otherwise is a wimpy apologist sell-out.

And that’s a lie.

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Let me once again define the two key groups of Muslims who are anti-Islamist and relatively moderate by far in comparison:

--Muslims who are moderates are people whose religion is Islam but are not revolutionary Islamists. They might be Arab nationalists, or pro-democratic; they might be primarily loyal to identities as Turks, Kurds, Berbers, Iranians; or supporters of a communal-ethnic  grouping like the Sunni Muslims of Lebanon or many of the Muslims of both types in Iraq or a variety of Muslims in the former Soviet republics and Russia itself who have national or communal identities. [Note: I don’t consider Alawites or Druze to be Muslims but if you do then you can count them as anti-Islamist Muslims, too.

And don’t forget all those Indian Muslims and Muslims in many countries who might support any one of many different parties or movements. There are Muslims who are left-wing, too.  And then there are huge numbers of African Muslims who aren’t Islamists but have other loyalties.

In other words, lots of Muslims have their own political views. Remember for example that 60 percent of Tunisians voted for secular parties. In Turkey, the Islamists had to disguise themselves and there are so many opposed to them that if the rival parties ever got their act together they could toss them out of office. Even in Syria there are lots of liberal, moderate, or traditional Sunni Muslims. If we only helped those people rather than the Islamists (thanks to Obama policy and its funneling through Islamist Turkey and financing by Qatar and Saudi Arabia) the moderates might even win.

These people listed above vary in their religious views from pious, to different varieties, to lax, or secular but they are still Muslims.

--There are far fewer people who could be called moderates who want to reform Islam in some active way. Perhaps it is the relative shortage of these people that is misleading. The number of liberal Muslim reformers is not large, partly due to repression and intimidation. To some extent, though not completely, a lot of the alleged power of the reform movement is a creation of Western apologist propaganda.  Yes, real moderate reformers do exist—a variety of articles and books deal with their ideas—and they are courageous people. Unfortunately, the Western mass media often favors the phonies.

Yet aside from all the varieties of Islam (one of which is the moderate Sufi view) and relative secularists and the sincere but relatively inactive Muslims, there’s something else, too. I call it conservative-traditional Islam and it has been very powerful.  Conservative-traditional Islam has dominated, for example, the Arab world and Iran and Turkey and lots of other places for decades. It has several different approaches.

Among the Shia there is the “Quietist” Islam which means to be very religious and stay out of politics. This is the Islam that Ayatollah Khomeini battled, defeated, and his regime has tried to repress. But it is very much alive and one day—though it might take many decades—it will boot out the Islamists of today right to the bottom of the Persian Gulf. It is also very active in Lebanon and in Iraq, too.

Then there is the conservative-traditionalist Islam that has controlled the official positions throughout the Arab world and will now be rooted out by the Muslim Brotherhood if it can. These clerics are not necessarily lovable liberals but they are not advocates of violent revolution and people who fully intend to implement genocide.  They viewed the Islamists as heretical and just ignorant, though many have surrendered or gone over to the winning side.

And in some places, notably Indonesia and places in sub-Saharan Africa, a systematically moderate Islam has emerged and run things for many years, though it is being challenged by the Islamists.

One more thing, if the foolish and ignorant governments in many Western countries actually helped real moderates, secularists, assimilationist or acculturating-oriented Muslims, and even conservative-traditionalist ones, perhaps the Islamists would be getting pushed back in the West, especially Europe. Instead, the intellectual establishments and governments often back, coddle, fund, and cheer the radicals.

Imagine being an Italian immigrant to America in the 1930s who hated Mussolini or an anti-Hitler German and being told that the anti-democratic front groups were the real and legitimate representatives of your people! And while the analogy is far from exact (it happened some but nothing like today's equivalent): the American media romanticizes the pro-Hitler German-American Bund, conceals its fascist antisemitism, and then other people ask: Where are the moderate Germans?

So let’s get it straight: Revolutionary Islamists are real Muslims with a big base of support who want to impose repressive Sharia dictatorships. They draw on actual Islamic doctrine and can argue that their views are legitimately those of the Koran and the other holy texts. They are not a small minority but a growing mass movement that in places either has majority support or can whip the majority into line. Telling the truth about what is in Islamic texts is an intellectual duty. Showing how radicals use these texts is simple scholarly integrity.

But that doesn’t mean that all of Islam is inevitably radical. It doesn’t mean that the revolutionary Islamists are right and all their Muslim opponents are wrong. It doesn’t mean we don’t have courageous allies among Muslims. And they are far more courageous than the posturing Western ignoramuses who romanticize the revolutionary Islamist murderers.

We don’t have to agree on everything but I have met so many such valiant people—as well as people I didn’t like but we recognized our need to cooperate—it would take a long story to tell. Let me leave you with one experience.
I’m lecturing at a university in North America. Of course, I am there as an Israeli; I am explaining Israel and its policies; but I am also explaining that the great battle of our time is that against revolutionary Islamism. 

In the front row sits a young man, a graduate student apparently, wearing the biggest Palestinian kaffiyeh I’ve ever seen. As I speak, he nods vigorously. His smiling and evident agreement throws me off more than if he had been heckling me.

At the end of the talk he rushed up and said something like the following: “I’m a proud Palestinian. I want us to have our own free country. And I don’t want those Islamist crazies to keep the battle going for my whole life or turn my country into a nightmarish dictatorship.”

I’ve heard parallel things from Turks and Iranians, Syrians and Iraqis, Egyptians and Tunisians, and others.  
OK. One more. I was speaking at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. I was wearing a nice suit and tie. I come out and there is a demonstration of 300? 400? Iranians against the repression of the regime there. I walk over and shout out, in my very limited Persian, “Long Live Free Iran!” 

They go crazy applauding. They crowd around me: Am I a European member of parliament?

No, I explain, I’m an Israeli just giving a talk there. Their faces fall. Not one—not one—single European Member of Parliament has come out to join them or congratulate them or cheer them. Not one non-Iranian European has come to march alongside them.

The Westerners only turn out to bash Israel, even if it means cheering Hamas and Hizballah.

Sure, Muslim communities in Europe and America hardly ever renounce terrorism or fight the Islamists or explain to converts that Usama bin Ladin and Khomeini and the Muslim Brotherhood aren’t big heroes.

Why? Because those radical forces are in power, often with collaboration from Western leftists, intellectuals, academics, and officials.  Ask any moderate Muslim or Muslim who is moderate whether the Western mass media show any interest in interviewing him to discuss the battle against the radicals. 

And yes we have the right to demand that these communities teach against revolutionary Islamism and terrorism instead of pretending it’s all an Islamist plot.

But ask just not why more moderates don’t exist, ask why you aren’t helping them and acting as their allies in our common battle. After all, their lives are the ones most on the line.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why Revolutionary Sunni Islamism is the World’s Greatest Strategic Threat and None of it is Moderate

Why Revolutionary Sunni Islamism is the World’s Greatest Strategic Threat and None of it is Moderate

By Barry Rubin

No, it sure isn’t the age of Aquarius or of Multicultural, Politically Correct love-ins. It’s the age of revolutionary Islamism, especially Sunni Islamism. And you better learn to understand what this is all about real fast.

(Shia Islamism, important mainly because of Iran and especially because of its nuclear ambitions, is number two on the threat list. But that’s not our topic today.)

Focusing on the Sunni revolutionary Islamist tidal wave, the foundation of knowledge is that there are three types and they are all bad, very bad. A lot of people are going to be misinforming you about this and getting others—never themselves, of course—killed.

Sometimes people ask me why I use the phrase "revolutionary" Sunni Islamism. The reason is to remind everyone that this is a revolutionary movement like those of the past that seek to use a variety of strategies and tactics--of which violence might be only one--to seize, hold, and use state power to transform societies.

Some ask why I use the word "Islamism" and the reason is because this is a specific, conscious set of organized political movements. However theology is related to this issue the problem is political, not theological.  Anyone who watched over decades as I have how the radicals had to sell the idea that "jihad" today meant picking up guns, cutting off people's heads, overthrowing governments, and assembling mobs of thousands screaming for death and destruction, would have no illusion that they had an easy time of it.

This didn't happen because somebody just pointed to some verses in the Koran and everyone said: Oh, now I get it! We must seize control of the world and kill everyone else. They murdered or intimidated into silence Muslims who disagreed with them. Even today hundreds of millions of Muslims oppose revolutionary Islamism. And if you don't play it smart to have those people as allies--some out of mutually cynical self-interest and some as true brothers who want to live in freedom just like you do--and help them save their lives and countries you will never achieve anything.

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The three types are the al-Qaida style groups; the Salafists, and the Muslim Brotherhood. They are all equally dangerous and some are more dangerous in different ways. Have no illusions.

To understand al-Qaida, which of course goes under many names and regional local groups, is simple. It has one strategy: kill! Its only tactic is terrorism. It is like those nineteenth-century revolutionary movements that always failed and for which the Marxists had so much contempt.

These small groups were always persuaded that if the workers would only be roused to a general strike or that enough officials would be assassinated the revolution would come like a nuclear explosion. Now, these movements always failed but sometimes they laid the basis for others to succeed. Remember, the People’s Will helped launch the Russian revolutionary movement; an anarchist assassinated an American president; the Serbian state-sponsored terrorist cell set off World War One in 1914, and of course al-Qaida created September 11.

Al-Qaida and its various versions in Morocco, Gaza (the Palestinian Resistance Committees), Iraq, Somalia, Europe, Yemen, and a dozen other places is dangerous because it can stage terrorist attacks. In a place where no government exists—like Somalia—it might conceivably seize power. But al-Qaida is not the great threat of the twenty-first century. It is a problem for counter-terrorism and relatively lightweight counterinsurgency.

They may be the worst guys but they are not the West’s main global strategic problem. Everybody who isn’t basically a supporter of an al-Qaida group hates al-Qaida except for the Taliban which is really sort of a similar version. Why? Simple. Because al-Qaida wants to overthrow every regime (they do play a little footsy with Iran but even that’s limited). Oh, and they also loathe Shia Muslims which makes for even more enemies and fewer potential allies.

It is “stupid” to have no friends because that means everyone has a motive to get you and nobody has a reason to help you or give you safe haven. Doesn’t sound like brilliant strategy, right? But there’s more.

Al-Qaida, although the name means in Arabic “base,” ironically, has no political base. It sets up no real mass organizations; it doesn’t do social welfare work capable of rallying whole countries behind it. There is no way that hundreds of thousands or millions of people will rally to its cause. Imagine someone in 1917 saying in Moscow, “Forget about those moderate Bolsheviks. It’s the anarchists we have to fear.”
In other words, they are in a distant third place.

But even al-Qaida can be used by the Brotherhood. Look at what happened: an al-Qaida group stormed into an Egyptian base, killed lots of soldiers, stole a couple of vehicles, and attacked the border with Israel.

True, the Egyptian regime (that is, the Brotherhood) attacked and killed some of the al-Qaida people. After all, these terrorists had murdered Egyptian soldiers. But what did the regime tell its people? That Israel was behind the attack. Israel had murdered Egyptians. And therefore there is more reason than ever to hate and wage war against Israel. This is how Middle Eastern politics works. And that’s one reason why the Brotherhood—as it incites to hatred and violence even as it kills the even more hateful and violent—will never be moderate.

Then there are the Salafists, a word coined only recently in part as a pretense to pretend that the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate. But this also does describe a distinct set of groups, for example the Palestinian groups Jaish al-Islam and Jaish al-Umma. Egypt is the place where the Salafists developed in a most sophisticated fashion. But it’s important to understand why that happened. Indeed, that point is central to comprehending what’s going on now.

In the 1970s, when President Anwar al-Sadat made the mistake of letting the Brotherhood return to public life in practice, he threw fear into them. Advocate violence in Egypt; come out too openly against the regime; even become too successful and back to the concentration camps you go!

So the Brotherhood leadership, elderly and many of whom had been tortured and seen their colleagues hung, played it cool. They had no illusions about underestimating the strength of the regime. Yes, they said, the day of revolution will come but meanwhile we are in a long-term stage of da’wa, organize and educate. Patience is essential. Don’t make the regime too mad. Yes, hooray for killing Israelis and Americans! But at home keep the murders to a few too boldly open secularists.

There were, of course, young men who were too impatient. "Our leaders are cowards. They have betrayed the true word of Islam! Let us organize for a more imminent revolution, maybe even take up arms right now and shoot down the evil regime’s officials." And they even gunned down Sadat himself. There were many such groups—one, Islamic Jihad, joined up with al-Qaida—but they had different views, mixes of strategies, and leaders. Some were almost sects with charismatic shaykhs.

Now they have blossomed forth, eager for violence and instant revolution. Their al-Nour party—which only represents part of this complex mix of groups that may or may not cooperate—got about 20 percent of the parliamentary vote.

Is the Brotherhood their friend or enemy? Should they raid police stations and blow up pipelines or not? Should they set up morality patrols and beat up young men walking with women and also women who aren’t dressed as the Salafists wish? There are many different views.

Sometimes the Brotherhood uses the Salafists as a convenient excuse. If Islamic Jihad lobs rockets and mortars at Israel, well—wink, wink, nudge, nudge—that isn’t the fault of Hamas is it? At times, the Salafists can furnish the Brotherhood with the needed storm troops though I would not suggest for a moment that the Brotherhood owns the Salafists. They are definitely two different groupings, but their interests can blend and the “radical” Salafists provide the “moderate” Brotherhood with a convenient excuse when one is needed.
One thing is clear though: the Salafists’ goal is the precise, exact same as that of the Brotherhood. The only question is how fast to go, how radical to talk, and how much violence to use.

And another thing is also clear: neither in Egypt, nor in Tunisia, nor in Gaza (where the Brotherhood is called Hamas) will the Salafists overthrow the Brotherhood people. We can be less sure about Syria where the balance of forces is not yet so clear.

Finally, we come to the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is the Communist Party of Islamism. And you don’t have to take it from me; that was an idea expressed by the moderate, anti-Islamist brother of the Brotherhood’s founder.

The Brotherhood wants a Sharia state. It would like a caliphate (run by itself of course). It wants Israel wiped off the map and America kicked out of the Middle East. It wants women put into second-class citizenship and gays put into their graves. It wants Christians subordinated or thrown out. It wants all of these things.

And it will pursue these goals with patience and strategic cleverness. One step forward, one step back; tell the Western reporters and politicians what they want to hear. Pretend to be moderate in English while screaming death curses in Arabic.

These are the people who are coming to power. They hate their Shia counterparts generally and will kill them also at times. They will drag down their countries’ economies. Ironically, they will succeed in making Israel relatively stronger as they beat and burn and tear down; as they set back their countries economic advancement; as they kick half the population (the female) down the stairs.

They will lose. Just as the Communists did; just as the Nazis did; just as the Fascists and Japanese militarists did. But how many decades will it take? How many millions of people dead and injured? How much human potential and natural resources wasted?

And will Western policy make easier the ultimate triumph of moderation, moderation that includes millions of anti-Islamist Muslims and also includes lots of Middle Eastern Berbers, Kurds, Turks, Iranians, Druze, Christians and—yes—Israel. Or will the West make things harder, longer, and worse?

Of victory, I have no doubt. Of Western good sense, all too much uncertainty.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Wake Up, America, It Ain't 1895

By Barry Rubin

I had two interesting responses to my article on Baltimore and the decay of America and because my energy level is very low now as I begin treatment for cancer allow me to respond briefly.

One friend asks why you believe that Romney and Ryan have answers for fixing America. Because America must decide whether it is going to be a society of productivity, making new things and wealth, or merely looting and passing around the ruins of Rome. A city like Baltimore will not be rebuilt by taking money to lower living standards in the suburbs but by creating great new enterprises that produce goods and services people want.

Another polite reader put the following in the nicest possible way—I’m not being sarcastic—don’t the Republicans and Romney just represent nineteenth century plutocratic greedy capitalism dressed up as free enterprise? Millions of Americans believe this and unless they change their minds America will not change.

Yes, that evil Romney who wants to buy another 100 Rolls Royces not like those modest-living Kennedys, Gores, and all the rest, including a serious Democratic presidential candidate who betrayed his cancer-stricken wife after making a fortune on rather questionable legal actions. And I seem to recall a great lionized hero who--let's face it there's no doubt, murdered a poor young working-class woman and left her to drown without ever paying for his crime. Sure there are bad conservatives and bad Republicans, corrupt and immoral people, but for goodness sake you aren't treating them as great tribunes of the masses, as the friends of the exploiters, as they line their pockets from yours.
It's time to rethink the reality we live in.

Look, it ain’t 1895 any more. Does the American government tremble because of Ford, General Motors, U.S. Steel, Standard Oil of New Jersey, the Pennsylvania Railroad and other mighty enterprises many of which have collapsed completely?

No. It is the opposite, the corporations tremble before the government regulators who have the power to tie them into knots. And their main response is not to fight but to flee abroad.

Oh, mighty General Motors saved by the great Obama (hooray! Hooray! For the great messiah of business) with billions of your taxpaying dollars in order to create employment…in China!

Do workers living in hovels fear the boss telling them they are now out of work with no unemployment or pension; that their hours are increased, that they are going to be thrown out of their company homes because they were ten minutes late at work?

No, it is the unions—at least where such things survive in the heavy industry—that have the whip hand. The government is 100 percent on their side.

Do the big-bellied capitalists blow cigar smoke into the faces of newspaper editors and threaten to cut off advertising unless scandals are covered up? No, it is the government’s scandals that are covered up. And if anything the companies are made to face unfair charges.

The corporate executives want to look good. They want people to say and write nice things about them. They want to be regarded as good corporate citizens. They spend money running image ads about how they feed songbirds rather than on doing breakthrough research.

They can’t even get oil-drilling going off most of the coast at a time when America has no energy independence, prices are sky high, and the economy needs a boost.

What is reality here? Yes, there were such times in America of bullying plutocratic greedy polluting capitalist super-villains but that just isn’t 2012.

And yes, too, there was a time when some redistribution of wealth was needed. That was decades ago, too. Know why? Because working stiffs had to buy all those cars, toasters, refrigerators, and other consumer goods rolling out of the factories. That’s why advertising was a good thing. That’s why America flourished after World War Two.
Tell me, is America’s problem today that there is a vast working class—even a vast poor class—that cannot buy cheap computers and expensive sports’ shoes?

And finally don’t forget small business, all those millions of people who aren’t big moguls trying to make a living for themselves and their families and their employees.

What’s essential here is this:

--It’s not that the conservatives were always right and the evil liberal statists were destroying America.

--It’s not that the liberals were always right and the evil, greedy moguls wanted everyone but themselves to be poor.

It’s that American values work—some are liberal; some are conservative but they must work together to be productive, not based on looting, not based on a more and more powerful state; not based in regulating everyone to death, not based—although this sometimes happened wrongfully—on setting groups to hate each other.

You can put the emphasis on making the pie bigger while paying attention to a reasonably fair distribution or you can gobble it down as fast as possible and then complain there isn’t any more.

The choice is yours, America. But for goodness sakes wake up and realize you’re living in the twenty-first century, not the Victorian age of dark satanic mills and brutal capitalists who laugh while watching children starve. No, now we are in the age of power-hungry, ice-cold, detached-from-reality bureaucrats and those with graduate degrees who write reports and new rules while watching a civilization go down. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Baltimore, Babylon, Babel

By Barry Rubin
"And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there."  --Francis Scott Key, "The Star-Spangled Banner"
Well, is it still there? Is it? Or has it been lowered over Fort McHenry? Have Baltimore and other American cities surrendered to blight, to an irreversible downward spiral? Is America going to go cheering into decline, praising itself for its environmental purity, high-mileage autos, pristine multicultural manners?
A few years ago I was on a book tour in Baltimore. They put me in a nice downtown hotel and I had some time before the evening event. So I decided to eat something at the coffee shop in the lobby. But it was a bit cool so I went upstairs to put on a jacket. When the elevator opened on the lobby the door was blocked by a gurney. Medics were wheeling out a dead body. Police guarded the entrance of the coffee shop, not letting anyone go in. Someone had been shot dead.
I went on to the bookstore and begged a sandwich there. Well, that’s not fair to Baltimore, of course. But it’s a true story. It is a wonderful city and fond to me for two reasons.
First, growing up in the artificial, tax-payer funded paradise—well, no, but that’s another story—of Washington DC, for me Baltimore was the real America. A harbor, a real baseball team (postpone discussion of Washington Senators); industry and real workers, people who actually did something productive for a living. Not to mention Fort McHenry; and later the aquarium; the science museum; and the USS Torsk, a World War Two submarine that played a very important part in my life (that story for another time); the USS Constitution and the USS Constellation.
Second, I fell in love with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and industrial history. The B&O was American first railroad. Its task of crossing the mountains was so daunting that the history of the B&O is called Impossible Challenge.   It was at the center of the Civil War and to this day I am editor of the Sentinel, the B&O Historical Society journal.
BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT. This article is my very angry equivalent of an indictment of contemporary “Progressive” “liberalism” and the greedy SOBs who are wrecking America as they sip cocktails like so many pre-revolutionary French aristocrats and sneer at the peasantry.
Al-Jazira, the revolutionary Islamist, anti-American, pro-terrorist television network (praised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton!) has made a documentary on Baltimore. I haven’t seen the documentary but I’ve been to Baltimore.
The theme is basically this: You Americans are a hypocritical joke. Your society is a wreck; you’re going down and you dare preach to us about liberty and democracy! Look at Baltimore! Its industry is gone; its buildings are decaying; its street corners are full of African-American unemployed men with nothing to do with their lives.
And you dare preach to us?
You know what? Al-Jazira is right.
And what is America’s first black president, a phony “community organizer” doing about it? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.  Hire more teachers and even more important more useless administrators. Save obscure fish. Make damn sure nobody explores for oil off the coast. Build high-speed rail nobody needs.
And what about rebuilding the cities? What about creating jobs? What about putting America back together again: Detroit, South Los Angeles, East St. Louis, and the list goes on. Here are the great heroes of the poor and downtrodden, with their John Kerry tax-cheating yachts; their Harry Reid corrupt land deals; their Nancy Pelosi multi-million-dollar vineyards; their destruction of the American auto industry, and the energy industry.
These people are not liberal heroes. They are reactionaries in disguise. They don’t give a damn about the American people, including the poor, especially the poor. They are not lifting a finger to rebuild America, to save the country.
Now here are two novel ideas. First, this is not about liberals versus conservatives. That’s all outdated. This is about those who want to build a productive America that can rebuild the cities and create jobs and those who profit from looting the productive sector until the camel’s back breaks.
We are not talking about rich, fat-cat, greedy, arrogant and elitist conservatives. We are talking about rich, fat-cat, greedy, arrogant, and elitist radicals pretending to be liberals who care about the average American.
And I have a name for them: DINOs, Democrats in name only, and you can note the similarity to the word dinosaur.
Do you know what's really happened in America? Under the banner of humanitarianism it is an alliance of the worst political elements: the corrupt big city do-nothing, steal-,money political machines; the corrupted old-style good-government upper middle class movements; the do nothing in exchange for welfare lobby )with Obama having unilaterally eliminated workfare), and the crony capitalists who cannot make money on their own so have to loot it from the public trough.
And what is their solution to Baltimore and Detroit and the other urban blight? Not to increase productivity but to loot the suburbs to lower the entire country to a more minimal level. And this is what passes for compassionate liberalism?
Second, here’s a novel idea for you. If you are looking for courageous “liberal” reformers, forget about this crew of poseurs and think of a couple of guys named Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. If you are a Democrat, if you are a liberal, if you really care about saving America from a long slow decline then think a moment: what’s needed is real change, not phony slogans. People who know how to get things done; not how to tell pretty lies.
Think about it. This is going to be the most important political decision you ever make. Do it so there’s some hope for change in Baltimore and everywhere else.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Notes from a Ward Yud Hospital Bed

By Barry Rubin

Given the various medications I an on, the need to hold down pieces of cotton stopping blood tests from leaking, etc, please forgive my typos  
It is 301 pm and my eyes suddenly pop open right onto the clock. Looming above me is the chief thoracic surgeon who looks like an aging Green Bay Packers' linebacker about to sack a quarterback, me. Fortunately I already met him, respect and trust him. '"This is Dr ---" says the orderly "and he’s going to remove your tube draining blood from your lung."
And remove it he does. His teeth are bared, he growls, his huge hands reach out and literally tear it out of me. It hurts but I must admit he is skillful and the pain is gone in seconds, before the sting ends he sews me up. The orderly puts on the gauze and for the first time I enjoy in three days the ultimate human luxury—not being tied to some piece of medical equipment bya tube. It Is heaven.
The staff is good, though not all charming. I don't like talking to doctors, they bring out the pessimism in me, even despair. I am kept on a steady line of safety and good advice thanks to my mother in law who is a lung expert, who has flown over from New York and keeps giving her calming professional opinion. 
I quickly realize two things. First, most of us are years ot of date in our medical knowledge and thus don’t realize how much progress has been made. My mother-in-law muses that her own father wrote a book about lung cancer 40 years ago.
And I ask, "There must have been a lot of progress since then?" "
"Oh no," she says, "there hasn’t." My heart sinks. "But there’s been incredible progress in the last 5-10 years."
The other is that the best intended doctors often don’t know what they are talking about outside their own speciality. My two thoracic surgeons overruled my two general internalists and proved to be 100 percent right. On the other hand, those two internests did save my life so I am grateful to them also.
The great weakness of the Israel system—and it has many strengths far beyond the British and the American—is going from the level of general practitioner to specialist. When I f irst made my lung doctor appointment it was supposed to take one month off. That might have killed me. I went to my wife’s doctor and he had me in the emergency room within 3 hours getting proper treatment. The women doctor from the health fund was wonderful getting me fast appointments, too.
I am not joking: your life in future may depend on getting rid of Obamacare. The Israeli system has reasonable prices but of course it is also small enough to be managed and not so easy to abuse. Yes there are incompetents, indifferent personnel, and worse hospitals, too but Ichilov—despite the often callous night floor staff--is the only hospital I’d want to be in. And many of the most talented of these doctors and others left the USSR because they just weren't welcome there.
It’s also only the hospital where they start asking you about contemporary Middle East developments while treating you. I have great genealogy discussions with some medical personnel about our ancestors. And for the multiculturalist fans, at least three of the kindest technicians were Arabs--two men with crosses and a woman with a hijab, perhaps more I don't know.
Mr Ibrahim my neighbor to the right is a real gentleman. Born in Istanbul of an Ashkenazic family he is  a lean distinguished gentleman perhaps in his early 80s. He went to French schools during Istanbul's golden age and speaks Ladino- fifteenth-century Judeo-Spanish--native-level Turkish, perfect English, beautiful French and not one word—not one—of Hebrew. They moved him next to me so I could translate for him. He never loses his cool or dignity. He tells me his life story. His father had  a good American appliance franchise which he inherited. He loves Turkey--but with no illusions about its current rulers--and he has many Turkish friends. But one day he realized his family had no future there so they came to the land of Israel.
His two happily married beautiful daughters obviously dote on him. He had fallen in his garden but is released after a few days. W find we know people and event s in common since I wrote a book about Istanbul. One night I read him to sleep with passages about the labor battalions where Turkish Jews, Armenians and Greeks were looted and forcibly sent during World War Two into virtual concentration camps, first-person accounts his own father had never told him. I also tell him about the secret Jewish museum in Istanbul, built since he left, which he had never seen. Soon he is released.
My other neighbor is Mr. Meir, another fine gentlemen—these men only a decade older than me have such wonderful manners. How much we have lost! He was born in Casabalanca and he speaks Arabic, French, and Hebrew with equal facility. He offers me a cup of tea which I find touching but fear the hot drink. He, too, is surrounded by his loving family. He tells me a story that makes me sob a moment. I ask when he arrived in Israel. As a refugee, he responds, in the week of his bar mitzah. And the first thing he did was to celebrate his bar mitzvah here. My son is so to celebrate his bar mitzvah this week and I fear I will not be there. Yet I find something g comforting in the coincidental symbolism.
He too is released.
Then comes the ordeal. A very elderly man is brought into my left side. He is tall and spare, wearing a narrow black silk skullcap, looking every inch like a Biblical portrait of Abraham, so straight and stiff as to resemble a human log. All night long he moans, piteously, he recounts the story of his life, a few words at a time, his daughters and perhaps sons in law or sons gather around, they respond back, praising him for an incident, expressing their love, begging his pardon.
"No, we love you, father," they say. You could not have been better to us. We are so grateful to you!" On and on, hour and hour it goes as he mumbles a paragraph and then another. I listen fascinated, harrowed by every word, my double-sleeping pill has no effect at all. Finally, at midnight all leave, long before the visiting hours end though no one dare ask them to leave. But one fateful young religiously garbed daughter remains to tend him all night. She wears the hairnet covering of the religious. Her face is ravaged with sadness.
The entire century of a family is laid out before my unwilling ears. It breaks my heart but there is something inspiring in it,, something of the essence of life beyond all the foolishness and externals which we divert ourselves. Only family matters; only love matters; only good deeds matter. I finally can forebear no more and go around the curtain and I address the young hollow-eyed daughter the traditional Hebrew words of hope for the mercy of the Creator of the Universe, for full healing, and for a miracle.
But I see by the look of hopelessness in her eye, even her deeply religious, believing with a perfect faith eye, that no miracle is expected here. I fall asleep. Three hours later I awake briefly and hear him still mumbling.
Again, I fall asleep and when I wake up ten hours later he is gone. She is gone. And someone else is in his place. May the creator of the universe comfort this fine man's family and bring him his true reward for having lived such a good life.
My eyes open precisely onto the clock on the wall opposite me. It is 3:01 PM. The two giant men loom above me, "This is your thoracic surgeon," says the mighty orderly. Rip, tear, and the hole in my side is healed. But the holes in our hearts, the pain in our souls are not so easily remedied.
A few minutes later they take me down to the Catscan. I wait for the results as they confer, begging for the half-dozen conferring doctors to just give me one sentence of summary. The kindly deputy director--a wonderfully decent man--looks at me a mment, says, "You are much better now""and returns to the conference. Frustrated, I fall asleep. Three hours later my wife wakes me. They cannot find any more damage, she explains. Just the tumor on the lung, the emptied out blood, the scar tissue.
After a bit of bureaucracy, the kind desk nurse holds up a brown envelope. You can go home, she explains. Come back each week for an x-ray. Begin your therapy. I can barely walk but my wife helps me down the hall, into a wheelchair, out the door, and into the ever startlingly bright Tel Aviv sunshine. Myself, Mr. Meir, and Mr. Ibrahim have been given another chance to go into the world and do some good, to do some right. Mr. "Abraham" is on his way to somewhere else, somewhere better I hope where he will reap the reward of his long life of good deeds.
They release me to go home, rest, and begin my therapy. Thanks to our Creator for our lives and thanks to our Creator for the chances we are given--often more than we merit--to transcend those lives by good deeds, integrity, solidarity with those who stand for the just and the free, and love for our fellows. This is not about fame, this is not about wealth, this is not about power. It is about how--or whether--at the end those who know us best love us best. I am back at my desk and I will continue to do my best to serve you. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

What Happened in Egypt

By Barry Rubin

A short history of democracy in Egypt. In February 2011 the Mubarak regime fell. There was going to be a parliament elected in Egypt. The parliament was elected. Its election was invalidated. Today there is no parliament in Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood said it would want to run one-third of the candidates for seats. Then they ran one-half. Then they ran all. Then they said they would not run a president. Then they did and elected a president. And they and the Salafists elected 70 percent of the parliament. But now there is no parliament.

The Parliament was going to pick a constituent assembly but to write a Constitution. But now there is no Constitution. There are no restrictions on presidential powers.

And then there was a Supreme Council of the Armed Forces but that was supposed to restrain the Muslim Brotherhood president. And it was supposed to be restrained by the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and by the hope of getting U.S. military aid. But the president got rid of it and fired the two top people and put in his own generals. And there is no restraint.

And we were told that the Egyptian government had promised to adhere to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. But when it wished the regime simply violated the treaty and sent forces into the eastern Sinai. And it announced an alliance with Hamas which openly declared its desire to go to war with Israel and destroy it. And Cairo did not demur.

The Egyptian regime did more economic damage to Israel by violating its contract on natural gas shipments than any other Arab regime in the history of the country because Israel had to spend billions of dollars replacing that lost fuel. That is why Israeli taxes are going up and social spending must decline. The U.S. government did not lift a finger to help.

The entire Israeli strategic plan has had to be altered to add an entire new defensive front along the border with Egypt. New units will be organized; new fences built; new equipment ordered and paid for.

Saaed Eddin Ibrahim, arguably the Arab world’s leading sociologist and certainly the leading advocate of liberal-Islamist alliance against the old Arab military regimes has now totally changed sides, warning that the Islamists want to hijack power and establish dictatorships. He pleads for Westerners to wake up.

Egyptian President al-Mursi has now named the heads of the main Egyptian newspapers, radio stations, and television networks. They include sleaze balls that sold out to the Mubarak regime and will do whatever he tells them and supporters of Islamism. The first round-ups have begun of reporters who are to bold and honest in their investigations. The walls are closing in.

Soon the generals will be replaced; soon the judges will be replaced, and so too will the diplomats. In other words, the internal and external bureaucracy of Egypt’s government will become transformed. The old national security considerations will change.

The next stop is the court system where plans are being made already to eliminate judges. True, there were many corrupt jurists but there was no institution in Egypt where there were more courageous individuals and advocates of democracy. But that’s the problem. The very integrity that made these e men stand up against Mubarak will make them do the same against the Brotherhood and they will not enforce Sharia law. Their vote against the parliamentary result was a warning. They will soon be ousted.

An upcoming conference of pro-Islamist judges will recommend massive retirements; the new constitution, written by Islamists, will weaken the courts against Sharia as interpreted by Islamic clerics. The Brotherhood will take over al-Azhar University and appoint one of its men as chief qadi, Muslim judicial official. They will get into control of the wealth religious endowments. Within a year, Egypt will be fundamentally transformed. Irretrievably transformed.

Considers what this means in foreign policy.

Current Egyptian Strategic Assessment (End of Mubarak Regime) Main threat: Revolutionary Islamism in the form of Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, al-Qaida, and Hizballah.


Competing local leadership 2011: Shia Islamism in form of Iran-led alliance, including Syria and Hizballah


--Arab allies 2011: Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Egypt wanted to help against Iran and Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood.

ARAB ALLIES 2012: HAMAS, MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN JORDAN, SYRIA, TUNISIA, LIBYA, ETC. Will get along with Saudis if give money and don’t interfere.

--Israel 2011: Dislikes but understands shares common interests in battling Islamists of both Brotherhood-Hamas and Iran-Syria varieties as well as al-Qaida. Keep Hamas under control to avoid war and violence along border.


Overall posture 2011: Minimize Egypt’s role in regional affairs to be left alone and focus on survival and development.

Overall posture 2012:  Maximize Egypt’s internal transformation into an Islamist state and change of all institutions including army. Take leadership over Gaza. Tunisia. If possible Libya, be senior partner to Syria Islamist regime. Brush aside Turkish influence. Minimize Iranian influence in Arab and Sunni spheres.

U.S. 2011: Though will us ant9American demagoguery periodically the alliance with America is important as source of military, economic, and strategic support. They have common friends, enemies, and common goals, seek regional stability and defeat of radical forces.

U.S. 2012: Get along with U.S. if low cost and can get aid easily but don’t let Washington get away with interfering with regime goals. Reduce U.S. influence in Egypt and demonize those friendly to America. Undercut U.S.-Israel cooperation. Subvert remaining U.S. ales. Defy U.S. on Gaza.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Which Way for Syria? Listen to the Sermons

A friend of mine listened to the sermon given at the Ramadan evening prayer in a village near the north Syria town of Idleeb August 7. The closer one gets to ground level in the Middle East the crazier things become. Sure by the time the Western-educated, suit and tie wearing leader sits down with the Western reporter everything sounds calm and cool. But the earth is boiling. Just as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood blames Israel for a jihadist attack on an Egyptian military base in Sinai--the Egyptian military, more pragmatically, attacked the jihadist camps--the grassroots leaders and rank and file are easily incited into murderous frenzy.
So here are the main points in the Idleeb sermon:
-- The preacher never used the word "Syria" or "as-Suriya" but only as "Bilad ash-Sham." That's a jihadist Salafist designation rejecting the existence of nation-states. In other words, "Syria" is merely a province of a future Islamic caliphate. Note: some people dispute this and suggest that Bilad ash-Sham is standard usage nowadays.
--The upheavals in Syria are not to be defined as a just revolution against a local dictatorship but rather as a conspiracy of Iranian Zoroastrians [the pre-Muslim religion of many Iranians], Zionists, France, and America. Here we have hatred not only for Jews and Christians but also Iranians. Yes, a revolutionary Islamist Syria would be anti-Iranian but also anti-everyone else. And by denying that Iranians are even Muslims, the preacher is strongly suggesting that it is right to murder them as apostates. Conspiracy theories lead to further wars. Enemies are not just those with whom you have a territorial or other dispute but are enemies of God who must be wiped out to the last man, woman, and child. Such people are not going to accept U.S. mediation or patronage, and nothing the Obama Administration could do would ever win them over.
--The closest allies are the Zoroastrians and the Zionists. In contrast with our objective view that Iran sees Israel as an enemy and wants to wipe it out, this Sunni Islamist view is that all of God's enemies--Jews and Shia Muslims--are aligned against the true religion. They both should be hated and wiped out.

--The Ottoman Empire was a glorious place that protected Muslims and brought them to the doors of Vienna. The Jews, and French, and others try to fool us into thinking of them as oppressors but these are lies. This is an anti-Arab nationalist view--and even the Brotherhood has never been pro-Ottoman in political terms. Is there some Turkish subsidy involved here or hope that Turkey will be the protector of a Syrian Islamist state? Or perhaps this is just a reflection of the good old days of the caliphate?
-- The Alawites are a completely heretic sect that should be fought. So this group also, which furnishes most of Syria's rulers, can also be wiped out.
This one preacher doesn't represent the whole Syrian opposition, of course,  as there are also Sunni liberals, Kurdish nationalists and technocratic deserted army officers. Yet the maelstrom of hatred and the madness of religious fanaticism is also everywhere, ready to set off the most brutal massacres. To watch Western naives fool around with this in trying to socially engineer a new Syria is like watching chidren playing around with high explosives.