Friday, January 14, 2011

Two Big Developments: Lebanon: Government Falls; Egypt/Islam: Jihad? We're Just Getting Started!

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By Barry Rubin

Both of these stories are important so please read to the end as the new fatwa it discusses could be a turning point.

--Hizballah ministers walked out of Lebanon’s government bringing it down. Why? They didn’t have to do it since they have veto power and would have prevented the government from endorsing the international tribunal investigation that would point to Syria (and perhaps Hizballah) as the source of terrorism in Lebanon, including the killing of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

I view this as a power grab. Hizballah doesn’t just want the government to be silent on the tribunal but to condemn the investigation explicitly. They want to renegotiate the coalition agreement to give themselves more power. And they timed it for the moment when Lebanon’s prime minister was meeting with President Obama to embarrass their opponents. In Middle East talk, that timing signals: Our enemies are American puppets.

Finally, it is a message to America and the world: We--Iran, Syria, and Hizballah--are in control of Lebanon now, not you. There is no question--no question at all--that this assertion is true, yet U.S. and Western policy is simply not adjusting to meet this situation.

Here's are some good analysis on this issue from:  David Schenker; Lee Smith; Michael Young; Jonathan Spyer; and Tony Badran. Funny note: It's been hysterically funny as the Western mass media has quoted as Lebanon experts almost exclusively either people who are no such things or those who are reliable flunkies of  Hizballah and Syria. These five people know what they are talking about.

Actually, media coverage on this story was worse than usual. Here's my favorite line from the end of a New York Times story:

“`Hezbollah doesn’t want to control the government or country, even though they could if they wanted,” said Anis Nakkash, director of the Aman Research Center here in Beirut.'"

Well, now I feel much better! No need to worry about Hizballah trying to grab power. For the record, I don't think Hizballah wants to control the country and I don't think they could do so. I do think they want to control the government, not in the sense of being in power exclusively but by deciding all the main policy questions.

But one little detail: Nakkash is well-known as a strong Hizballah supporter, a point nowhere indicated in the story, so this point of view might be a tad biased. In fact the other two people quoted in the story are:

Robert Malley, who always sides with the anti-American forces, and a reporter from al-Safir, described as an opposition newspaper.  In fact, it is historically an extremely radical newspaper that has long been in the pockets of the Syrians and a supporter of Hizballah. However, since last week the Times raved about the wonderfulness of al-Akhbar, the other Syrian-backed newspaper in Lebanon, I guess this week al-Safir has to be given some time as well.

Nobody either neutral or supporting the March 14 coalition is quoted. And isn't this how it always seems to be with articles in the Times and a long list of other mass media outlets? Either everyone is on the left-wing, anti-Israel, anti-American side or, at best, one person is thrown in to provide cover so that bias can be credibly denied.

So is there nothing to fear from Hizballah? Well, let's go to the Washington Post's coverage. The headline?
"Hizballah Reaches for More Power in Lebanon."

"A day after toppling the Lebanese government, the Shiite Hezbollah movement and its allies were working to gain enough support in parliament to control the selection of Lebanon's next prime minister, Lebanese officials said."

Yes, that's more like it.

On the more negative side (Western policy, naturally), the French have asked Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad to help mediate the situation in Lebanon, which is sort of like asking Usama bin Ladin to mediate the situation in Afghanistan.

--An off-duty Egyptian policeman killed a Christian and wounded five others on a train. He reportedly made sure they were Christians (women not wearing veils; people with a tattooed cross on their arm which is a custom of Coptic Christians) before shooting them and shouted “Allahu Akhbar” while doing it. Obviously, this is an Islamist terrorist attack but the media is sort of ignoring this point, unlike the rush to judgment after the Tucson shootings.

This is also part of a huge anti-Christian campaign in the Muslim-majority world, the biggest in our lifetime, including bloody attacks on churches in Iraq and Egypt within the last month among many other assaults. When the Pope called on world leaders to protect Egyptian Christians, after 21 were killed during a Christmas mass in Alexandria, the Egyptian government recalled its ambassador to the Vatican complaining about “interference” in Egyptian affairs.

It was also denounced by Egypt’s highest-ranking Muslim cleric with an intriguing argument: "I ask why did the pope not call for the protection of Muslims when they were subjected to killings in Iraq?"

 Presumably, he wanted the Pope to condemn the United States and other countries for their actions in Iraq. In other words, Egypt’s government-appointed and government-supervised leader of the country’s Muslims defines the fighting in Iraq as Christians cold-bloodedly murdering Muslims. No wonder Muslims seek revenge on local Christians if “moderate” clerics tell them this.

And here's a question for you: Do you think that radical Islamist attacks on Christians in the Middle East over the next few years will:

A. Increase; B. Decrease; C. Stay the same.

I'd say "A," until, of course, they run out of Christians.

--But there’s more, and worse, to come. An extraordinarily important fatwa has been issued by Dr. Imad Mustafa, the professor on that subject at al-Azhar University, the world's most important Islamic university. He began by stating the well-known doctrine of “defensive jihad,” that is Muslims must go to war against infidels who attack them. Of course, the word “attack” is often spread rather thinly to justify aggression.

But now Mustafa is publicly and explicitly proposing a new strategy for those hitherto seen as reliably pro-government clerics who were seen as relativley non-threatening. This trend, little noticed in the West, has previously non-Islamist clerics increasingly sounding like al-Qaida.

He explains:

“Then there is another type of fighting against the non-Muslims known as offensive jihad…which is to pursue the infidels into their own land without any aggression [on their part]….

“...Two schools [of Islamic jurisprudence] have ruled that offensive jihad is permissible in order to secure Islam's border, to extend God's religion to people in cases where the governments do not allow it, such as the Pharaoh did with the children of Israel, and to remove every religion but Islam from the Arabian peninsula....”

What does it mean about extending "God's religion," i.e., Islam? On the surface, "where the governments do not allow it" and the reference to Pharaoh seems to imply the complete prohibition of Islam.

But in the current context, I think this means that it is permissible to wage jihad on a country.if anything "necessary" to Islam according to (hardline) clerics' interpretations is blocked (polygamy, child marriage, special privileges at work places, building mosques anywhere, permitting the wearing of headscarves or burqas, and so on).

In practice, according to this doctrine, then, any non-Muslim can be attacked anywhere in the world. Thus, mainstream, powerful clerics are now calling for a seventh-century-style Jihad against non-Muslim lands even if the victims cannot be accused of attacking Muslim-ruled lands! Merely to "extend God's religion" to others is a sufficient motive. Mustafa says that two of Islam's main schools have always endorsed offensive Jihad but I doubt if he would have made that argument ten or twenty years ago.

Of course, that doesn't mean most Muslims will accept this new stance. But it does mean that radical groups now have mainstream support for their most extreme, aggressive behavior. Even if nobody repeats Mustafa's statement publicly--if for no other reasons than it is bad public relations in the West--this idea will be more and more taken for granted. Presumably, Mustafa won't be forced to retract this fatwa by his colleagues or Egypt's government. Moreover, we probably won't see senior clerics denouncing and rejecting the doctrine of offensive Jihad.

This is a development of stupendous proportions that will probably not even be covered in the Western mass media. If this view point continues to spread--along with the growing al-Qaida type doctrine of the Muslim Brotherhood--it could be a historical turning point that will greatly intensify revolutionary Islamist terrorism and attacks on the West. Watch this trend very carefully.

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 latest books are 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 is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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