Tuesday, October 21, 2014

China's man in Hong Kong explains the problem with democracy – It's a threat to capitalism

As reported by AFP:
Hong Kong's Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying told media that if the government met pro-democracy protesters' demands it would result in the city's poorer people dominating elections.

In an interview with foreign media, carried in the Wall Street Journal and International New York Times, the embattled chief executive reiterated his position that free elections were impossible. [....]

Leung said that if candidates were nominated by the public then the largest sector of society would likely dominate the electoral process.

"If it's entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you'd be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month," Leung said in comments published by the WSJ and INYT. [....]

His quotes also echo that of Wang Zhenmin, a well-connected scholar and regular advisor to Beijing.

Wang said recently that greater democratic freedom in the semi-autonomous city must be balanced against the city's powerful business elite who would have to share their "slice of the pie" with voters.

"The business community is in reality a very small group of elites in Hong Kong who control the destiny of the economy in Hong Kong. If we ignore their interests, Hong Kong capitalism will stop (working)," he said in August. [....]
The argument that democracy is dangerous because it means mob rule by the ignorant unwashed masses—or rule by unscrupulous and even tyrannical demagogues who can manipulate those masses—is a very old one, going back to classical antiquity. (Such concerns can't simply be dismissed as groundless, by the way, even if we disagree with the anti-democratic conclusions.) A more specific version of this argument, warning that political democracy is disastrous because it threatens the basic requirements of a capitalist market economy, was made quite often throughout the 19th and into the early 20th century. Even in countries with regimes of elected representative government, it provided a strong rationale for restricting voting rights to the affluent and well-educated.

For better or worse, history seems to have demonstrated that such claims about the fundamental incompatibility of political democracy and the capitalist market economy—whether offered by critics of democracy or critics of capitalism—were exaggerated. Yes, there are inherent tensions between them, but on the whole that's a good thing. When democracy is genuinely working, it should provide a countervailing force against the unhampered logic of the market and the interests of economic elites. Our situation in the US right now is enough to make it clear, unfortunately, that giving poor and working-class people the formal right to vote (with perhaps a little voter suppression at the margins) is quite compatible with capitalism, increasing economic inequality, and excessive government solicitude for plutocratic interests.

It's true that some pro-plutocratic and market-fundamentalist ideologues still share that 19th-century fear of the perils of democracy, and occasionally some billionaire will blurt this out in an unguarded interview. But in most western societies, people who hold these views can't state them as openly and straightforwardly as they could have in the 19th century. Rather than explicitly stating that democracy poses a threat to capitalism, and thus to the foundations of prosperity and civilization, they have to formulate these ideas more euphemistically and with various circumlocutions.

In some other parts of the world, however, those anti-democratic arguments can still be made publicly with refreshing honesty.

—Jeff Weintraub

==============================
Agence France-Presse (AFP)
October 21, 2014
Hong Kong leader: Democracy would see poor people dominate vote

Hong Kong's Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying told media that if the government met pro-democracy protesters' demands it would result in the city's poorer people dominating elections.

In an interview with foreign media, carried in the Wall Street Journal and International New York Times, the embattled chief executive reiterated his position that free elections were impossible.

Demonstrators have paralysed parts of Hong Kong with mass rallies and road blockades for more than three weeks, in one of the biggest challenges to Beijing's authority since the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests of 1989.

Leung's comments were published just hours before talks between senior government officials and student leaders to end the impasse are scheduled to take place later on Tuesday.

China has offered Hong Kongers the chance to vote for their next leader in 2017. But only those vetted by a committee expected to be loyal to Beijing will be allowed to stand -- something protesters have labelled as "fake democracy".

Leung said that if candidates were nominated by the public then the largest sector of society would likely dominate the electoral process.

"If it's entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you'd be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month," Leung said in comments published by the WSJ and INYT.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has one of the biggest income divides in the world, with growing discontent at increased inequality and exorbitant property prices fuelling the protests which turned increasingly violent at the end of last week.

There are fears any further clashes between police and protesters could derail Tuesday's discussions.

Leung's latest comments are likely to further fuel the anger of protesters who see him as hapless, out of touch and pandering to the whims of a small number of tycoons who dominate the financial hub.

His quotes also echo that of Wang Zhenmin, a well-connected scholar and regular advisor to Beijing.

Wang said recently that greater democratic freedom in the semi-autonomous city must be balanced against the city's powerful business elite who would have to share their "slice of the pie" with voters.

"The business community is in reality a very small group of elites in Hong Kong who control the destiny of the economy in Hong Kong. If we ignore their interests, Hong Kong capitalism will stop (working)," he said in August.

Leung played down expectations ahead of the long-delayed talks with student leaders that will be broadcast live.

"We are not quite sure what they will say... at the session," he said.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The US is now airlifting supplies to Kobani's defenders

(Kobani is the small yellow dot in the middle of the Syrian-Turkish border, at the top of the map.)

I have seen some accusations that Turkey's AKP government is still actively supplying, advising, and otherwise supporting. ISIS. My non-expert impression is that such charges are incorrect and unsupported by any actual evidence. On the other hand, the claim that Erdogan and his government would be happy to see ISIS forces conquer Kobani and crush the Kurdish PYD fighters defending the city, because they see Kurdish nationalism as a greater threat than ISIS, is highly plausible.

It's not just that the Turkish army has been sitting inactive on the hills overlooking Kobani watching ISIS pound the city—when the Turkish government responds to criticism by saying that it's unfair to ask Turkey to send ground forces into Syria while no one else is willing to do so, that rejoinder isn't entirely unreasonable. But it's also disingenuous, because Turkey has been preventing reinforcements and supplies from reaching Kobani's defenders and has tried to discourage other countries, including the US, from helping them. In case there was any doubt about this last point, Prime Minister Erdogan confirmed it explicitly this weekend.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has objected to arms transfers to a Syrian Kurdish group defending the border town of Kobani in the face of an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) onslaught, saying it is a terrorist group that is no different from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The president's remark followed a US statement last week saying that it has directly met for the first time with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), widely considered to be the PKK's Syrian arm. The PYD's armed wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), has been battling to stop ISIL advances on Kobani for more than a month. The US-led international coalition has been helping Kobani's defense by hitting ISIL targets in the town.

“There has been talk about forming a front against ISIL by giving the PYD arms. But the PYD, for us, is equal to the PKK; it is a terrorist organization,” Erdoğan said, criticizing the West for not supporting other groups in Syria who also have been fighting against ISIL.

“It would be very wrong for the US, a NATO ally, to openly talk of such support [to the PYD] and expect us to agree,” he said in remarks published on Sunday. [....]
Despite the objections of the Turkish government (and its refusal to allow US planes to use the Incirlik air base for missions supporting Kobani's defenders), the US recently intensified its bombing of ISIS forces in and around Kobani. This US air support probably played a critical role in helping Kobani's defenders, who are heavily outnumbered and outgunned by the ISIS forces, prevent the city from being overrun

Yesterday the US took the next step and began airlifting supplies to Kobani's defenders, who have been effectively under siege by the Turkish Army as well as ISIS. Today, in an even more intriguing development,Turkey's Foreign Minister hinted that Turkey might change its policy and loosen its efforts to isolate Kobani's defenders. Here's a round-up from Foreign Policy:
Along with continued coalition airstrikes, the U.S. military has airdropped supplies to Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State militants in the Syrian town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab). Three U.S. transport planes dropped 27 bundles of supplies, provided by Iraqi Kurdish authorities, including ammunition, small arms, and medical supplies. The move has come amid intensified fighting in the town, near the border with Turkey. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Islamic State militants fired 44 mortars at Kurdish controlled areas of the town on Saturday. On Monday, in a shift, Turkey said it would allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters to cross the Syrian border to reinforce Kurdish forces defending Kobani. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was facilitating the passage of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces across its territory into Syria.
There's clearly a complicated political and diplomatic game going on here. It's interesting, for example, that the US has been careful to announce (or pretend) that the arms and other supplies it's airlifting to Kobani come from Iraqi Kurds, not directly from the US. I suspect that further supplies may get doled out in minimal amounts, and will certainly not include heavy weapons—which ISIS has but Kobani's defenders don't.

And why would the Turkey's Prime Minister and its Foreign Minister be talking so directly at cross-purposes? One possibility is that Erdogan's latest remarks were intended to appeal to his domestic constituency among (non-Kurdish) Turkish voters, and to camouflage a shift in Turkish policy. Another possibility is that Foreign Minister's Cavusoglu's remarks are a public-relations exercise intended to deflect foreign criticism of Turkey's (indefensible) policies, but there won't be any actual changes. Or one could spin out various other complex interpretations (some of them involving deals between the Turkish government and the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq)..

But one way or another, these look like potentially significant developments.

 => Meanwhile, whether Kobani stands or falls in the end, the desperate struggle for Kobani over the past month has already had some important consequences. As Patrick Cockburn and Henri Barkey and others have argued, the battle for Kobani "has united Kurds across the region" and may prove to be "a defining moment of nationhood and identity for Syrian and Turkish Kurds". The role played by the Turkish government in this drama may also have important political consequences within Turkey, since it has outraged much of Turkey's Kurdish population. Ironically, as David Gardner pointed out in a recent Financial Times column, during the past decade Erdogan
has done more than any [other] Turkish leader to end this enmity with Turkey’s Kurds, ignoring hardline nationalists and opening a dialogue with Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned PKK leader.

The idea was to give Kurds in south-east Turkey a measure of self-government and cultural freedom, while drawing Iraqi Kurdistan and the liberated Kurdish cantons of northern Syria into a Sunni Turko-sphere that would serve as a buffer against Iran’s Shia axis to the south, which stretches across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. President Erdogan is now putting all this at risk, and has put tanks on the streets of Turkey’s Kurdish cities while Turkish tanks idle alongside Kobani, which if or when it falls will become an Isis hub smack on Turkey’s 500-mile border with Syria. [....]

Mr Erdogan and Mr Davutoglu, who lead an increasingly Sunni supremacist party whose dog-whistle sectarianism is coming out into the open, give the impression they regard Isis as a lesser evil than either the PYD/PKK or Assad. [....]

Allowing for difference in scale, the Erdogan policy looks as cynical as Stalin halting his Red Army on the east bank of the Vistula in 1944 while the Nazis butchered the survivors of the Warsaw uprising. [....]
Furthermore, to borrow a nice formulation from an e-mail message Art Goldhammer sent this morning, the heroic defense of Kobani by the heavily outnumbered fighters of  the Syrian Kurdish PYD militia "has clearly demonstrated that ISIS is anything but an invincible juggernaut." The image of unstoppability created by the meteoric rise of ISIS and its string of astonishing victories is an important source of its strength—inspiring its fighters, attracting supporters, terrifying and intimidating its opponents. The struggle for Kobani has already dented that image significantly. A major ISIS assault has been fought to a standstill, and not by the army of a major power, but by a small and heavily outnumbered force of Kurdish guerrillas—many of whom, to add to the embarrassment, are women.

ISIS leaders are undoubtedly aware of this, so my guess is that they will continue and intensify their efforts to conquer Kobani, even at very heavy cost. We should all stay tuned.

—Jeff Weintraub

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The meaning of Kobani (Henri Barkey)

(Kobani is the small yellow dot in the middle of the Syrian-Turkish border, at the top of the map.)

Kobani is hanging on. Earlier this week ISIS fighters had  taken over parts of the city from its heavily outnumbered Kurdish defenders, and it looked as though the fall of Kobani was imminent. In the last few days, aided by intensified US air strikes, the defenders have halted and reversed the ISIS advance, pushing ISIS forces out of the city. But the ISIS assault continues.  According to the latest reports:
Syrian Kurds have fended off a new attempt by "Islamic State" militants to cut off the city of Kobani. The jihadist group reportedly suffered heavy losses in the assault.

Kurdish fighters have repulsed a fresh attempt by "Islamic State" ("IS") militants to cut the Syrian town of Kobani off from the border with Turkey, raising hopes Kurdish forces would maintain control of the city.

"IS" forces reportedly launched a fierce attack from the east toward the border gate with Turkey before being pushed back. The jihadist group suffered heavy losses and was forced to send in reinforcements, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The news comes as the besieged city suffered its heaviest round of shelling by "IS" forces in days, with mortar shells hitting the town center and landing inside of Turkey in Mursitpinar. [....]
=> Before this month, Kobani was just a fairly small provincial city in northern Syria that never turned up in international news reports. But now, to borrow Yeats's line about the impact of the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Dublin, this is "all changed, changed utterly". The battle for Kobani has taken on tremendous symbolic importance for Kurds across the Middle East and beyond—which may also make it, in the long run, politically important for Kurdish nationalism and for countries with significant Kurdish minorities, especially Turkey.

The veteran Middle East journalist Patrick Cockburn has been making these points for weeks:
The battle for Kobani has united Kurds across the region who see it as their version of the battle of Thermopylae, with their heroic soldiers fighting to the end against Isis forces superior in numbers and armed with heavier weapons. [....]

The month-long siege of Kobani has become part of the Kurdish national legend like the killing of 5,000 Kurds with poison gas at Halabja by Saddam Hussein in 1988. [....]
And yesterday Henri Barkey, whose analyses of Turkish society and politics and of Middle Eastern geopolitics more generally always need to be taken very seriously, argues that "whether Kobani falls or stands, it has become a defining moment of nationhood and identity for Syrian and Turkish Kurds." Barkey's piece is worth reading in full, but here are some highlights:
The Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani has been under a relentless siege by the Islamic State (IS) for the past few weeks. Surprisingly its defenders have endured, defying the long odds. Whether it falls or survives, Kobani is likely to become for Syrian and Turkish Kurds what Halabja became for Iraqi Kurds in 1988: a defining moment of nationhood and identity.

Halabja helped propel and shape the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq, now called the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). In 1988, in the midst of the genocidal Anfal campaign against the Iraqi Kurds, Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on the sleepy Iraqi Kurdish town near the Iranian border, killing some 5,000, mostly civilians. Unnoticed at the time, Halabja became for much of the world a symbol of the larger campaign of mass extermination against the Kurds, as well as a quintessential example of a crime against humanity.

For the Kurds, it marked yet another time the world stood by and watched silently; theirs was an inconvenient predicament, a sacrifice at the altar of grander strategic purposes. Saddam Hussein enjoyed the support of the West precisely because he was locked in a duel with Iran, then a larger threat.

Fast forward to today: Until the U.S. Air Force began a systematic bombing campaign against IS positions around Kobani, the city had been left largely to fend for itself. Skittish and worried about Turkey’s reaction to support for Syrian Kurds, the Obama Administration initially hesitated but then committed itself to bombing the besieging IS forces after they had penetrated the city’s outer defenses.

Kobani will have two different effects on the region. First and foremost, it will be an important marker in the construction and consolidation of Kurdish nationhood. The exploits of Kobani’s defenders are quickly joining the lore of Kurdish fighting prowess. After all, the Iraqi Kurdish forces, not to mention the Iraqi army, folded in the face of a determined IS onslaught only a couple of months ago. The longer the city resists, the greater will be the reputational impact (although it is already assuming mythic proportions).

There is another, rather unique aspect of the resistance that is adding to its mythic character: the role of women in the fight.  [JW: This is not the second effect, but one more aspect of the first effect.]  The juxtaposition of an Islamic State, which enslaves women or covers them from head to toe with the Syrian Kurds’ Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has large numbers of women fighting and dying alongside men, is particularly striking. Social and other media outlets have brimmed with stories of the heroism and sacrifice of these women. The fighting in Kobani, and especially the emergence of women fighters, has now entered the Kurdish lore and imagination.
The second effect, as Barkey sees it, involves the political implications for Turkey, both at home and internationally.
Resistance in Kobani has also mobilized Kurds across the world, but especially in Turkey—notwithstanding the [AKP] government’s earlier courageous attempt to initiate a peace process with its own Kurdish insurgent movement, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Turkish government faces a dilemma, however: a victory for the PYD, which is an ally, if not the creation, of the PKK, will not only strengthen the PKK’s bargaining position but will also potentially enable the Kurds to construct another Kurdish autonomous region on its borders after the KRG. That, in Ankara’s view, would be a strategic disaster, because it would naturally embolden Turkish Kurds to demand the same. In Turkey alone, some 36 people have already died in Kobani-related demonstrations.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s blandishments to the contrary, Turkey prefers to see a PYD defeat in Kobani, even if this, in the medium term, causes a spike in refugees streaming across the border. For Turkey, this was a Faustian choice. They lost. Moreover, by attempting to drive a hard if not impossible bargain with Washington, which demanded that it target Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as much as it was targeting IS, the Turks first and foremost alienated the Obama administration. This in turn has enabled the White House to finally ignore Ankara’s preferences and cooperate (at least in order to conduct bombing runs) with the PYD, an organization Turkey despises and sees as an enemy. [....]
The complex drama centered on Kobani is still unfolding, so we should all stay tuned.

—Jeff Weintraub

==============================
The American Interest
October 18, 2014
THE MIDDLE EAST AFLAME
The Meaning of Kobani
By Henri J. Barkey

The Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani has been under a relentless siege by the Islamic State (IS) for the past few weeks. Surprisingly its defenders have endured, defying the long odds. Whether it falls or survives, Kobani is likely to become for Syrian and Turkish Kurds what Halabja became for Iraqi Kurds in 1988: a defining moment of nationhood and identity.

Halabja helped propel and shape the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq, now called the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). In 1988, in the midst of the genocidal Anfal campaign against the Iraqi Kurds, Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on the sleepy Iraqi Kurdish town near the Iranian border, killing some 5,000, mostly civilians. Unnoticed at the time, Halabja became for much of the world a symbol of the larger campaign of mass extermination against the Kurds, as well as a quintessential example of a crime against humanity.

For the Kurds, it marked yet another time the world stood by and watched silently; theirs was an inconvenient predicament, a sacrifice at the altar of grander strategic purposes. Saddam Hussein enjoyed the support of the West precisely because he was locked in a duel with Iran, then a larger threat.

Fast forward to today: Until the U.S. Air Force began a systematic bombing campaign against IS positions around Kobani, the city had been left largely to fend for itself. Skittish and worried about Turkey’s reaction to support for Syrian Kurds, the Obama Administration initially hesitated but then committed itself to bombing the besieging IS forces after they had penetrated the city’s outer defenses.

Kobani will have two different effects on the region. First and foremost, it will be an important marker in the construction and consolidation of Kurdish nationhood. The exploits of Kobani’s defenders are quickly joining the lore of Kurdish fighting prowess. After all, the Iraqi Kurdish forces, not to mention the Iraqi army, folded in the face of a determined IS onslaught only a couple of months ago. The longer the city resists, the greater will be the reputational impact (although it is already assuming mythic proportions).

There is another, rather unique aspect of the resistance that is adding to its mythic character: the role of women in the fight. The juxtaposition of an Islamic State, which enslaves women or covers them from head to toe with the Syrian Kurds’ Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has large numbers of women fighting and dying alongside men, is particularly striking. Social and other media outlets have brimmed with stories of the heroism and sacrifice of these women. The fighting in Kobani, and especially the emergence of women fighters, has now entered the Kurdish lore and imagination.

Resistance in Kobani has also mobilized Kurds across the world, but especially in Turkey—notwithstanding the government’s earlier courageous attempt to initiate a peace process with its own Kurdish insurgent movement, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Turkish government faces a dilemma, however: a victory for the PYD, which is an ally, if not the creation, of the PKK, will not only strengthen the PKK’s bargaining position but will also potentially enable the Kurds to construct another Kurdish autonomous region on its borders after the KRG. That, in Ankara’s view, would be a strategic disaster, because it would naturally embolden Turkish Kurds to demand the same. In Turkey alone, some 36 people have already died in Kobani-related demonstrations.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s blandishments to the contrary, Turkey prefers to see a PYD defeat in Kobani, even if this, in the medium term, causes a spike in refugees streaming across the border. For Turkey, this was a Faustian choice. They lost. Moreover, by attempting to drive a hard if not impossible bargain with Washington, which demanded that it target Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as much as it was targeting IS, the Turks first and foremost alienated the Obama administration. This in turn has enabled the White House to finally ignore Ankara’s preferences and cooperate (at least in order to conduct bombing runs) with the PYD, an organization Turkey despises and sees as an enemy.

CENTCOM commander Lloyd Austin had high praise for the Kurds in Syria: “Kurdish fighters had managed to regain territory that had been lost previously, adding that they had done “a yeoman’s work in terms of standing their ground.” The American decision to help Syrian Kurds despite Turkish objections will also have serious repercussions in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the leaders had until recently closely aligned themselves with Turkey. Ankara has already gotten started on damage control: a Deputy Prime Minister disingenuously argued it was Turkey that convinced the U.S. to help the PYD in Kobani.

Fall or survive, Kobani has assumed an importance few could have anticipated, becoming the rallying cry for Syrian and Turkish Kurds as much as Halabja was for their Iraqi brethren. Moreover, Kobani’s plight has once again drawn the whole international community’s attention to the region’s Kurdish question.

----------------------------------------
Henri J. Barkey is a professor of international relations at Lehigh University.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Why would Britain's National Union of Students refuse to condemn ISIS?

According to the veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, the month-long struggle by Kurdish militia fighters to defend the northern Syrian city of Kobani against unrelenting attack by ISIS "has become part of the Kurdish national legend like the killing of 5,000 Kurds with poison gas at Halabja by Saddam Hussein in 1988."  ISIS, let us not forget, is a group described by UN human rights officers as guilty of a "staggering array" of atrocities and other human rights abuses just over the past few months. It proudly boasts of slaughtering and decapitating both military captives and civilians, systematically enslaving and raping Yazidi women and girls, and persecuting non-Muslim minorities as well as Muslims it regards as heretical or just insufficiently fanatical. A week ago the UN special envoy for Syria warned of the imminent threat of another Srebrenica massacre if ISIS conquers Kobani. Muslim spokesmen and organizations around the world, including even reactionary and intolerant ultra-fundamentalist Islamic clerics in the Middle East, have condemned ISIS is very strong terms.

Yet the National Executive Council of the National Union of Students in Britain just refused to pass a motion condemning ISIS and declaring solidarity with the Kurds in Syria and Iraq they are trying to massacre.
The National Union of Students has rejected a call to condemn the militant group Isis on the grounds that the motion was “islamophobic”, in a move which has promoted campaigners to accuse the body of being in the “stranglehold” of divisive “identity politics”. [....]

However the call, which also called for unity among Muslims and has already been passed by the Scottish NUS, was rejected by a members led by black students’ officer Malia Bouattia, according the student website The Tab.
That's despite the fact that the motion seems to have been drafted in in a way that aimed to make it as politically correct and unobjectionable as possible:
The motion, proposed by Daniel Cooper and Clifford Fleming with international students officer Shreya Paudel, called on British students “to condemn the IS and support Kurdish forces fighting against it, while expressing no confidence or trust in the US military intervention.”
=>  The most depressing feature of this incident is that although it's astonishing, it's not entirely surprising. It fits into a pattern.

As the British democratic-left writer Alan Johnson asked in a column today:
How can we explain British students who refuse to commemorate the Holocaust because that would be ‘eurocentric’, refuse to condemn ISIS because that would encourage ‘Islamophobia’ and refuse to support the Kurds on the grounds that it would be ‘warmongering’?
You can read Johnson's attempts to pull together some elements of a possible explanation here. But whether or not you find them entirely convincing is a secondary matter. What's most significant and appalling is the bizarre and disgraceful ideological syndrome that needs to be explained.

—Jeff Weintraub

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why Kobani matters (Patrick Cockburn)

The veteran Middle East correspondent correspondent Patrick Cockburn is someone whose assessments are always worth taking seriously. Taken in combination, three of his most recent pieces deliver a strong argument for the proposition that the fall of Kobani to ISIS, which now looks imminent, is likely to be an event of great significance, with important direct and indirect consequences. (It's worth noting that Cockburn's ardently Kurdophile perspective shapes his analysis, but there's no reason to think that it distorts the analysis.)

Cockburn argues that Erdogan sees the meteoric rise of ISIS not as a serious threat, but primarily as an opportunity to maneuver the US and NATO into helping overthrow the Assad regime. That reading of Erdogan's priorities seems to be clearly on-target. The main question is whether, from Erdogan's perspective, allowing ISIS to capture Kobani and slaughter its defenders is unimportant collateral damage or a valuable fringe benefit. Cockburn and others argue that the latter is the case, and there are reasons to find that plausible. Cockburn also suggests that Erdogan may be overplaying his hand. That remains to be seen. Time will tell whether, in retrospect, the strategy being pursued by Erdogan and his government looks like brilliant realpolitik or disastrous political and geopolitical short-sightedness. What is beyond question is that it looks morally reprehensible.

From the US perspective: "The US's failure to save Kobani, if it falls, will be a political as well as military disaster."

Why? I recommend reading all three pieces in full, but here are some highlights:


Isis on the verge of victory in Kobani as US strategy lies in ruins: Jihadists close to taking city near Turkish border in Syria (Tuesday, October 7)
Isis is close to capturing the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, just a short distance from the Turkish border, after a three-week siege in which US air strikes turned out to be ineffective in preventing Isis winning an important victory.

With Isis fighters also making advances into western Baghdad, which may allow them to close the city’s airport with artillery fire, President Obama’s strategy of containing the Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria is in ruins.

Kurdish militiamen are battling to stop Isis capturing Kobani, but a Kurdish spokesman in the city was quoted as saying that the town “will certainly fall soon”. Fighting has reached the eastern outskirts of Kobani where Isis fighters raised their black flag over one building at the entrance to the town.

The battle for Kobani has united Kurds across the region who see it as their version of the battle of Thermopylae, with their heroic soldiers fighting to the end against Isis forces superior in numbers and armed with heavier weapons.

Isis is using tanks and artillery it seized from the Iraqi and Syrian armies when it overran their bases during the summer. [....]

The fall of Kobani would be a bad blow to the US and its anti-Isis coalition which has been bombing Isis positions in Syria since 23 September and in Iraq since 8 August.

But in both countries Isis is still on the offensive and is making gains in Anbar province in western Iraq and in towns close to Baghdad. Isis fighters have responded to air attacks by spreading out so they are difficult to find and target. [....]

Kobani is one of three Kurdish cantons on the Syrian side of the Turkish border where many of Syria’s two-and-a-half million Kurds live.

President Bashar al-Assad withdrew his forces from these enclaves earlier in the war, leaving them in the hands of the Democratic Unity Party (PYD) whose militia is the YPG. Both are effectively the Syrian branch of the PKK that has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey since 1984.

The long-running peace process between the PKK and the Turkish government could be one casualty of the fall of Kobani. Turkish forces have done nothing to help the Syrian Kurds hold the town and there is no sign of powerful Turkish military forces along the border intervening. [....]
Isis in Kobani: Turkey ignores Kurdish fury as militants close in on capturing the town (Thursday, October 9)
President Erdogan sees the jihadists as an opportunity to target Assad rather than a threat

If Kobani falls to the fighters of Isis there will be a surge of violence across Turkey. The 15 million Turkish Kurds will blame the Turkish government for enabling Isis to capture the Kurdish enclave by denying its defenders reinforcements, weapons and ammunition.

he faltering peace process between the Turkish Kurd militants and Ankara may finally collapse. A Kurdish politician was quoted as saying that “you can’t expect to break the backs of the Kurds in Syria and win their hearts in Turkey”.

All this week there have been protests and riots in every Turkish city where there are a significant number of Kurds. Twenty-two people have been killed in the fiercest street clashes that Turkey has seen for years.

Smoke rises from bonfires in the streets with the police generally relying on pepper spray and water cannon while angry Kurds hurl stones and Molotov cocktails.

The month-long siege of Kobani has become part of the Kurdish national legend like the killing of 5,000 Kurds with poison gas at Halabja by Saddam Hussein in 1988.

Six provinces in south-east Turkey have been placed under curfew. There are signs of an anti-Kurdish and pro-Islamist backlash with Turkish police shouting Isis slogans as they charge Kurdish demonstrators. Antagonisms have spread beyond Turkey into Europe with a pro-Isis crowd in Hamburg attacking Kurdish protesters with knives.

The Turkish general staff stirred nationalist passions by claiming that Kurds have burnt Turkish flags. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said openly that Isis and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Kurdish movement that has fought for Kurdish self-rule since 1984, are much the same. He said: “It is wrong to deal with them differently, we need to deal with them jointly.” [....]

This is a return to demonisation of the PKK and all Kurdish dissidents at the height of the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey in 1990s. The PYD, the political representative of the Syrian Kurds and a branch of the PKK, was denounced in a tweet by a senior member of the ruling AKP party, Emrullah Isler, saying it is worse than Isis because, while the latter killed, they did not torture.

The Turkish government has so far been outwardly uncaring over the turmoil in the streets unleashed by its role in allowing Isis to come close to capturing Kobani. It may be that Mr Erdogan has had sufficient success in muzzling the Turkish media that the authorities themselves may underestimate the gravity of what is going on and its potential for getting a great deal worse. [....]

Mr Erdogan’s unconcern about Kurdish fury is curious since progress in de-escalating Turkish-Kurd violence has been one of the achievements of his AKP party’s years in office. Mr Erdogan had looked to Kurdish support to increase the powers of his office. Writing in al-Monitor Amberin Zaman says that the reason why the authorities are so unconcerned is because “Erdogan and his AKP disciples view Kobani as an opportunity rather than a threat”. This opportunity is not to win popularity among the Kurds by rescuing Kobani, but to exploit a moment of maximum Kurdish weakness when they are under threat from Isis. [....]

In using the Isis threat to extract concessions from the Kurds and the Americans, Mr Erdogan may be overplaying his hand. He has made clear that his price for acting against Isis is a buffer zone inside Syria run by Turkey to be used as a sanctuary by refugees and anti-Assad rebels; a no-fly zone; and a commitment by the US to overthrow the government in Damascus.

All Mr Erdogan’s demands show that his target is Mr Assad as the source of all evil in Syria who ruthlessly kills his own people. He evidently sees no hypocrisy in accusing the Syrian government of such crimes while protesters are being shot down in cities across Turkey in numbers that may increase tragically if Kobani falls.
War against Isis: US strategy in tatters as militants march on (Sunday, October 9)
America's plans to fight Islamic State are in ruins as the militant group's fighters come close to capturing Kobani and have inflicted a heavy defeat on the Iraqi army west of Baghdad.

The US-led air attacks launched against Islamic State (also known as Isis) on 8 August in Iraq and 23 September in Syria have not worked. President Obama's plan to "degrade and destroy" Islamic State has not even begun to achieve success. In both Syria and Iraq, Isis is expanding its control rather than contracting.

Isis reinforcements have been rushing towards Kobani in the past few days to ensure that they win a decisive victory over the Syrian Kurdish town's remaining defenders. The group is willing to take heavy casualties in street fighting and from air attacks in order to add to the string of victories it has won in the four months since its forces captured Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, on 10 June. Part of the strength of the fundamentalist movement is a sense that there is something inevitable and divinely inspired about its victories, whether it is against superior numbers in Mosul or US airpower at Kobani.

The US's failure to save Kobani, if it falls, will be a political as well as military disaster. Indeed, the circumstances surrounding the loss of the beleaguered town are even more significant than the inability so far of air strikes to stop Isis taking 40 per cent of it. At the start of the bombing in Syria, President Obama boasted of putting together a coalition of Sunni powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to oppose Isis, but these all have different agendas to the US in which destroying IS is not the first priority. The Sunni Arab monarchies may not like Isis, which threatens the political status quo, but, as one Iraqi observer put it, "they like the fact that Isis creates more problems for the Shia than it does for them".

Of the countries supposedly uniting against Isis, by the far most important is Turkey because it shares a 510-mile border with Syria across which rebels of all sorts, including Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, have previously passed with ease. This year the Turks have tightened border security, but since its successes in the summer Isis no longer needs sanctuary, supplies and volunteers from outside to the degree it once did.

In the course of the past week it has become clear that Turkey considers the Syrian Kurd political and military organisations, the PYD and YPG, as posing a greater threat to it than the Islamic fundamentalists. Moreover, the PYD is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey since 1984.

Ever since Syrian government forces withdrew from the Syrian Kurdish enclaves or cantons on the border with Turkey in July 2012, Ankara has feared the impact of self-governing Syrian Kurds on its own 15 million-strong Kurdish population.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would prefer Isis to control Kobani, not the PYD. [....]

Turkey is demanding a high price from the US for its co-operation in attacking Isis, such as a Turkish-controlled buffer zone inside Syria where Syrian refugees are to live and anti-Assad rebels are to be trained. Mr Erdogan would like a no-fly zone which will also be directed against the government in Damascus since Isis has no air force. If implemented the plan would mean Turkey, backed by the US, would enter the Syrian civil war on the side of the rebels, though the anti-Assad forces are dominated by Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate.

It is worth keeping in mind that Turkey's actions in Syria since 2011 have been a self-defeating blend of hubris and miscalculation. At the start of the uprising, it could have held the balance between the government and its opponents. Instead, it supported the militarisation of the crisis, backed the jihadis and assumed Assad would soon be defeated. This did not happen and what had been a popular uprising became dominated by sectarian warlords who flourished in conditions created by Turkey. Mr Erdogan is assuming he can disregard the rage of the Turkish Kurds at what they see as his complicity with Isis against the Syrian Kurds. This fury is already deep, with 33 dead, and is likely to get a great deal worse if Kobani falls.

Why doesn't Ankara worry more about the collapse of the peace process with the PKK that has maintained a ceasefire since 2013? It may believe that the PKK is too heavily involved in fighting Isis in Syria that it cannot go back to war with the government in Turkey. On the other hand, if Turkey does join the civil war in Syria against Assad, a crucial ally of Iran, then Iranian leaders have said that "Turkey will pay a price". This probably means that Iran will covertly support an armed Kurdish insurgency in Turkey. [....]
Too alarmist? We may know soon.

—Jeff Weintraub

Why Turkish Kurds have been demonstrating, and in some cases rioting, to protest the Turkish government's Syria policy

A good deal has been written about this subject over the past few weeks. But I just noticed a Financial Times column by David Gardner that explains some of the reasons in an especially clear and compact way. Here are some selections, offered as a guide for the perplexed:
For a country that so recently harboured ambitions as a great regional power, Turkey is offering an unedifyingly feeble spectacle on its border with Syria, as the merciless fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) close in on the besieged Kurdish town of Kobani. This could be a defining moment for the Turkey of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the man who has dominated its politics like no other since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who forged the republic out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

Despite President Erdogan’s regional swagger, and Turkey’s possession of the second largest army in Nato, the country’s neo-Islamist leadership appear unwilling or unable to prevent a bloodbath at Kobani happening within sight of their tanks. This refusal to act could also sabotage an Erdogan legacy project of a peace settlement with Turkey’s large Kurdish minority, a probable casualty of Kobani as Kurds rise across the region in fury that Ankara is not just watching the town’s defenders being massacred by the jihadi fanatics of Isis but obstructing others trying to aid them.
[JW:  That last point is worth emphasizing. This is not just a matter of inaction by the Turkish army. There have been plausible reports that Turkish authorities have been actively preventing supplies and reinforcements from reaching the Kurdish militia in Kobani. A few days ago even the UN's special envoy for Syria, warning of the imminent prospect of another Srebrenica in Kobani, "called specifically on Turkey, which has closed its border adjacent to Kobane, to allow weapons and potential defenders, primarily Turkish Kurds, to cross into the Kurdish-populated town."]
Allowing for difference in scale, the Erdogan policy looks as cynical as Stalin halting his Red Army on the east bank of the Vistula in 1944 while the Nazis butchered the survivors of the Warsaw uprising. “This isn’t how a Nato ally acts while hell is unfolding a stone’s throw from their border”, an unnamed senior US administration official was quoted as saying in the New York Times on Wednesday.

Do Mr Erdogan, and his successor as prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, former foreign minister and architect of Turkey’s eastward turn in foreign policy, know what they are doing?

Ever since they turned decisively against Bashar al-Assad in mid-2011, as the Syrian minority regime brushed aside all talk of reform and unleashed total war on what began as a civic uprising led by Syria’s Sunni majority, both Mr Erdogan [....] and Mr Davutoglu have thundered at the west for standing by while hundreds of thousands died. Their government opened its borders to fighters flocking to join the Syrian rebellion, in what became a pipeline for jihadis.

The west, by refusing to arm mainstream rebels it was egging on and instead outsourcing support for the uprising to Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and Turkey, by permitting a jihadi highway into Syria, in different ways contributed to the rise of Isis, which used its success in Syria as a springboard back into Iraq. [....]

Turkey is understandably reluctant to provide ground troops for the US and its allies, while they have built a Sunni coalition that is steering equally clear of ground fighting against Isis. Most of those fighting on the ground, moreover, are either not up to it (the Iraqi army, mainstream rebels, and the poorly-armed peshmerga forces of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government) or are regarded by the coalition as terrorists (Lebanon’s Hizbollah, Iraqi Shia militia such as Asaeb Ahl al-Haq, and the Kurdistan Workers’ party or PKK). [JW: The PKK, of course, has waged a decades-long guerrilla war for Kurdish independence in southeastern Turkey. There is currently a cease-fire, but the underlying tensions definitely haven't gone away.]

Mr Erdogan this week equated the PKK to Isis, giving currency to the idea that his real reason for standing back from Kobani is that its defenders belong to the Democratic Union party (PYD), essentially the Syrian Kurdish branch of the PKK – with which Turkey has been at war for 30 years.
[JW:  Erdogan has a weakness for shooting off his mouth with inflammatory statements, and this one probably played a key role in helping convince many Kurds, in Turkey and elsewhere, that he and his government want Kobani to fall to ISIS. That accusation may or may not be entirely fair, though I don't find it inherently implausible myself. But the comparison between ISIS and the PKK may well have made sense to a lot of (non-Kurdish) Turks, but it enraged a great many Turkish Kurds. And that's more consequential than what I think.]

As Gardner points out, there is an irony here.
Yet it is also Mr Erdogan who has done more than any Turkish leader to end this enmity with Turkey’s Kurds, ignoring hardline nationalists and opening a dialogue with Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned PKK leader.

The idea was to give Kurds in south-east Turkey a measure of self-government and cultural freedom, while drawing Iraqi Kurdistan and the liberated Kurdish cantons of northern Syria into a Sunni Turko-sphere that would serve as a buffer against Iran’s Shia axis to the south, which stretches across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. President Erdogan is now putting all this at risk, and has put tanks on the streets of Turkey’s Kurdish cities while Turkish tanks idle alongside Kobani, which if or when it falls will become an Isis hub smack on Turkey’s 500-mile border with Syria. [....]

Turkey’s leaders are right to keep insisting that the Assad clique is part of the problem. The Assad regime is one of the two stones grinding the mainstream rebellion – the other being Isis – and it is hard to see Syria’s Sunni majority being re-energised and carrying the fight to Isis unless the Assads are pushed out.
[JW: Gardner is essentially right, but there's something a little odd about his reference to "the mainstream resistance". That phrase refers to the less poisonous tendencies in the anti-Assad rebellion, the so-called "moderate" rebels. The problem is that right now it is not at all clear that they really are "mainstream," precisely because they have been ground to pieces since 2011 between the Assad regime and its supporters, on the one hand, and the more poisonous jihadi forces in the anti-Assad rebellion, on the other. That has been a tragedy. But whether or not it's too late to reverse this process is an open question.]
But that is hardly today’s business. Mr Erdogan and Mr Davutoglu, who lead an increasingly Sunni supremacist party whose dog-whistle sectarianism is coming out into the open, give the impression they regard Isis as a lesser evil than either the PYD/PKK or Assad.

Of course Turkey cannot resolve the Isis problem by itself. But under its present policy it risks reigniting conflict with the Kurds, and Isis is likely to use its territory for reprisal attacks against the coalition anyway. Meanwhile, its partners, in Nato and the US and in the EU, will be telling Mr Erdogan he really has to choose which side he is on – and Isis is not just closing on Kobani, it is getting close to Baghdad.
The title of Gardner's piece suggests that the Turkish government's "cynicism over Kobani siege will rebound against Erdogan". In a just world, that would be true. In the real world we actually live in, that may or may not happen. What's more important is that plenty of other people will suffer from the consequences of Erdogan's policies.

—Jeff Weintraub

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Why the pro-democracy struggle in Hong Kong may have world-wide significance (Trudy Rubin)

Whether or not you've already been following this drama over the past few weeks, this clear, cogent, and illuminating analysis by Trudi Rubin is a must-read.
We should take these civic activists very seriously: The "Occupy Central [Hong Kong]" protest has a global significance that goes far beyond that of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that began so well and have ended so tragically.

Here's why:

The fate of Occupy Central will signal whether there is still any faint hope that the economic reforms that transformed China in the last 20 years might lead to [democratizing] political reforms in coming decades. In other words, has the mind-set of Beijing's leaders changed since the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago?

The answer not only will affect 1.3 billion Chinese, but will impact the fate of democracy worldwide. [....]
But read the whole thing (below)

—Jeff Weintraub

=================================
Philadelphia Inquirer
October 3, 2014
Hong Kong fights back
By Trudy Rubin

Once again, as we have seen so frequently and so recently in many countries, massive crowds of young people are demonstrating for democracy against a repressive government. This time the civic protests are ongoing in downtown Hong Kong.

As in Cairo's Tahrir Square in 2011, or in the early days of Syria's uprising, or last fall in Kiev, or in Moscow's Pushkin Square in 2012, the crowd is predominantly youthful and nonviolent - and it has no clear leaders. Its participants are so earnest that they clean up the trash and separate plastic and paper for recycling. They use as their symbol open umbrellas - which can be used against sun, rain, or tear gas.

We should take these civic activists very seriously: The "Occupy Central [Hong Kong]" protest has a global significance that goes far beyond that of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that began so well and have ended so tragically.

Here's why:

The fate of Occupy Central will signal whether there is still any faint hope that the economic reforms that transformed China in the last 20 years might lead to political reforms in coming decades. In other words, has the mind-set of Beijing's leaders changed since the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago?

The answer not only will affect 1.3 billion Chinese, but will impact the fate of democracy worldwide.

Occupy Central includes high school and college students, joined by young workers and professionals, along with retirees, Christian clerics, and academics. All are protesting Beijing's attempt to curb the special political rights Hong Kong was granted for 50 years when the British government returned the colony to China in 1997. Specifically, they are demanding that Hong Kong officials scrap a Beijing plan to control who can run in the region's first free election for chief executive in 2017.

Many in the West had hoped that the gradual introduction of full democracy to Hong Kong might serve as a workable model that would persuade Beijing to gradually increase civic rights across the country. Hong Kong citizens have far more freedoms of assembly and information than do mainland Chinese; a step-by-step liberalization of Hong Kong elections was supposed to lead gradually to a fully democratic election for the region's top official in 2017.

Instead, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been tightening controls on the Internet and civic organizations at home and shows no interest in political liberalization. And now he is trying to curb the rights that were promised to the people of Hong Kong.

Xi has clearly been unnerved by pro-democracy protests in other countries, notably in Ukraine, where demonstrators unseated a government earlier this year. He has taken a cue from Russia's Vladimir Putin, equating pro-democracy efforts with supposed Western subversion. (No doubt, Xi has closely watched Putin's effort to cripple Ukraine's democracy by invasion and secret police stealth.)

So, just as Putin has tried to create a veneer of democracy in Russia, while closely controlling elections and media and crushing protests, China seems bent on shrinking Hong Kong's civic and press freedoms. Xi wants to insulate the mainland from any democratic fever originating in Hong Kong.

Like Putin, the Chinese present their system as a preferable alternative to the West's liberal democracy. While Putin promotes a global model of "managed democracy," China is more blunt about its preferred system: a mixed socialist-capitalist economy combined with an autocratic system that is more tightly controlled than Moscow's.
[JW: Actually, I would describe it as a combination of state-managed raw capitalism combined with unabashed but, it is claimed, responsive and effective political despotism. This system is somewhat laughably called "socialism with Chinese characteristics," but the only "socialist" features are the authoritarian/corporatist ones.]
Beijing's leaders seem bent on disproving the popular Western theory that an open economy will inevitably give birth to a political democracy.
[JW That "theory," or rather that complacent expectation, is obviously wrong, as even the slightest consideration of the historical experience of the last two centuries should make clear. That combination is possible, but not at all inevitable. Constructing and maintaining it requires active effort and commitment.]
They say democracy is chaotic and would undermine economic growth in Hong Kong and on the mainland. They tell their people that democracy is unsuitable for their country because it violates their "Confucian values" of order and respect for authority.
[JW: And they're not the only ones pushing this argument. Leaders and regimes with authoritarian inclinations around the world—and not only in underdeveloped countries—see China as an attractive model. This July, for example, "In a speech to Fidesz [Party] supporters in Romania [....], Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said 'the era of liberal democracies is over', and announced the formation of a parliamentary committee for the continuous monitoring of 'foreigners who try to gain influence in Hungary'." Orban explained that "he wants to build an illiberal state based on national foundations, citing Russia and China [and Turkey] as examples. [....] The experience of the financial crisis showed that 'liberal democratic states cannot remain globally competitive'.”

Back in the 1930s, a lot of people in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere felt that way, so this isn't a new scenario. Nowadays, the crucial requirement for demonstrating that this argument is wrong is for economically advanced countries with democratic regimes, which have indeed responded quite badly to the economic crash of 2008 and its aftermath, to get their act together. Those of us here in the US, where our political system has become notoriously gridlocked and otherwise dysfunctional, have a special responsibility in this respect. But the prominence of China, and its weight in the world economy, mean that the future of the Chinese model also matters a great deal.]
This is a tragedy for Hong Kong, which has the key prerequisites for democratic governance so lacking in the Arab uprisings: a literate, well-educated population, a sizable middle class, and a good economy. The gradual introduction of full democracy to Hong Kong would demonstrate that an open society enhances economic growth; it would certainly help curb the Chinese-style corruption that has undercut the economy since Beijing took power.
[JW: This is a crucial point, worth underlining. In Hong Kong, further progress toward increased and effective democracy is a realistically plausible option in the immediate future--even within the context of ultimate control from Beijing. That gives the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong a special and urgent claim on support from the rest of us.]
So far, this is a road down which Beijing officials do not want to travel. Had they wanted, they could already have taken a lesson from neighboring Taiwan, an island that China claims, but which is still operating autonomously.

In the 1980s in Taiwan, a dictator named Chiang Ching-kuo (the son of mainland army general Chiang Kai-shek) introduced democracy by stages, starting with village and town elections and moving gradually to a free national ballot. Taiwan's economy continued to grow.

In the 1990s, I interviewed Chinese officials who were traveling to Taiwan to study its democratic model; mainland China had begun to hold village elections that were supposed to expand slowly to towns and cities. Beijing has long since frozen that experiment.

Now the world is waiting to see if China will permit another democratic experiment to move forward in Hong Kong. One thing is certain: A brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators - a la Tiananmen Square - will undermine Hong Kong's status as a global financial hub. And it will permanently stain China's efforts to present its system as a model for the developing world.
[JW: Alas, it might not. But it should.]
trubin@phillynews.com

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Déjà vu from January 2009: "Israel declares a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza"

Earlier today Prof. Menachem Kellner in Haifa sent me a copy of a blog post I wrote in January 2009, in the closing stages of that Hamas-Israel war (see below).

I confess that I'd forgotten about that post. Re-reading it brought home to me, depressingly, the extent to which we've already been through this scenario before ... and may well go through it again—and again?—in the future. (Israel hasn't declared a unilateral cease-fire yet in the current Gaza war, but it may be moving in that direction.)

On the other hand, history never precisely repeats itself. It's possible that this time things might turn out differently (which, alas, doesn't necessarily mean better—though one can always hope).

—Jeff Weintraub

==========================================================

Israel declares a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza   [January 17, 2009]

It has now been 22 days since Israel launched its military operation against Hamas in Gaza on December 27, 2008. It was never clear how the fighting would end, but we may now be seeing the beginning of the endgame—though one has to say that tentatively.

Today Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire to take effect at midnight (Greenwich Mean Time).
BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen says the question now is whether Hamas decides to lick its wounds and regroup - or whether it gambles on dragging Israel into a war of attrition.
So what will this unilateral cease-fire mean concretely? Hard to know, but here are some immediate reactions and speculations.

=> This has been a war of terrible dilemmas, about which it has been impossible to feel confident or unconflicted. Israel was certainly justified in responding to the resumption of Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilian communities, which have been hit by thousands of these rockets over the years. (And the range of Hamas's rockets has been increasing, as Michael Walzer pointed out so they don't pose a static threat.) But the fact that something is, in principle, justified doesn't necessary make it a good idea, and in this case the dangers and drawbacks were pretty obvious.

Among other things, it wasn't clear whether and how military action could compel Hamas to cease those attacks, and no serious person expected either that this operation would break Hamas's control over Gaza or that Israel had any desire to re-occupy Gaza. At the same time, the longer this fighting went on, the more it increased death and suffering for Palestinian civilians in Gaza (and for Israelis, though Israel is both more concerned and more able than Hamas to protect its civilians). So Israel had both moral and practical reasons not to want to get sucked into an open-ended war.

As early as the first week of fighting, accordingly, several people—including David Grossman and my friend Gershon Shafir—proposed that Israel should unilaterally declare a cease-fire and essentially dare Hamas to respond. As Gershon put it in concluding his piece:
The strongest argument in favor of such an approach is that all the available alternatives—including the currently stated Israeli policy of seeking ‘to educate’ or eliminate Hamas—lead nowhere and can only yield disastrous and counterproductive results, along with unnecessary human suffering. Israel has made its point. Now it should know when to stop.
Something like that may be happening now, but after the weeks that have passed, the circumstances may be different.

Up to now, neither Israel nor Hamas has been willing to accept an unconditional cease-fire. The public position of the Israeli government has been that any cease-fire would have to be "durable and sustainable." It hasn't been entirely clear to observers like me what they meant by this in practice, but at least part of what the Israeli government seemed to be looking for were post-conflict arrangements that would make it more rather then less difficult for Hamas to smuggle more advanced weaponry into Gaza. Hamas, for its part, wanted conditions that would relieve Israeli pressure on its operations and on Gaza in general, allow it to claim victory, and increase its public support among Palestinians vis-a-vis Fatah.

But it would appear that decision-makers on both sides have been finding increasing reasons—and perhaps facing increasing pressures—to halt the fighting.

=> According to informed analysis from various sources, from the very beginning there has been some division of opinion within the Israeli government about when and under what conditions to stop. As Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff reported in Haaretz earlier this week ("Who is really winning the war in the Gaza Strip?):
Defense Minister Ehud Barak is very fond of marathon consultation sessions. This week he invited to his office a group of reserve generals who all retired from active duty in recent years. All but one advised Barak to end the operation quickly and withdraw from Gaza before things started to get more complicated. The most effective Israeli deterrence, they said, had already been achieved by the end of last week. When Barak asked just when, in their opinion, Israel ought to pull out of Gaza, most of the participants answered: Yesterday. This week, the defense minister was convinced that the operation had exhausted its usefulness.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, too, who at the operation's outset had waged fierce battles with Barak over questions of substance, public credit and political dividends, now holds the same view. But the lousy relations among the Livni-Barak-[Prime Minister] Olmert triumvirate have created a balance of fear: None of them wants to be painted as the soft "dove" throwing a wrench in the military campaign and dictating a swift end to it.
This triumvirate, including Olmert, seem to have reached the collective conclusion that enough is enough.

Some have speculated that they wanted to take this step before Barack Obama's inauguration, or perhaps just before something went terribly wrong. It is also possible that the Israeli government has received international assurances, confidential or semi-public, that some serious measures will be taken to control the flow of more advanced weaponry to Hamas. It may mean something that in UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's statement on Friday calling for a unilateral cease-fire declaration—which he delivered standing next to Hamas's bitter enemy Mahmoud Abbas—Moon spoke explicitly of the need for a "durable and sustainable" cessation of violence, since that phrase has become a diplomatic code. (Or, on the other hand, that may mean nothing in particular.)

=> In the meantime, there were also signs that elements in the Hamas leadership were starting to feel increasingly shaken and threatened by the Israeli assault, enough that they felt some urgency about stopping the fighting.

Up to a point, Hamas could presumably regard the death and suffering of Palestinians at Israeli hands as a propaganda bonanza from which it could only benefit. But Hamas's own military and organizational apparatus are considerably more vulnerable to Israeli attack than, say, Hezbollah's. All during the war between Hezbollah and Israel in the summer of 2006, for example, Hezbollah could continue to rain thousands of medium-range Iranian rockets on northern Israel, turning cities like Haifa into ghost towns. In the current round of fighting in Gaza, by comparison, Hamas has continued to fire rockets at Israel, but in dwindling numbers.

That may help explain why at least some Hamas figures gradually began to express interest in a cease-fire proposal worked out by the Egyptian government—which is no friend of Hamas. Early on in this conflict,
Egypt presented [Hamas] with a cease-fire proposal that, at first glance, seemed to stand no chance of being accepted: an immediate, unconditional cease-fire, entry into negotiations over a new hudna ("truce" - during which the cease-fire would be maintained, in the absence of a determination as to when the border crossings would be opened) and, in the third stage, a renewal of the talks between Fatah and Hamas that would lead to the formation of a unity government and require a Palestinian Authority presence at the border crossings. Then, and only then, would the Rafah crossing be opened - one of Hamas' prime objectives in this war. The Egyptians were essentially telling the organization that the crossing would remain closed for many more months.

Several times during the past 10 days, Hamas announced that the Egyptian formula was unacceptable because it hurt Palestinian interests. Two days ago, the tone changed. Salah al-Bardawil, the Hamas-Gaza representative to the Cairo talks, held a press conference during which he praised the Egyptian efforts to obtain a cease-fire. The Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, made similar statements. Bardawil even went so far as to emphasize that the Egyptian initiative is the only one the organization was considering, thereby dismissing all other mediation efforts, including those of Qatar and Turkey.
But in these matters there may be some disagreement between the Gaza-based portions of the Hamas leadership and the top leadership based in Damascus, who are presumably willing to fight to the last Gazan. As Harel & Issacharoff reported this morning:
In a series of blows during the past 24 hours, the most severe since the Israel Defense Forces operation began in the Gaza Strip 20 days ago, Hamas was brought very close to surrender.

It is unlikely that we will see white flags, because the group recognizes that this would have a devastating effect on its image. But the Israeli military pressure has destroyed most of the Palestinian defenses in the heart of Gaza City, a day after the group had to agree in principle to the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire a deal it is not very happy with. [....]

The latest move has is risks. The IDF is constantly concerned that a single mistake may lead to mass killing of Palestinian civilians, or a surprise attack by Hamas that may affect public opinion in Israel. This nearly happened yesterday when UNRWA facilities were hit. [....]

Meanwhile it seems that at least the Hamas leadership in Gaza has began to fathom the seriousness of its position. Two Hamas leaders in the Strip, Razi Hamad and Ahmed Yusuf, accused the group's leadership in Damascus of "bringing a terrible disaster on Gaza."

The two are considered members of the pragmatic wing of the party, and charged the Damascus-based leadership with making a terrible mistake in ordering Hamas to foil the extension of the cease-fire agreement with Israel in December.

However, in Damascus it is not clear that the message has been received. Ramadan Shalah, head of the Islamic Jihad, told Al Jazeera that the Palestinians will continue their resistance in Gaza and the city will not surrender because "victory is imminent."

The head of the Hamas politburo, Khaled Meshal, who is central in the decision that led to the events in the Strip, spoke in Damascus last night of a Palestinian "victory in Gaza." [....]
What all this means—assuming, of course, that the analysis is accurate—is that what Hamas will actually do in response to the Israeli cease-fire declaration is not easy to predict. So we don't now what happens next, even in the short run.

I hope that Hamas finds some politically viable way to accept a cease-fire. This would bring the fighting and destruction to a stop—at least for the moment, and perhaps even for a while. Then it will become possible to assess the human and material costs of this mini-war and to consider its possible long-term political consequences.

I don't pretend to know at this point what those will be (even assuming that fighting doesn't simply resume soon, which it might). But I would be willing to offer one surmise. It has become a standard cliché among journalists, pundits, and other analysts to proclaim that one political consequence of this blow-up will be to strengthen support for Hamas among Palestinians. Maybe, but I'm inclined to doubt it, and it certainly doesn't strike me as inevitable. I have no doubt that, for many Palestinians, these events have further inflamed anger and hatred against Israel. But once the aftermath begins to sink in, some of those same Palestinians might also conclude that Hamas helped to bring "a terrible disaster on Gaza" with nothing to show for it—which is in fact what happened.

Of course, if the Hamas leadership makes a calculation along the lines I have just suggested, that might also give them an incentive to reject a cease-fire right now.

But all this is speculation. I guess we'll see. Meanwhile, let's hope for the best. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis deserve this unending misery.

Shalom,
Jeff Weintraub

UPDATE - Sunday, January 18: Hamas and other "Palestinian resistance factions" allied with it have responded by declaring a temporary cease-fire in Gaza. According to the BBC News report:
A statement read by a Hamas spokesman said the group would hold fire for a week to give Israel time to withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip.

The move came hours after a unilateral Israeli ceasefire came into effect. [....]

Many people are hoping that a ceasefire will last, but no-one on either side of the border will be surprised if the fighting starts up again, our correspondent adds. [....]

Hadar Goldin is dead, and Israel may be moving toward a unilateral pullout from Gaza

Yesterday the IDF officially announced it is convinced that Lt. Hadar Goldin, the Israeli soldier thought to have been captured by Hamas Friday morning, is dead. I find it strange to feel some sense of relief about the death of someone for whom I bear no dislike whatsoever. But under the circumstances, and given the alternative, I can't avoid feeling that way. Goldin's death deprives Hamas of a significant victory, given the bizarre logic of Hamas-Israel conflicts. And this outcome also makes it politically less difficult for the Israeli government to move toward ending the war in Gaza.

Some of the reasons why it is urgently necessary for Israel to find a way to extricate itself from this Gaza war, before it gets sucked in even further, were cogently explained by Will Saletan in a piece he wrote on Thursday (from which I quoted here). As of Thursday night (or, more precisely, the middle of the night on Friday morning), there were signs that the Israeli government was thinking along broadly similar lines. That probably helps explain why it accepted the 72-hour cease-fire plan announced by John Kerry and Ban Ki-Moon.

But then later Friday morning the cease-fire collapsed almost immediately, with Hamas apparently capturing Goldin in the process. It seemed quite possible that the level of fighting in Gaza might actually escalate further. But it now looks as though the Israeli government, or at least a majority of the cabinet, had already decided to move in the opposite direction, and to start winding down Israel's military operation in Gaza instead. According to Barak Ravid's report in Haaretz on Saturday:
Israel's security cabinet decided after a five-hour meeting Friday night that Israel will no longer seek a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip via negotiations with Hamas, senior Israeli officials said. Therefore, Israel does not intend to send a delegation to the Cairo truce talks as previously agreed in the course of the last cease-fire, before it was violated by Hamas.

The senior officials said that ministers were unanimous in the cabinet meeting in their position that there is no point in pursuing cease-fire negotiations after Hamas violated the previous one by capturing an IDF soldier on Friday. According to the officials, the ministers also agreed that the captured soldier will not change Israel's overall strategy. In other words, the IDF will continue its operations to destroy the tunnels and the ground operation will not be significantly expanded at this stage. [....]

The senior officials said that in light of the failed cease-fire efforts, Israel will consider ending the operation and unilaterally leaving Gaza, relying on deterrence. [....]

Israel's aim to end the operation unilaterally also stems for its interest in stopping the severe deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and in preventing the collapse of essential infrastructure. The senior officials also said that a deeper entry into Gaza would result in a dramatic rise in civilian Palestinian casualties, which would in turn increase the pressure and international condemnation of Israel while serving Hamas' interests.

Hamas' spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Sami Abu Zuhri, responded to the reports and said a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will not commit Hamas to anything, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported.
According to more recent reports, the IDF has indeed begun scaling down its operations in Gaza, pulling back from urban areas and sending some troops out of Gaza entirely. In so far as these really do turn out to be the first steps toward an end to the fighting, this is potentially good news. But whether or not Israel will actually be able to end the war unilaterally (assuming it actually is committed to doing that) will depend, of course, on unpredictable events and other uncertain factors.

Although it's understandable that the Israeli government might feel inclined to give up on the cease-fire route at this point, it would probably be better if the war ended through a mutually agreed cease-fire (along the lines of the original Egyptian cease-fire proposal), accompanied by negotiations that brought in Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority as well as other significant players. That might enhance the (very slim) possibilities that the resolution of this latest Hamas/Israel war, with its terrible effects for everyone involved, might actually lead to some constructive long-term consequences. Another passage in Ravid's report seems to hint that the Israeli government is aware of the need for these sorts of follow-up negotiations—though only up to a point:
The senior officials said Israel will also try to reach an understanding with Egypt, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the international community on the issue of reconstructing the Gaza Strip, preventing Hamas from re-arming itself and monitoring material entering Gaza.
I myself feel more in accord with the spirit of the Call for a Cease-Fire and the Resumption of Negotiations issued last Monday by the Israeli Peace NGO Forum (see below). Events since Monday have rendered some details of that proposal outdated. But its basic thrust remains correct.

Meanwhile, we have to wait and see what happens next. The war isn't over yet. As I said in 2009, in the closing stages of that Hamas-Israel war, "Neither Palestinians nor Israelis deserve this unending misery."

—Jeff Weintraub
===================================
Call for a Cease-Fire and the Resumption of Negotiations
July 28, 2014

The Policy Committee of the Israeli Peace NGO Forum supports the call for an immediate cease-fire based upon the Egyptian proposal, to be followed by renewed negotiations for a two-state solution between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the representative of the Palestinian people. The rising number of deaths, around 50 Israeli soldiers and civilians already, and over 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza, men, women and children, requires immediate action to halt the mutual violence.

There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, Israelis reserve the right to self-defense and deserve to live in security and peace, without the threat of rockets fired at them and enemy tunnels dug into their midst. Equally, Palestinians are entitled to lead a dignified and independent life in a united Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. That future Palestinian state, consisting of Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem, with mutually agreed upon border amendments based on the 1967 lines, will be demilitarized, in line with mutually accepted security arrangements.

The present crisis, tragic as it is in human lives and suffering, calls for increased resolve by all moderate forces in the region, supported by the international community, to stand together in a joint effort to finally bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end through a mutually agreed political settlement rather than a return to the cycle of devastating and pointless use of force.

The Arab Peace Initiative, launched by the Arab League in Beirut in 2002, which offers end of conflict, peace, security, and, normal relations with Israel by the entire Arab and Muslim world in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state, can play a crucial role in achieving peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians. In addition, an international fund to rebuild Gaza to ensure a constructive life for its people should be launched.


We also express our deep concern about the internal threats to democracy that have emerged in the current crisis. There is no place in our society for calls to "kill Arabs" and "kill leftists". Also, expressions of joy over the death of Israelis or Palestinians, particularly children, in either community, should be totally unacceptable. The right to freedom of expression and differences of opinion lie at the bedrock of Israeli democracy, and must be preserved.

Hussein Ibish on "the knowledge constituency versus the ignorance lobby" in the Arab-Israeli conflict – Why Prof. Mohammed Dajani Daoudi is no longer at Al-Quds University

Hussein Ibish is political analyst and activist, affiliated at various times with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the American Task Force on Palestine, who writes for a range of publications in the US and the Middle East, including NOW in Lebanon and The National in the United Arab Emirates. The piece below appeared on June 10, which now seems a long time ago. But the issues remain timely and important. Some highlights:
Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, who runs the Al-Quds University Department of American Studies and University Library has been allowed to resign his position following the uproar over a trip he led of Palestinian university students to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some Palestinians, including some of his own university colleagues, attacked Prof. Dajani with a mishmash of incoherent and utterly irrational condemnations.

The whole saga has been most impressively chronicled by the redoubtable Matthew Kalman of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, whose latest report suggests that Prof. Dajani sought and received promises of support from the university leadership, only to have his resignation letter accepted rather than rejected. Presumably Al-Quds University just doesn't want to hear any more criticism and prefers to turn its back on the entire "controversy" rather than uphold academic freedom in its own institution. [....]

[T]here are those, including professors, who, with a straight face, argue that Palestinians should only be taught, and by implication think, about their own Nakba.

Others tried to argue that the problem was not with the trip to Nazi death camps itself, but rather that Prof. Dajani's trip was coordinated with an Israeli university that took Jewish students to a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. [....]

There's little hope of Israelis and Palestinians improving their dreadful relationship without, among many other things, trying to understand each other's histories and narratives. That's hardly a panacea. Real coexistence can only emerge in the absence of occupation, and the structural relationship of dominance and subordination built into that profoundly unhealthy and abusive structure. But better mutual understanding may be an essential component of helping to end the occupation and the conflict. [....]

And it's not just restricted to Palestinians and their relationship to Jewish history and the Holocaust. [....] The whole Arab world is at a turning point. If it continues to allow the stupidity and ignorance lobby, in all its myriad forms, to insist on cultural insularity, chauvinism, and deafness to the outside world, it will remain utterly stuck and unable to successfully join and compete in a globalizing world. But if the intelligence and knowledge constituency, as embodied by Prof. Dajani and so many other important leading Arabs, succeed in turning their societies away from decades of enforced parochialism, they will be among the most important groups in building a better future for the Middle East. [....]
For further information, see the report in Haaretz cited by Hussein Ibish (or, for people who can't access subscriber-only articles in Haaretz, this article in the Washington Post) and this profile of Dajani.

A statement supporting Mohammed Dajani and his work, and expressing concern over his resignation, was issued yesterday by the Academic Advisory Committee (AAC) of The Third Narrative. You can see it here.

—Jeff Weintraub

==============================
NOW (Lebanon)
June 10, 2014
The knowledge constituency versus the ignorance lobby
The saga of Prof. Dajani is a subset of a broader Arab struggle between the forces of intelligence and stupidity

By Hussein Ibish

Chalk up another victory to the mighty Arab ignorance and stupidity brigade. Or should we?

Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, who runs the Al-Quds University Department of American Studies and University Library has been allowed to resign his position following the uproar over a trip he led of Palestinian university students to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some Palestinians, including some of his own university colleagues, attacked Prof. Dajani with a mishmash of incoherent and utterly irrational condemnations.

The whole saga has been most impressively chronicled by the redoubtable Matthew Kalman of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, whose latest report suggests that Prof. Dajani sought and received promises of support from the university leadership, only to have his resignation letter accepted rather than rejected. Presumably Al-Quds University just doesn't want to hear any more criticism and prefers to turn its back on the entire "controversy" rather than uphold academic freedom in its own institution.

Prof. Dajani told Mr. Kalman that he saw his letter of resignation as "a kind of litmus test to see whether the university administration supports academic freedom and freedom of action and of expression as they claim or not.” If this was indeed a test, they just got a resounding F.

But the whole squalid affair is redolent with Palestinian, and broader Arab, collective neurotic symptoms about others. What, after all, do Palestinians have to gain by insisting their students remain ignorant of the Holocaust? Prof. Dajani argued from the outset that it is essential to understand the Israeli mentality and the Jewish experiences, especially in Europe during the first half of the 20th century, that inform it. It's an unassailable argument.

Nonetheless, there are those, including professors, who, with a straight face, argue that Palestinians should only be taught, and by implication think, about their own Nakba.

Others tried to argue that the problem was not with the trip to Nazi death camps itself, but rather that Prof. Dajani's trip was coordinated with an Israeli university that took Jewish students to a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank.

Shock! Horror! Normalization! It's laughable.

There's little hope of Israelis and Palestinians improving their dreadful relationship without, among many other things, trying to understand each other's histories and narratives. That's hardly a panacea. Real coexistence can only emerge in the absence of occupation, and the structural relationship of dominance and subordination built into that profoundly unhealthy and abusive structure. But better mutual understanding may be an essential component of helping to end the occupation and the conflict.

Even if none of that's true, knowledge is, nonetheless, power. The constituency for keeping Palestinian students ignorant of certain facts, presumably because they present the truth about Jewish suffering in Europe during the 20th century and that this complicates the understanding of Jewish Israelis simply as oppressors in the occupied Palestinian territories, is a perfect example of the "stupidity lobby."

And it's not just restricted to Palestinians and their relationship to Jewish history and the Holocaust. There is a broader conflict throughout Arab culture between those who want to embrace the world, in all its complexity and challenges, versus those who want to crawl inside a warm cocoon of insularity. Relying on nostalgic fantasies about former periods of greatness, the broad Arab ignorance constituency is very powerful.

It includes not only Islamists and other religious dogmatists, including apolitical clerics, but also strident nationalists, leftists, fascists, and chauvinists of every possible variety. Among all of these groupings, as well as the important open-minded and globally-conscious constituencies that are most in favor of engaging the world, there are people who push back against insularity. But for the past century at least, the majority trend in the Arab world has been to try, insofar as possible, to shut out knowledge of and engagement with outsiders, except for commercial purposes.

Many Arabs seem to be suspicious of and hostile towards real knowledge of others (as opposed to myths and stereotypes, of course), and even more engagement with them. Too many of us just don't want to hear it. Those, like Prof. Dajani, who try to break through this curtain of insularity are frequently punished, or at least criticized, for their embrace of broader realities, some of which are uncomfortable and destabilize reassuring mythologies.

Prof. Dajani says he doesn't regret the turn of events. Why should he? He's done something noble and constructive, and he will continue to do so without the support of his former university, through many other venues such as his Wasatia movement. But he, and all those like him throughout the region who want to smash the shackles of decades of carefully cultivated ignorance and embrace history and reality in all its troublesome complexity, are pointing the way.

The whole Arab world is at a turning point. If it continues to allow the stupidity and ignorance lobby, in all its myriad forms, to insist on cultural insularity, chauvinism, and deafness to the outside world, it will remain utterly stuck and unable to successfully join and compete in a globalizing world. But if the intelligence and knowledge constituency, as embodied by Prof. Dajani and so many other important leading Arabs, succeed in turning their societies away from decades of enforced parochialism, they will be among the most important groups in building a better future for the Middle East.

The saga of Prof. Dajani, and the whole battle between the Arab ignorance versus knowledge constituencies, is far from over. My money is on the intelligence community ultimately defeating the stupidity brigade, but it's going to be an uphill struggle.