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Why “Reform” Islam?

With the world-wide fallout over the Paris attacks and ISIS’ bloody role in them, pundits and journalists have been falling all over themselves opining on how we got here.  There has been no end of breast-beating about Islam: what’s wrong with Islam that it produced such monsters?  Can Islam be reformed?  I think the question is entirely wrong.

How many Islamist extremists do we believe there are in the world?  If we include al Qaeda, ISIS, al-Nusra, Boko Haram and similar groups–Peter Bergen, writing at CNN, estimated in 2014 there are between 85,000-100,000.  How many Muslims are there in the world?  1.6-billion.  That works out to .000625%.  It is true, of course, that it is those willing to be the most violent, most extreme, most outrageous who hijack the world’s attention.  They present the most aggressive, most militant, most visible face of the religion.  So they exert impact far out of proportion to their actual numbers.

But we should remember Bergen’s words on this subject:

By historical standards this is hardly a major threat. At the end of the Cold War, Soviet and other Warsaw Pact countries could muster around 6 million men to fight in a war against the West, a number that is some 60 times greater than the total number of militants estimated to be fighting for jihadist organizations today…

The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that the threat posed by jihadist organizations around the globe is quite inconsequential when compared with what the West faced in the past century.

But that hasn’t stopped media outlets like the NY Times from weighing in on the subject.  Here is Tim Arango’s introduction to a broad examination of the question of “how to smash” ISIS:

Talking to a diverse group of experts, officials, religious scholars and former jihadis makes clear there is no consensus on a simple strategy to defeat the Islamic State. But there are some themes — like…pushing a broader reformation of Islam — that a range of people who follow the group say must be part of a solution.

Who is the first “expert” he cites?  A former Islamist recruiter who tells him:

“The statement that this has nothing to do with Islam is disingenuous,” said Maajid Nawaz, a former recruiter for a radical Islamist group who was imprisoned in Egypt from 2001 to 2006.

“We need to have a candid conversation about this and recognize that there is a correlation between scripture and this,”

Nawaz of course offers no proof of this correlation, nor does the reporter.  But even if we concede for argument’s sake that there is some correlation, no matter how tenuous, why do we blame an entire religion?  Why do we blame an entire sacred book when a tiny minority of a religion misinterpret it?  Why do we say the religion is at fault rather than the human beings who betray or distort it?

Baruch Goldstein was a mass murderer who killed 29 Palestinian Muslim worshippers at a religious shrine.  He did this in the name of his twisted form of Judaism (which I prefer to call settler Judaism to distinguish it from normative Judaism).  Did I hear Tim Arango or anyone else wring their hands about the correlation between Torah and mass murder?  Even if I did, should I have?

There is nothing wrong with Torah.  Just because Jews misread their sacred text, must I blame the text itself?

Next Arango turns to a “former colonel” in Russia’s Federal Security Service.  Given the brutal ways in which Russia has addressed its own homegrown Islamic extremism, I’d question an intelligence agent as a credible source on this subject.  But he does suggest that Wahabism and radical Gulf clerics and others inspire much of Sunni radicalism, of which ISIS is at the heart.  Arguably a reasonable idea.  But then our friendly FSS agent adds this zinger:

“A significant part of the Islamic religion is infected with a tumor that is metastasizing.”

Really?  And we’re supposed to accept the word of a Russian spy who knows next to nothing about Islam as a religion, and who sees Islam as his darkest Satanic enemy to be exterminated (generally the Russian solution to such problems)?  This is the sort of “expert” Arango seeks to offer?

Next, Arango offers this unsupported, overly-broad claim (and note the typical call for a “moderate Islam”):

An ultimate defeat of the group cannot happen without a reformation within Islam, experts say, and that necessitates a recognition that interpretations of Islam are at the core of the problem, and an outreach to moderate Muslims.

This is the very next quotation from a Muslim “expert.”  You’d expect it to support his demand for a Muslim reformation.  Does it?  No:

“Where is the panel this morning on the Sunday talk shows where you have Muslim leaders alongside Western leaders to talk about how they’re going to conquer this problem?” she [Princeton Professor Amaney A. Jamal] asked. “Instead, you’ll get panels of Western leaders and public policy intellectuals telling you what they will do about Muslims, talking at Muslims.”

Not a word from the good professor about reforming her religion or the cancer that is supposedly eating away at it from within.

There is one source Arango quotes who may remotely be construed as addressing the issue of a theological debate within Islam between extremists and more normative Muslims.  He says:

“ISIS is the one that is saying, ‘We have something to offer you: a sense of purpose, a sense of fulfillment.’ That is what is missing,” said Imam Mohamed Magid, a spiritual leader in Virginia.

“We need to have a strong religious identity that calls people to action, but action in a way that is constructive, not destructive, and promotes life, not death,” he said.

But if you examine his view closely you will see there is no call to reform Islam.  He does not say there is anything wrong with Islam.  He says that Muslims must more vigorously espouse their more normative religious beliefs.  That seems almost self-evident and hardly as sweeping as calls for a radical transformation of Islam and a rooting out of bad ideas at its heart, which Arango infers, and whose sources explicitly avow.

So there you have it.  A claim that is supposedly supported by four “experts,” only two of whom are Islamic scholars and only one of whom remotely speaks to the claims Aranago has set forth.  But even if Islam did require reformation, who is Tim Arango to tell it to do so?  Or Pamela Geller?  Or Daniel Pipes?  Isn’t that the job of Muslims if it is the job of anyone?

Al Jazeera America’s Mehdi Hassan thoroughly debunked the notion of Muslim reform propagated by non-Muslims motivated by political, rather than purely spiritual or religious motives (h/t to Yasser Abumuailek):

[What we] don’t need are lazy calls for an Islamic reformation from non-Muslims and ex-Muslims, the repetition of which merely illustrates how shallow and simplistic, how ahistorical and even anti-historical, some of the west’s leading commentators are on this issue. It is much easier for them, it seems, to reduce the complex debate over violent extremism to a series of cliches, slogans and soundbites, rather than examining root causes or historical trends; easier still to champion the most extreme and bigoted critics of Islam while ignoring the voices of mainstream Muslim scholars, academics and activists.

Now let’s turn to coverage of Islam in the world media.  It doesn’t generally happen unless there is a bombing or a war.  Even then, it doesn’t cover the subject well.  The amount of drivel that passes for knowledge in social media tells you how much the average person knows about Islam.

I make no claim to be a scholar of Islam.  But I know my own religion and have a general interest in the broader subject.

So let me ask a few questions: when Israeli settlers murder Palestinian babies how many NY Times reporters ask what’s wrong with Judaism?  How many wonder when or how Judaism will reform itself?  How many ask where the “moderate Jews” are?  And even if reporters like Tim Arango did so, why should a Jew listen or care?  It’s the job of Jews to determine what their religion is.  Not outsiders who have their own agendas having little to do with the religion itself.

Another question: when a white supremacist murders nine African-American churchgoers, how many asked what’s wrong with white people in America?  When Burmese Buddhists commit genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority, how many wail about the sickness at the heart of Buddhism?

The biggest problem I have with the way this issue is presented is that it confuses a political, with a religious issue.  Though Islamist extremists claim their motivation springs from Islam, I think it springs from far more secular motives: greed and power.  They aren’t motivated by religion.  They are thugs and malcontents who thrive on a geopolitical vacuum.  They are like soldiers of fortune, supping on the world’s misery.

ISIS is a political movement.  The problems which permitted ISIS to sweep across wide swaths of Iraq and Syria were not religious in nature.  The Iraqi state was, and still is in shambles.  There is no central government.  What little there is of it is corrupt.  The army barely exists.  When it does, it too is corrupt and dysfunctional.  Into this maelström stepped ISIS, eager to advantage.

Why did ISIS find a foothold in Syria?  Because that country too had become a failed state.  There was a vacuüm into which a ragtag gang of looters, criminals, and killers disguised as devout Sunni Muslims rushed.  Politics and nature abhor vacuums.  When they exist, the worst dregs of humanity are more than happy to fill them.

Is any of this the fault of Islam?  I think not.  So let’s stop the hysteria.  That may not be possible.  But let’s do our best to tone it down.


There is little that surprises me these days regarding the callowness of the media towards the Israeli-Arab conflict.  But the Wall Street Journal has sunk to a new low with its publication today of an op-ed (Islamic State Understands One Thing: Force) by senior Israeli minister and Bayit Yehudi leader, Naftali Bennett.  In his bio at the bottom of the page, it notes he is minister of education and diaspora affairs.  That sounds so neat and tidy.  So professional.

naftali bennett arab killer

Israel’s Captain Kurtz, Arab-killer, during IDF service

What his bio doesn’t say is that he’s an avowed stone-cold Arab-killer, and proud of it.  An Israeli reporter likened him to Captain Kurtz, the hero of Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad’s novella.  Both characters are guilty of wholesale murder and genocide of the natives, one in Vietnam and the other in the Congo.

A few months ago Bennett boasted during a cabinet meeting (see below) that he’d killed “many Arabs” during his military service.  And he was proud of it.  In fact, a controversy broke out because journalists revealed that he’d actually botched one of his military operations and caused the deaths of 100 Lebanese refugees and 4 UN soldiers:

“Bennett’s force met with highly effective mortar fire of a Hezbollah unit near Kafr Qana.  It was then that he realized he couldn’t prevail on his own.  He needed a battery of IDF 155mm howitzers [to come to his rescue], which hit a refugee camp and killed 102 civilians.”

A few weeks ago, at the height of the latest Intifada, he was pictured proudly strapping an exposed pistol in his pants while appearing in public.

Yesterday, Israeli-Palestinian Knesset member Haneen Zoabi decried Israel’s banning of the country’s major Muslim organization, the Islamic Movement.  She ridiculed the false claim that this group and ISIS are the same or have the same goals.  She reminded them that IM had never organized or advocated any terror attack.  Instead, she asked the MKs to remember:

There are ministers…here who are proud they killed.   There is an education minister who said: “I, in my time, killed Arabs.”

In his reply, Bennett accused her of “lying,” claiming to correct her by saying he hadn’t said he killed “Arabs” but terrorists, and he added: “it’s unfortunate we didn’t kill more.”  Of course, the notion that there is a distinction in his mind between “Arab” and “terrorist” is ludicrous.  There is no difference.  Besides, this article quotes the precise statement Bennett made in a cabinet meeting in which he used the word “Arab” and not the word “terrorist:”

Bennett: “If you catch terrorists, you have to simply kill them.”

Amidror: “Listen, that’s not legal.”

Bennett: “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there’s no problem with that.”

So here we see that it was not Zoabi who was lying, but Bennett himself.  He also added in his reply to Zoabi: “Anyone who raises his hand against the State of Israel must die.”  These aren’t the words of a statesman or even a politician, they are the words of a stone-cold killer.

Among other bon mots in his WSJ article, he argues that the U.S. policy of drone strikes will fail: “Ground troops will be needed.”  I can just imagine Captain “Naftali” Kurtz donning his combat gear once more for another foray into the heart of ISIS-darkness!

“To win, the world needs to go on the offensive.”

Indeed, the same sort of offensive which murdered over 100 innocent Lebanese civilians, who were expendable because there is no difference for Bennett between “Arab” and “terrorist.”  “Offensive,” indeed; but not the military kind.

Then he has the chutzpah, given his record, to add:

“Soldiers may be put in harm’s way, but the number of civilian lives saved will be much higher.”

Not Arab civilians, mind you.  But Israeli civilians.  Bennett doesn’t care how many Arab civilians he killed or the west kills going after ISIS.  There is only one civilian he cares about–the right kind.  The one the color of your skin and mine (if yours is white, that is).

There is a further irony here: among the main military opponents of the Assad regime are ISIS and al-Nusra.  Both are bloodthirsty Islamist killers.  Al-Nusra is affiliated with Al-Qaeda.  ISIS is the latter’s arch-enemy.  Using its typical strategy of creating divisions among its Arab enemies by propping up proxies, Israel has thrown massive amounts of logistical and tactical support to al-Nusra in its fight in the Golan.  So you’ll have to pardon me when I feel sick to my stomach hearing Bennett brag about Israel’s successful strategy of fighting Islamist terror.  In reality, Israel supports Islamist terror too.  But it’s the “right” sort of Islamist terror because it’s Israel’s pal.

Bennett’s not a big fan of democracy either.  When push comes to shove, he’ll take security over individual rights any day:

Liberty, freedom of speech and human rights are pillars of our democracies, but in Israel we balance them with national-security needs. Privacy is occasionally and under certain circumstances invaded

No, actually freedom of speech and human rights are not pillars of Israeli democracy.  When he says they are “balanced” in Israel with national security,  “Shorter Bennett” for that is: they are subsumed by national security.  In effect, there are no rights for any Israeli who comes a-cropper with the security services.  Largely those are Palestinian citizens, but even some Jews have been swallowed in the maw of the national security state.

On a final note, the title’s claim that ISIS understands only one language, force; is a hoary-old racist saying going back decades (Ben Gurion offered a variant here) in the Zionist movement: the only language Arabs understand is force, is the original Hebrew version.  Which shows once again that Bennett makes no distinction between “Arabs” and “terrorists.”

I’ve also noted here before that Bennett’s party proudly opposes gay marriage and includes an MK who brought pigs to his own anti-gay pride march.  But let’s not sweat the small stuff here (not that homophobia is small stuff) when we’re talking about Israeli ministers who support Arab-murder and genocide publishing their bon mots in the WSJ.

Next up in WSJ:

Kim Jong Ill: The Only Language U.S. Terror President Understands is ‘Boom!’

Pamela Geller: Take the Battle to the Friggin’ A-rabs!

Vladimir Putin: I Killed a Chechen Terrorist with My Bare Hands!


This could just as well be the motto of the United States as one of the cardinal verses in the Torah.  It should be stamped on Bibi Netanyahu’s forehead since he violates this precept virtually every day that he maintains prison camps for African refugees, who he refuses to grant asylum or even an application process.  For those who take the passage to heart, it means be humble, remember the refugee, show kindness and hospitality to the less fortunate.  The Republican presidential candidates apparently don’t read their Bibles.  Or if they do, they’re reading the wrong passages.

holocaust refugees

The statistic refers to a Harvard Crimson poll of the Harvard student body

The GOP is now making hay out of the Paris terror attacks.  Each candidate falls all over himself to be more punitive, more intolerant than the next.  23 governors, including one Democrat, have said they will refuse to accept Syrian refugees within their states.  This, despite the fact that governors have no say in immigration matters and may not expel legal refugees.  That’s the job of the federal government.  But don’t tell the governors that.  It might educate them about the separate powers delegated to the states and federal government.  A little something called the Constitution.

anti semitic cartoons rats

Top panel: Broom sweeps Jewish “rats” under caption “Germany for Germans.” Bottom panel: rats flee to “Democratic nations” whose gate is barred to them.  (Das Kleine Blatt)

Another historical fact worth mentioning: in 1938, 937 European Jews boarded the S.S. St. Louis en route to America where they hoped to find refuge from Hitler’s encroaching hordes.  They waited for months in Cuba and other sites while their supporters sought a safe haven in this country.  At long last, they gave up and sailed back to Europe.  Where 250 of them were swallowed in the Holocaust and exterminated along with 6-million other European Jews.

There is a catastrophe enveloping Syria in which nearly 200,000 civilians have died.  500,000 Syrians have fled toward Europe and any other safe harbor they might find.  These are not terrorists, not ISIS, though most are Muslim.  There is nothing criminal in being either Syrian, a Muslim or a refugee.  Despite what viewers saw on this FoxNews panel which quoted approvingly Winston Churchill’s bit of colonial Islamophobia: “Islam is as dangerous in a man as rabies in a dog.”  It would take FoxNews to dredge up 19th century British religious-cultural imperialism, spoken by the leader who epitomized empire in all its worst forms.

As an antidote: remember Emma Lazarus’ (a former Jewish refugee, herself) immortal words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty?

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-toss’d to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Yet the idea of a mere 10,000 Syrian refugees “flooding” our shores is enough to send the GOP candidates into apoplexy.  I am glad that Democrats like Obama and Sanders are responding in kind.  That they are not caving in to this racist xenophobia.


Israel Outlaws Nation’s Leading Muslim Group

Contemplate this: the Department of Homeland Security announces that henceforth the Nation of Islam, the Westboro Baptist Church, and Zionist Organization of America are outlawed organizations.  They are considered supporters of a terrorist ideology and must completely dissolve their organizations and their programs.  Anyone found to be a member of any of the groups is liable to criminal prosecution.

In response, the groups refuse to accept the decree.  They announce that in order to continue representing the legitimate interests of their followers and co-religionists, they are going underground.  They denounce the decision as a serious violation of the Constitution and call upon the nation to protest it.  The result: dead silence.  Everyone who hasn’t been banned is too cowed to put up much of a fight, though scores of the remaining legal groups know the new policy is unjust and a grave violation of civil liberties.

That scenario sounds pretty far-fetched here in the U.S. (though China currently does precisely this to Tibetan Buddhists and the Falun Gong, and Iran does the same to the Bahai).  But it isn’t far-fetched at all in Israel.  Defense Minister Yaalon, a political ally of Kahanist Moshe Feiglin, took advantage of the terror hysteria sweeping the globe to outlaw the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, Israel’s leading Islamic organization.  Keep in mind that this is the same guy whom the NY Times’ Tom Friedman called “Israel’s very decent defense minister,” in a recent column.  Can you imagine what Friedman’s definition of ‘decent’ is?  Or better yet, what his definition of ‘decency’ is?

raed salah

Israel’s Islamic Movement leader, Sheikh Raed Saleh

Its leader Sheikh Raed Saleh, has just been jailed for the umpteenth time for some offense or another.  Saleh, who successfully fought banning by the UK Tory government, is the equivalent of Malcolm X in the Israeli Palestinian community.

He is a fiery, uncompromising advocate for Muslim unity.  An implacable opponent of Israeli oppression of his co-religionists.  The Movement spearheaded resistance to Israeli encroachment on the Haram al Sharif.  Though it has never advocated violence or been charged with engaging in it, nevertheless the Israeli government blames the group for fomenting all of the Palestinian attacks against Jews over the past two months.

According to the Israeli Jewish narrative, everyone is to blame for anti-Israel terror: ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Islam–and now the Northern Movement.  Everyone, that is, except Israel.  It is never to blame for the bloodshed and massacres it inflicts.  It is merely a victim, defending itself against terrorist monsters like those who struck in Paris.

Is Saleh and the Northern Movement angry and defiant? Yes.  Is it an implacable foe of injustice against Israeli Muslims?  Yes.  Is its rhetoric intemperate at times? Yes.  But is it a terror group?  Does it commit or advocate violence? Does it advocate overthrowing the State?  No, to all of the above.  In fact, Israel’s Shin Bet chief, Yoram Cohen, rejected the cabinet’s assertions regarding the Movement.  He said explicitly that it does not promote terror and that banning it is a mistake.

Regarding incitement, I dare anyone watching Bibi’s infamous 1995 speech from the Jerusalem balcony, to disagree that it incited the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin (which happened only a few weeks later).  Every Israeli knows this is true.  So I’m willing to see Salah imprisoned when Israel arrests and imprisons Bibi for Rabin’s murder.  I think it’s a fair deal.

I warn the pro-Israel crowd here that you can dredge up misquotes and mistranslation from the Jerusalem Post and MEMRI all you want.  It won’t change the fact that this banning is inherently racist and Islamophobic (no Jewish terror group has been similar banned though there was talk of banning the Jewish fascist group, Lehava).  I have no interest in parsing propaganda tracts alleging Saleh said this or that, which you will all undoubtedly be marshalling to defend this outrageous decision.  So I put you on notice and a short leash.

As I wrote above, this banning is a cynical ploy by the defense minister seeking to kiss-up to his Kahanist settler constituency.  It seeks also to criminalize a large cross-section of Israeli Muslims who are loyal to the NOrthern Movement, which plays a huge role in providing a social safety net among this community.   As NoamR tweeted (“What Yaalon did today in his infinite wisdom, was to take a large, cautious organization which was under a magnifying glass, whose every step was openly reported, and send it underground: a declaration of war”), this decree is not just anti-democratic, it will drive the Movement underground just as the Egyptian junta has driven the Muslim Brotherhood underground.  In Egypt, the result has been a series of bloody bombings and terror attacks by Egyptian Islamists angry at the massacres of the military regime directed against their followers.

This move by Yaalon will drive an even greater wedge between Jews and Muslims within Israel.  It will provoke more violence on both sides, more hatred.  As Noam wrote, it is nothing less than a declaration of war.  Until this time, the most savage violence was between Israeli Jews and Occupied Palestinians.  Henceforth, the action will gradually shift to within Israel itself.  The Palestinians of Israel are a loyal, long-suffering and generally quiescent regarding their second or third-class citizenship.  That may all be changing.  When it does, you will not have just a war between Israel and Palestine.  You will have a civil war within Israel: Israeli Jewish citizens murdering Israeli Palestinian citizens.  In the name of nationalist supremacy.

Israel is a State going to Hell in a handbasket.  It’s worst enemy is itself.  I have never witnessed a train wreck.  But watching this insanity slowly unfold is the closest thing to it.

I have been exploring what sort of organized protest or movement may spring up around this issue.  It is the sort of grave injustice which demands mass protest and the cooperation of disparate groups.  Speaking of which, watch what the Israeli “left” does and says around this issue.  Remember what I wrote above about “silence?”


Meet the New War, Just Like the Old War

The video is my latest interview, tonight, on PressTV speaking of western intervention in the Middle East against ISIS in the aftermath of the Paris terror attack.

In times like these I trot out those wonderful lyrics from The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again: “Meet the new boss, just like the old boss.”  In tonight’s case we’re talking about the new war against ISIS that western leaders from King Abdullah to Pres. Obama to Francois Hollande have blithely declared.  One hardline Israeli commentator went so far as to declare “World War III.”  Law professor Thane Rosenbaum blogged this nonsense at the Times of Israel: We are All Israelis Now.  Yossi Melman, a veteran Israeli security correspondent, even offered this Dogs of War headline for his article on the terror attacks: To defeat ISIS West must pay the price soldiers returning in coffins.  It was later softened to: To defeat ISIS, West must be willing to pay the price with soldiers’ lives.

It’s especially painful when, as George Santayana noted long ago, people who should know better refuse to learn the lessons of history.  The west has offered the Middle East no end of pain, blood and sorrow over nearly two centuries of colonial conquest.  Throughout this period, countries have regularly decided that they have an obligation to remake the region in their image, to bring civilization or democracy, to modernize.  There are no end of motivations, all of which sounded good enough to undertake one disastrous project or another in furtherance of some laudable goal or other.

But I especially want to focus on 9/11.  Those attacks by al-Qaeda determined George Bush to launch a never-ending “crusade” (as he once called it in an unfortunate choice of words) against “radical Islam.”  He called it, infamously, the “war on terror.”  That was the war that Barack Obama told us only a few years ago, was being retired from his political lexicon.

Trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives (and hundreds of thousands of Arab lives) later; and after invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the region remains much as we found it.  Yes, we rid it of some thoroughly nasty individuals like Saddam and Osama bin Laden, but we inspired the rise of others just as capable as them, who weren’t even a gleam in our eye when we first started this campaign.  We’ve also offered to the region two states which are arguably less stable than they were before we toppled their former leaders.

ISIS: a Golem of Our Making

We are now beginning to hear about the origins of the recent Paris terror attacks.  Claims are made that it commenced with ISIS’ top commander Ali Bakr al-Baghdadi, who directed his operatives in the west to launch multiple “operations” against western nations who had joined in an alliance to attack him.  Who was he in 2001?  Nothing and no one.  But some genius in Saudi Arabia or Turkey who was desperate to counter Bashar al Assad’s massacre of his people in 2011, came up with the brilliant idea of throwing their support behind this Sunni killing machine.  Al-Baghdadi was the result.  Not to mention, where do we think the fundamentalist theology underpinning ISIS originated?  In the mosques and madrassas of Saudi Arabia, the home of Wahabi Islam.

What the west finds is that those who it creates to serve short-term interests can become uncontrollable monsters who take on a life of their own.  Like the medieval Golem, the master creates them in an hour of need.  But then the servant becomes more powerful than his creator, who loses control.  The servant becomes a monster with a will and mind of his own.

That was the Afghan mujahadeen, among them Osama bin Laden, in 1979.  It was Saddam Hussein, whom Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney armed during the 1980s Iran-Iraq War.  For Ariel Sharon, it was the Lebanese Phalange who in 1983 murdered 3,000 Lebanese Muslims in Sabra and Chatilla.  Now, it is ISIS.

We create the monster.  Then we try to kill it when it goes on a rampage and turns against us.  Even if we succeed, new monsters arise from the clay we used to create the first one.

There is no doubt that there are good, or at least understandable intentions behind these original projects.  Countries naturally need local allies.  But when you create an ally whose sole goal is to be your hired killer, then it can’t end well for anyone, including yourself.

islamophobic cartoon

Arutz 7 settler-brand Islamophobia

A word now about Israel’s especially pernicious hijacking of the Paris attack.  After 9/11, Bibi secretly rejoiced because he knew this was exactly what was needed to draw the U.S. into Israel’s orbit around questions of radical Islam and counter-terror.  Haaretz capsulated one of his speeches about the attack as “good for Israel.”  And Bibi has milked it for all it’s worth since.

Now, we have Israel’s “brilliant” counter-terror strategists like Defense Minister Bogie Yaalon advising the French to abandon individual rights for the sake of “security.”  Just as Israel has long done of course.  Not to be left out of the radical Islam propaganda sweepstakes, Bibi says that the killers in Paris are no different from “Arab” killers who stalk the West Bank seeking to spill Jewish blood.

My advice: be careful what you wish for.  If you take Israel’s advice you become Israel.  You sacrifice the very values which make you distinct as a nation.  In America, you throw away the Constitution.  In France, you throw away egalite, fraternite and most of all, liberte.  I say, if Israel wants to go down this road, we can’t stop it.  But if it wants to drag the rest of the western world with it–we don’t have to go along.

The vicious Arutz Sheva cartoon I’ve featured here is emblematic of some of this noxious thinking.  In it, an innocent young Israeli chap knocks at the EU’s door offering all manner of beneficial products from Israel for the European market.  But the nasty EU border official waves him off.  While walking towards Europe is the Muslim, whose sole offering to Europe is blood and carnage, who proceeds shiftily toward his target in the distance, Paris.  It’s too bad they neglected to picture the Israeli in uniform, piloting an F-16, and offering Israeli advanced weaponry to the EU cop.  That would’ve been far more realistic in terms of the level of damage and lethality of Israel’s export industry compared to that of Islam.

Many messages here, all disgusting.  One among many is that BDS is a handmaiden of radical Islam.  If you reject Israel you open the door to terror.

I’ve posted this cartoon, despite its deeply offensive imagery, because it’s critical to point out where the overheated rhetoric of Obama and Hollande takes us: it causes massacres and endless bloodshed.  No amount of caveats, explaining that we don’t mean to target all of Islam; or we respect Muslims in general, except for the radicals among them; none of this escapes the fact that this nuance easily becomes lost in the heat of battle.  Commandos are trained to kill, not parse religious beliefs.  If you tell him to attack Islamist radicals, he will make a mistake.  You hope he won’t kill the innocent with the guilty.  But once you unleash the Dogs of War, they may fail to make the distinction.  That’s precisely how you start this vicious cycle all over again.


Israeli Border Police Brutally Assault Black Hebrew

An Israeli border Police officer brutally assaulted a Black Hebrew Israeli citizen at a security checkpoint in Eilat. The victim, Yair Israel and his wife Anat, were en route to a local hotel where he had planned a relaxing weekend celebrating his wife’s birthday.


Yair Israel’s natural foods business, Otentivee

Israel is a well-known businessman in Dimona, where he runs a natural foods boutique, Otentivee (“Authentic Natural”), whose products are known by vegetarians throughout the country.  He’s been interviewed on a number of Israeli TV shows where he’s showcased his passion for natural and organic products.

The brutal attack would’ve been just another anonymous, unseen incident of Israeli official racism had not, Oded Zamora, an Israeli native who has lived in Maryland for the past 14 years, been in the car following Israel at the checkpoint.

Yair Israel attacked by israeli police

Yair Yisrael being choked during Border Police beating (Oded Zamora)

As he saw the attack unfold, Zamora bravely exited his own vehicle and asked officials why the attack was happening.  When no one responded he took out his cellphone and began videotaping.  He told the attacker that he was filming him. Unfortunately, this did nothing to abate the assault, which increased in ferocity.

The entire incident began with a policeman asking Yair to present his ID.  He did so.  Then the policeman asked for his wife’s ID.  Though he found this unusual, he then presented his wife’s ID.  At this point, a Border Policeman who was sitting inside the security booth came on the scene and began shouting angrily at Yair: “What’s your problem?”  Then the attack escalated.  The Border Policeman began punching him.  He tried forcing Yair’s car door open.  So the victim opened the door for him.  He then grabbed him and ejected him from the vehicle, continuing to brutally strike him.  He then dragged him behind the security booth where he beat him even more.

The entire scene unfolded in front of the victim’s wife, who was forced to see her own husband brutalized by a bully in uniform.  Both the victim and witness attest that the former did nothing to provoke the attack, that he continually asked in a civil manner why he was being assaulted, that he told the security forces then he was a citizen of Israel and had at a local business. None of this helped at all.

Eventually they handcuffed Israel, who repeatedly asked them why he was being arrested and received no answer, and took him to the local police station.  At the station, he was questioned but could not explain to them what he had done to provoke the attack.  He was taken to the investigations unit and after two or three hours released.

When a reporter asked him why he thought the incident had occurred he replied:

“I don’t know.  I only know there are many racists in Israel.  Each day I have similarly unpleasant experiences because of the color of my skin.  Everyone from our [Black Hebrew] community faces this.  I know that there are people in Israel who believe there is no value to a person and no equality possible for someone of a different skin color [than them].  It’s simply unbelievable what happens here.  These are things we face every day.”

After her husband was taken away from the checkpoint, Anat was told by the police to leave the scene. She told them she had no driver’s license. They told her that as far as they were concerned she could walk to Eilat.

The eyewitness, who remained at the scene, was asked by the police to leave the area.  He refused, telling them they should be ashamed and that the whole incident was on video.  He thought that might cause them to restrain themselves.  But it didn’t help.  Instead, they demanded that he give them his cell phone.  They lied telling him it was illegal to film them.  He refused again. They told him that if he did not do so they would open a criminal investigation against him

Zamora then ran to his car and called his sister who is a member of a local kibbutz in Eilat. He told her to drive urgently to the checkpoint. He said that if he was no longer there, she should drive immediately to the police station. When she arrived, Zamora asked his sister to drive Anat to the Kibbutz while he drove to the police station to be with Yair.

When asked by the reporter to explain why he understood Yair had been attacked, he replied:

“Because of the color of his skin.  I see no other reason this should happen to a young couple celebrating a birthday in Eilat.  Yair offered his ID.  He didn’t attack anyone.  He was inside his car the entire time.  I can’t even imagine how long it will take him to recover from this.”

When asked if he regretted intervening in the incident, Zamora added:

No one wants to go through such a thing.  Maybe it will be a blemish upon me, but when you see policemen behaving with such brutality you must get involved.  I thought about Yair.  He had no one.  He was lying on the ground handcuffed.  His powerlessness obligated me to get involved.

Oded Zamora is a true mensch.  He stood up to injustice without fear.  Some, but likely very few Israelis would’ve done the same.  So if there are any readers who are going to say that Zamora’s courage redeems redeems Israel or shows it to be a decent, liberal, humane society–think again.  He likely intervened because he’s been living in the U.S., where we are becoming less & less tolerant of police abuse and executions.  Even if that’s not the case, the individual righteousness of citizens cannot compensate for the overall evil that infects the official state apparatus.

This is not a one-off act of racism by an lone-wolf Israeli police bully. This is official racism and brutality. This is official sanctioned violence by the state against its own citizens. Though they happen to be citizens who are not White and therefore not worthy of the full rights of every other Israeli citizen.  Israel is a state seeped in racism and violence: not just against Palestinians (which is half to be expected) but against its own Palestinian and Black citizens.

I’ve often remarked here upon the special reputation for brutality and cruelty “enjoyed” by the Border Police.  They take torture to an entirely new level.  The assassination in a Hebron hospital a few days ago was perpetrated by a Border Police death squad, Yamas.

This must end.  There is only one way to do it: Israel must become a state of all its citizens.  Everyone must be treated the same.  No person, religion or ethnicity deserves superior treatment.  Separation or privilege based on these criteria must be rooted out.  I am not saying that religion should be rooted out, just that religions must be treated the same.  They must all receive respect and none treated better or differently the other.  And no religion may replace the state or supercede the state or compel the state to act politically to achieve a religious objective.  Religions must occupy a spiritual space, not a political one.

The Thugs Respond

Israeli Border Police spokesperson responded to the charges against his force by claiming that the level of force used in the incident was proportional and reasonable. He lied, claiming that Israel refused to identify himself and attacked the officers. He further claimed that while the victim was being arrested he continued to resist.  There is no evidence whatsoever to support his account and the video completely repudiates this version.  Further, it makes no sense whatsoever that an Israeli citizen at a checkpoint would refuse to identify himself.  Every Israeli understands security protocols and why they’re necessary.  No one refuses to participate.

With a straight face, the flack noted that because of this incident, the Border Police were asking all citizens to behave with restraint and to coöperate fully with security forces so that they could perform their duties.  No one can get Israeli border police to except any responsibility for its actions. It is above the law, because it is the law.

Further, the spokesperson claimed that Zamora had interfered with the arrest.  He also falsely claimed that the police asked him to accompany them to the station as a witness to the event and because the video was evidence.  When he refused, he too was detained and brought to the station.

Yair further claimed that the police lied when they told the media he’d been released with conditions placed upon him.  He was released without anyone telling him anything about any conditions.  He told the reporter that he would continue to fight against this injustice:

“I am the second generation born in this country.  And I must continue to fight for change because there are new generations behind me.  I must not give up because the generation before me suffered from the same things, but had no power to change anything.  God gave me the strength to fight this so that it won’t happen again.

…I want people to know the good things about our community.  To give us respect.  Though we are a community that prefers to remain quiet, we can’t ignore these things anymore.”

For yet another example of the grievous suffering inflicted on the Black Hebrew community, this time by the IDF, read of the suspected murder of Toveet Radcliffe, a young woman serving in the army.  It claimed she committed suicide by shooting herself with her own rifle.

H/t to David Sheen and Ofer Neiman.


Death in Paris

Today, terrorists attacked Paris.  In a series of well-orchestrated assaults, they killed over 153 people in a series of locations including restaurants, a concert hall and the soccer stadium, in which the French president was watching a match between the French national team and Germany.  It is one of the worst such attacks in decades in France and possibly the worst terror attack in the west since 9/11.  There is little doubt that for France, today is 9/11. The breadth of the attacks, the coördination required to execute them, the lethal weaponry used, the well-trained commandos who mounted the assault, and the massive death toll–all will combine to leave an indelible impact on the nation.  There will also be cries for accountability: how could a sophisticated national security apparatus have allowed a squad of terrorists to infiltrate a massive cache of weapons into one of the most likely terror targets in Europe?  How did these terrorists plan and orchestrate this attack under the noses of security forces who have already faced multiple earlier attacks?

we stand with paris image

(Reuters Stephen Lam)

I only hope that France will not make the massive error that this country made in response to its 9/11.  This AP headline does not bode well in that regard: Hollande says attacks were ‘an act of war.’  I hope it will not fall prey to the same nostrums offered by Bush and Cheney.  For the war on terror was one of the worst policy choices made by a U.S. president since the Vietnam War.  It sent us down the road to two wars over more than a decade, which cost the lives of thousands of American soldiers and the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghanis, and others (Yemen, Somalia, etc.). Luckily for the French, they have neither the resources nor the military capability of getting themselves into as much trouble as we have.  But that doesn’t mean that bad choices made now won’t have even worse consequences for France over the coming years. Given a series of terror attacks mounted by Islamists over the past five years or more in Paris, Toulouse and elsewhere, it appears likely that the perpetrators were Islamists.  Though no one appears yet to know whether they are affiliated with ISIS, al Qaeda or another movement.  Further, survivors of the concert attack heard the killers shouting Allah Akbar and heard them speaking about conditions in Syria and Iraq. With many caveats, I’d hazard a guess that if the killers were Islamists, they were likely affiliated with ISIS.  It is this group which has been put on the defensive by allied attacks over the past six months.  Today brought news that Kurdish forces had recaptured a town which had been a major symbol of ISIS’ original advance, Sinjar.  Observers have begun talking about an assault on the movement’s headquarters in the Syrian city of Raqqa; and a possible military assault on Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, one which ISIS captured with embarrassing ease at the outset of its campaign.  These victories would not have been thinkable a year or two ago as ISIS scored its shocking series of successes and swept through hundreds of miles of Iraqi and Syrian territory. As Russia and Iran stabilize what had been a tenuous hold by Syria’s Pres. Bashar Assad on power and territory, and other Islamist groups in Syria fight back against ISIS, the latter is, if not on the run, then on the defensive.    That may be why, I believe, it chose to mount an attack on a Russian civilian airliner over the Egyptian Sinai (though I also believe that local Islamist rebels likely provided local logistical help in penetrating the airport).  That attack left 224 Russian travelers dead.

paris terror attack victim

Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

After Russia sent troops, war planes and advanced weaponry to Syria to bolster Assad in his fight against the Islamist rebels, it seems almost axiomatic that the latter would seek to strike back.  Attacking a Russian target in Egypt would kill two birds with one stone: it would avenge Russian attacks in Syria and the Egyptian military’s massacres against the Muslim Brotherhood. An ISIS strike against France also makes sense from this point of view: France is one of the allied powers seeking to roll back ISIS gains in Syria and Iraq.  It also has the largest Muslim population in the west, which offers fertile ground for recruitment.

How will France and other western nations respond?  There can be no doubt that there will be renewed resolve to eradicate ISIS.  It is likely that there will be successes in such a campaign.  They may identify the masterminds of this plot and kill them as they did Osama bin Laden and other key al Qaeda leaders.

But it seems just as likely that as al Qaeda morphed into ISIS, that ISIS will morph into yet another Islamist movement whose mission will be avenging the alleged crimes by western nations against Muslims and Islam.  No counter-terror campaign can eradicate an idea once it takes root so deeply in an entire population.  You can’t defeat a grudge and the deep emotional scars that it leaves.  You can beat it and bomb it and drive it underground or back into someone’s heart.  But you can’t eradicate it.

I come back to an idea I’ve expressed here often, far too often it seems (given how many terror attacks I’ve mourned here): counter-terror is a tactic, not a strategy.  It is a stopgap.  A placeholder given the lack of a real constructive policy of engagement.  If we want the Middle East to stop producing terrorists, we must offer hope and change to those most disaffected.  As an aside, the tweet above was published by Guillermo del Toro, the Hollywood director, in response to the terror attack.  His father was kidnapped, threatened with death, and later freed after paying a heavy ransom.

We must do everything we did not do during the Arab Spring.  Then, we stood back and watched in awe as the youth toppled the old men: the generals and tyrants.  Then, when the Old Guard struck back we stood by and did nothing.  We’ve now reengaged with killers like al-Sisi and the Saudi royals who aided in the massacres of majority Shias in Bahrain and now in Yemen.  We offered no message, no hope, no example.

There is one possible small bright spot.  Pres. Obama has presented a constructive option in relations with Iran.  The nuclear deal could be a stepping-stone toward a fuller process of détente with that country.  Negotiations could, if things go in the right direction, bring understandings about broader issues including Syria and Lebanon.  But only if the U.S. can bring Israel to heel and compel compromises that that country’s rightist leadership will resist mightily.

There must be a third choice between the Islamist suicide bomber and the western drone strike.  A choice that affirms hard bargaining, mutual compromise, and negotiated solutions.

Finally, there is a terribly irony that no western journalist will point out: yesterday, ISIS planted two bombs in a Beirut neighborhood that is a Hezbollah stronghold.  43 Lebanese died.  Neither is this the first or second or even third such explosion orchestrated by ISIS against Lebanese.  Will anyone in the west weep as much for these dead Arab victims as they are justly weeping for the dead Parisians?  Whose dead are worth more?  Or are Arab dead worth anything??

Apologies: My web host’s server went down earlier today for just over an hour.   I apologize for the inconvenience any of you may’ve suffered who tried and failed to access the site.