Corbyn, terrorism and foreign policy

June 2, 2017 at 11:00 pm (AWL, elections, iraq, islamism, labour party, Libya, Middle East, posted by JD, reformism, Stop The War)

As Jeremy Corbyn’s personal ratings improve, and the Maybot alienates viewers of Question Time with a wretched performance, the Tories and their media cheer-leaders fall back on the old accusation that Corbyn is ‘soft’ (or worse than ‘soft’) on terrorism … Clive Bradley analyses what Corbyn actually says:

“Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault,” claimed Theresa May last week. “I want to make something clear… there can never be an excuse for terrorism, there can be no excuse for what happened in Manchester.”

It is a measure of the cynicism — and desperation — of the Tories and their press that Corbyn’s speech on foreign policy last week has been attacked in this way. Corbyn did refer to British foreign policy as a factor in any explanation of terrorism, but only in similar terms to many commentators, and indeed some Tories. What Corbyn actually said was: “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.” He went on: “That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and implacably held to account for their actions.” And he concluded: “But an informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people, that fights rather than fuels terrorism.” He summed it up — paraphrasing Blair: “Tough on terrorism, tough on the causes of terrorism.”

In truth his speech bent over backwards not to be construed in the way May and the Tory press then deliberately misconstrued it. More — it heaped praise not only the emergency services but on the military. This was a mild, even-handed intervention in the debate, only pointing to foreign policy as one factor in understanding terrorism. What of the argument itself, though? Is there a train of thought in Corbyn’s argument which does, as it is claimed, attempt to excuse the terrorists?

There are different “versions” of the “Blame Western Foreign Policy” argument. At its most primitive it implies that the terrorists act simply from a kind of Pavlovian reflex to various (especially) US-led policies, most obviously the war in Iraq. This, crudest, version plainly fails to explain much at all: most obviously, why the vast majority of Muslims, for instance, don’t, despite these foreign policy outrages, feel motivated to blow up teenagers; why often the terrorists aren’t personally from the countries affected (even in the Manchester case, it’s unclear if Salman Abedi’s action was specifically in reference to events in Libya); why the terrorists’ aims are so unspecific, even apolitical, but rather just an expression of general hatred of “the West” and a desire to inflame more hatred in response.

But there’s a much more cogent version of the argument, which is more what Corbyn seems to have had in mind. Islamic State/Daesh, for example, was formed in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. There were many aspects to Western policy which fuelled the growth of what was to become IS, principally the utter lack of any sort of plan for what would come after the fall of Saddam, the decision to destroy the bureaucracy of the Iraqi state, driving thousands of Sunni Arabs into the arms of the jihadists, and the decision to back a Shia-sectarian government which made this worse.

Libya, where Salman Abedi was born, was in some ways a repeat of the same thing on a smaller scale. In that case the UK and France (with considerable ambivalence on the part of the US under Obama) decided to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, co-opting some of the Islamist forces who had been in exile (some of whom, indeed, had fought, in the 1980s, against the USSR in Afghanistan), but with scarcely any notion at all of what might replace the dictatorship. The result is more or less a failed state: Libya is divided, battle-torn, and a long way indeed from democracy.

This process took longer than is sometimes implied. Democratic forces did counterbalance the Islamists for a while; and the IS- aligned forces in Libya are now on the retreat. What this suggests is that Western policy played a part in Salman Abedi’s decision to massacre some kids at a concert, but not in the obvious sense. Terrorism is not a knee-jerk reaction to Western wars, but it is something which can breed in the chaos fomented by the failures of Western policy. And of course the jihadi organisations (IS and al-Qaida and their affiliates) demagogically make use of any and every Western failure to recruit vulnerable, confused, or alienated young people.

To explain the growth of Islamism in Europe — either more broadly defined, or specifically the jihadi movements (the decisions by young people to go to Syria to fight, etc), one needs to look at more than “Western policy”. There are many factors at play. But for sure, as part of a wider, nuanced explanation, foreign policy, as Corbyn said, plays its part. To invoke it is not necessarily to relieve the terrorists themselves of responsibility for their own actions (and Corbyn’s speech could hardly have taken greater pains to avoid this error).

It is true that Stop the War, with which Corbyn has been personally associated, has denounced all Western wars in a very un-nuanced way. It is the opinion of this writer, for instance, that though the outcome of military intervention in Libya was predictable up to a point, at the time — March 2011 — the only real alternative was to allow Gaddafi to survive and immediately massacre his opponents. Moreover, the rebel movement was calling for intervention. The proper socialist response was not to march in opposition to military intervention — as Stop the War did, if ineffectually, but to support the revolution against Gaddafi and warn about likely future problems.

Still today, to reduce a critique of Western policy in Libya to the fact of intervention is to miss a lot of the point. Corbyn’s background in the Stop the War milieu will inform what he says now about terrorism and foreign policy. But what he has actually said is right, as far as it goes. And the Tories’ attempts to attack him for it should be denounced for the dishonest, demagogic scandal they are.

Colin Foster adds:

The origins of modern suicide bombing

Andy Burnham, now Labour mayor of Manchester, probably wanted to cover for his votes in favour of the invasion of Iraq. But, as it stood, his comment on 28 May was right: “Obviously, the actions of governments can then contribute and help the terrorists to add to their cause, but let’s remember that the appalling atrocity of 9/11 happened before interventions anywhere”.

Modern-era suicide bombing dates from the 1980s, not from 2003. There was an Islamist-terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Centre in 1993 as well as the one in 2001, and it was equally designed to kill everyone there, only it failed. US-led military actions in the years running up to 2003 — the Bosnia intervention in 1995, Kosova in 1999, or the USA’s aid to Islamist groups in Afghanistan — favoured Muslim forces against non-Muslim rivals or enemies, rather than the other way round. Between 1981 and 2016, 80% of suicide attacks and 73% of victims were in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Pakistan, the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Russia, or Sri Lanka — not in Europe or the USA. The big majority of victims of Islamist-terrorist attacks have been ordinary Muslims. (Source: University of Chicago database).

Analyst Riaz Hassan finds the following common features of suicide attacks: used by weaker groups in high-asymmetry conflicts; used only against (more-or-less) democracies; religion may not be invoked at all, but if it is, it is Islam. Attacks like the Manchester bombing are not inevitable or logical “blowback” from US or UK misdeeds. They have their own dynamic. We can best undercut them by rebuilding movements of social hope.

These articles also appear in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website

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What’s behind Stop the War’s aversion to Syrian voices?

October 19, 2016 at 4:15 pm (apologists and collaborators, internationalism, Libya, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Stop The War, Syria)

From The New Arab:

What's behind Stop the War's aversion to Syria voices?

Above: a Stop The War Coalition protest outside Downing Street, 12 Dec 2015 [Getty}

By Joey Ayoub

Date of publication: 17 October, 2016

Comment: The problem with the Stop the War coalition, is that it is fundamentally not anti-war, but simply anti-western intervention, writes Joey Ayoub.

On 15 November 2015, Diane Abbott went on the BBC’s ‘Daily Politics’ show to defend herself and the Stop the War (StW) coalition against a rather odd accusation: that they refuse to give a platform to Syrians when discussing Syria.

It followed a heated exchange just days prior, in which Syrian activists challenged StW’s leadership on the matter during a talk on Syria. They were backed by Peter Tatchell, the veteran anti-war activist who had also been criticising StW for what many perceive as its intolerance towards left-wing, democratic and anti-Assad Syrian activists.

This was not a new accusation. StW has prevented Syrian activists from speaking at their rallies or from taking part in any “anti-war” campaign, while giving a platform to pro-Assad apologists and inviting Assad’s own allies like the Ghouta massacre-denier Fadia Laham, also known as “Mother Agnes”, for years.

This exposes two fundamental aspects of StW today: A de facto tolerance and acceptance of Assad’s tyranny translated as the problem of people “over there” which “we” must not get involved in, regardless of the repercussions, and a hatred for subaltern voices, in this case Syrians, who do not fit the accepted narrative.

This, in turn, works hand in hand with an outdated cold war-era framework, still plaguing much of the western and Arab Left, which romanticises (read: whitewashes) the Kremlin’s politics.

Nineham forgot to ask a single Libyan about the effects of the no-fly zone in Libya

Fastforward to October 2016. Chris Nineham, the Vice Chair of StW, writes an article entitled “Don’t Believe the Start the War Coalition – Ask Libyans About No-Fly Zones” (NFZ). On reading that article, filled with oversimplifications and vague warnings, one notices something fairly obvious: In an article asking “us” to ask Libyans, Nineham forgot to ask a single Libyan about the effects of the NFZ in Libya.

Indeed, the only six mentioned in that article are Andrew Mitchell, Boris Johnson, Hilary Clinton, Joseph Dunford, Emily Thornberry and Jeremy Corbyn (who was also recently heckled by a pro-Syrian activist). Had StW followed their own advice and asked Libyans about the NFZ, they might have found inconvenient answers which challenge their de facto isolationist politics.

Indeed, the NFZ was seen as the lesser of many evils by countless Libyans who rose up against Gaddafi. A 2012 Gallup poll interviewing approximately 1,000 Libyans showed that 77 percent “broadly support several forms of potential assistance from the West, particularly military support”.

The idea of a NFZ seems far more contested among a group of privileged leftists who do not live under a tyranny, than among Libyans themselves

One Libyan activist, Rema Abdulaziz, even recently wrote in The Independent that she and many more are actually grateful for the NFZ. In other words, the idea of a NFZ seems far more contested among a group of privileged leftists who do not live under a tyranny, than among Libyans themselves.

Furthermore, what is often ignored about the NFZ in Libya is that not a single member state of the Security Council, including Russia, opposed it and that it was another Arab country, Lebanon, which officially proposed the NFZ to the Security Council.

To the isolationists, “they” needn’t be asked what they think of their country’s situation, for “we”, as owners of great social capital, know best. To borrow from Bell Hooks, Libyans, like Syrians today, were and are told that “there is no need to hear your voice, when ‘we’ can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself.

No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you, I write myself anew. I am still author, authority. I am still [the] colonizer, the speaking subject, and you are now at the center of my talk.”

This is no mere detail in this story. In fact, it is the central one: If, as leftists, we wish to support revolutionary emancipation regardless of man-made borders, we must make sure we are being useful allies, not useful idiots.

The problem with StW is that it is fundamentally not anti-war, but simply anti-Western intervention regardless of the realities on the ground. This is why it is an isolationist movement, a deeply conservative one at that, and one which has dangerous repercussions in an age of increasing xenophobic nativist rhetoric.

‘They’ needn’t be asked what they think of their country’s situation, for ‘we’, as owners of great social capital, know best

As StW proudly wrote on their own website, they are accused “of having a doctrinaire rejection of western intervention in the Middle East” which, they add, “is correct – our doctrine has been fully vindicated by the consequences of such interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.”

Perhaps the StW is led by people who are not aware of the definition of doctrinaire, namely “one who attempts to put into effect an abstract doctrine or theory with little or no regard for practical difficulties”.

The ‘abstract doctrine’ is anti-western imperialism (not anti-imperialism in itself) and anti-western intervention, of any kind. As for the ‘practical difficulties’, they are nothing less than the aspiration of Syrians who took to the streets in 2011 demanding justice, those same Syrians who were, and are, tortured in their tens of thousands in Assad’s gulags and slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands.

We must make sure we are being useful allies, not useful idiots

As we’ve seen over the past few years, the slogan “Assad or we burn the country” of the Assad regime and its state-sponsored militias known as the Shabiha, is meant literally.

The fact that StW always refers to Iraq in particular as ‘proof’ speaks volumes, given the fact that there was no revolution in Iraq nor is there a western invasion and occupation in Syria remotely comparable to the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation.

To quote the Lebanese Marxist intellectual Gilbert Achcar, commenting on Corbyn being heckled, this reactionary isolationism represents “a national-selfish attitude that doesn’t care about what happens to the rest of the world as long as ‘we’ are not directly concerned and our well-being is not affected – or (the leftwing version) as long as our ‘anti-imperialist’ conscience is not troubled by any of the complexities of the real world.

They’d rather see Benghazi or Aleppo razed to the ground and their inhabitants massacred, than see the UK or any Western government attempt to do something about it, let alone call on them to do something, even when there are no other forces capable of preventing the massacre.

In that balance, one Libyan or Syrian killed by ‘our’ government is more unbearable to our conscience than ten thousand killed by the local despots: this may be a form of ‘anti-imperialism’, but it is as far away from ‘internationalism’ (a leftwing value that seems to have completely vanished) as isolationism is.”

By ignoring a fundamental principle, that “critiquing our own governments and their crimes is a necessary but not sufficient part of the fight for justice”, we end up giving ammunition to a xenophobic rhetoric that is already gaining momentum.

This has been repeated so many times since the beginning of the Arab Spring that no honest observer can claim ignorance. Cynical indifference, however, is always available, and those who wish to adopt it should express no surprise at the continuing rise of nativism and xenophobia within Fortress Europe’s borders and beyond.

Joey Ayoub is the MENA editor at Global Voices as well as a Lebanese researcher from Beirut currently living in London. He is the founder of Hummus For Thought and mostly writes on Syria, Israel-Palestine and Lebanon.

Follow him on Twitter: @joeyayoub

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

See also: Tendance Coatesy

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‘Stop the War’ subjected to scrutiny and challenge from the left: they don’t like it

December 27, 2015 at 6:03 pm (apologists and collaborators, genocide, Human rights, Libya, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Russia, stalinism, Stop The War, Syria, Ukraine)

stopthewarA quite intense and heated debate has been taking place over at Left Futures, concerning the political basis of the Stop the War Coalition, and the motives of those who criticise it from the left. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time that the StWC has been subjected to sustained criticism from the left – and they do not like it, or come of it well, having tried and failed with their usual line that all criticism is a matter of right-wing conspiracies/”smears”/ and “quotations from articles taken out of context”, etc, etc.

The relevant articles and btl comments at Left Futures can be found here, here and (most recently) here. I would urge anyone interested in the question of western intervention and “imperialism” to take the trouble to read all three articles, and the btl debates that have followed, the most recent of which is still continuing.

I have been particularly impressed by the btl contributions of one John Penney: I do not know Comrade Penney and do not have his permission to republish his most recent contribution (below) in response to a StW apologist (“James”) who’d tried to defend StW’s unprincipled alliances with supporters of Assad, Gaddafi, Milosevic, Putin and other totalitarians, dictators and genociders by claiming StW “is not an international group, it is a single issue national organisation against UK military action, end of.”


The cynicism and sophistry of Stop the War and its apologists

By John Penney

This is the purest, cynical, sophistry, James, as I’m sure you are very well aware. (though I may be wrong – you could just be a naïve dupe). CND can indeed be a “single issue campaign” , and not be implicated in turning a blind eye to mass murder .

Unfortunately in the complex multi-sided cauldron of the Middle East it is not morally or politically possible to blithely claim that StWC is “only concerned with opposing UK military action” , and claim that this leaves it’s organisational hands clean of the consequences of this cod pacifist position. The Kurds in particular, but also sundry other minorities facing enslavement and mass murder by the Daesh barbarians (and proxies of Turkish and Saudi regional imperialism) do require arms and close air support to fight off the better armed , death-loving fanatics of Daesh. It is purely a tactical issue as to where the Kurds and others get this military support. Simply having a blanket “no to any UK involvement” position is actually directly campaigning to leave the Kurds and other minorities to be slaughtered by Daesh. That is the direct consequence of the current unconditional StW campaigning demand.

Of course we’ve been here repeatedly before – in the case of sections of the Left blindly campaigning to stop NATO intervening in both Bosnia and Kosovo – to end the huge scale genocide being perpetrated by the ( supposedly “socialist” ?) Serbian regime. Again sections of the Left, 25 years ago, campaigned against the setting up, of a No Fly Zone in Northern Iraq to protect the Kurds from the then murderous campaign being waged by Saddam Hussein. In all three cases NATO intervention simply did quite evidently save hundreds of thousands of lives. Simply opposing all Western intervention as a matter of unconditional principle is schoolboy-level political posturing. This doesn’t for a moment alter the fact that NATO is the military arm of Western Imperialism – of course it is. However the Left needs to be more tactically flexible, and willing to prioritise and balance the real needs of masses of people in real peril, against the holding of inflexible political postures. For someone obviously as lost in the political maze of Stalinist political models as you evidently are , James, a concept which I don’t expect you are even able to imagine.

But then you probably actually know this quite well and are simply playing semantic games – to cover up your, and StWC’s leadership’s actual , undeclared, underlying, support for the Assad regime and its Russian imperialist backers. That is certainly the CPB member , and now new Chairman of StWC’s [Andrew Murray – JD] obvious personal political position.

Your blanket “opposition to NATO” is simply another cover for the ludicrously simplistic soviet-era politics which views ONLY US/Western imperialism as a barrier to socialist progress – with a range of bestial tyrannies like Iran, Assad’s Syria, Saddam’s Iraq, and Gaddafi’s Libya getting a “free pass” as members of some bogus “axis of Resistance”.

Your cynical sophistry is truly stomach churning. StW today is a cynically manipulative movement, playing on naïve general pacifist anti war sentiments , to promote the narrow sectarian interests of a StW leadership coalition of Islamic fundamentalist appeasers and supporters of the Assad regime and Russian imperialism – not by any means a “single issue campaign”.

There are plenty of good reasons to oppose the current , purely symbolic, tiny air intervention of the UK in Syria. Its total ineffectiveness and total failure to recognise and tackle the vital huge support for Daesh coming from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, for one. But to object purely on a cod pacifist basis – and ignoring the murderous role of Assad and the Russians, is to be a stooge of these regimes – not proud evidence of being a clean hands “single issue” campaign.

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Simon Tisdall urges total capitulation

October 7, 2013 at 6:01 pm (africa, apologists and collaborators, capitulation, fascism, grovelling, Guardian, history, islamism, Jim D, Libya, reactionay "anti-imperialism", terror)

Picture of Simon Tisdall

Tisdall: a Paul Faure de jour

You don’t have to be a fan of US imperialism to wish the yanks well in hunting down al-Qaida and other such murderous fascists.

But, it would seem, Simon Tisdall, senior foreign correspondent of the Graun doesn’t share that feeling. In fact, attempts to apprehend and/or kill such people as Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai (wanted for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed over 250 people) and Ahmed Abdi Godane (who claims responsibility for the Westgate mall attack) are to be deplored and sneered at:

“The two raids may provide Obama with temporary relief from his domestic troubles, distracting attention from the government shutdown. But secretary of state John Kerry’s claim on Sunday that the operations showed terrorists they “can run but they can’t hide” was macho bombast straight from the George W Bush school of utter thoughtlessness.

“The raids yielded one wanted man. They shed yet more blood. They played the terrorists’ game. They invited further retaliation and escalation down the road. They reminded Muslims everywhere that the US, in righteous mood, has scant regard for other countries’ borders and national rights. And they did nothing to address the roots and causes of confrontation between Islam and the west.” Read the whole thing here, but prepare to be nauseated and/or infuriated..

I leave aside, for the moment, Tisdall’s apparent acceptance (in his final sentence) of the jihadists’ (and the anti-Muslim racists’) claim that the struggle against Islamist terrorism is, in fact, a war on Islam itself. And I won’t bother asking what, exactly, does Mr Tisdall think “the causes of [the] confrontation” are. For now, I’d merely ask, what does Mr Tisdall think should be done in response to outrages like Westgate? Anything at all?

One small cause for hope: judging by the below-the-line comments, even CiF readers seem to be appalled at Tisdall’s craven appeasement.

Finally (for now) I would urge readers to check out this fascinating comparison between present-day Guardianistas and the Paul Fauristes in France during WW2. All proportions guarded, I think the comparison is apposite and entirely fair.

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Libya: the Muslim majority speaks – and acts

September 24, 2012 at 6:36 pm (africa, anti-fascism, Champagne Charlie, democracy, good people, humanism, islamism, Libya, Middle East, Sheer joy, solidarity)

This should have been headline news everywhere:

Unarmed people power drums Libya’s jihadists out of Benghazi

These were the incredible scenes in Benghazi as tens of thousands of ordinary citizens marched on the Islamic extremists in their compounds and drove them out with shouts, placards and sheer courage  


The Observer 23 Sept 2012

A Libyan man gestures as thousands of people march in Benghazi during a protest against militias

Above: A Libyan man gestures as thousands of people march in Benghazi during a protest against militias on 21 September, 2012. Photograph: Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images

As fires blazed and protesters danced in the ruined compound of a vanquished jihadist militia, I watched as the citizens of the Libyan city of Benghazi staged a dramatic display of raw people power.Numbed by the murder of an American ambassador in their city, furious with jihadist militias lording it over them and frustrated by a government too chaotic and intimidated to react, ordinary Benghazians took matters into their own hands.

Elsewhere in the world jihadists staged fiery attacks on foreign targets. In Libya they were sent running by people power. A rally called to Rescue Benghazi on Friday night became the launch pad for a spontaneous retaking of the streets, and more – a retaking of the soul that saw this city become the cradle of last year’s Arab spring revolution.

Read the rest here.

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Pictures of Libyan democrats and anti-Fascists

September 14, 2012 at 10:17 pm (anti-fascism, good people, Islam, islamism, Jim D, Libya, Middle East, solidarity, terror)

Just like not all Americans are like the people who made the weird anti-Islam movie that is sparking protests in Muslim nations, not all people in Libya are like the ones who killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens. Some of the people of Benghazi, where Stevens was killed, held a demonstration against terrorism and to show sympathy for the U.S. Libya Alhurra TV, an Internet TV channel founded at the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, posted Facebook photos of a rally there showing support for America and sympathy for Stevens. Here are some of those pictures:

Update: In the photo above, the sign held by the man on the far left says “No to al Qaeda, no to violence, this is a youth revolution.” (Update II: An astute commenter points out the word is “terrorism,” not violence.) The middle one says, “No No No to Al Qaeda.” The sign held by the boy on the right is hard to read at this angle, but says something against killing…
From the Facebook page of The Libyan Center for Documentation, more images of the demonstration:
The placard on the right (below) is hard to read, but says something against killing:
From the Facebook page of The Libyan Center for Documentation, more images of the demonstration:
Update III: Reader Aicha Benmansour writes in with some translations. Above, the sign held by the woman on the right “is a Quran verse that says something like: ‘Is the reward of goodness but goodness?!’ (humble tentative, it’s difficult to translate Quran from divine to human words — it means something like a reminder to reward good by good).”Update: The Supreme Security Committee Interim Tripoli has more photos of pro-American demonstrations in Tripoli..
The Arabic phrase above “Islam against terrorism” says “No to violence.” That’s on a lot of the signs.Twitter user @2011feb17 says these photos are from a counter-protest in Algeria square in Tripoli..
Update III: Benmansour explains the sign on the right approximately translates as, “We disapprove/condemn the humiliation of the prophet but NOT with Terrorism.”
* All the above, from The Atlantic Wire

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Juan Cole on Libya, Egypt and the butterfly effect

September 14, 2012 at 12:01 am (Egypt, islamism, Libya, Middle East, reblogged, Republican Party)

By Juan Cole (at his blog, Informed Comment)

The late science fiction writer Ray Bradbury authored a short story about time travelers. They were careful, when they went back to the Jurassic, not to change anything, but one of them stepped on a butterfly. When they got back to the present, the world was slightly different.

When scientists studying complexity put forward the idea that small initial events could have large effects in non-linear, dynamic systems like the weather, they chose the term ‘butterfly effect.” One of the images students of weather instanced was that a butterfly flapping its wings might set off minor turbulence that ultimately turned into a hurricane. (In the older model of Newtonian physics, small events have small effects and large events have large effects, so you wouldn’t expect a minor action to produce big changes).

So the Associated Press did a careful investigation of the ‘Sam Bacile’ who supposedly directed the hate film, ‘The Innocence of Muslims.’And AP found that probably he does not exist, but is a persona used by a convicted Coptic Egyptian fraudster, Nakoula Bassely Nakoula.

But the story gets more complex. Nakoula had Coptic and evangelical associates in the shooting of the film, including Steve Klein, a former Marine and current extremist Christian who has helped train militiamen in California churches and has led “protests outside abortion clinics, Mormon temples and mosques.” My guess is that most of the Egyptian Copts involved are converts to American-style fundamentalism.

The Egyptian Coptic church has roundly condemned the hateful film they made smearing the Prophet Muhammad.

Anyway, the bigotry of the edited film, directed at Muslims, is part of a movement of religious prejudice that also targets . . . Mormons.

Mitt Romney may want to rethink his ‘visceral’ reaction to the US embassy in Cairo’s tweet condemning the group’s hate speech.

Then it turns out that the film was shot in such a way that there was originally no mention of the Prophet Muhammad in the script, and the cast had no idea what they were getting themselves into, and then the name of Muhammad was clumsily dubbed into the final edit.

So, the film was from the beginning a fraud. It was directed by a fraud. It was promoted by a militia trainer. And Nakoula marketed it fraudulently as the work of a fictitious Israeli-American Jewish real estate agent, ‘Sam Bacile,’ and falsely said it had been funded by “a hundred Jewish donors.”

The group behind the film, in other words, managed to evoke all the classic themes of anti-Semitism as a way of disguising the Coptic and evangelical network out of which the ‘film’ came. When they weren’t busy picketing Mormons and defaming Muslims they were trying to get Jews killed for their own smears of Islam!

Of course, given the strident hatred of Muslims promoted by a handful of Jewish American extremists such as Pamela Geller, David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes and others, in which they gleefully join with white supremacists and Christian fundamentalists, it was only a matter of time before their partners in hate turned on them and used them.

The bad, dubbed ‘film’ only had one theater showing in some dowdy place in LA. Then in July the group had the trailer for it dubbed into Arabic with subtitles as well, and put it on Youtube, where it was found by strident Egyptian Muslim fundamentalist Sheikh Khaled Abdallah, who had it shown on al-Nas television and caused the sensation that led to Tuesday’s demonstrations in Cairo and Benghazi. As I argued yesterday, the vigilante extremists or ‘jihadis’ have been left on the garbage pile of history by the democratic elections in Egypt and Libya, and are whipping up the issue of this film in a desperate attempt to remain relevant.

Aware of the building sensation about the film, an employee of the US embassy in Cairo condemned it as hate speech before the rally began outside its premises.

In other words, this is a non-film and a non-story, a fraud, promoted by the worst people in each culture.

In Cairo, the rally allegedly got out of hand because the Ultras or soccer ruffians joined in, and they were probably the ones who tore down the American flag and ran up a black Muslim-fundamentalist one. Ultras are not fundamentalists but they are mischievous and resent authority, so a superpower that backs the army and police they hate might be a target of their wrath. There may have also been a handful of al-Qaeda supporters there, not surprising on the anniversary of September 11. The crowd at the American embassy was tiny by Egyptian protest standards.

In Benghazi, Hadeel Al Shalchi got the story. She talked to Libyan special forces members who explained that there were three stages to the events there. First, there was a demonstration. Then when the police and consulate guards tried to curb it, the demonstrators got angry and some of them went for guns and a rocket propelled grenade, so that the consulate was set on fire and looted. It was at that second stage that US ambassador Chris Stevens and another diplomat were killed (Stevens inhaled too much smoke in the fire and the other man was shot). Stevens’ death is a great tragedy and irony, since he was liaison to the transitional national council during the Libyan revolution and many Libyans lionize him. Why in the world he was in an insecure minor consulate in a provincial city on September 11 is a mystery to me.

Then 37 embassy personnel escaped to a rural safe house. The Libyan special forces commander charged with evacuating them to Tripoli at first was stymied by not having enough vehicles for so many people. Then the safe house came under fairly precise mortar fire from members of an al-Qaeda affiliate operating in Benghazi, which must have been surveilling consular personnel. Finally, the Libyan government forces got the Americans to the airport and they flew back to the capital of Tripoli.

It should be remembered that Libyan forces fought and risked their lives to protect Americans. In opinion polling in Eastern Libya, the United States has a 60% favorability rating, while the Salafis or hard line Muslims stand at only 28% favorable.

It was while all that was going on in Cairo and Benghazi that Mitt Romney took it into his head to condemn Barack Obama for the tweet issued by the Cairo embassy before the demonstration. He alleged that Obama had *reacted* to the embassy attacks by showing some sympathy for the attackers. This allegation is untrue and absurd, but Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan went on repeating it all day Wednesday.

Romney was caught on camera walking away from that shameful performance with a shark-like grin on his face. Since he was talking about matters of life and death, the expression was inappropriate. But a darker theory is that he was grinning about having stuck it to Obama.

Romney’s politicization of September 11 and of the horrible events in Benghazi was poorly received among opinion leaders, including prominent Republicans, and some observers suggest that this miscalculation may have been a decisive nail in the coffin of his sputtering campaign.

Meanwhile, the Libyan government apologized for and vehemently condemned the attack on the consulate and the killing of its personnel. And, on Wednesday Libyans staged pro-American demonstrations in several cities.

In Egypt, in contrast, small demonstrations were held again in front of the US embassy, until police pushed the activists back. When, on Thursday morning, protesters set two cars afire with Molotov cocktails, police arrested 12 of them. The police have the embassy surrounded and have closed the roads leading to it in Garden City.

Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, fell short of strongly condemning the Cairo and Benghazi attacks. Late on Wednesday the Muslim Brotherhood finally retweeted comments of one of its other leaders, Khairat al-Shater, in condemnation of the attacks. Nevertheless, the Brotherhood is sponsoring rallies protesting the film on Friday, a ‘day of rage.’ Morsi is no doubt worried that religious and political currents to his right will outflank him on the issue of the blasphemous film and its American provenance. But Morsi has a Ph.D. from the US and surely knows that the US government cannot suppress films, and it is shameful that he did not condemn forthrightly the killing of Ambassador Stevens and the others.

In Tunisia, Salafis rallied on Wednesday in front of the US embassy, but were fairly quickly dispersed by police deploying tear gas. Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki denounced the killing of Stevens and the others as an “act of terrorism.”

So the Butterfly Effect set off by a low-budget bad propaganda film gotten up by two-bit frauds and Christian supremacists, and then promoted by two-bit Egyptian and Libyan fundamentalists, has provoked some squalls and cost the lives of four good men.

The storm provoked by this butterfly has revealed character on an international scale. The steely determination of an Obama to achieve justice, the embarrassing grandstanding of a Romney, the destructive hatred of a handful of extremists in Cairo and Benghazi, and the decency and warmth toward the US of the Libyan crowds, all were thrown into stark relief by the beating of the butterfly’s wings.

In the end, the violence and extremism of the hardliners on both sides is a phantasm of the past, not a harbinger of the future. The wave of democratic politics sweeping the region has left the haters behind, reducing them to desperate and senseless acts of violence that will gain them no good will, no popularity, no political credibility.

A little-noted major event of Wednesday was the democratic selection of a new prime minister in Libya for the first time in the country’s history. Mustafa Abushagur defeated the Muslim Brotherhood candidate handily. Abushagur for a long time taught college in the US, at the University of Alabama Huntsville. Libyans again showed themselves nationalist and non-fundamentalist. This remarkable achievement, and what it portends for the shape of Libyan politics, will be drowned out by the atrocity in Benghazi, but it is the development that is likely to be marked by future historians as a turning point in Libya and in the Middle East.

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‘Sam Bacile’ not Israeli, not Jewish: letters to Guardian and Morning Star

September 13, 2012 at 6:53 pm (anti-semitism, Christianity, conspiracy theories, Egypt, Guardian, Islam, islamism, israel, Jim D, Libya, Middle East, stalinism)

To the Morning Star:

Dear Morning Star,
Your article ‘US ambassador killed in wave of Islamic protests’ (M Star September 13) was highly distasteful in its gloating tone and attempt to draw a moral equivalence between Christopher Steven (by all accounts a decent man and friend of the Libyan people) and the bloody dictator Gaddafi.
But much worse that that, the article repeated the claim that the producer of the anti-Muhammad film that was at least the pretext for the embassy attack was “The extremist Jewish US film maker Sam Bacile.” In the context of the highly volatile situation in the Middle East, and the often fraught relationship between Jews and Muslims here in the UK, that was a completely irresponsible statement. I don’t know where the Star’s Foreign Desk obtained their information, but by Thursday morning the Associated Press had established that ‘Sam Bacille’ is almost certainly the pseudonym of one Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian of Egyptian origin, now living near Los Angeles at the same address where Associated Press had previously contacted the person identifying himself as ‘Sam Bacile.’
There are quite enough anti-Jewish conspiracy theories flying around in the Middle East and, indeed, in the UK at the moment without the Star adding to them. I think you owe all Jewish people an apology.
Jim Denham
To the Guardian:
Dear Sir,
I do not know from where your leader-writer (Grenades lobbed from afar, 13 September) obtained the information that the anti-Muhammad film that provided at least the pretext for the attack on the US embassy in Libya, was the work of “an Israeli-American real estate developer.”
But by early on Thursday morning, the Associated Press had established beyond reasonable doubt that the film-maker calling himself “Sam Bacile” is neither an Israeli, nor even Jewish. In fact, he doesn’t exist, except as a pseudonym for one Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian of Egyptian origin now living near Los Angeles at the same address at which Associated Press had previously contacted the person calling himself “Sam Bacile.” According to AP, Federal court papers said Nakoula’s previous aliases include “Nicola Bacily.”
There are enough anti-Jewish conspiracy theories flying around the Middle East (and, indeed, Europe) at the moment without the Guardian adding to them and further damaging relations between Muslims and Jews. I trust you will issue not only a prominent correction, but also an apology to all Jewish people.
Yours faithfully,
Jim Denham
P.S: Associated Press report, California man confirms role in anti-Islam film, here
P.P.S: The online version of the Graun‘s leader has now been amended to remove the reference to “an Israeli-American”…
All the online versions of the article have now deleted the following passage that appears in today’s (printed) paper:
The circumstances of the firefight that led to the ambassador’s death are unclear. There were conflicting reports last night about whether the attack by Takfiri fundamentalists on the ambassador was planned. But the sequence of events that led to the death of a good man are gut-churningly familiar. The fuse was lit by an Israeli-American real estate developer who launched the latest salvo of culture wars with a grotesquely offensive film depicting the prophet Muhammad as a feckless philaderer. It was screened to an almost empty cinema in Hollywood this year, which is where it deserved to rest. If anything merits the phrase hate speech, it is trash like this.
Here’s the new, amended version of that paragraph:
If the circumstances of the firefight that led to the ambassador’s death are unclear (there were conflicting reports last night about whether the attack was planned) the provenance of a grotesquely offensive film that depicts the prophet Muhammad as a feckless philanderer, which provoked the anti-US protests, was today equally murky.

The film was attributed by US media reports to a man whom no one can now find any trace of. Indeed the original film may not have existed at all. A clip, dubbed in Arabic, was promoted by a virulent Islamophobe, Morris Sadik, an Egyptian Copt based in California, who campaigns for Egypt to be divided into five states and whose views are disowned by Christian Copts at home. The final poison of this toxic brew was added by the Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has a track record in inciting violence by burning the Qur’an.

The whole episode may have been a grotesque provocation, of which all sides taking positions in this culture war should be wary.

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To Mehdi Hasan: my offer of a deal

July 9, 2012 at 7:21 pm (Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, Guardian, Islam, islamism, israel, Jim D, Libya, Middle East, Racism, Syria)

The outgoing Political Editor of the New Statesman (now joining the Huffington Post), Mehdi Hasan, begins a cri de coeur (“We mustn’t allow Muslims in public life to be silenced”),  in today’s Graun, with this:

“Have you ever been called an Islamist? How about a jihadist or a terrorist? Extremist, maybe? Welcome to my world. It’s pretty depressing. Every morning, I take a deep breath and then go online to discover what new insult or smear has been thrown in my direction. Whether it’s tweets, blogposts or comment threads, the abuse is as relentless as it is vicious.

“You might think I’d have become used to it by now. Well, I haven’t. When I started writing for a living, I never imagined I’d be the victim of such personal, such Islamophobic, attacks, on a near-daily basis.”

Now, I’ve never been called any of those things (except for “extremist”) and I’m sure that Mehdi Hasan is telling the truth about the abuse he’s had to put up with. It’s called racism and should be dealt with as such. “Islamophobia” is a slippery, ill-defined term that as Rumy Hasan has explained, is all too often used by religious conservatives to try to stifle criticism of their cultural edicts. Therefore the left should avoid using the term.

But Mehdi Hasan goes further, and suggests that criticism of his politics is generally motivated by hatred of his religion:

“A recent interview of mine with the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, elicited the following response: “Get out of my country, goatfucker.” How many other political columnists have to deal with such “feedback”? And how many of my fellow pundits in the British media get death threats in the post, warning them that “there will not be 1 live Muslim left in Europe when we have finished”?

Now I wouldn’t for one single moment want to excuse or “contextualise” such racist abuse, but I can state that the criticism that I’ve made of, and also a lot that I’ve  read about, Mehdi Hasan, has been nothing to do with his personal religious faith, but everything to do with:

1/ On-the-record religious bigotry:

(and I don’t see how that can be explained away as “selectively edited”);

2/ Dishonest and evasive writing on a range of issues, including Syria and Libya, where he hides the fact that he is in principle against Western intervention, under all circumstances, and regardless of the consequences (except, perhaps, retrospectively, in Bosnia).

3/ An easy tolerence of the Muslim Brotherhood, as opposed to an apparently serious comparison between Merkel and Hitler;

4/ Repeated justifications of Iran’s nuclear programme (and not just the fact that he “once praised a fatwa from…Ayatollah Ali Khamenie, forbidding the production of nuclear weapons“) and denial that Iran poses any sort of threat to Israel.

Now, Mehdi, to return to your opening point: no, I have not been accused of being “an Islamist” or a “terrorist.” But I have been accused, on-line, of being a “Zionist,” told that I support the murder of Palestinian youths, and compared with the mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik.

As far as I can make out, all because I defend Israel’s right to exist (behind 1967 borders) as a Jewish state.

In my experience, as well, it is not only Muslims about whom (as you put it, Mehdi) “you can can now say things…in polite society and even among card-carrying liberal lefties that you cannot say about any other group”… but also a quite different ethnic group. Guess who? Still, I have no wish to enter into a victimhood competition with you: let’s just agree that all racism and ethnic hostility must be opposed.

So, Mehdi,  I do know what it’s like to be subjected to “personal abuse” and “monstrous comments”. You close by asking, “Who’s with me?” My answer: “I am, Mehdi – if you’re with me and other people (Jews and non-Jews) who support Israel’s right to exist : deal?”

P.S: I am all too well aware, Mehdi, that you are a well-established political journalist and media “personality”, whereas I’m just a small-time blogger. So there’s no pressure on you to reply. But I would hope, in view of your comments about racist/”Islamophobic” abuse, and your call “Who’s with me?” that you do.

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Libyan election joy

July 8, 2012 at 9:29 am (africa, Champagne Charlie, democracy, elections, Human rights, Libya, Middle East, Sheer joy)

“I’m so excited. I woke up at 6 this morning, before my daughters. A new country has been born. God willing, I will be alive to vote again and again” – Mabroka Amar, 69, at a polling station in Tripoli, quoted in today’s Observer.

epa03299125 A Libyan woman shows her ink marked finger after voting for the National Congress elections in Tripoli, Libya, on Saturday.

A Libyan woman shows her ink marked finger after voting for the National Congress elections in Tripoli, Libya, on Saturday.

Thousands queued to vote in Tripoli and other cities in Libya’a first election since 1964. Despite attacks on polling staions by armed federalist gangs in Benghazi and eastern Libya, overwhelmingly the election has gone ahead smoothly, including (unexpectedly) in the south where there have been serious clashes between Arabs and black Toubo (of African descent) in the recent past. Two polling stations for Toubo were functioning in Kufra, a remote south-eastern town that has seen vicious fighting in the recent past.

Unsurprisingly, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party are expected to win, but reports from Tripoli and other cities suggest that Mahmoud Jabril’s relatively “liberal”  (but pro-Sharia law) National Forces Alliance is doing well and may even be ahead of the Brotherhood.

But the important thing, for now, is that Libyans have had the opportunity to vote, and the election has been an overwhelming success.

No doubt this will come as a terrible disappointment to those like the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’, Tariq Ali and Seumas Milne (never mind poor mad Pilger), who so badly want Libya to fail and who miss no opportunity to tell us that chaos, racist attacks and sectarianism are the inevitable order of the day now that Gaddafi’s gone.

Read more:

Informed Comment from Juan Cole, here.

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