Israeli and Lebanese Armies Trade Fire; at least 4 Dead

There is one sad thing and there are several surprising things about the border clash on Tuesday between Israel and Lebanon.

The sad thing is that the firefight broke out over the removal of a tree. The Israeli army says it was their tree, which they wanted to remove to get a better view of Lebanon. The Lebanese army says it was their tree and that the Israeli troops crossed the border to chop down the woody miscreant. The Israelis say that they warned the Lebanese army of what they were doing by megaphone. The Lebanese say that the Israelis repeatedly violate Lebanese sovereignty, indeed have done so thousands of times since the 2006 war.

Couldn’t they, like, have called in the UNIFIL United Nations peacekeepers to cut down the trees? That is what UNIFIL is there for. Some trees were worth the lives of Lebanese troops and a journalist and that of an Israeli officer?

One surprising thing is that the Lebanese army showed such spunk in the face of the perceived Israeli affront. They know very well that they are vastly outgunned, and of course the Israeli military hit them with fire from helicopter gunships and artillery pieces. What made them so bold, that they shot and killed an Israeli officer over the tree removal?

Another surprise is that the secretary general of the Hizbullah party and militia, Hasan Nasrullah, called on his people to show restraint. Even so, he threatened to intervene if there was another Israeli provocation.

Yet another surprise is that the Lebanese army contacted the Israeli army behind the scenes in an attempt to forestall any spiraling out of control of the situation. (But the Telegraph article is incorrect when it says that the Israeli army did not target any Lebanese military and government targets in 2006; it did, a few).

My own guess is that this border incident will remain a border incident, in part because President Obama doesn’t want another Israel-Lebanon war (unlike his predecessors, who never met a war they didn’t like).

Aljazeera English has video:

Aljazeera English also reviews Israeli-Lebanese border violence in recent decades:

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Jiyad: The Da`wa Party Dilemma and Gridlock in Iraq

Sajad Jiyad writes in a guest editorial for Informed Comment:

The dilemma for Hizb al-Da’wa: A commentary on the issue of leadership in Iraq

A friend recently said to me that the Iraqi mentality is to only respect the leader and to be outside the spotlight is to be outside full stop.

This, according to my friend, means that having a credible opposition is never a feasible scenario. Any self-respecting politician in Iraq will do their utmost to avoid being shifted from the spotlight, and going into opposition, especially from the position of leadership, is unthinkable.

I countered by saying that actually there may be no need for an opposition now in Iraq and that having a majority or consensus government is the best thing for Iraq given the circumstances.

However, this discussion raised an important point, namely that of being the ‘leader’ or to say it frankly, to hold the office of Prime Minister. What is it that makes this issue at the centre of the negotiations for forming the next government? Aside from the obvious issues of power, patronage and protecting party interests, Iraq may indeed have a problem of ‘al-sanamiyyah’ (literally idolatry) or the cult of personality. Whoever is in power, is very much inclined to do their utmost to stay there, because of the general attitude of the people which promotes the ‘yes-men’ culture around the PM and also because to move away from the prime ministerial position is to be ignored and much less revered.

Recent political developments in Iraq make more sense if we take into account this cult of personalities rather than only looking at the maneuvering of parties. The Shiite religious parties are saying they will only go into coalition with the ruling Da’wa Party and its State of Law coalition if it dispenses with incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. But that diction assumes that the party is independent of al-Maliki, who is its head, though he is surrounded by a small, powerful and secretive ruling committee, as well. Moreover, it assumes that in today’s Iraq a party and its leader could flourish when out of power, whereas in fact the levers of the state are crucial for acquiring resources and patronage, especially in a party that has a limited and fickle constituency. Since al-Maliki’s appointment as PM, the party has entrenched itself in the state apparatus and institutions, empowering itself politically and financially, far greater than its legal and constitutional mandate allows it to. Undoubtedly, a change in PM means a change in staff, ministers and the strength of the ruling party, in this case, al-Da’wa al-Islamiyyah or Islamic Mission Party.

For al-Da’wa, this is a situation which threatens to seriously weaken it, bringing it to a similar fate that the Shiite, clerically-led Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq faced, coming down several rungs in the ladder and having far lesser influence and weight than it used to. This is because the al-Da’wa party does not have significant membership or cadres on the ground. Someone might say that this applies to most of the other parties as well, but the issue with al-Da’wa is that it does not identify particularly with any one constituent or community. The Kurdish parties have their party constituencies in the northern provinces tied to the Barzani and Talabani families, ISCI plays to the Shi’ite communities of the South and many of the clergy (who influence many thousands), the Sadrists derive their strength from the impoverished followers of the late Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, and the Iraqiya list draws its votes from the Sunni community of Iraq (former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi’s own faction picked up much less votes than the Sunni parties in his coalition). The Da’wa do not identify clearly with a religious, ethnic or other constituent community.

The election results show that 22.3% of the total votes for the State of Law coalition were collected by al-Maliki, and only those in Baghdad could vote directly for him. That is to say nearly a quarter of the votes that the governing group gained were won by the PM. It would be fair to say that his position as PM was a major vote-getter, reinforcing the earlier point about the benefits of incumbency. To say this more clearly, a major reason the election results were good for al-Da’wa is because the head of the party is the Prime Minister.

This brings us to the dilemma they currently face. On Sunday 1st August, the Sadrists announced that they will cut off negotiations with the State of Law Coalition (of which the Da’wa is the central party) because of their insistence on nominating al-Maliki as PM. Though they announced it as a decision by the political committee, it was actually an order from Muqtada al-Sadr. Ahmed al-Chalabi reflected the general thinking of the Shiite fundamentalist Iraqi National Alliance (which groups ISCI, the Sadrists and others) in backing this move, yet dangling the carrot for al-Da’wa by saying the National Alliance is still alive. That is, it is alive if al-Da’wa will jettison al-Maliki.

What the Sadrists have done is to force SOL, in truth al-Da’wa, to choose between two scenarios. One is to nominate a new figure for PM (Haidar al-Ebadi would be the most acceptable) and keep hold of the position of PM and all the benefits that this brings at the cost of upsetting al-Maliki and possibly fracturing the party again and also showing their limitations, as well as confirming the Sadrists (in reality Muqtada al-Sadr) as kingmakers, which reaffirms the precedent of 2006 and may come back to haunt them in the future. The Da’wa has already split several times, most recently when former prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari formed his own branch of the party and was excommunicated by al-Maliki.

The second scenario is for al-Da’wa to insist on al-Maliki’s candidacy and seeing the other parties propose a new PM (probably not the secular-leaning ex-Baathist Allawi) and force the Da’wa to accept some ministries but see themselves lose the privileges of the PM position. This means that their political influence will diminish and the future ability to pick up large numbers of votes decrease. Ever since ISCI lost the poll for PM in 2006, their power has been eroding. Once al-Maliki goes from being the PM to an MP, he will no longer attract the same spotlight, bringing us back to the discussion at the beginning of this article.

If the Iraqi people can move away from the yes-men culture and the idolization of political strongmen, its democracy will be much more robust and also allow politicians to save face, maybe even to lead to idea of sitting in the opposition benches being credible. As it stands, the ability for parties to engage in corruption and to abuse the state institutions and the fear of the no-spotlight effect breeds a jungle-like environment in which only the most ruthless wins and survives. The cut-throat state of Iraqi politics, while still more democratic and sophisticated than everyone else in the region, only leads to the worsening condition of the country and the discontent of its people.

Sajad Jiyad is a researcher on Iraqi politics, based in London

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US Military Mission in Iraq ends not with a Bang but a Whimper

President Obama reaffirmed on Monday that the US would have all combat troops out of Iraq by the end of August. He said that the final 50,000 would all be out of Iraq within 18 months, in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated by the Iraq parliament with the Bush administration in the latter’s last months.

T.S. Eliot wrote in “Hollow Men,” that “This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper.” And so too does the US combat mission in Iraq, initiated by George W. Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney in March, 2003 to promises that US troops would be garlanded and greeted as liberators by exultant Iraqis. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told Congress that the US troop strength would be down to about a division, some 25,000 men, by fall of 2003. Even in September of 2010, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, over 3000 dead US troops, over 30,000 seriously wounded ones and over a trillion dollars later, there are still going to be twice that number.

The US did not ‘win’ the Iraq War. It simply outlasted it. It was strong enough to remain, during the Sunni guerrilla war and the Sunni-Shiite Civil War, until the Iraqis exhausted themselves with fighting. But the massive violence provoked by the US occupation so weakened the Bush administration that it was forced to accept a withdrawal timetable dictated by the Iraqi parliament, in part at the insistence of deputies loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr and others connected to Iran.

But the US combat mission in Iraq will likely draw to a close without there being an Iraqi government in place.

Although it is true that Obama is just faithfully following the SOFA (the timetable of which was dictated by the Iraqi parliament, not the Bush administration), it should be remembered that US adherence to the timetable could not be taken for granted. A President McCain would almost certainly have subverted the schedule and tried to keep more troops, and more active combat troops, in Iraq than the Iraqi legislators wanted. And, the outcome would have been a ratcheting up of tensions with Iran, Shiite militias, and Sunni nationalists.

Iraq is no paradise, and the Iraqi government thinks more civilians are being killed each month by guerrilla violence than the US military will admit. In fact, the Iraqi government thinks over 500 civilians and soldiers were killed in July, which would make it the most deadly month in the country since 2008. But the US military insists that only a little over 200 such persons were killed (deaths of insurgents are typically not counted in these statistics).

The Pentagon may be underestimating the number of deaths from political violence, but its spokesman is correct that the fatality rate from political violence is very substantially reduced from what it had been during the Civil War of 2006-07 between Sunnis and Shiites. The Shiites won that war and ethnically cleansed large numbers of Sunnis from the capital and its environs, which is a major reason for the fall in violence.

The main thing to remember is that the US military, all the time it was in Iraq, was never really in control at a neighborhood level and that tens of thousands of US troops could not prevent the Civil War from killing so many Iraqis. So there is no reason to think that keeping a large US combat force in Iraq could eliminate political violence. In fact, since the guerrillas used to lay roadside bombs for US convoys, and often missed and killed civilians, the end of active US patrols in the cities actually contributed to a fall in violence.

Moreover, US combat troops cannot help anyone form a government and are irrelevant to Iraq’s stalled political process. So Obama is right to stick to the timetable. I was watching the Iraqi satellite channel al-Sharqiya, which reported Obama’s speech with great enthusiasm.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that negotiations with the State of Law coalition of caretaker prime minister Nuri al-Maliki have been broken off by the Shiite religious parties, the National Iraqi Alliance (including the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq of Ammar al-Hakim and the Sadr Bloc of Muqtada al-Sadr). The religious parties want al-Maliki to step down and for the State of Law coalition (in which the Da’wa or Islamic Mission Party of al-Maliki is the major component) to choose a different candidate for prime minister.

Al-Maliki angrily criticized his opponents on Monday, saying that they are angling for a weak prime minister who will be hostage to a few political factions, leaving the country open to being weakened by sectarian faction-fighting.

There is no end in sight of the political stalemate, which points to severe problems with Iraq’s largely US-authored constitution. The March 7 elections produced a ‘hung parliament’ in which no one party has enough seats to form a majority, and it has proved impossible for the four major coalitions to come together around a national unity government because they cannot agree on who should be its prime minister. The Shiite religious parties make the most natural partners for al-Maliki, also from a Shiite religious party, the Da’wa. But he sent the army against the Mahdi Army of al-Sadr in 2008 in order to restore order in Basra and East Baghdad, and the Sadrists want al-Maliki to step down in favor of another candidate.

Iyad Allawi of the secular Iraqiya list, which received 80% of the Sunni Arab vote, wants to be prime minister because his list got 91 seats, the single best showing. But 91 seats in a parliament of 325 does not mean much, and in reality whoever can put together a coalition with 163 seats will form the government.

Competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia is also complicating matters. Iran backs a big Shiite coalition, while Saudi Arabia is firmly in Allawi’s corner because of his Sunni Arab constituency. ( Riyadh is said to want a bigger role in Iraq to offset Iranian influence, a goal that can be realized only if Allawi and the Iraqiya come to power. The US is also backing Allawi, because of his anti-Iran credentials.

And so, with a whimper rather than a bang, the US will surrender any primary combat role in Iraq to a caretaker government and a green, inefficient army, leaving a major Persian Gulf power in shambles and at risk of ongoing violence and instability. It isn’t ideal. But attempting to stay in Iraq militarily would only cause more instability.

Now if only the Afghan parliament would negotiate a similar SOFA for that country, and the other war could be wound down as well.

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Take that, Dennis Miller; Climate Change is Real and Dangerous

I have a bone to pick with comic Dennis Miller. We all know about his famous shift to the political right after the September 11 attacks. Although I can remember an interview in which he said it went back further, to when he used to hear liberals complain about Mayor Rudolph Giuliani´s law and order policies (which involved a lot of cutting corners with constitutional rights and civil liberties), and Miller said he tended to side with Rudi.

But global warming is not a partisan political issue, however much some people want to make it one. It is science. And it is very dangerous, as a new US government report demonstrates. I can laugh at someone making fun of liberals and liberal positions. But Miller´s schtick on climate change just makes me want to throw my shoe at the television. His standard line is that he doesn´t trust the history of climate record-keeping, since it started when people still had to go out in the winter to the outhouse to relieve themselves. I´ve noticed that he gets fewer and fewer laughs with this stupid ´joke,´except before Vegas audiences who are apparently disproportionately full of rightwingers who don´t let their moral puritanism stand in the way of a good time.

Miller is of course simply incorrect that people in the late 19th century could not make precise scientific measurements of temperature.

Miller is a voice a lot of people listen to, and with that kind of visibility comes responsibility. Take a science course, Dennis. Or at least watch a video What you are doing is not funny.

The world has heated up significantly in the past three decades, with the past ten years being the hottest on record. So says the US National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration´s yearly ´State of the Climate´ report. (There is a difference between climate and weather. Over-all global warming can occur even if there are very cold days and snowstorms. In fact, climate change can cause some places to get colder even if the earth´s average surface temperature increases. Planets are complex things. But understanding an upward over all graph should not be so hard.)

The report is here and the beginning of the executive summary goes like this:

* June 2010 was the fourth consecutive warmest month on record (March, April, and May 2010 were also the warmest on record). This was the 304th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last month with below-average temperature was February 1985.
* It was the warmest April–June (three-month period) on record for the global land and ocean temperature and the land-only temperature. The three-month period was the second warmest for the world’s oceans, behind 1998…

That item about the world´s oceans is concerning. Apparently the oceans have been absorbing a lot of the extra heat being kept on earth by the carbon dioxide curtain that lets sunlight and its heat in, but traps it once here.

In turn, the warming oceans may be killing off marine algae.

Marine algae produce half of all the oxygen we breathe, and little fish eat them, and the big fish eat the little fish, and we eat the big fish. Killing off the marine algae is a big step toward killing off the planet, and we´re almost half way there to finishing this crucial species off.

Mr. Miller should note that the above report appeared in Canada´s National Post, a right wing newspaper. Reality doesn´t have a political party, and nor does the human species, and nor do the infants of the next generations, to whom we a bequeathing a cosmic cesspool.

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Taliban influence Spreading in Afghanistan

A former Afghan warlord who turned to supporting President Hamid Karzai and two others were blown up at a soccer match in the northern city of Qunduz by Taliban.

A bus full of civilians on its way between Helmand and Qandahar provinces in the Pashtun south hit a roadside bomb, which killed 6 and wounded 9 of the passengers. The Taliban presumably set the device for a NATO or Afghan National Army convoy, but the poor bus passengers got hit instead. The Taliban are responsible for 61% of the civilian casualties in the past six months and more in the past month.

Kunduz is only 1/3 Pashtun, the ethnic group from which the Taliban spring (though most Pashtuns oppose the Taliban). But they are using guerrilla tactics to even the playing field. The US is now putting troops into Kunduz, formerly a mainly German zone, since the Germans only signed on for peace-keeping, not for counter-insurgency.

Aljazeera English reports that the eastern Pashtun city of Jalalabad is facing increasing Talibanization, affecting storekeeper’s playing of music, video stores’ business, and even ring tones.

Virtually everywhere you look, then, Taliban influence is rising and spreading. One has to ask why the influence of the Afghan government isn’t doing the same, and more effectively. Karzai had enormous advantages over the Taliban, including massive aid donations, US backing for his armed forces, and the unpopularity of the Taliban with the Afghan people. by now, Karzai appears to have frittered away those advantages….

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Burning the Qur’an? ‘Wherever they burn books, they will in the end Burn Human Beings’

A tiny, fringe fundamentalist cult in Florida, of the sort that American popular Christianity specializes in producing, has announced that it will burn the Qur’an on the anniversary of September 11 because it considers Islam an evil religion. The group also targets gays and the Wicca worship of the Goddess.

This is more cult-like thinking, of the sort I discussed yesterday, in which ‘good’ equals ‘us’ and ‘evil’ equals people we don’t agree with.

The German poet Heinrich Heine (d. 1856), in his play lamenting the forced conversion of Spain’s Muslims to Christianity, “Almansor,” wrote, “Wherever they burn books, in the end they will burn human beings.” (When the Nazis burned books in 1933, Heine’s were among those set afire, and his prediction was borne out).

The antidote to hateful and grandstanding ignorance such as this is learning and reading. The way to combat book-burning is to spread around books and consume them.

I discuss in my book, Engaging the Muslim World, the various charges against Islam from groups like this one and show how they are not true.

I liked the response of CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, to this proposal, which is that Americans should take the opportunity presented by this controversy to actually read the Qur’an. I’d go them one better and suggest that some book reading groups who meet regularly select the Qur’an for their next set of discussions.

For the early chapters of the Qur’an, I warmly recommend Michael Sells’s Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations, which manages to be both a pleasure for the English style and sensitive to the nuances of the underlying Arabic.

I’ve done study groups on the Qur’an from time to time in informal settings, and was surprised to find that the translation people told me they found most accessible is Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s rendering of the Holy Qur’an. Intended in in part for English-speaking South Asian Muslims, it is steeped in the Muslim tradition of Qur’an commentary but goes out of its way to explain phrases that are cryptic or telegraphic in the original Arabic.

Reading the Qur’an without context is actually not very useful since it is a highly historical work that refers to contemporary events constantly. Although it is now an older book, W. Montgomery Watt’s Muhammad, Prophet and Statesman is still a good place to start for understanding the context of the Qur’an. In fact, I’d advise people to read it first, and then read the Qur’an backwards, starting with the shorter Meccan chapters that Sells translated and moving toward the front of the book with its longer Medinan chapters, many of which retell the stories of Abraham, Moses, Joseph, and Jesus or refer to Muslim attempts to avoid being wiped out by the attacking Meccan pagans (which anti-Muslim polemicists misinterpret as Muslim aggression).

I’ve done a little spadework on issues in Qur’an interpretation on issues of peace at this blog from time to time, and the links are here.

And, speaking of Heine and old Muslim Spain or Andalus, for a delightful book about the relations of Christians, Jews and Muslim in medieval Spain, see Maria Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. You’ll find there that current controversies like that in Florida are nothing new. But Menocal argues that while there were periods of fundamentalism and persecution, the over-all achievement of Spain (both Christian states like Valencia and Muslim ones like the Umayyad Caliphate centered at Cordoba) was of a broad tolerance and a shared love of learning (the library at Cordoba had 600,000 volumes at a time when there were probably only a few thousand manuscripts in all of France). In many ways, the multicultural religious atmosphere of medieval Spain , before the Almohads from one direction and the Inquisition from another did it in, most resembles that in the United States today.

Menocal is brilliant throughout, but especially good at recognizing the secular aspects of Arab culture that often formed an attraction even for those in Andalusia who did not convert to Islam. Alvarus, a hard line Christian priest, lamented:

‘The Christians love to read the poems and romances of the Arabs; they study the Arab theologians and philosophers, not to refute them but to form a correct and elegant Arabic. Where is the layman who now reads the Latin commentaries on the Holy Scriptures, or who studies the Gospels, prophets or apostles? Alas! All talented young Christians read and study with enthusiasm the Arab books; they gather immense libraries at great expense; they despise the Christian literture as unworthy of attention. They have forgotten their own language. For everyone one who can write a letter in Latin to a friend, there are a thousand who can express themselves in Arabic with elegance, and write better poems in this language than the Arabs themselves.’

Menocal suggests, in more elegant language, that Arabic romantic poetry was a babe magnet in Cordoba even for the Christian girls.

In many ways, the shoe is now on the other foot. Young Muslims often devote themselves to English and to American pop culture, and it is English that has the massive library, whereas the modern Arabic one is thin despite areas of excellence, as with the novels of Nobelist Naguib Mahfouz. But all along, the two cultures have interacted on a basis of admiration, not just competition or bigotry. Menocal thinks that the Renaissance and Enlightenment were actually peculiarly parochial in Europe, in contrast to the mixed-up character of medieval Spain, and despite the ugly periods and occasional fundamentalist movements, there are certainly innovations in toleration achieved in Valencia (a Christian kingdom that made a legal place for its Muslim subjects) and Cordoba that can inspire us today.

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July Deadliest Month ever for US troops in Afghanistan

Taliban killed three US troops in the Pashtun south with two bombings, bringing the death toll for July 2010 to 63, the highest since W. began the war.

Meanwhile, Andrew Bacevich points out that having a big army and lots of state of the art weapons no longer guarantees quick victory in contemporary warfare.


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The Closing of the Zionist Mind

It finally happened. The Jerusalem Post has declared archeology itself anti-Semitic.

To tell you the truth, I am frankly worried about some of my colleagues who are committed Zionists having difficulty in dealing with reality in the wake of the severe difficulties facing the Zionist project in historical Palestine.

Caroline Glick’s inaccurate and angry attack on me in the Jerusalem Post reminded me again of why I am anxious about the Closing of the Zionist Mind.

Glick is actually alleging that anyone who practices critical history of the ancient world or the Middle East in general is thereby an anti-Jewish bigot. Glick, from Chicago, was a captain in the Israeli army and a judge advocate-general during the first Intifada or Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which the Israeli army brutally crushed. She seems to be going off the deep end, having made herself notorious with the sick satirical video ‘We Con the World,’ which made fun of the civilian aid workers killed by Israeli commandos on May 31 of this year (and which appears to have had some backing from the Israeli government itself).

I don’t know if Captain Glick ever was not a zealot, but the bitterness and extremeness of her comments are now to the point of irrationality.

It is not just she. I’ve been at conferences where committed Zionists in the audience would afterwards approach me and, with a sort of glazed look in their eyes, give me a little set speech, then abruptly walk away. I initially always think they want to have a discussion. They don’t. They want to engage in some sort of strange ritual speech to exorcise the doubts I raised. They want to tell me off and then escape before I can reply.

One time some Orthodox students approached me at a conference to say that in their reckoning, Israeli settlers on the West Bank had almost never done any harm to anyone and maybe in total had killed 14 persons, for which they were sorry. I was frankly outraged. I mean, what world did these university students live in? Had they never read even one academic book on the effects of the Israeli Occupation on the Palestinians of the Palestinian West Bank? Why invent fairy tale statistics, and what is with the passive aggressive ‘apology?’ There is something wrong with this way of thinking, and it is a kind of group think that reinforces itself in small, tight, communities of discourse.

Last month, I was at a conference where a prominent academic at a prominent university gave a whole series of set speeches on various occasions.. Hamas is a terrorist organization that says it will never negotiate with Israel. Iran is near to being able and willing to nuke Israel. It was like a series of mantras to ward off any real, critical thought. When I told the person he was being essentialist, he was taken aback, then in a passive aggressive way, said he ‘hoped’ that what I was saying was true. It is so weird dealing with people who are supposed to be critical thinkers by trade who, when it comes to Israel, suddenly exhibit all the originality of a mynah bird. And they don’t let you get a word in edgewise once they start. And they constantly imply, with body language and innuendo, that you are misinformed or actively lying.

Other strange features of this discourse are the disregard for any evidence that contradicts the set talking points, unwillingness to seriously reconsider positions in the light of such evidence, the repetition of key phrases in an impenetrable way, the allegation that critics said things they never said, and insistence on demonizing the source of the alternative evidence.

I got exactly the same treatment in the 1970s from Maronite Christians in Lebanon and in the 1990s from pro-Milosevic Serbs, and recognize the condition. It is Failing Nationalism Syndrome (FNS).

Not all national projects succeed. There are by some counts 5000 ethnic groups in the world of a sort that could be the basis for a nation-state, but there are only about 190 countries. Some political projects, such as French Algeria (dominated by colons or colonists as a privileged group) or a Christian-dominated Lebanon, get going but just don’t have staying power. Algeria is now an almost wholly Muslim country, and Christians in Lebanon, while still powerful and numerous, are probably down to less than a third of the total population. But if we went back in time to 1935, we could sit at cafes in Algiers or Beirut and talk with these two about the future of their countries, and the ones in Algiers would have said that Algeria’s fate was to always be a part of France, and the Lebanese Maronites would talk have talked about their majority being strengthened and about the Phoenician identity of their country in the future.

Since the government of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is doing its best to run out the clock on a two-state solution, the only two plausible outcomes in Israel/Palestine in the coming decades are long years of dreary Apartheid or a one-state solution. It is not plausible that the Israelis will be allowed to keep the Palestinians stateless and without, ultimately, any real rights, forever. So Zionists (Israel nationalists) are increasingly suffering from Failing Nationalism Syndrome, and it is causing them to flail about saying the strangest things.

Let me take Glick’s weird screed section by section (she is replying to my : essay in

‘ One of the most prominent anti-Zionists today is Prof. Juan Cole from the University of Michigan.

Zionism is just Israel nationalism. Nationalism is of two sorts. It can be a sane patriotism in which people take pride in their identity and pull together to achieve national projects of self-improvement. Or it can be an aggressive, expansionist, grasping and destructive movement that exalts the in-group over out-groups and disadvantages or damages the latter. The second sense of the word ‘nationalism’ was the more common in the 19th and the early 20th century.

So, I am not an anti-Zionist in principle (and it is weird that Glick would accuse me of being one), since Israel nationalism is fine with me as long as it is of the first sort. Any nationalism of the second sort, I roundly denounce, whether adopted by Jews, Arabs, or Melanesians. It is the virulent sort that Closes the Mind.

‘ Part of being a successful anti-Zionist involves claiming that Jews have no right to the land of Israel. So to be a good anti-Zionist, one needs to deny Jewish history.

To this end, in March Cole published a piece of historical fiction in the Salon online magazine.

Titled “Ten reasons why East Jerusalem does not belong to Israel,” Cole mixed half truths with flagrant lies to justify his denial of Jewish history and belittlement of the Jewish rights.

Cole wrote, “Jerusalem not only was not being built by the likely then non-existent ‘Jewish people’ in 1000 BCE, but Jerusalem probably was not even inhabited at that point in history. Jerusalem appears to have been abandoned between 1000 BCE and 900 BCE, the traditional dates for the united kingdom under David and Solomon.”

This assertion is so mendacious that it takes your breath away. As anyone who has actually been in Jerusalem can attest, it is all but impossible to be physically present in the oldest areas of the city and not bump into relics dating from between 1000 and 900 BCE.’

Glick is the one who is out of touch with reality. She cannot bump into a single monument from the period 1000-900 BCE in today’s Jerusalem. The position I hold is what is called the ‘Copenhagen school’ or ‘biblical minimalism,’ and it is a perfectly respectable academic movement. I think all archeologists and historians would hold it if some were not religious believers in the Bible. It is people like Capt. Glick who are politicizing archeology and tampering with science.

There is no evidence for a monotheistic cult in Canaan in the period leading up to 1000 BCE. Monotheistic Judaism appears to have been invented in the Babylonian exile or perhaps a little before, and the fables of a great kingdom of David and Solomon were woven together then. The Assyrians were the gossips of the ancient world and they wrote down everything that happened in their clay tablets, and even talk about minor Arab queens in the Hijaz, and they didn’t know anything about a magnificent kingdom of David and Solomon with palaces. If these figures existed at all, I suspect they just had really, really nice tents, not golden palaces (which by the way have not been found despite what ideologues like Glick assert). Historical Judaism was a reformation of Canaanite religion over a period of time. (Some readers asked me who I thought was carried off to Babylon in the first place, and the answer is simple: Canaanites, perhaps those of a certain religious cult, but very possibly not the sort of monotheist depicted in the Bible).

‘ Cole’s allegation is the academic equivalent of Louis Farakhan’s claim that white people are devils planted on earth by aliens. As an anti-Zionist anti-Semite, it was just a matter of time until Cole traveled into the fetid swamp of denying the historical record to facilitate his false claim that Jews are not a people and therefore are bereft of rights as a nation to our national homeland.

I don’t know where she found a quote by me saying that the Jews are not a people. She doesn’t actually seem good with like, evidence. But peoples anyway are not eternal essences. They are formed over time. All I am saying is that her timeline for the formation is off by several hundred years.

Anyway, if Israel nationalism depends on the Bible’s stories of David and Solomon being historical, then kiss it goodbye. But note that my point in the Salon article was not that Israelis had no right to be in Israel but rather that they have no right to expel all Palestinians from Jerusalem ( Yes, that is what Israelis of Glick’s stripe are doing) . Glick’s shouting is designed to cover up an ongoing set of crimes against someone else, by painting herself the victim of, horror, biblical minimalism of an academic sort.

And note Glick’s segue from calling me an ‘anti-Zionist’ to calling me an ‘anti-Semite’ because I won’t accept the bible at face value as a privileged text without some kind of supporting evidence (and in the face of contrary such evidence). I’ve gotten so I really don’t care about being called a bigot by people who are very obviously bigots.. And I am afraid that pretty much everyone is getting that way, which is a shame. Because the history of anti-Jewish bigotry in the West is cosmically ugly and should not be trivialized.

‘ And why shouldn’t he cover himself in anti- Semitic muck? So far, the stench has brought him great success. The very fact that I felt compelled to write an essay explaining why anti- Semitism is anti-Semitism and why anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism is depressing proof that anti- Semites have been wildly successful in whitewashing their bigotry.’

I’m still looking for evidence of anti-Semitic muck in anything I’ve written, as opposed to just practicing history. And, I’m glad she thinks me a success, but lets face it, I’d have gone much further in conventional life if I hadn’t gotten on the wrong side of strident fanatics such as she. But, I was never interested in a conventional career. I have a sneaking admiration for Hunter S. Thompson that I doubt very many deans share.

‘ What makes contemporary anti-Semitism unique is its purveyors’ great efforts to hide its very existence. Their motivation is clear. Outside the openly genocidal anti-Semitic Muslim world, most anti-Semites are self-described liberals who claim to oppose bigotry. For these people, pretending away their prejudice is the key to their continued claim to enlightenment.

And so the likes of Oliver Stone publish clarifications.

And Cole invents history. And the Europeans blame Jews and Israel and Zionism when Jews inside and outside Israel are assaulted and killed.

And I am sorry I wrote this column.

Because an audience that demands an explanation of why evil is evil is an audience that has already sided with evil.’

If all that ranting makes sense to anyone, they should please explain it in terms that sane people can understand. Some of it is just guilt by association and conspiracy thinking.

Glick let slip at the end what is really going on. She is a cultist, who sees the world as black and white, good and evil. She and her movement are pure good. Those who oppose anything it does, including Apartheid, are evil.

And since the world will increasingly oppose Israeli Apartheid against the Palestinians, we are in for lots more furious rants and character assassination like Glick’s.

The Closing of the Zionist Mind, so evident in Glick’s weird column, is dangerous because a cult-like, black and white mindset is the first prerequisite for a turn to violence and it makes compromise and flexibility impossible. But what the Mideast needs more of is reasoned, humane, complex openness to change, to negotiation, to seeing the Other as human. Glick is foreclosing that process, and in so doing is helping dig the grave of Israel as we know it.

Luckily, most Israelis I know are nice people and Glick is not representative, so maybe I’m wrong to see a trend here as opposed to just a supremely annoying and ignorant individual.

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Dems Souring on Afghan War as 25 Killed by Roadside Bomb in Nimroz

Those opposed to President Obama´s escalation of the Afghanistan War were crestfallen when Congress approved another $33 billion in war funding. But as Richard Wolfe at USA Today points out, the interesting thing about the vote is the 103 Democratic Party ´no´ votes, triple the number who voted against a similar bill in summer 2009. Even David Obey, the chairman of the committee that crafted the legislation, voted against it. War exhaustion is setting in with Democrats, who have big domestic priorities, and the Wikileaks will take their toll. Obama may end up being a Democratic president fighting a Republican war, since if the GOP does well in the mid-terms, they will be in a position to support the escalation.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan in Nimroz Province, a crowded bus hit a roadside bomb, which killed at least 25 passengers. I doubt the Taliban were trying to kill bus passengers, but once you set a roadside bomb you never know who will hit it. Meanwhile, another US soldier was killed, this time in the Pashtun south, on Wednesday, bringing July´s toll for US troops killed to 59, only a little less than the 60 who were killed in June, according to the Associated Press. The figure of 60 US troops killed in one month is the highest monthly toll since the war began in 2001.

Aljazeera English reports on the threat of roadside bombs in Afghanistan:

In other news, it is being alleged that the Taliban have overrun much of the Qalai Zal district of Qunduz Province and actually captured a NATO aircraft. Pashtuns only make up one third of Qunduz, a northern province, but they have been militarily very active there, in part in hopes of cutting off NATO supply lines from Tajikistan and Central Asia. But, a plane? The only good news here is that they have no idea what to do with it.

Declan Walsh at the Guardian looks again at a 2007 incident in which US Marines, having had their convoy hit by a bombing near the eastern Pashtun city of Jalalabad, laid down suppressive fire all around them as they made a mad dash to base 6 miles away, so as to get medical help for a wounded colleague. The automatic machine gun fire killed innocent Afghans in cars along the way, including school girls. The whole incident was covered up when the papers were filed, simply by not mentioning the carnage.

Military folks can correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that laying down fire all around is standard response to a bombing, though some green units take it too far and so produce a lot of civilian deaths. I was told that some National Guard units in Iraq were the worst in this regard. I have long suspected that insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, having noticed the tactic, bomb US troop convoys near markets and other populated areas, counting on this response so that the US troops end up getting blamed for the carnage and the local people are turned against them. In this Jalalabad incident, the firing went way beyond an immediate response to danger, however.

The American press is being accused of not being very concerned to report civilian casualties in Afghanistan, in contrast to the Guardian in the UK. Eric Michael Johnson can count, so so does his analysis.

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Meyer: NY Times: Saber-rattling Against Turkey

Carlyn Meyer writes in a Guest Editorial for Informed Comment, also mirrored here:

NYT Saber-Rattling Against Turkey

The New York Times prides itself on being a newspaper “of record’ reporting crucial information for citizens to make informed choices in policy and elections. What I want to know is how NYTimes editors can claim that last Friday’s article, Sponsor of Flotilla Tied to Turkish Elite, about so-called ‘ties’ between Turkish officials and I.H.H., the Turkish foundation that organized the Gazan Blockade flotilla, did anything to inform me or anyone else who read it. Instead the article confuses and misinforms its readers by throwing several stand-alone facts and vague statements together, never clearly saying what it certainly implies. It plays brinkmanship with a loaded gun.

I’ve learned enough about Islam to know that the faith requires that observant followers contribute regularly to charity as one of five basic duties. “Giving” in Islamic countries if huge. And from the Dan Bilefsky/Sebnem Arsu article we learn I.H.H. is a large Islamic charity originally founded to help needy Turkish children and that now operates in over 100 countries. The article mentions I.H.H. support for besieged Bosnian Muslims during the Balkan wars, as well as a sizable donation to Haiti in the wake of last January’s disaster. We also learn that many currently-serving Turkish officials support I.H.H. (Most of this information is available through open public records.). Then the sizzling link: the article tells us I.H.H. is accused of having ‘ties to terrorists.’

What we don’t learn is the nature of those ties, who is making these accusations, whether the ties are direct or indirect and what those ties mean. This is not the first instance that a New York Times article linked I.H.H. to terrorists. Yet there is no indication that Times reporters have checked out and independently verified whether such ‘ties’ actually exist, even as the newspaper prints another story making that claim!

What is going on here? Before I give a hoot about Turkish officials giving to a large Islamic charity, I want the NYT to answer the immediate questions flowing from previous reporting.

Did I.H.H. give money to Hamas to buy guns? Did its $8 million donation in support of Gazan orphans filter through one of the many social service agencies Hamas runs in Gaza? Is I.H.H. funding a shell front-group or corporation? Or funding projects where money is illicitly skimmed off by genuine terror suspects? Are Turkish officials who serve on the board of I.H.H. also being accused for ‘ties’ to terrorism? Do they know of any I.H.H. ties to terrorism? These would be the logical questions to be answered by second and third NYT follow-up stories that focus on I.H.H.

Just as The Times quoted government officials certain that Iraq possessed MWD yet neglected to investigate other expert views and independent sources, the newspaper repeats a cavalier brand of reporting this time by linking I.H.H. to ‘terrorism’ and Turkish officials to I.H.H. – and by extension Turkish officials to terrorists – through innuendo and unnamed sources.

Addendum: The Times continues with its saber-rattling in today’s paper.

Turkey’s shift toward the Muslim world — from the recent clash with Israel to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s description of Iran’s nuclear program as peaceful — has prompted concerns in the United States and Europe that Turkey, an important NATO ally, is turning its back on the West.

Turkey, a NATO ally and candidate member of the European Union turning its back on the West? This type of alarmist rivals Fox News in its lack of documentation and example. Though the New York Times has mentioned some Western sources in a previous article who were critical of Turkey, Turkey has taken no actions that in any way supports the charge it is turning its back on the West. It is this type of preemptive saber-rattling that is disastrous to US foreign policy and paves the war for needless aggressive actions by the US government.

Carlyn Meyer

Apologies for the typo in Ms. Meyer´s name in the first edn.

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