Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Middle East Sampler 2/14/2012: New York Times And The Bliss Of Ignorance...

From DG:
1) The Istanbul Process and Hamza Kashgari 

The New York Times reported Saudi Writer Is Deported Over Posts on Prophet:
The journalist, Hamza Kashgari, had been detained by the Malaysian police since Thursday, when he was stopped at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at the request of the Saudi government. Mr. Kashgari, a newspaper columnist based in Jidda, had fled Saudi Arabia amid public outrage after he wrote about an imaginary meeting with the Prophet Muhammad in a series of posts on Twitter, according to news reports.
The Saudi king has reportedly called for his arrest, and many in the religiously conservative country have accused him of blasphemy, a capital offense in Saudi Arabia. 
Muhammad Afiq Bin Mohamad Noor, the Malaysian lawyer hired by Mr. Kashgari’s family, said he obtained an interim court order from the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Sunday afternoon that would have prevented the authorities from deporting Mr. Kashgari. He only discovered later on Sunday, when he spoke to an immigration officer at the Kuala Lumpur airport, that Mr. Kashgari had already been deported on a private Saudi jet.
This incident - of a Saudi national who had escaped Saudi Arabia only to be extradited by a different Muslim nation - ought to raise questions as to why the United States is involved in the Istanbul Process, which would criminalize defamation of religion internationally. This question is even more serious, because it has been charged (and denied) that Interpol played a role in Kashgari's identification and capture.

Back in December, Nina Shea wrote about the problems with the Istanbul Process advocated by the OIC and apparently encouraged by the State Department. Among the problems was:
It offered a transnational venue for the OIC to reintroduce its anti-defamation push, just as the issue had been laid to rest at the United Nations. The administration erred in viewing resolution 16/18 as a meeting of minds between the OIC and America on freedoms of religion and speech. 
In Istanbul, Clinton asserted that the United States does not want to see speech restrictions — but her conference announcement immediately reignited OIC demands for the West to punish anti-Islamic speech. 
As the OIC reported it: “The upcoming [Washington] meetings . . . [will] help in enacting domestic laws for the countries involved in the issue, as well as formulating international laws preventing inciting hatred resulting from the continued defamation of religions.”
The end of this process would be an international regimen for prosecuting anyone who could be said to be defaming Islam. Think about the fatwa  against Salman Rushdie with the force of international law behind it.

2) The bliss of ignorance

Roger Cohen has written an important column called the Dilemmas of Islamic Power:
Major American Islamic organizations, their agendas often supported by clueless liberal publications (like the increasingly unserious New York Times), have in general made uncritical defense of Islam — rather than constructive criticism — the cornerstone of their policies and viewed deviation from the ever-refreshed victimhood narrative as unacceptable dissent. A recent New York Times editorial called a film that was critical of extreme Islam, a "hateful film."
No, that is not what Cohen wrote. He wrote the Dilemmas of Jewish Power:
Yet, as Beinart chronicles, major American Jewish organizations, their agendas often swayed by a few wealthy donors (like the casino mogul Sheldon Adelson), have in general made uncritical defense of Israel — rather than constructive criticism — the cornerstone of their policies and viewed deviation from the ever-refreshed victimhood narrative as unacceptable dissent. He quotes Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League: “Israeli democracy should decide; American Jews should support.”
Except that much criticism of Israel is not constructive, as Cohen, in his ignorance demonstrates in subsequent paragraphs.
Such prescriptions worked for an embattled little Israel and a generation of Holocaust survivors; they fall short today. “In their support for a halt to settlement growth and their comfort with public criticism of Israeli policy,” Beinart writes, “the mass of American Jews are to the left of the organizations that speak in their name, organizations that almost always oppose U.S. pressure on Israeli leaders and blame the Palestinians almost exclusively for the lack of Middle East peace.” 
Blaming Palestinians — for disunity, for grandstanding, for seeking not the 1967 lines but Israel’s disappearance — is easy enough, although increasingly an exercise in misrepresentation of the major Palestinian shifts under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. 
The blame game would, however, be far more credible if the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had shown the least interest in peace; it has not. Subsidized West Bank settlement expansion continues, a claim in concrete to the land Netanyahu calls Judea and Samaria.
Granted, the mistakes in these quoted paragraphs would not be known to someone who only reads the New York Times for news on the Middle East, so maybe Cohen could be forgiven for his ignorance. However, since he has such a major platform, he ought to have done a bit more research.

The mass of American Jews are not "to the left" of organizations speaking in their name.  If they were J-Street wouldn't have been reduced to a political footnote three years after its founding.

A few days after another agreement Fatah / Hamas agreement relegating Salam Fayyad to irrelevance it is amazing that Cohen appeals to "major shifts" under Fayyad. True, the Fatah / Hamas agreement may not actually come to fruition, but it is a sign of Fayyad's marginalization and reflects that he really had no political base in the first place. Even now Barry Rubin points out that Fatah's official new Facebook page denies Israel's right to exist and praises terrorists.

Finally as Jackson Diehl has shown it is not Netanayhu but Abbas, who has systematically refused to abide by any American initiatives to further the peace process.

Beinart's thesis makes a lot of sense if one is ignorant about what is going on. But when the true story is known Beinart and Cohen are simply engaged in calumny against Israel and its supporters, especially Israel's Jewish supporters. It is they who embrace a hateful canard.

3) The attacks in India and Georgia

In Ha'aretz, Anshel Pfeffer suggests a reason why the Israeli embassies in India and Georgia were targeted (h/t Israel Matzav):
Hezbollah's and Iran's focus therefore has been centered on Israeli representations abroad. Attempts to attack targets in Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and most recently Thailand were nipped in the bud through close cooperation between Israeli intelligence and the local security services. A Hezbollah cell operating in Western Europe was also apprehended last year before it could launch an operation. Two years ago, a shooting at cars carrying Israeli diplomats in Jordan resulted in no casualties. 
There were multiple intelligence warnings of a pending attack - and the recent assassinations of nuclear scientists in Tehran and mysterious explosions at various Iranian installations only added impetus. The twin locations, India and Georgia, are countries where Israel has close relationships with the local political leaderships and especially with the defense establishments. They are also countries where the security forces are not in total control of wide regions and borders.
Jackson Diehl considers an aspect of India's relationship with Iran and concludes that the attack may be a sign of desperation:
According to news service reports, a man on a motorcycle stuck a bomb on the van of the wife of an Israeli military attache as she drove to pick up her children from school. Israeli reports said she was moderately injured by shrapnel, and several Indians in her van also suffered injuries. 
Remarkably, the attack took place within a few hundred meters of the offices of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who just last week was resisting pressure from the United States to cut back on Indian purchases of Iranian oil. As Europe had applied an embargo on oil purchases, and even China has cut back, India has recently become Iran’s largest customer. It has even reportedly worked out barter arrangements to pay for continuing oil deliveries so that its banks are not exposed to U.S. sanctions. 
Having suffered repeated major terrorist attacks by Islamic militants in recent years, India takes terrorism very seriously. It is unlikely to respond mildly if today’s attack can be traced to Iran or to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia which serves as Iran’s proxy in countries around the world.
Similarly, Terror Wonk sees the attack as a sign of diminished capabilities of Hezbollah:
The silver lining on this unfortunate event is that it is a further proof of Hezbollah’s loss of the ability to carry out long-range terror attacks. While it has been generally assumed the Hezbollah is one of the most capable terrorist groups this morning was its first successful operation outside of Lebanon since 1996. Hezbollah has certainly had the motivation to carry out major terror attacks, particularly to avenge the assassination of its operations chief, the arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. In the past I have argued that extensive international intelligence efforts against Hezbollah have taken a heavy toll, restricting their ability to carry out complex attacks abroad. 
While this morning’s attack was a tragedy it is a far cry from the devastating attacks Hezbollah launched in Argentina or against the Khobar Towers (or its initial attacks against the US Embassy and Marine Barracks in Lebanon.) Hezbollah has also assassinated its enemies, but the targets were carefully chosen – this morning’s attacks were more akin to targets of opportunity. 
It is of course possible that Hezbollah was merely holding its fire, that these were shots across the bow rather then full-fledged strikes. But the fact that a revenge attack for the Mughniyeh killing has only come four years does little to suggest that Hezbollah has maintained its once formidable international network. None of this is to suggest, that Hezbollah as been defanged. The efforts needed to keep Hezbollah international terror capabilities in check are essential - if they were not present the organization would probably be able to resume high-level attacks.
4) Israeli aid for Syrians?

I was struck by this observation from Daniel Pipes:
My favorite statement summing up the past year's complexities: The IDF has prepared humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees in a buffer zone between Syrian- and Israeli-controlled territory, including thousands from the ruling Alawite sect, prompting Israel's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, to muse: "I am not sure all the Alawites will run toward Israel," but many will do so.
Then there was this fascinating clip on MEMRI:
Adnan Al-'Ar'our: Good people, this is shameful, by Allah. Good people, we don't want any weapons from you. All we want is for you to treat the wounded and open up your hospitals. Have your hearts become that cruel? Have you become such cowards? Open up your hospitals. Give us money to buy shrouds. 
[…] Good people, there is an unwritten law with regard to treating the wounded. I think we should even appeal to Israel. Maybe that would be easier. Perhaps they would give us… If it is possible, we appeal to them to treat the wounded. 
Interviewer: But would the Syrian army allow the wounded safe passage through the Golan?
Adnan Al-'Ar'our: Not, it would not. 
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