My friend, Bret Stephens, meets up with and interviews Netanyahu.
Then there is an Arab view based on Obama's appointent of Mitchell. (See 1 and a1below.)
Goldberg continues to beat a dead horse because the powers that be have decided Geithner's indispensability outweighs ethics. And then there is good ole Barney.
Buying votes with your tax dollars is a full time job. Hypocrisy continues to reign in Disney East so where's the change?( See 2 and 2a below.)
China holds a lot of our debt so it is not a smart thing to tick off one of your largest creditors when you are going to need them to suck up more of your worthless paper. Maybe Geithner is not as bright as some assert.
China rebuts!(See 3 and 3a below.)
Moshav Tekuma writes about how Israel helped create Hamas as a buffer against a more radical PLO in hopes of creating a future and reliable negotiating partner.
The U.S. also helped create al Qaeda by supporting the Taliban against the Russians in Afghanistan.
Diplomacy has a strange way of boommeranging. (See 4 below.)
My youngest daughter sent me this (http://www.politifact.com/truth-0-meter/promises/.) It is about promises made to win the presidency. It will probably take several trillion dollars to keep it. Amazing and sad. Does anyone believe these promises. Are we children thinking Christmas is a daily event? (See 5 below.)
At least one Arab gets it but are any others listening or willing to listen? (See 6 below.)
More on the detained Iranian ship. Will our Navy be stumped by lack of inspection abilities and administration's desire not to ruffle feathers of Iran? Not much press coverage. Why did we not sink it after removing the drew? Beause we don't want to offend Iranian sensitivities. (See 7 below.)
In trying to understand your enemy, in this case radical Islamiism, has Laurent Murawiec failed? (See 8 below.)
1) Iran Is the Terrorist 'Mother Regime' Israel's would-be prime minister says he was mocked for warning of the Gaza rocket threat.
By BRET STEPHENS
It's Sunday morning, and I've been trying for days to get an interview with former --and, if his poll numbers hold up through the Feb. 10 election, soon-to-be -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But it's a political season, and there's a war on, and my calls aren't being returned. With nothing better to do, I go downstairs to the hotel gym for a jog.
So who should be on the treadmill next to mine? Benjamin Netanyahu. We chat for a few minutes, mostly about the cease-fire that the government of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has just declared, and I ask if he'd be willing to sit for an interview later in the day. His answer is something between a "maybe" and a "yes." As a nod to the customs of the country, I take that as a definite yes, so much the better to press his aides to arrange the meeting.
When the interview finally happens, in the grand reception hall of the old King David Hotel, it's close to one o'clock in the morning on Monday. Mr. Netanyahu has come from a long dinner with visiting European leaders -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel among them -- and he is plainly exhausted, joking that he can't be held responsible for anything he might say.
The crack is unnecessary. Rare for a leading Israeli political figure, the 59-year-old Mr. Netanyahu is a phenomenally articulate man -- Obama-esque, one might even say -- not just in his native Hebrew, but also in the unaccented English he acquired at a Philadelphia high school and later as an architecture and management student at MIT. True to form, near-lapidary sentences all but trip from his tongue. Such as:
"I don't think Israel can accept an Iranian terror base next to its major cities any more than the United States could accept an al Qaeda base next to New York City."
"If we accept the notion that terrorists will have immunity because as they fire on civilians they hide behind civilians, then this tactic will be legitimized and the terrorists will have their greatest victory."
"We grieve for every child, for every innocent civilian that's killed either on our side or on the Palestinian side. The terrorists celebrate such suffering, on our side because they openly say they want to kill us, all of us, and on the Palestinian side because it helps them foster this false symmetry, which is contrary to common decency and international law."
And so on. The immediate question, of course, is the Israeli government's unilateral cease-fire, followed hours later by Hamas's declaration of a conditional, one-week cease-fire. Was the war a win? A draw? Or did it accomplish nothing at all -- thereby handing Hamas the "victory" it loudly claims for itself?
When Mr. Olmert announced Israel's cease-fire late Saturday night, he could hardly keep a grin off his face. In his estimate, along with that of his senior military brass, Israel had scored a clear win: It had humiliated Hamas militarily; it had caused a political rift within the group; it had taken relatively few casualties of its own; it had focused international attention on the problem of the arms smuggling beneath Gaza's border with Egypt. Most important, in the eyes of the Olmert government, it had avoided the trap of reoccupying Gaza -- the only means, it believed, of finally getting rid of Hamas.
Ordinary Israelis, however, seem less confident in the result, and Mr. Netanyahu gives voice to their caution. He is quick to applaud the "brilliant" performance of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the "perseverance and strength" of Israeli civilians under Hamas's years-long rocket barrages.
But, he adds, "we have to make sure that the radicals do not perceive this as a victory," and it remains far from clear that they would be wrong to see it as one. "Notwithstanding the blows to the Hamas, it's still in Gaza, it's still ruling Gaza, and the Philadelphi corridor [which runs along Gaza's border with Egypt] is still porous, and . . . Hamas can smuggle new rockets unless it's closed, to fire at Israel in the future."
So is Mr. Netanyahu's preference regime change in Gaza? "Well, that would have been the optimal outcome," he says, adding that "the minimal outcome would have been to seal Gaza" from the missiles and munitions being smuggled into it. So far it's unclear that Israel has achieved even that: A "Memorandum of Understanding" agreed to last week by Israel, the U.S. and Egypt could be effective in stopping the flow of arms, but that's assuming Cairo lives up to its responsibilities.
"One would hope they would actually do it," says Mr. Netanyahu, sounding less than optimistic. Within days, his doubts are confirmed when the Associated Press produces video footage of masked Palestinian smugglers moving through once-again operational tunnels.
Rather than looking for solutions from Egypt, however, Mr. Netanyahu's gaze is intently fixed on Iran, a subject that consumes at least half of the interview. Iran is the "mother regime" both of Hamas, against which Israel has just fought a war, as well as of Hezbollah, against which it fought its last war in 2006. Together, he says, they are more than simply fingers of Tehran's influence on the shores of the Mediterranean.
"The arming of Iran with nuclear weapons may portend an irreversible process, because these regimes assume a kind of immortality," he says, arguing that the threat of a nuclear Iran poses a much graver danger to the world than the current economic crisis. "[This] will pose an existential threat to Israel directly, but also could give a nuclear umbrella to these terrorist bases."
How to stop that from happening? Mr. Netanyahu mentions that he has met with Barack Obama both in Israel and Washington, and that the question of Iran "loomed large in both conversations." I ask: Did Mr. Obama seem to him appropriately sober-minded about the subject? "Very much so, very much so," Mr. Netanyahu stresses. "He [Mr. Obama] spoke of his plans to engage Iran in order to impress upon them that they have to stop the nuclear program. What I said to him was, what counts is not the method but the goal."
It's easy to believe that Mr. Netanyahu, of all people, must be wishing President Obama well: If diplomacy with Iran fails and the U.S. does not resort to military force, it would almost certainly fall to Mr. Netanyahu to decide whether Israel will go it alone in a strike. (In a separate interview earlier that day, a senior military official assured me that a successful strike on Iran's nuclear facilities is well within Israel's capabilities.)
On the other hand, a Prime Minister Netanyahu could easily tangle with the Obama administration, particularly if it makes a big push -- as it looks like it might with the appointment of former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as the new special envoy to the region -- for the resumption of comprehensive, "final status" peace negotiations. There's already a history here: During his first term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, Mr. Netanyahu frequently clashed with the administration of the man whose wife is now the secretary of state.
Mr. Netanyahu's own prescriptions for a settlement with the Palestinians -- what he calls a "workable peace" -- differ markedly from the approaches of the 1990s. He talks about "the development of capable law enforcement and security capabilities" for the Palestinians, adding that the new National Security Adviser Jim Jones had worked on the problem for the Bush administration. He stresses the need for rapid economic development in the West Bank, promising to remove "all sorts of impediments to economic growth" faced by Palestinians.
As for the political front, Mr. Netanyahu promises a gradual, "bottom-up process that will facilitate political solutions, not replace them."
"Most of the approaches to peace between Israel and the Palestinians," he says, "have been directed at trying to resolve the most complex problems, like refugees and Jerusalem, which is akin to building the pyramid from the top down. It's much better to build it layer by layer, in a deliberate, purposeful pattern that changes the reality for both Palestinians and Israelis."
Whether this approach will work remains to be seen: Palestinian economic development was also a priority in the 1990s, until it became clear that billions in foreign aid were being siphoned off by corrupt Palestinian officials, and after various joint economic projects with Israel were violently sabotaged.
But however Mr. Netanyahu's economic and security plans play out, he makes it equally clear that he is prepared to go only so far to reach an accommodation that will meet some of the current demands being made of Israel -- not only by Palestinians, but by the Syrians, the Saudis, and much of the rest of the "international community" as well. "We're not going to redivide Jerusalem, or get off the Golan Heights, or go back to the 1967 boundaries," he says. "We won't repeat the mistake our [political opponents] made of unilateral retreats to merely vacate territory that is then taken up by Hamas or Iran."
This brings Mr. Netanyahu to the political pitch he's making -- so far successfully -- to Israelis ahead of next month's election. When elections were held three years ago, bringing Mr. Olmert to power, "we [his Likud Party] were mocked" for warning that Gaza would become Hamastan, and that Hamastan would become a staging ground for missiles fired at major Israeli cities such as Ashkelon and Ashdod.
"I think we've shown the ability to see the problems in advance," he says. "Peace is purchased from strength. It's not purchased from weakness or unilateral retreats. It just doesn't happen that way. That perhaps is the greatest lesson that has been impressed on the mind of the Israeli public in the last few years."
The polls seem to agree. As of Wednesday, an Israeli poll gives Likud a 30-seat plurality in the next Knesset, ahead by eight of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's Kadima party. Well behind both of them is the left-leaning Labor Party of Defense Minister Ehud Barak (at about 15 seats), which in turn is running roughly even with Avigdor Lieberman's right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu.
The dovish parties of yore, particularly Meretz, barely exist as political entities anymore. Whether they'll ever be back will be a testament, one way or another, to the kind of prime minister Mr. Netanyahu will be this time around.
1a) A New Mideast Approach
By Yousef Munayyer
The Obama administration appointed former senator George Mitchell as its special envoy to the Middle East this week in a positive step toward resolving the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While a fragile cease-fire has brought a temporary halt to the recent bloodshed in Gaza, the outburst of violence at the end of the Bush administration was the culmination of eight more years of failed U.S. policy. The new administration will need to break with that policy if it is to make progress toward ending the conflict.
The Bush policy can be divided into two periods. Initially, the administration sought to marginalize Yasser Arafat and pushed for the democratization of the Palestinian Authority. President Bush supported the Palestinian presidential election of 2005 and supported the Palestinian parliamentary elections early the next year -- until he saw the outcome of the vote.
The election of Hamas in January 2006, and the faltering of the longest-ruling party in Palestinian politics, was a wake-up call. The administration, understanding the pressure that Islamic movements were putting on regimes in the Middle East, shifted to "bolstering the moderates." The goal became marginalizing Hamas through economic sanctions and siege, while funding and supporting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
But this tactic of backing "our guy in the fight" achieved results much like those of the Cold War-era tactics it resembled. Ideology-driven civil conflict has raged on. Neither side has moved toward peace or security.
To make real progress toward a lasting peace, a fundamental shift in U.S. policy is needed. Simply put, a divided Palestinian partner can never make serious concessions to arrive at a lasting agreement when it is viewed as legitimate by only half of its population.
The United States must work to forge a unified Palestinian partner and must be wary of the dynamics of legitimacy in domestic Palestinian politics. Attempts to continue aligning Mahmoud Abbas with Israel against Hamas only serve to erode Abbas's legitimacy among his people. And Abbas's Fatah party members will continue to be targeted by domestic opposition as "sellouts." This appearance of submission contributed to their defeat in the 2006 parliamentary elections.
Rather than seeking to bolster the moderates in this conflict, the Obama administration should focus on moderating the extremists. The idea of eliminating Hamas could not be seriously proposed by anyone with any knowledge of domestic Palestinian politics. The notion that Hamas is a primarily militant organization based in Gaza ignores the movement's vast support in the West Bank and elsewhere.
Dealing with Hamas and groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad in arenas of legitimacy, such as elections, negates the possibility that outside parties will spoil peace negotiations.
Those who would resolve the conflict must understand that such parties and groups, often labeled rejectionist, are not primarily ideologically based and are not monolithic. They, like most political parties, are beholden to a constituency.
Yet while their politics are not always the same, the political alliances between them are far stronger than any ideological divisions. For example, consider the image of the Islamist Khaled Meshal of Hamas seated next to communist George Habash at rejectionist party conferences.
Yes, Hamas and other groups must stop the violence. But the process cannot begin by demanding that they recognize Israel.
The support for rejectionist parties in Palestinian politics, Islamist or otherwise, comes straight out of the refugee camps. Gaza has the highest concentration of refugees; nearly half of the population shares in the personal experience of dispossession.
Asking rejectionist parties to recognize Israel's right to exist, thereby justifying the displacement of the majority of their constituents, is not something that could be agreed to under today's circumstances. Most Palestinians owe their tragedies to the very genesis of Israel.
The key to real progress in resolving the conflict is, and has always been, providing a just resolution to the refugee issue. While a resolution will not be easy or immediate, a significant step in the right direction would be an acknowledgment from the state of Israel of at least partial responsibility for creating the refugee problem.
Such a statement, made in a serious and genuine tone and supported by American mediation, would destroy the perception held among many in the Middle East that Israel does not want peace. This, in turn, would begin to moderate the extremists.
The territorial outline for a two-state solution is largely agreed upon, even by some rejectionists. What remains outstanding is a just resolution for the refugee issue. The Obama administration should begin by tackling this necessary step toward comprehensive and lasting Arab-Israeli peace.
2) A Free Pass for Geithner
By Jonah Goldberg
During the hothouse days of the presidential campaign, Joe Wurzelbacher became famous because he got Barack Obama to confess that he likes to spread the wealth around. Better known as Joe the Plumber, the Toledo, Ohio, laborer became the target of bottomless venom and scorn because he seemed like an obstacle to Obama's coronation.
One of the main talking points, particularly among left-wing bloggers, was that Wurzelbacher was a tax cheat because, it was revealed by ABC News, he had a tax lien of $1,182 for back Ohio state taxes. This fueled the argument that he was a fraud, his opinion didn't matter. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
Fast-forward to today. Timothy Geithner, President Obama's choice to be the next treasury secretary, quite clearly tried to defraud the government of tens of thousands in payroll taxes while working at the International Monetary Fund. The IMF does not withhold such taxes but does compensate American employees who must pay them out of pocket. Geithner took the compensation -- which involves considerable paperwork -- but then simply pocketed the money.
His explanations for his alleged oversight don't pass the smell test. When the IRS busted him for his mistakes in 2003 and 2004, he decided to take advantage of the statute of limitations and not pay the thousands of dollars he also failed to pay in 2001 and 2002. That is, until he was nominated to become treasury secretary.
Obama defends Geithner, saying that his was a "common mistake," that it is embarrassing but happens all the time. My National Review colleague Byron York reports that, at least according to the World Bank, Geithner's "mistakes" are actually quite rare. Indeed, it's almost impossible to believe that the man didn't know exactly what he was doing given that he would have had to sign documents, disregard warnings and all in all turn his brain off to make the same "mistake" year after year. And keep in mind, Geithner is supposed to run the IRS. So maybe sloppiness isn't that great a defense anyway.
The bulk of Senate Republicans seem willing to green-light his appointment because, in the words of many, "he's too big to fail." Wall Street likes this guy and so does Obama. So, who cares if he breaks and bends the rules? Who cares that he took a child-care tax credit to send his kids to summer camp? He's the right man for the job, no one else can do it, he's the financial industry's man of the moment.
This strikes me as both offensively hypocritical and absurd. Obama has made much of Wall Street greed. He and his vice president talk about paying taxes like it is a holy sacrament. They both belittled Wurzelbacher for daring to suggest that the Democratic Party isn't much concerned with how the little guy can get ahead.
Heck, Obama and pretty much the entire Democratic party insist that they speak for the little guy. But it appears they fight for the big guys.
You would think this is a perfect moment for Republicans to stand on principle, particularly since their votes aren't needed to confirm Geithner. What they will tell you is that Geithner is the indispensable man and, in the words of South Carolina Rep. Lindsey Graham, "These are not the times to think in small political terms."
Never mind that there's nothing small about the belief that paying taxes in an honest fashion is a minimal requirement for the job of treasury secretary. What's absurd is that Geithner, who helped regulate Wall Street as head of the New York Fed, is the indispensable man now. He may indeed be qualified to be treasury secretary, but is he really the only man who can do the job? Really? Everyone said the same thing about Hank Paulson not long ago. How'd that work out?
I thought the Democrats believed the financial implosion was caused by arrogant and greedy men who thought the rules didn't apply to them because they were so important. I guess they didn't mean it.
2a) Barney Frank’s hypocrisy
Ah, the dirty little secret is out. That $700 billion TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) bill was in part simply a variation on congressional pork - except this time the recipients were banks with friends in high places.
One of those powerful friends was Rep. Barney Frank (D-Newton), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. And one of the recipients of a $12 million infusion of federal cash was the troubled OneUnited Bank in Boston - a bank that had already been accused of “unsafe and unsound banking practices.” Its CEO, Kevin Cohee had also been criticized by regulators for “excessive” pay that included a Porsche.
Frank admits he included language in the TARP legislation specifically designed to bail out OneUnited. He also acknowledges contacting officials at the Treasury Department about the bank’s bailout application.
“I believe it would have been a very big mistake to put the only black bank (in Massachusetts) out of business,” Frank said. Besides, he insists, “It was a case of the federal government causing the problem.”
Causing the bad loans OneUnited made? Or would that go back to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which Frank so staunchly defended earlier on?
Frank has never failed to amaze us with his ability to defend the indefensible and to staunchly uphold the double standard. It’s his special talent.
3) War of words
Economic tensions between America and China are rising—at exactly the wrong time
TECHNICALLY, he is not yet treasury secretary, but Tim Geithner has already made waves in financial markets. In a written response to questions from senators debating his confirmation, Mr Geithner accused China of “manipulating” its currency and promised that the Obama team would push “aggressively” for Beijing to change its policies. The sharp tone and use of the legally-loaded term “currency manipulation” ricocheted through financial markets as investors shuddered at the prospect of a Sino-American spat in the midst of a global slump.
Clearly this was not a slip of the tongue. Conceivably it was a bureaucratic snafu. The tough language came in a 102-page document answering numerous questions from senators—an odd place from which to lob a bombshell at Beijing. If so, it speaks poorly of a man who is already in trouble for failing to pay attention to his taxes. Most likely, therefore, Mr Geithner’s language suggests a change in Washington’s tactics towards China.
American policymakers have long pushed Beijing to accelerate the appreciation of the yuan, arguing that China’s exchange-rate policy played a big role in creating the global imbalances and that—both for the sake of China’s economy and the rest of the world—the currency needs to strengthen. But Hank Paulson’s Treasury studiously avoided accusing Beijing of “currency manipulation”, a term that carries legal implications.
Every six months America’s Treasury must publish a list of countries which it deems to be currency manipulators. Once a country appears on that list, formal negotiations to end the manipulation must begin. The Treasury under George Bush, particularly in recent years, preferred a softer behind-the-scenes approach and refused to brand China a manipulator. Although Mr Geithner did not commit himself to any specific action, the use of the m-word suggests Team Obama will take a tougher line.
Exactly what it means is uncertain. It is not even clear who will manage America’s economic strategy with China (there is some speculation, for instance, that Hillary Clinton wants the State Department to take the lead). But there is no doubt that Barack Obama’s economic team includes a number of people who are frustrated with the world’s failure to convince Beijing to strengthen the yuan. Mr Obama himself supported legislation in the Senate to get tougher on China. More important, his advisers see tough words now as a prophylactic—a warning that Beijing must not be tempted to prop up its staggering economy by weakening the yuan.
Domestic politics is also playing a big role. China’s bilateral trade surplus with America has long been a lightning rod in Congress, and with unemployment up the protectionist pressure is sure to rise. The $800 billion stimulus package making its way through Congress already has dubious “Buy American” measures that demand government spending should be on American goods. By sounding tough up front, the logic goes, the Obama team will be better able to diffuse the more extreme protectionist sentiment.
Unfortunately, this strategy is dangerous on a number of counts. The basic economic analysis—that a stronger yuan, on a trade-weighted basis, is necessary to rebalance China’s economy away from exports—is surely right. But the world’s immediate problem is a dramatic shortfall in demand across the globe and that will not be righted by exchange-rate shifts. Currency movements switch demand between countries; they do not create it. In the short-term, therefore, the outlook for the world economy depends on whether governments’ stimulus packages are successful and, right now, team Obama would do better to focus on the scale, nature and speed of Beijing’s stimulus measures than rant about the currency. What’s more, the evidence for currency manipulation is weakening. Although China still runs a huge current-account surplus, it is no longer accumulating foreign-exchange reserves at a rapid clip, as capital is flowing out of the country.
More important, the political calculus could easily misfire. Domestically, Mr Geithner’s comments may simply fan congressional flames for tougher action on China. Lindsey Graham, a senator who first pushed for a 27.5% tariff against China in 2005, called the comments “music to my ears”. And Sino-American economic tensions are already rising as Chinese officials hotly dispute the idea that their savings surplus had anything to do with the current global mess. (An official at China’s central bank recently called the idea “ridiculous” and an example of “gangster logic”). Traditionally, Chinese officials do not respond well to public admonition and, given the scale of China’s economic woes, they are likely to be pricklier now.
The stakes are extremely high. Everyone knows that protectionism and beggar-thy-neighbour policies exacerbated the Depression. With the global economy in its most dangerous circumstances since the 1930s, rising Sino-American tensions is the last thing anyone needs.
3a) China Rebuts Geithner, Denies Currency Manipulation (Update2)
By Li Yanping
China’s commerce ministry said the country hasn’t manipulated the value of its currency to promote exports and that accusations of government tampering in foreign exchange will fuel U.S. protectionism.
“China will keep its currency stable and will not depreciate the currency to support exports,” said a ministry spokesman who couldn’t be identified under ministry rules.
The official statement today followed comments released on Jan. 22 by Timothy Geithner, President Barack Obama’s nominee for Treasury secretary, that Obama believes China is “manipulating its currency.”
Clashes over the yuan’s value threaten to stoke tension between two of the world’s biggest economies and undermine cooperation to counter the global recession. China limited appreciation of the yuan against the dollar in July 2008 after the currency rose 21 percent against the dollar following the end of a fixed exchange rate three years earlier.
“China has never tried to gain advantage in international trade by manipulating its currency,” the commerce ministry official said. “This kind of wrong accusation against China on exchange rate issues will intensify protectionism within the U.S., and it will not help resolve the problem.”
People’s Bank of China Vice Governor Su Ning echoed the commerce ministry comments in an article published by the official Xinhua News Agency today that called Geithner’s allegations “untrue and misleading.” An official in the central bank’s press office declined to comment further.
Geithner’s remarks on manipulation were a shift from policy pursued by the Bush administration, which stopped short of using the term in criticizing China’s exchange-rate management. Some U.S. lawmakers are seeking measures to punish trading partners perceived to have undervalued exchange rates.
“China will first protect its interest before addressing concerns from other economies,” said Sherman Chan, a Sydney, Australia-based economist at Moody’s Economy.com. “The optimal strategy for China is to keep its currency steady.”
Geithner made the remarks in written responses to questions from Senate Finance Committee members that were posted on the panel’s Web site. The committee voted 18-5 to approve the nomination of Geithner, 47, who is the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, said the chamber will start debating Geithner’s nomination at 4 p.m. Washington time on Jan. 26 and will vote at about 6 p.m.
“Obama -- backed by the conclusions of a broad range of economists -- believes that China is manipulating its currency,” Geithner said. “The question is how and when to broach the subject in order to do more good than harm.” Obama’s team will “forge an integrated strategy on how best to achieve currency realignment in the current economic environment.”
The new U.S. administration will also press China to “adopt a more aggressive stimulus package” to boost its domestic economy, Geithner said.
A worsening slowdown in China’s economy, the world’s third biggest, may encourage policy makers to limit gains in the currency to help exporters as factories close, throwing millions of people out of work.
“China should be expecting a very tough relationship with the new administration,” according to Frank Gong, China strategist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “China will be a natural scapegoat for the problems in the U.S.”
Gong doesn’t expect China to devalue its currency because the drop in exports is related to a decline in demand, not the price of goods.
“China can’t increase exports by making them cheaper because there is no demand,” he said, adding that a devaluation may prompt similar moves around Asia, heightening the risk of trade war.
The ministry statement isn’t the first time the Chinese government has responded to comments on its currency from Obama. In October, a letter from Obama, released by a U.S. textile industry group, linked China’s trade surplus with “manipulation” of the yuan’s value.
“The yuan exchange rate is not the cause of the U.S. trade deficit,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at the time. “I hope the U.S. can expand its exports to China and reduce barriers to trade and investment.”
Geithner’s comments also stoked concern that demand from China, the largest foreign investor in U.S. government debt, may wane. China held about $682 billion of Treasuries as of November, and overtook Japan as the biggest overseas owner of the debt last year.
4) How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas
By Moshav Tekuma
Surveying the wreckage of a neighbor's bungalow hit by a Palestinian rocket, retired Israeli official Avner Cohen traces the missile's trajectory back to an "enormous, stupid mistake" made 30 years ago.
"Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel's creation," says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel's destruction.
Instead of trying to curb Gaza's Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat's Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas. Sheikh Yassin continues to inspire militants today; during the recent war in Gaza, Hamas fighters confronted Israeli troops with "Yassins," primitive rocket-propelled grenades named in honor of the cleric.
Last Saturday, after 22 days of war, Israel announced a halt to the offensive. The assault was aimed at stopping Hamas rockets from falling on Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hailed a "determined and successful military operation." More than 1,200 Palestinians had died. Thirteen Israelis were also killed.
Hamas responded the next day by lobbing five rockets towards the Israeli town of Sderot, a few miles down the road from Moshav Tekuma, the farming village where Mr. Cohen lives. Hamas then announced its own cease-fire.
Since then, Hamas leaders have emerged from hiding and reasserted their control over Gaza. Egyptian-mediated talks aimed at a more durable truce are expected to start this weekend. President Barack Obama said this week that lasting calm "requires more than a long cease-fire" and depends on Israel and a future Palestinian state "living side by side in peace and security."
A look at Israel's decades-long dealings with Palestinian radicals -- including some little-known attempts to cooperate with the Islamists -- reveals a catalog of unintended and often perilous consequences. Time and again, Israel's efforts to find a pliant Palestinian partner that is both credible with Palestinians and willing to eschew violence, have backfired. Would-be partners have turned into foes or lost the support of their people.
Israel's experience echoes that of the U.S., which, during the Cold War, looked to Islamists as a useful ally against communism. Anti-Soviet forces backed by America after Moscow's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan later mutated into al Qaeda.
At stake is the future of what used to be the British Mandate of Palestine, the biblical lands now comprising Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Since 1948, when the state of Israel was established, Israelis and Palestinians have each asserted claims over the same territory.
The Palestinian cause was for decades led by the PLO, which Israel regarded as a terrorist outfit and sought to crush until the 1990s, when the PLO dropped its vow to destroy the Jewish state. The PLO's Palestinian rival, Hamas, led by Islamist militants, refused to recognize Israel and vowed to continue "resistance." Hamas now controls Gaza, a crowded, impoverished sliver of land on the Mediterranean from which Israel pulled out troops and settlers in 2005.
When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and '80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.
"When I look back at the chain of events I think we made a mistake," says David Hacham, who worked in Gaza in the late 1980s and early '90s as an Arab-affairs expert in the Israeli military. "But at the time nobody thought about the possible results."
Israeli officials who served in Gaza disagree on how much their own actions may have contributed to the rise of Hamas. They blame the group's recent ascent on outsiders, primarily Iran. This view is shared by the Israeli government. "Hamas in Gaza was built by Iran as a foundation for power, and is backed through funding, through training and through the provision of advanced weapons," Mr. Olmert said last Saturday. Hamas has denied receiving military assistance from Iran.
Arieh Spitzen, the former head of the Israeli military's Department of Palestinian Affairs, says that even if Israel had tried to stop the Islamists sooner, he doubts it could have done much to curb political Islam, a movement that was spreading across the Muslim world. He says attempts to stop it are akin to trying to change the internal rhythms of nature: "It is like saying: 'I will kill all the mosquitoes.' But then you get even worse insects that will kill you...You break the balance. You kill Hamas you might get al Qaeda."
When it became clear in the early 1990s that Gaza's Islamists had mutated from a religious group into a fighting force aimed at Israel -- particularly after they turned to suicide bombings in 1994 -- Israel cracked down with ferocious force. But each military assault only increased Hamas's appeal to ordinary Palestinians. The group ultimately trounced secular rivals, notably Fatah, in a 2006 election supported by Israel's main ally, the U.S.
Now, one big fear in Israel and elsewhere is that while Hamas has been hammered hard, the war might have boosted the group's popular appeal. Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in Gaza, came out of hiding last Sunday to declare that "God has granted us a great victory."
Most damaged from the war, say many Palestinians, is Fatah, now Israel's principal negotiating partner. "Everyone is praising the resistance and thinks that Fatah is not part of it," says Baker Abu-Baker, a longtime Fatah supporter and author of a book on Hamas.
A Lack of Devotion
Hamas traces its roots back to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group set up in Egypt in 1928. The Brotherhood believed that the woes of the Arab world spring from a lack of Islamic devotion. Its slogan: "Islam is the solution. The Quran is our constitution." Its philosophy today underpins modern, and often militantly intolerant, political Islam from Algeria to Indonesia.
After the 1948 establishment of Israel, the Brotherhood recruited a few followers in Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza and elsewhere, but secular activists came to dominate the Palestinian nationalist movement.
At the time, Gaza was ruled by Egypt. The country's then-president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was a secular nationalist who brutally repressed the Brotherhood. In 1967, Nasser suffered a crushing defeat when Israel triumphed in the six-day war. Israel took control of Gaza and also the West Bank.
"We were all stunned," says Palestinian writer and Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi. He was at school at the time in Kuwait and says he became close to a classmate named Khaled Mashaal, now Hamas's Damascus-based political chief. "The Arab defeat provided the Brotherhood with a big opportunity," says Mr. Tamimi.
In Gaza, Israel hunted down members of Fatah and other secular PLO factions, but it dropped harsh restrictions imposed on Islamic activists by the territory's previous Egyptian rulers. Fatah, set up in 1964, was the backbone of the PLO, which was responsible for hijackings, bombings and other violence against Israel. Arab states in 1974 declared the PLO the "sole legitimate representative" of the Palestinian people world-wide.
The Muslim Brotherhood, led in Gaza by Sheikh Yassin, was free to spread its message openly. In addition to launching various charity projects, Sheikh Yassin collected money to reprint the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian member of the Brotherhood who, before his execution by President Nasser, advocated global jihad. He is now seen as one of the founding ideologues of militant political Islam.
Mr. Cohen, who worked at the time for the Israeli government's religious affairs department in Gaza, says he began to hear disturbing reports in the mid-1970s about Sheikh Yassin from traditional Islamic clerics. He says they warned that the sheikh had no formal Islamic training and was ultimately more interested in politics than faith. "They said, 'Keep away from Yassin. He is a big danger,'" recalls Mr. Cohen.
Instead, Israel's military-led administration in Gaza looked favorably on the paraplegic cleric, who set up a wide network of schools, clinics, a library and kindergartens. Sheikh Yassin formed the Islamist group Mujama al-Islamiya, which was officially recognized by Israel as a charity and then, in 1979, as an association. Israel also endorsed the establishment of the Islamic University of Gaza, which it now regards as a hotbed of militancy. The university was one of the first targets hit by Israeli warplanes in the recent war.
Brig. General Yosef Kastel, Gaza's Israeli governor at the time, is too ill to comment, says his wife. But Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who took over as governor in Gaza in late 1979, says he had no illusions about Sheikh Yassin's long-term intentions or the perils of political Islam. As Israel's former military attache in Iran, he'd watched Islamic fervor topple the Shah. However, in Gaza, says Mr. Segev, "our main enemy was Fatah," and the cleric "was still 100% peaceful" towards Israel. Former officials say Israel was also at the time wary of being viewed as an enemy of Islam.
Mr. Segev says he had regular contact with Sheikh Yassin, in part to keep an eye on him. He visited his mosque and met the cleric around a dozen times. It was illegal at the time for Israelis to meet anyone from the PLO. Mr. Segev later arranged for the cleric to be taken to Israel for hospital treatment. "We had no problems with him," he says.
In fact, the cleric and Israel had a shared enemy: secular Palestinian activists. After a failed attempt in Gaza to oust secularists from leadership of the Palestinian Red Crescent, the Muslim version of the Red Cross, Mujama staged a violent demonstration, storming the Red Crescent building. Islamists also attacked shops selling liquor and cinemas. The Israeli military mostly stood on the sidelines.
Mr. Segev says the army didn't want to get involved in Palestinian quarrels but did send soldiers to prevent Islamists from burning down the house of the Red Crescent's secular chief, a socialist who supported the PLO.
'An Alternative to the PLO'
Clashes between Islamists and secular nationalists spread to the West Bank and escalated during the early 1980s, convulsing college campuses, particularly Birzeit University, a center of political activism.
As the fighting between rival student factions at Birzeit grew more violent, Brig. Gen. Shalom Harari, then a military intelligence officer in Gaza, says he received a call from Israeli soldiers manning a checkpoint on the road out of Gaza. They had stopped a bus carrying Islamic activists who wanted to join the battle against Fatah at Birzeit. "I said: 'If they want to burn each other let them go,'" recalls Mr. Harari.
A leader of Birzeit's Islamist faction at the time was Mahmoud Musleh, now a pro-Hamas member of a Palestinian legislature elected in 2006. He recalls how usually aggressive Israeli security forces stood back and let conflagration develop. He denies any collusion between his own camp and the Israelis, but says "they hoped we would become an alternative to the PLO."
A year later, in 1984, the Israeli military received a tip-off from Fatah supporters that Sheikh Yassin's Gaza Islamists were collecting arms, according to Israeli officials in Gaza at the time. Israeli troops raided a mosque and found a cache of weapons. Sheikh Yassin was jailed. He told Israeli interrogators the weapons were for use against rival Palestinians, not Israel, according to Mr. Hacham, the military affairs expert who says he spoke frequently with jailed Islamists. The cleric was released after a year and continued to expand Mujama's reach across Gaza.
Around the time of Sheikh Yassin's arrest, Mr. Cohen, the religious affairs official, sent a report to senior Israeli military and civilian officials in Gaza. Describing the cleric as a "diabolical" figure, he warned that Israel's policy towards the Islamists was allowing Mujama to develop into a dangerous force.
"I believe that by continuing to turn away our eyes, our lenient approach to Mujama will in the future harm us. I therefore suggest focusing our efforts on finding ways to break up this monster before this reality jumps in our face," Mr. Cohen wrote.
Mr. Harari, the military intelligence officer, says this and other warnings were ignored. But, he says, the reason for this was neglect, not a desire to fortify the Islamists: "Israel never financed Hamas. Israel never armed Hamas."
Roni Shaked, a former officer of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, and author of a book on Hamas, says Sheikh Yassin and his followers had a long-term perspective whose dangers were not understood at the time. "They worked slowly, slowly, step by step according to the Muslim Brotherhood plan."
In 1987, several Palestinians were killed in a traffic accident involving an Israeli driver, triggering a wave of protests that became known as the first Intifada, Mr. Yassin and six other Mujama Islamists launched Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement. Hamas's charter, released a year later, is studded with anti-Semitism and declares "jihad its path and death for the cause of Allah its most sublime belief."
Israeli officials, still focused on Fatah and initially unaware of the Hamas charter, continued to maintain contacts with the Gaza Islamists. Mr. Hacham, the military Arab affairs expert, remembers taking one of Hamas's founders, Mahmoud Zahar, to meet Israel's then defense minister, Yitzhak Rabin, as part of regular consultations between Israeli officials and Palestinians not linked to the PLO. Mr. Zahar, the only Hamas founder known to be alive today, is now the group's senior political leader in Gaza.
In 1989, Hamas carried out its first attack on Israel, abducting and killing two soldiers. Israel arrested Sheikh Yassin and sentenced him to life. It later rounded up more than 400 suspected Hamas activists, including Mr. Zahar, and deported them to southern Lebanon. There, they hooked up with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed A-Team of anti-Israeli militancy.
Many of the deportees later returned to Gaza. Hamas built up its arsenal and escalated its attacks, while all along maintaining the social network that underpinned its support in Gaza.
Meanwhile, its enemy, the PLO, dropped its commitment to Israel's destruction and started negotiating a two-state settlement. Hamas accused it of treachery. This accusation found increasing resonance as Israel kept developing settlements on occupied Palestinian land, particularly the West Bank. Though the West Bank had passed to the nominal control of a new Palestinian Authority, it was still dotted with Israeli military checkpoints and a growing number of Israeli settlers.
Unable to uproot a now entrenched Islamist network that had suddenly replaced the PLO as its main foe, Israel tried to decapitate it. It started targeting Hamas leaders. This, too, made no dent in Hamas's support, and sometimes even helped the group. In 1997, for example, Israel's Mossad spy agency tried to poison Hamas's exiled political leader Mr. Mashaal, who was then living in Jordan.
The agents got caught and, to get them out of a Jordanian jail, Israel agreed to release Sheikh Yassin. The cleric set off on a tour of the Islamic world to raise support and money. He returned to Gaza to a hero's welcome.
Efraim Halevy, a veteran Mossad officer who negotiated the deal that released Sheikh Yassin, says the cleric's freedom was hard to swallow, but Israel had no choice. After the fiasco in Jordan, Mr. Halevy was named director of Mossad, a position he held until 2002. Two years later, Sheikh Yassin was killed by an Israeli air strike.
Mr. Halevy has in recent years urged Israel to negotiate with Hamas. He says that "Hamas can be crushed," but he believes that "the price of crushing Hamas is a price that Israel would prefer not to pay." When Israel's authoritarian secular neighbor, Syria, launched a campaign to wipe out Muslim Brotherhood militants in the early 1980s it killed more than 20,000 people, many of them civilians.
In its recent war in Gaza, Israel didn't set the destruction of Hamas as its goal. It limited its stated objectives to halting the Islamists' rocket fire and battering their overall military capacity. At the start of the Israeli operation in December, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told parliament that the goal was "to deal Hamas a severe blow, a blow that will cause it to stop its hostile actions from Gaza at Israeli citizens and soldiers."
Walking back to his house from the rubble of his neighbor's home, Mr. Cohen, the former religious affairs official in Gaza, curses Hamas and also what he sees as missteps that allowed Islamists to put down deep roots in Gaza.
He recalls a 1970s meeting with a traditional Islamic cleric who wanted Israel to stop cooperating with the Muslim Brotherhood followers of Sheikh Yassin: "He told me: 'You are going to have big regrets in 20 or 30 years.' He was right."
5) The Obameter: Tracking Obama's Campaign Promises
Promise Kept 5
Promise Broken 0
In the Works 14
No Action 488
PolitiFact has compiled about 500 promises that Barack Obama made during the campaign and is tracking their progress on our Obameter. We rate their status as No Action, In the Works or Stalled. Once we find action is completed, we rate them Promise Kept, Compromise or Promise Broken.
6) The War with Israel Is Over...and they won.
By: Youssef M. Ibrahim
To my Arab brothers:
Now let's finally move forward With Israel entering its fourth week of an incursion into the same Gaza Strip it voluntarily evacuated a few months ago, a sense of reality among Arabs is spreading through commentary by Arab pundits, letters to the editor, and political talk shows on Arabic-language TV networks.
The new views are stunning both in their maturity and in their realism. The best way I can think of to convey them is in the form of a letter to the Palestinian Arabs from their Arab friends:
Dear Palestinian Arab brethren: The war with Israel is over. You have lost. Surrender and negotiate to secure a future for your children. We, your Arab brothers, may say until we are blue in the face that we stand by you, but the wise among you and most of us know that we are moving on, away from the tired old idea of the Palestinian Arab cause and the "eternal struggle" with Israel .
Dear friends, you and your leaders have wasted three generations trying to fight for Palestine , but the truth is the Palestine you could have had in 1948 is much bigger than the one you could have had in 1967, which in turn is much bigger than what you may have to settle for now or in another 10 years.
Struggle means less land and more misery and utter loneliness. At the moment, brothers, you would be lucky to secure a semblance of a state in that Gaza Strip into which you have all crowded, and a small part of the West Bank of the Jordan .
It isn't going to get better. Time is running out even for this much land, so here are some facts, figures, and sound advice, friends.
You hold keys, which you drag out for television interviews, to houses that do not exist or are inhabited by Israelis who have no intention of leaving Jaffa , Haifa , Tel Aviv, or West Jerusalem . You shoot old guns at modern Israeli tanks and American-made fighter jets, doing virtually no harm to Israel while bringing the wrath of its mighty army down upon you. You fire ridiculously inept Kassam rockets that cause little destruction and delude yourselves into thinking this is a war of liberation.
Your government, your social institutions, your schools, and your economy are all in ruins. Your young people are growing up illiterate, ill, and bent on rites of death and suicide, while you, in effect, are living on the kindness of foreigners, including America and the United Nations. Every day your officials must beg for your daily bread, dependent on relief trucks that carry food and medicine into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank , while your criminal Muslim fundamentalist Hamas government continues to fan the flames of a war it can neither fight nor hope to win.
In other words, brothers, you are down, out, and alone in a burnt-out landscape that is shrinking by the day.What kind of struggle is this? Is it worth waging at all? More important, what kind of miserable future does it portend for your children, the fourth or fifth generation of the Arab world ' s have-nots?
We, your Arab brothers, have moved on.
Those of us who have oil money are busy accumulating wealth and building housing, luxury developments, state-of-the-art universities and schools, and new highways and byways.
Those of us who share borders with Israel , such as Egypt and Jordan , have signed a peace treaty with it and are not going to war for you any time soon. Those of us who are far away, in places like North Africa and Iraq , frankly could not care less about what happens to you.
Only Syria continues to feed your fantasies that someday it will join you in liberating Palestine, even though a huge chunk of its territory, the entire Golan Heights, was taken by Israel in 1967 and annexed. The Syrians, my friends, will gladly fight down to the last Palestinian Arab.
Before you got stuck with this Hamas crowd, another cheating, conniving, leader of yours, Yasser Arafat, sold you a rotten bill of goods - more pain, greater corruption, and millions stolen by his relatives - while your children played in the sewers of Gaza .
The war is over. Why not let a new future begin?
[Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former New York Times Middle East Correspondent and Wall Street Journal Energy Editor for 25 years, is a freelance writer based in New York City and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.]
7) Iranian arms ship intercepted by US warship has sealed secret holds
The Iranian ship boarded by a US Navy Coast Guard team on the Red Sea last week before it could smuggle arms to Hamas is now disclosed by military sources to have tried to trick the search team by enclosing its rocket cargo in secret compartments behind layers of steel. Furthermore, our sources reveal, the US has not yet found a harbor in the region for carrying out a thorough search.
The Cypriot-flagged Iranian freighter Nochegorsk was intercepted last week by the new US Combined Task Force 151 in the Bab al-Mandeb Straits. Red .
The Americans decided not to give the Israeli Navy a chance to seize the vessel and tow it to Eilat for fear of a Tehran ultimatum to Jerusalem, followed by Iranian attacks on Israeli naval craft patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.
Iran maintains two warships in those waters to guard its shipping against Somali pirates as well as a military presence in the Eritrean port of Assab. The arms smuggling ship was first reported escorted out of the Suez Canal Saturday night, Jan. 23, after which Washington imposed a blackout on the incident. It is now moored at an Egyptian Red Sea port at the entrance to the Gulf of Suez.
But the US and Egyptian governments are in a fix. To break the Iranian ship's holds open and expose the rockets destined for Hamas, the facilities of a sizeable port are needed. It would have to be Egyptian because the other coastal nations - Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia - are hostile or controlled by pirates. Both the US and Egypt are hesitant about precipitating a full-blown armed confrontation with Iran. The timing is wrong for the new Barack Obama administration, which is set on smoothing relations with Tehran through diplomatic engagement. Cairo has just launched a campaign to limit Tehran's aggressive drive in the Middle East but does not want a premature clash.
Iranian sources disclose that the ship's captain had orders not to resist an American boarding team but impede a close look at its freight. The Navy Coast Guard searchers first found a large amount of ordnance and explosives in the ship's hold, which the Iranian captain claimed were necessary for securing Iranian freighters heading from the Red Sea to the Suez Canal. But then, the US searchers using metal detectors perceived welded steel compartments packed with more hardware concealed at the bottom of the hull.
The option of towing it to a Persian Gulf port for an intensive search was rejected because the Gulf emirates hosting US bases were almost certain to shy away from involvement in the affair. Moreover, Tehran would be close enough to mount a naval commando operation to scuttle the ship before it was searched.
Our military sources estimate that eventually the US government may decide to let the Iranian arms ship sail through the Suez Canal out to the Mediterranean for lack of other options.
8) The Mind of Jihad
By Laurent Murawiec
For some time now there has been a raging debate regarding what fuels Islamic terrorism--whether grievances against the West have caused frustrated Muslims to articulate their rage through an Islamist paradigm, or whether (all grievances aside) Islam itself leads to aggression toward non-Muslims, or "infidels."
Laurent Murawiec's The Mind of Jihad offers a different perspective. Discounting both the grievance and Islam-as-innately-violent models, Murawiec explores certain untapped areas of research in order to show correlations between radical Islam and any number of uniquely Western concepts and patterns, both philosophical and historical.
While this approach is admirable, it also proves to be overly ambitious, and thus problematic, specifically in its insistence that radical Islam is merely the latest manifestation of phenomena rooted in the Western experience. Murawiec is no apologist; neither, however, is he interested in examining Islam's own peculiar Weltanschauung--as outlined by the Koran and hadith, articulated by the ulema (theologian-scholars), and codified in sharia law--in order to better understand the jihad.
Instead, according to Murawiec, radical Islam is an ideological heir to Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Nazism, Marxism, and nihilism; jihadists are duplicates of otherwise arcane characters from Christian history, such as the Millenarians. Indeed, any number of European concepts and personages permeate The Mind of Jihad, often presented as prominent factors contributing to the rise of radical Islam--betraying, perhaps, the author's vast erudition concerning Western, not Islamic, paradigms.
Again, while these are interesting observations and worthy of exploration, Murawiec goes too far: The words "Gnosticism" and "Millenarianism" appear prefixed to Islamic terminology and figures repeatedly; this does not help and can distract--especially the lay reader who is trying to understand jihad within a strictly Islamic milieu.
Consider Murawiec's millenarian thesis. He argues that jihadists are Islamic versions of heretical Christians who, driven by "superman"/Gnostic impulses, wrought havoc in Europe at the turn of the first millennium, often murdering and pillaging indiscriminately. Yet the dissimilarities would appear greater. The Millenarians were a product of an already lawless age. Modern-day jihadists are not; they live in the modern era which, while managing to appease violent "millenarian" tendencies in Christians, has evidently not managed to sate Muslim impulses.
If all things are equal, why aren't modern Christians behaving like their predecessors, whereas modern Muslims are? The response cannot be that the modern Muslim world is in a state of dislocation and disarray: Today's Islamic world is much more prosperous and structured than the Dark Ages in Europe, which directly influenced the savagery of the Millenarians. Moreover, whereas the Millenarians were anathematized as heretics, often persecuted by the Church, modern jihadists have yet to be condemned by any serious Islamic authority. Indeed, they are often validated by them.
After describing the jihadists' "bloodlust" and disregard for innocents as representative of a chaotic and heretical millenarian spirit, Murawiec reveals that Sheikh Al Azhar, the equivalent of the pope in Sunni Islam, "demanded that the Palestinian people, of all factions, intensify the martyrdom operations [i.e., suicide attacks] against the Zionist enemy. . . . [H]e emphasized that every martyrdom operation against any Israelis, including children, women, and teenagers, is a legitimate act according to [Islamic] religious law, and an Islamic commandment." This alone is enough to dismantle the millenarian thesis since, unlike millenarian violence, which had no scriptural/church support, modern day jihadist violence (including "suicidal bloodlust") is backed by Islamic law and is a commandment.
For that matter, why does Murawiec insist on examining jihad(ists) through Christian paradigms and precedents, when Islam itself affords plenty of both--and centuries before the Millenarian movement? Moderate Muslims often portray al Qaeda as duplicates of the Kharijites. Breaking away from mainstream Islam in the 7th century and slaying not infidels, but fellow Muslims accused of apostasy, the jihadist Kharijites present a much more useful paradigm to understanding radical Islam than anything Christian.
This, then, is the ultimate problem with The Mind of Jihad: It tries to explain jihad by largely ignoring or minimizing Muslim precedents and doctrines in favor of Western precedents and philosophies. This is further evident in the latter half of the study, where the case is made that radical Islam is heavily influenced by Nazism, communism, and the "Western" concept of revolution.
While it would be folly to deny that such concepts influenced 19th- and 20th-century Islam, overemphasizing them also implies that Islam is a passive receptacle to the West, that it only reacts, never creates. At any rate, only those Western ideologies comporting with Islam ever found acceptance, indicating that the former were subsumed to the purposes of the latter, not vice versa. Murawiec agrees: "What borrowing took place almost exclusively concerned the authoritarian, dictatorial, and totalitarian ideologies"--aspects innate to Islam.
But even the concepts of revolution and revolutionaries are not imports to the Islamic world, semantic quibbling aside. Consider the life of the Islamist leader Maududi, who was out to "re-create Islam," "politicize religion," and whom Murawiec paints as Lenin:
A déclassé semi-intellectual with a powerful, charismatic personality sets himself up as a figure of messianic qualities whose cosmic mission is to establish perfection on earth on behalf of and according to the prescriptions of God. He is the quasi-peer of the great prophetic figures, and is possessed of extraordinary abilities. He is also possessed of a complete knowledge of how to move the world from its present, desolate nadir to the zenith of perfection: He is a man with a plan . . . which encompasses all aspects of life. . . . He is in charge of the immense bloodshed God requires for the Plan to be implemented.
While this is meant to portray Maududi as an Islamic aberration, it perfectly describes the prophet of Islam: Muhammad. Yet if Muhammad was a "revolutionary" who brought a "plan . . . which encompasses all aspects of life" (sharia law) and which requires "immense bloodshed" (jihad), is the behavior of Maududi or any other radical--all of whom are commanded to emulate the sunna (example) of their prophet, including by revolting against infidelity--unprecedented within the Islamic paradigm? Modern radicals are not so much out to "re-create" Islam as to reassert it. As for "politicizing religion," Muhammad is responsible for that.
Muhammad was a "revolutionary" who violently overthrew the "oppressive" Meccans. His successors, the caliphs, reshaped the world through the Islamic conquests. Even the Shia and Kharijites, who revolted against the last righteous caliph, were "revolutionaries." Today's radicals see themselves as following in their prophet's footsteps, trying to create the society he created through blood and conquest, as he did.
At one point, Murawiec stresses that, according to sharia, Muslims are forbidden from revolting against their rulers, even if the rulers are tyrannical. While true, there is one caveat: Rulers must fully implement sharia law; if they fail, even in part, they become infidel; and the same sharia that commands Muslims to obey tyrants also commands them to revolt against secular rule. This is precisely the justification jihadists use to attack "apostate" governments in the Islamic world.
The bottom line is that "Gnostic bloodlust" finds a precedent in Muhammad, who had 800 men decapitated after they had capitulated to him; who had no compunction about besieging infidel cities with fire and catapults, even if women and children were sheltered there; and who had poets, including women, assassinated for offending him. "Suicidal nihilism" finds precedent in the Koran and the deeds of the earliest jihadists, who actively sought martyrdom, as well as the words of Muhammad, who said he wished to be "martyred and resurrected" in perpetuity. Islam's "Manichean" worldview, which splits the world between good and evil, is a product of Islamic law and jurisprudence. We need look no further than to Islam itself to understand jihad.
That said, it cannot be denied that parallels exist between Muslims and non-Muslims: Such is human nature, which reacts similarly to similar stimuli, irrespective of race or creed. But this raises the question: If Christian Millenarians, without scriptural/churchly support, behaved atrociously, how much more can be expected of jihadists who, while sharing the same violent tendencies inherent to all men, are further goaded by direct commandments from God and his prophet to kill or subjugate infidels to Islam?
Short of examining how jihadists understand jihad, short of examining its juridical and doctrinal origins, short of studying the sunna and biography of Muhammad, short of appreciating jihad as a distinctive element in Islam; in other words short of doing what Muslims past and present do--that is, go to Islam's sources--we can never hope to understand "the mind of jihad."
For those readers, however, who are firmly aware of the above, Murawiec's book, especially its detailed historical accounts, can serve to augment their knowledge.