Sunday, April 29, 2007

Lawrence Wright on Al Qaeda's past, present and future 

Lawrence Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, spoke at Princeton University on Wednesday afternoon. His topic was "Al Qaeda: Past, Present and Future," and he was excellent (which will come as no surprise to anybody who has read The Looming Tower).

Lawrence Wright at Princeton University, April, 2007 -- TigerHawk exclusive
I ran into Fausta Wurtz there, and she posted comprehensive notes. See also Hugh Hewitt's recent interview of Wright, which echoed his talk at Princeton on Wednesday.

In light of all that superlative coverage, I'll confine my comments to a few observations.

The important thing to understand about Lawrence Wright is that he is a genuinely independent thinker. While he is plenty critical of American foreign policy in the last six years, neither does he have patience for the partisan opposition. Regardless of your political persuasion, if you are interested in American national security above and beyond its consequences for the next election, you should listen to Lawrence Wright.

With that in mind, here are the high points as I heard them (quotations are approximate):

Where did al Qaeda come from?

Wright forcefully argues that al Qaeda's members are not, by and large, social or economic failures. They come from wealthy families, were not products of the religious schools, in many cases were educated in the West, and had no obvious mental disorders. "So what is it that draws these people to al Qaeda?"

The most common element among all these people is "displacement." The great majority joined the jihad when they were away from home, away from their roots. This is just as true for Yemenis in Saudi Arabia or Pakistanis in England. These people feel marginal in the culture in which they are living. The summer airline plotters were "second and third" generation British citizens. They were marginalized, at least in their own mind.

Wright did not say, but I would add, that Sayyid Qutb, one of the intellectual forefathers of radical Islam, quite famously radicalized during his extended stay in the United States from 1948-1950. There was no evidence that he was particularly mistreated during his two years in Colorado, but he felt horribly out of place.

Nevertheless, we have much less radicalism in the United States because we have much less displacement. "If you want to know what makes you safer, it is not the contact lens solution that they take away at the airport. It is that Arabs and Muslims in the United States have higher incomes than the American average."

I suppose there must be another difference. American Arabs and Muslims come here quite consciously. The United States has no post-colonial or commonwealth ties to the Muslim world, so we offer no passport of convenience to Arabs and Muslims who hope for nothing more than to duplicate their lives under better economic conditions. The world knows, or thinks it knows, how different the United States is. For better or for worse, Arabs and Muslims who come to the United States by and large know they are rejecting their past and embracing their future here. I have to think that difference in expectations has a huge impact on the extent to which American Arabs and Muslims become alienated.

Wright also emphasized the economic and civil failures of the Muslim world, quoting the well-known statistic that the Muslim world accounts for 20% of the world's population but half of the world's poor, and that Finland's manufactured exports exceed all those of entire Arab world. More than a billion Muslims mostly living in the 57 countries of Organization of Islamic Countries produce less than Germany.

"We are starting from the fact that these are barren economies that offer their young people very little to look forward to."

In addition to Wright's observations on the subject of Muslim economic incompetence, some of our newer readers might be interested in Stephen Den Beste's "strategic overview" post, which I amended and restated in November 2005.

Unfortunately, Wright offered no hypothesis or explanation for the question that burns at the heart of his diagnosis: Why are the economies of Muslim countries so incompetent?

Wright also argued that Muslim countries, particularly the most religious ones, suffer enormously from the absence of Americans call "civil society."

If you are a young Saudi, there are no movies, no plays, no dating, few parks, no political life, no unions -- that entire space of life that we call civil society simply does not exist. There is nothing between the government and the mosque except shopping.

It is not surprising in such circumstances that people are depressed.

A study of depression at a major Saudi University showed huge rates of depression among both men and women.

The separation of the sexes is also a problem. This takes a toll on women. A Saudi woman can't drive, she can't travel without permission of her male guardian. A single Saudi woman can't even check into a hotel.
This also takes a toll on men as well. They are deprived of the solice of female companionship. They haven't spent their adolescence molding their behavior around pleasing girls, which is a lot of what civilization is. It is hard to be a terrorist if your girlfriend won't let you.

Then there is the "element of humiliation." Many of the people around al Qaeda have been personally humiliated, so humiliation is a real factor. But why do bin Laden or other young rich Saudis feel humiliated? Why does the concept of humiliation strike such a chord?

"I think we are talking about a profound sense of cultural humiliation. It goes back to September 11, 1683, when the king of Poland arrived at the gates of Vienna to turn back the greatest advance of the Muslims in Europe."

Again, I wonder what it is about this defeat that makes Muslims feel so "humiliated"? Islam rolled up victory after victory against Christianity for 800 years (from the rise of Mohammad in the early 7th century until the ejection of the Muslim from Spain in the early 15th century), yet there is no record that these serial "humiliations" -- and they were many -- pushed Christiandom into despair. On the contrary, the adversity seemed to strengthen Western civilization, which had fallen into great disarray with the fall of the Roman empire at the hands of the barbarians from the north and east.

In any case, in the words of Bernard Lewis the radicals went from "how did this happen to us?" to "who did this to us?" They settled on numerous enemies, including particularly the United States but really the entire non-Muslim world. It is reinforced among the population by "countless images of Muslims under seige in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine."
Can you imagine living in a culture where everything you touch comes from somewhere else? Even if you are a terrorist your weapons were made somewhere else. The measures we use for cultural excellence are practically missing from the Muslims world.

Again, Wright was much longer on description than explanation. He did not explain why Muslim societies have been so ineffective, or even acknowledge that it is a legitimate question. Indeed, during the Q&A session, no member of the audience put the question to him (I had arrived late and was watching via video feed in an overflow room, and he did not call on Fausta). In my experience, it is almost impossible to generate an honest discussion of this topic in academic settings because nobody wants to suggest that there might be something inherently disfunctional about Arab culture or Islam as a religion.

On bin Laden's own "flypaper" strategy and the impact of Iraq

According to Wright (and any number of others), bin Laden wanted us to invade Afghanistan. "He envisioned Afghanistan to be a great bear trap for us, thinking it would bring down our culture the way that the Soviet Union fell apart." He miscalculated, and even though he and other top leaders escaped, Afghanistan hurt al Qaeda terribly. Even al Qaeda insiders admit that 80% of its membership was captured or killed.

At this point I heard Wright to make two points that struck me as inconsistent, at least without elaboration (perhaps all will become clear if Princeton posts the video, which they usually do within a week or two of an event). At the fall of the Taliban, Wright said, "the war on terror was essentially over. It was Iraq that breathed that war back to life." His point was that Iraq created a huge new basis for the radicals to attract volunteers and contributions from across the Muslim world.

He went on to say, though, that Al Qaeda had long planned for the day when its central organization would be defeated, killed or captured. As early as 1998 al Qaeda had envisioned the day when the leadership would be smashed and they would have to recreate it into a new form.

The old al Qaeda was a top-down centralized organization. "You had to fill out a form to buy a new tire. You had health care!" The leaders knew that wouldn't last forever, so they planned for a new, distributed al Qaeda. Their model for the new al Qaeda was more like an alliance of street gangs tied together by the internet which offers them a safe place to conspire.

So was it Iraq that inspired the recovery of al Qaeda, or was al Qaeda inherently regenerative as long as its ideology had not been discredited? Perhaps there is room for both arguments -- one could argue, I suppose, that Iraq accelerated the healing of al Qaeda.

In any case, Wright argues that the training camps were a vital element of the success of al Qaeda, which is why eliminating them was so important. Now al Qaeda has new camps, including Mali, Somalia, Pakistan, and the tribal areas of Afghanistan, and they are feeding trained recruits into the revived, decentralized jihadi network.

Wright did not discuss the question that dominates many of the arguments over American strategy: To what degree must the enemies of al Qaeda respect the sovereignty of states that cannot or will not interdict al Qaeda operations on their own soil? In that regard, Wright also mentioned that there were al Qaeda training camps in Iraq, but I wonder if there really are "camps" of the sort that exist in these other countries. It seems to me that the training in Iraq is a bit more on-the-job, and that open and notorious camps -- destinations for recruits from Europe, for example -- would have a hard time of it notwithstanding the debate about Coalition force levels.

Interestingly, Wright believes that the continuing involvement of the United States in Iraq is now less harmful than its abandonment would be. He teased his audience in his prepared remarks when he said that "[t]he failure of the American project in Iraq is bound to embolden radical Islamists everywhere," but in the Q&A reported made it quite clear that while he had opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he finds himself "in the strange position" of arguing that now the United States must not leave.

On the terrible condition of American intelligence

Whatever we decide to do in Iraq, there are things that we can and indeed must do to defend ourselves.

First, we have to fix our intelligence, which has done such a terrible job of understanding, much less penetrating al Qaeda. Domestically, almost six years after the attacks on September 11 and 14 years after the first WTC bombing, the FBI is woefully unprepared to deal with the jihad. There are only 25 Arab speakers in the FBI, and many of them "took a course at Middlebury" and push the boundaries of their Arabic "ordering food." "We fought the IRA and the mafia with who? Irish and Italian guys!" Those are still the people who dominate the organization.

"We have to turn to the people who can help us. Last year, the FBI graduated a class of 50 new agents. Only one of them speaks a foreign language at all."

I must admit, that really is astonishing.

This incapacity in Arab and Muslim language and culture goes well beyond the FBI. When Wright was last in Iraq, there are a thousand people in our embassy in Baghdad. Only six of them speak Arabic.

Second, we have to fix our reputation in the world. Wright says "we are radioactive. There are a lot of reasons why many countries should be helping us in Iraq, but we haven't been able to marshall them in any regard."

This idea gets dangerously close to the Kerryist idea that we need to "work with our traditional allies." It is actually different, I think, but much more important: We cannot afford to be so unpopular in the world that even countries that want to help us find it politically difficult to do so. Even leading Republicans understand that the Bush administration's failures in public diplomacy have catastrophically undermined the ability of other supportive governments to take risks on our behalf (see, for example, this article in today's New York Times regarding Saudi Arabia's fairly conscious efforts to distance themselves from the United States).

Third, Wright argues that we are also at a "very pregnant moment" in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The governments of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are crippled, but it is clear that the Arabs are suing for peace. They face a much graver threat, by which it was clear, to me at least, that Wright meant both Sunni jihadism and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Recognizing that it is virtually received wisdom among the chattering classes that a two-state settlement of the struggle between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs will somehow diminish the jihad, I do not understand why. The radicals do not want Israel to exist. Whether or not there is a settlement, the radicals among the Palestinians will continue to attack Israel. The government of the Palestinians will be no more able to stop the radicals from doing this than the governments of any of the other Arab countries, virtually all of which claim they are working to shut down al Qaeda, Hezbollah and so forth, and virtually all of whom have failed miserably. Israel will retaliate for those attacks. Al Jazz will portray the retaliation as aggression, and Arab passions will remain inflamed. That Israel will retaliate from across an internationally recognized border will only make the matter worse, it seems to me. (See Michael Scott Doran's useful essay on this very subject.)

Why al Qaeda can't win

Recognizing his pessimistic tone, Wright offered "three reasons why al Qaeda won't win."

First, everyone is its enemy. Al Qaeda's leadership has called out virtually everybody in the world as its enemy at one time or another. Muslim apostate regimes, Shiites, Jews, Israel, the United States, Westeners in general, NATO, Russia, China, and "atheists, pagans and hypocrites".

Second, most of the victims of al Qaeda are Muslims. Muslims know that al Qaeda is their enemy too, and that they will be the first to suffer under al Qaeda rule.

Finally, al Qaeda offers nothing to the people who follow it. No economic policy, no government, no program to really get to the problems of the Muslim world. It offers only one thing: death. "Al Qaeda is a suicide machine."

Perhaps Wright is right in this. I worry, though, that his ultimate optimism turns on the meaning of "win." Yes, if victory requires that al Qaeda realize its plan for total domination of the world, I agree that represents a tall order. If, however, we recognize that even intermediate "success" -- the destruction of Israel following a nuclear exchange with a radicalized Muslim power, the interdiction of Middle Eastern oil, or something approaching civil war in Europe -- could have devestating consequences, then we have to wonder whether the West's ultimate victory will come at the cost of a great deal that we hold dear. If we are worried about unwarranted surveillance of international communications, trial by jury for foreign nationals or freedom from profiling at security checkpoints, how will we feel about the casualties we will have to inflict in order to crush a suicide cult's will to resist? They could run into the millions.

In any case, even Wright thinks the road ahead will be brutal. He revealed in the Q&A session that he was opposed to a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq because he was terrified of leaving behind a vacuum. He was particularly worried about the consequences for Europe, which he believes will feel the first blowback.
Europe has a big problem. In the aftermath of the Iraq war, you will see veterans returning to new or preexisting cells with enormous experience and training. I don't think the future in Europe looks very attractive.

In this, Wright has synthesized the position of the conservative hawks -- Mark Steyn in America Alone, Berlinski in Menace in Europe, and Melanie Phillips in Londonistan -- and the anti-Bush doves into a frightening scenario for the future of Europe.

He is also obviously pessimistic about the "democratization strategy," which I have long supported. Arab and Muslim civil society is such a mess, Wright argues, that reforms that would take root in other cultures are likely to lead to disaster in this part of the world. As Wright says of the Saudis, "[i]t is not that they like the monarchy. It is that they are afraid of what might come after."

So are we all.


By Blogger Malcolm, at Sun Apr 29, 03:58:00 PM:

Have you read Andrew McCarthy's review of "the looming tower"?

Andrew McCarthy on Lawrence Wright

WHATEVER may cause Islamic terrorism, it is certainly not Islam. That is a central message of The Looming Tower, an often riveting but flawed contribution to the surfeit of post-9/11 analyses and histories of Osama bin Laden's international terror network.

At its best--which is often, but not often enough--this book by The New Yorker's Lawrence Wright provides a welcome departure from the arid, encyclopedic tendencies of this overcrowded field. Generally, this is a coherent, exhaustively researched history of the essential characters and events that have shaped the new global order. When he lets the facts sing, Wright's work reads like an engrossing novel. But he peppers the account with analytical pauses that are erratic and reflective of dubious conventional wisdom--the world according to Richard Clarke, Michael Scheuer, and the 9/11 Commission. For all its promise, The Looming Tower disappoints.

Wright is especially effective in tracing the long-entrenched roots of both al-Qaeda and the America-centric hatred through which it united what had been dispersed and parochial jihadist movements. The seed is a post-World War II visit to the U.S. by Egyptian intellectual Sayyid Qutb, the patriarch of modern political Islam (which is to say, jihadist terrorism). Qutb's American experience and scathing critiques of the West as morally bankrupt, sex-crazed, materialistic, and anti-Islamic remain central to the jihadist narrative. (Bin Laden, despite hailing from a well-to-do, well-traveled family, has probably never been in the U.S. or Europe.)

Until his "martyr's" death by execution in 1966, Qutb--as successor to Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna--plotted relentlessly against Nasser's regime and its animating idea of secular Arab nationalism. His competing antidote for the ills of the Muslim world was radical Islam, stressing a concept that serves as Wright's leitmotif: takfir. Roughly equating to Islamic excommunication, it is the notion that the faithful may legitimately claim for themselves the power to declare their fellow Muslims traitorous apostates. Takfir comes to justify, in the radical mind, the murder of anyone who does not accept the "pure" version of Islam that courses through Sunni Wahhabism--the regnant theology of Saudi Arabia, where the royal family has long maintained a tenuous truce with religious authorities. Qutb profoundly influenced two of the book's three central figures: bin Laden and his eventual Qaeda deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The evolution of the 20-year bond between these two men is Wright's principal and most fascinating focus. Both are scions of families prominent in the modern history of the Middle East. Bin Laden's legendary Yemeni father, Mohammed, is key to understanding the Saudi regime's indulgence of its bete noire, Osama. Through talent and grit, Mohammed rose to become the kingdom's chief builder, linking his clan inextricably to both the Saudi royal family (which he once bailed out financially) and Islam's most revered sites. Zawahiri, a trained physician, was born into a family renowned in medicine, religion, and Egyptian politics. One uncle was a student and confidant of Qutb, while another was the rector of Cairo's al-Azhar University, as close an analogue as there is to papal status in Islam.

Zawahiri, older and more intellectual but decidedly less charismatic than bin Laden, began when he was only 15 to form the cells that would become al-Jhad, the terror organization narrowly dedicated to supplanting Egypt's secular government with a sharia state. Even then, he exhibited a penchant for alienating such natural allies as the Muslim Brotherhood (which he decried for its occasional willingness to work within the political system) and the infamous "Blind Sheikh," Omar Abdel Rahman (whose reckless bloodlust he believed undermined the cause, and whose U.S. followers bombed the World Trade Center in 1993).

Wright strongly suggests that the drift of both Zawahiri and bin Laden from regional jihadist goals to an epic clash of civilizations was driven by shame. Implicated tangentially in the conspiracy that resulted in Sadat's 1981 murder, Zawahiri is beset by the infamy of having turned state's evidence after being tortured in Egypt's notorious prisons. (With a transparent nod to the mainstream canard that terrorists are created not by doctrine but by such state abuse, Wright confusingly intimates that the torture radicalized Zawahiri--even though he elsewhere recounts that Zawahiri was a "committed revolutionary" for many years before his incarceration, and later concludes that "torture did not so much change Zawahiri as purify his resolve.")

Bin Laden, always pious and seamlessly radicalized in his early teens through exposure to the Muslim Brotherhood, emerged as a jihadist financier in the mid-1980s when the Afghan mujahiddin's jihad against the Soviets attracted thousands of Arab would-be warriors. His actual appearance on the battlefield, however, was delayed for five years, supposedly because he bowed to disapproval from his mother--a hint of cowardice the image-conscious bin Laden has airbrushed by lying about his past, claiming to have gone immediately to Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded in 1979, when in fact he was finally cajoled to the front around 1984.

It was Afghanistan that brought bin Laden and Zawahiri together. Bin Laden rapidly rose to prominence, thanks to the personal fortune he willingly staked and also to his Saudi government contacts--particularly Turki al-Faisal, the then-intelligence chief (and a college friend of Bill Clinton at Georgetown), who coordinated Saudi support for the mujahiddin to the tune of up to half a billion dollars a year. Originally drawn into the jihad under the tutelage of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam (another jihadist powerhouse with whom Zawahiri could not get along), bin Laden soon eclipsed his mentor in influence. The "Services Bureau" (Makhtab-al-Khadamat) he co-founded with Azzam in 1984 was the foundation for al-Qaeda.

The relationship between bin Laden and Zawahiri is complex--confounding even Wright, who swerves between flatly declaring, "They were not friends but allies," and deducing that they do have a "friendship" that is "complicated by the fact that one [bin Laden] placed his life in the hands of the other." It is, in any event, a marriage of convenience. Bin Laden is a big-picture dreamer--dedicated and able, but wanting in day-to-day management skills. Zawahiri has the management skills, but they were not matched by money and contacts, which bin Laden had in abundance.

The bulk of the story deals with the odyssey by which both men gravitated from comparatively modest designs to an all-out war seeking to destroy the U.S. and herald a worldwide caliphate. In the telling, Wright deftly dismantles myths great and small. Bin Laden is neither the giant nor the Croesus of lore: He's a bit over six feet tall, and his fortune was vastly depleted by al-Qaeda's years in Hassan al-Turabi's Sudan (which bin Laden came to see as more an extortion racket than a safe haven for jihadists). The Arab fighters were, for the most part, an incompetent drain on the Afghan mujahiddin. It was the 1998 East African embassy bombings that put al-Qaeda (by then relocated to Afghanistan and nearly penniless) on the map; before that, for all bin Laden's bravado (including two high-profile declarations of war), the organization was plotting energetically but had accomplished little.

It is in its own myth creation that Wright's history stumbles. As the prism for explaining the U.S. response to al-Qaeda, Wright chooses to inflate beyond all proportion the FBI's John O'Neill, the book's third principal figure. Between 1995 and 2001, O'Neill was a top Bureau counterterrorism official. A sharp-elbowed infighter who was deeply patriotic and deeply flawed (personally and professionally, as Wright copiously recounts), O'Neill took a private security job at the World Trade Center in late summer 2001, when his government career was fading. On 9/11, he was killed, heroically trying to save lives. In a book about "al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11," O'Neill should be an interesting bit player. He was far from a central character, and he was very far from being unique among government officials in the belief that al-Qaeda would attack the U.S. massively.

Wright's recounting of American security efforts is unsatisfying in other ways, too. While he makes much of the fact that the CIA, NSA, and State Department frustrated the FBI here and there, he fails to note that President Clinton (who was being investigated by the FBI) could easily have interceded to end these disputes--but chose not to. Wright has also bought wholesale the view of Clinton counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke that, pre-9/11, al-Qaeda was less of a priority for the Bush administration than it had been for its predecessor--something Wright reports, without a hint of irony, immediately after noting that the Clinton administration failed to respond at all to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole. And the author reaffirms--confusingly--the 9/11 Commission's duplicitous account of the bureaucratic "wall" that prevented the sharing of information between criminal and national-security investigators (he describes it as a regulation the Bureau misinterpreted, rather than what it was: a Clinton Justice Department directive that prioritized hypothetical privacy concerns over public safety).

These are relatively small points. When it comes to Islamist doctrine, however, Wright does not merely bowdlerize its centrality to al-Qaeda's savage campaign; he affirmatively contorts it. On display here is the all-purpose, politically correct Weltanschauung: The religion of peace has been wantonly hijacked by terrorists. When Wright returns repeatedly to takfir, he discusses it as a "heresy" within Islam--though, as Bernard Lewis has explained, heresy is itself a concept foreign to Islam. But if takfir is intramurally controversial, that is only because it provides a justification for killing Muslims. This glides past the elephant in the room: Islam regards non-Muslims as lesser beings. (Even Wright concedes, in passing and without analysis, that, for example, non-Muslims are deemed unfit to enter Mecca and Medina.) Justifying their killing requires no similar casuistry. To circumvent the inconvenience of injunctions in the Koran and other Islamic teachings that clearly support killing of infidels and apostates during jihad, Wright simply ignores them--reporting instead the more benign scriptures (which actually came earlier in time, and were thus superseded by the more bellicose suras of Mohammed's Medina period). Again without irony, the author goes so far as to claim that prior to World War II "there was little precedent in Islam for ... anti-Semitism," right before recalling "the time when the Prophet Mohammed had subjugated the Jews of Medina." Wright also resorts to psychobabble: Top 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta's "turn to terror," we are told, probably "had as much to do with his own conflicted sexuality as it did with the clash of civilizations." This makes explicit the suggestion Wright made implicitly regarding Qutb: These guys are levying war not because they believe, with some justification, that their religion commands it; they simply can't relate to women.

The Looming Tower is a good read for those seeking historical details about al-Qaeda and its prime movers. For explanations, better to look elsewhere.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 29, 04:00:00 PM:

"I think we are talking about a profound sense of cultural humiliation. It goes back to September 11, 1683, when the king of Poland arrived at the gates of Vienna to turn back the greatest advance of the Muslims in Europe."

There you go, blame it on us Poles. Frankly, I'm happy Jan Sobieski stopped them. Didn't do much for Poland's future, the deluge soon followed.  

By Blogger allen, at Sun Apr 29, 04:30:00 PM:

Fausta took notes as well. Among others, she wrote,

"If we want Israel to survive, need to create prosperous successful Palestine. We need to succed in Israel and Palestine as this will reduce the flow of recruits and inflammation."

While I do not question the motives of Mr. Wright, those of the Saudis and their peace plan is another matter entirely.

There will NEVER be peace until the Arabs accept the HUMILIATION of the perpetual existence of the Zionist entity.

Thanks for a great thread. Please give a heads-up when the video becomes available.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 29, 04:46:00 PM:

We are going to have war, it will last a long time, we will lose millions and in return kill hundreds of millions, or more.

Until and unless Muslims see decisively the failure of their religion, culture, society as a whole and seek to reform it. To avoid the misery of having perhaps half their population killed by an angry West.

Wright is part and parcel of the PC Multi-culti morally relativist problem. Decisive action to draw red lines, let everyone in the Muslim world know what would be tolerated and what would not be tolerated by the West has been pushed aside. In an effort to be "nice" and inoffensive and politically correct and multi-cultural (we can't acknowledge that the West is BETTER than the pathetic failure that is Islam).  

By Blogger SR, at Sun Apr 29, 07:46:00 PM:

A year or more ago, there was an article in Commentary which addressed the failure of muslim society. basically, the point is that there is no rule of secular law, and no sacrosanct private property to speak of. This is always a recipe for economic and social disaster.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 29, 08:42:00 PM:

Great posting. I agree with some of the sentiments above. You have to be willing to talk about culture and religion in unflinching terms. With regards to Islam, it is useful to remember the Protestant Reformation, which was a necessary criticism of Catholic corruption.  

By Blogger allen, at Sun Apr 29, 09:29:00 PM:

re: Reformation

What if Islam is undergoing a reformation?

Enlightenment would be useful.

While this is unrelated, it may be edifying:

US aircrews show Taliban no mercy

H/T Small Wars Journal

Do watch the video provided by the Telegraph.

"‘When you are on top of the enemy you look, shoot and it's, 'You die, you die, you die.
The odds are on our side. I really enjoy it. I told my wife, if I could come home every night then this would be the perfect job.’"
___Lt. Denton  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 29, 10:47:00 PM:

Interesting point about, "When Jihadis come marching home again.." to Europe, if we bug out of Iraq.

Not sure if anyone's logic is airtight in any of this, as you are trying to 'game theory' the reasoning of some pretty strange thinkers. Yes, they are not insane or crazy in the clinical sense, but the interior intellectual landscape of Islam leaves a wide lattitude for external irrational behavior.

There seems to be a magic 'Sura' for justifying any occasion or act, it seems.

I hope this discussion can continue in an illuminating fashion. The most important subject of our times, and people cannot publicly discuss it without irrational outbursts of anger appearing.


By Blogger The Mechanical Eye, at Sun Apr 29, 11:10:00 PM:

"Until and unless Muslims see decisively the failure of their religion, culture, society as a whole and seek to reform it. To avoid the misery of having perhaps half their population killed by an angry West."

It's times like these that I wish a copy of Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" is placed in the hands of every college student in this country.

Talking about making sure the Muslim world is forever humiliated will guarantee a world of pain and perpetual warfare between the west and Islam. It is extreme folly and the kind of high arrogance that led us into the Iraq War.

It is not as simple as kill, kill, kill.

And really... its "Kerry-esque" to talk to our traditional allies? In the past 5,000 years of history, talking to one's allies was considered wise. Has this law been repealed now that Bush is in office?


By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Mon Apr 30, 03:01:00 AM:

unless Muslims see decisively the failure of their religion, culture, society as a whole

This is the problem - Islam isn't just "a religion", its a blueprint for culture and social structure as well. Obviously one that doesn't fare well in the modern world.

The problem isn't "what's wrong with Muslim nations?", the problem is Islam itself. Were it "just a religion", it wouldn't matter, but its not. It forces believers into economic decisions and social behaviors that are clearly detrimental.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Apr 30, 07:27:00 PM:

"And really... its "Kerry-esque" to talk to our traditional allies? In the past 5,000 years of history, talking to one's allies was considered wise."

We don't have "traditional allies." France, Britain, and Canada are usually touted as examples, forgetting that we've traded shots with all of them in the past, the French as recently as World War II. Until the 20th century, America consciously avoided political ties to any foreign power not in the Western Hemisphere, and purposefully opposed them. (Monroe Doctrine, for instance) The idea that we have this cadre of 'traditional allies' just waiting, eager to help us if only we'd listen and talk is a myth. Nations work together when their interests coincide; when they don't, they don't.

Reg: the whole 'cultural humiliation' angle. I just don't buy it. There were plenty of times in the past where Islam was 'humiliated.' Like pretty much the entirety of the 19th century. How about when America subjugated the Barbary states? Britain conquered Egypt? Various western powers coerced the Turks into a variety of political and economic concessions? Where was the sudden surge of religiously motivated terroristic violence then?

Roots of modern Islamic terrorism:

Wahabbism, which modern adherents now prefer to call Salafia; roughly "ancestor-ism." That is, doing things the way that the original Muslims did them. Pure practices, pious lives, conquering and forcibly converting neighbors, et cetera. (there's a whole chapter dedicated to that last premise in Sayyid Qutb's primary work)

Iranian Revolution; Shi'ites have martyrdom operations nowadays, too.

That's it. Other factors may influence why particular terrorist A or B joins up with the jihad movements, but that's how the movements came about. It's really simple, in retrospect. It comes down to religious devotion. Dying for God is considered noble in their society, and they are promised an instant trip to Paradise. According to Wahabbism, there's a whole list of people that God hates. So why not? Al Qaeda is a "suicide machine" because Paradise is a primary reason most of these guys signed up!

Oh, and I almost forgot. I know that the FBI 'borrows' trained linguists from other areas of federal service all the time, including the military.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Mon Apr 30, 08:06:00 PM:

Nations have interests. The notion of lasting allies is a fiction for the rubes.

If some nation's perceived interests coincide with yours, then you have a solid "ally" on the issue where interests coincide.

Where interests don't coincide, or at least don't deviate sharply, maybe you can make them coincide with suitable bribes of some sort.

If interests deviate sharply, you'll never get them on board under any circumstances.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue May 01, 01:13:00 AM:

Excellent comments, Dawnfire82 and Purple Avenger. The whole matter is really that simple.

Long before all of the modern analysis, there was this statement in the "The Catholic Encyclopedia," Volume 10, published in 1911 (New York: Robert Appleton Company):

"In matters political, Islam is a system of despotism at home and aggression abroad. The Prophet commanded absolute submission to the imâm. In no case was the sword to be raised against him. The rights of non-Moslem subjects are of the vaguest and most limited kind, and a religious war is a sacred duty whenever there is a chance of success against the 'Infidel'."

Look at Darul Islam in Indonesia during the 1940s. (It was the forerunner of the Indonesian Muslim terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.) Look at the fighting between Muslims and Hindus after the departure of the British in India. Look at the historic tension between the Chinese and the Muslim Malays in Singapore and Malaysia. This is not a new problem.

What made the Muslim threat more severe in recent years? Access to lots of oil money, off and on, since the 1970s.

Does that mean every Muslim is a terrorist? Of course not. But you will not eliminate the violence until you can find a way to help moderate Muslims update their religion, and that is an almost impossible task because of the decentralized nature of Islam.  

By Blogger allen, at Tue May 01, 07:16:00 AM:

___”Moderate” Islam

Muslims supporting an international “Islamic Caliphate” – 65.2%

Those who would require “strict” Shari’a law for every Muslim country - 65.5%

Again, is Islam undergoing a reformation?

Mainstream Caliphate Confessions


By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue May 01, 10:11:00 AM:

Allen, I never believe polls in Muslim countries or in the Muslim neighborhoods of the West (even when the polls support my position). People give the safest answer, not the honest answer. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue May 01, 10:21:00 AM:

This comment has been removed by the author.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue May 01, 10:26:00 AM:

P.S. The only way to get accurate feedback from most of the cultures in Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East is to watch what the people do and ignore what the people say. Are tens of millions of Muslims on the march? No.  

By Blogger allen, at Tue May 01, 11:41:00 AM:


re: Are tens of millions of Muslims on the march?

No. Of course, when has that happened during your lifetime?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue May 01, 12:37:00 PM:

DEC: "I never believe polls in Muslim countries or in the Muslim neighborhoods of the West... The only way to get accurate feedback from most of the cultures in Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East is to watch what the people do and ignore what the people say."

Have you ever actually been involved in any polls, or survey work of any kind, in any of those regions? Because I have, and my experience says that you're wrong; largely because those conducting the polls usually know about those factors and try to build them into their survey methodology.

Of course, you don't have to believe me - I'm just an pseudonymous internet post, after all.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue May 01, 12:40:00 PM:

Of course, that doesn't mean that this - or any other poll - is an accurate reflection of opinion. That's life, unfortunately.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue May 01, 12:44:00 PM:

I lived in Egypt and Indonesia, Merkur. I have done business in Muslim countries on a nonstop basis for 30 years. You have your experiences. I have mine.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue May 01, 01:01:00 PM:

Allen: "Of course, when has that happened during your lifetime?"

Indonesia, 1965--the so-called "Year of Living Dangerously." Muslims slaughtered hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chinese in the country. Somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million people died in the fighting. My friends told me the river water in Jakarta was completely red from blood.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue May 01, 02:00:00 PM:

DEC: So essentially, your point is that Muslims lie? That's fair enough, but you should probably come out and say it straight.

I didn't ask if you've lived or worked in those countries. I asked if you'd been involved in any polling or survey work in them, which is a different thing altogether.

Your point about 1965 is something of an over-simplification. Surely it needs to be seen in the broader context of Indonesian political history, particularly historical anti-Chinese sentiment and modern anti-communism? With the help of the American and British governments, of course, who provided lists of communist names to the army. Allegedly.  

By Blogger allen, at Tue May 01, 02:02:00 PM:

While upwards of 400,000 ethnic Chinese (the owners of wealth) were murdered by ad hoc militias with the assistance of the Indonesian military junta, where is the evidence showing that “tens of millions of Muslims” in the streets had anything to do with the power grab.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue May 01, 02:38:00 PM:

Merkur: "I asked if you'd been involved in any polling or survey work in them, which is a different thing altogether."

I am a CEO. I leave that kind of work to the help.

To Allen,

The supporters of Communists were mostly ethnic Chinese.

The Muslim general Suharto was losing the fight until he called upon the "forces of Islam" to help him against the non-Muslim Chinese." Tens of millions of Muslims responded. Suharto won.

I personally attended the first official banquet between Mainland Chinese (PRC) and Muslim Indonesian government officials after the 1960s conflict. The banquet was in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1987. There was a lot of tension between the two groups. I was the only American there.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue May 01, 03:26:00 PM:

DEC: Interesting. Do you have any references to Suharto's call to the "forces of Islam"? It's the first time I've heard or read about such an explicit appeal.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue May 01, 03:44:00 PM:

Both Indonesian government officials and ethnic Chinese traders in the country told me about it, Merkur. They were there.

My comments come from their personal experiences.

At the time of the banquet I was VP of export services at one of the world's largest banks. I had good friends (still do) in both the Chinese and Indonesian governments. Everybody was looking for a friend that day.

I hate Wiki at a source. Nevertheless, the site has a brief description. It's not completely accurate but it's close enough for a blog discussion.


"When Suharto came to power, Chinese Indonesians were increasingly discriminated against. With the justification of denouncing Chinese communism, Suharto not only closed communist-leaning parties, but also extended his reach toward all Chinese Indonesian parties and all aspects of Chinese Indonesian socio-culture. Soeharto effectively stripped Chinese Indonesians of power, banning them from politics and the military. He championed forced assimilation policy against Chinese Indonesians so that they would forget their ties to China. This policy brought forth many anti Chinese legislations. Soeharto passed and enacted very discriminatory citizenship laws, such as forcing Chinese Indonesians to re-register themselves as Indonesian citizens by renouncing their alleged Chinese citizenship regardless of the validity of the Indonesian citizenship they may already have. He denounced Chinese cultures and banned Chinese characters and literature. Allegedly, Soeharto was also the mastermind of the 1965 slaughter of millions of Chinese Indonesians, purportedly to eradicate the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI).

"Group divisions among Cina Babas, Qiao Shengs, and Cina Totoks were blurred because Soeharto treated them alike. They were all forced to change their names to Indonesian sounding ones. This law is considered as one of the most humiliating ones to those in the Chinese community in Indonesia since by doing so, they are forced to lose their family name. Between 1965 and 1975, army and police officers were rampant in abusing Chinese Indonesians, such as openly robbing and raping their families. During this time, police could abuse any people using Chinese language. The only way to survive during this harsh period was by using bribes."

Chinese Indonesian

By the way, one of my good ethnic Chinese friends in Indonesia was a personal aide to Suharto during that time. Did Suharto know he was Chinese? Yes.  

By Blogger allen, at Tue May 01, 05:51:00 PM:

“Full-scale massacres of PKI members across the Indonesian archipelago occurred when special forces or parachute troops went into the regions. These soldiers participated in the killings, but more frequently used local militias to liquidate suspected PKI sympathisers.”

The regions most seriously affected were Central and East Java, Bali and North Sumatra, where the [PKI] had been most active, but there were massacres in every part of the archipelago where communists could be found. A scholarly consensus has settled on a figure of 400,000-500,000 deaths."
Indonesia 1965

“Over 1,000 ethnic Chinese may have been killed in spasms of anti-Chinese violence that struck North Sumatra, Aceh, Kalimantan, and Bali in the aftermath of an attempted coup in 1965, although the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands killed in the anti-communist pogrom that accompanied Soeharto's coming to power were non-Chinese Indonesians.”
Economic Crisis Leads to Scapegoating of Ethnic Chinese

Another, smaller, target of the 1965-1966 killings in some parts of Indonesia were Chinese Indonesians. To the extent that they were killed because of their Chinese identity, their murders would plausibly amount to genocide under the Genocide Convention.
Inside Indonesia

“Tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese died in the carnage that ripped through Indonesia in the wake of President Suharto's coming to power in 1965.”

“Chinese have periodically been targets of mob violence. Some 100,000 Chinese were expelled from the country in 1959, while thousands of Chinese were attacked and many killed during the 1965–1966 bloodbath that followed the fall of President Sukarno.”
Indonesia after Suharto  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue May 01, 06:21:00 PM:

Thanks for taking the time to post the links, Allen.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue May 01, 06:27:00 PM:

I don't mean to tangent from the tangent, and I don't know shit about Indonesia, but the idea that in some cultures it is acceptable and understood that people speak what is popular and not what is in their hearts is valid. Even on the phone with strangers.

People in communist dicatorships did. People in fascist states did it. People in modern dictatorships or even heavily centralized non-dictatorships (Egypt, Iran, Russia) do it. The secret police really do listen to phone conversations and some of them really do try to trap people into 'disloyal' or 'radical' statements.

It's kind of an alien concept for many Americans, who have enjoyed almost absolute freedom of expression for our entire lives, to truly comprehend, but in some parts of the world you *have* to be careful about what you say or you may not see another sunrise. (whether your view is blocked by a cell wall or a headstone)  

By Blogger Doug, at Tue May 01, 07:06:00 PM:

Broder will remember to hold his tongue next time.  

By Blogger allen, at Tue May 01, 08:07:00 PM:


Without question, as the sad experience of Sandmonkey proves the Muslim world does not invite free-ranging inquiry or tolerate deviation from the status quo. Since the poll sited by Bostom relies on information gathered in four such unenlightened countries (absolutely no snark intended), it is “possible” that cultural-political considerations might have adversely affected the quality of the data. Granting that stipulation, how, then, to explain comparable results from independent UK polling?  

By Blogger allen, at Wed May 02, 01:13:00 AM:

Man, I just HATE when this happens.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed May 02, 05:59:00 AM:

As I pointed out before, I'm aware of historical anti-Chinese sentiment in Indonesia. I was specifically asking whether you could provide any references to an explicit and specific call by Suharto on the "forces of Islam"? It's the first time I've heard or read about such an explicit appeal, which seems strange given the later development of Islamism once the communist (and secular) party was eliminated.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Wed May 02, 12:36:00 PM:

There is more to life than Google and libraries.

As I indicated, Merkur, my comments came from eyewitnesses, not from books. I don't know whether some Western author or professor has written about it or not. Probably not. You find few white faces in most parts of Indonesia beyond Bali. And academics don't have access to my social circles in the country.

But you can figure it out yourself.

1. Indonesia is 88 percent Muslim.

2. Suharto was a master of manipulation.

3. Muslim religious leaders and the rank-and-file Muslim clergy strongly supported Suharto.

4. Soldiers participated in the killings, but local militias and lawless mobs more frequently killed on Suharto's behalf. The members of those militias and mobs were Muslim.

Connect the dots.

If you want a book, you may have to write it yourself. But be careful. Many parts of Indonesia are dangerous for people without experience in the country. And people who ask too many questions sometimes vanish.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Wed May 02, 01:06:00 PM:

P.S. I'll tell you who might have useful info if you want to write a book: Paul Wolfowitz. He was the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1989. Suharto was Indonesia's president at the time.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 03, 03:27:00 AM:

I have to be honest, DEC - it sounds to me like you don't actually have any evidence for Suharto himself making a direct appeal to the "forces of Islam", so you should probably just retract that statement. I have no problem in agreeing with you that appeals to religious Muslim anti-communist and anti-Chinese sentiment were made lower down the chain of command - but that's quite a different thing.

Thanks for the warning about my personal security in Indonesia - there's no need for me to bandy about my own life story, but trust me when I say that I have some experience in Indonesia that may help.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Thu May 03, 10:53:00 AM:

As I said much earlier, you have your experiences and I have mine.

Being Javanese, Suharto was subtle.

This ends my comments on this thread. Thanks for the interesting discussion, Merkur.  

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