Randy's Corner Deli Library

29 April 2008

Carter Mis-Representing Hamas Positions

I saw Carter’s piece in the NYT, and it stank like rotten meat for exactly the reasons set forth below from Arutz-Sheva’s reportage. Either he did not understand what Meshaal was telling him, or, as the title of the article indicates, he is misrepresenting (indicating an intent to deceive the public about) Hamas’ positions. Carter is many things, but he is not stupid. That leaves only the other option available. It is one thing to go and try to start a conversation but to misrepresent what was said in those discussions or what came out of them indicates to me that Carter’s goal was not simply to start a discussion. He did not want the world to think he was a failure. With the lies and misrepresentations in his NYT op-ed piece, Carter is a failure, involved in a serious self-deception as to his motivation to start the talks in the first place. For shame.

Randy Shiner

Carter Mis-Representing Hamas Positions
by Hillel Fendel

In a New York Times op-ed on Monday, ex-Pres. Jimmy Carter says Hamas wants peace - while Hamas leader Khaled Meshal presents an entirely different picture.
Carter wrote in the Times about his recent meetings in Israel with the leaders of Hamas and Fatah, and painted a rosy picture of prospects for peace with Hamas. He attacked the United States and Israel for having categorized Hamas as a terrorist organization, and for therefore not talking with them.

It is a "counterproductive Washington policy [of] recent years," Carter writes, "to boycott and punish political factions or governments that refuse to accept United States mandates. This policy makes difficult the possibility that such leaders might moderate their policies."

Carter himself, on the other hand, talked with Hamas officials, and based on their "official responses," came up with the following conclusions (inter alia):
"Hamas will accept any agreement negotiated by Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert provided it is approved either in a Palestinian referendum or by an elected government.... Hamas will disband its militia in Gaza if a nonpartisan professional security force can be formed... Hamas will accept a mutual cease-fire in Gaza, with the expectation (not requirement) that this would later include [Judea and Samaria]..."

At an April 21 press conference in Jerusalem, Carter said, "Hamas said they would agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders [enabling Israel to continue to exist as it did prior to 1967 - ed.] if this was approved by the Palestinians, and that they would agree to accept Israel's right to exist as a neighbor with whom they would have peaceful relations."

Arab affairs analyst Yehonatan D. HaLevi writes that an interview given by Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal shows that Carter either did not understand the answers he was given, or that he is purposely presenting a false picture designed to "launder" Hamas in Western eyes.

Meshal: The Struggle Will Continue

HaLevi writes that Meshal told Al-Jazeera just three days ago from Syria something very different: "As opposed to the rosy picture presented by Carter, according to which Hamas is willing to recognize Israel under the current circumstances, Meshal said that the struggle against Israel would continue."

HaLevi quoted Meshal as having explained, "Israel is only willing to accept our ceasefire proposal - including a full retreat from eastern Jerusalem and to the '67 borders, the return of the refugees, but no recognition of Israel - if circumstances force it to do so and if a change in the balance in power forces it do so. Hamas is working to make sure this happens."

Hamas Accepts Democratic Results - Only Under Certain Conditions

In addition, though Carter says Hamas is willing to accept the results of a Palestinian Authority referendum, in actuality, Hamas has placed so many qualifications on this as to render it totally moot. Meshal told Al-Jazeera, "Hamas will accept the will of the Palestinian nation, as reflected in free elections for the Palestinian National Council in accordance with agreed-upon principles, or in a free referendum inside [within the PA-controlled areas] and outside [abroad] - on condition that the Palestinian negotiator will be obligated to Palestinian rights in accordance with the Document of National Consensus on the issues of Jerusalem, the refugees, and borders."

"In other words," HaLevi sums up, "Hamas will accept the results if they are identical with the original Hamas position."

Hamas and Shalit

It should also be noted that Carter says approvingly of Hamas that it will "permit Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Palestinian militants in 2006, to send a letter to his parents." No date has been set for this to happen. "If Israel agrees to a list of prisoners to be exchanged, and the first group is released, Corporal Shalit will be sent to Egypt, pending the final releases," Carter writes - without noting that the "list of prisoners" is many hundreds of names long and includes many who have been involved in the murder and maiming of dozens of Israelis in terrorist attacks.

HaLevi says Carter's position is puzzling: "He sees nothing wrong with Hamas even though it is a terrorist organization... He is essentially enabling terrorist and Fascist organizations to take over western democracies whenever these groups win a majority of the vote. In addition, Carter is trying with all his might to launder Hamas and to market it to Israel and the international community as a moderate force - even though Hamas itself presents a totally opposite stance."

27 April 2008

The Procession

Jon Robin Baitz

The Procession
Posted April 27, 2008 | 09:23 PM (EST)

Sag Harbor, New York, Saturday, April 26.

It is spring where I live on Eastern Long Island. The magnitude of the change of seasons is shockingly palpable. The colors are vivid, finally alive again after the dull leaden gray and pewter of winter. Forsythia, that vibrant manic-yellow member of the olive family rises up against newly blue, newly warm skies -- a reminder of what renewal looks like. Magnolias are blossoming, as are Russian olives with their silver-fish green leaves catching the sun and gleaming, incandescently. Today, however, my little town is draped in a palpable air of wrenching sorrow, juxtaposed against the ebullience of spring. There are American flags everywhere today, and a procession just came through town. Traffic stopped. Everything stopped. Life seemed to stop, and the air was suddenly much colder, literally.

A 19 year old boy from our village, a Marine with less than one month of service under his belt, died at 7:30 a.m. Iraqi time on Tuesday, blown up by a suicide bomber in Ramadi. He is the first Sag Harbor resident killed in action since World War II. Jordan Haerter was just a boy -- one who loved history, his truck, and his family. He wanted to come back home to Sag after his tour was over to be a cop, a village cop. He had never been overseas before his deployment. According to the local paper, just a month ago, the boy's father had driven down to Camp LeJune to pick up his truck for safe-keeping.

At noon today, the gathered residents of the village looked dumbstruck, standing on Main Street in agonized and silent grief. You could feel the all-encompassing sorrow descend like an army of ghosts, and I thought of Albert Camus's plague-ridden seaport as I watched the procession pass. The assembled survivors and friends, school-mates, teachers, all silently marking the procession of police cars that were bringing the body to the local funeral home. The flags hanging from the buildings looked lifeless in the spring sunlight, as though they were in mourning too. The whole village is suddenly ashen, usually blessed in so many ways, but not always, and certainly not today. Today, we are inescapably part of a nation at war.

At first I didn't know what was going on, and stuck at a stop light for fifteen minutes, honked gently/impatiently at a police-officer directing traffic, and made a gesture of "what's going on?". Someone explained it. The cop came over to me, and through clenched and furious teeth said, "I bet the boy in that coffin wishes he were stuck in goddamn traffic, mister." I agreed, apologized, sick to my stomach, and drove on. I thought of Henry Reed's great and terrible war poem, "The Naming of Parts", which contrasts Spring in a garden with the assembly of a rifle, playing on the juxtaposition of image and word, with a ferocity of precision that manages to perfectly contain the magnitude of tragic loss at the center of war. One section in particular came into my head as I drove away from the procession:

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For to-day we have naming of parts.

I will refrain from a discussion of this war here, of how it came to pass, and of the unthinkable series of ideological and strategic mis-steps, and the tragic deceptions and blind zealotry of an entire class of leaders who will, one prays, have to eventually face the dictates of either their own, or at very least, the nation's consciences. Instead I will report that I saw an entire village holding small American flags. Children and women, local merchants, artists and writers, plumbers, contractors, public servants, mothers and fathers, collectively gathered, to mourn a life that meant so much to those who loved him and those who knew him, and even those, like me, who did not. I will report that on this bright day, the light of spring was occluded by a procession that showed us what will never be for one family. The sense of what was cut short in Ramadi -- the promise of future laughter, of future springs -- is palpable on Main Street. I saw in those faces watching the procession move slowly by, the certain knowledge that, as in Henry Reed's poem, our point of balance is gone, and for one of our own, all that is left is past, just a bank of memories of one happy childhood -- nineteen years in a small village on the Long Island Sound.

(photos- Joe Mantello)

23 April 2008

Carter’s Hamas Talks Could Aid Exodus to Peace

Published on Monday, April 21, 2008 by CommonDreams.org

Carter’s Hamas Talks Could Aid Exodus to Peace
by Ira Chernus

Jews around the world sat down to their Passover seders this past weekend, commemorating their ancestors’ exodus from slavery to freedom. Yet right now the person who is doing more than anyone else to free the Jews is a devout Baptist, Jimmy Carter. The former president is meeting with leaders throughout the Middle East — including, most controversially, the top political leadership of the Hamas party. This has predictably angered the U.S. and Israeli governments and the U.S. mainstream press.

But they, like so many Jews, are still in slavery. The “Egypt” that enslaves them is a set of self-defeating beliefs in their own minds. They are enslaved to the notion that Hamas must be treated as pariah “terrorists,” and one must never talk with “terrorists.” That convenient tale prevents the Israeli government from entering peace negotiations. It keeps Israeli Jews trapped in the continuing risks and tensions of a state-of-siege mentality that prevents the exodus they need so badly now: moving from insecurity to genuine peace and security.

In a larger sense, the view of Hamas as a party so evil that no one may even talk with it keeps many Jews in a state of spiritual slavery. It reinforces their long-standing habit of defining Jewish identity primarily in terms of radical vulnerability, as if the only meaningful way to be Jewish were to stand firm against an enemy and always be ready to shoot at that enemy.

This slavery is especially tragic because it is self-imposed. It arises not from objective perception of facts imposed from outside, but from choices that Jews themselves make, choices that Jimmy Carter calls them to reconsider. So this Baptist leader, more than anyone else, can now claim the title of a modern-day Moses, willing to lead the Jews from slavery to freedom. Carter stands as a fine example of what the ancient rabbis called “a righteous gentile.”

A growing number of Jews, in Israel and the U.S., publicly agree with Carter that Israel must reach a peace agreement with a Palestinian government representing all Palestinian people. That government must include a significant element from Hamas, the party that the Palestinians democratically elected to lead them, if Israel is every to have real peace and security. The sooner Israel negotiates with Hamas, the more lives can be saved.

As a recent editorial in the prestigious Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz said, Israel’s continuing attacks in Gaza are “only out of revenge.” They lead to “retaliation with numerous casualties, which leads to another attack, and so on and so forth, as if it were an endless gang war. … The only way to ensure the safety of the people living near the Gaza border is through a political effort to reach a cease-fire agreement.”

The editorial concluded with the crucial point: A negotiated truce “may create a different atmosphere in which Hamas, too, would have something to lose. Israel has not done everything it can to reach such an agreement.” That’s quite an understatement. In fact, Israel has done everything it can to rebuff or ignore Hamas’ leaders repeated calls for a long-term truce that would open the way to peace talks.

The Israeli resistance to Carter and negotiations has to be understood on several levels. Deepest of all is the level of symbolism. Too many Jews have staked their sense of cultural identity primarily on resisting “the anti-semites.” They would be hard pressed to know what it means to be a Jews if there were no enemy to fight. Fortunately their numbers are shrinking, especially here in the U.S. But the process of change is agonizingly slow.

That deep issue of identity leads to a complicated sets of maneuvers on the practical political level. Many nations and factions see their own interests served by excluding Hamas.

Because so many Jews feel the need to have an enemy, political leaders in Israel must at least appear to be standing fast against some enemy if they want to get elected. Therefore, they have to treat negotiations with Palestinians as a battle against an enemy, and they must come out with something that looks like victory. Whatever Palestinian state they agree to has to be demonstrably weaker than Israel and militarily, at least, under Israeli control. The Israelis hold out a serious hope that Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, who control the West Bank, might agree to such a one-side peace.

Any negotiation with Hamas would complicate matters for Israel. It would signal that Hamas is a legitimate political party and a significant political player deserving a place at the table. But Hamas would insist on more stringent and equal terms for a final-status agreement than Fatah. So the Israeli government is determined to exclude Hamas from any negotiations. The best way to do that is to deny Hamas any hint of political legitimacy by labeling them a mere “terrorist” group.

Fatah is more than happy to play along with Israel in hopes of destroying its rival Hamas, which would leave Fatah in total control of Palestinian political life. Egypt supports Fatah, fearing that a democratically elected Islamist government right next door would give a major boost to the powerful Islamist parties in Egypt, which the government there has been suppressing violently for years.

The Bush administration is just as afraid of legitimizing any Islamist government. So it casts Hamas as part of the world-wide enemy, “Islamic extremism,” signaling that the U.S. will mobilize its immense power even against democratically elected Islamist governments. And the U.S. leads a global campaign of economic isolation that is bringing starvation and misery to over a million innocent victims in Gaza.

Bush and all the candidates bidding to succeed him agree in principle on this inhumane policy. Even Obama, who claims to be the candidate of “change,” criticized Carter and recited yet again the mandatory mantra of mainstream U.S. politics: “We must not negotiate with a terrorist group intent on Israel’s destruction.”

In fact, there are surely behind-the-scenes negotiations with Hamas going on now (just as the Israelis secretly negotiated with Yassir Arafat’s officially tabooed PLO at Oslo in the early 1990s). Carter recently said that he knows some Israeli government officials are quite willing to meet with Hamas leaders. Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Eli Yishai, openly sent word through Carter that he wants to meet with Hamas leaders.

According to Ha’aretz, Yishai’s Shas party would like to see a cease-fire (just what Hamas leaders have offered for years now) in order to “lessen pressure to reach a final-status agreement, which could lead to a coalition crisis with Shas.”

However Yishai could also aid a larger Israeli agenda of working out a secretly-arranged truce deal. Without it, Israel’s has only two options: either continue attacks in Gaza, which are disastrous politically and diplomatically while achieving no real military gain, or cease those attacks and appear “weak,” which would be disastrous politically for an Israeli government always under attack from the political right.

The Bush administration knows that the Israelis have to reach some truce agreement with Hamas, and the sooner the better. Again, the pressing need is to do it secretly, so that Hamas can be denied legitimacy. Perhaps that’s why, according to Carter, no U.S. officials objected to his plans until they became public knowledge. It’s OK as long as it remains secret.

In public, governments in Washington and Jerusalem are committed to keeping their people, and themselves, enslaved to an ideology of “fighting the evildoers.” With every other consideration — even peace and security — subordinated to that mythic vision of heroic battle, there is no exodus from the endless round of killing and counter-killing.

Hamas foreign minister Mahmoud al-Zahar suggested a way out this week in a Washington Post op-ed. “A ‘peace process’ with Palestinians cannot take even its first tiny step until Israel first withdraws to the borders of 1967; dismantles all settlements; removes all soldiers from Gaza and the West Bank; repudiates its illegal annexation of Jerusalem; releases all prisoners; and ends its blockade of our international borders, our coastline and our airspace permanently.”

The Post printed these words so that it could run an adjacent editorial denouncing their author as a “terrorist” who is clearly not interested in peace. To make their case, the Post’s editors treated al-Zahar’s words as preconditions for negotiation. Anyone really interested in peace would recognize that they are just a diplomat’s opening gambit and a suggested blueprint for a final-status agreement — the endgame of the negotiations, not the starting point.

Since al-Zahar’s words say nothing about Palestinians taking control inside Israel’s 1967 border, they are yet another in a long line of indirect signals from Hamas that, while it may never officially endorse Israel’s “right” to exist, it is quite ready to accept the fact that Israel does exist. In fact, his words generally match the final-status arrangement that most unbiased observers see as reasonable and inevitable.

This Passover, Carter’s meeting with the Hamas leaders offers a way for Israel to start down the path from the slavery of its own self-defeating ideology to the freedom of truly meaningful peace talks with Hamas as well as Fatah. As the Passover story tells us, the Israelites of old spent forty years wandering in the wilderness before they reached the promised land. Modern day Israel has already spent 41 years in the moral wilderness, as the military occupiers of another people’s land. Thousands have died, most of them Palestinians but far too many Israelis as well. Jimmy Carter is right. It’s time to end the wandering and begin to cross over to the promised land.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin. chernus@colorado.edu

With friends like these . . .

With friends like these . . .

When David Mamet declared last month that he was no longer a 'brain-dead liberal', he joined the ranks of leftwing writers, from Arthur Koestler to Kinglsey Amis to Christopher Hitchens, who have moved to the right and attacked former allies. Playwright David Edgar challenges the new generation of renegades

David Edgar
Saturday April 19, 2008


One striking aspect of the 1968 and post-1968 generation has been overlooked in the current nostalgia fest.

Despite Robert Frost's stern warning against the dangers of youthful idealism ("I never dared to be radical when young, for fear it would make me conservative when old"), remarkably few of those formed by 1968 and its aftermath have moved to the right in middle age. That is, until now.

In the same way that a surprising number of Thatcher and Reagan's key thinkers were former communists, the ideological campaign for the war on terror abroad and against multiculturalism at home has been dominated by people who were formed by the student revolt, feminism and anti-racist movement of the 1970s. As with the political defectors of the past, their critique of the left is validated by personal experience. Just as past generations sought to reposition the fault-lines of 20th-century politics (notably, by bracketing communism with fascism as totalitarianism), so, now, influential writers seek to redraw the political map of our own time. And, intentionally or not, they are undermining the historic bond between progressive liberalism and the poor.

I became interested in the politics of defection in the late 1970s. I'd written a play about the far right (Destiny), but as the National Front crashed to ignominious defeat in 1979, it was clear that its thunder had been stolen by a resurgent conservatism that owed much of its passion and its principles to deserters from the left. As the death-agony of the 1974-79 Labour government unfolded, former socialists and communists contributed to proto-Thatcherite tirades with titles like "The Future that Doesn't Work" and "An Escape from George Orwell's 1984". In 1978, former leftwingers such as Kingsley Amis, Max Beloff, Reg Prentice, Paul Johnson and Alun Chalfont anthologised their apostasy in a book proudly titled Right Turn.

In my play about defection (Maydays, produced by the RSC in 1983), I speculated about how the British class of '68 might move to the conservative right. Essentially transposing the experience of earlier generations into the 70s, I don't think my central character's trajectory was implausible. In France, Bernard-Henri Lévy and other nouveaux philosophes had provided a vocabulary of retreat for the veterans of the Paris events of May 1968. Some American popular radicals had fled to business (Jerry Rubin) or to the religious right (Eldridge Cleaver), and former Ramparts editor and Black Panther supporter David Horovitz was to mount a 1987 conference, Second Thoughts, at which former 60s radicals such as Michael Medved and PJ O'Rourke confessed and renounced their errors. Nonetheless, most of the leading figures of the period - from Tom Hayden, Todd Gitlin and Bernardine Dohrn in America via Danny Cohn-Bendit in Germany to Tariq Ali, Robin Blackburn and Sheila Rowbotham here - have remained faithful to their previous ideals. And while Alan Milburn, Alan Johnson, Alistair Darling and Stephen Byers have clearly moved a considerable distance since their days in or about the Trotskyite far left, they would doubtless claim to be pursuing a drastically revised version of the same, socially progressive agenda. Until very recently, almost everybody disillusioned with the far left felt there was still a viable near left they could call home.

Now, that appears to be changing. Bookshop shelves are not quite yet groaning with defection literature, but Nick Cohen (What's Left?), Andrew Anthony (The Fallout), Ed Husain (The Islamist) and Melanie Phillips (Londonistan) are all self-confessed deserters (Phillips wears the "apostate" label with pride). Although Martin Amis was never part of the revolutionary or communist left (and attacked both his father and his friend Christopher Hitchens for so being), The Second Plane is an assault on the kind of liberal, literary intellectuals among whom Amis has moved throughout his life. And although Cohen, Anthony, Phillips et al have poured particular vituperation on leftwing playwrights (David Hare and Harold Pinter in particular), they have now been joined by one - David Mamet, who last month wrote a piece for the Village Voice entitled "Why I am no longer a 'brain-dead liberal'" (he no longer believes that "people are basically good at heart"). Like previous generations, these defectors have been there, done that, and can now bear witness to their former misbeliefs. In so doing, they are joining a club with an extensive membership. Most of the radical and progressive achievements of the 20th century - including the Russian revolution - were brought about by an alliance between the oppressed and the intelligentsia, and a good proportion of them - particularly the Russian revolution - were followed by disappointment and desertion. For some, disillusion set in as early as 1921, when the Bolsheviks suppressed a sailors' uprising at Kronstadt, the port of St Petersburg and cradle of the October revolution. Subsequent "Kronstadt moments" included the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact, the neo-Stalinist show trials in eastern Europe in the early 50s, Khrushchev's exposure of Stalin's crimes in February 1956 and the Soviet invasion of Hungary in November of that year.

As a result of these crises, ex-communist writers such as Arthur Koestler and Stephen Spender moved to the liberal centre. Others, like WH Auden, withdrew from political involvement altogether. For many, like the American poet and bohemian Max Eastman and the fellow-travelling novelist John Dos Passos, the cold war provided a changing room from which they emerged - with new stars in their eyes - as full-blown, traditionalist conservatives.

The events of 1956 changed the rules of membership of the ex-communist club in two ways. The creation of a self-consciously non-Stalinist New Left gave people disillusioned with communism somewhere else to go. On the other hand, the subsequent activities of the New Left became a recruiting agency for the right among older radicals, socialists and even liberals. For ex-communist Kingsley Amis, opposition to the expansion of higher education ("more will mean worse") was the first of many Conservative causes which transformed the author of Lucky Jim into a Thatcherite cheerleader. Similarly, what became the Reagan coalition was given considerable intellectual ballast by a group of New York intellectuals surrounding ex-Trotskyite Irving Kristol, for whom the hippy counter-culture, Black Power and later the women's and environmental movement demonstrated the infantilism and nihilism of the New Left. Self-defined as "liberals mugged by reality", Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Bell were genuinely neoconservatives, having previously been revolutionaries (Kristol), radicals (Podhoretz, Glazer) or at the very least democratic progressives.

As former victims of political delusion, these defectors claim a unique authority. But there is something quite particular about spending the second half of your life taking revenge on the first. Inevitably, however complete the conversion, what defectors think and do now is coloured by what they thought and did before. Most people who leave the far left do so because of their experience of far-left organisations: their authoritarianism and manipulation, their contempt for allies as "useful idiots", their insistence that the end justifies the means and that deceit is a class duty, their refusal to take anything anyone else says at face value (dismissing disagreement as cowardice or class treachery) and, most of all, their dismissal as "bourgeois" of the very ideals that draw people to the left in the first place. As Spender wrote in The God that Failed (1949), "the communist, having joined the party, has to castrate himself of the reasons which made him one".

But, often, something else is going on. Frequently, there is a sense among defecting intellectuals that it's not just the party that has let them down. Most people move left either because they are outraged by the victimhood of the oppressed (Spender's distress at men and women "sealed into leaden slums") or because they are inspired by the left's revolutionary ardour (as many of my generation were by the Black Panthers and the Vietcong). The discovery that the poor do not necessarily respond to their victimhood with uncomplaining resignation is as traumatic as the complementary perception that they don't always behave in a spirit of selfless heroism.

Hard enough to be fooled by the party; even harder to accept that you deluded yourself into believing that the poor are, by virtue of their poverty, uniquely saintly or strong. No surprise that this realisation turns into a sense of personal betrayal, which turns outwards into blame.

One obvious result of this is the tendency of ex-radicals to become very conservative indeed, a tendency satirised by Edmund Wilson in his quip about John Dos Passos: "On account of Soviet knavery / He favours restoring slavery". Dos Passos was not the only American Marxist to pole-vault the cold-war liberal centre and land in the arms of William F Buckley's high conservative National Review. Initially claiming that he still believed in the end of working-class emancipation, former Trotskyite Max Eastman quickly turned on "mush-headed liberals" who "bellyache" about civil rights; for former beat critic and latter neoconservative Podhoretz, homosexuality was a death wish and feminism a plague.

Above all, the reality that neocons felt mugged by was the moral inadequacy of the poor. Kristol's manifesto On the Democratic Idea in America blamed the free market for encouraging unreasonable appetites in the working class; as Robert Nesbit put it, "to allay every fresh discontent, to assuage every social pain, and to gratify every fresh expectation".

Like Eldridge Cleaver, the neocons argued that the welfare state had turned the poor into parasites; James Q Wilson asserts that, in the black community, welfare became for black women what heroin was for black men. For Podhoretz, far from being "persecuted and oppressed", the blacks he knew were doing the persecuting and oppressing.

The directness and lack of apology in neoconservative polemic is a result of the fact that its authors had discharged the same ordnance in the opposite direction, and knew the likely weight and calibre of the returning fire. Most political defectors leave the left because its authoritarian practices stand in such stark contrast to its emancipatory ideals. For many, however, there is a double paradox: on opening their suitcase at the end of the journey, they find not just that the libertarian ideals they left the left to preserve have gone missing, but that the only thing remaining is the very cynicism and ruthlessness which they left the left to escape.

So, as on the far left, there is a tendency to see the world in stark, binary terms. Kingsley Amis once admitted that "it's all pretty black and white to me now. If you decide, as I have, that there are only two sides to the argument, then it's all quite simple." Kristol insists that environmentalists aren't really interested in clean air or clean water; what they're really after is authoritarian political power. And a condemnation of the practice of radicals and revolutionaries justifies the abandonment of the groups they seek to defend. For neocon Nathan Glazer, 60s radicalism was "so beset with error and confusion" that even its mildest manifestations - such as affirmative action for African Americans - had to be swept away.

Is this pattern reflected among those defectors for whom the "Kronstadt moment" was 9/11? Certainly, Husain's The Islamist describes a progression towards and then away from the non-jihadist but pro-Caliphate Hizb ut-Tahrir, which will be familiar to any reader of defection literature; he is now working with the Conservative thinktank Civitas. Commentators Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch and Andrew Anthony all had left-wing parents, and were involved in political campaigning around race, gender and class in the 1970s (Aaronovitch was one of Manchester University's notorious University Challenge team, who answered "Marx", "Lenin" or "Trotsky" to every question). Although none of them has abandoned the whole progressive package, their main target is a left-liberal intelligentsia, which, as they see it, opposed the overthrow of a fascist dictator, Saddam Hussein, and is now in an unholy Faustian alliance - justified by modish, postmodern cultural relativism - with the far right.

The far right in question is not the BNP, but political Islamism, represented by those main Muslim umbrella organisations that are seen to have links with Islamists in Muslim countries, particularly those who joined the coalition that organised the demonstration on February 15 2003 against the invasion of Iraq. And, as no one is suggesting that the Socialist Workers Party, or its fellow travellers in what Aaronovitch calls "the bruschetta crowd", is using the anti-war alliance to pursue a hidden, anti-feminist, homophobic and theocratic agenda, it initially appears that the dupers are conspiratorial Islamists and the dupees the naively innocent socialists who marched beside them. Just like the "useful idiots" of the 30s, they are giving aid and comfort to Muslim extremists, in the deluded hope (to quote Cohen) that the Islamists will "shake themselves and say, 'fair enough, we realise that now you've addressed our root cause, we don't want a theocratic empire after all'".

No one on the progressive liberal left can be comfortable with any of the religions of the book, particularly when literally applied. And those of us who dismissed the oppression of women and gay people as "secondary contradictions" in the early 70s are correctly wary of putting those issues on the back-burner now. Certainly, the progressive left is in alliance with a group whose traditional views run counter to some central planks of its platform. Twenty-five years on from Maydays, I have written a new play (Testing the Echo), which is partly about the temptation - on these understandable grounds - to reject any kind of religious affiliation, to brand fundamentalist Islam as brown fascism, and (thereby) to abandon an impoverished, beleaguered and demonised community.

For, let's be clear, the alliance to which the new defectors object - the alliance enabled by a multiculturalism that sought to give visibility and confidence to entire communities - is not just between a few deluded revolutionaries and the odd crazed Muslim cleric. Martin Amis denies he's declaring war on the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, but his "thought experiment" about meting out collective punishment on Muslims (travel restriction, deportation, strip searching) "until it hurts the whole community" makes no distinction between followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir and the man in the Clapham mosque.

Cohen is careful to point out that "Islamism has Islamic roots", and, clearly, the group that he dubs the "far right" goes beyond the adherents of Jamaat-e-Islami. It's also a group that - defined in the old-fashioned way as Pakistanis and Bangladeshis - remains at the bottom of the socioeconomic heap. As Trevor Phillips pointed out in his "sleepwalking into segregation" speech, made after 7/7, a Pakistani man with identical qualifications to a white man is still going to earn £300,000 less in his lifetime.

It is also a group that suffered, particularly during Cohen, Aaronovitch and Anthony's formative years. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Paki-bashing created an image of Britain's south Asian communities as a traditionally submissive group, victimised by unwarranted aggression. For some, this image was complemented by admiration for groups such as the Bradford 12, who sought to defend their communities against fascist attack, and won the right to do so in court. When, in 1989, Bradford's Pakistanis found a sense of self-confidence and identity through burning books rather than banks, it's no surprise that liberal progressives who had supported, maybe even pitied, that community felt a sense of betrayal. In their books, Cohen and Anthony frequently point out how people on the left grow bitter when the poor fail to live up to the romance of unbridled heroism or untainted victimhood. They don't fully take into account the effect of that delusion on themselves.

Many of the usual pathologies of defection can be detected in the current crop. The attack on multiculturalism - so often sold as a reassertion of Enlightenment principles - often masks a distinctly unenlightened reassertion of hierarchic and traditionalist thinking. Despite his defence of women's and gay rights against Qur'anic scholars, a distinct strain of hostility to the sexual gains of the 60s runs through Cohen's What's Left?: he blames the anti-racists and sexual reformers of the 60s for dissolving "the bonds of mutual support", dips more than a toe into the Daily Mail's critique of the welfare state (breaking up families, privileging immigrants), and blames the Respect party for Pakistani and Bangladeshi unemployment.

Martin Amis's elegant prose shouldn't blind us to his seeming obsession with the Muslim birth rate as a "gangplank to theocracy" ("Has feminism cost us Europe?" he asked in an Independent interview). David Goodhart, editor of left-leaning Prospect magazine (who describes the 60s as "the decade that sharply eroded authority and constraint"), argued in his pamphlet Progressive Nationalism for a two-tier welfare system, the teaching of imperial history in schools, the creation of a migration and integration ministry, the raising of citizenship test hurdles, the reassertion of the monarchy and the army as nationally binding institutions, the banning of certain forms of dress from public buildings and the reintroduction of conscription. That several of these proposals are now government policy is an indication of how Gordon Brown's golden thread of British liberties has thickened into what looks more like a whip.

Most importantly, the culture of betrayal has blinded contemporary defectors to the significant achievements of the alliance between British Muslims and the left. Along with Phillips, Cohen and the New Statesman's Martin Bright, Anthony is preoccupied with the Muslim Council of Britain and its spokesman Inayat Bunglawala, quoting his remark that the campaign against Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses brought Muslims together and "helped develop a British Muslim identity".

In fact, Bunglawala's attitude to Rushdie goes to the heart of whether the progressive-Muslim alliance is a genuine conversation or the contemporary equivalent to the Nazi-Soviet pact. In a Guardian article last June, he reiterated the importance of the anti-Rushdie campaign in building self-confidence among a small, isolated, beleaguered and frequently victimised community, but went on to "readily acknowledge we were wrong to have called for the book to be banned". Now, he confesses, "I can better appreciate the concerns and fear generated by the images of book-burning in Bradford and calls for the author to be killed". Not least because, as he wrote in response to a critical blog, the same laws that allowed Rushdie to write The Satanic Verses protects the rights of Muslims to say what they think, too.

Support for human rights legislation that protects the rights of religious as well as sexual minorities is controversial within the Muslim community, as are other examples of supposedly diehard Islamists responding to liberal criticism. For example, the MCB came under fire when it decided - not before time - to participate in Holocaust Day ceremonies. Azzam Tamimi is a leading member of the main Muslim organisation in the Stop the War Coalition, the British Muslim Initiative, a group much reviled for its close ties with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian equivalent, Hamas. Tamimi's book on Hamas (published in America as Hamas: A History from Within) contains a sustained critique of Hamas's constitution, its treatment of the Jews, and its quotation of the tsarist antisemitic forgery the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Another leading member of the BMI, Anas Altikriti, points out that the Qur'an says nothing about homosexuality beyond relaying the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah (and, for that matter, does not call for the execution of apostates). Altikriti negotiated for hostage Norman Kember's release in Iraq, campaigned against escalating protests over the Jyllands-Posten cartoons in Denmark (while sympathising with Muslim anger against them) and argues that, unlike the British government, he has been fighting separatist Muslim extremism since long before 1997.

Despite the drumbeat of demonisation by media and politicians, these and other Muslim leaders are increasingly open to the argument that their shared interest in universal human rights trumps what we rightly regard as illiberal beliefs. They are, in other words, going in precisely the opposite direction from that which their detractors describe and predict. Are they really (to use Hitchens's formulation) to be anathematised as "fascists with an Islamic face"?

All of the great progressive movements of the 20th century in the west - solidarity with republican Spain, the building of welfare states, the civil rights movement in the southern United States, the war against apartheid in South Africa - were led by an alliance between progressive intellectuals and the victims of oppression. The civil rights movement in particular allied secular Jews (often with communist backgrounds) from the north with black Christians in the south. The difficulties of that relationship were demonstrated when - after victory was largely won - blacks asserted the need for an all-black leadership of one of the main civil rights groups. Later, feminists properly criticised the leaders of the Black Panthers for the sexism of both their political practice and personal behaviour. Despite all that, does anyone think the creation of the alliance which successfully desegregated the American south was a mistake?

Whether they like it or not, the current defectors are seeking to provide a vocabulary for the progressive intelligentsia to abandon the poor. So, for civil libertarians, the divide is no longer between left and right, but between authority and personal liberty. For atheists, it is between secularism and religious belief. For some American and European feminists, it is between women's rights and a multiculturalism that validates Muslim patriarchy. For a number of former leftwingers, it is between the social solidarity of a conservative working class and the demands of multicultural newcomers.

What all these fault-lines have in common is that they pit progressives against the group that is under the most sustained political attack, here and abroad, and that those who draw them include people who have the authority of the convert, having seen the error of their ways. It behoves those of us who have also been there and done that, not to defend the indefensible, but to protect the vocabulary of alliance that has done so much good in the past and is so necessary now.

· Testing the Echo is at the Tricycle Theatre, London NW6, until May 3 (box office: 020 7328 1000), and at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre from May 7 to 10 (box office: 0121 236 4455).

22 April 2008

Muslim Martin Luthers: The Theologians Working Towards a Euro-Islam

04/22/2008 05:33 MUSLIM MARTIN LUTHERS
The Theologians Working Towards a Euro-Islam
By Dieter Bednarz and Daniel Steinvorth

Leading Muslim scholars are laying the theological foundations for a "Euro-Islam" which would reconcile their religion with the challenges of modernity. But just how compatible is Islam with secular Western values?

The air in the conference room is stale, and the dour mood among those present is not much better. The room smells of sweat, cigarette smoke, cold coffee -- and plenty of problems. That comes with the territory at a meeting of some 100 social workers who work in flashpoints like the London boroughs of Hounslow, Eastleigh and Ealing.

In their districts they often have to deal with angry youth gangs, unemployment and failed integration policies. Today, on this particular Thursday, they have gathered here in the large hall of the Holborn Bars conference center to learn that multiculturalism also has positive aspects and, most importantly, that no one needs to be afraid of Muslims.

Up on the stage, Lucy de Groot, the organizer of the one-day seminar "Cultural Diversity and Social Cohesion," presents “with great pleasure” a speaker whose appearance alone is enough to add a touch of brilliance to this gloomy conference room. Smiling here and nodding there, the “esteemed guest” strides up to the podium with the confidence of an entertainer who has grown accustomed to success. Tariq Ramadan knows how to win people over.

Many of the veteran social workers have an almost enraptured expression on their faces as they look up at the tall, thin man. With his striking features and dark well-trimmed beard, his sand-colored suit with its elegant casualness, the unbuttoned collar of his bright yellow shirt and his slightly dark complexion, Ramadan resembles a Latino singer. “It’s wonderful to be in London,” he says warmly into the microphone. “Thank you very much for inviting me.” Ramadan places the fingertips of his well-manicured hands together and gazes confidently at the audience. His fan club is guaranteed to be even bigger after this afternoon.

Officially, Ramadan, 45, is a professor of Islamic studies in Geneva. But now he has just come from Oxford, where he teaches at St. Antony’s College as a visiting fellow. In effect, Ramadan is something of a modern-day itinerant preacher. His mission is to boost the self-confidence of Europe’s Muslims and to explain his vision of a “European Islam” to Europe’s Christian elite. The new brand of faith which, according to Ramadan, “is currently taking shape among European Muslims with Islamic-European culture” aims to reconcile Western values with the teachings of Islam. This “Euro-Islam” has allowed Ramadan to win friends among immigrant children and proponents of interreligious dialogue -- and make enemies among right-wing nationalists and hardline Islamists.

Ramadan has given thousands of presentations over the past few years, speaking to a wide range of audiences, including Muslims and Christians, atheists and Jews, church representatives and politicians, industrialists, students and anti-globalization activists. Over the weekend, he made four appearances in France where he spoke to over 2,500 people, mostly young Muslims. Tonight he will speak in Birmingham at a police convention, tomorrow morning his schedule takes him to Blackpool; he can't remember off the top of his head who he's talking to there.

The highly popular speaker can devote little more than half an hour to Lucy de Groot’s seminar. But that’s enough time for a brilliant presenter like Ramadan to talk about his religion, Muslim minorities, integration and exclusion -- and to alleviate the fears of his audience of an impending “clash of civilizations,” as prophesized by Harvard University political scientist Samuel Huntington.

“We start to run into problems when we construct new dividing lines, when we cease to see society as a whole,” says Ramadan to the worn-out-looking men and women sitting at large round tables. “Instead of perceiving Muslims as ‘the other’ or foreigners, try to see them as fellow Englishmen and women.”

All the listeners can do is nod in approval. After all, this man is one of the most prominent Muslims in Europe -- even if he is also one of the most controversial.

A scholar and a blusterer, a reformer and an Islamist, a rationalist and a demagogue -- surely no other Muslim has been given such varied labels as Ramadan.

Some, like the British government, see him as a Muslim visionary who provides a modern interpretation of the Koran and breaks with outmoded traditions. “We need trust and dialogue and a more flexible faith,” says Ramadan. This kind of language prompted former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to appoint him to what was essentially a Muslim task force to combat extremism. On the other side of the Atlantic, Time magazine placed him on its list of the 100 people who comprise "tomorrow's most influential individuals."

Others see him as an Islamist in disguise, a “wolf in sheep's clothing,” a master of deception. And, as a matter of fact, Ramadan has made a number of statements that don’t sound remotely liberal or tolerant.

An Islamic Superstar

For instance, when he appeared on a French talk show, Ramadan justified the sharia, the Islamic body of social and religious law, which, when strictly interpreted, calls for draconian punishments that constitute a violation of human rights. And he refused to issue a blanket condemnation of the particularly cruel practice of stoning to death. Instead he proposed a moratorium on this form of capital punishment. His opponents warn that when he appears before young Muslims and no cameras are present, it's possible that Ramadan strikes a very different tone.

US authorities have even officially classified him as a terrorist sympathizer. After Ramadan donated money to dubious Palestinian groups, the Americans decided to revoke his visa.

Ramadan’s family does indeed have a reputation for radicalism. His Egyptian grandfather was Hassan al-Banna, who in 1928 founded the Muslim Brotherhood, an influential Islamic fundamentalist organization that is active throughout the Middle East and even in Europe. His father Said, also a religious zealot, fled to Europe to escape his persecutors in the Egyptian regime. Tariq was born in Geneva.

Radical offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood produced the men who assassinated Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Farag Foda, a reformist intellectual who said “We need a Martin Luther” -- and was shot down in the streets of Cairo in 1992.

Although many people view Ramadan with suspicion, there are in fact a number of parallels between him and the German reformer. Like Luther, who challenged the Catholic clergy, Ramadan campaigns against the “traditionalists who advocate a literal interpretation of the Koran.” Like the monk from Wittenberg, the professor from Switzerland seeks to break up the monopoly held by religious scholars on interpreting the holy book.

Instead of slavishly adhering to ancient revelations, Ramadan says it is necessary to examine the “historical context” in which God’s revelations were received by the Prophet Muhammad. “Islam,” says Ramadan, “cannot place itself outside of history.”

What he means by that is reflected in the ongoing debate between radicals and reformers over the issue of apostasy -- the renunciation or abandonment of one’s religious faith. Sura 16:106 says: “He who, after accepting faith in Allah, freely opens his heart to unbelief, shall feel the wrath of Allah and shall receive a dreadful punishment.” Over the centuries, conservatives have interpreted this to mean that heretics should receive the death penalty.

Ramadan, however, does not see apostasy as a crime. He points out that circumstances have “totally changed.” At the time of the Prophet, he says, the Muslims were at war with neighboring tribes. Changing faith was tantamount to treason or desertion -- and was punishable by death. That was then. Today, according to Ramadan, faith “is a personal matter for each individual.”

“Renew your understanding of the text, even though the text itself does not change. Read it in a new way,” says Ramadan, as he calls on his Muslim brothers to reinterpret the Koran.

This places him in good company with other authorities on the Koran like the Egyptian Nasr Hamid Abu Zeid and the Iranian Abdolkarim Sorush, who have written a number of books on the topic and are highly regarded among theologians. They are also proponents of using hermeneutics -- the science of interpreting texts -- to understand the Koran.

However, it is Ramadan’s grass-roots popularity that allows him to reach a much wider audience.

“Yesterday, we relied on the solutions that came from our countries of origin, because we only knew one way to remain a Muslim: to remain the Muslims that we were,” he preaches. “But then children were born, new generations, and they are German and British and French. This is our community now; we cannot rely on solutions that come from our countries of origin. We need local solutions.”

His solution is a form of faith in which Western norms and Islam are not mutually exclusive. Democracy, freedom of speech, human rights and religious freedom -- these are all things that the faithful can embrace as long as they respect the “inalienable core” of Islam: profession of faith, prayer, almsgiving, fasting. “Practically everything else,” says Ramadan, “can be interpreted and adjusted in space and time.”

Nevertheless, Ramadan's vision of Euro-Islam does not entail the secularism, in the sense of a separation of religion and state, that many Westerners would like him to advocate. Ramadan’s faith makes no distinction between political and private realms, between religious and worldly matters. He does not question the holistic nature of Islam. Thus this widely celebrated visionary -- who always carries a small copy of the Koran, drinks no alcohol, and advocates separating the sexes in swimming pools -- is not a genuine reformer, say his critics.

However, with his interpretation of Islam, Ramadan builds bridges that allow apprehensive Muslims to open up to their new homelands. He doesn’t alarm them with heretical slogans, yet tries to pull them out of the so-called "ghetto Islam" of the fundamentalists. A strategy paper written by the British government therefore clearly sees him as the spearhead of an “Islamic Reformation” on the old continent.

Among second and third-generation Muslims in particular, Ramadan enjoys the “aura of an Islamic superstar,” as the New York Times Magazine recently wrote. The young faithful see him as the ultimate über-Muslim: a professor in Oxford and the offspring of a family that is renowned for its religious fervor -- extremely devout, yet socially acceptable. Piousness and urbanity, Islam and the modern age -- Ramadan is a living example for his supporters that all these things are compatible.

Ramadan gives young Muslims what they yearn for: pride and dignity -- and the reassuring feeling that they can hit the discos at night and still remain faithful servants of God. A Euro-Islam like this, says Freiburg-based Islamic scholar Ludwig Ammann, “reaches out to the majority of Muslims right where they are” -- in the conservative camp with its blind faith in authority.

By contrast, Bassam Tibi, a leading German Islamic reformer who teaches at Göttingen University, sees Ramadan’s vision of Islam as “an attempt to give Islam a European face-lift instead of harmonizing the religion with Europe’s cultural, social and political identity.”

Secular Islam, Turkish Style

But is such a Europeanization even possible? Could it be that the notion of a pluralistic democracy based on a secular constitution and the all-embracing nature of Islam -- which makes no distinction between religious and secular matters -- are mutually exclusive? Are Islam and Europe -- sharia and human rights -- like fire and water?

“No,” says Tibi, who was born in Syria, and coined the term “Euro-Islam” in the early 1990s as a counterpoint to the “ghetto Islam” of many immigrants who cut themselves off from their European surroundings and seek their salvation in religious fervor. He says that the Koran can be interpreted in many different ways, giving it the “advantage of adaptability.” To back up his assertion, Tibi points to the forms of “Islam in West Africa and in Indonesia, which are very different from the Arab or Persian versions, although all Muslims believe in the one God and his Prophet Muhammad.”

The extent of the compatibility of Islam and secularism has in fact been demonstrated by Turkey, the largest and certainly most conclusive experiment conducted to date on the flexibility of the faith -- and one which is located directly on Europe’s doorstep. Over the years, this EU candidate and NATO member has served as one of the best examples in the world of the stark contrasts that exist between East and West -- the faith of the Prophet and the values of the West. No other Islamic country has forced Islam to accept as much secularity as the Republic of Turkey, founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal, known as Atatürk (“father of the Turks”).

Building on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, this staunch European imposed a revolution from above that aimed to transform Anatolia into a modern, democratic nation-state, including forced secularization to free it from the shackles of religion. Atatürk abolished the Caliphate, in which the sultan had authority over the realm and its religious affairs. To symbolize the country’s new orientation toward the West, Atatürk prohibited men from wearing the fez, a red woolen hat with a tassel, and women were not allowed to wear headscarves. He ordered the abolition of the sharia courts and banished religion to the private sphere.

To keep the mosques free of regressive ideology, Atatürk established the Presidency of Religious Affairs (DIB). This state agency, which now has over 100,000 employees, supervises the training of imams and muezzins -- the criers who lead the call to prayer from a minaret of a mosque -- and it also decides what will be preached. The president of this organization is the highest ranking representative of Islam in Turkey -- an office currently held by Ali Bardakoglu, an avowed reform theologian. The head of the DIB calls on “the Islamic world to further develop objective thinking and reason.”

Bardakoglu was appointed five years ago by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist who many once feared would shake the foundations of the Kemalist establishment. Today, however, this deeply religious government leader is widely acclaimed as a modernizer who is whipping the country into shape for entry into the EU and whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) serves as an Islamic counterpart to Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Any fears that Turkey would reinstate the Caliphate and return to sharia have vanished, also thanks to Bardakoglu.

In contrast to his predecessors, who saw their position as a Kemalist bulwark, the current head of the DIB aims to promote religious discourse, push for reforms and give Islam a new look -- in a very literal sense. He demonstratively refused to wear the heavy black robe worn by his predecessors. It was too authoritarian for Bardakoglu’s taste. Now the country’s top Muslim wears spiritual white, like the pope.

The man from Ankara maintains a dialogue with the head of the Catholic Church, despite heated disputes over the pope's now infamous Regensburg speech. In the papal address held last September at the University of Regensburg in Germany, Benedict XVI quoted the little known Byzantine emperor Manuel II: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

An angry Bardakoglu described the pope's statement as reflecting a “crusader mentality.” He only assumed a more conciliatory tone following a personal meeting with Benedict XVI during his visit to Turkey. Now historians and theologians are working on a paper that will allow the DIB to refute the emperor’s statement.

In his reform campaigns, Bardakoglu has pushed primarily for a reinterpretation of Islamic scripture. “Every age,” he preaches to his imams, “must rely on its own spirit, its strengths, its intellectual experience to understand the Koran.” The ammunition for debates with the fundamentalists comes from a nearby institution in the capital -- the University of Ankara.

Founded in 1948, the university’s department of theology has a reputation as the nucleus of all religious reform initiatives in Turkey. Today, there are an additional 23 theological departments throughout the country, and their deans are almost all graduates of the original department in the capital.

'We Muslims Have Been Left Behind'

Yasar Nuri Öztürk, who lives in Istanbul, is the most well known and certainly the most influential representative of Turkish reformist theology. Whether he’s walking along the banks of the Bosporus or through the bazaar, many Turks immediately recognize this small, rather unassuming, nearly bald man from his numerous TV appearances, from his columns in the daily newspaper Hürriyet and from his over 30 books, which have sold more than a million copies in Turkey alone. Many of them have been translated into Arabic, Farsi, English and German. Given Öztürk's high profile, people tend to overlook the fact that he also happens to be the dean of the theological department of the University of Istanbul.

Öztürk’s thinking is mainly aimed at the fundamentalist elite in regimes of the Islamic world that oppress their people in the name of God. He says, however, that the Muslims only have themselves to blame for this state of affairs because they understand “almost nothing” about the “real Islam” as it stands in the Koran. Did not Allah himself declare that the system of monarchist rule was unacceptable? This, at least, is how Öztürk interprets verse 34 of the 27th Sura: “Surely the kings, when they enter a town or a country, lay it to waste and make the noblest of its people into the lowest. That is their way.”

And Öztürk, with reference to the holy book, clearly rejects the position of bigoted mullahs and zealots who still dream of reinstating the Caliphate. “The Koran proclaims that the prophethood is over,” he says. “And one of the fundamental demands that arises from that, is that the age is over when people are led by individuals claiming to derive their authority from God.”

While the Bible and the Torah promise the rule of God on Earth, Öztürk sees the Koran as “the only book that proclaims that theocracy should have no role in the lives of people.” This “key truth” of the Koran is, however, “kept secret and concealed in Islamic societies.”

Öztürk preaches this vision of Islam and politics with his own mixture of theological authority and populism. His understanding of a secular state, however, is not the traditional division of religion and worldly matters. Öztürk's version of secularism is based more on a kind of "democracy imperative" which is based on the Koran and which should force rulers to base their authority “not on God or divine right, but on the will of the people.”

The so-called Ankara School of reform-minded theologians has even spread beyond Turkey’s borders to Germany. Ömer Özsoy, 44, one of the reform movement’s most renowned scholars, has become the first Muslim professor of theology at a German university. At his inaugural lecture, held last November at Frankfurt University, he addressed “modern interpretations of the Koran.”

What this graceful man with fine features and a high forehead says tends to strike many Muslims -- who see the Koran as the eternal word of God -- as simply unbelievable. Özsoy asserts that the holy book of the Muslims is not a timeless message.

The professor of theology sees the Koran as a “speech by God” directed toward a specific group of people at a specific time and under specific circumstances. According to Özsoy, this is shown by the fact that the revelations to the Prophet occurred over a period of approximately 23 years, first in Mecca, then in Medina. Every statement by God relates to a special situation that Muhammad and his followers faced, as fighters, believers, refugees or conquerors. He says that we can only understand the message behind God’s word if we know the circumstances under which the Prophet received the revelation.

Özsoy is convinced that only a fraction of what the revelation intends to convey to mankind is actually contained in the Koran. The majority of the actual messages can only be elucidated by studying historical events as they transpired 1,400 years ago -- and then reinterpreting them for the present. Since this “transfer” -- this adapting of the Koran to the current situation -- was held in disdain for so long, Muslims now lack “the answers to the questions posed by modernity.” This has had disastrous consequences, he feels: “We Muslims have been left behind.”

In order to make the jump to the present, at least on a theoretical level, the Turkish religious agency is funding the professorial chair for Muslim theology in Frankfurt, which is part of the university's Department of Protestant Theology. In addition to the Germans who attend his lectures, Özsoy’s students reflect the entire multicultural spectrum of the city, from Muslim Macedonians and Christian Egyptians to Turkish-German women in traditional headscarves.

Up until now, only a minority of Muslims in Germany have embraced such reformist approaches. The Islamic researcher Bassam Tibi estimates that perhaps two-thirds of the over 3 million Muslims in Germany would claim to profess a Euro-Islam version of their faith, but he thinks that no more than 10 percent of the Muslim population “genuinely follows” this liberal form of Islam. “Sipping a glass of wine does not necessarily constitute acceptance of European values,” says Tibi.

Tibi attributes little practical importance to the initiatives launched by Ankara, at least for the time being. He says that while the critical thinking of Özsoy and his colleagues is commendable, the vast majority of Turkish Muslims are not open to this line of thinking. In his opinion, “the organized religion is Islamist or orthodox.”

Although Tibi promotes Euro-Islam in his lectures and among his academic colleagues, he has his own doubts over whether the concepts embodied by Euro-Islam hold the key to the future of over a billion Muslims around the world or whether the traditionalists will maintain the upper hand.

However, Tibi is certain that there is no alternative to an Islam that recognizes the “cultural, social and political realities” of modernity. Based on that conviction, the professor from Göttingen will continue to fight for the vision of an Islam without sharia -- and not just in Europe.


21 April 2008

Baracky Obama

Music Review: Stanley Jordan - State of Nature

Music Review: Stanley Jordan - State of Nature
Written by Jordan Richardson
Published April 20, 2008

Stanley Jordan is one of the slickest jazz guitarists around. His expansion of the touch technique has made him legendary in jazz circles. Jordan’s method allows him to play melody and chords at the same time, creating a cascade of sound. His new album uses this cascade of sound to create a set of songs relating to a theme very close to his heart: Mother Earth.

State of Nature will be released on April 22 (Earth Day), with no coincidences ever intended. Jordan’s album carries a theme of native beauty, as each song picks up on a different part of nature and draws on the visual aspects of music to epitomize his concepts.

“Part of the reason I made this album were revelations I discovered in my journey to try to become a better person,” Jordan states. He goes on to elaborate, adding that the idea of taking care of the environment never seems to render human action. “What is it about humans that makes us so intelligent and yet so unwise?”

This thought process would prove to be the underpinning for State of Nature, as the guitar genius weaved the structures for several songs with notions of ecological issues, global warming, and the corrosion of nature. The music celebrates life while also exploring our part in the changing climate and the “state of nature.”

Musically diverse, State of Nature uses classical, jazz, and rock textures to provide a milieu for Stanley’s message of penance and accord with the earth. “A Place in Space” starts things off, provoking thoughts of the scale of the universe. Jordan swings for the fences in “All Blues,” one of the album’s best tracks.

Whether he’s weaving together the traditional strains of Mozart (“Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21”) or taking on a Joe Jackson joint (“Steppin’ Out’), Stanley’s work is free and bold. He often sizzles, producing infuriatingly intricate sounds from his supernatural guitar. The incredible riffs found on “Shadow Dance” prove his talent movingly.

With this album, Stanley Jordan manages to say more about the real state of nature than any amount of protest music or Al Gore docs ever could. His music is striking, stylish, and commanding. His synthesis of various styles ensures that his reflection on the ways of life will resound with fans of all different types of music, making State of Nature an extraordinary work of great power and possibility.

The American Left: A Tale of Two Conferences

The American Left: A Tale of Two Conferences
By Ken Brociner

By sheer coincidence, the two wings of the American left held back-to-back conferences in mid-March. What follows is not only a story about those two conferences, but also a tale of the American left itself.

Before it became known as the Left Forum in 2005, the annual gathering of leftists at New York’s Cooper Union College went by the name of the Socialist Scholars Conference. As in the past, this year’s conference billed itself as a meeting of “intellectuals and activists from around the world.” But it was mostly a coming together of the radical wing of the American left, with a concentration of activists from the New York metropolitan area.

Despite my alienation from the overall politics of the Left Forum, as I was walking around on Saturday, I did feel a kinship with many of the approximately 1,100 people in attendance. Given the average age of the activists and intellectuals who were shuttling back and forth between workshops and panels, it was obvious these folks have been in the struggle for decades.

But I also felt a mixture of sadness and anger. It was like I was in a parallel political universe from the one I inhabit. Nothing captured this surreal feeling more than the fact that the upcoming U.S. presidential election was all but ignored.

Here we were in the middle of compelling race for the Democratic nomination—a race that that has seen the emergence of a remarkable grassroots movement in support of Barack Obama’s insurgent campaign and yet one would barely know it from attending the Left Forum.

Even the panel “The interplay of movements and electoral politics in the U.S.” managed to focus on everything but the political race that has been capturing the imaginations of activists all over America. Instead such hot topics as how progressives can build a labor, green, or left party were addressed.

Some panels were better than others, but for the most part ideology—and a turgid and dogmatic one at that—appeared to have trumped everything going on in the world outside of Cooper Union.

While it might be tempting to dismiss the Left Forum as an annual gathering of the mostly irrelevant far left—doing so would be a mistake.

First, even though the activists who attend the conference each year represent a distinct minority of the American left, their visibility is disproportionately high. And because this wing of the left specializes in shrill ideological pronouncements, it has served to limit the overall appeal of the American left with its most important audience—the American public.

Secondly, the “explain it all” ideology that is so characteristic of the far left (everywhere, not only in the United States) siphons off a significant portion of the overall pool of potential activists. Unfortunately, instead of becoming involved in relevant political work, all too many of these activists wind up wasting their time on the abstractions of stale “ideological struggle.” Or worse, Nader-style Third Partyism.

On Sunday morning when I took my seat on the train to Washington, I couldn’t wait to leave New York and connect to the kind of pragmatic politics that I knew would be on full display at the Take Back America Conference.

This year’s conference was being promoted as “The Progressive Convention.” It is the one gathering each year where the progressive movement comes together. Despite the different functions and agendas of each of the component parts of the movement, practically every one of the 2,000 of so in attendance shares the same general goals and values.

Defeating the right and electing progressives to office serves as the overriding raison d’etre of the conference. Connected to those objectives are: broadening and strengthening the grassroots movement around the country; and advocating on behalf of an ambitious set of social, economic and political issues.

Take Back America 2008 was, as usual, rousing and inspirational. The keynote speeches that stood out for me were those given by Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future (the group that convenes the conference each year); Van Jones, a young and dynamic leader in the environmental movement; and Donna Edwards, the newly elected, soon-to-be, congresswoman from Maryland’s 4th district.

Borosage presented an analytical overview of the current political situation with a stress on how the progressive movement can shift things in a leftward direction. He once again restated his belief, which was clearly shared by most of the people at the conference, that the best way to move forward is to do so as “an independent progressive movement, not as an arm of the Democratic Party.”

Borosage’s perspective is spelled out in a paper that was distributed to everyone at the conference: “Progressives Rising—2008: As Sea-Change Election.”

In the most poignant panel of the conference, Jesse Jackson, Roger Wilkins, and Taylor Branch reflected on how “the lessons of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement” might be applied in the event that we have a Democrat in the White House come 2009.

At a Take Back America press conference it was announced that a loose coalition of progressive groups will be mounting a huge $ 400 million-plus effort to register voters and advocate for candidates in the run-up to November 4 elect.

The AFL-CIO will be spending more than $53 million on outreach to union members. Individual unions within the labor federation, along with the seven unions in the Change to Win coalition will be spending another $300 million or so mobilizing their members, as well as on direct contributions to progressive candidates.

MoveOn.org announced it is planning to spend more than $30 million on the presidential race and in key House and Senate races.

The economic justice group ACORN, a nonprofit organization that cannot advocate for candidates, announced it will running a massive voter registration drive aimed at low-income minorities—to the tune of $35 million.

Other groups participating in the press conference included Rock the Vote, Planned Parenthood, and the National Council of La Raza, each indicating that they are involved in mobilizations of their own.

As the AFL-CIO’s Karen Ackerman made clear, the overall progressive effort to turn out the vote on Election Day will be the most extraordinary mobilization of its kind in American history.

On my flight back to Boston, I was thinking about the two conferences I had just attended. Sadly, one wing of the American left is still stuck in a rigidly ideological view of the world, rendering themselves politically irrelevant. On the other hand, the pragmatic wing of the left has become a real player in American politics and is stronger than it has been in decades. If the Democrats can recapture the White House, this wing of the left should be able to claim at least partial credit for the victory. As a result, progressives are likely to have at least some influence on the new administration’s policies, while at the same time expanding both the ranks and the reach of the progressive movement itself.

Ken Brociner's essays and book reviews have appeared in Dissent, In These Times and Israel Horizons. He also has a biweekly column in the Somerville (Mass.) Journal.

Carter Says Hamas and Syria Are Open to Peace (with several grains of salt)

The claims in regard to Hamas are overstated by Carter, but it is an opening. RS

April 22, 2008
Carter Says Hamas and Syria Are Open to Peace

JERUSALEM — Jimmy Carter, the former American president, said on Monday that he had obtained a significant concession from the Palestinian group Hamas regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace and also found the Syrian leadership eager for a full peace treaty with Israel.

Mr. Carter, who spoke in Jerusalem after several days of talks in the Syrian capital, Damascus, said he had extracted from Hamas a promise to respect the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip if it were ratified by a referendum of the Palestinian people.

He said further that Syria believed “about 85 percent” of the issues between it and Israel had been resolved in prior negotiations and it wanted a peace deal “as soon as possible.”

Given the general pessimism surrounding Israeli-Arab peace, Mr. Carter’s upbeat assessment had a contrarian quality to it, as did his decision to meet in Damascus with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Hamas leadership, all of whom are shunned by the Bush administration which asked him not to hold the meetings.

Mr. Carter called the agreement on a Palestinian state, obtained from Hamas in writing, important because it meant that Hamas, a radical group excluded from the Palestinian Authority yet currently ruling in the Gaza Strip, would not disrupt the negotiations or implementation of any accord if the Palestinian people supported it in a free vote.

“If the agreement calls for a two-state solution and the recognition of Israel and Palestine, Hamas will, in effect, recognize Israel, if the people agree on the plan,” Mr. Carter told the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in a speech here.

In a subsequent interview with The New York Times, Mr. Carter struck a more cautious note, saying, “I’m not claiming it’s a breakthrough.” He added, “I don’t have any control over whether or not Hamas does what they tell me. I just know what they tell me.”

Israeli officials opposed Mr. Carter’s meetings with Hamas leaders, saying doing so legitimizes a group they consider to be a terrorist organization. But Mr. Carter said on Monday, “The problem is not that I met with Hamas in Syria. The problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet these people.”

How a referendum would work is not clear. Mr. Carter said in the interview that he understood that only those Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would participate and that the voting would be monitored by international observers, including observers from the Carter Center.

But Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader in Damascus with whom Mr. Carter had spoken, gave a televised news conference late Monday and said that Hamas wants all Palestinians, including those living abroad, to vote. Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan would likely insist on a right of return to their original homes in what is today Israel, something Israel has said it could never accept.

Mr. Meshal also focused on the return of Palestinians to Israel and Hamas’s refusal to accept Israel’s legitimacy when he said, "Hamas accepts the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and with full and real sovereignty and full application of the right of the Palestinian refugees to return but Hamas will not recognize the state of Israel."

In addition, Mr. Meshal emphasized something else — that no referendum could take place before Hamas and Fatah had reconciled their bitter dispute and the Palestine Liberation Organization, from which Hamas is excluded, was “reformed” to include it.

Such goals seem at the moment rather distant.

Mr. Carter had tried to get Hamas to agree to several other requests and all were turned down. Those included a prisoner exchange and declaring a 30-day unilateral cease-fire with Israel — Hamas fires rockets on Israeli towns and communities in an effort to hurt and kill civilians. On Monday a 4-year-old child was injured from shrapnel after a rocket hit a home on a kibbutz and caused damage, the Israeli army announced.

Mr. Meshal said at his news conference that, through Egypt, he and Israel were working on a possible mutual cease-fire or period of calm so there was no reason to accept Mr. Carter’s suggestion of a unilateral cease-fire.

Mr. Carter said he found the Hamas leadership, including Mr. Meshal, to be clear-thinking, educated people who gave no sign of fanaticism, although he did condemn in harsh terms their use of violence. He said they did not break for prayer, talk of holy land or God. “It was secular talk,” he said.

“They are just as rational as you are,” he said, adding, “The thing that Meshal and I have is that we are both physicists.”

Mr. Carter also said that while he was snubbed by the Israeli leadership over his talks with Hamas, he believes it was due to American pressure that meetings between him and top Israeli leaders were canceled.

In the interview, Mr. Carter said that what he learned about Syrian intentions toward Israel may prove more significant than the Hamas agreement.

He said that Mr. Assad believes there are only a few details left to work out on a full peace treaty but that the Bush administration is discouraging Israel to proceed because of other concerns, especially related to Iraq, that the Americans have with Syria.

“All of our group were surprisingly impressed with his strength and knowledge of the details in contrast to what we had heard from propaganda,” Mr. Carter said of the Syrian president. He emphasized that for Syria, a deal with Israel has to be brokered by the United States to be meaningful.

While Mr. Assad has an alliance with Iran, Mr. Carter believes that the relationship is as an alternative to one with the United States and the West, rather than his first choice. He said he expected Mr. Assad would be willing to separate from that alliance because he wants full peace with Israel.

“He’s willing to put his eggs in that basket of peace with Israel, no matter what Iran thinks,” Mr. Carter said in the interview of Mr. Assad.

Taghreed al-Khodari contributed additional reporting from Gaza.

Stakes High for Democrats in Philly Debate

I've been in shul most of the past few days and haven't gotten around to blogging anything on the so-called debate of last Tuesday night. Now that I think about it, I've actually avoided it. Because the reality was that I turned it off after the first 45 minutes and put some Coltrane on and tried to forget what those two clowns from ABC - Walt Disney Entertainment were doing: talking about exactly the things that thinking Americans, concerned for the future, could not give a damn about. The first half was strictly about ratings and sensationalism to rank with that of the National Enquirer's lower competition. Being an avid watcher of "This Week" since it was David Brinkley, I was most disappointed, nay, disturbed with the obvious bias that was being shown against not only Obama, but against the intelligence of the American voter. Stephanopoulous, who owes his professional life to the Clintons, should have known to recuse himself from "moderating" this "debate". There was nothing moderate about what I saw.

At the first, they were talking still, still, still, talking about Jeremiah Wright. I thought: "aren't we past this?" and "why are they still talking about this BS?" I was in more or less a state of shock that this could be happening, right here in the so-called bastion of freedom in the world where the press is free to do pretty much whatever they want or (according to this morning's New York Times), what the government wants, at least from former military who are connected with the military contracting business somehow. Of all the issues faced by this country at this moment in its history, immediately prior to a potentially pivotal primary vote in Pennsylvania, these two, whose elevators stop at their pockets, not their journalistic integrity center in their brains, decide to talk about trash. Where did they find the ONE voter in this country who "is concerned" with Mr. Obama's patriotism because he doesn't wear a lapel pin? Why are we talking about this "because I know X, therefore I think like X" business? It's almost beyond words and is the reason why I turned it off.

If Obama was pissed off, I don't blame him one bit. If he looked irritated, he had a right to be so. I was irritated. If he would have overreacted, people would have found a way to get on his case about his "temperament" or some nonsense. Having spent the better part of four years studying political science in college, loving politics, this was the equivalent of florid syphillis. Painful and disgusting.

I very briefly perused some of the comments on the ABC website after reading Frank Rich's column in the Times, having just come back from seder at Rav Menashe East's home, where he hosted 45 people. if you have not read that column, you should. If you didn't see the "debate", allow me to tell you that I will not deem it appropriate to remove the quotation marks from that word, as what happened, at least from the half that I saw, was more of a hatchet or axe job on Obama. I have mentioned this to several people, and I invariably hear "oh well, he needed to be tested!" Tested on what? Whether he wears a lapel pin? To vouch for the opinions and statements of people that he happens to know? This is just like the Communist witch hunters headed by the Senator from Appleton, Wisconsin in the 1950s. Nothing less. They used guilt by association then, and Obama's opponents, including and especially Mrs. Clinton, are doing the exact same thing now. The below was an example of a particularly well-done comment that I thought was worthy of attention here:

I love reading the comments of people who think that the moderators did a good job because they "tested" Obama with questions that might be used against him later by Republicans. Is that really the job of moderators of a Presidential debate? Did they tell Obama that they were going to do that when they invited him to a "debate?" It would be like taking your car in to get an oil change and the guy picks up a hammer and smashes your windshield in. And then his buddy excuses his behavior by telling you that the guy did it to "test" you, in case somebody smashes your windshirld in sometime in the future. I'm sure we would all accept that. Let's put this as straight as possible. The moderators of a debate are supposed to be moderating a debate between the candidates, not attacking one of the two candidates incessantly in order to "test" that candidate. That's just a nice little fake excuse you can use if you want to attack somebody, just like the guy with the hammer who was just supposed to change your oil. Stop with all the excuses, already. These guys were supposed to be objectively moderating a DEBATE between candidates who were running for the highest office in the land. Instead they chose to use the time to attack the candidate that they obviously want to lose the contest. Think up all the stupid excuses you want. They don't work. We know a hatchet job when we see it. This was a hatchet job, pure and simple.

I agree and endorse wholeheartedly the sentiments and their expression. There are over 19,000 comments on the debate story on ABC.com. From reports from people who get paid to review those commentary boards, the trend is overwhelmingly in favor of the views I hold and share here. Let us hope that most Pennsylvania voters on Tuesday April 22 see the so-called "race" for what it is: over.

Chag kasher v' sameach....

Randy Shiner

20 April 2008

The Torture Sessions

This is the most unbelievable editorial I have ever read about a President of the United States except Nixon. This is worse.

The Torture Sessions

Published: April 20, 2008
Ever since Americans learned that American soldiers and intelligence agents were torturing prisoners, there has been a disturbing question: How high up did the decision go to ignore United States law, international treaties, the Geneva Conventions and basic morality?

The answer, we have learned recently, is that — with President Bush’s clear knowledge and support — some of the very highest officials in the land not only approved the abuse of prisoners, but participated in the detailed planning of harsh interrogations and helped to create a legal structure to shield from justice those who followed the orders.

We have long known that the Justice Department tortured the law to give its Orwellian blessing to torturing people, and that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved a list of ways to abuse prisoners. But recent accounts by ABC News and The Associated Press said that all of the president’s top national security advisers at the time participated in creating the interrogation policy: Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Rumsfeld; Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser; Colin Powell, the secretary of state; John Ashcroft, the attorney general; and George Tenet, the director of central intelligence.

These officials did not have the time or the foresight to plan for the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq or the tenacity to complete the hunt for Osama bin Laden. But they managed to squeeze in dozens of meetings in the White House Situation Room to organize and give legal cover to prisoner abuse, including brutal methods that civilized nations consider to be torture.

Mr. Bush told ABC News this month that he knew of these meetings and approved of the result.

Those who have followed the story of the administration’s policies on prisoners may not be shocked. We have read the memos from the Justice Department redefining torture, claiming that Mr. Bush did not have to follow the law, and offering a blueprint for avoiding criminal liability for abusing prisoners.

The amount of time and energy devoted to this furtive exercise at the very highest levels of the government reminded us how little Americans know, in fact, about the ways Mr. Bush and his team undermined, subverted and broke the law in the name of saving the American way of life.

We have questions to ask, in particular, about the involvement of Ms. Rice, who has managed to escape blame for the catastrophic decisions made while she was Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, and Mr. Powell, a career Army officer who should know that torture has little value as an interrogation method and puts captured Americans at much greater risk. Did they raise objections or warn of the disastrous effect on America’s standing in the world? Did anyone?

Mr. Bush has sidestepped or quashed every attempt to uncover the breadth and depth of his sordid actions. Congress is likely to endorse a cover-up of the extent of the illegal wiretapping he authorized after 9/11, and we are still waiting, with diminishing hopes, for a long-promised report on what the Bush team really knew before the Iraq invasion about those absent weapons of mass destruction — as opposed to what it proclaimed.

At this point it seems that getting answers will have to wait, at least, for a new Congress and a new president. Ideally, there would be both truth and accountability. At the very minimum the public needs the full truth.

Some will call this a backward-looking distraction, but only by fully understanding what Mr. Bush has done over eight years to distort the rule of law and violate civil liberties and human rights can Americans ever hope to repair the damage and ensure it does not happen again.


The Mufti and the Holocaust

The Mufti and the Holocaust
By John Rosenthal
John Rosenthal on Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten by Klaus Gensicke

KLAUS GENSICKE. Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten. WISSENSCHAFTLICHE BUCHGESELLSCHAFT. 247 PAGES. €49.90

Germany stands for an uncompromising struggle against the Jews. It is self-evident that the struggle against the Jewish national homeland in Palestine forms part of this struggle, since such a national homeland would be nothing other than a political base for the destructive influence of Jewish interests. Germany also knows that the claim that Jewry plays the role of an economic pioneer in Palestine is a lie. Only the Arabs work there, not the Jews. Germany is determined to call on the European nations one by one to solve the Jewish problem and, at the proper moment, to address the same appeal to non-European peoples.

—Adolf Hitler to Haj Amin Al-Husseini, mufti of Jerusalem, November 28, 1941 1

THE PERSISTENCE OF widespread Judeophobia in the Muslim world is hardly a matter of dispute, even if many commentators are inclined to dismiss it as merely an “understandable” reaction to Israeli “oppression.” Among those who take the phenomenon seriously, however, a debate has been taking place of late about its origins. The debate has been spurred on, notably, by the publication in English translation of the German political scientist Matthias Küntzel’s book Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11. The central thesis of Küntzel’s book is that anti-Semitism — or, more precisely, modern anti-Semitism as crystallized in the “Jewish world conspiracy” theory — was largely imported into the Muslim world from Nazi Germany.

Now, one might have expected that opponents of Islamism would welcome a book showing the direct influence of the Third Reich upon the development of the Islamist movement and, most notably, on the Muslim Brotherhood, the pivotal organization in its history. In normal political discourse, after all, pointing out the links of an organization or movement to National Socialism does not exactly constitute an endorsement. Ironically, however, Küntzel’s book has been most roundly criticized — indeed outright denounced — by precisely the most adamant foes of Islamic extremism.

For the most part self-styled experts in Islam, the latter have insisted, as against Küntzel’s thesis, that Muslim anti-Semitism is, in effect, a strictly Muslim affair.
The Gensicke volume provides considerable support for the thesis that “native” Islamic sources of anti-Semitism are primordial in Muslim or Arab anti-Semitism.

Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem and the “father” of Palestinian radicalism, is obviously a key figure for such debates. As is well known, from 1941 to 1945 Husseini lived in Berlin as the honored guest of Nazi Germany. During this time, he notably collaborated with the Nazis in assembling the Muslim SS division “Handzar” in Bosnia, as well as in numerous propaganda activities aimed at Arab speakers. Whereas the facts of Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazis are widely known, what is less know, however, is the degree to which the mufti was influenced by or indeed himself influenced his hosts on an ideological and programmatic level. But a new book by German historian Klaus Gensicke titled Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten — “The Mufti of Jerusalem and the National Socialists” — sheds light on precisely this question. Based largely on primary source materials from the German archives, Gensicke’s volume provides unparalleled insight into the details of the mufti’s relationship to his Nazi hosts: at least as seen from the German side.

Gensicke’s 1988 doctoral dissertation is one of the principal sources for Küntzel’s discussion of the mufti in Jihad and Jew-Hatred and Küntzel himself wrote the preface for Gensicke’s new book: an updated version of the dissertation.

Nonetheless, the Gensicke volume also provides considerable support for the thesis that, so to say, “native” Islamic sources of anti-Semitism are primordial in Muslim or Arab anti-Semitism. At the very least, Gensicke’s account shows the relation between the mufti and the Nazis to have been very much a two-way street: even — or indeed especially — as concerns the notorious “Jewish Question.”

THUS, IN MARCH 1933, only two months after Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, it was in fact the mufti who sought contact to the new German authorities and not vice-versa. In a March 31 telegram to Berlin, the German general consul in Jerusalem, Heinrich Wolff, reported on his meeting with Husseini:

The Mufti explained to me today at length that Muslims both within Palestine and without welcome the new regime in Germany and hope for the spread of fascist, anti-democratic forms of government to other countries. Current Jewish economic and political influence is harmful everywhere and has to be combated. In order to be able to hit the standard of living of Jews, Muslims are hoping for Germany to declare a boycott [of “Jewish” goods], which they would then enthusiastically join throughout the Muslim world.

As Gensicke explains, however, the initial German response to the mufti’s advances was cool. Indeed, the German attitude toward the mufti would remain reserved throughout the first years of Nazi rule. At the time, the Nazi leadership still hoped to come to an understanding with Great Britain that would allow it to pursue unhindered its expansionist goals in Eastern Europe. In return for British acquiescence, it was prepared to treat the Middle East as part of the British sphere of influence.

Moreover, for at least part of the Nazi leadership — Gensicke points in particular to Deputy Foreign Minister Ernst von Weizsäcker — the immigration of German Jews to Palestine represented a tolerable solution to Germany’s supposed “Jewish problem.”

This attitude was obviously inimical to the plans of the mufti, who pleaded with German authorities to restrict Jewish immigration. Starting in August 1933, however, they did the opposite: in effect, facilitating Jewish immigration under the complex terms of the so-called Haavara or “Transfer” Agreement. The Haavara Agreement simultaneously permitted German Jews to transfer part of their wealth to Palestine and favored German exports to the region — the latter aspect earning it the support also of the Economics Ministry. “It cannot be denied that the Haavara Transfer made a considerable contribution to the development of Jewish settlement in Palestine,” Gensicke writes.

The immigration of Jews to Palestine represented a tolerable solution to some in the Nazi leadership, but it was inimical to the mufti’s plans.

By August 1940, however, the situation had radically changed. The outbreak of the war had brought the Haavara Agreement to an end. Even while it was still at least formally in effect, moreover, the Germans had already been quietly providing financial and material support to the mufti-led “Arab Revolt” in Palestine from 1936 to 1939. The aim of the revolt was precisely to stop Jewish immigration. After guiding the Arab Revolt from exile in Beirut, the mufti had in the meanwhile taken refuge in Iraq. There he allied himself with the pro-Axis circle around new Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gailani, who had recently replaced the pro-British Nuri as-Said. On August 26, an emissary of the mufti by the name of Osman Kemal Haddad met with Fritz Grobba of the German Foreign Office in Berlin. According to Grobba’s notes, Haddad asked for a declaration from Germany and Italy recognizing the right of the Arab countries to independence and “self-determination” and that they might resolve the “question of the Jewish element” just as Germany and Italy had done. In return, Haddad promised that Iraq would accord Germany and Italy “a privileged place” in its foreign relations: notably as concerns the “exploitation of Iraq’s mineral resources and in particular its oil reserves.”

Only the defeat of Rommel at the second Battle of El Alamein prevented German forces from entering Palestine and carrying out operations against the Jewish population.
Gailani would resign his post in January 1941 and then be returned to power by a coup d’état four months later. The British military intervention that followed would bring a provisional end to the mufti’s plans of transforming Iraq into a pro-Axis beachhead in the Middle East. “Sonderkommando Junck,” a somewhat perfunctory German Luftwaffe mission dispatched by the Reich to support its allies in Iraq, could not reverse the trend. Both the mufti and Gailani fled to Tehran toward the end of May.

Even after their departure, Gensicke writes, “a wave of acts of intimidation and terror on the part of the pro-Axis forces continued.” These included a major anti-Jewish pogrom, known as the “Farhud,” in which some 179 Iraqi Jews were killed.

As Gensicke’s account makes clear, moreover, the Nazi leadership would continue to accord central importance to the Iraqi “liberation struggle.” The deposed Iraqi Prime Minister Gailani followed the mufti to Berlin, where he, too, would take up residence starting in November 1941. For the remainder of the war years, the two Arab leaders would compete jealously for the Nazis’ favor. In light of the obvious parallels between the anti-British Iraqi “liberation struggle” of the early 1940s and the anti-American Iraqi “liberation struggle” of today, it is curious that Nazi Germany’s involvement in the former has not received greater public attention. A separate study of Gailani’s collaboration with the Nazis would undoubtedly be rich in historical lessons.

Hitler appears to have made German plans for a more muscular intervention to “liberate” Iraq merely contingent upon the successful conclusion of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Once the Wehrmacht had taken control of the southern Caucasus region, German troops were to sweep down into Iraq. The German defeat at Stalingrad in early 1943 definitively put an end to such plans.

ON NOVEMBER 28, 1941, three weeks after his arrival in Berlin, the mufti was received by Hitler. As recorded in the minutes of the meeting, Hitler urged his guest to remain patient:

At some not yet precisely known, but in any case not very distant point in time, the German armies will reach the southern edge of the Caucasus. As soon as this is the case, the Führer will himself give the Arab world his assurance that the hour of liberation has arrived. At this point, the sole German aim will be the destruction of the Jews living in the Arab space under the protection of British power.

In the same meeting, Hitler likewise assured the mufti of his opposition to the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, which, he said, “would be nothing other than a political base for the destructive influence of Jewish interests.” More than 15 years earlier, Hitler had expressed the same thought in more colorful terms in Mein Kampf: “They are not at all thinking of building a Jewish state in Palestine in order, for instance, to live there; but rather they only hope to have a headquarters for their international swindling operations that is furnished with sovereign powers and removed from the influence of other states.”2

When the right time had come, Hitler told the mufti, the Arabs and other “non-European peoples” would be called on to “solve the Jewish problem” just as the “European nations” had done. The chilling remark suggests plans to exterminate even those Jews that the Nazi leadership had earlier permitted to immigrate to Palestine. As so happens, historians Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers have recently uncovered evidence that such plans did indeed exist. A special SS commando unit was formed in 1942 and attached to Rommel’s African Panzer Army. Its writ was in large part identical to that of the infamous Einsatzgruppen that accompanied the Wehrmacht during the invasion of the Soviet Union and that were responsible for the murder of upwards of one million Soviet Jews. On Mallmann and Cüppers’s account, only the defeat of Rommel at the second Battle of El Alamein prevented German forces from entering Palestine and carrying out similar operations against the Jewish population there.3

Among his other activities in Berlin, the mufti served as honorary chair of a newly founded “Islamic Central Institute” The institute was officially opened on December 18, 1942: during Eid al-Adha, the Islamic “Festival of Sacrifice.” In a letter to Hitler on the occasion, the mufti expressed the hope that “thousands of Muslims around the world” would cooperate with Germany in the fight against “the common enemies”: “Jews, Bolsheviks and Anglo-Saxons.” The speech given by the mufti at the opening ceremony provides perhaps the clearest evidence that he required no lessons from the Nazis in anti-Semitism — or, at any rate, that if he did, he had by this time successfully assimilated those lessons into a remarkable synthesis of “traditional” Quranic and “modern” European Judeophobia:

The Jews and their accomplices are to be counted among the bitterest enemies of the Muslims, who made known . . . their hostility since ancient times and have everywhere and always . . . treated them [Muslims] with guile. Every Muslim knows all too well how the Jews afflicted him and his faith in the first days of Islam and what hatefulness they displayed toward the great Prophet — what hardship and trouble they caused him, how many intrigues they launched, how many conspiracies against him they brought about — such that the Quran judged them to be the most irreconcilable enemies of the Muslims. . . . They will always remain a divisive element in the world: an element that is committed to devising schemes, provoking wars and playing peoples off against one another. . . . In England as in America, it is the Jewish influence alone that rules; and it is the same Jewish influence that is behind godless Communism. . . . And it is also this Jewish influence that has incited the nations into this grueling war. It is only the Jews who benefit from the tragic fate that they [the nations] suffer. . . .

In a subsequent talk at the Islamic Central Institute on November 2, 1943, the mufti called on Muslims to follow the example of National Socialist Germany, since the latter “knew how to save itself from the evil [Unheil] done by the Jews. . . . It had precisely identified the Jews and decided to find a definitive solution to the Jewish menace, in order to eliminate their evildoing [Unheil] from the world.” Gensicke points to the latter remark as evidence that the mufti was “well informed” about the extermination program that was by this time long underway in the Nazi death camps in occupied Poland.4

INDEED, PERHAPS THE most shocking finding of Gensicke’s research concerns the repeated efforts of the mufti after 1943 to ensure that no European Jews should elude the camps: this during a period when it was becoming increasingly obvious even to the Nazi leadership that Germany would lose the war. Thus, for example, Bulgarian plans to permit some 4,000 Jewish children and 500 adult companions to immigrate to Palestine provoked a letter from the mufti to the Bulgarian foreign minister, pleading for the operation to be stopped. In the letter, dated May 6, 1943, Husseini invoked a “Jewish danger for the whole world and especially for the countries where Jews live.” “If I may be permitted,” the mufti continued,

I would like to call your attention to the fact that it would be very appropriate and more advantageous to prevent the Jews from emigrating from your country and instead to send them where they will be placed under strict control: e.g. to Poland. Thus one can avoid the danger they represent and do a good deed vis-à-vis the Arab peoples that will be appreciated.

One week later, the mufti sent additional “protest letters” to both the Italian and German Foreign Ministries, appealing for them to intervene in the matter. The German Foreign Ministry promptly sent off a cable to the German ambassador in Sofia stressing “the common German-Arab interest in preventing the rescue operation.” Indeed, according to the post-War recollections of a Foreign Ministry official, “The Mufti turned up all over the place making protests: in the Minister’s office, in the waiting room of the Deputy Minister and in other sections: for example, Interior, the Press Office, the Broadcast service, and also the SS.” “The Mufti was a sworn enemy of the Jews,” the official concluded, “and he made no secret of the fact that he would have preferred to see them all killed.”

As Gensicke points out, the mufti’s hyperactivity is particularly notable in light of the fact that the Foreign Ministry — and even indeed Heinrich Himmler’s Reich Security Central Office (RSHA), which was directly responsible for implementing the Final Solution — had shown signs of being willing to tolerate the Bulgarian rescue action: at any rate, for a price. The RSHA demanded the release of some 20,000 Germans interred by the Allies in exchange for the Jewish children.

In the nearly 800 pages of the two volumes of Hitler’s would-be magnum opus, Arabs are not mentioned at all as such and Islam is mentioned just once.

In late June, both the Romanian and Hungarian Foreign Ministers would be recipients of similar appeals from the mufti. The Romanian government had been planning to allow some 75,000 to 80,000 Jews to immigrate to the Middle East, and Hungary — which had become a refuge for Jews escaping persecution elsewhere in Europe — was reportedly preparing to allow some 900 Jewish children and their parents to immigrate as well. The mufti repeated his counsel that the Jews should be sent rather to Poland, where they could be kept under “active surveillance.” “It is especially monstrous,” Gensicke concludes, “that el-Husseini objected to even those few cases in which the National Socialists were prepared, for whatever reasons, to permit Jews to emigrate. . . . For him, only deportation to Poland was acceptable, since he knew fully well that there would be no escape for the Jews from there.”

SELF-PROFESSED Islamophobes — whose insistence that Islamism has something to do with Islam is, of course, not unreasonable in itself — will undoubtedly be tempted to see in Gensicke’s research support also for far more extravagant propositions.

Pointing to the alleged admiration for Islam of this or that Nazi luminary or of the Führer himself, the most hysterical reactions to Matthias Küntzel’s Jihad and Jew-Hatred seem even to want to suggest that it is not, after all, National Socialism that is the source of rampant anti-Semitism in the Muslim World, but rather Islam that was perhaps the source or inspiration of the anti-Semitism of the National Socialists! Thus, for example, in a review of Küntzel’s volume on the Frontpage website,5 Andrew Bostom accuses Küntzel of “selective citation” and triumphantly adduces a passage from Albert Speer’s memoirs in which Speer describes Hitler expressing his regrets that Arabs had failed to conquer Europe in the early Middle Ages, since their warlike Muslim religion was “perfectly suited to the Germanic temperament.”

Let it be noted in passing that it is at least odd for Bostom to accuse Küntzel of having, in his words, “omitted” this passage, given that Küntzel’s own citation of Speer concerns a different topic (Hitler’s alleged fantasies about the destruction of New York) and is drawn indeed from an entirely different book. The eccentricity of such a procedure, moreover, appears less innocent when one considers that Bostom himself — in a 10,000-word screed replete with lengthy citations — has taken the trouble to suppress the following words from the very middle of his own Speer passage: “Hitler said that the conquering Arabs, because of their racial inferiority, would in the long run have been unable to contend with the harsher climate and conditions of the country. They could not have kept down the more vigorous natives. . . . ”6

Gensicke, citing a similarly anecdotal source, suggests that it was precisely Hitler’s belief in the racial inferiority of Arabs that prevented him from fully utilizing the support that the mufti and his Arab nationalist allies could have provided the Nazi cause. More generally, Gensicke notes that “on account of their racial ideology, it was impossible for the National Socialists to advocate the idea of Arab independence.” For the Nazis, he concludes, “the Semitic Arabs were as incapable of successfully running a state as were the Jews.” Even leaving aside the biographies of Nazis who would convert to Islam after the War or Himmler’s well-documented (though seemingly rather superficial) enthusiasm for Islam, this well-meaning caveat is contradicted by archival evidence adduced by Gensicke elsewhere in his volume.7

If, however, instead of turning to more or less reliable recollections of third parties,8 one returns to the source — namely, the undisputed bible of the National Socialist movement, Hitler’s Mein Kampf — one discovers that Hitler’s own views on Islam and Arabs were almost nonexistent. In the nearly 800 pages of the two volumes of his would-be magnum opus, Arabs are not mentioned a single time as such and Islam is mentioned just once, in a neutral remark on the relative appeal of Islam and Christianity in Africa. The fevered mental universe of the discharged corporal and aspiring “race theorist” was amply populated by different varieties of Slavs, the occasional “Negro” [Neger], and, of course, always and everywhere the conniving and threatening Jew: the racial antipode of the honest “Aryan.” But Arabs and the “Muslim world” seem barely to have crossed his radar. Only once does Hitler implicitly offer his “racial” assessment of the latter: this in considering the prospect of German National Socialists forming an alliance with Egyptian insurgents fighting against British colonial rule. Hitler even alludes tantalizingly to the insurgents’ “Holy War” — in scare quotes, suggesting his clear disdain for the idea. “As [someone] who assesses the value of humanity according to racial criteria,” Hitler writes, “the knowledge of the racial inferiority of these so-called ‘oppressed nations’ forbids me from linking the fate of my own people with theirs.”9

It was only during the war that Hitler would, in effect, be confronted in a far more practical and urgent form by the very same question of “linking” the Nazi cause to religiously-tinged Arab nationalism. And when he was, as Gensicke’s volume shows, he would find not only a willing ally, but also a kindred spirit, in Haj Amin Al-Husseini.
John Rosenthal writes on European politics, with a special focus on Germany and France. His work has appeared in the Claremont Review of Books, the Opinion Journal, Les Temps Modernes, and Merkur. He is a contributing editor for World Politics Review.
1 Klaus Gensicke, Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2007), 60-61. Author’s translation.

2 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Munich: Verlag Franz Eher Nachfolger, 1943), 356. Author’s translation.

3 See Klaus-Michael Mallman and Martin Cüppers, “‘Elimination of the Jewish National Home in Palestine’: The Einsatzkommando of the Panzer Army Africa, 1942” in Yad Vashem Studies XXV (available online at http://www1.yadvashem.org/about_holocaust/studies/vol35/Mallmann-Cuppers2.pdf, accessed February 29, 2008). Mallmann and Cüppers have published the results of their research in book-length form in Halbmond und Hakenkreuz. Das Dritte Reich, die Araber und Palästina (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2006).

4 Citing documents from the Nuremberg Trials, Gensicke also notes that in mid-1942 members of Husseini’s and Gailani’s respective entourages visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg near Berlin. It is perhaps exaggerated to conclude from this fact that the mufti was aware of what was transpiring in the camps further to the East. According to the commonly accepted classification, Sachsenhausen was not a “death camp,” but merely a “normal” concentration camp. This is not to say that tens of thousands were not executed there: above all, Soviet prisoners. In any case, the Jewish inmates at Sachsenhausen were supposed to have “particularly interested” the visitors, who came away from their visit with “a very positive impression.” Gensicke, 206, note >55.

5 http: //www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=E352185E-D91E-4773-B4AE-9A5C3EA4949B (accessed February 29, 2008).

6 Lest I myself be accused of “selective citation,” I should mention that in a more recent blog post — discovered thanks to a fortuitous Google search rather than comprehensive familiarity with the author’s output — Bostom cites the full Speer passage and now allows that Hitler’s views of Arabs and Islam were “ambivalent.” See http://www.andrewbostom.org/blog/2008/01/25/verboten-discussion—hitler-muhammad-and-islam/ (accessed February 29, 2008).

7 Thus in a letter of March 11, 1941, Deputy Foreign Minister Ernst von Weizsäcker assured the mufti that Germany was “of the opinion that the Arabs are an ancient cultured nation [ein altes Kulturvolk] that has proven its aptitude for administration and its military virtues and that is fully capable of governing itself.”

8 Speer in particular was a notorious fabulist and his often farfetched inventions have been the subject of several books: such as Matthias Schmidt’s Albert Speer: the End of a Myth and Dan van der Vat’s The Good Nazi: the Life and Lies of Albert Speer. In a particularly craven and macabre instance, at one point during questioning at the main Nuremberg trial, Speer claimed to have been planning to assassinate Hitler by dropping poison gas through a ventilation pipe at the Reich Chancellery, a plan that only failed to come to fruition, he said, because the opening of the pipe was too high for him to reach.

9 Hitler, Mein Kampf, 747. Author’s translation.