Sunday, February 28, 2010

No games, so lets bomb Iran

There is a bizarre op-ed piece in the NYT today. It is written by Efraim Karsh of King's College London. It starts off fine, making the claim that Islamic world is not a single bloc. It uses the boycott by Arab countries of Islamic games held in Iran as the starting point:

A mundane achievement, perhaps, but it’s one that’s beyond the grasp of the Islamic world. The Islamic Solidarity Games, the Olympics of the Muslim world, which were to be held in Iran in April, have been called off by the Arab states because Tehran inscribed “Persian Gulf” on the tournament’s official logo and medals.

It’s a small but telling controversy. It puts the lie to the idea of the Islamic world as a bloc united by religious values that are hostile to the West.
Yes, the boycott over "Persian Gulf" is quite idiotic, but the point about diversity of point-of-views is appreciated. For our research project on understanding Muslims responses to biological evolution, we have also been stressing on the diversity of countries - and the fact that there is no single Islamic viewpoint on the matter. So I completely appreciate this part of the article. Then Efraim picks on several historical examples to make his point. For example:
Even during the Crusades, the supposed height of the “clash of civilizations,” Christian and Muslim rulers freely collaborated across the religious divide, often finding themselves aligned with members of the rival religion against their co-religionists. While the legendary Saladin himself was busy eradicating the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, for example, he was closely aligned with the Byzantine Empire, the foremost representative of Christendom’s claim to universalism.
Unless one has been fed a black & white history, it is not really news that wars form strange alliances, where political and economical factors often outweigh any ideological components. In fact, the example of the Crusades is far more appropriate for the Christian world - after all the call for the Crusades was given by a Pope. [Or for that matter, in the Thirty Years' War between Protestants and Catholics, France - a predominantly Catholic country, sided with the Protestants...]. So fine - there is no Islamic bloc. But what is Efraim's main point?

So, if the Muslim bloc is just as fractious as any other group of seemingly aligned nations, what does it mean for United States policy in the Islamic world?

For one, it should give us more impetus to take a harder line with Iran. Just as the Muslim governments couldn’t muster the minimum sense of commonality for holding an all-Islamic sports tournament, so they would be unlikely to rush to Iran’s aid in the event of sanctions, or even a military strike.

Huh?! Really. So this makes it okay for a military strike against Iran?? (by the way, who is "us" here in the paragraph above? Isn't he in London? As far as I can tell, Efraim is not a US citizen). Not that I'm a fan of the current Iranian regime, but this is utter nonsense. Even after setting all the moral, ethical issues and the impracticality of strikes disabling Iran's nuclear program aside (all of which this idiotic article fails to mention), most analysts talk about Iranian retaliation against American interests in Iraq, where Iran has substantial influence, and worldwide. This is in addition to a reaction by Hezbullah and Hamas. The reaction of Arab states has never been a serious factor. However, an attack on Iran will bolster the view that the US is going after Muslim countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran). And remember, Iran has not attacked the US.

And what does he say about the Israel-Palestinian issue:
As for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the idea that bringing peace between the two parties will bring about a flowering of cooperation in the region and take away one of Al Qaeda’s primary gripes against the West totally misreads history and present-day politics. Muslim states threaten Israel’s existence not so much out of concern for the Palestinians, but rather as part of a holy war to prevent the loss of a part of the House of Islam.
Wait a minute. Suddenly the whole Muslim world has become an "Islamic bloc" again! What about Israel's relations with Egypt and Turkey - some key players in the Muslim world? But don't these examples support the first part of his article? Ah - but it is so much easier to ignore counter-examples. While we are at it, I don't know what Malaysia or Indonesia think about Israel? Or for that matter, Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan? These are also Muslim states. By the way, a criticism of this Efraim article does not mean that those Muslim states that do not recognize Israel are correct (and are outright moronic when they call for the destruction of Israel). Yes, two sides can both be idiotic at the same time.

Okay, Mr Efraim. Bring it home. Reiterate your key point:
In these circumstances, one can only welcome the latest changes in the Obama administration’s Middle Eastern policy, which combine a tougher stance on Iran’s nuclear subterfuge with a less imperious approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s two-track plan — discussion with Tehran while at the same time lining up meaningful sanctions — is fine as far as it goes. But a military strike must remain a serious option: there is no peaceful way to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, stemming as they do from its imperialist brand of national-Islamism.

Read this idiotic article here. For a much saner view on Iran's nuclear program, check out these two articles by Roger Cohen - also writing in the NYT: An Ordinary Israel and The US-Iranian Triangle.


Tom Rees said...

I think you should read the last part - about portraying the Israel/Palestine conflict as a 'holy war' in the context of the earlier part. i.e. Arab nations don't hype the issue out of concern over the palestinians, but rather in the hope of reducing dissent at home by raising the profile of an 'external enemy'. i.e. there is no real solidarity, just the PR opportunities provided by pretending that there is!

Salman Hameed said...

Sure - but even this makes the same fallacy of treating the Muslim world (and he is talking about an "Islamic Bloc" not an "Arab Bloc" as the politics is somewhat different for the two - especially in a post 9/11 world) as a monolith. So I agree on the part that this is political posturing - but then what isn't? [plus, who doesn't exploit 'external enemies' for a gain? See Bush. The point is to reduce opportunities for such exploitations].

But lets take a charitable view of the article. What do we then make of this:
"Muslim states threaten Israel’s existence not so much out of concern for the Palestinians, but rather as part of a holy war to prevent the loss of a part of the House of Islam. "

Doesn't this make a gross generalization ["Muslim states" - all??].

It is not clear to me how prevalent this "House of Islam narrative is in the Muslim world? After all, large Muslim territories were annexed by Russia from the Ottoman Empire - and as far as I know, this narrative was not common. To a certain degree it was the US (along with Pakistan) that used it effectively to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

However, this "House of Islam" narrative is now convenient for the right-wing parties in several European countries to spread fear of Muslim immigrants (that they may take over the countries and enforce Sharia)., I'm not so sure about the noble intentions of the article.