Archive for January, 2009

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What Obama Should Tell the Muslim World

January 26, 2009
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How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas

January 26, 2009

Moshav Tekuma, Israel

Surveying the wreckage of a neighbor’s bungalow hit by a Palestinian rocket, retired Israeli official Avner Cohen traces the missile’s trajectory back to an “enormous, stupid mistake” made 30 years ago.

“Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Instead of trying to curb Gaza’s Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas. Sheikh Yassin continues to inspire militants today; during the recent war in Gaza, Hamas fighters confronted Israeli troops with “Yassins,” primitive rocket-propelled grenades named in honor of the cleric.

Abid Katib/Getty Images

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas.

Last Saturday, after 22 days of war, Israel announced a halt to the offensive. The assault was aimed at stopping Hamas rockets from falling on Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hailed a “determined and successful military operation.” More than 1,200 Palestinians had died. Thirteen Israelis were also killed.

Hamas responded the next day by lobbing five rockets towards the Israeli town of Sderot, a few miles down the road from Moshav Tekuma, the farming village where Mr. Cohen lives. Hamas then announced its own cease-fire.

Since then, Hamas leaders have emerged from hiding and reasserted their control over Gaza. Egyptian-mediated talks aimed at a more durable truce are expected to start this weekend. President Barack Obama said this week that lasting calm “requires more than a long cease-fire” and depends on Israel and a future Palestinian state “living side by side in peace and security.”

A look at Israel’s decades-long dealings with Palestinian radicals — including some little-known attempts to cooperate with the Islamists — reveals a catalog of unintended and often perilous consequences. Time and again, Israel’s efforts to find a pliant Palestinian partner that is both credible with Palestinians and willing to eschew violence, have backfired. Would-be partners have turned into foes or lost the support of their people.

Israel’s experience echoes that of the U.S., which, during the Cold War, looked to Islamists as a useful ally against communism. Anti-Soviet forces backed by America after Moscow’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan later mutated into al Qaeda.

[Hamas supporters in Gaza City after the cease-fire.] APA /Landov

Hamas supporters in Gaza City after the cease-fire.

At stake is the future of what used to be the British Mandate of Palestine, the biblical lands now comprising Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Since 1948, when the state of Israel was established, Israelis and Palestinians have each asserted claims over the same territory.

The Palestinian cause was for decades led by the PLO, which Israel regarded as a terrorist outfit and sought to crush until the 1990s, when the PLO dropped its vow to destroy the Jewish state. The PLO’s Palestinian rival, Hamas, led by Islamist militants, refused to recognize Israel and vowed to continue “resistance.” Hamas now controls Gaza, a crowded, impoverished sliver of land on the Mediterranean from which Israel pulled out troops and settlers in 2005.

When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and ’80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.

“When I look back at the chain of events I think we made a mistake,” says David Hacham, who worked in Gaza in the late 1980s and early ’90s as an Arab-affairs expert in the Israeli military. “But at the time nobody thought about the possible results.”

Israeli officials who served in Gaza disagree on how much their own actions may have contributed to the rise of Hamas. They blame the group’s recent ascent on outsiders, primarily Iran. This view is shared by the Israeli government. “Hamas in Gaza was built by Iran as a foundation for power, and is backed through funding, through training and through the provision of advanced weapons,” Mr. Olmert said last Saturday. Hamas has denied receiving military assistance from Iran.

Arieh Spitzen, the former head of the Israeli military’s Department of Palestinian Affairs, says that even if Israel had tried to stop the Islamists sooner, he doubts it could have done much to curb political Islam, a movement that was spreading across the Muslim world. He says attempts to stop it are akin to trying to change the internal rhythms of nature: “It is like saying: ‘I will kill all the mosquitoes.’ But then you get even worse insects that will kill you…You break the balance. You kill Hamas you might get al Qaeda.”

When it became clear in the early 1990s that Gaza’s Islamists had mutated from a religious group into a fighting force aimed at Israel — particularly after they turned to suicide bombings in 1994 — Israel cracked down with ferocious force. But each military assault only increased Hamas’s appeal to ordinary Palestinians. The group ultimately trounced secular rivals, notably Fatah, in a 2006 election supported by Israel’s main ally, the U.S.

Now, one big fear in Israel and elsewhere is that while Hamas has been hammered hard, the war might have boosted the group’s popular appeal. Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in Gaza, came out of hiding last Sunday to declare that “God has granted us a great victory.”

Most damaged from the war, say many Palestinians, is Fatah, now Israel’s principal negotiating partner. “Everyone is praising the resistance and thinks that Fatah is not part of it,” says Baker Abu-Baker, a longtime Fatah supporter and author of a book on Hamas.

A Lack of Devotion

Hamas traces its roots back to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group set up in Egypt in 1928. The Brotherhood believed that the woes of the Arab world spring from a lack of Islamic devotion. Its slogan: “Islam is the solution. The Quran is our constitution.” Its philosophy today underpins modern, and often militantly intolerant, political Islam from Algeria to Indonesia.

After the 1948 establishment of Israel, the Brotherhood recruited a few followers in Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza and elsewhere, but secular activists came to dominate the Palestinian nationalist movement.

At the time, Gaza was ruled by Egypt. The country’s then-president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was a secular nationalist who brutally repressed the Brotherhood. In 1967, Nasser suffered a crushing defeat when Israel triumphed in the six-day war. Israel took control of Gaza and also the West Bank.

“We were all stunned,” says Palestinian writer and Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi. He was at school at the time in Kuwait and says he became close to a classmate named Khaled Mashaal, now Hamas’s Damascus-based political chief. “The Arab defeat provided the Brotherhood with a big opportunity,” says Mr. Tamimi.

In Gaza, Israel hunted down members of Fatah and other secular PLO factions, but it dropped harsh restrictions imposed on Islamic activists by the territory’s previous Egyptian rulers. Fatah, set up in 1964, was the backbone of the PLO, which was responsible for hijackings, bombings and other violence against Israel. Arab states in 1974 declared the PLO the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people world-wide.

Heidi Levine/Sipa Press for The Wall Street Journal

A poster of the late Sheikh Yassin hangs near a building destroyed by the Israeli assault on Gaza.

The Muslim Brotherhood, led in Gaza by Sheikh Yassin, was free to spread its message openly. In addition to launching various charity projects, Sheikh Yassin collected money to reprint the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian member of the Brotherhood who, before his execution by President Nasser, advocated global jihad. He is now seen as one of the founding ideologues of militant political Islam.

Mr. Cohen, who worked at the time for the Israeli government’s religious affairs department in Gaza, says he began to hear disturbing reports in the mid-1970s about Sheikh Yassin from traditional Islamic clerics. He says they warned that the sheikh had no formal Islamic training and was ultimately more interested in politics than faith. “They said, ‘Keep away from Yassin. He is a big danger,'” recalls Mr. Cohen.

Instead, Israel’s military-led administration in Gaza looked favorably on the paraplegic cleric, who set up a wide network of schools, clinics, a library and kindergartens. Sheikh Yassin formed the Islamist group Mujama al-Islamiya, which was officially recognized by Israel as a charity and then, in 1979, as an association. Israel also endorsed the establishment of the Islamic University of Gaza, which it now regards as a hotbed of militancy. The university was one of the first targets hit by Israeli warplanes in the recent war.

Brig. General Yosef Kastel, Gaza’s Israeli governor at the time, is too ill to comment, says his wife. But Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who took over as governor in Gaza in late 1979, says he had no illusions about Sheikh Yassin’s long-term intentions or the perils of political Islam. As Israel’s former military attache in Iran, he’d watched Islamic fervor topple the Shah. However, in Gaza, says Mr. Segev, “our main enemy was Fatah,” and the cleric “was still 100% peaceful” towards Israel. Former officials say Israel was also at the time wary of being viewed as an enemy of Islam.

Mr. Segev says he had regular contact with Sheikh Yassin, in part to keep an eye on him. He visited his mosque and met the cleric around a dozen times. It was illegal at the time for Israelis to meet anyone from the PLO. Mr. Segev later arranged for the cleric to be taken to Israel for hospital treatment. “We had no problems with him,” he says.

In fact, the cleric and Israel had a shared enemy: secular Palestinian activists. After a failed attempt in Gaza to oust secularists from leadership of the Palestinian Red Crescent, the Muslim version of the Red Cross, Mujama staged a violent demonstration, storming the Red Crescent building. Islamists also attacked shops selling liquor and cinemas. The Israeli military mostly stood on the sidelines.

Mr. Segev says the army didn’t want to get involved in Palestinian quarrels but did send soldiers to prevent Islamists from burning down the house of the Red Crescent’s secular chief, a socialist who supported the PLO.

‘An Alternative to the PLO’

Clashes between Islamists and secular nationalists spread to the West Bank and escalated during the early 1980s, convulsing college campuses, particularly Birzeit University, a center of political activism.

As the fighting between rival student factions at Birzeit grew more violent, Brig. Gen. Shalom Harari, then a military intelligence officer in Gaza, says he received a call from Israeli soldiers manning a checkpoint on the road out of Gaza. They had stopped a bus carrying Islamic activists who wanted to join the battle against Fatah at Birzeit. “I said: ‘If they want to burn each other let them go,'” recalls Mr. Harari.

A leader of Birzeit’s Islamist faction at the time was Mahmoud Musleh, now a pro-Hamas member of a Palestinian legislature elected in 2006. He recalls how usually aggressive Israeli security forces stood back and let conflagration develop. He denies any collusion between his own camp and the Israelis, but says “they hoped we would become an alternative to the PLO.”

A year later, in 1984, the Israeli military received a tip-off from Fatah supporters that Sheikh Yassin’s Gaza Islamists were collecting arms, according to Israeli officials in Gaza at the time. Israeli troops raided a mosque and found a cache of weapons. Sheikh Yassin was jailed. He told Israeli interrogators the weapons were for use against rival Palestinians, not Israel, according to Mr. Hacham, the military affairs expert who says he spoke frequently with jailed Islamists. The cleric was released after a year and continued to expand Mujama’s reach across Gaza.

Around the time of Sheikh Yassin’s arrest, Mr. Cohen, the religious affairs official, sent a report to senior Israeli military and civilian officials in Gaza. Describing the cleric as a “diabolical” figure, he warned that Israel’s policy towards the Islamists was allowing Mujama to develop into a dangerous force.

“I believe that by continuing to turn away our eyes, our lenient approach to Mujama will in the future harm us. I therefore suggest focusing our efforts on finding ways to break up this monster before this reality jumps in our face,” Mr. Cohen wrote.

Mr. Harari, the military intelligence officer, says this and other warnings were ignored. But, he says, the reason for this was neglect, not a desire to fortify the Islamists: “Israel never financed Hamas. Israel never armed Hamas.”

Roni Shaked, a former officer of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, and author of a book on Hamas, says Sheikh Yassin and his followers had a long-term perspective whose dangers were not understood at the time. “They worked slowly, slowly, step by step according to the Muslim Brotherhood plan.”

Declaring Jihad

In 1987, several Palestinians were killed in a traffic accident involving an Israeli driver, triggering a wave of protests that became known as the first Intifada, Mr. Yassin and six other Mujama Islamists launched Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement. Hamas’s charter, released a year later, is studded with anti-Semitism and declares “jihad its path and death for the cause of Allah its most sublime belief.”

Israeli officials, still focused on Fatah and initially unaware of the Hamas charter, continued to maintain contacts with the Gaza Islamists. Mr. Hacham, the military Arab affairs expert, remembers taking one of Hamas’s founders, Mahmoud Zahar, to meet Israel’s then defense minister, Yitzhak Rabin, as part of regular consultations between Israeli officials and Palestinians not linked to the PLO. Mr. Zahar, the only Hamas founder known to be alive today, is now the group’s senior political leader in Gaza.

In 1989, Hamas carried out its first attack on Israel, abducting and killing two soldiers. Israel arrested Sheikh Yassin and sentenced him to life. It later rounded up more than 400 suspected Hamas activists, including Mr. Zahar, and deported them to southern Lebanon. There, they hooked up with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed A-Team of anti-Israeli militancy.

Many of the deportees later returned to Gaza. Hamas built up its arsenal and escalated its attacks, while all along maintaining the social network that underpinned its support in Gaza.

Meanwhile, its enemy, the PLO, dropped its commitment to Israel’s destruction and started negotiating a two-state settlement. Hamas accused it of treachery. This accusation found increasing resonance as Israel kept developing settlements on occupied Palestinian land, particularly the West Bank. Though the West Bank had passed to the nominal control of a new Palestinian Authority, it was still dotted with Israeli military checkpoints and a growing number of Israeli settlers.

Unable to uproot a now entrenched Islamist network that had suddenly replaced the PLO as its main foe, Israel tried to decapitate it. It started targeting Hamas leaders. This, too, made no dent in Hamas’s support, and sometimes even helped the group. In 1997, for example, Israel’s Mossad spy agency tried to poison Hamas’s exiled political leader Mr. Mashaal, who was then living in Jordan.

The agents got caught and, to get them out of a Jordanian jail, Israel agreed to release Sheikh Yassin. The cleric set off on a tour of the Islamic world to raise support and money. He returned to Gaza to a hero’s welcome.

Efraim Halevy, a veteran Mossad officer who negotiated the deal that released Sheikh Yassin, says the cleric’s freedom was hard to swallow, but Israel had no choice. After the fiasco in Jordan, Mr. Halevy was named director of Mossad, a position he held until 2002. Two years later, Sheikh Yassin was killed by an Israeli air strike.

Mr. Halevy has in recent years urged Israel to negotiate with Hamas. He says that “Hamas can be crushed,” but he believes that “the price of crushing Hamas is a price that Israel would prefer not to pay.” When Israel’s authoritarian secular neighbor, Syria, launched a campaign to wipe out Muslim Brotherhood militants in the early 1980s it killed more than 20,000 people, many of them civilians.

In its recent war in Gaza, Israel didn’t set the destruction of Hamas as its goal. It limited its stated objectives to halting the Islamists’ rocket fire and battering their overall military capacity. At the start of the Israeli operation in December, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told parliament that the goal was “to deal Hamas a severe blow, a blow that will cause it to stop its hostile actions from Gaza at Israeli citizens and soldiers.”

Walking back to his house from the rubble of his neighbor’s home, Mr. Cohen, the former religious affairs official in Gaza, curses Hamas and also what he sees as missteps that allowed Islamists to put down deep roots in Gaza.

He recalls a 1970s meeting with a traditional Islamic cleric who wanted Israel to stop cooperating with the Muslim Brotherhood followers of Sheikh Yassin: “He told me: ‘You are going to have big regrets in 20 or 30 years.’ He was right.”

[History of Conflict Between Israel and Hamas]

Write to Andrew Higgins at andrew.higgins@wsj.com

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Hate-Free Speech

January 23, 2009

Hate-Free Speech

By INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Thursday, January 22, 2009 4:20 PM PT

Islamofascism: A threat to basic freedom has opened a new front in the war on terror. Dutch filmmaker and politician Geert Wilders is finding out what it means to yell “truth!” in a crowded theater.


Read More: Europe & Central Asia


Wilders is a leader in the Dutch Freedom Party and a thorn in the side of politically correct Europeans who’ve been cowered by their increasing Muslim populations into accepting the creeping Islamicization of Europe — or Eurabia, as we and others have dubbed it.

In March 2008, Wilders posted “Fitna,” a film about the Koran, on the Internet. It equates Islam with violence and the Koran with Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” at least in its advocacy of obscene violence against humanity and as a blueprint of things to come.

The opening scenes of “Fitna,” a Koranic term sometimes translated as “strife,” shows a copy of the Koran followed by footage of the attacks on the U.S. on 9-11, then London in July 2005 and then Madrid in March 2004. Subtle he is not. But neither is he a criminal.

It did not help that Wilders included in the film a scene showing Muslim protesters holding signs reading “God Bless Hitler.” This would tend to lend credence to Wilders’ thesis. Mention of Hitler and Nazism in any context is still a touchy subject in Europe to this day, as is criticism of anything Muslim.

On Wednesday the Dutch Court of Appeals ordered a criminal prosecution of Wilders, who is also a member of the Dutch parliament. “The Amsterdam appeals court has ordered the prosecution of member of parliament Geert Wilders for inciting hatred and discrimination, based on comments by him in various media on Muslims and their beliefs,” the court said in a statement.

As his film shows, this largely amounts to quoting the Koran accurately and reporting the statements of Muslim organizations and their supporters, many of which can’t be repeated here.

Wilders is in fact guilty of nothing but resisting the Islamicization of Europe and the attempt to impose Sharia law on the West. Suppressing all criticism of and debate about Islam is part of that move. Free speech and Sharia law are incompatible.

Columnist Mark Steyn felt Wilders’ pain in 2008, when he went on trial in Canada for “Islamophobia.” As in Wilders’ case, this consisted largely of quoting Muslim speakers verbatim and then drawing obvious conclusions. Steyn ultimately prevailed, without civil libertarians warning of any “chilling effect” on public discourse.

Leading this charge to eviscerate freedom of speech in the West is a group called the Organization of the Islamic Conference, composed of Muslim governments in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and around the globe. Its stated mission is “defending the image of Islam, and combating the phenomenon of Islamophobia.” In practice, this means using our freedoms to end them.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the OIC, says the group has already targeted the United States. “We have established an OIC group in Washington, D.C.,” he announced recently, “with the aim of playing a more active role in engaging American lawmakers.” Prosecution of American politicians and opinion-makers may not be far off.

Ihsanoglu also gave us a warning: “In confronting the Danish cartoons and the Dutch film ‘Fitna,’ ” he said, “we sent a clear message to the West regarding the red lines that should not be crossed.”

We are reminded of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, great-great-grandson of the famous artist, who crossed that “red line” and paid for it with his life in 2004. He was shot and his throat slit on an Amsterdam street after making the film “Submission,” which criticized the Islamic world for its harsh treatment of women as exhibited in the Taliban’s reign of terror in Afghanistan. Was his film hate speech or merely a documentary of Muslim intolerance?

Islamofascists know that free speech is the linchpin of Western democracy. We need people like Wilders, van Gogh and Steyn, who dare to exercise that right in the face of such threats. We need to know the truth, for that’s what shall keep us free.

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Obama flashes irritation in press room

January 23, 2009

Obama flashes irritation in press room

By JONATHAN MARTIN & CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN | 1/22/09 6:43 PM EST  Updated: 1/23/09 12:01 AM EST

President Obama made a surprise visit to the White House press corps Thursday night, but got agitated when he was faced with a substantive question.

Asked how he could reconcile a strict ban on lobbyists in his administration with a Deputy Defense Secretary nominee who lobbied for Raytheon, Obama interrupted with a knowing smile on his face.

“Ahh, see,” he said, “I came down here to visit. See this is what happens. I can’t end up visiting with you guys and shaking hands if I’m going to get grilled every time I come down here.”

Pressed further by the Politico reporter about his Pentagon nominee, William J. Lynn III, Obama turned more serious, putting his hand on the reporter’s shoulder and staring him in the eye.

“Alright, come on” he said, with obvious irritation in his voice. “We will be having a press conference at which time you can feel free to [ask] questions. Right now, I just wanted to say hello and introduce myself to you guys – that’s all I was trying to do.”

The president was quickly saved by a cameraman in the room who called out: “I’d like to say it one more time: ‘Mr. President.’ ”

Obama spent about 10 minutes total, winding his way through a crush of reporters and photographers between the upper and lower floors of the journalists’ workspace and asking questions about who worked where and how the booths and desks were assigned.

Reporters had little warning about the impromptu visit by the new president, and those who were in the downstairs portion of the press quarters only came to the briefing room after an unexpected and cryptic announcement on the internal intercom that they do so.

“This is worse than the Middle East,” he joked, alluding to the territorial claims staked on the cramped corridor. “Who’s sitting where and all that stuff.”

He revealed that he had already gotten in two work outs since being sworn in Tuesday.

“Turns out I have a little gym up there,” he said with a smile.

Obama said he had watched press secretary Robert Gibbs debut briefing “in anticipation of some flop sweat. … I just want to thank you for not completely ripping up Gibbs,” Obama said.

“I am very proud of him today. He got a fist bump from me.”

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Arab Economic Summit

January 22, 2009

This reinforces our recent comments on Arab world holdings in American banks and our stock markets.

We do know that non-American George Soros helped the bail-out to get worse

Arab investors have lost 2.5 trillion dollars from the credit crunch, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah, whose country hosts an Arab economic summit next week, said on Friday.

“The Arab world has lost 2.5 trillion dollars
in the past four months” as a result of the global financial crisis, Sheikh Mohammad told a press conference following a joint meeting of Arab foreign and finance ministers in Kuwait.

He also said that about 60 percent of development projects “have either been postponed or cancelled” by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states because of the global meltdown.

Arab leaders who hold their first ever economic summit on January 19-20 will discuss the impact of the worldwide economic meltdown on the 22 Arab countries.

The biggest loss was an estimated 40 percent drop in the value of Arab investments abroad, which previously totalled around 2.5 trillion dollars.

Falls on stock markets contributed more than 600 billion dollars to the losses, while Arab investors were further affected by a sharp decline in oil revenues, the declining value of property investments and other repercussions of the global downturn.

Next week’s summit will also discuss the Gaza war but leaders are still intent on agreeing a joint response to the financial crisis.

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Obama’s a man, not a superman

January 22, 2009

Brilliant he may be, but for his own good don’t forget that Obama’s a man, not a superman

London Daily Mail

Stephen Glover

Last updated at 7:55 AM on 22nd January 2009

Barack Obama

Barack Obama takes the oath of office as he is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States

Barack Obama is overflowing with integrity and honesty.

He will re-fashion politics, and take America forward into the next phase of her glorious history.

He is favourably compared to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. These are remarks we have heard from pundits as well as ordinary people in America and this country over the past few days. Are they true? It is impossible to say. At present there would seem to be little basis for saying them.

Of course his inauguration as the 44th President of the United States was moving. His speech on Tuesday, if not his very best, was stirring. There is a remarkable dignity and serenity about the man. He seems clever, committed and clear-thinking.

It would take a heart of stone not to celebrate his achievement as the first black man – or at any rate the first person of mixed race – to enter the White House. He has come from nowhere, or almost nowhere, through sheer strength of will to lead the world’s most powerful nation. America, despite everything, retains the capacity to inspire.

And yet, and yet. When nearly everyone agrees on limited evidence that a person or thing is superlative, and somehow beyond criticism, it is usually a good idea to hang back from the crowd. Unanimity about any untested proposition makes me uneasy.

But that is what we have. It is not just the liberals who are mushy about him. Hard-baked Republicans have gone weak at the knees. There is a widespread hope bordering on expectation that this inexperienced President and his untried administration will be able to sort out the world’s economic difficulties in a trice, and put America back on the path to prosperity while solving myriad international problems. If only it were that simple.


How eagerly we forget the disappointments of the past, and the scepticism that experience has taught us, so that we greet Mr Obama virtually as a Messiah. Desperate times evoke desperate hopes.

Our reaction reminds me of what happened in this country in 1997 after Tony Blair’s landslide victory. Remember all the hoopla, and the genuine emotion. Even some Tories were misty-eyed. Many people were certain – as they are after Tuesday’s inauguration – that there was a new beginning.

Alas, once the shining dawn had passed we soon entered a depressingly familiar landscape defined by broken promises, botched policies, and sleaze. Then came Iraq, and the realisation that Blair was not at all a ‘straight kinda guy’. It was politics as usual.

My point is not that Mr Obama is an American re-tread of Tony Blair. There may be the same flashing smile, and the same contrived – and bogus – pretence of operating above politics. But the new President does seem a more substantial figure, and he does not obviously exhibit Mr Blair’s craving to be loved.

No, the two men are not replicas. It is our unguarded euphoria that is the same. In fact, it is much greater now. People weep in the street, and pundits in countless studios become soppy. Everyone is for Obama, only much more so, as everyone was for Blair nearly 12 years ago.

This is not healthy. If a politician is beyond criticism, he is apt to feel and act like a god.

That is what has happened in countless totalitarian states, whose leaders invariably encourage a personality cult. It is not supposed to happen in modern democracies, but it does.

After their wipe-out in 1997, the Tories constituted a hopeless opposition. For the next few years the Republicans in Congress are likely to be equally feeble. If the media reaction to Mr Obama’s inauguration is anything to go by, he will enjoy a generally supine and fawning Press, just as Mr Blair did until he ran into the buffers over Iraq.

So the new President may not be tested and held to account as he should be. Brilliant though he may be – and we really don’t know one way or the other – he is undoubtedly very inexperienced.

In fact, I can’t think of a U.S. President over the past 30 years who has assumed the highest office with so little executive experience. To be frank, Mr Obama has had none – just like Mr Blair in 1997.

Such political know-how that he does have was largely gleaned in the rather murky world of Chicago machine politics, where he had one or two dodgy associations that have already caused him some embarrassment. Media which are craven are hardly likely to shine a light into a closet that might contain more disturbing specimens.

 George and Laura Bush welcome Barack and Michelle Obama

New era, great expectations: George and Laura Bush welcome Barack and Michelle Obama to the White House. Obama has a lot to of work on his hands following ‘George W. Bush… the worst American President in living memory’

Nor would people be wise to go on judging Mr Obama by the quality of his oratory rather than the efficacy of his deeds. Oratory can be uplifting, as Winston Churchill proved at various junctures during the last war, but America needs effective policies not pretty words. Mr Obama is a genius at making grandiloquent statements that would command the agreement of almost every person on the planet. Now we are looking for the beef.

In fact, I must own up to a feeling which in the present climate will be regarded as almost heretical. I realise that he is accounted by the media as one of the finest orators of all time. I read in one paper yesterday of his ‘perfectly crafted sentences’. Really? His speeches sometimes seem to me woolly in their content, and hackneyed or overly sentimental in their delivery.

Take Mr Obama’s reaction to the news that the 76-year-old Senator Edward Kennedy had collapsed and suffered convulsions at the inaugural lunch on Tuesday. He could have simply said that he was very sorry to hear the news, and that he hoped Mr Kennedy would get better soon. In the event he said in his characteristically overblown way: ‘And so I would be lying to you if I did not say that right now part of me is with him.’

What insincere, over-the-top nonsense. One might almost say Blairite nonsense. Despite losing part of himself to the Senator, the President gamely attended ten balls with his wife.

Am I a cynical journalist who cannot recognise political genius and goodness and eloquence when they stare me in the face? Possibly. In fact, I hope so. No one would be more pleased than me if Mr Obama turned out to be half as wonderful as his supporters and cheerleaders think he is.

America and the rest of us face daunting challenges. In my book George W. Bush was the worst American President in living memory. No American occupant of the White House in recent times has bequeathed so many appalling problems, most of which were partly or largely of his own making. The United States and the world yearn for an outstanding President, and it will be wonderful if Mr Obama turns out to be that man.

But don’t decide that he is until he has succeeded. Let him be held to account by politicians and the press and the people. Let’s not forget that, despite being young, clever and charismatic, he is only a mortal politician. For his sake, as well as ours, we should not expect the impossible.

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Apologia for Hamas

January 22, 2009

U.S. Army War College Publishes Apologia for Hamas

IPT News
January 21, 2009

http://www.investigativeproject.org/article/979

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The U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) published a monograph last month by Sherifa Zuhur entitled, “Hamas and Israel: Conflicting Strategies of Group-Based Politics,” a fairly bland heading that only hints at its deeply disturbing content. This monograph is more accurately described as an apologia for Hamas, a violent Islamist organization dedicated to jihad and the destruction of the State of Israel. Hamas was first designated by the United States (U.S.) government as a terrorist organization in 1995 by a presidential executive order and then again as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in 1997. Hamas has remained on the FTO list ever since. The essay also consistently demonizes Israel and its legitimate defense of national sovereignty under international law.

The U.S. Army War College is an official educational facility of the Department of Defense, and is accredited by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. The mission of the Carlisle, Pennsylvania-based War College is to prepare its students for strategic leadership positions in the U.S. military and senior levels of civilian policymaking. American taxpayers fund the War College and its Strategic Studies Institute.

According to the monograph’s forward (written by SSI Director Douglas C. Lovelace, Jr.), “Hamas and Israel” provides “an orientation to HAMAS and its base” that demonstrates how “efforts….to separate HAMAS from its popular support and network of social and charitable organizations…have not been effective in destroying the organization, nor in eradicating the will to resist among a fairly large segment of the Palestinian population.”[1] The pronounced bias in support of Hamas and against the State of Israel that suffuses this monograph shows in the absence of any explanation for why Hamas would continue to be engaged in resistance of any sort through the end of 2008, much less incessant rocket attacks aimed at Israeli civilian population centers, more than three years after Israel withdrew completely from Gaza. Instead, key recommendations include the need for “Israel and the United States…to abandon their policies of non-negotiation and non-communication with HAMAS.”[2] Additionally, according to Zuhur, Israel needs to “abandon the aspects of its new defensive strategy which are calculated to thwart peace efforts,”[3] by “[d]ismantling the settlements in the West Bank”[4] and recognizing what Zuhur calls “Hamas’ political and strategic development”[5] instead of villainizing the group. She claims that “Israel could not tolerate Palestinian Arabs’ resistance of their [sic] authority on the legal basis of denial of self-determination”[6] and slips in a stab at what she terms “Israel’s rejection of all comprehensive peace offers by the Arabs.”[7] Statements like these betray the actual purpose of this monograph: to criticize Israel for exercising its sovereign right to self-defense while giving Hamas a free pass for terrorist assaults that deliberately target Israel’s civilian population. It should be noted that this monograph was published the very week that Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008.

American dedication to free speech should not extend to using taxpayer money to pay for a paean to Islamist terrorism, backed by shoddy research and written at what is supposed to be this nation’s premier U.S. Army institute for national security research and analysis. Unfortunately, there is precedent at SSI for this genre of terrorist apologia. Sherifa Zuhur, an American citizen who is Research Professor of Islamic and Regional Studies at SSI, is the same author who penned an April 2008 SSI monograph, “Precision in the Global War on Terror: Inciting Muslims Through the War of Ideas.”

That monograph takes the form of a Glossary of Terms, from A to Z, which Zuhur uses to identify “a trend of pathologizing beliefs and practices that are at the core of Islam.”[8] Her definitions invariably deny any link between Islam and terrorism and claim that the violence of the suicide bomber is “not a manifestation of belief nor a natural outcome of Islamism or ‘fundamentalism,’ but rather a tactic, labeled with the religious principle of Jihad, that is intended to build an ethos, a camaraderie, and dependency on others engaging in violence.”[9]

Zuhur overlooks the Hamas charter, a theological covenant with Allah, which takes the motto of its parent organization, The Muslim Brotherhood, as its own:

Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model to be followed,

the Koran its constitution, Jihad its way,

and death for the sake of Allah its loftiest desire

Article Seven of the covenant justifies its anti-Semitic mission to obliterate Israel with the notorious hadith authenticated by the two most authoritative hadith scholars in Islam, Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim:

The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight

The Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones,

And each tree and stone will say: ‘Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah,

there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him…

Had Zuhur included something more than false, dismissive references to the Hamas Covenant in her latest monograph, she may have had a much harder time excoriating Israel for its “…stance towards the democratically-elected Palestinian government headed by HAMAS [which] has been a major obstacle to substantive peacemaking.”[10] Zuhur describes the charter as “defunct” and claims that Hamas leadership no longer “cites or refers to” it while generally playing down its aggressive anti-Israel elements.[11] Yet, as recently as 2007, the Hamas leadership issued an official statement to defend itself against criticism from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two. “We will not betray promises we made to God to continue the path of Jihad and resistance until the liberation of Palestine, all of Palestine,”[12] according to the statement. This statement not only clearly reaffirms Hamas’ commitment to the destruction of Israel, but notably as well underscores the theological character of the Hamas Covenant, which declares “promises we made to God.”

Tellingly, Zuhur’s monographs lack citations from recognized Islamic authorities, legal texts, or scriptures. Such quotations would refute her premise that the violent intolerance intrinsic to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Shari’a is not based explicitly in Islamic doctrine.

She also neglects to cite key references in her attempt to portray the Brotherhood as an organization “committed to global change for many decades”[13] that has “restricted its activities to Muslim education and social support.[14] Here, she conveniently ignores the self-described mission of the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S., which was revealed in a Brotherhood document first introduced into evidence at the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terror financing trial:

Understanding the role of the Muslim Brother in North America: …The Ikhwan must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands…”[15] (emphasis added)

Zuhur’s protestations on behalf of Hamas’ “charitable social services”[16] make a false distinction between those affiliated with al-Qaeda (acknowledged as violent) and those connected to Hamas, which has “carefully separated political and military wings.”[17] Similarly, she claims that “Hamas shares an acceptance of the scientific rational traditions of the West along with moderate Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.”[18] In the rush to publish, Zuhur must have missed reports that the Hamas parliament voted in December 2008 to legalize Shari’a hudud punishments like amputation, flogging, and crucifixion.[19]

In publishing these two monographs by Sherifa Zuhur, the U.S. Army War College exposes itself to serious questions about its advocacy and promotion of views it knows or should have known are deeply inimical to U.S. national security interests. These two publications are each described on their title pages as “a work of the U.S. Government as defined in Title 17, United States Code, Section 101.”[20] But their author shills for a foreign terrorist organization. She attacks Israel, a friend and ally of the U.S. and an outpost of liberal democracy in the Middle East, which has been forced to fight jihadist efforts to destroy it for the entire 60 years of its existence. It is fine to present students with varying perspectives on a conflict, but when taxpayer money is used, a higher standard should be demanded. Congress should investigate why the US Army is funding papers supporting Hamas.


[1] Zuhur, Sherifa, “Hamas and Israel: Conflicting Strategies of Group-Based Politics,” Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, December 2008. (pg. v)

[2] Ibid, pg. 63

[3] Ibid, pg. 18.

[4] Ibid, pg. 65

[5] Ibid, pg. x

[6] Ibid, pg. 1

[7] Ibid, pg. 14

[8] Zuhur, Sherifa, “Precision in the Global War on Terror: Inciting Muslims Through the War of Ideas,” Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, April 2008. From the Forward, pg. v.

[9] Ibid, pg. 110

[10] Zuhur, “Hamas and Israel,” pg.1

[11] Ibid, pg. 30-31

[12] Al-Mughrabi, Nidal, “Hamas says still seeks Israel’s destruction,” Reuters, March 12, 2007.

[13] Zuhur, “Hamas and Israel,” pg. 63

[14] Ibid, pg. 91

[15]From ‘On the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America’ (5/22/1991); entered into evidence at the 2007 Holy Land Foundation trial in Dallas, TX. While this federal prosecution ended indecisively, Zuhur would have known before “Hamas and Israel” was published in late December 2008 that on November 24, 2008, a unanimous jury conviction on 108 counts was returned in the retrial against five former Holy Land Foundation officials for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.

[16] Zuhur, “Hamas and Israel,” pg.18; also “Precision in the Global War on Terror,” pg. 114, where she protests that “…with the War on Terror came an attack on many Islamic charitable associations, both those somehow linked to al-Qa’ida and to organizations that most Muslims regard as nationalist and more moderate like Hamas.”

[17] Ibid (“Hamas and Israel”), pg. 39

[18] Ibid, pg. 60

[19] “Hamas Sanctions Sharia Law,” CBNNews.com, December 24, 2008. http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/507872.aspx

[20] Zuhur, “Hamas and Israel,” from the bottom of the monograph’s title page