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Tom Coburn is a Big Fat Jerk


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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Noble Lie, Neocons and Jihad

A distracted morning here --- but not so distracted that I didn't notice the headline that Bush says the insurgents may be having an effect.

Wow. What a revelation. I never would have guessed. [/sarcasm]

Does anyone else sense withdrawal in the air?

In any case, late last night, I found this interview with Gilles Kepel, author of The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West. There are snippets here and there which have given me a more clear understanding of the bizarre neocon mentality. Someow, the cult of Apocalypse, Christian Reconstructionism, Zionism (both Christian and Israeli) --- none of these have ever entirely explained for me WHY --- why the insistence on lies, why the rigid adherence to lies, why the assurance they could create reality, despite the realities.

This interview brings me a bit closer to understanding, however --- although I'm still thoroughly baffled and not entirely convinced a kind of megalomanic insanity doesn't underlie it all.

From the interview, a few excerpts below.

[Gilles Kepel]: Much has been made of Paul Wolfowitz’s interview with Sam Tannenhaus in Vanity Fair (May 2003) when he said that the dossier about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was a “winner” when it came to expediting the crucial prewar Congressional vote.

Wolfowitz’s formulation was defended at the time as a Straussian, Machiavellian, or even Platonist lie: the masses do not know what is good for them, but their leaders do, and moreover need to find some slogan with which to mobilise them – a slogan which, in Plato’s words, may always have more to do with rhetoric than truth."

[...]

openDemocracy: Does the neocons’ commitment to such rhetorical devices help explain why their professed commitment to democracy is so distrusted?

Gilles Kepel: The neocons are indeed commonly considered a bunch of hypocrites. I don’t agree: I may be naïve, but I have seen many of them at work and read their texts intensively, and I think that they are indeed firm proponents of democracy.

Most of them, however, have a peculiar agenda in relation to the middle east, where all criteria except Israel’s security pale into insignificance. They do not understand or wish to see the contradiction between preaching the necessity of democratic regimes in the area and refusing to engage seriously in the Israeli–Palestinian dispute. Instead, they choose to believe that no requirement for democracy should be allowed to put the slightest pressure on Ariel Sharon. As long as this continues, the neocons have no chance to win the support of Muslims or middle–east civil societies against radicals and terrorists.

In recent discussions in Washington with US administration officials and agencies dealing with middle–east policy, I tried to persuade them of the centrality of the “war for Muslim hearts and minds” – and the fact that in this war, weapons cannot be an end in themselves, only a means. What Ayman al–Zawahiri calls “the Muslim masses” are ultimately the only group able to eradicate terrorism, to dry up the pond where people like him thrive. To tackle this, you must engage civil society.

This issue is decisive in Iraq today because the jihadis believe that Iraq is their new terrain. They believe that Iraq will follow 9/11 in setting an example for the Muslim world – exposing the weakness of the west, then mobilising and galvanising the masses, who will become fearless in the face of the enemy.

In cyberspace at least, they have already largely succeeded. The jihadis may have failed miserably in inspiring the masses to replace existing regimes with Islamic, sharia–driven states. But they have created a constituency of internet activists dedicated to spreading terrorism around the globe.

The crucial issue now is whether Iraq is the new land of jihad or of fitna – a war in the heart of Islam that threatens the faithful with community fragmentation, disintegration and ruin (my book takes its French title from the term).

The example of Algeria in the 1990s is relevant here. Until 1996, militant Armed Islamic Group (GIA) or Islamic Salvation Front (FIS ( movements controlled large parts of Algeria, and the regime seemed doomed; then, for disputed reasons – military security operations, infiltration activities and other provocations, the internal dynamics of the GIA – the Islamists suddenly seemed to have alienated the bulk of the Algerian population. They even lost support among those who had previously voted for them.

Today in Iraq, there are daily images of hostages being beheaded as traitors, of corpses of policemen in the rivers – a spectacle of horror designed to convince that jihad is on the rise and that the US will never prevail. Yet jihadi Islamism in Iraq can draw on only the 17% of the population who are Sunni Arabs. The Iraqi Kurds and Shi’a are beyond their reach.

The US, particularly its neocon element, is still committed to playing the Shi’a card – not just for Iraq itself, but because it is convinced that a secular, pro–western, Shi’a–majority–governed Iraq, would act as a magnet for neighbouring Iran.

In Iran, sentiment against the clerical regime is running high within the general population, but people are too afraid to organise themselves. The regime has been shrewd enough to redistribute some wealth to the middle classes, many of whom (like my Czech relatives under communism) live comfortable private lives but are reluctant to act publicly – because they know what they might lose, and are not sure of what they could gain. In this circumstance, a secular, Shi’a–dominated Iraq would boost the morale of the anti–regime sectors of Iranian civil society.

The Iranian regime has understood this – to it – dangerous prospect. In my view, it backed Muqtada al–Sadr in hopes that he might help avert it. The attempt failed: the Sadrists’ feeble insurgency collapsed when Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani made a remarkable political move – mobilising all the clerical resources of Shi’ism, and returning to Najaf and Karbala, to compel al–Sadr’s young school dropouts to pay their respects instead to him. As a result, Iraqi Shi’a representatives – Sistani and al–Sadr alike – have now agreed to take part in Iraq’s elections in January 2005.

Why have they agreed – and in a way that runs counter to the wishes of the insurgents in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Samarra? Because a large majority of Iraqis killed by car–bombings and assassinations each week are Shi’a, and the perpetrators radical Sunni.

This confirms the fact that the Sunni insurgents can rely only on a limited band of support in Iraq. The daily media diet of beheadings can so easily and wrongly suggest that the American army is being defeated. Terrorism, in order to win, has to gain momentum over time, by making an investment. It is the return on that investment that counts. In Iraq, it may not be in their favour.

Jihad or fitna in Iraq? We are approaching a watershed. If the majority of Iraqis decide that this is fitna and rejects the Iraqi radicals – then they have lost, as they lost in Algeria. But for this to happen, the concerns of the Iraqi population must be heard.

From the Arab perspective, fitna is a huge contemporary issue. Arabs have a real fear that they are being trapped between the neo–conservatives and the followers of Osama bin Laden. The victory of either, they are convinced, would be to the detriment of Arab civil society."

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