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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bernard Lewis Turns 100

Bernard Lewis will turn 100 on May 31. I knew it was in May so I googled and found the Weekly Standard article below. 

Here are several quotes from his books: 


The Assassins, page 26

The decisive split between extremists and moderates occurred after the death in 765 of Ja’far al-Sadiq, the sixth Imam after Ali.  Ja’far’s   eldest son was Isma’il. For reasons which hare not quite clear, and probably because of his association with extremist elements, Isma’il was disinherited, and a large apart of the Shi’a recognized his younger brother Musa al-Kazim as seventh Imam. The line of Musa continued until the twelfth Imam, who disappeared in about 873, and is still the “awaited Imam” or Mahdi of the great majority ofthe Shi’a at the present day. The followers of the twelve Imam’s, known as the Ithna ‘ashari or Twelver Shi’a, represent the more moderate branch of the sect. Their differences from the main body of Sunni  Islam are limited to a certain number of points of doctrine, which in recent years have become even less significant. Since the sixteenth century, Twelver Shi’ism has become the official religion of Iran.


Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry, page 114:


The literature and folklore of the Middle East reveal a sadly normal range of traditional and stereotypical accusations against people seen as alien, and more specifically, inferior. The most frequent are those commonly directed against slaves and hence against the races from which slaves are drawn – that they are stupid; that they are vicious, untruthful and dishonest; that they are dirty in their personal habits and emit an evil smell. The black’s physical appearance is described as ugly, distorted or monstrous. The point is made in an anecdote about an Arab poet known as al-Sayyid al-Himyari – the South Arabian Himyarite Sayyid ( 723-89)


The Sayyid was my neighbor, and he was very dark. He used to carouse with the young men of the camp, one of whom was dark as he was, with a thick nose and lips, and a Negroid [muzannaj] appearance. The Sayyid had the foulest smelling armpits of anybody. 



Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian, page 342: 

I am mistrustful and view with apprehension a genuine free election - assuming that such a thing could happen - because the religious parties have an immediate advantage. First, they have a network of communication through the preacher and mosque which no other political group can hope to equal. Second, they use, familiar, indigenous, language. The language of Western democracy is for the most part newly translated and the concepts are not readily intelligible to the general population. A dash towards Western-style elections, far from representing a solution to the region's difficulties, constitutes a dangerous aggravation of the problem and I fear that radical Islamic movements are ready to exploit so misguided a move. In genuine fair and free elections, the Muslim parties are very likely to win. A much better course would be a gradual development of democracy, not through general elections, but rather through civil society and the strengthening of local institutions. For that, there is a real tradition in the region.

And of course, the quote that started this blog five years ago, which you will still hardly ever see  mentioned in the media 

Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian, page 333:


Particular importance should be attached to the policies, and perhaps still more the attitudes, of the present rulers of Iran, who seem to be preparing for a final apocalyptic battle between the forces of God [themselves] and of the Devil [ the Great Satan--the United States].  They see this as the final struggle of the End of Time and are therefore undeterred by any level of slaughter and destruction even among their own people . "Allah will know his own" is the phase commonly used, meaning that among the multiple victims God will recognize the Muslims and give them a quick pass to heaven.

                In this context, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, namely M.A.D. (Mutual Assured Destruction) , would have no meaning.  At the End of Time, there will be general destruction  anyway.  What will matter is the final destination of the dead-- hell for the infidels, and the delights of heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, M.A.D. is not a constraint; it is an inducement...


The Weekly Standard




Twenty years ago, Bernard Lewis and I were walking along the Thames. We’d just seen a dreary English take on naughty French theater, which provoked remembrances of Paris in the 1930s when Lewis was a student of Louis Massignon, the great Catholic orientalist born in 1883, 33 years before my friend and teacher. A thoroughly secular English Jew, Lewis wryly remembered Massignon, a serious antisemite for whom Lewis could nevertheless express considerable scholarly admiration

Cataloging Massignon's plusses and minuses provoked another question, omnipresent among Lewis's students who couldn't avoid comparing their intellectual inadequacy with their professor's astounding erudition: "When you look back to when you were young, when you'd started studying Islam, what drove your curiosity?" Lewis's opening surprised me: "My profound sense of inferiority."

One of the greatest scholars of the 20th century, Lewis was in awe of the generation of orientalists who'd come before him, the accomplished men who drank deeply of 19th-century European progress, pride, and discovery before World War I blew it all to hell. Lewis became a greater scholar than his famous Scottish mentor, Hamilton A. R. Gibb, who asked Lewis to write The Arabs in History, a compendious little book, published in 1950, that first revealed Lewis's gift for rendering wide swaths of Islamic history into elegant English prose. The work remains a classic. I asked my old teacher to assess Gibb, who is often exempted from the dubious orientalist list because of his Arabist pedigree, his anti-Zionist sympathies, and his enmity for certain Israel-friendly scholars who were Lewis's friends. Lewis remained affectionate and respectful.

Anyone who has tried to tackle the great classical Islamic languages—Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish—and the European languages necessary for the proper study of Islamic scholarship knows that students don't do this because of patriotism, the will to conquer, or even lust. They do it for knowledge, the deeply human yearning for truth, to explore unknown realms, and to see the "other" as he sees himself. Scholars of foreign lands who hate—and there certainly have been academics who've approached their subjects with enmity—rarely can sustain sufficient interest to do trailblazing work. If any great fault lies with the orientalists, it is that they were sometimes too sympathetic. The same can be said for their less-accomplished successors.

Lewis is ever conscious of the debt he owes others—the scholars before him and the contemporaries who helped him. I've always thought Lewis's generosity—and there is an army of men and women, in a wide range of professions, to whom he has shown life-changing consideration—in part springs from his sense of place, that he is a link in a long line. He also is generous because he is just so sublimely inquisitive. Lewis wrote one novel, an expression of his love for a Danish woman. He wrote the published work in her native language—as one would expect from a romantic polyglot. Since he was unsure of the result, he wrote under a pseudonym. Lewis should have written many novels in many languages: He has the fiction writer's eye for details and the fascination for people in all their glorious messiness. He is also considerably shy, which people who don't know him often mistake for aloofness. But this shyness fuels his curiosity and kindness.

It is right that Lewis has lasted 100 years: He has taken in millennia. None of his former students would disagree: We will not see another like him. He grew up in the terrible storm of the 20th century—a child of a dying British Empire and a Europe coming apart. He knew firsthand a Middle East still living off the traditions of the Ottoman and Qajar empires, when the elites still spoke French and the secularizers had the upper hand on the religious. He also knew firsthand the other Middle East, the one falling apart under native tyrannies and a surging militant faith.

Lewis voyaged often and widely, from Morocco to Pakistan, and farther into Asia wherever Muslims were to be found. He is as likely to relay stories of Afghan peasants, aging, impoverished odalisques, and fundamentalist imams as he is of Arab princes, Turkish and Iranian generals, and Pakistani prime ministers. With all, Lewis looked for the unexpected, the little twist that might bring illumination. Not long after 9/11, Lewis and I spoke, wanting to compare notes about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. His opening line didn't surprise: He thought bin Laden to be "a man of integrity and sincerity." That wouldn't have played well on American television. But for those of us who've had the incredible good fortune to be in Lewis's company, it's why we love him.

Happy birthday, Bernard.

****




Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Candidly Speaking: Netanyahu’s morally and politically dysfunctional government



Netanyahu saved his government by this ‘volte farce.’ But it may yet prove to be a pyrrhic victory.





The recent shenanigans preceded the expansion of the government sickened even those reconciled to the reality that, since the Menahem Begin era, there exists a total lack of ethics in the Israeli political arena.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in consolidating his government and may have ensured that it will survive its full term of office – making him the longest presiding prime minister of Israel. In this case, Netanyahu was not being Machiavellian. Like any politician, understandably his principal objective was to increase his (paper-thin) parliamentary majority. But there is little doubt that his objective was also to create a government that reflected the unity of the nation in terms of security issues and which our adversaries and allies alike could not dismiss as extreme right wing. I believe that he genuinely desired to incorporate the Zionist Union or the bulk of its parliamentarians into his government. But ultimately he realized – as Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog himself subsequently conceded – that he was unable to gain the support of the Labor Party. Even if Herzog delivered a number of Labor MKs, the coalition would be highly unstable and likely to break up at any time.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, realizing that his political future was at risk if he remained in an opposition headed by the Joint Arab List, signaled his political arch enemy that he was willing to join the government, and in less than 24 hours the deal was cobbled together.

Netanyahu saved his government by this “volte farce.” But it may yet prove to be a pyrrhic victory.

As the global community prepares to exert more pressure – including UN Security Council Resolutions designed to coerce us into accepting indefensible borders – we will be perceived as having an even more extreme right-wing government. This will undoubtedly be exploited by US President Barack Obama as justification for not employing the US veto to anti-Israeli Security Council resolutions.

On the domestic level, Netanyahu’s cavalier treatment of his former political allies to further his own ends by increasing the size of the coalition – at any cost – leaves a very bitter taste.

The manner in which Moshe Ya’alon was displaced as defense minister by Liberman was almost surreal. When Liberman served as foreign minister he abused his position and misrepresented Israel. To appoint him defense minister, possessing no military experience whatsoever, is grossly unsuitable and reminiscent of the disasters associated with Amir Peretz.

In contrast, Ya’alon was an exemplary defense minister. He was considered a man of exceptional integrity, one of the few renowned for promoting the national interest rather than his personal ambitions. His absence from the next Security Cabinet is a great loss for our national security.

Over the past month, Ya’alon was justly criticized for making a number of ill-considered statements, creating tension when encouraging IDF personnel to speak out against political decisions they considered inappropriate.

However, Ya’alon’s controversial remarks had no bearing on Netanyahu’s subsequent acquiescence to Liberman’s demand for the Defense Ministry. What is clear is that Ya’alon – one of Netanyahu’s loyal allies over many years – was not treated as a loyal partner or adequately consulted. The result was that he exploded and, despite the belated offer of the post of foreign minister, resigned from the government and Knesset announcing he would return to politics at a later date and become a contestant for the leadership.

How has this impacted on domestic politics? The country’s biggest loss is Ya’alon, whose wisdom and military knowledge are irreplaceable. The other loser is Herzog, who genuinely sought to bring Zionism back into the Labor Party and marginalize the delusional leftists who have hijacked his party. To this end, he fought his own party colleagues but failed in his effort to create a national unity government. His party will now be in shambles until it sorts itself out and elects a new leader.

The big winner in this new government, aside from Liberman, will be Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who will benefit immensely at the polls and is likely to represent an alternative leadership at the next elections.

The haredim (ultra-Orthodox) are also delighted, because Liberman, in his thirst for power, had no problem in suspending his passionate commitment to introduce reforms in the religious arena and break the stranglehold of the haredim in relation to conversion, marriage and the draft.

Many Israelis are angry with their prime minister, but had he not acted as he did his government would be on the verge of collapse. What is inexcusable is his humiliation of Ya’alon, who was not even adequately informed of the move, to the point where he refused to even remain in the current government – a great loss for the nation.

There are several questions being asked. What price will Netanyahu pay for consolidating his leadership? Internationally, he may face the toughest diplomatic pressures Israel has ever encountered with a retiring US president reputed to be seeking to isolate Israel as his farewell legacy.

How will he cooperate with Liberman, who until only a few days ago displayed outright personal animus toward him? It was serious enough when Liberman went on his independent rampages as foreign minister. How will this work while he is defense minister? Yet, Liberman is no fool. Despite portraying himself as a vulgar, tough hawk, he has in the past displayed pragmatism, frequently and unexpectedly reversing his position. Perhaps he will surprise us, cooperate with the prime minister and prove that with the right advisers, he can be a competent defense minister. But we should not hold our breath.

At the same time, we should treat the media hysteria with a grain of salt. Until a week ago Liberman was Netanyahu’s staunchest critic, and was the media’s darling. This same Liberman who is supposedly moving the government further to the Right, prior to the most recent elections was being praised as a pragmatist who would link up with the Left to depose Netanyahu.

Despite our anger and frustration over this latest example of our dysfunctional political system, there has been no fundamental change to government policies. We must rally behind the government’s security policies and show the world that despite the behavior of our politicians, there is a solid consensus throughout the nation favoring separation from the Palestinians – provided we can retain defensible borders and find a genuine Palestinian peace partner. This is not only the policy of the government but of all the Zionist political parties.

 



Monday, May 23, 2016

Netanyahu Against the Generals

The Wall Street Journal
A case pits Israel’s faith in democracy against the views of its military brass



By BRET STEPHENS




In 2012 a former New York Times reporter named Patrick Tyler published an invidious book called “Fortress Israel,” the point of which was that the Jewish state is a modern-day Sparta whose “sabra military elite” is addicted to war.

“Six decades after its founding,” Mr. Tyler wrote, Israel “remains in thrall to an original martial impulse, the depth of which has given rise to succeeding generations of leaders who are stunted in their capacity to wield or sustain diplomacy as a rival to military strategy.” Worse, these leaders do this “reflexively and instinctively, in order to perpetuate a system of governance where national policy is dominated by the military.”

Israel’s reflexive militarists are at it again, though probably not as Mr. Tyler imagined. Last week, Moshe Ya’alon, a former army chief of staff and a member of the ruling Likud party, resigned as defense minister following ructions regarding the appropriate role of the military in political life. In his place, the prime minister intends to appoint Avigdor Lieberman, a right-wing political brawler whose military career never went higher than corporal rank.

The spat between the prime minister and Mr. Ya’alon began in late March, after an Israeli soldier named Elor Azariah shot and killed a Palestinian man who was lying wounded and motionless on the ground after trying to stab another soldier. Sgt. Azariah is now standing trial for manslaughter and faces up to 20 years in prison. Video of the killing suggests the wounded Palestinian was no threat to the soldiers when the sergeant put a bullet in his head.

The killing has been emphatically—and rightly—condemned by Israel’s military brass. But Israelis also have little sympathy for Palestinians trying to stick knives into their sons and daughters, and Messrs. Netanyahu and Lieberman have offered expressions of support for Sgt. Azariah and his family, to the applause of the Israeli right and the infuriation of senior generals. As often as not in Israel, military leaders and security officials are to the left of the public and their civilian leadership.

If that were the end of the story, you might have a morality tale about Mr. Netanyahu’s political instincts. Or you might have a story about the high ethical standards to which Israel holds itself. What you don’t have is anything resembling a mindlessly belligerent “sabra military elite” that wants to kill helpless (though not innocent) Palestinians to protect its own.

But that isn’t the end of the story. At a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day earlier this month, Yair Golan, Israel’s deputy chief of staff, compared trends in Israeli society to Germany in the 1930s. When Mr. Netanyahu rebuked him—correctly—for defaming Israel and cheapening the memory of the Holocaust, Mr. Ya’alon leapt to the general’s defense and told officers that they should feel free to speak their minds in public. Hence his ouster.

At stake here is no longer the small question about Sgt. Azariah, where the military establishment is in the right. It’s the greater question of civilian-military relations, where Israel’s military leaders are dead wrong. A security establishment that feels no compunction about publicly telling off its civilian masters is on the road to becoming a law unto itself—the Sparta of Mr. Tyler’s imagination, albeit in the service of leftist goals.

In an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times, Israeli writer Ronen Bergman paints the military in flattering colors, insisting that Israel’s “defense agencies are motivated only by national interest, rather than ideology, religion or electoral considerations.” He went on to suggest that talk of a coup was in the air, though “it remains unlikely.”

The idea of a military coup in today’s Israel is preposterous. But it says something about the arrogance of Mr. Bergman and his military sources that they should think of themselves as impartial guardians of the national interest—as they see it—or that they should so brazenly dismiss the ideological, religious or electoral considerations that are the stuff of democracy. It was Israel’s security establishment, led by talented former officers such asYitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, that led Israelis down the bloody cul-de-sac formerly called the peace process. If their views are no longer regarded as sacrosanct, it’s a sign of Israel’s political maturity, not decline.

There’s a larger point here, relevant not only to Israel, about the danger those who believe themselves to be virtuous pose to those who merely wish to be free. In the Middle East, the virtuous are often the sheikhs and ayatollahs, exhorting the faithful to murder for the sake of God. In the West, the virtuous are secular elites imposing what Thomas Sowell once called “the vision of the anointed” on the benighted masses.

Mr. Lieberman is nobody’s idea of an ideal defense minister. And both he and his boss are wrong when it comes to the shameful case of Sgt. Azariah. But those who believe that Israel must remain a democracy have no choice but to take Mr. Netanyahu’s side.



Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Liberman move. Letters to the editor, May 22, 2016




Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon may not be charismatic, but he is one of the rare Israeli politicians who understands the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, having written a paper in 2008 calling for a new strategy.

In an interview with journalist and writer Ari Shavit in 2012, he demonstrated that he understood the apocalyptic nature of the Iranian regime. And he has often stood up to the clueless Obama administration.

This is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most disastrous move ever. We just got a Donald Trump as defense minister!

MLADEN ANDRIJASEVIC 
Beersheba 


Friday, May 20, 2016

Moshe Ya'alon resigns - and then there was one





Bibi and Bogie  were the only two Israeli politicians in power who truly understood the magnitude of the Iranian Twelvers' nuclear threat. Now we are down to one...

Who’s Afraid of Moshe Ya’alon?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Netanyahu just blew it



This is Netanyahu’s most disgusting move ever. What a shame! 

Ya’alon may not be charismatic, but he is one of the rare Israeli politicians who understood the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict already in 2008 when he wrote the paper A New Strategy for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. In the interview with Ari Shavit  in 2012 he demonstrated he understood the apocalyptic nature of the Iranian regime. He often stood up to the cluelessness of the Obama administration    

Instead, we just got an Israeli Donald Trump! 

Who Are the Guilty Men on Iran?




I think most Americans instinctively understand that most of politics is theater. That’s part of the reason why Donald Trump’s unpredictable stand-up act is so popular since we never know what he will say. But Congress is doing its part too to keep us entertained. That’s the only way to interpret the hearing held today by the House Oversight Committee. The reason for this hearing was the continuing fallout over the New York Times Magazine profile of Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes in which he boasted of having successfully spun a docile Washington press corps into helping the administration sell its Iran policy. While Republicans led by Representative Jason Chaffetz wanted to use the session to explore the topic of how the Obama administration misled the American people about the Iran deal, committee Democrats preferred to use their time talking about whether the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq was based on lies. The result was another pointless partisan brawl the only purpose of which was to reassure each party’s base that House members were doing their best to make the other side uncomfortable.

In other words, it was business as usual on the Hill. But before we file this dispiriting piece of political theater in the proverbial circular file, it’s important to point out that the topic of the path to appeasement on Iran is one that I think future historians will view with more seriousness. Ultimately, that may mean Rhodes could go down as one of his generation’s “guilty men,” a title that was given to those British politicians that enabled appeasement of Nazi Germany before World War Two. Whether that it is true or not will depend on whether the administration’s long shot bet on the Islamist regime in Iran moderating before it ultimately gets a nuclear weapon after the deal Rhodes championed expires in a decade. If it doesn’t — and there’s little reason other than wishful thinking to believe that it will — we will view exhibitions such this House hearing with even less tolerance than we to today. But before we get to that point, it’s important to point out exactly what Rhodes is guilty of and what responsibility Congress — both Republicans and Democrats — must shoulder for that result.

Let’s first be clear about what Rhodes — who refused to testify before the committee on dubious grounds that it is inappropriate for a presidential advisor to discuss his work with Congress — did and not do. Since the Times profile, there’s been a lot of talk about the administration’s lies about Iran, and some of those accusations are accurate. The administration did lie about its diplomatic pursuit of Iran in 2013 as well as about the premise for those talks being the nonsensical proposition that the election of a “moderate” as president of Iran. Hassan Rouhani is no moderate but, as we now know, President Obama began the initiative while the even less moderate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in that office, serving as did his successor at the pleasure of Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But while the Times article did speak of the administration misleading the American people, all that Rhodes admitted to in a piece that was both revealing as well as evidence of the trademark arrogance of Obama’s inner circle, was manipulating the press.

Critics of the Iran deal have much to complain about what happened during the course of the negotiations and the string of deceptions that were carried out by various administration figures. President Obama had promised during his 2012 re-election program that any deal end Iran’s nuclear program rather than giving it international approval and setting it up being able to produce a weapon within a decade. There was also much said by senior officials that wasn’t true about the type of inspections that would be used to enforce the deal as well as forcing Iran to divulge all information about its past nuclear efforts.

But we must also acknowledge that the basic truth about the deal was no secret. Indeed, that’s why clear majorities of both Houses of Congress and, according to opinion polls, the American people, opposed the agreement. All of the lies told by the administration were not enough to convince Congress or the people that this was a wise course of action. And, had what amounted to the most important foreign policy treaty been submitted to Congress according to the procedure required by the Constitution, it would never have come close to passing.

But when we ponder that fact, we must also acknowledge that not all the guilty men and women with respect to Iran served in the White House or the State Department. The fact is the legislative branch let President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry get away with treating this treaty as if it were an administrative decision that didn’t require Congressional approval.

Granted, it would have been difficult if not impossible to stop them from doing so. But the same Republican Congress that took the country to the brink over defunding ObamaCare and almost did the same thing about Planned Parenthood funding backed down when it came to defending their constitutional obligations on a matter of life and death like letting Iran keep its nuclear program. Responsibility for that decision belonged in no small measure to the Republican leaders of the two chambers. But special opprobrium should be directed at Senator Bob Corker, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, who was rolled by the administration and his Democratic colleagues when he agreed to a bill that would give Congress a vote on the deal as if it were a simple piece of legislation. That meant that instead of a two-thirds vote in order to pass it, as the Constitution requires, it was able to survive with the one-third plus one votes needed to sustain a veto or the 40 votes needed to sustain a filibuster in the Senate. In the end, the effort to stop the deal died because of a filibuster carried out by Senate Democrats, all of whom had previously voted to ensure that Congress had some sort of say about this crucial decision.

Corker, who is supposedly under consideration as a possible choice to run for vice president with Donald Trump, deserves a lot of the blame for what happened last year. So do the rank and file Republicans and Democrats that didn’t rise up and demand that this deeply unpopular measure be stopped. Today’s piece of theater notwithstanding, if the worst happens and Iran gets a bomb, everyone who was in Washington last year will be asked what they did to stop the deal, and few will be completely blameless.

As I noted last week, there will be real long term consequence of the Iran deal lies that have nothing to do with scoring political points. But while Rhodes deserves to be upbraided for his lies, let’s not kid ourselves about what happened. There was no shortage of information about what a bad deal had been negotiated. All the White House spin couldn’t silence the critics nor was it ever enough to convince most Americans that they were right. What was lacking was a Congress that was prepared to act on the information they did have. Rhodes’ earned himself a place in history as a principle author of a travesty that could lead to putting a bomb in the hands of a genocidal anti-Semitic Islamist regime. But Rhodes is not the only one that ought to be ashamed. If Representative Chaffetz wants to put anyone on the spot, he should also include those members of the Senate who were Obama’s willing dupes.