Thursday, January 07, 2010

Do People Really Deny This?

I can never figure out if I grew up and continue to exist in a totally unique environment, or I'm just totally disconnected from the broader Jewish psyche, or what, because I had no idea that it was a Jewish article of faith that al-Qaeda's actions and support are entirely unconnected to Israel.

Of course they are! Opposition to Israel is part and parcel of the package that al-Qaeda represents. And so it make sense that, as a high profile enemy of Israel, persons upset with Israel for a variety of legitimate or illegitimate reasons will be attracted to it.

I do think Ackerman is right that some Jews get nervous when this is expounded upon too vigorously, because it can lead to Michael Scheuer-esque positions basically advocating throwing Israel to the wolves to appease al-Qaeda. But there are separate issues.

Moreover, Ackerman is clearly right about this:
The answer for the U.S. is not to sever ties with Israel or turn hostile toward it. It’s to seek an end to the Israeli-Arab conflict and a stable Middle East. That will not stop Islamic extremism. Maybe I should say it again in capitol letters: A TWO-STATE SOLUTION WILL NOT STOP ISLAMIC EXTREMISM. Extremists are going to be extremists. They demagogue. They use pretexts. That’s what they do. You deal with that. The proper response is to reduce the circumstances under which their demagoguery resonates. And that’s why ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and midwifing a Palestinian state is so important. This is in our interests, it’s in Israel’s interests, it’s in the Palestinians interests, it’s in the Arab world’s interests, and it’s expressly against al-Qaeda’s interests. It’s in absolutely no way an “appeasement” of al-Qaeda unless you believe that Arabs and Muslims are naturally inclined to bandwagon with al-Qaeda. And that makes you a racist and safe to ignore.

Maybe not "safe to ignore", because such racism still has plenty of purchase in American life. But the general sentiments are right.


N. Friedman said...


My view, if you care to read it, is that the Arab Israeli dispute really is not really causal, at least not way you posit it. Yes, al-Qaeda hates Israel and Jews. But, that is symptom and that is also propaganda used in the West, not the primary cause that makes people join that loathsome group.

My suggestion is that you read an extremely fascinating book, The Al Qaeda Reader, by Raymond Ibrahim. His book consists entirely of materials published by al Qaeda, some directed to Westerners and some directed to Muslims. Amazingly, what is presented to Muslims is very different in content from the propaganda which makes newspapers. And, Israel is not the focus of materials aimed at Muslims. Rather, it is much closer to the message which Thomas Friedman says is attributed to the Christian underwear bomber: “I imagine how the great jihad will take place, how the Muslims will win ... and rule the whole world, and establish the greatest empire once again!!!” That, not Israel, is what this is about.

I think that we need to go with the evidence and park our assumptions behind.

In any event, the chances, just now, of resolving the Arab Israeli dispute are similar to the chances of being struck by lightning today in New York, which are not very high. While I certainly hope and pray that the dispute can and will be solved, that is something different from positing magical attributes to the need to solve the dispute. Which is to say, the dispute needs to be solved for the sake of Israelis and Palestinian Arabs, not to save the world from al Qaeda and similar movements.

David Schraub said...

Causality has nothing to do with it, as Ackerman indicates: Extremists are going to be extremists. They demagogue. They use pretexts. That’s what they do. You deal with that. The proper response is to reduce the circumstances under which their demagoguery resonates.

Resonation with the not-already-converted is the problem. Of course the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a pretext. But it is an effective pretext. It's a good thing to remove effective pretexts, where possible.

The fatalistic nihlism you espouse is something I just can't behind.

N. Friedman said...


I do not espouse nihilism. That is in your head.

More than that, you misread what I wrote. As I stated, the materials addressed by Islamists to Muslims do not play much on Israel. How can your theory be true if radicals do not use Israel in their membership drives? Obviously, that throws a monkey wrench into your theory.

Muslims mostly despise Israel. Resolving the dispute, with Israel remaining in tact, will more than likely not mean a thing to the radicals or to most Muslims. Why? Because that is not what they want.

Now, as to the true views of Arabs towards Israel, I note the following from No God But God, Egypt and the Triumph of Islam (Oxford University Press 2000) by Geneive Abdo. On pages 64-65, she reports the following, which I shall post separately so that it all can appear:

N. Friedman said...


The Grand Sheikh's battle with his conservative critics boiled over in December 1997, when Tantawi hosted an unprecedented meeting at al-Azhar with chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, leader of Israel's Ashkenazi Jews. Held just before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and amid growing outrage in the Arab world toward Israeli intransigence in the stalled Oslo peace process, Tantawi's meeting was nothing short of explosive. Ordinary Egyptians had never accepted the Camp David peace accords, or for that matter any attempt to normalize relations with Israel. Most Muslims saw the invitation of the chief rabbi into the very citadel of Sunni Islam as a complete betrayal of the fifty-year effort against the Jewish state.

Egypt's most respected Islamic thinker, Seleeem al-Awa, spoke for many when he bitterly denounced the visit on the front page of the Islamist daily al-Shaab and wrote a letter of protest to the Research Academy. "I did not believe my eyes when I read that the Grand Sheikh met the Zionist rabbi in Cairo.... It is as if the Zionists want to declare before the whole world that they have achieved normalization with the symbol of Sunni Islam and the entire Islamic world, and with the Sheikh of al-Azhar himself."

"Why did you headquarters become the site of normalization with the Zionists? How are we going to welcome Ramadan with the biggest spiritual defeat of the modern age?" al-Awa asked.

Tantawi was filled with consternation. He had never expected that such a meeting would outrage the Muslim world. Shaken and tense, he defended himself in a long interview with a Qatari satellite television channel that was broadcast in Egypt and across the Middle East. The interviewer asked Tantawi why he had decided to meet the rabbi, when his predecessor, Gad al-Haq, had refused.

"I followed in the footsteps of our Prophet, peace be upon him. He met Jews and had a dialogue with them.... Was I supposed to refuse to meet him, so he'll go to his country and say the Sheikh of al-Azhar was unable to meet me?"

"What is you answer to Dr. Seleem al-Awa who said this meeting is more dangerous than any form of normalization?" the interviewer asked.

"This is the logic of cowards and pacifists," Tantawi replied. "Can Dr. al-Awa deny that the Prophet and his companion Abu Bakr met with the Jews? And after that, they say 'normalization.' What normalization?"

Tantawi's response did little to pacify his critics with al-Azhar. In fact, the controversy handed the traditionalists the evidence they needed to challenge his suitability to hold Sunni Islam's highest position. "What we read about the meeting between the Sheikh of al-Azhar and the Israeli rabbi shocked us all," commented Yahya Ismail, the general-secretary of the Azhar's Scholars' Front. "We must abide by fatwas issued by senior scholars since 1936, which are official fatwas that forbid dealing with the occupying Jews with any weapon other than jihad (holy struggle) until they evacuate from our lands."

David Schraub said...

The nihilism I think you're espousing is that all these ideologies are inevitable forces of nature, impossible to alter, influence or change (hence my accusation in the other thread that you're were eliminating any Jewish agency except in a defensive or reactive role). Just throwing at me "(extremist) Muslims hate Israel" is non-responsive insofar as I'm arguing that for a substantial portion of the population, those views can be altered or turned.

I'm quite aware of the depth of hostility towards Israel that exists in the Arab world -- indeed, I'm confused by your seeming position that radical Muslim extremists are apparently the only group that is not exploiting that reality. There is plenty of evidence that anti-Israel ideology is quite important in al-Qaeda's public image presentment -- indeed, fighting Israel was one of its founding ambitions.

N. Friedman said...


I did not say any position is permanent. That is in your head. I do think that, for the foreseeable future, there is as much chance of resolving the Arab Israeli dispute as there is in being struck by lightning. But, that could change. However, it has not, at this point, changing in that direction and making believe that it is, if Israel only does this or that or even without regard to what Israel does, is a delusion.

I did say that the ideology that dominates Arab thinking today is negative towards Israel. And, what Ms. Abdo writes is, in fact, representative of thinking among the vast, vast majority of Arabs, then and now.

Israel, however, is not primarily what motivates the extremists and not primarily why anyone would join the extremists. We know this because the materials written by extremists focuses on religious topics dedicated to spreading Islamic rule, not on Israel. That is why, for example, the Christmas underwear bomber's writings do not focus on Israel. There is, however, material where he focuses on spreading Islamic rule to the world.

The various materials you provide as evidence do not evidence much. I cannot imagine you could form an opinion based on what you have cited.

John said...

The real problem is the rise of the Wahhabis. This small group of fanatics has been wielding the huge wealth of Saudi Arabia in the cause of global terrorism. See The roots of Islamic Terrorism