Is Islam The Enemy?

December 28, 2008

[First published April 17, 2006]I have searched the literature for analyses of Islamism and its terrorists that would bare its roots and provide the understanding needed to fight the War on Terror knowledgeably. There is no dearth of studies, reports, and essays, of course, and their diversity of analyses and conclusions, not to mention differences over details, reminds me of the professional head scratching during the first years of the Cold War. Among the most informative and useful article (in pdf) I found is that by Ladan Boroumand and Roya Boroumand. They are Muslim sisters from Iran and professional historians. Ladan Boroumand received her doctorate from the French Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris; her sister Roya earned her doctorate from the Sorbonne.

They point out:

• the Marxist-Leninist and fascist sources of Islamism (missed by a large majority of American analysts);
• the corresponding totalitarian nature of Islamism;
• that Islamism and its terrorism must be clearly distinguished from Islam;
• and that Iran is the home base of Islamism and its associated terrorism.

In sum, the strategic arrow points to Iran. This means that the democracies must not allow this leader of the Islamist terrorist pack to get nuclear weapons. This is not a conditional. This is an absolute for the War on Terror and Western national security.

I have excerpted the heart of the sisters Boroumand article below (a painful process, since there is so much that is good in it). I hope this will encourage you to read the whole thing.

The Boroumands begin with a question:

“Why?” That is the question that people in the West have been asking ever since the terrible events of September 11. What are the attitudes, beliefs, and motives of the terrorists and the movement from which they sprang? What makes young men from Muslim countries willing, even eager, to turn themselves into suicide bombers?….

….Islamist terror first burst onto the world scene with the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November of that year….

Before the Iranian Revolution, terrorism was typically seen as a straightforward outgrowth of modern ideologies. Islamist terrorists, however, claim to fight on theological grounds: A few verses from the Koran and a few references to the sunna (“deeds of the Prophet”) put an Islamic seal on each operation. The whole ideological fabric appears to be woven from appeals to tradition, ethnicity, and historical grievances both old and new, along with a powerful set of religious-sounding references to “infidels,” “idolaters,” “crusaders,” “martyrs,” “holy wars,” “sacred soil,” “enemies of Islam,” “the party of God,” and “the great Satan.”
But this religious vocabulary hides violent Islamism’s true nature as a modern totalitarian challenge to both traditional Islam and modern democracy. If terrorism is truly as close to the core of Islamic belief as both the Islamists and many of their enemies claim, why does international Islamist terrorism date only to 1979?….

There is in the history of Islam no precedent for the utterly unrestrained violence of al-Qaeda or the Hezbollah….To kill oneself while wantonly murdering women, children, and people of all religions and descriptions … has nothing to do with Islam….

The man who did more than any other to lend an Islamic cast to totalitarian ideology was an Egyptian schoolteacher named Hassan al-Banna (1906–49)….he founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 with the express goal of counteracting Western influences. By the late 1930s, Nazi Germany had established contacts with revolutionary junior officers in the Egyptian army, including many who were close to the Muslim Brothers. Before long the Brothers, who had begun by pursuing charitable, associational, and cultural activities, also had a youth wing, a creed of unconditional loyalty to the leader, and a paramilitary organization whose slogan “action, obedience, silence” echoed the “believe, obey, fight” motto of the Italian Fascists….

From the Fascists—and behind them, from the European tradition of putatively “transformative” or “purifying” revolutionary violence that began with the Jacobins—Banna also borrowed the idea of heroic death as a political art form.…Following Banna, today’s Islamist militants embrace a terrorist cult of martyrdom that has more to do with Georges Sorel’s, “Reflexions sur la violence,” than with anything in either Sunni or Shi’ite Islam….

Sayyid Qutb (1906–66), the Brothers’ chief spokesman and also their liaison with the communists, framed an ideological response that would lay the groundwork for the Islamism of today.

Qutb was a follower not only of Banna but of the Pakistani writer and activist Sayyid Abu’l-A’la Mawdudi (1903–79), who in 1941 founded the Jamaat-e-Islami-e-Pakistan (Pakistan Islamic Assembly), which remains an important political force in Pakistan, though it cannot claim notable electoral support….He denounced all nationalism, labeling it as kufr (unbelief). Using Marxist terminology, he advocated a struggle by an Islamic “revolutionary vanguard” against both the West and traditional Islam, attaching the adjectives “Islamic” to such distinctively Western terms as “revolution,” “state,” and “ideology.” Though strongly opposed by the Muslim religious authorities, his ideas influenced a whole generation of “modern” Islamists.

….Qutb’s brand of Islamism was informed by his knowledge of both the Marxist and fascist critiques of modern capitalism and representative democracy. He called for a monolithic state ruled by a single party of Islamic rebirth…. His ideal society was a classless one where the “selfish individual” of liberal democracies would be banished and the “exploitation of man by man” would be abolished. God alone would govern it through the implementation of Islamic law (shari’a). This was Leninism in Islamist dress.

When the authoritarian regime of President Gamel Abdel Nasser suppressed the Muslim Brothers in 1954 (it would eventually get around to hanging Qutb in 1966), many went into exile in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and Morocco. From there, they spread their revolutionary Islamist ideas—including the organizational and ideological tools borrowed from European totalitarianism—by means of a network that reached into numerous religious schools and universities. Most young Islamist cadres today are the direct intellectual and spiritual heirs of the Qutbist wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

….we can detect the Brothers’ influence as early as 1945 in Iran, the homeland of most of the world’s Shi’ites….

Khomeini himself first took a political stand in 1962, joining other ayatollahs to oppose the shah’s plans for land reform and female suffrage….The turning point came in 1970, when Khomeini, still in Iraq, became one of the very few Shi’ite religious authorities to switch from traditionalism to totalitarianism. Much like Mawdudi, he called for a revolution to create an Islamic state, and inspired by Qutb, he condemned all non-theocratic regimes as idolatrous….Qutb’s ideology was used by Khomeini’s students to recapture for the Islamist movement a whole generation influenced by the world’s predominant revolutionary culture—Marxism-Leninism.

Khomeini became a major figure in the history of Islamist terrorism because he was the first truly eminent religious figure to lend it his authority. For despite all its influence on the young, Islamism before the Iranian Revolution was a marginal heterodoxy. Qutb and Mawdudi were theological dabblers whom Sunni scholars had refuted and dismissed. Even the Muslim Brothers had officially rejected Qutb’s ideas. As an established clerical scholar, Khomeini gave modern Islamist totalitarianism a religious respectability that it had sorely lacked.

….The Leninist characteristics of [Khomeini’s] rule—his policy of terror, his revolutionary tribunals and militias, his administrative purges, his cultural revolution, and his accommodating attitude toward the USSR—alienated the majority of his fellow clerics but also gained him the active support of the Moscow-aligned Iranian Communist Party, which from 1979 to 1983 put itself at the service of the new theocracy.

Khomeini’s revolution was not an exclusively Shi’ite phenomenon. Not accidentally, one of the first foreign visitors who showed up to congratulate him was the Sunni Islamist Mawdudi; before long, Qutb’s face was on an Iranian postage stamp….Khomeini’s own interest in creating an “Islamist International”—it would later be known by the hijacked Koranic term Hezbollah (“party of God”)—was apparent as early as August 1979.

As these ties suggest, Islamism is a self-consciously pan-Muslim phenomenon. It is a waste of time and effort to try to distinguish Islamist terror groups from one another according to their alleged differences along a series of traditional religious, ethnic, or political divides (Shi’ite versus Sunni, Persian versus Arab, and so on). The reason is simple: In the eyes of the Islamist groups themselves, their common effort to strike at the West while seizing control of the Muslim world is immeasurably more important than whatever might be seen as “dividing” them from one another.

The Lebanese-based, Iranian-supported Hezbollah is a case in point….A closer look at the organization reveals the strong influence of Marxism-Leninism on the ideology of its founders and leadership. The group’s current leader, Mohammad Hosein Fadlallah, influenced by Marx’s and Nietzsche’s theories on violence, has openly advocated terrorist methods and tactical alliances with leftist organizations. Hezbollah is a successful creation of the Islamist “Comintern.”….

Also inspired by the Iranian Revolution was the independent Sunni terrorist network that later became the basis of al-Qaeda….

The influence of Iran’s Islamist revolution was also cited by the members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad who gunned down President Anwar Sadat in October 1981….

The Islamization of the Palestinian question is also partly due to Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian branch of Islamic Jihad….

As these examples show, such distinctions as may exist among these terrorist groups are overshadowed by their readiness to coalesce and collaborate according to a common set of ideological beliefs. These beliefs are properly called “Islamist” rather than “Islamic” because they are actually in conflict with Islam—a conflict that we must not allow to be obscured by the terrorists’ habit of commandeering Islamic religious terminology and injecting it with their own distorted content….

The Islamic Republic of Iran also rests on heterodoxy, in this case Khomeini’s novel and even idiosyncratic theory of the absolute power of the single, supreme Islamic jurisprudent (faqih). It was not a coincidence that one of the first uprisings against Khomeini’s regime took place under the inspiration of a leading ayatollah, Shariat Madari. Officials of the regime have admitted that most Iranian clerics have always taken a wary view of Khomeinism….

What gives force to the terrorist notion of jihad invented by the Iranians and later embraced by bin Laden is not its Koranic roots—there are none—but rather the brute success of terrorist acts. Bin Laden has spoken with particular admiration of the Iranian-sponsored suicide truck bombing that killed 241 U.S. Marines and others in Beirut on 23 October 1983, precipitating the U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon. Bin Laden was also not the first to think of setting up training camps for international terrorists—the Tehran authorities were there before him….

As they released the hostages in January 1981, the Tehran authorities crowed over their victory, which Prime Minster Mohammad Ali Rajai called “the greatest political gain in the social history of the world” and an act that “had forced the greatest satanic power to its knees.” At first glance this claim might seem foolish, for the United States had said no to the revolutionary government’s demands to hand over the shah and unfreeze Iranian assets. But a closer look shows that the Iranian Islamists had in fact scored a big political and ideological victory over both the United States and their domestic opponents, and thus had ample cause for jubilation….

….The U.S. government in 1979 clearly had neither the will nor the ability to stage a coup against the Islamic Republic. But totalitarians typically speak an esoteric language of their own devising….By Rafsanjani’s logic, therefore, any Iranian group that spoke of human rights was thereby revealing itself as a tool of the United States.

….the revolutionary regime began using the Stalinist tactic of claiming that anyone who spoke in favor of a more representative government was really a U.S. agent. With the hostage crisis, the Islamist regime was able to make anti-Americanism such a leading theme that Iranian Marxists rallied to its support, while Moscow extended its tacit protection to the new theocracy….

From the taking of the hostages in Tehran in 1979 until the terrorist attacks of last September, Western policy makers too often implicitly downgraded the claims of justice and shirked their duty both to their own citizens and to the cause of human rights by refusing to pursue the terrorists with any real determination. Considerations of “pragmatism” and “prudence” were put forward to justify a sellout of justice which, in one of the cruelest ironies revealed by the harsh light of September 11, proved not to have been prudent at all….

Islamist terror poses a different but no less grave problem for those of us (including the authors of this essay) who come from Islamic countries, and it carries a special challenge for Muslim intellectuals….

For the last several centuries, the Islamic world has been undergoing a traumatizing encounter with the West. Since this encounter began, our history has been a story of irreversible modernization, but also of utter domination on the one side, and humiliation and resentment on the other. To Muslim minds the West and its ways have become a powerful myth— evil, impenetrable, and incomprehensible. Whatever the Western world’s unfairness toward Muslims, it remains true that Western scholars have at least made the effort to learn about and understand the Islamic world.

But sadly, the great and brilliant works of the West’s “Orientalists” have found no echo in a Muslim school of “Occidentalism.”

We have been lacking the ability or the will to open up to others. We have opted for an easy solution, that of disguising in the clothes of Islam imported Western intellectual categories and concepts. In doing so we have not only failed to grasp the opportunity to understand the West, we have also lost the keys to our own culture. Otherwise, how could a degenerate Leninism aspire today to pass itself off as the true expression of a great monotheistic religion? The Islamists see themselves as bold warriors against modernity and the West, but in fact it is they who have imported and then dressed up in Islamic-sounding verbiage some of the most dubious ideas that ever came out of the modern West, ideas which now—after much death and suffering—the West itself has generally rejected….

Our incapacity to apprehend reality lies at the root of our paranoia. If we were to take a clear and careful look at the West, we would see that it draws its strength from its capacity for introspection and its intransigent self-criticism….

….We might have grasped that, not long ago, Westerners faced the same obstacles that we face today on the road to democracy. Citizens in the West fought for their freedoms; in this fight they lost neither their souls nor their religion. We too must roll up our sleeves to fight for freedom, remembering that we are first and foremost free and responsible human beings whom God has endowed with dignity.

A Realist (Scowcroft) Doesn’t Get It

December 26, 2008

[This Fictional discussion between Scowcroft, the realist, and me, the so-called idealist, is as relevant today as it was when first published in October 24, 2005. Now, in later 2008, there have been two democratic elections in Iraw, and a fair and open democratic vote for the constitution that now governs Iraq and under which there is a functioning democratic government. The anti American occupationo and Iraq government terrorism and rebellion has been largely defeated. It is fair, therefore, to say that Scowcroft was wrong.]

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Brent Scowcroft, military assistant to President Nixon, and National Security Advisor to Presidents Ford and H.W. Bush, continues his attack on the bush foreign policy and Iraq War in an interview by Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker (not available without subscription). In The Washington Note, Steven C. Clemons provides excerpts (here) from the interview:

A principal reason that the Bush Administration gave no thought to unseating Saddam was that Brent Scowcroft gave no thought to it. An American occupation of Iraq would be politically and militarily untenable, Scowcroft told Bush. And though the President had employed the rhetoric of moral necessity to make the case for war, Scowcroft said, he would not let his feelings about good and evil dictate the advice he gave the President.

It would have been no problem for America’s military to reach Baghdad, he said. The problems would have arisen when the Army entered the Iraqi capital. “At the minimum, we’d be an occupier in a hostile land,” he said. “Our forces would be sniped at by guerrillas, and, once we were there, how would we get out? What would be the rationale for leaving? I don’t like the term ‘exit strategy’ — but what do you do with Iraq once you own it?”

. . . . “This is exactly where we are now,” he said of Iraq, with no apparent satisfaction. “We own it. And we can’t let go. We’re getting sniped at. Now, will we win? I think there’s a fair chance we’ll win. But look at the cost.”

RJR: Yes, lets look at the cost. Nearly 2,000 American soldiers killed, not even the near 3,000 American civilians murdered in the 9/11 attacks by terrorists; and for Iraqi civilians it is a death toll of 26,690 to 30,051 (see here). Compare this to the million of his own people that Saddam Hussein probably murdered, the additional million killed in the war Saddam launched against Iran, and the probable 30,000 civilian and military killed in the Gulf War Saddam initiated with the invasion of Kuwait.

For an incredibly small cost, we have won a victory of vital importance to American security in our War on Terrorism (Saddam supported and encouraged terrorism), we have saved the Iraqi people from a murderous repressive dictator, we have removed the chains that bound them, we have helped put them on the road to democracy, and we have encouraged democracy elsewhere in the Middle East.

The first Gulf War was a success, Scowcroft said, because the President knew better than to set unachievable goals. “I’m not a pacifist,” he said. “I believe in the use of force. But there has to be a good reason for using force. And you have to know when to stop using force.” Scowcroft does not believe that the promotion of American-style democracy abroad is a sufficiently good reason to use force.

RJR: The Iraqi Constitution is hardly modeled on American-style democracy. True, we are promoting democracy, but this is another way of saying that we are freeing people from the chains that bind them so that they can enjoy the freedom that is rightfully theirs.

“I thought we ought to make it our duty to help make the world friendlier for the growth of liberal regimes,” he said. “You encourage democracy over time, with assistance, and aid, the traditional way. Not how the neocons do it.”

RJR: Of course, this is a way to encourage democracy, unless you have an absolute and murderous dictator who, as all the intelligence agencies around the world said, was developing WMD, and in any case was supporting the terrorist enemies of the United States. Then, once you remove his threat, democracy follows. What should we have done otherwise? Take him down, and then leave the poor Iraqis to another dictator?

The neoconservatives — the Republicans who argued most fervently for the second Gulf war — believe in the export of democracy, by violence if that is required, Scowcroft said. “How do the neocons bring democracy to Iraq? You invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize.” And now, Scowcroft said, America is suffering from the consequences of that brand of revolutionary utopianism. “This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism,” he said.

RJR: Nonsense. The Iraqi War was not launched to spread democracy, but to deal with vital threat Saddam posed. Helping the Iraqi’s to establish democracy then came after — it was an answer to the question as to what we do with military victory, and Bush gave the same answer we applied to defeated Italy, Japan, and Germany after WWII.

Scowcroft on Iraq & Israel

In August of 2002, seven months before George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, Scowcroft upset the White House with an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. The headline read, “DON’T ATTACK SADDAM.” Scowcroft would have preferred something more nuanced, he told me, but the words accurately reflected his message.

RJR: More nuanced like what? Multilateral discussion with European no-sayers? More debate in the hopeless Security Council? Nuanced, indeed. How about unrealistic?

In the article, he argued that an invasion of Iraq would deflect American attention from the war on terrorism, and that it would do nothing to solve the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, which he has long believed is the primary source of unhappiness in the Middle East. Unlike the current Bush Administration, which is unambiguously pro-Israel, Scowcroft, James Baker, and others associated with the elder George Bush believe that Israel’s settlement policies arouse Arab anger, and that American foreign policy should reflect the fact that there are far more Arabs than Israelis in the world.

RJR: Rather than deflect attention from the War on Terrorism, the invasion was at the heart of this war, and has defeated a chief state supporter, put the terrorists on the defensive, and encouraged a democratic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The obsession of the region . . . is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Scowcroft wrote in the Journal. “If we were seen to be turning our back on that bitter conflict — which the region, rightly or wrongly, perceives to be clearly within our power to resolve — in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us.” Scowcroft went on to say that the United States was capable of defeating Saddam’s military. “But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive — with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy — and could as well be bloody. In fact, Saddam would be likely to conclude he had nothing left to lose, leading him to unleash whatever weapons of mass destruction he possesses.”

RJR: How wrong his predictions were is obvious, and yet he is unyielding in his criticism.

Scowcroft’s Frustration Communicating with Bush 43

Like nearly everyone else in Washington, Scowcroft believed that Saddam maintained stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, but he wrote that a strong inspections program would have kept him at bay. “There may have come a time when we would have needed to take Saddam out,” he told me. “But he wasn’t really a threat. His Army was weak, and the country hadn’t recovered from sanctions.” Scowcroft’s colleagues told me that he would have preferred to deliver his analysis privately to the White House. But Scowcroft, the apotheosis of a Washington insider, was by then definitively on the outside, and there was no one in the White House who would listen to him. On the face of it, this is remarkable: Scowcroft’s best friend’s son is the President; his friend Dick Cheney is the Vice-President; Condoleezza Rice, who was the national-security adviser, and is now the Secretary of State, was once a Scowcroft protege; and the current national-security adviser, Stephen Hadley, is another protege and a former principal at the Scowcroft Group. . . .

RJR: Why the Whitehouse doesn’t listen to him is obvious from the above. Also, note that he believed that Saddam had WMD, and yet he does not see the national interest in taking him out.

. . . . Scowcroft’s Deteriorating Relationship with Condoleeza Rice

The disintegrating relationship between Scowcroft and Condoleezza Rice has not escaped the notice of their colleagues from the first Bush Administration. She was a political-science professor at Stanford when, in 1989, Scowcroft hired her to serve as a Soviet expert on the National Security Council.

Scowcroft found her bright — “brighter than I was” — and personable, and he brought her all the way inside, to the Bush family circle. When Scowcroft published his Wall Street Journal article, Rice telephoned him, according to several people with knowledge of the call. “She said, ‘How could you do this to us?'” a Scowcroft friend recalled. “What bothered Brent more than Condi yelling at him was the fact that here she is, the national-security adviser, and she’s not interested in hearing what a former national-security adviser had to say.”

RJR: Typical of these people who have been on the inside. What bothers Scowcroft is not that he wasn’t listened to, but that his advice was not taken.

Scowcroft on Rice’s Foreign Policy Deficits & Israel Policy

. . . . They also argued about Iraq. “She says we’re going to democratize Iraq, and I said, ‘Condi, you’re not going to democratize Iraq,’ and she said, ‘You know, you’re just stuck in the old days,’ and she comes back to this thing that we’ve tolerated an autocratic Middle East for fifty years and so on and so forth,” he said. Then a barely perceptible note of satisfaction entered his voice, and he said, “But we’ve had fifty years of peace.”

RJR: Peace? Rather war by other means — genocidal murder bombing, killing ambushes, and assassination.

Scowcroft’s Realism on the Middle East

Scowcroft is unmoved by the stirrings of democracy movements in the Middle East. He does not believe, for instance, that the signs of a democratic awakening in Lebanon are related to the Iraq war. He sees the recent evacuation of the Syrian Army from Lebanon not as a victory for self-government but as a foreshadowing of civil war. “I think it’s something we have to worry about — the sectarian emotions that were there when the Syrians went in aren’t gone.”

Scowcroft and those who share his views believe that the reality of life in Iraq at the moment is undermining the neoconservative agenda. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as Colin Powell’s chief policy planner during the first Bush Administration (and who was Scowcroft’s Middle East expert on the National Security Council during the first Gulf War) said that the days of armed idealism are over. “We’ve seen the ideological high-water mark,” he said. “I mean wars of choice, and unilateralism, and by that I mean an emphasis, almost to the point of exclusion of everything else, on regime change as opposed to diplomacy aimed at policy change.”

RJR: Enough. What is clear is that the Scowcroft is an unreformed real politics guy, while Bush bases his foreign policy upon the democratic peace. The gulf between Rice and Scowcroft developed when Rice grew to accept this policy (as well she should, being a professional student of international relations, a field that now accepts the democratic peace as axiomatic). Those who share Scowcroft’s view, which is a good part of the Washington establishment, see the tools of foreign policy as diplomacy, (jaw-jaw, smile-smile) multilateralism, alliances, foreign aid, trade, and the UN, all aimed at developing or maintaining stability in critical regions, like the Middle East, and a stable balance of interests and power. They see the idea of a democratic peace as Wilsonian idealism, utopianism, and as an excuse for a missionary like crusade for democracy.

These “realistic” analysts and experts do not realize that if by realistic one means consistent with history and facts, then it is the democratic peace that is most realistic. Policies based on stability, which when they were applied to the Middle East meant stable dictatorships, have consistently failed. The democratic peace has passed hard empirical tests, such as those below. The policy of realism has not.

Democratic Peace Chart

Kill Them, Or We Will Kill You–Rawandan Docudrama

December 26, 2008

[This is a fictional ducudrama on the Rwandan genocide first published on June 5, 2005]

I met him at a dinner party. I will never forget him. Even years later, when I see blood, mine from a shaving nick, my wife’s from a kitchen knife, or in a TV drama, I can’t help but think of him and his experience in Rwanda. There were ten of us at the dining room table, and he was a thin black man with a narrow face and large eyes who sat on my right. Soon after we sat down, he leaned toward me and said, “I’m Dr. Laurent Nkongoli.” He paused and smiled. “I’m head of medical research at the Samoeun Institute of Medicine in New York.”

He knew about my research on democide, and soon told met he had been in Rwanda during the Great Genocide. So, when a month later I was about to write an article on the genocide, I invited him to lunch. Laurent was open and frank about his experience, and oh yes, what a story he had to tell. I soon learned that he and his nephew had barely escaped with their lives. I remember well what he told me:


At the beginning of the genocide in April of 1994, Laurent’s nephew, Seth Sendashonga, was a student at the National University of Rwanda in Butare. There was some concern among Tutsi students and faculty at the university about massacres of Tutsi unleashed by the Rwandan Armed Forces in Kigali, the capital. But by Rwandan standards, that was a long distance away. Few worried about it.

So all were taken by surprise when, on the morning of April 10, the Hutu Interahamwe paramilitary militia and Hutu Army soldiers surrounded the university. Once assured that no one could escape, the head of the militia, Stanislas Munyakazi, passed out lists of the Tutu and moderate Hutu students and professors who must be murdered. Each name had a building and a dorm room or office number designated next to it. Consulting the list, squads of three men each entered the buildings and searched from room to room.

Soon, Hutu professors and students whose sympathies lay with those instigating the massacre joined the squads and helped identify those to be killed. They took up machetes themselves and joined the search, using their knowledge of the campus to seek out possible hiding places. Larger squads broke into the classrooms where classes were in session and forced Tutsi professors and students out of the classrooms, marching them through the building and into the university parking lot, where a large group of militia waited.

The militia had the greatest trouble in the university’s Leopold Library. Most had never seen the inside of a library and were unaware of the maze of book stacks. When they discovered that these provided an ideal hiding place and started to search them, they lost themselves in the winding, narrow aisles between the stacks.

This delay saved Seth. He was then a gangly young Tutsi who wanted to be a doctor like his Uncle Laurent, and work at Butare Hospital. Seth was in his second year of premedical courses. He’d been looking for a United Nations book of world health statistics in the Government Documents section on the first floor of the library when he heard shots fired in the parking lot. He rushed over to join other students who were staring out the windows. They could see the parking lot, the trucks parked there, and the militia and some soldiers moving around—all armed. Several large objects lay on the ground. They looked like bodies. Seth opened his eyes wide and gasped.

One of the students at the window called to another, “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know.”

But Seth knew. His parents had heard about the genocide in the capital, but Laurent’s cousin, who was in the local Butare government, had said that this was a minor outbreak by Hutu extremists, and not to worry. Nonetheless, they’d told Seth to take a knife with him when he went to school.

Most of the students at the window looked like Hutu. As soon as Seth realized what was happening, he backed away, whirled, and tore back through the stacks. In his haste to escape, he bounced and pushed off one shelf after another, until his flight was marked by the sound of falling books. He slammed out the rear fire escape door into the dumpster area behind Florence Hall and dashed across the pavement to the dumpster. Panting, he looked into it. No good. It was barely large enough for him to hide in. He would be trapped if the militia searched this area, which they were sure to do.

So far he had kept his backpack with him. With his heart pounding against his ribs, he knelt and opened it and tossed aside his books and notes, leaving his knife, water, and the lunch his mother had made for him. He pulled out the nine-inch knife. Sunlight trembled along the length of its blade. He swung the pack over one shoulder so that he could easily drop it, if the need arose. Hugging the building’s wall, knife in one hand, he crept on shaking legs around the corner of the building and into a narrow lane between it and the library. This led to the woods that bordered the parking lot.

His body had known. His instincts had carried him this far. Now his laggard mind caught up. As he slowly crept along, he suddenly realized how very near death he was, as close as if he were about to stumble into a pride of hungry lions. He knew that if even one militiaman or soldier with a rifle came into the lane, he was dead. His whole body started shuddering with the hammering of his heart. He had a hard time getting his breath; he almost fell away from the wall. But it was keep moving or die.

He glimpsed a sliver of the parking lot at the end of the lane. He slowed. Now he could see two militiamen with guns standing at the edge of the lot, obviously stationed there to prevent anyone escaping the massacre. Seth didn’t realize he had been holding his breath until it came out in a wheeze when he realized he was in shadow between the buildings, and the militiamen had not seen him.

Little by little, Seth slinked backwards until the parking lot was out of sight, and then he lay down and sprawled in the lane as though he had been shot. He kept his right hand with the knife in it tucked under his stomach so that he could rapidly pull it out, and he partly covered his head and one eye with his backpack. Trembling, his stomach knotted, he waited.

Now he heard distant screams and cries, gunshots, yells, and cheers—the rumbling symphony of mass murder. A slight breeze carried the acrid odor of gunpowder, the unforgettable smell of blood, and the stench of human excrement evacuated in death or deathly fear.

The cries and shouts, the gunshots and screams grew louder—they came from the parking lot now. Seth slowly inched himself forward so he could see whether the commotion would cover his escape. The two militiamen had joined others who were shooting and hacking with their machetes at a group of men and boys. The militia showed no mercy. Some seemed to enjoy the Tutsis’ pain, and cut open their stomachs or hacked off their legs or arms so that they bled to death in agony. Within minutes all the male victims were on the ground, some writhing in pain and covered with blood, some moaning.

Part of Seth’s view of this slaughter had been obscured by a large group of female students and older women the militia had separated from the males. Now they turned on the females, who were huddled together, screaming and crying. A few fell to their knees, begging for mercy. One woman cried, “Please, kill me fast. Now. No torture. Please.”

More here

Another Side To The Abu Gharib Prison Abuses

December 25, 2008

[First published January 9, 2005] The latest news on the Abu Gharib prison abuses is that, “Three Iraqi detainees who were allegedly abused at the Abu Ghraib prison by American soldiers will be among the 35 witnesses called to testify in the military trial of Spec . Charles A. Graner Jr., the Army Reservist and alleged ringleader of the abuse who is due to be court-martialed here next week.” (link here)

Everyone has seen the photos of the abuses of the Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Gharib prison, and has been assailed by a whirlwind of one-sided negative comment and propaganda. Yet, there is a positive side, and unless this is underlined, the abuses remain as a gross and dangerous misperception that can only aid the enemies of freedom and democracy.

The Abu Gharib prison affair, which includes the abuses and reaction to them, is uniformly seen and treated as bad, a black mark on the American occupation of Iraq, on the American military, the Secretary of Defense, the President of the United States, and the United States itself. This is the wrong perspective. The affair actually puts democracy and particularly the United States in a good light, one that should be the basis for any discussion of the affair and response to the critics and enemies. While we should not be happy with what happened, and treat it as the criminal act it is, we should not be surprised at the abuse at Abu Gharib prison. We should have expected even more of it. It is the nature of the environment, and the power of the guards.

The famous Stanford Prison Experiment carried out in 1971 by Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo has showed this. The idea was to determine how people, psychologically tested as “normal,” would role-play as guards and prisoners in a simulated prison environment set up for two weeks. The result: the experiment was cancelled after six days, because of the psychological torture and abuse heaped on the “prisoners” by the “guards” and the psychological collapse of some of the “prisoners.” The subjects selected were not wimps, muscle men, or sadists, and were randomly assigned as guards or prisoners.

First, with this in mind, that there is not more abuse at Abu Gharib and other prisons should be surprising, given the conditions in Iraq and that these prisoners, as least some of them surely, have attacked under the cover of civilian clothes other civilians and coalition soldiers. And compare this abuse at Abu Gharib to what the ruling thugs of this world do. For example, when Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, his son murdered 2,000 people in the Abu Gharib prison in one day. Neighboring Iran’s ruling Ayatollah Khomeini murdered 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 (including children as young as 13 hanged from cranes, six at a time). On the opposite border to Iraq, when Hafez al-Assad ruled Syria in 1982, his troops murdered 15,000 in Hama in revenge against Islamic insurgents of the Muslim Brotherhood. Then, there were the day-by-day terrorist attacks on the Jews of Israel by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in 2003, killing 50 members of the security forces and 163 civilians; the civilians intentionally targeted as acts of genocide in disregard of the Genocide Convention, and the Geneva Convention meant to protect civilians in time of conflict and war.

And daily, throughout the thugdoms (such as Algeria, Angola, Burma, Burundi, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and Vietnam), people are routinely beaten, raped, tortured, some to death, and murdered in their prisons. We should be proud that among Iraqi prisoners held by the coalition military, the killing and abuse is so little, so very little, even by the “normal” abuses we should expect by virtue of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Second, what abuse occurred was reported by other soldiers.

Third, the American military itself initiated investigations before the media got latched on to it, and although many are still ongoing and a court martial of one abuser is in progress, punishment to others has been handed out. Where, in the thugdoms, among all the mass murderers that rule one miserable people or another is there an investigation of mistreatment of prisoners.

Fourth, the press has reported the abuses to the American people—a free press at work. Same question as above. Where in the thugdoms would reporters dare to report on prison abuses?

Fifth, the American Secretary of Defense, in his control of the world’s only super military the second most powerful man in the world next to the president, must publicly report to Congress and face a battery of public questions, some hostile. Again, where in the thugdoms would such a powerful head of the military face questions of the military’s abuse of prisoners. Even the idea is absurd. Only in a democracy.

Sixth, both the Secretary of Defense and the President of the United States have reported on these abuses and apologized. Even the thought that Hussein, Assad, Khomeini, Castro, Kim Jung Il, or the various heads of Hamas would have done so is ridiculous. They would more likely have waved from the balcony of their office to the cheering, arm pumping, and sign waving crowds below celebrating what they had done.

So, in this Abu Gharib prison affair we have seen the power of democracy, of a democratically run military, and of a free press. Compared to the thugdoms that still enslave much of the world’s people, of this we should be proud.

Yes, there is a double standard. But look at it this way. It is a compliment to the United States that our enemies and friends expect more of us, that they hold us to a high democratic standard. And it is a complement that our own journalists, politicians, and commentators also hold us to a higher standard than the thugs. They all implicitly, if not explicitly, recognize the United States for what it is. A country devoted to the rights of its citizens and those of the people of the world, and their freedom. This is indeed a complement of the first order, unknowingly bestowed on us even by our mortal enemies.

Link of Note

”Too Nice for Our Own Good“ (12/20/04)

(1/8/05) By Heather Macdonald
“Senate Democrats decided to turn the confirmation hearings of Alberto Gonzales into a referendum on the war on terror–specifically, on the Bush administration’s decision that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to al Qaeda terrorists. They implied that the denial of prisoner-of-war status to al Qaeda fighters resulted in the torture of prisoners in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

“This “torture narrative” is gospel truth among elite opinion-makers, yet it is false in every detail. It relies on ignorance of the actual interrogation techniques promulgated after 9/11. However spurious, the narrative has had a devastating effect on interrogators’ ability to get intelligence from detainees.”

Quite right.

A Conceptual Perversion—International Community

December 25, 2008

[First published January 7, 2005] We have all heard the argument regarding Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terror, and interventions in such civil war and democides as those in Liberia, Congo, Angola, Sudan, or Somalia, that they should be a matter for the international community. Indeed, the refrain that the international community and its surrogate the United Nations should be involved or consulted is a common mantra concerning such conflicts.

The word “international community” is one of those conceptual perversions that corrupt thought. It is a word suffused with vibrant feeling and moral equalitarianism, as in the term internationalist. It connotes the opposite of nationalism and a “self-centered focus on the nation, a cause of war and disharmony among nations.” Most important, it also involves a deeply resonating positive–opening one’s arms to all cultures, all cultures, and all beliefs are good. It implies certain questions: who are we of one nation to say that something is evil, morally repugnant? Who are we to make war “unilaterally”? And it implies an answer: we should recognize that we must come to a consensus with all of humanity, despite our different views, if we will have world peace and harmony. The word has become in most discourse on world events the equivalent of “apple pie” and “motherhood.”

Look at the claim that we should have involved the international community in the Iraq war, or in the postwar reconstruction, or in the trial of Saddam Hussein. How mentally blinding this concept of international community is can be shown by asking a simple question. Who makes up this community?

There are 192 legally sovereign nations that make up this “community,” of which about 89 are liberal democracies, many small and hardly internationally active. There are 55 partly free nations that allow some human rights, and 48 nations that systematically deny virtually human rights.

Does anyone interested in democracy, in creating a democratic Iraq, really want the bloody masters of China, Congo, Angola, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Laos, Libya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Vietnam, among the other 48 strict dictatorships poking their noses into the democratization of Iraq. After all, their masters are generally thugs commanding a gang that rules a nation by fear. They are all international criminals. They rule, as does the Mafia. Yet, they are a substantially and legally part of what is called the “international community,” despite international law being nothing more to them than what secures their rule, or of which they can take advantage. If those using this term “international community” really don’t want to include them, then they should qualify the term by something like “democracies,” or “democratic nations,” or “democratic community,” which incidentally, is a true community.

“Kill Them All”—Iranian Democide

December 24, 2008

[First published March 3, 2005] Part of the problem in communicating the nature of our enemies and their depths of depravity is finding the right words to describe the horrors they inflict on people. The following from an article, “Khomeini fatwa ‘led to killing of 30,000 in Iran’” by the diplomatic correspondent Chrisina Lamb, helps (link here):

Children as young as 13 were hanged from cranes, six at a time, in a barbaric two-month purge of Iran’s prisons on the direct orders of Ayatollah Khomeini, according to a new book by his former deputy.

More than 30,000 political prisoners were executed in the 1988 massacre — a far larger number than previously suspected. Secret documents smuggled out of Iran reveal that, because of the large numbers of necks to be broken, prisoners were loaded onto forklift trucks in groups of six and hanged from cranes in half-hourly intervals.

Gruesome details are contained in the memoirs of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, The Memoirs of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, one of the founders of the Islamic regime. He was once considered Khomeini’s anointed successor . . . . The most damning of the letters and documents published in the book is Khomeini’s fatwa decree calling for all Mojahedin (as opponents of the Iranian regime are known) to be killed. . . . the fatwa reads: “It is decreed that those who are in prisons throughout the country and remain steadfast in their support for the Monafeqin (Mojahedin) [regime opponents] are waging war on God and are condemned to execution.”

. . . . According to testimony from prison officials — including Kamal Afkhami Ardekani, who formerly worked at Evin prison — recently given to United Nations human rights rapporteurs: “They would line up prisoners in a 14-by-five-metre hall in the central office building and then ask simply one question, ‘What is your political affiliation?’ Those who said the Mojahedin would be hanged from cranes in position in the car park behind the building.”

He went on to describe how, every half an hour from 7.30am to 5pm, 33 people were lifted on three forklift trucks to six cranes, each of which had five or six ropes. He said: “The process went on and on without interruption.” In two weeks, 8,000 people were hanged. Similar carnage took place across the country.

Link of Note

”A 14 year old boy is sentenced to 85 lashes for breaking his Ramadan fast!” (11/16/04 )

A 14 year old boy died on Thursday, November 11th, after having received 85 lashes; according to the ruling of the Mullah judge of the public circuit court in the town of Sanandadj he was guilty of breaking his fast during the month of Ramadan.

But, we shouldn’t intervene in Iran, even to help the anti-regime, democratic movement. Right? Yes, tell that to the dead souls of the 30,000 (among hundreds of thousands) slaughtered, and the 14-year-old boy. And all their surviving loved ones.

China’s Cultural Revolution–A Docudrama

December 23, 2008

[First published May 11, 2005] When Mao Tse-tung launched his so-called Cultural Revolution in China in 1966, it was nothing less than a bloody civil war between the Maoist faction and that of Liu Shao-chi, China’s president and Mao’s heir apparent, a battle between Mao’s revolutionary fervor and Liu’s moderate economic policies and relaxation of communist control.

Mao’s supporters mobilized secondary school kids, university students, and other young people into what the Maoists called the Red Guards. These youths beat up and killed people they thought to be bourgeois or counter-revolutionaries. They invaded homes at will, ransacking belongings while seeking proof of subversive activities. Just a shortwave radio, just some Western music, just foreign language publications, even photographs branded residents as traitors. This meant their death.” This terror, plus pitched battles as Red Guard fought Red Guard, “leftist” military units fought “leftist” military units, and “conservative” workers and peasants fought both killed upwards of 10,000,000 Chinese, a bloody toll that is about 18 times the 558,052 killed in the American Civil War, and even greater than the 9,000,000 killed in World War I.

Still, these are just indigestible statistics. Just numbers. So, as I did yesterday for Pakistan’s genocide in East Pakistan, maybe a little fictional story so typical of what happened to many will give some human meaning to the numbers.

As an aspiring chemist attending a university in Shanghai, Chen Ying was a very serious student. Although attractive, she shunned boys in favor of studying in her room — her solitary home except for classes and trips to the library or chemistry laboratory.

Her dedication to science made her suspect. While she attended classes, Red Guards invaded her room and rampaged through it looking for evidence incriminating her as anticommunist, pro-Western — a capitalist-roader. They found all they needed: physics and chemistry books in English , and her diary. The diary damned her; it contained critical remarks she’d foolishly written about the Communist Party.

Security police arrested Chen Ying as she left her chemistry class, and took her to the municipal jail. There, teenage Red Guards tortured her for the names of the accomplices aiding her in spying on the Communist Party.

A young girl, no more than sixteen years old, in a Red Guard uniform grunted as she forced the large butterfly screw on the thumb crusher another quarter turn. Chen Ying screamed hoarsely and jerked her head, spraying tears and mucus around her as tremors wracked her body. Slivers of bone glinted white in the ruin of her other thumb, which the Red Guard had already mashed into a bloody pulp.

Two boys held her down and took turns yelling at her, “Confess. You are a spy. Who do you spy for?”

Pain was her universe. She shuddered and quaked with it. It made her dizzy and nauseous. It had made her release her bowels and she squirmed in her own waste. Twice already she had vomited. One of the boys had cupped a rag in the vomit and smeared it over her face.

Between the shouted demands of the boys and her screams, she could hear bone cracking in her left thumb.

She struggled to remember that name, just that one name, that’s all she now desired. But the excruciating pain of the thumb crusher destroyed all Chen Ying’s thoughts, thwarted all memory.

Then the agony leveled off and receded slightly. Impossible agony now became unbearable pain as somehow her body fed her system enough endorphins. And just at the edge of her mind, almost within her grasp, it was there. She fought to pull that name through the agony.

A new burst of pain drove it away; desperate, she tried to change her focus to chemical formulas. She only could recall H2O — water. Agonizing seconds seemed minutes. She thought of CO2 for carbon dioxide, and bore down mentally. She battled the excruciating, burning pain. She struggled to imagine pushing the waves of pain aside with her hands to give her mind space to remember.

It was coming. There — the more complex formula for glucose. Then it almost escaped her in a new wave of pain. She caught it — C6H12O6.

Out of nowhere, the name she sought popped into her mind.

“Stop!” she screamed. “I will . . . confess.”

The girl at her side stopped turning the screw on the thumb crusher.

Gasping for breath, Chen Ying tried to get the name out before her pain submerged it. “Zhao Jin,” she whispered. Her voice broke on the last name. “I am . . . the . . . concubine of Zhao Jin.”

The girl looked shocked. Both boys leaned forward, staring at Chen Ying. One said, “Zhao Jin? You screw Zhao Jin?”

“Yes, I . . . spy . . . for him.” Now more strongly, she said, “That barrel of pig shit . . . said he would . . . protect me.”

“You lie,” the girl said, without conviction.

“Ask him. Why . . . would I lie? Nothing . . . can save me . . . I’ll soon die.”

The Red Guards said nothing more. The girl’s blood-flecked hands flew to unscrew the thumb crusher. She tossed it on a shelf with other torture instruments. Then she and the two boys left without a glance back.

Chen Ying waited for the inevitable. The pain lessened, and she was able to think. She imagined the results of her victory as she prepared herself for death.

A few minutes later, two uniformed policemen came in and lifted her by her arms. She screamed as the movement in her thumbs sent new waves of agony through her body. They force-marched her out to a small yard enclosed by high concrete walls.

One of the policemen forced her to her knees and pushed her head forward. The other took out his handgun and shot her in the back of the head.

There was the beginning of a smile on her face as it hit the dirt.

The next day, security officials invaded the home of Zhao Jin, the leader of the Maoist faction of Red Guards in Shanghai. A thorough search discovered a Japanese camera, an American radio, and a Western pornographic photograph. Security police arrested and tortured Zhao Jin, but he would not confess. Nonetheless, the items found in his home made Zhao Jin’s guilt clear. A week after police arrested him, they forced Zhao Jin to hang a large sign from his neck that proclaimed “I am a capitalist spy.” A cordon of security police led him to the Shanghai Workers’ Stadium. All along the way, people screamed at him and pelted him with stones, broken pieces of wood, and any other debris they could pick up. Finally, at the stadium, before a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands that the Maoists had gathered for this event, all beating the air with their little red Mao books and hollering revolutionary slogans, security police shot Zhao Jin to death.

Three days later, officials went to the home of Chen Ying’s mother. They told her that they had executed her daughter as a spy, and that the bullet was a waste of government money. The cost of the bullet, they said, was five fen — about three cents. Officials demanded she pay for the bullet the police had shot through the back of her daughter’s head.

Link of Note

”The Chinese Cultural Revolution: Autobiographical Accounts of a National Trauma” By Therese Hoffman

The best way to get a feel for the human meaning of a catastrophic event, such as the Cultural Revolution, is through autobiographies and refugee reports. Here is a good collection of the former, with context.

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