Sunday, February 19, 2006

Recent Articles of Interest (Feb. 20, 2006)

Sami Moubayed has written two excellent articles this week. In "Strengthening the line," he covers the the cabinet changes better than anyone else. In Men should unveil in Syria, he adds to the wonderful work he has been doing on the History of the Feminist Movement in Syria.

Andrew Tabler, a fellow with the Institute of Current World Affairs (ICWA) and consulting editor for Syria Today Magazine (see side bar under “useful links”), has written an excelent analysis of the protests outside the Danish embassy on February 4. The piece, “Blowing off steam”, argues that the protests should not just be viewed as “Muslims on a rampage”, but instead as “an excellent case study in how authoritarian states under external stress can use certain ‘safety-valves’ to let off very real internal pressures in ways that strengthen the regime’s hand.” It is full of interesting pictures of the protests, burnings, and sleepy policy officers watching the blaze. He gets some excellent interviews with Islamists, Imams, and protesters to give you the feel that you were at the scene.

Andrew outlines increased Islamic sentiments in Syria over the last few years (especially following the American invasion of Iraq in 2003), and the Syrian state’s increased tolerance of this trend as it struggles to carry out economic reforms in an era of decreased state capacity (due to falling oil exports) and heightened international pressure. He ends by asking the question “Are the West’s pressures on Syria really weakening the regime and spurring the country toward liberal democracy, or simply pushing Syrians with growing Islamic sentiments toward the Syrian state and strengthening its grip on power?”

The report is in pdf, so unfortunately I can’t post it. But if you are interested in the full story, write him at He will send copies to those interested. It is great stuff. I could kill him for not letting me steal it for my site.

Francis Fukuyama has an important article criticising the Neoconservatives and suggesting policy changes for the US. He accuses the neoconservatives of being "Leninists" because of their faith in US military power and utopian belief that the Washington vanguard can reshape societies and governments by military means, without regard for the actual wishes of the people and without doing the hard work of inculcating liberal culture, nurturing the rule of law and institutions which can protect it.

After Neoconservatism
Published: February 19, 2006

We need in the first instance to understand that promoting democracy and modernization in the Middle East is not a solution to the problem of jihadist terrorism; in all likelihood it will make the short-term problem worse, as we have seen in the case of the Palestinian election bringing Hamas to power. Radical Islamism is a byproduct of modernization itself, arising from the loss of identity that accompanies the transition to a modern, pluralist society. It is no accident that so many recent terrorists, from Sept. 11's Mohamed Atta to the murderer of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh to the London subway bombers, were radicalized in democratic Europe and intimately familiar with all of democracy's blessings. More democracy will mean more alienation, radicalization and — yes, unfortunately — terrorism....

But greater political participation by Islamist groups is very likely to occur whatever we do, and it will be the only way that the poison of radical Islamism can ultimately work its way through the body politic of Muslim communities around the world. The age is long since gone when friendly authoritarians could rule over passive populations and produce stability indefinitely. New social actors are mobilizing everywhere, from Bolivia and Venezuela to South Africa and the Persian Gulf. A durable Israeli-Palestinian peace could not be built upon a corrupt, illegitimate Fatah that constantly had to worry about Hamas challenging its authority. Peace might emerge, sometime down the road, from a Palestine run by a formerly radical terrorist group that had been forced to deal with the realities of governing.

If we are serious about the good governance agenda, we have to shift our focus to the reform, reorganization and proper financing of those institutions of the United States government that actually promote democracy, development and the rule of law around the world, organizations like the State Department, U.S.A.I.D., the National Endowment for Democracy and the like.

Neoconservatism, whatever its complex roots, has become indelibly associated with concepts like coercive regime change, unilateralism and American hegemony. What is needed now are new ideas, neither neoconservative nor realist, for how America is to relate to the rest of the world — ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about.

My main criticism with Fukiyama's assumption here is his belief that terrorism is a natural reaction to modernization. Yes, modernization is tough, confusing, and creats a backlash, but it is not the only, or perhaps even main, engine of terrorism. If that were the case, we would all be terrorists because we are all suffering from modernization, all the time. I hate figuring out my new cell phone, satalite TV, etc., and would like to shoot the salesman. I don't.

Robert A. Pape, in "Dying to Win: Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” Random House, 2005, has another explanation, which is compelling.

As the head of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism at the Univ of Chicago, … Pape is deeply skeptical about the notion that suicide bombers are the warriors in a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West. Papes’s survey reveals that there is nothing intrinsically “Islamic” about the suicide bomber. By his estimate, Islamist groups account for no more than 34.6 percent of the suicide terrorist attacks staged in the past twenty years. The real common denominator of the suicide terrorism campaigns, he argues, is that they are all, in one form or another, responses to occupation or foreign control of a national homeland. Religion, in his view, functions merely as an aggravating factor. The leaders who run the terror organizations are trying, above all, to drive out invaders. And terrorist leaders use the strategy because it is so often successful. Once they have attained their goals, the campaigns cease. It’s that simple.

From all this, Pape draws a conclusion that many will challenge. The best way to counter the threat of suicide terrorism, he says, is to eliminate the conditions of occupation that give rise to the phenomenon in the first place. … Recent suicide bombers, he stresses, tend to come overwhelmingly from countries that are either occupied or affected by the strong military presence of a foreign power. .. If the United States and its allies want to neutralize the threat of al-Qaeda, Pape argues, they should disengage from the Middle East – completely removing their forces from Iraq and other countries of the Persian Gulf that have disproportionately contributed cadres to the cause of suicide terror in recent years. (This quote is taken from Christian Caryl's review article in the New York Review of Books, "Why they do It,”
Of course there are many reasons for terrorism and no one explanation can hope to cover the waterfront. But Pape's explanation is important and has been ignored because it flys in the face of US policy and would be hard to impliment.

Secretary Condoleezza Rice: "Roundtable With Arab Print Journalists" (February 17, 2006) is well worth the read. Rice covers all the thorny problems raised by Hamas' win, Egyptian delay of elections, Iran going to the security council, and Syria's relationship with Hizbullah. She gives thoughtful answers to difficult questions. What she has to say about Hamas, the Palestinians and democracy is particularly revealing and well done, considering all the anxiety that the US might take vengence on the Palestinians.


At 2/20/2006 04:16:00 PM, Blogger ghassan karam said...

Francis Fukuyama had no choice but to turn of his neoconservative cohorts. His original article of 1986 about the End of History? started a new global dialogue, transformed an obscure monthly journal into a populsr periodicaland transformed the personal life of Mr. Fukuyama who resigned from the state department and became a celebrity of sorts.

His theory about the homogenization of the world and the triumph of liberal democracy suffered a major set back after 9/11. In short order, G. W, Bush adopted his doctrine of preemption and the world has never been the same since. The world cannot be at the end of history when its largest economy amd most powerful nationare acting as Hobbsians.

For a while Mr. Fukuyama attempted to save his theory by saying that the EU is at the End of History but the Us is still in history while the developing world is in prehistory. It was inevitable though that reality will set in and force the realization that modernity is having a problem , especially with the developing world. Joshuas' dismissal of the strong connection between modernity and terrorism not withstanding, , it is clear that the project of modernity demands that we replace traditional values and mores with changing one. Actually, Singularity argues that change is proceeding at an exponential rate and that the changes in the next 75 years will be equivalent to the changes in the past twenty thousand. Not all people can handle such a rate of change especially those that have an attachment to old values and have a valid claim against some of the modern developments. Fundamentalists and terrorists are a reaction to modernity but they can not win. As Francis Fukuyama will be the first to note, history ubfolds by moving forwrd and there is no such thing as back to the future except in Hollywood.

At 2/22/2006 06:03:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

Le Figaro has an interesting article on Sunni extremism in Lebanon. Michael Young admits that Sunni Islamists rather than Syria are to blame for the violence against the Danish embassy in Beirut.

L'islamisme radical sunnite se développe au Liban

De notre envoyé spécial à Tripoli (Liban)
21 février 2006

Le Liban multiconfessionnel découvre l'existence d'une mouvance islamiste qui échappe au contrôle des autorités religieuses sunnites officielles, et que le départ de l'armée syrienne a laissée se développer.

LE CHEIKH Bilal montre fièrement la vidéo enregistrée sur son téléphone portable. Ce cheikh fondamentaliste sunnite de Tripoli a conservé des images de la manifestation contre les caricatures danoises de Mahomet, organisée le 5 février dernier à Beyrouth, qui avait tourné à l'émeute antichrétienne dans le quartier d'Achrafiyeh. «Comme vous le voyez sur cette vidéo, moi et d'autres cheikhs avions essayé de calmer les manifestants. Nous sommes aussi allés nous excuser auprès des prêtres de l'église Saint-Maron pour les jets de pierre contre leur édifice», dit ce religieux à l'épaisse barbe noire.

Cheikh Bilal est l'un des dirigeants du Jemaah Tawhid al-Islamiya, l'Union islamique, né de la fusion de plusieurs formations radicales sunnites, et qui avait pris part à la manifestation. «Il n'y a aucun problème entre chrétiens et musulmans au Liban», explique-t-il. «Des incidents comme celui d'Achrafiyeh arrivent à cause des divisions apportées par les étrangers, et notamment les Américains», dit-il avec un bon sourire.

Mais l'irruption de groupes fondamentalistes sunnites dans les rues de Beyrouth a constitué un choc pour beaucoup de Libanais. «Plus qu'une manipulation syrienne, la vraie leçon des violences d'Achrafiyeh a été la découverte par Beyrouth la multiconfessionnelle d'un extrémisme islamique sunnite libanais», analyse Michael Young, éditorialiste au quotidien anglophone Daily Star. «Même si la majeure partie des sunnites libanais acceptent les règles du multiconfessionnalisme, y compris la Jemaah Islamiyah, la branche libanaise des Frères musulmans, il existe une myriade de petits groupes guidés par une idéologie plus agressive, et qui prônent l'établissement d'un état islamique».

Parmi les émeutiers arrêtés par la police figurent de nombreux militants islamistes originaires de Tripoli. Avec ses barres d'immeubles alignées au bord de la Méditerranée et qui grimpent dans les collines autour de la vieille forteresse des comtes croisés de Tripoli, la seconde ville du Liban, majoritairement peuplée de musulmans sunnites, est devenue l'un des bastions de l'islamisme radical. Dans les quartiers populaires de la ville, comme Abou Samra, Qobbé ou Tebbané, on croise fréquemment des militants islamistes aux barbes fournies et aux chemises traditionnelles. Des petits partis politico-religieux comme celui du cheikh Bilal ont pignon sur rue, avec leur drapeau accroché au balcon.

Un vide sécuritaire inquiétant

Longtemps sévèrement contrôlés par les services secrets syriens, les radicaux sunnites ont depuis un an pris de l'assurance. «Comme dans les pays voisins, il existe au Liban un environnement islamiste sunnite radical», explique Michel Aufal, rédacteur en chef du quotidien al-Mustaqbal, «mais à part des mobilisations ponctuelles, comme celle suscitée par les caricatures, ces milieux restaient dans la pénombre. Depuis quelques mois, la disparition de Rafic Hariri, qui exerçait une influence importante dans la communauté sunnite, et le départ des services secrets syriens, qui tenaient les groupes les plus radicaux sous leur tutelle, ont créé un vide sécuritaire inquiétant. Les islamistes radicaux libanais n'ont plus peur.»

Les prémisses de cette radicalisation remontent à la fin des années 1990. Plusieurs attentats avaient été alors perpétrés contre des églises chrétiennes dans la région de Tripoli par des groupuscules islamistes. En janvier 2000, de violents combats opposent pendant plusieurs jours l'armée libanaise à un maquis islamiste dans les montagnes de Dinniyé, au nord de Tripoli. En six jours, les combats font une trentaine de morts, dont le chef du maquis, Bassem al-Kanj, vétéran du djihad en Afghanistan et en Bosnie. Les islamistes capturés à Dinniyé ont passé plusieurs années en prison, mais beaucoup auraient été libérés il y a quelques mois, après le départ des Syriens du Liban.

«Malgré tous ces événements, le phénomène salafiste continue à être occulté par la classe politique libanaise», explique un diplomate en poste à Beyrouth. «Pourtant, la manifestation d'Achrafiyeh illustre bien la manière dont les institutions officielles sunnites ont tendance à surestimer leur contrôle sur leurs coreligionnaires.» Organisée à l'appel du mufti et de Dar al-Fatwa, le conseil des oulémas sunnites libanais, la manifestation contre les caricatures avait vu affluer à Beyrouth des militants radicaux qui n'obéissaient à aucun des mots d'ordre des organisateurs.

Pas plus qu'ils ne reconnaissent les autorités religieuses sunnites traditionnelles, les islamistes radicaux contestent aussi le système confessionnel libanais, qui pratique un équilibre politique délicat entre les différentes confessions. «Cette méthode pour diviser le peuple libanais a été introduite par les Français à l'époque du mandat. Elle n'a pas changé depuis et sert à tous ceux qui essayent de détacher le Liban du reste du monde arabe», dit le cheikh Bilal. Un certain nombre de fondamentalistes se sont éloignés de la Jemaah Islamiyah, branche libanaise des Frères musulmans, elle aussi ralliée au système politique libanais.

La poudrière des camps de réfugiés palestiniens

«L'autre vivier de recrutement des islamistes radicaux se trouve dans les camps palestiniens», ajoute Kassem Qassir, journaliste à el-Mustaqbal. Ces enclaves où l'armée libanaise ne pénètre pas et où s'entassent plus de 300 000 réfugiés palestiniens abritent depuis longtemps des mouvements radicaux islamistes. «La victoire du Hamas, qui vient d'interrompre les discussions entre les autorités ibanaises et les Palestiniens pour obtenir le désarmement des camps, risque de leur faire encore gagner du terrain», dit-il.

Le retour d'un certain nombre de volontaires libanais partis se battre en Irak aux côtés de l'insurrection sunnite constitue un sujet de préoccupation supplémentaire pour le Liban. «Sans que ces groupes de djihadistes lui soient directement inféodés, la Syrie porte une bonne part de responsabilité, en laissant retourner vers le Liban des facteurs de nuisance potentiels», ajoute un diplomate. «Depuis le départ des Syriens, le Liban est redevenu une plaque tournante dans la région et les islamistes ne manquent pas de l'utiliser.»
Adrien Jaulmes

Le Figaro

What the article doesn't mention is that some members of these Sunni extremist groups may have been involved in the assassination of Rafik Hariri.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home