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Radical Islamism and Jihad ( 1 Dec 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Mumbai Terror: William Kristol on Jihad’s True Face


Published: December 1, 2008


Much of the reporting from Mumbai the last few days has been informative, gripping and often moving. Some of the commentary, on the other hand, has been not just uninformative but counterinformative — if that’s a term, and if it’s not, I say it should be.

Consider first an op-ed article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times by Martha Nussbaum, a well-known professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago (posted at yesterday and available at: ). The article was headlined “Terrorism in India has many faces.” But one face that Nussbaum fails to mention specifically is that of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Islamic terror group originating in Pakistan that seems to have been centrally involved in the attack on Mumbai.


This is because Nussbaum’s main concern is not explaining or curbing Islamic terror. Rather, she writes that “if, as now seems likely, last week’s terrible events in Mumbai were the work of Islamic terrorists, that’s more bad news for India’s minority Muslim population.” She deplores past acts of Hindu terror against India’s Muslims. She worries about Muslim youths being rounded up on suspicion of terrorism with little or no evidence. And she notes that this is “an analogue to the current ugly phenomenon of racial profiling in the United States.”


So jihadists kill innocents in Mumbai — and Nussbaum ends up decrying racial profiling here. Is it just that liberal academics are required to include some alleged ugly American phenomenon in everything they write?


Jim Leach is also a professor, at Princeton, but he’s better known as a former moderate Republican congressman from Iowa who supported Barack Obama this year. His contribution over the weekend was to point out on that “the Mumbai catastrophe underscores the importance of vocabulary.” This wouldn’t have been my first thought. But Leach believes it’s very important that we consider the Mumbai attack not as an act of “war” but as an act of “barbarism.”


Why? “The former implies a cause: a national or tribal or ethnic rationale that infuses a sacrificial action with some group’s view of heroism; the latter is an assault on civilized values, everyone’s. ... To the degree barbarism is a part of the human condition, Mumbai must be understood not just as an act related to a particular group but as an outbreak of pent-up irrationality that can occur anywhere, anytime. ... It may be true that the perpetrators viewed themselves as somehow justified in attacking Indians and visiting foreigners, particularly perhaps Americans, British and Israeli nationals. But a response that is the least nationalistic is likely to be the most effective.”


If, as Leach says, “it may be true” the perpetrators viewed themselves as justified in their attacks, doesn’t this mean that they did in fact have a “rationale” that “infused” their action?


But Leach doesn’t want to discuss that rationale — even though it’s not hard to find. Ten minutes of Googling will bring you to a fine article, “The Ideologies of South Asian Jihadi Groups,” from the April 2005 issue of Current Trends in Islamist Ideology. It’s by the respected journalist and diplomat Husain Haqqani, who, as it happens, is now Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States.


Lashkar-e-Taiba, Haqqani explains, is a jihadi group of Wahhabi persuasion, “backed by Saudi money and protected by Pakistani intelligence services.” He notes that “Lashkar-e-Taiba has adopted a maximalist agenda for global jihad.” Indeed, the political arm of the group has conveniently published a pamphlet, “Why Are We Waging Jihad?,” that lays out all kinds of reasons why the United States, Israel and India are “existential enemies of Islam.”


So much for Leach’s notion that the Mumbai terrorists had no “cause” or “rationale.” But Leach’s refusal to see this is in the service of persuading India not to respond in a “nationalistic” way — and of persuading the United States not to see itself primarily as standing with India against our common enemies.


But if terror groups are to be defeated, it is national governments that will have to do so. In nations like India (and the United States), governments will have to call on the patriotism of citizens to fight the terrorists. In a nation like Pakistan, the government will have to be persuaded to deal with those in their midst who are complicit. This can happen if those nations’ citizens decide they don’t want their own country to be dishonored by allegiances with terror groups. Otherwise, other nations may have to act.


Patriotism is an indispensable weapon in the defense of civilization against barbarism. That was brought home over the weekend in an article in The Times of India on Sandeep Unnikrishnan, a major in India’s National Security Guards who died fighting the terrorists at the Taj hotel. The reporter spoke with the young man’s parents as they mourned their son: “His father, dignified in the face of such a personal tragedy, was stoic, saying he was proud of his son who sacrificed his life for the country: ‘He died for the nation.’ ”




Jim Leach's Comment:


Recognizing that we don't know who perpetrated the terrorism in Mumbai, what are its possible implications for the U.S. and for counter-terrorism generally? Are we vigilant? Are we prepared?

The Mumbai catastrophe underscores the importance of vocabulary.  The issue is not "war;" it is "barbarism."  The former implies a cause: a national or tribal or ethnic rationale that infuses a sacrificial action with some group's view of heroism; the latter is an assault on civilized values, everyone's.  There is nothing heroic about doing something so easy as to walk into a hotel or place of worship with weapons and explosives and allow angered prejudice to rein.  There is no justice in killing innocents, whether random or because of their faith or nationality.


To the degree barbarism is a part of the human condition, Mumbai must be understood not just as an act related to a particular group but as an outbreak of pent-up irrationality that can occur anywhere, anytime.  There may be defenses -- good intelligence, a gallant military, professional law enforcement -- but the most effective antidote to barbarism is allegiance to civilized structures that command respect. The reason vocabulary distinctions are so important is that the vocabulary of "war" not only has the potential to make indiscriminate murderers somebody's martyrs, but it too easily causes the countries of victims to make counter-productive decisions, such as unilateral over-reactions, civil liberty umbrages, and resource misapplications.


Jim Leach is the John L. Weinberg Visiting Professor of Public and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.


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  1. Mumbai Terror: WILLIAM KRISTOL on Jihad’s True Face

    RE: True Face of William Kristol


    He's William Kristol, Not Billy Crystal, and His War's Not Fun Anymore By Tom Hayden March 30, 2003

    As a snobbish Harvard conservative in 1972, young William Kristol praised Richard Nixon's Christmas B-52 bombing raids over Hanoi as "one of the great moments in American history". He never had second thoughts, and today is regarded as the foremost promoter of the Iraqi war. His magazine, The Weekly Standard, funded by Rupert Murdoch, is described by the New York Times as, "Reader for reader, it may be the most influential publication in America".

    So towards what cliff is Bill Kristol (not my neighbor, Billy Crystal) pushing us now? A quick resume is needed here.

    William's father, Irving Kristol, traveled a path from Trotskyism in the Thirties to a key role in the neo-conservative backlash against the Sixties. Along the way he championed McCarthyism and co-edited an anti-communist intellectual journal called Encounter, covertly funded by the CIA during the Cold War. William's mother, Gertrude Himmelfarb, was a Victorian scholar with a strong affinity for the British empire who became a political and intellectual leader of the backlash against Sixties feminism.

    Young William Kristol carried on the family revolt against all things Sixties. He eventually joined up with Ronald Reagan's neo-conservative education czar William Bennett in the mid-Eighties. Not particularly religious himself, Kristol became a staunch partisan of the fundamentalist Christian Right. Kristol then became a crusading chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle where he approved Quayle's attacks on Candace Bergen's single mother character, Murphy Brown. You get the picture: Kristol quickly became an official point man or strategist for virtually every right-wing crusade of the era. In the Clinton years, he played "cheerleader" to the inquisitive Kenneth Starr and anchored the impeachment movement from the pages of The Weekly Standard . According to one interviewer, "if not for Kristol's obsessive marshaling of the pro-impeachment forces, said a number of conservatives, independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation might have petered out, and House Republicans might have allowed the public's disapproval of their course to dissuade them from voting to impeach the president". (Easton, 2000, p. 395)

    Though never having served in combat or elected office, Kristol has been fearless in urging others to take extreme paths. In a 1985 article that attracted Bennett's attention, Kristol condemned moderate Republican accomodationists, charging that they end up "fighting on others' terrain, at someone else's chosen time and place". In the Clinton impeachment fight, he argued with certitude that the "doomed" President would be forced to resign if the Republicans had "the nerve to fight".

    Along the way he bonded with the circle of Republican "chicken hawks" who urged uncompromising war in Iraq, unilateralism in foreign policy, and massive military buildups. His pages bristled with neo-conservative visions of empire and running acclaim for the British imperial era. After September 11, The Weekly Standard became more like the "Weekly Pander" for Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle, while issuing steady warnings against Colin Powell's tendency to multilateralism.

    Kristol was so convinced of the "cakewalk" thesis of a short, triumphal war in Iraq that The Weekly Standard immediately took paternal credit for the concept of "shock and awe" when the bombing began. They re-ran their previous editorials like that of September 24, 2001, that called for toppling Saddam Hussein and preparing to "scorch southern Lebanon and Revolutionary Guard dormitories and depot facilities in Tehran". According to the journal's past prophecies, "awe is the sine qua non of politics" in the Middle East where "being seen as 'wobbly' is fatal". (Jan. 19, 1998)…"America's hayba - its ability to inspire awe" - had vanished in the mid-90s, "and once hayba is lost, only a demonstration of indomitable force restores it". (May 14, 2001)…"We have to restore our awe, and the only way you acquire and retain such majesty in the Middle East is through the use of military power". (Sept. 24, 2001) In the run-up to war, Kristol promoted his views of "Baghdad and Beyond" through a new book and continual interviews on Fox News, the television outlet of his patron, Rupert Murdoch.

    I will leave the psychoanalysis to others, but this memory with the reader. Once in the West Bank, in the early Eighties, I came upon a Palestinian family standing with their meager possessions in the road while Israeli soldiers methodically blew up their two-story house. Stunned by the cold-blooded military precision, I interviewed the Israelis as to their purpose. The Palestinian family didn't appear to be an "enemy", weren't being arrested for anything, but nevertheless were made homeless, displaced on the road. Apparently someone in their extended family was an alleged "enemy", and for that the home had to be destroyed. You see, said the Israeli spokesman, the only thing the Arab understands is awesome power. It is, you see, the way they are.

    That was 15 years after the Six Day War which was supposed to teach the Palestinians a lesson, five years before the first intifada, 15 years before the second intifada, and still the Palestinians apparently haven't been awed by the occupier's hayba.

    Does anyone besides William Kristol (once again, not to be confused with my neighbor Billy Cristal) believe that Iraqi nationalism has been "awed" by the American and British occupiers? When it doesn't turn out that way, Kristol is unfazed, telegenic. Unable to acknowledge his mistaken prediction , he spins and spins. A man who has no apparent awe himself, except for higher Iqs, is vulnerable to hubris.

    If he was a real general, instead of a pretender, there might be serious questions, behind closed doors to be sure, about his mental competence, like a mad officer out of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Or perhaps he's the Great Gatsby, a spoiled rich boy who leaves destruction behind in the sublime confidence that some lesser, awed people will clean up. Or maybe this is William Kristol"s Excellent Adventure. He is responsible for manipulating the Congress, the media, perhaps even George Bush, and most of the American people into the illusion that the Iraqis, the Palestinians, the Arabs, the hundreds of millions of them - the wogs! the camel jockeys! The ragheads! The boys! - can be cheaply and easily "liberated" through shock and awe.

    No wonder he didn't serve. God save our beleaguered troops from any more of this man's editorial advice.

    By Aamir Mughal