The US military's Islam problem

The US military: the word's most advanced fighting force, technologically bleeding edge, probably the most complex logistics and planning effort by anyone on the planet. The core of the American empire. Unfortunately, it is also plagued by complete morons and, apparently, a culture of tolerance for genocide. Danger Room reports:

The U.S. military taught its future leaders that a “total war” against the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims would be necessary to protect America from Islamic terrorists, according to documents obtained by Danger Room. Among the options considered for that conflict: using the lessons of “Hiroshima” to wipe out whole cities at once, targeting the “civilian population wherever necessary.”

The course, first reported by Danger Room last month and held at the Defense Department’s Joint Forces Staff College, has since been canceled by the Pentagon brass. It’s only now, however, that the details of the class have come to light. Danger Room received hundreds of pages of course material and reference documents from a source familiar with the contents of the class.

The real culprit here is the infiltration, of course facilitated by the Bush administration, of ultra-conservative religious warriors into its administration, and perhaps also to an extent the strong presence some of the wilder branches of the Born Again Christian movement in the officer corps. But consider that this was taught:

“We have now come to understand that there is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam,’” Dooley noted in a July 2011 presentation (.pdf), which concluded with a suggested manifesto to America’s enemies. “It is therefore time for the United States to make our true intentions clear. This barbaric ideology will no longer be tolerated. Islam must change or we will facilitate its self-destruction.”

. . .

International laws protecting civilians in wartime are “no longer relevant,” Dooley continues. And that opens the possibility of applying “the historical precedents of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki” to Islam’s holiest cities, and bringing about “Mecca and Medina['s] destruction.”

Oh boy.

What I've been up to lately (besides obsessing over presidential elections)

So here are a few recent stories I've forgotten to link to:

An article on curricular and education reform in Egypt and Tunisia (which with the exception of some edits to the civic education books -- the most egregious offenders in terms of flattering references to the countries' dictators -- hasn't really started yet) in Foreign Policy. In Egypt, at least, the challenges to reforming public education are so gargantuan that removing sycophantic references to the Mubarak regime is the least of anyone's worries. 

And a piece in The National on the verdict against Egyptian comic Adel Imam last week for "insulting Islam" in his comedies featuring religious fundamentalists. Of course the verdict (whatever you think of Imam's movies and politics) is terrible, but I try to put it in context. The final verdict is expected early July. 

Imam's portrayals of religious fundamentalists are broad and unflattering - featuring false beards, furrowed brows and stentorian deliveries. The overwhelming suggestion is that Salafists (the ultra-conservative Muslims who have recently won 25 per cent of seats in parliament) are all extremists, hypocrites and manipulators. Then again, while his portrayals may lack nuance and be unsympathetic, it's worth remembering that they were filmed at a time when armed Islamists groups were engaging in terrorism in Upper Egypt and that it's hard to find anything more ridiculous or extreme in them than what some Islamists have actually said and done.

Egyptian law allows anyone to bring charges against "whoever exploits religion in words or writing or any other methods to promote extremist ideologies, with a view of stirring up sedition, disparaging or contempt of any divine religion or its adherents, or prejudicing national unity and social peace." Islamists have taken this already spectacularly broad clause to mean that they have legal protection from ridicule, whereas it should be obvious that making fun of the way certain individuals practice their religion is not the same thing as insulting religion itself.

Imam's position is complicated by the fact that his relationship with the former regime and the Mubarak family was cosy and he often spoke out in defence of government policies. His movies never had any trouble with the censors, and many of those that skewered religious fundamentalism aligned themselves so neatly with government positions as to skirt the edge of propaganda and lead some of his colleagues to accuse him of being a government "spokesman".

Podcast #29: Presidency or bust!

There's 15 days left to the Egyptian presidential elections. We examine the insurgent campaign of Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, ask whether the Muslim Brothers are dangerously off-balance as they try to catch up, look at Amr Moussa's claim that he's the only candidate ready to be president on day one, and wonder whether the Abbaseya clashes and other factors contributing to Egypt's political instability could derail the elections or might simply continue even if there's a president.

Show notes:

Podcast #29

Hosni Mubarak, the man with no ideas

Dull and dependableSteve Cook, talking about his new book The Struggle for Egypt [Amazon], discusses Mubarak's legacy and failure:

Mubarak, having come of age during the era of the Free Officers and having witnessed Sadat’s assassination first-hand, saw the problems associated with trying to resolve Egypt’s underlying identity questions through some bold ideological vision, and opted for a strategy that he hoped would bind people to the regime through economic and social development. By official measures, Mubarak achieved a lot during his almost thirty-year reign. The World Bank data shows impressive results. The problem is that ideas matter. For Mubarak it was all about “stability for the sake of development” and anyone who dissented from his conception of stability was beaten into submission until they—along with a lot of others who felt the same way but were afraid to speak out—refused to be intimidated. That’s how you got January 25. This was not an uprising about economic grievances, though they played an important role in creating an environment of misery. Rather, people rose up because they wanted social justice, representative government and national dignity. Not surprisingly, these are common themes throughout late 19th-, 20th-, and early 21st-century Egyptian politics.

Of course Mubarak had to deal with tremendous population growth during his reign  — almost a doubling, from around 45m to 85m today. It's true he achieved some things in terms of development, but any other president would have too. In many respects he did not do enough, and I remember a nice turn of phrase used by a (tame) opposition figure a few years ago: "The problem with Egypt is that it never really recovered from the 1967 and 1973 wars." Sadat, and Mubarak who largely continued his legacy but in a more pragmatic manner, was supposed to have made the grand bargains with the US and Israel precisely to do that. The result, while impressive in some regards (a lot of improvements in infrastructure, public health, etc. — believe or not) was not enough: not only it could have been better and fairer, but it also came as a heavy price. Part of this is that he created, through dull leadership and strategies of de-politicization, an enormous moral and inspirational vacuum.

Meanwhile in Juba...

A former Cairene friend writes from South Sudan:
I'm pretty sure I just recognized a (current? former?) Amn al-Dawla [State Security] officer eating lunch at one of the fanciest hotels in Juba (which is not saying much). He was talking to an older fat man about a whore. I relayed this information to the friend I was having lunch with, who said, "There are a lot of them here." Me: "A lot of foreign secret police, or a lot of whores?" Him: "Both."
I can't speak about the prostitution situation, but it's pretty established that Juba has been awash in Egyptian mukhabarat since the Egyptians, two or three years ago, made their peace with the inevitability of secession in Sudan. No doubt it's still a good place to assign officers whose faces are too recognizable at home.

Aboul Fotouh drives a wedge into MB

This is the highest level defection we've seen so far, and is representative of 1) how divisive the decision to field a presidential candidate was for the wider MB leadership; 2) how the top leadership around Khairat al-Shater is failing to impose strict obedience in the group. Hassan Beshbashy, a top FJP member, told AMAY about the defection from Morsi:

Beshbasy also called on members of the Brotherhood to back Abouel Fotouh, who he said was the "strong honest and consensus candidate backed by all the national and Islamic movements."

He told Al-Masry Al-Youm that many of the Brotherhood senior leaders held similar positions, including the Brotherhood leader Mostafa Komshaish and he expected many of them to officially announce their support of Abouel Fotouh in the coming few days.

. . .

There is talk, Beshbasy said, of launching a movment of Brotherhood leaders supporting Abouel Fotouh, under the slogan 'Brotherhood Coalition Backing Abouel Fotouh.’

The group has said members are not bound to vote for the group’s official candidate, Morsy, but have the freedom to choose which the candidate they see best fit.

"We have all the respect and appreciation for Mohamed Morsy, the FJP candidate," Beshbashy said.

He justified not backing Morsy, saying, "Morsy's candidacy represents a political suicide and a threat to the national security because the Brotherhood's acquisition of the presidency, Parliament and Cabinet would lead to the demolishing of the Islamic project with the first factious protest.”

He said some of the recent hard-line rhetoric from group and party leaders would not benefit the Muslim Brotherhood or the country. He said talk such as that of returning to the caliphate system was dangerous and might lead to disagreements with other countries.

That's the most important thing about Aboul Fotouh's candidacy: he is bringing to the fore the contradictions inside the MB, forcing a debate with the hardliner leadership controlled by Shater and his allies, and eroding a tradition of strict obedience that no longer makes sense when the movement is not banned or persecuted.

Remember how the Brotherhood were supposed to be the moderates?

That's certainly what they were saying only a few weeks ago in Washington, where they said everything that they thought Americans wanted to hear. But hey, it's elections time. Noha Hennawy, reporting from the Mursi campaign trail for Egypt Independent:

Besides his constant pledge to implement God’s Sharia, Morsy has been touring the country with backers who portray him as the sole Islamist candidate invoking an overtly religious language. His cheerleaders have tweaked the revolution’s famous slogan, “The people want to bring down the regime” into “The people want God’s Sharia to be implemented.”

In a recent rally, Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie compared Morsy to one of the prophet’s most venerated companions and the first rightly-guided caliph. “The Ummah had sworn allegiance to Abu Bakr, and by the same token the Ummah will swear allegiance to Morsy as president of Egypt, God willing,” said Badie, addressing thousands of his group’s supporters in the Delta town of Mahalla on Tuesday.

At the same event, Salafi preacher Safwat Hegazy, who has recently appeared with Morsy at more than one rally, addressed the crowd saying that Morsy and his group are capable of implementing Sharia. Then, Hegazy, a member of the Salafi-led Jurisprudence Commission for Rights and Reform, dropped a bombshell, adding: “We believe that the dream of reviving the Islamic caliphate will be realized by the hands of Morsy and his brothers and his party. Jerusalem will be the capital of this caliphate.”

At his first rally last month, Morsy himself had reportedly chanted the Muslim Brotherhood’s controversial slogan: “The Quran is our constitution.”

Well at least I suppose that answers the question of what the MB wants in the next constitution, right? The preacher Safwat Hegazy, by the way, once called for the killing "of the first Jew you see on the street." Good thing Mursi seems to be trailing in the polls.

More violence in Egypt

On Monday, I went to Alexandria for a rally by presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, and wrote this piece about it for The Daily Beast. I noted that:

Egyptians are excited, but there is also great confusion and anxiety. The upcoming elections are the final, fraught act of a muddled transition process that still threatens to unravel.

Now there are 12 dead in clashes between protesters and "thugs" in Abbaseya, near the Ministry of Defense; most presidential candidates have put their campaigns on hold; and two have visited the scene.

The conflict -- which escalated today -- started out as a sit-in by supporters of disqualified candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail; the protest was attacked by the usual difficult-to-define groups of "concerned citizens" (supported by army and police and incited by state media) and was then joined by revolutionary youth out of solidarity. 

Supporters take photos in front of Abul Fotouh's bus. Will they make it to the polls? (courtesy Tara Todras-Whitehill)

It's hard to overstate how fraught and chaotic this transitions process has become. Now we are seeing the same kind of destabilizing violence (warning: this is graphic) we witnessed ahead of the parliamentary elections last fall. 

Reports: Ismail Haniyeh seen leading in Hamas Politburo vote

Bye bye Khaled Mashaal?

Is Hamas Politburo leader Khaled Mashaal’s constellation dimming? He’s already announced he’ll be stepping down, and whether or not his next step to be a more active international leader in the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, if he keeps his word he may not be the man eventually presiding over the (stalled) implementation of “unity” agreement with Fatah that has been sitting dead in the water since Hamas put forward terms that Fatah did not (and could not) accept.

Formally, the talks are on hold because of these internal elections, which occur over several rounds and go on through May[1], after which talks in Cairo will return the main players to the negotiating table. Haaretz has reported that Haniyeh bested Mashaal in the internal vote, and that as a result Mashaal is likely to stay on but turn over military and budgetary oversight to Hanieyh. Xinhua offered more specific details on what has been transpiring in these elections: Haniyeh reportedly secured an “unprecedented” 85 percent of the votes, though his deputies struggled to make gains against Mashaal’s associates and members of the armed wing of Hamas (along with two prisoners released in last year’s prisoner exchange, who seem to have received a massive sympathy vote).

All reports rely on anonymous sourcing, and Hamas has officially denied the Haaretz report, though no word has followed about the Xinhua coverage. It is, however, generally accepted that Hamas is conducting internal elections at this time and that the results will greatly affect the outcome of talks with Abu Mazen over the stalled “unity” agreement.

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Sadjapour on sex and the Iranians

With all the commotion about Mona El-Tahawy's "Why do they hate us?" article, many might have overlooked some of the other fare in FP's sex issue — such as this hilarious piece by Karim Sadjapour on sex in the Islamic Republic of Iran:

In his 1961 religious treatise A Clarification of Questions(Towzih al-Masael), Khomeini issued detailed pronouncements on issues ranging from sodomy ("If a man sodomizes the son, brother, or father of his wife after their marriage, the marriage remains valid") to bestiality ("If a person has intercourse with a cow, a sheep, or a camel, their urine and dung become impure and drinking their milk will be unlawful"). As a young boy growing up in the American Midwest, I remember being both horrified and bewildered after coming across these precise passages in a translated volume of Khomeini's sayings I found in our Persian émigré home. 

[Thanks, AS]

Ed Husain ❤ Bahrain's monarchy

CFR's Ed Husain, still defending the indefensible in The Prince and the Ayatollah:

In Bahrain, I was a guest of the king’s son, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who, in the context of the country’s current political climate, is a liberal’s liberal. Educated in Washington and Cambridge, England, the 42-year-old prince spoke about Britain’s constitutional monarchy, the dire need for political reform in his country, and his yearning for a political settlement with the opposition.

I bet he's computer-savvy and really cares about the environment, too. Reminds me of what was written about Bashar al-Assad, Gamal Mubarak, and Seif al-Islam al-Qadhafi a decade ago.

He appeared genuinely contrite about the excesses of the government in Bahrain, but also convinced that the opposition has no vision of how to improve matters. “The path to hell is paved with good intentions,” he said. Constantly, he referred to the need for “evolution” rather than “revolution.”

That's real deep stuff. What a visionary statesman! And I notice Husain is no longer talking about the "opposition" in quotation marks. What gives? Have they become more real?

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