Monthly Archives: September 2007

Jane’s: Dozens of Iranians and Syrians died from poison gas missile blast


[From Israel Insider]

Additional proof of cooperation between Iran and Syria in the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction was revealed Monday in a Jane’s Magazine report that dozens of Iranian engineers and 15 Syrian officers were killed in a July 23 accident in Syria.

According to the report, the joint Syrian-Iranian team was attempting to mount a chemical warhead on a scud missile when the explosion occurred, spreading lethal chemical agents, including sarin nerve gas and VX gas.

The factory was created for the purpose of adapting ballistic missiles to carry chemical payloads, Jane’s claimed.

Although reports of the accident were circulated at the time, no details were released by the Syrian government, nor was the Iranian connection revealed.

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Students Know Less After 4 College Years


[From The New York Sun]

By Annie Karni

Students at many of the country’s most prestigious colleges and universities are graduating with less knowledge of American history, government, and economics than they had as incoming freshmen, with Harvard University seniors scoring a “D+” average on a 60-question multiple-choice exam about civic literacy.

According to a report released yesterday by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the average college senior at the 50 colleges and universities polled did not earn a passing grade.

“At the most expensive colleges, they actually graduate knowing less,” the executive director of the Jack Miller Center at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Michael Ratliff, said. “Colleges and universities are not directing students to the courses that would educate them. We want to know whether after getting $300 billion to do their work, universities are actually educating their students.”

At universities such as Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Duke, and Berkeley, seniors scored lower on the test, available here, than freshmen, living proof of the broadening relevancy of the old Harvard adage that the university is a storehouse of knowledge because “the freshmen bring so much and the seniors take away so little.”

The average foreign student studying in an American college learned nothing about the country’s history and its civic institutions, according to the study.

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Kian Tajbakhsh Released, Farnaz Azima Free, Ali Shakeri Remains in Prison


Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planner affiliated with the George Soros Foundation’s Open Society Institute, was released from Iran’s notorious Evin prison today. He’s awaiting a judge’s permission to leave the country. Another Iranian-American, Farnaz Azima, had her passport returned Tuesday, after being prevented from leaving Iran for five months. Azima is a journalist for the Persian service of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty. Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, was released in August. Ali Shakeri from the University of California, Irvine’s Center for Citizen Peacebuilding remains in Evin prison. All four were suspected of fomenting revolution in Iran, something they and their employers absolutely deny.

More here and here.

Ben Gidley: Social theory, the left, and terror


[Hat tip to Bob from Brockley]

The new issue of Street Signs [pdf], the magazine of the Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths College, is out. Have a look at Ben Gidley’s “Chicken’s coming home to roost: Social theory, the left, and terror,” on page 27.

Here is the first paragraph:

When the September 11 attacks on New York happened, I was in my office in the Laurie Grove Baths at CUCR, trying to finish a report that was overdue. A colleague, Garry Robson, came into my office to tell me what was happening. It seemed unreal and my first thought, of which I am now ashamed, was that this was a distraction I didn’t need. I went downstairs to the communal office where people were standing around the radio listening to events unfold, then after a while returned to my office to try to finish off the report. It was only when I arrived home and started to watch the images on television that it began to feel more real. And then it began to feel painfully real when I spoke on the telephone to my mother – a New Yorker transplanted to Yorkshire.

Ben Ross: Who Named the Neocons?


[Hat tip to A.L.]

Dissent, Summer 2007

Who named the neoconservatives? You are looking at the perpetrator, or so it is believed. Dissent and its circle, in the early 1970s, invented the term to denigrate the right-moving intellectuals who wrote in Commentary and the Public Interest. The name first appeared in print here, in a Fall 1973 article by Michael Harrington entitled “The Welfare State and Its Neoconservative Critics.” The neocons, it is said, resisted the designation at first and began to use it only after it had gained wide acceptance.

This history can be found in dozens of books, articles, and Web postings; the best-annotated version is in S. M. Lipset’s 1996 book American Exceptionalism. But—you’re reading Dissent, after all—the story really is more complicated.[1]

The word neoconservative has (Internet search tools now reveal) a long prehistory of use in academic and quasi-academic writing to describe any new variant of conservatism. I found it used in 1883, in a periodical that featured excerpts from Karl Marx’s new book Capital.[2]

In the late 1960s, it seems, neoconservatism began its transformation from academic neologism to part of the language. By this time, the term had developed two specific meanings for historians alongside its more general usage. It designated either the integral nationalists of Weimar Germany, such as Arthur Möller van den Bruck, or the American historians who reacted against Charles Beard, Carl Becker, and their liberal interpretation of the Revolutionary era. It was in the latter sense that the word made its first appearance in the New York Times, in a May 26, 1968, book review by Columbia University historian Richard Morris. It described—of all people—Staughton Lynd, in some of whose work Morris found “an updated and perceptive brand of neoconservatism.” It recurred annually in the Times thereafter.[5]

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The Difference Between Hamas and the IRA


[Hat tip to James Kirchick for bringing this to my attention]

Zion Evrony has an important article in last month’s International Herald Tribune on the differences between the IRA and Hamas. Often those in the business of peace of reconciliation make comparisons between various terrorist organizations, the essential argument being if the British state can make peace with the IRA or the Spanish state with ETA, why can’t the state of Israel make peace with Hamas?

Unlike the IRA or ETA, which are largely secular organizations with secular goals such as independence or autonomy, Hamas is connected to a much larger, transnational movement and ideology. Simply stated, Hamas does not simply seek a Muslim controlled Palestine, it desires the acquisition of all lands previously controlled by Muslims. In other words the establishment of a new caliphate.

As Mr. Evrony writes:

One of the main differences between Hamas and the IRA is the role played by religion in their ideologies. While most IRA members were Catholic and religion was a factor, its political platform and vision was the unification of the island of Ireland, not defined in religious terms. The religious beliefs of its members did not block the way to a political compromise.

By contrast, the ideology of Hamas is defined in absolutist religious terms, that of a radical version of Islam, which is not open to influence or change. The political vision and religious belief of Hamas are one and the same; therefore, change is unlikely.

At the core of this belief is the desire to create an Islamist state based on Islamic law over all the land, not just the West Bank and Gaza, but Israel as well. There is no acceptance of the notion of coexistence, no support for the idea of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, but an exclusive demand, based on fundamentalist interpretations of religious texts, for control of the entire territory.

The Hamas Charter, adopted in 1988 and still very much in effect, defines the land of Palestine as “an Islamic Waqf” (trust territory) consecrated for future Muslim generations. It adds: “Until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it” (Article 11).

The Charter’s preface states “Israel will arise and will remain existent only until Islam eliminates it as it has eliminated its predecessors.” Furthermore, it defines the enemy explicitly as an ethnic-religious group – the Jewish people. Hamas officials continue in their refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. In contrast, the IRA never questioned Britain’s right to exist.

The difference also applies to the practical level. After the IRA ceasefire of 1994, U.S. Senator George Mitchell, called in as a mediator, laid down ground rules for participation in the Northern Ireland talks. All the parties to the conflict then agreed to a code of conduct. The first principle was a commitment by all sides to “democratic and exclusively peaceful means” of resolving political issues. The second was a commitment to “the total disarmament” of all paramilitary groups. Sadly such principles cannot be reconciled with the Hamas Charter, its religious ideology and the concept of the duty to wage holy war (jihad), which will inherently always take precedence.

In fact, the whole idea of a peace process and the use of mediators are ruled out by the Charter. Mediators would not be welcome, since “those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the unbelievers as arbitrators in the lands of Islam” (Article 13).

Efraim Karsh has addressed this at some length in his Islamic Imperialism: A History. Karsh contends:

Hamas is neither the embodiment of pan-Arab aspirations nor of Palestinian self-determination. It is not a political movement for national liberation that contains an armed wing. Hamas has articulated the far broader goal of establishing a global Islamist empire. This is in line with it’s ideological parent organisation, “which viewed its violent opposition to Zionism from the 1930s and 1940s as an integral part of the Manichean struggle for the creation of a worldwide caliphate rather than the defence of the Palestinian Arabs’ national rights” (Islamic Imperialism, 213-4).

In Karsh’s final analysis:

Arab and Muslim anti-Americanism, have little to do with U.S. international behaviour or its Middle Eastern policy. America’s position as the pre-eminent world power blocks Arab and Islamic imperialist aspirations. As such, it is a natural target for aggression. Osama bin Laden’s … war is not against America per se, but is rather the most recent manifestation of the millenarian jihad for a universal Islamic empire (or umma) (234).


Back to the Blog


After a few days away, I’m back. Thanks to those who posted comments while I was away. The holiday, academic projects, and other duties had me quite busy. I’ll have some material posted by the end of the day and may time stamp a few items for Saturday or Sunday so I don’t seem like such a slacker…

On the Mall with ANSWER and Friends


[Hat tip to Kesher Talk]

Scenes from the protests today, courtesy of the WaPo, which is estimating about 7000 attendees by 3 PM.

As a man walked by carrying a sign saying “9-11 Truth Now” a man on the corner asked, “I’m just wondering, what is the truth about 9-11?”

“We haven’t been told the truth,” the sign-man said. “That’s the point.”

The onlooker wasn’t satisfied. “But what is the truth we haven’t been told?” he asked again.

“That’s it,” came the reply. “We don’t know because they won’t tell us.”

At 15th St. and New York Ave. a band of plaid-wearing demonstrators, most of them with bandanas over their faces, held an impromptu meeting to plan their confrontation with D.C. police.

“Is it OK with you guys if I go over to the cops and tell them we’re going to cross the street?” one demonstrator asked his collegues.

Winning their assent, the young man approached a D.C. officer and said, “Are you guys going to slam and beat us if we cross the street?”

“Why don’t you just cross with the light, then we don’t have to bring in officers to block traffic,” said Officer S. Weinfeld.

The demonstrator, foiled in his hope for a confrontation, said “Umm…ok,” returned to his friends and walked them uneventfully across 15th St.

Non-sequitor of the day:

Malik Rahim, founder of Common Ground Collective, a hurricane-relief group in New Orleans, said: “In 1963 on this day, Sept. 15, was the Birmingham bombing. Four little girls in a house of worship were tragically killed. It’s time for the people of this nation to take it back. Tell those who caused this heartache and injustice, ‘No more. Let’s stand for peace.'”

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Noah Pollak: The Zbig Lie


[Hat tip to Contentions]

On Wednesday, the Obama campaign received an important new endorsement: Zbigniew Brzezinski, best known for having been Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, introduced Obama on the occasion of his Iraq speech in Iowa. Expect to hear a great deal from Brzezinski about his triumphs of Middle East diplomacy, which he—not to mention Jimmy Carter—is quite fond of recounting. “The fact of the matter is that I’m part of the only administration that brought about peace between Israel and its neighbors,” Brzezinski told NBC News on the day Obama delivered his Iraq policy speech. “And so I’m proud of my record in the Middle East.”

This is a deceptive attempt at rewriting history, one that Brzezinski and his gang have been pursuing for years in an effort to manufacture retroactively a success story for the Carter administration. The administration didn’t “bring about” peace between Israel and Egypt so much as hold a summit at Camp David to work out the details after Israel and Egypt had already committed themselves, independently and entirely in pursuit of their own interests, to a peace treaty. From the outset of the Carter administration, the American commitment had been not to a deal between Israel and Egypt, but to a comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian question, and it was during the administration’s busy pursuit of a renewed Geneva Conference, inclusive of the Soviet Union, Israel, and the PLO, that the Israel-Egypt deal essentially fell into Carter’s lap.

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Book TV: Raymond Ibrahim, “The Al Queda Reader”



Regular readers know I am a CSPAN junkie. I watch the “Washington Journal” program every day before heading to work and “Book TV” on weekends when I have an opportunity. This evening BookTV had Raymond Ibrahim, the editor and translator of The Al Qaeda Reader. In this interview he refutes the notion that Al Qaeda are simply rational political actors with concrete political goals, as realists often assume. Have a listen if you are interested.