Department of Journalism, College of Communication, Boston University





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Islamic Jihad militants strike a pose. A suicide bomb in Tel Aviv claimed both by IJ and the Fatah affiliated Aksa Martyr's Brigade is a challenge to the authority of Hamas

The Politics of Palestinian Terror
Monday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed nine Israelis and wounded many more highlights the increasingly bizarre political standoff over Palestinian government, and the untenability of the positions taken thus far by Hamas as well as by Israel and the United States. Although Hamas spokesmen instinctively defended the terror strike as an act of "self defense" in retaliation for Israel's shelling of Gaza, the attack was a brazen challenge to Hamas by Islamic Jihad and Fatah -- Hamas, after all, has maintained a year long ceasefire which it is hoping to extend, while its rivals are using attacks on Israel via homemade rockets and suicide bombers as a means of challenging the authority of the newly elected Hamas government. But Hamas's response won't serve its political priorities, which are to replace the funding withdrawn by Israel and the West. The diplomatic imperative will force Hamas to do more to assert its authority and ensure that rival factions stick by the terms of its own cease-fire.

Ironically, perhaps, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas unreservedly condemned the action, even though members of his own organization claimed responsibility and have mounted a number of other attacks. The U.S. is hoping that financial pressure will force the Palestinian electorate to reverse itself in short order and restore Abbas and Fatah to power. Yet, Monday's bombing makes perfectly clear that Abbas is no more likely to restrict suicide bombers. Moreover, he is -- with U.S. encouragement -- trying to stymie the efforts of the elected Hamas government to assert control over the security forces (a principle demanded by the U.S. during Yasser Arafat's presidency), appointing his own loyalists to command key forces. But leaders of Abbas's own organization, Fatah, have been actively pursuing a campaign of violence against Israelis (including rocket attacks and suicide bombings) as part of its effort to undermine Hamas's authority, and there's little reason to believe Abbas's loyalists will take forceful steps to stop terror attacks. Indeed, Hamas arguably has more incentive to do so right now.

And then there's the U.S. response to the bombing, which focus only on the Hamas statement on the bombing and not on the identity of the perpetrators. After all, Fatah is the party Washington is trying to restore to power. The financial blockade led by Washington, meanwhile, is reducing the Palestinians to penury and Israel's siege is threatening a humanitarian crisis, making prospects for stabilizing the increasingly anarchic politics of Gaza all the more remote. And as the Palestinians hunt for cash to the pay the wage bill on which much of the population depends, it is being offered help from Iran, Russia and even Syria, suggesting that offering cash to the Palestinians is now a geopolitical game of sticking it to Washington. This morbid standoff cannot long continue. (Haaretz, April 17, 2006)

  • Speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Abdul-Aziz Duwaik, tells Eric Silverman Hamas-led government's plans to handle its multiple financial and security challenges. On the security front, he says, the priority is getting weapons off the streets, to prevent them serving as the basis of political power -- disarming rival factions who are currently attacking Israel will have to proceed gradually, he says. (Al Ahram, April 13-19, 2006)
  • Conal Urquhart reports on the impact of Israel's siege and the Western financial blockade on Gaza, whose million residents are living on the verge of a man-made humanitarian disaster. (The Observer, April 16, 2006)
  • Gaza economist Mohammed El-Samhouri writes that the recent focus on the cutoff of external sources of revenue to the Palestinians have laid bare their absolute dependence on aid and mostly non-economic forms of employment. The circumstances of the Palestinians prevent them developing a self-sustaining economy, he writes. "International aid can help mitigate Palestinian suffering, but it will not end it; nor will it enable Palestinians to build a self-sustaining economy. Only a fair, negotiated political settlement that fundamentally transforms the Palestinian condition will resolve the economic calamity that has already started." (Daily Star, April 16, 2006)
  • Henry Siegman warns that as distasteful as dealing with it may be to Israel and the U.S., Hamas remains Israel's last chance for achieving a peace agreement with the Palestinians. "An Israeli and Western policy of engagement and negotiation with Hamas could encourage fundamental changes in Hamas's policies, and eventually in its ideology," he writes. "One great advantage of a strategy of engagement with Hamas over a strategy of isolating and undermining it is that Israel would be able to move from a policy of engagement to one of confrontation if it becomes clear that engagement has failed. A movement in the opposite direction will not be possible. And the cost of failure is likely to be the end of a two-state solution to the conflict, with all that implies for the future of the Jewish state that is situated within a region whose 'clash of civilizations' may just be getting underway." (New York Review of Books, April 27, 2006)
  • Previously on Israel and Palestine:
    --Reality of Hamas Power Forces Strategic Reassessments
    --Hamas Inherits a Policing Dilemma
    --Israel Hopes to Negotiate its Borders with U.S.
    --Jericho Raid Humiliates Abbas
    --Hamas and Israel: An Unspoken Peace?
    --Rice Fails to Secure Hamas Blockade
    -- Is the U.S. Trying to Reverse the Palestinian Election?
  • U.S.-Iran: March to War or Smoke and Mirrors?
    While many commentators note with alarm the similarity between prewar Bush administration discourse on Iraq and its current discussions on Iran, and others report on war plans in the making, it's far from clear whether a similar process of preparing the public is already under way, or if the reports are the product of leaks by elements of the national security bureaucracy pushing back against plans for war -- or even simply subtle saber-rattling designed to intimidate Iran into being more pliant in the negotiation process. Even though military action is far from decided because of its limits as a means of dealing with Iran's nuclear program, the Bush administration's professed interest in a diplomatic solution is undermined by its refusal to hold direct talks with Iran on the issue -- despite Democratic and Republican senators echoing the call by European allies for Washington to talk to Tehran. And in the absence of workable diplomatic strategy, the discourse now being publicly developed by the administration on Iran, and the war planning process, in the absence of a workable diplomatic strategy, can achieve their own momentum which will be difficult to reverse.

    On the Iranian side, too, there is both debate and bluff. President Ahmedinajad is plainly in no mood to compromise and resumed threatening to destroy Israel, but his executive power is trumped by that of Ayatollah Ali Khameini and even at least one of his appointees, Expediency Council head Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. And are reportedly seeking a compromise in which Iran maintains a small 164-centrifuge enrichment research facility, but agrees to its industrial scale nuclear fuel being produced outside of Iran. Last week's announcement that Iran had successfully enriched a small amount of uranium by centrifuge highlighted both Iran's internal debates and, perhaps, the negotiating strategy of its leadership. The claims of enrichment -- which have yet to be verified by IAEA observers who were present -- were accompanied by a warning by President Ahmedinajad that "nobody has the right to compromise" on Iran's right to enrich uranium. The choice of words seems to suggest the warning was directed at rivals in the Iranian leadership, since no one else would be in a position to compromise. More importantly, however, by claiming to have succeeded in enriching uranium, Iran may have been wanting to move the debate beyond the sticking point of Iran's demand to maintain a research facility by stating as an established fact that Iran had successfully enriched uranium -- the U.S. and Britain had opposed the proposal of a research facility on the grounds that it would allow Tehran to master the technology of enrichment. (Iran now claims that it already has.) If so, then an announcement that was widely reported as an upping of the ante may in fact presage an imminent compromise on Iran's part. Then again, as in Washington, internal power struggles and rhetoric may acquire a life of their own. (The Observer, April 16, 2006)

  • Ehsan Ahrari notes that for China and Russia, the Iran nuclear issue is read in the context of a broader, shared strategic imperative of constraining U.S. power. (Yale Global, April 14, 2006)
  • Ahrari's point appears to be born out in the report by M.K. Bhadrakumar that Moscow and Beijing have invited Tehran to join the Shanghai Cooperation Council as a full member, along with India, Pakistan and Mongolia. Upgrading Tehran's status in a regional security body that conspicuously excludes Washington and whose strategic purpose, in no small part, is to organize a regional counterweight to what the principals see as U.S. encroachment on their turf, sends a blunt political message. (Asia Times, April 18, 2006)
  • Former Iraq weapons inspector David Albright examines recent satellite images of Iran's nuclear facilities and concludes that Iran would need a decade to install the number of centrifuges necessary to produce its own nuclear fuel. He also notes the expansion of underground facilities, and has suggested that the window of opportunity during which a bombing campaign could eliminate Iran's nuclear program has already closed.(Institute for Science and International Security, April 14, 2006)
  • Anatole Lieven makes the the case for accepting limited Iranian nuclear enrichment under tighter monitoring. That would give the international community a clear signal at least 18 months ahead of time of the danger of Iran producing nuclear weapons, during which any means necessary would be adopted to stop it. Unlike current U.S. efforts, he notes, this proposal could create an international consensus. (Washington Post, April 12, 2006)
  • Richard Haass argues that military action should not be under consideration right now, but instead a credible diplomatic strategy is needed. Iran needs to face the threat of military action only as a last resort, if it refuses a package of incentives for refraining from going nuclear, including security guarantees. In other words, if it serious about diplomacy, the Bush administration must be ready to renounce regime change and instead engage with the regime in Tehran. (Council on Foreign Relations, April 11, 2006)
  • Tony Karon argues that the revolt of the retired U.S. generals against Donald Rumsfeld is driven by concerns over Iran rather than Iraq. "By publicly challenging Rummy's handling of Iraq, the generals send a none-too-subtle signal to the U.S. public, in an election year, that the Bush administration is strategically incompetent," he writes, and that would help make it politically prohibitive for the Bush administration to launch another "reckless misadventure" in Iran. (Rootless Cosmopolitan, April 17, 2006)
  • Richard Clarke and Stephen Simon warn that the Iranian response to any bombing would bloody the U.S., and likely prompt the President to retaliate further upping the ante by a wide ranging series of air strikes, drawing America into a wider war that consolidates the power of the mullahs. (New York Times, April 16, 2006)
  • Khalid Hroub suggests that the Arab world, too, begin talking directly with Iran now, rather than pretending the problem that can be wished away or solved by the U.S. "If the Arabs ally themselves with the U.S. against Iran they will be endangering their own interests and regional stability," he writes. "Iranian political and spiritual leaders believe Iran is the natural source of authority for the region's Shiites, including Arab Shiites. However, many Arab Shiites reject Iranian political, as opposed to spiritual, authority. That won't prevent Iran from using the Shiite card in the event Arab states support American hostilities against Iran. True regional chaos is yet to come, but the Arabs should take preventive measures before it is too late." (Daily Star, April 14, 2006)
  • Der Spiegel notes that despite strong public support over its nuclear stance, the Iranian regime is being challenged by a wave of industrial strikes spurred by grinding poverty. And that's a reminder that Iran's economic situation creates a pressure on the regime to repair relations with the industrialized world. (Der Spiegel, April 12, 2006)
  • Background Material on Iran
  • Seymour Hersh reports on U.S. military planning for an attack on Iran and explains the reasons that advocates of such a course of action are winning teh debate inside the Bush administration. (The New Yorker, April 10, 2006)
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies offers a detailed technical assessment of Iran's nuclear program, and also parses the strategic options available to the U.S. if diplomacy fails. (Center for Strategic and International Studies, April 7, 2006)
  • The Center for Defense Information has posted extracts from the IAEA report on Iran which is to be discussed by the Security Council. (CDI, March 6, 2006)
  • Iran's UN ambassador Javad Sarif, in a New York Times op ed, sets out sets out Tehran's negotiating position on the nuclear issue. Iran has no intention of building nuclear weapons, he insists, and is willing to negotiate on the basis providing new guarantees to win Western confidence in this assertion, including expanded inspections and the creation of an international consortium to supply Iran's reactor fuel. (New York Times, April 7, 2006)
  • Christopher de Bellaigue offers a comprehensive analysis of the Iranian regime's nuclear intentions and its strategy for handling the standoff with the U.S. (New York Review of Books, April 27, 2006)
  • The Oxford Research Group assesses the effectiveness of military options against Iran, and concludes they are unlikely to restrain Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons but will promote chaos and instability. (Oxford Research Group, February, 2006)
  • Ray Tayekh explains the factional disputes at the heart of the Tehran regime, suggesting that the path of confrontation is preferred by a new generation of conservatives hardened during the Iran-Iraq war, and that the current atmosphere of crisis strengthens their hand domestically. (The National Interest, Spring, 2006)
  • Henry Sokolski suggests that the current debate over how to stop Iran going nuclear is fruitless. Instead, he offers a long-term strategy for managing Western rivalry with a nuclear-armed Iran. (Transatlantic Institute, March 16, 2006)
  • Previously on Iran:
    -- 04.05.06: Military Action Against Iran?

    -- 03.29.06: Bush Iran Strategy Hits a Wall
    -- 03.22.06: Has Britain Put U.S. on the Spot?
    -- 03.15.06: Regime Change or Normalization?
    -- 03.01.06: Nuclear Standoff Escalates
    -- 02.21.06: Dangers of a Military Option
    -- 02.28.06: Tehran Raises the Stakes

    Political Paralysis in Iraq

    Four months after Iraq's last election, there's no government in sight -- and the fact that the deadlock continues almost three weeks after Secretary of State Condi Rice and her British counterpart Jack Straw flew to Baghdad to turn the screws on Iraq's politicians shows how little influence they have over the process. The United Iraq Alliance continues to maintain that Ibrahim al Jaafari is its candidate for Prime Minister, even though the Sunnis, the Kurds and the U.S. have made clear that he is unacceptable. Even almost half of the Shiite alliance stands ready to pick an alternative, although there's little reason to believe that any other figure from the Alliance will evade the criticisms of Jaafari, which concern sectarianism, militias and federalism. Despite criticism of his high-handed style, the challenge to Jaafari is based on policy issues rather than personality problems. No other leader from the Alliance is likely to do much better from the perspective of the critics. Moreover, the fact that the U.S. and Britain have come out openly favoring Abdul Abdel-Mahdi of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) probably applies the kiss of death to his candidacy, although the Sadrists, who back Jaafari, were never going to accept his replacement by a candidate from their arch enemies in SCIRI. So, the likelihood is that a compromise candidate of even less experience and clout than Jaafari will fill the role if Jaafari's enemies manage to dislodge him. "Whatever happens to Ibrahim Jafaari, it will not bring political unity to Iraq," writes Anthony Cordesman. Even once the four-month standoff over the government is resolved, a number of further divisive issues immediately arise, from apportioning stakes in what is already a deeply divided sectarian structure of governance, to revisiting issues of federalism and militias. "Even when a new government finally does emerge, it will at best be the start of a bitter and divisive 'tipping year.' More realistically, it will take at least several years to fully define any workable national political compromise and the end result may well be a decade of occasional crises and instability." In other words, any prospect of Iraq's political process contributing to an early U.S. departure now seems to be receding. (Center for Strategic and International Studies, April 11, 2006)

  • Borzou Daragahi reports that some of the exiled leaders previously favored by the U.S. but rejected by the Iraqi electorate see the current deadlock as an opportunity to resurrect themselves via an extra-legal putsch, in which an alliance of likeminded leaders (many of them hangovers from the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council) would take over the reins of power in an emergency government under the leadership of a figure like former U.S.-appointed premier Iyad Allawi. Needless to say, the Shiites are determined to prevent this, and their clerical leadership are working anxiously to persuade the Shiite alliance to resolve the Jaafari standoff. (LA Times, April 16, 2006)
  • Sara Baxter reports that the U.S. plans to inaugurate the new government, once installed, with a massive offensive to retake Baghdad. It would be led by U.S. forces and would involve the extensive use of air power against rebel strongholds in the densely populated city. Three years after the fall of Saddam, much of the capital remains in the hands of hostile elements, and U.S. officials reportedly see such an offensive as the only way a new government can assert its authority outside of the Green Zone. The targets are likely to include Sunni insurgent strongholds, but also those of Moqtada Sadr’d Mehdi army. The risk, as ever, is that such an offensive can undo that which months of politicking has stitched together. (The Times, April 17, 2006)
  • Graham Fuller suggests that the Bush administration's turn away from an alliance with Iraq's Shiites and back towards making common cause with the Sunnis is strategic error that will sink the U.S. mission there. "By no means do all Shiites want Jaafari as prime minister," writes Fuller. "But the United States in their view has delivered a fairly naked diktat by telling the Shiites who should or should not run their ostensibly sovereign government. U.S. pressure on the Shiites to give up control of such vital power ministries as Intelligence and Interior are certain non- starters; the Shiites have not waited for half a century to get power only to yield these vital security functions to their erstwhile oppressors and current rivals. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani will work mightily to ensure the Shiites do not break ranks on these issues.

    "It may be that the Shiite alliance will switch candidates for prime minister, if only in the name of preserving unity. But any new candidate, in an agreement likely to be forged by Sistani, must also placate the many Shiite elements cool or hostile to the United States - including Jaafari, Sadr and the pro-Iranian Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

    "It may make some sense for the United States to help overcome Sunni fears and grievances by siding with their calls for more Sunni power. But the current Shiite political dominance is quite legal, based on a constitution the United States helped draft. It reflects the absolute demographic majority of Shiites...

    "Even if Washington at this point tilts toward the Sunnis, they would offer precious little consolation for Bush's woes... The Sunnis are even more anti- U.S. and more pan-Arab than the Shiites. They are determined to end the occupation as soon as possible. The Sunni clerics are hard- line anti-U.S., and their only serious rivals are secular Baathists. Placating the Sunnis now will thus do little more than hasten a public Shiite break with Washington. It will not lessen insurgent actions to push the United States out." (International Herald Tribune, April 14, 2006)

  • Although it is currently holding together under sectarian pressure from without and at the insistence of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Amir Taheri suggests the breakup of the Shiite alliance would be good for Iraqi democracy. That's because Iraq's politicians are dividied on four separate sets of issues, and on each, the breakdown is different.
    --On federalism, the Sadrists and Jaafari line up with the Sunnis, while the SCIRI and Kurds are in the same camp.
    --On economic policy, the Sadrists and Jaafari as well as the neo-Baathist Sunnis and the Kurdish faction of President Talabani are more inclined to a social democratic model with greater state involvement, whereas SCIRI and the Barzani faction of the Kurds as well as some of the secularists are more inclined towards free enterprise
    --On mosque-state relations, the secularists led by Iyad Allawi would find support among the Kurds and the Baathists, while among the Shiites, he says, SCIRI actually favors more clerical involvement than does Jaafari and the Sadrists
    --SCIRI would be more inclined to emphasize Iraqi identity, whereas the Sadrists and Jaafari would, like the Sunis, tend to emphasize Iraq's Arab identity. (Asharq al-Awsat, April 12, 2006)
  • Previously on Iraq:
    -- The Magnitude of Failure in Iraq

    -- A Generational American War?
    -- What's Left of Iraq?
    -- Civil War and the Region
    -- Is Sadr the Key to Avoiding Civil War?
    -- Mounting Anger at Coalition Forces in Iraq

  • ______________________________
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    The Poor Man's Air Force
    Mike Davis provides a fascinating history of the car-bomb and its evolution as a weapon in contemporary conflict, from its roots among anarchists in New York through its uses by both sides in Israel-Palestine in the mid 1940s, through internecine Mafia wars in Sicily in the early 1960s via Algeria, to more contemporary incarnations in Beirut, Ireland and Sri Lanka. Davis explores the emergence of the technology that levels the playing field in destructive power between conventional armies and terror outfits. Summarizing their advantages, he notes the following:

    "First, vehicle bombs are stealth weapons of surprising power and destructive efficiency. Trucks, vans, or even SUVs can easily transport the equivalent of several conventional 1,000-pound bombs to the doorstep of a prime target. Moreover, their destructive power is still evolving, thanks to the constant tinkering of ingenious bomb-makers. We have yet to face the full horror of semi-trailer-sized explosions with a lethal blast range of 200 yards or of dirty bombs sheathed in enough nuclear waste to render mid-Manhattan radioactive for generations.

    "Second, they are extraordinarily cheap: 40 or 50 people can be massacred with a stolen car and maybe $400 of fertilizer and bootlegged electronics. Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, bragged that his most expensive outlay was in long-distance phone calls. The explosive itself (one half ton of urea) cost $3,615 plus the $59 per day rental for a ten-foot-long Ryder van. In contrast, the cruise missiles that have become the classic American riposte to overseas terrorist attacks cost $1.1 million each.

    "Third, car bombings are operationally simple to organize. Although some still refuse to believe that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols didn't have secret assistance from a government or dark entity, two men in the proverbial phone booth -- a security-guard and a farmer -- successfully planned and executed the horrendous Oklahoma City bombing with instructional books and information acquired from the gun-show circuit.

    "Fourth, like even the 'smartest' of aerial bombs, car bombs are inherently indiscriminate: "Collateral damage" is virtually inevitable. If the logic of an attack is to slaughter innocents and sow panic in the widest circle, to operate a "strategy of tension," or just demoralize a society, car bombs are ideal. But they are equally effective at destroying the moral credibility of a cause and alienating its mass base of support, as both the IRA and the ETA in Spain have independently discovered. The car bomb is an inherently fascist weapon.

    "Fifth, car bombs are highly anonymous and leave minimal forensic evidence. Buda quietly went home to Italy, leaving William Burns, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Bureau of Investigation (later, to be renamed the FBI) to make fools of themselves as they chased one false lead after another for a decade. Most of Buda's descendants have also escaped identification and arrest. Anonymity, in addition, greatly recommends car bombs to those who like to disguise their handiwork, including the CIA, the Israeli Mossad, the Syrian GSD, the Iranian Pasdaran, and the Pakistani ISI -- all of whom have caused unspeakable carnage with such devices.

    In his followup piece, he examines the politics of some of the groups using car bombs and how the weapon interacts with those. He also notes that car bombing and IEDs in Iraq have forced an occupation authority to retreat into the tiny quadrant of the capital known at "The Green Zone." (TomDispatch, April , 2006)

    Beirut Takes a Time Out From the 'Clash of Cultures'
    In the not too distant past, the observation that Beirut "has a lot of secret stuff going on" would have referred to clandestine political and military operations of radical factions, espionage duels, kidnappings and the plotting of a bloody civil war. Today, it's the raison d'etre offered by the publishers of Time Out Beirut, the local edition of the London-based magazine franchise that showcase hedonistic delights of all the world's great metropolises for a weekly readership. The idea that Beirut will have its own edition, starting as a monthly, may be the surest sign that the city has put the scars of civil war behind it, and epitomizes a new optimism in the wake of the Syrian withdrawal. And it also blows something of a raspberry in the direction of those who insist that we're in the throes of a clash of cultures. (Daily Star, April 7, 2006)

    Hamas's cabinet is sworn in

    Should the West Engage With Radical Islamists?
    Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke are former Western intelligence officials who have, along with a number of their colleagues, been holding talks with officials from Hamas, Hezbollah and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. These officials, who worked at the highest levels of British and U.S. intelligence, have recognized that the political momentum in the Arab world is with the Islamists, but in the course of their discussions they have recognized a profoundly important distinction between the interests and agendas of nationally-based groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and the transnational jihadists of al-Qaeda. (Indeed, the same distinction was clearly on view recently when Hamas firmly rejected Al Qaeda's demand that it fight on and reject compromise -- the premise of the brusque rebuff by Prime Minister Ismail Haniya was that the Palestinians don't need Al-Qaeda's advice. Crooke and Perry believe that the West is making a tragic mistake if it continues to conflate these two groups, rather than recognizing the considerable basis for dialogue and even common interests (particularly in democracy) with some of the nationally-based Islamist groups. They sought to brief the U.S. government on their discussions but were rebuffed, on the grounds that such a briefing would be seen to be legitimizing talks with terrorists. They write:

    "The question of legitimacy is important because for democracies, legitimacy is not conferred, but earned at the ballot box. Hamas and Hezbollah would welcome a dialogue with the West not because it would confer 'legitimacy' - they already have that - but because such a dialogue would acknowledge the differences between Islamist movements that represent actual constituencies from those (such as al-Qaeda and its allied movements) that represent no one....

    "There is no question that two of the groups with whom we spoke - Hamas and Hezbollah - have adopted violent tactics to forward their political goals. They are not alone: Fatah (whose candidates for election the US supported with US$2 million in campaign funds) continues to use violence (and kidnap Westerners), so do the Tamil Tigers, so did the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the African National Congress. So too does the United States. America's insistence that Hamas and Hezbollah 'renounce violence' and 'disarm' is dismissed by these groups as not only an invitation to surrender but, in light of the continuing and increasingly indefensible use of alarmingly disproportionate US and British firepower in Iraq, the rankest hypocrisy.

    "The West's seeming abhorrence of violence is derived from its deeply rooted belief that political change is possible without it. But defending this proposition requires an extraordinary exercise in historical amnesia....

    "The leaders of major Islamist organizations view the issue of violence in the same way Americans do - as a legitimate option that is applied to establish deterrence and stability and to defend and promote their interests. For Hamas and Hezbollah, 'armed resistance' is a way of balancing the asymmetry of force available to Israel. Both groups place their use of violence in a political context.

    " 'Armed resistance is not simply a tool that we use to respond to Israeli aggression,' a Hamas leader averred. 'It gives our people confidence that they are being defended, that they have an identity, that someone is trying to balance the scales.

    "Hezbollah puts this idea in the same political context: 'It may be that some day we will have to sit down across from our enemies and talk to them about a political settlement. That could happen,' reflected Nawaf Mousawi, the chief of the Hezbollah's foreign relations department. 'But no political agreement will be possible until they respect us. I want them to know that when they're sitting there across from us that if they decide to get up and walk away, they'll have to pay a price.'

    "The West's insistence that opening a political dialogue be preceded by and conditioned on disarmament is simply unrealistic: it suggests that we believe that 'our' violence is benevolent while 'theirs' is unreasoning and random - that a 19-year-old rifle-toting American in Fallujah is somehow less dangerous than a 19-year-old Shi'ite in southern Lebanon.

    "In fact, political agreements have rarely been preceded by disarmament. United Nations demands for the disarmament of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) in 1978 unraveled a conflict-ending political agreement (a situation put right when the rebels were allowed to keep their weapons), and Northern Ireland's 'Good Friday Agreement' allowed the IRA to keep its weapons until a political process (leading to 'decommissioning') reflecting their concerns was put in place.

    "The West often views Islamic violence as random and unreasoning, but Hamas and Hezbollah believe that violence can shift practical political considerations to create a psychology in which armed groups can use the tool of de-escalation as a way of forwarding a political process. That is to say, absent a political agreement, Hamas and Hezbollah will not voluntarily abandon what they view as their only defense against the overwhelming weight of Israeli military power.

    "Disarmament (or 'demilitarization') is possible: it worked in Northern Ireland and South Africa. When coupled with substantive political talks, the unification of armed elements into a single security or military force - demilitarization - provides the best hope for increased stability and security in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza."
    (Asia Times, March 30, 2006)

    Abdul Rahman states his faith, posing a problem for both Karzai and Bush

    Kabul Christian Convert Puts Afghanistan's Karzai in a Bind
    Under pressure from his patron, the U.S. government, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai intervened personally to secure the release of Abdul Rahman, a 41-year-old convert to Christianity who faced a potential death sentence under Sharia law for apostasy. And, predictably, thousands took to the streets to protest and demand that he be put to death. The case highlights not only a contradiction in Afghanistan's constitution between its endorsement of international human rights conventions guaranteeing freedom of worship, and its codifying of Sharia law, but also a political tension that exposes the limits of Karzai's own authority -- and a domestic problem for his U.S. backers.

    Karzai's power remains limited, and entirely dependent on a combination of U.S. and NATO forces, and the consent of various warlords -- some of them radical Islamists -- who have been drawn into government. For the Bush administration, the persecution by a U.S.-backed regime of a Christian for having chosen the same faith as the President of the United States is untenable: Washington was pressed to demand Abdul Rahman's release by a clamor of protest from the Evangelical activist base of the Republican Party. But for Karzai, caving in to the U.S. on a matter of faith and identity is a risk option. And the case has inflamed the passions of religious activists on both sides, and the Taliban is using it as a rallying point to build a coalition against Karzai. Nor is it over, for Abdul Rahman's release was engineered on the grounds of evidentiary technicalities and insinuations about his sanity, rather than any question over the legitimacy of the law that makes it possible to charge him for converting from Islam to another faith. The fact that Abdul Rahman has reportedly applied for asylum in a third country underscores the problem. The Bush administration likes to point to Afghanistan as a poster child for its promotion of democracy abroad; the Abdul Rahman case will have alerted Americans at home to the limits of the freedom that is being defended in Afghanistan.
    (TIME, March 26, 2006)

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