Can Iran sue the US for Coup & supporting Saddam in Iran-Iraq War?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Iranian members of parliament have approved the details of a bill that insists US compensate Iran for its crimes against that country.

The bill comes as a result of a $2 billion judgment against Iran entered by a US court and backed by an act of the US Congress, on behalf of the families of Marines killed in a Beirut bombing in 1983. Iran was allegedly behind the attack, though responsibility for it was attributed to a fundamentalist Lebanese Shiite splinter group that was a predecessor of Hizbullah.

BBC Monitoring translated from the website of the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency (ICANA) in Persian 0622 gmt 17 May 16:

“The bill is entitled “Requiring the government to pursue compensation for damages incurred as a result of US actions and crimes against Iran and Iranian nationals”.

It was unveiled following a controversial US Supreme Court ruling that allows the use of nearly two billion dollars from Iran’s frozen assets as compensation for US “victims of terrorist acts sponsored by Iran”.

Of the 203 MPs present at the open session, 131 voted “Yes”, 10 “No”, and nine abstained.

Details of the bill

Article 1 of the bill, which was passed on 17 May, lists the following nine events as instances of “US crimes”:

“1) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the 1953 coup d’etat [that removed popular democratic leader Mohammad Mossaddeq from power];

“2) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the Nozheh [Nojeh] coup d’etat [a foiled attempt in 1980 by a group of armed forces personnel that sought to topple the newly formed Islamic Republic];

“3) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the Imposed War [Iran’s name for the 1980s war with Iraq];

“4) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the martyrdom of over 223,000, and the self-sacrifices of another 600,000 (war prisoners and war disabled) [still referring to the Iran-Iraq war];

“5) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the martyrdom of 17,0000 assassinated martyrs [no elaborations provided];

“6) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the attacks on oil rigs [during the Iran-Iraq war];

“7) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of anti-Iran espionage conducted, sponsored or supported by the United Sates;

“8) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of blocking, seizing or interfering with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s assets and finances – including those of government and public organisations and institutions, as well as Iranian officials;

“9) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the actions undertaken, as well those which will be undertaken in the future, by the usurping Zionist regime – which have been carried out with the support or partial role of the US;”

The differences are not moral or legal high ground, but practical. Iran just doesn’t have possession of US assets that it can sequester. In contrast, the US froze billions in Iranian accounts in the US after the 1979 revolution. (This is Iran’s money and the US has no legal right to it, contrary to what Donald Trump keeps alleging).

It is not in fact clear that Iran was responsible for the 1983 bombing, though allies of Iran were.

But it certainly is the case that the US overthrew the elected government of Iran in 1953 and imposed a brutal dictatorship on the country, so as, in part, to dictate to Iran the terms on which it could export petroleum. And, it certainly did trillions of dollars of harm to Iran as a result.

It is also the case that the Reagan administration sided with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in its war of aggression on Iran, supplying Iraq with weaponry and intel and even precursers for biological and chemical weapons. The chemical weapons were used on Iranian troops at the front. When Iran sought to have Iraq condemned for chemical weapons use at the UN Security Council, the Reagan administration ran interference for Saddam Hussein and prevented a UNSC condemnation of Baghdad.

Just to show that hypocrisy never goes out of style, Iraq’s use of chemical weapons was cited as a casus belli by the George W. Bush administration for its war of aggression in 2003.

So, yes, I think the harm the US did Iran during the Iran-Iraq War could well also be worth trillions. The blocking of a UNSC condemnation of Iraqi chemical weapons use alone would be worth that.

Iran won’t see a dime.

But it is the case that in a world where courts are making claims for universal jurisdiction, the US should be careful about litigating past political and military conflicts. Washington’s list of crimes is so long that sooner or later it will boomerang on the US elites.


Related video:

PressTV: “Iran MPs want US to pay for damage inflicted since 1953”

Posted in Featured,Iran | 18 Responses | Print |

British PM Cameron’s tiff with Trump over Muslims: The Hypocrisy Factor

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

When Donald Trump announced his monstrous and yet daffy plan to exlude Muslims from the United States (what with being, himself, both monstrous and yet daffy), British Prime Minister David Cameron called him out. The plan, he said, is “divisive, stupid and wrong.”

Trump gave an interview with Piers Morgan on British TV on Monday in which he threatened the United Kingdom with retaliation.

“It looks like we’re not going to have a very good relationship. Who knows, I hope to have a good relationship with him but it sounds like he’s not willing to address the problem either . . . Number one, I’m not stupid, okay? I can tell you that right now. Just the opposite. Number two, in terms of divisive, I don’t think I’m a divisive person, I’m a unifier, unlike our president now, I’m a unifier.”

Thereby proving that Cameron was right on all three counts. The prime minister’s office said he stood by his remarks. (Good on him!)

But what shouldn’t be lost in all this is that Cameron himself hasn’t exactly been good on Muslim issues in the UK. He’s been supercilious, condescending, and tone deaf. And he’s made some stupid and divisive proposals, as well.

Britain has a population of about 64 million. Of those, about 3.1 million are Muslims, about 5 percent of the population. In 2015, 13 Muslims were elected to the British parliament, six of them women, and three of them in Cameron’s party.

The US has more Muslims, but is a much bigger country, so their percentage here is much smaller, about 1% or maybe more depending on how many exactly there are (no one knows– the estimates range from 3 to 6 million).

Obviously, Trump’s discourse about Muslims is a much bigger thing in the UK, where the proportion of Muslims is similar to the proportion of Asian-Americans in the US.

Cameron wants to Muslims who don’t learn English well enough to pass a test within 2 and a half years of arrival. Asked if he would split up families by, e.g., sending out a mother of children and wife resident with her husband, he said there could be no guarantee of staying if the person kept failing the English test.

This proposal is just about as objectionable as Trump’s own ideas. There are millions of people in the US who don’t have very good English, or any at all. If Trump had threatened to arrest and deport them and break up families, even if they were legal immigrants, wouldn’t that be as outrageous as some of the other things he has said?

Cameron maintained that the reason for which a few tens of thousands of recently immigrated Muslim women did not know English was because their husbands are backward and controlling and keeping them isolated. That they might be busy raising children and running households and that they might not have avenues into British society– or even that they might not be good at languages– doesn’t seem to have occurred to him.

Then there was Home Minister Theresa May’s daffy allegation that there there was a sophisticated Salafi plot to take over 21 Birmingham schools in poor, disproportionately Muslim, areas. It was based on what is now widely considered a fraudulent letter. An investigation didn’t find any such plot. It found some problems at five of the schools, not surprising given that they are in extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Cameron and his cabinet were so enthusiastic about Netanyahu’s brutal assault on defenseless little Gaza in 2014 that his only Muslim cabinet member, Lady Sayeeda Warsi, felt she had no choice but to resign.

So the idea of Cameron as a defender of Western Muslims or a condemner of Islamophobia is downright weird.

What the exchange shows is that the paternalistic, paranoid and casually insulting discourse of the Cameron crew about Muslims has been overshadowed by the truly monstrous and daffy Trump.


Related video:

New York Daily News: “Donald Trump to David Cameron: I’m not stupid, ok?”

Trump’s Politics of Whiteness and the CIA tip that Jailed Nelson Mandela

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The revelation that the Central Intelligence Agency provided the tip to the Apartheid South African government that led to Nelson Mandela’s arrest should come as no great shock, though the public confirmation is perhaps surprising.

Nor is it unconnected to the popularity of Donald Trump, who is proposing a new Apartheid regime with regard to American Muslims.

Mandela went on to lead South Africa in the 1990s toward a racially inclusive new model of democracy.

Although the allegation is that the CIA was worried Mandela was a Communist controlled by the Soviet Union, the actual subtext was that white, racially-segregated South Africa was seen by many in Washington as a good thing. The US firmly supported the Apartheid regime despite its massive human rights abuses, right into the 1980s under Reagan. That it was an ally against Communism was all to the good. But part of what defeating Communism entailed was repressing economically exploited, working class groups like Black South Africans.

Until 1964, much of the US (and not just the Deep South) was itself governed by Apartheid laws that demeaned African-Americans and often denied them the vote, so there was fellow-feeling between elements in Washington and those in Pretoria.

Americans have a fairy tale that they tell themselves, that they have been a force for democracy and human rights. But in fact, sometimes they haven’t. A lot of the time they haven’t. The US has made coups against elected governments (1953 in Iran) and supported dictators instead, when it suited Washington elites. The US has supported the repression and statelessness of the Palestinians. And often fears about uppity working classes are racialized in American discourse.

Donald Trump’s politics are to a degree about racial hierarchies and the restoration of the pecking order that obtained before the Civil Rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In other words, they hearken back to the days of American Apartheid.

He has questioned the US citizenship of our first African-American president, attempting to paint his eight years in office as illegitimate. Birtherism is a little bit like those Rambo movies of Sylvester Stallone, which relitigated the Vietnam War. If white America was in fact defeated by Asian Vietnam, at least the former could have its victory in the fantasyland of Hollywood. Likewise, Birtherism was a way of imagining that McCain and Romney were the rightful presidents, because the Black guy was actually from Africa and not American at all.

Likewise, Trump’s intimation that Latino Americans are for the most part criminals (this is not true), his allegation that China is walking all over the US with regard to trade, and his proposal to exclude Muslims from coming to the US, are all reasertions of the primacy of white America. They are ways of denying that the US is on the way to becoming a majority non-white country (Asians, Latinos, African-Americans are already the majority in California, the most populous state). They are ways of denying that China is a rising world power or that the Muslims world is flexing its muscles in the aftermath of decolonization.

Political Scientist Robert Vitalis has argued that racial hierarchy was at the core of International Relations theory in the US academy in the first half of the 20th century:

” Racism and imperialism are the twin forces that propelled the course of the United States in the world in the early twentieth century and in turn affected the way that diplomatic history and international relations were taught and understood in the American academy. Evolutionary theory, social Darwinism, and racial anthropology had been dominant doctrines in international relations from its beginnings; racist attitudes informed research priorities and were embedded in newly formed professional organizations . . . Within the rigidly segregated profession, the “Howard School of International Relations” represented the most important center of opposition to racism and the focal point for theorizing feasible alternatives to dependency and domination for Africans and African Americans through the early 1960s.”

The jailing of Mandela for much of his adult life came about because he took direct action against a regime that deprived him and his people of their right to vote, of their right to be equal to other citizens, and even in the case of the Bantustans, of their citizenship rights. These actions were taken by people who thought of themselves as “white” against people they categorized as “Black.” They were taken on the grounds of racial prejudice and discrimination. The United States of America sided with the operators of the Apartheid state. There isn’t any doubt where Trump would have stood in those days, either.

But those days are over, and Trumpism is not the wave of the future; it is a pitiful nostalgia for a shameful imagined past.


Related video:

Nelson Mandela on Oprah Winfrey’s show from 2000

Top 3 Signs Bill Clinton didn’t kill himself to “give” the Palestinians a State

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Former President Bill Clinton on Saturday claimed “I killed myself to give the Palestinians a state,” and maintained that he secured an agreement, which the Palestinians turned down. In fact, no such text was ever presented to the Palestinian side, and then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak kept flaking out on commitments previously made, leaving the Palestinian negotiators with nothing to agree to. Negotiator Aaron Miller later admitted, “There was not a formalized, written proposal that covered the four core issues. There was no deal on the table. None of the issues were explained enough in detail to make an agreement, though the Israelis made an interesting argument on Jerusalem.”

No time here to go into the paternalist and colonial language about “giving” the Palestinians a state. They are a stateless people because they are unrecognized; they would get a state by recognizing them as such, not giving them anything.

Here are signs Clinton didn’t put himself out that much:

1. From the time Clinton presided over the handshake between Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in 1993 to the end of Clinton’s term, the number of Israeli colonists on the Palestinian land from which Rabin had pledged to withdraw just about doubled. In 1993 there were between 95,000 and 116,000 Israeli squatters in the West Bank and Gaza. By 1996 there were 147,000. By 2000 there were about 200,000. These numbers do not include the squatters in East Jerusalem, which Israel has illegally annexed in contravention of the UN charter. This stab in the back by the Israelis of the Palestine Authority undermined the possibility of a Palestinian state. Did Clinton kill himself stopping this vast expansion of Israeli squatters on Palestinian land? No. Did he do anything at all about it? No.

2. Israel agreed to withdraw its troops from the West Bank by the end of 1998. It did not. Its troops are still there, guarding sometimes murderous or vandalizing Israeli squatters who are trying to displace the Palestinians from their homes. Did Bill Clinton kill himself to get the Israeli troops out of Palestine? No. Did he do anything at all about this collapse of Oslo process commitments on Israel’s part? No.

3. Donald Neff writes that in

“March, 1995 . . . President Clinton invoked the [UN Security Council] veto after all 14 other members approved a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Israel to rescind a decision to expropriate 130 acres of land in Arab East Jerusalem.23 The Clinton administration exercised two more vetoes in 1997, both of them on resolutions otherwise unanimously supported by the 14 other Security Council members. The draft resolution was critical of Israel’s plans to establish a new settlement at Har Homa ⁄ Jabal Abu Ghneim in East Jerusalem in the midst of Palestinian housing.”

So did Bill Clinton kill himself stopping Israeli large scale theft of Palestinian land while he was supposedly being an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians? No.

Clinton was the most partisan President for Israel in our country’s history, and was anything but even-handed in his approach to the Palestinians. The Palestinians complained that they’d get an Israeli proposal, reject it, then get the same one from the Americans; there wasn’t really any difference between the positions of those two.

Clinton also defended the brutal Israeli assault on defenseless little Gaza in 2014, blaming it on Hamas and suggesting that they had craftily manipulated world media into blaming the Israelis for killing nearly 2000 Palestinians. Mr. Clinton did not address the issue of proportionality, the key one for critics of the assault. Nor did he address the Occupation, the displacement of Palestinian families to Gaza by the Israelis, or the siege of Gaza, contravening the Geneva Conventions if 1949.

Bill Clinton’s partisanship for the Israeli side and refusal to act as an honest broker, refusal to stop squatter settlements, refusal to let the UN Security Council demand of Israel that it stop contravening international law, and failure to get an actual text to which Palestinian negotiators could assent, all these defects doomed the Oslo process and doomed the world to more turmoil coming out of this interminable conflict. It also encouraged the Israeli side to think they could get away with anything and so warped them into a Likud far-right regime and an Apartheid state.

Bill Clinton didn’t kill himself getting a Palestinian state. His one-sided approach to the negotiations ensured that there would be none. Ever.

Related video:

Bill Clinton: ‘I killed myself to give the Palestinians a state

Top Hizbullah Commander in Syria killed in Explosion; Radical Salafis blamed

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Mustafa Badreddine, the Hizbullah commander responsible for Syria, was killed Friday in an explosion near Damascus. It wasn’t clear whether he was hit by artillery fire or what.

The US now has a tacit alliance of convenience with Lebanon’s Hizbullah against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), but continues to keep the organization on a terrorism list.

BBC Monitoring translated this broadcast:

“Lebanese Hezbollah has announced the death of one of its top military commander, Moustafa Badr-al-Din (Mustafa Badreddine), in an explosion near Damascus airport.

According to a statement reported by the group’s Al-Manar TV channel on 13 May, Hezbollah said: “Information coming out of the initial investigation indicate that a huge explosion targeted one of our centres near Damascus International Airport, which led to the martyrdom of Mustafa Badreddine (Al-Sayyed Zul-Faqqar) and the injury of others. The investigation will work on determining the nature of the explosion and its causes and whether it was a result of an air, missile or artillery attack. We will announce further results of the invetsigation soon.”

Earlier, Hezbollah was quoted as saying that Badreddine was killed in an Israeli air strike at Lebanese-Syrian borders.

Badreddine – and three other alleged Hezbollah members – is accused of assassinating former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri in Beirut in 2005.

Source: Al-Manar Television, Beirut, in Arabic 0427 gmt 13 May 16″

(Just to be clear, that bit about Hariri is commentary by the translator, not in the al-Manar report; al-Manar, the Hizbullah mouthpiece, would never say that.)

He was the highest ranking Hizbullah operative to be killed since Emad Mughniya in 2008, who was likely assassinated by Israeli intelligence. If Badreddine was killed in an airstrike, then his demise would also be owing to an Israeli intervention.

In that case, the Lebanese press is asking what kind of retaliation the organization will stage.

Update: Badreddin was killed by artillery fire, by Salafi jihadi forces, Hizbullah now says. That could mean the Saudi-backed Jaysh al-Islam, given where he was killed, near Damascus airport. Russia has been trying to get the latter declared a terrorist organization and remove it from the peace talks delegation, which it now leads. Or it could indicate the al-Qaeda offshot, the Nusra Front or Support Front.

In other words, this death will exacerbate further the severe Iran-Saudi tensions and challenge the current cessation of hostilities that is holding in some of Syria. [End update]

His death came the same week the Syrian government and the Shiite militias fighting alongside its troops lost Khan Touman near Aleppo to a fierce onslaught by al-Qaeda in Syria and its allies. Some 80 on the government side were killed, including members of the elite Quds Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

While some Iranians and Lebanese will be disheartened at the news, others will be reinfused with zeal to defeat the forces arrayed against Iran and the Lebanese Shiites. Lebanese Shiites and other minorities, including many Christians, were terrified in 2014 that Daesh might come into Lebanon and commit genocide against them. They are also generally afraid of the Salafi Jihadi forces backed by Saudi Arabia that are trying to overthrow the Syrian government.

The US has been de facto allied in Iraq with a group that Badruddin helped found, Iraqi Shiite militiamen fighting Daesh.

Badreddin Moustafa likely played a significant role in forcing the Israeli militiary back out of southern Lebanon, which it occupied in 1982 and gave no sign of any willigness to withdraw voluntarily.

Badreddiin was allegedly involved in the bombing that killed Marines in Beirut in 1982 and in bombing attempts on the US embassy in Kuwait in 1983.


related video:

BBC News: “Hezbollah commander Badreddine killed in Syria – BBC News”

Surprise! Despite Syria-Iraq Turmoil, Major Mideast Economies growing 3-4%

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

When you only hear bad news from a place, you form a negative opinion of it. But when I went looking for news about the economies of the most populous Middle Eastern countries, I was surprised to find that the IMF and/or World Bank is seeing between 3.5 and 4% growth in 2016.

You would think Turkish President Erdogan’s renewed conflict with Kurds in the country’s southeast, along with the occasional bombings in Ankara and Istanbul that have hurt tourism, plus the Russian cancellation of some joint projects, the fall in Russian tourism, and the cancellation of fruit and vegetable orders– that all these things would have hurt economic growth. Well, maybe they did, but the Turkish economy is still set to grow 4% this year. Of course, you could argue that the economy might be growing 7% if Erdogan hadn’t picked all those fights. And, it is not as if the profits are being equally spread around the population.

Still, it should be remembered that US GDP growth is about 0.5% and Brazil’s political turmoil is in part a reflection of massive economic problems in recent years. So Turkey is doing all right (it is the world’s 18th largest economy). Some 6 million new jobs have been created in the past six years, helping to account for Erdogan’s popularity.

Some of the surprising reasons for the economic growth are that consumer spending is strong– people are buying appliances and going out to eat. Likewise, the steep fall in the price of petroleum has saved Turkish consumers $35 billion (Turkey is not an oil producer). In addition, the 2.5 million Syrian refugees in the country have boosted gross domestic product. They are spending their savings. Some of them have gotten jobs and are buying things they need in their new homes. And Syrian farm and other labor has added to productivity.

The $32 bn a year tourism industry fell over 16% in the first quarter, and that had to hurt. Although large numbers of Russian tourists have gone elsewhere, some of the slack has been taken up by Arabs, especially from the Gulf, who can no longer safely go to Beirut and who are nervous about Cairo and other Arab cities, where the politics is unpredictable or where police crackdowns interfere with fun. The Arab tourists aren’t just coming for hotel stays– they are buying second homes and investing in the economy. So, while the loss of the Russians hurts (especially in places where they were concentrated, like Antalya), other tourists seem to have picked up some of the slack. But the tourism statistics probably don’t count the Arab tourists buying homes there. Also, Turkey is a diversified economy with about $800 bn. in annual GDP, so a downturn in one industry might be offset by upturns in others.

There there is Egypt. Likewise, it is expected to grow 3 – 3.5% this year. Like Turkey, its consumers will save billions of dollars on lower petroleum costs. Its tourism revenue will be substantially off, which is why international banks lowered their estimates for the country’s growth rate from 4% to 3 or 3.5 percent. The Gulf oil states, even though their revenues have fallen, are still promising investments. The UAE says it will put another $4 bn into Egypt.

Because South Africa revalued its rand, Egypt even got a promotion– it is now the second largest economy in Africa.

The IMF expects Iran to grow at 4% this year, as well. This growth will mostly come about as a result of increased oil sales, given the end of international sanctions.

Obviously, there are severe problems in all three economies. In Egypt and Turkey, adoption of Neoliberal policies has greatly increased inequality, so that we can’t be sure the 3-4% growth will actually go to ordinary people as opposed to wealthy regime cronies. Rentier income like strategic rent from the UAE to Cairo typically goes to the government, not the average citizen. Also, Egypt’s population growth (unlike that of Turkey and Iran) is so high that the per capita growth on 3% GDP increase is minimal. In Iran, the proceeds from the extra petroleum sales will go straight to the state, and how much of that money will get out to the people is also a question.

Still, the region’s most populous countries have growth statistics that many countries would envy– and this despite the turmoil all around them.


Related video:

SABC: “Egypt takes over as SA drops to 3rd biggest economy in Africa”

Baghdad gov’t paralysis made capital vulnerable to massive ISIL bombings

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) launched a series of suicide car and truck bombs in Baghdad on Wednesday, killing nearly 100 and wounding nearly 200 persons. Baghdad security had improved over the past couple of years, but the Coalition United for Reform blamed political wrangling on sectarian and party bases for the security lapses that allowed the attacks to take place. The president’s spokesman suggested that Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi might need to fire some security officials responsible for the capital’s well-being for this major lapse.

Massive popular protests late this winter against corruption and the dominance of high government posts by a handful of parties forced PM al-Abadi to attempt to appoint a cabinet of neutral technocrats. Iraq is governed by a spoils system, so the parties are given control of ministries, and use the ministries to employ relatives and clients. In a country of 32 million, some 7 million people are now said to work for the government. When al-Abadi threatened to take away that party patronage in the ministries by appointing a cabinet of neutral technocrats, the party elites mobilized against him in parliament and stopped him from going forward. Parliament split on the issue, and now has two elected Speakers, each of which denounces the other as an impostor. Under these circumstances, it is almost impossible to have parliament confirm the new cabinet members.

In the face of this elite feet-dragging, a large crowd of followers of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr recently invaded the Green Zone and went into the parliament building, from which the obstructionism was emanating.

It is being alleged in Baghdad that this factionalism led the city’s security forces to be unprepared for Wednesday’s bombings.

As for Daesh, it has faced very severe reversals just this year, losing Ramadi and Palmyra and many more. Daesh faces a reverse snowball effect and the danger it will just dwindle away. Its oil receipts are way down and it faces substantial pressure in the urban world.

It is in danger of not being able to attract high-value Westerners with arms training to its violent aggressions. It has also seen its oil revenue plummet. Daesh has lost much of its 2014 territory. These bombings of soft targets in Shiite neighborhoods, killing children and women, were designed to announce to like-minded Salafi puritans that the organization is still powerful and that joining it can bring devotees loot from razed or occupied towns.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

ABC News: “Baghdad Bomb Spree | Iraqi Capital’s Most Violent Day of the Year”

Majorities of Muslim Arabs in N. Africa want a Separation of Religion and State

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

You know those silly anti-sharia laws passed by evangelicals in US state legislatures? They may as well not bother.

(Sharia is Muslim law; but it is much more diverse and fluid than fundamentalists of both stripes think it is).

It turns out a lot of Muslims want a separation of religion and state, according to a new poll by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Arab Observatory. They polled people in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Although the respondents reported themselves to be, in the main, personally religious and to put a high value on the practice of Islam, majorities in all five states support the separation of religion and state. In Tunisia, the percentage rose to an astonishing 73%.


Some polls have found that only 41 percent of Americans support the absolute separation of religion and state, though others have found a majority for it. In any case, likely at most US statistics look like those for the more religious countries polled by KAS, such as Egypt.

Except for Morocco, majorities also thought the interference of religious leaders in politics had a negative impact on the whole. Again, the Tunisians are off the charts on this issue, with 3/4s of them feeling this way. (People think Islamic ideals and values are a positive, they just don’t want clerics intervening directly in civil politics).

People in all five countries also have extremely negative views of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), associating it with terrorism, barbarism and murders and massacres. It is clearly a tiny, very marginal movement, even in Libya, where it has a small toehold.

In fact, I would put forward the hypothesis that groups such as al-Qaeda and Daesh have driven many more people in the Muslim world to support the separation of religion and state than was probably common in, say, the 1980s.

The bad news? Except in Morocco, pluralities or majorities blame US policies in the Middle East for fostering religious extremism there. In other words, perhaps Professor Chomsky is on to something.

Sadiq Khan and Trump: Why KKK Donald’s values are Unacceptable

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The charismatic young mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is calling out Donald Trump for his bigotry toward Muslims. He says he plans to visit the United States this fall before the presidential election, because in case Trump wins, he won’t be able to.

He had told Time magazine earlier,

“If Donald Trump becomes the president I’ll be stopped from going there by virtue of my faith, which means I can’t engage with American mayors and swap ideas.”

Trump responded that he might make an exception for Sadiq Khan: “There will always be exceptions,” he said.

For those apparently ethically clueless commentators who have averred that Trump “isn’t really a bigot,” Trump’s conundrum shows that he really is a bigot. Since he likes giving people nicknames, I’ve suggested one for him above. As many have pointed out, the KKK is far more enthusiastic about Trump than the Republican Party Establishment. There is a reason for this difference.

It is always ethically wrong to generalize from an individual or particular group to the larger category of which they form a part. Individuals must be judged as individuals, groups as groups.

The typical form of a bigoted statement is “All x are y.”

Bigotry or prejudice can then become a basis for discrimination. Discrimination violates the principle of equality before the law:

“It is generally agreed that discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin is morally wrong and a violation of the principle of equality. The equality principle requires that those who are equal be treated equally based on similarities, and that race not be a relevant consideration in that assess – ment (May and Sharratt 1994: 317). In other words, it is only possible to justify treating people differently if there exists some factual difference between them that justifies such difference in treatment (Rachels 1999: 94). Equality is a nonspecific term that means nothing until applied to a particular context. Thus, in a political context, equality means equal access to public office and equal treatment under the law, and equal treatment extends to equality in terms of job hiring, promotion, and pay.”

Trump’s proposal to exclude Muslims from coming to the United States violates the 1965 Immigration Act, which does not allow for religious or other quotas. More seriously, it violates the principle that all men are created equal, a central one to American ideals even if it has often been honored in the breach. Trump’s premise, that Muslims are unusually violent, is not in fact in evidence.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, for instance, began by forbidding all Chinese from coming to the US for ten years; that “temporary” exclusion was later made permanent, and it was only finally repealed during World War II (even then the almost Nazi 1924 immigration law, which established ethnic/country quotas based on the “white” America of the 1870 census, continued to keep all but small numbers of Chinese out).

Here is the sort of thing that Americans of European heritage were saying about Americans of Chinese heritage in the run-up to the Exclusion Act. I apologize to my Chinese-American friends for reprinting it, but alas we historians often have to deal with distasteful texts from the past. It is from testimony before the California senate in 1876. The senators asked a lot of leading question implying that Chinese are less honest than other people; one witness to his credit pushed back on that front, but then went on to aver that “they are not a cleanly people.”

“Q.—How does the condition of the Chinese in this city compare with that of the Chinese at home?

A.—I have been very little in the Chinese quarters here, but I know it is filthy, indeed, and that they are very much overcrowded. They live in a filthy condition here, and in a filthy condition at home, in their own districts. The buildings here are crowded pretty much as they are at home. Buildings once occupied by Chinese are unfit for white occupation, but real estate dealers obtain from them double and treble the rent they receive from the whites. The streets —the business streets—are in a passable condition, probably because the Chinese are compelled to keep them clean by the municipal authorities. The alleys are terribly filthy. Ladies would not care to go on those streets or look into those alleys. I think there is a class of outlaws among the Chinese population here, who give us a great deal of trouble. There are also, as in every community, a great many good men who are made to suffer for the doings of the evil. Among our people, if John Brown does wrong, he suffers as an individual, but if a Chinaman does wrong, the whole race suffers for the act of the individual.

Q.—Are there any Chinese families in this city?

A.—I think not any to speak of?

Q.—Are there one hundred Chinese families in this city?

A.—That would be a large number, I should think.

Q.—Have you any idea of the number of Chinese women?

A.—No, sir; I have not.

Q.—What is the condition of these women?

A.—I don’t know. I imagine it is very bad, indeed. I think that the principal or only remedy to be applied to that evil are stringent municipal regulations, thoroughly enforced.

Q.—That would be a remedy for those things, but would it be a remedy for the injuries which that race inflicts upon the race with which they compete?

A.—1 think that would prevent the influx of the vicious class. If we were to make them live as Americans, I think we would very soon have no Chinese here. For instance, make men have fifteen or sixteen-feet rooms to sleep in, each, and compel the observance of sanitary regulations, and they could not afford to work for the wages they now receive. If they are forced to demand more pay, employers will not employ them.

Mr. Pierson—Have you observed any change in the character of the Chinese for the last ten or fifteen years—have they become more aggressive, more independent, more apt to assert their rights, as they term it?

A.—I think that is caused by the fact that a great many misguided Americans put them up to it.

Q.—Do you think that they have any particular love for our institutions?

A.—I don’t think they have any at all. They come purely as a matter of gain—as a matter of dollars and cents.”

Trump’s discourse is indistinguishable from that of 19th century “white” racists and religious bigots in the United States, and he wants to have it result in a similar outcome (all Asians were ultimately excluded from the US on grounds of racial and religious bigotry).

Trump, having proposed an exception to equality under the law for a whole category of people, now has to propose exceptions to his own rule because it clearly is a discriminatory one. He said that you lead by example and if Khan does a good job that would be a tremendous thing.

That Trump should even want to make an exception for Sadiq Khan underlines the falsity of his entire premise. If Mr. Khan can lead by example and do a good job as London mayor despite being Muslim, then clearly there are no grounds to exclude people on grounds of religion. If Mr. Khan as an individual is desirable despite being a Muslim, then how can Trump show that the vast majority of Muslims are not like Mr. Khan? And if they are, then his proposed exclusion is a form of bigotry.


Related video:

Wochit News: “Trump Says London Mayor Would Be Exception to Muslim Ban”

Al-Zawahiri Supports Syrian al-Qaeda, calls for more global Volunteers

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Al-Qaeda central leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, a mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, has issued a new audio tape. In it, he said that the only successful revolution launched in 2011 in the Arab world was the Syrian, because it followed the right path, throwing up groups devoted to holy war and the implementation of a puritanical version of Islamic law.

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At the same time, al-Zawahiri attacked Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), a breakaway from al-Qaeda, and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

He called for volunteers to go to Syria to help those he called the holy warriors, a reference to the Support Front (Jabhat al-Nusra), the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria that has pledged allegiance to al-Zawahiri.

Al-Qaeda in Syria leads the Army of Conquest coalition and has a battlefield alliance with several so-called moderate Free Syrian Army factions. Syrian al-Qaeda has been attempting to disrupt the ceasefire worked out by the US and Russia with the Syrian regime and the remnants of the Free Syrian Army (mostly Muslim Brotherhood).

Al-Zawahiri urged his followers to struggle against the conspiracies hatched in Syria to do away with jihad or holy war. He said that the chief conspirator was Saudi Arabia, which he accused of having been midwifed by the British and which he said is a lackey of the United States.

Al-Zawahiri said that al-Qaeda in Syria did not want to impose itself as the Syrian government. Rather he said, when the Muslims choose a leader, al-Qaeda will support him. He said this is because his organization is not made up of students of political power but rather of students of how to implement religious law.

Al-Zawahiri, who murdered nearly three thousand innocent civilians, now says that al-Qaeda doesn’t want to impose itself on anyone or behead anyone, whereas Daesh is all about coercion. He castigated them as neo-Kharijites, referring to an early Islamic puritanical sect.

Recognizing that the Support Front is under enormous pressure to renounce its ties to al-Qaeda central, al-Zawahiri warned that if they did so, they’d just then be further pressured to negotiate with the brutal Syrian Baath regime, and to accept shameful diplomatic deals. Then afterward, they would be thrown in jail, as happened to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (which had renounced violence and played by the rules of electoral democracy, and was, al-Zawahiri says, shafted by the Egyptian military in the end).

Some American analysts, partisans of the hard line fundamentalist factions in Syria, saw al-Zawahiri’s instruction to al-Qaeda to let the people choose their leader as a positive. Why haven’t they learned yet that these seedy terrorist organizations play mind games with people, including being passive aggressive? The Nusra Front or al-Qaeda in Syria already holds territory, and it has forcibly converted and stolen from members of religious minorities such as the Druze. Al-Zawahiri’s speech is dishonest tradecraft, not a sign of a mellower al-Qaeda. The Nusra Front controls vast swathes of Syrian territory. My guess is that they won’t relinquish an inch of it as a result of al-Zawahiri’s speech.