Juan Cole – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 30 Mar 2023 06:08:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.8 Game-Changer: Tiny Islands of Vanuatu Convince UN to seek Int’l Court Ruling on Harms of Climate Emergency https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/convince-climate-emergency.html https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/convince-climate-emergency.html#respond Thu, 30 Mar 2023 06:02:53 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=211004 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Vanuatu, a set of South Pacific islands, is not what you would call a prominent international player. The small country of a little over 300,000 people has nevertheless made history, according to UN News. It presented a resolution to the UN General Assembly asking the UN’s International Court of Justice to make a ruling on countries’ responsibilities to fight climate change.

Vanuatu lies due east of Australia’s Queensland. It is a nine hour flight from Canberra. The people there speak 112 different languages, but also know a pidgin that is 90% English, and many know either English or French. The British and French Empires jointly administered it in the colonial age. It was mentioned by Scottish writer and traveler Robert Louis Stephenson.

But what is most important about it nowadays is that it is one of the world’s primary victims of the climate emergency. Its seas are rising, with the danger that these islands will eventually be under water. And the upper levels of the Pacific are warming up, which makes cyclones more intense.

The weather site The Watchers explained on March 14, just a couple of weeks ago,

    “The passage of tropical cyclones Judy and Kevin over central-southern Vanuatu from February 28 to March 3, 2023, has caused widespread damage and devastation. According to the UN OCHA, 251 346 people, which is around 80% of the total population, have been affected by cyclones.

    The aftermath of the cyclones has left 5 156 people still evacuated and seeking refuge in 106 evacuation centers located in the Shefa and Tafea Provinces. The damage caused by the cyclones has also resulted in 28 schools being damaged and made inaccessible, hampering educational opportunities for children in affected areas.”

And that was the second time in just a few months that the islands were hit by monster storms.

Then there are the rising seas, which threaten homes along the coasts. Cemeteries are going under water and bones are resurfacing. They are pleading with the government to build sea walls. The inexorably rising seas, however, may not be stopped by this expedient, and whole towns may have to pick up and move inland. People burning gasoline, coal and fossil gas puts the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which keeps the sun’s heat on earth and heats it up, causing the ice sheets at the poles to melt, which causes the seas to rise.

Article continues after bonus IC video
Vanuatu, on the Front Line of Climate Change

Vanuatu wants rich countries to establish a climate fund to help its people remain resilient in the face of these threats, but most countries are declining to sign on. So Vanuatu got a hearing at the UNGA, which was not assured, and over 130 countries voted for its resolution. The US and China, major carbon polluters, abstained, which allowed the resolution to be adopted by consensus.

The ruling of the International Court of Justice is not binding and there are no police who will impose it. It will have, however, enormous moral authority and can be cited in judicial proceedings, so it will be consequential.

The resolution notes the recent IPCC report affirming that an exhaustive review of the scientific literature demonstrates that almost all heating of the earth in the past two centuries has been caused by humanity burning fossil fuels.

The resolution asks the court to rule on these questions:

    “Having particular regard to the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the duty of due diligence, the rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the principle of prevention of significant harm to the environment, and the duty to protect and preserve the marine environment,

    (1) What are the obligations of States under international law to ensure the protection of the climate system and other parts of the environment from anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases for States and for present and future generations;

    (2) What are the legal consequences under these obligations for States where they, by their acts and omissions, have caused significant harm to the climate system and other parts of the environment, with respect to:

    (a) States, including, in particular, small island developing States, which due to their geographical circumstances and level of development, are injured or specially affected by or are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change?

    (b) Peoples and individuals of the present and future generations affected by the adverse effects of climate change?”

So tiny Vanuatu is like Archimedes with a long enough lever and a fulcrum, to move the whole earth. That lever is the anxiety all clear-sighted people have about the world that the climate emergency is making.

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Renewables outstrip Coal in US for first Time, with 50% of new Power being Solar https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/renewables-outstrip-first.html https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/renewables-outstrip-first.html#respond Wed, 29 Mar 2023 05:25:36 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210981 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The Energy Information Agency of the US Department of Energy announced this week that for the first time in US history, renewable sources generated more electricity in 2022 than did coal. Renewables also outstripped nuclear power generation, for the second year in a row. In fact, renewables are even more productive of power than this report shows, since it only looks at utility-scale solar and leaves aside the electricity generated by rooftop solar panels.

As recently as 2010, coal generated over 1800 million megawatt hours of electricity whereas renewables contributed on the order of 400 million MWh. And in 2010, most of the renewable electricity generation came from hydroelectric plants, with almost nothing from solar. Not only did wind and solar jump ahead in 2022, but coal declined from 23% of electricity generation in the US to only 20% last year. Several coal-fired power plants were closed down,and many of those that continued to operate did so at a reduced schedule. Coal is the most carbon-intensive of the hydrocarbon fuels, spewing out enormous amounts of carbon dioxide when burned, so every coal plant that is retired is a huge win for us humans.

Data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electricity Data Browser

The incredible shrinking coal industry will get smaller yet this year, with coal and fossil gas plants expected to account for 98% of power plant retirements in 2023. Nearly 9 gigawatts of coal-fired electricity generation capacity will be mothballed.

In contrast, nearly 50% of new electricity generating facilities that opened in 2022 were solar. Some 17% of new capacity was fueled by wind turbines. Unfortunately, fossil gas was still in the mix, but only a fifth of new capacity came from that fuel.

The progress of renewables since 2010 is incredible in such a short time, although it is not fast enough or of such a magnitude as to save us from the worst of the climate crisis. It is helpful to consider this transformation, achieved in twelve years, when contemplating the even more challenging changes we must institute by 2040 if we are to prevent the climate from going chaotic on us. It is an uphill, tough task, but the obstacles are not insuperable. Above all, they are not mainly technical but problems of knowledge, education and will. We have all the technology we need to green our planet.

Data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electricity Data Browser

Whereas hydroelectric generation has remained flat at about 6% of the total, wind went from a little over 100 million megawatt hours in 2010 to over 400 in 2022. In 2022, US wind power capacity was up to 141 gigawatts, from 133 MW the previous year. Utility-scale solar went from practically nothing to about 150 million megawatt hours, 2010-2022. Solar power capacity grew to 71 gigawatts in 2022 from 61 the previous year.

In the past 12 years, then, the big story has been a huge expansion of wind power. In the long run, however, solar is likely to dominate, as panels become cheaper and more efficient. Since without a megabattery solar is not generated at night, whereas wind often blows at night, especially out at sea, these two sources complement one another.

Texas was responsible for 21% of wind power in 2022, showing how red states also are going in for renewables in a big way. Iowa generated 10% of our nation’s wind power, and Oklahoma did 9%. An enormous new wind farm opened in Oklahoma.

Sunny California made 26% of US solar power last year, but Texas came in second at 16%. Guess which state was third? I was surprised. It was North Carolina, at 8%. There is so much solar power to be had in the deep South that clearly is not being exploited because of bad government policy. Why isn’t Florida in the top three? Because Republicans run Florida and most of them are in the back pocket of Big Oil.

Still, solar will likely get noticeably cheaper in 2023. The price of silicon is expected to fall, and President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act gives substantial tax credits for solar installations. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet (to the tune of the Bachman Turner Overdrive song, with lots of cowbell).

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Rallies, Clashes Roil Israel as Netanyahu “Pauses” Gutting of Judiciary, and Far Right urges use of “Gasoline and Guns” on Protesters https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/netanyahu-judiciary-protesters.html https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/netanyahu-judiciary-protesters.html#respond Tue, 28 Mar 2023 05:14:36 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210964 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The Israeli newspaper Arab 48 reports that clashed broke out Monday evening between centrist protesters against the Netanyahu government and far right thugs. Some 10,000 fascists gathered in front of the courthouse in Jerusalem to support Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plan to weaken the judiciary. Some got into shouting matches with centrists who oppose Netanyahu’s plans to weaken the judiciary, and they began fighting or throwing bottles at one another. Attacks on anti-government protesters had been planned by the fascist La Familia ultras or hardcore fans of a Jerusalem soccer team.

Sam Sokol, Aaron Rabinowitz, Bar Peleg and Josh Breiner at Haaretz quoted one far-right Israeli counter-protester as calling for running over protesters with cars. Another said, “We should go to the [Supreme] Court with gasoline, the Nazis here. Gasoline, explosives, tractors, guns, knives. From today, everything is kosher.”

Clashes between the two factions, and road closures, lasted into the night. On Monday, Israel had been paralyzed by a strike of workers belonging to the Histadrut federation of unions. Most international flights into Ben Gurion Airport were cancelled because the airport workers were also on strike.

In Tel Aviv, centrist crowds were not mollified by Netanyahu’s announcement that he had placed a “temporary freeze” on advancing the legislation on the courts through parliament. Thousands closed one of the city’s main arteries, Ayalon Highway, but late at night police loosed water canons against them to open the road.

Extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir, Minister of National Security, spoke to the rally in front of the courthouse in Jerusalem, saying that he had considered resigning from the Netanyahu government over the freeze on judicial legislation. He said, however, that in the end he did not want to give a victory to what he calls “the anarchists.” In actuality, most opponents of the restrictions on the powers of the Israeli Supreme Court are center-right. If they were Americans they’d be Mitch McConnell Republicans.

In fact, Ben-Gvir’s permission was needed for Netanyahu to pause the legislation gutting the Supreme Court, and he was reluctant to give it. As mentioned, he had threatened to resign. That step could have brought down the government. He had suggested this weekend that it would be much better to break the heads of the protesters and just proceed to pass the legislation in parliament, which Netanyahu probably has the votes to do. In the end, Ben-Gvir acquiesced in the pause, but only because Netanyahu promised to give him a “national guard” to “fight crime.” Critics of the Netanyahu government lambasted this proposed new security force as Ben-Gvir’s private militia, which he will run without oversight.

The Israeli centrists have no doubt that Netanyahu is the source of all the trouble, since he brought the extremists into the government. BBC Monitoring pointed out that Yossi Verter at Haaretz blasted Netanyahu as more dangerous to Israel than Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrollah or Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi.

Meanwhile, Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, accused the US State Department of payrolling the demonstrations against his father, according to Euronews Arabic.

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Universities, Labor Unions Strike to protest Netanyahu’s firing of Gallant, as Israel faces Complete Paralysis https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/universities-netanyahus-paralysis.html https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/universities-netanyahus-paralysis.html#respond Mon, 27 Mar 2023 05:53:40 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210942 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The Israeli newspaper Arab 48 reports that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu fired his minister of defense, Yoav Gallant, on Sunday evening, setting off a new round of massive protests, along with threats of strikes and university closures that seem likely to paralyze the country. Netanyahu had discussed firing Gallant with Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is said to have insisted that it was necessary.

Gallant provoked Netanyahu’s ire on Saturday evening when he addressed the nation on television, calling for a pause in the rush to “reform” the judiciary. As he spoke, hundreds of thousands of Israelis were in the streets protesting what they saw as an attempt to gut the Israeli justice system and to protect Netanyahu and his cronies from any accountability. Galant had wanted to give that speech on Thursday, but had been forbidden by Netanyahu, who then left for London. While the PM was abroad, Gallant spoke out.

Gallant said his concern was that so many Israeli reservists were refusing to do their regular military training in protest against Netanyahu’s move against the courts, and that the Israeli military was thus being dangerously weakened. Israel has a citizen army, and if large numbers of citizens refuse to serve, it would collapse.

Gallant is a man of the right and an old time Likud Party stalwart. A former navy admiral, he had commanded the Israeli assault on little Gaza in 2008-2009, called “Operation Cast Lead,” and tried to run interference for an officer who was responsible for killing 28 Palestinian noncombatants. He is thus hard for the Israeli far right to dismiss as a leftist “traitor” or “terrorist.” Some on the Israeli left, however, do see him as a war criminal.

Arab 48 reports that the powerful labor federation, Histadrut, announced that it and its constituent unions would go on strike to protest the firing and the move on the judiciary. Israel’s universities announced an open strike. The paper says that there is an expectation that the Israeli economy will be brought to a halt.

The Israeli chiefs of staff will hold an extraordinary meeting Monday morning to discuss the security ramifications of Gallant’s firing. Many officers are speaking out and saying that the move toward weakening the courts must be halted, given its negative effect on military morale.

Protesting crowds came back out Sunday evening in Haifa, Beersheba and elsewhere, and those in Tel Aviv closed the key artery, Ayalon Street. Israeli sources said that the numbers reached 500,000, about 5% of the country’s population.

A huge crowd advanced on Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem. Israeli police set up blockades and fired rubber-coated metal bullets at the demonstrators. Tens of thousands also surrounded the Knesset or parliament, with police warning of a violent response if the protesters attempted to run riot. They seem to fear something like the US Jan. 6.

The Israeli military announced that it was lifting the state of alert, since it had lost control of the street crowds, according to Channel 12.

Channel 12 also alleged that Minister of Justice Levin had threatened to resign if Netanyahu does not go through with the legislation to weaken the judiciary. The Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, parties of the Ultra-Orthodox, said that they would stand by Netanyahu.

The Histadrut labor confederation announced that it was joining the demonstrations that have wracked Tel Aviv.

The presidents of the universities announced that they would close from Monday on. They said that Netanyahu’s divisive attempt to weaken the judiciary had thrown the country into danger.

Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz complained that Israeli security should never be made a political football. They said that whoever accpted an appointment as new defense minister would cover themselves in shame.

Some Israeli observers were saying that Netanyahu had committed “an error” in firing Gallant.

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Netherlands becomes European Leader in Solar Power Per Capita, with 500K Panels on Lakes, Reservoirs and Seas https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/netherlands-european-reservoirs.html https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/netherlands-european-reservoirs.html#respond Sun, 26 Mar 2023 05:23:49 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210917 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Solar panels are like magic, turning sunshine into electricity. They are, however, relatively bulky. We own our own home and have 16 of them on our roof, but renters have often complained to me that it isn’t so easy in an apartment building. There is also a danger that they will compete for land with agriculture.

So the turn of the Netherlands to solar power in a big way is instructive, since it is a small country a little larger than Maryland, with limited land for solar farms.

Even so, solar power now generates 14% of Dutch electricity, making it the “unquestionable solar energy leader in Europe,” as Kira Taylor and Sofia Stuart Leeson at Euractiv put it. Moreover, on a per capita basis the Netherlands has more solar power than any other European country. If we were going by total electricity output from solar in absolute terms, Germany is the leader with 68.17 GW of installed solar capacity.

The Netherlands produced 20% more renewable power in 2022 than it had the previous year.

These are astonishing statistics. I like the Netherlands a lot, and have visited on many occasions. It doesn’t strike me, however, as among the sunnier countries. That Spain only gets 12% of its electricity from solar, while the proportion is higher in the Netherlands, is crazy. But it speaks well of the Dutch government and people, who have obviously invested heavily in this technology. As recently as 2015, the country only got 1% of its electricity from solar.

According to Charlotte Elton at Euronews, consumers there put in 1.8 gigawatts of rooftop solar in 2022, spurred on by the high fossil gas prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That is the nameplate capacity of two small nuclear plants, and it is just from people’s roofs.

So where else are the Dutch putting all those panels? They’ve been ingenious. They put panels over landfill sites. They put panels over carports. They put panels over lakes. They put panels over strawberry fields. They find that panels sheltering agricultural fields allow the use of less water for crops.

They have put 500,000 floating panels on the country’s lakes and reservoirs, which cover 20% of the Netherlands. Only China, Euronews points out, has more floating panels. The Netherlands is also planning 3 gigawatts from offshore floating solar farms by 2030. Panels on land have a tendency to overheat in the sun, reducing their electricity generation. By putting them on water, one cools them down, substantially increasing their electricity production.

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Constitutional Crisis Threatens to Tear Israel Apart as Att’y-Gen. takes on Netanyahu and 200 Reservist Pilots refuse to Fly https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/constitutional-threatens-reservist.html Sat, 25 Mar 2023 04:45:13 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210893 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – On Thursday, the Israeli parliament passed a law preventing the Supreme Court from removing a sitting prime minister for inability to carry out his or her duties. This move was tactical, not strategic. Prime Minister Netanyahu is on trial for corruption, and he agreed with the Supreme Court in 2020 that as prime minister he would recuse himself from any laws or policies affecting the judiciary, since he has a conflict of interest.

The Likud Party’s plans for gutting the judiciary have therefore been overseen so far by Justice Minister Yariv Levin.

After the new law was passed, however, Netanyahu announced that he would take personal charge of the project to reduce the power of the Israeli courts vis-a-vis the executive and the legislature.

Amir Tai at CNN – quotes him as saying Thursday evening before he headed to London, “Until today my hands were tied. No more. I enter the event, for the sake of the people and the country, I will do everything in my power to reach a solution and calm the spirits in the nation.”

The country’s Attorney General, Gali Baharav-Miara, became alarmed at this speech. She clearly does not believe that the new law changes anything about the 2020 agreement Netanyahu signed to keep his mitts off the courts while he was being tried by them.

She published an open letter to the prime minister on Friday, saying, according to CNN “Last night you publicly announced that you intend to violate the ruling of the Supreme Court and act contrary to the opinion of the legal advisor to the government.”

The Israeli newspaper Arab 48 reported her as writing, “You have contravened the Supreme Court’s decision, according to which, as a prime minister charged with criminal offenses, you must refrain from taking steps that raise a reasonable suspicion of a conflict of interest. Amending the law on removal does not relieve you of this obligation.”

She added, “The judicial situation is clear, and you should refrain from any dealings with initiatives to make changes in the judiciary, including the composition of the Committee for the Appointment of Judges, because dealing with them is an act that involves a conflict of interests.”

She warned that for him to act in this way “is illegal and contaminated by a conflict of interest.”

The fascists that Netanyahu has gathered around himself dismissed her as a partisan hack. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, DW reports, tweeted that “If Ms. Baharav-Miara wants to make decisions on behalf of elected officials, she is welcome to form a party and run for parliament.”

Arab 48 reports that Netanyahu announced that his parliamentary coalition will vote in the coming week on a law to change the composition of the committee that appoints justices, and which will give the governing coalition control over that committee. He made clear that he is intent on pushing the changes in the judiciary.

Even as a constitutional crisis is brewing between Netanyahu and the courts, so is a crisis in the Israeli military. Netanyahu’s Minister of Defense, Yoav Galant, is worried about an increasing refusal of Israeli reservists to participate in training or maneuvers, in protest against Netanyahu’s attempt to curb the power of the courts. Galant wanted to give a speech about the crisis of military preparedness on Thursday evening, in which he planned to call for a moratorium on changes in the courts, but Netanyahu made him cancel the speech.

NPR reports on the increasing number of reservists refusing to report for duty. They include an unprecedented 200 reservist pilots, who are refusing to fly as a direct consequence of Netanyahu’s Thursday evening speech. These pilots are usually the most jingoistic part of the Israeli population, and their threat to refuse to fly is the kind of thing that made Minister Galant so nervous that he was willing to try to contradict Netanyahu.

Why are We There? Biden Bombs Syria, after Drone Kills US Contractor, wounds 5 US Military Personnel https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/contractor-military-personnel.html Fri, 24 Mar 2023 05:54:46 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210877 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – President Joe Biden ordered air strikes on Thursday (Friday in Syria) against militiamen in the Harabish neighborhood just outside the city of Deir az-Zor, who are suspected of having launched an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone against an American base in northeast Syria.

The metro area of Deir az-Zor has a population of about 338,000. The governorate of which it is the capital is largely Sunni Arab, though there is a small convert Shiite population and about 1,000 Christians. The Atlantic Council reports that Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces, and Pakistani and Iranian volunteer Shiite forces have operated in the area.

The drone had killed one contractor, an American, as well as injuring 5 US service personnel and another contractor. The UAV appeared to have been of Iranian design, though it was allegedly fired by an Iran proxy rather than by Revolutionary Guards directly. Hezbollah and some radical Iraqi militias, along with Alawi Shabiha militias, are in Syria to help the government of President Bashar al-Assad fight the Sunni Arab rebels, though the latter have by now largely been defeated.

The US has 900 troops in Syria, which is too small a force even to defend itself. They are involved in mopping up operations against the ISIL terrorist cult, and they coordinate with the mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces to ensure that Deir ez-Zor’s petroleum production goes to the Kurdish-majority provinces rather than to the Syrian government in Damascus.

The small US contingent is said to try to interfere with Iranian trucking from Iraq into Syria, which resupplies Shiite militias in Syria or Lebanon’s Hezbollah. It is unlikely that they actually stop much in the way of such traffic, since Shiite militias control the Iraqi border checkpoint into Syria’s Deir ez-Zor governorate.

Biden should, of course, withdraw these US troops from Syria, given that they are vulnerable to such drone attacks. The Obama administration’s rationale for putting US troops into Syria, over the objections of Damascus, had been self-defense against ISIL. Since ISIL is no longer in a position to carry out attacks in the US — and never really was, if it had just been deplatformed by Facebook and Twitter — that justification seems to me to no longer be valid, if it ever was. Most of the activities of these US troops and contractors in Syria are probably illegal in international law, and they are in constant danger of dragging the US into a wider conflict.

No, Mr. Smotrich, Palestinians are not New in History, and all Nationalisms are Modern, including the Israeli https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/palestinians-nationalisms-including.html Wed, 22 Mar 2023 05:24:26 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210824 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Bezalel Smotrich in a speech in Paris over the weekend maintained that there are no Palestinians and that the whole notion of Palestine is no older than a century.

This cliocide, a form of genocide involving wiping out the history of a people, has been a common narrative among Zionists or Jewish nationalists for the past century. It has sometimes been given the form of fraudulent books of “history” such as Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial, which, despite its having been debunked by professional Israeli historians, continues to be distilled and fobbed off on the public by people like Alan Dershowitz. It has been effectively replied to by Rashid Khalidi and Douglas A. Howard, “It was called ‘Palestine,'” Fides et Historia, vol. XXXV, no. 2 (Summer/Fall 2003): 61-78. Following Howard we can note that:

The ancient Greek father of history, Herodotus, mentioned Palestine, a word he clearly borrowed into Greek from Levantine sources.

Under the Eastern Roman Empire ruled from Constantinople from about 400 A.D., the province of Palestine was variously configured. In the sixth century there were three provinces of Palestine, the first, second and third. Most of their inhabitants were Christians, though there were many Jews in Galilee. Jews were not allowed in Jerusalem. Many of the Christians were bilingual in Greek and Western Aramaic. The historian Procopius (d. 565), when writing about the Great Plague, spoke of it starting in Egypt and then spreading to Palestine, which bordered it.

Procopius was, by the way, from Caesarea Maritima on the coast of Palestine and was himself a Palestinian. There is a dispute about whether he was a Christian or a secret pagan.

When the Arab Muslims became the rulers of the Middle East, they went on referring to this area as Palestine. Over the centuries, its Jews and Christians largely converted to Islam, though Christians remained about 15% of the population.

Hudud al-Alam (The Borders of the World), an important medieval geography written by an Afghan from Guzgan in the 900s, says,

    “PALESTINE {Filastln) a province with many fields and fruits, great riches, and many inhabitants. RAMLA . . . the capital of Palestine. The locality is pleasant and the town large. GHAZZA . . . a borough on the frontier between Syria and Egypt. BETHLEHEM (Bayt al~lahm) a borough where the Prophet Jesus, on Him be God’s blessings and protection, was born. MASJID Ibrahim [Abraham’s shrine], a borough on the frontier between Egypt and Syria. The sepulchre . . .of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, on them be God’s blessings, is there. NABULUS, RlHA (Jericho …) two small boroughs, little favoured by nature… JERUSALEM {Bayt al-muqaddas), a town lying on the slope of the mountain. It has no running water. In it stands a mosque which is visited by Muslims coming from everywhere. These are all the towns of Palestine.”

The Levant was ruled by the early Muslim Caliphs (632-661), the Umayyad Dynasty (661-750), the Abbasid caliphate (750-1258), the Ayyubids founded by Saladin, and the Egyptian Mamluks, among others. All of these were Arabic-speaking.

The Moroccan traveler Ibn Batuta, on visiting Jerusalem in 1326, said that it was called al-Quds [the Holy] and that it was “third in excellence after the two sacred Mosques [of Mecca and Medina], and was the place of ascension of the Apostle of God.”

The Muslim Ottoman Empire took this area in 1517 and ruled it for four hundred years. The great Ottoman traveler Evliya Celebi wrote in the middle of the 1600s when he visited it, “”Description of the fortress of Jerusalem: All chronicles call this country the Land of Palestine ”

Ottoman records show clearly that most inhabitants of geographical Palestine were Arabic-speaking farmers living in villages. Pastoralists tended to live in thinly populated areas with low rainfall, where they could wander in search of pasturage for their flocks. They were a small proportion of the population. Likely 20 percent were urban and 70 percent were peasants, with pastoralists comprising the rest.

Demographer Justin McCarthy has given us easily accessible statistics:

In 1850 there were 340,000 inhabitants of geographical Palestine, with 13,000 Jews.

In 1900 there were 586,000 inhabitants of Palestine with 23,000 Jews.

In 1915 there were 722,000 inhabitants of Palestine, with 38,000 Jews.

In 1946 there were 1,946,000 inhabitants of Palestine, with 602,000 Jews.

Most Palestinians were Muslim.

There was clearly a regional consciousness of being from “Filastin” (the Arabic for Palestine) among people who lived in Nablus, Jaffa and Jerusalem, even in the nineteenth century. By 1910 there was even an Arabic newspaper called Filastin, i.e. Palestine. This regional consciousness admittedly did not take the form of a full-blown nationalism, since nationalism in the Middle East is largely a twentieth-century phenomenon.

The trick of right-wing Israeli rhetoric in saying that Palestinians had no nation until the early twentieth century is that nationalism as an identity and a form of political organization is a recent phenomenon in history, though the elements out of which it is fashioned are ancient. Most people in the world as late as 1900 lived in empires, and this is true both of Palestinians and of Jews.

There was no Italy until 1861, and no Germany until 1871. Dialects varied so widely that people from different regions could not understand one another. In 1800 only two percent of people living in the Italian peninsula spoke what we would now call Italian. Sicilians and Venetians could not understand one another and lived under different governments.

Historian Eric Hobsbawm pointed out that people think that nations create states, but in fact, states create nations. The state sponsors schools in which children are trained up to speak a national language, and are given emotional ties with a flag and a national cause. Benedict Anderson pointed to national newspaper markets as vehicles for national consciousness.

So here’s the thing. There were no Israelis until 1948. Their national consciousness is even more recent than that of Palestinians. Judaism was not thought to be a proper platform for national identity by most Jews until after the end of World War II. Most Jewish Americans roundly rejected Zionism, and about a third still seem to do so, especially young people.

Another irony is that the struggle between what became Israelis and Palestinians over territory has created a strong national consciousness in both populations. There wouldn’t be any Israelis as they are now commonly understood without Palestinians. While Palestinians could have come into being as a nation without the Zionists (as, e.g., Iraqis largely did), the fact is that they did not.

As it now stands, there are two nations on the soil of geographic Palestine, an Israeli one and a Palestinian one. The Palestinian nation, however, is prevented from having a national government. Palestinians are stateless, they are a homeless nation. They are kept stateless, and therefore without basic human rights, by the much stronger Israelis, who get billions and sophisticated weaponry from the United States annually.

That disparity between a full Israeli nation and the stateless, rights-less Palestinians, has driven the conflict and ensured that Israel comes out on top.

Juan Cole: The Meaning of Historic China-Brokered Deal Between Saudi Arabia and Iran (Robert Scheer Interview) https://www.juancole.com/2023/03/historic-brokered-interview.html Tue, 21 Mar 2023 04:23:55 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=210811 Transcript of Interview from Scheerpost , where you can also find the audio if you want to listen to the interview.

The Iran-Saudi deal spells trouble for U.S. hegemony but potentially a new chapter of peace and prosperity in a deeply troubled world.

Host: Robert Scheer | Producer: Joshua Scheer | –


Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests and someone I’ve had before. I don’t know of anybody in the academic world who’s more intelligent than Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, and he’s written over 20 books generally about history, life in the Middle East. My favorite is the one he did on Muhammed, and we did a program about it. And the title will tell you how independent of thought Juan Cole is. It’s Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires. And I just found this one the most interesting books I’ve read in, I don’t know, a couple of decades, because it goes through all of the, counter to all of the prejudice we have about Muhammad. And the reason I’m bringing up now is because I want to talk about what seems to be a pretty big event in the history of the Middle East in that China somehow has brokered a restoration of diplomatic relations and maybe the possibilities of peace between the Sunni empire of Saudi Arabia or Kingdom and the Shiite Republic of Iran. And I’m always in danger of overstating this and so forth so I thought I would turn to the one human being in this country that I trust most on this subject, Juan Cole and to set me straight, he doesn’t always agree with me, but this struck me as really monumental. We had all these wars going and most recently we messed up Iraq over this Sunni-Shiite thing. How to read what has happened. First, tell us what you think is actually happened and how to judge it.

Juan Cole: Sure. Saudi Arabia and Iran have long had a rivalry with one another. Personally, I think it’s more nationalistic than it is religious. But, of course, you know, religion is part of identity and so it comes into it. And in the past five years in particular, they have hit a bad patch in relations. So there’s been the Syrian civil war in which they took opposite sides. And there’s the Yemen civil war in which they took opposite sides. There are things going on in Iraq in which they took opposite sides. So the Saudis feel as though the Iranians have kind of surrounded them. They’re a much smaller country but wealthier. And so because of these geopolitical conflicts, relations soured between the two of them to the point where there were riots in 2016 in Tehran against the Saudis and the Saudi embassy was closed and the two stopped having diplomatic relations. And they had long had diplomatic relations. And in fact, back in the early zeroes, the prime minister of the, I’m sorry, the president of Iran visited Riyadh and the foreign ministers saw each other. But after 2016, there wasn’t a vehicle for such meetings and they were fighting these proxy battles among neighbors. And then in 2019, a very dangerous thing happened, which was that drones or rockets struck the Abqaiq refinery in Saudi Arabia and knocked out half of Saudi oil production capabilities for a few weeks. Those explosives were attributed either to Iran or to Iran proxy, it’s not clear, but that could have meant war. And it was a really tense time for the world. And of course, Saudi petroleum is very important to the whole world supply. So, in more recent times. In the last two years, the two countries have been looking for a way to back off these very bad relations that could have led to war. The Yemen war has become a quagmire and the Syrian civil war won by the government, by Bashar al-Assad, who was backed by Russia and Iran. And so the two started talking. Well, Iraq volunteered to mediate between the two. When you have two sides that don’t trust one another, you need a mediator. And Iraq tried to bring Qasem Suleimani, the head of the Quds brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, to Baghdad in early January of 2020 to talk with the then Iraqi prime minister as a go between, hoping to pass on messages then to the Saudis. Well, when Suleimani arrived at Baghdad International Airport, Trump blew him away. He just droned him to death. And then he said that Suleimani had been coming to Iraq to kill Americans, which wasn’t true. He was coming there to negotiate with the Saudis. So the Americans have put themselves in a position where they can’t be trusted by the Iranians and they therefore can’t mediate between the Iranians and the Saudis. And all of these kinds of conflicts have been mediated by the Americans since the end of World War II. So that they went to China for a mediator is a huge geopolitical shift.

Scheer: But also it’s a comment on how the U.S. has messed up the Middle East. I mean, it’s, you know, supposedly in the name of extending freedom and modernization and so forth. We basically, well overthrew a Sunni led government. They brought in a strong Iranian presence, even though they’re constantly arguing that Iran is the major threat. And so what I want to take you back to Muhammad, because it seems to me the impact of the West on the Middle East has basically been a destructive one and the clash of empires. And that we’ve all been sort of miseducated to the idea that these two branches of Muslim would always be at each other’s throats, that there would not be, and suddenly there’s a prospect of peace. And lo and behold, this Chinese government, which the U.S. is sort of making warlike noises about China and how dangerous China is. China, Patrick Lawrence, a well-known foreign correspondent, writes for ScheerPost, he points out they’ve had millennia of expertise in diplomacy and suddenly China is there to do kind of the common sense pro-peace thing. And China, of course, is, along with the United States, a major consumer of Saudi oil and concerned about the price of Iranian oil. So is this also a sign, as as Patrick argues, that China is just saying, listen, we don’t trust you to run the world as a hegemon and we’re going to get involved and we have a stake. And they pulled it off.

Cole: Absolutely. Well, it’s certainly true that this is the first time that I know of that China in modern history has played this kind of major role in restoring diplomatic relations between two countries that had been feuding, As you say, about a third of Chinese petroleum comes from Saudi Arabia, and they’re particularly interested in securing their petroleum supplies because Xi Jinping, the president, has now lifted the no-COVID policy in China, which means that businesses are opening up and there’s going to be a lot of traffic with petroleum as used mainly to fuel cars and trucks and so forth. So the Chinese are going to need petroleum this year to reopen their economy. They’re hoping to grow 5% and the Chinese do import also, Reuters estimated, about 800,000 barrels a day from Iran. The United States has tried to prevent Iran from exporting any petroleum. It has a kind of financial and diplomatic embargo or blockade on ordinary Iranian trade and things like petroleum. And so most countries have been strong armed by the United States, South Korea, Japan and the European countries, not to buy Iranian petroleum. But China has defied the U.S. in this regard and can do so because it has a big, complex economy. So the main way that the U.S. can punish a country for dealing with Iran is to attach its assets in the United States to move against it because it traded in dollars and the Treasury Department claims to control over that. Well, the Chinese have been secretly importing Iranian petroleum on tankers that are marked as other countries, and they turn off the transponders so they can’t be seen by satellite and they unload the petroleum to small domestic private refiners down around Shanghai who don’t have an international presence, don’t have assets in the United States that can be seized and don’t deal in dollars. So the Chinese have been able to skirt the U.S. sanctions on Iran. But the fact that the United States is attempting to strangle Iran economically by cutting off its petroleum exports entirely, if it could, shows you the desperation of U.S. policy. And [indistinguishable], because there’s no international reason for this embargo on Iranian petroleum, There’s no U.N. Security Council decision that Iran can’t export its oil. It’s just unilateral, it’s the United States saying, we don’t want you to do this? And if anybody tries to help you, we’re going to punish them as well. And Trump did this to Iran. But the Biden administration has continued it, even though Iran had signed an agreement with the U.N. Security Council, including President Obama, that would limit its uranium enrichment activities. And it faithfully followed the requirements of that treaty of 2015 until Trump just withdrew from the treaty and trashed it and then punished the Iranians for having given up so much of their program with the Iranians are not going to take that lying down.

Scheer: So let me ask you a question. I think I first met you soon after you were a graduate student at UCLA. Nikki Keddie, I think, was your professor, a very famous scholar. And you’ve been trying to get Iran, among other countries right, for, you know, a long time now. And you’ve written some of the most important work and were also trying to get the Muslim religion right. I mean, it’s an incredibly, I just can’t speak as highly enough as I have of your Muhammad book. I mean, the demystification of a major religious branch, and that is demonized. And, you know, the most scurrilous things can be said about it. I just found it incredibly readable and if nothing else, let me just promote that book here. And here, we’ve made a caricature of this region ever since I was there in Egypt and Israel at the time of the Six-Day War and just, you know, wandering around, my God, you know, whatever image we had of Egypt and the rest of the Arab world was just so simplistic. And so we’re talking about American leadership. How could it be that America keeps getting this region wrong, or was it by design and China can suddenly come along and represent common sense? What is going on? What is your assessment of, is this a shifting of the plates? I mean, because we were raised to think that the U.S. was the center of reasonable, you know, policymaking going back to Roosevelt and so forth. Tell me what’s happening.

Cole: Well, I think the United States still has it in its mind that it’s the world hegemon and that they can do what they want. So if they want to break treaties with Iran and put them under an economic blockade, they can do that with not very much consequence to the United States. But what they don’t realize is that, well, the U.S. has something like a $22 – $23 trillion economy annually, and China now has a $17 trillion economy annually. So the United States is just not the only game in town anymore. And that’s not been the case since the end of World War II, when the U.S. was 50% of the world economy. It’s just becoming smaller, it has a smaller proportion of world wealth and power. And it is also true that the United States, you know, is in the Middle East for particular purposes. They want to guarantee that the oil comes out of the Persian Gulf. And so it’s very security oriented. And to the extent that they saw Iran as a spoiler, the Islamic revolution of 1979 was explicitly anti-American. It has had potentially bad effects on American investments in the Middle East. American corporations have suffered. So the U.S. sees Iran as a bad actor and wants to contain it, put it in a cage, crash its economy if it can, overthrow its government, if it’s not too much trouble, and China is not behaving that way in the Middle East, the Chinese have, for a long time, had this doctrine of harmonious development, and they just don’t want any trouble as they grow into this enormous behemoth on the world stage. And so they don’t have anything against Iran. It doesn’t say anything to them. And they also don’t have anything against Saudi Arabia. They do trade with both and that’s their policy to do trade with everybody if they can. And so I think they can just be more evenhanded. The United States has picked winners and losers in the region and people that it wants to punish and people that it wants to help. And, you know, it has this, you mentioned, that it has this rhetoric of spreading freedom and democracy and so forth. But it’s all very hypocritical because Saudi Arabia is one of the pillars of U.S. policy in the Middle East and it’s the least democratic country you could hope to find. And it’s never criticized by the State Department for its human rights abuses in any concerted way or in a very public way, whereas Iran is a very flawed system and very dictatorial. But it has more input from the people in the form of an elected parliament than the Saudis do by a long shot. So we’re not even true to our own ideals if you were going to support the country that was more democratic. Well, Iran is not very democratic, but it’s slightly more than the Saudis and that’s not saying much. But we don’t make policy on those grounds. We simply say we do. We make policy on oil and security interests.

Scheer: But we’re not very good at it. I mean, what I want to get out of here and again, I’m going to take you back to your book on Muhammed. It was an eye opener for me, because Muhammed, in so far as we know, was somebody who needed to do trading and that was what he did. He took products and had to get along with people who spoke a lot of different languages and had different ideas of religion and deities and so forth. And that was his early education as a young person, take these caravans and so forth. So he was born into a sophistication which even though it was way pre-capitalist, one would have thought would also be the sophistication of capitalism. How do you do trade? How do you get along with a lot of people? How do you learn their ways and so forth? And what we’ve managed to do, it’s so odd now, is here is the United States that is stoking the tensions around the world and the Middle East certainly picking one side against another and and benefiting or thinking it can benefit, in the mind of some, I guess, empires of old, divide and conquer. And here is still communist run China is actually proving to be more effective as a kind of capitalist nation, securing resources, making products people want. I just find this such an odd moment that seems to be never recognized at the university where I teach. Maybe it is, and I’m not in all these classes. I don’t see it recognized in The New York Times or other newspapers or on television. But for my money, I’m much older than you are so maybe that’s why I feel this way, I never in my life expected that Communist China would be the paradigm of a rational capitalism. Let’s get people trading and buying together. And here is the U.S. fomenting war wherever it can, almost, with wild abandon. Is this recognized among your historian colleagues?

Cole: Oh, yeah, I think it is. And I think a lot of American political scientists feel about exactly as you do, that, you know, the U.S. has become a kind of Don Quixote figure tilting at windmills that he thinks are dragons and, as you say, for no benefit, Bob. Well, you know, I challenge anyone to name one benefit that came to the United States from the nearly 20 year war in Iraq. What exactly did that do for us? It didn’t enhance our power or our security. And it cost us several trillion dollars, which we could use right now. But at the time, the people who invaded Iraq had reasons for which they thought they should do it. And they were very narrow and sectional interests, so that were not the American interests. And I think one of the problems with American policy in the Middle East is that it’s not democratic. You know, I did some consulting, Bob, when in the early years of the Iraq war with Congress. And I was astonished to find well, one congressman looked at me and said, well Professor Cole, why do you think we’re in Iraq? I nearly fell off my chair. I thought, Well, I’m a midwestern college professor, you’re the U.S. government. You tell me why we’re in Iraq. But they didn’t know, Bush didn’t tell them and didn’t brief them in. Congress really kept its hands off the Iraq war for a long time and just let the executive, because I think they knew it was a failure in the making and they didn’t want to be tainted by it, they just let the executive have it. So why in a democratic country, why would our Congress be kept in the dark about our going to war and its reasons? It’s not right. There’s something wrong with the way the system is operating. And by the way, in that period, Joe Biden was on the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. And he invited me to speak to a panel, the Senate on Iraq. And he had read some of the things that I had written and took them to heart. So I always thought that’s the way the government should operate. The people should be reading, you know, the experts and then questioning them and trying to make policy on a rational basis. That wasn’t what was done with Iraq, they just got in their heads they were going to do this and they manipulated the people and they manipulated other forces and they did it. And it was a tremendous failure, as you said, with a very long shadow over the United States so that people increasingly don’t trust the US to be an honest broker. The same thing with the Arab-Israeli conflict and the kind of partisan approach that the US government takes towards things Israeli. So of course, if there were another player in town, if there were another great power that had aircraft carriers and had a multi trillion dollar economy, people would love to go there instead. So this is what’s happening with the rise of China. And China has its own, you know, problems. It’s a very dictatorial government and often people are not very happy with it because it makes these decisions without consulting them. The no-COVID policy was very unpopular. In fact, there were riots in the streets, one of the reasons that the government backed off of it. And so they’re not perfect either but from the point of view, as you say, of these Muslim Middle Eastern countries, China can do things for them that the US just no longer is perceived to be able to do.

Scheer: But, you know, the conceit of the American experiment is that we’re not given to irrational sources of information, whether it comes out of one religion or one political party or so forth. So we have this idea that our democracy works. And yet in example after example, our public is not informed correctly. Our leaders seem to be out to lunch or are confused or cannot state their position. And what one assumed was the source of rational behavior, if I understand the ideology of our society, was the market. That you were actually interested in producing things, selling things, there would be consumers who wanted it and you would extend this to the world. You would be rational. You would show people that can all get more prosperous and be productive. We are, in fact, here at a time when we’re worried about climate change and we have engaged in a whole series of practices where now almost every country in the world is ramping up their military budget. Even Germany, which was supposed to be pledged, you know, to a neutral policy coming out of World War II. Now should they double or triple it, make more of this and so forth. And I’m asking you to draw on your wisdom as a scholar. And, you know, I don’t want to get into each specific thing. And I know as a scholar, you don’t like these general observations, for instance, you know, but in the case of Israel, there’s another example. We supposedly sided with Israel because it was more democratic and committed to it. And you’re now having Netanyahu just making a hash of any of that defense of Israel, and yet it doesn’t seem to trouble anyone. And so I want to ask you, really, you mentioned these experts, but, you know, where is it? Where is the informed public? You know, for instance, one of the issues with China and why we have to have sanctions is supposedly the Chinese mistreat their Muslim population. Right? In a particular province. And yet here are two contenders for the idea of the leadership of the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia and Iran are able to do business with China. They seem to be able to function and so forth. So let’s take that specific idea that somehow, you know, that we operate on the basis of fact and logic. Others operate on the basis of religions that seem strange or political ideologies that are out of date and so forth. And yet I pick up the paper now and there is the foreign minister of China with the leader of Saudi Arabia, with a representative from Saudi Arabia, from Iran, saying, hey, on common sense, you guys ought to be talking to each other and, you know, try to avoid war and try to do commerce and so forth. And you even have India and China now siding up on this. You know, wait a minute, we want to be able to do business. So, again, as a historian, I know you hate to take the broader view as a professional, but tell me, where are we? Because otherwise it sounds like the craziest of times.

Cole: Well, you know, on the one hand, I think you’re absolutely right, Bob, that things are changing in this way. And China is starting to play this role in the world. On the other hand, the Chinese are becoming more assertive as they become wealthier and more powerful, I suppose it’s natural. But there are many flashpoints in world affairs where it’s not clear exactly how they’re going to come down. Are they going to support Putin’s war on Ukraine in a material way? We don’t know the answer to that yet. They’ve kind of nodded in that direction. That would be a huge geopolitical conflict. You know, are they going to make assertions of control of Taiwan and. I can remember I went to Taiwan in 2007 and at that time there were Taiwanese who felt very positively towards Beijing and thought that there was some hope for a resolution of their problems of some kind of loose federalism or something might ultimately encompass the two. The Chinese were developing a capitalist sector and the Taiwanese had gone in that direction and they had a common language and heritage and so forth. And now the two are at daggers drawn because President Xi Jinping is throwing his weight around. And, you know, he’s claiming Filipino islands and at least indicating he claims Japanese islands. And I think there’s one of the problems with the rise of China is that, you know, sometimes when a new regional hegemon emerges that causes war and there’s potential for a lot of conflict between the US and China in the South Pacific.

Scheer: Right. And going back. Okay, we’re going to, I don’t push just beyond, I know the area that you feel academically most comfortable with, and so that’s correct. You are a genuine expert. But again, going back to your Muhammad book, I think there is a recognition there was by Muhammad as somebody having to do business. There were all of these countries, small, big, different religions, different… Will have their idea of national interest to the degree that even you have nation states or that whether they’re tribes or whatever they are. And the whole idea is really not that you will not have tension, but whether that tension will be regulated by one system of law. Right, that’s really the argument now that somehow NATO and the United States represent the repository of logical rules of the road that should be followed and that’s the best way of having world peace, because the alternative is the end of life on the planet. And what and so when one argues for a multi-polar world, we’re not saying there won’t be tensions or fights or arguments or stupidity, whatever, we’re really talking about whether the US and its whatever it is, its surrogates in western, what used to be Western Europe, hold the keys to rational behavior, hold the keys to democracy. And I’m saying what seems very obvious to me and I think is that many people around the world, yes, they will have their differences, but I think India and China will continue to have differences and occasionally will, you know, break into violence. But I think the arrogance and this I bring you back as an intellectual in the United States, the arrogance that somehow we had the secret sauce, that we knew the way to behave rationally and factually informed, and our public would be knowledgeable. Well, it’s not the case and it’s not the case clearly to the people around the world, even within our own domestic politics, I mean, we you know, who do we look to for wisdom now? There seems to be almost no peace presence on the Democratic side. Are we supposed to be alone? There is DeSantis and Trump at least saying maybe negotiations should work? I mean, it’s startling. And so I’m just curious, do you think, and let’s take it to extremes, is this the worst of times or the best of times? What’s what’s going on? You know, and what would Muhammad make of it?

Cole: Well, let me address that because thank you very much for your kind words on the book and my scholarship. I think…

Scheer: Let’s read the title by the way.

Cole: I’m sorry?

Scheer: I said let’s give the title of the book.

Cole: The book is Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires. And you framed it correctly that Muhammad, the one thing we’re pretty sure we know about him is that he was a long distance merchant. This is mentioned by non-Muslim sources of the seventh century as well. And the Koran does show that cosmopolitanism. There’s a verse which says that God has made you peoples and tribes two different sexes so that you would come to know one another. That is to say difference is not being viewed as a negative. It was being viewed as a positive because it has within it extra information, extra insight. And with regard to settling disputes, the Quran might be the first text that Adam writes a doctrine of collective security. It says that if one party proves to be the aggressor and just lashes out and attacks another party, all the other parties should gang up on it and put it in its place. And Islamic law became a very deep subject in the medieval period and was studied by Europeans. And so if you go to the US Supreme Court, one of the lawmakers up there on the lintel is, as it’s mentioned, Muhammed, so sure this idea that the West is the only form of civilization is silly. It actually came late to the civilization game. And there are other great civilizations from which we all can learn and a great heritage there that we tend to discount in our country out of ignorance. But with regard to these big issues in foreign policy, I do think that the rise of China, the reemergence of a multipolar world is an enormous change in our lives. You know, it’s unusual to have a bipolar or unipolar world. If you go back to the 18th century, the 19th century, it’s usually several great powers, be it France and Britain. Our French and Indian war of the 18th century. That was really just a local manifestation of a world war between Britain and France that was fought out in India and Europe as well. And in the 19th century you had the concert of Europe and you had Austria and even little Denmark played a big role and Britain and France and Russia. So a multipolar world has been much more normal. But in the Cold War, we really had a bipolar world with just the US and the Soviet Union as the two great superpowers. And then when the Soviet Union collapsed, we had a unipolar world in which the United States could throw its weight around and do whatever it pleased because there was no counter. That’s how you get the Iraq war. There was, you know, and during the Cold War, they would have done something like the Iraq war because the Russians would have taken the Iraqi side and forestalled an invasion. They weren’t players anymore in 2003. And so the US in a way fell into the trap of its own omnipotence. But now China is emerging as a pure power with the United States. It’s not quite there yet, but you can see it coming ten, 15, 20 years. It’s going to be the world’s largest economy. It’s developing its aircraft carriers and military might. It has a nuclear bomb. It has had one for a long time. And it is likely that India will also be a great power of the 21st century, as you mentioned. So we’re not going to be in a world which is dominated solely by the United States, and it’s going to be a much more Asian world going forward. And that’s going to be a hard thing for Americans to get used to not being the only game in town, not being the richest people in the world, not being the font of the so-called civilization. And I’m hoping that they can manage to deal with it, as you say, in a rational way. But I think one of the one of the sources of the irrationality in our politics and you saw this with the emergence of Trump and his followers, was this kind of white grievance, this kind of sense that we no longer had have what we had that are, you know, from generation to generation, people were getting better off of the sort of the United States bestrode the world as a Goliath. And I think there’s some danger of many Americans turning to the far right in an irrational response to this change in the world situation.

Scheer: Let me end on this. But I offer my own view and I’ll give you a last chance to answer. And then I took a lot of your time. I think the real danger is in precisely this notion of American exceptionalism, that instead of celebrating diversity in the world and saying, yes, none of these countries are perfect and they have their problems and don’t fight about a lot stuff, and sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong, etc., etc.. But somehow this is a good thing as long as they don’t kill each other because there’s lots of ways to approach problems. You know, for instance, China is doing a lot on electric cars, for instance, and because they don’t have petroleum and, you know, and you can argue about the pandemic, but actually they had, by any reckoning, far fewer deaths than we did. Actually, we had the worst record and we had the worst record in the place where we have the highest level of medicine in Manhattan and New York. And so I think if one embraces a notion of diversity of approaches and people finding their own way, one could see that as positive. I think the notion of American exceptionalism and you’ve been up against that as a scholar, because mostly you’ve been talking about a region that we felt we had the right to tear apart, at least since Roosevelt. I think that is the real menace. It’s not saying who has the answer, but denying that any way but our way is the wrong way. That is what I’m getting out of this discussion, you know what? I know you and I have had disagreements about Syria, [indistinguishable]. All right. That’s fine. That’s what democracy is supposed to be all about. On any level you know a lot more than I do. So I generally defer to you. But there’s an assumption now that we own democracy, self-determination, and a way to have the right economy. We own it. You’ve been a victim of it. I’m going to end on this. You’ve been a victim of it because after all, what you are writing, which I find should be mainstream in every which way, I can’t imagine people, you actually I don’t know if you want to revisit that, but you had said you were going to be at Princeton. They pointed you toward somebody.

Cole: It was Yale.

Scheer: Yeah sorry, I got it wrong. And the fact of the matter is, we in the academic world, I mean, I don’t see much serious challenge to this. America is the only way. And I’ll give you just one final example, and you’ll end with your response. Yes, it was insanely stupid for Trump to make it a slogan we’ll make America great again. But I thought even more dangerous was Hillary Clinton’s answer that America has always been great. What with slavery, with the killing of indigenous people, with needless wars. So I’ll give you the last chance because you tend to be more balanced than I am.

Cole: Well, I don’t disagree with you Bob that American exceptionalism and this kind of attitude of my country, right or wrong, is enormously damaging to the fabric of our country and our lives. I wrote an essay for TomDispatch on the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War, and I just made the point that all of the violations of international law that the U.S. State Department is now attributing to Vladimir Putin in Ukraine were committed by the United States. And in Iraq, there was no issue of self-defense. When they invaded Iraq, there was no U.N. Security Council resolution. They simply unilaterally went to war and caused enormous death and destruction. They committed all that they caused to that. And I heard back from one editor who reprinted the piece that he had shared the thesis with The Progressive, who had pushed back and said, oh, no, no, no. The two situations are not alike at all. The United States, you know, had its reasons joined by Iraqis. Putin’s attack on Ukraine is completely unacceptable. And the inability to to think comparatively about this country, even from a progressive, just sent me back on my heels. So I certainly do think that we need critical voices. We need to be self-critical. There is much to celebrate in U.S. history, and I think we should celebrate it. But we can’t be better if we don’t recognize our flaws and the things we got wrong. And I don’t, as you say, get many bouquets for saying that.

Scheer: All right. Let’s end on that. If people want and they should want more from Juan Cole. You have your, I noticed you’re now being distributed by TomDispatch. And I run every one that I can get a great. I’m happy that you’re not hiding behind a paywall, but also you have your Informed Comment that people can go to. And, you know, I just want to say, I think, you know, you’re one of the indispensable intellectuals we have. And you’re honest as the day’s long. I mean, you’re credible. And even when I disagree with you, my response is generally, I better go do some more research, because probably Juan Cole is right and I got it wrong. So on that note, I want to say thank you for doing this on short notice. I want to thank Laura Kondourajian at KCRW, the NPR station in Santa Monica, that hosts these podcasts along with Christopher Ho. I want to thank Joshua Scheer for being our executive producer and keeping the show going and recommending wonderful guests like Juan Cole. Diego Ramos, who writes the introduction. Max Jones, who’s doing the video and getting it out to a larger audience, hopefully on YouTube and elsewhere, and the JKW Foundation for financial support in the name of a very independent, terrific writer, the late Jean Stein. On that note, see you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.

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