Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Taliban are really interested in negotiating, we hope

McClatchy now has another interesting report: According to the former head of the ISI the leadership -- or at least certain of the leadership -- are willing to talk about a peace deal. Interesting news, if it is true. But it looks like a lot of people on the American side are wishing it were true. The truth may be otherwise. RLC

Pakistan's former spymaster: Taliban leader is ready to talk
By Saeed Shah And Jonathan S. Landay, Mcclatchy Newspapers – Mon Jan 25,
7:16 pm ET
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — The U.S. must negotiate a political settlement to the
Afghanistan war directly with Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar
because any bid to split the insurgency through defections will fail, said
the Pakistani former intelligence officer who trained the insurgent chief.

Omar is open to such talks, asserted retired Brigadier Sultan Amir Tarar , a
former operative of Pakistan's premier spy agency, the Inter-Services
Intelligence Directorate . He is popularly known as Colonel Imam, whose
exploits have gained him near-legendary status in central Asia .

"If a sincere message comes from the Americans, these people (the Taliban )
are very big-hearted. They will listen. But if you try to divide the Taliban
, you'll fail. Anyone who leaves Mullah Omar is no more Taliban . Such
people are just trying to deceive," said Tarar, a tall, imposing man with a
long gray beard and white turban, in an interview with McClatchy .

His comments came as the U.S. and its NATO allies appear increasingly
anxious to find a path toward a political resolution to the more than
eight-year-old war whose escalating human and financial costs are fueling
growing popular opposition.

In Washington , U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones was asked by
McClatchy if the Obama administration ruled out having the ISI act as a
conduit between Omar and the U.S., as Pakistani officials are advocating.

"We are pursuing a general strategy of engagement," replied Jones, a former
four-star Marine general. "We'll see where this takes us."

Senior U.S. and European officials have in recent days been heavily
promoting a "re-integration" plan under which low-level Taliban fighters are
to be offered jobs, education and protection in return for renouncing al
Qaida and defecting to the Afghan government. Afghan President Hamid Karzai
is expected to unveil the initiative at an international conference on
Afghanistan in London on Thursday.

Karzai also is being encouraged to reach out to senior Taliban leaders, who
U.S. commanders think may be induced to switch sides under the pressure of a
stepped up military campaign by the 116,000-strong U.S.-led international
force bolstered by 30,000 more American soldiers, most of who are due to
arrive this summer.

"The U.S. remains committed to continued engagement by the Afghan government
to politically reconcile any Afghan citizen willing to renounce al Qaida and
violence and to accept the Afghan Constitution," said an administration
official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss
the issue publicly.

Some U.S. officials and experts, however, see little chance for progress on
a political resolution.

Omar, who has led the Taliban since its inception in 1992 and is thought to
be directing the insurgency from a sanctuary in the western Pakistani city
of Quetta, has repeatedly rejected negotiations until all foreign forces
leave Afghanistan , they pointed out.

"I don't think anything is happening here," said a U.S. defense official,
who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue
with a journalist.

Furthermore, the insurgents have expanded to 34 of Afghanistan's 36
provinces, and they think they're winning and that they only have to
out-wait the Obama administration, which set July 2011 as the start of a
U.S. troop withdrawal.

"If I were sitting on the side of those trying to be brought into some kind
of reconciliation process, I'd be saying time is on my side," said a former
senior U.S. intelligence official with long experience in Afghanistan and
Pakistan who requested anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity.

Tarar, 65, a key player in Afghanistan from the 1979-89 Soviet occupation
until 2001, said he trained Omar after he graduated from an Islamic seminary
in 1985 to fight as a guerrilla against the Soviet forces. At the time, the
ISI was running secret camps for "mujahedin" fighters along the Afghan
border with U.S. funding.

Tarar, who worked closely with the CIA and was schooled in guerrilla warfare
at Fort Bragg, N.C. , arranged for Omar's medical treatment after he was
injured. They met again in 1994 after the Pakistani official was posted in
the western Afghan city of Herat and "got closer to each other," Tarar said.

The ISI saw the potential of Omar's movement of Islamic purists in the
mid-1990s and heavily backed them against the government formed by the
victorious anti-Soviet mujahedin. When the Taliban swept into Kabul in 1996,
they gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden .

The Pakistani security establishment thinks that Omar's ambitions are
limited to Afghanistan , and that the Taliban can now be persuaded to share
power with other Afghan factions.

"Mullah Omar is highly respected, very faithful to his country. He's the
only answer. He's a very reasonable man," said Tarar, who insisted he was
speaking in a personal capacity. "He's a very effective man, no other man is
effective. He's for peace, not war. The Americans don't realize this. He
wants his country to be peaceful. He doesn't want to destroy his country."

Tarar said that Omar would be willing to cut a deal, if it would lead to the
departure of foreign troops and included funds to rebuild Afghanistan . "I
can help," he said. "But can I trust the Americans?"

Pakistan admitted last weekend that it is talking to "all levels" of the
Taliban .

Western diplomats think the ISI must be involved in any negotiations or it
would act as a spoiler, continuing to provide aid to the Taliban and allied
insurgent groups as part of a goal to install in Kabul a pro- Pakistan
regime that would sever close ties with India .

Tarar said that without talks, the war would grind on with U.S. forces
ignoring the counterinsurgency textbooks that call for the use of minimal
force and winning the support of the people.

"The time is on the Taliban's side. The longer the Americans stay, the more
complete will be their defeat. They will not be routed but they will be worn
out, psychologically and physically," he said.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent. Landay reported from Washington

Ahmed Rashid's new review of the Taliban situation

The new article by Ahmed Rashid on the Taliban is very important. To me the most valuable part of it is his review of the book by the former foreign ambassador of the Taliban, who is now out of Guantanamo. He reveals much about the attitude and understanding of the Taliban. The book also pains Mullah M. Omar in more favorable light than we have had from other sources. Whatever Ahmed Rashid has to say we need to pay attention to, as he is a keen observer of the region and seems to have access to critical sources of information.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sirajuddin Haqqani: A profile by the Wall Street Journal

This is a valuable personal profile of a resistance leader. RLC

New Wave of Warlords Bedevils U.S.
Wall Street Journal By MATTHEW ROSENBERG JANUARY 19, 2010

In his teen years, Sirajuddin Haqqani was known among friends as a dandy. He
cared more about the look of his thick black hair than the battles his
father, a mujahideen warlord in the 1980s, was waging with Russia for
control of Afghanistan.

The younger Mr. Haqqani is still a stylish sort, say those who know him. But
now, approaching middle age and ensconced as the battlefield leader of his
father's militant army, he has become ruthless in his own pursuit of an
Afghanistan free from foreign influence. This time the enemy is the U.S. and
its allies.

>From outposts along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, his Haqqani
network is waging a campaign that has made the Afghan insurgency deadlier.
He has widened the use of suicide attacks, which became a Taliban mainstay
only in the past few years. U.S. officials believe his forces carried out
the dramatic Monday gun, grenade and suicide-bomb attack in Kabul on Afghan
government ministries and a luxury hotel. The assault claimed five victims
plus seven attackers.

Mr. Haqqani also aided the Dec. 30 attack by an al Qaeda operative that
killed seven Central Intelligence Agency agents and contractors at a U.S.
base in eastern Afghanistan, say militant commanders. And he orchestrated
last year's assault on a United Nations guesthouse that killed five U.N.
staffers, along with other attacks in the capital.

In a rare interview with The Wall Street Journal conducted by email and
telephone last month, Mr. Haqqani declared, "We have managed to besiege the
Afghan government. We sustain very few causalities; we can inflict heavy
casualties to the enemy's side."

That message is problematic for a key plank of the U.S. military's Afghan
"surge" which is based on a strategy of applying sufficient pressure on some
Taliban leaders that they will negotiate for terms acceptable to Washington.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration lent cautious support to the Afghan
government's new outreach effort to the Taliban-a show of optimism that
lower-level militants would reconcile with Kabul even if senior leaders
continued fighting.

The rise of Mr. Haqqani, who is in his late 30s or early 40s, is part of a
broader changing of the guard in the Afghan militant movement. A younger
generation of commanders have helped transform the Taliban from a peasant
army that harbored al Qaeda and was routed by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001
into a formidable guerrilla force that killed a record 520 Western troops
last year.

Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and his inner circle-believed to be
based in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta-still provide overall
leadership of the Taliban movement. Osama bin Laden still rallies the al
Qaeda faithful. But more than either man, Mr. Haqqani is at the fulcrum of
the Afghan rebellion and its twin uprising in Pakistan's northwestern
mountains. His base in North Waziristan, on the Pakistani side of the
border, has become arguably the most important Islamist militant haven in
the region, say U.S. and Pakistani officials. It attracts aspiring jihadis
from around the globe, such as the five young Americans arrested last month
in Pakistan who were allegedly on their way there.

Mr. Haqqani has emerged as a powerbroker on both sides of the border. He has
ties to almost every major faction in the confederation of groups operating
under the Taliban umbrella. He has the strongest links to al Qaeda of any
major Taliban faction, say U.S. officials and Pakistani experts. While
pledging allegiance to Mullah Omar, he operates independently, choosing his
own targets and only loosely coordinating with the Taliban's supreme

Mr. Haqqani showed his sway when the Pakistani Taliban, an offshoot of
Afghanistan's Taliban, were on the verge of a bloody struggle following the
death of its leader in a U.S. airstrike this summer. He called the major
factions to North Waziristan to settle the dispute, telling them they must
"follow the path of a great leader....You should save your bullets for your
true enemies," said a tribal elder who attended the meeting.

Within days, the Pakistan Taliban's leadership was settled. The group has
since repeatedly set off bombs in major cities and sent teams of gunmen to
attack symbolic targets, including the headquarters of Pakistan's military.

In Afghanistan, Mr. Haqqani's men have kept up the heat on the government of
President Hamid Karzai and U.S and allied forces with ever-more brazen
attacks, including this week's assault on Kabul.

The attack was trademark Haqqani. Teams of gunmen and suicide bombers struck Kabul in broad daylight. It's a strategy the Haqqani network has used
repeatedly in the past 12 months to sow fear and chaos in the seat of
Afghanistan's weak central government.

The assailants struck on the day that members of the new Afghan cabinet were
to be sworn in. They picked a spot that would allow them to hit a number of
high-profile targets at once: Pashtunistan Square, which is ringed by the
central bank, the entrance to the presidential palace, as well as several
ministries, a shopping center and a luxury hotel.

U.S. and Afghan officials believe Mr. Haqqani has cultivated high-level
double agents inside the Afghan government-including senior military and
police officers, some of whom are suspected of having aided an assassination
attempt on President Karzai at a parade in April 2008 in Kabul.

"There is no doubt that some of our countrymen in the army and police are
helping us in our fight against the occupiers," Mr. Haqqani said when asked
about the parade attack.

The U.S. takes such boasts seriously. "The Haqqanis are the most dangerous,"
said a senior U.S. military commander in Afghanistan. "They're going all the
way to Kabul to carry out major attacks. They've got connections on both

way to Kabul to carry out major attacks. They've got connections on both
sides of the border in a way no one else does. They're dangerous for us and
they're dangerous for the Pakistanis."

Pakistan has until now taken a hands-off approach to Mr. Haqqani, arguing he
spends most of his time in Afghanistan and is ultimately America's problem.
U.S. officials have long alleged that Pakistan tolerates and even aids Mr.
Haqqani, so he can be used to maintain its influence in Afghanistan after an
eventual American withdrawal.

Pakistani officials deny that charge. Mr. Haqqani's central role in the
insurgencies and his clear embrace of al Qaeda and the Pakistan Taliban have
now prompted Pakistan's military and its spy service to consider taking
action against his North Waziristan sanctuary, say Pakistani officials. Some
U.S. officials, too, believe Pakistan is reconsidering its relationship with
the Haqqanis.

The tone surrounding discussions about Mr. Haqqani has changed markedly in
the past year. Officials in Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, have
gone from calling him a potential "force for peace" in Afghanistan to
telling journalists that they lost nearly three dozen agents and informers
in North Waziristan last year. Most were caught spying and killed by Mr.
Haqqani's fighters and their Pakistan Taliban allies, the officials say.

"It's clear to all that the Haqqanis' interests and our interests, over the
long term, they're not the same," said a senior Pakistani civilian official.

Any move by the Pakistanis against Mr. Haqqani appears to be months away, at
the soonest. It would mark a reversal of Pakistani policy that U.S.
officials say could greatly increase the chances of stabilizing the region.

Others in the younger generation of Taliban commanders include Abdullah
Ghulam Rasoul, known as Mullah Zakir, who is in his mid-30s and one of the
main Taliban commanders in southern Afghanistan. His five-year stint as a
prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has given him "rock-star status" in the
Taliban, said Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, the former top American commander
in southern Afghanistan. (Mr. Rasoul was released in 2007 into Afghan

In Pakistan, the most powerful Taliban faction leader is Hakimullah Mehsud,
31, who is considered brutal even by other militants, say tribal elders and

After three decades of almost continuous conflict in Afghanistan and more
than a decade of upheaval in Pakistan's tribal areas, all these young men
have little memory of life without war, said Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former
Pakistani official.

But while an older generation of Afghan warlords, including Mr. Haqqani's
father, had a deep pragmatic streak, the younger commanders may be much more resistant to a settlement.

"Peace talks are about bringing people into the political power structure,"
said Mr. Mohmand, who served as Islamabad's envoy in Afghanistan from 2001
to 2005. "I don't think this younger generation has any idea of politics or
any desire to take part in them....All they've grown up around is war and

Sirajuddin Haqqani grew up amid the struggle for Afghanistan. His father,
Jalaluddin, rose to prominence in the early 1980s battling the Soviet
occupation of Afghanistan. He was a favorite of the U.S., which was pouring
millions of dollars into the insurgency. He also was courted by Pakistan,
where he established his base and developed close ties to the country's spy
agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.

But "the child didn't take to war," said Brig. Amir Sultan Tarar, a retired
ISI officer known as Col. Imam, of the young Mr. Haqqani. It wasn't until
his early 20s-sometime around 1990-that the younger Mr. Haqqani "became an
active participant in our struggles," said Brig. Tarar.

Friends who grew up with Mr. Haqqani say a religious awakening spurred his

"He saw the Arabs and their devotion and admired it," said Gul Khan, a
businessman in North Waziristan who went to school with Mr. Haqqani. Some of the Arabs then fighting the Soviets, including Osama bin Laden, would go on
to form the core of al Qaeda.

Those who know Sirajuddin Haqqani say he shares his father's battlefield
acumen, which propelled him ahead of other siblings to assume day-to-day
leadership of the militant faction in the past two or three years. His
father remains titular chief.

Under Sirajuddin Haqqani, the faction has strengthened its dominance over
the territory carved out by his father in the 1980s-Khost, Paktika and
Paktia provinces of eastern Afghanistan. His men also have moved deeper into
Afghanistan, according to U.S. military assessments.

As his stature has risen, he has begun to see himself in grandiose religious
terms, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials and tribesmen in the border
region. He now styles himself "Khalifa"-a title for a leader who rules
Muslims in accordance with Islamic law.

In his public rhetoric, he distances himself from his father's past ties to
the U.S. while claiming the same mantle of Islamic resistance to occupiers.

"My father was fighting the Russians....I am following his footprints," he
said in the Journal interview. "Like today, during the Soviet era the
mujahideen were fighting an occupying force and believed that foreign forces
are the only obstacle which prevents peace and stability in Afghanistan."

But, he added, "My father didn't have a personal relationship with the
Americans," who along with Saudi Arabia provided most of the financing for
the mujahideen.

Financial aid to the mujahideen also came from wealthy Muslim donors. Those
connections remain, and have provided the Haqqanis with much of the cash
needed to bankroll their fight, say U.S. officials and experts.

As for Pakistan, once his father's staunchest supporter, the relationship
with the son appears increasingly strained.

Pakistan has been pursuing a military campaign in South Waziristan, a tribal
region bordering North Waziristan that was also a safe haven for al Qaeda
and the Pakistani Taliban. Already, Mr. Haqqani is beginning to feel the
pressure in his rear flank in North Waziristan, say tribal elders and
militants in the region.

Residents of Miran Shah, the main city in North Waziristan, say that a
number of Islamic seminaries used by the Haqqanis have been largely
abandoned in the past two weeks, except for a skeleton staff of guards. The
Haqqani loyalists moved out partly because they feared retaliatory U.S.
strikes following the CIA attack, said Gul Khan, the tribal elder.

But "they see that there are soldiers in South Waziristan and everywhere
else," he said, referring to the most recent offensive against the Pakistan
Taliban, which is taking place on Mr. Haqqani's doorstep. "They're all
underground now. It's a very dangerous time." -Anand Gopal in Kabul and
Yochi J. Dreazen in Kandahar, Afghanistan, contributed to this article.

Write to Matthew Rosenberg at matthew.rosenberg@wsj.com

Al-Qaeda wants to instigate a war in South Asia: BBC

The recent report by BBC that Al Qaeda wants to instigate a war between Pakistan and India is not surprising but it is worth noting. Al Qaeda seems to assume that the more dismay and confusion it can create the more secure it will be. What profoundly dismays me is how vulnerable the Pakistani leadership seems to be to this kind of threat.

Al-Qaeda wants South Asia war, says US secretary Gates
January 20, 2010 BBC News

Al-Qaeda is trying to destabilize the whole of South Asia hoping to provokewar between India and Pakistan, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates says.
"It's important to recognize the magnitude of the threat," Mr Gates said,after meeting his Indian counterpart AK Antony in Delhi.
Mr Gates said India might not show restraint if it suffered another attacklike the one in 2008 on Mumbai.
Blamed on Pakistan-based militants, the attack killed more than 160 people.
The two countries' peace process is still on hold.
The US defence secretary said militant groups in South Asia - the Taliban in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba -were seeking to spark conflict between India and Pakistan, or to provoke instability in Pakistan.
He said: "It's dangerous to single out any one of these groups and say, 'If we can beat that group, that will solve the problem,' because they are in effect a syndicate of terrorist operators intended to destabilize this entire region."
When one group succeeded in carrying out an attack, all of them gained incapability and reputation, he said.
"A victory for one is a victory for all. "Mr Gates praised his hosts for the restraint shown by India in the after mathof the attack on Mumbai (Bombay) in November 2008, for which Lashkar-e-Taiba militants operating out of Pakistan have been blamed.
But he warned: "It is not unreasonable to assume Indian patience would be limited were there another attack."
After militants attacked parliament in Delhi in 2001, India massed troops on the border with Pakistan, but the country made no such move following the2008 attack.
The two countries have fought three wars since independence from Britain.
The BBC's Chris Morris, in Delhi, says the US would like to see India and Pakistan working together against the militant threat - but Mr Gates said co-operation would be a tough sell.
Mr Gates is to hold talks in Islamabad on Thursday.
He said any conflict between India and Pakistan would only further the militants' agenda - as well as throwing American policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan into disarray.
The defence secretary also praised the "extraordinary" financial aid India had given Afghanistan, but acknowledged this had created tension with Pakistan.
"There are real suspicions both in India and Pakistan about what the other is doing in Afghanistan," he said.
"So I think each country focusing its efforts on development, on humanitarian assistance, perhaps in some limited areas of training, but with full transparency for each other, would help allay these suspicions and frankly create opportunities."
Reports in recent days have suggested the US would like India to help train Afghan police.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tom Headland on The "Darkness in Eldorado" Affair

Because my main interest is Central Asia I have not been following the furor over Napoleon Chagnon’s work among the Yanomamo in Venezuela/ Brazil. I had thought the issue had died down but it came up again in the meetings of the American Anthropological Association in Philadelphia (December 2-6, 2009). The reason the issue interests me is that in my opinion the Association has several times behaved badly on contested issues.

It is easy for all of us to become self-righteous about what other people do, and sometimes, even before we have a full sense of the situation, we lash out. This, I think, has taken place in the history of the AAA. When the AAA has had an intense issue to handle they have done it poorly. Some notable examples:

One of the most egregious was when the AAA censured Derek Freeman for his critique of Margaret Mead’s famous “Coming of Age in Samoa.” By almost everyone’s admission, the Association took this formal action before scarcely any of its members had ever seen Freeman’s book, “Margaret Mead and Samoa.” In fact, the book was published virtually at the time of the meetings. This was a tragically unprofessional way to deal with a serious scholarly issue. In my opinion, anyone who reads Freeman’s book should be convinced of the validity of his critique. Freeman spoke Samoan with full fluency and lived in Samoa for many years; Mead waded ashore on Samoa at age 22 and lived in the fancy plantation-style house of a rich white person, and may never have slept a single night in a Samoan house, and was there just 8 months. Anyway, her last living informant said that they lied to her -- they were just pulling her leg. (Those of us who have done fieldwork know how that works; it was only many months later that I realized that some of what I had heard from my Hazara friends had been spoken in my presence essentially to tease – tongue in cheek.)

Another such event was when David Stoll in 1999 published his expose of Rigoberta Menchu. She had by that time been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but Stoll demonstrated that she and/or her ghost writer had made up her story! Stoll got it right but he got a serious drubbing by the Association. Again, it was less the established evidence and more a visceral revulsion against someone who would embarrass someone who had become an icon, at least for some.

And when Napoleon Chagnon and James Neal were accused by Patrick Tierney (*Darkness in Eldoado*) of contributing to the tragic 1968 outbreak of measles among the Yanomamo, a lot of AAA members openly attacked Chagnon. Before the November 2000 AAA meetings in which Tierney’s book would be discussed, Chagnon famously stated that the piranhas had been invited to a feast and he was the bait.

The Chagnon/Neel issue was, as I say, brought up in the recent AAA meeting, in a paper by Alice Dreger (Northwestern U Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago). And there is word that a documentary film on the “Darkness” scandal invented by Tierney will be shown at the Sundance Film Festival this month. It is produced by the prominent filmmaker Jose Padilha (Brazilian) and is titled “Secrets of the Tribe.” We expect the issue to flare up again.

One of the few people who stood up for Chagnon when he was attacked at the AAA meetings in 2000 was Thomas Headland, a friend of mine for many years and
a well known and respected anthropologist. I have been in touch with Tom over these issues and recently I asked him if he was not the first to speak up for Chagnon. Tom’s response was interesting enough to quote here [with his permission]:
Was I the first to stand up for Chagnon against Tierney's extreme accusations?

Well, maybe publicly, on September 27, 2000, when I sent my first public statement to *USA Today* (at the request of their reporter Dan Vergano), and Vergano's article citing me came out in that newspaper 5 days later on October 2, p.D7. The next day, September 28, I got calls from both AP and Reuters. By the end of that first week of October, four other media outlets contacted me asking for my statement, which I sent to them. Brief portions of my statement were quoted in numerous newspapers around the USA, Brazil, and England in the following days. (I can send you the list and what they quoted if you want.) I also posted my letter to the *USA Today* on my website that month, where it still remains today (at www.sil.org/~headlandt/measles5.htm#measles5).

However, there were three other people who were also finding documents about the same time I was in that fall of 2000 that contradicted the Tierney-Turner-Sponsel allegation regarding the measles epidemic. These were:
• 1. Mr. Robert Cox, then Curator of Manuscripts at the American Philosophical Society, who I understand posted his findings on the Internet a few days after my 4-minute public testimony at the AAA Open Forum in San Francisco on November 17, 2000. The documents he found were not the same as mine. I mention Cox by name and his role six times on my webpage titled " When Did the Measles Epidemic Begin?" that I posted on December 9, 2009.
• 2. Dr. Susan Lindee. Her findings in support of Neel and Chagnon were cited in the September 21, 2009, issue of TIME, p.78, and on the U Michigan website on September 27, 2000.
• 3. Dr. Samuel Katz found even more powerful testimony contradicting the Tierney-Turner-Sponsel thesis. I received copies of Katz's documents (as I Recall) from him on September 29, 2000.

So I think it may be safe enough to say that Cox, Lindee, Katz, and Headland were the first four to stand up, as you put it, for Chagnon.

Sources for Tom’s discussion can be found, as he says above, at
www.sil.org/~headlandt/measles5.htm#measles5. And at a site produced by David Hume:

Watch for more fireworks in the near future.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A tribute to Abdurrahman Wahid

Paul Wolfowitz's celebration of the life and influence of Abdurrahman Wahid, former President of Indonesia, is so worthwhile, and so useful as an antidote to what is often surmised about Muslims in the West, that I reproduce it here. Thanks to Ray Scupin for bringing to my attention. RLC

Wahid and the Voice of Moderate Islam


Abdurrahman Wahid, who died last week at the age of 69, was the first democratically elected president of Indonesia, the world's fourth largest country and third largest democracy. It has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. Although he was forced from office after less than two years, he nevertheless helped to set the
course of what has been a remarkably successful transition to democracy.

Even more important than his role as a politician, Wahid was the spiritual leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, and probably in the world, with 40 million members. He was a product of Indonesia's traditionally tolerant and humane practice of Islam, and he took that tradition to a higher level and shaped it in ways that will last long after his death.

Wahid recognized that the world's Muslim community is engaged in what he called in a 2005 op-ed for this newspaper "nothing less than a global
struggle for the soul of Islam" and he understood the danger for Indonesia, for Islam and for all of us from this "crisis of misunderstanding that threatens to engulf our entire world."

Wahid was one of the most impressive leaders I have known. Although his formal higher education was limited to Islamic studies in Cairo and Arabic literature in Baghdad, his breadth of knowledge was astounding. With a voracious appetite for knowledge and a remarkably retentive memory, he seemed to know all of the important Islamic religious and
philosophical texts. He also loved reading a wide range of Western literature (including most of William Faulkner's novels) as well as Arabic poetry. He enjoyed French movies, and cinema in general, and could identify the conductor of a Beethoven symphony simply by listening to a recording. He was an avid soccer fan and once compared the different styles of two German soccer teams to illustrate two alternative strategies for economic development. He loved jokes, particularly political ones. During Suharto's autocratic rule he
published a collection of Soviet political humor in Indonesian, with the obvious purpose of teaching his own people how to laugh at their rulers.

Despite all that learning, Wahid had a common touch that enabled him to express his thoughts in down-to- earth language. He thus gained broad
legitimacy for a moderate and tolerant vision. He could speak to young Indonesians, grappling with the relationship between religion and science by explaining to them the thoughts of a medieval Arab
philosopher like Ibn Rushd (known to Christian philosophers as Averroes). And he was all the more effective because he himself had grappled with controversial ideas.

Wahid had been somewhat attracted in his youth by the writings of Said Qutb and Hasan al Banna, the founders of the Muslim brotherhood, but his
deep humanism led him to reject them. When I visited him recently he told me of a long-ago visit to a mosque in Morocco where an Arabic translation of Aristotle's "Nichomachean Ethics" was on display. Seeing that book had brought tears to his eyes and Wahid explained: "If I hadn't read the 'Nichomachean Ethics' as a young man, I might have
joined the Muslim brotherhood."

No doubt, what had so impressed Wahid was that Aristotle could arrive at deep truths about matters of right and wrong without the aid of religion, based simply on the belief that "the human function is activity of the soul in accord with reason" (Nichomachean Ethics, Book I). But his tears must have reflected the thought of how close he had
come to accepting a cramped and intolerant view of life and humanity.

Throughout his public career, three ideas were central to Wahid's thinking. First was that true belief required religious freedom. "The essence of Islam," he once wrote, is "encapsulated" in the words of the Quran, "For you, your religion; for me, my religion." Indonesia, he believed, needs "to develop a full religious tolerance based on freedom
of faith." Second was his belief that the fundamental requirement for democracy-or any form of just government-is equal treatment for all
citizens before the law. Third, that respect for minorities is essential for social stability and national unity, particularly for Indonesia with
its extraordinary diversity.

Throughout his career Wahid spoke up forcefully for people with unpopular ideas-even ones he disagreed with-and for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. He was admired by the Christian and Chinese minorities for his willingness to do so. One of his first acts as president was to participate in prayers at a Hindu temple in Bali where he had earlier spent several months studying Hindu philosophy. Later he removed a number of restrictions on ethnic Chinese and made Chinese New
Year an optional national holiday.

Even after leaving office, Wahid's role as a defender of religious freedom was extremely important. Indonesian voters have rejected
extremist politics at the polls-and the leadership of the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono deserves much credit for that. Nevertheless, extremist views and even violent extremism too often go unchallenged. A recent report from The Wahid Insitute (which he founded in 2004) notes that a minority with extremist views, now in control of the Indonesian Ulama Council, has issued religious rulings against "deviant" groups. An even smaller minority that espouses violence, particularly the Islamic Defender Front, has attacked Christian churches and the mosques of the small Muslim Ahmadiyah sect.

Wahid was one of the few prominent Indonesians to defend the rights of the Ahmadiyah or to speak out forcefully against the Islamic Defender Front. Doing so takes courage. But he was always courageous, whether in defying President Suharto at the height of his power or in his personal struggle against encroaching blindness and failing health.

Although optimistic that "true Islam" will prevail, as he wrote in his 2005 op-ed, Wahid did not underestimate the dangers facing the world from an "extreme . . . ideology in the minds of fanatics" who "pervert Islam into a dogma of intolerance, hatred and bloodshed" and who justify their brutality by declaring "Islam is above everything else." This fundamentalist ideology, he said, "has become a well-financed, multifaceted global movement that operates like a juggernaut in much of
the developing world." What begins as a misunderstanding "of Islam by Muslims themselves" becomes a "crisis of misunderstanding" that afflicts
"Muslims and non-Muslims alike, with tragic consequences."

No one who knew Abdurrahman Wahid can believe that those fanatics who preach hatred and violence speak for the world's Muslims. Even though the extremist ideology represents a distinct minority of Muslims, it is well-financed and well-organized. To confront it, Muslim leaders like himself need, as he wrote in 2005, "the understanding and support of like-minded individuals, organizations and governments throughout the world . . . to offer a compelling alternate vision of Islam, one that
banishes the fanatical ideology of hatred to the darkness from which it emerged."

That support includes material support, but it also includes the moral support that comes from international recognition and attention for Muslim leaders who speak out with the courage that Wahid did.

When Wahid was only 12 he was riding in a car with his father, Wahid Hasyim, himself a prominent Muslim leader at the time of Indonesian
independence, when the car slid off a mountain road and his father suffered fatal injuries. What Wahid most remembered from that tragic event was the sight of thousands of people lining the roads as his
father's casket traveled the 80 kilometers from Surabaya to his burial at Jombang. Overwhelmed by the affection people had for his father, he
wondered "What could one man do that the people would love him so?"

As the funeral procession for Wahid himself traveled the same route on the last day of 2009, thousands of mourners, deeply moved, again lined
the road. What had he done that Indonesians so loved him? Perhaps the question is answered by the words that he asked to have on his tomb: "Here lies a humanist." That he was and a great one as well. No one can replace him, but hopefully he has inspired others to follow in his path.

Mr. Wolfowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and assistant
secretary of state for East Asia, is a visiting scholar at the American
Enterprise Institute.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A17

Thursday, January 07, 2010

What al-Qaeda gives as its reasons

Social movements appeal to a body of individuals by having as their ideological basis a set of formulations that are broad enough, vague enough, to allow people in various contexts to read their own interests in the movement's definition of the extant social situation. People participate for reasons that can vary.

Many of us in this country are still asking "Why do they hate us.?," and once in a while someone sympathetic to the violent activities of some Muslim groups explains the problem in terms that can help us understand. Always, of course they formulate the problem in terms that are meaningful to themselves, but their formulations can vary a good deal without betraying the ideals of the movement.

In his latest Op-ed piece in the NYTimes Tom Friedman cites the Associated Press as the source of an interesting statement by Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man who tried to blow up an airliner on the way to Detroit on Christmas Day. He wrote his father to say that “he had found a new religion, the real Islam” and that he was never coming home again. On an Internet site attributed to him he wrote in February, 2005,
“I imagine how the great jihad will take place, how the Muslims will win ... and rule the whole world, and establish the greatest empire once again!!!”
His vision entailed looking back to a period of [imagined] Muslim dominance of the world, and forward to a recovery of that dominance by the re-institution of [I presume from the statement] the Muslim Caliphate, a theme promoted by Bin Laden. The period of Muslim dominance that Farouk Abdulmutallab looks back to -- presumably the time of the Abbasid Caliphs -- may not have been so glorious as he supposes, but his vision of it, in any case, informs his reading of the present need to revive the great Muslim empire of the past.

Since 2003 another animating force for Islamist insurgency seems to have gained salience: the American invasion of Iraq. Nasser al-Bahri, a Yemeni who would become a bodyguard for Bin Laden, was persuaded in in 1996 by bin Laden's critique of U.S. actions in the Persian Gulf War, namely, that Muslims need to be unified against the West and recover the Caliphate (WashingtonPost [1/6/2010]). He has recently said of Bin Laden:
NASSER AL-BAHRI (through translator): I have often said I love Osama bin Laden more than my father. We shared many experiences, and he defends the Islamic nation. He doesn't like killing.
Notice his use of the term Islamic Nation -- singular. The implication is that "Islam" is a single "nation." This has indeed long been an ancient ideal among Muslims but it has never actually been anything more than an concept. The concept informs the Bin Laden's critique of the current situation in the Middle East, and the salience of the appeal to some Muslims, especially unemployed young people, indicates how eager some of them are for a meaningful world, one that makes sense in "Islamic" terms.

When Nasser Al-Bahri was asked why anyone, such as Farouk Abdulmutallab, would want to blow up an airplane in the United States his response reveals his own understanding of why Muslims are justified in attacking the United States.
NASSER AL-BAHRI (through translator): I wish the question wasn't so naive. Britain and America are in Iraq and in Afghanistan. They intervene in the affairs of Islamic nations. There are a million people out there like the Nigerian [who are ready to attack the United States].
Al-Bahri's explanation for attacking the United States is that the US is "intervening" in the affairs of Islamic nations, specifically in Iraq and in Afghanistan. It's not the same as the hope of establishing a Muslim world power, but it seems to be an aspect of Bin Laden's more general critique.

In any case, the movement needs this kind of ambiguity in its conceptual appeal -- in it's "annunciation and promise" (Weber's term) -- if it is to capture the imagination of real human beings. That this kind of critique resonates among a few Muslims, especially those who are in quest of a just and equitable moral order within their own personal horizons, suggests how hungry some of them are for a cause worth giving themselves to.
[Source of the quotations: PBS, News Hour, Jan 6, 2010.]