When I came to the US back in 1983, Richard Cohen (The Washington Post columnist) was considered one of the most liberal voices on the subject of Israel. He used to be a rare liberal who was willing to express criticisms of Israel. He was never courageous as was Marcy McGrory, but he was quite consistent in his criticisms of Israel. In fact, I remember when critics of Israel used to invite Cohen to college campuses to share his views on the brutality of Israeli occupation.
One of the most under (or un) reported stories about the Middle East is the story of the rise of jihadi groups in Lebanon over the last decade. All American correspondents in Beirut are too preoccupied, and emotionally invested, with the story of the Free Syrian Army and the “Syrian revolution.” The developments of Lebanon are of little interest to them, and perhaps because the story is way too embarrassing for US foreign policy. The clashes in the last several months between the Lebanese armed forces and various jihadi groups (operating under the banner of al-Nusra Front or under the banner of ISIS or `Abdullah `Azzam Brigades) got little attention in the Western press and the story was covered merely as an extension of the Syrian war. But there are roots to the modern jihadi groups on Lebanese terrain.
Iranian foreign policy has become far less shaped by the Islamic ideology of the Islamic Republic’s founder. Its policies are now similar to those of the other regimes of the region that are overwhelmingly concerned with survival, popularity, and influence. In the early years of the Islamic Republic, the regime sought the support of Sunnis and Shia alike in a vision that promised Islamic unity. The vision was not far fetched at first as the construction of the republic according to the vision of the Wilayat Al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist) was in its infancy. Many Arabs, Muslims and leftists alike, were inspired by the example of the revolution and pinned high hopes on the new regime which toppled the mighty dictatorship of the Shah.
Beirut has been commemorating the 100th birthday of Shaykh `Abdullah al-`Alayli. This cleric, dubbed the “red cleric” by his reactionary enemies, was the first cousin of my grandfather. We grew up admiring him from a distance as he rarely mingled with the family in social gatherings. The few times we met him he left a great impression: he seemed very wise and very modest given the renown that surrounded his personality. We heard from my mother a lot about him: that he persistently supported the educational pursuits of my late mother (first in law school and later in doctoral studies at St. Joseph University, at a time in the 1940s and 1950s when many families did not think that university education was suitable for women, and when many Muslim families distrusted Christian missionary schools and colleges). And when my mother and father fell in love while working together on the staff of the Lebanese parliament, al-`Alayli stepped in to support the marriage of this Sunni Beiruti woman to a Shia man from South Lebanon. Al-`Alayli put his progressive thought into practice in his own family. And when we were young children, we kept pestering my mother with questions about differences between Sunnis and Shia. One memorable afternoon, she got frustrated with us and took us to visit Shaykh `Abdullah.
There is a new audacious conduct by Gulf countries. The previous generation of Gulf rulers were all cautious and reserved even if they were engaged in covert operations alongside the US or Israel (like the Saudi regime in the Yemeni war). The previous generation was nervous about antagonizing Arab public opinion too much, and their relationship with the US was within the boundaries of what was deemed acceptable publicly in their estimation, regardless of how far they go in their subservience in private.
Western governments love to give awards and grants that bestow honors and legitimacy to selected groups and individuals. In the Middle East, the West prefers the award-giving business in order to pick role models for the natives, not knowing that those who are endorsed by the West are automatically despised by their own people. There is no Arab who has received more Western accolades than Anwar Sadat, yet this person is one of the most despised by Arabs and Muslims. No matter how much American government, media, and institutions try to elevate Sadat to the status of saint, Arabs continue to despise this dictator who was imposed on his people through an elaborate American-constructed military dictatorship by the US, in order to take Egypt out of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
It is said in Arabic: take their secrets from their minors, and we can also take the administration’s secrets from its minors, i.e., Joe Biden. Joe Biden is infamous for not being smart, and is well known for bombast, buffoonery, and plagiarism. But Biden can also, due to lack of judgment and mental restraint, reveal what Obama wishes to conceal. Obama is quite adept at concealing his intentions and even his policies (and wars) when it is politically convenient. Biden is less skilled in concealment and for that he is rarely assigned important tasks of policy. One wonders whether Biden is even privy to the secrets of the administration.
It is the season of the revival of the “Arab Mind”: propagandists for Saudi princes around the world are peddling the same message contained in the racist book, The Arab Mind. Propagandists of Saudi princes who write in English have another task: they are competing to inherit the role of Fouad Ajami in Zionist US media. They know how much American mainstream media and Israel appreciate the schtick that Arabs are responsible for their misery, or that, as Ajami put it over and over again in his cliché, Arab wounds are self-inflicted. Saudi Arabia decided on orders of the US to take on ISIS and the Saudi regime may also have its own fears from ISIS. But the propaganda outlets of Saudi regime act and sound in unison, claiming that the Saudi regime is blameless, and that the US and Israel are humanitarian warriors in the Arab world, and that Arabs are backward by their very nature. To blame the US or Israel for Arab wars and divisions is tantamount to blasphemy in the Wahhabi doctrine.
Western media are aghast: why can’t “Islam” condemn the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and expel it from “Islam.” For Western media, Islam is an office with fancy headquarters where bureaucrats produce fatwas around the clock. In the wake of September 11, Senator Dianne Feinstein used to tour the TV news shows and wonder in anger: why can’t Islam issue a fatwa to end all terrorism? If only things were that easy.