Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Great War for Civilisation

Over the holidays I've been reading Robert Fisk's "The Great War for Civilisation". It has been an excellent (epic?) read and I was planning to write a review of it. However, I just stumbled across this review in Salon.Com (you'll have to click through an add first to read it, but don't worry it's painless) which has said almost everything that I would have said, so why bother?

To summarise briefly, however: The book is very well written in an engaging and absorbing journalistic style. This means that despite being over 1000 pages long you will find yourself ploughing through it.

And after the first few hundred pages you’ll start to have a good grasp of what both Robert Fisk and the Middle East are all about. Firstly, you’ll have read enough to see that the charges laid against Fisk by the right are mostly pure nonsense. Fisk as an anti-Semite? Please! Would an anti-Semite hold Amira Hass (an Israeli) as one of his favourite journalists. Would an anti-Semite condemn anti-Semitism as Fisk does? Would an anti-Semite condemn terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians like Fisk does? Would an anti-Semite write descriptions of his encounters with rightwing Israeli settlers that portray them as complex and human? Equally nonsensical are the charges that Fisk is a supporter of Islamist terrorism? Just read the way he condemns such terrorism and writes so compellingly about its victims. What about the charges that Fisk is biased? It’s certainly true that he has very little time for war criminals such as Ariel Sharon or Saddam Hussein (please note that in saying this I am not equating Sharon and Hussein; Sharon has done some bad things but Hussein is infinately worse - they are both still guilty of War Crimes though) but if Fisk reveals a bias in these pages it is for the victims of the atrocities that have taken place across the Middle-East versus the people who have profited from them. And to be honest I can’t think of a better bias to have.

Overall, throughout the book, where Fisk is at his best, is in capturing the human suffering that has taken place in the Middle East over the last three decades (actually, by including the Armenian holocaust he extends this to the last 100 years or so). Really, it boggles the mind to think of the horrors that have occurred. And, more importantly, it would be to easy to forget about them without the words of writers like Fisk to remind us of the suffering of all these people.

Fisk is also good in pointing out the linkages between the superpowers’ power plays and this suffering. While – in the parts of the book that I have read – he also seems wise enough to recognise that much of the brutality that has taken play is also organic to the region. All which is much needed in the era of “what do they hate us? Is it because of our freedoms?”

And finally, Fisk is splendid at describing the paradoxes and purposes of war journalism.

On the other hand he is much weaker when it comes to analysis and, as the Salon review points out, he is very good at describing the problems but much less successful at divining solutions (would complete western disengagement from the region really solve its problems? I don’t think so).

But really this is a small quibble. An explanation as to why you can’t start and end with Fisk. But no reason why those interested in the Middle East shouldn’t at least start with him.


Neal said...


Here is what I see with Mr. Fisk. I have read his columns over the course of many years. While I have not read his books - so that there is the possibility that his books may differ substantially from his columns -, his columns suggest someone who puts his ideology front and center to the point of grossly misrepresenting basic facts.

Here is a good example of what I mean. I have drawn a tidbit because people's biases and distortions often come out in their shorthand. In his January 7, 2005 column, Fisk writes ( http://www.robert-fisk.com/articles442.htm ):

Syria's presence has never been as pernicious as Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon, which ended in 2000, but the Christian Maronite community--which failed to oppose Israel's 1978 and 1982 invasions--has always claimed to lead Lebanon's opposition to Syrian tutelage.

Now, I know a little bit about that period. And I certainly trust Mr. Fisk knows that period as well, likely better than I know it. However, what he says is a radical distortion of the facts. In fact, the Christian Maronites not only did not condemn the Israelis but the Maronites and Israelis were allies. Now, that is not a debatable point. It is a basic fact. So, we are not speaking of a "failure" as in something the Maronites meant (but forgot to do) or ought to have done. Given this most basic fact, his comment is, to say the least, misleading. And not to be polemic, but by the time Israel had invaded, the Maronites had already lost 100,000 people in the civil war. On Mr. Fisk's reading, the Maronites failed to condemn the Israelis for showing up and then protecting and assisting the Maronites!

Another example. This example is Fisk's chronology of recent Lebanese history which appears at the end of his February 15, 2005 column ( http://www.robert-fisk.com/articles461.htm ):


Post 1948 Major influx of Palestinian refugees builds tensions between
Christian Maronites and Muslim Shias. Yasser Arafat establishes PLO stronghold
in Lebanon.

1975 13 April Civil warstarts.

1978 14/15 March Israel invades and occupies south Lebanonbut UN forces it

1982 6 June Israel launches second invasion after assassination attempt on
Shlomo Argov, its ambassador to the UK.

1982 14 September Israel occupies west Beirut following assassination of the
president-elect, Bashir Gemayel. Hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and
Shatila refugee camps are murdered.

1983 17 May Israel and Lebanon agree on Israeli withdrawal, with a security
buffer in south Lebanon.

Read the entire article as well as the rest of this chronology as it suggests a man who plays fast and loose with facts so as to be a polemicist, not someone who presents a trustworthy version of events. Given the article itself, one wonders the point of the chronology. Presumably he had a reason to include it.

Going on the assumption that the chronology is there to provide some background for his argument, the most conspicuous point is that all the horrors of the Lebanese civil war are a mere bump on the road that one might gloss over entirely. While he remembers that the Israelis invaded west Beirut and that, at that point, "h]undreds of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps are murdered" - no mention at all is made of the 150,000 or so people who had already died (most of them Maronites, by the way) in the civil war by the time of Israel's 1982 invasion. In fact, he bullet points one massacre while leaving out hundreds of other massacres including other very large scale massacres. And the impression he leaves is that Israel, not the Maronites, massacred Palestinians.

From reading Fisk, the noted version of reality is not an accident. And, one can be pro-Palestinian and pro-Muslim without leaving out hard facts. So, frankly, I do not trust Fisk to present a factual rendition of anything. His politics, from what I can tell, are more important to him than showing his point in a manner which hoes to fact. Even a pro-Palestinian version of reality could admit that Palestinians - with Palestinians from Sabra and Shatila also involved - massacred likely more than 100,000 Maronites.

Now, he is entitled to his opinion about the merits - or lack thereof - of Israel's presence in the country. My view is that it was, at least from Israel's point of view, not entirely wise. However, as many Maronites will tell you - if you ask -, the Israelis brought the ongoing massacres of Maronites (i.e. of the main victims, so far as casualties are concerned, of the war) bascially to an end.

Again, I do not deny Mr. Fisk the right to an opinion that supports the Palestinians and the Muslims. And there are arguments that might be made in support of them. I do, however, object that his version of events is so biased and distorted as to mislead. If his books are similar, you can only learn the political program of Mr. Fisk, not about the Middle East. So, my suggestion is that you read him with care and check his facts against writers who do not leave out or so obviously distort basic facts.

As for Mr. Fisk having an Antisemitic soul, I leave such a point for historians looking back through his diary, writings and speeches. The assumption, however, that he is vaccinated from the charge of Antisemitism by his admiration for Ms. Hass is, to me, nonsense to the point of naiveté. As whites say in the US: "Some of my best friends are black" which, when heard by African Americans, is typically taken as a confession of bigotry. I note: Antisemitism, to the extent it is a matter of importance, is a political position. Think about the Dreyfuss affair. The position taken by the likes of Fisk - based on his columns - is such a dramatic and radical distortion of the facts that it is reminiscent of that affair. So, while I leave things to historians to ferret out his soul, I think I can say that the position he adopted is, politically speaking, classically Antisemitic.

I might note lastly that objection to Mr. Fisk is not the product solely of right wingers. His version of reality is objectionable, at least as it appears in his columns, because it is a radical distortion of fact.

Terence said...


To a point I agree with you. In many of his columns, Fisk does come across (to me at least) as blinded somewhat by ideology. Although - to me - his ideological blindness isn't representative of anti-Semitism or even a bias towards the Arabs, but simply an overly simplistic left wing approach that tries - wherever possible - to paint western powers as bad and the source of all the World's problems (in his book and in is his earlier reporting he was much less guilty of this IMHO). To be fair to Fisk the influence of the west on the developing world (particularly the Middle East) has been almost wholly negative, and I am very sceptical about any supposed humanitarian motives attributed to western powers. That being said - even considering the blood on the hands of the west, they ain't, at present, the most evil thing going - there are plenty of third world tyrants that 'out evil' them. And if it comes to a head to head conflict between a western power and a developing world tyrant, it seems sensible to me to at least consider that the people of the tyrannised country might come out as better off for the conflict. I don't think (and have never thought) that this is the case in Iraq, but am willing to concede that it might have been (or might be) in places like Afghanistan and Kosova.

This all being said, I am not at all sure that your other charges stick. The first point - as to whether Lebanon's Christian Maronites supported Israel's occupation or just merely didn't condemn it seems like splitting hairs to me. Fisk's comment is a throw away one in a column (that is kindof incoherent in my mind) but the meaning of what he says and what you claim isn't so far apart to make me believe that Fisk has an ulterior motive here. If Fisk had claimed the complete opposite (that the Marionites opposed Israel) then I would be worried, or if his claim of ‘neutrality’ was made seriously as the central thesis of a book then I might worry. But as a throw away line? I think you are trying to read too much into it.

With regards to your subsequent comments on Lebanon, it is slightly difficult for me to reply as Fisk does not comment on them at all in his book – having written about him in Pity the Nation (I think that’s the title). Accordingly, it is hard for me to assess his position on the Lebanon conflict. To an extent I think you have a fair point that in the chronology he only mentions one massacre – although that massacre is important as the person held responsible for it by the Israeli Government’s own commission on the matter is currently leader of Israel (health issues not withstanding). Furthermore, Fisk witnessed the immediate aftermath of the massacre. His reports on it for the Times (I think) are one of the most harrowing things I have ever read. Lots of women and children hacked to death and sorry Neal but I doubt that those women and children killed many Marionites between them. Perhaps Fisk mentioned the Massacre because it stands so clear in his head. Perhaps he mentioned it because – unlike many of the massacres that took place in Lebanon – it was so clearly avoidable . Still it seems somewhat wrong to me that Fisk only details this one massacre, although I don’t think that he implies that it was the Israelis who did it (his reports on the matter make it clear who did it).

But if Fisk engages in dishonesty there then you are no better – trying to attribute almost all of the dead 100,000 in the Lebanese civil war to “Palestinians” – that’s just plain wrong. All sides committed atrocities and not all those Muslim atrocities (i.e. dead Marionites) were attributable to “Palestinians” (google Shia sometime or Lebanese Sunni). If your logic suggests that Fisk is biased against Israel, what does it say of your own use of numbers?????????????

As for Fisk’s supposed anti-Semitism, you haven’t even addressed my (whole) point – please re-read:

Fisk as an anti-Semite? Please! Would an anti-Semite hold Amira Hass (an Israeli) as one of his favourite journalists. Would an anti-Semite condemn anti-Semitism as Fisk does? Would an anti-Semite condemn terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians like Fisk does? Would an anti-Semite write descriptions of his encounters with rightwing Israeli settlers that portray them as complex and human?

Neal said...


Sorry I disapeared. I have been rather busy at home - kids and all.

Regarding the Lebanese Civil War: about 150,000 of the casualties were Christian. That is to say, the vast, vast majority of them. This from Middle East Christians: The Captive Nations, by Walid Phares:

In 1975, war erupted, pitting the Christian community against a Muslim-PLO-Syrian alliance. After fifteen years of confrontation, more than 150.000 Christians were massacred and dozens of towns and villages destroyed. The Syrian army invaded the last stronghold in 1990 and eliminated the Christian resistance. With the collapse of the central free area of Lebanon, the Christian resistance lost its ability to fight for its goals.


I have no reason to doubt Professor Phares who is a well-known authority on non-Muslims in the Middle East, among other things. As to the party committing the massacres, a very high percentage were committed by Palestinians. This is also well documented. Clearly, however, the Palestinians were not alone in committing massacres. All sides did that. However, the Palestinians were probably - and by far - the most proficient.

You write: "To be fair to Fisk the influence of the west on the developing world (particularly the Middle East) has been almost wholly negative..."

I only half agree. I read a book some months back about the genocide of the Armenians, History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus, by Vahakn N. Dadrian. Dadrian - the leading scholar regarding the downfall of the Armenians and on the role of the Ottoman Empire as well as Germany in the genocide - describes in great detail the mischief of the West duirng the 19th Century. In any event, Dadrian also describes in great detail the positive aspects - and he is not attempting to sugar coat anything but merely notes in detail the process by which the West interfered in the Ottoman Empire -.

On his telling - which conforms with material I have read elsewhere -, the policy of the West was called "humanitarian intervention." The terminology was, to note, apt and it was not solely - althought that was certainly part of it - an exercise in power politics. The big issue in the Muslim regions was religious based discrimination, with Muslims in the role of overlord and non-Muslims - at the time a very, very large percentage of the Empire's population - playing the part of the oppressed. The publicly acknowledged justification for the repression was Islam itself. In any event, the West foisted onto the Ottoman Empire "reforms." The reforms were known as the Tanzimet reforms, which required the Empire to treat non-Muslims as equals (e.g. requiring courts to accept testimony by non-Muslims against Muslims, allowing non-Muslims to be part of the military, allowing non-Muslims to dress as they chose, etc., etc.).

In the places these reforms were actually implemented - and they were very widely opposed by the Muslim population both on religious grounds - a factor which led to the deaths, in 1894-1896, of about 250,000 Armenians [long before the genocide], at the behest, secretly, of the Sultan who took the view that, as a devout Muslim, he would rather there be no Christians than to have to violate Islamic holy law by allowing equality -, the life for non-Muslims improved dramatically. I should add, the foisting of the notion of equality also had influence on the Christian populations of Greece and the Balkans, which sought independence from their Muslim overlords.

Which is to say, the West's intervention, properly gaged, is not quite the simple issue that finds its way into the writings of people like Fisk.

You write: "To an extent I think you have a fair point that in the chronology he only mentions one massacre – although that massacre is important as the person held responsible for it by the Israeli Government’s own commission on the matter is currently leader of Israel (health issues not withstanding)."

Actually, the Israeli government, despite what Fisk claims, did not find any Israelis responsible. This may, before you think about it, sound like hair splitting but, in fact, the Kahane commission found the Phalangist involved responsible. They criticized members of the Israeli cabinet, including Sharon, essentially for negligent conduct (e.g. failing to heed the warning signs that the Phalange would seek revenge for massacres by Palestinians on Christians). You will note that Sharon's responsibility was under the category called "indirect responsibility." Fisk, who saw the word "responsible" in the report, quotes that word, usually leaving out the small little detail - and there is a world of difference between intentional malfeasance (for which the Israelis would likely have jailed Sharon) and non-intentional malfeasance (deserving a lesser penalty, as it were) -. Consider, to place the difference in context, that you drive down the road, turn your head for a moment and, during your moment of inattention, you drive over a child. Compare that to seeing a child and intentionally running the child over. Now, both a blameworthy but the courts - and common sense - treat these actions rather differently because the blameworthness is different.

In response to your final comment, which reads: Fisk as an anti-Semite? Please! Would an anti-Semite hold Amira Hass (an Israeli) as one of his favourite journalists. Would an anti-Semite condemn anti-Semitism as Fisk does? Would an anti-Semite condemn terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians like Fisk does? Would an anti-Semite write descriptions of his encounters with rightwing Israeli settlers that portray them as complex and human?

I thought I did address this. I shall try again. It falls under the category of "some of my best friends are black." Ask any African American what that phrase means.

In direct answer, "yes" an Antisemite would pay tribute to a Jew. That is not at all unusual.

As far as condemning, when he occassionally remembers to do so, attacks on Israeli civilians, Arafat also condemned them. That means nothing. If, however, you read Fisk's discussions about such attacks, he tends to blame Israelis for being attacked, claiming that such attacks are understandable. In my book, intentionally targetting civilians - as opposed to mistakenly doing so (which is certainly not a good thing) - has no imaginable excuse. That, of itself, does not make him a Jew hater.

As for portraying Jews as complex, that is not important. As I said earlier, contemporary Antisemitism is an ideology, not always a personal hatred - although that is also not unusual -. Let me quote to you from Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, by Bernard-Henri Lévy (from pages 392-394), in which he provides both illustration and a rather good explanation:

And then, finally, there's a third reason. Pearl was a Jew. He was a Jew in a country where Judaism is not a religion, and even less an identity, but another crime, another sin. He was a positive Jew. He was a Jew in the way Philip Roth or Albert Cohen are Jews. He was proud of it. Affirmative. Didn't one of his colleagues tell me the story of this scene in Peshawar, an Islamist fiefdom, where, in a group of journalists asked about their religion, he placidly replied "Jewish," which turned the atmosphere glacial. He was a Jew like his father, like his mother. He was a Jew like one of his grandfathers, Chaïm Pearl, who gave his name to a street in B'nei Brak, Israel. He was this sort of Jew able, at the moment of supreme martyrdom, to proceed in the sanctification of the name of Jew. And he is most surely a victim of modern anti-Semitism, the anti-Semitism that starts, in fact, with B'nei Brak, ties the name of Jew to the name of Israel and, without renouncing any of its timeworn clichés, readapts them to a new set of charges, reintegrates the whole thing into a system where even the name of Israel has become a synonym for the worst of this world-making the figure of the actual Jew the very face of crime (Tsahal), of genocide (the theme, trotted out ever since Durban, and even before then, of the massacre of the Palestinians), of the desire to falsify history (the Shoah as a lie designed to conceal the reality of Jewish power). From Durban to B'nei Brak, the clothing of hatred. From "one Jew, one bullet," chanted by some NGO members in Durban, to the Yemeni knife that actually murdered Daniel Pearl, a sort of a sequence. Daniel Pearl is dead because he was a Jew. Daniel Pearl is dead, victim of neo-anti-Judaism that is blossoming before our eyes. I've been talking about this neo-anti-Judaism for the past twenty-five years. There are a few of us who have sensed the processes of legitimization of this ancient hatred are being profoundly reworked, and who have written about this fact for the past quarter century. For a long time, the rabble said the Jews are hateful because they killed Christ (Christian anti-Semitism). For a long time because, on the contrary, they invented him (modern, anticlerical, pagan anti-Semitism). For a long time it was because they are supposed to be a race who will always be foreigners in any land and this race must be erased from the face of the earth (birth of modern biology, racism, Hitlerism). Well, my sense is that that's all over. I have a feeling we will hear less and less that the Jews are hateful in the name of Christ, the anti-Christ, or racial purity. And what we see is a reformulation, a new means of justification for the worst which, as in France during the Dreyfus Affair, but on a more global scale this time, will associate hatred of Jews with the defense of the oppressed-a terrifying stratagem. That, against the backdrop of the religion of victimization, using this transformation of the Jew into executioner and the Jew-hater into the new Jew (that's right, the rabble is intimidated by nothing, slander is nothing new to them, they can well lift towards real Jews the pure image of a victimized "Jew" now embodied by others) will legitimize the murder of a Jew as the henchman of Bush and Sharon: "Busharon" as they would say. Again, Daniel Pearl died, of this.

(Bold emphasis added).

Fisk is, as I see it, a promoter, whether or not intentionally, of the noted viewpoint. That is the issue. And that really is Antisemitism.

Terence said...

Hi Neal,

No need to apologise, I completely empathise with you regarding the way that other commitments reduce one’s time in the blogosphere.

Indeed, my own response today will probably be a little bare as I have other things to do (the sun is out outside as well, and I’d like to catch at least a few of its rays).

Firstly, regarding the number of deaths and the composition of the dead in the Lebanese conflict. I am not an expert on the conflict by any means, but it is my understanding that the generally agreed number is 100,000. Not being an expert, however, I’ll have a look into this some more.

I do know enough about the conflict, though, to know that your claim that the Palestinians were culpable for the vast majority of the deaths in the conflict (or two thirds of the deaths as your number seem to suggest) is just plain wrong. The Lebanese Civil War (here’s a hint it wasn’t called the Palestinian invasion of Lebanon) was an internecine conflict in which Sunni Lebanese, Shia Lebanese, Lebanese Christians, Druze and the Palestinians made and broke alliances and killed each other with almost equal vigour. The death toll in the war was further compounded by the two foreign occupying forces (Syria and Lebanon). Indeed, your own evidence helps argue the case against you. You quote:

The Syrian army invaded the last stronghold in 1990 and eliminated the Christian resistance.

Moreover, many of the largest massacres were of Palestinians: Karantina; Tel al-Zaatar; Sabra and Shatila. It’s just false to claim that the Palestinians did most of the killing in this conflict. It would be equally false to claim that they were blameless. But I never claimed that; although I did point out (comment in bold to emphasize how strongly I feel this) that the women and children murdered in Sabra and Shatila were unlikely to have had any role what so ever in the atrocities committed by the Palestinian side.

As an aside, I wouldn’t be treating Walid Phares as an independent expert on the Lebanon conflict; not given his own rather chequered involvement in it:

Regarding your comment on the West’s influence on the Middle East. Fair enough, I’m willing to concede that there may well have been positive contributions from the West in the Middle East, and the book you mention here seems interesting, I will endeavour to read it. It strikes me as a little suspicious that the West might have been engaging in ‘humanitarian intervention’ in the Middle East in the 19th Century though, given the rather un-humanitarian state of their own house at that time.

One point worth noting about the Armenian genocide is that it (as opposed to earlier massacres) took place under the rule of the Young-Turks; a group with secular, modernising, but nationalist tendencies. It also took place while Turkey was at War and, it is generally, accepted that while religion played some role in the massacres, the WWI context (and nationalism) were also important. Incidentally, Robert Fisk (who you appear to believe is an apologist for all things Islamic has a great chapter on the genocide in his book).

Now on to the Kahane commission. The commission found that the Israeli army was indirectly responsible for the massacre (i.e. it facilitated its occurrence and did nothing to stop it happening). The commission also found that Sharon was personally responsible for this. As for intentional vs non-intentional malfeasance: go on then: what do you think that Sharon thought would happen when he let a highly armed militia into a refugee camp populated by women and children, in the middle of a visious civil war. You attribute to Sharon a barely credible degree of naivety.

And finally, on to Fisk’s purported anti-Semitism. Fair enough, friendship with Amira Hass on its own could possibly fall into the “some of my best friends are blacks” category. But I noted this amongst a whole bundle of other evidence. You also wrote: As for portraying Jews as complex, that is not important . But it wasn’t just Jews that Fisk portrayed as complex it was hard line Arab hating settlers of the occupied territories. And it just strikes me as a little unlikely that a pro-Palestinian anti-Semite would bend over backwards to try and portray the humanity of one of the two groups of extremists in the conflict. Of course whenever he tries to do this with similarly extreme Palestinians (whose terrorism he repeatedly condemns) he’s called an anti-Semite. Can you see a double standard here?????

As for your quote. It’s true that anti-Semites are happy to co-opt the Palestinian cause as a cover for their own racism. But it really doesn’t follow that everyone who would like to see some justice for the Palestinians is an anti-Semite. Fisk certainly doesn’t conflate Judaism with the political positions of George Bush and Ariel Sharon, nor does he suggest that Jews run the World or anything else that might provide evidence of anti-Semitism. Can’t you see the difference between the writings of Fisk and the beliefs of hardcore Islamic terrorists????

Or to put it more simply: Fisk isn't a promoter of the noted viewpoint.

Anyhow, thanks as always for your contribution. It was well worth a read and, via engaging with it, I feel that I have learn't more on important topics. It's a pity that we don't get to talk more about areas where we might agree; but that's the nature of blogging I guess.

neal said...

Hi Terence,

No time for a long response. A few points.

Regarding Wallid Phares, the source you cite calls him a right winger. That is nonsense. The allegation that he is a biased right winger merely means that he is a Maronite and, in the context of the Lebanese Civil War, Maronites and Maronites tended to want independence.

The policy of humanitarian intervention is a central theme in Dadrian's book. He, contrary to what you believe to be the case, sees the Ittahists (i.e. Young Turks) less secularly than you do. But, my point concerned the massacres of the 19th, not the 20th Century genocide (or 1908 massacres). Those in the 19th Century were about religion, first and foremost. As were massacre of Maronites related to the Tanzimet reforms. As were the massacres committed by Ali. As were the rebellions in Greece and in the Balkans. In all of this, Muslims, following the precepts of their religion, insisted on supremacy. Dadrian rather clearly spells this out.

I might also add: the Armenian Massacre of the 19th Century employed mosques. Government representatives would show up to mosques in Armenian regions of the country. Irate worshippers would pour out of mosque and begin massacring Armenians to the cry of allahu akbar - much as occurs today, albeit not so often in Turkey -.

Dadrian argues rathe vigorously that the genocide was not nationalist in the sense understood in the West. Rather, the form of nationalism was closer to disguised religiosity. And he understands Islam as I do - having studied it for many years -. Dadrian writes on pages 3 - 5 of his book:

As a first step toward a full analysis of the nationality conflicts, it is necessary to examine Islam as a major determinant in the genesis and escalation of these conflicts. The precepts and infallible dogmas of Islam, as interpreted and applied within the framework of a theocratic Ottoman state organization, encompassing a congeries of non-Islamic nationalities, proved to be enduring sources of division in the relationship between the dominant Muslims and the latter. In many ways that conflict was a replica and an extension of conflicts plaguing the relationship of the various nationalities in the Balkans with the Turks who, as conquerors, played the role of overlords towards these subjects over a long period of time. In this sense, it may be observed that Islam not only functioned as a source of unending nationality conflicts both in the Balkans and Turkish Armenia, but it also functioned as a nexus of the correlative Eastern and Armenian questions, through the explosion of which the issues of creed and religious affiliation for decades were catapulted into the forefront of international conflicts.

Although Islam is a religious creed, it is also a way of life for its followers, transcending the boundaries of faith to permeate the social and political fabric of a nation. Islam's bent for divisiveness, exclusivity, and superiority, which overwhelms its nominal tolerance of other religions, is therefore vital to an understanding of a Muslim-dominated, multi-ethnic system such as Ottoman Turkey.

The Islamic character of Ottoman theocracy was a fundamental factor in the Ottoman state's legal organization. The Sultan, who exercised supreme political power, also carried the title of Khalif (meaning Successor to Mohammed, and a vicar of supreme authority) and thereby served as the supreme protector of Islam. Thus, the Sultan-Khalif was entrusted with the duty of protecting the canon law of Islam, called the Şeriat, meaning revelation (of the laws of God as articulated by the prophet Mohammed). The Şeriat comprised not only religious precepts, but a fixed and infallible doctrine of a juridical and political nature whose prescriptions and proscriptions were restricted to the territorial jurisdiction of the State.

The Islamic doctrines embraced by the Ottoman state circumscribed the status of non-Muslims within its jurisdiction. The Ottoman system was not merely a theocracy but a subjugative political organization based on the principle of fixed superordination and subordination governing the legal relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, and entailing social and political disabilities for the latter. [footnote omitted]. The Koran, the centerpiece of the Şeriat, embodies some 260 verses, most of them uttered by Mohammed in Mecca, enjoining the faithful to wage cihad, holy war, against the "disbelievers," e.g., those who do not profess the "true faith" (hakk din), and to "massacre" (kital) them. [footnote omitted]. Moreover, the verse "Let there be no coercion in religion" [footnote omitted] is superseded and thus cancelled (mensuh) by Mohammed's command to "wage war against the unbelievers and be severe unto them." [footnote omitted]. The verse that has specific relevance for the religious determination of the legal and political status of non-Muslims whose lands have been conquered by the invading Islamic warriors has this command: "Fight against them who do not follow the religion of truth until they pay tribute [ciziye] by right of subjection, and they be reduced low." [footnote omitted]. This stipulation is the fundamental prerequisite to ending warfare and introducing terms of clemency.

The Ottoman Empire's Islamic doctrines and traditions, reinforced by the martial institutions of the State, resulted in the emergence of principles of common law which held sway throughout the history of the Ottoman socio-political system. The Sultan-Khalif's newly incorporated non-Muslim subjects were required to enter into a quasi-legal contract, the Akdi Zimmet, whereby the ruler guaranteed the "safeguard" (ismet) of their persons, their civil and religious liberties, and, conditionally, their properties, in exchange for the payment of poll and land taxes, and acquiescence to a set of social and legal disabilities. These contracts marked the initiation of a customary law in the Ottoman system that regulated the unequal relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. Ottoman common law thus created the status of "tolerated infidels [relegated to] a caste inferior to that of their fellow Moslem subjects." [footnote omitted]. The Turkish scholar N. Berkes further pointed out that the intractability of this status was a condition of the Şeriat, which "could not admit of [non-Muslim] equality in matters over which it ruled. [Even the subsequent secular laws based on] the concept of the Kanun (law) did not imply legal equality among Muslims and non-Muslims." [footnote omitted].

This principle of Ottoman common law created a political dichotomy of superordinate and subordinate status. The Muslims, belonging to the umma, the politically organized community of believers, were entitled to remain the nation of overlords. Non-Muslims were relegated to the status of tolerated infidels. These twin categories helped perpetuate the divisions between the two religious communities, thereby embedding conflict into the societal structure. Moreover, the split transcended the political power struggle occurring in Ottoman Turkey during this time period. Even when the Young Turk Ittihadists succeeded Sultan Abdul Hamit into power in 1908, they reaffirmed the principle of the ruling nation (milleti hâkime). While promising liberty, justice, and equality for all Ottoman subjects, they vowed to preserve the superordinate-subordinate dichotomy. That vow was publicly proclaimed through Tanin, the quasi-official publication of the Ittihad party. Hüseyn Cahid, its editor, declared in an editorial that irrespective of the final outcome of the nationality conflict in Turkey, "the Turkish nation is and will remain the ruling nation." [footnote omitted]

As for your defense of Fisk against the charge I make, I think you really do not understand. Fisk is the epitome of what I charge.

Neal said...


One further point...

You misinterpret what the Kahane Commision found. Now, it is, of course, conceivable that Sharon knew exactly what would occur in the camps and even planned the matter. There, however, is, as the report spells out clearly, no credible evidence that such was the case while there is credible evidence that points toward negligence. Which is to say, the conclusion you reach is contradicted by credible evidence.

The reasoning for the conclusion reached is spelled out pretty clearly in the report. As noted, the IDF had worked with the Maronites on many occasions with no incidents; the Maronites showed themselves, for all intents and purposes, to be a professional organization. The report does not challenge the truth of that evidence but, instead, takes the view that, given the horrors of the Lebanese Civil War between Maronites and Palestinians, Sharon should have known that the Maronites were not really a professional force but, instead, interested in revenge due to massacres committed by Palestinian Arabs against Maronites. Or, in simple terms, the conclusion is that he ought to have known better, not that he did or was even suspected of knowing better.

You write: what do you think that Sharon thought would happen when he let a highly armed militia into a refugee camp populated by women and children, in the middle of a visious civil war.

The most likely probability is that he did not think about the matter, one way or the other. More than likely, his main concern was overall strategy. So, given a proposal, he approved it - rubber stamping, so to speak -, assuming that the Maronites would perform as professionals, as was, according to the testimony, the pattern for Maronites when working with the Israelis.

There, in fact, was a perfectly legitimate reason to send troops into Palestinian camps. Operations against Israelis had been planned and launched from such camps. A major goal of the entire Israeli invasion was to put an end to the daily attacks on Israelis living in Northern Israel. I have friends who were in Israel at the time and reported that such events, while not reported in the Western press, were constant. The fact of such attacks against Israelis tends to focus the mind, first and foremost, on dealing with those responsible.

So, quite credibly, Sharon could have thought that sending troops into places where operations against Israel had begun was perfectly legitimate. And, he could have thought that the Maronites, who had behaved professionally in other such operations, would do the same. And, he could have thought it better that someone other than Israelis should risk troops fighting with Palestinian Jihadis in such camps. Or, he might have paid no special attention to the event at all.

I think that you are attaching an in person standard too zealously. The most likely probability is that he did not give the idea of a masacre two seconds consideration. Such was a terrible lapse of judgement. However, jumping from the evidence to the conclusion you reach is not just a stretch, but a very, very unreasonable stretch, contradicted by how government works, by the relationship between the IDF and the Phalange and by, I suspect, a failure to consider how reasonable it was for Israel to send troops into camps which housed large numbers of Jihadis.

Terence said...

hi Neal,

I will endeavour to read Dadrian sometime soon and get back to you with my thoughts.

Regarding Phares, the point was not that he is a right-winger (although I strongly suspect that he is) but that he was an active combatant in the conflict you are citing him about. In other words: he is very unlikely to be a credibile source about the number and ethnic breakdown of the dead.

Regarding Sharon,

I suspect we are never going to convince each other either way but I simply cannot give credence to the claim that he had no idea of what was going to happen. Less still that he was unaware of what was happening when it took plce (you know the screams and all). Particularly given his racist disregard for the value of Palestinians lives, womething that he demonstrated time and time again throughout his military career. All this being said: you may be right when you write: "The most likely probability is that he did not think about the matter, one way or the other." Perhaps he didn't, which is almost worse because, if true, it would suggest that he had no concern for the lives of the women and children at risk of being slaughtered.

Finally, you wrote:

"a failure to consider how reasonable it was for Israel to send troops into camps which housed large numbers of Jihadis"


Neal said...


Well, Phares is a social democrat. That is a rather widely known fact.

As for Sharon, he is not a racist. That, frankly, is nonsense. Sharon is accurately described as a nationalist. Failing to understand the difference is, to me, a serious intellectual error. The use of the term racist to describe people with nationalist agendas obscures.

Did he care about Palestinians Arabs? Most likely not very much. That, however, does not make him a racist. It makes him a nationalist. On the other hand, polling among Israeli Arabs suggests that Sharon was likely, before his demise, to win a substantial portion of the Arab vote. Why? Because he was acting prudently to bring an end to the dispute and because he was decisive. He was also quite popular among Druze, particularly due to his role in freeing a Druze businessman taken captive by Egypt on trumped up spying charges. The businessman, after being freed, kissed Sharon's feet and there were celebratrations for Sharon's activities to help him.

Regarding your assumption of Sharon's omnipotence, change his name to McNamarra - as in LBJ's Defense Secretary (i.e. the same post held in Israel by Sharon). Now, I was no fan of McNamarra's but I note that he really did not know or plan or expect the massacre at Mi Lai. He was, just like Sharon, indirectly responsible due to his failures. He did not know it was occuring when it occurred. Why? Because government officials never know that sort of stuff in that sort of detail. The same is true for Sharon. Frankly, I cannot imagine how, apart from relying on dishonest propaganda, one could believe that a government minister stationed nowhere near the incident in question knew the details beforehand or, most especially, while it occurred. Which is to say, I think your theory is basically nonsensical and comes from reading Jew haters.