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November 15, 2009

Save Yourself!

In the lead-up to the February 15, 2003 worldwide demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq, I remember feeling very strongly that everyone was fighting not just to save Iraqis, but also to save ourselves. Of course, that perspective was absolutely unspeakable in the U.S., since it was such soft-minded weak-willed naive appeasement goo.

Now Johann Hari has written a long article about British ex-jihadis that suggests it was correct:

Every one of them said the Bush administration's response to 9/11 – from Guantanamo to Iraq – made jihadism seem more like an accurate description of the world. Hadiya Masieh, a tiny female former HT organiser, tells me: "You'd see Bush on the television building torture camps and bombing Muslims and you think – anything is justified to stop this. What are we meant to do, just stand still and let him cut our throats?"

But the converse was – they stressed – also true. When they saw ordinary Westerners trying to uphold human rights, their jihadism began to stutter. Almost all of them said that they doubted their Islamism when they saw a million non-Muslims march in London to oppose the Iraq War: "How could we demonise people who obviously opposed aggression against Muslims?" asks Hadiya.

We'll never know how many, if any, specific acts of terrorism have been prevented by visible Western opposition to U.S. policy. But for Americans who care whether they live or die, this suggests how important it is to keep trying to end these hideous wars, whether or not we succeed by this time next week.

Here's more from the article, about Maajid Nawaz, the former high-level member of Hizb ut-Tahrir. First (according to him) he had some success recruiting Pakistani military officers training in England. Then he went to Egypt to find recruits there:

"Everyone hated the [unelected] government [of Hosni Mubarak], and the US for backing it," he says. But there was an inhibiting sympathy for the victims of 9/11 – until the Bush administration began to respond with Guantanamo Bay and bombs. "That made it much easier. After that, I could persuade people a lot faster."

Then, at 3am one morning, a cadre of soldiers smashed into Maajid's bedroom bearing machine guns and grenades. He was taken, blindfolded and bound, to an underground bunker below the state security offices in Cairo. There were around 50 other men penned in. For three days, he kneeled, and heard the men around him being tortured with electric cattle prods...

...when his family were finally allowed to see him, they told him he had a new defender. Although they abhorred his political views, Amnesty International said he had a right to free speech and to peacefully express his views, and publicised his case.

"I was just amazed," Maajid says. "We'd always seen Amnesty as the soft power tools of colonialism. So, when Amnesty, despite knowing that we hated them, adopted us, I felt – maybe these democratic values aren't always hypocritical. Maybe some people take them seriously ... it was the beginning of my serious doubts."

You should read it all. (As I'm excerpting it here, it comes across as too much of a just-so story for anti-American America-haters like us, but there's a lot more to it.)

P.S. Strong Horse!

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at November 15, 2009 11:22 PM

Johann Hari, it should be noted, was a liberal supporter of the war who ridiculed those opposed to the war in the smuggest (is that word?) of ways possible.

Posted by: Guy Ferchetti at November 16, 2009 12:30 AM

I think it's 'most smugtacular'.

Posted by: NomadUK at November 16, 2009 06:03 AM

Tres intriguing, Jon; not so much the article itself as your success in unburying the lede. This skill at gleaning the most important point clearly demonstrates your complete unsuitedness for a career in journalism. Hard cheese, old bean.

I find the faux confusion in Haris' opening paras most tiresome. Good Lord, occasionally mad ideas and bigotries might attend legitimate anger at the West's imperialism and associated atrocities? How frigging baffling! What - British Muslims angry about the suffering of their non-British co-religionists? What's the matter with these people? Are they blind to the worth of Western Enlightenment values? Why can't they focus on that and stop morbidly obsessing about all the bombing?

Jeezus. Lord deliver me from decent liberals and their notions of winning hearts and minds. As I get tired of pointing out (particularly here, where pretty much everybody doesn't need to be told), if you want people to stop being pissed off at you, a good start is to stop doing things that piss them off.

And these ex-"jihadis", why, yes, they've abandoned their mad prejudices and violent methods. But, as far as you can tell from the article, they've abandoned any kind of opposition to Western crimes at all. Is that Hari's point? Is that why these people deserve praise? If they've found a way to express and act on their opposition to the occupations etc while avoiding the pitfalls of "jihadi" fanaticism, might it not have been a good idea to point that out and thereby avoid creating the impression it's a choice of either radical Islamism or giving up?

Posted by: weaver at November 16, 2009 08:22 AM

Medialens has had more than a few run ins with Hari. Go to the link and do a search under his name to see the plentiful details of Hari's imperial alibis.-Tony

P.S. One example of Hari in action....

Posted by: tony at November 16, 2009 08:37 AM

Uh... Medialens has subsequently praised him very strongly, as has Noam Chomsky.

Posted by: Niko at November 16, 2009 07:09 PM

I gotta reread it, but I don't think the ex-jihadists had abandoned their opposition to Western brutality--they'd just abandoned their support (and participation in) jihadist brutality. There wouldn't be much point to saying "Hey, one million people opposed aggression against Muslims" if they were now in favor of aggression against Muslims.

Though again, I need to reread it. But I didn't think they sounded like those Muslims or ex-Muslims embraced by the Islamophobic crowd. That type would be saying that Western antiwar protestors didn't understand just how evil Islam is.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at November 16, 2009 07:59 PM

Two clues:

"To my surprise, the ex-jihadis said their rage about Western foreign policy – which was real, and burning – emerged only after their identity crises, and as a result of it. They identified with the story of oppressed Muslims abroad because it seemed to mirror the oppressive disorientation they felt in their own minds."

See, it's all just psychology, innit? If only we'd helped these Muslims be less alienated, they would have supported Western foreign policy like good Brits.

And then there's this old saw -

"But from the left, there was its mirror-image: a gooey multicultural sense that immigrants didn't want liberal democratic values and should be exempted from them."

Posted by: weaver at November 16, 2009 08:48 PM

Yes....Hari wrote a good column regarding the Honduras coup which Medialens praised him for in one of their articles....its available under the search I mentioned above. Not sure about the Chomsky mention. I have not read it.-Tony

Posted by: tony at November 17, 2009 08:21 AM

I like 'smugtacular'. That's a good word.

I haven't read enough Hari to know what I think of him. What he wrote in his column about Honduras that tony mentioned revealed some historical knowledge and wisdom, but he doesn't show much actual knowledge about the rise of Islamism, and in particular the political use of Islamism to oppose communism, pan-arabism, arab nationalism, Nasserism, and even Slobodan Milosevich for God's sake. I mean, Islamism has been pretty darn handy for MI6 and the CIA, which I would expect someone to know if they know about the CIA's destruction of Allende and attemption destruction of Chavez. It's not like these activities are confined to one hemisphere.

On the other hand, Hari maybe just can get over how reactionary those Islamist fanatics are. The thing is, almost nobody can get over that, so writing a column like that must have been so EASY for him. It's exactly what his audience wants to hear, and maybe the difference in his insight is that his audiences likes to hear about the US's rotten deeds in Latin America too. Still, I saw on Wikipedia that Hari equates the colonialism of the British in Indian to totalitarianism, so either the Brits don't care about that any more or he can be honest when its unpopular on occasion. I can't really figure all that out. Maybe he just has the fallible gene and is right sometimes and wrong sometimes.

But hey, the linked article is ok. It is indeed true that killing people's friends and relatives makes them your enemies, and if you kill someone they really like a lot, or even love, they might blow something up or start killing your troops and citizens. Surprise!

Posted by: N E at November 17, 2009 11:48 PM