Amnesia versus Memory - chose your marks!
In 2003, just as the US was occupying Iraq, the leftist-with-a-conscience Paul Berman published a small “intellectual history” of Islamic radicalism that traced it all back to the Nazis. Even for Paul Berman, this was hack work of an extraordinary cheapness. I admit, I love nothing better than the slagging the ever deserving Paul Berman. I did a little cutwork on him in 2007 that I must quote:
“Berman has accrued a lot of media capital over the years by being a conscience. A conscience is such a great thing to cast yourself as. Especially when you can be the conscience not of the powerful, not of the CEOs, not of the plutocracy, but the conscience of dissent - indeed, he's an old Dissenter dinosaur. Being the conscience of dissent means that you get to whack away at, say, the crimes of the Sandanistas as the Reagan administration arms narco thugs in Honduras. It means that you look out at the old and established mafia of CIA ties and Islamic fundamentalism that drove the cold war in the Middle East and you see - liberal softness for Islamic fundamentalism. A conscience means that you reprove unnamed liberals for beamingly looking on as Moslem fundies surgically remove clits, stone women, and generally tread on our freedom to mock, re the famous cartoons of Mohammed - in the age of Guantanamo, Falluja, and Grozney. The age, to put not too fine a point upon it, of Western countries killing lots and lots of Moslems. And Moslems killing not very many westerners. Liberals, as "Conscience" Berman notes with shock, have even dared to criticize heroic women, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, while making poo-pooing sounds at the Bush administration for banning Tariq Ramadan from coming to the U.S. It is amazing what these non-freedom loving liberals will do – up to and including criticizing the U.S. from banning speech by Tariq Ramadan! Freedom of speech means denying freedom of speech for people who secretly don’t believe in freedom of speech. Don’t we all know this? We all know this at TNR. However, those not in that charmed circle of bile and bad faith can only look at these people with amazement.”
I mention him because Berman’s book, Terror and Liberalism and my little pony … oops, I’m sorry, the my little pony wasn’t part of the title, I don’t know where I get these things. Anyway, this became an ur-text in Project Amnesia – that post 9/11 project in forgetting just what we’ve been up to in the Middle East for the past sixty years. It helped the hawk liberals to embrace the intellectual shambles of Bushism. Unfortunately, so successfully has amnesia been disseminated in the US and Europe that the claims voiced by radical right Islamic leaders are now cited by the “left” as voices of the Muslim community, which insults two things – Muslim and community.
In 2007, Robert Dreyfuss wrote a book that wasn’t an intellectual history – it actually had, like, empirical stuff in it. It was called the Devil’s game, and it romped through Middle Eastern history looking for what the Cold war had wrought.
To give you an example of how project Amnesia has twisted things: at present, we are assured, only namby pamby liberals support Hamas in its endless terroristic project to be terroristic. The sworn enemy of Israel, Israel has always fought it tooth and nail.
Except of course when Israel was aiding it. Cast your mind back to 1968. In those days, a radical secularizing force called Fatah, supported by Egypt’s nationalist, Nasser, was trying to lead the Palestinian refugee community. Israel, the U.S., and the Saudis didn’t like Fatah at all. They saw a weak spot, however: Fatah’s secularism. Perhaps they could play the Islam card.
Dreyfuss quotes the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles Freeman, who claims that Israel started Hamas. This seems to me to be an exaggeration. There is no exaggeration, however, in the fact that after the 1967 war, when Israel occupied Gaza and the Sinai, they let out of jail the enemies of Nasser, notably the Moslem brotherhood leadership, that they found there. Why? It was a double play – divide the Palestinian community and confound Nasser. As Dreyfuss points out, the Moslem brotherhood in Jordan was firmly on the side of the king and the largest landholders. They were firmly against Nasser’s “communism” and any attempt to upset the traditional economic order.
The Brotherhood was not at all popular in Gaza or on the West Bank precisely because they opposed Nasser’s nationalism. Enter one Ahmed Yassin, who went on to found Hamas officially. He was liberated by the Israelis after the war, and encouraged by Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. What’s not to like? Radical Islam, back then, was Traditional, Freedom loving Islam. This was before the US discovered that it was all about feminism and democracy and Radical Islam was all about nastiness. Under Israeli occupation, as Dreyfuss points out, the number of mosques in the Gaza rose from 1967 to 1987 from 200 to 600.
This, of course, is history that has now been erased. But the contradictions can’t be erased, they crop up constantly. Thus, the eggsucking obsequy’s in the US press about King Abdullah, the 1000 lashes King – or excuse me, the man of peace, the modernizer. In the US, amnesia is easy. In the Middle East, it has powerful allies too – Hamas doesn’t want to revisit its past, that is for sure. But there are a great many people in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan who are stubborn as elephants, and continue to remember things even when official policy is that they never happened. In Iraq, after our great and glorious George had Chalabi flown there, to play the role of Charles de Gaulle, he flopped. Polls showed that people actually remembered what Chalabi did in Jordan – that he pulled off a massive fraud, stealing millions of dollars. For some reason, their eyes didn’t get all glowy at the advent of the liberator.
Amnesia versus memory – this is the real geo-political struggle in the post-Cold War era.