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02 October 2014

Kissinger's lessons for today's policymakers

Kissinger is not wicked, but a realist par excellence, writes Oskanian
As US President Barack Obama was outlining his strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), I was finishing reading Henry Kissinger's new book "World Order".

It's a Kissinger book. It's insightful and to the point. He takes a grand view of how we got here. He is dispassionate about understanding and explaining the foreign policy decisions that have been taken and that continue to miss the mark of the all-important equilibrium among great powers. This has been the focus of his writings and speeches for four decades, beginning with his first book, "A World Restored", describing such efforts in the 19th century.

The bear knows seven songs and they are all about honey - I don't know if that's an Armenian saying or a Russian one, but it's true for Kissinger as well. All of his songs are about understanding Europe's path to a balance of power and the ways to apply the lessons of those experiences to contemporary conflicts. It is remarkable how consistent he has remained over the decades.

Kissinger's fascination with this period lies in his hope to find insights on the exercise of power by statesmen such as Castlereagh and Metternich for the development of an international structure that contributed to peace in the century between the Congress of Vienna and the outbreak of World War I.

Fundamental problem

"The most fundamental problem of politics," wrote Kissinger, "is not the control of wickedness but the limitation of righteousness".

This is how Kissinger summed up the essence of the "idealism versus realism" debate in his earliest work - his dissertation.

Obama is an idealist, a righteous man. Kissinger is not wicked, but a realist par excellence. His early academic convictions and on-the-job experience as national security adviser to President Richard Nixon and later secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Gerald Ford, makes him the quintessential realist and the exemplary practitioner of balance of power plays in our time.

At the infancy of the Syrian conflict three years ago, when Obama rushed to declare that Bashar al-Assad must go, Kissinger was quick to call the pronouncement premature and a mistake for not knowing who will fill the vacuum created by Assad's departure.

At 91, his "World Order" may be his last appeal for pragmatism and realism in the face of an increasingly interdependent world with a disintegrating world order.

Today, that realism is more than necessary in the Middle East where the nation-state system is shattered by those who, under the guise of religion, wish to take and wield power in ways that are incongruous with a 21st century world. This dangerous chaos is at least partly the outcome of strategically uncertain, albeit morally laudable, US policy in the larger Middle East.

Kissinger looks at the world, in whole or in parts, from the perspective of a desirable balance of power and the US role in securing it. This policy tool provides the anchor for his realism and allows him to see world events not purely from the point of view of ideology, but rather from a more pragmatic, result-driven perspective.

When in 1973 it became clear that the Vietnam War is not winnable, Kissinger looked for a graceful way out. He forged a detente with the Soviet Union and an opening to China, and then played off both to create a triangular balance of power that preserved US influence after its retreat from Vietnam.

More recently, when the US Senate ratified NATO's expansion to Eastern Europe in May 1998, Kissinger knowingly wrote: "Russia is bound to have a special concern for security around its vast periphery and the West needs to be careful not to extend its integrated military system too close to Russia's borders."

And at the infancy of the Syrian conflict three years ago, when Obama rushed to declare that Bashar al-Assad must go, Kissinger was quick to call the pronouncement premature and a mistake for not knowing who will fill the vacuum created by Assad's departure.

Obama lacks this mastery. Obama's equivalent move to Kissinger's Vietnam balance of power play could be the triangulation between Shia Iran, the Sunni-dominant Gulf region and, Syria and Iraq. This requires a transcending of previously drawn lines and an ability to artfully skew the line between ideology and values.

Broad reconciliation

First, a broader region-wide process of Sunni-Shia reconciliation must begin and it must involve Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. For the common good, this requires understanding and compromise from all involved on issues from territorial disputes, nuclear proliferation and support to different group on both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide.

Second, the West and Iran must redouble their efforts to overcome the last hurdles to reach a sustainable deal on Iran's nuclear issue. Iran has consistently said that it wants to develop uranium enrichment technology for industrial use. Everyone agrees that Iran has the right to do so. The Iranians have also said that they will continue to honour their commitments and open their doors to observation as members of the non-proliferation community. The West must be more respectful of Iran's current industrial aims if it wants Iranian cooperation. That cooperation is critical not just to eliminate ISIL's threat, but for crucial longer term peace and stability in the region.

Third, just as an inclusive government in Baghdad is necessary so is a stable government in Damascus. The United States must recognise that its half-hearted support of the moderate opposition has been a failure and has made things worse for everyone, except ISIL. To train and arm the illusive Syrian moderate opposition to fight ISIL in Syria is too little and is a recipe for prolonging the Syrian civil war by continuing to breed extremist groups. The Syrian conflict and its possible resolution need to be framed differently and need to transcend Assad's person.

An opening to China, too, seemed unreal. But it happened and it worked. It was not a policy driven by morals, yet did no evil, was pragmatic and despite the earlier policy errors, brought stability to an unstable part of the world.

Kissinger's lessons for today's policymakers
by Vartan Oskanian,
Vartan Oskanian is a member of Armenia's National Assembly, a former foreign minister and the founder of Yerevan's Civilitas Foundation.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

01 October 2014

Confronting the IS — preventing more Frankensteins

The forces of revenge, phobia and senseless bloodletting unleashed by the preposterous invasion of Iraq in 2003 continue to ravage the region and its people. An equilibrium, howsoever unjust, once knocked out, produces a whirlpool of cycles of violence that are not amenable to any quick resolution. This is especially true in a situation where the rationale for military intervention was a fabricated lie — a deception. The alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was the sole basis for launching the attack on a sovereign country and that too without any UN authorisation. Paradoxically, both George W Bush and Tony Blair, having said lies about the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in the ‘deadly’ arsenal of Saddam, not only survived but were re-elected by supposedly the most ‘enlightened’ electorates of the world.
The US occupation of Iraq although camouflaged under the perceived existence of WMDs was intended to destroy the biggest military machine in the Middle East — one that could pose a danger to the state of Israel. The destruction of the country’s infrastructure was also accompanied by an irretrievable shift in its political and sectarian landscape.
This void, left behind by the removal of a regime, the systems which held the country together, was filled by the emergence of groups, mafias that were on rampage — plundering, attacking and looting with no fear of retribution. The regime of Nouri al Maliki began to advance a ‘sectarian’ agenda. This is the worst thing that could happen to a country already under foreign occupation. Polarisation followed and soon there was a collapse of order on a gigantic scale. A many-dimensional conflict ensued that would not only sap the vitality and strength of a country and its populace but also generate a whole series of ethnic and sectarian battles plunging the country and the region into a war with no goals and no strategies.
A somewhat similar catastrophe was being enacted in Syria. The Western countries, principally the US, had this paranoid mindset that the toppling of the Assad regime would help resolve most of the regional security issues besides, of course, making Israel safe from the assaults of Hezbollah, whose patrons and financiers are Iran and Syria. It was not realised that the very forces that were sponsoring would sow the seeds of discord and spread mayhem and anarchy that could pose a potential threat to their ‘vital’ interests in the region.
The IS phenomenon was almost a natural consequence of the vacuum, the atrocities of the factional militias inflicted upon one another under the watch of the diabolical Nouri al Maliki regime, the destruction of villages, towns, the displacement of millions from their ancestral homes. In the milieu in which the IS (formerly ISIS) was born, there was no room for concepts like tolerance, accommodation and understanding. The group soon challenged and swept away the vestiges of a broken order in parts of Syria and Iraq.
The group comprised frustrated and deeply-troubled Sunni extremists who were on the margins of a socio-economic and sectarian order that did not hold any promise for the majority of the people in the region. They soon began to espouse a philosophy of hatred based on the exclusion of those who did not share their ideals and goals. As they embarked upon a policy of challenging and confronting the state authority in both Syria and Iraq, they found whole bands of new adherents to their purported cause of ‘restoring the ethnic and sectarian balance that has been shattered by the upheavals of the last 11 years’. Muslims from different parts of the world began to flock to the region to enlist in what they thought a noble cause. They thought justice would soon prevail and the injustice would end.
The IS took control of banks, industries, oil wells and refineries, weapons, transport and military hardware, etc. That made them independent as far as resources are concerned. It declared one of its leaders ‘Amirul Momineen’ — the commander of the faithful. This was done to convey the message that a new Islamic State is born which would demand allegiance from all Muslims. Owing to the rallying cry of faith, many began to support this movement.
But soon there were many disappointments. The beheading of opponents and journalists caused a stir in the ranks of the movement for Islam does not permit such killings. Then the Kurds were targeted and there were huge displacements of people. This further alienated many well wishers of the movement. The destruction of property was without any valid reason. But more importantly, the supporters began to worry about the ultimate goal and objective of the movement. Because how could a movement that kills journalists, female professionals and causes the expulsion of innocent Muslims from their homes, claim to be heading towards the establishment of an egalitarian, welfare Islamic state? People soon began to break ranks with the movement.
The IS first generated hope, then disappointment. The Sunni Arab monarchies saw a threat to their fiefdoms. They rallied to oppose and confront the IS. They poured resources, mobilised their militaries, sought alliances in a bid to defeat the movement. That was understandable and natural. But people in distant lands were ‘alarmed’ — the United States began to see ‘mortal dangers’ from IS volunteers and decided to intervene to ‘save’ America from it.
The US and French bombing missions are obliterating whatever little is left of the infrastructure of the region. True, the bombs inflict damage on the movement’s arsenal and its treasure. That is one facet of the ‘second invasion’. But a deeper malaise is being caused yet again to the already tumbling political order. More zealots, more frustrated youth, more victims of the holocaust, would begin to emerge from the ashes of a collapsing IS, causing more violence, more instability and more chaos.
The regional countries which have a stake in the situation could have promoted a more harmonious response to the challenge the IS poses. With the West intervening in the crisis, suspicions are bound to be raised in Iran — a key ally of Bashar al-Assad. The West certainly does not want to give respite to the Syrian regime and yet that regime is also fighting the IS. Iran is supporting the Shia majority regime in Iraq which is also fighting the IS. The Sunni Arab monarchies are fighting against both IS as well as the Assad regime. Such a complex conflict would inevitably cause a stupendous and destructive reaction that will be immeasurably difficult to handle or contain .
The Middle East is in the grip of another fatal cycle of violence. The region and its people would bear the scars for generations. The only beneficiaries are Israel and the factories producing weapons in the West.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2014.
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14 September 2014

911 Tradegy

As Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, I happened to be in New York on that fateful day 13 years ago. I remember witnessing the ghastly disappearance of the Twin Towers from Manhattan’s skyline that was to change not only the world history, but also the global geopolitical landscape. We were in the middle of a prayer breakfast meeting at the UN Headquarters hosted by UN Secretary General Kofi Anan for the heads of diplomatic corps in New York as well as all UN agencies when all of a sudden the news of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center reached us. We were asked to evacuate calmly.
As we were going down, we saw on television monitors in the lower lobby another plane crashing into the second tower, putting it ablaze in an instant. It then became clear that it was not an ordinary plane crash. It was an act of a cold-blooded atrocity. No one knew what had happened, and why. All that one could see was an inferno of fire and smoke. “Bloody Tuesday,” “Act of war,” “Carnage,” “Catastrophe,” “Heinous Crime,” and “Unprecedented Tragedy in American history” were some of the headlines used the next day in the American print media to describe the terrorist attacks against the United States.
The ‘belligerent’ mood of the administration was evident in its first call to the world. “You’re either with us or against us,” was the message, loud and clear. Foreign nations were given an immediate ‘black-and-white’ choice in their relationship with the United States. No doubt, the sudden disappearance of the Twin Towers from Manhattan’s skyline was to change the global geopolitical landscape altogether. The world’s sole superpower was overwhelmed by anger and lost no time in determining the nature and scale of its response. At the diplomatic front, the US was quick to mobilise international support for building an ‘international coalition’ to combat terrorism. 
Besides enlisting Nato’s participation in this campaign, it got strong resolutions adopted overwhelmingly the very next day, i.e., September 12, in the UN Security Council and the General Assembly thereby paving the ground for the legitimisation of US military action against terrorists and their hideouts. Two weeks later, Washington was able to have a more specific and action-oriented resolution (UNSC 1373 of Sept 28, 2001) adopted in the UN Security Council on specific global measures to suppress terrorism through a UN Counterterrorism Committee. Since then, the world never recovered from the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. 
For Pakistan, the 9/11 was a moment of reckoning. On that fateful day, it faced the worst dilemma of its life. Its options were limited and bleak. General Musharraf was among the very first foreign leaders to have received a clarion call from Washington. The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, telephoned him late in the evening on September 12, asking for Pakistan’s full support and cooperation in fighting terrorism. In a sombre message “from one general to another,” Colin Powell made it clear that mere condolences and boilerplate offers of help from Pakistan will not do. It had to play a key role in the war on terror that was about to begin.   
Facing domestic problems and regional challenges, General Musharraf took no time in pledging even more than the requested support and cooperation. On September 13, the US Secretary of State said that the United States was now prepared to go after terrorist networks and “those who have harboured, supported and aided that network,” wherever they were found. The same day, President George W Bush expressed appreciation for Pakistan’s readiness to cooperate and spoke of the chance that it now had to participate in “hunting down the people who committed the acts of terrorism.” The rest that followed is history. One doesn’t have to go into its details.
Thirteen years down the line, the Afghan war has yet to come to a formal closure. The world itself has yet to breathe peace. Throughout this period, the world media has had the challenging task of helping people understand the events, and in the ensuing war on terror played an important role to help provide wider perspectives of the aftermath of those attacks. The consensus has been that from being a ‘righteous war’ when it started, the US war on terror is no longer righteous as it still lingers on. Even the American media in due course of time felt that the Bush-Cheney decision to wage war was a big mistake. 
The Washington Post once said: “In the name of the war on terror, we have invaded and occupied a country that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11, we have emboldened our enemies, we have lost and taken many lives, we have spent trillions of dollars, we have sacrificed civil liberties, and we have jettisoned our commitment to human dignity.” 
But was it an honest mistake? Did President Bush and Vice-President Cheney declare war because they genuinely believed it was the best way to guarantee the safety of the American people? Or did they do it in a premeditated attempt to seize greater political and economic power globally? 
These are questions that history alone will answer. For now, at least one thing is clear. The US invaded Afghanistan on the pretext of 9/11 by waging an unrelated ‘war on terror’ which is now seen as a “semantic, strategic and legal perversion”. It forced the Taliban out of power but never defeated them. Ironically, looking back in retrospect, one is intrigued by the thought, however unbelievable it may be, that the emergence of the Taliban in mid-1990s and the post-9/11 Afghan stalemate might both be linked to the same ‘great game’ in this region which is known for its huge hidden oil and gas reserves. The real stakes in this war can be summed up just in one word: Oil. 
As secretary general of the 10-member regional cooperation organisation called the Economic Cooperation Organisation which encompasses besides Iran, Pakistan and Turkey, six former Soviet republics of Central Asia and Afghanistan, I am familiar with blueprints of plans conceptualised during my period in early 1990s for an elaborate network of oil and gas pipelines within the region and beyond. Those regional plans remain unimplemented because of the ensuing war-led turmoil in Afghanistan. It is clear now that the Afghan war was never an end in itself. It was only part of a Central Asia-focused ‘Great Game’ that will perhaps go on with far-reaching implications for this vast region as a global hotspot. 
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2014. 

Fighting the Islamic State

Fighting the Islamic State

by Munir
September 14 05:54 AM
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

PRESIDENT Obama announced a “strategy” to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State (formerly, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) on Sept 10. The announcement came scarcely two weeks after Obama had explained US reluctance to escalate military action against IS by admitting he did not have a strategy to deal with this challenge. He was roundly criticised by US politicians and pundits for his honest admission.

The announced strategy comprises four components: first, systematic air strikes against IS in Iraq , in coordination with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, and in Syria if IS there threatens Americans; second, increased support (training, intelligence, equipment) to those fighting “these terrorists”; third, improving counterterrorism capabilities: intelligence, counter-narrative, preventing the flow of Western jihadis and mobilising the international community; and four, continuing humanitarian assistance to civilians and threatened religious groups.

In fact, the announced ‘strategy’ looks very similar to what the US has been doing already for the past several weeks against IS. The two new elements are: the apparent US willingness to attack IS in Syria and the aim of building a broad coalition against it, including the major Arab states and Turkey.

It is not wholly evident why IS has emerged as America’s top military target.

It is not wholly evident why IS has emerged as America’s top military target. The head of US Homeland Security confirmed, before Obama’s speech, that there is “no direct threat from ISIS” to the US. There is no evidence of ISIS plans to attack the US or even the desire to do so. It poses a regional threat and may attack US targets there. The presence of ‘foreign fighters’ (3,000 from Europe and 100 from the US) is a possible future threat when they return home. The official said that the major threat to the US homeland still emanates from Al Qaeda and its affiliates.

Thus, superficially, Obama’s new anti-IS priority seems to have been driven purely by domestic considerations: on one hand, the growing criticism of his responses to foreign policy challenges, including IS successes, and, on the other, the higher US public support for action against the group after its brutal beheading of two American journalists.

There is no assurance the Obama “strategy” will be successful, especially without US “boots on the ground”. There may be unintended consequences. Attacking IS may create the very threat it is meant to avoid. It may make Sunni reconciliation within a united Iraq more difficult and enhance Kurdish capabilities to break away from Iraq. Degrading IS would also strengthen the Assad regime in Syria.

Yet, Obama’s ‘strategy’ could become the start of a broader plan to stabilise the region.

The 150-plus US air strikes against IS in Iraq have inevitably brought the US into operational alliance with Iranian military advisers known to be attached with the Iraqi army and Shia militias acting as its auxiliaries. Both the US and Iran have declared that there can be no direct cooperation with the other. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has indeed asserted that IS is an American creation.

But perhaps they protest too much. Iran’s foreign minister declared some months ago that Iran is prepared to cooperate with other parties to end the sectarian conflicts in the region. It is widely known that the US and Iran have held secret talks for several years which enabled them to reach the interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme. They also have had quiet contacts in Baghdad.

In exchange for American and Arab cooperation in degrading IS, which poses a threat to Iran’s allies in both Baghdad and Damascus, and a fair agreement regarding its nuclear programme, Tehran could help to ensure an inclusive government in Iraq, broker a political settlement between Assad and moderate insurgent groups in Syria, dampen the Shia opposition to the Sunni regimes in Bahrain and Yemen, restrain Hezbollah’s threat to Israel and end its support to Hamas.

It is possible that at least some aspects of such a ‘bargain’ have been discussed. Such discussions may have encouraged the Obama administration to launch the strategy against IS.

To be successful, the strategy would also require the support of the major Arab states. Saudi Arabia’s initiative to convene a meeting of 10 Arab states and Turkey in Jeddah is significant. Saudi Arabia and the UAE now consider the Muslim Brotherhood and related extremist groups a threat to their own stability and are determined to suppress them. A US strategy which both degrades IS and other Sunni extremist groups, including the Brotherhood, and secures Iran’s cooperation to contain Shia militias and insurgents across the region, would be doubly attractive. In turn, the contribution of these Arab powers would be essential to wean the Sunni tribes in Iraq away from IS and reach a political settlement in Syria.

As yet, Arab support to Obama’s anti-IS strategy is not universal. Egypt has its hands full with putting down the Brotherhood. Jordan fears the backlash from IS which now operates just across its borders with Iraq and Syria. Turkey is worried about the fate of its 49 diplomats captured by IS and averse to reinforcing Kurdish forces, which include the anti-Turkish PKK. Qatar’s closeness to the Brotherhood and other Sunni extremists has complicated its relationships with the US and its GCC neighbours.

A ‘grand bargain’ involving the US, Iran and Saudi Arabia and their respective allies and proxies would be obviously most difficult to construct and consummate. Proxies and puppets are not always easy to control. There is enormous and accumulated mistrust between the principal parties. And the sheer number and complexity of the local, sub-national and regional issues that need to be addressed is daunting.

Unless a comprehensive strategy is pursued, the fight against IS is likely to prove frustrating. Air strikes with ground support from unreliable local forces; eliminating IS’s financial sources and countering its brutal ideology will not be sufficient to destroy it. The legitimate grievances that attract its recruits will have to be addressed. Ultimately, eliminating extremism in the region will require the rapid generation of jobs and economic development.

stake is the present and future stability of the Middle East — a region in the midst of multiple and violent transitions — and its impact on the world order.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn, September 14th , 2014

The New Arabs by Juan Cole

SENIOR University of Michigan academician, Juan Cole, appears to have a twofold agenda in writing this book. On the one hand, he wishes to provide a comprehensive overview of the role and function of young revolutionaries central to the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. On the other, by doing the former, he attempts to give the reader an idea of the collective identity of (what he terms) the young millennial Arabs of the 21st century.

Cole’s tome is a breathtakingly detailed and comprehensive tour de force; lucidly written and extensively documented, over a tenth of the book is devoted to extensive explanatory notes and sources. He thus succeeds in achieving the first aim of his agenda, and while determining whether he creditably defines the millennials is ultimately up to the individual reader to ascertain, there is no doubt about the fact that his aspirations are valid and noble ones.

It should come as no secret to anyone even remotely familiar with the machinations of the Arab Spring that heads of state such as Mubarak of Egypt, Ben Ali of Tunisia, and Gaddafi of Libya, were displaced partly by means involving extensive internet networking by the revolutionaries within their respective countries. Indeed cyberspace (as opposed to ‘meatspace’) provided outlets for the restless energy and legitimate frustration of the millennials. Naturally, Cole consistently creates fundamental links between his perception of revolutionary activities and the widespread use and availability of social media in the Middle East.

The first half of the book delineates precisely what Cole means by the terms “Arab millennials” and “Republican monarchs”. He also painstakingly underscores the manner in which the post-revolution, New-Left parties within these countries struggled to cope with the confusion and fallout that inevitably arise when any regime (no matter how oppressive) is left without a central leader.

The latter half of the text details the revolutions of the three countries within the precincts of separate chapters. The number of courageous individuals listed by Cole is too numerous to dwell on here at length, but special mention may be made of a few that stand out as having been particularly significant. One of these is the Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas, another is the tragic figure of Tunisian Tariq Bouazizi, and last but not least, the Tunisian activist Zouhair Yahyaoui.

Given the immense amount of internet information about the revolutions to which one can have access, and which invariably tends to overwhelm as opposed to instruct, Cole’s book (though dense and difficult) provides a welcome sense of anchorage. This is primarily because it focuses on that which is both genuine and important. Had it not been for the heroic and systematic blogging of Wael Abbas, many Egyptian youth who wished for reform would have found themselves to be politically rudderless in the second decade of this century. Fortunately for Abbas, he was a survivor. Creator of the dissident internet magazine TUNeZINE, his counterpart Zouhair Yahyaoui attempted to co-ordinate and stimulate Tunisians in a similar manner, but his is a sadder case than that of Abbas. Though Yahyaoui achieved some of his aims, the stresses of rigorous imprisonment resulted in his health collapsing fatally when he was still in his thirties.

Bouazizi’s case appears to be the most depressing. Consistently denied the ability to put his education and personal resources to good use, in a last act of desperation he immolated himself, thereby (almost literally) beginning the conflagration that set Ben Ali’s corrupt government ablaze. One of the most vital aspects of Cole’s text is that he never places a hero before the audience, unless that individual has truly earned the dignity of being regarded as one. He is just as measured in documenting their polar opposites — for example, individuals such as the post-Mubarak president, Mohammed Morsi, whose firm personality but conservative and myopic views resulted in the Egyptian economy being affected detrimentally. Even a substantial infusion of funds by Morsi’s main benefactor, Qatar, was unable to salvage either the economy or even, ultimately, his position.

Perhaps the only major criticism of Cole’s work that jumps out at any reader is that it lacks information about some key points, such as international sentiment regarding the new millennials, and portrayals of heroic female figures of the revolutions.

This may have been because Cole’s intensely honed focus necessarily excludes such elements, or at least a detailed discussion of them, resulting in an unevenness that is understandable but can hardly go unnoticed. He feels compelled to offer thumbnail sketches of several family members of the Gaddafi ‘cartel,’ but is oddly silent about points such as Christiane Amanpour’s historic and exclusive interview with Mubarak during the early days of the Egyptian revolution. This is surprising since the author’s respect for Western journalism subtly fuels much of his own documentation.

Equally puzzling is why Cole seems so quick to view these revolutions as similar to the French one of the 18th century; that the writer is an expert on Napoleonic Egypt does not automatically mean that one should dispel a healthy personal sense of scepticism and subscribe to this viewpoint. To do so would result in an undercutting of the imperative need to see each Arab revolution as unique and non-Western.

To be perfectly fair, however, Cole never claims to be writing from a quasi-indigenous, or even empathetic, perspective, although he is both linguistically and geographically well-versed when it comes to his knowledge of the Middle East.

Deeply sobering though the book is, perhaps it would not be inappropriate to end with a fantastical but apt quote from the science-fiction novel, Star Wars: A New Hope, where Princess Leia notes: “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally, they became heroes.” The saying fully applies to key millennial figures of the Arab Spring.

The reviewer is Assistant Professor of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at the Institute of Business Administration.

The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East


By Juan Cole   Simon and Schuster, US  ISBN 978-1451690392   348pp.
The New Arabs by Juan Cole
by Nadya Chishty-Mujahid,

08 August 2014

A new challenge to Muslim world

The challenge to the Muslim world’s stability presented by the Islamic State, earlier known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), has become quite serious over the past few days.

Baghdadi’s organisation comprising the breakaway extremist faction of Al Qaeda has made significant gains in Iraq. Following its capture of minor oil fields and demolition of quite a few heritage monuments it has seized control of the large dam on the Tigris and the international media is now warning of the possibility of a catastrophic flood.

These fears may appear exaggerated but the conflict in Syria continues, an incident has been reported on the border of Lebanon and according to an agency report, Saudi Arabia is strengthening its defences along the border with Iraq. The Arab fratricide is obviously taking a heavier toll than expected earlier.

The people of Pakistan should be concerned that the slogan of caliphate has spread to India. NewAgeIslam, a well-known online forum for debate on Muslim affairs, has disclosed a charter of demands presented by a leading Muslim scholar, Maulana Salman Husain Nadvi, urging Saudi Arabia to establish a caliphate.

The people of Pakistan should be concerned that the slogan of caliphate has spread to India
Maulana Nadvi is reported to have pleaded for a world Islamic army and argued against branding the religious militants as terrorists. Instead, these “sincere Muslim youth fighting for a noble cause” should be united in a confederation of jihadi organisations for worldwide action under the guidance of the ulema.

Maulana Nadvi is quoted as saying: “As for the issue of Qadianis, particularly Safavids [meaning Iran?] and those who abuse the sahaba [meaning Shias], we should not be afraid of them and we do not need to go to the US or Israel to ward off threats from them. Just recruit the Ahle-Sunnah youth from the Indian subcontinent [does that include Pakistan?] and form a powerful Muslim army of the Islamic world. After that there will be no need of the so-called army of the sick youth of the Gulf states.

If you are sincere towards the true faith, true path, Sunnah and for the protection of the true path of Islam, then simply make an appeal, a call. Five lakh youth from the Indian subcontinent will be provided.”

Maulana Nadvi is also quoted as saying: “Military training among the Muslim youth should be stressed. Every effort should be made to save them from freedom and social evils.”

Pakistani religious circles should not be unfamiliar with Maulana Nadvi. His grandfather, Syed Suleman Nadvi, a close associate of Shibli Naumani, was at one stage adviser to the Pakistan government. It is not easy to believe that Maulana Nadvi is unaware of the contradiction between his call for an all-powerful khalifa and the Quranic dictum that Muslims decide their matters through mutual consultation, or that he does not realise the consequences of his posturing for the Muslim world, the Indian Muslims in particular.

The logic of Maulana Nadvi’s letter, if it has been correctly reported, leads to the politics of religious exclusivism that has already caused the Muslims of the subcontinent colossal harm. Regardless of their reading of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rise to power the best course for the Muslims of India, as indeed for Muslims anywhere else, is to adopt non-theocratic, inclusive political ideals.

Apart from the fear that Maulana Nadvi’s policy will exacerbate Shia-Sunni differences in India and elsewhere, the Indian Muslims’ relapse into communal politics, and revival of their suicidal tendency to look for succour beyond the national frontiers, will strengthen the rabid communalists in India’s majority community, especially among the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh hawks, and further undermine the state’s secular assumptions. Any such development is bound to strengthen conservative and anti-democratic elements in Pakistan.

The need to repel the arguments of the new advocates of caliphate cannot be gainsaid. Unfortunately, the question of caliphate, its justification or otherwise, has not been seriously debated in Pakistan. The Muslims living in the Pakistan territories in the 1920s took the Khilafat agitation (1919-1924) perhaps a little more seriously than their co-religionists elsewhere in the subcontinent. They fought for the Turkish caliphate with more passion than reason and cursed the British for not heeding their prayers for saving the caliph though his own community had had enough of him.

The subject was discussed by Allama Iqbal in the last of his 1930 lectures, published under the title The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, and he defended the decision of the Turkish Grand National Assembly that the functions of the caliph could be performed by democratically elected representatives of the people.

Iqbal quoted Ibn Khaldun to argue that there was no unanimity among Islamic authorities on the idea of a universal caliphate; two other views were that caliphate was “merely a matter of expediency” and that there was “no need of such an institution”.

Allama Iqbal described Ibn Khaldun’s argument in favour of changes in the concept of caliphate as the first dim view of international Islam that was taking shape in the 20th century. The lecture was marred by some contradictions Iqbal did not notice but it did offer a memorable warning to Muslim scholars “that a false reverence for past history and its artificial resurrection constitute no remedy for a people’s decay”.

The point that needs to be grasped is that the upholders of liberal Islam, for which the subcontinent’s scholars used to enjoy a clear distinction, in both Pakistan and India, must equip themselves now to meet the challenge to peace, democratic development, gender justice and love of heritage the storm in Iraq and Syria is posing.

For all one knows, Baghdadi may have supporters in Pakistan too. This country is in no position to bear the cost, in lives and material resources, of an intra-religious conflict that is being extracted from the Arab family.
By I.A. Rehman