Mark LeVine

An Open Letter to Carlos Santana: Don’t Play in Israel in July

Dear Carlos,

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The Global War on Terror is Far From Over - Now It's Wreaking Havoc in Africa

In the long run, it doesn't really matter which arch-terrorist was taken out and which one got away. The War on/of Terror will continue, especially in Africa, as it stands, US special operations forces managed to capture Abu-Anas al-Libi (real name: Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai), the alleged mastermind behind the deadly 1998 US Embassy attack in Kenya and Tanzania, without firing a shot.

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3 Circles of Blowback: Why Intervention in Mali Spells Disaster for Western Powers and Africa

The dispatching of French soldiers to beat back rapidly advancing Salafi militants in northern Mali represents the convergence of multiple circles of blowback from two centuries of French policies in Africa. Some date back to the beginning of the 19th century, others to policies put in place during the last few years. Together, they spell potential disaster for France and the United States (the two primary external Western actors in Mali today), and even more so for Mali and the surrounding countries.

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Why Corporate Capital and Finance Are Waging an All-Out Cyberwar Against Wikileaks

When your Swiss banker throws you overboard, you know you've made some very powerful enemies.

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Why the FBI Squelched an Investigation of a Post-9/11 Meeting Between White Supremacist and Islamic Extremists

The recent shooting at the Holocaust Museum serves as a stark reminder to us all that murderous racial and religious hatred still endures in America. One would expect the FBI to infiltrate and prosecute individuals and organizations that threaten domestic terrorist acts. But as this investigative report details, the large FBI bureaucracy, from the bottom to the very top, may well be more concerned with covering up its agents' own illegal misconduct than it is with actually protecting Americans from terrorist attack.

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A New Constitution

In the months leading up to the release of the (apparently) final version of the Iraqi Constitution this past week, most commentators focused on three topics -- women, Islamic law, and Federalism -- as the issues that would cause negotiators the most problems. Not surprisingly, they have been at the center of reports about the heated arguments inside the Green Zone between Shi'i, Kurdish and (far too few) Sunni representatives.

But the problems caused by the often ambiguous wording of the Constitution on these issues obscure a bigger problem caused by what has been left out of the document: any language prohibiting the permanent stationing of foreign troops in Iraq or foreign control of the country's oil resources, and any curtailment of the wholesale privatization program enacted by the CPA during the occupation's first year.

The most gaping hole in the Constitution, the one that virtually guarantees a healthy insurgency for years to come, is the one around Article 108 where there should have been a clause stating that no foreign troops are allowed to maintain long-term or permanent bases on Iraqi soil. Such a clause is the absolute sine qua non for the termination of the Sunni insurgency and the pacification of Muqtada' al-Sadr's unruly forces. Without it, the violence will certainly continue for the foreseeable future.

It's no surprise that the clause is missing, as the U.S. has no plans to withdraw all its troops from the country in the near future. All the arguments back and forth about troop "reductions," "withdrawals" or "draw-downs" have been about just that -- reducing troop levels to a more acceptable (to Americans, that is) number, perhaps 20 or 30 thousand, in half a dozen or more hardened bases whose construction is impossible to ignore for anyone who's been stuck on the country's clogged highways while massive construction convoys pass by.

This dynamic has placed the new Iraqi leadership is in a classic catch-22: It can't survive without a massive U.S. presence and so can't ask the U.S. to leave; yet until it does just that, millions of Iraqis will consider it illegitimate, no matter how democratically it is elected.

Turning to oil and privatization, during the year of official American rule over Iraq, L. Paul Bremer issued half a dozen "orders" that mandated the privatization of state-owned enterprises; allowed 100 percent foreign ownership of businesses except oil, offered foreign firms the same privileges as domestic companies, and allowed unrestricted, tax-free transfers of profits out of the country.

The constitution says nothing about any of these "orders," which likely means that they will remain the law of Iraq for the foreseeable future. In fact, aside from a prohibition on non-Iraqis owning real estate in Article 23, there is no prohibition of foreign ownership of anything, including, it seems, oil.

Article 109 does say that "oil and gas is the property of all the Iraqi people in all the regions and provinces," but it doesn't prohibit them from selling their property, or specify in any manner what role foreign firms will play in its extraction and sale. Indeed, while Article 110 sensibly balances the rights of Kurds and Shi'a living in oil rich provinces with petroleum-poor Sunnis (who received a disproportionate share of oil revenues during the Saddam years), it says nothing about who will control the production and sale of the oil other than saying that the government will "rely on the most modern techniques of market principles and encouraging investment."

This language is a recipe for significant American control over the Iraqi oil industry, even if through the back door. It is strengthened by articles 25 and 26, which state that "the state shall guarantee the reforming of the Iraqi economy according to modern economic bases ... diversifying its sources and encouraging and developing the private sector."

Such a "reformation" is at the heart of the kind of structural adjustment programs that have, by the World Bank's own admission, so often wreaked havoc in developing countries (particularly in the Middle East and Africa), yet that have been demanded of Iraq as a condition for receiving debt relief and loans.

Interestingly, the three issues most commentators have worried about probably couldn't have been addressed more neatly than they were in this document. A faulty English translation of the crucial Article 2, which rendered it as saying that no law can contradict the "indisputable rules of Islam," sounds less restrictive when the Arabic is more accurately translated as "the established laws of Islam."

Since there is a lot of debate over which laws are sufficiently well-established to be unchallengeable, Iraqi politicians, judges, religious scholars and the public will have myriad resources to sort out issues related to women's rights and other contentious issues in the coming years -- as long as there's enough of a reduction of violence to enable a public sphere in which all citizens can claim a voice.

The same can be said for the articles dealing with federalism, which have gone a long way towards balancing the clearly -- and understandably -- competing desires of Kurds, Shi'a and Sunnis. If the worst criticism is in fact that it doesn't lay enough rhetorical stress on Iraq's "Arab character," as the Secretary General of the Arab League complained, then the drafters have done their job well. In fact, Article 33's "guarantee [of] protection and preservation of the environment and biological diversity" puts Iraq well ahead of the United States in terms of the Government's commitment to the environment.

But as long as millions of Iraqis see the U.S. military and American corporations as the real rulers of Iraq, the environment and the people are going to suffer dearly.

Twin Golems of Violence

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 it has become commonplace that religious extremism, particularly of the Muslim kind, lies at the heart of the problems that seemingly condemn the Muslim majority world to political and social backwardness, economic stagnation, and cultural oppressiveness. For the planners and supporters of Bush administration policy in Iraq, the actions of the country's Sunni minority, and the thousands of foreign "jihadis" who have come to fight the Great Satan "between the two rivers" (as Musab al-Zarqawi has allegedly renamed his Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda), have become a poster child for all that is wrong with Islam.

Most scholars of the Middle East and Islam would take issue, strongly, with such simplistic (mis)characterizations of contemporary Islam and Muslims. But there is more than a grain of truth to the accusation that religious beliefs and motivations are among the biggest contributors to the violence plaguing Iraq. Indeed, the attitudes of religious leaders in the country, especially Sunnis, have played a powerful and negative role in the continuing violence that threatens to derail, or at best seriously delimit the positive impact, of the Jan. 30 elections.

Of course, the attitudes of senior American religious-cum-political leaders (and can there be any doubt George W. Bush functions as both for millions of Americans?) aren't helping much either. Much attention has been devoted to the numerous Bush administration errors – disbanding the Iraqi army, not putting enough U.S. forces on the ground – that encouraged the current chaos and violence in Iraq. Yet as important has been the clearly religious – jihadist, actually – foundations of the U.S. invasion and occupation of the country. Guiding American policy in Iraq and the larger Middle East are several troubling dynamics, the combination of which have led to 100,000 dead Iraqis, well over 1,000 dead U.S. soldiers, and counting; not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars literally wasted on useless violence (go ask the victims of last week's tsunami what better ways there are to spend that kind of money).

Crusader Mentality

First there is the "imperial" and "crusader" mentality that has come to dominate American foreign policy (the words are Condeleeza Rice's and President Bush's respectively, not mine). Next there is the belief among some of the most important political figures in the country, not to mention tens of millions of God-fearing Christian Americans, that the war in Iraq heralds the coming of the Apocalypse and is therefore part of God's plan and beyond criticism (no matter what the human and economic costs). Most important, fin-de-millennium America has witnessed the re-branding of Christianity as a religion of large-scale, divinely sanctioned violence that is specifically wed to a hyper-consumerist, market fundamentalism, which, as Thomas Frank demonstrates in his best-selling What's the Matter with Kansas, has the perverse ability to brainwash tens of millions of Americans to support economic policies that are manifestly against their class interests and violate the most cherished tenets of the Gospels (humility, serving the poor, struggling for social justice). Making the synergy work is the ability of what could be termed "market-fundamentalist Christianity" to redirect Americans' anger at the life-conditions it produces toward a mythological bogeyman called the "liberal elite."

While the above discussion explains why President Bush has been re-elected despite an invasion gone terribly awry – legally, politically, and economically – it shouldn't blind us to the fact that an equally disturbing rebranding of Islam in Iraq and across the Muslim world has enabled an equally disastrous decision by the highest levels of the country's Sunni establishment to use mass violence rather than mass civil protest to confront the American-sponsored occupation. As one of the country's most senior religious figures blithely explained to me during my travels through Arab Iraq last spring, the Sunnis would "kill the infidels" without question or remorse in order to defeat the occupation. The blood of the occupation would be answered by the blood of the insurgency, with little consideration of the implications of unleashing such a wave of violence across a country that had already lived through "thirty-five years of death," as a young Shi'a religious leader explained to me exasperatedly in describing his despair at the turn to violence by his Sunni colleagues and compatriots.

Of course, Iraqi Shi'a have their own militants. Not just Moqtada al-Sadr, but numerous higher-level Shi'a religious figures, including Ayatollahs like Ahmed al-Baghdadi (whose message to America when I interviewed him in Najaf was even more extreme than that of his Sunni counterparts in Baghdad) also are prepared for "jihad" to rid Iraq of the occupation. But such views are clearly outweighed by the more pragmatic and largely non-violent strategy of Grand Ayatollah Sistani and his disciples, young and old, who realize that their majority status, coupled with their belief that the U.S. cannot sustain an occupation for very long at the current costs in dollars and soldiers, has led them to bide their time and strip the U.S. of power and authority one election, and one redrafted law, at a time.

But the Sunni establishment by and large does not have this view. Part of the reason is, of course, that their minority status leaves them naturally frightened of any new political system that might marginalize or even oppress them, as the country's Shi'a have been oppressed for centuries. As important, according to several Iraqi students of the country's religious establishment, is that the last decade plus of sanctions succeeded in isolating the country's Sunni establishment from the outside world, and especially more modern and even progressive currents within Islam, whereas their Shi'a counterparts spent these years either in exile (and thus more open to outside influences) or at least in close touch with the outside world via Iran.

Golems of Violence

Viewed broadly, then, it would seem that a combination of ignorance about the other side and arrogance about its own power and righteousness of its goals has led conservative, even extremist American and Sunni Iraqi leaders alike to create what we could refer to as twin golems of violence to protect and advance their opposing interests. But like the monster in the old Jewish folk tale, while originally created to protect and serve its community, the Sunni and American golems quickly became uncontrollable, instigating more violence than either side could have done on its own.

In Jewish folklore, the golem is either forced to flee the town by its inhabitants or is destroyed by its creator. Sadly, in real life, it seems that neither the Bush administration nor the Sunni leadership of Iraq is capable of or interested in taking on its golem. This reality – a combination of pride and moral cowardliness on both sides – has left elections as perhaps Iraq's only hope for an end to the violence. But this will only happen if the Iraqi people surprise the world and use the elections to run both golems – and with them, the insurgents and the occupation forces alike – out of town.

The ability of the vast majority of Iraqis of all ethnicities and sectarian allegiances who are desperate for an end to both the occupation and the insurgency to achieve such a miracle will depend on who votes on election day and what parties and candidates they vote for. Specifically, women, secular, and non-sectarian or ethnic (that is, “Iraqi” as opposed to “Sunni,” “Shi'a,” or “Kurdish”) voters will have to come out in large numbers to make the healing of Iraq possible; yet this is a very tall order considering that all three groups have been largely shut out of the public sphere that during the past year.

Women have been largely imprisoned in their homes because of the violence and chaos of the insurgency, even though beforehand Iraq had among the most socially advanced female populations in the developing world. And so while the electoral law stipulates that one out of every three candidates for the Assembly be a woman, if women are too scared to vote or are otherwise prevented from doing so, their elected representatives will have little power or incentive to push to protect the interests of half the population.

Iraq also was once one of the most secular countries in the Muslim world. However, the decade plus of sanctions, Hussein's patronage of the Sunni religious establishment and the political repression of the Shi'a have all made it very difficult for secular politics to thrive in post-occupation Iraq. Similarly, while for most of the past 80 years Kurds and Sunni and Shi'a Arabs have managed to sustain a surprisingly resilient and deep “Iraqi” national identity, perhaps one of the signal accomplishments of the occupation has been the successful transformation by the U.S. of what had threatened to become a country-wide Arab into a more manageable Sunni revolt.

While such a splitting of Iraqi allegiances to more narrow sectarian and/or ethnic interests has a long imperial pedigree, the blowback from it is that even as most Iraqis prefer to remain united under one sovereign government than break apart into what would surely be three unsustainable states, the violence of the occupation and insurgency are making it hard to build a common, cross-ethnic, and sectarian political movement. The violence, closed public sphere, and power of ethnic and sectarian parties, are major impediments to Iraqis voting their “Iraqi” rather more narrowly defined conscience.

The Lebanon Scenario

Because of these dynamics there is every reason to believe that the January elections will at best produce a deeply divided Assembly that will have to overcome extreme odds to build a common future for Iraq's diverse population. What we'll likely see are several major blocs divided between Shi'as, Kurds, and Sunnis, with women effectively marginalized from or co-opted into the emerging male and religiously defined power structure – in short, the "Lebanon scenario" more than one Bush administration official has declared would be an acceptable and even preferred outcome of the January elections.

The problem with such an outcome is that in Lebanon the post-colonial power structure failed to chase away or disarm the golems of ethnic and religious hostility so carefully nurtured under French rule. It took a 14-year civil war to do that, and even today Lebanon survives despite a barely functioning state and a lack of substantial political development or intercommunal reconciliation since the war ended. And that's in a country with only 3.5 million people and no oil.

Of course, with literally hundreds of parties and thousands of candidates registered Iraqis might surprise the world and elect a legislature with enough independent and non-sectarian members to forge the national consensus that will be the sine qua non for writing the country's new constitution in the coming year. Let's hope such an outcome comes to pass; if it doesn't, the blame will be shared equally by the golems and their creators, in Washington and Fallujah alike.

In his recent surprise visit to Baghdad, British Prime Minister Tony Blair exclaimed that the battle in Iraq is "between democracy and terror." He and his friend President Bush keep leaving out one third of the true equation – empire. Iraq has become a battleground between democracy, terror, and empire. And empire has always been sustained by religious chauvinism, exclusivism, and the violence they breed. Unless and until imperialism and religious extremism are removed from the equation, democracy will continue to lose out to terror, in Iraq, the United States, and across the globe.

Where Are the Islamic Moderates?

As the war on terrorism expands to new fronts, a dangerous deterioration in relations between the United States and the Muslim world is proceeding apace.

Two explanations within U.S. policy-making circles have emerged to explain this hostility, yet both are seriously flawed. A more honest and promising approach requires rethinking our conception of Muslim moderation and adjusting our policies to accord with our highest principles.

The first view of the problem of Islam dominated the Clinton years. It was based on the self-evident "fact" that a once proud Islamic civilization has fallen far behind the West for reasons of its own doing. However, Muslims still have the potential to join the civilized world if, like other developing countries, they would only follow our prescription for establishing a free market and liberal democracy. However painful this cure, ignoring our advice would mean even greater poverty, inequality, and fanaticism.

Such an explanation at least carried the promise that development -- and along with it, a decrease in anti-Americanism -- was possible. It's a view that seems to have been disregarded by many senior members of the Bush Administration, who prefer an elaborated version of the "clash of civilizations" thesis which sees the civilizational blocs, notably the "West" and "Islam," as inherently opposed and deeply antagonistic. For them, the future of relations looks grim and mounting hostility unavoidable, which has culminated in a policy of preemptive full-scale -- even nuclear -- war in response.

Even as the President speaks of the peaceful essence of Islam, Muslims seem doomed to be modernized by force. Indeed, while our political ideology has shifted, the underlying foundations for U.S. policy has continued to include a commitment to Westernization in the guise of modernatization, a process that for most of the non-West has never occurred without significant violence. Yet this durable myth of only one path to the future is so pervasive that some of modernity's -- and conservative politics' -- most trenchant critics also see it as the solution to what ails the Muslim world.

Thus, for example, Salman Rushdie has recently called for "moderate" voices of Islam to "insist on the modernization of their culture and faith," lest heretics from within (aided by American marines?) break down the "prison doors" of a seemingly recalcitrant Islam. Rushdie should know better, as he has written some of the most acerbic critiques (most powerfully and ironically in The Satanic Verses) of the very modernity he now wishes imposed on the religion he was born into.

In fact, Muslim "moderates" do not hold these views at all, as "modernization" has long been seen as inseparable from European imperialism and colonialism, followed by nationalism and Cold-War superpower conflict -- each of which have wreaked havoc from Algeria to Indonesia. The belief that "Islam is the solution" emerged because of the failure of the West's model of modernity to bring the advertised freedom, justice, and development. In this context, while Secretary of State Powell's recent call for dialogue with "moderate" Muslims to build a democratic future for the Middle East is laudable, the U.S. cannot bribe or bully our allied "moderate" regimes and expect them to last. We might be able to compel the leader of Turkey's new Islamist Government to support the war against Iraq and leave unchallenged the power and corruption of the Turkish military, but these policies are contrary to the reasons for the party's popularity, and will likely further radicalize its constituents.

Similarly, Powell's seal of approval of the much celebrated recent Arab Human Development Report because it was "written by Arabs themselves" misses the fact that there is no such thing as a specifically "Arab" species of development, and that the authors (no doubt in order to be seen as moderates) conveniently ignored cultural issues or the long-term impact of centuries of Western domination of the region.

As important, the constant U.S. media attention on the most extreme and violent expressions of Islam obliterates the presence of moderate voices and movements who speak to their own peoples. This in turn marginalizes the "moderates" and stirs attention away from the courageous interventions of many Islamist figures who denounce extremist violence and the more routine forms of oppression within their societies.

An alternative approach to overcoming Muslim hostilities is within our reach, but it comes with stiff requirements. First, we must give up the idea that modernization means Westernization. Second, we must accept that moderation with staying power will be moderation on Islamic ground rather than any brand we could pay for or compel. Third, we need to pay attention to the existing authentic centrist voices in the Muslim world, understanding that the agenda of Muslim moderates will reflect the needs of their people and the dictates of their own culture, not ours, though we can reasonably hope for areas of significant agreement.

As it stands, Muslim advocates of non-violence and democracy have been hampered by two powerful forces: the Arab State system and decades of U.S. foreign policy. In this context, if the U.S. public wonders why there were no prominent Middle Eastern voices condemning the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, the reality was that such voices have been raised, and loudly so, but without receiving much attention in the American press.

Egyptian Yusef al-Qaradawi issued a fatwa condemning the attacks as a "crime against society," which was the latest in decades of often courageous positions against the extremists. Yet, because he does not tow the American line and condemns oppressive policies of American allies such as Egypt or Israel, this figure, perhaps the most influential Muslim cleric alive, will not be meeting with senior Bush Administration officials any time soon. Meanwhile, the desperate situation of Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza, the return of corrupt, oppressive and misogynist warlords in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan, and the likelihood that a post-Saddam Iraq will fall into similar chaos or dictatorship are all clear to Qaradawi's followers, and to millions of increasingly inter-connected Muslims (through al-Jazeera and the internet) around the world.

The fact is that authentic Arab and Muslim moderates support conceptions of progress, democracy and human rights compatible with our own -- that is precisely why they oppose U.S. policies in the region. In this context, U.S. Government efforts to use (self-described) propaganda funneled through American-financed pop radio stations or Defense Department-funded "Islamic schools" to win hearts and minds only trivializes those commitments and insults those whom we seek to persuade. And when moderates have not gone far enough to condemn the increasing anti-Jewish or U.S. rhetoric in their societies, our own hypocrisies leaves us little credibility to call for more honesty and courage on their side.

We need to listen and respond reasonably to authentic Islamic voices of moderation if we are to win durable allies and calm the increasingly hate-filled anti-Americanism that feeds al-Qa'eda and its amorphous allies. But to do so we must move away from a dangerously open-ended policy of war against evil, reject the axes of ignorance and arrogance upon which it rests, and build an axis of empathy that challenges Muslims and Americans alike to pursue the highest ideals of our cultures.

Raymond William Baker is Professor of International Politics, Trinity College, author of Islam Without Fear: Egypt and the New Islamists, forthcoming Harvard University Press fall '03. Mark LeVine is Assistant Professor of History at UC Irvine and author of Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine, forthcoming on UC Press.

Bring the Turtles to Ramallah

One of the main reasons that the 1999 protests in Seattle gained such notoriety and sympathy was the surprise of seeing a seemingly disorganized group of ageing unionists and often strange-looking young people use a massive nonviolent protest to challenge and even transform the policies of the world's most powerful institutions. The success of Seattle served as a wake-up call to couch-potato activists everywhere that cynicism and political apathy were not the only options for those opposed to the status quo.

Today, the situation in the occupied territories is ripe for the same kind of action.

For years a small group of Palestinian, Israeli, and international peace activists (the Christian Peacemaker Teams, the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, the International Solidarity Committee, Bustan Shalom, Haluzay Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, to name a few) have been using creative, nonviolent activism to inspire Palestinian society to transform its struggle against Israeli occupation into a large-scale, nonviolent civil protest. Such a movement could more successfully push the army -- and more importantly, the Israeli and international publics -- to face up to the brutal injustice and reality of 35 years of what even the New York Times's Thomas Friedman now admits has been "colonial occupation." Indeed, it's no surprise that the previous Israeli assault on Palestinian cities, in February, came just as Palestinian leaders, intellectuals and activists were urging their public to move toward massive nonviolent civil disobedience. It's no surprise that this past weekend Israel declared much of the West Bank a closed military zone after groups of peace activists marched, loud and proud, in front of Israeli tanks to protect Palestinian civilians and leaders alike.

These actions demonstrate that there is little the Israeli Government fears more than the type of large-scale nonviolent protest so many of us have long urged Palestinians to follow in place of violent resistance. And in fact Israel has a sad history of arresting, deporting and even shooting Palestinian and foreign peace activists (not to mention journalists), which is a major reason why today there is no infrastructure within Palestinian society for a Gandhi/King inspired program of civil disobedience. Yet at least in part because not enough Israelis and international activists have been willing literally -- figuratively isn't worth much -- to stand side by side with Palestinians against the occupation, most Palestinians have concluded that they are ultimately alone, and that the only way to win their freedom is to make Israelis suffer more. The moral and strategic flaws in this calculus have never been clearer.

So I would argue to the tens of thousands of globe-trotting globalization protesters that you have been missing a much more pressing case of globalization. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is intimately tied to the militarization of the Middle East. Militarization is at the heart of the inability of the countries of the region (who are both the least democratic and largest per capita arms purchasers in the world) to engage successfully the forces of economic and cultural globalization.

In fact, the entire Oslo process was premised on securing Israel a leading position in the new globalized order. On the strategic level, the mis-named "labor" elite, led by Shimon Peres, saw peace with Palestinians as the necessary and sufficient condition for a high-tech, low-wage Israel assuming its natural place as the cultural and economic "engine of the new Middle East" (not surprisingly, Arab commentators immediately jumped on this rhetoric and continue to use it as a justification for opposing "normalization" of relations between Israel and Arab states, fearing that the Arab world can neither compete with Israel nor fend off the further "invasion" of the Western culture it represented).

More specific to the Oslo framework for "peace" with Palestinians, the rarely mentioned economic section of the accords represented a textbook case of neo-liberal neo-colonialism, with Israel retaining the power to dictate the details of what industries/export policies Palestinians could pursue and maintaining whatever Palestinian "state" would emerge as a captive open market for Israeli goods (many of which are produced by cheap labor in Jordan and Egypt). Ultimately, one can even see that the intensification of religious nationalism among politically and economically marginalized communities in Israel/Palestine has helped doom the so-called peace process. Middle Eastern ("Mizrahi") Jews, who have long faced discrimination by the European Jewish elite, are among the leading Israeli "opponents" of peace (in large part because they realized the peace and prosperity that Peres and Co. envisioned would do little for them). Muslims both inside Israel and in the occupied territories have seen economic opportunities and standards of living fall and poverty rise during a decade of peace-making and become increasingly radicalized. That poverty has come in response to the neo-liberal economic policies of successive Israeli governments since 1977, when Israel joined Margaret Thatcher's England as the first countries to try out the Milton Friedman school of economic shock therapy that Ronald Reagan would bring home to roost a few years later.

Indeed, the situation in Palestine/Israel has long constituted a much more immediate and clear threat to peace, justice and autonomous development than the complex and contradictory programs of the IMF and World Bank. And while the two thousand Israeli and Palestinian activists who faced off against Israeli troops are an encouraging sign, they will not succeed in defeating the violence without massive international support and solidarity. Unfortunately, in over two years of urging and arguing with leaders of the globalization protest movements I have consistently been frustrated in attempts both to bring in Arabs and Muslims into the international dialog, and to turn our attention to the pressing need for their intervention in the Middle East.

I've faced off against riot police in Prague and bulldozers in the West Bank; and I can tell my fellow activists that the need for your courage, ingenuity and enthusiasm is far more immediate and will have far greater effect in Ramallah and Beit Jala than anywhere else. So bring on the samba bands, puppeteers and turtle people; let's turn Ramallah into Seattle! As the situation grows ever more dire, nothing short of a massive influx of activists ready to put their bodies on the line will challenge the terror of tanks and suicide bombers alike, and create the space in which Israeli and Palestinian activists, presently cowed into silence by blood-soaked populations, can challenge and inspire their peoples toward a future of peace and reconciliation.

If you want more information about plans to organize solidarity trips to Palestine/Israel, or even better, help organize them, email or visit

Mark LeVine is Assistant Professor of History at UC Irvine and author of the forthcoming Overthrowing Geography, Re-Imagining Identities: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine (University of California Press). He has been published in numerous scholarly and journalistic venues, including Le Monde, Tikkun, the Christian Science Monitor,,, the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, the Journal of Palestine Studies, and the Mediterranean Studies Journal.

10 Things to Know About Terrorism

1. What is terrorism?

Terrorism is hard to define. In its broadest sense terrorism can be thought of as the use or threatened use of force against civilians designed to bring about political or social change. Moreover, while we think of terrorism as being both a political and irrational act (especially suicide terrorism), terrorism can also be thought of as a rational act conducted specifically because of the impact -- fear, confusion, submission -- it will have.

Given the U.S. government's pledge to wage a war against terrorism, it is important to look at its definitions. According to both the Department of Defense (DOD) and the FBI, terrorism is "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." The DOD definition adds that a goal of terrorism can be "inculcating fear" (thus the psychological dimension), while the State Department is more elaborate, specifying that terrorism may include the use of biological, chemical or nuclear devices as well as the act of "assassination."

The latter would suggest that assassinating bin Laden would be a terrorist act by our definition of the word; the former that allied forces in the fire bombings of cities in Dresden, and specifically the U.S., through its use of nuclear weapons to end World War II and of chemical weapons in Vietnam, has already engaged in terrorist activities, although the moral calculus and justification for these actions varies widely and in comparison with the terrorism of the enemies, such as Nazi Germany.

This is the grand conundrum of defining terrorism; it is very difficult to separate it from acts of war, just or unjust. We all have heard the saying, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." And indeed, Osama bin Laden and his comrades were hailed as freedom fighters in the 1980s by the American government at a time when politicians like Dick Cheney considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist.

Further, the UN definition of terrorism states that "all war crimes will be considered acts of terrorism," in which case most every government in the world (especially the major military powers, Pakistan, Israel, the major Muslim states, most Latin American governments) has committed terrorism, though few have ever faced justice or even opprobrium for doing so.

2. What is the history of terrorism?

The first recorded use of "terrorism" and "terrorist" was in 1795, relating to the Reign of Terror instituted by the French government. The use of "terrorist" to signify anti-government activities was recorded in 1866 referring to Ireland, and in 1883 referring to Russia.

Throughout history humans have terrorized their neighbors to generate fear and compel changes in behavior. At the dawn of China's imperial age, T'ai Kung, the first Chinese general and progenitor of strategic thought, described the "spreading of civil offensives" to sow dissension, demoralize the populace and incapacitate the government.

In the modern period, all regular armies have recruited "irregulars" to do their dirty work: Cossacks, hunters, Hussars, all were used to draw a civilized veil over the actions of their sponsors as they raped and pillaged in towns and across countrysides. (Ironically, Ivan the First had to subdue the very Cossacks he used to pacify the Muslim regions of Russia; today the U.S. is forced to "subdue" the Muslims we used to pacify Russia.)

Today terrorism must be viewed within the context of the modern nation-state. Indeed, it was the rise of a bureaucratic state, which could not be destroyed by the death of one leader that forced terrorists to widen their scope of targets in order to create a public atmosphere of anxiety and undermine confidence in government. This reality is at the heart of the ever more violent terrorism of the last 100 years, from anarchists' assassinations to hijackings and suicide bombings.

3. Who and where are terrorists today?

According to the U.S. State Department, there are at least 45 terrorist groups outside the United States. Currently, at least seven "rogue states" -- Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea, Cuba and now Afghanistan -- are accused by the U.S. of "supporting terrorism."

But the label of who is and isn't a terrorist is still fuzzy. Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat was a terrorist, and now isn't. Jerry Adams of Ireland's Sinn Fein and Nelson Mandela of South Africa were terrorists, now they're statesmen. At least three Israeli Prime Ministers were either self-avowed terrorists or could be legitimately accused of engaging in terrorist activities. Our newest ally in the war against terror, Russian President Vladimir Putin, continues to lead a dirty war in Chechnya that could be described as terrorist in the ferocity of its atrocities against civilians.

Thirty years ago Noam Chomsky reminded us that two thirds of the national-security states using torture and terrorism were clients of the United States. Moreover, almost every Middle Eastern government, including our strongest allies, engage in state-terrorism against its people or its neighbors. To cite just one small example, Pakistan, our major security partner in Central Asia, is about to execute Dr. Yunis Shaikh, a leading humanist and peace activist [go to for more information and to help free him] on concocted charges of "blasphemy," precisely in order to stifle any dissent against the government's policies. And yet President Bush has ignored this human rights abomination, waved American sanctions imposed after the detonation of the Pakistani bomb and is putting together new aid packages for the Pakistan government.

4. From where does the trail of Osama bin Laden, and terrorists more generally, originate?

We are only beginning to understand the incredibly complex logistical, financial and personnel network behind the likes of Osama bin Laden. This complexity suggests the deeper we dig, the wider the circle grows. What has long been clear is that bin Laden's main support comes from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, both major U.S. allies and pivots in our Middle Eastern and Central Asian security system.

The U.S. remains the lead arms supplier and patron of the Saudi regime, and was close to Pakistan during the Afghan war, while the dictator Zia ul-Haq (one of the world's more ruthless) was in power. The CIA was a main funnel of over $3 billion in funds to the Afghan resistance, which became the core of the current terrorist network. The Soviet Union was likewise a supporter of the previous generation of Arab terrorists, such as Abu Nidal, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other Palestinian groups.

The U.S. alliance with the Saudi royal family goes back to the 1940s, when the Roosevelt administration pledged to ensure the survival of the royal family as long as it ensured a supply of cheap oil. Thus was born the petrodollar-arms cycle, in which dollars sent to the Saudis in the form of oil revenues were recycled back to the U.S. through arms purchases. To understand the finances of terrorism it is important to keep in mind this petrodollar cycle, which keeps the vast majority of oil revenue in the hands of corrupt regimes and thus out of reach of most citizens of the region.

If we turn to the question of who is harboring and financing terrorists, once again the West and its allies in the Middle East and global south are implicated. For its part, the U.S. is involved, through foreign aid and weapons sales totaling hundreds of billions of dollars during and since the Cold War (from just 1993 to 1997, the U.S. government sold, approved or gave away $190 billion in weapons to virtually every nation on earth). The same has been true for the Soviet Union, though on a smaller scale. Whether in Latin America, Africa, Asia or the Middle East, regimes that have engaged in acts of terror could not have survived without the support of the two (and now one) superpower and our G-8 allies.

But blame cannot just be laid with superpowers. If bin Laden could not survive without the Taliban, the Taliban could not exist were it not for Pakistan's patronage and support of hundreds of "madrasas," or religious schools, that train thousands of young men to do little else other than hate and kill in the name of God. In fact, the major financiers of the bin Laden and the Taliban have been Saudi intelligence and eminent Saudis such as the Governor of Riyadh and the Grand Mufti of the country. Ironically, bin Laden has been linked to Saddam Hussein.

Yet it is not only princes and sheiks who are to blame: average people through small donations have helped to sustain myriad terrorist organizations, whether its Arabs giving to duel-function groups like the Muslim Brotherhood or the Hamas that provide social services and support violent activities, or poor Pakistanis who still manage to give a rupee or two to add to bin Laden's millions. It could also be argued that average citizens in France, Israel or the U.S. do likewise through their tax dollars that pay our policies.

5. What do Judaism, Christianity and Islam have to say about terrorism?

The concept of terrorism arose centuries after the classic texts of the three religions were handed down to humanity, so it is difficult to discuss the concept of terrorism in this sense. However, all three Abrahamic faiths allow war and set limits on when, how and against whom it can be waged

If we start with Judaism, certainly the Bible, in the Ten Commandments, admonishes "thou shalt not kill," which clearly would prescribe any sort of violence against non-combatants. Indeed, the Prophet Hosea warned Israel that her sins would cause "the tumult of war [to] arise among your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed… mothers dashed in pieces with their children." Yet the Bible also describes the Lord as "a man of war" who orders Israel to "go and smite Am'alek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." In one sense, this is not an act of terrorism, since the goal isn't political. Yet in the larger context of teaching a lesson to Israel's enemies by making Am'alek an example, it would seem to meet the criteria. Moreover, if we consider the Egyptians' killing of all the first born of the Hebrews, and God's doing likewise to Egypt as the tenth plague preceding the Exodus, both could be interpreted in a modern context as "terroristic" because they involved the killing of innocent non-combatants for political ends -- i.e., the changing of attitudes and policies on each side.

Of course, by definition God cannot engage in an act of evil, yet when Job questioned God, He did not answer directly, but instead replied, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand... Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?" Even the prophets could not answer the question of evil and innocent suffering in a world created in God's image.

If we turn to Christianity, the example of Jesus's doctrine of blessing peacemakers and turning the other cheek has influenced pacifist movements to this day. Instead of an "eye for an eye," Jesus said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Yet he did not challenge the Roman soldiers to give up their profession—which certainly included "terrorism" as a matter of course—while Paul in Romans exclaims that "He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil."

As Christian theology developed with Augustine and later Aquinas, the doctrine of "just war" helped define the rules and limits of war, and are now being used by the Vatican to indicate its support for the war against terrorism. Augustine explained, "We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace."

Such solipsisms are easily distorted to justify any sort of barbarity, even as the just war doctrine prohibited "private individuals" (like Osama bin Laden) from "summoning together the people," to quote Aquinas. Yet Augustine's definition of a just war as "one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly" sounds just like the justifications offered by terrorists everywhere for their extreme actions. And indeed, the commonly accepted contemporary criteria for a just war -- having a "just case," being under "proper authority," fighting for justice and not reasons of self-interest or aggrandizement -- can all be claimed by terrorists as well as "just" states. Finally, we should remember that the Crusades or Inquisition, which were executed largely through terroristic means, were authorized directly by the Church.

Arriving at Islam, the concept of Jihad, or "struggle," which in recent decades has been at the theological core of justifying Muslim acts of terrorism, traditionally meant the spiritual and moral struggle of an individual Muslim against his or her evil inclinations. The lesser jihad, that is, war against other human beings, is in classical Muslim sources a "defensive" war with limits that cannot be "transgressed," even when fighting those who "try to force you to adopt another religion or to leave your home." In fact, the conservative Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran just called the fight against terrorism a "holy war" -- that is, a jihad.

Yet while the Koran has plenty of verses that talk about peace, even with Muhammad's enemies, there are also verses that advocate war and violence. Indeed, God exclaims in Sura 8:12, "I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them." Moreover, while the Koran prohibits suicide, and the Prophet clearly prohibited killing noncombatants, women and children, destroying property or even poisoning wells (the precursor to chemical warfare), there are hadith (prophetic sayings) that list jihad as among the highest religious duties, higher even than performing the pilgrimage to Mecca, which is one of the five pillars of the faith. And although it is not always clear which jihad is being spoken of, the fact that the Prophet is quoted as saying that booty will be the reward for "Jihad for God," and that women should make the pilgrimage instead of jihad, one can assume that the martial sense of jihad is intended at least some of the time.

Ultimately, the theological roots of terrorism or war in general would seem to be moot, for religion has long been used to justify politics and warfare. Nonetheless, this has not stopped the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon from considering themselves to be good Muslims, nor the Jews who uproot Palestinian homes or Serbs who kill Muslims in Bosnia from considering themselves to be good Jews or Christains. Arguing with them about the "true" nature of their religion is a waste of time. They might indeed by "good" Christians, Muslims or Jews, but are in the end bad human beings.

6. What are the most common acts of terrorism?

Since 1968, when the United States government began keeping such statistics, more than 7,000 terrorist bombings have occurred worldwide. The State Department currently lists 30 "designated foreign terrorist organizations" and another 14 as "other terrorist organizations" [for a full list, see this report ]

According to the State Department, the number of terrorist acts has hovered between 300 and 500 per year during the 1980-1999 period. Perhaps surprisingly, about two thirds of all acts of terrorism are against business, numbering five-fold more than attacks on diplomatic, military and government personnel or property, or civilians. Moreover, while the Middle East dominates media coverage of terrorism, in fact Latin America, followed by Western Europe, suffered the most attacks in 1999 (96 and 30 respectively out of a total of 169), with bombings the most popular method of attack, followed by firebombing, kidnapping, arson, and hijacking.

But the State Department numbers are misleading, because an incident is classified as international terrorism only if it involves the citizens or territory of more than one country; thus terrorism within countries not harming foreign nationals is not counted. A more accurate accounting comes from Pinkerton Security's Annual Risk Assessment, which show an average of almost 5,000 incidents per year during the last decade, with terrorism confined to one country. Yet even these numbers don't account for terrorist actions by governments. Indeed, while hijackings and suicide bombings get the most attention, the fact is that the most common act of terror is torture committed by states against their own citizens, as Amnesty International reports that tens of thousands of cases of torture and extra-judicial killings occur each year (and complains that more often than not, the U.S. "shares the blame" for them).

7. What are the most renowned acts of terrorism?

The attacks of September 11 may become the most famous acts of terror ever perpetrated, and are linked to other terrorist attacks apparently sponsored by bin Laden on U.S. embassies in Africa and the USS Cole in Yemen. Yet many of the most famous terrorist attacks of the modern era were attacks on individual political leaders. The turn of the 20h century, like today, was rife with terrorism, as evidenced by anarchist killings of a French and Spanish Prime Ministers (Sadi Carnot and Antonio Canovas), Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Italy's King Umberto I, and the assassination of the Arch Duke Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, which sparked the first World War. Anarchist mail bombs in the U.S. started the Palmer Raids in 1920, one of the worst violations of civil liberties by U.S. government in U.S. history.

In the post-war period, acts of terrorism have included the Munich Olympic massacre in 1972, plane hijackings and airport shootings throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the 1993 World Trade Center attack, the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the murderous acts of the Ted Kazinsky, the "Unibomber," the latter three of which signaled the arrival of large-scale terrorism as permanent fact of life on American soil.

Finally, the Tokyo sarin subway attack by Aum Shinrikyo in 1995 has augured a new era in terrorism, now crowned by the September 11 attacks. Yet while we focus on high-tech problems and responses, these attacks reveal that the new dynamics of terror combine devoted militants, often well-educated, using relatively primitive means to commit acts of extreme and indiscriminate violence.

8. Does terrorism work; and if so, how can it be stopped?

Terrorism by the IRA, the PLO and other Palestinian groups, Sikhs, Tamils, Basques, Philippino Muslims -- none of these has succeeded in altering the policies of the affected states. Neither has state-sponsored terror by Rogue states led to the defeat of an enemy. However, if the goal of terrorist acts by these groups is to prevent peace and reconciliation, terrorism has worked.

The variables determining the success or failure of acts of terror are thus indeterminate and complex. Perhaps the most we can say is that terror can help the stronger party in a conflict win more quickly and with less loss of life on its side (the rationale underlying the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings or the massacre of Palestinians in 1948). Yet as perpetrators of terrorism move away from single issue causes (freeing Northern Ireland or Palestine) and become more apocalyptic, hoping like Osama bin Laden to start war on a global scale, the standard for measuring success changes, as the worst possible scenario on all sides is exactly what is hoped for.

In such a situation it becomes all the more important for citizens and leaders in the West and its allies in the Muslim world -- in fact, all people everywhere -- to understand the role their policies, and indeed the whole world system as presently and unequally structured, plays in the fostering and sustaining this new generation of terrorists. Yet the scope and horror of the violence inflicted by the new terrorism makes such introspection all but impossible. In this sense, Osama bin Laden and his comrades around the world might achieve their goals through their very destruction.

9. Does violence stop terrorism?

All we have to do is look at both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide to understand that violence, including terrorism by a state or occupied population, rarely stops further violence as long as the grievances motivating them are not addressed.

In that context, 15 years ago Connor Cruise O'Brien warned that "the free, or capitalist, world provides highly favorable conditions for terrorist recruitment and activity." Why? Because the number of frustrated were increasing along with their awareness of how good life was for the few and better off. Ten years later, Bill Clinton made the "war on terrorism" a lynchpin of his reelection campaign just as the neo-liberal paradigm of globalization he championed achieved unparalleled power in international policy-making. It should come as no surprise, then, that in pushing for Star Wars funds, the U.S. Space Command's pamphlet "Vision for 2020" argues that "the globalization of the world economy" will widen the gap between haves and the have-nots, and thus the U.S. government has a mission to "dominate the space dimension of military operations" in order to protect the U.S. from the rest of the world.

In the context of a world were conservative estimates declare half of humanity to be living on less than $2 a day, asking the CIA or other military agencies to fight terrorism is probably not going to work, as the "blowback" from policies that produce ever-widening gaps between rich and poor between and within countries will likely be at least as bad as the blowback produced by the CIA overthrow of the Mossadeq Government and installation of the Shah of Iran in 1953.

Even on an operational level, as former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote only months before the 9/11 attacks, it has proved impossible to place even the best trained Muslim operative into the tight-knit structures that constituted contemporary terrorist organizations. As for America's technological supremacy, President Clinton sent dozens of cruise missiles after bin Laden, none of which hit their target.

From a broader perspective, the ever growing world trade in arms, which fuels violence at all levels, has multiplied opportunities for anyone with a grievance to spread terror anywhere, including here. Yet our entire military-industrial system is based on the large-scale trade in arms, which helps to fund our own defense budget. Finally, since much of the rest of the world, especially citizens of the Global South, harbor deep resentments against the United States for its "cultural invasion" as much as for its economic and foreign policies, using unilateral acts of large-scale violence in the war against terrorism will only feed that hatred.

10. What are the alternatives to our current policies on terrorism?

There have been two phases of the U.S. approach to fighting terrorism. The first, lasting until September 11, has been a "defensive approach" (also called "antiterrorism") that sought to protect against terrorism through increased security measures in airports and cooperation among intelligence services. With the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. has officially changed its policy to a more "offensive approach" (called "counter-terrorism") that focuses on the "sources of violence," that is the terrorists themselves and those who harbor them. A host of bills have also been proposed, including the "Combating Terrorism Act," the "Anti-Terrorism Act" and the "Public Safety and Cyber Security Enhancement Act," all of which civil libertarians argue go well beyond any necessary response to terrorism.

However, in terms of international law, there is a clear recourse in situations of this sort: going through the UN Security Council, the only body under international law that can authorize military action, or even authorize the equivalent of an international arrest warrant. Moreover, there are at least nine international multilateral terrorism conventions that the U.S. can use as the basis for a legal war against terrorism through international law, rather than unilateral war. [ See this report .]

There is also the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which has the moral and legal basis to enter this process, be it state of non-state actors who are ultimately accused of engaging in and/or supporting terrorism. This would clearly constrain the range and freedom of action of the U.S. government in prosecuting its war on terrorism, but that is precisely the point of the UN -- to limit the use of violence by member nations to secure international peace and security.

In the last analysis, breaking the cycle of terrorism, and the incredible violence that fuels it, requires a radical rethinking of a world system that forces half of its members to live in abject poverty and destroys ever more of the earth that sustains it. Today we all stand under judgment: colonizer and colonized, exploiter and exploited. As the philosopher Slavoj Zizek wrote in the wake of 9/11, "the only way to ensure that it will not happen HERE again is to prevent it going on ANYWHERE ELSE." Only then will the war on terrorism see victory.

Mark LeVine is an assistant professor of history at University of California, Irvine and a contributing editor to Tikkun magazine.