Why Naive Westerners Constantly Exaggerate Middle Eastern Moderation / Prof.B.Rubin

There are three basic reasons why many Westerners are so gullible that they often overstate the moderation—or inaccurately claim that a major step toward moderation has taken place—on the part of radical states or groups. Among the beneficiaries of these errors are: Fatah, Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, Libya, Muslim Brotherhood groups, the PLO, Sudan, Syria, the Taliban, and others, including many individuals.

Such errors are dangerous for a variety of reasons. Advocating engagement with extremists strengthens them; reducing sanctions or not instituting them has the same effect. Those who oppose such groups are stigmatized and don’t receive the support they need and deserve. Acts of terrorism and advocacy of genocide are ignored. People do die as a result of these errors, though rarely are they those who made the mistakes.

Such misestimates take place for a number of reasons:

--Deliberate propaganda. The journalists, politicians, academics, or activists are in some way agents of the radicals seeking to mislead.

--Ignorance and carelessness: The conveyer belts of lies and mistakes simply don’t do serious research or are incapable of understanding these subjects.

-- Wishful thinkers: People who wrongly believe that they promote peace and international understanding, while reducing bias or the chance of conflict, by giving the benefit of the doubt to those about whom there should be no doubt.

--Dupes: Those who are genuinely fooled either directly or because they believe people who aren’t telling the truth.

--Doctrinaire disbelievers: Those who intellectually and culturally cannot believe that anyone would want to be an extremist, at least unless they had been mistreated or simply didn’t understand the advantages of moderation. This last group is an extraordinarily powerful force in Western societies today.

Let us learn to distinguish between goals, strategies, and tactics:

--Goals: The goal of every Islamist group is to seize state power and turn its country into a totalitarian regime. Usually, the broader objective is to make the entire Middle East into an Islamist state, generally along the lines of the Islamic caliphate that existed in Islam's early days. This also involves expelling Western influence from the Middle East, destroying Israel, and subordinating any non-Muslims in the local population.

--Strategy: The strategy set is the one that seems to leaders the best way to achieve this goal, limited by their ideology but taking into account current and local conditions. The two main strategies are armed struggle (defeating the government's army, terrorizing any competing populations and the general public) or political maneuvering which might include electoral politics. In both cases, the movement tries to build a mass base through sermons, classes, welfare activities, and other means.

--Tactics: These are short-term variable tools that serve the strategic guidelines and ultimate goals.

For instance, Hizballah wants to take over Lebanon. Currently, it is using electoral politics as a tactic to gain a strong foothold in the government. Another tactic is to lull the West into believing that it is no longer radical in order to reduce opposition and perhaps even gain support. An old tactic is to express radical views in Arabic but moderate-sounding ones in English.

Meanwhile, its strategy is to constrain its rivals within Lebanon and to build up its own state within a state, including a very large militia which is equipped with arms paid for and smuggled in with the help of Iran and Syria. Hizballah's goals remain the same.

Anyone who looks only at the most superficial tactics without understanding the goals, strategy, and even the tactics in a more sophisticated way will be fooled.

For an example, see here

How Naïve Westerners Exaggerate Middle Eastern Moderation: Today’s Example

Posted: 18 Feb 2010 02:56 PM PST

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By Barry Rubin

How does a leading sponsor of terrorism cease being a sponsor of terrorism? By stopping the encouragement, organization, funding, logistical backing, and even ordering of terrorist attacks? No. By being given a free pass by its would-be victim who doesn’t see what is going on under its own nose—literally.

Consider U.S. Undersecretary of State Robert Burns. He was in Damascus to reestablish U.S. relations with Syria. Syria has paid nothing for its past involvement in terrorism. It is still backing terrorist attacks to kill Americans in Iraq. True, the U.S. government hopes that it will talk Syria out of this behavior. But that won’t happen, especially since it isn’t willing to threaten Syria when such attacks do occur.

Indeed, as Reuters reports, “Washington has muted its criticism of Syria's authoritarian system.” Needless to say, Damascus has not muted its criticism of the United States, and will never do so.

Burns gives a press conference in which he says that he “is under no illusions of the challenges ahead” but that his “meeting with President Assad has made me optimistic."

If you look at the video of the press conference you will see that one microphone on the right side is larger than the others and is placed by the Syrians above them, practically thrust into Burns’ face. It is the microphone of al-Manar, the Hizballah television station, famous for its anti-American diatribes and calls to kill Israelis.

As a close observer of Syria puts it: “I don't think that the al-Manar microphone was placed there by accident. It seems to me that there's a message being sent. The Middle East runs on metaphor, insinuation and symbols.”

Ah, but is Hizballah terrorist? There is a growing campaign to launder its reputation. Of course, Hizballah hasn’t committed any terrorist acts for a while because it doesn’t need to do so and has been at least temporarily intimidated by one intended victim. In Lebanon, though, the terrorist acts have already done their work for the moment, making everyone there fear the Iran- and Syria-backed group. It has not attacked Israel for a while, largely because Israel gave it such a walloping in 2006, but Hizballah is preparing for a next round and openly talking daily about wiping Israel off the map. As for Iraq, it is literally business as usual with some minor cutback.

Yet here is what the Associated Press, the main wire service for the Western English-language media tells us under the byline of Zeina Karam:

“The leader of Lebanon's Shiite movement Hezbollah recently delivered an odd but deeply important political message to his followers: Heed traffic signs and pay your electric bills.

“The call may not seem particularly significant, but it was widely seen as the latest sign that Hezbollah — long considered mainly as Iran's militant arm in Lebanon running its own state-within-a-state — is reinventing itself as a more conventional political movement in Lebanon.”

While the U.S. president’s terrorism advisor says that Hizballah isn’t terrorist because its membership includes lawyers, AP uses its alleged law-abiding urgings to demonstrate the same point

But guess what? Hizballah is now part of the government with cabinet minister and veto power over all decisions. Why shouldn’t the group tell people to pay taxes which in large part go to itself? And if reporters once proclaimed that at least a fascist dictatorship made the trains run on time they can now tell us that terrorist groups tell their supporters to stop at red lights.

For the reasons behind this kind of behavior, see here.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.


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