Sunday, April 30, 2017

The role of DC think tanks in the production of propaganda: the lousy book by Geneive Abdo on "The New Sectarianisms"

The role of think tanks in DC has changed. Their ties have also changed.  Brookings for example hosted academic work in the past and was relatively politically courageous in defying in the mid-1070s the DC consensus about Palestinian rights (mildly of course, or slightly).  William B Quandt produced work on Palestinian nationalism while Jerry Hough produced work on the new generation of Soviet leadership.  Hicham Sharabi produced a book early in the 1970s on Palestinian "guerrillas", based on research Sharabi conducted in Jordan.  The role of think tanks have changed: they have become all tied to Gulf regime funding and subsumed under the umbrella of the Zionist lobby. The 1991 US war on Iraq was the watershed: since then, the new alliance between Gulf regimes and Israel started to form, and Israeli opposition to US arm sales to Gulf regimes ended.  They both collaborated to work against Palestinian interests.  Furthermore, Gulf funding was no more controversial.  This was the time when the Clinton administration under Martin Indyk officially killed off the entire contingent of Arabists at the US government.  Robert Kaplan's book on them was more like an obituary.  For that reason, and out of desperation for funding. think tanks because largely vehicles for Gulf and Israeli propaganda.  Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs said (after announcing more than $ 10 million in donations to Brookings) that the think tank will help paint a "rosy picture" of Qatar.  there are similar arrangements with other think tank. Look at the Hariri Center at Atlantic Council: they tweet around the clock on various aspects of Middle East politics (but always from the AIPAC standards) and yet not a word about Palestinian affairs. Not a word.  So Geneieve Abdo (who was a resident fellow at the Hariri Center) published a book a few months ago about The New Sectarianisms: The Arab Uprisings and the Rebirth of the Shi`a-Sunni Divide.  I honestly can't think about a worse book in recent years.  It is rather shocking.  This was published by (the New York branch) of Oxford University Press, although the contents of the book are to academic production what tomatoes are to Tabbuleh.  She tries hard in the book to sound original and the results are rather comical. She tells the reader early on that the most consuming political and intellectual issue among Arabs/Muslim is the question: Who is a true believer and who is a non-believer (p. 1). Only someone who has not read one Arabic article or book by Arabs would make this claim.  This is someone who clearly knows what she knows about the region from what she reads in Western media and in MEMRI video clips.  Her book is so brimming with Gulf propaganda that she maintains that the Middle East region was dominated by "Western-style nationalism" (p. 4) until the Iranian revolution erupted.  Yes, Geneive: Saudi and Gulf regimes were in fact Western-style democracies until the Iranian revolution spoiled the fun.  She expresses surprise that Western analysis did not pay attention to religion in the region until recently (I am not kidding, she said that, p. 6).  She also justifies Gulf oppression because she said that they fear democracy simply because they fear She`ite domination (p. 8).  But wait: she then talks about intellectual and academic currents. Here, she says that Western analysis suffers from disregard of the role of religion in Arab politics.  With the plethora of books on Islam since the 1970s, and the heavy dosages of theologcentrism in Western analysis and scholarship, Geneieve wants you to pay more attention to Islam and religious analysis of the region (p. 9).  But Genieve even ventures on issues relating to Islamic history: watch her here: "The history of the Sunni-Shi`a rift is, essentially, a history of the present" (p. 10).  I mean if this does not impress you as philosophical and historiographical, nothing will impress you.  And then she takes case studies of sectarianism: there isn't a world that could not have the stamp of approval from the nearest Saudi embassy and consulate. Look at her section on Lebanon: she mentions Nabil Halabi (a Salafite advocate and the head of what he calls the Lebanon Coordination Committee of the Syrian Revolution, as "a human rights lawyer" (p. 91).  This is like identifying Ayman Dhawahiri as "a medical expert".   Here entire Lebanon section is a compilation of the talking points of the Hariri press office.  On p. 94, she manages to interview a man she identifies as "a founder" of the Lebanese Armed Forces, i.e., the Lebanese Army.  So the Lebanese Army was founded (by the French as Legions of the East) back in 1916.  So let us assume that this founder of the army was 20 at the time, so he is now over a hundred years of age.  If only she named that man for us.  She then interviews the spokesperson of the Alawite Arab Democratic Party, `Ali Fudda. She attributes terrible sectarian anti-Sunni sentiments and expressions to him, which surprised me.  He never speaks in sectarian terms despite his position in a predominantly a Alawite party in Lebanon.  So I asked him when I first read the book months ago about that, and he categorically denied and he even posted on Facebook an official detail in which he said that what Genieve attributed to him was false and untrue.  She even maintains that "many Shia" associates "all Sunnis with Wahhabism". She provides no evidence or example here (p. 97), but that is the nature of her documentation. Either flimsy or no evidence at all.  She identifies that Hariri family chief of security, Wissam Hasan (the man who sponsored Salafi and terrorist groups in Lebanon and Syria and who more than anyone else in Lebanon is responsible for spilling blood in Tripoli and in Syria since 2011) as "a respected Sunni security chief" (p. 98).  She talks about one day of May 7, 2008 as "the Karbala' of Sunnis" (here she cites an MP in the Hariri parliamentary bloc, p 101).  When she talks about Alawites in Lebanon, she cites a man who appears on her pages as a historian when he is really another MP in the Hariri parliamentary bloc (Ahmad Fatfat, p. 108).  She talks about Salafites who are sympathetic to Al-Qa`idah in Lebanon in rather glowing terms (and she does not even mention that they are funded by Gulf regimes).  The worst part of her book is her reference to Sheikh Ahmad Al-Asir (a man who sits in Lebanese jail and has been sympathetic to Al-Qa`idah and ISIS): she claims that Shi`ites manufactured and distributed a toy which produces anti-Sunni invective.  Asir (before his arrest) made that claim in a speech, and all Lebanese media at the time investigated the claim and brought those US-manfactured the toys and showed that they produce English words and have nothing to do with Arabic. Even Asir related conceded that he was "in error" but Genieve repeated the outrageous claim (p. 112).  But like most Western correspondents she assures readers that Hizbullah losing support among She`ites: her source her (and elsewhere) is a pro-Hariri journalist (p. 114).  In the section on Bahrain, she clearly and ceagorially identifies with the repression and autocracy of the ruling dynasty.  She tells you that they crush opposition because they are afraid of Iranian intervention (p. 118).  She adds that Iranian propaganda is rather scary to the democratic regimes of the Gulf.  But she found evidence of Iranian intervention in Bahrain: she found out that a Bahraini cleric had studied in Iran. Imagine. The horrors.   And when there is no evidence, Genieve fabricates evidence: she basically claims that Iranian and Hizbullah media conceded that they were behind the Bahrain opposition protests.  Imagine.  This is what is being produced by Gulf-funded think tanks in DC.