Sunday, November 28, 2004

Between the cannons of Bush and the knives of Zarqawi: That is how the able LBC-TV journalist Shadha `Amr introduced the discussion segment following the airing of Part II the (pro)Zarqawi "documentary" on LBC-TV. (The presenter on LBC (not `Amr of course) who typically has a lousy command of Arabic could not pronounce Rafadayn and said "Rafidin" whic has a different meaning). Fu'ad Husayn will be going to jail in a few days in Jordan. He, it turned out, was the Jordanian journalist who wrote, directed, and prepared the "documentary" that I discussed yesterday. He is undoubtedly a fan of Zarqawi, and did not hide that. He met him in jail, and was able to meet many of his followers. At least LBC-TV organized a discussion segment following the airing of Part II. The "documentary" was a Zarqawi campaign commercial. Not a single critic was interviewed. Husayn said that people were willing to risk their lives to praise Zarqawi but that no critic of Zarqawi dared to appear on camera. I do not buy that. He, for example, mentioned the interviews with former director of a Jordanian prison, as an example of "the other point of view." But the only sound bite used from that interview was words to the effect that Zarqawi was athletic and in shape while in jail. At one point, a member of an alleged Zarqawi cell in Jordan was interviewed in prison, and I was surprised that under his name there was "terrorist X...". I was surprised because throughout the documentary--if that was a documentary--followers of Zarqawi were identified as "Activist X..." Another prisoner was also identified as "Activist X" but you could see behind that the another identification of "terrorist X." So obviously, the Jordanian intelligence apparatus did the interviews with the two prisoners and supplied the identification, that were covered once but not twice. Signs of torture were evident on them. But in fairness, Jordanian government contributions to the methods and techniques of torture took years and decades to perfect. People in the US think that the Islamic religious school are the ones that have produced the violent Islamic fanatics. I argue otherwise. The schools that are the most dangerous producers of violent fanatics in the Middle East are the torture chambers run by the pro-US (and some anti-US) regimes in Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Syria. That is where those fundamentalists turn to the agenda and misdeeds of the likes of Zarqawi. They get transformed from fundamentalism to kooky fundamentalism. The US supports those torturing regimes, and subsequently helps produce its own enemies. Hegel would see the dialectical ironies in this, of course. The second part of the documentary was clear in its admiration and glorification of Zarqawi. I really worry that this airing on LBC-TV will help make Zarqawi a cult figure among some youths in the region. I expect the commercially minded LBC-TV to start selling it (with subtitles) on DVD (some of you will be even buying it out of curiosity). The documentary confirms that Zarqawi has not lost a leg: but that he was hurt by US bombing in Afghanistan, but his ribs were broken. He then fled to Tora Bora, and from there slipped into Iran, reaching all the way to Tehran (although the Iranian government arrested one of his cells, but Zarqawi fled). Zarqawi then fled to northern Iraq (away from Saddam's rule at the time) and shared basis with Ansar Al-Islam. That journey made me wonder about the whereabouts of Bin Laden, and my theory that he is neither in Afghanistan nor in Pakistan. I also was thinking today about the network of support available to the likes of Bin Laden and Zarqawi. I really believe (but have no evidence for) that a segment or a branch of the Saudi royal family may be behind financing and helping those networks. Remember that the Sep. 11 Commission Report mentioned a member of the House of Saud had helped Bin Laden slip out of the kingdom. Did that member help him slip in again? I wonder. When Zarqawi slipped into Iran, for example, some Sunnis from Iran were waiting for them at the border, according to one witness. At least the discussion segment was supposed to bring some "balance" to the topic, but it quickly degenerated into a Sunni-Shi`ite conflict on live TV. There was a Shi`ite writer from Iraq (of the Sistani school of accommodating foreign occupation) and a Sunni fan of Zarqawi, plus the writer of the documentary Fu'ad Husayn, who also is an unabashed fan of Zarqawi. A Saudi journalist was also a critic of Zarqawi: but he was put on the defensive throughout: he had to preface everything he said, by indicating how much he is opposed to US wars and violence in the region. For the academic point of view, there was the French scholar Gilles Kepel. I recommend his writings to you (and they are all translated into English) although I may not always agree with him, and his book Jihad is badly edited and I wish that he does not use words like Allah and Jihad and potato in his titles. When I heard him talk in Arabic, I wondered: why do you never see American scholars who are Middle East specialists talk in Arabic (or Persian, or Turkish, etc) in the Middle East media. All European scholars of the Middle East REALLY study the language of the country that they study. Not here. Here we believe that knowledge of the foreign language is not necessary in the presence of CNN and Fox News. I can name only a handful of American scholars (colleagues of mine) who can talk in Arabic on TV (Michael Hudson of Georgetown, Laurie Brand of USC, Lisa Wedeen of U Chicago, and Gregory Gause of U Vermont). I wish we can go back to Orientalist training (without adhering to classical Orientalist dogmas and methods of course). Kepel appeared more amused than anything, especially as a fitna ("grand discord" as Hichem Djait defined it in French in the title of his great book (La grande discorde : religion et politique dans l'islam) on the subject not yet translated into English) was taking place before his eyes. Obviously, the purpose behind its airing was commercial. I am sure that LBC-TV had high ratings. Lastly, on Zarqawi: I came across a horrific website titled Sawatir of Zarqawi (or the Large Knives of Zarqawi) in which actual behadings and killings from 21 different occasions are collected and saved. No, I will not give you the site address, and do not understand why anybody wants to see such gruesome scenes. Confirming my view that the "documentary" was a lousy pro-Zarqawi piece, a pro-Zarqawi website praised the Part I of the documentary and said that it was "real journalism" unlike AlJazeera journalism. I should have watched Pleasantville. It was airing tonight. A great movie indeed.