“We’re not waiting around here to die,” said Johan Dumas, one of the survivors of the siege at the kosher supermarket during the “Charlie Hebdo” terrorist attack in Paris in January. He had hidden with others in a basement cold room as the Islamist gunman roamed overhead and killed four of the hostages. So, said Dumas, he was moving to Israel to be safe.
It’s not really that simple. The seventeen victims of the terrorist attacks included some French Christians, a Muslim policeman, four Jews, and probably a larger number of people who would have categorised themselves as “none of the above.” It was a Muslim employee in the supermarket who showed Dumas and other Jewish customers where to hide, and then went back upstairs to distract the gunman. And the Middle East isn’t exactly safe for Jews.
Dumas has been through a terrifying experience. He now feels like a target in France, and no amount of reassurance from the French government that it will protect its Jewish citizens will change his mind. But Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu didn’t help much either.
What Netanyahu said after the Paris attacks was this: “This week, a special team of ministers will convene to advance steps to increase immigration from France and other countries in Europe that are suffering from terrible anti-Semitism. All Jews who want to immigrate to Israel will be welcomed here warmly and with open arms. We will help you in your absorption here in our country, which is also your country.”
He was at it again after a Jewish volunteer guarding a synagogue in Copenhagen was one of the two fatal victims of last week’s terrorist attack in Denmark. “Jews have been murdered again on European soil only because they were Jews,” he said, “and this wave of terrorist attacks – including murderous anti-Semitic attacks – is expected to continue.”
“Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home. We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe.” As you might imagine, this did not go down well with European leaders who were being told that their countries were so anti-Semitic that they are no longer safe for Jews.
It is true that five of the nineteen people killed in these two terrorist attacks in Europe since the New Year were Jewish, which is highly disproportionate. But it is also true that the killers in all cases were Islamist extremists, who also exist in large numbers in and around Israel.
French President Francois Hollande said: “I will not just let what was said in Israel pass, leading people to believe that Jews no longer have a place in Europe and in France in particular.” In Denmark Chief Rabbi Jair Melchior rebuked Netanyahu, saying that “terror is not a reason to move to Israel.”
The chair of Britain’s Parliamentary committee against anti-Semitism, John Mann, attacked Netanyahu’s statement that the only place Jews could now be safe was Israel. “Mr Netanyahu made the same remarks in Paris – it’s just crude electioneering. It’s no coincidence that there’s a general election in Israel coming up….We’re not prepared to tolerate a situation in this country or in any country in Europe where any Jews feel they have to leave.”
It IS crude electioneering on Netanyahu’s part – but it is also true that even in Britain, where there have been no recent terrorist attacks, Jews are worried. Statistically, Jews are at greater risk from terrorism in Israel, but it’s much scarier being a Jewish minority in a continent where Jews were killed in death camps only 70 years ago.
Given Europe’s long and disgraceful history of antisemitism, it’s not surprising that such sentiments persist among a small minority of the population. But at least in Western Europe (which is where most European Jews live) the great majority of people regard antisemitism as shameful, and most governments give synagogues and Jewish community centres special protection.
What European Jews fear is not their neighbours in general, but radicalised young Islamists among their Muslim fellow citizens. The Muslim minorities in the larger Western European countries range between 4 and 10 percent of the population. If only one in a hundred of them is an Islamist then Jews do face a threat in those countries.
But it is a very small threat. Nine Jews have been killed by Islamist terrorists in the European Union in the past year in three separate incidents (Belgium, France and Denmark). The Jewish population of the EU is just over one million, mostly living in France, the United Kingdom and Germany.
Nine Jewish deaths by terrorism in a year in the EU is deplorable, but it hardly constitutes a good reason for encouraging mass emigration to Israel. Still, Netanyahu has an election to fight, and this sort of thing goes down well in Israel.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 11. (“It is…Israel”; and “Given…protection”)
The “Islamic State” franchise in Libya, which is emerging as the main winner in that country’s chaotic civil war, published a video on Sunday showing 21 Egyptian men in orange overalls being forced to the ground and beheaded. The video made it clear that they were being killed for being Christian, “people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.”
Within hours the Egyptian air force responded with raids on IS camps and training sites in Derna, the group’s headquarters in eastern Libya. Announcing the safe return of all the aircraft, the Egyptian military authorities declared: “Let those far and near know that Egyptians have a shield that protects them.” But it didn’t really protect them, did it?
Okay, that’s not fair. Everybody knows that you can’t protect people once they fall into the hands of the jihadi head-choppers. An air force is a particularly unsuitable tool for that job, nor can anyone stop unemployed Egyptian labourers, including members of the Christian minority, from seeking work even in war-torn Libya. Most of the victims came from a dirt-poor Christian village in Upper Egypt, and they had to feed their families somehow.
So the Islamic State fanatics murdered them because killing Christians attracts recruits from a certain demographic. Then the Egyptian air force flailed out aimlessly, and the public relations boys wrote the usual guff about the air force being a shield for the people. So far, so tediously normal – but the whole event also serves the narrative of the Egyptian military regime.
We’re not supposed to call it a military regime. The military coup (with substantial popular support) that overthrew the elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in July 2013 was allegedly just a brief detour from democracy. But the commander of the armed forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, ended up as president, and the promised parliamentary elections have still not happened.
Why not? The main excuse Egyptians are offered is that the government is too busy fighting a huge terrorist threat. And don’t mention that the terrorism is largely the regime’s own fault, or that the threat is not so big that normal political life must be suspended. People who say that have featured prominently among the 40,000 who have been arrested since July 2013. (16,000 are still in prison.)
What happened in Egypt twenty months ago was a betrayal of the democratic revolution of February 2011, when peaceful demonstrators forced former general Hosni Mubarak out after thirty years as president. Few of the urban, relatively well educated revolutionaries on Tahrir Square supported the Muslim Brotherhood, but they should not have been surprised when it won the first free election.
Ninety percent of Egyptians are Muslims, and most of them are deeply conservative rural people. They remembered that the Muslim Brotherhood had been Egypt’s main opposition party during the decades of dictatorship. They shared many of its values, and many of them had benefited from its social programmes for the poor.
They reckoned the Brothers deserved the first go in power, and gave it their votes. More secular people were appalled when the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated constituent assembly amended the constitution to give it more religious content, although the changes were not actually all that extreme. And they forgot that in a democracy, you can change the government by voting it out. You just have to wait for the next election.
Victory in the first post-revolution election was a poisoned apple for the Muslim Brotherhood. Every day its behaviour in power was alienating more people. The economy was a wreck (and still is). But the Brotherhood was not making irreversible changes in Egypt, so the right strategy was to wait it out, and then vote it out.
Instead, the naive and impatient revolutionaries made an alliance with the army to drive the elected government from power. Did they think that the army, despite sixty years of military dictators in Egypt, was a secret ally of democracy? General Sisi accepted their support, took over the government in 2013, and put President Morsi in jail. Shortly afterwards, he began putting the revolutionaries in jail too.
But Sisi needs some excuse for destroying Egypt’s democratic revolution, and the excuse is terrorism, the bigger the better. He declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, and when tens of thousands of non-violent supporters of the Brotherhood established a protest camp in Rabaa Square in Cairo he cleared it by force, killing at least 627 people by the government’s own count.
Human Rights Watch has documented at least 817 deaths, and suspects there were more than a thousand. It was, said an HRW report last August, a premeditated assault equal to or worse than the massacre of Chinese protesters on Tienanmen Square in Beijing in 1989. The purpose, as in 1989, was to cow the population into submission, and it is working in Egypt as well as it did in China.
Terrorism, real and imaginary, helps to distract attention at home and abroad from what actually happened in Egypt. Even before the ghastly slaughter of innocent Egyptians in Libya on Sunday, the US Congress had put military aid to Egypt back into this year’s budget proposal.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 10 and 13. (“Victory…out”; and “Human…China”)
Does democracy in Malaysia really depend on Anwar Ibrahim? If it does, Malaysia’s 30 million people are in trouble. Anwar is back in jail: at least five years’ imprisonment, and another five years’ ban from political activity after that. He says he doesn’t care: “Whether it’s five years or ten it doesn’t matter to me anymore. They can give me twenty years. I don’t give a damn.”
But of course he cares. By the time he’s free to resume his role as opposition leader, he’ll be at least 77. The People’s Alliance, the three-party opposition coalition that he created, can’t afford to wait ten years for him to be free. The real question is whether they can stay together without him as leader.
Malaysia is formally a democracy, but the same coalition of parties, the National Front, has won every election since 1957. In the 2008 and 2013 elections, however, Anwar’s coalition began to cut seriously into the National Front vote. Indeed, in 2013 the People’s Alliance actually got a majority of the votes cast, although the ruling coalition still won more seats in parliament.
But last Monday the Federal Court ruled that Anwar was guilty on a charge of sodomy (which is illegal in this Muslim-majority country) and sent him to jail. He had previously been acquitted of the charge, and many people in Malaysia suspect that the prosecutor appealed the case to move it up into the superior courts, which are more open to political influence than the lower courts. In other words, they’re getting him out of the way.
The first time Anwar was charged with sodomy was in 1998, less than a month after he was fired as deputy prime minister. He had risen to the country’s second highest political post with startling speed thanks to the support of long-ruling prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, but then he fell out with Mahathir (according to his own account) because of the latter’s lavish use of public funds to bail out the failing businesses of his children and cronies.
In any case, it was certainly in the ruling party’s interest to silence him. No need to kill him, though; jail would keep him just as quiet. Many Malaysians believed from the start that the sodomy charge was politically motivated.
Anwar was convicted (on extremely contradictory evidence), and sentenced to nine years in prison. But he was released in only five years, after the Court of Appeal overturned his conviction in 2004 – and immediately began trying to unite the opposition parties and create a coalition capable of challenging the National Front government that he had once served.
The People’s Alliance was successful enough in the 2008 election to frighten the government, and by the strangest coincidence a second charge of sodomy was brought against Anwar only a couple of months later. Once again the “evidence” was flimsy and contradictory, and on this occasion the man who claimed to have been “seduced” had actually met with Prime Minister Najib Razak (of the National Front) two days before he laid the charges.
The second sodomy case lasted four years, but Anwar was acquitted in 2012 on the grounds (as the judge said) that “The court is always reluctant to convict on sexual offences without corroborative evidence.” But the prosecutor immediately appealed the verdict, and last Monday Anwar was found guilty again.
The Federal Court judge said that the evidence against him was “overwhelming”, although it was exactly the same evidence that the lower court judge had dismissed as tainted and unreliable. Anwar is back in jail, and everybody in Malaysia is wondering what this will do to the hitherto unstoppable rise of the People’s Alliance.
The People’s Alliance is a curious coalition of two secular parties that want to end the system that makes invidious distinctions between citizens who belong to different ethnic and religious groups, and an Islamist party that wants to create an “Islamic state” in a country where only 60 percent of the population is Muslim. Anwar managed to hold these parties together, but the government clearly believes that without him they will fall apart.
Barely half of the people in Malaysia are actually Malays. Most of the rest are descended from Chinese and Indian immigrants who arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the non-Malay population is doing much better economically than the original population. Most of the non-Malays are also non–Muslim, so the Malay population feels both exploited and threatened.
Ever since the horrendous race riots in 1969, therefore, the political system has been skewed to give Malays special advantages in education, government jobs, and various other areas. That naturally creates other resentments and other problems, and the People’s Alliance (or at least most of it) wants to end those special privileges. But doing that would be both tricky and risky.
If the People’s Alliance does not hold together without Anwar Ibrahim, all chance of ending the National Front’s seemingly perpetual rule will be lost. With it would be lost all hope of moving this complex country beyond the ethnic and sectarian divisions that have allowed the National Front to rack up thirteen consecutive election victories.
Nevertheless, that may be what happens. In the real world, cunning and ruthlessness often beat idealism and enthusiasm.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6, 12 and 13. (“In any…motivated”; and “Barely…risky”)
Angela Merkel grew up under Communist rule in the old East Germany. She speaks fluent Russian. She has been the chancellor of Germany for the past ten years. And for all that time she has been negotiating with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on wide variety of subjects – including, for the past year, Ukraine. They may not like each other much, but they certainly know each other.
So listen to what Angela Merkel said about the debate in the US military, in the Congress, and even in the White House about sending direct American military aid to the Ukrainian government. “I cannot imagine any situation in which improved equipment for the Ukrainian army leads to President Putin being so impressed that he believes he will lose militarily,” she said. “I have to put it that bluntly.”
Does anybody think that Angela Merkel is wrong about this? Does any sane person think Putin would flee in panic if he hears that the US is going to send Ukraine “defensive weapons” (anti-tank weapons, anti-artillery radar and the like)? If not, then this is crazy talk.
Nobody in the United states is talking about sending state-of-the-art US tanks and planes to Ukraine, and they’re certainly not offering to send American troops. Secretary of State John Kerry is merely talking about giving some sophisticated “defensive weapons” to an army that doesn’t even use the weapons it has very well. The Ukrainian army is poorly trained, badly led, and controlled by a government in Kiev that is as incompetent as it is corrupt.
It sometimes wins when it is fighting the equally ragtag troops of the two breakaway “republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk. But if the Ukrainian government troops and the assorted volunteer battalions that fight alongside them start to win, then the Russians send in a few thousand well-trained soldiers and push the Ukrainians back.
That’s what happened last August, and now it’s happening again. Putting more advanced “defensive weapons” in Ukrainian hands is not going to change this pattern, and military professionals in Washington know it. This proposal is pure, strategy-free tokenism.
Of course, Putin’s stated concerns about Western plots to draw Ukraine into NATO are not very rational either. He’s exceptionally ill-informed if he thinks that Western European countries like France and Germany would let Ukraine join NATO, since that would mean they were taking on a treaty obligation to fight Russia on Ukraine’s behalf.
He’s completely deluded if he takes his own military’s hoary arguments about Ukraine’s military importance seriously. It is 2015, not 1945, and Russia has lots of nuclear weapons. It simply doesn’t matter whether NATO’s tanks are far from Russia’s border or close to it. Wherever they are, nuclear deterrence still works.
And Putin can’t really be worried about the example that a democratic and prosperous Ukraine might set for his own people. Ukrainian incomes are far lower than Russian ones (thanks mainly to Russian oil and gas), and the West shows no inclination to pour money into Ukraine in quantities large enough to change that. And though Ukraine is more democratic than Russia, its government is no less corrupt.
What drives Putin, therefore, is a grab-bag of emotional motives. His man in Kiev got overthrown, and he doesn’t like to lose face. Even if Ukraine has little strategic or economic importance, it was part of Russia for 300 years, and he hates the idea that it might just slide into the West on his watch. He shares the paranoia about the evil intentions of the West that every Russian inherits (for very good historical reasons).
None of this is worth a full-scale war in Ukraine, let alone a serious military confrontation with the West or a new Cold War. Maybe if the United States were prepared to go in boots and all, showering Ukraine with weapons, money and even US troops, Putin might back away, although it would be a terrible risk to take.
But some token “defensive weapons”, basically to make Americans feel better? That involves less risk of a huge Russian over-reaction, admittedly, but it would still be a big step towards a new Cold War, and for no possible gain.
That is why Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande flew to Moscow last Friday: to head Kerry off by patching up some new ceasefire (or reviving the old one) in eastern Ukraine. They will be meeting with Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk on Wednesday in the hope that they can make it happen.
At best, that would mean the effective loss of Ukrainian sovereignty over two more provinces (Crimea is already gone), and a semi-permanent “frozen conflict” on Ukraine’s eastern border. Not great, but realistically Ukraine has no better options anyway.
We know that Putin is willing to settle for such “frozen conflicts” in order to cripple disobedient former Soviet republics, because he has already done it with Moldova and Georgia. We know that the victims of such tactics can thrive despite Moscow’s games. Georgia certainly does, and Ukraine could do even better with strong European Union and US support.
There is no satisfactory military solution for either side. Settle for a stalemate, and move on.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5, 6 and 9. (“It sometimes…tokenism”; and “And Putin…corrupt”)