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Saturday, November 22, 2003

A Highly Gifted Journalist on The Preachers of Hate and Anti-Semitism in the Middle East.

Readers of the buggy prof's recent series on the New Anti-Semitism in the Arab Countries and in the Wider Islamic World --- four articles in all, starting in late October 2003 --- might find the following interview highly informative and full of insight. It appeared in the NRO today, and the fellow being interviewed, Kenneth Timmerman, is an American journalist who has been traveling and reporting on the Middle East for two decades now. The author of a widely noted book, Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America, Timmerman is careful to distinguish between the hate-mongers in the Islamic world and those who strive and thirst for change, modernity, democracy, and openness to the rest of the earth.

Note that his analysis of the rampant anti-Semitism in the Arab world --- the preachers of hate winning so far, not least thanks to the collusion with them of the despotic rulers: anxious to divert the frustration and resentments of the masses outward, onto Jewish scapegoats --- is in line with the arguments uncoiled in those earlier buggy articles. Always gratifying for a non-specialist to find that someone with decades of cumulative knowledge and first-hand experience in a region of the world has views that bolster your own, more derivative views . . . and particularly, as in Timmerman's case, when he knows how to make crucial distinctions and find those on the side of progress at work in the Middle East. They may not be winning right now, he rightly notes: but they exist, and their impact will depend on what ensues in Iraq in the next few years.

Right now, as he says, the hate-mongers have the upper hand. Timmerman didn't mention in this interview, it's worth noting, that a Gallup poll administered in 10 Arab countries in early 2002 --- months after the 9/11 attacks --- found that 60% of the Arab respondents denied that Muslims had perpetrated the attacks or even been involved. Equally dispiriting results were found in September 2002, nearly a year afterwards, in Egypt . . . a country that has been receiving $2 billion a year for the last 24 years in foreign aid.

The Bold US Experiment in Iraq

Given all this, what can be done to strengthen the forces of progress in the Middle East?

Timmerman's answer, ours too: any boost to those forces hinges entirely on the outcome of the US campaign to reconstruct post-Saddamite Iraq and turn it into a progressive Arab country . . . the only one in the region, all the other Arab states depostic tyrannies run ultimately by the secret police. Each of these tyrannical countries is marked by rife corruption, rampant nepotism, startling economic and scientific backwardness, and career advancement by means of who you know and mutual backscratching, not to forget widespread illiteracy --- the worst in the world, even higher than in much poorer Tropical Africa. [On all these deficiencies, see the excellent UN study, Arab Human Development Report 2002, discussed at length in this buggy article with links to the original and commentaries by others.]

In the NRO interview, Timmerman makes no bones about what's at stake in Iraq now: the boldest experiment in US foreign policy since the rehabilitation of Japan and Germany as bustling, dynamic democratic countries after WWII is unfolding ithere. If it works out well --- which means a consenual government, a fairly effective and loose federalism among Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis, a better economy, and the ability of the security forces of this new Iraqi government to maintain law and order and suppress terrorism --- then the forces of progress and peace will, Timmerman predicts, be able to prevail over the preachers of hate. The outcome isn't assured; not yet. Not least, it depends on a determined presidency in this country, the support of American and British public opinion, and the ability within a few months to find some workable Iraqi government, even if a provisional one, as it draws up a constitution and eventually holds elections.

The doomsters and the Bush-haters, here and elsewhere, won't have any of this. And yet, at a relatively limited cost --- fewer than 450 US casualties --- we have, in the course of two years as Victor Davis Hanson noted in a Frontpage symposium yesterday on Iraq's future, destroyed the two worst tyrannies in the Middle and Near East --- Taliban Afghanistan and Saddamite Iraq --- ended the menace Saddam wielded over surrounding states, encouraged the Iranian opposition, and made noticeable progress in laying the basis of a new, more moderate and consenual Iraqi society and government . . . all the while altering the entire political landscape of the Middle East. And 85% of the population in Iraq live now in a generally stable, promising country: in the areas of the Kurds and the Shiites. Yes, the Bush administration made errors initially --- some of them matters of over-optimism about post-Saddamite Iraq, some a question of inter-agency squabbles between the Pentagon and the State Department, and some an issue of insufficient knowledge of the local society in Iraq.

That said, none of the horrible scenarios raised by the critics of the war before it began --- including UN agencies --- ever materialized: no 500,000 refugees, no widespread starvation, no tens of thousands of civilian casualties, no huge battle for Baghdad deadly to US forces, and no permanent breakdown of the infrastructure. Nor were the oil fields set on fire and in need of months or years of repair. Remember, too, the scare-stuff about all the precious lost thousands of historical artifacts? Or the inevitable sweep of radical Islam in Shiite areas? Where, come to think of it, the Iranian grandson of the radical revolutionary Ayotollah Khomeni --- who overthrew the Shah's regime in that country in 1979 --- has been in Iraq for months now and has called the US presence there and efforts to rehabilitate and reconstruct the country a "matter of inspired morality."

The Timmerman Interview

What follows are some excerpts at the start, nothing more. You are encouraged to click on this link and read the interview in its entirely.

November 21, 2003, 8:51 a.m.

Hate to Win? Talking with journalist Kenneth Timmerman.

A Q&A by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Journalist Kenneth R. Timmerman is author, most recently, of Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America. He recently spoke to NRO about his book, Islam, and the war on terror.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: What first took you to the Middle East and the Arab world?

Kenneth R. Timmerman: I first began reporting on the Middle East during the 1982 war in Lebanon as a radio stringer, and promptly wound up kidnapped by Fatah guerillas in Beirut and held for 24 days in a cellar prison. It was an experience that changed my life; among other things, it taught me firsthand how important freedom is. It also gave me a fascination with various cultures of the Middle East.

Lopez: How often have you been back?

Timmerman: After that initial trip to Lebanon, I spent the next two years on and off in Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, and Lebanon until Hezbollah shot up the booze in the Commodore Hotel (February 1984). Then I migrated to covering the Iran-Iraq war. In Baghdad hotels, I think I must have met nearly every Western arms dealer who ever did business with Saddam. Surprisingly, they loved to talk. So did Saddam's top weapons' technicians. I was the first Westerner to interview Lt. Gen. Amir Rashid al-Obeidi, father of Iraq's missile and aviation programs, and Lt. Gen. Amir Hamoody al-Saadi, father of the chemical and nuclear-weapons programs, in 1986. Some of that information I have saved for another book.

Since returning to the States in 1993, I have gone back to the Middle East once, twice, sometimes three times a year, and remain in close contact with "closed" countries through exiles and business travelers.

Lopez: When were you most recently in that part of the world?

Timmerman: I interviewed the Grand Mufti of Egypt for Preachers of Hate in November 2002. Although he is reportedly a "moderate," he stunned me by stating repeatedly that he felt it was a duty incumbent upon all believing Muslims to murder Jews. I also went during that trip to the scene of the Passover bombing in Netanya, where I interviewed survivors and members of the ZAKA unit, the Orthodox rabbis whose job is to pick up all the body parts spattered against walls and in streets after the homicide bombers do their evil, to give them a proper burial according to Jewish ritual. I have tried to get inside the mind of the bombers through interviews which I describe in the book and to describe for ordinary Americans the horror of these terrorist attacks.

Lopez: How many imams are actually preaching hate here and abroad? And where are the exceptions?

Timmerman: There is a struggle underway for the soul of Islam between the preachers of hate and the preachers of peace. Unfortunately, as I document in my book, the preachers of hate are winning. I say this because from Saudi Arabia to Egypt, state-appointed clerics are preaching to the faithful that it is their "duty" to murder Jews, because Jews are "rejected" by God, who turned them into "monkeys and pigs."

It is not well-known in the West that these clerics are, in fact, employees of the state. No one can ascend the minaret of the Great Mosque in Mecca, as Sheikh Abdelaziz al-Sudais does regularly, without the sanction of the king. After the latest terror attack in Saudi Arabia, al-Sudais was widely quoted for having declared that the perpetrators were "un-Islamic" because their victims included Arabs and Muslims. Just one year earlier, however, he was on Saudi state television, where he called on the faithful to murder Jews and American "worshippers of the Cross."

I argue in Preachers of Hate that everything changed in 1979. That was when the shah of Iran fell, and when the Saudi royal family out of fear and trembling agreed to finance a worldwide expansion of militant Wahhabi Islam. To my knowledge, no one has really focused on those two key events before as the genesis of the war of terror launched against the West by militant Islam. . . .