Tuesday, October 21, 2003
At least he's predictable: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's latest screed takes aim at Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's outrageous comments at a summit meeting of Islamic states. But Mahathir's comments are only a symptom -- the cause is (surprise!) George W. Bush.
Mahathir claimed that the "Jews rule the world by proxy" and that they must refocus their energies on non-Koran learning, i.e. science, business, etc., if they are to succeed in their goal.
"For well over half a century we have fought over Palestine. What have we achieved? Nothing. We are worse off than before," he said. "If we had paused to think, then we could have devised a plan, a strategy that can win us final victory."
What sort of "final victory" is Mahathir talking about? Anyone not suffering from rectal-cranial impaction can figure it out.
In contrast, Krugman's reading of Mahathir's speech (and he acknowledges reading all of it), treats the anti-Semitism as a throwaway line designed to pander to his own Muslim majority. Well, that last link and read it yourself. (Sorry to send you to an Indymedia site, but it's the best I could do on short notice.)
It's worth reading the rest of last week's speech, beyond the offensive 28 words. Most of it is criticism directed at other Muslims, clerics in particular. Mr. Mahathir castigates "interpreters of Islam who taught that acquisition of knowledge by Muslims meant only the study of Islamic theology." Thanks to these interpreters, "the study of science, medicine, etc. was discouraged. Intellectually the Muslims began to regress." A lot of the speech sounds as if it had been written by Bernard Lewis, author of "What Went Wrong," the best-selling book about the Islamic decline.
Yes, there's criticism directed at some Muslim clerics, mainly that their direction to the Muslim faithful to abhor the acquisition of knowledge has left those countries backward, fifth-rate powers. Why is that bad? Well, it's bad because that's prevented them from being able to kill all the Jews and dominate Europe.
We must build up our strength in every field, not just in armed might. Our countries must be stable and well administered, must be economically and financially strong, industrially competent and technologically advanced. This will take time, but it can be done and it will be time well spent. We are enjoined by our religion to be patient. Innallahamaasabirin. Obviously there is virtue in being patient.
But the defence of the ummah, the counter-attack, need not start only after we have put our houses in order. Even today we have sufficient assets to deploy against our detractors. It remains for us to identify them and to work out how to make use of them to stop the carnage caused by the enemy. This is entirely possible if we stop to think, to plan, to strategise and to take the first few critical steps. Even these few steps can yield positive results.
Mahathir sees a coming Muslim renaissance as a period of time where they can work to eventually becoming world powers -- and use that power to subjugate their enemies (i.e. any non-Muslim).
Krugman, predictably, then uses his enormous foreign policy expertise to determine that George W. Bush is to blame for Mahathir's anti-Semitic comments.
When times are tough, Mr. Mahathir also throws the Muslim majority rhetorical red meat.
And that's what he was doing last week. Not long ago Washington was talking about Malaysia as an important partner in the war on terror. Now Mr. Mahathir thinks that to cover his domestic flank, he must insert hateful words into a speech mainly about Muslim reform. That tells you, more accurately than any poll, just how strong the rising tide of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism among Muslims in Southeast Asia has become. Thanks to its war in Iraq and its unconditional support for Ariel Sharon, Washington has squandered post-9/11 sympathy and brought relations with the Muslim world to a new low.
Let's examine Krugman's "logic." (And ignore the fact that Bush has not been unconditional in his support for Ariel Sharon.)
Mahathir makes a speech where he argues for progress in the Muslim world -- more learning like that which is common in Western democracies. (Let's leave aside the destruction of Israel which is a subtext and goal in that argument.)
Bush destroys the most backward Muslim regime on the planet, the Taliban, the kind of Muslim religious thought that Mahathir is attacking in his speech.
Bush destroys a corrupt Iraqi regime, frees the people to use the country's oil wealth for all and not just for Saddam's cronies. Iraq now has the possibility of becoming all that Mahathir would like all of the Muslim world to be.
And all of this is to blame for Muslims hating America?
(It's interesting to note in Mahathir's speech that he singles out two groups as having oppressed Muslims worldwide: Jews and Europeans -- not Americans.)
Do they hate us for saving Muslims in Kosovo? Do they hate us for saving Muslims in Bosnia? No. Please ignore the Saudi Wahhabis behind the curtain. Nothing to see here.
Krugman then mounts an attack on Lt. Gen. William Boykin who is apparently not allowed to express his religious beliefs in a church.
And bear in mind that Mr. Mahathir's remarks were written before the world learned about the views of Lt. Gen. William "My God Is Bigger Than Yours" Boykin. By making it clear that he sees nothing wrong with giving an important post in the war on terror to someone who believes, and says openly, that Allah is a false idol -- General Boykin denies that's what he meant, but his denial was implausible even by current standards -- Donald Rumsfeld has gone a long way toward confirming the Muslim world's worst fears.
Somewhere in Pakistan Osama bin Laden must be enjoying this. The war on terror didn't have to be perceived as a war on Islam, but we seem to be doing our best to make it look that way.
Boykin or no, there's not much that can be done about the perceptions of the people who already hate us. Those Muslims who already believe the current conflict to be of religious in nature will use Boykin's comments for their own ends. Those Muslims who do not will dismiss them.
It's ridiculous to try to link the United States to a rise in anti-Semitism around the world. But for Krugman every bad thing in the world is Bush's fault. It's nice to know that there are at least a few constants in this world.