Be My Friend
Aesop's fable about the The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey is meant to bring home the point that it's impossible to please everyone -- and that it is useless to try. That ancient story anticipates the difficulty of trying to win friends in the Jihad. Marvin Katz, writing for the United Press International described how Russian efforts to placate Islamic anger over Chechnya by supporting Islamic causes everywhere else did not keep their diplomats from being kidnapped in Iraq.
One of Moscow's principal foreign policy aims has been to prevent opposition to Russian intervention in Chechnya from rising up in the Middle East and the broader Muslim world. ... And so Moscow, especially under Putin, has assiduously worked to convince the Muslim world that, unlike America, Russia is its friend. When America insisted on intervening in Iraq, Russia strenuously objected -- both at the time of the intervention and ever since. When the United States called for democratization in the Middle East, Russia indicated its willingness to work with existing authoritarian governments as they are. When the United States calls for sanctions or other strong measures in response to the Iranian nuclear program, Russia calls for restraint and even sticks up for Tehran. When the United States refused to talk to Hamas after it won the Palestinian parliamentary elections earlier this year, Russia hosted a Hamas delegation in Moscow.
Numerous other examples could be cited. Part of Moscow's aim in taking these actions seems to be to convey to Muslims that Russia supports so many causes dear to them that they should not concern themselves over what is happening in Chechnya. Moscow would prefer that Muslims actually support Russian actions there, but will be grateful if they are merely indifferent -- just as long as they do not actively support the Chechen rebels.
But Moscow's triangulation did not work as planned. The BBC recently reported the execution of four Russian diplomats in Iraq over Chechnya
Insurgents in Iraq say they have killed four Russian embassy workers kidnapped at the start of June. The Mujahideen Shura Council, an umbrella group incorporating al-Qaeda in Iraq, released an internet video and a statement announcing their deaths. The video showed one man being beheaded and another shot dead, as well as the body of a third, but there was no sign of the fourth hostage. ... The men were seized in Baghdad on 3 June, and kidnappers said the executions were in revenge for "torture, killing and displacement by the infidel Russian government" in Chechnya. The Mujahideen Shura Council, which said it was holding the men, had threatened to kill them if Russia did not pull its troops out of Chechnya.
Nor did Sharon and Yehud Olmert's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza win any brownie points. The pathetic appeals by the Israeli government to the Palestinian authority to effect the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped in a Palestinian operation and now being held in Gaza also illustrates how the quid does not always bring the pro quo. The Toronto Star reports:
Frantic diplomatic efforts to free a kidnapped Israeli soldier were underway today as Israeli forces massed ominously on the Gaza Strip border, awaiting orders after a deadly Palestinian raid on an isolated military observation post. ... The fate of the bespectacled tank gunner, who is believed to have suffered chest injuries in the attack, constitutes "a crisis the likes of which we have not seen in a very long time," one Israeli official told the Toronto Star. "(Palestinian President) Mahmoud Abbas says he is a partner for peace: we say to him, `This is your moment of truth,'" said Mark Regev, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman. "Bring about the immediate release of our serviceman. Do this and it will be an amazing confidence-builder. It will totally de-escalate the crisis and completely energize Israel's efforts toward the renewal of the peace process.
Any Russian or Israeli expectation of gratitude is probably doomed. When the Russians reminded the Iraqi kidnappers that Moscow was on their side the Shura cooly responded was that things could never reach a point where the Ummah felt it owned the infidel anything.
"[T]here can be no justification for the seizure of the representatives of a country energetically promoting the restoration of peace on Iraqi soil, and independence and well-being of the friendly Iraqi people," Mikhail Kamynin said. In other words: Why pick on Russians when it is the Americans, not us, who are occupying your country?
In its statement of June 19, however, the Mujahideen Shura Council indicated that, regardless of Russian opposition to the American occupation of Iraq, it still opposed Russian "aggression" both in Chechnya now and in Afghanistan in the past. "How can you ask us to forget what the weakened Muslims are encountering from the Russian government and its people?" the statement issued by the Council asked. Its June 21 statement announcing the decision to execute the four Russian diplomats declared that this was being done "in revenge for our brothers everywhere with whose blood the Russians' hands have been stained."
Part of the problem is that -- as in Aesop's fable -- there is always someone who thinks it is your fault. The ostensible reason for the IDF soldier's abduction was an explosion on a Gaza beach -- blamed on Israel but which may have actually been caused by Palestinian land mines -- although this has been disputed. But in whatever the cause of those blasts the Israelis were going to be punished anyway for an "international plot against the Palestinian nation", as the Toronto Star narrates:
Earlier, Hamas movement spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Al-Jazeera television the raid represented "a fulfillment of the duty to the girl Huda Ghalia, whose family was killed in front of her eyes." Abu Zuhri's reference relates to an explosion on a Gaza beach two weeks ago in which eight Palestinian civilians died. An Israeli army probe cleared itself of any responsibility for the incident, which Palestinians attribute to Israeli artillery shelling. "It was also carried out due to the international community's silence amid the international plot against the Palestinian nation," Abu Zuhri said.
Whatever Abbas thinks of Israel, there is someone in the Ummah who may still be convinced Israel should be destroyed. The New York Times, in an article entitled After Londonistan, claims what shocked British policy makers following the July 7, 2005 subway bombings was how in spite of every effort not to antagonize the Muslims by liberal immigration policy, political correctness and many other accomodations "normal English Muslim kids" learned to hate Britain so much they turned themselves into suicide bombers.
A few years ago, all of them would have been considered part of the new, multicultural England branded "Cool Britannia" in the press and bragged about by government and citizens alike. Especially demoralizing was the posthumous video message of 30-year-old Mohammad Sidique Khan, the ringleader, which was broadcast on Al Jazeera two months after his death. His claims that Muslims were being mistreated throughout the world were familiar enough from other suicide-bomber videos. But Khan's thick, native Yorkshire accent — like something that had strayed out of a film adaptation of a Brontë novel, or a documentary about striking miners — was disheartening to British viewers. By then, Khan's white childhood friends had made it known that they had called him Sid and had been really fond of him. One told the BBC, "I just thought of him as a Beeston lad, and that's what he was — a Beeston lad, born and bred." ...
It is this apparent invariance to appeasement or resistance that is so dismaying. If Russia, Israel and Britain can still be regarded as hostile to Islam despite every conciliatory effort then what do they do next? Is the solution to get tough on Islam or conciliate it even further, on the theory that the past outreach has not been enough? The New York Times describes how the British political establishment has attempted to solve this problem by simultaneously toughening certain dealings with Muslim communities while becoming more conciliatory in others.
After the bombings, Blair warned that those who do not "share and support the values that sustain the British way of life," or who incite hatred against Britain and its people, "have no place here." In February, he added that Islamist preachers who condone terrorism "should not be in this country." It was tempting to assume that Blair was simply hardening his line, moving from Islam-Is-Peace to Love-It-or-Leave-It. But the government insists that it will do everything in consultation with the country's 1.6 million Muslims, half of whom are under 25, with the goal of winning their hearts and minds.
Whether that kind of outreach is compatible with a hard line depends, of course, on Muslim sentiments. Identifying and influencing those sentiments — promoting "moderate Muslims" is the way the challenge is usually framed — is trickier than it sounds. What is a moderate Muslim? It could mean someone who's not very serious about his religion or someone who's quite serious about his religion but not very political about it. What of the common formulation that terrorism is "not Islam"? This could be a politically correct dodge or a hardheaded diagnosis that something more unholy is at work. The mainstream Islamic organizations, which unite Muslims around political grievances, are certainly a useful route into the British political system, but maybe they are whipping up those grievances in the first place. And nonbelievers are so numerous among people of immigrant background that dealing with religious leaders may be a wrongheaded strategy in the first place. Britain is working out its answers to these questions by trial and error. ...
But community policing carries a big risk: in reaching out to people on the streets, the police may become overly dependent on them. At a local level, it can mean police collusion with whichever interest group makes the most credible threat of disruption. ... The legislative packet Tony Blair outlined last August tries to balance two things: the harder line demanded by the public after July 7 and an unwillingness — whether out of common decency, constitutional propriety or political correctness — to single out Muslims. ... The government also brought to a final vote a "law against incitement to religious hatred" that it had been discussing for five years. ... It was a sort of horse trading with the principles of free speech, and it drove much of the country into a fury. The Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips later told me: "The term 'politically correct' does not do justice to this sinister totalitarian project. It is against not just freedom of speech but also freedom of thought." She added that Britons were particularly vulnerable to such incursions: "It's very British not to want to give offense. And political Islam is the world grievance culture par excellence. It's a perfect fit." Rowan Atkinson, the comedian, said that the law, if passed, would make it impossible to crack jokes involving religion.
Tony Blair is willing to trade away the oldest and most cherished British freedoms in an attempt to please the Muslim community. Will he succeed? And if he doesn't what then?