Two dramas and a third

Buried beneath news of the "balloon boy" hoax is the story of Muslim versus Muslim attacks in Southwest Asia. The latest installment in that saga is the bombing of Islamic schools all over Pakistan. The Daily Times banners "Students Terrorised".

* Three women among six killed in first-ever attack on students as twin suicide bombers hit Islamic University Islamabad

* 25 female students among 29 injured

* Punjab closes educational institutions indefinitely while NWFP, Balochistan and Sindh closed till Sunday

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The provincial governments on Tuesday ordered the closure of government and private educational institutions across the country following an attack on the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI) in which six people, including three female students, were killed and 29 others injured.

Judith Klinghoffer noted the ironical similarity between the bombings in Pakistan to the attack of the Hebrew University by Hamas in Jerusalem in 2002.  The attacks were accompanied, as these these are, by the usual statements of denial. Officials quickly claimed that the "attackers were not followers of Islam". How could they be? and Klinghoffer reminded her readers not to forget that "Iranians claim that we should not worry about their nuclear development as Islam forbids the use of nuclear weapons."

But assuming it were possible, why would Muslims be bombing Muslims? Because they are involved in a global struggle for power among themselves and in relation to the world.  World Islam is trying to define itself in a vast civil war. Perhaps it is far more important for radical Islamists to bomb Muslims attending university than it has ever been for them to kill Jews. Killing Jews is a symbolic act. Killing other Muslims is the practical side of the war. Reuel Marc Gerecht argues in the Christian Science Monitor that the War on Terror is nearly synonymous and to a large extent, coextensive, with the civil war raging in the Islamic world.  He describes the battle lines as internally being between Sunni and Shia radicals and their more secular bretheren, and across confessions between Sunni and Shia communities. Sunni Jihadism has been trying to take leadership its side, he says, but has lost the battle in the Arab world. It was defeated in Iraq, an event whose historic consequences have been unappreciated by all except al-Qaeda itself. Now their last hope is in South Asia, which may be lost in a fit of absentmindeness by Washington, which sees it as a distraction from the the pursuit of a domestic welfare agenda. But the real story of Afghanistan according to Gerecht is that it represents not only a chance for Sunni radicalism to recover, but a changing of the guard from Arabs to South Asian jihadi leaders.

Unless Al Qaeda is able to reignite Sunni-Shiite strife in Iraq – and the odds of this happening seem pretty small – Sunni jihadism has lost the Iraq war, and with it, cross your fingers, the Arabs.

Mesopotamia really was the central front in the war on terror because it was the only military theater Al Qaeda and its allies had in the Arab world. Drive out the Americans, unleash a Sunni-Shiite bloodbath that just might bring Sunni Arab states and Iran into a bloody cold – ideally hot – war, and Sunni Islamic militancy might just shake the region.

Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, both decent strategists, knew what they were saying when they described Iraq as the decisive battleground. Victory there would have given their cause real possibilities in the Muslim heartlands.

When al-Qaeda lost in Iraq their sole change of redemption was to win a rematch in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Yet even if they were to succeed, one thing has changed for the foreseeable future.  The defeat in Iraq has momentarily eclipsed the dominance of Arabs in the leadership of the Sunni Jihad in favor of the better educated and more formidable South Asians. More to the point, it has moved the fulcrum of the Muslim civil war eastwards. While the Middle East remains important, it is no longer central after Iraq. Gerecht describes the prospects of the Sunni Jihad:

But they do offer the promise of great success, and within Pakistan and India are highly educated Muslims who just might join the cause. Arab Al Qaeda never enlisted first-rate – or even second-rate – scientific talent. Pakistan and India, with vastly better educational establishments than the Arab world, might just provide what modern holy warriors have so far lacked: the requisite skill to deploy weapons of mass destruction against the United States.

Pakistan, indeed, has become one of the great battlegrounds of the Muslim civil war. It's not an Arab-only endeavor. Pakistan and Iran, the most dynamic laboratory of Islamic political thought, and post-Saddam Hussein Iraq are the guides to a better (or worse) future for believers. They are trying to rework the way modernity and religion have, so far, unsuccessfully married. They are trying to work democracy effectively into the faith, and with it the promise of less easily traumatized mores. ....

The Arabs are big players in the current tug of war among Muslims. But they may not be the decisive agents. That honor may go to the Iranians and the Pakistanis, with the much more religious Turks running closely behind.

Arab lands surely will provide more lethal soldiers and philosophers to the jihad. But they will likely join a movement led by Muslims who won't give automatically pride of place to those who come from the historic heartlands. Their passions and their enemies will be shared – note that the three pillars of the Afghan neo-Taliban (Omar, the Haqqanis, and Hekmatyar) have become more virulently anti-American than they were a decade ago, and they were extreme then.

The war aside, this is a natural evolution: The best and the brightest of the Islamist cause will think and hate globally.

As if to punctuate Gercht's thesis another set of Islamic bombers struck a group of Iranian Revolutionary guards deployed near the Afghan border. The NYT reported that "At least five commanders of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were killed and dozens of other people were left dead and wounded on Sunday in two bombings in the restive southeast along Iran’s frontier with Pakistan, according to Iranian state news agencies." The attackers -- assuming they could be Muslim -- were said to be from Baluchistan.

The Baluchi insurgent group Jundallah — or Soldiers of God — took responsibility for the bombings, which included a suicide attack on a community meeting led by Revolutionary Guards and a roadside attack on a car full of Guards, both in the area of the city of Pishin.

Jundallah, whose members are Sunni Muslims, has claimed responsibility for other attacks in the region in recent years, and is believed to have killed hundreds of Iranian soldiers and civilians. The southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan has been the scene of attacks in the past, and in April the government put the Guards Corps in control of security there to try to stop the escalating violence.

The Western press has tended to regard South Asia as the hillbilly backwater of the Jihad. Fixated on the Arab/Israeli conflict, it was regarded as a side-show.  Only recently have some realized, as Gerecht warned, that South Asia represents a first-class breeding ground for radicalism on its own terms. One person whose eyes were recently opened was David Rohde, a NYT correspondent who was kidnapped recently by the Taliban. Although he had been writing about Afghanistan for the better part of a decade, only during his captivity did he realize that the Taliban really did hate him and the civilization he represented.  He recounts:

Over those months, I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become. Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of “Al Qaeda lite,” a religiously motivated movement primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan.

Living side by side with the Haqqanis’ followers, I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. Contact with foreign militants in the tribal areas appeared to have deeply affected many young Taliban fighters. They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world.

I had written about the ties between Pakistan’s intelligence services and the Taliban while covering the region for The New York Times. I knew Pakistan turned a blind eye to many of their activities. But I was astonished by what I encountered firsthand: a Taliban mini-state that flourished openly and with impunity.

Mr. Rhode's blissful unawareness may simply mirror on a smaller scale the attitudes within the Obama administration about the severity and nature of threats radical Islam and aggressive national regimes pose to the international stability. Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post argues that the administration has been acting as if real international threats were only a joke. It is playing with fire, he says, and is acting like an adolescent who has yet to experience real pain. Can it seriously believe, he asks, that safety can be found behind a wall of Nobel Peace Prizes? Krauthammer believes there is something absurd about relying on "national self-denigration -- excuse me, outreach and understanding" that "is not meant to yield immediate results; [but] simply plants the seeds of good feeling from which foreign policy successes shall come."  That's like buying beers for thugs in a tough neighborhood in the hope they'll respect you instead of coming back for more.  Krauthammer claims that the policy of bending over backward so far has been a dismal failure; it has only resulted in the betrayal of the Iranian opposition, the sell-out of Tibet, "the sudden abrogation of missile defense arrangements with Poland and the Czech Republic" in exchange for exactly nothing.  He concludes with a piece of gallows humor.

Henry Kissinger once said that the main job of Anatoly Dobrynin, the perennial Soviet ambassador to Washington, was to tell the Kremlin leadership that whenever they received a proposal from the United States that appeared disadvantageous to the United States, not to assume it was a trick.

No need for a Dobrynin today. The Russian leadership, hardly believing its luck, needs no interpreter to understand that when the Obama team clownishly rushes in bearing gifts and "reset" buttons, there is nothing ulterior, diabolical, clever or even serious behind it. It is amateurishness, wrapped in naivete, inside credulity. In short, the very stuff of Nobels.

Krauthammer's chuckles from the Washington Post are actually echoed in the NYT, which feels somewhat of the heat of the bonfire of the current administrations vanities. Just a little tingle, but enough to register. In an news analysis piece, Ethan Bronner of the NYT wrote that come to think of it, the only moments of peace in the Middle East on both sides were bought by the IDF's suppression of gangsters and thugs. The Peace Process, though launched with much fanfare and followed with great expectation, have led largely to a boom in the undertaking business. The safety of civilians on both sides of the divide, not to mention the cause of nuclear non-proliferation in the region, have largely come as a result of the suppression of bad guys.

As the Obama administration tries to broker a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is a dark truth lurking: force has produced clearer results in this dispute than talk. ...

The payoff from the use of force in the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians is evident. It was only after the first Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s that Israel recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization and started to consider a two-state solution, and after the second — and very bloody — uprising that it left Gaza in 2005.

Meanwhile for many Israelis, the past decade looks like a model of the primacy of military action over diplomacy.

Through relentless commando operations and numerous checkpoints, the Israeli Army ended suicide bombings and other terrorist acts from the West Bank; since its 2006 war with the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, widely dismissed as a failure at the time, the group has not fired one rocket at Israel; and Israel’s operation against Gaza last December has greatly curtailed years of Hamas rocket fire, returning a semblance of normality to the Israeli south.

Two years ago, Israeli fighter planes destroyed what Israel and the United States say was a budding Syrian nuclear reactor; and last year in Syria, Israeli agents assassinated Imad Mugniyah, the top military operative for Hezbollah and a crucial link to its Iranian sponsors, a severe blow to both Hezbollah and Iran.

Diplomatic efforts, whether the Oslo peace talks of the 1990s or the Turkish-mediated negotiations with Syria last year have, by contrast, produced little. Every Israeli military operation of recent years — including the December invasion of Gaza that was condemned Friday by the United Nations Human Rights Council by a vote of 25 to 6 and referred to the Security Council following a report by a committee led by Richard Goldstone — has come under international censure.

Maybe someday it will be different, Bronner says, but not right now. That doesn't keep people from trying to use John Lennon's Imagine as the manual for international "peace". There are some who even now believe it is better to paint Israel into a corner by making concessions to the ayatollahs, the better to force the Jewish state to take out Iranian nuclear capability. Let them take the rap. And as to ruffling Ahmedinajad's feathers, that is altogether too troublesome and unpleasant to those for who everything has always been a choice. Denial runs deep. It's the logic of the man who enjoys his steak and playing on his ivory chess-set without wanting to worry about where it came from.

If Gerecht is right, then a battle for the soul of Islam is raging in South Asia. And the President may have elected to watch it from the sidelines, figuring the fires won't jump. And if Krauthammer is right, then the West is facing a series of challenges which cannot be ignored. But maybe Obama is calculating he can ignore them; that it is better to keep talking than trying to act;  because things just might take care of themselves. The world is about to find out who's right. It should be an interesting next six months.


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