Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

Show solidarity with your Shia brothers and sisters

February 20, 2013

FOR PAKISTAN

I request/urge/recommend/plead/ask you to show solidarity with your Shia brothers and sisters. Please take similar photos of yourself and remind these oppressors that we stand as ONE … that they are not eliminating Shias…but merely increasing their strength.

I’m not concerned about the Government that sees nothing…I’m not concered with the Media that says nothing…and I’m not concerned about the Judiciary that hears nothing…I am concerned with the Soul that feels nothing. I am ashamed not that my Pakistani brother pulled the trigger… I am ashamed that my life goes on…

I strongly protest the killing of innocent SHIAS!! Before becoming a Shia or a Sunni…one has to be a Muslim…lets just keep it to that.

If being a Sunni means to love the Prophet (SAW) then there is and was no bigger Sunni than Hazrat Ali (RAH)…and…if being a Shia means to love Hazrat Ali (RAH) then there is and was no bigger Shia than the Prophet (SAW) himself.

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Hypocrisy during Hajj

January 30, 2013

By Ziyad Motala
ZoneAsia-Pk

A pivotal theme in current Islamic political discourse is a demand for justice, a key tenet of the Quran. A popular complaint in Islamic political argument is discrimination against Muslims in the west such as the ban of the veil in European countries, minarets in Switzerland or racial profiling in many western countries. Unfortunately, there is a conspicuous lack of looking inwards to practices within Muslim countries. Muslims from all over the world have just completed the annual pilgrimage, the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. The Hajj represents a critical pillar of Islam and is supposed to represent a universal gathering of Muslims, which transcends race, ethnicity, color or any other distinction. Muslims are supposed to meet in the sacred precincts surrounding the holy city of Mecca as equals wearing the same simple clothing meant to symbolize perfect brotherhood, where individuals or groups do not see themselves as separate entities and differences of lineage, tribe or race have no bearing.

The experiences of the Hajj are very different depending on which part of the world you originate from. If you hail from Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states, you will perform the hajj in relative luxury and privilege, which is denied to Muslims from the sub-continent, Africa or the rest of the world. Those from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have a different Hajj based on luxurious accommodations, and preferential treatment in performing the rituals. The latest egregious practice is the high-speed rail service, which transports the pilgrims from Mecca to the sacred sites where the rituals of the Hajj are performed. The train is reserved only for Saudis and citizens from the Gulf countries. Citizens from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries can be transported to the holy sites within a few minutes. For others, they will have to take the bus or walk which could take many hours each day. I cannot think of any other place in the world today that practices such crass racism. Imagine a train in the United States that states no Arabs — just people from the west — can ride in. The real tragedy is the lack of outrage from Muslims.

The Hajj as a gathering of Muslims, based on equality, simplicity and brotherhood is a fiction. The Hajj is a gigantic money making endeavor. All visits to the holy place have to take place under the auspices of a Saudi institution or company, which is totally Saudi-owned. Every opportunity is geared towards profit maximization. The Saudi companies in turn enter into agreements with parties in the local country where the pilgrim resides. The Saudi company takes care of the negotiation with the local hotels and other parties to organize and pay for the accommodations and internal transportation and the like. Saudis have profited greatly from the pilgrims who have been exploited on a scale that is beyond imagination. A two week visit to Saudi Arabia during the Hajj period (if you are not sponsored) in modest accommodations costs more than a month-long world tour (not counting the fact that for five days during the two week period, the pilgrim is staying in a tent). Imagine the outrage if a Saudi was told that he could not do business in the United States (including booking a hotel) except though a United States entity?

Saudi Arabia represents one of the worse examples of a stratified society at the apex of which sits the descendants of its founder Ibn Saud constituted in the current royal family. And then appears a pecking order based on lineage or clan and others recognized as Saudi. Then come hundreds of thousands of individuals (including second and third generation Saudi born), followed by hundreds of thousands of foreign guest workers.

The sum total of rights and privileges enjoyed — be it access to jobs, education, access to property, welfare benefits or the performance of the Hajj depends upon where one belongs in the pecking order. Those at the top enjoy considerable rights and power over those at the bottom. The most affected group is the foreign worker, particularly the foreign woman worker. These guest workers operate under a kafeel (master) to whom many are indebted for years, a situation that invites trafficking in people and a relationship akin to slavery. Over the past few days, we have been informed about several incidents of abuse of foreign guest workers from Indonesia in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Where is the outrage from Muslims and their scholars? Each year, thousands of female workers seek protection at foreign embassies from abuse and rape. International human rights groups and others have documented the rampant abuse, lack of fair trial standards, denial of freedom of movement, forced labor approaching conditions of slavery and beating of foreign workers. Also documented is the weak judicial system, which offers little protection to those at the bottom, rung of society. The judicial system gives more credence to the wealthy and locals in disputes involving foreigners.

Islamic law derived from the sayings of the prophet Mohammad articulates a vision of human dignity (in ways analogous to modern human rights) in stating “No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; nor has a white man any superiority over a black man, or the black many any superiority over the white man. You are all the children of Adam, and Adam was created from Clay”. Conspicuously absent are protests among Muslims about racism, racial discrimination, gender discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance prevalent in so many Muslim countries starting with the cradle of Islam, Saudi Arabia.

How the FBI’s Network of Informants Actually Created Most of the Terrorist Plots “Foiled” in the US Since 9/11

October 11, 2011

Mother Jones / By Trevor Aaronson

The FBI has built a massive network of spies to prevent another domestic attack. But are they busting terrorist plots-or leading them?

UPDATE: On September 28, Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old graduate of Northeastern University, was arrested and charged with providing resources to a foreign terrorist organization and attempting to destroy national defense premises. Ferdaus, according to the FBI, planned to blow up both the Pentagon and Capitol Building with a “large remote controlled aircraft filled with C-4 plastic explosives.”

The case was part of a nearly ten-month investigation led by the FBI. Not surprisingly, Ferdaus’ case fits a pattern detailed by Trevor Aaronson in his article below: the FBI provided Ferdaus with the explosives and materials needed to pull off the plot. In this case, two undercover FBI employees, who Ferdaus believed were al Qaeda members, gave Ferdaus $7,500 to purchase an F-86 Sabre model airplane that Ferdaus hoped to fill with explosives. Right before his arrest, the FBI employees gave Ferdaus, who lived at home with his parents, the explosives he requested to pull off his attack. And just how did the FBI come to meet Ferdaus? An informant with a criminal record introduced Ferdaus to the supposed al Qaeda members.

To learn more about how the FBI uses informants to bust, and sometimes lead, terrorist plots, read Aaronson’s article below.

James Cromitie [8] was a man of bluster and bigotry. He made up wild stories about his supposed exploits, like the one about firing gas bombs into police precincts using a flare gun, and he ranted about Jews. “The worst brother in the whole Islamic world is better than 10 billion Yahudi,” he once said [9].

A 45-year-old Walmart stocker who’d adopted the name Abdul Rahman after converting to Islam during a prison stint for selling cocaine, Cromitie had lots of worries-convincing his wife he wasn’t sleeping around, keeping up with the rent, finding a decent job despite his felony record. But he dreamed of making his mark. He confided as much in a middle-aged Pakistani he knew as Maqsood.

“I’m gonna run into something real big [10],” he’d say. “I just feel it, I’m telling you. I feel it.”

Maqsood and Cromitie had met at a mosque in Newburgh, a struggling former Air Force town about an hour north of New York City. They struck up a friendship, talking for hours about the world’s problems and how the Jews were to blame.

It was all talk until November 2008, when Maqsood pressed his new friend.

“Do you think you are a better recruiter or a better action man?” Maqsood asked [11].

“I’m both,” Cromitie bragged.

“My people would be very happy to know that, brother. Honestly.”

“Who’s your people?” Cromitie asked.

“Jaish-e-Mohammad.”

Maqsood said he was an agent for the Pakistani terror group, tasked with assembling a team to wage jihad in the United States. He asked Cromitie what he would attack if he had the means. A bridge, Cromitie said.

“But bridges are too hard to be hit,” Maqsood pleaded, “because they’re made of steel.”

“Of course they’re made of steel,” Cromitie replied. “But the same way they can be put up, they can be brought down.”

Maqsood coaxed Cromitie toward a more realistic plan. The Mumbai attacks were all over the news, and he pointed out how those gunmen targeted hotels, cafés, and a Jewish community center.

“With your intelligence, I know you can manipulate someone,” Cromitie told his friend. “But not me, because I’m intelligent.” The pair settled on a plot to bomb synagogues in the Bronx, and then fire Stinger missiles at airplanes taking off from Stewart International Airport in the southern Hudson Valley. Maqsood would provide all the explosives and weapons, even the vehicles. “We have two missiles, okay?” he offered [12]. “Two Stingers, rocket missiles.”

Maqsood was an undercover operative; that much was true. But not for Jaish-e-Mohammad. His real name was Shahed Hussain [13], and he was a paid informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Ever since 9/11, counterterrorism has been the FBI’s No. 1 priority, consuming the lion’s share of its budget-$3.3 billion, compared to $2.6 billion for organized crime-and much of the attention of field agents and a massive, nationwide network of informants. After years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies-many of them tasked, as Hussain was, with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States. In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s records, there are as many as three unofficial ones, according to one former high-level FBI official, known in bureau parlance as “hip pockets.”

The informants could be doctors, clerks, imams. Some might not even consider themselves informants. But the FBI regularly taps all of them as part of a domestic intelligence apparatus whose only historical peer might be COINTELPRO [14], the program the bureau ran from the ’50s to the ’70s to discredit and marginalize organizations ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to civil-rights and protest groups.

Throughout the FBI’s history, informant numbers have been closely guarded secrets. Periodically, however, the bureau has released those figures. A Senate oversight committee in 1975 found the FBI had 1,500 informant [15]s [15]. In 1980, officials disclosed there were 2,800 [16]. Six years later, following the FBI’s push into drugs and organized crime, the number of bureau informants ballooned to 6,000, the Los Angeles Times reported [16] in 1986. And according to the FBI, the number grew significantly after 9/11. In its fiscal year 2008 budget authorization request [17], the FBI disclosed that it it had been been working under a November 2004 presidential directive demanding an increase [18] in “human source development and management,” and that it needed $12.7 million [19] for a program to keep tabs on its spy network and create software to track and manage informants.

The bureau’s strategy has changed significantly from the days when officials feared another coordinated, internationally financed attack from an Al Qaeda sleeper cell. Today, counterterrorism experts believe groups like Al Qaeda, battered by the war in Afghanistan and the efforts of the global intelligence community, have shifted to a franchise model, using the internet to encourage sympathizers to carry out attacks in their name. The main domestic threat, as the FBI sees it, is a lone wolf.

The bureau’s answer has been a strategy known variously as “preemption,” “prevention,” and “disruption”-identifying and neutralizing potential lone wolves before they move toward action. To that end, FBI agents and informants target not just active jihadists, but tens of thousands of law-abiding people, seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity.

Here’s how it works: Informants report to their handlers on people who have, say, made statements sympathizing with terrorists. Those names are then cross-referenced with existing intelligence data, such as immigration and criminal records. FBI agents may then assign an undercover operative to approach the target by posing as a radical. Sometimes the operative will propose a plot, provide explosives, even lead the target in a fake oath to Al Qaeda. Once enough incriminating information has been gathered, there’s an arrest-and a press conference [20] announcing another foiled plot.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because such sting operations are a fixture in the headlines. Remember the Washington Metro [21] bombing plot? The New York subway [22] plot? The guys who planned to blow up the Sears Tower [23]? The teenager seeking to bomb a Portland Christmas tree [24] lighting? Each of those plots, and dozens more across the nation, was led by an FBI asset.

Over the past year, Mother Jones and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley have examined prosecutions of 508 defendants in terrorism-related cases, as defined by the Department of Justice. Our investigation found:

  • Nearly half the prosecutions involved the use of informants, many of them incentivized by money (operatives can be paid as much as $100,000 per assignment) or the need to work off criminal or immigration violations. (For more on the details of those 508 cases, see our charts page [6] and searchable database [25].)
  • Sting operations resulted in prosecutions against 158 defendants. Of that total, 49 defendants participated in plots led by an agent provocateur-an FBI operative instigating terrorist action.
  • With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings. (The exceptions are Najibullah Zazi, who came close to bombing [26] the New York City subway system in September 2009; Hesham Mohamed Hadayet [27], an Egyptian who opened fire on the El-Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles airport; and failed Times Square bomberFaisal Shahzad [28].)
  • In many sting cases, key encounters between the informant and the target were not recorded-making it hard for defendants claiming entrapment to prove their case.
  • Terrorism-related charges are so difficult to beat in court, even when the evidence is thin, that defendants often don’t risk a trial.

“The problem with the cases we’re talking about is that defendants would not have done anything if not kicked in the ass by government agents,” says Martin Stolar, a lawyer who represented a man caught in a 2004 sting involving New York’s Herald Square [22] subway station. “They’re creating crimes to solve crimes so they can claim a victory in the war on terror.” In the FBI’s defense, supporters argue that the bureau will only pursue a case when the target clearly is willing to participate in violent action. “If you’re doing a sting right, you’re offering the target multiple chances to back out,” says Peter Ahearn, a retired FBI special agent who directed the Western New York Joint Terrorism Task Force and oversaw the investigation of the Lackawanna Six [29], an alleged terror cell near Buffalo, New York. “Real people don’t say, ‘Yeah, let’s go bomb that place.’ Real people call the cops.”

Even so, Ahearn concedes that the uptick in successful terrorism stings might not be evidence of a growing threat so much as a greater focus by the FBI. “If you concentrate more people on a problem,” Ahearn says, “you’ll find more problems.” Today, the FBI follows up on literally every single call, email, or other terrorism-related tip it receives for fear of missing a clue.

And the emphasis is unlikely to shift anytime soon. Sting operations have “proven to be an essential law enforcement tool in uncovering and preventing potential terror attacks,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a December 2010 speech [45] to Muslim lawyers and civil rights activists. President Obama’s Department of Justice has announced sting-related prosecutions at an even faster clip than the Bush administration, with 44 new cases since January 2009. With the war on terror an open-ended and nebulous conflict, the FBI doesn’t have an exit strategy.

Located deep in a wooded area on a Marine Corps base west of Interstate 95-a setting familiar from Silence of the Lambs-is the sandstone fortress of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. This building, erected under J. Edgar Hoover, is where to this day every FBI special agent is trained.

J. Stephen Tidwell graduated from the academy in 1981 and over the years rose to executive assistant director, one of the 10 highest positions in the FBI; in 2008, he coauthored the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, or DIOG [46] (PDF), the manual for what agents and informants can and cannot do.

A former Texas cop, Tidwell is a barrel-chested man with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair. He’s led some of the FBI’s highest-profile investigations, including the DC sniper case and the probe of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

On a cloudy spring afternoon, Tidwell, dressed in khakis and a blue sweater, drove me in his black Ford F-350 through Hogan’s Alley [47]-a 10-acre Potemkin village with houses, bars, stores, and a hotel. Agents learning the craft role-play stings, busts, and bank robberies here, and inside jokes and pop-culture references litter the place (which itself gets its name from a 19th-century comic strip). At one end of the town is the Biograph Theater, named for the Chicago movie house where FBI agents gunned down John Dillinger [48] in 1934. (“See,” Tidwell says. “The FBI has a sense of humor.”)

Inside the academy, a more somber tone prevails. Plaques everywhere honor agents who have been killed on the job. Tidwell takes me to one that commemorates John O’Neill, who became chief of the bureau’s then-tiny counterterrorism section in 1995. For years before retiring from the FBI, O’Neill warned [49] of Al Qaeda’s increasing threat, to no avail. In late August 2001, he left the bureau to take a job as head of security for the World Trade Center, where he died 19 days later at the hands of the enemy he’d told the FBI it should fear. The agents he had trained would end up reshaping the bureau’s counterterrorism operations.

Before 9/11, FBI agents considered chasing terrorists an undesirable career path, and their training did not distinguish between Islamic terror tactics and those employed by groups like the Irish Republican Army. “A bombing case is a bombing case,” Dale Watson, who was the FBI’s counterterrorism chief on 9/11, said in a December 2004 deposition. The FBI also did not train agents in Arabic or require most of them to learn about radical Islam. “I don’t necessarily think you have to know everything about the Ku Klux Klan to investigate a church bombing,” Watson said. The FBI had only one Arabic speaker [50] in New York City and fewer than 10 nationwide.

But shortly after 9/11, President George W. Bush called FBI Director Robert Mueller to Camp David. His message: never again. And so Mueller committed to turn the FBI into a counterintelligence organization rivaling Britain’s MI5 in its capacity for surveillance and clandestine activity. Federal law enforcement went from a focus on fighting crime to preventing crime; instead of accountants and lawyers cracking crime syndicates, the bureau would focus on Jack Bauer-style operators disrupting terror groups.

To help run the counterterrorism section, Mueller drafted Arthur Cummings, a former Navy SEAL who’d investigated the first World Trade Center bombing. Cummings pressed agents to focus not only on their immediate target, but also on the extended web of people linked to the target. “We’re looking for the sympathizer who wants to become an operator, and we want to catch them when they step over that line to operator,” Cummings says. “Sometimes, that step takes 10 years. Other times, it takes 10 minutes.” The FBI’s goal is to create a hostile environment for terrorist recruiters and operators-by raising the risk of even the smallest step toward violent action. It’s a form of deterrence, an adaptation of the “broken windows” theory used to fight urban crime. Advocates insist it has been effective, noting that there hasn’t been a successful large-scale attack against the United States since 9/11. But what can’t be answered-as many former and current FBI agents acknowledge-is how many of the bureau’s targets would have taken the step over the line at all, were it not for an informant.

So how did the FBI build its informant network? It began by asking where US Muslims lived. Four years after 9/11, the bureau brought in a CIA expert on intelligence-gathering methods named Phil Mudd [51]. His tool of choice was a data-mining system using commercially available information, as well as government data such as immigration records, to pinpoint the demographics of specific ethnic and religious communities-say, Iranians in Beverly Hills or Pakistanis in the DC suburbs.

The FBI officially denies that the program, known as Domain Management, works this way-its purpose, the bureau says, is simply to help allocate resources according to threats. But FBI agents told me that with counterterrorism as the bureau’s top priority, agents often look for those threats in Muslim communities-and Domain Management allows them to quickly understand those communities’ makeup. One high-ranking former FBI official jokingly referred to it as “Battlefield Management.”

Some FBI veterans criticized the program as unproductive and intrusive-one told Mudd during a high-level meeting that he’d pushed the bureau to “the dark side.” That tension has its roots in the stark difference between the FBI and the CIA: While the latter is free to operate internationally without regard to constitutional rights, the FBI must respect those rights in domestic investigations, and Mudd’s critics saw the idea of targeting Americans based on their ethnicity and religion as a step too far.

Nonetheless, Domain Management quickly became the foundation for the FBI’s counterterrorism dragnet. Using the demographic data, field agents were directed to target specific communities to recruit informants. Some agents were assigned to the task full time. And across the bureau, agents’ annual performance evaluations are now based in part on their recruiting efforts.

People cooperate with law enforcement for fairly simple reasons: ego, patriotism, money, or coercion. The FBI’s recruitment has relied heavily on the latter. One tried-and-true method is to flip someone facing criminal charges. But since 9/11 the FBI has also relied heavily on Immigration and Customs Enforcement [42], with which it has worked closely as part of increased interagency coordination. A typical scenario will play out like this: An FBI agent trying to get someone to cooperate will look for evidence that the person has immigration troubles. If they do, he can ask ICE to begin or expedite deportation proceedings. If the immigrant then chooses to cooperate, the FBI will tell the court that he is a valuable asset, averting deportation.

Sometimes, the target of this kind of push is the one person in a mosque who will know everyone’s business-the imam. Two Islamic religious leaders, Foad Farahi[52] in Miami and Sheikh Tarek Saleh in New York City, are currently fighting deportation proceedings that, they claim, began after they refused to become FBI assets. The Muslim American Society Immigrant Justice Center has filed similar complaints on behalf of seven other Muslims with the Department of Homeland Security.

Once someone has signed on as an informant, the first assignment is often a fishing expedition. Informants have said in court testimony that FBI handlers have tasked them with infiltrating mosques without a specific target or “predicate”-the term of art for the reason why someone is investigated. They were, they say, directed to surveil law-abiding Americans with no indication of criminal intent.

“The FBI is now telling agents they can go into houses of worship without probable cause,” says Farhana Khera, executive director of the San Francisco-based civil rights group Muslim Advocates. “That raises serious constitutional issues.”

Tidwell himself will soon have to defend these practices in court-he’s among those named in a

[53] (PDF) over an informant’s allegation that the FBI used him to spy on a number of mosques in Southern California.

That informant, Craig Monteilh, is a convicted felon who made his money ripping off cocaine dealers before becoming an asset for the Drug Enforcement Administration and later the FBI. A well-muscled 49-year-old with a shaved scalp, Monteilh has been a particularly versatile snitch: He’s pretended to be a white supremacist, a Russian hit man, and a Sicilian drug trafficker. He says when the FBI sent him into mosques (posing as a French-Syrian Muslim), he was told to act as a decoy for any radicals who might seek to convert him-and to look for information to help flip congregants as informants, such as immigration status, extramarital relationships, criminal activities, and drug use. “Blackmail is the ultimate goal,” Monteilh says.

Officially, the FBI denies it blackmails informants. “We are prohibited from using threats or coercion,” says Kathleen Wright, an FBI spokeswoman. (She acknowledges that the bureau has prevented helpful informants from being deported.)

FBI veterans say reality is different from the official line. “We could go to a source and say, ‘We know you’re having an affair. If you work with us, we won’t tell your wife,'” says a former top FBI counterterrorism official. “Would we actually call the wife if the source doesn’t cooperate? Not always. You do get into ethics here-is this the right thing to do?-but legally this isn’t a question. If you obtained the information legally, then you can use it however you want.”

But eventually, Monteilh’s operation imploded in spectacular fashion. In December 2007, police in Irvine, California, charged him with bilking two women out of $157,000 as part of an alleged human growth hormone scam. Monteilh has maintained it was actually part of an FBI investigation, and that agents instructed him to plead guilty to a grand-theft charge and serve eight months so as not to blow his cover. The FBI would “clean up” the charge later, Monteilh says he was told. That didn’t happen, and Monteilh has alleged in court filings that the government put him in danger by letting fellow inmates know that he was an informant. (FBI agents told me the bureau wouldn’t advise an informant to plead guilty to a state criminal charge; instead, agents would work with local prosecutors to delay or dismiss the charge.)

The class-action suit, filed by the ACLU, alleges that Tidwell, then the bureau’s Los Angeles-based assistant director, signed off on Monteilh’s operation. And Tidwell says he’s eager to defend the bureau in court. “There is not the blanket suspicion of the Muslim community that they think there is,” Tidwell says. “We’re just looking for the bad guys. Anything the FBI does is going to be interpreted as monitoring Muslims. I would tell [critics]: ‘Do you really think I have the time and money to monitor all the mosques and Arab American organizations? We don’t. And I don’t want to.'”
Shady informants, of course, are as old as the FBI; one saying in the bureau is, “To catch the devil, you have to go to hell.” Another is, “The only problem worse than having an informant is not having an informant.” Back in the ’80s, the FBI made a cottage industry of drug stings-a source of countless Hollywood plots, often involving briefcases full of cocaine and Miami as the backdrop.

It’s perhaps fitting, then, that one of the earliest known terrorism stings also unfolded in Miami, though it wasn’t launched by the FBI. Instead the protagonist was a Canadian bodyguard and, as a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, newspaper put it in 2002 [54], “a 340-pound man with a fondness for firearms and strippers.” He subscribed to Soldier of Fortune [55] and hung around a police supply store on a desolate stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, north of Miami.

Howard Gilbert aspired to be a CIA agent but lacked pertinent experience. So to pad his résumé, he hatched a plan to infiltrate a mosque in the suburb of Pembroke Pines by posing as a Muslim convert named Saif Allah [56]. He told congregants that he was a former Marine and a security expert, and one night in late 2000, he gave a speech about the plight of Palestinians.

“That was truly the night that launched me into the terrorist umbrella of South Florida,” Gilbert would later brag [57] to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Nineteen-year-old congregant Imran Mandhai, stirred by the oration, approached Gilbert and asked if he could provide him weapons and training. Gilbert, who had been providing information to the FBI, contacted his handlers and asked for more money to work on the case. (He later claimed that the bureau had paid him $6,000.) But he ultimately couldn’t deliver-the target had sensed something fishy about his new friend.

The bureau also brought in Elie Assaad [58], a seasoned informant originally from Lebanon. He told Mandhai that he was an associate of Osama bin Laden tasked with establishing a training camp in the United States. Gilbert suggested attacking electrical substations in South Florida, and Assaad offered to provide a weapon. FBI agents then arrested Mandhai; he pleaded guilty in federal court and was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison. It was a model of what would become the bureau’s primary counterterrorism M.O.-identifying a target, offering a plot, and then pouncing.

Gilbert himself didn’t get to bask in his glory; he never worked for the FBI again and died in 2004. Assaad, for his part, ran into some trouble when his pregnant wife called 911. She said Assaad had beaten and choked her to the point that she became afraid [59] for her unborn baby; he was arrested, but in the end his wife refused to press charges.

The jail stint didn’t keep Assaad from working for the FBI on what would turn out to be perhaps the most high-profile terrorism bust of the post-9/11 era. In 2005, the bureau got a tip [60] from an informant about a group of alleged terrorists in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. The targets wereseven men [61]-some African American, others Haitian-who called themselves the “Seas of David” [62] and ascribed to religious beliefs that blended Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The men were martial-arts enthusiasts who operated out of a dilapidated warehouse, where they also taught classes for local kids. The Seas of David’s leader was Narseal Batiste [63], the son of a Louisiana preacher, father of four, and a former Guardian Angel.

In response to the informant’s tip, the FBI had him wear a wire during meetings with the men, but he wasn’t able to engage them in conversations about terrorist plots. So he introduced the group to Assaad, now playing an Al Qaeda operative. At the informant’s request, Batiste took photographs of the FBI office in North Miami Beach and was caught on tape discussing a notion to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago. Assaad led Batiste, and later the other men, in swearing an oath to Al Qaeda, though the ceremony (recorded and entered into evidence at trial) bore a certain “Who’s on First?” flavor:

God’s pledge is upon me, and so is his compact,” Assaad said as he and Batiste sat in his car. “Repeat after me.”

“Okay. Allah’s pledge is upon you.”

“No, you have to repeat exactly. God’s pledge is upon me, and so is his compact. You have to repeat.”

“Well, I can’t say Allah?” Batiste asked.

“Yeah, but this is an English version because Allah, you can say whatever you want, but-“

“Okay. Of course.”

“Okay.”

Allah’s pledge is upon me. And so is his compact,” Batiste said, adding: “That means his angels, right?”

“Uh, huh. To commit myself,” Assaad continued.

To commit myself.”

Brother.”

Brother,” Batiste repeated.

“Uh. That’s, uh, what’s your, uh, what’s your name, brother?”

“Ah, Brother Naz.”

“Okay. To commit myself,” the informant repeated.

To commit myself.”

Brother.”

Brother.”

“You’re not-you have to say your name!” Assaad cried.

“Naz. Naz.”

“Uh. To commit myself. I am Brother Naz. You can say, ‘To commit myself.'”

To commit myself, Brother Naz.”

Things went smoothly until Assaad got to a reference to being “protective of the secrecy of the oath and to the directive of Al Qaeda.”

Here Batiste stopped. “And to…what is the directive of?”

Directive of Al Qaeda,” the informant answered.

“So now let me ask you this part here. That means that Al Qaeda will be over us?”

“No, no, no, no, no,” Assaad said. “It’s an alliance.”

“Oh. Well…” Batiste said, sounding resigned.

“It’s an alliance, but it’s like a commitment, by, uh, like, we respect your rules. You respect our rules,” Assaad explained.

“Uh, huh,” Batiste mumbled.

And to the directive of Al Qaeda,” Assaad said, waiting for Batiste to repeat.

“Okay, can I say an alliance?” Batiste asked. “And to the alliance of Al Qaeda?

Of the alliance, of the directive-” Assaad said, catching himself. “You know what you can say? And to the directive and the alliance of Al Qaeda.”

“Okay, directive and alliance of Al Qaeda,” Batiste said.

“Okay,” the informant said. “Now officially you have commitment and we have alliance between each other. And welcome, Brother Naz, to Al Qaeda.”

Or not. Ultimately, the undercover recordings made by Assaad suggest that Batiste, who had a failing drywall business and had trouble making the rent for the warehouse, was mostly trying to shake down his “terrorist” friend. After first asking the informant for $50,000, Batiste is recorded in conversation after conversation asking how soon he’ll have the cash.

“Let me ask you a question,” he says in one exchange. “Once I give you an account number, how long do you think it’s gonna take to get me something in?”

“So you is scratching my back, [I’m] scratching your back-we’re like this,” Assaad dodged.

“Right,” Batiste said.

The money never materialized. Neither did any specific terrorist plot. Nevertheless, federal prosecutors charged (

[64]) Batiste and his cohorts-whom the media dubbed the Liberty City Seven-with conspiracy to support terrorism, destroy buildings, and levy war against the US government. Perhaps the key piece of evidence was the video of Assaad’s Al Qaeda “oath.” Assaad was reportedly paid [65] $85,000 for his work on the case; the other informant got $21,000.

James J. Wedick, a former FBI agent, was hired to review the Liberty City case as a consultant for the defense. In his opinion, the informant simply picked low-hanging fruit. “These guys couldn’t find their way down the end of the street,” Wedick says. “They were homeless types. And, yes, we did show a picture where somebody was taking the oath to Al Qaeda. So what? They didn’t care. They only cared about the money. When we put forth a case like that to suggest to the American public that we’re protecting them, we’re not protecting them. The agents back in the bullpen, they know it’s not true.”

Indeed, the Department of Justice had a difficult time winning convictions in the Liberty City case. In three separate trials, juries deadlocked [66] on most of the charges, eventually acquitting one of the defendants (charges against another were dropped) and convicting five of crimes that landed them in prison for between 7 to 13 years. When it was all over, Assaad told ABC News’ Brian Ross [58] that he had a special sense for terrorists: “God gave me a certain gift.”

But he didn’t have a gift for sensing trouble. After the Liberty City case, Assaad moved on to Texas and founded a low-rent modeling agency [67]. In March, when police tried to pull him over, he led them in a chase through El Paso [68] (with his female passenger jumping out at one point), hit a cop with his car, and ended up rolling his SUV on the freeway. Reached by phone, Assaad declined to comment. He’s saving his story, he says, for a book he’s pitching to publishers.

Not all of the more than 500 terrorism prosecutions [25] reviewed in this investigation are so action-movie ready. But many do have an element of mystery. For example, though recorded conversations are often a key element of prosecutions, in many sting cases the FBI didn’t record large portions of the investigation, particularly during initial encounters or at key junctures during the sting. When those conversations come up in court, the FBI and prosecutors will instead rely on the account of an informant with a performance bonus on the line.

One of the most egregious examples of a missing recording involves a convoluted tale that begins in the early morning hours of November 1, 2009, with a date-rape allegation on the campus of Oregon State University. Following a Halloween party, 18-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud [70], a Somali-born US citizen, went home with another student. The next morning, the woman reported to police that she believed she had been drugged.
Campus police brought Mohamud in for questioning and a polygraph test; FBI agents, who for reasons that have not been disclosed had been keeping an eye on the teen for about a month, were also there [71]. Mohamud claimed that the sex was consensual, and a drug test given to his accuser eventually came back negative.

During the interrogation, OSU police asked Mohamud if a search of his laptop would indicate that he’d researched date-rape drugs. He said it wouldn’t and gave them permission to examine his hard drive. Police copied its entire contents and turned the data over to the FBI-which discovered, it later alleged in court documents, that Mohamud had emailed someone in northwest Pakistan talking about jihad.

Soon after his run-in with police, Mohamud began to receive emails from “Bill Smith,” a self-described terrorist who encouraged him to “help the brothers.” “Bill,” an FBI agent, arranged for Mohamud to meet one of his associates in a Portland hotel room. There, Mohamud told the agents that he’d been thinking of jihad since age 15. When asked what he might want to attack, Mohamud suggested the city’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony [72]. The agents set Mohamud up with a van that he thought was filled with explosives. On November 26, 2010, Mohamud and one of the agents drove the van to Portland’s Pioneer Square, and Mohamud dialed [73] the phone to trigger the explosion. Nothing. He dialed again. Suddenly FBI agents appeared and dragged him away as he kicked and yelled, “Allahu akbar!” Prosecutors charged him with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction; his trial is pending.

The Portland case has been held up as an example of how FBI stings can make a terrorist where there might have been only an angry loser. “This is a kid who, it can be reasonably inferred, barely had the capacity to put his shoes on in the morning,” Wedick says.

But Tidwell, the retired FBI official, says Mohamud was exactly the kind of person the FBI needs to flush out. “That kid was pretty specific about what he wanted to do,” he says. “What would you do in response? Wait for him to figure it out himself? If you’ll notice, most of these folks [targeted in stings] plead guilty. They don’t say, ‘I’ve been entrapped,’ or, ‘I was immature.'” That’s true-though it’s also true that defendants and their attorneys know that the odds of succeeding at trial are vanishingly small. Nearly two-thirds of all terrorism prosecutions since 9/11 have ended in guilty pleas, and experts hypothesize that it’s difficult for such defendants to get a fair trial. “The plots people are accused of being part of-attacking subway systems or trying to bomb a building-are so frightening that they can overwhelm a jury,” notes David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who has studied these types of cases.

But the Mohamud story wasn’t quite over-it would end up changing the course of another case on the opposite side of the country. In Maryland, rookie FBI agent Keith Bender had been working a sting against 21-year-old Antonio Martinez [74], a recent convert to Islam who’d posted inflammatory comments on Facebook [75](“The sword is cummin the reign of oppression is about 2 cease inshallah”). An FBI informant had befriended Martinez and, in recorded conversations, they talked about attacking a military recruiting station.

Just as the sting was building to its climax, Martinez saw news reports about the Mohamud case, and how there was an undercover operative involved. He worried: Was he, too, being lured into a sting? He called his supposed terrorist contact: “I’m not falling for no BS,” he told him [75].

Faced with the risk of losing the target, the informant-whose name is not revealed in court records-met with Martinez and pulled him back into the plot. But while the informant had recorded numerous previous meetings with Martinez, no recording [76] was made for this key conversation; in affidavits, the FBI blamed a technical glitch. Two weeks later, on December 8, 2010, Martinez parked what he thought was a car bomb in front of a recruitment center and was arrested when he tried to detonate [77] it.

Frances Townsend, who served as homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, concedes that missing recordings in terrorism stings seem suspicious. But, she says, it’s more common than you might think: “I can’t tell you how many times I had FBI agents in front of me and I yelled, ‘You have hundreds of hours of recordings, but you didn’t record this meeting.’ Sometimes, I admit, they might not record something intentionally”-for fear, she says, that the target will notice. “But more often than not, it’s a technical issue.”

Wedick, the former FBI agent, is less forgiving. “With the technology the FBI now has access to-these small devices that no one would ever suspect are recorders or transmitters-there’s no excuse not to tape interactions between the informant and the target,” he says. “So why in many of these terrorism stings are meetings not recorded? Because it’s convenient for the FBI not to record.”

So what really happens as an informant works his target, sometimes over a period of years, and eases him over the line? For the answer to that, consider once more the case of James Cromitie [8], the Walmart stocker with a hatred of Jews. Cromitie was the ringleader in the much-publicized Bronx synagogue bombing plot that went to trial last year [78]. But a closer look at the record reveals that while Cromitie was no one’s idea of a nice guy, whatever leadership existed in the plot emanated from his sharply dressed, smooth-talking friend Maqsood, a.k.a. FBI informant Shahed Hussain.

A Pakistani refugee who claimed to be friends with Benazir Bhutto and had a soft spot for fancy cars, Hussain was by then one of the FBI’s more successful counterterrorism informants. (See our timeline of Hussain’s career as an informant [13].) He’d originally come to the bureau’s attention when he was busted in a DMV scam [79] that charged test takers $300 to $500 for a license. Having “worked off” those charges, he’d transitioned from indentured informant to paid snitch, earning as much as $100,000 per assignment.

Hussain was assigned to visit a mosque in Newburgh, where he would start conversations with strangers about jihad [80]. “I was finding people who would be harmful, and radicals, and identify them for the FBI,” Hussain said during Cromitie’s trial. Most of the mosque’s congregants were poor, and Hussain, who posed as a wealthy businessman and always arrived in one of his four luxury cars [81]-a Hummer, a Mercedes, two different BMWs-made plenty of friends. But after more than a year working the local Muslim community, he had not identified a single actual target [82].

Then, one day in June 2008, Cromitie approached Hussain in the parking lot outside the mosque. The two became friends, and Hussain clearly had Cromitie’s number. “Allah didn’t bring you here to work for Walmart,” he told him [83] at one point.

Cromitie, who once claimed he could “con the corn from the cob,” had a history of mental instability. He told a psychiatrist that he saw and heard things that weren’t there and had twice tried to commit suicide [84]. He told tall tales, most of them entirely untrue-like the one about how his brother stole $126 million worth of stuff from Tiffany.

Exactly what Hussain and Cromitie talked about in the first four months of their relationship isn’t known, because the FBI did not record [85] those conversations. Based on later conversations, it’s clear that Hussain cultivated Cromitie assiduously. He took the target, all expenses paid [86] by the FBI, to an Islamic conference in Philadelphia to meet Imam Siraj Wahhaj, a prominent African-American Muslim leader. He helped pay Cromitie’s rent [87]. He offered to buy him a barbershop [88]. Finally, he asked Cromitie to recruit others [89] and help him bomb synagogues.

On April 7, 2009, at 2:45 p.m., Cromitie and Hussain sat on a couch inside an FBI cover house on Shipp Street in Newburgh. A hidden camera [90] was trained on the living room.

“I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Cromitie told the informant [91].

“Who? I-“

“Think about it before you speak,” Cromitie interrupted.

“If there is American soldiers, I don’t care,” Hussain said, trying a fresh angle.

“Hold up,” Cromitie agreed. “If it’s American soldiers, I don’t even care.”

“If it’s kids, I care,” Hussain said. “If it’s women, I care.”

“I care. That’s what I’m worried about. And I’m going to tell you, I don’t care if it’s a whole synagogue of men.”

“Yep.”

“I would take ’em down, I don’t even care. ‘Cause I know they are the ones.”

“We have the equipment to do it.”

“See, see, I’m not worried about nothing. Ya know? What I’m worried about is my safety,” Cromitie said.

“Oh, yeah, safety comes first.”

“I want to get in and I want to get out.”

“Trust me,” Hussain assured.

At Cromitie’s trial, Hussain would admit that he created the-in his word-“impression” that Cromitie would make a lot of money by bombing synagogues.

“I can make you $250,000, but you don’t want it, brother,” he once told [92] Cromitie when the target seemed hesitant. “What can I tell you?” (Asked about the exchange in court, Hussain said that “$250,000″ was simply a code word for the bombing plot-a code word, he admitted, that only he knew.)

But whether for ideology or money, Cromitie did recruit three others, and they did take photographs of Stewart International Airport in Newburgh as well as of synagogues in the Bronx. On May 20, 2009, Hussain drove Cromitie [93] to the Bronx, where Cromitie put what he believed were bombs [94] inside cars he thought had been parked by Hussain’s coconspirators. Once all the dummy bombs were placed, Cromitie headed back to the getaway car [95]-Hussain was in the driver’s seat-and then a SWAT team surrounded the car.

At trial, Cromitie told the judge [96]: “I am not a violent person. I’ve never been a terrorist, and I never will be. I got myself into this stupid mess. I know I said a lot of stupid stuff.” He was sentenced to 25 years.

For his trouble, the FBI paid Hussain $96,000 [97]. Then he moved on to another case, another mosque, somewhere in the United States.

Geopolitical Journey: Iran at a Crossroads

September 27, 2011

STRATFOR

Geopolitically, a trip to Iran could not come at a better time. Iran is an emerging power seeking to exploit the vacuum created by the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq, which is scheduled to conclude in a little more than three months. Tehran also plays a major role along its eastern border, where Washington is seeking a political settlement with the Taliban to facilitate a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The Islamic republic simultaneously is trying to steer popular unrest in the Arab world in its favor. That unrest in turn has significant implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue in which Iran has successfully inserted itself over the years. The question of the U.S.-Iranian relationship also looms – does accommodation or confrontation lie ahead? At the same time, the Iranian state – a unique hybrid of Shiite theocracy and Western republicanism – is experiencing intense domestic power struggles.

This is the geopolitical context in which I arrived at Imam Khomeini International airport late Sept. 16. Along with several hundred foreign guests, I had been invited to attend a Sept. 17-18 event dubbed the “Islamic Awakening” conference, organized by the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Given the state of Iranian-Western ties and my position as a senior analyst with a leading U.S.-based private intelligence company, the invitation came as surprise.

With some justification, Tehran views foreign visitors as potential spies working to undermine Iranian national security. The case of the American hikers jailed in Iran (two of whom were released the day of my return to Canada) provided a sobering example of tourism devolving into accusations of espionage.

Fortunately for me, STRATFOR had not been placed on the list of some 60 Western organizations (mostly American and British think tanks and civil society groups) banned as seditious in early 2010 following the failed Green Movement uprising. Still, the Iranian regime is well aware of our views on Iranian geopolitics.

In addition to my concerns about how Iranian authorities would view me, I also worried about how attending a state-sponsored event designed to further Iranian geopolitical interests where many speakers heavily criticized the United States and Israel would look in the West. In the end, I set my trepidations aside and opted for the trip.
Geopolitical Observations in Tehran

STRATFOR CEO and founder George Friedman has written of geopolitical journeys, of how people from diverse national backgrounds visiting other countries see places in very different ways. In my case, my Pakistani heritage, American upbringing, Muslim religious identity and Canadian nationality allowed me to navigate a milieu of both locals and some 700 delegates of various Arab and Muslim backgrounds. But the key was in the way STRATFOR trains its analysts to avoid the pitfall that many succumb to – the blurring of what is really happening with what we may want to see happen.

The foreigner arriving in Iran immediately notices that despite 30 years of increasingly severe sanctions, the infrastructure and systems in the Islamic republic appear fairly solid. As a developing country and an international pariah, one would expect infrastructure along the lines of North Korea or Cuba. But Iran’s construction, transportation and communications infrastructure shares more in common with apartheid-era South Africa, and was largely developed indigenously.

Also notable was the absence of any visible evidence of a police state. Considering the state’s enormous security establishment and the recent unrest surrounding the Green Movement, I expected to see droves of elite security forces. I especially expected this in the northern districts of the capital, where the more Westernized segment of society lives and where I spent a good bit of time walking and sitting in cafes.

Granted, I didn’t stay for long and was only able to see a few areas of the city to be able to tell, but the only public display of opposition to the regime was “Death to Khamenei” graffiti scribbled in small letters on a few phone booths on Vali-e-Asr Avenue in the Saadabad area. I saw no sign of Basij or Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel patrolling the streets, only the kind of police presence one will find in many countries.

This normal security arrangement gave support to STRATFOR’s view from the very beginning that the unrest in 2009 was not something the regime couldn’t contain. As we wrote then and I was able to see firsthand last week, Iran has enough people who – contrary to conventional wisdom – support the regime, or at the very least do not seek its downfall even if they disagree with its policies.

I saw another sign of support for the Islamic republic a day after the conference ended, when the organizers arranged a tour of the mausoleum of the republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. We visited the large complex off a main highway on the southern end of town on a weekday; even so, numerous people had come to the shrine to pay their respects – several with tears in their eyes as they prayed at the tomb.

Obviously, the intensity of religious feelings varies in Iran, but a significant stratum of the public remains deeply religious and still believes in the national narrative of the revolutionary republic. This fact does not get enough attention in the Western media and discourse, clouding foreigners’ understanding of Iran and leading to misperceptions of an autocratic clergy clinging to power only by virtue of a massive security apparatus.

In the same vein, I had expected to see stricter enforcement of religious attire on women in public after the suppression of the Green Movement. Instead, I saw a light-handed approach on the issue. Women obeyed the requirement to cover everything but their hands and faces in a variety of ways. Some women wore the traditional black chador. Others wore long shirts and pants and scarves covering their heads. Still others were dressed in Western attire save a scarf over their head, which was covering very little of their hair.

The dress code has become a political issue in Iran, especially in recent months in the context of the struggle between conservative factions. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has encountered growing opposition from both pragmatic and ultraconservative forces, has come under criticism from clerics and others for alleged moral laxity when it comes to female dress codes. Even so, the supreme leader has not moved to challenge Ahmadinejad on this point.
Ahmadinejad and the Clerical-Political Divide

In sharp contrast with his first term, Ahmadinejad – the most ambitious and assertive president since the founding of the Islamic republic in 1979 – has been trying to position himself as the pragmatist in his second term while his opponents come out looking like hard-liners. In recent months his statements have become less religiously informed, though they have retained their nationalist and radical anti-Western tone.

For example, his speech at the conclusion of the second day of the conference on the theme of the event, Islamic Awakening, was articulated in non-religious language. This stood in sharp contrast to almost every other speaker. Ahmadinejad spoke of recent Arab unrest in terms of a struggle for freedom, justice and emancipation for oppressed peoples, while his criticism of the United States and Israel was couched in terms of how the two countries’ policies were detrimental to global peace as opposed to the raw ideological vitriol that we have seen in the not too distant past.

But while Iran’s intra-elite political struggles complicate domestic and foreign policymaking, they are not about to bring down the Islamic republic – at least not anytime soon. In the longer term, the issue at the heart of all disputes – that of shared governance by clerics and politicians – does pose a significant challenge to the regime. This tension has existed throughout the nearly 32-year history of the Islamic republic, and it will continue to be an issue into the foreseeable future as Iran focuses heavily on the foreign policy front.
Iran’s Regional Ambitions

In fact, the conference was all about Iran’s foreign policy ambitions to assume intellectual and geopolitical leadership of the unrest in the Arab world. Iran is well aware that it is in competition with Turkey over leadership for the Middle East and that Ankara is in a far better position than Iran economically, diplomatically and religiously as a Sunni power. Nevertheless, Iran is trying to position itself as the champion of the Arab masses who have risen up in opposition to autocratic regimes. The Iranian view is that Turkey cannot lead the region while remaining aligned with Washington and that Saudi Arabia’s lack of enthusiasm for the uprisings works in Tehran’s favor.

The sheer number of Iranian officials who are bilingual (fluent in Persian and Arabic) highlights the efforts of Tehran to overcome the ethno-linguistic geopolitical constraints it faces as a Persian country trying to operate in a region where most Muslim countries are Arab. While its radical anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli position has allowed it to circumvent the ethnic factor and attract support in the Arab and Muslim worlds, its Shiite sectarian character has allowed its opponents in Riyadh and elsewhere to restrict Iranian regional influence. In fact, Saudi Arabia remains a major bulwark against Iranian attempts expand its influence across the Persian Gulf and into Arabian Peninsula, as has been clear by the success that the Saudis have had in containing the largely Shiite uprising in Bahrain against the country’s Sunni monarchy.

Even so, Iran has developed some close relations across the sectarian divide, something obvious from the foreign participants invited to the conference. Thus in addition to the many Shiite leaders from Lebanon and Iraq and other parts of the Islamic world, the guest list included deputy Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook; Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) chief Ramadan Abdullah Shallah; a number of Egyptian religious, political, intellectual and business notables; the chief adviser to Sudanese President Omar al Bashir as well as the leader of the country’s main opposition party, Sadiq al-Mahdi; a number of Sunni Islamist leaders from Pakistan and Afghanistan, including former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani whom I had the opportunity of speaking with only two days before he was assassinated in Kabul; and the head of Malaysia’s main Islamist group, PAS, which runs governments in a few states – just to name a few.

Tehran has had much less success in breaching the ideological chasm, something evidenced by the dearth of secular political actors at the conference. Its very name, Islamic Awakening, was hardly welcoming to secularists. It also did not accurately reflect the nature of the popular agitation in the Arab countries, which is not being led by forces that seek revival of religion. The Middle East could be described as experiencing a political awakening, but not a religious awakening given that Islamist forces are latecomers to the cause.

A number of my hosts asked me what I thought of the conference, prompting me to address this conceptual discrepancy. I told them that the name Islamic Awakening only made sense if one was referring the Islamic world, but that even this interpretation was flawed as the current unrest has been limited to Arab countries.

While speaker after speaker pressed for unity among Muslim countries and groups in the cause of revival and the need to support the Arab masses in their struggle against autocracy, one unmistakable tension was clear. This had to do with Syria, the only state in the Arab world allied with Iran. A number of speakers and members of the audience tried to criticize the Syrian regime’s efforts to crush popular dissent, but the discomfort this caused was plain. Syria has proven embarrassing for Iran and even groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and PIJ, which are having a hard time reconciling their support for the Arab unrest on one hand and supporting the Syrian regime against its dissidents on the other.
The Road Ahead

Attending this conference allowed me to meet and observe many top Iranian civil and military officials and the heads of Arab and other Muslim non-state actors with varying degree of relationships with Tehran. Analyzing them from a distance one tends to dismiss their ideology and statements as rhetoric and propaganda. Some of what they say is rhetoric, but beneath the rhetoric are also convictions.

We in the West often expect Iran to succumb to international pressure, seek rehabilitation in the international community and one day become friendly with the West. We often talk of a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, but at a strategic level, the Iranian leadership has other plans.

While Iran would like normalized relations with Washington and the West, it is much more interested in maintaining its independence in foreign policy matters, not unlike China’s experience since establishing relations with the United States. As one Iranian official told me at the conference, when Iran re-establishes ties with the United States, it doesn’t want to behave like Saudi Arabia or to mimic Turkey under the Justice and Development Party.

Whether or not Iran will achieve its goals and to what extent remains unclear. The combination of geography, demography and resources means Iran will remain at the center of an intense geopolitical struggle, and I hope for further opportunities to observe these developments firsthand.

Geopolitical Journey: Iran at a Crossroads

September 27, 2011

STRATFOR

Geopolitically, a trip to Iran could not come at a better time. Iran is an emerging power seeking to exploit the vacuum created by the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq, which is scheduled to conclude in a little more than three months. Tehran also plays a major role along its eastern border, where Washington is seeking a political settlement with the Taliban to facilitate a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The Islamic republic simultaneously is trying to steer popular unrest in the Arab world in its favor. That unrest in turn has significant implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue in which Iran has successfully inserted itself over the years. The question of the U.S.-Iranian relationship also looms – does accommodation or confrontation lie ahead? At the same time, the Iranian state – a unique hybrid of Shiite theocracy and Western republicanism – is experiencing intense domestic power struggles.

This is the geopolitical context in which I arrived at Imam Khomeini International airport late Sept. 16. Along with several hundred foreign guests, I had been invited to attend a Sept. 17-18 event dubbed the “Islamic Awakening” conference, organized by the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Given the state of Iranian-Western ties and my position as a senior analyst with a leading U.S.-based private intelligence company, the invitation came as surprise.

With some justification, Tehran views foreign visitors as potential spies working to undermine Iranian national security. The case of the American hikers jailed in Iran (two of whom were released the day of my return to Canada) provided a sobering example of tourism devolving into accusations of espionage.

Fortunately for me, STRATFOR had not been placed on the list of some 60 Western organizations (mostly American and British think tanks and civil society groups) banned as seditious in early 2010 following the failed Green Movement uprising. Still, the Iranian regime is well aware of our views on Iranian geopolitics.

In addition to my concerns about how Iranian authorities would view me, I also worried about how attending a state-sponsored event designed to further Iranian geopolitical interests where many speakers heavily criticized the United States and Israel would look in the West. In the end, I set my trepidations aside and opted for the trip.
Geopolitical Observations in Tehran

STRATFOR CEO and founder George Friedman has written of geopolitical journeys, of how people from diverse national backgrounds visiting other countries see places in very different ways. In my case, my Pakistani heritage, American upbringing, Muslim religious identity and Canadian nationality allowed me to navigate a milieu of both locals and some 700 delegates of various Arab and Muslim backgrounds. But the key was in the way STRATFOR trains its analysts to avoid the pitfall that many succumb to – the blurring of what is really happening with what we may want to see happen.

The foreigner arriving in Iran immediately notices that despite 30 years of increasingly severe sanctions, the infrastructure and systems in the Islamic republic appear fairly solid. As a developing country and an international pariah, one would expect infrastructure along the lines of North Korea or Cuba. But Iran’s construction, transportation and communications infrastructure shares more in common with apartheid-era South Africa, and was largely developed indigenously.

Also notable was the absence of any visible evidence of a police state. Considering the state’s enormous security establishment and the recent unrest surrounding the Green Movement, I expected to see droves of elite security forces. I especially expected this in the northern districts of the capital, where the more Westernized segment of society lives and where I spent a good bit of time walking and sitting in cafes.

Granted, I didn’t stay for long and was only able to see a few areas of the city to be able to tell, but the only public display of opposition to the regime was “Death to Khamenei” graffiti scribbled in small letters on a few phone booths on Vali-e-Asr Avenue in the Saadabad area. I saw no sign of Basij or Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel patrolling the streets, only the kind of police presence one will find in many countries.

This normal security arrangement gave support to STRATFOR’s view from the very beginning that the unrest in 2009 was not something the regime couldn’t contain. As we wrote then and I was able to see firsthand last week, Iran has enough people who – contrary to conventional wisdom – support the regime, or at the very least do not seek its downfall even if they disagree with its policies.

I saw another sign of support for the Islamic republic a day after the conference ended, when the organizers arranged a tour of the mausoleum of the republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. We visited the large complex off a main highway on the southern end of town on a weekday; even so, numerous people had come to the shrine to pay their respects – several with tears in their eyes as they prayed at the tomb.

Obviously, the intensity of religious feelings varies in Iran, but a significant stratum of the public remains deeply religious and still believes in the national narrative of the revolutionary republic. This fact does not get enough attention in the Western media and discourse, clouding foreigners’ understanding of Iran and leading to misperceptions of an autocratic clergy clinging to power only by virtue of a massive security apparatus.

In the same vein, I had expected to see stricter enforcement of religious attire on women in public after the suppression of the Green Movement. Instead, I saw a light-handed approach on the issue. Women obeyed the requirement to cover everything but their hands and faces in a variety of ways. Some women wore the traditional black chador. Others wore long shirts and pants and scarves covering their heads. Still others were dressed in Western attire save a scarf over their head, which was covering very little of their hair.

The dress code has become a political issue in Iran, especially in recent months in the context of the struggle between conservative factions. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has encountered growing opposition from both pragmatic and ultraconservative forces, has come under criticism from clerics and others for alleged moral laxity when it comes to female dress codes. Even so, the supreme leader has not moved to challenge Ahmadinejad on this point.
Ahmadinejad and the Clerical-Political Divide

In sharp contrast with his first term, Ahmadinejad – the most ambitious and assertive president since the founding of the Islamic republic in 1979 – has been trying to position himself as the pragmatist in his second term while his opponents come out looking like hard-liners. In recent months his statements have become less religiously informed, though they have retained their nationalist and radical anti-Western tone.

For example, his speech at the conclusion of the second day of the conference on the theme of the event, Islamic Awakening, was articulated in non-religious language. This stood in sharp contrast to almost every other speaker. Ahmadinejad spoke of recent Arab unrest in terms of a struggle for freedom, justice and emancipation for oppressed peoples, while his criticism of the United States and Israel was couched in terms of how the two countries’ policies were detrimental to global peace as opposed to the raw ideological vitriol that we have seen in the not too distant past.

But while Iran’s intra-elite political struggles complicate domestic and foreign policymaking, they are not about to bring down the Islamic republic – at least not anytime soon. In the longer term, the issue at the heart of all disputes – that of shared governance by clerics and politicians – does pose a significant challenge to the regime. This tension has existed throughout the nearly 32-year history of the Islamic republic, and it will continue to be an issue into the foreseeable future as Iran focuses heavily on the foreign policy front.
Iran’s Regional Ambitions

In fact, the conference was all about Iran’s foreign policy ambitions to assume intellectual and geopolitical leadership of the unrest in the Arab world. Iran is well aware that it is in competition with Turkey over leadership for the Middle East and that Ankara is in a far better position than Iran economically, diplomatically and religiously as a Sunni power. Nevertheless, Iran is trying to position itself as the champion of the Arab masses who have risen up in opposition to autocratic regimes. The Iranian view is that Turkey cannot lead the region while remaining aligned with Washington and that Saudi Arabia’s lack of enthusiasm for the uprisings works in Tehran’s favor.

The sheer number of Iranian officials who are bilingual (fluent in Persian and Arabic) highlights the efforts of Tehran to overcome the ethno-linguistic geopolitical constraints it faces as a Persian country trying to operate in a region where most Muslim countries are Arab. While its radical anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli position has allowed it to circumvent the ethnic factor and attract support in the Arab and Muslim worlds, its Shiite sectarian character has allowed its opponents in Riyadh and elsewhere to restrict Iranian regional influence. In fact, Saudi Arabia remains a major bulwark against Iranian attempts expand its influence across the Persian Gulf and into Arabian Peninsula, as has been clear by the success that the Saudis have had in containing the largely Shiite uprising in Bahrain against the country’s Sunni monarchy.

Even so, Iran has developed some close relations across the sectarian divide, something obvious from the foreign participants invited to the conference. Thus in addition to the many Shiite leaders from Lebanon and Iraq and other parts of the Islamic world, the guest list included deputy Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook; Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) chief Ramadan Abdullah Shallah; a number of Egyptian religious, political, intellectual and business notables; the chief adviser to Sudanese President Omar al Bashir as well as the leader of the country’s main opposition party, Sadiq al-Mahdi; a number of Sunni Islamist leaders from Pakistan and Afghanistan, including former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani whom I had the opportunity of speaking with only two days before he was assassinated in Kabul; and the head of Malaysia’s main Islamist group, PAS, which runs governments in a few states – just to name a few.

Tehran has had much less success in breaching the ideological chasm, something evidenced by the dearth of secular political actors at the conference. Its very name, Islamic Awakening, was hardly welcoming to secularists. It also did not accurately reflect the nature of the popular agitation in the Arab countries, which is not being led by forces that seek revival of religion. The Middle East could be described as experiencing a political awakening, but not a religious awakening given that Islamist forces are latecomers to the cause.

A number of my hosts asked me what I thought of the conference, prompting me to address this conceptual discrepancy. I told them that the name Islamic Awakening only made sense if one was referring the Islamic world, but that even this interpretation was flawed as the current unrest has been limited to Arab countries.

While speaker after speaker pressed for unity among Muslim countries and groups in the cause of revival and the need to support the Arab masses in their struggle against autocracy, one unmistakable tension was clear. This had to do with Syria, the only state in the Arab world allied with Iran. A number of speakers and members of the audience tried to criticize the Syrian regime’s efforts to crush popular dissent, but the discomfort this caused was plain. Syria has proven embarrassing for Iran and even groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and PIJ, which are having a hard time reconciling their support for the Arab unrest on one hand and supporting the Syrian regime against its dissidents on the other.
The Road Ahead

Attending this conference allowed me to meet and observe many top Iranian civil and military officials and the heads of Arab and other Muslim non-state actors with varying degree of relationships with Tehran. Analyzing them from a distance one tends to dismiss their ideology and statements as rhetoric and propaganda. Some of what they say is rhetoric, but beneath the rhetoric are also convictions.

We in the West often expect Iran to succumb to international pressure, seek rehabilitation in the international community and one day become friendly with the West. We often talk of a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, but at a strategic level, the Iranian leadership has other plans.

While Iran would like normalized relations with Washington and the West, it is much more interested in maintaining its independence in foreign policy matters, not unlike China’s experience since establishing relations with the United States. As one Iranian official told me at the conference, when Iran re-establishes ties with the United States, it doesn’t want to behave like Saudi Arabia or to mimic Turkey under the Justice and Development Party.

Whether or not Iran will achieve its goals and to what extent remains unclear. The combination of geography, demography and resources means Iran will remain at the center of an intense geopolitical struggle, and I hope for further opportunities to observe these developments firsthand.

The CIA’s Islamist Cover Up

September 19, 2011

Ian Johnson


Members of the Muslim Brotherhood outside a Cairo court, February 2007. Internal CIA documents describe the movement as a potential ally against Islamist terrorism.

The tenth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington will be accompanied by the usual solemn political pronouncements and predictable media retrospectives. Pundits will point out that the West’s own economic mismanagement of the past decade has done more to weaken Europe and North America than the Islamists’ attacks. Some others will note how radical Islamists are still strong in Afghanistan and point to the recent downing of a military helicopter with dozens of US troops dead. Still others will use the anniversary to pontificate on how our concerns about Islamism have given racists an excuse to tarnish an entire religion. We will also hear about how the democratic uprisings in the Arab world-Libya being the latest-have undermined Islamists (by providing the region’s disgruntled masses with examples of positive, instead of destructive change).

All of these points are well and good and worth hearing again. But they shouldn’t distract us from a very precise and practical problem that hasn’t been addressed: the refusal of the CIA to disclose the details of its involvement with Islamist groups. In recent weeks, the agency has tried to block sections of a new book that deals with its handling of al-Qaeda before and after September 11. But this is only one part of a large-scale cover-up that Western governments have been perpetrating about decades of ties to Islamist organizations. Until we clarify our murky history with radical Islam, we won’t be able to understand the background of the September 11 attacks and whether our strategies today to engage the Muslim world are likely to succeed.

Of course some of this history is well known. The blowback story-how the US armed the mujahedeen, some of whom morphed into al-Qaeda-has been told in book and film. We are also getting a sense now of how parts of the US-backed Pakistani military-intelligence complex have actively supported radical Islamists. Collusion between Britain and Islamist movements over the past century has also been explored. And of course, Israel’s support for Hamas as a counterweight to the Palestinian Liberation Organization has gone down as one of the great diplomatic miscalculations of recent history.

But compared to the full scope of the issue, these insights are meager. To date, the Central Intelligence Agency continues to block access to its archives relating to radical Islam or cooperation with Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. In the course of researching my book on the Brotherhood’s expansion into the West, I applied numerous times under the Freedom of Information Act to see documents concerning events in the 1950s, some of which had been confirmed by already declassified State Department cables. Inevitably the CIA responded with the blanket exception of “national security” to justify denying access to any files.

Despite the CIA’s information blockade, it is clear from interviews with CIA operatives and other countries’ intelligence archives that the CIA was courting groups like the Brotherhood as allies in the US’s global battle against communism. In Egypt, the charge was often made by the government of Gamel Abdel Nasser that the Muslim Brotherhood was in the CIA’s pay. This was also a view of some Western intelligence agencies, which flatly declared that Said Ramadan, the Swiss-based son-in-law of the group’s founder, was a US agent. The agency may have-but for this we need access to its archives-colluded with Ramadan in attempting a coup against Nasser.

The CIA certainly did help the Brotherhood establish itself in Europe, helping to create the milieu that led to the September 11 attacks. The mosque in Munich that Ramadan helped found, for example, became a hotbed of anti-US activity. The man convicted as a key perpetrator of the 1993 attack against the World Trade Center had sought spiritual counseling at the mosque before leaving to carry out his attacks. And in 1998, the man believed to be al-Qaeda’s chief financial officer was arrested near the mosque and also sought spiritual counseling from the mosque’s imam. An investigation based on this arrest traced radical Islamists right to a second mosque-the al-Quds mosque in Hamburg-where three of the four 9/11 pilots worshipped, it but failed to make the final link. This isn’t to say that the CIA was behind the September 11 attacks but that US collusion with Islamists in the Cold War bore bitter fruit in later years-making it imperative that we understand exactly what happened in those seemingly distant years of the 50s, 60s and 70s of the last century.

More recently, despite Washington’s sometimes hostile public rhetoric toward to the Brotherhood, it is clear that the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have tried to court the movement. Internal CIA analyses from 2006 and 2008, which I obtained, show that the Brotherhood was viewed as a positive force and potential ally-this time not against communism but Islamist terrorism: the Brotherhood was considered a moderate Islamist group and thus able to channel grievances away from violence toward the United States (even if Brotherhood theoreticians did not renounce violence against Israel or US soldiers). The State Department also used US Muslims close to the Brotherhood to reach out to Islamists in Europe. Such support has given these groups legitimacy in the United States and Europe.

The CIA is blocking the release of information because the subject remains sensitive-both for the West and the Muslim world. In Washington, the CIA could come under fire if its own archives would confirm and fill out the current sketch view of history. For the Brotherhood, amid its current re-emergence as a major political force in Egypt and other countries, it would be extremely damaging to know that illustrious figures in its history were working for the country that most exemplifies the decadent, imperialist forces it has struggled against for decades.

Revealing this history could be painful but necessary to strip away the doublespeak that both sides have used to describe their dealings with each other. This isn’t to say that releasing information should be used to bash cooperation with Islamists. Clearly the United States and other Western countries need to deal with groups like the Brotherhood, and perhaps in some situations even to support them: for example if the Brotherhood really were to come to power democratically in Egypt, the United States would be obliged to deal with such a government. For the Brotherhood a case could be made that in past decades, when its members were so badly repressed by authorities in the Middle East, that some sort of help from the West was necessary to avoid destruction by the authoritarian governments that persecute it.

These are legitimate arguments. But they can only be made if the full history of these relationships is made known rather than kept hidden. To do this will require action from Congress. The CIA did not release documents concerning US intelligence dealings with Nazi officials, for example, until it was forced to by the passage of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act of 1998. This piece of legislation compelled US government agencies to release all files on their dealings with the Nazis during and after the war. It lead to an incredible flood of information on the topic, helping us understand, for example, US collaboration with ex-Nazis after the war.

We need a similar law today. This is not to draw a parallel between Islamism and Nazism-an argument that is tendentious and counter-productive. The only parallel is that the US government has dealt with these questionable organizations and is so unwilling to admit this that it will take specific instructions from Congress to make these dealings public. Whatever the merits of these policies they are based on a long-standing, but still mostly secret, strategy. As Western governments seek to distinguish between “good” and “bad” Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or between the Muslim Brotherhood and more radical groups in the Middle East, understanding this strategy-and its efficacy-has never been more urgent.

Is Islam Compatible with Capitalism?

August 15, 2011

Guy Sorman

The Middle East’s future depends on the answer.

The moment you arrive at the airport in Cairo, you discover how little Egypt-the heart of Arab civilization-is governed by the rule of law. You line up to show your passport to the customs officer; you wait and wait and wait. Eventually, you reach the officer . . . who sends you to the opposite end of the airport to buy an entry visa. The visa costs 15 U.S. dollars; if you hand the clerk $20, though, don’t expect any change, let alone a receipt. Then you make the long hike back to the customs line, where you notice that some Egyptians-important ones, apparently-have helpers who hustle them through. Others cut to the front. It’s an annoying and disturbing welcome to a chaotic land, one that has grown only more chaotic since the January revolution. It’s also instructive, effectively demonstrating why it’s hard to do business in this country or in other Arab Muslim lands, where personal status so often trumps fair, universally applied rules. Such personalization of the law is incompatible with a truly free-market or modern society and helps explain why the Arab world’s per-capita income is one-tenth America’s or Europe’s.

The airport experience, had he been able to undergo it, would have been drearily familiar to Rifaa al-Tahtawi, a brilliant young imam sent to France in 1829 by the pasha of Egypt. His mission: figure out how Napoleon’s military had so easily crushed Egypt three decades earlier, a defeat that revealed to a shocked Arab world that it was now an economic, military, and scientific laggard. At the outset of the book that he wrote about his journey, The Gold of Paris, Rifaa describes a Marseille café: “How astonished I was that in Marseille, a waiter came to me and asked for my order without my looking for him.” Then the coffee arrives without delay. Finally-most amazing of all-Rifaa gets the bill for it, and the price is the same as the one listed on the menu: “No haggling,” he enthuses. Rifaa concludes: “I look for the day when the Cairo cafés will follow the same predictable rules as the Marseille cafés.” But nearly two centuries later, the only Egyptian cafés that live up to Rifaa’s hopes are the imported Starbucks.

Egypt is, of course, a Muslim nation. Should Islam be indicted for what was in Rifaa’s time, and remains today, a dysfunctional economy? The question becomes all the more important if you extend it to the rest of the Arab Middle East as it is swept by popular revolts against authoritarian rule. Will the nations that emerge from the Arab Spring embrace the rule of law and other crucial institutions that have allowed capitalism to flourish in the West? Or are Islam and economic progress fundamentally at odds?

Muslim economies haven’t always been low achievers. In his seminal work The World Economy, economist Angus Maddison showed that until the twelfth century, per-capita income was much higher in the Muslim Middle East than in Europe. Beginning in the twelfth century, though, what Duke University economist Timur Kuran calls the Long Divergence began, upending this economic hierarchy, so that by Rifaa’s time, Europe had grown far more powerful and prosperous than the Arab Muslim world.

A key factor in the divergence was Italian city-states’ invention of capitalism-a development that rested on certain cultural prerequisites, Stanford University’s Avner Greif observes. In the early twelfth century, two groups of merchants dominated Mediterranean sea trade: the European Genoans and the Cairo-based Maghrebis, who were Jewish but, coming originally from Baghdad, shared the cultural norms of the Arab Middle East. The Genoans outpaced the Maghrebis and eventually won the competition, Greif argues, because they invented various corporate institutions that formed the core of capitalism, including banks, bills of exchange, and joint-stock companies, which allowed them to accumulate enough capital to launch riskier but more profitable ventures. These institutions, in Greif’s account, were an outgrowth of the Genoans’ Western culture, in which people were bound not just by blood but also by contracts, including the fundamental contract of marriage. The Maghrebis’ Arab values, by contrast, meant undertaking nothing outside the family and tribe, which limited commercial expeditions’ resources and hence their reach. The bonds of blood couldn’t compete with fair, reliable institutions (see “Economics Does Not Lie,” Summer 2008).

Greif’s theory suggests that cultural differences explain economic development better than religious beliefs do. Indeed, from a strictly religious perspective, one could view Muslims as having an advantage at creating wealth. After all, Islam is the only religion founded by a trader-one who also, by the way, married a wealthy merchant. The Koran has only good words for successful businessmen. Entrepreneurs must pay a 2.5 percent tax, the zakat, to the community to support the general welfare, but otherwise can make money guilt-free. Private property is sacred, according to the Koran. All this, needless to say, contrasts with the traditional Christian attitude toward wealth, which puts the poor on the fast track to heaven and looks down in particular on merchants (recall Jesus’s driving them from the Temple).

But Duke’s Kuran believes that Islam did play a role in the Long Divergence. It wasn’t the Koran, which the Muslim faithful see as written by God and unalterable, that impeded Muslims economically, he argues, but instead sharia, the religious law developed by scholars after Mohammed’s time. Not that sharia was overtly hostile to economic progress; it established commerce-friendly legal rules that, for instance, allowed for bazaars and for the arbitration of economic disputes. Rather, Kuran maintains, sharia became economically counterproductive because it was less efficient than the Western legal framework.

The most significant of the sharia-rooted economic liabilities was the Islamic partnership, which proved no match for the Western world’s joint-stock company. Partnerships were short-lived, dissolving with the death of any of the partners, and they tended to be small, often formed among family members. Joint-stock companies, which sharia prohibited, had much greater reach and risk-hedging power. Sharia inheritance rules were a second drag on economic development, Kuran explains. Since the Koran sanctions polygamy, sharia required a husband’s wealth, upon his death, to go in equal portions to his widows and children, which worked against capital accumulation. In the Roman law that held sway in Europe until the nineteenth century, by contrast, the eldest son inherited his deceased father’s wealth, creating vast fortunes that could be put to economic work. Some economists point to sharia’s prohibition of interest as another hamper on development, but this is much less significant than it appears. From at least the twelfth century on, sharia lawyers authorized “fees” that could accompany money-lending, getting around the ban.

Muslim welfare foundations to aid the poor, called waqf, also undermined economic competitiveness over time, says Kuran. According to sharia, all money given to these charities was exempt from taxation. But Muslim merchants began to establish waqf as fronts for commercial enterprises, depriving the government of sufficient funds to function properly. This tax evasion contributed to the failure of the Arab kingdoms and the Ottoman Empire to build a competent minimal state, which is essential to the effective rule of law.

For evidence that sharia had negative economic effects, consider the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Beginning in the fifteenth century, non-Muslim merchants in the city could opt out of sharia’s business rules. Those who did and embraced Western capitalist norms quickly grew richer than those who continued to follow sharia, historians have shown.

Over time, however, sharia adapted to capitalism. In the nineteenth century, it finally allowed Muslims to form joint-stock companies and to borrow other key capitalist institutions from the West. Today, Islamic banks follow the same practices that non-Islamic banks do (including the use of derivatives) but describe them differently, so that they conform with sharia. Yet despite this transformation in Islamic law, Muslim economies still lag behind Western ones. Greif and Kuran may help explain the Long Divergence, but what accounts for the fact that there is no “Arab Tiger” comparable with Asia’s remarkable success stories?

Part of the answer may, in fact, be religious: Islam’s apostasy law. Sharia holds that a Muslim who breaks with Islam becomes an apostate, an offense punishable by death. And since, at least for Sunni Muslims, there is no central theological authority-the theocratic regime in Iran establishes such authority for Shiite Muslims-any Sunni imam can define what constitutes breaking with Islam. This power may deter potential innovators, including the entrepreneurial kind, from doing anything that could conceivably get them into trouble.

But a bigger reason for the Arab world’s stagnation is political. In nearly every Arab Muslim country, the prime enemy of entrepreneurship and the free market is an abusive government-and the strong, unaccountable, and usually despotic regimes that have dominated Arab Muslim populations for decades owe neither their origins nor their legitimacy, such as it is, to Islam. All emerged from the decolonization struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, which, since the primary colonizers were Europeans, provoked angry anti-Western and anticapitalist attitudes in Muslim societies. The decolonization of the Arabs did not go well. Violent confrontations were the norm, even when full-blown war didn’t break out, as happened in Algeria. The upheavals brought military regimes to power in most of the decolonized Arab states; even when the military wasn’t officially in charge, it controlled puppet governments, as in Morocco. All these regimes espoused nationalism and resisted any rule of law that might limit state power-or give entrepreneurs a freer hand.

Worse, independence took place at a time when the Soviet Union was influential and many believed that centrally planned socialism was a shortcut to power and prosperity. Arab governments thus found it tempting to confiscate private property, eradicate the existing bourgeoisie, and create massive state monopolies in resources like copper, oil, and phosphate. In the name of national independence and economic modernization, all the wealth could be concentrated in the hands of the ruling militaries and bureaucracies.

After the fall of the Soviet Union showed socialism to be far less efficient than the free market, Arab Muslim governments began to free up markets somewhat, but without surrendering their tyrannical authority. This resulted in an Arab crony capitalism, which is now the dominant economic arrangement in the Muslim Middle East. In today’s pseudo-market Arab economies, it makes little sense to be an independent entrepreneur. If you want to open a business, you’ll need a license, and the only surefire way to obtain it is to belong to (or be close to) someone in the ruling elite; even then, you’ll share your profits with the bureaucrats. It’s far easier to seek a rent-a benefit based on your position in society. Rent-seeking is particularly prevalent in countries overflowing with natural resources like oil and gas, which bring in massive revenues that reduce the incentive to diversify the economy.

Egypt exemplifies the crony-capitalist model. During the 1990s, corrupt privatizations transferred state monopolies in energy, steel, cement, and other industries to private “entrepreneurs,” most of whom were members of President Hosni Mubarak’s family, top military officers, and other well-connected people. Meanwhile, economist Hernando de Soto has calculated, opening a modest bakery in Cairo required two years of slogging through the bureaucracy, at each stage of which the would-be owner would need to grease official palms-and if his bakery finally opened, he would then have to pay ongoing protection money to the local police. Small wonder Egypt suffers from slow growth, massive unemployment, and a large black market.

The authoritarian nature of today’s Muslim governments also generates social norms that harm entrepreneurship. For example, a survey conducted by the Casablanca-based business magazine L’Economiste compared the organizational structures of Moroccan firms with those of Western companies operating in Morocco. It found that the boss of a Moroccan firm tends to have a larger office and more assistants, secretaries, and chauffeurs than his Western counterpart does and that his behavior is more autocratic. The likely reason is that the Moroccan boss, mimicking the king and his entourage, finds power-and the exhibition of power-more compelling than profits.

The prosperity-crushing influence of government on Muslim entrepreneurship has nowhere been more evident than in Turkey. In the early nineteenth century, the Turkish sultan, like the Egyptian pasha, tried to import Western science and military methods without introducing Western rule of law. “The Ottoman Empire fell into poverty because the dominant concern of the sultans was always to avoid the emergence of a competing power,” explains Turkish economist Evket Pamuk. And the possibility that they feared the most was the birth of a Westernized Turkish bourgeoisie, its power based on private ownership.

When the empire became the Turkish Republic in 1921, little changed. The republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal (later called Atatürk, a name he chose that means “Father of the Turks”), was fascinated by the fashionable Italian fascist ideal. The Turks lacked entrepreneurial spirit, he believed, so it was up to the government to act as a collective entrepreneur and pick those who deserved to start new businesses. Under his regime, which became a military dictatorship after his 1938 death, the Turkish economy made little progress, though a small group of well-connected businessmen grew extremely wealthy.

Islam wasn’t to blame for Turkey’s poor economy. Indeed, the new republic was fiercely secular; for decades, no openly devout Muslim could hold any significant position in public service, in the military, or even in business. Modern Turkey started to grow economically only after it began to free up the market under former World Bank economist Turgut Özal, a devout Muslim whom the military had installed as prime minister in 1983 to bring inflation under control. Özal’s reforms opened the way for the openly Islamic, pro-market Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which has ruled Turkey since 2002. Whatever criticisms one might make of the AKP-it has on occasion sought to impose religious norms on a secular society, among other troubling signs-it has brought about an astounding transformation of Turkey’s economy. The state’s budget is balanced, prices are stable, free trade is enthusiastically embraced, and crony capitalism has been constrained. As a consequence, the Turkish growth rate has been one of the world’s highest: 8 percent annually for several years now. Turkey’s per-capita income is now higher than Saudi Arabia’s-and Turkey has no oil.

Fueling this economic expansion is a new generation of entrepreneurs from Anatolia, in eastern Turkey. These businesspeople are conservative Muslims, but they aren’t extremists. The Anatolians are astonishing; no one can say for sure how they arrived on the scene as the dynamic engine of Turkish modernity. Ask an Anatolian entrepreneur about this success and he may credit a strong work ethic, combined with family values ingrained in the Muslim faith. Or he may mention the business traditions of Anatolia, a crossroads between Asia and Europe under the Ottoman Empire. Pamuk, a secular Turk, points to mundane factors like the Anatolians’ low labor costs and Turkey’s proximity to the vast European market: Turkey now exports 25 percent of its national production, up from 3 percent in 1980. Whatever the reason for the Anatolian breakthrough, Islam has not impeded it.

Will the Turkish model spread to nearby Arab countries? This year’s revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt may answer that question. Remember the man who inspired the revolutions: Mohammed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian who earned a university degree but could find no decent formal employment, a situation all too common for educated young Arabs. Bouazizi sought to make a living from a tiny fruit-and-vegetable stand, but last December, because he hadn’t registered it with the authorities, police confiscated it. Bouazizi then set himself on fire.

Bouazizi’s suicide brought millions of Arabs to the streets because they could identify with him. Human rights leaders didn’t start the revolutions; neither did long-banned Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood. The upheavals weren’t characterized by Islamic banners or by Israeli flags going up in flames (though there were disturbing reports of Muslims attacking Christian churches in Egypt after the police had vanished from the streets). No, the dominant message of the Arab Spring was that the Arabs didn’t want to remain separated from the rest of the world. The Egyptian students in Tahrir Square couldn’t have put it more clearly: they wanted democracy, globalization, and market prosperity, not Islamicization. “We want a normal country, which means free enterprise and democracy,” said one of their leaders, Amr Salah of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, in Paris this April. Even the notorious Muslim Brotherhood is on board with capitalism: “Our economic program is a free-market society in order to pursue social justice,” says Sameh al-Barqui, an American-educated economics expert with the Brotherhood.

The transition from the Arab world’s authoritarian regimes to democracy, markets, and the rule of law is far from guaranteed, of course. For a reminder of the difficulty of installing successful Western-style capitalism, consider Rifaa, who returned to Egypt after seven years in France and became the pasha’s main advisor-overseeing the translation of French scientific books into Arabic, founding the first Arabic newspapers, and opening schools for girls. Though Rifaa faced the hostility of Muslim conservatives, his reforms, accompanying the era’s shifts in sharia, inaugurated an era of modernization in Egypt. By the late nineteenth century, Cairo was starting to look like a European city, with electricity, sanitation, universities, and an independent press. But the renaissance didn’t last long, because Rifaa repeatedly failed to persuade the pasha to accept a Western-style constitution, which would have limited the ruler’s arbitrary power. What kept Egypt back was its failure to establish the rule-governed institutions familiar in the West.

It should be sobering, therefore, that the military isn’t likely to surrender its political privileges easily in any Arab country. Still, most of the political parties emerging in the ferment are supporters of free markets. (Some socialist parties remain in Morocco and Tunisia, where the French influence left its mark, but they are socialist in name only.) The young men and women behind the Arab Spring will continue to push for more open markets where millions of Bouazizis will be able to become entrepreneurs-where it won’t take two years and countless bribes to open a bakery. And there appears to be no cultural or religious reason that someday, in the not-so-distant future, we won’t find cafés in Cairo that run as efficiently and reasonably as those in Marseille.

Guy Sorman, a City Journal contributing editor, is the author of Children of Rifaa: In Search of a Moderate Islam and many other books.

Herman Cain: Communities have right to ban mosques

July 19, 2011

By BRUCE SCHREINER – Associated Writer

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said Sunday that communities have a right to ban Islamic mosques.


Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO said protests and legal challenges to a planned mosque in Tennessee city are an example of local residents pushing back.

Cain said his view doesn’t amount to religious discrimination because he says Muslims are trying to inject Shariah law into the U.S.

Shariah is a set of core principles that most Muslims recognize and a series of rulings from religious scholars. It covers many areas of life and different sects have different versions and interpretations of the code.

Asked if his view could lead any community to stand up in opposition to a proposed mosque, Cain replied, “They could say that.” He pointed to opposition to the planned mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., as an example.

“Let’s go back to the fundamental issue that the people are basically saying that they are objecting to,” Cain said. “They are objecting to the fact that Islam is both religion and (a) set of laws, Shariah law. That’s the difference between any one of our other traditional religions where it’s just about religious purposes.

“The people in the community know best. And I happen to side with the people in the community.”

Cain’s comments were denounced as “unconstitutional and un-American” by a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“It’s clear that Herman Cain has decided that he will score political points every time he bashes the Muslim community or its constitutional rights,” council spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said in a phone interview.

Cain previously stirred controversy by saying that he would not want a Muslim bent on killing Americans in his administration.

Campaigning in Murfreesboro last week, Cain sided with mosque opponents.

“I happen to also know that it’s not just about a religious mosque,” he said Sunday. “There are other things going on based upon talking to the people closest to the problem. It’s not a mosque for religious purposes. This is what the people are objecting to.”

Hooper called the remarks “utter nonsense,” saying Cain “seems to have hitched his wagon to the most extreme anti-Muslim bigots out there.” He called on Republican leaders to repudiate Cain’s comments.

“Each time you have someone who is regarded as a mainstream political leader expressing these kind of hate-filled views, it just fans the flames of anti-Muslim bigotry nationwide,” he said. “And it gives legitimacy to intolerance and hatred. And he, of all people, should realize this, being African-American.”

In Murfreesboro, the future new mosque has been the subject of protests and counter-protests in the city about 35 miles southeast of Nashville.

Opponents have used the hearings to argue that the mosque is part of a plot to expand Islamic extremism in the U.S.

Imam Ossama Bahloul, the religious leader of the congregation, issued a statement Sunday lamenting Cain’s statements.

“It is sad to hear these words coming from a GOP presidential candidate, who is not only supposed to believe in but should also uphold the US constitution,” Bahloul said. “Mr. Cain is encouraged to educate himself about the first amendment and learn more about our peaceful and productive Muslim community in Murfreesboro.”

Stephen Fotopulos, executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said Cain’s comments “demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of the U.S. Constitution.”

“And it’s baffling that a man with designs on becoming the leader of this nation would so callously alienate over 3 million of its citizens,” Fotopulos said.

Pakistan, Islam face danger from Islamists

June 30, 2011

By Qasim Yousafzai
For CentralAsiaOnline.com
2011-06-28

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Islam’s greatest threat comes from those who claim to be serving it – extremist militants, Shehrbano Taseer, daughter of slain Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, said June 27.


Shehrbano Taseer, daughter of slain Pakistani Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, speaks at a panel discussion at UN European headquarters in Geneva March 8. Islamists endanger Pakistan and Islam, she said in a speech in Washington, D.C., June 27. [REUTERS/Denis Balibouse]

Shehrbano said that militants, whom she repeatedly called “hate mongers,” have misinterpreted Islam. “Islam is a peaceful religion,” she said.

Her father died for “a progressive Pakistan and moderate Islam, she said. In a speech titled “My Father Died for Pakistan” at the Middle East Institute in Washington, she called extremism a mindset that poses a great danger to Pakistan.

Shehrbano expressed the hope militants would not ultimately succeed by killing individuals like her father, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Shahbaz Bhatti, but warned, “The militants are successful now.”

Taseer was killed in Islamabad January 4, allegedly by a bodyguard angered by Taseer’s opposition to the country’s controversial blasphemy law.

Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi December 27, 2007. Bhatti, federal minister for minorities and the sole Christian in the cabinet, was killed by unknown militants in Islamabad March 2, allegedly over his criticism of the blasphemy law.

Talking about the country’s blasphemy law, Shehrbano said, “The law is not a protector of religions … These laws deserve to be criticised.” Courts have sentenced a large number of defendants under that law, she said.

Regarding her father’s death, Shehrbano refused to attribute it to a security lapse even though a bodyguard is the alleged assassin.

“You don’t know who your enemy is anymore,” she said.

Fighting extremism

Pakistani madrassas are teaching religious intolerance and gun violence, she said. An entire generation is growing up with a violent jihadi mindset, she added.

“Pakistan is fighting the militancy and operations are going on, but no counter-extremism measures can be seen on the ground,” Shehrbano said.

She urged strict steps to deal with that violent mentality and strengthening of Pakistani democracy. “Moderation, inclusion and progression is the need of every society,” she said. Moderates in Pakistan need to reclaim the public sphere, she said.

The international community can help Pakistan by offering a counter-narrative to extremism in addition to weapons to combat terrorists, she said. The government, for its part, should strive to create economic opportunities for the people and work to reform madrassas, she added.

Social media can raise awareness and generate discourse on containing violent trends, she said, calling an uninterrupted process of democracy vital.

No Country for Old Professionals

May 17, 2011

By Khaled Hossain
ZoneAsia-Pk

Pakistan’s treatment of Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the under-pressure DG of the Inter Services Intelligence agency/directorate, reflects how Pakistani heroes are usually vilified while dubious characters are celebrated as assets to society

“The fear that we cannot live without America has taken away our self respect. Are we to live in humiliation out of US fear forever?”

– Gen Pasha to the in-camera session of Parliament

Pakistan is a country with no shortage of heroes. But Pakistan is also a country with no shortage of divisions. Islam, a unifying religion, has become a divisive issue with sects and practice systems causing violent tussles within society. Politics is also divisive – rather than letting people come together on different issues, it perpetuates the social divides between various groups just so that the powers-that-be can continue to benefit and dupe the poor, ignorant and angry masses. So, one man’s hero is another man’s villain. Nobody exemplifies this case more evidently than Mumtaz Qadri, the Elite Force security guard who murdered Governor Salmaan Taseer (instead of performing his professional obligation and religious duty in protecting him) – he has been berated by progressive and liberal segments of society, while the religious elements, the right wing, and even lawyers have come out in support of this heinous murderer, who is being compared to a colonial hero “Ghazi Ilm-ud-Din Shaheed”.

The very same dichotomy is witnessed in the aftermath of Osama’s death: some people are relieved that the Al Qaeda leader is dead, but worry about the consequences for Pakistan; others are absolutely livid at the breach of Pakistani sovereignty by the US – an occupier of Afghanistan and Iraq – to kill a Muslim jihadi ‘hero’. Many funeral prayers were offered for OBL in absentia all over Pakistan – no wonder he found safe haven in Pakistan. Why? Osama’s specific brand of Takfiri Wahabbi Islam has taken hold in Pakistan – thanks to clandestine Saudi funding of mosques and madrassas by the billions – and has eradicated any peaceful characteristic in society that resulted from a thousand-year-old history of Sufiism, open-ness, multi-faith harmony and syncreticism in Pakistan.

From “strategic depth” and funding the religious extremists in South Asia (be they Taliban or terror proxies in Pakistan) to forced disappearances and torture, the ISI is blamed for everything under the sun. When at one time, the ISI was everpresent and all-respected as an institution which is the first line of defence against any aggression, now ISI has become the public’s enemy number one, something that General Pasha himself told the parliament during the in-camera briefing. While targeting Opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar – who was revealed to be a favor-seeking kleptocrat – the DG said that CIA chief Panetta asked him how he could be trusted when his parliament’s opposition leader does not trust him. Such a question put the ISI DG in an untenable position, and internal political squabbling led to Chaudhry Nisar putting personal politics before the country, which in turn caused irreparable damage to Pakistan, its intelligence activities, its reputation, and later on, its sovereignty as well.

Of course, Pakistan’s inept politicians who are enjoying their CIA-authorized tenure in parliament will not like to take the blame that is due to them for the breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty – that blame must be squarely put on the ISI and on the Pakistan Army, whose chiefs are trying tooth and nail to save Pakistan from foreign enemies (states as well as terrorists) and domestic threats (which we now know to be Pakistan’s corrupt and inefficient politicians, its religious leaders with vested interests, and the phenomena of religious extremism, intolerance, inequality among the sexes and marginalization of the deprived sections of society). However, the politicians that the Army and ISI are subservient to have themselves been listed as a domestic threat that is far worse than any problem Pakistan is facing.

Can anyone go to the 2001-2007 period in which Pakistan was still facing problems and troubles, but not as much as it is currently facing? Can one relate to how a military autocracy made Pakistani’s feel better off, while a civilian democracy is ruining the lives, stability, progress and psychological sanity of Pakistani’s? That happens because votes can be bought and sold, and elections can be rigged. Do we blame politicians who vested interests, dirty backgrounds, embedded heirarchical power, and a motive to steal a parliamentary seat? Or do we blame the ISI because it has the capacity to not only alter the electoral outcome of Pakistan, but of many other countries as well? (Yes, please wait another thirty years for THOSE archives to be declassified into the public domain).

In the in-camera session of Parliament, DG ISI General Ahmad Shuja Pasha said that he surrendered himself before Parliament, and that he breathed a sigh of relief after accepting responsibility for the ‘intelligence failure’ on May 2 that led to a breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty by the US in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. General Pasha also offered his resignation, and amid a roar from parliamentarians who wanted the resignation accepted, the COAS had already dissuaded the ISI chief and the PM – the commanding authority of the ISI – refused to accept General Pasha’s resignation. Many wonder whether this was just a symbol or not; was he resigning his post as DG ISI, or was he resigning his commission as a Lt General of the Pakistan Army along with his post?

But why would General Pasha, a highly decorated three-star general of the Frontier Force Regiment who was also coveted for leading many UN missions, offer his resignation from the powerful post of DG ISI, who is considered as powerful as the Army Chief (especially when it comes to national and international politics)? The answer is simple: you can ridicule a man, you can ridicule an institution, but when you unjustly berate a person who has served his country without wanting anything in return, then that person has all the right to absolve himself of his duty and tender his resignation because ‘enough is enough’.

Everyone has a limit, but the way the Pakistani media and a healthy constituency of Western-educated NGO-funded desi liberals (who have also been called ‘liberal fascists’ by the same inept Pakistani media which was promoting fake Osama death photos as the real deal) has continued to defame, distract and demoralize the ISI really brings tears to the eyes of any nationalist in this country.

Is the ISI or its DG really to blame for all the terrorism in the country? Do you think that out of one or two attacks that happen every day, there were tens or hundreds of others which were stopped or foiled? And who did that – the media and/or the bourgeoisie liberals – or the ISI and other law enforcement agencies? Who is responsible for the situation in Balochistan – rebels stationed in Afghanistan and funded by India, Iran and the UAE – or the ISI? Who is responsible for missing persons and kidnappings for ransom – terrorists and foreign agencies who want to malign Pakistan and paint a picture of insecurity – or the ISI? Who is responsible for the political isolation of the PML-N – Nawaz’s and Shahbaz’s stupid exclusionist policies – or the ISI? Who is responsible for Imran Khan’s increasing popularity – the fact that most Pakistani people want to do something to stop drone attacks (which is the duty of the incumbent government to authorize, as the PAF Vice Chief said in the in-camera session) – or is it the ISI propping him up?

One needs to revisit all these conspiracy theories and realize that allegations – yes, rumours and allegations – against General Pasha, the ISI, the Pakistan Armed Forces, and Pakistan, are all designed for one main purpose: to destroy any credibility in these institutions, their government, and their country; to demoralize any morale in its security forces by making the general public suspicious of those who protect them; to drive a wedge between the civilian leadership and military leadership of Pakistan – one who is inept and inefficient, the other who is helpless and bound by dubious international obligations to not initiate a fifth coup, no matter how necessary it becomes.

General Pasha, being a soldier, has every right to offer his resignation, and to even stop serving as the DG ISI. After being berated and ridiculed for so long, it is his right to stop facing such unwarranted attacks from all quarters and let another, possibly ‘better’ replacement take charge (maybe under Gilani and Rehman Malik, not Kayani) and try to deal with the public and media pressure.

The Pakistani people – with all their hypocrisies and failure to study their own misgivings before allocating blame on others – do not deserve a DG ISI the likes of General Pasha, who gave up a coveted posting as Military Adviser to Secretary-General of United Nations to continue as Pakistan Army’s Director-General Military Operations (DGMO) and later DG ISI. To those working in/with the security establishment, it is clear that despite the admonishments and lack of appreciation from all sides, General Pasha has done a commendable job in maintaining Pakistan’s freedom, independence and sovereignty. General Pasha accurately projected Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan, while tackling the TTP and other Al Qaeda proxies in the settled and tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He also dealt with terror threats posed by various local elements and proxies to Pakistan’s homeland. General Pasha also identified the Indian ‘hand’ in Balochistan, Swat, Bajaur and Lyari, while uncovering strategic interests that Russia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are pursuing in Pakistan – from Gwadar to Karachi. General Pasha also dealt with the severe blowback and credibility crisis that the ISI faced – from a preconcieved lack of trust between the CIA and ISI (not that the CIA has always been truthful with the ISI, or trustworthy in general) to the blame on it for the Indian embassy attacks in Kabul as well as the so-called 26/11 LeT attacks in Mumbai.

General Pasha has, however, not concerned himself fully with the fourth-generation psyops that are being deployed against Pakistan – while General Pasha remains a dutiful and traditionalist soldier, he has avoided conspiracies and ignored rumours while focusing on verifiable and actionable intelligence that can be utilized by the ISI and/or Pakistan. Because of this, General Pasha seems to have become victim to the psywar being conducted against Pakistan, its heroes, its institutions and its assets.

The wishes of this scribe are similar to those of the PM; General Pasha should continue serving Pakistan with the same vigour and vitality as he did before. But seeing as how that will be difficult, and how this old professional will (rightfully) think that Pakistan does not deserve a patriot like him, it is also apparent that future ridicule and undue attacks on his person and professional duties might lead to another resignation attempt by the DG ISI – or even the Army Chief, who was reportedly threatened by the US if there was any attempt to engage US Navy choppers in sovereign Pakistani territory. Of course, if civilian leaders can’t support and back up their military counterparts, then there is no point to wearing the khaki uniform no matter how many stars you have. Military leaders – despite the prevalent notion in Pakistan – indeed look to their civilian heads of guidance, advice, and even for orders. Just like Nawaz Sharif might have ordered the Kargil operation, thinking it to be a masterstroke, but blaming his Army Chief when everything went awry. Currently, Pakistan’s civilian leaders are the most corrupt of any period in history – they are not only engaged in financial malfeasance, but are actively selling out their country and its assets, while doing and saying anything that their foreign masters want. General Pasha, being an intelligent man, knows this, and has stated that the ISI has a record of how international powers are using and manipulating important Pakistani’s to achieve their own ends and cause damage to Pakistan; the real question is how far can you push his selflessness and patriotism in the pursuit of correcting a country whose very people are beyond hope and repair?