Donald Trump Antisemitic Facilitator – Part II: The Iranian Dimension

Donald Trump Antisemitic Facilitator – Part II: The Iranian Dimensionby

by

Howard Adelman

SUMMARY

Connecting a non-antisemite (Trump) to a charge that the same person contributes to the rise of antisemitism is very difficult in the best of worlds. However, given the toxic discourse of the American political scene, it is even more difficult. I bracket Donald Trump initially and begin with a detailed case study of two writers, both Iranian-Americans, who accuse four other American writers of aggregating Donald Trump’s anti-refugee and anti-Muslim rhetoric, thereby adding to and exacerbating an atmosphere of intolerance generally. That, in turn, foments antisemitism. I analyze the charge in detail to demonstrate that the accusers are, at a minimum, guilty of gross distortion and unsubstantiated allegations that open up the possibility that they may themselves be contributors to antisemitism even if that may not have been their intent, raising the question of whether, both because of those targeted, the manner of their argument and their substantive declared objective, they may be border-line antisemites or even unconsciously deeply antisemitic.

If Donald Trump is unequivocally not an antisemite of any type, does Donald Trump bear some responsibility for the increase in antisemitic incidents? He has often expressed antisemitic tropes, targeting other groups. He also refused for the longest time to condemn the racists who supported him. Moreover, he is also prone to Jewish stereotyping, once referring to Jews at a Jewish event as a people focused on making money and, like himself, dealmakers. He called the people in the room, “negotiators” and said, “You’re not gonna support me because I don’t want your money.”

However, among the political right, antisemitism is a dying creed, especially since the antisemitism targeting the billionaires who “control” the economy of the world as well as the media outlets has now become a major component in the ultra-left wing of the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, there is still more than enough coming from the right. A TV ad aired in Trump’s campaign for the presidency pointed a finger at “a global power structure that that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class and stripped our country of its wealth.” And who were the villains? All Jews – billionaire currency speculator George Soros, Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve and Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs.

Unleashing xenophobic furies possibly creates an atmosphere which makes hatred of minorities more acceptable. But the connection to antisemitism can be more indirect where actions in the name of criticizing hate stir reactions. I am not referring to the extremists on the right, such as David Duke, who greets every attack by Donald Trump on Muslims with loud cheers.  I want to raise the subtler case of border-line antisemitism which may contain a strong strain of prejudice and distortion that could readily be interpreted as antisemitism.

In a Kansas bar in February, Adam Puriton shot and killed one Indian engineer and wounded another thinking they were Iranians. In response, Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, (NIAC) and Tyler Cullis, a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (a different NIAC) legal fellow at the National Iranian American Council, wrote a piece in The Huffington Post called, “Trump Didn’t Start The Anti-Iranian Fire.” The article began by connecting the Puriton incident to Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigration rhetoric. However, the article went on, insisting that the problem predated and went deeper than Donald Trump and declared Trump “nothing but the most outward symptom of an affliction that has long plagued our country.” In other words, there was a “deep state,” or, at the very least, a “deep society” behind the Trump anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The article then named the culprits at the deeper level. “For more than a decade, there has been an organized effort on the part of groups like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), The Israel Project (TIP), Secure America Now, and United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and propagandists like Michael Rubin, Eli Lake, Adam Kredo and Josh Block to push war with Iran in the most hyperbolic terms, all the while defaming those – most particularly, those in the Iranian-American community – who urge a peaceful resolution to the historical tensions between the two countries.” Their thesis was that these culprits had demonized the Iranian regime and were thereby responsible for provoking Puriton’s murderous intent and actions.

I was puzzled by the attack. What do the well-known anti-Iranian positions of the above institutions and, more specifically, Michael Rubin, Eli Lake, Adam Kredo and Josh Block, have to do with arousing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric? Michael Rubin wrote a comment in Refugees Deeply (https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/articles/2016/11/04/expert-discussion-president-donald-trump-and-the-refugee-crisis). The comment appeared right after those of my pro-refugee colleagues’ strong criticisms of Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration and anti-refugee rhetoric. The three preceding criticisms of an anti-refugee bias were written by Michelle Mittelstadt from the Migration Policy Institute, Lavinia Limon, president and CRE of the U.S. Committee for Refugees who coined the phrase “warehousing” to depict the refugee camps (holding pens is a more accurate phrase) funded by the international community, and Jessica Brandt, a fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Rubin then wrote: “Trump’s deference to dictators – be they in Syria, Turkey or Russia – may convince them that they can commit atrocities without consequence. This might have the net effect of increasing refugee problems. And, because stemming immigration has been such a central part of his populist appeal, the willingness of a Trump White House to address refugees beyond basic provision of aid seems unlikely.” Though not in the same league as the three other denunciations of Trump’s anti-refugee policy, it is almost impossible to read this comment as an endorsement of Trump on refugees.

In Eli Lake’s 2015 article, “Crisis Looms for Refugees Taken in by Iraq’s Kurds,” (Bloomberg), he wrote, “The current refugee crisis created by the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars has received significant attention in recent weeks as hundreds of thousands of refugees have sought new lives in Europe. But it’s the countries in the Middle East that are suffering the most as a result of the ongoing war.” Again, this is virtually impossible to interpret as an anti-refugee screed.

Adam Kredo, on the other hand, did write a number of pieces about vetting refugees and expressed a concern, similar to Trump’s, that the Obama vetting procedures were not known and could be inadequate. He also wrote about a Texas decision to withdraw from the refugee program because of concerns over terrorism, criticized claimed plans under the Obama administration to cut screening times, and, most seriously, claimed in an 8 January 2016 piece that a member of a terrorist cell captured in Texas allegedly entered as a refugee without providing a piece of evidence to substantiate the allegation. The piece supposedly implied that the 113 individuals thus far implicated in terrorism were evidence of a flawed immigration and vetting policy.

Josh Block, as far as I know, has not written on refugee policy. He has written about the connection between Islamicism and, more specifically, ISIS and terrorists attacks in the U.S. particularly the San Bernardino killings. That earned this response by the Iranian-American writers in an article, “Top Israel advocate uses San Bernardino killings to attack Islam” (http://mondoweiss.net/2015/12/advocate-bernardino-killings)

“Josh Block, who is paid to be an advocate for Israel, spends much of his Twitter feed attacking Muslims wherever they are. The more time he spends attacking Muslims, the less his audience can reflect on occupation/dispossession.” But all the quotes were about extreme Islamicists and terrorists, not Muslims. Further, the terrorists who killed 14 and wounded 22 others were Muslim extremists. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were, according to the FBI, “homegrown violent extremists” inspired by jihadism. There was nothing said in the article about refugees, about immigrants or about Muslims in general.

Adam Kredo wrote an article for the Washington Free Beacon in January (http://freebeacon.com/national-security/muslim-brotherhood-ally-falsely-smears-senator-block-terror-designation-bill/) allegedly criticizing CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations billed as a Muslim advocacy group, for its intervention with Congress to prevent lawmakers from designating the Islamic Brotherhood as a supporter of terrorism. However, even the most superficial reader of the article soon learns that the criticism was of CAIR’s claim, quoting CAIR directly, that the author of the Cruz legislation was a disgraced former FBI agent “who made a career out of bashing Muslims and Islam.” Based on the evidence cited, the article concluded that there was absolutely no connection between the legislation and the former FBI agent. It was not an anti-Muslim article. The article was not an anti-Muslim screed.

Eli Lake did write an article in the National Post (10 February 2017) that criticized the link between Trump’s “ban” and abetting radical Islam. However, the argument made by the Iranian-Americans was against the straw man claim that Trump’s ban directly enhanced Islamicist terrorism. The charge was that Trump’s proposed ban (stayed last night by a Hawaii judge who reiterated that it was anti-Muslim based on Trump’s own words) contributed to the Islamicist ability to attract more adherents.

Michael Rubin also has been attacked as an Islamophobe in pieces in ThinkProgress and identified with a “fringe undercurrent of right-wing anti-Muslim bigotry.” (https://thinkprogress.org/the-american-enterprise-institutes-islamophobia-problem-690f500df285#.rin0xyq7c) “Rubin has long maintained relationships with Islamophobes.” The charge was guilt by association. No evidence was offered for Rubin being anti-Muslim.

Look more closely at the culprits. Michael Rubin’s PhD thesis from Yale University was entitled The Making of Modern Iran, 1858–1909: Communications, Telegraph and Society. It won the John Addison Porter Prize in history. He has since published books on Islamic extremism in the Middle East. Rubin is a former Pentagon official now at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank, and instructs military officers scheduled for deployment there. Rubin is not a detached observer, not just in the ideological sense, but has drawn his conclusions on Iran not only from scholarship but from direct experience with the Iranian regime. He lived in post-revolution Iran (1996 and 1999) after six months in 1995 in Yemen, taught in pre- (2000-2001) and post-war Iraq, and even lived with the Taliban before 9/11. He knows a thing or two about Islamic extremism.

Rubin is certainly a neo-con and a hawk with respect to both Iraq and Iran. He is a hardline supporter of Netanyahu’s and Trump’s criticism of the Iran deal. So are Eli Lake, Adam Kredo and, to a much lesser extent, Josh Block who is neither a neo-con nor a hawk.

At least three of the four grew up in Pennsylvania. At least three of the four grew up in Jewish leftist households. Michael Rubin was even sent to a Quaker School for fourteen years. All appear to have started out left of centre. But the most common feature of all four is that they are all Jewish. There are a plethora of non-Jewish neo-cons. Why are the only four named critics of Iran and the nuclear deal Jewish? Why are they falsely identified with anti-refugee and anti-Muslim positions?

“A decade of messaging like this, though, has now had its payday: Adam Purinton walked into a bar and shot to kill what he believed to be Iranians,” wrote Parsi and Cullis. The implication of the article can easily be interpreted to mean that Jews were to blame for the killing the Indian engineer and wounding of another just as they were behind the movers and shakers of the economic order, especially since none of the myriad of non-Jewish neo-cons were mentioned, and that the criticisms were identified with a defence of Israel.

Anyone who has read my writings knows that I am far more sympathetic to the political positions of Parsi and Cullis. I have defended the Obama nuclear deal with Iran and criticized the neo-con opposition. I opposed the war in Iraq and am certainly opposed to any pre-emptive attack on Iran. But all my reading, in spite of all my criticisms of the positions of Rubin, Lake, Kredo and Block, would never suggest that anyone of them was anti-refugee or anti-Muslim even when I may criticize some points they may make on these issues.

The question is, are Parsi and Cullis guilty of fostering antisemitism when they falsely accuse the Jewish-four of being anti-refugee and anti-Muslim?

With the help of Alex Zisman

To be continued.

Terror in America: Obama and Trump

Terror in America: Obama and Trump

by

Howard Adelman

I wrote this blog – or most of it – two days ago. But I didn’t, I couldn’t send it out. I did not like my conclusions. More importantly, the argument and evidence offered were only sketched rather than fully developed and properly supported. But, after all, this is only a blog and not an academic paper. So I invite readers to tell me I am wrong, to show me where I am wrong.

Clearly and unequivocally, Barack Obama’s greatest failure as president was in creating conditions which allowed Donald Trump to succeed him. Or is this assertion not so clear and unequivocal? Was Donald Trump elected through a confluence of external factors that had nothing to do with Obama – the FBI Director intervening in the election eleven days before most ballots would be cast with information that the FBI was investigating an additional trove of material that might (it never did) throw further light on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address and unprotected server. Russian hacking into the Democratic Party communications and releasing the information to Wikileaks may have done the critical damage. After all, Trump won Wisconsin by only 22,000 votes, Michigan by only 10,700 votes of 4.8 million cast, .002%, two-tenths of one percentage point, of the ballots cast in that state. Trump won Pennsylvania by 49,000 votes out of 6 million, .008 or 8/10ths of one percentage point. Poor Democratic party organization in those competitive states may have cost the election. Bur perhaps the loss also occurred because Obama had forged a role for himself right from the beginning as a president above the fray. Though he tried at the end, he clearly had difficulty in parting from his self-created image to pin the tail on the donkey. Perhaps this was because he was still blindfolded.

Look again at Obama’s farewell speech. What were the threats he pointed to as dangers to America? “A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism — these forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy, as well.” But how does a shrinking world or demographic change threaten democracy? And why are they put on the same level as growing inequality and terrorism? And to what extent was terror a real threat? Further, if, under Obama, the trend to increased inequality had been reversed, why not point to that rather than “growing inequality?” “Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.” Rather abstract and indirect if Obama was referring to Trump as a fear-monger indifferent to core values Americans hold dear.

But look when he pivoted to specific types of examples in the next paragraph – put the fight against terrorism on a “firmer legal footing,” end torture, close Gitmo, reform laws governing surveillance, and protect privacy and civil liberties.  These are all pretty remote from the concerns of most citizens. Does anyone believe that even one of these issues, let alone all five, mattered to a single one of Trump’s supporters? If Trump voters were afraid, it could possibly be from terrorists, but I will try to show that it was not and could not be. Nor was it a failure in due process or protecting terrorists from being tortured. Trump supporters could not care one whit about Gitmo, except perhaps what it costs to keep the few imprisoned there, if they only knew the actual costs. (In 2015, it was $445 million for the 41 prisoners still there, almost $11 million per prisoner.) In the election, they seemed more interested in their own fellow citizens being careless with information under their control than others looking at that information, including either their own government or a rival foreign power.

This is written with no criticisms of whether the goals Obama named are laudable. They clearly are for any small “l” liberal. But the implication of the remark is that Trump supporters were allowing their heroic leader to stir up fears that then trumped their concerns for individual liberty, freedom and respect for law. However, they were not primarily concerned with individual liberty, freedom and respect for law. And rather than terrorism being a major threat, it was not and was not even perceived to be a major threat. If it were, they could pay far more attention to home-grown terrorists, and, as we shall see, they were fully justified in largely ignoring that magnified threat.

Much more importantly and justifiably, they would be concerned with the scourge of gun violence that killed far more Americans than all the foreign wars in which America has been involved over the past eight years. From 2001 to 2014, over 440,000 people died from domestic gun violence in the U.S.A., almost 34,000 on average per year. In contrast, in the Afghanistan War, America lost 2,734 military personnel between 2008 and 2016, about 342 per year, or about 1% of those who died from gun violence in the U.S. In the Iraq War, there were only 591 deaths in those same 8 years, for Obama began withdrawing most American troops from there shortly after he took office. The death toll averaged 74 per year, or two-tenths of one percent who died from guns on American soil. In both operations, the death total has fallen dramatically during Obama’s second term.

I received the following feedback from my initial draft from a regular reader. “Again, those Americans for whom owning a weapon is sacrosanct do not look at deaths resulting from gun violence in an abstract way.  If they are the ones shooting the bastard who dared to look at them the wrong way, then that is justice served, their way: the customary method of settling disputes.  This is fierce individualism, protective macho gesture taking things in your own hand.  You do not need no namby-pamby principles, just a secure hand and a functioning gun.  They do not advocate for the right to bear firearms as a principle, but as a licence to take care of business, without the interference of government authority.  Of course, sometimes they are the ones who get shot: then all hell breaks loose: individual particular self-interest, not universal principles guide the actions.”

I will come back to the figures above in a blog on foreign terrorism, but note who died. In 2015-2016, three Americans died assisting Iraqi domestic military forces in the fight against ISIL terrorism – 31-year-old Navy Seal Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Keating, 27-year-old Marine Staff Sergeant Louis Cardin on his fourth deployment overseas, and 39-year-old Army Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, who left four children fatherless; he was also on his fourth deployment and had earned 11 bronze stars. The cost in the lives of American military personnel overseas fighting terrorism has been relatively very small, but the sense of who they were has been very large.

In this blog, I will focus on the alleged threat of terrorism within the United States to democracy. Examine the list of major violent attacks within the United States when Obama was president:

  1. Binghamton, New York, 3 April 2009 on an immigration centre; 14 killed, 4 injured
  2. Fort Hood, Texas, 5 November 2009; attack on the Soldier Readiness Center there; thirteen were killed and 44 injured
  3. Tucson, Arizona, 8 January 2011. At a supermarket political meeting, Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others were severely injured and U.S. District Judge John Roll as well as five others were killed
  4. Aurora, Colorado, 20 July 2012; 12 killed and 58 injured in shooting attack at a movie theatre
  5. Newtown, Connecticut, 14 December 2012; elementary school shooting attack
  6. Boston Marathon, 15 April 2013; 3 killed and 264 injured by two bombs, and later, 1 police officer killed and 1 injured in the capture of the bomber
  7. Washington, D.C., 16 September 2013; at the Navy Yard – 13 killed & 3 injured
  8. Fort Hood again, 2 April 2014; 3 killed and 16 injured
  9. Las Vegas, Nevada 8 June 2014; 2 police and 1 civilian killed in shoot-out
  10. Chattanooga, Tennessee, 16 July 2015; 4 marines, 1 sailor, 1 policeman killed
  11. Roseburg, Oregon Community College, 1 October 2015; 9 killed & 9 injured
  12. San Bernardino, California, 2 December 2015; 14 killed and 21 injured
  13. Orlando, Florida, 12 June 2016; nightclub killing of 50 and 53 wounded
  14. Dallas, Texas, 7 July 2016; 5 police killed & 8 injured by a sniper
  15. Baton, Rouge, Louisiana, 17 July 2016; 3 police killed and 3 injured
  16. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 8 January 2017; 5 killed, 6 injured.

These sixteen were major attacks classified as criminal, terrorist-Islamic, terrorist-right, or terrorist-left; 5 of the 16 fell into the classification, terrorist-Islam. But a closer examination of each of those cases raises serious doubts about the classification for at least one and probably three of them. In the 2009 Fort Hood, Texas attack on the Soldier Readiness Center, the perpetrator was Nidal Malik Hasan, a military psychiatrist identified over the previous decade as having serious psychological problems. In the last few years, he identified as a religious Muslim, but there was no connection ever discovered with radical Islamicist terrorism. Any reasonably objective analysis would conclude that this was a case of a criminal act by a deranged perpetrator who rationalized his action in terms of Islam, extremist Islam.

In contrast, the Boston marathon attack in April 2013 was a clear case of Islamic terrorism, though not carried out with any direct links to terrorist organizations, Islamic or otherwise. Dzhokha Tsarnaev was 9-years-old and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was 16-years-old when they immigrated from Eastern Europe to the U.S. They became self-radicalized Islamicist terrorists. In another case, that of the 2015 Chattanooga Tennessee attack and killing of military personnel, Muhammed Youssef Abdulaziz was born in Kuwait and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 6. His father was a Palestinian radical of the Hamas variety. Yet he too could be classified as a home-grown Islamicist terrorist without any known links to extremist groups abroad or domestically.

In the Chattanooga attack on military personnel in 2015, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez had substance abuse (sleeping pills, opioids, and painkillers) and alcohol problems. He was also suffering from depression and under his parent’s health insurance plan, was ineligible for treatment in a rehabilitation centre. He may also have been suffering from bipolar disorder. This was another case of an act of violence that took place under the banner of Islamicist terrorism that would be better classified as a criminal case of murder resulting from a deranged person.

The second deadliest attack during Barack Obama’s term took place in San Bernardino in 2015. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple, were the perpetrators. This was also a case of home-grown, self-radicalized Islamicist extremist terrorism, though inspired by foreign Islamicist terrorism, more specifically, ISIL which claimed them as “soldiers of the caliphate.”

The deadliest attack took place in Orlando, Florida on 12 June 2016. The devastation in that nightclub killing in which 49 were killed and another 53 injured, was caused by 29-year-old Omar Mateen. He was clearly a disturbed individual. He failed to become a state trooper and a prison guard and was working as a security guard. The psychologist who signed his papers permitting him to own a gun had never interviewed him directly and was fined for this lapse. Though his action, in his own words, was instigated by American airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, his history included a record of a number of threats to kill people that had nothing to do with religion.

In sum, only 2 of the 5 alleged Islamicist terror attacks and 2 of 16 terror attacks in general within the United States could be clearly and unequivocally classified as Islamicist terror actions. The three other cases were carried out by Muslims who claimed to be inspired by Islamic extremism, but were almost certainly cases more of mental derangement rather than religious ideology.

What are we to make of this analysis – that domestic Islamicist terror is not a real threat? Not at all. After all, none of the citations above refer to the number of alleged planned Islamicist terror attacks that were disrupted and prevented by the police and intelligence services or to those attacks in which there were only 1 or 2 casualties. However, even if account were taken of all those, the threat of domestic Islamic terror is not a significantly large problem. After all, two of the sixteen terror attacks were perpetrated allegedly by left wing terrorists and two by right wing terrorists, as many as the clearly and unequivocal Islamicist variety.

Domestic terror is not a serious threat within the United States. It does not compare in quantity to criminal terrorist incidents usually committed by people with serious psychological problems and certainly not anywhere comparable to the unique situation in America of thousands killed per year by gun violence having nothing to do with terrorism. Investing money in mental health facilities or monitoring of individuals buying guns would give far better safety and security results that the huge amounts invested in combating domestic Islamicist terrorism.

In any case, Donald Trump did not appeal to the fears of terrorism of his supporters, but to their hatred of terrorism and the religion that they felt deep-down endorsed or otherwise abetted that terrorism. Trump explicitly and repeatedly promised to “eradicate Islamic terrorism completely from the face of the earth.” Not Islamicist terrorism but Islamic terrorism! This is not an appeal to fear, but rather an appeal to the genocidal instincts we all harbour and, with the help of laws and institutions hopefully quell – to define a group as Other, as wholly other, as a threat, as a mortal threat, as a threat that the only way it can be dealt with is by extermination.

When Barack Obama reiterated that he was a liberal leader who defended liberal values, this only indicated how out of touch he was, how unsupportive the evidence was, of his position and the real danger. Packaging the threat in the language of threats to individual liberty is but a confession of the powerful forces of ultra blood and soil ethnic and religious nationalism, of demagogic populism, of a stress on strength and order rather than law and order. It is not as if Barack Obama does not know, did not know this, but that he was too circumspect in naming it and, in effect, talked beside the point. Barack Obama was perhaps not only personally guilty of mis-diagnosing the real problem in the hearts and minds of those in the street, but shared in the innocence and ignorance of those around the world who fought for liberal values in the Arab Spring, or marched in Iran, Turkey and Russia against militant dictatorships, and the women and men who filled the Washington Mall and streets around the world calling out for the protection of liberal values.

This is a war, a war being fought around the world, a war between liberalism and anti-liberalism. And the proponents of anti-liberalism are not afraid, are no longer intimidated, from defining themselves as non-liberal, as at war with liberalism and, therefore, at war with any other nation or religion that challenges their own sense of self-superiority. (Same reader commenting: “It is not so much that they are anti-liberal, but that they do not see any benefit from having liberal leaders, if they have no jobs. The liberals talk big, but the lives of the rustbelt denizens ain’t getting no better from that.  Screw the principles and the slogans and give bread. And I do not think these people truly believe they are superior: they are painfully aware of their disenfranchised status amidst the grand speeches about equality.  This much they understand: slogans do not feed hungry mouths.  And anyhow, anyone who acts superior is in fact troubled by a whole lot of inferiority complexes.  The aggression is just a protective mask.”) But until the stage of inter-nation war is reached, it is liberal values that must be struck down. Asserting that these fears are being stirred up and defending liberal values against that threat just misses the point totally. And if the women and men marching in Washington, marching in Los Angeles, marching in Toronto and marching in sixty or six hundred other cities around the world do not recognize their real enemy, then those liberals will be swept into the dustbin of history along with the defenders of a new liberal order in the Arab world, in Turkey, in Russia and in Iran.

The real threat is far, far greater than a threat to women’s rights and civil rights. The point is not to guard the values that make us who we are, but to go to war against the values who would make us something other than who we should aspire to be. An aggressive, not a defensive war was and is called for. And Obama still did not recognize this fact, or openly articulate it, when he left office. Defensive Maginot lines are one way to do battle, but such lines can always be breached by surprise and a blitzkrieg. The issue is not withdrawing from expanding democracy, defending human, women’s and LGBT rights, but fighting an aggressive war against ALL those who threaten the rights we already have won, terrorists of the left, right or Islamicist variety among them, but far more the citizens of America who do not fundamentally believe in democracy, do not fundamentally believe in rights, who believe in nation, who believe in strength and order rather than law and order, who believe a demogogic leader who will take them to the promised land where they supposedly once dwelt.

The fight against “extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism” may indeed be of a “piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalism,” but if you focus your guns and your ammunition primarily on those who would assault human liberties, then the main threat is given a wide-open birth. Trump does not just represent an alternative policy option in a pluralistic system of competing positions. Trump represents the enemy that sometimes comes in the guise of Islamicist terror, but far more dangerously under the banner of free speech and democratic liberties. This is the real fifth column. This is the real danger from within. And if we are too timid to brand that threat, to name it, to diagnose it and simply rise on our pillars of righteousness to defend civil liberties, we will have surrendered the field of battle to the enemy. And make no mistake – these are enemies. Aggressive war, not a defence of old standards, is required.

Barack Obama’s failure in this area is our failure. He articulates that failure best in his eloquent and inspiring words. They appeal to his allies because we share those same values and have become timid in warring on their behalf, if for the simple reason that wars so-called in defence of those values have been fought for quite different reasons inspired by radically different motives.

Obama was no Eisenhower leading the fight for democracy. Obama was not even a Harry S. Truman capable of firing General Douglas MacArthur. We needed a tough street fighter (and former haberdasher) more than a community organizer to do battle with the real enemy within that has now taken over the White House.

With the help of Alex Zisman

One reader wrote the following:

The media is simply not trustworthy. Most read no newspapers in America. If they did use media and relied on CNN, conservatives called them the Clinton News Network. Their bias was and still is outrageous. No problem for the conservatives. FOX feeds their own bias and outrates CNN three to one. Radio is a non-existent news source. CBC here was and still is horrendously over-the-top anti-Trump. Only one Canadian pundit of note, Conrad Black, had the timbre to go against the tide. Need I remind you of the so-called pollster blunders? It was the liberal media that created these misleading reports. Did they do it deliberately? How did they get it so wrong?… Many Americans see daily carnage in Syria and watch the horror of beheadings and mass suicide bombing and wonder when it will take place in their already troubled existence. Their own USA local news deals with the 15 minutes of overnight deaths by violence of their fellow citizens. Howard, in case you missed it, so does CBC News! Their lead morning reports deal with overnight deaths by stabbing and guns, every day! Our youth wonder if the music rave events they attend will see nightclub slaughters like those of France and Florida. You, like Obama now wish to downplay the fact that radical Islam is even a problem and rationalize such efforts by telling us more people die from domestic gun violence than from terrorism. That is simply two wrongs and no rights.

Weiner

Weiner

by

Howard Adelman

Calling someone a name, slandering him, is worse than stealing from him. For goods can be restored. A person’s unblemished good name cannot be. One never removes the stench of slander no matter how hard one tries to scrub it clean through remorse, expressions of regret and apologies, or even evidence of innocence. Once released, like an arrow, a slander cannot be intercepted, even if it falls wide of the mark, even if it ends up sticking out of a shield. Note that slandering someone does not mean you are lying. What you say may be very true. I was struck by that observation when I watched the documentary biopic on the political campaign of Anthony Weiner when he was running for mayor of New York City in 2013.

In Weiner, the filmmakers Josh Kriegman (a former Weiner staff member when Weiner was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives) and Elyse Steinberg documented the attempted political comeback in 2013 of Anthony Weiner from a sexting scandal. He had been re-elected seven times as the U.S. Representative (D-NY) in the 9th Congressional District in Queens. Weiner resigned his seat in 2011 when a photo of his erection under his underwear had been distributed on the internet.

Although he initially claimed that his twitter account had been hacked, he himself had evidently sent the photo to his 45,000 twitter followers in error. Whether it was a Freudian error is a separate question. Further, he tried to come clean at a news conference on 6 June when he informed the public that he had e-sex with six women whom he had never met. The film is about the mayoral campaign that took place two years later when Weiner attempted a political comeback. And the comeback seemed to be succeeding. He was leading in the polls when a new scandal broke in mid-campaign; a woman from Indiana released the photos and texts she had received from Weiner after he resigned in 2011.

The story then becomes fascinating as Weiner tries to keep his campaign on track as the media insist on dealing with a) the new and more explicit sex scandal and b) how he handled the fact that he in effect misled the American public in insisting he had been “born again” and had learned from the terrible mistake of his bad judgement. The documentary is fascinating on a number of levels. First, there is the detailed exposure of what goes into campaigning, from using contacts and obsequious rhetoric to wheedle money from potential supporters, to both receiving advice and keeping the paid staff on target in the face of a tidal wave of a second scandal threatening (and succeeding) in washing the whole campaign down the sewer.

The politics take place on a number of levels. On the one hand, the Clinton scandal of Bill Clinton’s presidential years shadows the whole film, not only because Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, worked closely as a political aide and confidante of Hillary Clinton running for President of the United States, but the ghost of the question of how Hillary could stand by her man haunts the whole biopic. Further, Huma Abedin was herself intimately involved in the rumbling scandal of Hillary using a personal email address while she was Secretary of State and more and more emails from her personal account were revealed as Hillary’s campaign unfolded.

In 1996, Huma Mahmood Abedin began working for Hillary as an intern three years after her father died when she was still a nineteen-year-old undergraduate at George Washington University. She rose to become Deputy Chief of Staff to the U.S. Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. It was in this period that Huma and Anthony culminated a courtship that had begun in 2007, though they had known each other since 2001. Huma married Anthony Weiner on 10 July 2010 when he was still a U.S. Congressman. Bill Clinton officiated at their marriage. She was pregnant when the scandal broke. Jordan Zain Weiner is four-years-old now. He is shown in his first political appearances being wheeled in his stroller by the candidate during his mayoral election run. He is also seen lying by his side in bed in the latest sexting scandal, but more on that later.

Today, Huma Abedin continues to serve as vice chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign for President. At the same time, there is the echo of the Donald Trump campaign in the biopic, for Weiner comes across as a populist as well, one perhaps with a genuine feel for the plight of the middle class, but a populist nevertheless. In his case, a series of sexual electronic indiscretions, along with a failure of full revelation when the issue first arose (it was insufficient for him to say that worse could be forthcoming), was his undoing. When that omission combined with the fact that he repeated the offences at an even dirtier level even after he was initially exposed, confessed his indiscretion and supposedly vowed not to repeat the bad judgement, guaranteed that his campaign would tank. And it did.

The film is excruciating to watch. It is one thing for Anthony Weiner to allow the documentary to continue as his campaign unravels and as his failures torment him, but he vows to continue marching forward. Is the action courageous or foolhardy? Or did he really have no choice? After all, he is the cause of his own unmaking. But to watch Huma Abedin go through her private suffering in public and then, after first standing by and for her man, forced to withdraw, induced in me extreme pain and embarrassment for her. Withdrawing from the campaign after the second revelation for personal and political self-protection may have been a realistic appraisal that the campaign was going down the tubes, as well as a clear recognition that she was in a no-win situation. She could not now appear to stand beside her husband without looking like a ninny or a psychologically abused wife in a case in which political loyalty had morphed into political suicide.

In a situation where the activities of her husband were now endangering the larger political campaign of Hillary Clinton, to whom she owed as deep a loyalty, the dimensions of the tragedy are enormously inflated. The efforts at spin as the tornado whips down on the campaign are physically embarrassing. So it is fully understandable why she had to announce she was leaving the marriage on Monday when Anthony Weiner once again embarrassed her with his sexual compulsions.

However, Huma Abedin is not an innocent abroad. She had her own supposed scandals to worry about, some issues directly tied to her employment for Hillary Clinton and others to her being a devout Muslim. Re the latter, in the film Weiner loses his cool as he campaigns in a Jewish bakery presumably in Brooklyn. A man with a kippa is hectoring him for Anthony’s shameless behavior and repeatedly asking him how he can stand for election when he is supposed to be a model for others. Weiner leaves the bakery but soon returns to engage in a shouting match with the elector asking repeatedly who he is to judge him. As it turns out, we only learn afterwards that what likely instigated his losing his cool in such a self-destructive way was a remark he heard the man make. “And you married a Muslim.”

As it turns out, in the 2016 election, being a Muslim had become an issue as anti-Muslim bigotry became part of Donald Trump’s campaign. The issue arose just before Weiner initiated his attempted comeback mayoral campaign. Five Republicans (Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Trent Franks of Arizona, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Thomas Rooney of Florida and Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia) wrote a letter dated 13 June 2012 to the State Department Inspector General alleging that the Abedin family members were associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The allegations questioning security clearance for Huma began with her father. Syed Zainul Abedin was an Indian Muslim intellectual who, when Huma was two-years-old, took his wife and children to Jidda, Saudi Arabia, where he was offered the position by Dr. Abdullah bin Omar Nasseef, a chemist and biologist, who was then president of King Abdulaziz University. The post was director of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs (IMMA), which was Syed’s specialty. He also began editing the Institute of Minority Affairs, Journal which in 1996 became The Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs.

The two thick issues in 1992, the year before his untimely death in 1993, provide no hint of any connection between Syed Zaimal Abedin and radical Islam. The first issue of 1992 has as its lead article one by the former Princeton University professor and famous Arabist, Bernard Lewis, entitled, “Legal and Historical Reflections on the Position of Muslim Populations under Non-Muslim Rule.” Bernard Lewis would never knowingly publish an article in a quasi-radical Islamist journal, and he would hardly likely to be “unknowing”.

An article by Fadwa N. Kirrish on “Druze Ethnicity in the Golan Heights: The Interface of Religion and Politics,” argued that Druze ethnicity infused with its unique religious orientation arose out of the circumstantial forces of the eleventh century and continues to be reinforced currently by different extraneous forces. These articles and others, as well as the special issue on Islamic banking, give no hint of a radical political program. Yet one of the right-wing sites, The Conservative Atheist, insists that the journal is managed by the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, “a virulently anti-Semitic and sharia-supremacist organization.” However, Noah Feldman, director of the Julis-Rabinowitz Program in Jewish and Israeli Law at Harvard University insists that, “I’ve never seen anything in any way radical” in the journal.

Syed’s wife, Saleha Mahmood Abedin, a Pakistani intellectual, took over the running of the journal as well as the directorship of the Institute after her husband’s death. Huma became assistant editor from 1996, when she first interned with Hillary Clinton. She retained that position until 2008, long after she started working full time for Hillary. (Her brother, Hassan, is the book review editor and her sister, Heba, is an assistant editor at the journal.) For criticisms of the allegations of Huma’s ties to radical Islam see The Washington Post, “Claims of Huma Abedin’s extremist ties are laughable,” in the 28 August 2016 issue, and a more thorough article by William D. Cohan, “Is Huma Abedin Hillary Clinton’s Secret Weapon of Her Next Big Problem?” in the February 2016 issue of Vanity Fair.

There is also a book length scholarly study by Marie Juul Petersen, For Humanity or for the Umma?: Aid and Islam in Transnational Muslim NGOs. Though I have not read the latter, my colleague Michael Barnett, currently University Professor of International Affairs and Political Science, George Washington University, and author of Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism, described this 2016 work as “a path-breaking study of Muslim NGOs. Avoiding the hype and following the theory and the evidence, Peterson produces a richly textured and nuanced appreciation of how these religious NGOs navigate the worlds in which they are embedded. At once careful and creative, hers is a study that not only shines a light on the complexity of Muslim NGOs, but also points a way toward understanding religious NGOs in an age of emergency and the relief-development nexus.”

Saleha was active in the International Islamic Council for Da’wa and Relief (IICDR), an umbrella organization based in Cairo for over 100 Islamic NGOs and GOs responsible for spreading the message of Islam (“develop Islamic action to match the divine mission of the Islamic civilization and assure the unity of the human family”), improving intra-Islamic accord and offering charity – to needy orphans and widows of course. That organization was then headed by Nasseef, the alleged link to radical Islam and the university president. Nasseef was an activist as well as scientist, a very prominent member of the worldwide scouting movement, chair of the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies (Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi is one of the members of the Board of Trustees), chair of the World Muslim Congress, founding chair of the Sahm Al-Nour Trust and, until Syed died in 1993, Secretary General of the Muslim World League.

Andrew McCarthy is the former Assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who prosecuted Omar Abdel-Rahman, “The Blind Sheikh,” currently serving a life sentence in South Carolina for “seditious conspiracy” for his leadership of “The Islamic Group,” Egyptian terrorists responsible for the 1997 Luxor attack that killed 58 tourists and 4 Egyptians. McCarthy, based on his investigations, alleged that the Muslim World League was a supremacist Muslim organization.

What about IICDR? In the flowery language often associated with classical Islamic learning, it is described by its supporters as having a “mission of congeniality among different factions…cradling serenity and harmony.” They insist that until 9/11 nations were living in “a cooperative spirit,” and that a “state of tranquility and security prevailed, generating senses of cordiality and confidence, as well as of mutuality and interdependence.” The reality was that Islamicist extremism long pre-dated 9/11. Al-Qaeda was founded in 1988. Were the Muslim World League and IICDR, under the cover of congenial cooperation with all faiths and nations, promoting Islamic supremacism of which Islamicist terrorism was the hidden militant part? Were Muslim charities serving as conduits to launder money for terrorism?

Critics (The Global Muslim Brotherhood Watch, Shoebat, the Christian rescue organization, The Atheist Conservative, The Counter Jihad Report) of IICDR and other organizations connected to the Abedin family, claim that IMMA (the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs) had ties to Muslim extremists and is the principal tool for propagating the Muslim Brotherhood faith. The charge is not simply that the organization taught the superiority of the Muslim faith but the supremacy of that faith under the guise of interfaith dialogue. For example, the site Shoebat.com claims that IMMA itself has as its prime objective transforming “non-Muslim lands into Muslim lands until all lands have Muslim majorities.” I could find no evidence to support the charge.

Israel banned the International Islamic Council for Da’wa and Relief, in which Saleha was intimately involved, and which Nasseem chairs and which al-Qaradawi runs. In July 2008, Ehud Barak, then Israeli Defence Minister, signed the order banning it and 35 other Islamic funds around the world, all members of the “Union of Good” banned back in 2002 when it was charged with being an organization that funnels monies to Hamas. For a full frontal attack on Huma Abedin, see Lee Stranahan, “The Truth About Huma Abedin that Media Matters Doesn’t Want America to See,” published by Breitbart News then run by Stephen Bannon who now runs Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. (http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/01/18/the-truth-about-huma-abedin-that-media-matters-doesnt-want-america-to-see/)

In addition to the overcharged Islamic Issue, Hillary’s emails and the issue of the Benghazi Libya attack on the American embassy in which Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed (Huma testified for eight hours on the issue before the Republican-led House Select Committee on Benghazi), there were suspicions of financial malfeasance. Investigations were initiated by Charles Ernest “Chuck” Grassley, the long-serving Republican senator from Iowa. The U.S. State Department subpoenaed documents on the Clinton Foundations charity for which Huma worked in 2012 while also simultaneously working part time for the State Department, Hillary Clinton personally as well as a private consulting firm. Was there a conflict of interest? Was she overpaid when she took maternity leave? With many exceptions, such as Senator John McCain and Senator Marco Rubio, Republicans in Congress were engaged in a multifaceted attack of innuendo on Huma that paid little attention to evidence-based research.

For example, when Huma was working for the State Department, she earned $155,000. That was the period in 2011 when Anthony resigned and gave up his salary of $174,000. Yet, in the film, they seem to be living in a luxurious apartment building during Anthony’s attempt at a comeback. In 2011, both were forced to sell their respective condos, hers in Washington and his in Forest Hills for which they received $629,000 and $430,000 respectively. Jack Rosen, a New York developer, rented them the luxury Park Avenue apartment presumably at a market value of over $3 million and a monthly market rent of $12,000, an amount greater than it seemed that they could afford. In 2012, unlike Donald Trump, they publicly reported a combined income of almost a half a million dollars from Anthony’s new consulting work, but the majority came from her four parallel jobs. However, no evidence has been produced of any wrongdoing.

Claims of overcharging the State Department for Huma’s part time work, of exceeding the allowance allowed for part time employees, of using her consulting work to promote patronage appointments, and charges of conflicts of interest, plagued her, but were evidently expected and de rigeur for anyone who worked for Hillary in the American system of checks and imbalances. So although Huma in the biopic lurks painfully in the background, while often enough in the foreground, in a sense the biopic is emotionally more about her than Anthony.

In watching Weiner, I was less interested in the obvious commentary about American politics as demanding spectacle and being a circus, with the clear recognition that such a process has to attract a certain type of personality which requires the hide of a hippopotamus with some sense of genuine compassion for the other. So the tragedy proceeds on a personal, interpersonal, social and political level touching the pinnacle of power in the world. Nothing could be more Greek than a picture of a penis undermining the centre of power in the world.

Often it is said that the job of documentary filmmakers and photo-journalists is to catch people in public office in the unguarded moments between their private and their public lives when their masks are taken off. But Anthony Weiner seemed to readily parade around in his underwear, or what appeared to be his underwear shorts, so that self-revelation in the unguarded moment was clearly a product of his own making just as Donald Trump’s campaign is unravelling as a result of who he is and how he conducts himself. However, the internet, the ubiquitous presence of cameras masquerading as cell phones, and the rise of the politician who literally lays it all out, seem to have given the photo-journalists and documentary filmmakers even more work.

All this is an aside to the issue of a tale and scandal-mongering. The woman eager for attention and delighted in her own quest for a moment of fame is a teller of tales. She is the instigator of the second scandal, even though everything she apparently reported was true. She claimed that she was driven to reveal all by the hypocrisy of Weiner’s candidacy and his half-hearted and misleading apologetics. But her performance seems to indicate a much greater concern with being in the sunlight herself. Further, CNN reported that the latest disclosure of Anthony Weiner’s not-so-hidden erection is a Trump supporter. So although Jeremiah 9:3 reads, “They make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies; it is not by truth that they triumph in the land,” the reality is that slander progresses and builds like a tidal wave as much in the so-called quest for truth as in the Trump business of propagating lies.

When the proverb says “a gossip betrays a confidence but a trustworthy person keeps a secret,” (11:13) we know for sure those homilies are partially dated at a time when it is almost impossible to keep anything secret. At the same time, it may perhaps be a more urgent time for promoting the principle that engaging in gossip and scandal mongering, whether in the pursuit of political advancement through hyperbole, exaggeration and outright defamation, or in the pursuit of truth, should be condemned. However, in analyzing scandal mongering, am I not myself engaged in precisely the exercise I seem to be criticizing?