Friday, March 09, 2007

The wacky world of Sy Hersh

Read Seymour Hersh's article in the New Yorker here.

I've heard him twice in the last week on the radio, once on Radio OpenSource and once on Fresh Air. He is famous for getting stories right and first - My Lai and Abu Ghraib being the most stunningly obvious, but he also says many other things where it is hard to know if they really are true. As he said himself on Fresh Air, he has been playing chicken-licken about a US attack on Iran for a long time now, but despite all his warnings of covert ops teams 'in country' and advance war planning, the sky still has fallen on our heads - perhaps it is just an acorn after all. In this sense his high level sources are both his strength and weakness; his strength because he is told things no one else is, but his weakness because all these insiders stay anonymous and the reader is left to trust him and the (famously stringent) fact checkers of the New Yorker who are told who his sources are, to be certain amongst all their agendas they are still telling him the truth.

Also on some rather specific issues that I actually know a little about, he either doesn't quite have all his facts in order, or more likely, he lets a good story steam roller the nuance. For example on OpenSource he was talking about US covert support for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Syria, saying this was ironic because the Brotherhood was in the past "very violent" including assassinating Sadat. This is actually mixing various different things up. The MB in Syria has had a violent history staging an armed insurrection against the (immensely oppressive in its own right) Assad regime in the early 80s. This insurgency was crushed by the government, culminating in the Hama massacre of 1982 where the government killed anything up to 25,000 whist razing the city of Hama. The original MB in Egypt have dabbled in violence in the past, but it has never been mainstream since, if I remember correctly the 1950s. It is a fundamentalist, Islamist group that has an ideology that is incompatible with universal human rights, but it is a political party working through the political system. Brothers in Egypt have tended to leave the main MB and set up smaller, more radical groups after becoming frustrated by the Brotherhood's pursuit of non-violent methods aimed at Islamizing the society and state. Sadat was murdered by Islamic Jihad, not by the MB, and the Egyptian situation is only tangentially linked to the Syrian situation. On top of that, we are talking about events from over 20 years ago. That's all quite a mouthful to explain in a soundbite on a radio programme, but Hersh didn't really try, rather going for the cheap(-ish) political point.

The most interesting point I think from his New Yorker article, which he emphasized on both radio appearances, is that there are radical Jihadi groups in Lebanon, and that Lebanese government is actively conniving with them because their number one target is Hezbollah. Additionally he says that the US government know this and supports the policy as they see Hezbollah as the greater threat. For anyone who doesn't get this, it's simply because Hezb are Shiite, whilst the Jihadis are Sunni and see the Shiites as a threat - shades of the Iraqi civil war of course. One of the best open source analysts of Jihadi discourse, Dr. Reuven Paz at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Israel, wrote a very interesting paper on what the Jihadis were saying about Hezbollah last summer, which the following quote sums up:
"Hizballah was permanently named “Hizb al-Shaytan” (Party of the Devil) or “Hizb allat,” after the pre-Islamic idol of the Arabs in Mecca. Hasan Nasrallah was named only Hasan Nasr, in order not to add Allah to his name."(p.7)
This makes Hersh's assertion, including that Nasrallah believes the jihadis present a greater risk to his personal security than the Israelis, easier to believe. Another irony though that he fails to mentions is the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni organisation, came out in support of Hezbollah last summer, to the anger of the Egyptian government, who were very quietly hoping for an Israeli victory, as well as against the salafi-Jihadis to whom some commentators often try and associate the MB.


KGS said...

Hi Toby,
I am interested with what you say, and especially concerning the relationship between the MB and and Nasrallah and subsequently with Hezbollah's Iranian patrons as well.

Interestingly enough, Rueven Paz recently stated in Meria article 2/7 March 2007, that:

"Yet there is also another trend among the Islamists, which might ultimately bring the Muslim Brotherhood closer to Iran. Remember that Hamas is the only Muslim Brotherhood group involved in systematic warfare. In some Brotherhood groups outside of Egypt--notably in Syria and Jordan--there are indications that the doctrine of Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is being accepted. They are not accepting his rule by the clerics but rather his anti-imperialist, anti-Western doctrines as a continuation of the Brotherhood's founder, Hasan al-Bana, and its chief ideologist, Sayyid Qutb."

Paz's analysis mitigates somewhat Seymour Hersh's claims of the 'hypothetical courting' taking place between the Lebanese government and jihadist's, to help offset the Hezbollah.

If the MB is indeed overlooking the religious difficulties that exist between the Shi'ia and the Sunni, it means that if the Lebanese gov't is trying to court some jihadists, their numbers have been greatly reduced due to the new found cooperation between the MB and Iran.

Who are these jihadists, what are their numbers and clout if their agenda clashes with the MB whose numbers and clout far outweigh any other single group.

Why would Siniora's gov't risk throwing their weight behind such a marginalized miniscule group? Has Hersh's analysis "nose dived" on this front as well?

This is of course all conjecture/speculation on my part as well.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Siniora's govt. is a coalition of rightwing (in some cases neo-fascist in leaning) Christian groupings and Sunni backed by Saudi Arabia. If they are turning a blind eye to jihadi groups, it is only the same as Western backing for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan - my enemy's enemy is my friend. This is shortsighted of course, but they don't have so many cards to play. They are also turning a blind eye to the rearming of some of the notorious Christian militias, particularly seeing that it Hairi jr. that got Geagea out of jail.

The Muslim Brotherhood (and we're talking Egypt here as they are the original and most important) is a political party looking for mass support. They smelt the way the wind was blowing last summer, weighed the cost of annoying the Mubarak regime (more repression, but with Washington backing rapidly away from its democratisation policy they perhaps didn't have much to lose) against the clear sympathy of the majority of Egyptian population for Hezbollah, and chucked their lot in with what looked like the winning team. I don't think its anything more than the MB counting votes. Cynical perhaps, but not sinister - that's what political parties do. Reuven probably has a point on a flexible, secular (or at least non-denominational) section of Khomeini's ideology, but there is also a significant push factor as well on political Islamists towards Iran. This is simply that their own governments - what Washington is calling the "moderate Muslim states" - keep repressing them, and siding in their eyes with the US and Israel against Iran. Iran/Hezbollah end up being seen as the only people standing up for the Ummah.