Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Malaysia's Policies not Israel-Friendly

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
On Dec. 25, the Malaysian government announced that it had accepted the withdrawal of two Israeli windsurfers from the International Sailing Federation world youth sailing championships, due to begin two days later. 

Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said that Malaysia, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, “is guided by the existing policy of the Malaysian government.” 

The athletes had rejected demands which would have forbidden them from carrying Israel’s flag or wearing any symbol on their attire and surfboards showing their country of origin.

These kinds of incidents have been par for the course for decades. But why this animosity towards a far-off state with which Malaysia has little contact? 

This has to be seen in the wider context of Malaysian politics, which is bound up with deep ethnic and religious divides between the Muslim Malays, 60 per cent of the population, and the minority Chinese and Indian communities. 

Malaysia is a federation of 13 states, nine of which have Muslim sultans who take turns to occupy the post of king for the country. Islam is the official religion and Muslims are governed by sharia law, while the other ethnic groups practice non-Islamic faiths such as Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Malaysia has a long history of tensions over issues ranging from dietary differences to the economic preferences enshrined in Malaysian law for the Malay Muslim majority, and these issues have sometimes spilled over into violence.

Malaysia’s ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), has governed the country in a coalition known as the Barisan Nasional since independence but nearly lost power in the May 2013 general election to an alliance that included the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).  

To fend off extremists, the government has encouraged, facilitated, and enhanced the role of the Islamic religious establishment in Malaysian society.

But now there are worrying signs that the sort of ideology that fuels jihadi violence in the Middle East is reaching Malaysia, especially in the wake of recent efforts by PAS to implement hudud in Kelantan, a state which it governs. It is the sharia law that provides penalties such as amputation of limbs for theft and stoning to death for adultery. 

In September 2014, militants from Malaysia and neighbouring Indonesia fighting in Syria formed a military unit for Malay-speaking Islamic State fighters. Unofficial guesses are that as many as 400 have left for the Middle East although some put the figure as high as 1,000.

The ruling UMNO fears that PAS may outflank it among devout Muslims, so attacking Israel helps it retain its loyalists. Support for the Palestinians in the Middle East conflict appeals to the Malay Muslim electorate. 

Malaysia’s current prime minister, Najib Razak, has reiterated Malaysia’s strong support for the Palestinian cause, and visited Hamas-ruled Gaza in January 2013.

Might things eventually improve? There was one hopeful note recently: In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last Oct. 1, Najib called for the “dawn of a much needed revised relationship between Muslims and Jews.” 

He quoted the Torah in his speech, and also met with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s a start.

Monday, December 28, 2015

South Korea's Development State

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer  
The term “Asian Tigers” refers to the highly developed free-market economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. They have become major players in world trade.

South Korea’s export-driven economic growth, involving rapid industrialization and technological achievement, was accompanied by a democratization that transformed the country from the destruction of the Korean War of 1950-1953 to a wealthy country with a global economy. Its gross domestic product (GDP) of $1.393 trillion ranks eleventh in the world.

The country’s ruling elite developed a trading state strategy, one where bureaucrats would collaborate with organized private sectors to spur national economic transformation, in a symbiosis known as managed capitalism.

South Korea needed to become economically strong, as it was a fragment of a larger whole and feared a long-term rival to its north.
South Korea (officially, the Republic of Korea) is the southern half of the Korean peninsula, confronting Communist North Korea, after the country was partitioned at the 38th parallel after the Second World War.

It had authoritarian regimes during its early years, as it faced military threats from its neighbour and was only saved from being vanquished by its alliance with the United States.

Syngman Rhee ruled South Korea until 1960. He enacted laws that curtailed political dissent, arrested leftist opponents, and was even responsible for assassinations of political rivals.

But since the country also needed to become economically viable, it invested in education, health care, and social welfare, as well as weaponry.
Confucian social organization is deeply embedded in South Korea, though many people are Buddhists or Christians. The nation is seen as a large family with people respecting their obligations to each other. This has created a strong sense of patriotism.

With high literacy rates, low economic inequality, and ethnic homogeneity, the country faced less risk that its development and distribution of wealth would only serve the interests of a few.

The relative equality of income meant that nation would not turn into an oligarchy or kleptocracy.

During the 1970s, the Park Chung-hee regime that followed Syngman Rhee offered substantial support from the state to the industrial conglomerates, known as chaebol, in order to promote expansion.

He said he wanted to make the country “rich and strong,” as part of a project of “national restoration.”

Park channeled credit and subsidies to technologically innovative firms which have become world leaders and household names, such as Hyundai and Samsung.

By the 1980s, South Korea had become economically successful and more secure militarily. The well educated and increasingly comfortable population wanted a greater voice in government.

By the early 1980s civil society groups including Catholic and Protestant church groups, student organizations, white collar workers, and trade unions, began to demand greater freedom. Economic development had reconfigured social forces and gradually constrained military rule. Martial law ended in 1981.

The presidential election in 1987, won by Roh Tae-woo of the Democratic Liberal Party, the promulgation of a democratic constitution, and the National Assembly election in 1988, all consolidated the transition to democracy.

Roh oversaw crucial political reforms, including greater freedom of the press, tolerance of political opposition, and decentralization of government.
Kim Young-sam, president from 1993 to 1998, purged politicized generals and introduced a landmark reform aimed at transparency in financial transactions.

The current president, Park Geun-hye, elected in 2012, is the leader of the Conservative Saenuri (New Frontier) Party. She has shown a greater commitment to dialogue with nuclear-armed North Korea than her immediate predecessor, Lee Myung-bak.

Her “Trustpolitik” has suggested a flexible approach that emphasizes cooperation if Pyongyang keeps its agreements with South Korea but “assured consequences” if it breaks the peace.

Korea was a Japanese colony from 1910 until the end of the Second World War and anti-Japanese sentiment remains strong. However, some political forces have adopted more pragmatic approaches in order to improve bilateral relations.

A strong commitment to development and democracy is a necessary feature of strong and cohesive states. South Korea is an excellent example.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Taiwan's Economic and Political Progress

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Taiwan is one of the “Asian Tigers,” the term that refers to the highly developed free-market economies of East Asia.

The island of 23.5 million people has a developed capitalist economy, one that eventually propelled this former Japanese colony, and later the remnant of non-Communist China, into a major industrial state and trading partner. Its gross domestic product (GDP) of $529.6 million ranks it 26th in the world.

The island runs a trade surplus and its foreign reserves are the world’s fifth largest, behind those of China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Switzerland.

Taiwan (officially, the Republic of China) was all that remained of Chiang Kai-shek’s former Nationalist regime on the Chinese mainland, following its defeat by the Communists in 1949. This led to the evacuation of the Kuomintang (KMT) government across the Taiwan Strait to the island, along with about two million refugees.

Chiang’s authoritarian regime dominated the country during its early years, and it was only saved from conquest from the Communists on the mainland by the protection provided by the United States.

Realizing the necessity to develop, the Nationalist regime on Taiwan instituted rapid and sustained economic development. Foreign trade has been the engine of Taiwan’s rapid growth during the past 40 years and has provided the primary impetus for industrialization.

By the 1980s, Taiwan had become economically successful. The island prospered and became one of East Asia’s economic “Tigers.” Its people now demanded greater freedoms, which would lead to an eventual transition to democracy.

The Chinese who had fled to Taiwan when the Communists took power on the mainland dominated island politics until the end of martial law in 1987. Though Chiang Kai-shek died in 1975, his son Chiang Ching-kuo had succeeded him.

A cautious policy of liberalization was instituted. Taiwanese make up 84 percent of the population, with mainland Chinese and their descendants 14 per cent, and indigenous peoples two per cent.

By 1986 new political parties, including the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), were able to organize to oppose the KMT.

Chiang died in 1988, succeeded by Taiwan-born Lee Teng-hui. Free elections, in which Lee beat the DPP’s Peng Min-ming, were held in 1996.

In 2000, the country underwent its first peaceful transfer of power from the KMT to the DPP. Its candidate Chen Shui-bian was elected president, ending the KMT’s 50-year monopoly of power. He tried to strengthen a Taiwan-focused consciousness.

Taiwan since 2008 is again governed by the KMT, under current President Ma Ying-jeou, who won re-election in 2012, with 51.6 per cent of the vote, beating Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP, who received 45.6 per cent.

The 2012 parliamentary election for the 113-seat unicameral legislature gave the KMT 64 seats, the DPP 40, and minor parties nine seats.

Mainland China is determined to absorb Taiwan and is using soft power by increasing trade and tourism between the two states. China offers business deals to Taiwan in the expectation that the island will become enmeshed in its enormous economy.

In this they have found an ally in Ma, who is trying to create closer economic ties with China. Taiwan since 2009 has gradually loosened rules governing Chinese investment on the island and has also secured greater market access for its investors in the mainland.

A free trade deal was signed in 2010. Taiwanese exporters supported its passage despite opposition from Taiwanese distrustful of China’s political ambitions.

Two-way trade between Taiwan and the mainland passed $130 billion for the first time in 2014 and China is now Taiwan’s main trade partner.

In 2014, Taiwanese protestors, dubbed the Sunflower Movement, occupied parliament to express their concerns about their local identity.

Taiwan holds it next presidential election in January 2016, with Eric Chu, the KMT presidential candidate, facing Tsai Ing-wen for the DPP.

Beijing policymakers would much rather see victory for the China-friendly KMT than for the DPP, which takes a more cautious stance on relations with China and is more amenable to the idea of Taiwanese independence.

So while closer economic links with the mainland bring greater opportunities for Taiwan’s economy, they also pose new challenges as the island becomes more economically dependent on China at a time when political differences remain unresolved. China passed a law in 2005 approving the use of force if Taiwan formally declared independence.

Monday, December 14, 2015

India and Israel: Similar Paths

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
India and Israel have had remarkably similar political trajectories since their formation in the mid-twentieth century.

Both were born of partition and the transfer of populations, and both were immediately plunged into war. Both were founded by left-wing secular intellectuals, who became the respective face of their country, and both were governed by secular social democratic parties for the following three decades.

In both nations, the intensification of religiously-based nationalism, a consequence of ongoing feuds with hostile neighbours, has led to rule by parties of the right, supported by devout members of their respective majority faiths. 

As well, in both, interventionist state involvement in the economy in order to facilitate social change has given way to free market capitalism.

The British Indian Empire achieved independence in 1947 through the partition of the subcontinent, one based on religious identity, leading to the creation of a Muslim Pakistan and an India overwhelmingly Hindu in population.

One year later, Britain’s mandate over Palestine came to an end, and a UN-supported plan to create an Arab and Jewish state was supposed to come into effect. Though the Jewish state became Israel, for a variety of reasons no Palestinian Arab state emerged, its territories instead attached to Egypt and Jordan.

There was in both cases massive displacement of populations. The partition of India led to more than one million deaths due to communal violence. Millions of Hindu and Sikh refugees moved from the new Pakistan to India, while millions of Muslims left India for Pakistan. Upwards of 18 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were uprooted.

In Palestine, ensuing warfare resulted in the majority of Arabs leaving the new Jewish state. Around 700,000 fled or were expelled. An equivalent number of Jews from the Arab Middle East and North Africa relocated to Israel over the next few decades.

India and Pakistan almost immediately fought a war over Kashmir, a disputed territory in the northwest. Pakistan claimed it due to its Muslim majority, while for India it was to be symbolic of the country’s secular, non-communitarian nature.

Israel was invaded by its Arab neighbours Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, who sought to strangle the new nation at birth, but it not only survived but gained territory.

India has fought major wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. Israel has defeated Arab states in 1956, 1967 and 1973. Apart from these conflicts there have been numerous border clashes and other hostilities.

Their first prime ministers were men of the left long active in their respective nationalist movements. Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of the Indian National Congress, would govern the country until his death in 1964, while in Israel, David Ben-Gurion, head of the labour party known as Mapai, was in office until 1963. He died ten years later.

The dynasties they built outlasted them until the spring of 1977. Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s daughter, lost power to the Janata Party, while Israel’s Labour Party under Yitzhak Rabin was defeated by Menachem Begin’s Likud.

Although each leftist party has since at times regained power, neither exercises the ideological hegemony it once enjoyed. Their defeats marked a watershed in the manner in which each country is depicted.

Today, India’s governing party is the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm, while in Israel Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu heads a coalition of right wing and Orthodox Jewish religious movements.

India and Israel are both nuclear powers with strong militaries, but they face aggressive adversaries in Pakistan and Iran, who also already have, or may be developing, such weapons.

For the BJP and the Likud, only Hindus and Jews are, respectively, true Indians and Israelis. Members of each country’s large minority population – 14.2 per cent Muslim in India and 20.7 per cent Arab in Israel – in consequence feel less secure about their futures. 

Each of these groups was once part of the respective Muslim Mughal and Ottoman empires that ruled India and Palestine but are now reduced to minority status amongst Hindus and Jews, their former subjects. 

So Indian Muslims and Israeli Arabs, though not deprived of civil and political rights, are viewed with a certain amount of suspicion. Hindu and Jewish nationalists see each group as a potential internal enemy, especially as they have ethno-religious compatriots in neighbouring states. 

The minorities are seen as being inimical to each country’s security, and in both, violence between them and the majority population worsens.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Mali Attacks Tied to French Role

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
France was in a sense attacked twice this fall, because apart from the horrific massacre in Paris on Nov. 13, the jihadi attack one week later on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, the capital of the former French colony of Mali in northern Africa, was also to a large extent aimed at the French.

The posh establishment is in an upscale neighbourhood, frequented by many westerners. Aid workers, diplomats and United Nations officials -- not to mention Air France flight crews -- all stay there.

The hotel was, ironically, hosting meetings meant to stabilize the country’s volatile north. Peace negotiations have been dragging on between the central government and northern separatist groups for more than two years in an effort to end the disputes that turned large sections of the country into a haven for radical Islamic militants.

 “The attack was targeting the peace agreement,” said Sidi Brahim Ould Sidati, a representative of the Coordination of Azawad Movements, a coalition of groups that include ethnic Arabs and Tuaregs seeking autonomy in northern Mali.

They killed 20 people, including six Russians, three Chinese, two Belgians, an American and an Israeli. 

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its affiliate, al-Mourabitoun, have said they were responsible for the attack. Al-Mourabitoun, a group located in northern Mali and made up mostly of Tuaregs and Arabs, was formed around two years ago and is headed by former al-Qaeda fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian.

Al-Mourabitoun has claimed responsibility for the death of five people last March in an attack on a restaurant in Bamako; a suicide attack on a group of UN peacekeepers in northern Mali in April in which at least three people died; and an attack on a hotel in Sévaré in central Mali in August in which 17 people were killed.

Jihadis controlled the northern two-thirds of the vast country for a time. Though secular separatist groups first wrested northern Mali, an area known as Azawad, from the government in March 2012, using weapons looted from arsenals in neighbouring Libya, they were soon overtaken by al-Qaeda-allied radicals.

France intervened in January 2013. That lightning operation succeeded in breaking their grip on northern Mali and liberating more than a million people from their rule.

But Operation Serval, as the French intervention was called, didn’t end the terrorist threat.  The African Union and UN forces that largely replaced French troops in much of the country have been less effective.

A new group, the Macina Liberation Front, came to prominence in January 2015, when it began claiming responsibility for attacks in central and southern Mali. Led by the radical Muslim cleric Amadou Koufa, a strong proponent of strict Islamic law in Mali, it draws most of its support from the Fulani ethnic group, who are found across the Sahel region of Africa.

Koufa is a close ally of Tuareg jihadist Iyad Ag Ghali, who leads the powerful group Ansar Dine. It implemented Sharia law in towns it captured during the 2012 uprising, including the ancient city of Timbuktu. Ghali had recently called for attacks on France and its interests in Mali.
France now has 3,500 forces operating in the Sahel as part of an anti-terror operation known as Operation Barkhane. Established in August 2014, it is targeting five former French colonies -- Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Niger and Mali. 

In response to the latest attack, France has now deployed its Special Forces unit to Bamako, including the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN) that was involved in countering the recent Paris attacks.

The timing of the Bamako attack could have been an attempt by AQIM and its allies to assert its relevance following the Paris attacks by the rival Islamic State group that killed 130 people a week earlier.

In what was perhaps a follow-up, a United Nations peacekeeping base in Kidal in northern Mali was attacked on Nov. 28, killing three people. They were part of the 10,000-person UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. Ansar Dine claimed responsibility.

Friday, December 04, 2015

The Real Roots of Terrorism in Europe

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press

We’ve long ago lost count of the number of atrocities that have killed thousands and thousands of people since 9/11. According to one estimate, there have been over 27,000 attacks globally connected to Islamists since 9/11, or more than 5 per day.

Modern Islamist-organized terrorism has been ongoing since at least 1979, when the mullahs took power in Iran. Since then, numerous groups, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al-Qaeda, and many others, have wreaked havoc in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

The horrors of Nov. 13-14 in Paris are only the latest example.

Yet we refuse to condemn the cultures underlying these mass murders, pretending that the perpetrators, even if allied to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (ISIS), are just fringe criminals with disordered minds, just aberrations. Why is this?

Theorists like Frantz Fanon, Edward Said and their ilk have done their work well: they instilled in western liberal elites, who now govern European and North American countries, a guilt complex so deep about their historic imperialist transgressions against the rest of the world, that these politicians will now not even properly defend their nations against the existential threats that face them.

After all, the ideological cults of diversity and multiculturalism, born of a non-critical relativism, forbid us to acknowledge this “elephant in the room.” Indeed, thanks to ideologues such as Fanon and Said, we even have to acclaim them as in many superior to western cultures.

Born in Martinique, a French Caribbean colony, Fanon’s influential 1961 book Les Damnés de la Terre (The Wretched of the Earth) was an analysis of the dehumanising effects of imperialism on people in the Third World. 

Written during the brutal Algerian war to overthrow French rule, Fanon’s advocacy of justified violence by the colonized people against the foreign colonizer was seen as necessary for their mental health and political liberation. 

A psychiatrist, he maintained that murderous violence was “therapeutic” for Third World peoples. The book became required reading among generations of revolutionaries.

Said’s Orientalism, an even more seminal work, published in 1978, virtually created the academic field of “post-colonial studies.” A Palestinian by birth, his work has become a bible among those wishing to destroy Israel.

Said defined orientalism as a “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arab-Islamic peoples and their culture,” a prejudice derived from Western representations that reduces non-western peoples to irrational so-called “others.” Such cultural depictions dominate the discourse of peoples in Europe and North America towards the rest of non-white the world.

Bernard Henri-Levy pointed out in his 2008 book, Left in Dark Times, that the new form of barbarism in the 21st century is the partnership that has emerged between western leftists and Islamists. What unites them is their hatred of western civilization, Israel, and individual liberty. 

Imagine letting in millions of people of the same culture as those already terrorizing Europe. Indeed, political correctness has led to the absurd situation whereby one can’t even say such things out loud -- as if Winston Churchill had put you, rather than British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, in jail during the war for criticizing Nazi Germany.

As refugees pour into Europe, there is no doubt that some will turn out to be potential terrorists who support the Islamic State. There are already Belgian, French and German urban areas which are known as hotbeds of radicalism.

Fears of ISIS sleeper agents posing as refugees to slip into western countries is now a reality. There have already been calls in some European countries to tighten the flow of asylum seekers as a result of the Paris attacks. But Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, rejects the idea.

Nonetheless, the European Union is coming under severe strain. Maintaining European adherence to the Schengen agreement, which guarantees open borders across much of the continent – 22 EU countries, plus four others – will become more difficult. France, the Netherlands and Spain tightened their border controls after the Paris attacks.

So be prepared to see massive zeitgeist shifts and start reading another significant work, Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, published in 1996. 

Huntington contended that, with the end of the Cold War, the primary axis of conflict in the future would be along cultural and religious lines. So far little has proved him wrong.