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September 3, 2009

Eric Margolis' American Raj: liberation or domination

Dr. Qais Ghanem

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American Raj: liberation or domination Author: Eric Margolis Publisher: Key Porter books Number of pages: 400

The book comes in 15 chapters which deal with trouble spots all over the world, mainly of course involving the Middle East and Muslim countries in general. 

It starts by talking about the earlier struggles of Muslims to establish their independence.  This is done extremely well in my opinion, having studied that history, even as I was growing up and attending school.

A chapter of about 30 pages dedicated to the problem of Palestine which Mr. Margolis stresses as a major cause of conflict.

Other chapters which are extremely well done are on Afghanistan, Iran, Chechnya, Kosovo and the Balkans.  There is also a thorough and long chapter on the problems in Lebanon and an excellent chapter on Iraq.

It becomes clear as you read the book that Eric Margolis is quite familiar with the history, the customs and perhaps the languages spoken in these countries.  He deals with different groups of people in a very open-minded manner. 

For example, when he talks about Hamas and Hezbollah, he stresses the fact that these two organizations distinguished themselves from Arab governments by a establishing a reputation for honesty and public service.

On this subject he states "after of the highly destructive Israeli bombing in the brief 2006 war, Hezbollah astounded everyone by swiftly setting about rebuilding of shattered buildings and bridges, cleaning up rubble and caring for homeless civilians while in the US-backed regime in Beirut dithered and did nothing."

The author is very familiar with the Arab regimes in the area.  He points out that however harsh Israel’s repression and torture of rebellious Palestinians, many of them would likely opt for an Israeli prison rather than one of Algeria's nightmarish prisons or Egypt's torture mills. He adds "in a sad commentary on human nature, it has been this writer’s observation when covering 14 wars and civil conflicts that people would fight to the death against oppression and abuse by foreigners but seem to accept exactly the same kind of mistreatment from their own co-citizens."

In this chapter, Mr. Margolis reminds us of a statement by Bin Laden, where he says that the liberation of Palestine begins in Cairo and Rabat and Amman and Jeddah.

The author frequently refers to double standards.  For example he points out that when the African National Congress bombed cafés and burger bars frequented by whites in South Africa, there was no international condemnation of these crimes yet when they were foolishly duplicated by Palestinians, the world was quick to denounce them as acts of terrorism.

Another example is the fact that Winston Churchill authorized the Royal Air Force to use poisonous mustard gas against rebellious Kurdish tribes, but eight decades later Tony Blair would brand Saddam Hussein a monster and war criminal for doing to the Kurds precisely what Churchill had done. 

Mr. Margolis clearly addresses the issue of the pro-Israeli lobby.  For example, he points out that Israel’s American supporters had learned the lesson of 1956 when Washington ordered the Jewish State out of Sinai, and how in the ensuing five decades they had come to dominate and guide American Middle East policy and exercise a veto over it. He adds that no one in Washington cared or dared to stand up to the Israel lobby.

Throughout the book Mr. Margolis makes numerous appropriate comparisons of situations involving the Muslim world as compared to other parts of the world.  When he talks about Osama bin Laden, he points out that the few experts on the region that read bin Laden's declaration of war dismissed it as the ravings of an obscure Islamic leader. 

He further points out that a half century earlier Sir Winston Churchill had also dismissed another world shaker of things, India's Mahatma Gandhi whom he called a half naked fakir. 

The author does not promote the idea of what has been called the conspiracy theory about 9/11, but it does remind us that 56% of all Americans, according to a poll done in September 2006, believed that the U. S. government was behind the attacks or had allowed them to happen.

The author also reminds us that in that Bin Laden denounced Saddam Hussein as a tyrant and apostate but this fact was covered up by the Bush administration in order to convince Americans that Saddam had conspired with Al Qaida to launch the 9/11 attacks. 

He also stresses that Bush and Blair had concocted a brazen war of aggression against Iraq behind a tissue of lies. 

It becomes clear as well that Mr. Margolis has met many of these major characters that feature prominently in the history of the Muslim world, including for example General Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto, Colonel Gaddafi as well as several prominent Afghans. 

In the chapter on Afghanistan the author is very clear about the non-validity of the election process which he calls an electoral charade.

Although Mr. Margolis is critical of many of the American characters involved in these conflicts in the Muslim world, he also admires some.  One of these is Major-General Fuller, believed to have said that military victories are meaningless unless they create the groundwork for ensuing favorable political settlements and that the object of war is peace, not military victory.  

From time to time Canada pops up discussion.  He points out how Canada had been an esteemed world leader, known as a provider of peacekeepers and consternation but it was widely discredited in the Muslim world after gradually being sucked into Afghanistan as a combatant, then into Iraq as a major provider of aid to its US-backed regime, spending billions of dollars on armaments at the time when Canadians could not get adequate care for their broken down medical system.

The chapter on Iran was thorough and enjoyable.  Once again double standards are mentioned here, when Washington believes that Iranians who staged attacks in occupied Iraq are terrorists whereas Iranian Marxists who staged attacks inside Iran are legitimate anti-government forces. 

Another double standard is the fact that the West is revolted by reports of stoning in some rural areas for certain crimes in rural Iran, whereas Saudi Arabia's public beheading goes largely unknown and unnoticed in the West. 

Mr. Margolis reminds us that the international atomic energy agency made over 2700 snap inspections in Iran and found no evidence of a weapons program. 

He refers to the fact that Washington keeps repeating that Iran has no need for nuclear power to generate energy, and yet during the Ford administration Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wulfowitz negotiated the sale of over 20 nuclear actors to the Shah of Iran. 

A new phrase that I learned by reading the book is “Muslim busters”, apparently used in American military circles for deep penetrating tactical nuclear weapons that are being developed. 

The chapter on Iran would be incomplete without referring to Mr. Ahmedinajad’s speech about Israel.  Mr. Margolis says "Western sources however mistranslated Ahmedinajad’s speech as calling for Israel's Jewish population to be wiped from the map. This purposeful error and invocation of the Holocaust unsurprisingly brought Jewish passions to a boiling point and intensified calls for war on Iran.” 

But he also reminds us that Iran has never launched a war of aggression in modern times.  He also states that Iran has a far more logical need for nuclear weapons for self-defence than France or Britain which are under the US nuclear umbrella.

In the chapter about Chechnya, a story which I found surprising was the fact that much of Russian war against the Chechens was secretly funded by cash from Washington laundered through a number of Russian businesses with underworld connections. 

President Clinton during a visit to Moscow apparently compared Yeltsin to Abraham Lincoln!  The author does not mince his words about the invasion by Russia of Chechnya which he says fits the United Nation’s definition of genocide.

The chapter on Bosnia is a harrowing one. He reminds us how entire villages were burnt and their inhabitants murdered; and that thousands of Muslim girls and women were gang-raped in a carefully calibrated atrocity designed to demolish Muslim morale. He also gives credit to Jewish groups in America who took a leading role in demanding that their governments stop Serbia's atrocities in Bosnia.

If you want a short but detailed history of the troubles in Lebanon, this is a good one. One fact mentioned, well known to Arabs, but perhaps not to others, is that of Arab treachery when King Hussein of Jordan “actually warned Israel’s prime minister Golda Meir, of the impending Arab surprise attack to regain territory lost in the 1967 war, even though Jordan was part of the coalition that was about to attack Israel.” He does not mention how many Jordanians lost their lives as a result of that warning.

Like with so many books I have read, the final chapter is the most illuminating and hopeful.

Margolis starts by reiterating the fact that the 9/11 hijackers did not do so because their hatred of America’s freedoms, but because of a desire to punish the US for its actions in Palestine and Saudi Arabia, a fact quickly obscured by the White House and media.

Still on Palestine, Margolis states that one of the neocons’ primary objectives in engineering the 2003 invasion of Iraq was to forestall the creation of a Palestinian state, and crush one of its leading proponents, Iraq.

Margolis says that Israel has relentlessly humiliated the Palestinians for the past 50 years, mentions well known derogatory statements about them such as “beasts walking on two legs”, and “cockroaches in a bottle.”

He suggests a South African-style truth commission. To the Arabs he says: “the best the Arabs can do is to marginalize their rejectionists,” and reminds us of the changes undergone by the most militant members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). But he also adds that Palestinians belonging to Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction are virtual extensions of the US State Department, and that Egypt is tacitly cooperating with Israel to keep the Palestinians caged up in the Gaza penal colony.

He refers to Arab puppets this way: “Their job is to take orders, say the right things, and hold on to power” citing Iraq’s Al-Maliki as an example. Later in the chapter he says: “One day the Arab League will have to begin assuring the Middle East’s stability and even its human rights.”

Margolis pokes fun at the American definition of ‘moderate’ when he says: “Husni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan were moderates in Washington’s lexicon, though there was hardly anything moderate about these two absolute rulers.”

On Afghanistan, the author advises us to stop demonizing and bombing the Pashtun Taliban and to bring them into the centre of the nation’s political process, because it is time for the west to admit that the Taliban had little or nothing to do with 9/11, and is not a terrorist organization.

A few weeks ago I heard British political analyst Tariq Ali say exactly the same thing during a lecture at the University of Ottawa, Canada. And speaking generally about Muslim resistance movements he says: “The US must avoid classifying every act of resistance by Muslims to wrongs and injustices as terrorism.”

I have always wondered why foreign policy is conducted by the Pentagon, rather than the State Department. It was reassuring to read Margolis saying that this should be reversed.

On the other hand, Margolis demands that Muslims respect other religions when he says: “Constraints on non-Islamic faiths in other Muslim nations must cease if the Muslim world is to demand decent treatment by the West.”

This is such a rich book that it would be difficult to review it in fewer paragraphs. For those who want to learn about the Muslim world today, I cannot think of a better text. For those who already know the Muslim world, reading this book should bring an enormous pleasure.

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