… what I’ve now come to call the “emo flu” that’s knocked me flat for the past 2 weeks. (For those of you out there I have a reading and signing at Book Soup on Sunset Blvd. at 7 pm on Thursday the 25th).
Meanwhile I must admit that I’m finding the transition to blogging somewhat more of an adjustment than I imagined. My girlfriend says that my life is more interesting than I give myself credit for and that the way to get over blogger’s block is to just tell people more about my various encounters on the rare occasions when I do leave my apartment.
And I have to admit the recent Muslim Brotherhood dinner was a great source of intriguing conversation. You may have read about the Muslim Brotherhood panel, an examination of the original radical Islamist group that was sponsored by NYU Law School’s Center on Law and Security. I’ve been impressed by the work of the Center and its director Karen Greenberg in bringing together a broad spectrum of speakers on subjects relevant to terrorism, counterterorism and civil liberties.
In this case, the Muslim Brotherhood panel was both well chosen and ill starred. Well chosen because of the important debate in the West over the place of the Muslim Brotherhood in radical Islam today, whether its founding figure, Sayd Qutb was the progenitor of the Al Qaeda ideology or whether the Brotherhood has chosen a different, militant but non terrorist path to their Islamist goals.
When I say the panel was ill-starred, it’s because at the last minute the two members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were to speak on the panel were in one way or another forbidden at the last minute from travel from Egypt and London to take part in the panel. The London based leader was actually pulled off an America bound flight at Heathrow a few minutes before take off, questioned by U.S. Homeland Security and denied re entry to his flight. (Michael Issikoff wrote about the incident on Newsweek online). Something about a visa problem, a security risk, it was all a little vague, but it seemed to me that hearing these people speak and evaluating them at close hand would have been an asset rather than a threat to US security.
But the panel went on, and although I had to miss much of it beause of a tv taping for my book, I’d been invited to the dinner afterward and found the conversation unusally provacative.
–Poltical theorists clashed over the question of whether the Muslim Brotherhood’s drive to institute sharia law was using democratic means (such as “reformist” campaigns in Egypt) to further the destruction of democratic institutions. Was radical Islamism definitively incompatible with democracy, if Sharia law was chosen by democratic means?
–An expert on the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden declared flatly he was in Pakistan.
–A discussion about Afghan poppy growing suppliers to the heroin trade concluded that U.S.crackdown policy was fatally misguided and has ended up punishing small farmers and enriching big traffickers.
–One expert who was instrumental in helping to write the new Afghani consitituion after the US invasion now has a sideline in manufacturing “essential oils” as he called them, made from the exotic flowers of the region, the kind used in New Age aroma therapy spas. (No blood for ylang-ylang oil!).
–An argument over whether we could believe Khalid Sheikh Muhammad’s confession to have personally severed the head of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan, even though KSM (as he’s familiarly known) was subjected to torture in his interrogation.
— An argumnent over the causse and the cost of winning the Cold War. Was the key to it all the over estimation of Soviet missile capabilities by the so called “Team B” analysts in the late 70s and early 80s (an analysis influenced by CIA masterspy James Angleton’s analysis of the alleged disinformation of alleged Soviet “false defectors”). An analysis that led to the US believing the Soveit Union was going for a first strike capability and leading us to a corresponding spending spree on MIRVed and MARVed missiles, not to mention Star Wars. A response that led the Soveit Union to the brink of economic collapse in trying to keep up, a situation that precipitated perestroika, reform and finally the collapse of the already precarious Soviet system. A collapse that may have been founded on an Angleton infuenced mistake, but which nonetheless may have won the Cold War.
Or was it the CIA’s aid to the radical Islamists fighting–and defeating–the Soviet military might in Afghanistan, a defeat which led to a concatenation of systemic failures the entire Soviet system never recovered from. But if the latter were true did the means to end the Cold War (supporting radical Islamists, of the bin Laden sort) generate the the disastrous consequences of the rise of al Qaeda, 9/11 and the ensuing War on Terror? Was it worth the price?
— Back tothe murder of Danny Pearl: was he truly onto something, was he singled out for murder because he was a Jew or because The Wall Street Journalmade a point, earlier that year of annnouncing that it had turned a computer found by one of its reporters that had once belonged to a radical Islamist over to the CIA, which made the paper’s reporters appear to Danny Pearl’s captors a franchise of the CIA? What is a paper’s responsibility when it comes into possession of a computer with potentially devastating information on it? Should it have made it’s cooperation public. Did it place its reporters on the ground in more peril than they knew.
–And a corollary question: how much of Bernard-Henri Levy’s book on the murder of Danny Pearl consisted of ground breaking research about the sinister activities of Pakistan’s Islamist controlled ISI intelignece ageny, and how much was his information suppled to him by the anti-Pakistani minded operatives of India’s spy agency?
–the nature of “Third Man” Kim Philby’s unhappiness and sense of betrayal in his final years in the Soviet Union, where he expected, as perhaps the greatest Soviet mole in espionage history, to be treated like a hero, but was rather, because of his betrayal of his former comrades, suspected by his new ones. The significance of the letter Philby wrote to Graham Greene reproving his old friend and defender for the grim portrait of a Philbyesque character Greene painted at the close of his great spy novel The Human Factor.
–how much of the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal was the product of so called white trash raunchiness and sexual perversity, and how much the culture of John Yoo-type constitutiomal polemics on presidential authority over the treatment of unconventional combatants in the war on terror?
Thinking back on it, that’s a lot of food for thought for one dinner My thanks to NYU’s Center on Law and Security for letting me attend and participate.