By the time he arrived for his fifth wedding in 1975, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin had murdered tens of thousands of his citizens, including scores of generals, politicians and judges, besides expelling more than 50,000 Asians and thus leading his economy to ruin.
The wedding, part of a flamboyant, unpredictable and ruthless strongman’s eight eventful years in power, has long been forgotten and would not be relevant now but for Amin’s choice for best man, who gladly accepted the dubious role: Yasser Arafat.
The friendship with the East African butcher was but a link in a chain of catastrophic choices of allies that animated the Palestinians’ failure to achieve their goals.
Now, what began in the 1930s and continued to the Cold War and its aftermath is approaching a new height, as the Palestinian leadership flirts with the Islamist scourge just when it becomes global enemy No. 1.
The poor choice of allies began when Haj Amin al-Husseini threw in his lot with Nazi Germany. His mistake had three tiers: the moral, the public and the political. Morally, Husseini questioned none of the racist tenets and totalitarian plans for which the Nazis were notorious from their movement’s inception; on the public sphere, he failed to consider the repercussions of siding with a cause that was repulsive to millions, including some of the world’s richest and strongest countries; and politically, he failed to predict his ally’s defeat.
The results of this choice were horrendous, not only because many throughout the victorious West now associated the Palestinian cause with its disgraced ally’s record, and not only because this alliance contributed to the Soviet decision to back Israel’s establishment, but because it left the Palestinians identified with defeat.
Even so, Husseini’s successors, as if eager to demonstrate they had forgotten nothing and learned nothing, soon repeated his mistake by spending the Cold War on the wrong side of the future.
Palestinian fighters trained in East German camps, Palestinian diplomats plotted anti-Israeli motions with their Soviet peers, and Palestinian students were indoctrinated in Moscow by Soviet propagandists.
Like the Palestinians’ previous strategic alliance, this one also unfolded on the moral, public and political plains, and it, too, ended in calamity.
Morally, Palestinian leaders remained silent when their allies mowed down thousands of freedom fighters in Budapest, crushed the Prague Spring, and let dissidents on the scale of Andrei Sakharov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Vaclav Havel rot in jail. Publicly, this Palestinian choice made its leaders lose the respect of the popular luminaries who were fighting tyranny. And politically, when the Berlin Wall fell and the Eastern Bloc vanished, the Palestinians understood they had been in bed with the Cold War’s losers.
The Cold War had hardly ended when the syndrome repeated itself following Iraq’s conquest of Kuwait.
Faced with an alliance of 33 countries including NATO, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and three armies from the former Eastern Bloc, Yasser Arafat failed to understand where history was headed and threw in his lot with Saddam Hussein.
Again, the strategic fiasco unfolded on its three familiar plains: Morally, the Palestinians identified with a bully who, unprovoked, invaded a small and defenseless neighbor, after having previously gassed thousands of his own citizens. Publicly, the Palestinians were now seen by millions of Arabs as adversaries out to split the Arab world. And politically, the Palestinians ended up, again, on the loser’s side, a position that left them so splendidly isolated that it took the Oslo Accords to restore their international legitimacy.
It was against this backdrop that the Palestinians, having flirted along the decades with German fascism, Soviet imperialism, African totalitarianism, and Saddam’s chauvinism, were this fall called to shape a strategy vis-à-vis Islamism. Considering recent weeks’ events, the current Palestinian leadership seems set to follow in its predecessors’ footsteps.
THIS WEEK’S drama in Paris and the downing of a Russian civilian flight above Sinai last month have sealed Islamism’s status as the rest of the world’s common enemy. No single idea has been in this position since Nazism.
Communism, by contrast, had a democratic version.
There were legitimate and strong Communist parties in France and Italy that were critical of Soviet oppression, upheld freedom, and sincerely preached humanism.
There is no Islamist equivalent of this, because Islamism is by definition about its violent imposition on the rest of the world through an apocalypse whose horsemen are now evidently deployed, equipped and eager to act.
There was a time when this quest seemed to many governments as an exoticism at best, an irritant at worst. Not anymore. Last weekend’s bloodshed and the subsequent succession of bomb scares, rerouted flights and canceled sports events have finally convinced civilization that it has an enemy, and that the enemy will settle for nothing less than all-out war.
Islamism has overplayed its hand. The sense of insecurity, grief and wrath that has befallen Paris after its trademark glee and light were disrupted by gunfire and commando raids has traveled far and wide. From Paris, London and Washington to Canberra, Beijing, and Moscow, Islamism’s preachers and followers now loom as the most immediate, potent and ubiquitous threat to world peace.
This does not necessarily mean that the war on Islamism will be swift, cheap or efficient, or that its allies will join it simultaneously and in similar force.
Like the alliance that defeated fascism, the anti-Islamist alliance will likely take more bloodshed before it is fully assembled and unleashed. Even so, as French President Francois Hollande prepares to visit the White House and the Kremlin in order to coordinate anti-Islamist action, it is clear that Islamism’s enmity, and the need to eradicate it, have this week become the rest of the world’s consensus and most urgent concern.
BY SHEER coincidence the drama in France unfolded the morning after Palestinian leaders dusted the religious themes with which Husseini fueled their cause more than 80 years ago.
Historians will wonder whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas led or joined this fall’s psychosis surrounding Jerusalem’s holy places. There will be no debating his basking in the fires of religious war that Islamism’s local agitators had worked hard to spark.
Who the original agitators were has been clear all along. They were the Islamist Movement’s northern branch and its leader, Raed Salah. What was not clear was that the government’s outlawing this week of the Northern Branch would pass unopposed by a dumbfounded West.
With France declaring a state of emergency while licking Islamism’s wounds, this fall’s violence here suddenly emerged as what it really is – a sideshow in a much larger war, whose main fronts are elsewhere and whose real cause is not Israel but the entire world.
For years, Abbas tried to keep above the Islamist fray, even after the Islamists robbed him of Gaza; even after his Islamist nemesis, Hamas, was expelled from Damascus for its backing of the Sunni uprising there.
This fall, however, the Soviet-trained historian decided to smoke the opium of the masses.
Underscored by his statement that Israelis are “desecrating al-Aksa with their dirty feet,” Abbas responded to recent weeks’ Islamist mayhem by saluting its bloodshed and fanning its vitriol. In joining the canard that Israel is after Islam’s holy sites, and in libeling Israel for “executing” pedestrians’ stabbers who in fact are clones of the gunmen from the Bataclan theater, Abbas climbed the Islamist tiger moments before it stormed the rest of the world.
Abbas doesn’t get it and neither do the Israeli-Arab leaders who now rally behind the newly outlawed northern branch. Yet in following Islamism’s lead, they are hinging their cause to what civilization is now out to fight.
For Abbas, it is too late. He has now arrived where Arafat did when he positioned himself as Soviet imperialism’s trusted stooge, Saddam Hussein’s last friend, and Idi Amin’s best man.
It is not too late for Abbas’s potential successors. If they can’t bring themselves to confront the Islamists in their midst on moral grounds, they should at least consider the public-relations fiasco and political dead end where their current leaders’ Islamist misadventure inevitably leads.
If Abbas’s would-be heirs are prepared to part with previous Palestinian leaders’ catastrophic alliances, they would tell their people what the Israeli majority tells its own crop of religious fanatics: Keep God out of this.