Mohamed Heikal, the Arab world's foremost political commentator, talks to the Guardian.
October 13, 2001 1:14 AM   Subscribe

Mohamed Heikal, the Arab world's foremost political commentator, talks to the Guardian. This comes from the secular Arab perspective. It is worth reading... Excerpt: When I hear Bush talking about al-Qaida as if it was Nazi Germany or the communist party of the Soviet Union, I laugh because I know what is there. Bin Laden has been under surveillance for years: every telephone call was monitored and al-Qaida has been penetrated by American intelligence, Pakistani intelligence, Saudi intelligence, Egyptian intelligence. They could not have kept secret an operation that required such a degree of organisation and sophistication."
posted by talos (42 comments total)
I've not heard of this man Heikal before, but he vindicates all of the uneasy voices I hear in my head whenever I see discussion or analysis of America's current approach.

I need some opposing viewpoints from some of the better-informed MeFites to ease my troubled little mind.
posted by dong_resin at 1:35 AM on October 13, 2001

I personally agree with Heikel that it wasn't Al Quaeda - the evidence just hasn't been there in the public domain, those 63 points were mostly other nasty things he's carried out, and the 5 relating to this were purely circumstantial.. My 2p..
posted by Mossy at 1:53 AM on October 13, 2001

If we have penetrated al qaida intelligence so well, then howcome we can't find Bin Laden? I don't really buy into that. There's no question that Al qaida isn't solely responsible, but please we can only do one at a time. He also though seems to acknowledge that the U.S. probably has a plan, and we're seeing the very early stages.

The main thing i take issue with these types of commentators is their view that the U.S. is somehow responsible for all their problems. Even more appalling was the claims that we are responsible for their oppresive governments. At certain points we were allied with various groups and helped bring them into power (often to fight a much greater threat). I just don't see why something like this has to be posted every hour. Right now we're allied with the Northern alliance, and in ten years whe they are corrupt and oppresive, people will have forgotten all about the taliban. To say that the U.S. is responsible for the fighting in the middle east is ridiculous when you look at the historical big picture. The Middle East has been plagued with war since the beginning of time, with religion being the recurring culprit.

I can see all the arguments coming from the left and right. It's the same old argument over and over....
posted by rabbit at 2:02 AM on October 13, 2001

doesn't matter if it was al-qaida or not. Al-qaida is a terrorist organization which had ties to the horrible events in Somalia, and the bombing of U.S. embassies, reason enough...
posted by rabbit at 2:06 AM on October 13, 2001

dong_resin: Heikal is indeed one of the most respected analysts on the Middle East. Easing your mind will probably be difficult if you are interested in the current crisis. (Soon I need a vacation myself...) The only thing you can do is read as much as possible, and check for sound arguments and good reasoning when people present conclusions. Never trust a journalist or academic completely: form your own opinion. Don't look for someone to rely on in commenting on the crisis. Beware of populism and especially beware of journalists who present their opinion on the wrong page (on the news-page instead of the opinion page).

Something that you might find useful: 17 tips on how to portray (and read about) a conflict.
posted by igor.boog at 2:07 AM on October 13, 2001

You should read this article in addition to the one posted, then decide if you can take this fellow seriously.
posted by bjgeiger at 2:14 AM on October 13, 2001

I just don't see why something like this has to be posted every hour.

I do see why something like this has to be posted. Clearly, many people are confused about who is guilty of what; Blair and Bush present information as clear evidence when it isn't; there is a lot of discussion about where the hatred for America comes from - with strong effects on the levels of tolerance both in the "West" and in the "Muslim world"; and not least: there is a war going on with all of NATO (indirectly) involved. Therefore: every bit of clear thinking on the current situation is welcome. When "an eye for an eye" talk increases, it's very important to keep both eyes open. I don't say that I can agree with all of Heikal's analysis, newspaper articles like this one are too short to present all the arguments an interviewee presents. But: he is one of the few who manages to avoid populism and rhetorics...

Thanks for the post, talos. And keep reading...
posted by igor.boog at 2:21 AM on October 13, 2001

It's nothing new though. "eye for an eye" isn't even an issue among informed people. This is about extermination not retaliation, and while he may avoid rhetoric, he apparently doesn't have anything against rewriting history.
posted by rabbit at 2:28 AM on October 13, 2001

he apparently doesn't have anything against rewriting history.

rabbit, can you give me convincing arguments for your statement that Heikal is rewriting history?
posted by igor.boog at 2:40 AM on October 13, 2001

Igor, I just used the 17 steps of peaceful journalism during a comprehensive grilling of my mom about her divorce.
I made her cry. Twice.
Then she agreed to buy me some Lego if I stopped.
Organized thought is bitchin'. Thanks for the link.
posted by dong_resin at 2:48 AM on October 13, 2001

igor, read the article I linked.
posted by bjgeiger at 2:54 AM on October 13, 2001

Since we are already rolling here in this thread, an article of interest: Islam According to Oprah. Is Oprah Winfrey a threat to national security?
posted by bjgeiger at 3:00 AM on October 13, 2001

Well, only if national security is somehow deep fried and served with chicken gravy.
posted by dong_resin at 3:05 AM on October 13, 2001

bjgeiger: I read the article you linked, thanks for the link. It's indeed important to take someone's "background" into consideration when trying to judge his or her opinion or analysis. But at the same time it is also necessary (if only to protect free speech and to fight censorship) to try judging opinions and analyses (like Heikal's about the current crisis) without knowing (or taking into consideration) the name or background of the person who is presenting them... (I like the Economist for not using bylines). I don't agree with Garaudy's analysis in his infamous book, but I find Heikal's analysis of the current crisis a worthwile read. Do you think that's strange? (Interesting issue.)
posted by igor.boog at 3:20 AM on October 13, 2001

dong_resin: be careful with your mother. And be careful with my recommendations (the 17 tips). After all, I am both a journalist and an academic. Don't trust me.
posted by igor.boog at 3:25 AM on October 13, 2001

Refering to the original posted article, my fear is that Heikal could be right. I feel he is right about why the U.S. is so hated in the Middle East. Knowing some of his past background and writting only makes me more afraid that he could be right about bin Ladin not really being solely responsible for the WTC attack. He knows his area of the world well.
posted by bjgeiger at 3:35 AM on October 13, 2001

there have been a couple of articles like this one. they all seem to imply that the u.s. government is not aware of the volatile situation in the middle east. the more i think of it the more i come to the conclusion that they actually know about it and they may take it into consideration. there must be something going on that we are not aware of. what do you think?
posted by arf at 4:18 AM on October 13, 2001

When I hear a guy tell me that it is all the fault of American policy I knew the rest of the litany. How come Bin Laden's speech tells us more truthfully what is going on? How come the Talban don't give him up for a trial? How come Muslims everywhere defend him because he is a Muslim rather than saying simply hje is a very bad Muslim and needs to be gotten rid of?
The writer offers no explanation. The event(s) too sophisiticated for Bin Laden but then who is behind it?
After allk the suicides have already been idetified with connections and training and money to the Bin Laden group. That is evidence of a connection but one that the writer alas refuses to discuss or to note.
Yes the FBI fucked up, as did CIA but note that when they had to round up those they had been keeping tabs on they nailed aheck of a lot of them within two, where did those guys get their money from? If Pakistanb, symnpathetic to Taliban, notes that the evidence is compelling, as does the Brits and a number of other nations, why should this one guy, not seeing the specifics (security) say otherwise? And Annan of UN willing to accept what is taking place in Afghanistan too.
Muslims simply do not want to believe a Muslim would or could do such a thing, which is to say, We are too dumb to be able to do this!
posted by Postroad at 4:56 AM on October 13, 2001

First: you should read more carefully. Heikal does not say it is all the fault of American policy. His analysis is a bit too sophisticated for rhetoric like that.
Second: You say the link between the attacks and the bin Laden group is already identified. I would prefer to say: "the link between the attacks and the bin Laden group is identified, according to the American - and some other - governments".
Third: you don't respect the position of "the Muslims". The last sentence of your post is disgusting because you are generalizing and thereby insulting every Muslim. "The Muslims" don't exist, they don't form a homogenous group about which you can generalize like this. Many Muslims now react emotionally (and start defending Islam, themselves, whatever) and not rationally, because they feel attacked by the Western media and postings like yours.
posted by igor.boog at 5:21 AM on October 13, 2001

That's what I was going to say Igor. The article doesn't suggest America had it coming or any of that nonsense, although many others have said such things. It just asks why many in the Middle East find it hard to support America. The US is fond of presenting itself as a beacon of light and the keeper of democracy while supporting undemocratic regimes and even ousting democratic ones, as many have pointed out before. It's the rhetoric that rubs people up the wrong way. It's plain hypocrisy. I understand the needs of foreign policy means tough decisions have to be made, but in that case change the rhetoric.
posted by Summer at 6:24 AM on October 13, 2001

I find Heikal's analysis of the current crisis a worthwile read

I did too, but probably for reasons very different from yours. I find it very difficult to take Heikal's commentary seriously. How penetrating can his powers of analysis be if he truly thinks that the Holocaust is a Jewish myth? In this interview, he sounds like he's pandering to a particular audience, one that wants to believe that the US persecution of bin Laden is unfounded and that this is all some vast conspiracy.

Yes, it's important to consider alternate viewpoints, but in this case I don't think that it's possible to overlook what Heikal has said in the past because it has a direct bearing on what he's saying now.
posted by MrBaliHai at 6:25 AM on October 13, 2001

Heikal is a great fan of David Irving, I see. The two should get together more often.
Personally I find holocaust-deniers predictable and boring. Don't like the Jews, don't like the USA, check into MeFi only once a year, yadda, yadda, yadda...
(bjgeiger's link, above, is essential for those braver than me who might yet try to extract some juice from this old lemon)

It's the rhetoric that rubs people up the wrong way. It's plain hypocrisy. I understand the needs of foreign policy means tough decisions have to be made, but in that case change the rhetoric

This is good, friendly advice for the U.S., since you yanks are so interested in furriners' opinions. And much cheaper.

*gulp* I miss the old rhetoric already...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:14 AM on October 13, 2001

How unusual! The Guardian publishing a blame America article. On top of that the guy denies the holocaust. What utter dreck.

Another reason to drop more bombs.
posted by Real9 at 7:14 AM on October 13, 2001

Killing people is never an answer. Dropping bombs is never an answer. If it is our (american) policies that helped to bring about terrorist attacks on our country, then we should first find/capture who is responsible and throw him in a prison (not kill civilians or throw food in minefields by accident), then reevaluate what we did wrong. Stop, besides quotes saying the opposite, policing the world. Worry about us before we worry about what some guy is doing in the middle east, or china, or africa, or where ever. I'm not saying I disagree with what our country is doing now, but I can't say I agree with it either.

And I'm sure people who had friends/family in the wtc/pent attacks would scream at me for my opinion, but it's my opinion.

If your arm hurts, don't cut it off, find out why it hurts.
posted by kosubai at 7:27 AM on October 13, 2001

there must be something going on that we are not aware of

That would be to be expected, from an historical perspective (it ain't paranoia when it's par for the course).
posted by rushmc at 7:28 AM on October 13, 2001

Killing people is never an answer.

On the contrary, killing people is quite often a definitive answer. Now, whether it is a morally correct answer, that's another kegga worms....
posted by rushmc at 7:30 AM on October 13, 2001

I have to return to this URL to suggest that if one reads the front page of the NY Times for today there is a long list of big musinessmen and charity organizatins in both Pakistand and in Saudi Arabia that have just been put on the American list of getting bank accounts frozen because tyhey have been giving millions upon millions to Bin Laden. Ok. Bin Laden not involved. He uses the money for rent and meals.
Now do you really think America would freeze bank accounts of so many without having a case to make against Bin Laden and at the expense of large American banks, more often than not the pals of GOP?
I don['t understand, frankly, why so many readers believe in one guy who is my background biased and assume that all the Western nations made privy to secret info on Bin Laden are in some massive conspiracy to get one nut cvase.
Such simple and paranoid thinking is for me very odd.
posted by Postroad at 7:49 AM on October 13, 2001

For if you were referring to my post (if not, then consider this post not posted): I didn't say that bin Laden is not involved. I said that I would prefer to add "according to the American government - and some other governments" to the statement that bin Laden is involved. With that I didn't even question the credibility of the American government (or any other government), I only try to promote the naming of sources. If only to make clear that the proof is not made public yet, which also means that most people don't even know for sure there is proof...
posted by igor.boog at 8:11 AM on October 13, 2001

the guy is an aged spook who needs to be sent to the "Island" seeing you.
posted by newnameintown at 9:07 AM on October 13, 2001

"find out why it hurts"...and you wait some more, then one has to cut off the arm anyway. sorry, fallical in nature.
posted by newnameintown at 9:10 AM on October 13, 2001

"Muslims simply do not want to believe a Muslim would or could do such a thing, which is to say, We are too dumb to be able to do this!"

Ah, I love the smell of religious prejudice in the afternoon.
And thanks for letting me know that I don't want to believe he could or would do such a thing. I thought he was a very bad man but I stand corrected. Sigh.

I won't even bother commenting on the 'too dumb' bit.
posted by Saima at 9:15 AM on October 13, 2001

Heikal goes on in the article about the U.S. supporting oppressive regimes, but he himself was a good buddy of Nasser back in the day. Pot, kettle, black.
posted by gimonca at 9:34 AM on October 13, 2001

There is one bit in the Guardian article that really makes me wonder. In the intro Stephen Moss writes: "He (i.e. Heikal) enjoyed an equally close (as with Nasser) but rather more volatile relationship with president Sadat, who imprisoned him in 1981 for opposing the Camp David negotiations."
He must have imprisoned him for other things as well.
That Heikal guy is an antisemit and if he really is "Arab world's foremost political commentator" as announced in the subtitle I would not be surprised of a war of civilizations soon. When even a leading Arab journalist (who even was foreign minister of Egypt) negates the Holocaust. Even though Heikal's analysis of the present situation seems quite plausible I cannot really take it serious. And "The Guardian" has lost some points of credibility by publishing the interview in this form.
posted by alex63 at 10:45 AM on October 13, 2001

Here is the foremost journalist at his best...very carefully talking about destroying Israel but put is very sublte terms (de-zionizing a country to connect Egypt with the East etc)...Read with some care and you will see that whatever he may or may not be, he is no straight shooter like Jimmy Breslin.
posted by Postroad at 11:16 AM on October 13, 2001

I'm a little afraid to comment like this, but please believe me when I say this really is an honest question I have, and I'm not trying to defend or support anything yet--I'm still just trying to understand (probably I'll be in this state for a long time). I'm amazed and horrified that anyone could deny the Holocaust, so I clicked on bjgeiger's link and read the article. So, here goes: in bjgeiger's posted article, Heikal says

"Thus it is probable -- perhaps certain -- that between 300,000 and 400,000 Jews paid with their lives as a result of the insane notion of racial purity that led to the Nazi madness"


"there was indeed a tragedy inflicted on the Jews in Europe under Nazi rule (and also before it). It is not acceptable fundamentally to deny the tragedy"

If he says this, why are people saying he denies the Holocaust?
posted by rio at 1:12 PM on October 13, 2001

If he says this, why are people saying he denies the Holocaust?

Holocaust deniers (at least the ones who can get published) do not generally deny that any organized killing of Jews took place, but that the numbers were inflated by a Zionist conspiracy. Most deniers I have read about place the value at around 1/2 million instead of the widely accepted 6 million. His figures of "between 300,000 and 400,000" falls right in line.
posted by boaz at 1:34 PM on October 13, 2001

Rio - According to The Holocaust Encyclopedia, approximately 6 million Jews were systematically exterminated by a Nazi regime that wished to rid Europe of Jews. If only 400,000 Jews died, then what the Nazis did to the Jews could simply be viewed as another tragedy in a period of war filled with tragedies, as Heikal indeed does:

Nevertheless the Jews were not the ones who sacrificed the most victims in the Nazi inferno; more were Germans themselves, and Russians, Poles, and Gypsies
posted by dchase at 1:56 PM on October 13, 2001

But the Holocaust does represent a very important mythic element in the Heroic Narrative of Israel's creation. Although they refer to the same series of events, the names Final Solution, Holocaust and Shoah do have divergent significances. The Shoah narrative posits the extermination as specifically, uniquely and directly aimed at the Jews, a trespass against them that leads inevitably to and justifies the foundation of Israel and her policies of the last fifty years. It would be a bit much to expect a political opponent of Israel to keep silent on the subject, since it is one of the ideological bedrocks upon which his enemy rests.

I don't think he's right, but I can't agree with just pointing at him and saying that because he distrusts the uniqueness of the Holocaust in human history he's automatically unreliable on everything. So he's biased? So what? We have to accept the testimony of all sorts of people, all of them biased one way or the other and try to sort out what we think from that. That's History. That's how it works. There is no Big Book of Truth from which the divinely inspired can copy.

History ought to be rewritten, constantly. Or rather, History is rewritten constantly and we should be aware of the fact. Divorcing the Holocaust from its status as an historical event, making it a mere article of faith (which is a risk that we are taking in our relationship to it) is likely to cause more harm than Heikel or Irving or Garaudy put together, because that will turn it into something that must be believed because one will be punished if one does not, rather than because of any compelling evidence. If we are to keep it real, to keep it compelling, to show what happens when we give the reins of power to the deluded and stupid, it must be something built from evidence - documentary, textual and physical - that shows that it was people just like us exterminating people also just like us. Not a tribulation dropped on the Jewish people by God or Satan that opens the door to a New Israel. People.

And we have to accept that history is full of genocides, mass murder, killing on an extraordinary scale, from prehistory via the Romans; the extermination of the Albigensians and other heretics by the Church (which is where the phrase "Kill them all, God will know His own" was born); right up to this century - Stalin; Pol Pot; the various slaughters in Africa and former Yugoslavia - and tomorrow... and if we are supposed to consider the Holocaust as other than than another genocide in the unpleasant story of humankind, I think people should explain exactly why occasionally. I'm not even suggesting that they can't. but the notion that any grand event is unique, should be considered seperately from other, similar events, is so powerful that those who believe it do have the responsibility to continue to prove it. It's goes in the same box as "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance".

The lesson that the Holocaust should teach us is that Civilised people can do this (albeit in a "civilised" way, the industry of mass murder). Not that it's something that Germans do, or white people or people who like leather. Not that it's part of the Grand Narrative of the Tribulations of the Jews. But that there is a switch in the Human Consciousness that allows us to do these things, however civilised we may be. And that that switch is in all of us.
posted by Grangousier at 3:18 PM on October 13, 2001

You seem like a nice fellow Grangousier, so I'll be patient. The reason that Heikel or Irving or Garaudy should be ignored is that they are liars. There may be no Divine Book of Truth, but there are still outright lies. If a person lies once, that's fine, but once a person spends his life trying to spread a lie, you can pretty much rule him out of the history writing club.

And the breathless rhetoric really doesn't do you a lick of good... I mean, "the Holocaust does represent a ... mythic element in the Heroic Narrative of Israel's creation"; doesn't the fact that it actually happened automatically disqualify it from the 'mythic' label? And "the Grand Narrative of the Tribulations of the Jews"? I sure hope my jock itch didn't make it into that. And "it was people just like us exterminating people also just like us." is a little reductionist: the people exterminating just happened to be Germans; the people being exterminated just happened to be Jews. Coincidence? you decide.
posted by boaz at 4:06 PM on October 13, 2001

We have to accept the testimony of all sorts of people, all of them biased one way or the other and try to sort out what we think from that

You are right Grangousier we are all biased. I am German and have never been proud of it as you can imagine. As a post WWII German the Holocaust (or Shoah) is a part of me even though I was born after. Someone who is saying that the magnitude of the Holocaust was within the limits of natural population variation (crap English I hope you get what I mean) is not someone I can take seriously.

Heikal's analysis of the situation is actually quite close to mine but I do not trust it as I do not trust any source of information right now. The attacks were terrible but a war won't make them disappear. A war is not the right answer. Especially not against Afghanistan. It would have been better to drop the bombs on the moon and to make people believe bin Laden hides there. To kill innocent civilians just for the sake of blind revenge is not right. Bombing Afghanistan is absolutely pointless and that is the reason why it is done.

Three reasons why Afghanistan is attacked:
1. The US needed a scapegoat and had to react to show they are the world power
2. bin Laden and especially the Taliban are quite isolated even in the Islamic world so the danger of a wold war is minimized (that is what Bush and his counselors are thinking at least).
3. A war is always the best way to distract from inner problems and to have your countrymen firmly united

I am not anti-American but I feel that the American response to the attacks is not right.
posted by alex63 at 4:50 PM on October 13, 2001

Alex-"A war" Der Kreig Uber was- terror? A high-tech posse is tough to beat. Sun-Tzu wrote-"when the torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of its momentum.
When the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing (V:13-14) so i take solace in "All warfare is based on deception
therefore, when capable, feign incapacity, when active. inactivity
when near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and STRIKE HIM". (I:17-20) He has some neato stuff on spies too.
posted by newnameintown at 7:09 PM on October 13, 2001

I do believe that Heikal's view is interesting, but I have to admit that, had I known of his preface to Garaudy's book, I wouldn't have posted it. I admit it: I am biased when it comes to holocaust deniers, since evidence about the details and the numbers involved in the holocaust are in my view easily accessible and incontrovertible. The demographic data that Heikal (via Reed) cites is unequivocal. In the city of Thessaloniki alone 90% of its Jewish inhabitants were never found alive after WWII, in Greece, the US or Israel. That is easily accessible information and Heikal should have been aware of it.
This particular strain of unreasonableness is unfortunately all too common among Arab intellectuals. It doesn't invalidate Heikal's opinions on this issue, but it is cause for skepticism as far as his scholarly thoroughness is concerned.
posted by talos at 2:29 AM on October 15, 2001

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