Sheikh Hassan Yusef of Hamas has extended an olive branch: “This may surprise you,” he said Monday, “but a ‘hudna’ — a cease-fire, should be between two sides who agree to live together side by side. Such a ‘hudna’ could be for 10 years and could be extended.” This will doubtless be music to the ears of large segments of the American punditocracy, and to no one more than to Mark LeVine of the University of California at Irvine. Last summer LeVine declared in a widely-reprinted article: “It is time for the United States to declare a truce with the Muslim world, and radical Islam in particular.” He explained that “a truce (Arabic hudna), rather than an increasingly dangerous ‘clash of civilizations,’ is the only way to avoid a long, ultimately catastrophic conflict.”
LeVine acknowledged that “this may sound like a naive, even defeatist statement,” and that was an understatement. For the traditional Islamic understanding of a hudna, which Sheikh Hassan almost certainly had in mind, doesn’t consider a truce a foundation for peaceful coexistence, but a temporary measure to allow Muslim forces to gain strength. The Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence stipulates that there must be “some interest served in making a truce other than mere preservation of the status quo.” The only “interests that justify making a truce are such things as Muslim weakness because of lack of numbers or materiel” — which the time of the truce would allow the Muslim forces to remedy — “or the hope of an enemy becoming Muslim” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o9.16). So LeVine, in calling for a hudna with “radical Islam in particular,” is in effect recommending that the United States suspend the war on terror so that Osama bin Laden and company can come back again in a few years with renewed strength and virulence.
Such naivete and defeatism would be unworthy of notice were it not for the fact that LeVine is a rising star of the academic Left. The Orange County Register gushed that he “has worked in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Egypt and North Africa” and that he “speaks Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, French and Italian. He can read German. He taught himself Farsi. He’s a religion scholar, so he’s fluent in the Bible and the Quran. He’s most notably educated in modern Middle Eastern history, in Islamic culture and on why globalization is complicating already complicated things.”
LeVine packages all this erudition with fashionable cool: the Register admiringly called him a “long-haired blond American hippie” and was moved to paroxysms of boomer glee by his resume as a musician: “LeVine is also an accomplished enough guitarist to have played live with Dr. John and on one of Mick Jagger’s solo albums. He’s spent time on stage with Johnny Copeland, Chuck D, Albert Collins and Ben E. King. He played Woodstock in 1994. And there was that one glorious afternoon in 2002 in Los Angeles when he and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant lapsed into mutual Arabic.”
When not hobnobbing with aging rock glitterati, LeVine attempts to revive the fortunes of fading stars of a different sort. Four days after 9/11, he complained that “figures like Noam Chomsky or Edward Said” were “shunned by the mainstream media here…When was the last time a voice like theirs was on the NewsHour or Nightline?” LeVine makes no mention of the fact that Chomskyites and Saidists have placed Middle East Studies departments in American universities into an ideological straitjacket that would have made Stalin blush — a straitjacket that LeVine himself seems to find quite comfortable. He has, after all, himself carried the message of his poor shunned heroes Chomsky and Said onto NewsHour (several times) and the O’Reilly Factor, as well as (inevitably) National Public Radio and other more or less mainstream outlets. LeVine has made these discredited humbugs cool again.
Of course, you don’t get to be a wunderkind these days for nothing. LeVine owes his status to his willingness to place the responsibility for the strife between the West and the Islamic world squarely on the shoulders of the West. American hawks, he says, have built a myth around Osama: “age-old clichés, truisms and convenient misconceptions about the Middle East and Islam have been wrapped around the persona of Osama bin Laden to drum up patriotism and beat down questioning voices.” They have used this myth to mask their imperialist intentions; despite mounting evidence of the true dimensions of Saddam’s murderous tyranny, LeVine is certain that America has no good motives for being in Iraq, and looks to the UN as Iraq’s last hope: “Can Iraqi society challenge the violent calculus of US military planners and insurgents alike with a vision of a future free of occupation and autocracy, corruption and extremism? More than wishing the Iraqis well, the international community needs to get its hands dirty to ensure that they have a fighting chance.”
Similarly, LeVine suggests that Israel has created Hamas — with no mention of the violent and absolutist jihadist sentiments expressed in Hamas’s charter, or of the suicide bombers whom Hamas celebrates as heroes for their murders of Israeli civilians: “Not just Palestinian activists, but foreign peace activists and even Israelis are routinely beaten, arrested, deported, or even killed by the IDF, with little fear that the Government of Israel would pay a political price for crushing non-violent resistance with violent means….Not surprisingly considering this dynamic, a poll I helped direct earlier this year revealed that Hamas has now surpassed the PLO as the most popular Palestinian political movement.”
It’s peculiar and even ethnocentric to place the blame for present conflicts on two Western democracies, and thereby deny to the great non-Western forces in the conflict anything but a passive, reactive role, but in this LeVine is following the line of his two infamous mentors. Said, of course, made his name by ruling out of polite discourse as racist and imperialist anything in the slightest degree critical of Islam or the Muslim world — including any honest examination of the roots of Islamic radicalism in traditional Muslim teachings about jihad. And as the first anniversary of 9/11 approached, Chomsky wrote: “September 11 shocked many Americans into an awareness that they had better pay much closer attention” — not to the motivations and goals of radical Muslims, but “to what the United States Government does in the world and how it is perceived.” Borrowing a homespun metaphor from a former Israeli intelligence chief, Chomsky warned: “If America insists on creating more swamps, there will be more mosquitoes, with awesome capacity for destruction.”
Glaringly absent from this analysis, and from most of what LeVine also writes, is substantive respect for these “mosquitoes” as actors in their own right in today’s great global drama — not just reactors to whatever America or Israel has done now. The teachings of traditional Islam and what modern imams around the world actually say about jihad come in for scant consideration in LeVine’s writings. Yet American power, the occupation of Iraq, and the continued existence of the State of Israel do nothing to explain the rise of the first modern Islamic terror group, the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt in the 1920s — two decades before the founding of Israel and long before “No blood for oil!” became a Leftist rallying cry. American power, Israel, and the occupation of Iraq have nothing to do with the great jihads of history, the most spectacular and successful of which were waged not when the Islamic world was impoverished and oppressed, but when its military might and cultural attainments were the envy of the world. The ideological kinship between today’s jihadists and those of bygone days is another subject which, however worth pursuing, has never preoccupied LeVine’s writings — although it reveals more than a little about the larger motives and goals of today’s global jihadist movement.
Mark LeVine, then, for all his vaunted scholarship, is guilty of the very crime that his revered Said leveled so devastatingly against the genuine scholars he smeared as racist “Orientalists”: he sees America and the West as the only real actor on the world stage, and discounts or overlooks altogether (even as he chats with them in their native tongues) what the indigenous peoples are saying — except insofar as it confirms the Leftist caricature of America victimizing the world for its economic benefit. As his star continues to rise, if he gets his way not just Israel but America also may enjoy the peace of a hudna with the global jihadists — and both will discover to their dismay that that peace was just the calm before the storm.