Mahmoud Sabit at PostGlobal

Mahmoud Sabit

Cairo, Egypt

Mahmoud Sabit is a historian and an authority on Egypt’s 19th century political reforms. Sabit also works as a writer and producer of historical documentaries. Close.

Mahmoud Sabit

Cairo, Egypt

Mahmoud Sabit is a historian and an authority on Egypt’s 19th century political reforms. more »

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Tone Down the Belligerence

Cairo, Egypt - The real questions are: If the Democrats take control of Congress, will they be able to solve the problems created by the Bush administration? Will their influence through the U.S. Congress change existing policy?...

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Mahmoud Sabit:

Daniel; many thanks for your response and your kind words, I have to say that I really don't believe that the human condition is fundamentally evil, not being afflicted with the dogma of original sin, I believe that on the whole we come into this world with a good dose of all that is good and all that is innocent. If we don't always maintain this state of grace into adulthood, it has more to do with our upbringing and the form of society in which we mature.
One of the things that is often overlooked in the US national experience is its astonishing record in political continuity. The USA is often accused of being an 'adolescent' country, too young and too immature, yet what is forgotten is that the USA has had a political system that has a tradition of continuity of 200 years, this is a record. Many other 'first world' countries just have not had this privilege. In this same 200 year period there are few countries which can claim this for themselves. In this same period France has witnessed a revolution, decades of political upheaval and swings of political philosophy from the left to the right, as well as five republics. Germany was not even a united entity until 1871, and went through all sorts of turmoil in the interim, from imperium to totalitarianism to its present liberal democracy. Japan came out of a feudal past, and its present government is hardly comparable to what it was 200 years ago. Even Egypt, which can claim to have not had a day pass without some sort of administrative function in 5,000 years has also had its share of turmoil and political transition, there is no comparison today to what it was 200 years ago. The USA from its very beginning advocated several fundamental principals, lofty, difficult to attain, but at least they were incorporated as national aspirations. There has been a defined lineal progression in its efforts to attain this ideal, and whilst many other societies may not agree with the same political philosophy, yet they do attempt, often unsuccessfully to attain similar principals. As such historically the USA is seen as an experiment in improving the human condition.
Since WWII the United States has had to face an existential threat based on a competing ideology, and was inclined to adopt policies which were not really commensurate with its original principals. With the end of the Cold War, there was much expectation that the United States could begin to apply these principals on the world stage, it was after all the last standing Super-power. In this it is generally believed that it faltered, the 'peace dividend' which could also be interpreted as a period of time to put the 'house in order', and deal with the smaller issues which were bedeviling the international political scene, this just did not occur. On the contrary we seem to have entered into a period that is beginning to look almost as dangerous as that, that existed at the time of the Cold War it is actually this factor which makes one question the underlying motives of the US political leadership today. Is it driven and fueled by a desire to keep the pot boiling? which is good in the short term for its economy, or is it really inspired by a higher, purpose? There has been a steady erosion of civil rights and this is worrisome, for it begins to suggest a compromise in its own former enlightened attitudes.
I think I could safely state that the general consensus is that the higher purpose would be more preferable, and anything that could encourage this to be a part of US policy would be a positive development.. If in a very small way a Democratic Congress could remember that these lofty ideals were once an important plank in US political attitudes, this would be generally reassuring. This is not to suggest that the US leans to the left, rather that it continues to apply or at least to not forget that it has the ability to serve as a model for political enlightenment.

Mahmoud Sabit:

Thank you Mr. McNairy for your thoughts. If we analyzed the root causes of terrorism, the answer is more often than not that it exists as a result of an injustice, perceived or actual. Terrorism is a symptom rather than a condition, a symptom of a political cause rather than an act inspired for criminal purposes. Terrorism is a crime, a political crime, with a complex political philosophy behind it, a political philosophy that arises to provide a unity of action when international juridical channels have been found to be inadequate. It has an ideological premise, wherein terrorism is a last resort when those grievances have not been addressed through the usual channels. Other forms of terrorism are as a result of pure nihilism, sheer destruction more often as a result of sheer desperation. As example; what Socialist inspired nihilism perpetrated against Russian Tsarist autocracy in the late 19th century. Part of the dynamics of terrorism is to provoke a violent response, for only then will the unconvinced on the sidelines become active participants in the political cause. As example; the terrorism inflicted on the French occupation by nationalist forces in Algeria in the late 1950's. It is also meant to provoke a response in the interests of the preservation of security, to impose restrictive measures in order to combat terrorism, which in turn create onerous conditions affecting the lifestyles of those targeted in terrorist acts, who may in turn attempt to require their governments to address the issue. As example; IRA terrorism in Britain in the 1970's. Terrorism is also used as a tool to disrupt a military occupation, to make such an occupation tenuous, to eventually evict the occupying power. Examples on this abound; The French resistance to German occupation of France during WWII was labeled terrorism by the Germans, Jewish terrorism against the British forces of occupation in Mandate Palestine can also be placed in this latter category.
Most of the above examples were addressed through a political process, to arrive at a just solution through mutual compromise. Or, in the example of the totalitarian solution by removing the causes that provoke such violent response. Nihilism was solved by the Bolsheviks on their ascension to power following the Russian Revolution, when they transported anyone remotely connected to competing Socialist movements to the Gulag. Terrorism in Algeria became so corrosive that France had no choice but to evacuate Algeria, in order preserve France's moral, national character. To effectively combat terrorism equal efforts must be put to fighting it through good intelligence and police action, but at the same time to redress the political grievance that such terrorism inspires, to introduce competing ideas, competing ideologies more just and more equitable, to use international courts of arbitration, and to properly and objectively implement their rulings.
We should also objectively arrive at some sort of definition of what is terrorism; is the targeting of military personnel, or military facilities engaged in a military occupation of another country against the consensus of its inhabitant's terrorism? Do we consider civilian militias fighting against a foreign invading army terrorists? Certainly the indiscriminate targeting of unarmed civilians, including women and children are terrorist acts of the worst kind, and are heinous crimes, how then do we treat aerial bombing of dense civilian urban areas? To date this latter circumstance is termed as the unfortunate side effects of collateral damage. It would be useful if we had some sort of accepted definition of what is terrorism, rather than the sort of partisan subjectivity in which this term is so often mistreated. If we are to effectively combat terrorism through judicial and political means that include a moral principal, then such principals need to be addressed and respected in general terms. If we fudge on one issue, we compromise the whole.
If we were to address the situation in the Middle East, a good first step is to solve the outstanding grievances of the Palestinians, by applying the above political principals; to arrive at a just solution through mutual compromise, if necessary, to use international courts of arbitration, and to properly and objectively implement their rulings. In the case of the Palestinian Israeli dispute, there is a shoal of UN resolutions from 1948 onwards, that to date have gone unimplemented. We are not discussing maximalist solutions as expounded by extremists of either party, but rather a good workable, yet mutually equitable solution. Should this dispute be properly solved, it would a go a long way in enabling other regional grievances to be similarly addressed.

M. McNairy Largo FL USA:

Dear Mr. Sabit, Thank you for your cogent analysis of both the United States of America and of the Muslim world. I found your insights informative and provactive. I was particularly interested in your comment that a Democratic Party policy should include an identification of the "root causes of terrorism." Would you identify what you consider to be the "root causes" as well as potential policies that would address thoses causes? Thank you.

Los Angeles, CA:

If terrorists could vote in the US Elections, who would they vote for?

Find out at www.failedcolumnist.blogspot.com

Ram:

Mr. Sabit;

Palestinian problem can't be solved until Muslims including Palestinians accept the state of Isreal. Palestinian people get aid from the west every day. They wouldn't able to eat without the aid from the west. The Muslim world who say they are fighting America due it' support for Isreal pay for Palestinian suicide bombers. All Muslims want Isreal either to be destroyed or some how how disappear.

America is a better democracy than any other country in the world. It is not perfect as humans can't be perfect. Before they criticise American democracy they have to look around and see if other country is better. Muslim countries are the worst.

Gamal Khalifa, Cairo, Egypt:

Dear Mr. Sabit;

Talking about the U.S. nation governed by special interests on behalf of corporate America, I was once enlightened back in 1999 by reading a book called "Treason, The New World Order" by Gurudas, Cassandra Press, San Rafael, California. I would encourage everyone interested about this so called "conspiracy" to read this book.

daniel:

Thank you Mahmoud Sabit for your response. I thought it was very intelligent and believe if all civilizations converse in like-minded fashion just perhaps...there might be hope for the silly beast called man. Also I did not mean to insult Islam by construing it as a left wing society (equating it with Marxism which is notorious for being against religion). What I meant was, what I was trying to get at in responding, is that I do not believe social problems can be solved without an increase in human individuality and intelligence. I fully agree with the evils of oligarchy, etc. as Vidal points out and which you do as well, apparently, but I find no easy solution in just leaning leftward to the masses. This seems to me to just ruin the economy by contradicting the best and brightest--and I feel it ruins the environment as well and by no means overcomes the problem of war. I feel it something of delusion in American society to believe all can be provided for, environmental problems can be overcome, war can be put at bay, etc. just by going leftward. Life is really that easy? I believe democracy let alone socialism and communism are viable solutions only if the populace is extremely enlightened--something of a mass which does not squash individuality, does not rampage in war, does not ruin the environment, etc. The difficulty in human politics is that man does not correspond to our most noble political aspirations. We would like to see the most noble political structures realized, but the men we have to work with now are inadequate. How to arrive at our noble conceptions without doing injustice to current man seems the question....

Mahmoud Sabit:

Daniel
Many thanks for your comments, I have to say that I am less familiar with Gore Vidal's politics than I am with his work on historical subjects, but I would consider him along with Barbara Tuchman an eminent modern American Historian. Vidal is an American Patrician, from a wealthy privileged background, with a good grounding in US constitutional law. I'm not sure why you would consider the admirable expression of government by the people for the people in the context of the US constitution as Marxist/Leninist? As I understand it he is arguing about the influence over state policy, especially foreign policy that special economic interests represent, he is arguing that government should not be under the tutelage of large economic blocks of power, especially when this influence affects policies that are contrary to the interests of a nation's fundamental strategic concerns. He is also arguing about equal rights under the law, rather than disproportionate legal Judgment based on a person wealth, as example; how a wealthy individual can destroy his less fortunate legal opponent through a blizzard of litigation, literally outspending his protagonist, who eventually will no longer be able to legally contest his accusations, and will be judged accordingly however guilty or innocent he is. This is unjust and is an abuse of privilege and wealth. It must be very frustrating to have to be proponents of a tradition of following the precepts of the thinkers of an egalitarian enlightenment and at the same time uphold a capitalist democracy, where all sorts of perks and privileges are reserved for the wealthy, yet at the same time having to deal with a working class population. We see this in the disproportionate sentences often issued to 'blue collar' crime and 'white collar crime' security fraud and shoplifting.
Individuality can be expressed without having to create a rampant, soulless capitalist society. There is nothing wrong with Capitalism, it does however, need a social conscience, and it also needs to have equality under the law, irrespective of wealth or privilege, otherwise there is very little difference between that and a totalitarian state, in which the Soviet Union was counted as one of the worst offenders of the system. The issue of my comment is that a Democratic Congress may redress the balance of the extreme, may be able to find a middle path, and any form of extreme one way or the other is not a solution.
In my own personal experience I am more a victim of out of control socialism, having been subject to 'involuntary conversion' and becoming an unwilling investor in my own country in its version of socialist experimentation, through expropriation and arbitrary coercive internal economic policies. I am therefore well aware of the danger of extremes, either Socialist or Capitalist.
By the way I take your point in reference to the Soviet Union, where an attempt to destroy individuality occurred, but I would also point out the inability of the Soviet Union to crush Islam out of the fabric of the Moslem areas of the former USSR, despite 70 years of intense efforts. For precisely the issue of individuality, the unwillingness of the Moslems to succumb to the collective, especially one based on such an alien and inhumane ideology. There are several monographs on this subject; Islam in the Soviet Union in the quarterly 'Central Asian Survey' (Oxford University Press, now Rutledge) There is also a very interesting monograph in the same quarterly on Islam in the Peoples Republic of China, which suggests that Moslems usually find work in small scale individual enterprise; truck driving, traveling salesmen, taxi drivers, small shopkeepers, etc. The emphasis here is on an individual self-employed enterprise.
Islam is actually much more capitalist than is generally assumed, however it did evolve under different institutions, in that it does not conform to the modern theories of Max Webber; the feudal state, the bourgeoisie, the proletariat, etc.
Islam is more concerned with the political impact of dynastic pretension based on inherited wealth, in social terms it attempts to create a political meritocracy rather than a hierarchical system based on inherited wealth, and the latter's potential for long term social inequality. It considers this, along with tribal loyalties a factor that would detract from loyalties due the state, its institutions and its laws, and most importantly its fundamental strategic concerns, which are considered a factor of common interest. The basic institutional socio/political/economic system evolved differently in the Muslim World. For example it had no real feudal experience, and by the same token has no real aristocracy; its laws of inheritance make that unavoidable. Wealth is not inheritable through testament, (Wills) but rather through Islamic law, which dictates how the wealth will be distributed so however wealthy you are in this generation, within three generations that wealth has been well distributed amongst your descendents. At best, within three generations inherited wealth, however initially vast, is usually only sufficient to create a small social net, pay for a good education, and the rest is up to the individual. In feudal terms, Islam has neither inherited titles, nor inherited position, what titles it uses are better defined as ranks rather than titles. What inherited position exists has more to do with local tribal custom rather than Muslim practice, and even then, there is a requirement for consensus, usually through popular acclamation. In contrast to feudal Europe in the historic sense, which in order to maintain the political power of aristocratic dynasties created the system of primogeniture, wherein the eldest son inherited the vast bulk of the wealth, with small monetary legacies apportioned out to his siblings. Thereby insuring that political/economic power would be exercised by the family dynasty throughout the generations. The Western European feudal system also has an aspect of divine intervention in the right of monarch's, as example; the Queen of England today exercises the Royal 'we' which essentially means 'me and God.' Islam is not afflicted with these theories.
One should also bear in mind that the Prophet Mohamed was a merchant, but at the same time concerned with the abuses that uncontrolled capitalism can manifest. Islam attempts to balance that out, capitalism, personal commercial initiative is encouraged, but at the same time a social responsibility, a social conscience is emphasized. This is not meant to detract from individual personality, but rather to keep the situation in a balanced state. This is expressed partly through its system of charitable contributions, which over time were institutionalized into a trust system, partly to circumvent some aspects of Muslim inheritance laws, (to allow for the equal portions of inheritance for women as example) but which almost always included a codicil for charitable and religious endowment, that was not to exceed 20% of the estate. Over time this becomes substantial, as example; the trust system in Egypt which over a period of 1,000 years has accumulated 40,000 trusts on its books, affecting large tracts of urban and rural property, which are used for both charitable and religious purposes, as well as works that would benefit the community as a whole. The beneficiaries include Mosques, fountains, mausoleums, hospitals, vocational schools, academic institutions, educational facilities, etc. The system is also maintained today in secular Turkey, where much of the religious Islamic architecture of Istanbul benefits from this system.
I am responding to your suggestion that Islam is some sort of conquering left wing society which is anti-capitalist and attempts to destroy individuality, this is not the case. It developed differently in institutional terms, and it did have the idea of creating an equitable, meritocratic society, within an open economic structure.

daniel:

I fail to see how you can take Vidal seriously. Vidal claims that the U.S. is an oligarchy which needs conflict and wars? Tell me how spreading wealth out too soon to everyone does not lead to precisely more conflict and war than if the U.S. were not an oligarchy. The problem with left wing views such as Vidal's is that marxism fails precisely because wealth is spread out so drastically that the method goes too far and precisely destroys the method of wealth creation, which is to say destroys individuality. You want to see the U.S. become more offensive to the world? Try watching the U.S. become more and more left wing, something of a new Soviet Union which needs to spread out further and further seizing resources from everyone else to give to "everyone" (the fortunate few) because it has totally destroyed the individuality by which means wealth is created. Try asking yourself why the Soviet Union collapsed--why socialism works only if restrained by a respect for individuality. Perhaps this is even the problem of the Islamic world: it can be construed as a conquering left wing society under the word of Mohammed which destroys individuality and needs to spread out and conquer precisely because it squashes individuality and considers everyone equal under Islam....

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