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Middle East Institute

Articles and essays in this section have been published by the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. 

From Identity Crisis to Identity in Crisis in Afghanistan

By Zaman Stanizai | Professor of Islamic Traditions - Pacifica Graduate Institute | DEC 16, 2009 

The Middle East Institute Policy Brief No. 27  December 2009

When social order is politically disturbed in a society like Afghanistan, inter- and intra-group dynamics set forces in motion that cannot be harnessed once unleashed.  While group dynamics dictate, for instance, that majorities behave as an integrative and cohesive force as their sense of loyalty lies in the wellbeing of the collective whole, a minority’s interests may on occasion diverge in the pursuit of greener pastures across the fence, allowing themselves to be used as vulnerable pawns by others.                       Read more


Afghanistan: Where Chaos Is King and Plunder Is Privilege

By Zaman Stanizai | AUG 27, 2012 

The “new and improved” tactics of “divide and conquer” are operational both at the vertical and horizontal layers of the government and society in Afghanistan.

The systemic corruption in Afghanistan is incentivized. It is no secret that numerous top level Afghan government officials from the cabinet level down to the heads of departments are on the payroll of the CIA, receiving supplementary “salaries” and “hospitality expenses” in amounts upwards of $5,000 — 10 to 50 times their official salaries.[1] These officials can also recommend associates, friends, and family members, as recipients of these funds.  The unstated objectives are 1) to buy their loyalty by bribing them, 2) to make them dependent on American presence, and 3) to make them vulnerable by detaching them from their popular powerbase as they become socially isolated and objects of public resentment and hatred. 

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Zaman Stanizai Headshot

Zaman Stanizai Professor of Mythological Studies at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California and Political science professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills

For its ideological survival today, however, the Muslim Brotherhood needs to recast its political agenda in 21st century reality and need a system upgrade aimed at forming an Islamist government instead of creating an Islamic state. This critical distinction is lost on many. 
Solving a political problem by military means is a miscalculation that is doomed to fail. While in Syria's case this blunder was initiated by the Assad regime, the West can't take the moral high ground if on the side of folly it pours arms to the conflict...
"True respect for universal values can be achieved only when we can balance entitlement to the exercise of our freedoms with respect for the sanctified values of others. When we cross the bounds of our freedoms, it becomes anarchy; when we expect people of other cultures to prioritize their values based on our norms, we are patronizing them subconsciously."
"Flawed is the argument that guns don't kill, people kill people and gun ownership doesn't contribute to violence. A recent study by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center concludes that "Where there are more guns there is more homicide."
“Whispering suspicions dictate compliance to assimilative norms persuading even the 'godly' among us to accept only those who look like us, think like us, and believe like us. In essence some among us object to God's creative power manifested in the divergent shades and hues of our humanity.”
“By 'Afghanizing' the conflict before any stability is achieved, the U.S. will be further empowering the warlords. The rupturing of the ethnic fault lines will guarantee a very bloody civil war."
"The candidacy of no other state generated more controversy than that of Turkey. European leaders portrayed Turkey as a threat to Europe. The French Prime Minister Jean Marie Raffarin said, "Do we want the river of Islam to enter the riverbed of secularism?"
"Instead of projecting fears of a popular uprising simply because they are theocentric, the West as the beacon of democracy should side with the people precisely because Islamist parties are participating in the political process. If we deny them the opportunity for legitimate political participation in government, they are more likely to come to power through violence."

Can We Afford Another Failed State in Afghanistan? Beyond the 2014 Drawdown

Posted: 03/03/2014 3:10 pm EST Updated: 03/03/2014 3:59 pm EST

President Obama has threatened a full U.S. troop drawdown from Afghanistan by the end of this year unless Afghan President Hamid Karzai signs a security agreement with the U.S. Obama didn't say anything about "the asking price" of the controversial agreement, nor did he say much about the Afghan state the U.S would be leaving behind. He did not give even any inkling of the possibility that Afghanistan could plunge into the quagmire of a failed state to which the U.S. will not be indifferent -- a scenario based on the uncertainties likely to be left by unresolved issues.

American and NATO forces are leaving behind a country where only 10 percent of its GDP of $1 billion comes from legitimate economic activity; of the remainder, 30 percent comes from underground narcotic trade and 60 percent from foreign aid. As a country with one of the highest military to civilian ratios, Afghanistan has more than 350,000 security force, both army and police, with $4 billion annual operation cost, but with few resources to support it. 

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Afghanistan Exit Strategy: How Bilateral Is the Security Agreement

Posted: 02/12/2014 6:38 pm EST

For more than a year we have been negotiating the specifics of the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the Afghan government. The sticking points in the agreement are the U.S. demands to establish 10 permanent military bases on Afghan soil, immunity from prosecution for American servicemen, and unrestrained night raids and house searches. In return Washington will give economic assistance to the Afghan government.

Afghans are suspicious of Washington's motives in its demands. They know, for instance, that American military bases have a tendency of becoming pretty permanent and when they weigh heavily on the local population, dismantling them becomes impossible because of the vested interests of the military-industrial-congressional complex.

Demanding immunity from prosecution infringes upon Afghan sovereignty and undermines the authority of the very constitution Americans 'helped' promulgate as the cornerstone of Afghanistan's 'imported' democracy.

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Egypt and America in Historical Twists of Ironies

Posted: 07/10/2013 5:20 pm

On the Eve of the Fourth of July, fireworks erupted in Tahrir Square in Cairo and in Times Square, New York within hours of one another. There were parallel scenes of excitement and jubilation on Cairo's 6th October Bridge and on Brooklyn Bridge. From a distance Lady Liberty was crying over one event while laughing at the other.

What does Lady Liberty have to do with Egypt and freedom? Everything.

Lady Liberty, formerly known as Lady Egypt was born in 1855 in the imagination of a young sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, from Alsace, France, a land that struggled for freedom. Bartholdi fell in love with Egypt, another land that was struggling for freedom at the time. Barthodli saw that the eyes of the granite majesties in Luxor were fixed on a distanced future, but equally reflective of a glorious past. 

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 Understanding Syria: How a Cold Front Chilled the Damascus Spring

Posted: 06/28/2013 1:04 pm

Understanding the Crisis

Why has all the political punditry failed in predicting an end to the Syrian crisis and why have the experts repeatedly miscalculated the fall of the regime in Damascus? Because they have analyzed Syria's crisis analogously through the commonalities of the Arab Spring rather than the country's historically entrenched unique political structure.

In the eyes of most observers, Syria is a late bloomer in the Arab Spring, yet the Syrian revolution began a decade earlier when after the release of some 600 political prisoners by President Bashar Assad, the Syrian intelligentsia openly called for political reform. "By January 2001, it was like a fashion. Every week you heard an announcement of the opening of a new civil society forum."

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Drone Wars Terrorize Friends Into Enemies

Posted: 05/28/2013 1:16 pm

On Memorial Day, we don't celebrate those who have died, we celebrate the principles worth dying for that keep us alive. This Memorial Day, as the words of President Obama's recent address still echo in our ears, the resonance of Code-Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin's punctuated interruptions echoes even louder. The truth in her voice, reflecting America's awakened conscience, was drowning out the beautifully worded bitter reality of war. Her distanced voice brought us closer to the quiet murmur of the internal dialogue of our collective conscience.

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Provocation or Freedom of Expression

Posted: 10/03/2012 2:54 pm

        "You won't know the love (of God) until and unless the 'you' in you becomes the 'us' in us all." - Rumi

Like golden rules there are golden values, principles, and rights that civil societies cherish and hold in high esteem -- regardless of whether we root them in scriptures as the words of God or enshrine them in constitutions as the words of 'man' or attribute other cultural significance to them. Cultures differ in the ways they rank and prioritize their values, but they share many of the same values that include the freedoms of expression and of worship.

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Is American Gun Culture Compatible With a Modern Civil Society?

Posted: 07/26/2012 12:32 pm             

The American gun culture is defined by the highest rate of gun ownership in the world along with a high rate of gun violence. Americans own a whopping 270 million guns. That is 88.8 guns per 100 people. With only 4 percent of the world population, Americans own 42 percent of the entire 644 million guns in the world. India and China with a combined population that is more than seven times that of the U.S. are in distant second and third place with 46 million and 40 million guns respectively.

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Walking in a Muslim's Moccasins: A Different Perspective on the Muslim Protests

Posted: 09/24/2012 2:43 am

       "Don't judge any man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins." - Native American Proverb

We must condemn violence unequivocally, but we must also defend people's right to free expression, at home and abroad. We also need to understand that when the rule of law is weak; it is the mob mentality that carries the day. There are many peaceful protests in the Muslim world, but it is the ones that turn violent that get more attention.

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NATO's Third Alternative in Afghanistan

Posted: 05/24/2012 9:41 am

The majority of Afghans, Americans, and Europeans believe that it is time for NATO and American troops to leave Afghanistan. This treacherous road had been traveled long enough to know that it leads to nowhere. The decade-long unrestrained military operations have failed to achieve even a modicum of political stability. Instead, they have practically bankrupted the American economy and have devastated the Afghans.
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Why Is the European Union Haunted by Its Rejection of Turkey?

Posted: 07/09/2012 9:48 am 

The shifting winds of the latest Greek and French elections turned the June 2012 European Summit in Brussels into "a defining moment for European integration." Now that the collapse of the euro has been averted through easy-term bank bailouts and an empowered European treasury, it's time to reflect on why Europe got into this mess in the first place.                                                Read more


When an Arab Spring Is Neither

Posted: 06/18/2012 5:48 pm

When it comes to religion and politics, the Western mind understandably shifts to a high pitch of anxiety and fear of theocracy. The theocentric Muslim East, on the other hand, has no experience of theocracies and is thus astounded by the West's overreaction to the role of religion in socio-political discourse and perceives Western agenda as anti-Islamic. Misconceptions and projections across this cultural divide have been as true in colonial times as they have become evident in the Arab Spring.

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The articles presented here have been published by the syndicated website  They may be read in their entirety by clicking the 'Read more' link at the end of each introductory segment.  These articles are available for public use provided credit is given to the author.

Read how our analysis panned out in predicting the outcome of the Libyan Crisis and how much of the arguments are relevant to other uprisings in the Arab Spring like Syria.
The ideals and core values of America have been seriously challenged if not outright trampled upon in the conflict between the people as the rightful source of political legitimacy and the profit-driven corporations riding the unbridled greed of plutocracy."
"The U.S. military's eagerness to derail any attempt for a peaceful resolution in order to prolong the war gives credence to a once easily dismissed speculation that Bin Laden may have been ‘allowed' to slip away under circumstances where American forces had mastery over land and air."
"If ethnic balance is not achieved in the Afghan armed forces before U.S. withdrawal, the country will plunge into another bloody civil war—much like the previous one that drove the people right into the arms of the Taliban who were the only force that reigned in the warlords in the many fiefdoms of an Afghanistan on the verge of collapse."
"The denial, and at times demonization and vilification, of the identity of the ‘other' as a first sign of intolerance is deeply rooted in European history in particular as it pertains to the Christian-Muslim adversarial competition."
"A quarter of a century of foreign military support to impose and maintain a minority-dominated government on a disenfranchised majority in Afghanistan looks like a failing effort at sandcastle building rather than ‘nation building.’ "

How to Win Peace in Afghanistan For Half the Price of War

At the heart of the crisis is our inability to define our objectives in the conflict.  We plunged head on into the crisis knowing nothing beyond the initial attainable goal of dislodging the Al-Qaeda, whose numbers have since dwindled to fewer than a hundred according to General Jones, and toppling the Taliban government in Kabul.  A reassessment of the situation in Afghanistan is underway as the uncertainty of the upcoming runoff election amidst looming fears of a civil war have spawned jitters over troop deployment levels in Washington.         Read more


Silencing the Call of Democracy and Hijacking the Arab Revolution:  Hidden Agenda and Secret Alliances Behind the Libyan Crisis

When the Arab Spring was in the offing, the view from the Western media's lens of cultural relativism was one of shock and dismay at the Arabs' desire for democracy and their willingness to achieve this lofty ideal by peaceful means. Our intelligence agencies were flabbergasted by their inability to stymie these revolutions, notwithstanding the fact that they had failed once more in predicting them like in critical junctures near the turn of every decade: from the Prague Spring of 1968 to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, from the fall and dissolution of the Soviet Union ten years later to the 9/11 tragedy in 2001, and now the Arab Spring in 2011.                                                                                 

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Downgrading American Democracy:  Is There Any Left for the Rest of Us?

The greatest summer attraction of 2011 in Washington has been the qualifying rounds of the re-electability acrobatics played on the stage of political theater advertised as the ‘national' debt default and deficit reduction crisis brought to you by Corporate America. The warning calls about the downgrading of American democracy have been drowned in the hue and cry of the downgraded economy. The prospects that our ideals might be in jeopardy didn't seem to bother any body.  Perhaps we should pinch ourselves for a reality check?                   Read more



Fighting by the Book Failing by Design: The U.S. Military's Inherent Conflict of Interest with Peace in Afghanistan

The American military's obsession with wars has turned U.S. economy into a virtual war economy that thrives on sustained perpetual wars. While our political leadership speaks of a drawdown and troop withdrawals, our military leadership always seem to find a way to get us involved in one or another armed conflict. Those engaged and employed by the military industrial complex wouldn't seriously contemplate peace even when the military spending constitutes nearly 60% of our national budget at a time of economic depression.                            Read more



How We Messed Up a Flourishing Gun-barrel Democracy in Afghanistan

Ten Octobers ago the United States invaded Afghanistan to avenge the 2996 victims of the 9/11 attacks. More than 6227 American deaths, 102,361 injuries, 2276 active-duty suicides, and billions of dollars later the report card is one of a dismal failure. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan and Iraqi were killed to establish law and order and protect civil liberties.  In the ten years of chaos even the condition of Afghan women, the cause celebre for the invasion, has deteriorated.      Read more


We Must Wage War on War to Keep the Republic Public

As the euphoria of Bin Laden's death dies down, voices are raised to consider the mission accomplished and begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Since the cause has been removed, the effect should cease to exist as well. Yet the recent top-level Pentagon and CIA shake-ups are indicative of a more aggressive military stance in Afghanistan. At the same time there are reports that the Taliban insurgency has grown significantly amid Pentagon claims of "tangible progress." The so-called "total security incidents" were approximately the same in the Oct. 2010-Mar. 2011 period as in the previous one of 2009-2010."

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Disowning ‘Otherness' in Norway's Nightmare and Europe's Long Past of Cultural Intolerance

Europe's New-age counter-culture has manifested itself in strange ways, the vigorous revival of anti-Islamic hatemongering is one of them. An even more dangerous aspect of this development is that it feeds on Islamophobia with the blessings of America's far right conservative crusaders, media moguls, and petty politicians of that same ilk, whose preaching essentially produced Anders Breivik.  Thus, the Islamo-fascism that wasn't, crossed path with a Christiano-fascism that is stuck in the dark pages of history.                                                                  Read more



Afghanistan in the Throes of Nation Building and Military Build-up

For a while at least, it seemed as if USS Afghanistan was sinking fast in the militarized quicksand of Central Asia, sending distress signal m’aider, Mayday.  On May Day, Captain Obama rushed to the rescue under the veil of darkness, but the “secrecy” of the visit had already been leaked to the Afghan media some five hours before the President’s arrival—a security breach that is symptomatic of the Afghan crisis.    

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