To journalists eager for lurid stories, the world’s Salafis are the gift that keeps on giving. Hardly a day goes by without a pronouncement from a mufti here, or a mullah there, that does not make us rub our eyes in grateful disbelief. This week’s gems come from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In the former case, the country’s leading cleric issued a fatwa prohibiting Arabs from speaking to foreign media outlets. Such contact, decreed Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, is un-Islamic, and a “major crime.” Meanwhile in Egypt, a jihadi who was jailed by Hosni Mubarak, called for the Sphinx and pyramids at Giza to be razed. Invoking the destruction by the Taliban of two giant statues of the Buddha in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, Murgan Salem al-Gohary, called for similar action in Egypt. “God ordered Prophet Muhammad to destroy idols.” Al-Gohary’s call may be just the tonic for Egypt’s sagging tourism industry: Come to Egypt, quickly. See the pyramids while you still can.
France has proved once more that when it comes to addressing the increasingly complex and baffling “Arab Spring,” it is the uncontested leader of the free world. Not content with having led the Western cavalry charge in Libya that resulted in the toppling of the dastardly Gaddafi, the French have seized the Syrian bull by its bloody, battered horns. Last week, François Hollande—whose bookish exterior masks the heart of an interventionist superhero—-bestowed his country’s blessing on the coalition of Syrian opposition groups, recognizing it as the legitimate representative of Syria’s hapless people. In becoming the first Western country to offer its imprimatur to the Syrian -opposition—and also to withdraw, formally, all recognition from the sanguinary Assad regime—France clearly hopes to spark a series of copy-cat acts of recognition by other states in Europe. (Sure enough, Turkey swiftly followed suit.) There is more to all of this, of course, than an exercise in feel-good rhetoric. As any international lawyer worth his salt will point out, once the opposition has received a critical mass of recognition internationally, it would be in a position, as the “legitimate” government of Syria, to call on other, friendly governments to come to its aid—militarily, if need be. Clever man, that François. Ronald Reagan would have been proud of him.
Turkey’s adamantly secular Army has a surprise for us. Its General Staff has approved the inclusion of elective Koran courses in the curriculum of military high schools. Turks, and Turkey watchers, have reason to be startled—even gobsmacked—by the news. The military is (perhaps one should now say “was”) the citadel of Kemalism. Were the ghost of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to return furtively to the Turkey of Islamist Prime Minister Erdogan, it would recoil in dread. A gloomy historian of Turkey told this columnist that teaching the Koran to would-be soldiers is a “breaching of the dyke.” If and when “the Islamists enter that secular bastion, the Army, Turkey will have changed beyond recognition, arguably forever.”
LAND OF THE RISING SUM
Japan is closing in on China as America’s largest creditor, Peter Boockvar reports in the estimable economics blog The Big Picture. Both China and Japan have added recently to their holdings of U.S. Treasuries, but Japan has “really ramped up its buying ... over the past six months and is now only $25 billion away from passing China as the largest owner of our debt.” A high-wire political economist held in regard by this column mused that “this may not be a terrible thing for the U.S., because when rates go up and bond prices fall (as they eventually must), I’d rather see more in Japanese hands.” When asked why, the professor added: “The Japanese are historically stoic about eating financial losses, especially those originating from the U.S. Sort of their chipping in for the protection we provide!”
With Luke Darby and Jane Teeling