Marcel Cardaire’s Figures for the 1952 Hajj

Very belatedly for someone who works on Islam in Africa, I read through parts of Marcel Cardaire’s L’islam et le terroir africain (1954) the other day. I hadn’t had much interest in the book before, given its implicit racism and the fact that it’s discussed extensively in more recent, secondary literature, but it’s now relevant to a project I’m working on, so I took a look.

Among various interesting bits, one thing that jumped out at me was Cardaire’s figures for the 1952 hajj (or, to take his phrasing, entry visas for Saudi Arabia in 1952, which I assume corresponds at least roughly to the hajj figures). He only lists figures for a few regions and countries, but here they are from largest to smallest. The total visas, he said, was 148,175

  • 27,611 Egyptians,
  • 18,314 Pakistanis,
  • 10,645 Indonesians,
  • 10,218 Indians,
  • 9,623 Turks,
  • 9,233 Sudanese (then “Sudanese Egyptians,” since Sudan wasn’t independent until 1956),
  • 6,101 Thai
  • 3,569 Iranians,
  • 1,634 Afghans,
  • 853 West Africans (called “Senegalese” by the Saudis but coming from across the region)
  • 30 Japanese,
  • 22 Chinese,
  • 1 American

Malley and Finer’s Foreign Affairs Article “The Long Shadow of 9/11,” Annotated

Robert Malley, president and CEO of International Crisis Group, and Jon Finer, former Chief of Staff and Director of Policy Planning in John Kerry’s State Department, have published an extremely important article in Foreign Affairs. Entitled “The Long Shadow of 9/11: How Counterterrorism Warps U.S. Foreign Policy,” the article makes a number of arguments that deserve wide amplification. To that end, I’ll make my small contribution by annotating some key passages from the article below. I also want to highlight a few areas where I think they could have gone further, and I’ll close with a critique related to optics. In my annotations, I’m working from the print edition (July/August 2018, pp. 58-69), because I do not believe the online version is up yet.

  • p. 59: The article’s central argument is that “An excessive focus on [counterterrorism] disfigures American politics, distorts U.S. policies, and in the long run will undermine national security.” I couldn’t agree more.
  • pp. 58-59: One of the article’s biggest strengths is its attention to how counterterrorism policies distort domestic politics. As part of establishing this argument, the authors note the significant policy continuities across the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump when it comes to counterterrorism: “In an era of persistent political polarization, countering terrorism has become the area of greatest bipartisan consensus” (59). One might add that despite a fetish for bipartisanship among elite newspaper columnists and centrist Senators, bipartisan consensus can actually represent a dangerous stifling of debate. It’s a bad sign that we don’t have a more robust national debate about counterterrorism, or even about foreign policy generally.
  • p, 59: Malley and Finer clarify that they are not advocating a complete de-prioritization of counterterrorism: “The question is not whether fighting terrorist ought to be a key U.S. foreign policy objective – of course it should. But the pendulum has swung too far at the expense of other interests and of a more rational conversation about terrorism and how to fight it.” This is well said, although I think they could have been more forceful here: if you go by hard numbers about what threats actually affect the largest numbers of Americans, counterterrorism should be a second-tier priority at best, and probably more like a third-tier priority, well behind climate change and pandemics.
  • p. 59: “Those privy to the constant stream of threat information generated by U.S. intelligence services – as we were during the Obama administration – can attest to the relentlessness and inventiveness with which terrorist organizations target Americans at home and abroad.” This makes some sense. But it would also have been worth stating that immersion in that kind of environment could actually cause policymakers to lose, rather than gain, perspective. That kind of atmosphere also makes political appointees a bit vulnerable to manipulation by hawks in the intelligence community.
  • p. 59-60: “Unlike most other foreign policy issues, terrorism matters to Americans. They may have an exaggerated sense of the threat or misunderstand it, and their political leaders might manipulate or exploit their concerns. But politicians need to be responsive to the demands of their constituents, who consistently rank terrorism among the greatest threats the country faces.” This is true as far as it goes, but I think it only captures one part of a three-way interaction between the public, politicians, and the media. Politicians (as Malley and Finer discuss later) and the media (as they mention at the very end of the article) play major roles in shaping public perceptions. I don’t think that most of the public has a self-generated fear of terrorism – I think they are led into that fear by elites.
  • p. 60-61: “Trump’s rise…cannot be dissociated from the emotional and at times irrational fears that he simultaneously took advantage of and fueled.” This is a key point, perhaps the key point, of the essay. Why did Trump win? There are probably dozens of reasons – the tactical and rhetorical missteps of the Clinton campaign, James Comey’s clumsy and perhaps malevolent rhetorical interventions during the campaign, the electoral college, Russian influence, racism and sexism, economic stagnation for many Americans, a culture of celebrity worship, etc. But I think the San Bernardino and Orlando attacks, and Trump’s exploitation of those incidents, have not been given nearly enough weight in analysts’ understandings of the 2016 election result. To put it more bluntly, Trump’s win is in large part a product of the War on Terror. In that sense, both the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as the “liberal” media, played significant roles in feeding public alarm about terrorism in ways that ultimately benefited Trump.
  • p. 61, “Trump is hardly the only [politician] who has hyped the threat of terrorism for political gain…It has become exceedingly rare for an elected official or candidate to offer a sober, dispassionate assessment of the threat posed by foreign terrorists. Obama tried to do so, but critics charged that at times of near panic, such rational pronouncements came across as cold and aloof.” I don’t know – I think Jeremy Corbyn’s approach after Manchester shows that there can even be a political benefit to leveling with the public. I think Obama could have done much more on this front.
  • p. 62: Here is where Malley and Finer pivot to their second main argument, namely that “The time spent by senior officials and the resources invested by the government in finding, chasing, and killing terrorists invariably come at the expense of other tasks: for example, addressing the challenges of a rising China, a nuclear North Korea, and a resurgent Russia.” Here I agree with the sentiment up to the colon, but I disagree with the other possible priorities the authors mention. The debate is too often framed this way – i.e., as counterterrorism vs. what I would call “great power bullshit.” If the point is to have a clear-eyed assessment of what actually threatens the United States, then trying to flex on Russia in eastern Ukraine or on China in the South China Sea are not priorities, they are problems partly of our own making. The big threat, again, is climate change.
  • p. 62: Here is a point I completely agree with – “The United States’ counterterrorism posture also affects how Washington deals with other governments – and how other governments deal with it…Washington’s willingness and ability to criticize or pressure the governments of Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, among others, is hindered by the fact that the United States depends on them to take action against terrorist groups or to allow U.S. forces to use their territory to do so.” In this connection, I will plug my wife’s book, which examines how Morocco has strategically benefited from the War on Terror.
  • p. 62-63: Malley and Finer go on to describe how American brutality in counterterrorism can feed and empower other countries’ brutality, in a kind of race to the bottom.
  • p. 63: Although this is not the heart of the article, the authors give a fascinating description of how counterterrorism distorts interagency policymaking within presidential administrations. “In one example from our time in government, in 2016, officials taking part in the more specialized counterterrorism side of the process debated whether to kill or capture a particular militant leader even as those involved in the parallel interagency process considered whether to initiate political discussions with him.” Unbelievable.
  • p. 64: Here is another critical point: “[The] policy distortion has produced an unhealthy tendency among policymakers to formulate their arguments in counterterrorism terms, thereby downplaying or suppressing other serious issues.” This crops up in the think tank world a lot, of course. It is an unfortunate trend with discussions of Africa, too – a lot of Africa watchers/think tankers, desperate to get more attention for Africa, play the national security card. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory, a lot of the time, if what you care about is actually another issue, like development.
  • p. 66: The final main section is really strong as well. “Paradoxically, fixating on counterterrorism can make it harder to actually fight terrorism. The intense pressure to immediately address terrorist threats leads to a focus on symptoms over causes and to an at times counterproductive reliance on the use of force.” Very well said. This goes back to some of the dynamics highlighted above involving publics, policymakers, and pundits – if we are to get out of those cycles, policymakers and politicians may have to be willing to accept some short-term political losses in order to do some long-term good.
  • p. 66: “Sometimes what’s needed is a far broader approach that would entail, where possible, engaging such groups in dialogue and addressing factors such as a lack of education or employment opportunities, ethnic or religious discrimination, the absence of state services, and local government repression.” I sure think so.
  • p. 67: “An overly militarized approach aggravates the very conditions on which terrorist recruitment thrives. The destruction of entire cities and the unintentional killing of civilians, in addition to being tragic, serve as powerful propaganda tools for jihadists.” Yep. The right will contend that jihadists are strategic masterminds whose expansion reflects their own brilliance, but I believe Malley and Finer are correct that a significant part of the proliferation of jihadism has to do with our own actions.
  • p. 68-69: Somewhat surprisingly to me, Malley and Finer see “a window of opportunity” now to change the conversation on terrorism. They see a “small crack” in the political consensus, with a big of skepticism coming from the Trump administration and from Bernie Sanders. I’m really not sure how much the conversation is changing. I think 2020 candidates will still have big incentives, or perceived incentives, to hype the threat of terrorism. But I am glad to see this article and I hope will inspire more thinking and writing in this direction.
  • A final note on optics: I think Malley should have written this article solo. That’s not a knock on Finer, but I think Malley needs to be careful that he is seen first and foremost as the head of Crisis Group, and not as a former Obama administration official. As a big fan of Crisis Group, I’m concerned that this is becoming a pattern – Malley co-authoring articles with other former Obama administration officials. It would be a real shame if Crisis Group came to be seen as just another administration-in-waiting, as a foreign policy version of the Center for American Progress. That perception could cost Crisis Group whatever influence it has with Republican administrations, and could weaken Crisis Group’s independence when Democrats are in power; it could even affect Crisis Group’s reputation in Europe and elsewhere. So I hope that in future articles Malley will not team up with his former colleagues.



“Tribal Dynamics” and Wannabe Gordian Knot-Cutters

Reading Crisis Group’s latest report on Yemen, two sentences jumped out at me:

Western analysis tends to explore [al-Qaida]’s relationship with local tribes but less often examines the group as a tool for Yemen’s political elite to resort to subterfuge for financial and military gain. Yemenis, by contrast, view domestic political dynamics as fundamental to understanding and countering AQ and similar jihadist groups.

This observation about Yemen can be broadened to discussions of “counterinsurgency” in general. At policy-oriented conferences and in my reading, I’ve repeatedly run into the idea that attending to “tribal dynamics” is the key to understanding and solving conflicts, particularly in terms of stripping away local support from jihadists. Western analysts who glom onto the “tribal dynamics” hypothesis tend to speak as though they’re Alexander ready to cut through the Gordian Knot – as though they can slice through complexity with a single analytical tool.

It’s also remarkable how superficial the analysis of “tribal dynamics” often is. Whether the subject is Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc., the template such analysts like to apply is simple and generic: a lot of talk about “honor and shame,” “revenge and feuds,” pre-modern societies, and so forth. Funny: if we’re talking about ultra-local dynamics, then how come the same framework can supposedly be applied in extremely different places? Are all tribes fundamentally the same? If analysts know the “local” so well, why do they so rarely provide any details about the specific tribes, situations, and customs involved? Analysts in this vein talk as though all you need to do is show up, find an old shaykh under a tent, remember not to eat with your left hand, butter him up about honor, and you can magically solve the world’s worst conflicts.

Additionally, as the quoted passage suggests, the emphasis on “tribal dynamics” is almost always a de-politicizing maneuver – a conscious or unconscious flight from the messiness of politics. It would convenient if conflicts could be solved just by appealing to shaykhs under tents, because that would eliminate the necessity to sort through the incredible complexity of state failures, elite infighting, ethnic and sectarian conflict, historical memory, etc.

At the end of the day I don’t think there’s a sword that can cut through these Gordian Knots. Conflicts are complicated. Societies are complex. Power is fickle and diffuse. Sometimes you don’t get a sword: you just have to try to pull the strings you can find. And sometimes you can’t even do that.

Peter Mandaville and J.M. Berger on CVE, Past and Present

The Centre on Religion and Global Affairs has published an interesting interview with Professor Peter Mandaville of George Mason University, who recently left the US State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs. (There’s no relationship between the Centre and the Office, despite the overlap in names.)

One exchange stood out to me:

There is a tendency for the topic of religion to be only seen through the lens of a Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) focus. Does such a starting point help, or should governments take religion seriously beyond CVE? 

Well this question takes us directly into an area that has been more challenging. With respect to groups such as ISIS, I think the default assumption of many national security policymakers is that the U.S. government should be partnering with religious leaders who can create and disseminate something like “theological antidotes” designed to discredit Salafi-jihadi interpretations of Islam. I think this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding both of how religious authority works in Islam and also a faulty analysis of the extent to which the “correctness” of how ISIS interprets Islamic teachings bear on the calculus of those looking to join or support such groups. There’s also just a basic credibility problem here insofar as I suspect that a religious scholar whose views are supported or promoted by the U.S. Government would have close to zero legitimacy in the eyes of many young and politically conscious Muslims. The Office of Religion and Global Affairs has therefore tried to emphasize instead the idea that religious actors who want to play a role in countering violent extremism are likely to be more effective by making their voices heard in the context of initiatives that deal with some of the underlying societal causes of terrorism – such as localized violence and conflict, corruption and other deficits in governance, and certain forms of socioeconomic deprivation and societal alienation.

Recently, there has been some well-placed concern the Trump administration’s plans to change CVE to focus entirely on Muslims. As J.M. Berger wrote earlier this month,

Theoretically, up to now, [CVE has] been targeting all forms of violent extremist ideology, from radical Muslim groups to domestic white nationalists. In practice, though, even under Obama, the focus was almost entirely on Muslims, aside from a tiny handful of mostly invisible grants and programs.

But there was still a powerful symbolic statement behind saying the government wanted to fight all extremists, no matter what ideology they espoused. And it would be an equally powerful symbolic statement if the Trump administration decides to drop all non-Muslim interventions and rebrand the effort as Combating Islamic Extremism…The administration is taking advantage of yet another opportunity to ratify white nationalism and white supremacy.

I see Mandaville’s and Berger’s points as entirely compatible. One might even sum it up as “old CVE, naive; new CVE, dangerous.”

A Roundup of Arguments Against Designating the Muslim Brotherhood a Foreign Terrorist Organization

An extremely important debate is occurring in Washington now: whether to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, or otherwise use the powers of the U.S. government to constrain the Brotherhood’s operations. The main debate now concerns a bill (.pdf) by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would ask the State Department to either designate the Brotherhood a Foreign Terrorist Organization or provide an explanation as to why not. There is also talk of a presidential Executive Order demanding a designation. As I wrote on Twitter, I oppose the designation of the Brotherhood for various reasons.

Here are some experts weighing in on why the designation would be a bad idea:

  • William McCants and Benjamin Wittes: “The Brotherhood as a whole, in several different respects, does not meet the criteria for designation under the statute. That’s why, despite pressure from governments like Egypt and the UAE over a protracted period of time, it has not been designated to date under any of the previous three administrations. Barring a change in statute that would almost certainly render the material support law unconstitutional, a designation, notwithstanding the ferment for it, would not be lawful today either, even under a Trump administration.”
  • Nathan Brown and Michele Dunne: “There is no single thing called the Muslim Brotherhood, but instead a number of organizations, movements, parties, associations, and informal groups that take some inspiration, sometimes direct and sometimes remote, from the original movement founded in Egypt in 1928 and the core texts its founder produced. Brotherhood-inspired movements long ago concluded that their circumstances were so distinct that each would follow the path it saw as appropriate in its own society. And there are many organizations that have been formed with varying degrees of participation from Brotherhood members, but their ties to any Brotherhood organization are often informal and vary in scope. Nor is their use or espousal of violence, a key aspect of the terrorism designation, a given, even if one branch of the Muslim Brotherhood that has unarguably used violence in recent years is the Palestinian organization Hamas, which the United States declared to be a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.”
  • New York Times Editorial Board: “It is wrongheaded and dangerous to tar all Brotherhood members with one brush. The Brotherhood is associated with political parties in Indonesia, Pakistan, Morocco, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen and even Israel, and runs schools and hospitals. Many of those parties are America’s partners. The governing party in Turkey, a NATO member, also has connections to the Brotherhood. If the group is named to the terrorism list, how will Washington continue these relationships without violating the law?”
  • Arjun Sethi: “If the Brotherhood is designated a foreign terrorist organization, the government could bring criminal charges against [American] Muslims, Arabs and their institutions by invoking dangerously broad and expansive material support of terrorism laws. They could be criminally prosecuted for providing support, services, resources, expert advice or assistance to the Brotherhood without any intent to support terrorist activity. These laws can be easily exploited and manipulated for political gain, as even the most remote connection to the Brotherhood could pass muster in a court of law.”
  • Georgetown Bridge Initiative: “If the US designates the Muslim Brotherhood as an FTO, the signal sent to masses of Muslims is that the United States welcomes autocracy, but not democratization. A controversial review of the Muslim Brotherhood by the UK government, somewhat similar to a requirement under the Republican proposal, could not arrive at evidence of complicity in violence. The Muslim Brotherhood has long been a strong opponent of oppressive dictatorships and radical Muslim extremists…Putting the Muslim Brotherhood in the same general category as the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) would be a victory for the extremists because it would take away from the United States an important resource in the battle against ISIL.”
  • Andrew March: “There is a hidden danger for academics and journalists lurking within congressional legislation introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Most of the discussion has focused on whether the legislation’s premise is correct about the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with terrorism and the potential impact on Muslim American organizations. There is another threat more specific to academic researchers and analysts: Those who conduct research on the organization could find themselves at risk of prosecution for “material support” of terrorism.”

A final thought from me, Sahel-specific: a designation would complicate U.S. relations with two countries this blog covers, Mauritania and Sudan. With Mauritania, the effect could be to constrain political space for the opposition. With Sudan, the effect could be yet another source of conflict and tension, given that the Muslim Brotherhood is, at least in some loose sense, the ruling party in Sudan.

African Studies Association Statement Against Trump’s Refugee/Muslim Ban

The African Studies Association, of which I am a member, has issued a strong and laudable statement against President Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning travel from seven majority-Muslim countries. A few key excerpts from the statement:

The fact that all seven are majority Muslim countries and that the rhetoric preceding the exclusion specifically talked about a ban of Muslims suggest that US policy is targeting Muslims. This creates an image of bias and hostility that undermines efforts to build understanding and cooperation. It also blatantly disregards constitutional protections of freedom of religion enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and makes those of us who work abroad less safe.


The ASA includes many scholars who have worked in countries with autocratic governments, and who conduct research on authoritarianism, and we are particularly troubled by the signs of emerging authoritarian practices in the United States. We are alarmed by the administration’s attacks on the free press and the harassment of civil society. This executive order targets people based on race, religion, and national origin and is a form of scapegoating commonly associated with authoritarian regimes. The failure to adequately consult with Congress on this order and the disregard for court rulings limiting its impact represent an overreach of executive authority that undermines democracy.

I am proud to be a member of ASA.