Pratap Chatterjee asks “are we destabilizing Pakistan?”

The parallels are so close to our 1960’s Souteast Asian adventures that perhaps the question should be “can we learn from our mistakes?  So far the answer appears to be “no.”

Operation Breakfast Redux – Could Pakistan 2010 Go the Way of Cambodia 1969? 
By Pratap Chatterjee, TomDispatch, 7 February 2010 — Reposted with permission.

Introduction by Tom Englehardt

Almost every day, reports come back from the CIA’s “secret” battlefield in the Pakistani tribal borderlands. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — that is, pilot-less drones — shoot missiles (18 of themin a single attack on a tiny village last week) or drop bombs and then the news comes in: a certain number of al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders or suspected Arab or Uzbek or Afghan “militants”have died. The numbers are often remarkably precise. Sometimes they are attributed to U.S. sources, sometimes to the Pakistanis; sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the information comes from. In the Pakistani press, on the other hand, the numbers that come back are usually of civilian dead. They, too, tend to be precise.

Don’t let that precision fool you. Here’s the reality: There are no reporters on the ground and none of these figures can be taken as accurate. Let’s just consider the CIA side of things. Any information that comes from American sources (i.e. the CIA) has to be looked at with great wariness. As a start, the CIA’s history is one of deception. There’s no reason to take anything its sources say at face value. They will report just what they think it’s in their interest to report — and the ongoing “success” of their drone strikes is distinctly in their interest.

Then, there’s history. In the present drone wars, as in the CIA’s bloody Phoenix Program in the Vietnam era, the Agency’s operatives, working in distinctly alien terrain, must rely on local sources (or possibly official Pakistani ones) for targeting intelligence. In Vietnam in the 1960s, the Agency’s Phoenix Program — reportedly responsible for the assassination of 20,000 Vietnamese — became, according to historian Marilyn Young, “an extortionist’s paradise, with payoffs as available for denunciation as for protection.” Once again, the CIA is reportedly passing out bags of money and anyone on the ground with a grudge, or the desire to eliminate an enemy, or simply the desire to make some of that money can undoubtedly feed information into the system, watch the drones do their damnedest, and then report back that more “terrorists” are dead. Just assume that at least some of those “militants” dying in Pakistan, and possibly many of them, aren’t who the CIA hopes they are.

Think of it as a foolproof situation, with an emphasis on the “fool.” And then keep in mind that, in December, the CIA’s local brain trust, undoubtedly the same people who were leaking precise news of “successes” in Pakistan, mistook a jihadist double agent from Jordan for an agent of theirs, gathered at an Agency base in Khost, Afghanistan, and let him wipe them out with a suicide bomb. Seven CIA operatives died, including the base chief. This should give us a grim clue as to the accuracy of the CIA’s insights into what’s happening on the ground in Pakistan, or into the real effects of their 24/7 robotic assassination program.

But there’s a deeper, more dangerous level of deception in Washington’s widening war in the region: self-deception. The CIA drone program, which the Agency’s Director Leon Panetta has called “the only game in town” when it comes to dismantling al-Qaeda, is just symptomatic of such self-deception. While the CIA and the U.S. military have been expending enormous effort studying the Afghan and Pakistani situations and consulting experts, and while the White House has conducted an extensive series of seminars-cum-policy-debates on both countries, you can count on one thing: none of them have spent significant time studying or thinking about us.

As a result, the seeming cleanliness and effectiveness of the drone-war solution undoubtedly only reinforces a sense in Washington that the world’s last great military power can still control this war — that it can organize, order, prod, wheedle, and bribe both the Afghans and Pakistanis into doing what’s best, and if that doesn’t work, simply continue raining down the missiles and bombs. Beware Washington’s deep-seated belief that it controls events; that it is, however precariously, in the saddle; that, as Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal recently put it, there is a “corner” to “turn” out there, even if we haven’t quite turned it yet.

In fact, Washington is not in the saddle and that corner, if there, if turned, will have its own unpleasant surprises. Washington is, in this sense, as oblivious as those CIA operatives were as they waited for “their” Jordanian agent to give them supposedly vital information on the al-Qaeda leadership in the Pakistani tribal areas. Like their drones, the Americans in charge of this war are desperately far from the ground, and they don’t even seem to know it. It’s this that makes the analogy drawn by TomDispatch regular and author of Halliburton’s Army, Pratap Chatterjee, so unnerving. It’s time for Washington to examine not what we know about them, but what we don’t know about ourselves.

Today’s Feature by Pratap Chatterjee

Sitting in air-conditioned comfort, cans of Coke and 7-Up within reach as they watched their screens, the ground controllers gave the order to strike under the cover of darkness. There had been no declaration of war.  No advance warning, nothing, in fact, that would have alerted the “enemy” to the sudden, unprecedented bombing raids. The secret computer-guided strikes were authorized by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just weeks after a new American president entered the Oval Office.  They represented an effort to wipe out the enemy’s central headquarters whose location intelligence experts claimed to have pinpointed just across the border from the war-torn land where tens of thousands of American troops were fighting daily.

In remote villages where no reporters dared to go, far from the battlefields where Americans were dying, who knew whether the bombs that rained from the night sky had killed high-level insurgents or innocent civilians? For 14 months the raids continued and, after each one was completed, the commander of the bombing crews was instructed to relay a one-sentence message: “The ball game is over.”

The campaign was called “Operation Breakfast,” and, while it may sound like the CIA’s present air campaign over Pakistan, it wasn’t. You need to turn the clock back to another American war, four decades earlier, to March 18, 1969, to be exact.  The target was an area of Cambodia known as the Fish Hook that jutted into South Vietnam, and Operation Breakfast would be but the first of dozens of top secret bombing raids.  Later ones were named “Lunch,” “Snack,” and “Supper,” and they went under the collective label “Menu.” They were authorized by President Richard Nixon and were meant to destroy a (non-existent) “Bamboo Pentagon,” a central headquarters in the Cambodian borderlands where North Vietnamese communists were supposedly orchestrating raids deep into South Vietnam.

Like President Obama today, Nixon had come to power promising stability in an age of unrest and with a vague plan to bringing peace to a nation at war. On the day he was sworn in, he read from the Biblical book of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” He also spoke of transforming Washington’s bitter partisan politics into a new age of unity: “We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another, until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”

Return to the Killing Fields

In recent years, many commentators and pundits have resorted to “the Vietnam analogy,” comparing first the American war in Iraq and now in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War. Despite a number of similarities, the analogy disintegrates quickly enough if you consider that U.S. military campaigns in post-invasion Afghanistan and Iraq against small forces of lightly-armed insurgents bear little resemblance to the large-scale war that Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon waged against both southern revolutionary guerrillas and the military of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, who commanded a real army, with the backing of, and supplies from, the Soviet Union and China.

A more provocative — and perhaps more ominous — analogy today might be between the CIA’s escalating drone war in the contemporary Pakistani tribal borderlands and Richard Nixon’s secret bombing campaign against the Cambodian equivalent.  To briefly recapitulate that ancient history: In the late 1960s, Cambodia was ruled by a “neutralist” king, Norodom Sihanouk, leading a weak government that had little relevance to its poor and barely educated citizens. In its borderlands, largely beyond its control, the North Vietnamese and Vietcong found “sanctuaries.” 

Sihanouk, helpless to do anything, looked the other way.  In the meantime, sheltered by local villagers in distant areas of rural Cambodia was a small insurgent group, little-known communist fundamentalists who called themselves the Khmer Rouge.  (Think of them as the 1970s equivalent of the Pakistani Taliban who have settled into the wild borderlands of that country largely beyond the control of the Pakistani government.)  They were then weak and incapable of challenging Sihanouk — until, that is, those secret bombing raids by American B-52s began.  As these intensified in the summer of 1969, areas of the country began to destabilize (helped on in 1970 by a U.S.-encouraged military coup in the capital Phnom Penh), and the Khmer Rouge began to gain strength.

You know the grim end of that old story. 

Forty years, almost to the day, after Operation Breakfast began, I traveled to the town of Snuol, close to where the American bombs once fell. It is a quiet town, no longer remote, as modern roads and Chinese-led timber companies have systematically cut down the jungle that once sheltered anti-government rebels. I went in search of anyone who remembered the bombing raids, only to discover that few there were old enough to have been alive at the time, largely because the Khmer Rouge executed as much as a quarter of the total Cambodian population after they took power in 1975.

Eventually, a 15-minute ride out of town, I found an old soldier living by himself in a simple one-room house adorned with pictures of the old king, Sihanouk. His name was Kong Kan and he had first moved to the nearby town of Memot in 1960. A little further away, I ran into three more old men, Choenung Klou, Keo Long, and Hoe Huy, who had gathered at a newly built temple to chat.

All of them remembered the massive 1969 B-52 raids vividly and the arrival of U.S. troops the following year. “We thought the Americans had come to help us,” said Choenung Klou. “But then they left and the [South] Vietnamese soldiers who came with them destroyed the villages and raped the women.”

He had no love for the North Vietnamese communists either. “They would stay at people’s houses, take our hammocks and food. We didn’t like them and we were afraid of them.”

Caught between two Vietnamese armies and with American planes carpet-bombing the countryside, increasing numbers of Cambodians soon came to believe that the Khmer Rouge, who were their countrymen, might help them. Like the Taliban of today, many of the Khmer Rouge were, in fact, teenaged villagers who had responded, under the pressure of war and disruption, to the distant call of an inspirational ideology and joined the resistance in the jungles.

“If you ask me why I joined the Khmer Rouge, the main reason is because of the American invasion,” Hun Sen, the current prime minister of Cambodia, has said. “If there was no invasion, by now, I would be a pilot or a professor.”

Six years after the bombings of Cambodia began, shortly after the last helicopter lifted off the U.S. embassy in Saigon and the flow of military aid to the crumbling government of Cambodia stopped, a reign of terror took hold in the capital, Phnom Penh.

The Khmer Rouge left the jungles and entered the capital where they began a systemic genocide against city dwellers and anyone who was educated. They vowed to restart history at Year Zero, a new era in which much of the past became irrelevant. Some two million people are believed to have died from executions, starvation, and forced labor in the camps established by the Angkar leadership of the Khmer Rouge commanded by Pol Pot.

Unraveling Pakistan

Could the same thing happen in Pakistan today? A new American president was ordering escalating drone attacks, in a country where no war has been declared, at the moment when I flew from Cambodia across South Asia to Afghanistan, so this question loomed large in my mind.  Both there and just across the border, Operation Breakfast seems to be repeating itself.

In the Afghan capital, Kabul, I met earnest aid workers who drank late into the night in places like L’Atmosphere, a foreigner-only bar that could easily have doubled as a movie set for Saigon in the 1960s. Like modern-day equivalents of Graham Greene’s “quiet American,” these “consultants” describe a Third Way that is neither Western nor fundamentalist Islam.

At the very same time, CIA analysts in distant Virginia are using pilot-less drones and satellite technology to order strikes against supposed terrorist headquarters across the border in Pakistan.  They are not so unlike the military men who watched radar screens in South Vietnam in the 1960s as the Cambodian air raids went on.

In 2009, on the orders of President Obama, the U.S. unloaded more missiles and bombs on Pakistan than President Bush did in the years of his secret drone war, and the strikes have been accelerating in number and intensity.  By this January, there was a drone attack almost every other day. Even if, this time around, no one is using the code phrase, “the ball game is over,” Washington continually hails success after success, terrorist leader after terrorist leader killed, implying that something approaching victory could be somewhere just over the horizon. 

As in the 1960s in Cambodia, these strikes are, in actuality, having a devastating, destabilizing effect in Pakistan, not just on the targeted communities, but on public consciousness throughout the region. An article in the January 23rd New York Times indicated that the fury over these attacks has even spread into Pakistan’s military establishment which, in a manner similar to Sihanouk in the 1960s, knows its limits in its tribal borderlands and is publicly uneasy about U.S. air strikes which undermine the country’s sovereignty. “Are you with us or against us?” the newspaper quoted a senior Pakistani military officer demanding of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates when he spoke last month at Pakistan’s National Defense University.

Even pro-American Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has spoken out publicly against drone strikes.  Of one such attack, he recently told reporters, “We strongly condemn this attack and the government will raise this issue at [the] diplomatic level.”

Despite the public displays of outrage, however, the American strikes have undoubtedly been tacitly approved at the highest levels of the Pakistani government because of that country’s inability to control militants in its tribal borderlands.  Similarly, Sihanouk finally looked the other way after the U.S. provided secret papers, code-named Vesuvius, as proof that the Vietnamese were operating from his country.

While most Democratic and Republican hawks have praised the growing drone war in the skies over Pakistan, some experts in the U.S. are starting to express worries about them (even if they don’t have the Cambodian analogy in mind). For example, John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School who frequently advises the military, says that an expansion of the drone strikes “might even spark a social revolution in Pakistan.”

Indeed, even General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, wrote in a secret assessment on May 27, 2009: “Anti-U.S. sentiment has already been increasing in Pakistan… especially in regard to cross-border and reported drone strikes, which Pakistanis perceive to cause unacceptable civilian casualties.” Quoting local polls, he wrote: “35 percent [of Pakistanis] say they do not support U.S. strikes into Pakistan, even if they are coordinated with the GOP [government of Pakistan] and the Pakistan Military ahead of time.”

The Pakistani Army has, in fact, launched several significant operations against the Pakistani Taliban in Swat and in South Waziristan, just as Sihanouk initially ordered the Cambodian military to attack the Khmer Rouge and suppress peasant rebellions in Battambang Province. Again like Sihanouk in the late 1960s, however, the Pakistanis have balked at more comprehensive assaults on the Taliban, and especially on the Afghan Taliban using the border areas as “sanctuaries.”

The New Jihadists

What happens next is the $64 million question. Most Pakistani experts dismiss any suggestion that the Taliban has widespread support in their country, but it must be remembered that the Khmer Rouge was a fringe group with no more than 4,000 fighters at the time that Operation Breakfast began.

And if Cambodia’s history is any guide to the future, the drone strikes do not have to create a groundswell for revolution. They only have to begin to destabilize Pakistan as would, for instance, the threatened spread of such strikes into the already unsettled province of Baluchistan, or any future American ground incursions into the country. A few charismatic intellectuals like Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot always have the possibility of taking it from there, rallying angry and unemployed youth to create an infrastructure for disruptive change.

Despite often repeated claims by both the Bush and Obama administrations that the drone raids are smashing al-Qaeda’s intellectual leadership, more and more educated and disenchanted young men from around the world seem to be rallying to the fundamentalist cause.

Some have struck directly at American targets like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian who attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009, and Dr. Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the 32-year-old Jordanian double agent and suicide bomber who killed seven CIA operatives at a military base in Khost, southern Afghanistan, five days later.

Some have even been U.S.-born, like Anwar al-Awlaki, the 38-year-old Islamic preacher from New Mexico who has moved to Yemen; Adam Pearlman, a 32-year-old Southern Californian and al-Qaeda spokesman now known as “Azzam the American,” who reportedly lives somewhere in the Afghan-Pakistan border regions; and Omar Hammami, the 25-year-old Syrian-American from Alabama believed to be an al-Shabaab leader in Somalia.

Like the Khmer Rouge before them, these new jihadists display no remorse for killing innocent civilians. “One of the sad truths I have come to see is that for this kind of mass violence, you don’t need monsters,” says Craig Etcheson, author of After the Killing Fields and founder of the Documentation Center of Cambodia. “Ordinary people will do just fine. This thing lives in all of us.”

Even King Sihanouk, who had once ordered raids against the Khmer Rouge, eventually agreed to support them after he had been overthrown in a coup and was living in exile in China. Could the same thing happen to Pakistani politicians if they fall from grace and U.S. backing?

What threw Sihanouk’s fragile government into serious disarray — other than his own eccentricity and self-absorption — was the devastating spillover of Nixon’s war in Vietnam into Cambodia’s border regions. It finally brought the Khmer Rouge to power. 

Pakistan 2010, with its enormous modern military and industrialized base, is hardly impoverished Cambodia 1969.  Nonetheless, in that now ancient history lies both a potential analogy and a cautionary tale.  Beware secret air wars that promise success and yet wreak havoc in lands that are not even enemy nations.

When his war plans were questioned, Nixon pressed ahead, despite a growing public distaste for his war. A similar dynamic seems to be underway today.  In 1970, after Operation Breakfast was revealed by the New York Times, Nixon told his top military and national security aides: “We cannot sit here and let the enemy believe that Cambodia is our last gasp.”

Had he refrained first from launching Operation Breakfast and then from supping on the whole “menu,” some historians like Etcheson believe a genocide would have been averted. It would be a sad day if the drone strikes, along with the endless war that the Obama administration has inherited and that is now spilling over ever more devastatingly into Pakistan, were to create a new class of fundamentalists who actually had the capacity to seize power.

Copyright 2010 Pratap Chatterjee

About the author

Pratap Chatterjee is a freelance journalist and senior editor at CorpWatch who has traveled extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has written two books about the war on terror, Iraq, Inc. (Seven Stories Press, 2004) and Halliburton’s Army (Nation Books, 2009). For more information on Nixon’s secret campaign, he recommends Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia by William Shawcross. (Simon and Schuster, 1979)

For more information from the FM site

Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.  To see all posts about our new wars:

About the War in Pakistan:

  1. Is Pakistan’s Musharraf like the Shah of Iran? (if so, bad news for us), 8 November 2007
  2. Stratfor says that our war in Pakistan grows hotter; Palin seems OK with that, 12 September 2008
  3. NPR tells us more about America’s newest war, in Pakistan, 14 September 2008
  4. Pakistan warns America about their borders, and their sovereignty, 14 September 2008
  5. Weekend reading about … foreign affairs, 19 October 2008
  6. To good a story to die: eliminate legitimate grievances to eliminate terrorism, 9 December 2008
  7. About the 4GW between India and Pakistan, 6 January 2009
  8. The US tells Pakistan to pick a side. Or else…, 4 May 2009
  9. Why are we fighting in Pakistan, 14 May 2009
  10. The love of an ally is sweet to behold, 21 August 2009
  11. Are we defending the Pakistan of our dreams, or the real thing?, 7 October 2009


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24 thoughts on “Pratap Chatterjee asks “are we destabilizing Pakistan?””

  1. Have we finished destablizing the USA? “COUP 2K“, By John Dee, 2001:

    It was the Republicans who first bandied the term “coup d’etat” to describe the 2000 presidential election. Since then, many have turned the tables and labeled Bush’s victory a coup. But how much of this is merely political rhetoric? John Dee writes that much of what happened matches historical examples of CIA election rigging and overthrows…and a respected coup “manual” authored by a one-time advisor to President Reagan.

  2. A few months ago I mentioned the New Pol Pot possible outcome and I think you put t in the pigs might fly category . What’s changed , arisen your neck hairs , that you publish this article ? This outcome is unlikely , as is massive sea level rises due to global warming . But anyone who does workplace risk assessments knows that , big events that are unlikely to occur are as important to consider as small events that are likely to occur.

    Another facet of Afgh if not Pak , that never seems to hit the radar , is where have the Communists gone , and where have the Maoists reached ?
    FM reply: Destabilizing Cambodia is a likely outcome. Pol Pot — the killing fields — is IMO an extremely unlikely one.

    “big events that are unlikely to occur are as important to consider as small events that are likely to occur.”

    Agreed; low probability – high impact scenarios must be considered. But time and resources are finite, and there are so many possible extreme outcomes.

    “where have the Communists gone”

    To the same place as have the worshipers of Zeus. Most of them. The aging hard core faithful will eventually die, unable to convey their beliefs to a new generation.

  3. The only true, long term solution to the problem of Jihad is to liberate the Muslim women. Muslim men are able to practise polygamy, divorce their wives at will, insist on women wearing the veil, mete out capital punishment for adultery by women, etc. The mujahideens might either be “educated and disenchanted”; or variously, “angry and unemployed”. But remember, all Mujahideens who become “shaheed” are promised a miraculous life in Heaven thereafter, surrounded by fawning damsels, of course. Though I could be wrong, my perception is that what Muslims hate the most about the West is the freedom of the women, a freedom that they often confuse with immorality in their repressed minds. The curious thing that I noticed is that almost none of these Jihadists are women. It’s the muslim men who want the whole world to be turned over to Islamic states, and Islamic laws.It seems fairly obvious to me,(though I’m not able to prove it, as usual), that these muslim men are just interested and fascinated by the possibility of enslaving and repressing ALL the women in the world, everywhere.

  4. From #3: “The only true, long term solution to the problem of Jihad is to liberate the Muslim women.”

    That’s like saying, “the only true, long term solution to the problem of racism is The Abolition of Whiteness!” It may be true, in other words, but it is not at all clear that it could be done given our current resources, social reality, and power dynamic. And so we are probably better off focussing on achievable things, such as increasing international police work (vs. Jihaism), or using education, honest discussion, pointing out racism in the media & strengthening hate crimes laws (vs. racism).

    How could the USA liberate Muslim women in another culture, within another nation-state, where the people often hate us? Especially when you consider that the liberation of American women, or UK women, is not at all a foregone conclusion. For all we know, we may be about to enter a new era of hostility to feminism and independent women.
    FM reply: I was pondering how to say this, but you did so better than I could. The many Islamic societies (to imply there is only one is false, very false) have to find their own ways into the future. The past few centuries show the folly of foreigners attempting to change other people’s culture. It’s been done but only after mega-deaths.

  5. On the topic of Chatterjee’s sobering article, what makes this situation potentially even deadlier than Cambodia during the Vietnam war is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. I understand the argument that nukes have actually made relations between states more peaceful, and I agree to a point. But what would happen if, somehow, truly extreme ideologues were to get a hold of a nuclear weapon with Pakistan in a situation of complete destabilization?
    FM reply: This is perhaps the ultimate nightmare. Until 1932 it was rightly considered almost impossible. Esp in Germany, the center of Europe’s art and science. We now know better, but don’t sleep soundly because of this knowledge.

  6. From #4: The past few centuries show the folly of foreigners attempting to change other people’s culture. It’s been done but only after mega-deaths.

    Exactly! The question is, why do we want to make others into an image of ourself in the first place? I think people do actually do this, as I can feel myself doing it sometimes on a personal level, looking at others who are unlike me. I imagine telling them all I know, and them being happy to recieve the info. I think its some kind of power trip, a desire to posess another.

    On a personal level, this desire to change/control/possess another can be used constructively. With freinds it can be acceptable as long as you can keep it out of certain areas. With a lover, it could even make your love life more interesting… or ruin your relationship, depending on a lot of different factors.

    But you’re quite right that the way Americans try to alter other tribes or nations often leads to hypocrisy, sorrow and anger. I think some foreign aid does work, when it stays within defined parameters that the “host country” agrees are a good thing. When you try to break down and re-build an entire foreign society from scratch, though, as Americans claim to be trying in Afghanistan, it’s such a titanic project, and there’s an unmistakeable scent of sadism in it. I don’t understand why Americans don’t notice these things until late into the process.

  7. Some women , I’m sorry to disallusion you , actually prefer to dress extremely modestly , and dream of marrying a man who is worth obeying – able to protect and support them and their children . Some career or widowed /separated women would be happy with a part-time husband . Shelves put up , passion now and then , money coming in , known sperm donor , but your own home without all his moods .Women ( or men ) in polygamous relationships dont necessarily live under the same roof . Someplaces , the men opt out of the shelves and money part , since the State provides for his women .
    FM reply: I’m sure everybody knows this, but that was not IMO Indian Investors point. The role of women is a keystone in most cultures; change that and the culture changes.

    “Some women , I’m sorry to disallusion you , actually prefer to dress extremely modestly,,,”

    Quite right, and re-enforces that the role of women is cruicial in most societies — no matter what the culture. Where women are kept illiterate, the women find that a good thing. In cultures practicing female genital mutiliation, it’s usually done by women. Here is a description of its type III form (using the WHO categorization), from “Infibulation in the Horn of Africa“, Guy Pieters (M.D.) and Albert B. Lowenfels (M.D.), New York State Journal of Medicine, April 1977:

    Since the population is largely nomadic, most operations are carried out in local villages. Infibulation as practiced in the bush is carried out on one child at a time by a “gedda” or matron of the village. Only women are allowed to be present at the ceremony which is carried out in secrecy. The matron squats on the floor of the family hut while the child is held in a lithotomy position by female relatives and friends. Again, the clitoris and labia are excised, but no anesthesia is used. Before the wound is closed, the mother and all the other women are allowed to inspect and palpate the wound to be sure the procedure has been properly performed. Then the wound is generously sprinkled with myrrh, a resinous material extracted from a native tree. Instead of sutures, thorns from an acacia bush are often used to close the wounds, and in addition, the girl’s legs are tied together with rope for about two weeks. After that, the restraints are removed and the child is free to run about again.

    … No matter how virile the husband, consummation of the marriage is nearly impossible because of the surgically created barrier. Therefore, in most marriages, the husband or one his female relatives will enlarge the vaginal opening with a small knife so that sexual intercourse can take place. It is the responsibility of the husband’s female relatives to examine the bride a few weeks after the marriage, and if necessary, to enlarge the vaginal opening to permit intercourse.

  8. Here’s an extract (246 words) of the kind of stuff I’m talking about: “Arab and Muslim worlds’ criticism of French niqab ban is hypocritical“, Palestine Note, 25 January 2010 – Excerpt:

    Last year, a female Sudanese journalist was charged by the government with “indecency” for wearing trousers. Sudanese law, Article 152, which decrees up to 40 lashes with a whip for anyone “who commits an indecent act which violates public morality or wears indecent clothing.” Article 340 of the Jordanian Penal Code declares “[A man] who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives committing adultery (with a man) and kills, wounds or injures one or both of them, is exempt from any penalty.”

    The issue is the sexual harassment of women who refuse to veil that takes place not only on public streets but in schools and the work places throughout the Arab World. In Morocco, female rights associations called for the annulment of a law, article 475, that acquits a rapist for raping a minor if he marries her immediately afterwards, arguing it is like rewarding the rapist for the crime.

    Two years ago in Saudi Arabia, a court increased the punishment for a female gang-rape victim after her lawyer won an appeal of the sentence for the rapists. The 19-year-old victim was sentenced last year to 90 lashes for meeting with an male who was not a relative, a former friend from whom she was retrieving photographs. In Saudi Arabia, laws prohibit Saudis from marrying non-Saudis. And in some cases, Muslims who have converted from Islam to Christianity have been killed or denounced and governments have “failed to act” to punish the offenders.

    FM reply: I don’t understand your point. Yes their culture is different than ours. I see zero danger from such ideas spreading into US society. To call their attitude “hypocritical” misses the point. They see our attitudes as wrong and false, and their beliefs as mandated by God. We see our belief in human rights as equally right and universal — although almost nobody can explain why, as their foundation is in almost-forgotten Christian theology.

  9. Indian investor has it right, and both atheist and FM are getting it wrong here.

    Atheist remarks: How could the USA liberate Muslim women in another culture, within another nation-state, where the people often hate us? Especially when you consider that the liberation of American women, or UK women, is not at all a foregone conclusion. For all we know, we may be about to enter a new era of hostility to feminism and independent women.

    The USA can liberate Moslem women in another culture by doing what’s already doing — bombarding ’em with images of Western fashions, lipsticks, chic shoes and dresses, glamorous supermodels and TV shows and movies showing vibrant empowered women. Sex in the City is the big hit in Iran. The mullahs are going crazy tryin keep Iranian women from getting that show on their satellite dishes, and the mullahs are failing. This is happening all over the world. Not long ago, Saudi women intimidated and chased away religious police who were trying to harass them for shopping without a man to chaperone them. Blasting images of Western society and songs and tabloid photos and TV shows and movies featuring liberated Western women is having a huge effect on Islamic society. In fact, arguably this is the reason why Al Qaeda is sending suicide bombers to fly airplanes into our skyscrapers. Al Qaeda knows that Islamic society is losing the battle of glamour and lifestyles. Young people who grow up under fundamentalist Islamic theocracy despise it and smuggle in every scrap of Western pop culture they can. And there’s no way for the Islamic fundamentalists to combat this. Western values and Western culture are leaking in through the borders of every fundamentalist Islamic country because there’s just no way to stop the technology. Islamic women pass USB thumb drives full of Western TV shows and Western pop songs and scanned catalogs of Western fashions to one another, they smuggle in bootleg DVDs of Western TV shows and put up covert satellite dishes to get Western TV shows. Our culture is submerging theirs. They’re losing the battle of ideas. It’s only a matter of time.

    The confusion here may stem from the misapprehension that America needs to use military force to change Islamic societies. In fact, America’s use of military force is counterproductive, and is slowing the adoption of Western values in Islamic countries. If America would withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan and instead bomb the most virulent Islamic fundamental countries with airdrops of Western pop music CDs and fashionable women’s shoes and women’s dresses, the Islamic fundamentalists would be routed within a decade.

    When FM claims: The many Islamic societies (to imply there is only one is false, very false) have to find their own ways into the future. The past few centuries show the folly of foreigners attempting to change other people’s culture. It’s been done but only after mega-deaths,” this is just so contrary to observed reality it’s mind-boggling. The West has succeeded in changing almost every other society on earth and we’ve done it by saturating the rest of the world with our seductive media. Think about it: at the dawn of radio and TV, how many countries on earth were democracies? Very few. But thanks to the irresistable power of modern media, people in other countries were able to see the kind of vibrant and irresistiably fascinating culture you get with an open free market democratic society, and it just proved too seductive to resist. American movies rule the world’s movie theaters; subtitled reruns of American TV shows clog the airwaves in every country on earth. American fashions are the rage from Bombay to Tierra del Fuego to Kazakhstan; American pop music sprays from speakers in every marketplace and every jitney cab throughout the world. The weird claim that the West can’t change other cultures except at the cost of megadeaths is so bizarre, it’s hard to imagine what FM was thinking when he made that weird statement… In fact, the big problem the West has right now is that our culture is so overpowering, so all-encompassing, our ideas of capitalism and the scientific method and women’s libreation and an open society and free markets are so seductive to so many cultures around the world, that many other countries are starting to get better at it than America is. American movies have slumped while Bollywood is starting to hit its stride; America’s silicon valley is in the doldrums but China’s Guangdong provience is starting to introduce some truly innovative new technology. Former icons like Britney Spears and Angelina Jolie are looking tired and all the surgeries and drugs aren’t helping even as Bollywood stars are becoming the new world fashion icons.

    The question isn’t whether America is changing other societies — it’s whether the rest of the world is starting to do what used to be characteristically American things, from pop music to fashion to financial transparency to hi-tech innovation, better than American can do it.
    FM reply: This is tendentious. Every society affects every other society with whom it has contact. America’s language, food, music — all show influences of other cultures. Since the US has a large footprint in the world today, we strongly influence other cultures. But that is far different than intentional efforts to change other cultures, which was the point of the discussion. Not to see this difference is myopic, to put it kindly.

    Western culture has made large-scale peaceful efforts to change other cultures, for example through Christian missionary and proselytizing efforts — such as the well-funded multi-generational efforts in coastal China and central Africa. Although they certainly had some impact, it’s not encouraging for those with big dreams.

    As for the effect of western culture on Islam, I have written about that many times. To fundamentalist Islam, we’re the pied piper — stealing away their children. For an analysis of this see How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I (7 June 2008).

  10. As mclaren has rightly pointed out, America’s greatest weapon against other nations (both friendly, neutral and hostile) is not its military but its cultural exports. TV shows, movies, music, boos, even celebrity gossip help to familiarise others with an approximation of Western societal norms. The long term goal of these exchanges should not be to fully convert other nations to Western democracies, but to shift their current social systems to be more compatible with those of Western nations.

    Against repressive regimes, cultural exports operate in a Boydian manner, drawing some of the population’s support away from their regime and moving it toward the West. The current bombing plan in Pakistan operates in the opposite manner, driving the unaffiliated population away from the West and toward extremist groups. Those responsible for planning the strikes are either unaware of this effect or unconcerned by it and both represent a significant blindspot in our strategic thinking.

  11. From #10: Those responsible for planning the strikes are either unaware of this effect or unconcerned by it and both represent a significant blindspot in our strategic thinking.

    When your strategy leads you to:
    1. Destabilize your nuclear-armed ally by killing hundreds or perhaps thousands of innocent civilians through hellfire missiles and bombs
    –a. turning the population of this nation against you
    –b. increasing the power and popularity of your enemies
    –c. irreparably damaging the legitimacy of your ally government
    2. Tell yourself you are performing “surgical strikes” when you are actually killing enemies, freinds and neutrals alike
    3. Start to view an actual war like you would view a video game

    then I don’t think you have a strategic blindspot, I think you have a strategic personality disorder. Maybe Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)? (Wikipedia: “Narcissistic Personality Disorder“)

  12. Atheist has it right. Airpower, despite claims to the contrary, is a bludgeon not a scalpel. The conditions must be amenable and the stakes significantly high for governments to effectively use it, because the results can be so egregious. Especially those unintended consequences that almost accompany warfare.

    BTW, Indian Investors remark reminded me of something that my sister said to me in the late 60s, that racism in the U.S. would not disappear until interracial marriage was widely accepted. Islam must become “liberated” from the inside, by Muslims, just as the U.S needs to regain the general social opprobrium of war that was widespread after Vietnam.

  13. From #12: Islam must become “liberated” from the inside, by Muslims, just as the U.S needs to regain the general social opprobrium of war that was widespread after Vietnam.

    Yes, exactly. It is like we are missing a basic sense of respect in the way we deal with the rest of the world. We vacillate between needing to control everyone else, on one hand, and deciding to isolate ourselves from everyone else, on the other. In my eyes both these choices are pathological.

  14. @Annie, in #7

    Annie, would you say that it is your view that:
    1. the repression of women, under the rubric of ‘modesty’, that is practiced by fundamentalist Islam *
    2. the pervasive sexed-up image of women in western culture **
    are just two differing forms of social control of women?

    * (results of “burkas” Google search)
    ** (results of “American Apparel Ads” Google search [NSFW])

  15. Western media = advertising = exploitation.

    “Liberated” women, especially those in the first and second waves, are like any other “liberated” group – they become infected by, and then exhibit, the same “pathologies” as their “oppressors”.
    — (Paulo Friere Freire) {See his Wikipedia entry}

    e.g., in the USA, women’s liberation (the “estroginization” of culture) has morphed into cottage industries that promote the “oppression” of men. Women have been enculturated, via corrupt public education, into an ideology that promotes “hate” of maleness. Any male that does not become servile and submissive to the “liberated” estroginated educational elites is marginalized, attacked, etc. Study primate behavior (alpha females) and “groupthink” to understand the basic psychology involved.

    The underlying dynamic is that all people tend to operate from “shadow” personalities, and they usually engage, after becoming “converted” to a “new paradigm”, to psychological and institutionalized “war” against an “other” that is a “projection” of their “shadow”. The “liberated female” shadow is a nasty, hatred of men. In the estroginated mind, that “hate” is projected onto a model of men as women-haters. Elaborate legal structures are set up to force men into servile behavior (sexual harassment laws, corporate/organizational rules).

    A spiritually balanced society would honor the “order/discipline” of male psychology along with the with the “nurturing/acceptance” of female psychology. In short, “liberated” women become “infected” with varying levels of what Ken Wilber calls the “mean green meme”. Elsewhere on the FM blog, documentation was posted on how women are taking over public education and creating a legalized, institutionalized culture that actively “disadvantges” boys/men, all the way through university. Style rules over substance. Any protest meets a buzz-saw of reactionary defenses based on emotion and groupthink.

    {See} Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels With Science (1994). {Per Wikipedia, “a book by biologist Paul R. Gross and mathematician Norman Levitt. Levitt states he is a leftist trying to save the ‘academic left’ from itself. The book inspired the Sokal hoax.”}

    The “feel good” aspects of promoting the “liberation” of women soon turns into yet another dismal project of “progressive” culture where the “liberated” classes have turn their obsession with “anti-discrimination” into a new form of discrimination that perpetuates their power and ideas. Mirror images of “witch hunts”. Integral theory addresses the problem of “mean green memes” (postmodernism – narcissim/nihilism), and provides solutions.

    The “systems” approach that is the backdrop to most discussions on the FM blog is necesary, but not sufficient. FM states distaste of/aversion to “culture wars” topics, but gets pulled in over and over anyway. To understand “culture wars”, additional perspectives beyond progressiveness, or “systems thinking”, are needed.
    * “On the mean memes in general – Red to blue to orange to green to yellow….“, Ken Wilber, Integral World, 14 February 2002
    * From the “Big Mind, Big Heart” website

    meme color scheme explained: AQAL – an integral map, posted at Formless Mountain
    FM reply: In a previous comment you said I “dismisses the significance of the culture wars.” My reply said “I believe it both exists and is a defining feature of our time.” Now you said I “state distaste of/aversion to” it. No, no more than I find any conflict distasteful and deserving aversion. I’d rather work in my garden; but it exists and must be dealt with.

    Also, this was 1675 words, well over the 250 word comment max. I snipped the excerpt, so that it is only 475.

  16. #14.Two different forms of social control of women ? Yes . But more the degradation of women perhaps .. because women are more susceptable to influence .
    1. Fundamental Islam : The requirements are tough on women , but actually a lot tougher on men . As with Christianity the original ideals have been wallpapered over by followers who thought they knew better .
    This leads to the modern debate :liberated women emasculating men . I think this is a red herring . Summed up by a snippet from the Onion :
    All that’s left for Men To Do is Hunt Buffalo .
    Comment from ” Systems analyst ” ( a man ):-
    Oh for goodness sake . Cant someone teach women how to hunt buffalo ?
    2. Modern Western Woman and where Liberation has got her : To add to my revulsion over False Tits Girl , how about this . A couple had won £ 57,000, 000 on the Euromillions lottery , and three female radio presenters they were debating how they would spend their share of the £££ if they had they won .
    a. Go shopping.
    b. Shop till we drop .
    c. Buy shoes.
    d. Buy clothes .
    e. Have a lying on the beach holiday somewhere hot .
    Now what , one might ask , IS the point of educating women ? Burkas are tribal . Also I guess if you are a woman walking along a dusty road – as most women in burkas seem to be – it keeps you and your clothes clean and the flies off . You can also be unidentifiable . See ” Hoodie .” And a bit intimidating . See ” Cowl ” . And warm in winter . See ” Slanket . ”
    Infundibulation is not to do with Islam . It probably originates from a very ancient religion of a Gaia type mythology . In fact it may have medical origins , as does the prohibition on eating pigmeat in some religions . Many women are cut to allow the birth of the baby’s head , then stitched . Some prehistoric midwife may have thought , duh , this makes birth easier , duh ,why dont we do it before they give birth , duh , why dont we do it before they get pregnant . Then it moved into mythology .
    It is also used in racehorses to eliminate persistant infection with contagous equine metritis and in cattle , sheep and horses after vaginal/uterine prolapse . So as with circumcision there may have been reasons relating to VD control.
    FM reply: I’m not sure what your point is. But I’m confident you will not volunteer for female genital mutilation.

  17. From #16: “Now what , one might ask , IS the point of educating women ? Burkas are tribal . Also I guess if you are a woman walking along a dusty road – as most women in burkas seem to be – it keeps you and your clothes clean and the flies off . You can also be unidentifiable . See ” Hoodie .” And a bit intimidating . See ” Cowl ” . And warm in winter . See ‘Slanket.’ ”

    Annie, I agree that a burka might have practical value in a desert environment, but I do not believe that warding off sun and heat is its primary purpose. Rather, I would say that it is designed to prevent a woman’s face from being seen, and also to cripple the woman’s senses. It both effaces her and makes her more dependent. For fundamentalists of almost any religion, this is the proper place of women.

    The practice of female genital mutilation may be related to all kinds of mythology or traditions certainly. It seems to me that the primary purpose, here, is again to control women by crippling their sexual feeling. I can’t prove it but will look for proof.

    The vapidity of some women, and men, in modern society is indeed unpleasant to consider. I would invite you to look some more at some of the truly grim realities of traditional societies in the same light.

  18. Atheist ,if you still here : Dogon etc tribes oral tradition : Sky spirit tried to mate with earth mother , couldnt because of termite mound ( female ) and anthill ( male )in the way . Removed termite mound and anthill, mated , produced series of lifeforms eventually produced humans. Re enacted by FGM or circucision, allowing child to become adult and make babies.
    Description of the sticks could also be used to describe , without the stitching , the way humans draw termites from their mounds . In current Nat Geograph mag is descript of chimps doing just the same : earth , sticks , pulling out live creatures.
    Can imagine the early human beginning to express and share thoughts through language , much taken by the pulling of living creatures from the earth , and beginning to question where life first started .
    FM wrote of us being hard wired to be hunter-gatherers of the savannah ; if true why stop there ? Tiny shards of our DNA /RNA/cytoplasm must date back to the first lifeform .Were survival behaviors are hard wired in our DNA etc , they might contain instructions for ciliates to avoid diatoms ,early mammals to scavenge after dinosaurs . Maybe the oldest creation myths , often with strange lifeforms , arise from these subconscious programs .
    If you like the virus-addition theory of evolution ( most mutations are deletions ) there we have programs of invasion and exploitation that are in us .

  19. Annie: myths are very interesting and are worthy of study. But that doesn’t mean they explain all sides of a social phenomenon (such as FGM). I’m just asking you to look at traditional societies with the same cold gaze you turn on modern societies. There are reasons people left the traditional models.

  20. I wasnt excusing the practice ; just think that in a different time and society , it may have seemed state of the art good practice . As many medics think MGM still is . Lead water pipes are hygenic ,smoking is good for your nerves , asbestos is a great insulator . We learn from our errors .
    Where the discussion started was that : FGM did not come from Islam !

  21. FM, thanks, I stand corrected. Here is the crux: (Wilber)

    … the modern flatland (MOM) arose in the wake of two major evolutionary developments, one “good” and one “bad.” The good news was the Weberian differentiation of the value spheres of art, morals, and science on a widespread, cultural scale (i.e., the differentiation of the Big Three or the four quadrants). The bad news was that, for various complex reasons … that important differentiation of the value spheres went too far into dissociation of the value spheres, which eventually resulted in the Habermasian “colonization of art and morals by science”–that is, the domination of the interior realms of I and We by a scientific materialism of Its: by any other name, the mean orange meme. … The MGM (mean green meme) is the driving force of boomeritis, and it has dominated academia, liberal politics, and the humanities for three decades. Its damage is staggering, and only made worse by the smug self-satisfaction of these particular Inquisitors. …

    In these discussions, arguments tend to swing back and forth from modernism to postmodernism. Both are problematic. Integralism’s goal is to reduce conflict between paradigms by honoring the truths in each.

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