Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What is Claude Moniquet's Problem?

In November of last year the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center (ESISC), a Brussels-based think tank and research center specializing in terrorism and security issues, presented a lengthy (81 page) report titled The Polisario Front: Credible Negotiations Partner or After-effect of the Cold War and Obstacle to a Political Solution in Western Sahara. From their website we learn that the ESISC was founded in 2002 by Claude Moniquet, a well-known journalist and expert on counter-terrorism, and that the Center’s areas of expertise include: “terrorisme et contre-terrorisme, renseignement, conflits de basse intensité, conflits ethniques et religieux, antisémitisme et racisme, islamisme et les autres formes d’extrémisme politique ou religieux, crime organisé et corruption, sécurité économique.” A cursory websearch reveals, furthermore, that the Center has built up a substantial reputation on matters related to terrorism in its four short years of existence, and their founder and president, Mr. Moniquet, is indeed a well-respected expert in his field who has written books, consulted and written for CNN among others, and has testified at Congressional hearings in the US. This impeccable pedigree combined with “Methodological Observations” at the beginning of the report informing the reader of the comprehensive, scholarly, and systematic research that goes into their reports prepared me for a weighty, illuminating, and definitive analysis of the Polisario Front.

Unfortunately, what we get from the ESISC is inexplicably disappointing. Contrary to all expectations, what emerges in the pages of the report is an embarrassingly amateurish, poorly researched, factually inaccurate, and badly written hatchet job. The most disturbing aspect of the report is not so much its poor quality (which is not exceptional if you keep up on the transparent propaganda that has been coming out of Rabat for over thirty years on the Western Sahara), but the clear malicious intent of Claude Moniquet and his crew. The lack of scholarly rigor, the numerous factual errors and the omission of widely accepted facts, the use of unsubstantiated rumor and innuendo, and ultimately the baseless attacks and badly reasoned conclusions, the accumulation of all these serious faults leaves no doubt in my mind that this is an intentional attempt to inflict extreme harm on the Polisario Front and the Western Saharan cause by purposely distorting the historical record.

While most of the Moroccan and pro-Moroccan material floating around is so transparently propagandistic as to merit little discussion or comment, the ESISC report DEMANDS analysis and discussion because of the seemingly respectable and respected background of the author and his group and the stated serious intentions of the report. Already we are seeing references to the report to justify demonization of the Polisario Front and to lend legitimacy to Moroccan sovereignty over the territory. Fortunately, the Polisario and the SADR have responded quickly, thoroughly, and eloquently to the report, and rather than add another lengthy rebuttal to the list, I will supply links to these more-than-adequate efforts.

Recently I received a superb review of the ESISC report off the excellent Yahoo Groups site, Sahara-Update, run by Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara. The author of the review is a Mr. Sidi M. Omar who is identified by Sahara-Update as a “researcher in Peace and Conflict Studies [at the UNESCO Chair of Philosophy for Peace, Universitat Jaume I, Castellón, Spain] and Front Polisario's representative to the United Kingdom and Ireland.” This 25-page review is a detailed section-by-section and often page-by-page debunking of the report and does a commendable job of setting the record straight. In addition, off the indispensable arso.org site, I recently read an official 9-page letter under the SADR letterhead by Malainin Ahmed, the Director of Political Affairs and Information, Saharawi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which highlights the most outrageous failings of Moniquet’s report.

I would, however, like to supplement these Polisario sources with a few comments on aspects of the ESISC report that I find particularly despicable.

The backbone of the Polisario case for self-determination is the designation of the Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory. Morocco’s challenge to this status was their assertion that before colonization by the Spanish the territory was part of Morocco, and thus with Spain’s departure it should revert back to Morocco. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1975 clearly shot down the Moroccan view by ruling that the evidence did not support Moroccan territorial sovereignty and that the Western Sahara had the right to choose their own future. From almost the moment the ICJ ruling appeared, Morocco has attempted to turn it on its head by claiming that it in fact was a ruling in THEIR favor – that the bonds of allegiance mentioned by the ICJ between some of the tribes and the Sultan actually constituted bonds of territorial sovereignty between Morocco and the whole territory. This creative Moroccan misinterpretation of the ICJ ruling has been since 1975 the hallmark of Moroccan propaganda. For the ESISC to state that the ICJ “following a debate within the UN General Assembly… handed down a judgment recognizing that bonds of allegiance had existed between the tribes of the Sahara and the sultans of Morocco,” and then to ignore the rest of the ruling is clearly dishonest, but more importantly clearly revealing of a bias in favor of Moroccan lies and propaganda.

Similarly the obsessive and tortured attempt by the ESISC to brand the Polisario a dangerous extreme-left-wing group is both dishonest and indicative of a bizarre attachment to Moroccan propaganda. As Shelley in Endgame in the Western Sahara states, “The suggestion that El Ouali and associates [the founders of the Polisario] were closet Marxists who hid their schemes for social engineering and apostasy until they had lured Sahrawis to the Tindouf camps is… unappealing.” The explicit rejection of communism by the Polisario and the refusal of the Soviet Union to support or even recognize the Polisario makes one wonder why the ESISC would even start down this path of inquiry. Shelley states, “To this day, Morocco and its supporters continue to assert that the founders of the Polisario were Leninist, Guevarist, Maoist cadres.” For the ESISC to parrot the old Moroccan cold war lines truly makes one wonder the extent to which they are in bed with Rabat. The ESISC’s communist argument reaches its ultimate absurdity with its quote of Juan Vives, “a former high-level manager of the Cuban intelligence services,” that the Polisario was “developed by Cuba … by Che in person.” Claude Moniquet apparently doesn’t have a problem with the fact that the Polisario was born in 1973 and Che died in 1967.

Another major criticism I have of the ESISC report is that to make its case it relies inordinately on interviews with a handful of Polisario defectors without even one interview with a member of the Polisario. Furthermore, the researchers do not appear to have visited either the refugee camps in Tindouf or the occupied territories. Shelley’s treatment of the Polisario – which includes testimony from defectors, current members of the Polisario leadership, and Sahrawi in both Tindouf and the territories – is, to say the least, far more even-handed. The Morocco Times recently reported that Claude Moniquet was planning to sue the independent Moroccan weekly Le Journal Hebdomadaire for defamation for stating that his report was “guided” by Morocco, “only reiterates the official theses of Morocco,” and “is a document made to please the Moroccan authorities.” In a delicious piece of irony, the Morocco Times reported further that according to Moniquet, “the weekly – Le Journal Hebdomadaire – did not respect the main bases of journalism, that is, contacting a person before writing about them.” One is, once again, left to wonder why it apparently never occurred to Moniquet to contact the Polisario before writing about THEM.

It is hard to read the ESISC report without wondering about motives. Why in the world would Claude Moniquet jeopardize his reputation by publishing such a blatantly compromised analysis? As an acknowledged expert on terrorism why does he choose to go after a group that has no history at all of terrorist activity, while fully supporting and repeating the propaganda of a country with a long history of state terrorism? Why does he feel compelled to bend and ignore the truth to the extent that he does? Why has he decided on autonomy for the territory as the only solution, when international law clearly stipulates self-determination? I wonder about these and many other things, but do not pretend to know the answers. I know only that the ESISC report on the Polisario Front is an intentionally malicious and grotesquely immoral piece of work with no scholarly merit that should be soundly condemned.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:33 PM

    I recently read an article from ESISC, on "Operation 'Cast Lead' in Gaza: Analysis and Prospects", by Emmanuel Dubois. It was the worst piece of writing I have ever read. Grammatically, it was full of errors and word use was amateurish. The endemic use of the first person plural made the article (I hesitate to call it that), sound like the mouthpiece to the IDF. Moreover, the brash statements were not even back up properly by references.