March 29, 2011
A set of historical ironies arises from this absurd report. (UNRWA)
By Seraj Assi
Spring has turned red in Gaza with a new Israeli massacre. Late Monday night Israeli combat planes pounded Northern Gaza and murdered two children and three adults whose only crime was playing football in front of their house. At the same day Haaretz published a report complaining that Hamas protests UN plans to teach Gazans about the Holocaust. It was also the very day that the Knesset in Israel approved the Nakaba Law, an absurd legislation that bans Palestinian citizens from commemorating the Nakba.
This is no mere coincidence. Nor is it the first time that Israel’s massacring of Palestinian children is followed by absurd demands to teach Jewish victimhood in Palestinian schools, while working to prevent its Palestinian citizens from commemorating their tragedy at the same time.
The uproar against UN plan to teach the Holocaust in Gaza schools spurred in February this year after a UN official told a Jordanian daily that UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, would introduce the Holocaust history to Gaza students as part of its human rights curriculum for the next school year starting in September.
Haaretz also reported a series of statements by UN and Israeli officials accusing Palestinians for not fully understanding the tragedy that happened to the Jews, for divvying up facts, taking things out of context, and being reluctant to acknowledge Jewish suffering fearing it would diminish recognition of their own claims. The Israeli newspaper did not forget to remind Palestinians how the need to find a sanctuary for hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors contributed to the creation of Israel and that Palestinian recognition of the Holocaust is a necessary step toward peace.
A set of historical ironies arises from this absurd report. Most notable is that Israel’s billing of the Holocaust as a moral justification for the creation of Israel is historically refuted. Simply because it does not account for the fact that preparations for the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine had begun some half century before the Holocaust. Nor does it really tell us how many Holocaust survivors live in Israel today.
Yet this is not to suggest that we must accept this moral logic had there been a valid historical connection between the two events. For Palestinians are not responsible for the Holocaust and it is absurd to see their refusal to teach it to their children as accomplice, especially when they are being ethnically cleansed by Israel’s air forces on a daily basis.
Yet what does remain valid here is that linking the Palestinian Nakba with the Holocaust is still vital to understand how the latter has been always used to justify the former. The bulk of Gaza residents are themselves refugees whose dispossession was justified by Zionist misappropriation of the Holocaust tragedy.
Israel’s symmetry between the histories of the Holocaust and the Nakba is misleading for a simple reason. That is while the Holocaust is seen by Palestinians as part of European history and has nothing to do with Palestinian consciousness, the Nakba was generated by Israel and must be taught in its schools as part of its own history. Not to mention that for Palestinians the Nakba is an ongoing tragedy; that the refugee question is still unsettled and that Palestinians still live under occupation and ethnic suppression.
The question that persists is has Israel ever acknowledged Palestinian suffering and ongoing tragedy? The fact is that while countless books have been devoted in Israel and the West to denying Palestinian tragedy and distorting their history from Joan Peters’ notorious From Time Immemorial to this present day, there is no comparative Palestinian study on denying the Holocaust or challenging its scope.
I myself spent twelve years in an Arab school inside the so-called modern, democratic and liberal State of Israel and never heard of the word “Nakba.” The name Palestine itself has been banned in Arab schools for decades. We Palestinian students were never taught about the Islamic era in Palestine which lasted about thirteen centuries. Instead we were taught about Israel’s Independence Day, Zionist Peace Doves and Palestinian terrorism.
I vividly recall those moments when we were forced to stand still in memory of Israeli soldiers who had killed our own people. How else could we come to terms with the fact that many Palestinian Arabs in Israel continue to call Israel’s Independence Day the Independence Holiday?
Yes Palestinians are aware of the tragedy that befell the Jews. But they are also aware of the way it has been invested to justify their dispossession and displacement. They are aware of how by a strange change of fortune they became the victims of the victims; how the Zionist movement made the shift from victims to victimizers with terrifying ease; how Jewish suffering has been turned into political industry and discursive device for its colonial project in Palestine; how it has been used by Israel as political instrument and ideological weapon and seen as tantamount to the recognition of Jewish claims to the land.
To be sure, Palestinians do not refuse to teach or learn the Holocaust per se, but the Zionist perspective on the Holocaust. That is the way the tragic history of the Jews is being now turned into a modern version of civilizing mission in Gaza. Is there anything more absurd than besieging a people, ruining their life, slaughtering their children, destroying their schools and hospitals, and returning the next day to offer them lessons in multiculturalism?
Perhaps when Palestinians will have their full rights as a people, when they will live in freedom and justice and feel more secure in their homeland; they would be most happy to learn the history of the Holocaust, teach Jewish literature, and perhaps read Greek poetry.
- Seraj Assi is a PhD Student in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
March 9, 2011
An Interview with Intisar Rabb
By Sally Steenland | March 8, 2011
Listen to this interview (mp3)
Intisar Rabb is a member of the law faculty at Boston College Law School where she teaches advanced constitutional law, criminal law, and comparative and Islamic law. She is also a research affiliate at the Harvard Law School Islamic Legal Studies Program and a 2010 Carnegie Scholar. She is particularly interested in questions at the intersection of criminal justice, legislative policy, and judicial process in American law and in the law of the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.
She has served as a law clerk to the Hon. Thomas L. Ambro of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, and subsequently worked with members of the bench and bar in the United Kingdom as a Temple Bar Scholar through the American Inns of Court. Rabb has traveled for research to Egypt, Iran, Syria, and elsewhere.
Sally Steenland: Sharia has been in the news these past few months as states like Oklahoma have passed laws banning Sharia and other states are proposing similar laws. Most people, however, don’t actually know what Sharia is. Can you tell us what Sharia is—and what it is not?
Intisar Rabb: Sharia is the ideal law of God according to Islam. Muslims believe that the Islamic legal system is one that aims toward ideals of justice, fairness, and the good life. Sharia has tremendous diversity, as jurists and learned scholars figure out and articulate what that law is. Historically, Sharia served as a means for political dissent against arbitrary rule. It is not a monolithic doctrine of violence, as has been characterized in the recently introduced Tennessee bill that would criminalize practices of Sharia.
S: Are there similarities between Sharia and religious practices in Christianity or Judaism?
I: Yes. Sharia historically was a broad system that encompassed ritual laws, so in some ways it is like Jewish law that has rules for how to pray, how to make ablution before prayers—that sort of thing. There are also broader principles that Sharia tries to embody, such as justice and fairness.
S: So Christians might practice their faith by tithing—giving money to their church. They might pray before meals. They might observe certain religious holidays. They might not shop on Sunday. But they still obey local laws, federal laws, and the Constitution. For Muslim Americans, what are some ways they observe Sharia?
I: The examples you gave are parallel to the practice of Sharia in daily life. There are certain tenets of Islam that require Muslims who choose to adhere to it to give to charity, to pray, to attend the mosque, to fast during the month of Ramadan. These are some examples of how Muslims fulfill religious obligations.
There are social obligations as well. I like to point to an organization in Chicago—the Inner City Muslim Action Network—that says it is inspired by Islamic precepts to give back to the local community, to make sure that the poor, needy, and disenfranchised in one’s community are taken care of. That is an example of the practice of Sharia in America.
A final example involves areas where Muslims are concerned about private affairs, such as marriage laws. Just as Christians have weddings in a church, Muslims often have weddings in a mosque or some other venue presided over by an imam, and the marriage is also solemnized by the state. There is a religious aspect and a state aspect to a wedding ceremony.
S: What do you say to critics who claim that Sharia is a threat to democracy and that we need laws forbidding it so that Sharia doesn’t take over America? Also, can you discuss how religious codes and the U.S. legal system can live side by side?
I: As you know, I teach both American law and Islamic law in an American law school, so I am very much attuned to seeing issues of religion in terms of American federal and state laws. The First Amendment affirms the free exercise or practice of religion and at the same time forbids the establishment of religion by government.
These twin clauses of free exercise and nonestablishment allow a wide array of religious practice in America—Islam being one of them. This has been part of the fabric of American religious and civic life since our founding. In fact, Muslims have been part of our country since before its founding, as many were brought to this country as slaves.
We have never had a threat to our democracy from the long-time religious practices of Muslims in America. I think in part that stems from the nature of Muslim religious practice in this country—it is more of a private religious matter than a very public iteration. It also speaks to the strength and flexibility of our laws, both state and federal, that continuously affirm religion as a value. We want to encourage its free practice while also not establishing religion in any governmental sense.
S: You say that Muslim Americans have been in this country for hundreds of years, which means that people have been practicing their faith, including Sharia, for a long time. This is not a new thing. Why do you think it’s getting attention now?
I: In a word, I would say politics. Leading up to the midterm elections in November 2010, there was the mosque controversy in New York and the specter of Muslims taking over. We saw an anti-Sharia law in Oklahoma. The anti-Sharia bill in Tennessee goes a lot further. In my view a lot of it had to do with the politics of equating Sharia with Muslims, with terrorism, with national security, and with an attempt by some, especially on the right, to rally support around a wedge issue.
It can strike some sensitive chords because we have had horrible tragic events happen to us. With the events of 9/11, with the wars in the Middle East that raise the specter of Islam as a negative phenomenon—playing on those fears is being used 10 years after the attacks.
S: You mentioned the anti-Sharia law that was introduced in Tennessee. My understanding is that it goes further than the Oklahoma ban and that in Tennessee it would be a felony to practice Sharia, which means it would be a felony to pray, to give money to charity, to fast. Is that correct? And if so, would it be a felony for everybody to pray, or does the Tennessee law single out Muslims? Does it say that Christians and Jews can pray and give money to charity and Muslims cannot?
I: According to the draft text I have seen of the Tennessee bill, it would be a felony for Muslims to perform everyday religious practices like praying, giving to charity, or fasting because they would be defined as banned Sharia practices. That is clearly unconstitutional because it violates the religious free exercise clause of the First Amendment and is a violation of equal protection laws.
There may be times that we as a state want to limit some aspects of the private practice of Islamic law. A California court, for example, ruled that allowing women to take a certain sum of money upon divorce, as is typical in Islamic marriage contracts, was against the state’s policy of forbidding profiteering from divorce. Other courts have found differently on that issue. And so there may be times when the issue arises as to whether Islamic legal practices conflict with public policy, and then the courts will resolve these issues and they will be adhered to, as they were in the California case. But to issue a blanket ban on otherwise lawful and wholly permissible and civically valuable religious practices is what the Tennessee law proposes to do and is unconstitutional.
S: You gave the example of California courts and divorce. Do courts get involved with the religious practices and laws of other faiths, where teachings regarding something like divorce may bump into civil law?
I: Yes. Law courts, when presented with an issue, whether it comes from a religious contract or a secular private contract that seems to conflict with public policy—then, yes, law courts adjudicate those issues. They could come from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or other religions. Courts are seeking to make sure that state policy is the supreme law of the land. Typically, matters such as marriage and divorce proceed informally. It is only in the rare instance that the matter goes to court. And then judges will adjudicate matters in reference to American law. So there is no threat that Sharia, or any other religious law, will supersede the laws of the state.
S: Let’s talk about Sharia in other countries. Critics of Sharia speak as if it were a monolithic punitive system that threatens to take over the United States. You have said that some Muslim-majority countries adopt Sharia and some do not.
I: Of all the countries that are part of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, 26 countries make Islamic law a source of law according to their constitution. Of that number, all but five apply Sharia only to matters of family and inheritance law. So the number of countries where Sharia is the law of the land is extremely small. Saudi Arabia and Iran apply Islamic law most extensively.
But among other countries with Muslim majorities, there is Turkey that follows a French model of secularism. We have countries like Senegal, which doesn’t have a particular legal status for Islamic law. Then there are countries like Egypt, which has Islamic law as a part of the constitution as a source of law. In the three decades since that law was inserted in the constitution, Egypt did not turn into an authoritarian Islamic state. It was authoritarian, but not on the basis of Islamic law. Incidentally, that clause remains with revisions to proposed amendments to the constitution. And the supreme constitutional court of Egypt has managed to work out definitions of Islamic law that come from secular judges. They do not allow religious clerics, who are not part of the state system, to define what the state law is, even when it relates to Islamic law.
S: Religions such as Christianity and Judaism include different traditions, interpretations, and disputes about sacred texts and teachings. Do different interpretations exist within Sharia as well?
I: Absolutely. The $64,000 question of the day is who gets to speak for Sharia. Traditionally it was this class of educated jurists or scholars who spent a lifetime studying legal texts and theory and practice. They were much like the jurist consults of ancient Rome or the law professors in modern America. Imagine if law professors got to say what the law is. That is the equivalent of classical Muslim society as to who got to speak for Islamic law.
Even then there was a wide diversity of opinion. There is an old joke that if you put four law professors in a room and ask them a single question, you will get at least five answers. It was a lot like that. There were four major Sunni schools and three major Shia schools even in the premodern period.
Now in the modern period, there is even more diversity of opinion. Not only are these scholars saying that they have the authority to interpret Sharia but other individuals are saying that they also have the right to say what Sharia is. So we have some scholarly informed interpretations of Sharia, based on considerable research, again like law professors. And then we have popular Islamic legal opinions that would apply to many in the Middle East, and perhaps beyond that, who decide that they can interpret what Sharia is.
In addition, we have others who intentionally distort Sharia to serve their political ambitions. The latter category applies to the likes of bin Laden in the Muslim context and people like Newt Gingrich in the American context. These people are clearly at the margins of the conversation. Out of 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, we hear of a handful of folks following interpretations like the one bin Laden espouses. It is newsworthy because it is rare.
S: It sounds like you’re saying Sharia is not monolithic. It is not frozen in time but is dynamic and open to different interpretations. It has popular self-appointed experts, legal experts, and religious scholars, all of whom are having their say in terms of what they think Sharia is.
I: Yes. There are many who claim to speak for Sharia. In Islam there is no church akin to the Catholic Church. There is no pope. With so little hierarchy, you get a very diffuse, Protestant-like view of what Islamic law means in the religious lives of individual Muslims and communities.
S: In your view, what are the consequences of misperceptions about Sharia in this country?
I: I think they are largely negative, with some small positive glimmers. Misinformation results in fear mongering that is used for political ends. It has resulted in profiling against ordinary American Muslims. It may have a chilling effect on the civic engagement of lawful activities like charitable giving, praying, and carrying out the religious practices of ordinary life.
The positive glimmer is that perhaps all the negative press creates some sort of interest in knowing about what Sharia actually is. To the extent that misinformation about Sharia encourages dialogue, discussion, and public education, I think there can be a positive outcome if we continue to educate ourselves about what Sharia is and what it is not.
S: Let’s say someone is reading this interview who would like a few facts to remember about Sharia. What would they be?
I: Sharia represents ideals of justice, fairness, and the good life—ideals that Americans hold dear. And it is worth learning more about Sharia.
S: One last question. Can you translate the word “Sharia” and tell us what it means?
I: Sharia literally means “the way.” The full meaning is “the way to justice that is willed by God.” The attempt to find the way is an enduring attempt for humans of all ages. The best ideals of justice are a work in progress, not a finished product.
S: Thank you, Intisar, for talking with us. All best wishes in your work.
I: Thank you.
Listen to this interview (mp3)
Sally Steenland is Director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.
By Michael Moore
America is not broke.
Contrary to what those in power would like you to believe so that you’ll give up your pension, cut your wages, and settle for the life your great-grandparents had, America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.
Today just 400 Americans have the same wealth as half of all Americans combined.
Let me say that again. 400 obscenely rich people, most of whom benefited in some way from the multi-trillion dollar taxpayer “bailout” of 2008, now have as much loot, stock and property as the assets of 155 million Americans combined. If you can’t bring yourself to call that a financial coup d’état, then you are simply not being honest about what you know in your heart to be true.
And I can see why. For us to admit that we have let a small group of men abscond with and hoard the bulk of the wealth that runs our economy, would mean that we’d have to accept the humiliating acknowledgment that we have indeed surrendered our precious Democracy to the moneyed elite. Wall Street, the banks and the Fortune 500 now run this Republic — and, until this past month, the rest of us have felt completely helpless, unable to find a way to do anything about it.
I have nothing more than a high school degree. But back when I was in school, every student had to take one semester of economics in order to graduate. And here’s what I learned: Money doesn’t grow on trees. It grows when we make things. It grows when we have good jobs with good wages that we use to buy the things we need and thus create more jobs. It grows when we provide an outstanding educational system that then grows a new generation of inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists and thinkers who come up with the next great idea for the planet. And that new idea creates new jobs and that creates revenue for the state. But if those who have the most money don’t pay their fair share of taxes, the state can’t function. The schools can’t produce the best and the brightest who will go on to create those jobs. If the wealthy get to keep most of their money, we have seen what they will do with it: recklessly gamble it on crazy Wall Street schemes and crash our economy. The crash they created cost us millions of jobs. That too caused a reduction in tax revenue. Everyone ended up suffering because of what the rich did.
The nation is not broke, my friends. Wisconsin is not broke. Saying that the country is broke is repeating a Big Lie. It’s one of the three biggest lies of the decade: 1) America is broke, 2) Iraq has WMD, and 3) The Packers can’t win the Super Bowl without Brett Favre.
The truth is, there’s lots of money to go around. LOTS. It’s just that those in charge have diverted that wealth into a deep well that sits on their well-guarded estates. They know they have committed crimes to make this happen and they know that someday you may want to see some of that money that used to be yours. So they have bought and paid for hundreds of politicians across the country to do their bidding for them. But just in case that doesn’t work, they’ve got their gated communities, and the luxury jet is always fully fueled, the engines running, waiting for that day they hope never comes. To help prevent that day when the people demand their country back, the wealthy have done two very smart things:
1. They control the message. By owning most of the media they have expertly convinced many Americans of few means to buy their version of the American Dream and to vote for their politicians. Their version of the Dream says that you, too, might be rich some day — this is America, where anything can happen if you just apply yourself! They have conveniently provided you with believable examples to show you how a poor boy can become a rich man, how the child of a single mother in Hawaii can become president, how a guy with a high school education can become a successful filmmaker. They will play these stories for you over and over again all day long so that the last thing you will want to do is upset the apple cart — because you — yes, you, too! — might be rich/president/an Oscar-winner some day! The message is clear: keep you head down, your nose to the grindstone, don’t rock the boat and be sure to vote for the party that protects the rich man that you might be some day.
2. They have created a poison pill that they know you will never want to take. It is their version of mutually assured destruction. And when they threatened to release this weapon of mass economic annihilation in September of 2008, we blinked. As the economy and the stock market went into a tailspin, and the banks were caught conducting a worldwide Ponzi scheme, Wall Street issued this threat: Either hand over trillions of dollars from the American taxpayers or we will crash this economy straight into the ground. Fork it over or it’s Goodbye savings accounts. Goodbye pensions. Goodbye United States Treasury. Goodbye jobs and homes and future. It was friggin’ awesome and it scared the shit out of everyone. “Here! Take our money! We don’t care. We’ll even print more for you! Just take it! But, please, leave our lives alone, PLEASE!”
The executives in the board rooms and hedge funds could not contain their laughter, their glee, and within three months they were writing each other huge bonus checks and marveling at how perfectly they had played a nation full of suckers. Millions lost their jobs anyway, and millions lost their homes. But there was no revolt (see #1).
Until now. On Wisconsin! Never has a Michigander been more happy to share a big, great lake with you! You have aroused the sleeping giant known as the working people of the United States of America. Right now the earth is shaking and the ground is shifting under the feet of those who are in charge. Your message has inspired people in all 50 states and that message is: WE HAVE HAD IT! We reject anyone who tells us America is broke and broken. It’s just the opposite! We are rich with talent and ideas and hard work and, yes, love. Love and compassion toward those who have, through no fault of their own, ended up as the least among us. But they still crave what we all crave: Our country back! Our democracy back! Our good name back! The United States of America. NOT the Corporate States of America. The United States of America!
So how do we make this happen? Well, we do it with a little bit of Egypt here, a little bit of Madison there. And let us pause for a moment and remember that it was a poor man with a fruit stand in Tunisia who gave his life so that the world might focus its attention on how a government run by billionaires for billionaires is an affront to freedom and morality and humanity.
Thank you, Wisconsin. You have made people realize this was our last best chance to grab the final thread of what was left of who we are as Americans. For three weeks you have stood in the cold, slept on the floor, skipped out of town to Illinois — whatever it took, you have done it, and one thing is for certain: Madison is only the beginning. The smug rich have overplayed their hand. They couldn’t have just been content with the money they raided from the treasury. They couldn’t be satiated by simply removing millions of jobs and shipping them overseas to exploit the poor elsewhere. No, they had to have more — something more than all the riches in the world. They had to have our soul. They had to strip us of our dignity. They had to shut us up and shut us down so that we could not even sit at a table with them and bargain about simple things like classroom size or bulletproof vests for everyone on the police force or letting a pilot just get a few extra hours sleep so he or she can do their job — their $19,000 a year job. That’s how much some rookie pilots on commuter airlines make, maybe even the rookie pilot who flew me here to Madison today. He told me he’s stopped hoping for a pay increase. All he’s asking for now is enough down time so that he doesn’t have to sleep in his car between shifts at O’Hare airport. That’s how despicably low we have sunk! The wealthy couldn’t be content with just paying this man $19,000 a year. They had to take away his sleep. They had to demean him and dehumanize him and rub his face in it. After all, he’s just another slob, isn’t he?
And that, my friends, is Corporate America’s fatal mistake. But trying to destroy us they have given birth to a movement — a movement that is becoming a massive, nonviolent revolt across the country. We all knew there had to be a breaking point some day, and that point is upon us. Many people in the media don’t understand this. They say they were caught off guard about Egypt, never saw it coming. Now they act surprised and flummoxed about why so many hundreds of thousands have come to Madison over the last three weeks during brutal winter weather. “Why are they all standing out there in the cold?” I mean, there was that election in November and that was supposed to be that!
“There’s something happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you …?”
America ain’t broke! The only thing that’s broke is the moral compass of the rulers. And we aim to fix that compass and steer the ship ourselves from now on. Never forget, as long as that Constitution of ours still stands, it’s one person, one vote, and it’s the thing the rich hate most about America — because even though they seem to hold all the money and all the cards, they begrudgingly know this one unshakeable basic fact: There are more of us than there are of them!
Madison, do not retreat. We are with you. We will win together.
February 18, 2011
Barack Obama urged Mahmoud Abbas to block a UN Security Council resolution condemning settlements.
It appears that US dealings with the Palestinians have entered a new phase: Bullying.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama telephoned Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to urge him to block a UN Security Council resolution condemning settlements. Obama pressed very hard during the 50 minute call, so hard that Abbas felt constrained to agree to take Obama’s request to the PLO executive committee (which, not surprisingly, agreed that Abbas should not accede to Obama’s request).
But what a request it is!
For Palestinians, Israeli settlements are the very crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After all, it is the gobbling up of the land by settlements that is likely to prevent a Palestinian state from ever coming into being.
Asking the Palestinian leader to agree to oppose a resolution condemning them is like asking the Israeli prime minister to agree to drop Israel’s claim to the Israeli parts of Jerusalem.
In fact, the mere US request for a 90-day settlement freeze (a request sweetened with an offer of $3.5bn in extra aid) outraged the Netanyahu government. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu could not even bring himself to respond (probably figuring that he will get the extra money whenever he wants it anyway). The administration then acted as if it never made the request at all, so eager is it to not offend Netanyahu in any way.
But it is a different story with Palestinians for obvious reasons (they have no political clout in Washington). Even when they ask the UN to support them on settlements, the administration applies heavy pressure on them.
But why so much pressure? After all, it is a big deal when the president calls a foreign leader and, to be honest, the head of the Palestinian Authority is not exactly the president of France or prime minister of Canada.
The reason Obama made that call is that he was almost desperate to avoid vetoing the United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning illegal Israel settlements. And it is not hard to see why.
Given the turbulence in the Middle East, and the universal and strong opposition in the Arab and Muslim world to US shilly-shallying on settlements, the last thing the administration wants to do is veto a resolution condemning them.
That is especially true with this resolution, sponsored by 122 nations, and which embodies long-stated US policies. All US interests dictate either support for the resolution or at least abstention.
But the administration rejected that approach, knowing that if it supported the resolution, AIPAC would go ballistic, along with its House and Senate (mostly House) cutouts. (Here are some of them issuing warnings already).
Then the calls would start coming in from AIPAC-connected donors who would warn that they will not support the president’s re-election if he does not veto. And Netanyahu would do to Obama what he did to former President Clinton – work with the Republicans (his favourite is former speaker Newt Gingrich) to bring Obama down.
What was an administration to do? It did not want to veto but was afraid not to.
Earlier in the week, it floated a plan which would have the Security Council mildly criticise settlements in a statement (not a resolution). According to Foreign Policy, the statement: “Expresses its strong opposition to any unilateral actions by any party, which cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognised by the international community, and reaffirms, that it does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process.” The statement also condemns “all forms of violence, including rocket fire from Gaza, and stresses the need for calm and security for both peoples”.
Did you notice where settlements are mentioned? Read slowly. It is there.
Reading the language, it is not hard to guess where the statement was drafted. Rather than simply address settlements, it throws in such AIPAC pleasing irrelevancies (in this context) as “rocket fire from Gaza” which has absolutely nothing to do with West Bank settlements. In other words, it reads like an AIPAC-drafted House resolution, although it does leave out the “hooray for Israel” boilerplate which is standard in Congress but which the Security Council is unlikely to go for.
All this to avoid vetoing a resolution which expresses US policy. Needless to say, the US plan went nowhere. Hypocrisy only carries the day when it is not transparent.
As I wrote earlier this week, this is what happens when donors and not diplomats are driving US policy. It is too bad that they do not care that they are making the US look like Netanyahu’s puppet in front of the entire world.
MJ Rosenberg is a senior foreign policy fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.
Follow MJ’s work on Facebook or on Twitter.
|Israel has been evicting Palestinians from their East Jerusalem homes to make way for settlers [AFP]
Vetoing UN resolutions condemning Israeli settlements violates broader US interests.
Anyone who thought that the United States has learned anything from the various revolutions upturning the Arab world has another think coming. We didn’t.
On Thursday, as the Egyptian revolution was culminating with the collapse of the Mubarak regime, the Obama administration announced that it intends to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution, sponsored by 122 nations, condemning Israeli settlement expansion.
This is from AFP’s report on what Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“We have made very clear that we do not think the Security Council is the right place to engage on these issues,” Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee.
“We have had some success, at least for the moment, in not having that arise there. And we will continue to employ the tools that we have to make sure that continues to not happen,” said Steinberg.
There is so much wrong with Steinberg’s statement that it is hard to know where to start.
First is the obvious. Opposition to Israeli settlements is perhaps the only issue on which the entire Arab and Muslim world is united. Iraqis and Afghanis, Syrians and Egyptians, Indonesians and Pakistanis don’t agree on much, but they do agree on that. They also agree that the US policy on settlements demonstrates flagrant disregard for human rights in the Muslim world (at least when Israel is the human rights violator).
Accordingly, a US decision to support the condemnation of settlements would send a clear message to the Arab and Muslim world that we understand what is happening in the Middle East and that we share at least some of its peoples’ concerns.
The settlement issue should be an easy one for the United States. Our official policy is the same as that of the Arab world. We oppose settlements. We consider them illegal. We have repeatedly demanded that the Israelis stop expanding them (although the Israeli government repeatedly ignores us). The administration feels so strongly about settlements that it recently offered Israel an extra $3.5bn in US aid to freeze settlements for 90 days.
It is impossible, then, for the United States to pretend that we do not agree with the resolution (especially when its language was carefully drafted to comport with the administration’s official position). So why will we veto a resolution that expresses our own views?
Steinberg says that “We do not think the Security Council is the right place to engage on these issues.”
Why not? It is the Security Council that passed all the major international resolutions (with US support) governing Israel’s role in the occupied territories since the first one, UN Resolution 242 in 1967.
He then adds, with clear pride that:
“We have had some success, at least for the moment, in not having that [the settlements issue] arise there.”
Very impressive. The United States has had no success whatsoever in getting the Netanyahu government to stop expanding settlements — to stop evicting Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem to make way for ultra-Orthodox settlers — and no success in getting Israel to crack down on settler violence, but we have had “some success” in keeping the issue out of the United Nations.
The only way to resolve the settlements issue, according to Steinberg, “is through engagement through the parties, and that is our clear and consistent position”. Clear and consistent it may be. But it hasn’t worked. The bulldozers never stop.
Of course, it is not hard to explain the Obama administration’s decision to veto a resolution embodying positions that we support. It is the power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is lobbying furiously for a US veto (actually not so furiously; AIPAC doesn’t waste energy when it knows that its congressional acolytes — and Dennis Ross in the White House itself — will do its work for them).
The power of the lobby is the only reason we will veto the resolution. Try to come up with another one. After all, voting for the resolution (or, at least, abstaining on it) serves US interests in the Middle East at a critical moment and is consistent with US policy.
But it would enrage the lobby and its friends who will threaten retribution in the 2012 election.
Simply put, our Middle East policy is all about domestic politics. And not even the incredible events of the past month will change that.
That is why US standing in the Middle East will continue to deteriorate. We simply cannot deliver. After all, there is always another election on the horizon and that means that it is donors, not diplomats, who determine US policy.
MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.
Follow MJ’s work on Facebook or on Twitter.
February 10, 2011
Ahmed Rehab | CAIR-Chicago
When I arrived in Egypt on January 22, life was as normal as ever with no indication that a revolution was about to break out just three days later, forever transforming Egypt and its citizens.
Long fed up with political corruption and monopoly, the people of Egypt finally decided that it was time to take what’s theirs.
Cairo’s streets and bridges, squares and alleys were a stage to history as millions took to the streets, day-in day-out, in a determined explosion of defiance, demanding an upheaval of Egypt’s political system.
With all eyes on Egypt, Tahrir Square is now arguably the world’s most famous square; the Egyptian flag, a symbol of freedom worldwide.
Tahrir Square was always the address. When protesters were forcefully evacuated from Tahrir Square on the first day of the protests, they came back three days later in larger numbers, this time refusing to take no for an answer. After eight hours of withering the acrid of tear gas and rubber bullets, we poured into Tahrir Square and at that moment knew that the protests had become a revolution.
For Egyptians who have called Tahrir Square home since that day, the Square is more than a symbol of the revolution; it is a symbol of a new Egypt.
“Guys don’t harass girls here, they treat them as their sisters; people proactively share their limited supply of food and water. We respect each other’s difference; we are a united people. We come from all over the country, but share one goal: a better Egypt,” said Mona, a student.
“This is the safest place for me in Egypt right now,” Said Nanna, a blonde blue-eyed Danish reporter. After the government pulled out the police force from the streets, government-related thugs and hoodlums roamed the streets attacking protesters and reporters. “The protesters protected me with their bodies,” she said.
Across from the Square is the Egyptian Museum, home of the world’s most expensive artifacts, also protected from vandals by a human chain of protesters.
Let’s take a walk.
The entrance of the Square has been barricaded by protesters. Directly outside are military tanks, parked outside with soldiers perched on top, observing silently. The military has shown total neutrality and is widely appreciated for it; soldiers are friendly and courteous often pausing to let visitors take photographs with them.
Ad hoc security check points have been created; volunteers ask you to show your ID and open your bags as a welcoming committee of miners from upper Egypt sing “Welcome, Welcome, O Ye Heroes.” Inside, other volunteers walk around with gloves and garbage bags, helping keep Tahrir Square the cleanest it has ever been despite the massive population density. Huge signs with revolutionary slogans hang between trees and lampposts and roll down from buildings. Protesters walk around with creative and highly personalized messages plastered on placards, rejecting the political status quo and demanding their rights.
In one corner, a makeshift first aid clinic manned by volunteer doctors stands across from a food bank of snacks and bottles of water.
In every corner is a rally of sorts, some on large stages complete with loud speakers, some on grassy areas, and others on the street. As you stroll through, you see that some gatherings are devoted to speeches, others to poetry, others yet to musical bands, debates, prayer, and chanting.
In the middle of all this, thousands march with flags, some huge, some small, all calling for an end to the current regime.
“Soon the world will never again mention the bloody French revolution as a historical reference but will remember the peaceful, inspiring , ethical, charismatic, emotional and spiritual Egyptian revolution as a motto of all world revolutions to come,” said Kamal.
Last Friday, Tahrir Square was the site of the Muslim Sabbath. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims prayed as Christian volunteers surrounded them for protection. The following Sunday, Christians held their mass as Muslims took their turn giving protection. Around the square, you see many images of the Crescent and the Cross. Images of Tahrir Imams and Priests holding hands have become popular.
“This is the real Egypt, the Alexandria church bombing was yet another government farce,” said Adel, referring to the recent scandal allegedly implicating the now estranged former Minister of Interior. “Tell me, if Muslims wanted to blow up their Christian neighbors, then how come not one church faced any violence in the past two weeks despite the total absence of police security outside churches and everywhere else?” He asked. “To the contrary, in many churches, Muslim youth volunteered to replace the usual security in front of the churches.”
On Wednesday, February 2, Tahrir Square was the site of a national tragedy. Thugs on camels and horses raced into the square attacking protesters with machetes and swords. The attacks continued well into the next day, with overnight clashes featuring Molotov cocktails and snipers. The government failed to intervene and was roundly accused of sponsoring the thugs. Dozens died and thousands were injured. Egyptians were outraged and the incident further rallied some of the silent masses into the revolution.
A volunteer doctor said:
“They attacked men, women, and children. I treated one 13 year old for seven wounds. As soon as I finished, he got up and raced back into the fighting. The next time I saw him, he had a bullet lodged in his brain.”
Since then, volunteer security has been beefed up and the site now has a martyrs wall featuring huge photos of those killed that day. Passersby pause to make a prayer.
A week later, I saw a woman walking around Tahrir with a sign, “My son died here, I came to replace him.”
“We came here to reclaim our lost dignity,” Mona said, “We are willing to lose our lives than leave here without it.”
February 8, 2011
By Neveen Abdalla
If you’re offended, it probably applies to you.
I can’t talk out loud right now. If I begin to talk, I will yell, and volume only works if you’re among the agitators in the Tea Party.
But right now I am outraged. I am outraged by the ridiculousness of many in the American Media, and I am particularly outraged at a significant chunk of average Americans.
A revolution started in Egypt on January 25th, and you didn’t care because American Idol was on.
People stormed the streets in protest of police brutality, and you didn’t watch it because SportsCenter was on.
While people demanded their right to choose their own government, you were choosing your next hair color.
When people begged to be heard, you put on your headphones and listened to Wakka Flocka Flame.
America, you have disappointed me. You have broken my heart.
You are so far removed from the American Revolution, Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, or any other thing that had to be fought for, that you don’t give a damn about anyone else. Many of you don’t even know your own history, and you don’t give a damn about anyone else’s future.
Do you remember the Bosnians? The Sudanese? The Haitians? The Cambodians? The Ugandans? These oppressions occurred in our lifetime.
Even on US soil, did you read about Chinese forced labor building railroads? The Japanese Internment camps? The Trail of Tears and other treacheries against Native Americans? Can you name more than three leaders in the Civil Rights Movement? Hell, can you name your own Governor? Did you even vote?
Americans have taken their freedoms for granted for way too long.
People fought and died for you to vote, to have a say, to have a home, to have a job, to have healthcare, to have all the things that people in other counties consider a dream. People died for you, and you repay them by forgetting them, and forgetting others like them.
America, the world looks up to you. And you spit on them and watch the Superbowl. And that is why you grow angry with the world and the world grows angry with you. Because you, the average citizen, are apathetic, lazy and uninvolved.
What’s even more dangerous than your apathy, is your willingness to believe whatever you are told. Because you will turn to Fox, or CNN or MSNBC, or any station and listen for three minutes, without questioning the facts. You never question whether they are truths or lies. You never question the agenda. You never find out the source of the statistics. You “learn” just enough of what they want you to say, and regurgitate it without any thought.
Glenn Beck watchers: I’m looking at you.
Explain to me how you can swallow hogwash like “They hate our freedom” when you see Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and many others fighting so hard for the same freedoms we take for granted? And folks, since you haven’t been watching, I can tell you, this happened in the past 2 weeks, not past 2 centuries.
Yeah, your founding fathers would be proud.
I would be remiss without applauding the efforts of American reporters who have boldly championed the truth about the Revolution and the Mubarak Regime to the American public.
Rachel Maddow, for example, has been very vocal about the attacks by Mubarak’s thugs on journalists, calling it “a tactic that is being used by one side,” and stating “You do not ransack press offices because you are looking for good public relations…you do it because you want to stay in power.”
Anderson Cooper traveled to Egypt and came face to face with the Mubarak thugs. While he and his team were being harassed and beaten, he STILL RECORDED on his own personal camera. He went into hiding to bring you the truth. He risked his life to educate the world.
Those Americans who still care, who still remember, who value their freedom and seek the truth about others, though a minority today, their vigilance and their voice is noted and appreciated.
But what about the majority?
Are you watching, America?
Marma Mazen posted the story of her detainment on Bloomberg.com. Journalists from Al Jazeera are still in detention, and Egyptian journalist Ahmed Mohammed Mahmoud lost his life. Are you watching?
If it happened in America, would you change the channel?
America, I beg you to wake up.
Put away your issues with Taco Bell, step away from Angry Birds, and get involved. A peaceful country is being slandered, it’s people being tortured, neglected, and abused before your very eyes.
I’ve never met an American that said they didn’t want to go to Egypt.
You know about mummies and pyramids, but you don’t know about the PEOPLE. Egyptians are just like you. They want jobs, they want food, they want to get married, they want to have children, they want a future. And they want it now.
If you’re not eating, Google “Khaled Said” images, and learn about police brutality in Egypt. This is what is happening while you watch Real Housewives.
Don’t listen to the machinations that the mainstream media has conjured. I beg you, learn about Egypt from Egyptians. Develop your own opinions. Don’t take things at face value. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already know an Egyptian, or care about the situation enough to seek one out. Congratulations, you’re more than halfway there. Now invite a friend to do the same. I’m more than happy to speak to anyone. We all are.
I urge you, STAND UP for Egyptians. I beg you to get involved. Become a part of SOMETHING BIGGER THAN YOU.
The alternative is to remain ignorant, reside in your little bubble, and wait for the day to come when you need someone to fight for you, and no one is there.
The above article was submitted to mindfulofdreams.com by Neveen Abdalla (email@example.com).
February 7, 2011
Suleiman, a friend to the US and reported torturer, has long been touted as a presidential successor.
Suleiman meets with Israeli president Shimon Peres in Tel Aviv, November 2010 [Getty]
On January 29, Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s top spy chief, was anointed vice president by tottering dictator, Hosni Mubarak. By appointing Suleiman, part of a shake-up of the cabinet in an attempt to appease the masses of protesters and retain his own grip on the presidency, Mubarak has once again shown his knack for devilish shrewdness. Suleiman has long been favoured by the US government for his ardent anti-Islamism, his willingness to talk and act tough on Iran – and he has long been the CIA’s main man in Cairo.
Mubarak knew that Suleiman would command an instant lobby of supporters at Langley and among ‘Iran nexters’ in Washington – not to mention among other authoritarian mukhabarat-dependent regimes in the region. Suleiman is a favourite of Israel too; he held the Israel dossier and directed Egypt’s efforts to crush Hamas by demolishing the tunnels that have functioned as a smuggling conduit for both weapons and foodstuffs into Gaza.
According to a WikiLeak(ed) US diplomatic cable, titled ‘Presidential Succession in Egypt’, dated May 14, 2007:
“Egyptian intelligence chief and Mubarak consigliere, in past years Soliman was often cited as likely to be named to the long-vacant vice-presidential post. In the past two years, Soliman has stepped out of the shadows, and allowed himself to be photographed, and his meetings with foreign leaders reported. Many of our contacts believe that Soliman, because of his military background, would at least have to figure in any succession scenario.”
From 1993 until Saturday, Suleiman was chief of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service. He remained largely in the shadows until 2001, when he started taking over powerful dossiers in the foreign ministry; he has since become a public figure, as the WikiLeak document attests. In 2009, he was touted by the London Telegraph and Foreign Policy as the most powerful spook in the region, topping even the head of Mossad.
In the mid-1990s, Suleiman worked closely with the Clinton administration in devising and implementing its rendition program; back then, rendition involved kidnapping suspected terrorists and transferring them to a third country for trial. In The Dark Side, Jane Mayer describes how the rendition program began:
“Each rendition was authorised at the very top levels of both governments [the US and Egypt] … The long-serving chief of the Egyptian central intelligence agency, Omar Suleiman, negotiated directly with top [CIA] officials. [Former US Ambassador to Egypt Edward] Walker described the Egyptian counterpart, Suleiman, as ‘very bright, very realistic’, adding that he was cognisant that there was a downside to ‘some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way’. (p. 113).
“Technically, US law required the CIA to seek ‘assurances’ from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldn’t face torture. But under Suleiman’s reign at the EGIS, such assurances were considered close to worthless. As Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer [head of the al-Qaeda desk], who helped set up the practise of rendition, later testified, even if such ‘assurances’ were written in indelible ink, ‘they weren’t worth a bucket of warm spit’.”
Under the Bush administration, in the context of “the global war on terror”, US renditions became “extraordinary”, meaning the objective of kidnapping and extra-legal transfer was no longer to bring a suspect to trial – but rather for interrogation to seek actionable intelligence. The extraordinary rendition program landed some people in CIA black sites – and others were turned over for torture-by-proxy to other regimes. Egypt figured large as a torture destination of choice, as did Suleiman as Egypt’s torturer-in-chief. At least one person extraordinarily rendered by the CIA to Egypt — Egyptian-born Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib — was reportedly tortured by Suleiman himself.
Suleiman the torturer
In October 2001, Habib was seized from a bus by Pakistani security forces. While detained in Pakistan, at the behest of American agents, he was suspended from a hook and electrocuted repeatedly. He was then turned over to the CIA, and in the process of transporting him to Egypt he endured the usual treatment: his clothes were cut off, a suppository was stuffed in his anus, he was put into a diaper – and ‘wrapped up like a spring roll’.
In Egypt, as Habib recounts in his memoir, My Story: The Tale of a Terrorist Who Wasn’t, he was repeatedly subjected to electric shocks, immersed in water up to his nostrils and beaten. His fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks. At one point, his interrogator slapped him so hard that his blindfold was dislodged, revealing the identity of his tormentor: Suleiman.
Frustrated that Habib was not providing useful information or confessing to involvement in terrorism, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a shackled prisoner in front of Habib, which he did with a vicious karate kick. In April 2002, after five months in Egypt, Habib was rendered to American custody at Bagram prison in Afghanistan – and then transported to Guantanamo. On January 11, 2005, the day before he was scheduled to be charged, Dana Priest of the Washington Post published an exposé about Habib’s torture. The US government immediately announced that he would not be charged and would be repatriated to Australia.
A far more infamous torture case, in which Suleiman also is directly implicated, is that of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi. Unlike Habib, who was innocent of any ties to terror or militancy, al-Libi was allegedly a trainer at al-Khaldan camp in Afghanistan. He was captured by the Pakistanis while fleeing across the border in November 2001. He was sent to Bagram, and questioned by the FBI. But the CIA wanted to take over, which they did, and he was transported to a black site on the USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea, then extraordinarily rendered to Egypt. Under torture there, al-Libi “confessed” knowledge about an al-Qaeda–Saddam connection, claiming that two al-Qaeda operatives had received training in Iraq for use in chemical and biological weapons. In early 2003, this was exactly the kind of information that the Bush administration was seeking to justify attacking Iraq and to persuade reluctant allies to go along. Indeed, al-Libi’s “confession” was one the central pieces of “evidence” presented at the United Nations by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to make the case for war.
As it turns out, that confession was a lie tortured out of him by Egyptians. Here is how former CIA chief George Tenet describes the whole al-Libi situation in his 2007 memoir, At The Center Of The Storm:
“We believed that al-Libi was withholding critical threat information at the time, so we transferred him to a third country for further debriefing. Allegations were made that we did so knowing that he would be tortured, but this is false. The country in question [Egypt] understood and agreed that they would hold al-Libi for a limited period. In the course of questioning while he was in US custody in Afghanistan, al-Libi made initial references to possible al-Qa’ida training in Iraq. He offered up information that a militant known as Abu Abdullah had told him that at least three times between 1997 and 2000, the now-deceased al-Qa’ida leader Mohammad Atef had sent Abu Abdullah to Iraq to seek training in poisons and mustard gas.
“Another senior al-Qa’ida detainee told us that Mohammad Atef was interested in expanding al-Qa’ida’s ties to Iraq, which, in our eyes, added credibility to the reporting. Then, shortly after the Iraq war got under way, al-Libi recanted his story. Now, suddenly, he was saying that there was no such cooperative training. Inside the CIA, there was sharp division on his recantation. It led us to recall his reporting, and here is where the mystery begins.
“Al-Libi’s story will no doubt be that he decided to fabricate in order to get better treatment and avoid harsh punishment. He clearly lied. We just don’t know when. Did he lie when he first said that al-Qa’ida members received training in Iraq – or did he lie when he said they did not? In my mind, either case might still be true. Perhaps, early on, he was under pressure, assumed his interrogators already knew the story, and sang away. After time passed and it became clear that he would not be harmed, he might have changed his story to cloud the minds of his captors. Al-Qa’ida operatives are trained to do just that. A recantation would restore his stature as someone who had successfully confounded the enemy. The fact is, we don’t know which story is true, and since we don’t know, we can assume nothing. (pp. 353-354)”
Al-Libi was eventually sent off, quietly, to Libya – though he reportedly made a few other stops along the way – where he was imprisoned. The use of al-Libi’s statement in the build-up to the Iraq war made him a huge American liability once it became clear that the purported al-Qaeda–Saddam connection was a tortured lie. His whereabouts were, in fact, a secret for years, until April 2009 when Human Rights Watch researchers investigating the treatment of Libyan prisoners encountered him in the courtyard of a prison. Two weeks later, on May 10, al-Libi was dead, and the Gaddafi regime claimed it was a suicide.
According to Evan Kohlmann, who enjoys favoured status among US officials as an ‘al-Qaeda expert’, citing a classified source: ‘Al-Libi’s death coincided with the first visit by Egypt’s spymaster Omar Suleiman to Tripoli.’
Kohlmann surmises and opines that, after al-Libi recounted his story about about an al-Qaeda–Saddam-WMD connection, “The Egyptians were embarassed by this admission – and the Bush government found itself in hot water internationally. Then, in May 2009, Omar Suleiman saw an opportunity to get even with al-Libi and travelled to Tripoli. By the time Omar Suleiman’s plane left Tripoli, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi had committed ‘suicide’.”
As people in Egypt and around the world speculate about the fate of the Mubarak regime, one thing should be very clear: Omar Suleiman is not the man to bring democracy to the country. His hands are too dirty, and any ‘stability’ he might be imagined to bring to the country and the region comes at way too high a price. Hopefully, the Egyptians who are thronging the streets and demanding a new era of freedom will make his removal from power part of their demands, too.
Lisa Hajjar teaches sociology at the Uiversity of California – Santa Barbara and is a co-editor of Jadaliyya.
This article first appeared on Jadaliyya.
February 6, 2011
Senior Analyst and Executive Director, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies
During my visit to Cairo last month, I witnessed an incident that today seems almost prophetic. At one of Cairo’s posh coffee shops, I saw a customer screaming at the young man serving him, claiming that the waiter had shown him disrespect. The young worker responded firmly, “I did nothing wrong. You yelled at me.” “Do you know who I am?” the customer slammed back. He then went on to demand that the café manager reprimand the worker publicly, by, in the customers’ words, “dragging the dog’s honor in the dirt.”
Anyone familiar with Cairo has seen this scenario too many times: a member of the “protected” upper class elite abuses a member of the working class for a trivial perceived offense. What came next however was new. Instead of cowering into an apology, the young worker looked his accuser in the eye and said, “You’re not God. I’m not your subordinate. I’m a person just like you.”
Many Western analysts and media outlets are attempting to force categorize Egypt’s uprising as either a secular demand for democracy (which we should therefore support) or a religious revolution (which we should fear and try to stop). Neither depiction captures the complexity or the opportunity of this historical moment in Egypt. To truly partner with the Egyptian people, as President Obama recently promised, U.S. policymakers must first develop a far more sophisticated understanding of Egyptian aspirations.
Ordinary Egyptians’ growing sense of self worth fuels the current popular anti-government uprising, not any political ideology or charismatic leader. It is a belief that citizens should no longer have to endure the daily humiliation of economic and political stagnation. The protesters represent a wide cross section of Egyptian society who demand justice, as they call for Muslim-Christian solidarity. They wave Egyptian flags, not specific opposition party banners or sectarian symbols.
At the same time, Egyptians’ rising religiosity may very well play a role in this development, just as faith often animated our own civil rights struggle. If Tunisia’s success story was the match that ignited Egypt’s popular uprising, decreased tolerance for injustice — in some cases born out of a religious awakening — provided the fuel. Gallup found that Egyptians were the most likely in the region to say moving toward greater democracy would help Muslims progress, and the most likely to agree that attachment to spiritual and moral values would similarly lead to a brighter future. This duality stands strong in the country with the highest percentage of people in the world affirming that religion is an important part of their daily lives. Surveys show that Egyptians prefer democracy over all other forms of government. They also say that religion plays a positive role in politics.
The majority of Egyptians want democracy and see no contradiction between the change they seek and the timeless values to which they surrender. More than 90 percent of Egyptians say they would guarantee freedom of the press if it were up to them to write a constitution for a new country. Moreover, most Egyptians say they favor nothing more than an advisory role for religious leaders in the crafting of legislation. Egyptians choose democracy informed by sacred values, not theocracy with a democratic veneer.
U.S. policy makers would do well to embrace this nuance, which to us as Americans should sound familiar. From abolitionists to the civil rights movement, American leaders have drawn inspiration from their faith in their pursuit of justice. Today, some of the loudest voices in the United States calling for environmental preservation, an end to torture or global poverty eradication are faith leaders. I witnessed this first hand when serving on the White House Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships advisory council. Religious and secular leaders and scholars from different backgrounds sat at one table to find solutions to our country’s toughest challenges, each drawing on their individual ethical tradition for the common good.
Our country’s unique history and passion for social justice makes us natural partners to the Egyptian people in their struggle for a better future. Moreover, there is hunger on both sides for greater cooperation. Gallup surveys found that the majority of both Americans and Egyptians say greater interaction between Muslims and the West is a benefit not a threat, despite Egyptian disapproval of U.S. policies in their region.
The continuing popular protests in the most influential and populated Arab country may represent the future of the Middle East. U.S. policy makers cannot afford to alienate this movement by failing to understand its intricacies. Faith is a part of Egypt, but most Egyptians do not support the rule of clerics. They seek the rule of law.
February 3, 2011
It should be remembered that Egypt’s elite of multi-millionaires has benefited enormously from its set of corrupt bargains with the US and Israel and from the maintenance of a martial law regime that deflects labor demands and pesky human rights critiques. It is no wonder that to defend his billions and those of his cronies, Hosni Mubarak was perfectly willing to order thousands of his security thugs into the Tahrir Square to beat up and expel the demonstrators, leaving 7 dead and over 800 wounded, 200 of them just on Thursday morning.
Tahrir Square 2311
It might seem surprising that Mubarak was so willing to defy the Obama administration’s clear hint that he sould quickly transition out of power. In fact, Mubarak’s slap in the face of President Obama will not be punished and it is nothing new. It shows again American toothlessness and weakness in the Middle East, and will encourage the enemies of the US to treat it with similar disdain.
The tail has long wagged the dog in American Middle East policy. The rotten order of the modern Middle East has been based on wily local elites stealing their way to billions while they took all the aid they could from the United States, even as they bit the hand that fed them. First the justification was the putative threat of International Communism (which however actually only managed to gather up for itself the dust of Hadramawt in South Yemen and the mangy goats milling around broken-down Afghan villages). More recently the cover story has been the supposed threat of radical Islam, which is a tiny fringe phenomenon in most of the Middle East that in some large part was sowed by US support for the extremists in the Cold War as a foil to the phantom of International Communism. And then there is the set of myths around Israel, that it is necessary for the well-being of the world’s Jews, that it is an asset to US security, that it is a great ethical enterprise– all of which are patently false.
On such altars are the labor activists, youthful idealists, human rights workers, and democracy proponents in Egypt being sacrificed with the silver dagger of filthy lucre.
Mubarak is taking his cues for impudence from the far rightwing government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which began the Middle Eastern custom of humiliating President Barack Obama with impunity. Obama came into office pledging finally to move smartly to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Netanyahu government did not have the slightest intention of allowing a Palestinian state to come into existence. Israel was founded on the primal sin of expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in what is now Israel, and then conniving at keeping them stateless, helpless and weak ever after. Those who fled the machine guns of the Irgun terrorist group to the West Bank and Gaza, where they dwelt in squalid refugee camps, were dismayed to see the Israelis come after them in 1967 and occupy them and further dispossess them. This slow genocide against a people that had been recognized as a Class A Mandate by the League of Nations and scheduled once upon a time for independent statehood is among the worst ongoing crimes of one people against another in the world. Many governments are greedy to rule over people reluctant to be so ruled. But no other government but Israel keeps millions of people stateless while stealing their land and resources or maintaining them in a state of economic blockade and food insecurity.
The Rotten Status Quo
The policy of the United States has been for the most part to accommodate this Israeli policy and to collaborate in the maltreatment of the Palestinians. Those states and groups that refuse to acquiesce in this egregious policy of epochal injustice are targeted by the US Congress for sanctions and branded terrorists and aggressors. As a sop to all the hundreds of millions of critics of the serial rape of the Palestinians, the US at most occasionally makes noises about achieving a “state” for them, which, however, would have no real sovereignty over its borders, its land, its air or its water. The price of such a eunuch state would be for the Palestinians to renounce their birthright and acquiesce in their expropriation and reduction to the flotsam of the earth.
And the Netanyahu government even disdained the tepid proposals of the Obama administration, for such an emasculated Palestinian “state”, which had to be willing to recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state, thus implicitly denaturalizing the 20% of the population that is Palestinian Christians and Muslims.
Because Israel’s enterprise in denying Palestinian statehood is so unnatural and so, at its fundament, immoral, it can only be pursued by the exercise of main force and by the infusion of billions of dollars a year into a poverty-stricken region. The US has in one way or another transferred over $100 billion to Israel so as to ensure it can remain a tenuous fortress on the edge of the Mediterranean, serving some US interests while keeping the millions of Palestinians in thrall.
US military aid to Israel allowed that country to prevail over Egypt in 1967 and 1973, and forced the Egyptian elite to seek an exit from ruinous wars. Anwar El Sadat decided ultimately to betray the hapless Palestinians and seek a separate peace. For removing all pressure on Israel by the biggest Arab nation with the best Arab military, Egypt has been rewarded with roughly $2 billion in US aid every year, not to mention favorable terms for importation of sophisticated weaponry and other perquisites. This move allowed the Israelis to invade and occupy part of Lebanon in 1982-2000, and then to launch massively destructive wars on virtually defenseless Lebanese and Gaza Palestinians more recently. Cairo under Mubarak is as opposed to Shiite Hizbullah in Lebanon and fundamentalist Hamas in Gaza as is Tel Aviv. The regime of Hosni Mubarak appears to have taken some sort of bribe to send substantial natural gas supplies to Israel at a deep discount. It has joined in the blockade against the civilians of Gaza. It acts as Israel’s handmaid in oppressing the Palestinians, and is bribed to do so by the US.
The US-backed military dictatorship in Egypt has become, amusingly enough, a Bonapartist state. It exercises power on behalf of both a state elite and a new wealthy business class, some members of which gained their wealth from government connections and corruption. The Egypt of the Separate Peace, the Egypt of tourism and joint military exercises with the United States, is also an Egypt ruled by the few for the benefit of the few.
The whole system is rotten, deeply dependent on exploiting the little people, on taking bribes from the sole superpower to pursue self-defeating or greedy policies virtually no one wants or would vote for in the region.
So the Palestinians objected to Obama’s plan to start back up direct negotiations with the Israelis in 2009, on the grounds that the Israelis were rapidly colonizing the Palestinian West Bank and were taking off the table the very territory over which negotiations were supposedly being conducted. Even the corrupt and timid Mahmoud Abbas, whose term as president has actually ended but who stayed on in the absence of new elections, demanded an end to new Israeli colonies in Palestinian territory (including lands unilaterally annexed to the Israeli district of Jerusalem in contravention of international law).
The Obama administration thought it had an agreement from Netanyahu to freeze settlements, and sent Joe Biden out to inaugurate the new peace promise. But when Biden came to Israel, he was humiliated by an Israeli announcement that it would build a new colony outside Jerusalem on land that Palestinians claimed. Then when the ‘settlement freeze’ in the West Bank proper came to an end during negotiations, Netanyahu announced that it would not be extended.
In other words, Netanyahu has since early 2009 taken billions in American money but told the US government to jump in a lake. The Obama administration did nothing, nothing whatsoever to punish this outrageous behavior.
So it can come as no surprise that Obama, Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been humiliated by Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. They told him to transition out of power. Instead, he on Wednesday and Thursday initiated the Massacre of Liberation Square, which has wounded nearly 1,000 people, most of them peaceful protesters.
Just as Netanyahu takes Washington’s billions but then pisses all over American policy objectives with regard to erecting a Palestinian State Lite, so Mubarak has stuffed tens of billions of dollars from Washington into his government’s pockets but has humiliated and endangered the United States.
When Netanyahu steals Palestinian property or deprives Gaza Palestinians of their livelihoods, and when Mubarak uses American military aid to crush a popular demonstration, they underline to the peoples of the Middle East that their corrupt and unacceptable situation is underwritten by Washington. That message generates fury at the United States.
As long as the president and the Congress are willing to lie down and serve as doormats for America’s supposed allies in the Middle East– out of a conviction of the usefulness of their clients and the inexpensiveness of putting them on retainer– there will be anti-Americanism and security threats that force us to subject ourselves to humiliating patdowns and scans at the airport and an erosion of our civil liberties every day. We are only one step away of being treated, with “protest zones” and “Patriot Acts” just as badly as the peaceful Egyptian protesters have been.
Taken from http://www.juancole.com/2011/02/mubarak-defies-a-humiliated-america-emulating-netanyahu.html
February 1, 2011
Ahmed Rehab | CAIR Chicago
The Egyptian street uprising that began last Tuesday, climaxed Friday, and is expected to explode this Tuesday has been met by suppression from the police, bewildering apathy from Mubarak, censorship from the State media, and confused mixed messages and an absence of leadership from the White House (Mubarak’s ally).
In Egypt, the national media which is controlled by the government has failed to ask six key questions, let alone answer them, underscoring how badly out of touch the current establishment is from the plight of the Egyptian people.
Here are the six questions:
1. Why did Mubarak wait for days before he publicly addressed the unfolding crisis? Why did he fail to acknowledge or respond to a single demand from the protesters when he finally spoke?
What responsible president can sit idly by for days as his streets bubble with rage previously unseen? Why did Mubarak not so much as attempt to curb escalations after seeing the clear writings on the wall literally and figuratively? Why has he failed, to this day, to have dialogue with the people, preferring instead to act unilaterally in a way that has enraged the people further? Mubarak’s failed leadership in the face of these crises is alone proof enough of his failed leadership and a reminder as to why he has no business being president.
2. Why did the Egyptian police use violence against the Egyptian people’s peaceful protests demanding their rights?
The Egyptian police force has long been notorious for its corruption and barbarity. It seems they believe that their role is to protect the regime and suppress dissenters – violently if necessary – rather than to protect the people and fight crime.
3. Why was Egypt’s entire police force pulled off the streets Friday night after the success of the protests? Who made that decision? Who is responsible?
The comprehensive self-withdrawal of Egypt’s police from the streets was made without any public statement, explanation, or by warning or prior warning. Not surprisingly, criminals and thugs had a heyday rushing to take advantage of the security vacuum, looting, and terrorizing neighborhoods. This reckless action by the Ministry of Interior showed a stunning disregard for the well-being and safety of the Egyptian people. It’s an action that extends beyond incompetency and into grand treason. With no one else to count on, Egyptians responded by taking matters into their own hands and quickly formed volunteer neighborhood watch groups that brought order to the streets.
4. Why were thousands of highly dangerous and armed criminals able to escape from prisons? How did that happen? Who is responsible?
To make matters worse, some of Egypt’s largest prisons were evacuated. Now Egyptians faced a country that now not only had no police but also of thousands of armed fugitives. Analysts suspect a treacherous government conspiracy to sabotage the otherwise successful street revolution by forcing a switch in priorities for the protectors. Indeed, use of force to quit street protests and stay in their neighborhoods to keep them safe.
5. Why did the government shut off Facebook? Why did it shut off the internet? Why did it shut off cell phone access? Why did it shut off telephone land lines? Why did it shut off Al Jazeera?
In full view of Egypt and the world, Mubarak’s cynical government has dug its heels in and further implicated itself in dictatorship, censorship, and disregard for freedoms by attempting to shut out the Egyptian people’s ability to express their voice. Naturally, such loathsome behavior has only acted to enrage the people further.
6. Why has the White House failed to do the right thing and advise its ally, Mubarak, that it’s time to go?
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have spoken a lot on this crisis but said nothing. They have contributed absolutely nothing to end this dictatorship and help usher in democracy. On the back end, they continue to offer tacit support to Mubarak. This is a case of utter failure of U.S. leadership on the global scene and an increasingly hypocritical U.S. foreign policy.
Tomorrow (Tuesday in Cairo), protesters are planning large scale marches. The government is promising brutal suppression with threats of live ammunition. It will be a day of decisive confrontation. I intend to join the protests. Continue to monitor my blog, www.ahmedrehab.com/blog and my Twitter account @ahmed_rehab for updates.
January 29, 2011
|Egyptians call for Mubarak’s ouster in Cairo, 29 January 2011. (Olivier Corsan/Newscom)
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 29 January 2011
We are in the middle of a political earthquake in the Arab world and the ground has still not stopped shaking. To make predictions when events are so fluid is risky, but there is no doubt that the uprising in Egypt — however it ends — will have a dramatic impact across the region and within Palestine.
If the Mubarak regime falls, and is replaced by one less tied to Israel and the United States, Israel will be a big loser. As Aluf Benn commented in the Israeli daily Haaretz, “The fading power of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government leaves Israel in a state of strategic distress. Without Mubarak, Israel is left with almost no friends in the Middle East; last year, Israel saw its alliance with Turkey collapse” (“Without Egypt, Israel will be left with no friends in Mideast,” 29 January 2011).
Indeed, Benn observes, “Israel is left with two strategic allies in the region: Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.” But what Benn does not say is that these two “allies” will not be immune either.
Over the past few weeks I was in Doha examining the Palestine Papers leaked to Al Jazeera. These documents underscore the extent to which the split between the US-backed Palestinian Authority in Ramallah headed by Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction, on the one hand, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, on the other — was a policy decision of regional powers: the United States, Egypt and Israel. This policy included Egypt’s strict enforcement of the siege of Gaza.
If the Mubarak regime goes, the United States will lose enormous leverage over the situation in Palestine, and Abbas’ PA will lose one of its main allies against Hamas.
Already discredited by the extent of its collaboration and capitulation exposed in the Palestine Papers, the PA will be weakened even further. With no credible “peace process” to justify its continued “security coordination” with Israel, or even its very existence, the countdown may well begin for the PA’s implosion. Even the US and EU support for the repressive PA police-state-in-the-making may no longer be politically tenable. Hamas may be the immediate beneficiary, but not necessarily in the long term. For the first time in years we are seeing broad mass movements that, while they include Islamists, are not necessarily dominated or controlled by them.
There is also a demonstration effect for Palestinians: the endurance of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes has been based on the perception that they were strong, as well as their ability to terrorize parts of their populations and co-opt others. The relative ease with which Tunisians threw off their dictator, and the speed with which Egypt, and perhaps Yemen, seem to be going down the same road, may well send a message to Palestinians that neither Israel’s nor the PA’s security forces are as indomitable as they appear. Indeed, Israel’s “deterrence” already took a huge blow from its failure to defeat Hizballah in Lebanon in 2006, and Hamas in Gaza during the winter 2008-09 attacks.
As for Abbas’s PA, never has so much international donor money been spent on a security force with such poor results. The open secret is that without the Israeli military occupying the West Bank and besieging Gaza (with the Mubarak regime’s help), Abbas and his praetorian guard would have fallen long ago. Built on the foundations of a fraudulent peace process, the US, EU and Israel with the support of the decrepit Arab regimes now under threat by their own people, have constructed a Palestinian house of cards that is unlikely to remain standing much longer.
This time the message may be that the answer is not more military resistance but rather more people power and a stronger emphasis on popular protests. Today, Palestinians form at least half the population in historic Palestine — Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip combined. If they rose up collectively to demand equal rights, what could Israel do to stop them? Israel’s brutal violence and lethal force has not stopped regular demonstrations in West Bank villages including Bilin and Beit Ommar.
Israel must fear that if it responds to any broad uprising with brutality, its already precarious international support could start to evaporate as quickly as Mubarak’s. The Mubarak regime, it seems, is undergoing rapid “delegitimization.” Israeli leaders have made it clear that such an implosion of international support scares them more than any external military threat. With the power shifting to the Arab people and away from their regimes, Arab governments may not be able to remain as silent and complicit as they have for years as Israel oppresses Palestinians.
As for Jordan, change is already underway. I witnessed a protest of thousands of people in downtown Amman yesterday. These well-organized and peaceful protests, called for by a coalition of Islamist and leftist opposition parties, have been held now for weeks in cities around the country. The protesters are demanding the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Samir al-Rifai, dissolution of the parliament elected in what were widely seen as fraudulent elections in November, new free elections based on democratic laws, economic justice, an end to corruption and cancelation of the peace treaty with Israel. There were strong demonstrations of solidarity for the people of Egypt.
None of the parties at the demonstration called for the kind of revolutions that happened in Tunisia and Egypt to occur in Jordan, and there is no reason to believe such developments are imminent. But the slogans heard at the protests are unprecedented in their boldness and their direct challenge to authority. Any government that is more responsive to the wishes of the people will have to review its relationship with Israel and the United States.
Only one thing is certain today: whatever happens in the region, the people’s voices can no longer be ignored.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and is a contributor to The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict (Nation Books).
January 28, 2011
The winds of change are blowing over the Middle East from Jordan to Algeria.
A couple of weeks ago, Tunisia became the first Arab nation to succeed in shaking off decades of debilitating dictatorship through a popular uprising that sent shock waves through the entire region.
Egyptians who have long voiced discontent with their government are now taking to the streets in unprecedented numbers demanding change. If Egypt succeeds, analysts agree that a domino effect is likely.
Having withered decades of institutionalized corruption, police brutality and lack of freedoms under despotic regimes, Arab citizenries are finally beginning to believe that freedom and democracy are within reach. Their demands are straight-forward: democratically elected governments that truly represent and serve their citizens, in place of apathetic despots that work against the interests of their own citizens. They dream of free elections, government transparency, bureaucratic accountability, and rule of law.
It is perplexing that in the ensuing confrontation between citizens longing for democracy and iron-fisted dictators clamping down on dissent in the Arab world, the US official policy is to side with the dictators.
From the perspective of US interests, it is a severely misguided policy that could soon prove its short-sightedness.
To a certain extent, the US government’s blurry vision when it comes to the Arab world is a victim of its own simplistic two-bit approach to the region: lust for oil and fear of Islamism. As such, “good” regimes are ones that facilitate our access to the region’s natural resources, and that successfully crack down on Islamist movements. From Ben Ali to Mubarak to King Abdullah, that seems to be enough to declare them our “allies.”
Whether in Congress or in the media, our public discourse on the Middle East is so skewed exclusively in these two directions, it almost comes off as willful ignorance.
Despite evidence on the ground that is increasingly hard to miss, we have somehow convinced ourselves that the Arab world suffers from an inherent aversion to Western freedoms and a burning desire to turn back the clock to a medieval caliphate. Our close relationship with Israel and its lobby in Washington, in whose best interest it is to actively reinforce this minimalist misconception at every opportunity, further limits our reading of the region and sets up the intellectual justification for our policy of supporting autocratic Arab regimes who fulfill these two criteria. Naturally, the Arab dictators have themselves lobbied hard to convince Washington that they are the only viable alternative to violent Islamist rule.
But the successful populist revolt in Tunisia and the organic push for democracy in Egypt are offering an entirely different reality; one that should act as a wake up call for the US to quickly reassess its approach.
In Tunisia, the Jasmin Revolution was not ideologically religious in nature, nor was it hatched by opposition parties. It was a raw expression of everyday Tunisian citizens from every walk of life who rose up in one voice demanding civic reform, freedom, dignity, and democracy.
Similarly, in Egypt, demand for change has little to do with religion or the West, and everything to do with fair wages, just government, free democratic elections, and constitutional oversight.
Better informed by unprecedented access to alternative media via the internet and satellite, and buoyed by the nimbleness of social media like Facebook and Twitter, Tunisians, Egyptians and other Arabs are better able to communicate their grievances (which are primarily of a civic nature) and effectively mobilize their dissent beyond the otherwise watertight state control of mass media and means of communication.
The Arab masses, who are more astute than we give them credit for, want us to know that our hypocrisy when it comes to their region is not missed upon them. On one hand they see the US paying lip-service to flowery calls for freedom and democracy like Obama did in his State of the Union address today and Bush before him; on the other, they note its tacit support for autocrats who deny them just that.
Egyptians were largely turned off, for instance, by US Secretary of State’s Hillary Clinton’s comments on the January 25 popular uprising in Egypt:
“I urge all people to exercise restraint. I support the fundamental right of expression, but our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people,” said Clinton.
Shukry, an Egyptian activist, responded on Facebook:
“Egyptians do not define epidemic police brutality, torture in prisons, and extrajudicial killings as restraint. We do not consider a government that forces an unelected president on us for over 30 years and that rigs our parliamentary elections to a whopping 97% win for its one party system to be stable. We do not consider firing tear gas and rubber bullets into peaceful demonstrations that demand fair wages and basic dignities for citizens to be a legitimate response to our needs.”
“Compare the American government’s statements and its media coverage of Iran after their corrupt elections and during the Iranian green street protest with that of Egypt for those exact same events,” said Nadia, an Egyptian street protester. “It is not hard to see a double standard.”
Watching endless hours of Egyptian satellite talk shows, talking to scores of Egyptians on the street, and monitoring Facebook groups set up by Egyptian protesters, it is my assessment that Nadia and Shukry have a much more accurate reading of the general sentiments of Egyptians than Hillary Clinton.
Ironically, as Tunisians, Egyptians and other Arabs succeed in their push for freedom and democracy, Anti-Americanism may be on the rise. But it is not because of Arab support for terrorism or religious extremism or because of inherent hatred for our Western freedoms as we wish to believe. To the contrary, it is because Arabs, especially the youth who are largely educated and who are leading the push for change, see the US as an enabler of the dictatorships that keep them oppressed – an enemy of their freedoms for short-term strategic gains.
The US would do well to recognize that religious fundamentalism in the Arab world is more served than hindered by oppressive regimes and institutionalized government corruption; that the number one factor contributing to anti-American sentiment among Arab peoples is our support for those regimes; and that America’s image and interests are best served by supporting populist Arab quests for self-determination – not by stifling them. It is in our interest to turn the US from villain to hero, once again respected and looked up to. It is in our interest to not waste our money appeasing certain dictators while spilling our blood deposing others.
With or without us, Arabs will eventually succeed in overthrowing autocratic regimes and installing free democracies in their place. It would be shameful – perhaps even disastrous – if we remain on the wrong side of history.
UPDATE: Since the time of this article’s writing, the State department has improved its rhetoric and called on Mubarak to respect his citizens and introduce reforms. But timid politically correct rhetoric does not make for policy. Though an improvement over Clinton’s initial remarks, it remains as window dressing so long as it comes without action. The US policy of supporting and empowering Mubarak’s dictatorial regime as a “US ally” remains in tact.
January 24, 2011
|Palestinian enmity stems from occupation harshness, including denial of peace.
By Stephen Lendman
Merriam-Webster defines racism as ‘a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.’ It was the basis of South African apartheid and Nazi ‘master race’ superiority above others, especially Jews.
Israel has no constitution. Basic Laws substitute, including statutes affirming exclusive rights for Jews. One is the right of return, granting them automatic citizenship. Goyim are denigrated and not wanted, especially Arabs. David Ben-Gurion once said, “this is not only a Jewish state, where the majority of the inhabitants are Jews, but a state for all Jews, wherever they are, and for every Jew who wants to be here….This right is inherent in being a Jew.” It applies to no one else.
Israel’s Law of Citizenship or Nationality Law establishes rules so stringent against non-Jews that many Palestinians in 1948 were denied citizenship, despite family roots going back generations or longer. On May 5, 2007, Professor Joseph Maddad’s Palestine Remembered.com article headlined, “Israel’s Right to Be Racist,” discussed a “New anti-Semitism.”
He wrote: “Anti-Semitism is no longer the hatred of and discrimination against Jews as a religious or ethnic group; in the age of Zionism, we are told, anti-Semitism has metamorphosed into something that is more insidious. Today, Israel and its Western defenders insist genocidal anti-Semitism consists mainly of any attempt to take away and to refuse to uphold the absolute right of Israel to be a Jewish racist state.”
Israel will do anything to convince Arabs why it deserves to be racist, he said. It also makes peace provisional on “Palestinians ‘recogniz(ing) its right to exist’ as a racist state,” meaning, at best, they’ll be tolerated as lesser beings provided they accept inferiority and remain submissive, relinquishing all rights in return for nothing.
By any standard, racism, xenophobia, and supremacism notions are abhorrent. They have no place in civil societies, especially ones claiming democratic credentials. Tolerance is the very essence of democracy, accepting beliefs other than our own.
Gandhi once said: “A democracy prejudiced, ignorant, superstitious, will land itself in chaos and may be self-destroyed….The truest test of democracy is in the ability of anyone to act as he likes, so long as he does not injure the life or property of anyone else….If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one’s cause.” Democracy is “impossible until power is shared by all.”
“You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” was a memorable Rogers and Hammerstein song from their 1949 musical, “South Pacific.” The lyrics read in part:
“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear. From year to year, it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear…. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made, and people whose skin is a different shade. You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late. Before you are six or seven or eight. To hate all the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught!”
Tel Aviv University’s Professor Daniel Bar-Tal studied dozens of elementary, middle, and high school texts on grammar, Hebrew literature, history, geography and citizenship. They justify Israel’s right to wage humanitarian wars against Arabs who won’t accept or acknowledge exclusive Jewish rights.
“The early textbooks tended to describe acts of Arabs as hostile, deviant, cruel, immoral, unfair, with the intention to hurt Jews and to annihilate the State of Israel. Within this frame of reference, Arabs were delegitimized by the use of such labels as ‘robbers,’ ‘bloodthirsty,’ and ‘killers,’ adding that little positive revision occurred through the years with mischaracterizations like tribal, vengeful, exotic, poor, sick, dirty, noisy, colored, and “they burn, murder, destroy, and are easily inflamed.”
At the same time, Jews are called industrious, brave, and determined to handle difficulties of “improving the country in ways they believe the Arabs are incapable of.” Moreover, “(t)his attitude served to justify the return of the Jews, implying that they care enough about the country to turn the swamps and deserts into blossoming farmland; this effectively delegitimizes the Arab claim to the same land.”
Israeli children are well taught. In the Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ) winter 2007 edition, Ismael Abu-Saad headlined his article, “The portrayal of Arabs in textbooks in the Jewish school system in Israel,” saying:
Approved Jewish textbooks use three primary themes to portray them:
– orientalism as a politically loaded, derogatory characterization of eastern as opposed to a superior Western (occidental) culture;
– “the Zionist mission to build a Jewish nation-state in Palestine….; and
– “an Israeli-Jewish frame of mind determined by a victim or siege mentality.”
Zionists believe Palestine belongs exclusively to Jews, based on biblical notions of being its original inhabitants despite the illogic and falseness of that premise. Nonetheless, Israeli textbooks teach about a “land without people for a people without land,” that Jews arrived and made the desert bloom, and God promised Israel solely to Jews.
Hebrew University’s Eli Podeh describes “a tradition of depicting Jewish history as an uninterrupted record of anti-Semitism and persecution.” Moreover, Arabs are portrayed as violent. As a result, dehumanization, denigration, and Israeli force against them are legitimized. So is teaching children hate in textbooks, starting when they’re too young to understand how their minds are being manipulated.
Israel’s Ministry of Education sets curricula guidelines and content, reflecting Jewish ethnocentrism and superiority toward Arab society and culture. As conflicts erupted, they were called the enemy the way Yoram Bar-Gal described as a “negative homogeneous mob that threatens, assaults, destroys, eradicates, burns and shoots. (They’re) haters of Israel, who strive to annihilate the most precious symbols of Zionism: vineyards, orange groves, orchards and forests. Arabs (are) viewed as ungrateful. (Zionism) brought progress to the area and helped to overcome the desolation, and thus helped to advance” Arabs as well as Jews. Instead of being thankful, “they respond with destruction and ruin.”
From establishment in 1948, Jewish textbooks taught these notions, portraying Arabs negatively, saying they’re illegal intruders having no place on Jewish land. “The ‘mythologizing’ of the historical curriculum perpetuates the image of the Arab, and the Palestinian Arab in particular, as an ahistorical, irrational enemy.”
It’s been “instrumental in explicitly and implicitly constructing racist and threatening stereotypes and a one-sided historical narrative that (through education) is internalized in the Jewish Israeli psyche” from a very young age.
Truth and balance are totally absent. Arabs are vilified for not being Jews, a superior people. Logic and tolerance aren’t parts of the equation. In November 2001, an unnamed Netanya Jewish newspaper wrote about an elementary school celebration under the headline, “Arabs are used to killing.” Textbooks and children’s literature are filled with stories about violent, dirty, cruel, and ignorant Arabs wanting to harm Jews. They vilify and dehumanize them as thieves, murderers, robbers, spies, arsonists, criminals, terrorists, kidnappers, and the “cruel enemy.”
Dozens of books use delegitimizing labels, including inhuman, war lovers, monsters, bloodthirsty, dogs, wolves of prey and vipers. Kids are taught this. How can they know it’s hateful and false, so they internalize and act on these ideas later as adults.
One characterization portrayed Bedouins as “primitive being(s), at home in the untamed natural setting of the fearsome desert. (They’re) exotic figure(s), full of mystery, intrigue, impulsive violence and instinctive survival.”
Noted Israeli literary figures, like Amos Oz, write this way. In his 1965 “Nomads and the Viper,” he described how Bedouin nomads brought devastation to a kibbutz, including foot-and-mouth disease, destruction of cultivated fields, and theft. He dramatized the chasm separating lawful agricultural settlers and primitive Bedouins, and that trying to cross it would be dangerous or fatal. In other words, associating with Arabs risks contaminating Jews.
Abu-Saad concluded: “One can only question whether the currently delegitimizing, discriminatory and antagonistic stance of the state of Israel vis-a-vis its Palestinian Arab citizens is indeed, in the long-term interest of the State, whose ideology and mythology notwithstanding, is in fact a multi-ethnic state, with an indigenous minority that makes up nearly one-fifth of the population.”
Israel’s curriculum must change. Hate must be expunged. Arabs must be allowed to represent themselves and their culture rather than accept false dehumanization and vilification characterizations for not being Jews.
In November 2001, Professor Nathan J. Brown’s Adam Institute “Democracy, History, and the Contest over the Palestinian Curriculum,” explained: “(T)he Palestinian curriculum is not a war curriculum; while highly nationalistic, it does not incite hatred, violence, and anti-Semitism. It cannot be described as a ‘peace curriculum’ either, but the charges against it are often wildly exaggerated or inaccurate….”
First generation 1994 National Education textbooks said practically nothing about Israel, and, with few exceptions, weren’t pejorative. Beginning in 2000, second generation books touched sensitive areas but not with the stridency that critics claim.
Virtually all incitement charges stem from the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, claiming to “encourage the development and fostering of peaceful relations” through tolerance and mutual respect. In fact, its real purpose is attacking the Palestinian Authority (PA) while ignoring incendiary Israeli texts. It’s also linked to extremist, racist Israeli groups, advocating settlement expansions, land theft, dispossessions, hate-mongering, and violence.
A June 2004 Israel/Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) report titled, “Analysis and Evaluation of the New Palestinian Curriculum” concluded that “there is….no indication of hatred of the Western Judeo-Christian tradition or the values associated with it.” In fact, “the textbooks promote an environment of open-mindedness, rational thinking, modernization, critical reflection and dialogue.” They also “promote civil activity, commitment, responsibility, solidarity, respecting others’ feelings, respecting and helping people with disabilities, and….reinforce students’ understanding of the values of civil society such as respecting human dignity; religious, social, cultural, racial, ethnic, and political pluralism; personal, social and moral responsibility; transparency and accountability.”
Palestinian enmity stems from occupation harshness, including denial of peace, self-determination, freedom, equity and justice, and other basic rights. Yet textbook-expressed anger is moderate compared to Palestinian suffering and vilification teachings. The differences are stark.
A Final Comment
It’s a short leap from demonizing to calls for extermination. Yet extremist pro-settler rabbis advocate it, according to a January 2011 article in the Orthodox Fountains of Salvation. It suggests Israel will create death camps to solve its Palestinian problem, eliminating them like Amalek or Amalekites, code for Palestinians and other perceived Jewish enemies.
The offending paragraph states: “It will be interesting to see whether (the politically correct rabbis) leave the assembly of the Amalekites in extermination camps to others, or whether they will declare that wiping (them out) is no longer (historically) relevant. Only time will tell….”
Right-wing Orthodox rabbis are behind this publication, founded by the former Safed chief rabbi, whose son currently holds the position and who circulated the above material. Also involved is Ramat Gan’s chief rabbi as well as Rabbi Avinar, suspected of abusing a woman who sought his spiritual advice. Each holds paid government sinecures, showing the link between official zealotry and their own, extremist enough to call for genocide.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his blog at: sjlendman.blogspot.com.
December 21, 2010
Inside the Bizarre Cabal of Secretive Donors, Demagogic Bloggers, Pseudo-Scholars, European Neo-Fascists, Violent Israeli Settlers, and Republican Presidential Hopefuls Behind the Crusade
By Max Blumenthal
Nine years after 9/11, hysteria about Muslims in American life has gripped the country. With it has gone an outburst of arson attacks on mosques, campaigns to stop their construction, and the branding of the Muslim-American community, overwhelmingly moderate, as a hotbed of potential terrorist recruits. The frenzy has raged from rural Tennessee to New York City, while in Oklahoma, voters even overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure banning the implementation of Sharia law in American courts (not that such a prospect existed). This campaign of Islamophobia wounded President Obama politically, as one out of five Americans have bought into a sustained chorus of false rumors about his secret Muslim faith. And it may have tainted views of Muslims in general; an August 2010 Pew Research Center poll revealed that, among Americans, the favorability rating of Muslims had dropped by 11 points since 2005.
Erupting so many years after the September 11th trauma, this spasm of anti-Muslim bigotry might seem oddly timed and unexpectedly spontaneous. But think again: it’s the fruit of an organized, long-term campaign by a tight confederation of right-wing activists and operatives who first focused on Islamophobia soon after the September 11th attacks, but only attained critical mass during the Obama era. It was then that embittered conservative forces, voted out of power in 2008, sought with remarkable success to leverage cultural resentment into political and partisan gain.
This network is obsessively fixated on the supposed spread of Muslim influence in America. Its apparatus spans continents, extending from Tea Party activists here to the European far right. It brings together in common cause right-wing ultra-Zionists, Christian evangelicals, and racist British soccer hooligans. It reflects an aggressively pro-Israel sensibility, with its key figures venerating the Jewish state as a Middle Eastern Fort Apache on the front lines of the Global War on Terror and urging the U.S. and various European powers to emulate its heavy-handed methods.
Copyright 2010 Max Blumenthal
Little of recent American Islamophobia (with a strong emphasis on the “phobia”) is sheer happenstance. Years before Tea Party shock troops massed for angry protests outside the proposed site of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, representatives of the Israel lobby and the Jewish-American establishment launched a campaign against pro-Palestinian campus activism that would prove a seedbed for everything to come. That campaign quickly — and perhaps predictably — morphed into a series of crusades against mosques and Islamic schools which, in turn, attracted an assortment of shady but exceptionally energetic militants into the network’s ranks.
Besides providing the initial energy for the Islamophobic crusade, conservative elements from within the pro-Israel lobby bankrolled the network’s apparatus, enabling it to influence the national debate. One philanthropist in particular has provided the beneficence to propel the campaign ahead. He is a little-known Los Angeles-area software security entrepreneur named Aubrey Chernick, who operates out of a security consulting firm blandly named the National Center for Crisis and Continuity Coordination. A former trustee of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which has served as a think tank for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a frontline lobbying group for Israel, Chernick is said to be worth $750 million.
Chernick’s fortune is puny compared to that of the billionaire Koch Brothers, extraction industry titans who fund Tea Party-related groups like Americans for Prosperity, and it is dwarfed by the financial empire of Haim Saban, the Israeli-American media baron who is one of the largest private donors to the Democratic party and recently matched $9 million raised for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces in a single night. However, by injecting his money into a small but influential constellation of groups and individuals with a narrow agenda, Chernick has had a considerable impact.
Through the Fairbrook Foundation, a private entity he and his wife Joyce control, Chernick has provided funding to groups ranging from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and CAMERA, a right-wing, pro-Israel, media-watchdog outfit, to violent Israeli settlers living on Palestinian lands and figures like the pseudo-academic author Robert Spencer, who is largely responsible for popularizing conspiracy theories about the coming conquest of the West by Muslim fanatics seeking to establish a worldwide caliphate. Together, these groups spread hysteria about Muslims into Middle American communities where immigrants from the Middle East have recently settled, and they watched with glee as likely Republican presidential frontrunners from Mike Huckabee to Sarah Palin promoted their cause and parroted their tropes. Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the increasingly widespread appeal of Islamophobia is that, just a few years ago, the phenomenon was confined to a few college campuses and an inner city neighborhood, and that it seemed like a fleeting fad that would soon pass from the American political landscape.
Birth of a Network
The Islamophobic crusade was launched in earnest at the peak of George W. Bush’s prestige when the neoconservatives and their allies were riding high. In 2003, three years after the collapse of President Bill Clinton’s attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue and in the immediate wake of the invasion of Iraq, a network of Jewish groups, ranging from ADL and the American Jewish Committee to AIPAC, gathered to address what they saw as a sudden rise in pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses nationwide. That meeting gave birth to the David Project, a campus advocacy group led by Charles Peters, who had co-founded CAMERA, one of the many outfits bankrolled by Chernick. With the help of public relations professionals, Peters conceived a plan to “take back the campus by influencing public opinion through lectures, the Internet, and coalitions,” as a memo produced at the time by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company stated.
In 2004, after conferring with Martin Kramer, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the pro-Israel think tank where Chernoff had served as a trustee, Peters produced a documentary film that he called Columbia Unbecoming. It was filled with claims from Jewish students at Columbia University claiming they had endured intimidation and insults from Arab professors. The film portrayed that New York City school’s Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures as a hothouse of anti-Semitism.
In their complaints, the students focused on one figure in particular: Joseph Massad, a Palestinian professor of Middle East studies. He was known for his passionate advocacy of the formation of a binational state between Israel and Palestine, as well as for his strident criticism of what he termed “the racist character of Israel.” The film identified him as “one of the most dangerous intellectuals on campus,” while he was featured as a crucial villain in The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, a book by the (Chernick-funded) neoconservative activist David Horowitz. As Massad was seeking tenure at the time, he was especially vulnerable to this sort of wholesale assault.
When the controversy over Massad’s views intensified, Congressman Anthony Weiner, a liberal New York Democrat who once described himself as a representative of “the ZOA [Zionist Organization of America] wing of the Democratic Party,” demanded that Columbia President Lee Bollinger, a renowned First Amendment scholar, fire the professor. Bollinger responded by issuing uncharacteristically defensive statements about the “limited” nature of academic freedom.
In the end, however, none of the charges stuck. Indeed, the testimonies in the David Project film were eventually either discredited or never corroborated. In 2009, Massad earned tenure after winning Columbia’s prestigious Lionel Trilling Award for excellence in scholarship.
Having demonstrated its ability to intimidate faculty members and even powerful university administrators, however, Kramer claimed a moral victory in the name of his project, boasting to the press that “this is a turning point.” While the David Project subsequently fostered chapters on campuses nationwide, its director set out on a different path — initially, into the streets of Boston in 2004 to oppose the construction of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center.
For nearly 15 years, the Islamic Society of Boston had sought to build the center in the heart of Roxbury, the city’s largest black neighborhood, to serve its sizable Muslim population. With endorsements from Mayor Thomas Menino and leading Massachusetts lawmakers, the mosque’s construction seemed like a fait accompli — until, that is, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Boston Herald and his local Fox News affiliate snapped into action. Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby also chimed in with a series of reportsclaiming the center’s plans were evidence of a Saudi Arabian plot to bolster the influence of radical Islam in the United States, and possibly even to train underground terror cells.
It was at this point that the David Project entered the fray, convening elements of the local pro-Israel community in the Boston area to seek strategies to torpedo the project. According to emails obtained by the Islamic Society’s lawyers in a lawsuit against the David Project, the organizers settled on a campaign of years of nuisance lawsuits, along with accusations that the center had received foreign funding from “the Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia or… the Moslem Brotherhood.”
In response, a grassroots coalition of liberal Jews initiated inter-faith efforts aimed at ending a controversy that had essentially been manufactured out of thin air and was corroding relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities in the city. Peters would not, however, relent. “We are more concerned now than we have ever been about a Saudi influence of local mosques,” he announced at a suburban Boston synagogue in 2007.
After paying out millions of dollars in legal bills and enduring countless smears, the Islamic Society of Boston completed the construction of its community center in 2008. Meanwhile, not surprisingly, nothing came of the David Project’s dark warnings. As Boston-area National Public Radio reporter Philip Martin reflected in September 2010, “The horror stories that preceded [the center’s] development seem shrill and histrionic in retrospect.”
The Network Expands
This second failed campaign was, in the end, more about movement building than success, no less national security. The local crusade established an effective blueprint for generating hysteria against the establishment of Islamic centers and mosques across the country, while galvanizing a cast of characters who would form an anti-Muslim network which would gain attention and success in the years to come.
In 2007, these figures coalesced into a proto-movement that launched a new crusade, this time targeting the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a secular Arabic-English elementary school in Brooklyn, New York. Calling their ad hocpressure group, Stop the Madrassah – madrassah being simply the Arab word for “school” — the coalition’s activists included an array of previously unknown zealots who made no attempt to disguise their extreme views when it came to Islam as a religion, as well as Muslims in America. Their stated goal was to challenge the school’s establishment on the basis of its violation of the church-state separation in the U.S. Constitution. The true aim of the coalition, however, was transparent: to pressure the city’s leadership to adopt an antagonistic posture towards the local Muslim community.
The activists zeroed in on the school’s principal, Debbie Almontaser, a veteran educator of Yemeni descent, and baselessly branded her “a jihadist” as well as a 9/11 denier. They also accused her of — as Pamela Geller, a far-right blogger just then gaining prominence put it, “whitewash[ing] the genocide against the Jews.” Daniel Pipes, a neoconservative academic previously active in the campaigns against Joseph Massad and the Boston Islamic center (and whose pro-Likud think tank, Middle East Forum, has received $150,000 from Chernick) claimed the school should not go ahead because “Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with Pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage.” As the campaign reached a fever pitch, Almontaser reported that members of the coalition were actually stalking her wherever she went.
Given what Columbia Journalism School professor and former New York Timesreporter Samuel Freedman called “her clear, public record of interfaith activism and outreach,” including work with the New York Police Department and the Anti-Defamation League after the September 11th attacks, the assault on Almontaser seemed little short of bizarre — until her assailants discovered a photograph of a T-shirt produced by AWAAM, a local Arab feminist organization, that read “Intifada NYC.” As it turned out, AWAAM sometimes shared office space with a Yemeni-American association on which Almontaser served as a board member. Though the connection seemed like a stretch, it promoted the line of attack the Stop the Madrassah coalition had been seeking.
Having found a way to wedge the emotional issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict into a previously New York-centered campaign, the school’s opponents next gained a platform at the Murdoch-owned New York Post, where reporters Chuck Bennett and Jana Winter claimed her T-shirt was “apparently a call for a Gaza-style uprising in the Big Apple.” While Almontaser attempted to explain to thePost’s reporters that she rejected terrorism, the Anti-Defamation League chimed in on cue. ADL spokesman Oren Segal told the Post: “The T-shirt is a reflection of a movement that increasingly lauds violence against Israelis instead of rejecting it. That is disturbing.”
Before any Qassam rockets could be launched from Almontaser’s school, her former ally New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg caved to the growing pressure and threatened to shut down the school, prompting her to resign. A Jewish principal who spoke no Arabic replaced Almontaser, who later filed a lawsuit against the city for breaching her free speech rights. In 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that New York’s Department of Education had “succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel” by firing Almontaser and urged it pay her $300,000 in damages. The commission also concluded that the Post had quoted her misleadingly.
Though it failed to stop the establishment of the Khalil Gibran Academy, the burgeoning anti-Muslim movement succeeded in forcing city leaders to bend to its will, and having learned just how to do that, then moved on in search of more high-profile targets. As the New York Times reported at the time, “The fight against the school… was only an early skirmish in a broader, national struggle.”
“It’s a battle that has really just begun,” Pipes told the Times.
From Scam to Publicity Coup
Pipes couldn’t have been more on the mark. In late 2009, the Islamophobes sprang into action again when the Cordoba Initiative, a non-profit Muslim group headed by Feisal Abdul Rauf, an exceedingly moderate Sufi Muslim imam who regularly traveled abroad representing the United States at the behest of the State Department, announced that it was going to build a community center in downtown New York City. With the help of investors, Rauf’s Cordoba Initiative purchased space two blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan. The space was to contain a prayer area as part of a large community center that would be open to everyone in the neighborhood.
None of these facts mattered to Pamela Geller. Thanks to constant prodding at her blog, Atlas Shrugged, Geller made Cordoba’s construction plans a national issue, provoking fervent calls from conservatives to protect the “hallowed ground” of 9/11 from creeping Sharia. (That the “mosque” would have been out of sight of Ground Zero and that the neighborhood was, in fact, filled with everything from strip clubs to fast-food joints didn’t matter.) Geller’s activism against Cordoba House earned the 52-year-old full-time blogger the attention she apparently craved, including a long profile in the New York Times and frequent cable news spots, especially, of course, on Fox News.
Mainstream reporters tended to focus on Geller’s bizarre stunts. She posted a video of herself splashing around in a string bikini on a Fort Lauderdale beach, for instance, while ranting about “left-tards” and “Nazi Hezbollah.” Her call for boycotting Campbell’s Soup because the company offered halal — approved under Islamic law (as kosher food is under Jewish law) — versions of its products got her much attention, as did her promotion of a screed claiming that President Barack Obama was the illegitimate lovechild of Malcolm X.
Geller had never earned a living as a journalist. She supported herself with millions of dollars in a divorce settlement and life insurance money from her ex-husband. He died in 2008, a year after being indicted for an alleged $1.3 million scam he was accused of running out of a car dealership he co-owned with Geller. Independently wealthy and with time on her hands, Geller proved able indeed when it came to exploiting her strange media stardom to incite the already organized political network of Islamophobes to intensify their crusade.
She also benefited from close alliances with leading Islamophobes from Europe. Among Geller’s allies was Andrew Gravers, a Danish activist who formed the group Stop the Islamicization of Europe, and gave it the unusually blunt motto: “Racism is the lowest form of human stupidity, but Islamophobia is the height of common sense.” Gravers’ group inspired Geller’s own U.S.-based outfit, Stop the Islamicization of America, which she formed with her friend Robert Spencer, a pseudo-scholar whose bestselling books, including The Truth About Muhammad, Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion, prompted former advisor to President Richard Nixon and Muslim activist Robert Crane to call him, “the principal leader… in the new academic field of Muslim bashing.” (According to the website Politico, almost $1 million in donations from Chernick has been steered to Spencer’s Jihad Watch group through David Horowitz’s Freedom Center.)
Perfect sources for Republican political figures in search of the next hot-button cause, their rhetoric found its way into the talking points of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin as they propelled the crusade against Cordoba House into the national spotlight. Gingrich soon compared the community center to a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, while Palin called it “a stab in the heart” of “the Heartland.” Meanwhile, Tea Party candidates like Republican Ilario Pantano, an Iraq war veteran who killed two unarmed Iraqi civilians, shooting them 60 times — he even stopped to reload — made their opposition to Cordoba House the centerpiece of midterm congressional campaigns conducted hundreds of miles from Ground Zero.
Geller’s campaign against “the mosque at Ground Zero” gained an unexpected assist and a veneer of legitimacy from established Jewish leaders like Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman. “Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he remarked to the New York Times. Comparing the bereaved family members of 9-11 victims to Holocaust survivors, Foxman insisted, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”
Soon enough, David Harris, director of the (Chernick-funded) American Jewish Committee, was demanding that Cordoba’s leaders be compelled to reveal their “true attitudes” about Palestinian militant groups before construction on the center was initiated. Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles, another major Jewish group, insisted it would be “insensitive” for Cordoba to build near “a cemetery,” though his organization had recently been granted permission from the municipality of Jerusalem to build a “museum of tolerance” to be called The Center for Human Dignity directly on top of the Mamilla Cemetery, a Muslim graveyard that contained thousands of gravesites dating back 1,200 years.
Inspiration from Israel
It was evident from the involvement of figures like Gravers that the Islamophobic network in the United States represented a trans-Atlantic expansion of simmering resentment in Europe. There, the far-right was storming to victories in parliamentary elections across the continent in part by appealing to the simmering anti-Muslim sentiments of voters in rural and working-class communities. The extent of the collaboration between European and American Islamophobes has only continued to grow with Geller, Spencer, and even Gingrich standing beside Europe’s most prominent anti-Muslim figure, Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, at a rally against Cordoba House. In the meantime, Geller was issuing statements of support for the English Defense League, a band of unreconstructed neo-Nazisand former members of the whites-only British National Party who intimidate Muslims in the streets of cities like Birmingham and London.
In addition, the trans-Atlantic Islamophobic crusade has stretched into Israel, a country that has come to symbolize the network’s fight against the Muslim menace. As Geller told the New York Times’ Alan Feuer, Israel is “a very good guide because, like I said, in the war between the civilized man and the savage, you side with the civilized man.”
EDL members regularly wave Israeli flags at their rallies, while Wilders claims to have formed his views about Muslims during the time he worked on an Israeli cooperative farm in the 1980s. He has, he says, visited the country more than 40 times since to meet with rightist political allies like Aryeh Eldad, a member of the Israeli Knesset and leader of the far right Hatikvah faction of the National Union Party. He has called for forcibly “transferring” the Palestinians living in Israel and the occupied West Bank to Jordan and Egypt. On December 5th, for example, Wilders traveled to Israel for a “friendly” meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, then declared at a press conference that Israel should annex the West Bank and set up a Palestinian state in Jordan.
In the apocalyptic clash of civilizations the global anti-Muslim network has sought to incite, tiny armed Jewish settlements like Yitzar, located on the hills above the occupied Palestinian city of Nablus, represent front-line fortresses. Inside Yitzar’sstate-funded yeshiva, a rabbi named Yitzhak Shapira has instructed students in what rules must be applied when considering killing non-Jews. Shapira summarized his opinions in a widely publicized book, Torat HaMelech, or The King’s Torah.Claiming that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature,” Shapira cited rabbinical texts to declare that gentiles could be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” “There is justification,” the rabbi proclaimed, “for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”
In 2006, the rabbi was briefly held by Israeli police for urging his supporters to murder all Palestinians over the age of 13. Two years later, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he signed a rabbinical letter in support of Israeli Jews who had brutally assaulted two Arab youths on the country’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. That same year, Shapira was arrested as a suspect in helping orchestrate a rocket attack against a Palestinian village near Nablus.
Though he was not charged, his name came up again in connection with another act of terror when, in January 2010, the Israeli police raided his settlement seeking vandals who had set fire to a nearby mosque. One of Shapira’s followers, an American immigrant, Jack Teitel, has confessed to murdering two innocent Palestinians and attempting to the kill the liberal Israeli historian Ze’ev Sternhell with a mail bomb.
What does all this have to do with Islamophobic campaigns in the United States? A great deal, actually. Through New York-based tax-exempt non-profits like theCentral Fund of Israel and Ateret Cohenim, for instance, the omnipresent Aubrey Chernick has sent tens of thousands of dollars to support the Yitzar settlement, as well as to the messianic settlers dedicated to “Judaizing” East Jerusalem. The settlement movement’s leading online news magazine, Arutz Sheva, has featured Geller as a columnist. A friend of Geller’s, Beth Gilinsky, a right-wing activist with a group called the Coalition to Honor Ground Zero and the founder of the Jewish Action Alliance (apparently run out of a Manhattan real estate office), organized a large rally in New York City in April 2010 to protest the Obama administration’s call for a settlement freeze.
Among Chernick’s major funding recipients is a supposedly “apolitical” group called Aish Hatorah that claims to educate Jews about their heritage. Based in New York and active in the fever swamps of northern West Bank settlements near Yitzar, Aish Hatorah shares an address and staff with a shadowy foreign non-profit called the Clarion Fund. During the 2008 U.S. election campaign, the Clarion Funddistributed 28 million DVDs of a propaganda film called Obsession as newspaper inserts to residents of swing states around the country. The film featured a who’s who of anti-Muslim activists, including Walid Shoebat, a self-proclaimed “former PLO terrorist.” Among Shoebat’s more striking statements: “A secular dogma like Nazism is less dangerous than is Islamofascism today.” At a Christian gathering in 2007, this “former Islamic terrorist” told the crowd that Islam was a “satanic cult” and that he had been born again as an evangelical Christian. In 2008, however, theJerusalem Post, a right-leaning newspaper, exposed him as a fraud, whose claims to terrorism were fictional.
Islamophobic groups registered only a minimal impact during the 2008 election campaign. Two years later, however, after the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives in midterm elections, the network appears to have reached critical mass. Of course, the deciding factor in the election was the economy, and in two years, Americans will likely vote their pocketbooks again. But that the construction of a single Islamic community center or the imaginary threat of Sharia law were issues at all reflected the influence of a small band of locally oriented activists, and suggested that when a certain presidential candidate who has already been demonized as a crypto-Muslim runs for reelection, the country’s most vocal Islamophobes could once again find a national platform amid the frenzied atmosphere of the campaign.
By now, the Islamophobic crusade has gone beyond the right-wing pro-Israel activists, cyber-bigots, and ambitious hucksters who conceived it. It now belongs to leading Republican presidential candidates, top-rated cable news hosts, and crowds of Tea Party activists. As the fervor spreads, the crusaders are basking in the glory of what they accomplished. “I didn’t choose this moment,” Geller musedto the New York Times, “this moment chose me.”
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Daily Beast, the Nation, the Huffington Post, the Independent Film Channel, Salon.com, Al Jazeera English, and other publications. He is a writing fellow for the Nation Institute and author of the bestselling book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party (Nation Books).
Palestinians have already given up so much since 1948. It’s up to Israel to end its campaign of ethnic cleansing for the peace process to move forward.
By Ali AbunimahDecember 17, 2010
deputy minister of foreign affairs, Danny Ayalon, paints a picture of an innocent Israel
yearning for peace, virtually begging the intransigent Palestinians to come negotiate so there can be a “two-states-for-two-peoples solution” (“Who’s stopping the peace process?” Dec. 14). But it’s one that bears no resemblance to the realities Palestinians experience and much of the world sees every day.
Ayalon claims that the settlements Israel refuses to stop building on occupied land are a “red herring” and present no obstacles to peace because in the “43 years since Israel gained control of the West Bank, the built-up areas of the settlements constitute less than 1.7% of the total area.”
But let us remind ourselves of a few facts that are not in dispute. Since the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel signed the Oslo peace agreement in 1993, the number of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has tripled to more than half a million. Ayalon’s deceptive focus on the “built-up areas” ignores the reality that the settlements now control 42% of the West Bank, according to a report last July from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
B’Tselem points out that there are now more than 200 Israeli settlements “that are connected to one another, and to Israel, by an elaborate network of roads.” These roads, along with various “security zones” from which Palestinians are excluded, cut across Palestinian land and isolate Palestinians in miserable and often walled, ghetto-like enclaves.
Despite a 10-month settlement “moratorium” that ended in September, Israel never stopped building settlements for a single day. Construction went on virtually uninterrupted, according to Israel’s Peace Now, and within weeks of the official end of the “moratorium,” settlers had more than made up for the slight dip in new housing starts in the previous months. In East Jerusalem, where Israel never even pretended to have a moratorium, government-backed Israeli settlers continue to evict Palestinians from numerous neighborhoods.
While Israel’s violent actions in occupied East Jerusalem have gotten a little bit of attention, its silent ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley has attracted almost none. Israel has reduced the Jordan Valley’s population of 200,000 indigenous Palestinians to just 60,000 by demolishing their villages and declaring vast areas of this vital region off-limits to them.
Israel’s settlement project has one goal: to make Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and a two-state solution impossible. With no prospect of drawing a line between Israeli and Palestinian populations, it’s time to recognize that Israel has succeeded and what we have today is an apartheid reality across Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Prominent Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola recently told the Jerusalem Post that Jews already constitute just under 50% of the population in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip combined. In effect, a Jewish minority rules over a majority population that includes 1.4 million Palestinian (second-class) citizens of Israel, 2.5 million Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and another 1.5 million under siege in the open-air prison known as the Gaza Strip. All credible projections show that Palestinians will be the decisive majority within a few years.
This injustice is intolerable. Under Israel’s policies and the refusal of the United States to exert any real pressure, there will be no end to it, and the prospects for catastrophic bloodshed increase.
Absent any real action by the United States or other governments to hold Israel accountable, it is up to civil society to step in. When black South Africans saw the world doing nothing about apartheid in the 1950s, they called on global civil society to impose a boycott, divest from the country and pass sanctions. By the 1970s and ’80s, such campaigns were mainstream in U.S. churches, campuses and communities, and politicians who had been reluctant to support sanctions on South Africa eventually came aboard.
Today we see a similar movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions, endorsed overwhelmingly by Palestinian civil society and growing around the world. It has even gained support from some Israelis. Its aims are to do what the U.S. government should be doing but will not: pressure Israel to end discrimination against Palestinians in Israel, end its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and respect the rights of Palestinian refugees whose return home Israel refuses to accept just because they are not Jews.
This movement is not an end in itself but a vehicle to get us down the road to a just peace built on equality for Israelis and Palestinians. Israel’s policies, typified by the disingenuous diversions of Ayalon, have left us with no other choice.
Ali Abunimah is the author of “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse,” and a co-founder of the Electronic Intifada. //
// Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times
November 8, 2010
By John Feffer: The Myths Underpinning Islamophobia Share a Long History
(CBS) John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, writes its regular World Beat column, and will be publishing a book on Islamophobia with City Lights Press in 2011. This piece first appeared on TomDispatch.
The Muslims were bloodthirsty and treacherous. They conducted a sneak attack against the French army and slaughtered every single soldier, 20,000 in all. More than 1,000 years ago, in the mountain passes of Spain, the Muslim horde cut down the finest soldiers in Charlemagne’s command, including his brave nephew Roland. Then, according to the famous poem that immortalized the tragedy, Charlemagne exacted his revenge by routing the entire Muslim army.
The Song of Roland, an eleventh century rendering in verse of an eighth century battle, is a staple of Western Civilization classes at colleges around the country. A “masterpiece of epic drama,” in the words of its renowned translator Dorothy Sayers, it provides a handy preface for students before they delve into readings on the Crusades that began in 1095. More ominously, the poem has schooled generations of Judeo-Christians to view Muslims as perfidious enemies who once threatened the very foundations of Western civilization.
The problem, however, is that the whole epic is built on a curious falsehood. The army that fell upon Roland and his Frankish soldiers was not Muslim at all. In the real battle of 778, the slayers of the Franks were Christian Basques furious at Charlemagne for pillaging their city of Pamplona. Not epic at all, the battle emerged from a parochial dispute in the complex wars of medieval Spain. Only later, as kings and popes and knights prepared to do battle in the First Crusade, did an anonymous bard repurpose the text to serve the needs of an emerging cross-against-crescent holy war.
Similarly, we think of the Crusades as the archetypal “clash of civilizations” between the followers of Jesus and the followers of Mohammed. In the popular version of those Crusades, the Muslim adversary has, in fact, replaced a remarkable range of peoples the Crusaders dealt with as enemies, including Jews killed in pogroms on the way to the Holy Land, rival Catholics slaughtered in the Balkans and in Constantinople, and Christian heretics hunted down in southern France.
Much later, during the Cold War, myth-makers in Washington performed a similar act, substituting a monolithic crew labeled “godless communists” for a disparate group of anti-imperial nationalists in an attempt to transform conflicts in remote locations like Vietnam, Guatemala, and Iran into epic struggles between the forces of the Free World and the forces of evil. In recent years, the Bush administration did it all over again by portraying Arab nationalists as fiendish Islamic fundamentalists when we invaded Iraq and prepared to topple the regime in Syria.
Similar mythmaking continues today. The recent surge of Islamophobia in the United States has drawn strength from several extraordinary substitutions. A clearly Christian president has become Muslim in the minds of a significant number of Americans. The thoughtful Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan has become a closet fundamentalist in the writings of Paul Berman and others. And an Islamic center in lower Manhattan, organized by proponents of interfaith dialogue, has become an extremist “mosque at Ground Zero” in the TV appearances, political speeches, and Internet sputterings of a determined clique of right-wing activists.
This transformation of Islam into a violent caricature of itself — as if Ann Coulter had suddenly morphed into the face of Christianity — comes at a somewhat strange juncture in the United States. Anti-Islamic rhetoric and hate crimes, which spiked immediately after September 11, 2001, had been on the wane. No major terrorist attack had taken place in the U.S. or Europe since the London bombings in 2005. The current American president had reached out to the Muslim world and retired the controversial acronym GWOT, or “Global War on Terror.”
All the elements seemed in place, in other words, for us to turn the page on an ugly chapter in our history. Yet it’s as if we remain fixed in the eleventh century in a perpetual battle of “us” against “them.” Like the undead rising from their coffins, our previous “crusades” never go away. Indeed, we still seem to be fighting the three great wars of the millennium, even though two of these conflicts have long been over and the third has been rhetorically reduced to “overseas contingency operations.” The Crusades, which finally petered out in the seventeenth century, continue to shape our global imagination today. The Cold War ended in 1991, but key elements of the anti-communism credo have been awkwardly grafted onto the new Islamist adversary. And the Global War on Terror, which President Obama quietly renamed shortly after taking office, has in fact metastasized into the wars that his administration continues to prosecute in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere.
Those in Europe and the United States who cheer on these wars claim that they are issuing a wake-up call about the continued threat of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other militants who claim the banner of Islam. However, what really keeps Islamophobes up at night is not the marginal and backwards-looking Islamic fundamentalists but rather the growing economic, political, and global influence of modern, mainstream Islam. Examples of Islam successfully grappling with modernity abound, from Turkey’s new foreign policy and Indonesia’s economic muscle to the Islamic political parties participating in elections in Lebanon, Morocco, and Jordan. Instead of providing reassurance, however, these trends only incite Islamophobes to intensify their battles to “save” Western civilization.
As long as our unfinished wars still burn in the collective consciousness — and still rage in Kabul, Baghdad, Sana’a, and the Tribal Areas of Pakistan — Islamophobia will make its impact felt in our media, politics, and daily life. Only if we decisively end the millennial Crusades, the half-century Cold War, and the decade-long War on Terror (under whatever name) will we overcome the dangerous divide that has consumed so many lives, wasted so much wealth, and distorted our very understanding of our Western selves.
The Crusades Continue
With their irrational fear of spiders, arachnophobes are scared of both harmless daddy longlegs and poisonous brown recluse spiders. In extreme cases, an arachnophobe can break out in a sweat while merely looking at photos of spiders. It is, of course, reasonable to steer clear of black widows. What makes a legitimate fear into an irrational phobia, however, is the tendency to lump all of any group, spiders or humans, into one lethal category and then to exaggerate how threatening they are. Spider bites, after all, are responsible for at most a handful of deaths a year in the United States.
Islamophobia is, similarly, an irrational fear of Islam. Yes, certain Muslim fundamentalists have been responsible for terrorist attacks, certain fantasists about a “global caliphate” continue to plot attacks on perceived enemies, and certain groups like Afghanistan’s Taliban and Somalia’s al-Shabaab practice medieval versions of the religion. But Islamophobes confuse these small parts with the whole and then see terrorist jihad under every Islamic pillow. They break out in a sweat at the mere picture of an imam.
Irrational fears are often rooted in our dimly remembered childhoods. Our irrational fear of Islam similarly seems to stem from events that happened in the early days of Christendom. Three myths inherited from the era of the Crusades constitute the core of Islamophobia today: Muslims are inherently violent, Muslims want to take over the world, and Muslims can’t be trusted.
The myth of Islam as a “religion of the sword” was a staple of Crusader literature and art. In fact, the atrocities committed by Muslim leaders and armies — and there were some — rarely rivaled the slaughters of the Crusaders, who retook Jerusalem in 1099 in a veritable bloodbath.
“The heaps of the dead presented an immediate problem for the conquerors,” writes Christopher Tyerman in God’s War. “Many of the surviving Muslim population were forced to clear the streets and carry the bodies outside the walls to be burnt in great pyres, whereat they themselves were massacred.” Jerusalem’s Jews suffered a similar fate when the Crusaders burned many of them alive in their main synagogue. Four hundred years earlier, by contrast, Caliph ‘Umar put no one to the sword when he took over Jerusalem, signing a pact with the Christian patriarch Sophronius that pledged “no compulsion in religion.”
This myth of the inherently violent Muslim endures. Islam “teaches violence,” televangelist Pat Robertson proclaimed in 2005. “The Koran teaches violence and most Muslims, including so-called moderate Muslims, openly believe in violence,” was the way Major General Jerry Curry (U.S. Army, ret.), who served in the Carter, Reagan, and Bush Sr. administrations, put it.
The Crusaders justified their violence by arguing that Muslims were bent on taking over the world. In its early days, the expanding Islamic empire did indeed imagine an ever-growing Dar-al-Islam (House of Islam). By the time of the Crusades, however, this initial burst of enthusiasm for holy war had long been spent. Moreover, the Christian West harbored its own set of desires when it came to extending the Pope’s authority to every corner of the globe. Even that early believer in soft power, Francis of Assisi, sat down with Sultan al-Kamil during the Fifth Crusade with the aim of eliminating Islam through conversion.
Today, Islamophobes portray the building of Cordoba House in lower Manhattan as just another gambit in this millennial power grab: “This is Islamic domination and expansionism,” writes right-wing blogger Pamela Geller, who made the “Ground Zero Mosque” into a media obsession. “Islam is a religion with a very political agenda,” warns ex-Muslim Ali Sina. “The ultimate goal of Islam is to rule the world.”
These two myths — of inherent violence and global ambitions — led to the firm conviction that Muslims were by nature untrustworthy. Robert of Ketton, a twelfth century translator of the Koran, was typical in badmouthing the prophet Mohammad this way: “Like the liar you are, you everywhere contradict yourself.” The suspicion of untrustworthiness fell as well on any Christian who took up the possibility of coexistence with Islam. Pope Gregory, for instance, believed that the thirteenth century Crusader Frederick II was the Anti-Christ himself because he developed close relationships with Muslims.
For Islamophobes today, Muslims abroad are similarly terrorists-in-waiting. As for Muslims at home, “American Muslims must face their either/or,” writes the novelist Edward Cline, “to repudiate Islam or remain a quiet, sanctioning fifth column.” Even American Muslims in high places, like Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), are not above suspicion. In a 2006 CNN interview, Glenn Beck said, “I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, ‘Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.’”
These three myths of Islamophobia flourish in our era, just as they did almost a millennium ago, because of a cunning conflation of a certain type of Islamic fundamentalism with Islam itself. Bill O’Reilly was neatly channeling this Crusader mindset when he asserted recently that “the Muslim threat to the world is not isolated. It’s huge!” When Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence William Boykin, in an infamous 2003 sermon, thundered “What I’m here to do today is to recruit you to be warriors of God’s kingdom,” he was issuing the Crusader call to arms.
But O’Reilly and Boykin, who represent the violence, duplicity, and expansionist mind-set of today’s Western crusaders, were also invoking a more recent tradition, closer in time and far more familiar.
The Totalitarian Myth
In 1951, the CIA and the emerging anti-communist elite, including soon-to-be-president Dwight Eisenhower, created the Crusade for Freedom as a key component of a growing psychological warfare campaign against the Soviet Union and the satellite countries it controlled in Eastern Europe. The language of this “crusade” was intentionally religious. It reached out to “peoples deeply rooted in the heritage of western civilization,” living under the “crushing weight of a godless dictatorship.” In its call for the liberation of the communist world, it echoed the nearly thousand-year-old crusader rhetoric of “recovering” Jerusalem and other outposts of Christianity.
In the theology of the Cold War, the Soviet Union replaced the Islamic world as the untrustworthy infidel. However unconsciously, the old crusader myths about Islam translated remarkably easily into governing assumptions about the communist enemy: the Soviets and their allies were bent on taking over the world, could not be trusted with their rhetoric of peaceful coexistence, imperiled Western civilization, and fought with unique savagery as well as a willingness to martyr themselves for the greater ideological good.
Ironically, Western governments were so obsessed with fighting this new scourge that, in the Cold War years, on the theory that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, they nurtured radical Islam as a weapon. As journalist Robert Dreyfuss ably details in his book The Devil’s Game, the U.S. funding of the mujahideen in Afghanistan was only one part of the anti-communist crusade in the Islamic world. To undermine Arab nationalists and leftists who might align themselves with the Soviet Union, the United States (and Israel) worked with Iranian mullahs, helped create Hamas, and facilitated the spread of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Though the Cold War ended with the sudden disappearance of the Soviet Union in 1991, that era’s mind-set — and so many of the Cold Warriors sporting it — never went with it. The prevailing mythology was simply transferred back to the Islamic world. In anti-communist theology, for example, the worst curse word was “totalitarianism,” said to describe the essence of the all-encompassing Soviet state and system.
According to the gloss that early neoconservative Jeanne Kirkpatrick provided in her book Dictatorships and Double Standards, the West had every reason to support right-wing authoritarian dictatorships because they would steadfastly oppose left-wing totalitarian dictatorships, which, unlike the autocracies we allied with, were supposedly incapable of internal reform.
According to the new “Islamo-fascism” school — and its acolytes like Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz, Bill O’Reilly, Pamela Geller — the fundamentalists are simply the “new totalitarians,” as hidebound, fanatical, and incapable of change as communists. For a more sophisticated treatment of the Islamo-fascist argument, check out Paul Berman, a rightward-leaning liberal intellectual who has tried to demonstrate that “moderate Muslims” are fundamentalists in reformist clothing.
These Cold Warriors all treat the Islamic world as an undifferentiated mass — in spirit, a modern Soviet Union — where Arab governments and radical Islamists work hand in glove. They simply fail to grasp that the Syrian, Egyptian, and Saudi Arabian governments have launched their own attacks on radical Islam. The sharp divides between the Iranian regime and the Taliban, between the Jordanian government and the Palestinians, between Shi’ites and Sunni in Iraq, and even among Kurds all disappear in the totalitarian blender, just as anti-communists generally failed to distinguish between the Communist hardliner Leonid Brezhnev and the Communist reformer Mikhail Gorbachev.
At the root of terrorism, according to Berman, are “immense failures of political courage and imagination within the Muslim world,” rather than the violent fantasies of a group of religious outliers or the Crusader-ish military operations of the West. In other words, something flawed at the very core of Islam itself is responsible for the violence done in its name — a line of argument remarkably similar to one Cold Warriors made about communism.
All of this, of course, represents a mirror image of al-Qaeda’s arguments about the inherent perversities of the infidel West. As during the Cold War, hardliners reinforce one another.
The persistence of Crusader myths and their transposition into a Cold War framework help explain why the West is saddled with so many misconceptions about Islam. They don’t, however, explain the recent spike in Islamophobia in the U.S. after several years of relative tolerance. To understand this, we must turn to the third unfinished war: the Global War on Terror or GWOT, launched by George W. Bush.
Fanning the Flames
President Obama was careful to groom his Christian image during his campaign. He was repeatedly seen praying in churches, and he studiously avoided mosques. He did everything possible to efface the traces of Muslim identity in his past.
His opponents, of course, did just the opposite. They emphasized his middle name, Hussein, challenged his birth records, and asserted that he was too close to the Palestinian cause. They also tried to turn liberal constituencies — particularly Jewish-American ones — against the presumptive president. Like Frederick II for an earlier generation of Christian
fundamentalists, since entering the Oval Office Obama has become the Anti-Christ of the Islamophobes.
Once in power, he broke with Bush administration policies toward the Islamic world on a few points. He did indeed push ahead with his plan to remove combat troops from Iraq (with some important exceptions). He has attempted to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to stop expanding settlements in occupied Palestinian lands and to negotiate in good faith (though he has done so without resorting to the kind of pressure that might be meaningful, like a cutback of or even cessation of U.S. arms exports to Israel). In a highly publicized speech in Cairo in June 2009, he also reached out rhetorically to the Islamic world at a time when he was also eliminating the name “Global War on Terror” from the government’s vocabulary.
For Muslims worldwide, however, GWOT itself continues. The United States has orchestrated a surge in Afghanistan. The CIA’s drone war in the Pakistani borderlands has escalated rapidly. U.S. Special Forces now operate in 75 countries, at least 15 more than during the Bush years. Meanwhile, Guantanamo remains open, the United States still practices extraordinary rendition, and assassination remains an active part of Washington’s toolbox.
The civilians killed in these overseas contingency operations are predominantly Muslim. The people seized and interrogated are mostly Muslim. The buildings destroyed are largely Muslim-owned. As a result, the rhetoric of “crusaders and imperialists” used by al-Qaeda falls on receptive ears. Despite his Cairo speech, the favorability rating of the United States in the Muslim world, already grim enough, has slid even further since Obama took office — in Egypt, from 41% in 2009 to 31% percent now; in Turkey, from 33% to 23%; and in Pakistan, from 13% to 8%.
The U.S. wars, occupations, raids, and repeated air strikes have produced much of this disaffection and, as political scientist Robert Pape has consistently argued, most of the suicide bombings and other attacks against Western troops and targets as well. This is revenge, not religion, talking — just as it was for Americans after September 11, 2001. As commentator M. Junaid Levesque-Alam astutely pointed out, “When three planes hurtled into national icons, did anger and hatred rise in American hearts only after consultation of Biblical verses?”
And yet those dismal polling figures do not actually reflect a rejection of Western values (despite Islamophobe assurances that they mean exactly that). “Numerous polls that we have conducted,” writes pollster Stephen Kull, “as well as others by the World Values Survey and Arab Barometer, show strong support in the Muslim world for democracy, for human rights, and for an international order based on international law and a strong United Nations.”
In other words, nine years after September 11th a second spike in Islamophobia and in home-grown terrorist attacks like that of the would-be Times Square bomber has been born of two intersecting pressures: American critics of Obama’s foreign policy believe that he has backed away from the major civilizational struggle of our time, even as many in the Muslim world see Obama-era foreign policy as a continuation, even an escalation, of Bush-era policies of war and occupation.
Here is the irony: alongside the indisputable rise of fundamentalism over the last two decades, only some of it oriented towards violence, the Islamic world has undergone a shift which deep-sixes the cliché that Islam has held countries back from political and economic development. “Since the early 1990s, 23 Muslim countries have developed more democratic institutions, with fairly run elections, energized and competitive political parties, greater civil liberties, or better legal protections for journalists,” writes Philip Howard in The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Turkey has emerged as a vibrant democracy and a major foreign policy player. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, is now the largest economy in Southeast Asia and the eighteenth largest economy in the world.
Are Islamophobes missing this story of mainstream Islam’s accommodation with democracy and economic growth? Or is it this story (not Islamo-fascism starring al-Qaeda) that is their real concern?
The recent preoccupations of Islamophobes are telling in this regard. Pamela Geller, after all, was typical in the way she went after not a radical mosque, but an Islamic center about two blocks from Ground Zero proposed by a proponent of interfaith dialogue. As journalist Stephen Salisbury writes, “The mosque controversy is not really about a mosque at all; it’s about the presence of Muslims in America, and the free-floating anxiety and fear that now dominate the nation’s psyche.” For her latest venture, Geller is pushing a boycott of Campbell’s Soup because it accepts halal certification — the Islamic version of kosher certification by a rabbi — from the Islamic Society of North America, a group which, by the way, has gone out of its way to denounce religious extremism.
Paul Berman, meanwhile, has devoted his latest book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, to deconstructing the arguments not of Osama bin-Laden or his ilk, but of Tariq Ramadan, the foremost mainstream Islamic theologian. Ramadan is a man firmly committed to breaking down the old distinctions between “us” and “them.” Critical of the West for colonialism, racism, and other ills, he also challenges the injustices of the Islamic world. He is far from a fundamentalist.
And what country, by the way, has exercised European Islamophobes more than any other? Pakistan? Saudi Arabia? Taliban Afghanistan? No, the answer is: Turkey. “The Turks are conquering Germany in the same way the Kosovars conquered Kosovo: by using higher birth-rates,” argues Germany’s Islamophobe du jour, Thilo Sarrazin, a member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party. The far right has even united around a Europe-wide referendum to keep Turkey out of the European Union.
Despite his many defects, George W. Bush at least knew enough to distinguish Islam from Islamism. By targeting a perfectly normal Islamic center, a perfectly normal Islamic scholar, and a perfectly normal Islamic country — all firmly in the mainstream of that religion — the Islamophobes have actually declared war on normalcy, not extremism.
The victories of the tea party movement and the increased power of Republican militants in Congress, not to mention the renaissance of the far right in Europe, suggest that we will be living with this Islamophobia and the three unfinished wars of the West against the Rest for some time. The Crusades lasted hundreds of years. Let’s hope that Crusade 2.0, and the dark age that we find ourselves in, has a far shorter lifespan.
October 29, 2010
Obama is acting like desperate salesmen before a conceited tourist.
By Ramzy Baroud
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to claim that the resumption of peace talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have thus far yielded nothing of value, at least not as far as settling the decades-long struggle.
For one, the media has paid the talks little attention, aside from the ceremonial coverage of the first round of talks in Washington on September 2. It barely noticed the following round in the Middle East nearly two weeks later. What did capture the media’s attention was US President Barack Obama’s attempt to minimize the damage he invited upon himself for merely pressing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to issue a partial moratorium on settlement building (about 11 months ago), and then to extend the settlement freeze.
The President of the United States has, expectedly, failed to persuade Israeli leaders to uphold such a basic prerequisite to ensuring a smooth sailing peace process. Its resumption signaled the return of American diplomacy to the Middle East. Its current problems and expected failure, unlike previous rounds of talks, could very much usher the end of American political adventurism in the region. If a president like Obama – who once enjoyed such a massive national and international mandate – could weaken before a rightwing Israeli prime minister, then why should others even try?
To save face – and postpone failure – Obama has reportedly promised Israel broad security and diplomatic guarantees. All he has asked for in return is the mere extension of the settlement moratorium of 60 days – enough to push his party through the November elections.
According to an article by David Makovsky, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the leaked letter from Obama to Netanyahu positions US foreign policy as a hostage to Israeli diktats, whereby the US makes no such future requests of settlement freeze, guarantees a US veto of any UN Security Council Resolution related to the peace talks for a year, agrees to increase pressure on Iran as per Israeli demands, and so on. Among the many disturbing pledges made by the Obama administration, one seems particularly generous. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the US will “‘accept the legitimacy’ of Israel’s security needs as defined by the Netanyahu government, referring apparently to the Israeli leader’s demand for a long-term Israeli military presence in the eastern West Bank, along the border with Jordan”.
For Obama to lease his country’s political influence to a foreign state for cheap political gain is bad enough. To achieve personal and party political goals at the expense of the national interest of the country is equally disturbing. But to promise a lasting military presence of an occupying power in another people’s land for a mere 60-day settlement freeze is completely unethical and illogical. Furthermore, it violates international law. This letter will someday be analyzed in the same category as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, when a Jewish Homeland was promised by Britain to a group of European Zionists in historic Palestine – even when neither group had ownership rights or any political mandate.
Obama’s passionate speech in Cairo, in June 2009, was entitled ‘A New Beginning’. But a year and few months later, Obama has learned the limits of the political overreach of his country when it comes to Israel – as much as the Iraq war has demonstrated the limits of military power.
With this new wisdom, Obama and his advisors are acting like desperate salesmen before a conceited, dispassionate tourist. All Obama needs is a bit of time and Netanyahu is haggling over every detail to ensure maximum value for his dollar before November 2 arrives. Then, Israel will find other ways to use whatever leverage it has to advance its interests.
Because Israeli leaders also understand that in times like this Washington is absolutely mute and meek, Tel Aviv is sparing no efforts to exploit the situation. At home, Netanyahu is flexing his muscles to impress his influential rightwing constituency by approving hundreds of new housing units in illegally occupied Arab East Jerusalem. Netanyahu has humbled the president of the Free World, and is enjoying every moment of it.
More, racist new laws are either passing or are scheduled for vote at the Israeli Knesset. One of these demands allegiance to Israel as “a Jewish and democratic state.” Many will have to take that oath or lose their citizenry rights in the country. It is an undemocratic law by every account, and is aimed largely at the Palestinian Christian and Muslim population, the natives of that land. The timings of these legislations are also meant to underscore Israel’s determination to do whatever it deems necessary. This will serve the rightwing parties in Israel very well in future elections.
As for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, there is little to be said. He has no political power, leverage or influence. He can only do as he is told. He might send out the occasional threat of quitting political life, but frankly few are paying attention or worried about that possibility.
However, Abbas has, perhaps inadvertently, helped Netanyahu by providing him with a political platform whereby the Israeli leader can claim to be engaged in a legitimate peace process with a Palestinian partner. This alone was enough to bring Netanyahu and his country from back political oblivion into the center stage of international diplomacy. The bloodbath that Israel unleashed on Gaza from 2008 to 2009, the ongoing siege, the killing of activists abroad the Freedom Flotilla have all been cast aside for now. Instead we listen to Netanyahu speak of peace, prosperity and security for all, amid hearty clapping and standing ovations.
Hundreds of Israeli speakers, politicians, diplomats and scholars have been circling the globe in recent months, talking about Israel’s undying commitment to peace. While this goes on, Israeli bulldozers are back in full gear, tearing down homes, businesses and olive groves. Israel continues to expand settlements and build what is rightly termed the Apartheid Wall, all with little, if any criticism from the US, the self-declared honest peace broker. Worse, as much as the political theater is organized and financed by US dollars, the full-scale destruction taking place in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is also courtesy of US coffers. Such is the self-defeating policy of the United States. Such is the peace process.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com.
October 25, 2010
Extensive research into the causes of suicide terrorism proves Islam isn’t to blame — the root of the problem is foreign military occupations.
BY ROBERT A. PAPE | OCTOBER 18, 2010
Although no one wants to talk about it, 9/11 is still hurting America. That terrible day inflicted a wound of public fear that easily reopens with the smallest provocation, and it continues to bleed the United States of money, lives, and goodwill around the world. Indeed, America’s response to its fear has, in turn, made Americans less safe and has inspired more threats and attacks.
In the decade since 9/11, the United States has conquered and occupied two large Muslim countries (Afghanistan and Iraq), compelled a huge Muslim army to root out a terrorist sanctuary (Pakistan), deployed thousands of Special Forces troops to numerous Muslim countries (Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, etc.), imprisoned hundreds of Muslims without recourse, and waged a massive war of ideas involving Muslim clerics to denounce violence and new institutions to bring Western norms to Muslim countries. Yet Americans still seem strangely mystified as to why some Muslims might be angry about this situation.
In a narrow sense, America is safer today than on 9/11. There has not been another attack on the same scale. U.S. defenses regarding immigration controls, airport security, and the disruption of potentially devastating domestic plots have all improved.
But in a broader sense, America has become perilously unsafe. Each month, there are more suicide terrorists trying to kill Americans and their allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other Muslim countries than in all the years before 2001 combined. From 1980 to 2003, there were 343 suicide attacks around the world, and at most 10 percent were anti-American inspired. Since 2004, there have been more than 2,000, over 91 percent against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries.
Yes, these attacks are overseas and mostly focused on military and diplomatic targets. So too, however, were the anti-American suicide attacks before 2001. It is important to remember that the 1995 and 1996 bombings of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen were the crucial dots that showed the threat was rising prior to 9/11. Today, such dots are occurring by the dozens every month. So why is nobody connecting them?
U.S. military policies have not stopped the rising wave of extremism in the Muslim world. The reason has not been lack of effort, or lack of bipartisan support for aggressive military policies, or lack of funding, or lack of genuine patriotism.
No. Something else is creating the mismatch between America’s effort and the results.
For nearly a decade, Americans have been waging a long war against terrorism without much serious public debate about what is truly motivating terrorists to kill them. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, this was perfectly explicable — the need to destroy al Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan was too urgent to await sober analyses of root causes.
But, the absence of public debate did not stop the great need to know or, perhaps better to say, to “understand” the events of that terrible day. In the years before 9/11, few Americans gave much thought to what drives terrorism — a subject long relegated to the fringes of the media, government, and universities. And few were willing to wait for new studies, the collection of facts, and the dispassionate assessment of alternative causes. Terrorism produces fear and anger, and these emotions are not patient.
A simple narrative was readily available, and a powerful conventional wisdom began to exert its grip. Because the 9/11 hijackers were all Muslims, it was easy to presume that Islamic fundamentalism was the central motivating force driving the 19 hijackers to kill themselves in order to kill Americans. Within weeks after the 9/11 attacks, surveys of American attitudes show that this presumption was fast congealing into a hard reality in the public mind. Americans immediately wondered, “Why do they hate us?” and almost as immediately came to the conclusion that it was because of “who we are, not what we do.” As President George W. Bush said in his first address to Congress after the 9/11 attacks: “They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”
Thus was unleashed the “war on terror.”
The narrative of Islamic fundamentalism did more than explain why America was attacked and encourage war against Iraq. It also pointed toward a simple, grand solution. If Islamic fundamentalism was driving the threat and if its roots grew from the culture of the Arab world, then America had a clear mission: To transform Arab societies — with Western political institutions and social norms as the ultimate antidote to the virus of Islamic extremism.
This narrative had a powerful effect on support for the invasion of Iraq. Opinion polls show that for years before the invasion, more than 90 percent of the U.S. public believed that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But this belief alone was not enough to push significant numbers to support war.
What really changed after 9/11 was the fear that anti-American Muslims desperately wanted to kill Americans and so any risk that such extremists would get weapons of mass destruction suddenly seemed too great. Although few Americans feared Islam before 9/11, by the spring of 2003, a near majority — 49 percent — strongly perceived that half or more of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims were deeply anti-American, and a similar fraction also believed that Islam itself promoted violence. No wonder there was little demand by congressional committees or the public at large for a detailed review of intelligence on Iraq’s WMD prior to the invasion.
The goal of transforming Arab societies into true Western democracies had powerful effects on U.S. commitments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Constitutions had to be written; elections held; national armies built; entire economies restructured. Traditional barriers against women had to be torn down. Most important, all these changes also required domestic security, which meant maintaining approximately 150,000 U.S. and coalition ground troops in Iraq for many years and increasing the number of U.S. and Western troops in Afghanistan each year from 2003 on.
Put differently, adopting the goal of transforming Muslim countries is what created the long-term military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, the United States would almost surely have sought to create a stable order after toppling the regimes in these countries in any case. However, in both, America’s plans quickly went far beyond merely changing leaders or ruling parties; only by creating Western-style democracies in the Muslim world could Americans defeat terrorism once and for all.
There’s just one problem: We now know that this narrative is not true.
New research provides strong evidence that suicide terrorism such as that of 9/11 is particularly sensitive to foreign military occupation, and not Islamic fundamentalism or any ideology independent of this crucial circumstance. Although this pattern began to emerge in the 1980s and 1990s, a wealth of new data presents a powerful picture.
More than 95 percent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation, according to extensive research that we conducted at the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism, where we examined every one of the over 2,200 suicide attacks across the world from 1980 to the present day. As the United States has occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, which have a combined population of about 60 million, total suicide attacks worldwide have risen dramatically — from about 300 from 1980 to 2003, to 1,800 from 2004 to 2009. Further, over 90 percent of suicide attacks worldwide are now anti-American. The vast majority of suicide terrorists hail from the local region threatened by foreign troops, which is why 90 percent of suicide attackers in Afghanistan are Afghans.
Israelis have their own narrative about terrorism, which holds that Arab fanatics seek to destroy the Jewish state because of what it is, not what it does. But since Israel withdrew its army from Lebanon in May 2000, there has not been a single Lebanese suicide attack. Similarly, since Israel withdrew from Gaza and large parts of the West Bank, Palestinian suicide attacks are down over 90 percent.
Some have disputed the causal link between foreign occupation and suicide terrorism, pointing out that some occupations by foreign powers have not resulted in suicide bombings — for example, critics often cite post-World War II Japan and Germany. Our research provides sufficient evidence to address these criticisms by outlining the two factors that determine the likelihood of suicide terrorism being employed against an occupying force.
The first factor is social distance between the occupier and occupied. The wider the social distance, the more the occupied community may fear losing its way of life. Although other differences may matter, research shows that resistance to occupations is especially likely to escalate to suicide terrorism when there is a difference between the predominant religion of the occupier and the predominant religion of the occupied.
Religious difference matters not because some religions are predisposed to suicide attacks. Indeed, there are religious differences even in purely secular suicide attack campaigns, such as the LTTE (Hindu) against the Sinhalese (Buddhists).
Rather, religious difference matters because it enables terrorist leaders to claim that the occupier is motivated by a religious agenda that can scare both secular and religious members of a local community — this is why Osama bin Laden never misses an opportunity to describe U.S. occupiers as “crusaders” motivated by a Christian agenda to convert Muslims, steal their resources, and change the local population’s way of life.
The second factor is prior rebellion. Suicide terrorism is typically a strategy of last resort, often used by weak actors when other, non-suicidal methods of resistance to occupation fail. This is why we see suicide attack campaigns so often evolve from ordinary terrorist or guerrilla campaigns, as in the cases of Israel and Palestine, the Kurdish rebellion in Turkey, or the LTTE in Sri Lanka.
One of the most important findings from our research is that empowering local groups can reduce suicide terrorism. In Iraq, the surge’s success was not the result of increased U.S. military control of Anbar province, but the empowerment of Sunni tribes, commonly called the Anbar Awakening, which enabled Iraqis to provide for their own security. On the other hand, taking power away from local groups can escalate suicide terrorism. In Afghanistan, U.S. and Western forces began to exert more control over the country’s Pashtun regions starting in early 2006, and suicide attacks dramatically escalated from this point on.
The research suggests that U.S. interests would be better served through a policy of offshore balancing. Some scholars have taken issue with this approach, arguing that keeping boots on the ground in South Asia is essential for U.S. national security. Proponents of this strategy fail to realize how U.S. ground forces often inadvertently produce more anti-American terrorists than they kill. In 2000, before the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, there were 20 suicide attacks around the world, and only one (against the USS Cole) was directed against Americans. In the last 12 months, by comparison, 300 suicide attacks have occurred, and over 270 were anti-American. We simply must face the reality that, no matter how well-intentioned, the current war on terror is not serving U.S. interests.
The United States has been great in large part because it respects understanding and discussion of important ideas and concepts, and because it is free to change course. Intelligent decisions require putting all the facts before us and considering new approaches. The first step is recognizing that occupations in the Muslim world don’t make Americans any safer — in fact, they are at the heart of the problem.
September 8, 2010
Sitting in on the Rachel Corrie trial alarmingly reveals an open Israeli policy of indiscrimination towards civilians.
Rachel Corrie’s plight symbolised the ruthless policy of Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the social psyche of millions of people outside of the West Bank and Gaza Strip [Getty Images]
“During War there are no civilians,” that’s what “Yossi,” an Israeli military (IDF) training unit leader simply stated during a round of questioning on day two of the Rachel Corrie trials, held in Haifa’s District Court earlier this week. “When you write a [protocol] manual, that manual is for war,” he added.
For the human rights activists and friends and family of Rachel Corrie sitting in the courtroom, this open admission of an Israeli policy of indiscrimination towards civilians — Palestinian or foreign — created an audible gasp.
Yet, put into context, this policy comes as no surprise. The Israeli military’s track record of insouciance towards the killings of Palestinians, from the 1948 massacre of Deir Yassin in Jerusalem to the 2008-2009 attacks on Gaza that killed upwards of 1400 men, women and children, has illustrated that not only is this an entrenched operational framework but rarely has it been challenged until recently.
Rachel Corrie, the young American peace activist from Olympia, Washington, was crushed to death by a Caterpillar D9-R bulldozer, as she and other members of the nonviolent International Solidarity Movement attempted to protect a Palestinian home from imminent demolition on March 16, 2003 in Rafah, Gaza Strip. Corrie has since become a symbol of Palestinian solidarity as her family continues to fight for justice in her name.
Her parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, filed a civil lawsuit against the State of Israel for Rachel’s unlawful killing — what they allege was an intentional act — and this round of testimonies called by the State’s defense team follows the Corries’ witness testimonies last March. The Corries’ lawsuit charges the State with recklessness and a failure to take appropriate measures to protect human life, actions that violate both Israeli and international laws.
Witnesses insisted that the bulldozer driver couldn’t see Rachel Corrie from his perch. The State attorneys called three witnesses to the stand on Sunday and Monday to prove that the killing was unintentional and took place in an area designated as a “closed military zone.” Falling under the definition of an Act of War, their argument sought to absolve the soldiers of liability under Israeli law.
The Rachel Corrie trials focus on one incident, one moment, one death, one family’s grief. However it’s important to include the context within which the Israeli military operated on that day in March of 2003 in order to properly understand the gravity of the trial and the reverberations seven and a half years later.
Yossi, the military training leader, described the area where Corrie was killed as an “active war zone.” The State’s defense argues the same. Yet what was happening in Rafah that was so important to Corrie that she confronted a 4-meter high armored bulldozer in the first place?
According to statistics from Human Rights Watch, Israel had been expanding its so-called “buffer zone” at the southern Gaza border after the breakout of the second Palestinian intifada in late 2000. “By late 2002,” reports HRW, “after the destruction of several hundred houses in Rafah, the IDF began building an eight meter high metal wall along the border.”
The area that Israel designates as its buffer zone has since enveloped nearly 35% of agricultural land, according to an August 2010 report published by the United Nation’s Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA says that this policy has affected 113,000 Palestinians inside the Gaza strip over the last ten years as their farms, homes, and villages were intentionally erased from the map.
Rachel Corrie’s nonviolent action — standing in front of the bulldozer in direct confrontation to this project — cost her her life.
The home Rachel Corrie died trying to protect was razed, along with hundreds of others. The Gaza Strip remains a sealed ghetto. And countless Palestinian families have not seen justice waged in their favor after the deaths of their loved ones.
In 2005, an arrest warrant was issued against Major General Doron Almog — a senior soldier in charge of Israel’s Southern Command — by a British court related to the destruction of 59 homes in Rafah in
2002 under his authority. He was warned before boarding a flight to the UK that he could be arrested upon arrival, and canceled his trip.
Related to the Rachel Corrie case, Maj. Almog gave a direct order to the team of internal investigators to cut the investigations short, according to Israeli army documents obtained by Israeli daily Haaretz.
This indicates that the impunity of Israeli soldiers and policy-makers can — and will — be challenged in a court of law. And when the trials continue next month, the Corries will be back in the courtroom in anticipation of a long-sought justice for their daughter.