Saturday, July 24, 2004


Bad Moon Rising

If you thought the chaos in the Gaza Strip was bad, that would really be nothing compared to what would happen were there an Israeli extremist terror attack on the Temple Mount. According to Ha'aretz:
Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi on Saturday said that the defense establishment has identified a strengthening of intent among extreme-right groups to carry out a terror attack on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in order to thwart the peace process.

"There is no information on specific persons, otherwise the Shin Bet and the police would not have enabled them to act," Hanegbi told Channel Two news, "but there are worrying indications pointing to a purposeful - not just philosophical - frame of mind."

"There is a danger that they would want to make use of the most explosive target, in hope that the ensuing chain reaction would bring about the destruction of the political process," he added.
The same article also reiterates the Shin Bet's assessment that there are between 150-200 Jews who were "hoping for the death" of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. For anybody contemplating the difference between being security measures enacted against Jews and Arabs by Israel, the following dialogue is a pretty clear illustration of the situation:
Labor MK Haim Ramon asked Dichter: "If we were talking about Palestinians and not Jews, would you place these people in administrative detention?"

"Absolutely," Dichter replied.
I, for one, can only hope that neither a terrorist attack on the Temple Mount nor the assassination of Ariel Sharon will happen; I think it would be nearly impossible to salvage anything positive out of the destabilization of the kind that would be brought about were either of these to happen.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Musicians: The Ultimate Instruments... of Terror?

So there is this big to-do over this crazy lady (Annie Jacobsen) who flew on a plane with 14 Syrian musicians and is convinced that they were terrorists planning a "dry run" of 9/11 part deux. I heard something about this on talk radio yesterday, where all the paranoid racists are coming out of the woodwork to ban Arabs from flying more than one to a flight and to prepare for the coming terrorist apocolypse. The fact that this is a non-story (THEY WERE MUSICIANS!) has not stopped the story from spreading from the internet and talk radio venues onto TV news and even the New York Times. There is an excellent analysis of the whole situation on by Patrick Smith, a pilot. Smith acknowledges that Jacobsen has justifiable reasons for her anxiety on the flight - young Arab men have been known to hijack planes in the past and do bad things with them - and even admits to his "not as liberal on the issue as you might expect" stance on passenger profiling. But, as Smith points out, the lesson to be drawn from this situation is not that the airlines, and America, somehow failed by allowing these 14 Syrian musicians to fly together. After all, nothing happened. The problem, Smith asserts, is not Jacobsen's reaction during the flight, but her (and others') reactions after the flight.
That her story concludes in such a painfully boring anticlimax ought to be the very point, and in the final few pages she still has time for a constructive moral, the clear lesson being not the potentials of global terror, but the dangers of our own preconceptions and imagination. Instead, she pulls a vile U-turn and chooses to bait us with racist innuendo and fearmongering. Nothing happened, but something might have happened, and so it serves us to remain frightened and draconian at all costs, furthering our nation's pathetic embrace of maximum paranoia.
This is precisely the point. As much as Jacobsen denies any racism, her paranoid assertion that these Syrians could well be terrorists trained as musicians and her quoting of Ann Coulter seem to outweigh her story about traveling on a plane with Muslims and Hindus in India and not being afraid (After all, why should she be? If the terrorists want to attack America, it doesn't seem likely they would hijack a plane in India). As Patrick Smith writes:
Jacobsen's kicker: "So the question is ... Do I think these men were musicians? I'll let you decide. But I wonder, if 19 terrorists can learn to fly airplanes into buildings, couldn't 14 terrorists learn to play instruments?"

Excuse me? She concludes, as did the radio host Tuesday morning, by insinuating that the men were terrorists, despite every shred of evidence, not to mention common sense, arguing to the contrary. And with that her article, and her credibility with it, plummets from merely sensationalist to inexcusably offensive.
How Orwellian - just like a good patriot, to spit bravely in the face of fact and find in a non-event a paranoid call to action: God bless Annie Jacobsen and right wing talk radio. This is how we have come to live in a culture of fear and hatred.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


Chirac Predicts Landslide Victory in Egyptian Election

Jacques Chirac is already the most popular world leader in Egypt according to public opinion surveys conducted by Dr. Shibley Telhami. However, in an effort to put his competition even further behind him, Chirac "responded by having his office inform Jerusalem that Sharon would not be welcome in Paris right now." His approval ratings in Cairo should go through the roof! Purely a political move (since no visit is planned), this may well be the very thing that Tommy Lapid warned of yesterday when he worried aloud that Israel's decision to ignore the International Court of Justice's ruling on the wall through the West Bank could put Israel on the path towards becoming a pariah state. Also on reactions to the wall, Joel Beinin of Stanford University weighs in on the passage of House Resolution 713 which "deplores" the ICJ decision. Beinin writes:
Many Democrats with generally liberal voting records voted for HR 713. Most of them – for example Anna Eshoo, Mike Honda, Tom Lantos, Nancy Pelosi, and Lynn Woolsey, all of the San Francisco Bay Area – criticized the Bush administration for abandoning the Kyoto Protocol on global warming or the renouncing its signature on the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court. Apparently, it is bad for the United States to be internationally isolated on those issues. But it is fine if the United States is isolated because of our Middle East policy. That isn’t likely to have any consequences for our national security or personal safety.

Monday, July 19, 2004


Al-Qaeda's Success Story

Shibley Telhami has an op-ed in yesterday's Baltimore Sun, and elaborated further in a talk at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC, today, just how much the Iraq war has hurt the United States and aided al-Qaeda. Telhami sets out two models of al-Qaeda's goals: one in which the terror group is not particularly concerned with the foreign policy of the US, only exploiting it to motivate Muslims in the world, do damage to the US reputation internationally, and to eventually set up a puritanical, theocratic Islamic system of rule in the Muslim world; the other of which insists that al-Qaeda actually is interested in changing US foreign policy on issues that motivate Arabs and Muslims. Here Telhami, George W. Bush, and I agree that the first model is the correct one. If this is the case, then, it is nonsensical to think that addressing these foreign policy issues cited by al-Qaeda to rally Muslims against the US is in effect appeasing the terrorist group. In fact, as Telhami points out, al-Qaeda is rewarded by the US's refusal to address these issues, not the other way around. As the Bush administration has ignored the hottest button issue in the Arab and Muslim world, the Palestinian question, and instead invaded and occupied Iraq, the perception of the US in the Middle East has only suffered as al-Qaeda's has soared. Telhami's conclusion is based on a number of public opinion surveys conducted throughout the Arab world, in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.
Public opinion today in every Muslim country is far more resentful of the United States than it was three years ago.

Four years ago, over 60 percent of Saudi citizens expressed confidence in the United States. Today, less than 4 percent expressed a favorable view of the United States in a recent survey I conducted.


Today, an increasing number of Muslims and Arabs believe that the United States is simply aiming to attack Muslims.

In fact, in my public opinion survey (with Zogby International) last month in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, more than three-fourths of respondents said they believe that U.S. aims in Iraq were intended in part "to weaken the Muslim world."

Bin Laden is the second-most-admired leader in Egypt (after French President Jacques Chirac) and UAE (after the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser). Mr. Bush is the second-most-disliked leader in almost every one of those six countries, behind only Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Given these developments, Telhami asks: "Why would al-Qaida want to change this or seek a U.S. policy that would close the gap with the Muslim world in which al-Qaida thrives?"
There can be only two plausible aims that al-Qaida has in attacking the United States:

-To the extent that it may want to influence the November election, it would expect what our conventional wisdom would expect - that unlike the Spanish, Americans would rally behind their commander in chief. The result: widening the gap between the United States and the Muslim world.

-That, most likely, al-Qaida would continue to plan attacks on U.S. soil with little regard for the election or its outcome.

Above all, al-Qaida cannot possibly seek change in the current U.S. policy that has only widened the gap with the Muslim world.
The outlook is pretty forboding and the question, how do we reverse the trends, is not so easily answered. Still, the first and most important step in the right direction is to look at addressing those issues that motivate the support of bin Laden and al-Qaeda not as giving in or negotiating with terror, but as a way to curb anti-Americanism and hopefully deter future terrorist attacks.


Protestant Divestment from Israel

From the Forward:
With the decision, approved in a 431-62 vote at the 216th annual General Assembly of Presbyterian Church (USA), the church, boasting nearly 3 million members, is believed to be the largest organization or institution to join the divestment campaign against Israel.
While the fact that this is a church involves religion, essentially this is a political issue. The church did not vote to divest from Jewish-owned businesses. However, the Anti-Defamation League has become so involved in the fight to equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism, responded thusly:
"While the Catholics are decrying antisemitism in any form, it appears as if the Presbyterians are pretending it doesn't exist," said Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, director of interfaith affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, who helped draft the Buenos Aires document.
The Buenos Aires document referred to was a declaration signed by Roman Catholic officials and Jewish communal leaders that equated anti-Zionism with antisemitism. The problem here is that divesting from Israel is a purely political maneuver, essentially calling attention to a disagreement between a group, in this case Presbyterian Church (USA), and the policies of the Israeli government. That this somehow exhibits a tacit support of antisemitism, as implied by Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor, is misleading. It bothers me that the Anti-Defamation League has chosen to pursue this course of action, to make antisemitism an issue of political alliegences and support, or lack thereof, for Israel and the policies of the Israeli government. However, this pales in comparison to the actions of the Roman Catholic Church. The document signed in Buenos Aires serves to make opposition to the State of Israel a sin in the Catholic religion.
The document was signed by members of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation (IJCIC), a coalition including ADL, World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and representatives of the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform synagogue movements. It marks the first time at an interfaith meeting that the Catholic Church has equated anti-Zionism with antisemitism, which Pope John Paul II has defined as a sin.

"With the imprimatur of the Vatican, the Catholic Church is recognizing that anti-Zionism is an attack not only against Jews, but against the whole Jewish people," said Elan Steinberg, executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress.

"I believe it is important for Catholic-Jewish relations because it deepens the Vatican's firm commitment to the State of Israel as a political entity," said Father John Pawlikowski, head of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, who also helped draft the document.
It seems decidedly crass for the Vatican to commit to any state as a "political entity" and to quantify that which is a political belief (support or the lack thereof for the State of Israel) as a sin. Should anti-Americanism be considered a sin? Obviously not. Criticism of any state, of any government, should not be considered sinful or in any way reflective of one's spiritual character. I believe it dangerous to cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in religious terms is a dangerous move, as it empowers those hardliners on both sides who see no negotiated settlement to be possible.


Diversity of Israeli Opinion

Given that Shinui is the second most powerful party in Israel right now, and that Tommy Lapid is the Justice Minister, views of the sort that he expressed today have been largely ignored by the US media and government. According to Ha'aretz, Lapid was quite concerned over the dismissal of the International Court of Justice's ruling on Israel's wall through the West Bank:
"The Hague court, groups like Amnesty, and United Nations committees, act as a kind of global high court that, while they do not have to be liked, cannot be ignored," said Lapid.

International bodies, who are running out of patience for Israel's occupation of the territories, have put Israel under a legal blockade, Lapid said.

"If we don't respect human rights in the territories, we'll be putting ourselves in the situation in which South Africa found itself," Lapid said.

"People here don't understand that, when Israel ensures that laws and humanitarian criteria are maintained in the territories, it is looking after its own best interests."
Meanwhile, in op-ed pages across the United States, in the House of Representatives, and on cable news networks, the only view expressed is that Israel is justified not to heed the ICJ's ruling, that the ICJ ruling ignores the real issue of Palestinian terrorism, and that the ICJ ruling, as simply a "political" ruling, is of no import or consequence. Well, Tommy Lapid is no leftist. He makes it abundantly clear that his primary concern is the best interests of Israel. I think the US media does Israel and the US a disservice by not including those prominent voices that do not hold the Likud party line. And again, I find that more and more I am pleasantly suprised by the things that come out of Lapid's mouth.


Armenian Journalist Murdered in Russia

From the Guardian:
Pail Peloyan, the editor of the magazine Armenian Lane, was found on the hard shoulder of Moscow's large ring road with severe head injuries and knife wounds to the chest on Saturday morning.

Klebnikov's killing highlights the intense risks that journalists face on a daily basis in Russia. Fifteen have been killed since 2000, although Klebnikov was the first westerner.

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the murder and the Kremlin for the "climate of lawlessness and impunity" that permitted the killing to be ordered and carried out. It views Russia as one of the 10 most dangerous places for journalists to work.
State control of information in Russia has been consolidated not only through Putin's strongarming of media outlets but also through his refusal to offer a reasonable amount of protection to journalists. It's a shame to think that Russia would be one of the most dangerous ten nations in the world for journalists. I wish there were a concerted effort on behalf of the US government to pressure Putin. A free press is a cornerstone of successful democratic values, and this does not only apply to the Middle East! If it was as bad in Egypt as it is in Russia for the press, you'd bet your life that there would be noise from the White House on it. Instead, there is virtual silence.

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