Friday, October 01, 2004


Patrick Seale

After listening to some of the debates last night and then having a pretty good discussion about Iraq and the "war on terrorism" with my housemate last night, it is abundantly clear that we are going to be screwed for a while. The situation in Iraq just seems unfixable at the moment. Bush obviously has no concept of what is going on in the world. We went into Iraq when it seemed painfully clear that Saddam Hussein posed no serious threat. I mean come on, the guy was a SNL joke. A fucking joke! So now, several years later, here we are and things have deteriorated. Where are we going to go from here? I don't know, but I feel like we declared a war and we got it. Somewhere along the lines, somebody's foot slipped off the brakes and now we are headed for disaster. Which leads me to the Patrick Seale article on Agence Global. Seale concludes the following:
The battle over the coming months between the United States and Israel on one side and a world-wide Islamic and nationalist insurgency on the other is likely to be exceedingly hot.
Find out what leads Seale to conclude this, and ask yourself whether this is really what we wanted. Did we really want a war with "militant Islam" or whatever they're calling it these days? Did we really want to say "You're either with us or you're against us"? I just think that put us on the wrong end of a lot of angry motherfuckers, and we're making more of them angrier and angrier by the day. Well, have a good weekend everybody!

Off topic, I thought Kerry did much better than I thought he would in the debate, pretty much kicking W's teeth in. But as my housemate declared in retrospect, "C'mon, you're not going to get it any easier than this."

Thursday, September 30, 2004


Disproportionate Response

The IDF launched a major offensive into the Gaza Strip yesterday after a Qassam rocket killed 2 Israeli children in Sderot. These are the 2nd and 3rd casualties of Qassam rockets, respectively, and according to Ha'aretz:
After the strike, Sderot residents gathered in the area where the Qassam fell, some shouting "Death to Arabs."
Those chanting got exactly that, as Sharon was quoted Thursday as ordering security forces to "do everything in order to put an end to Qassam fire." So far 30 Palestinians have been killed and at least 131 wounded over the past two days (ten times the number killed by Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel).
In the single deadliest incident in Gaza, an Israeli tank fired a shell toward a group of Palestinian gunmen, killing at least seven people and wounding 20, many of them critically, hospital doctors said. The army said soldiers fired the shell at five gunmen planting explosives near the Jabalya market. Palestinian hospital staff said the dead were civilians.

Many of the wounded lost limbs, and at least four were under the age of 14, doctors said.

The local Kamal Adwan Hospital was overwhelmed by the influx, and doctors had to treat some of the patients on the blood-soaked floor and on cafeteria tables.

Ahmed Salem, 10, said the shell was fired from a tank at a U.N. school near Jebaliya's market. "I was hit and fell to the ground. The man lying next to me had no head," said the boy who was wounded by shrapnel in the leg.
Two IDF soldiers and one Israeli settler were killed by Hamas gunmen.


Sick behavior

From the Washington Times of all places comes this article about five Israeli Border Policemen who are under house arrest for their treatment of Palestinians, that including beating, forced drinking of urine, forced jumping out of a second-story window. You can read the disturbing details in the story, I just wanted to pull out this one quote:
[Justice Ministry spokesman Uri] Steinberg said one of the five policemen stood aside and did not take part in the abuse, but the border policemen's commander was "one of the more active" people there.


WSJ Commentary

There is an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today by Amir Taheri about kidnappings and exhibition killings and Islam. I think Taheri really misses the point in all of this and while much of the information that Taheri points to is very interesting (the dynamic between France and the Arab world, Russia and its position in the Muslim world as it relates to Palestine and Chechnya, etc.), his argument falls back on a very tired Orientalist argument.

In response to debate over whether hostage taking is justified, Taheri seems outraged that there even be a debate. Taheri writes:
Non-Muslims may find it strange that such practices are debated rather than condemned as despicable crimes. But the fact is that the seizure of hostages and "exhibition killing" go back to the early stages of Islamic history.
Ah, so its just part of "the Islamic tradition" one is led to believe, as Taheri spends four paragraphs giving us a history lesson in Islamic treatment of POWs, only to conclude with this:
Recalling this background is important because what we witness in the Muslim world today is disregard of religious tradition in favor of political considerations.
So wait, it doesn't have to do with tradition? It's all about politics? As for his argument that this needs to be understood before we approach the issue, in an article in the Wall Street Journal that is highly critical of the Muslim world, I find this disingenuous. Rather, it serves to reinforce the idea that this is a "clash of civilizations" and not a matter of political considerations.

The meat of Taheri's argument is that leaders of the Muslim world are willing to condemn the Beslan tragedy because of Russia's support for the Palestinian cause. Likewise, Muslims speak out against the kidnapping of French journalists in Iraq but not against other civilian victims of kidnappings or killings by Iraqi insurgent groups. In the case of Briton Ken Bigley, Taheri writes:
The two British Muslim delegates made their case in a different way by arguing that, although Britain participated in toppling Saddam Hussein, a majority of the British were opposed to the war. Thus British hostage Ken Bigley should be released not because hostage-taking is wrong but because such a move could strengthen anti-war sentiment in Britain.
Allow me to interject. Taheri chooses to condemn the Muslims who sought the release of Bigley because he does not approve of their methods? Instead of interpreting this as a sign of the moral degradation of Islam, as Taheri seems to, I think it is more evident of "the West"'s lack of credibility if it chooses to approach the issue on a purely moral basis. Approaching the kidnapper as if he simply does not understand that "kidnapping is wrong" will hardly work against somebody who can easily reply that the killing of innocents in Iraq and Afghanistan is wrong, that the demolition of homes of innocents in Palestine is wrong, that the "kidnapping" (indefinite detention without charges) of Muslims in Palestine and Guantanamo Bay is "wrong." So please spare me the idea that somehow "the West" understands the difference between right and wrong and those Oriental savages just don't get it. Is Taheri as outraged that there is debate (and not across-the-board condemnation) about torture in Abu Ghraib or about the wall in the West Bank or about home demolitions in the West Bank and Gaza? Maybe I simply missed those "commentaries" (I admit, the WSJ is not my paper of choice).

But to be critical that "it is enough for anyone to designate himself as an Islamic 'Mujahid,' fighting for Palestine and opposing the 'occupation' in Iraq, to get carte blanche from millions of Muslims, including many in authority" implies that millions of Westerners, including many in authority, give carte blanche to the US, to Israel, or to any other country or group designating itself an actor in the "War on Terror," fighting for democracy, freedom, liberty and opposing the "scourge of terrorism."

Taheri quotes Abu Anas al-Shami, "the self-styled 'mufti' of al Qaeda":
"There are times when Mujahedeen cannot waste time finding out who is who in the battlefield," he wrote. "There are times when we have to assume that whoever is not on our side is the enemy."
I would venture that this does not deviate too far from the statements made by those such as George W. Bush who says that you're either with us or against us ("whoever is not on our side is the enemy") or Donald Rumsfeld who said that sometimes in the fog of war its hard to tell who the civilian casualties are or who killed them ("there are times when [we] cannot waste time finding out who is who in the battlefield"). You see, the reason that Taheri's purely moral arguments on hostagetaking and exhibition killing ring hollow in parts of the Arab and Muslim world ring hollow is not that "they just don't get it" but rather that "the West" seems to have lost the moral footing from which it is possible to make such arguments in a meaningful and effective manner.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Settler violence

There is an Amira Hass article today that describes the attack on two American Christian volunteers for the Christian Peacemakers Team. I hesitated to blog on it at first because the assailants were unidentified. (Although the following description seems to indicate that they were most likely settlers: "The attackers, numbering four or five, were dressed in black and wore masks. They spoke English and were carrying chains and clubs." and "The road along which the volunteers and schoolchildren pass is used by settlers and is forbidden to Palestinian vehicular traffic.") However, Helena Cobban recieved a message from the CPT which stated:
At about 7:15am on the morning of Wednesday September 29, Chris Brown and Kim Lamberty of Christian Peacemaker Teams were attacked by settlers while accompanying children to school.
The Helena Cobban post also links to this article by Arnon Regular about Yehoshua Elitzur, a settler who is under house arrest for shooting and killing Sa'al Jabara, a Palestinian, on Monday. Elitzur claims that Jabara was trying to run him off the road and that he opened fire on him in self defense. This claim is contradicted by an eye witness who claims the following:
[J]ust before reaching the main road, Sa'al slowed down and began driving up an incline adjacent to the road. He started to turn right to get onto the road when we all noticed a tall, dark-skinned settler with a beard standing in the middle of the road in front of a red Ford Fiesta.

Sa'al thought the settler needed help and he slowed down; he then opened the window and spoke to him in Hebrew. Suddenly the settler aimed an M-16 at him. The settler fired off a few rounds at Sa'al, hitting him in his left arm and the left side of his chest.

He lost consciousness and we tried to help him, and we shouted to the settler to come and help and call an ambulance, but he said, `Please God, he dies,' and left.

Another settler who arrived on the scene also refused to help. Eventually, we spotted a Palestinian taxi, and we took Sa'al to hospital in Nablus, but he died on the way.
Given the fact that this eye witness is Palestinian, its unlikely that this counts for much. The problem is that whether either of these specific cases amounts to anything or not, there is little done to stop the violence of settlers against Palestinians, especially when this violence is done in ways such as uprooting olive trees, poisoning wells, destroying water tanks and other necessary infrastructure. There is not a concerted effort by the Israeli government (which continues to grow and promote the settlement enterprise as if it were some utopian effort) or the IDF (which either doesn't care about the Palestinians or doesn't need the hassle of getting shit from both the Palestinians, the Israeli peaceniks, and the settlers) to put a stop to this kind of behavior. And though I fully support a fair trial for Elitzur, and if it turns out that he killed a man in self-defense that should be taken into account, I cannot help but think that if the tables were turned, that if Elitzur were a Palestinian and Jabara a settler, or any Jew for that matter, he would probably be dead, shot by the IDF or an armed settler, and the tanks would be rolling. You bet they would.


The Electoral College

David Bennahum has a post about the electoral college which is very good, not only because of the points raised but because of the resources he uses which are available on his blog (charts and numbers and all that in pdf format). I firmly believe that the electoral college is pretty ridiculous and think that it should be abolished. The reasons given for the electoral college seem to not hold up when confronted with the flaws in the electoral college (namely, that each citizens vote is not counted equally and there exists the possibility - the real possibility I might add - that a candidate can be elected with less votes than another candidate).

The basic argument for the electoral college is that it prevents abuses against those states that are not heavily populated. "The candidates would spend all their time campaigning in New York City and Los Angeles and never go to Wyoming." First of all, the amount of time a candidate spends campaigning in a state is no longer how one informs themselves in the time before an election. People read newspapers, they watch television, they hop on the internet, they talk to friends, neighbors, and relatives and inform themselves.

Well, if its not the attention, its the issues, right? It seems to me that the issues that the President of the United States is elected based on should be those issues on which the majority of the country can find some common ground. There are certainly issues that are specific to rural communities and rural states. However, the US system is built to empower every state equally in the Senate. Defending the electoral college on this basis ignores and underestimates the value of the Senate and the state governments.

Instead of pushing issues of local importance onto the national stage, it seems that the electoral college more frequently puts issues of national importance into the hands of a few - those voters in swing states and states with higher electoral vote to population ratios. I, for one, think that's just not the best way to go about this whole thing.


Israel and Iran

Last week I quoted a Reuven Pedatzur op-ed that made the case that Israel should not use its military to take out the Iranian nuclear program and instead "should leave the job to the United States, in the hope that the Europeans will come to their senses and understand the danger to world peace posed by a nuclear Iran." Well it seems that the rest of the world has the opposite idea: let Israel handle it and not worry about the repercussions, give Israel that "oh you guys" look that is expected and brush their hands. Aluf Benn points to this in a column in today's Ha'aretz (titled "Waiting to Bomb Iran").
It is possible that factors in the West, doubtful about the success of the diplomatic effort, prefer to have Israel act in their place. There are signs of that: Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who met with many of his colleagues at the UN General Assembly, heard a great deal of understanding from them about the Iranian danger, and serious doubts as to the chances of diplomacy. Nobody asked Israel to refrain from a belligerent act.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says that Israel is not planning a military operation in Iran, and speaks of developing improved means of defense and deterrence. But the foreign media were more interested in the threats against the Iranians by senior members of the Israel Defense Forces. "We will not rely only on others" (Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon), "We will rely on others until we have to rely on ourselves" (his deputy, Dan Halutz), "The operational capability of the air force has increased significantly since the bombing of the Iraqi reactor" (Commander of the Israel Air Force, Eliezer Shkedi).
It is interesting that nobody asked Israel to refrain from a belligerent act at the UNGA meetings. It seems that Europe is probably not thrilled that Iran might soon have nuclear weapons, but is willing to accept it. They aren't pushing for Israel to take Iran down, but they aren't going to stand in the way either. The US would be very happy if Israel did the military work in this one, since they certainly are vehemently opposed to Iran getting nuclear weapons. Of course, they can't really handle another war right now, what with things going as they are in Iraq (although we'll see what happens in the election). Also, the US is going to look pretty silly after going into Iraq for the WMDs and then sitting there and doing nothing to the country that does seem to be on its way to WMDs in Iran (which would make that twice the case, with North Korea still not "liberated"). So basically, Israel would be doing others the favor of doing the dirty work, possibly taking the hit (Iran has threatened that it would not sit by and take a military attack against it without retaliating - evening threatening "preemption" at one point). Anyhow, the point of all this is that obviously there is some concern as to whether this is actually in the interest of the Israelis. Pedatzur obviously thought otherwise and Aluf Benn expresses his doubt:
A possible attack on Iran will be much more complex and risky [than other IDF operations], and therefore we would do well not to ignore the threats, and to conduct a public debate on the question of whether this course of action is desirable for Israel.
This is bigger than assassinating Shaykh Yasin, bigger than launching attacks into southern Lebanon, bigger even than carrying out assassinations in Damascus, the capital of a foreign and (officially) hostile nation. Essentially a declaration of war, this is something that the Israeli public should be able to weigh in on before it goes down. Sharon can justify ignoring the public in the name of security in the occupied territories and in military strikes on international targets where the immediate repercussions are minor. Not so with Iran. Given Sharon's record of doing things his way, opposition be damned, I would say that Benn is correct in urging some kind of public discussion and going against the gathering opinion that this is an irreversible done deal.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


Helen Thomas, my hero

OK, I'm back online, but now am backlogged with work that required interweb-type stuff. But in getting started on that work, I came upon this article by Helen Thomas, a wonderful woman, in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reflecting on Bush's continued assertion that the US went to war in Iraq with the backing of the UN.
Bush, who has run out of excuses for the war, now wants everyone to believe that the United Nations gave him the go-ahead to invade Iraq when the world body passed a resolution warning there would be "serious consequences" if Saddam Hussein did not disarm and give weapons inspectors free rein in Iraq.

"The commitments we make must have meaning," he told the U.N. General Assembly last week. "When we say serious consequences for the sake of peace, there must be serious consequences."

But the U.N. resolution gave him no mandate for war.

No matter how many times Bush claims he had U.N. backing to attack the oil-rich nation, it doesn't make it so.
Thomas is right of course, that saying it doesn't make it so. Unfortunately, as we can see from the polls that show that a ridiculously large percentage of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, it is enough to make people think it is so. And with too few Helen Thomas figures in the media right now, there aren't nearly enough voices telling the American people that it isn't so.


Bloggus Interruptus

Just wanted to let everybody know that we lost internet service at work (at least in my part of the building) so that's why I haven't been bloggin'. There are some interesting things that I recommend looking into and would like to blog on (but can't) including US involvement in the Thatcher/Equatorial Guinea coup (an article here in the Guardian) among others. But hopefully I'll be back online sometime today and will be bloggin' away today or tomorrow.

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