Friday, November 19, 2004

 

on the march

Khaled Hroub has an article in the International Herald Tribune today about democracy in Tunisia. Hroub writes about Tunisia's reputation as an emerging secular democratic Middle Eastern state in the 1990s and how this reputation has increasingly been betrayed by reality. Still, Tunisia remains one of the West's golden boys in the region, and under Bush, "Washington has allocated to Tunis the regional offices of its Middle East Partnership Initiative, meant to spread democratization throughout the Arab world."
Anecdotes in Arab media circles about Tunisian intimidation and ultrasensitivity are amazing. A number of Arab thinkers, for example, were not allowed to attend seminars in Tunisia because they had befriended Tunisian thinkers who are hated by the regime or had co-authored publications with them.

How has Tunis managed this sleight of hand? By emphasizing secular discourse, the regime has offered the West a comfortable illusion. It is not the secularism of the Baathist regimes of Syria and pre-invasion Iraq. Nor is it the secularism of the monarchies of Jordan or Morocco, marred as they are by the principle of heredity. Here we have a republic that is westernized in its political positions and in the socio-cultural program of its elite, with extra doses of "democracy" jargon.
Furthermore, earlier this week, Tunis hosted the second round of the World Summit on the Information Society.
In the summit's first round in Geneva, participants - including Tunisia - declared their "common desire and commitment to build a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge ... premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Meanwhile the government's silencing of the national press has deprived its political opposition of even the smallest opening to express critical views.
Hroub also mentions the "presidential referendums" that take place every five years, in which Tunisians are asked to extend Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's presidential tenure. The latest was on October 24 of this year.
A cynic might say that its result - 94.5 of the electorate in favor of the standing regime - represents a huge leap toward "political liberalization" compared with results of the earlier polls: 99.4 percent for the regime in 1989, 99.7 percent in 1994 and 99.5 percent in 1999.
In fact, these results immediately reminded me of the Iraqi referrendum held just previous to the US invasion of Iraq. In it I believe Saddam Hussein got some 99 percent of the vote. Anyhow, I think it goes to show that "democracy" as being promoted by the US in the Middle East (a secular government, elections, a president, economic liberalization, etc.) can easily be hijacked by authoritarian governments. Not that the US is blindly ignorant of this fact, as I am sure they are not. International politics are always going to be a matter of convenience, of partnerships, of turning a blind eye and "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" mentalities. But I think that if there is going to be a positive change in the Middle East, there has to be encouragement of pluralism, not democracy.

 

Making good use of reality TV? Give me a break.

I saw this article yesterday about how there is going to be an Israeli reality television series called "The Ambassador" where contestants compete to see who can do the best job of "battling Israel's global image problem." At first I was like, "Oy, this is sick." But then I realized that whoever thought of this show just doesn't get it. The whole reason people watch reality television is because the people on them are such unbelievable pricks. Given this tenet, I can only see this show either a) not actually achieving its stated goal or b) being a ratings flop. Or both.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

 

It's a cat sleeping on the back of a motorbike!

 

Derrida and a new world

The following is a small excerpt from Jacques Derrida's speech at Le Monde Diplomatique’s 50th anniversary celebrations in May. In it, Derrida expresses his hopes and vision for a new Europe. Hopefully, it can be a vision that is realized worldwide, and not just in Europe.
This Europe, as a proud descendant of the Enlightenment past and a harbinger of the new Enlightenment to come, would show the world what it means to base politics on something more sophisticated than simplistic binary oppositions. In this Europe it would be possible to criticise Israeli policy, especially that pursued by Ariel Sharon and backed by George Bush, without being accused of anti-semitism. In this Europe, supporting the Palestinians in their legitimate struggle for rights, land and a state would not mean supporting suicide bombing or agreeing with the anti-semitic propaganda that is rehabilitating (with sad success) the outrageous lie that is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In this Europe it would be usual to worry both about rising anti-semitism and rising Islamophobia. Sharon and his policies are not directly responsible for the rise of anti-semitism in Europe. But we must defend our right to believe that he does have something to do with it, and that he has used it as an excuse to call European Jews to Israel.

In this Europe it would be possible to criticise the policies of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz without being accused of sympathy for Saddam Hussein and his regime. In this Europe no one would be called anti-American, anti-Israeli, anti-Palestinian or Islamophobic for allying himself with those Americans, Israelis or Palestinians who bravely speak out against their own leaders,often far more vehemently than we do in Europe.

That is my dream. I am grateful to all those who help me to dream it; not only to dream, as Ramonet says, that another world is possible, but to muster the strength to do all that is needed to make it possible. This dream is shared by billions of men and women all over the world. Some day, though the work may be long and painful, a new world will be born.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

 

Moroccan: slums breed jihad

There is a fascinating look at Moroccan "Takfirists" in the November issue of Le Monde Diplomatique. In it, Selma Belaala visits the slums of Morocco to explore the environment that has spawned a particularly virulent form of Islamic activism, responsible for the bomb attacks in Casablanca on 16 May 2003.
The Takfirists are part of a new generation of Islamic fundamentalists from Morocco’s urban slums (7). Their strongholds are what locals call al-karyan, the disused quarries in industrial zones left to decay after independence in 1956. The shanty towns that have mushroomed there in the past 20-30 years are home to uprooted landless peasants, victims of a rural exodus. Most Takfirists, like the suicide bombers of 16 May, are karyanis, from a class of social outcasts living in the shanty towns.

In the greater Casablanca area, Douar Sekouila and the shanty towns of Thomas and Lahraouyine, home to 16 May bombers, were constructed illegally. Hovels of planks and cardboard boxes found in the streets are heaped in anonymous blocks without formal roads that congregate into districts with no official identity. Inhabitants survive on petty theft and trafficking. These miserable slums, less than half an hour from the centre of Casablanca, have no running water, sewers or electricity. Foul water stagnates in alleyways of packed earth that attract clouds of mosquitoes carrying diseases. The inhabitants call the districts Chechnyas, which says much about the extent of urban, social and cultural disintegration.
In focusing on the social and cultural disintegration, Belaala also points out that it is not a resurgence of traditional Islam that is taking place in Morocco. Instead, the squalor and social breakdown of the slums has, in effect, created a worldview that is now being imposed on Islam by the Takfirists.
The breakdown of the culture of the derb, the traditional urban working-class district, is a major factor in the propagation of Takfiri Salafism in these areas. In the medina, the poorest can survive on petty trade and traditional solidarity. The situation is different in the shanty towns, where the absence of economic activity, the isolation of the inhabitants and their divorce from the rest of society encourage marginal behaviour. Food is bought from a few street peddlers; there is no market or small shops. Living conditions are terrible.

Social life in the old city centres traditionally revolves around the mosque, the baker and the hammam. In the shanty towns the absence of the communal life typical of the old working-class districts has prevented social bonding. Moroccan Salafism is a product of the disintegration of traditional Islam rather than its resurgence.
Belaala goes on to compare the situation in Morocco to that of the Algerian GIA and GSPC of the 1990s. There are some crucial differences, especially in the size and organization of these radical groups, but Belaala poses the question as to whether it is just a matter of time in Morocco before you see similar results. All in all, it is a very frightening picture. And I think that it is an important reminder that what breeds violence and radicalism (whether it takes on a religious form or not) are those factors that we should be seriously addressing if we really want to fight the "war on terror": poverty, unemployment, sanitation, health, nutrition, social and cultural stability, and hope.

 

Fateh infighting

Despite attempts by senior PA officials to act as though everything is running smoothly in the absence of Yasir Arafat, there is no ignoring the fact that those rifts that existed before Arafat's death are not simply going to disappear. Evidence of this is the most recent news that the al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade has refused to endorse Abu Mazin and is instead endorsing Marwan Barghouti in the upcoming presidential elections.
The Palestinian resistance group Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades has said it is opposed to Mahmud Abbas as Yasir Arafat's successor and will instead back jailed West Bank Fatah leader Marwan al-Barghuthi.

A spokesman said: "We do not support Abu Mazin [Abbas] for the election and we have decided to vote for Marwan Barghuthi to be our candidate for president."
The evidence in the rift is not only that the more militant constituents of Fateh would prefer Barghouti to Abu Mazin, but that, actually, Barghouti is much more popular in general than is Abu Mazin.
A poll conducted last month said al-Barghuthi was the second most popular choice for Palestinian Authority president trailing Arafat, who died on 11 November in a Paris hospital.
Even if Abu Mazin is elected, if there is only a small percentage of popular support for him, and even his own party is divided in its support, there will undoubtedly be difficulties in maintaining the Palestinian Authority as any kind of legitimate government with a popular mandate. And given how mandates are all the rage these days, I think this will be important.

UPDATE:The following text will be part of a Gush Shalom ad to be published in the November 19, 2004, issue of Ha'aretz:
FUTURE LEADERS

Yitzhak Rabin
-was, under the British Mandate, the leader of the prisoners in Rafah prison camp.

Yitzhak Shamir
-was arrested as a terrorist and exiled to a prison camp in Erithrea.

Menahem Begin
-was branded as a terrorist with a big prize on his head and blood on his hands, after he blew up the King David hotel in Jerusalem with a hundred civilian dead.

All three became later Prime Ministers of Israel and were ceremoniously received by Britain, their former enemy.

Among the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons are the future leaders of the Palestinian nation. Marwan Barghouti is only the most famous of them.

It is in Israel's interest to release and allow them to take part in the Palestinian elections.

Only those who are accepted by their people as freedom fighters will be able to convince them that peace is necessary.
I'm sure there are many Israelis who will not appreciate the comparison of Rabin, Shamir, and Begin to Marwan Barghouti. Oh well, that's life.

 

Abu Ghraib Redux

I think the decision of a US Marine to kill a wounded and unarmed man in a Fallujah mosque is going to be one of those events that, like Abu Ghraib, is going to define this war in the minds of much of the Middle East. I think in many ways, the entire situation was emblematic: US forces enter a house of worship (a place it is percieved that they do not belong and have no respect for, just like Iraq), find a man wounded and unarmed (like Iraq), and a US Marine chooses to kill him in cold blood. Even the background story (which the US press keeps bringing up), that the Marine was injured the day before, fits in (as the US was injured on 9/11 and then goes on to attack Iraq, not al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the attack). Now maybe I am stretching this analogy a bit too far, but it certainly plays into commonly held ideas in the Middle East of the United States as the violent superpower lashing out at the, comparatively, wounded and unarmed Middle East. And though we may not have the images here in the US, as we did with Abu Ghraib, I have little doubt that this will be an image that is associate with Fallujah in the Middle East. From the Washington Post:
While U.S. networks declined to air the actual shooting, Arab networks such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya broadcast the entire incident, with graphics and narration illustrating the sequence of events. At times, the images were frozen. The gunshot splashed blood against the wall behind the Iraqi's head, and the man's body went limp.
If you go to the al Jazeera site you will find the stills of the video up for stories here and here, and as the UN and US military investigate this matter, it isn't going to go away. Watching Ted Koppel on ABC last night, much of the show focused on reactions in Iraq. You can guess how people were reacting - they were not happy. Many expressed the sentiment that seeing this made them want to pick up a gun and head to Fallujah.

And this isn't just about winning the "hearts and minds" of the Arab or Muslim world. This is about American credibility everywhere. In Ha'aretz today, Ze'ev Schiff writes that Israel should not be bothered to pay attention to the US's annual report on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. If the Americans are not going to hold themselves to any recognizable standard of human rights, civilian safety, international law, or rules of combay, Schiff argues, "it would be best to end the practice of preaching morality to the whole world..."
As the Americans were announcing that they had occupied approximately 80 percent of Falluja, representatives of the Red Crescent were reporting that a humanitarian catastrophe was unfolding among the city's civilians. Many of the wounded, including children, are bleeding to death because it is impossible to evacuate them to hospitals. No one is even talking about the destroyed homes and property damage.

The method employed by the Americans calls for using warplanes and artillery in urban areas. This did not start in Falluja. The American armored division that was deployed in Baghdad used the same method. The Americans found themselves in trouble after failing to quell the insurgents in several cities as the date of Iraqi elections drew nearer. Their answer: using an "iron fist" in populated areas. When the Russians did this in Chechnya, President Clinton sharply criticized them.
While I can hardly agree with Schiff's argument that "war on international terror means... engaging in hard-hitting combat" where human rights should not be a concern and that Israel, Russia, and others engaged in this "war on international terror" should not be criticized, the fact that he is able to make the argument at all is testament to the shaky footing that the US is on right now internationally. Because the US's credibility is not just important in checking it's enemies - to a certain degree the enormous military advantage that it holds is effective in that regard. But it is also important in influencing allies and neutral nations. It's called diplomacy. Indeed, right now the US is essentially undermining its allies, such as Great Britain, and making it politically and diplomatically difficult for them to remain close to the US. On the eve of a state visit to Great Britain, Jacques Chirac is being openly and harshly critical of the US-led war in Iraq.
"I'm not at all sure that one can say the world is safer," Chirac told the BBC on the eve of a state visit to Britian. "There is no doubt there has been an increase in terrorism."

He said: "To a certain extent Saddam Hussein's departure was a positive thing but it also provoked reaction such as the mobilisation in a number of countries of men and women of Islam which has made the world more dangerous."

The full interview with the BBC is to be aired on Wednesday evening as Chirac prepares to fly to Britain on Thursday to meet Blair, Queen Elizabeth and business leaders to celebrate 100 years of the Entente Cordiale - an agreement that brought about French-British cooperation after a long history of rivalry.
He has also questioned what it is that Britain has gained from its support of the US invasion of Iraq. How can this possibly be good for Tony Blair? The US is still the most powerful nation in the world at the moment, but nobody likes to be made a fool of.

The "hearts and minds" that are so often brought up in regards to the Iraq war are not just the "hearts and minds" of Iraqis. They are not just the "hearts and minds" of the Muslim and Arab world. The US needs to make an effort to satisfy the "hearts and minds" of the entire world. And this is not done with PR campaigns and rhetoric, but by the actions it takes. All in all, it seems that the US is losing credibility all over the world because of this misadventure in Iraq.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

 

Misunderestimating the Palestinian "New Guard"

Henry Siegman, in the Dec. 2 issue of the New York Review of Books, takes on those who he feels have fundamentally misunderstood or misconstrued Sharon's purposes in continuing down the path of "unilateral disengagement" from Gaza, as well as those who have, like the Economist, distinguished the Palestinian "New Guard" from the old guard "Abus" as having "learned that 'they cannot erase Israel by force.'" Siegman writes:
There is no basis for the self-serving Israeli claim promoted by Ehud Barak—and by The Economist—that the goal of the older Palestinian generation is the eradication of Israel. Neither the Old Guard nor the Young Guard believes in that goal—if only because they know how utterly unachievable it is. But both groups will resist territorial concessions to Israel if they are not accompanied by fair exchanges of territory on both sides of the pre-1976 border that are mutually agreed to in a peace negotiation. This issue has never distinguished the "Abus" from their challengers.

Those who identify with the Palestinian Young Guard are demanding an end to the corruption of the old-time Fatah leaders who dominate the Palestinian Authority; they also call for new leaders who can formulate a coherent strategic approach to the struggle for Palestinian statehood, something Arafat was incapable of providing. Whether the Young Guard will succeed in producing such a strategy, and whether that strategy will embrace or reject violence, will be determined in large measure by Israel's willingness to assure Palestinians that a viable state can be achieved by nonviolent means. That is an assurance that Sharon's proposal for unilateral disengagement from Gaza does not offer. Indeed, as everyone now knows from [Sharon Advisor Dov] Weissglas's interview, it is intended to preclude it.
I think Siegman is right to assert that somehow the Israelis stand a better chance of pushing around the "Young Guard" or that the "Young Guard" is somehow fundamentally different than the "Old Guard" in its demands and needs in terms of establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza is going to find that this is not the case. I think there are those that cynically hope that the "Young Guard" will tear apart Palestinian society if they challenge the "Abus" in certain ways and see this as an opportunity for Israel to continue expansion of settlements and occupation. This approach, though, is quite different from looking on the political landscape of Israel and Palestine and seeing a rosy dawn in the future. Siegman also talks about Arafat, but I'm about to go out the door, so I'll discuss more of that later.

 

Transatlantict drift

I remember there being a little bit of buzz (squeezed in with all the mandate talk) of how "old Europe" would have to strike a more conciliatory posture following Bush's reelection. Basically, the argument was, that the "old Europeans" were hoping Kerry was elected so that they could come back into the American fold, but that since Bush was elected they couldn't afford another four years without that good American loving and would have to come back like children, sullen but having spent all their energy with their little Iraq tantrum last year. Well, given the latest statements from Jacques Chirac about Tony Blair and the US, that doesn't seem to have been completely the case.
"I'm not sure, the US being what it is today, whether it is possible for anyone, even the British, to play the role of the friendly go-between," [Chirac] said.

The French president's words came in direct contradiction to Tony Blair, who insisted last night that Europe needed to work with America and could help shape its policies. Mr Blair used a keynote speech in the Guildhall in London to warn Europe to stop "ridiculing American arguments and parodying their political leadership" and to concentrate on persuading Washington that "terrorism won't be beaten by toughness alone".

But Mr Chirac said Britain's special relationship with the US had brought few dividends. "When the divergence of views between France and Britain was at its height, when the English wanted to follow the Americans and we didn't ... I said to Tony Blair, your position should at least serve another purpose," Mr Chirac said.

"You should obtain in exchange for it a new start for the peace process in the Middle East. Because that is vital. Well, Britain gave its support (on Iraq) - but I have not been impressed by the payback."
Hmm... maybe Chirac is just using one of those, what's it called, exagger-AY-shuns. Of course, I'm sure as soon as Condi is installed as Secretary of State she'll be able to fly over there, pull in the reigns, and make sure none of this is an issue. Right?

Monday, November 15, 2004

 

Fallujah and Mosul

As Scott Ritter wrote in his article titled Squeezing Jello in Iraq, a US military victory in Iraq is hardly going to put an end to an insurgency that is hardly limited in Iraq to any one city. My Aunt Deb forwarded me three articles (here, here, and here) about Mosul that show that even with Fallujah all "cleaned" up, Iraq is a mess.

PS. Is anybody else bothered by the fact that the word I most heard used in the US media to describe killing lots of people in Fallujah was "clean" or "cleaning" or "cleaned"?

PPS. For some perspectives from people far more expert than I, see what Juan Cole and Rashid Khalidi have to say about Fallujah and the historical context.

 

Grocery store in Amalfi, Italy (all photos by my dad).

 

Street passing under a building, Atrani, Italy.

 

Pride of lions holding up the ambone in the Ravello cathedral, Italy.

 

Sunrise over Minori, Italy.

 

My mom on the Belvedere, Villa Cimbrone, Ravello, Italy.

 

they must hate us for our freedom

From the AP:
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- A Jewish assemblyman said Friday that an exhibit of Palestinian art and crafts, scheduled for a one-day display in a building owned by Westchester County, should be canceled because it is anti-Israel and "promotes terrorism and violence."
The most offending examples that Assemblyman Ryan Karben objected to:
_An image of an Arab headdress trapped in a Star of David made of barbed wire.

_A reference to the creation of Israel in 1948 as a "catastrophe."

_The inclusion of works by an artist described in the Houston exhibit notes as "a former general in the Palestinian Liberation Organization."

_A tent entitled "Memorial to 418 Palestinian Villages Destroyed, Depopulated and Occupied by Israel in 1948." The names of the villages are embroidered onto the tent.

_A piece described as paying homage to "the first 13 Palestinian martyrs in the anti-Israel uprising that began in 2000."
Now, I'm not an art critic. And Karben may easily be able to argue that some of the works to be displayed are critical of Israel or even anti-Israel. But I don't see how that warrants cancellation of the exhibition. As for work that "promotes terrorism and violence," I think that's a tough one to argue here. If these examples above are the most offending (and I am assuming here that they are), I do not see any promotion of terrorism and violence. If anything, most of these examples are contemplative or commemorative works about victims of violence.

 

East Jerusalem Voters

Ha'aretz has an interesting editorial today about Arab voters in East Jerusalem. The issue, which was a hot one during the first PA elections in 1996, is resurfacing now that there are plans to have elections for the president of PA on January 9th. The status of East Jerusalemites is one in which the Israelis would like to have their cake and eat it, too. Arabs in East Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens. Instead they are deemed "permanent residents" and therefore are not eligible to vote for elections of the Knesset. In 1996 they were allowed to vote in PA elections (but could only run if they proved they had residence elsewhere in the West Bank as well). There was much outcry, though, over allowing these Arabs to vote in the PA elections was "undermining Israeli sovereignty" in Jerusalem (although it should be noted that Israel's "sovereignty" in East Jerusalem is disputed). And that was under a Labor-led government. Now, with Likud heading the government, these "concerns" are being raised again, and there is a strong likelihood that the Likudniks may not be as "generous" in 2005 as the Labor party was in 1996. Ha'aretz writes:
This population ... cannot be stripped of all political expression. In other words, if Israel does not want to take on a population of around a quarter of a million Jerusalemite Arabs, it must enable them to implement their political rights within the framework of the PA.
And this, of course, should only be the start. There is an undeniable campaign to deny Palestinian East Jerusalemites their property rights (again to fortify Israeli claims of "sovereignty" over all of Jerusalem; see here and here for just two examples).

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