Friday, December 17, 2004


This really turns my stomach

From the Guardian:
Hollywood has joined the war. Universal Pictures announced yesterday that it is to make The Battle for Falluja....

The film - Hollywood's first foray into the second Iraq conflict - is due to go into production next year and will be based on a yet-to-be-finished book, No True Glory: The Battle for Falluja by Bing West, a former marine, politician and now war correspondent.

The movie and book take as their starting point the killing of four civilian contractors in Falluja and the ensuing decision to order an assault on the city by US marines....

The film promises to depict the story from the point of view of US soldiers and politicians; it seems unlikely that the plight of the Iraqis will figure too prominently in Hollywood's take on the subject.
Harrison Ford, what the heck is wrong with you? Don't get me wrong, I love Indiana Jones, but this is just not right. Not at all.


Mustafa Barghouthi in al-Ahram

Sherine Bahaa chats with Mustafa Barghouthi in this week's al-Ahram. Ironically (or not, I suppose), the most democratically minded of the Palestinian presidential candidates talks about being shut out of the contest by outside parties - Israelis, the US, Britain - who talk about the necessity of establishing democracy in Palestine and the Middle East in general. About the US, Barghouthi says:
I have not seen them support our democracy yet... When I see them criticise Israel and condemn their acts against me, when I see them condemn the beating of candidates in the Palestinian presidential elections and insist on our right to free movement, then I will believe it. Meanwhile, they are trying to force a particular candidate on us. It's very strange, because all the people who are running as candidates in these coming elections are pro-peace: so why would they prefer one person to another? If they are just looking for someone who will give in to them, then that person will fail to represent the Palestinian people. I am planning to represent our people, not anybody else's interests.

Thursday, December 16, 2004


Tel Aviv and Jaffa

Selim Nassib, an Arab Jewish writer and journalist, has a piece in Le Monde Diplomatique about the world of difference between the two neighboring cities of Tel Aviv (a European Jewish city) and Jaffa (and Arab city). I found it beautifully written and moving (perhaps as a result of having spent time in both places), and I certainly recommend it. It does a very good job of presenting the atmosphere of Tel Aviv, one in which Israel's problems are imagined to be somewhere distant. Nassib writes:
It’s not that the city has turned its back on the country; it’s just standing off to the side, on the margins, like an island or an apple, a little New York, that other city that never sleeps.
In many ways, the article emphasizes the separation within Israeli society. One in which fear rules, in which the Palestinians inside Israel are being pushed out of the picture, in which the idea of peace seems foreign. In one brilliant paragraph, Nassib captures this:
Motorcycle shops line the streets of a run-down neighbourhood in northern Tel Aviv, populated mainly by immigrants, Falashas and lower-middle-class families and now the locale for a few trendy cafes. I am trying to rent a scooter but it is not easy, and a young motorcycle salesman helps find me one. He says that his family was forced to leave Baghdad in the 1950s, abandoning all their belongings. His uncle took revenge by helping to prepare the air raid on Osirak, the Iraqi nuclear facility, in 1981. Current policy does not interest him much. "It’s always going to be war," he says. "The only difference is that my father thought this was a good war and I think it’s shit."


"Poison laced with honey"

Amnon Kapeliouk has an article in Le Monde Diplomatique about Sharon's unilateral Gaza withdrawal plan. Subscribers can read the entire article here. For the rest, here is an excerpt:
ARIEL SHARON'S plan to evacuate all 7,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip has won him widespread accolades. In Israel the opposition Labour party, the Peace Now movement and even the Yahad party - responsible for the 2003 Geneva Initiative which requires that Israel return to its 1967 borders bar a few mutually agreed changes - have all congratulated the Israeli prime minister on his "courage" and "far-sightedness".

There is plenty of approval outside Israel as well. Western leaders have praised Sharon extravagantly, thrilled to hear him use the words "dismantling settlements". The evacuation of a single settlement in the occupied territories would indeed be a major first, an unprecedented step in 37 years of occupation. But does that make the Gaza disengagement plan a peace plan?

The settlements would all have been evacuated in a few weeks, three months maximum, if Sharon were serious about disengagement. Instead, a year has gone by since the withdrawal was announced and not a single settler has left Gaza. Sharon is dragging his feet. He talks up the "painful sacrifices" involved in agreeing to dismantle these settlements, but does nothing. By focusing all the attention on Gaza, he is putting off crucial negotiations on the real issue: the creation of a Palestinian state.

It is clear that the settlement of the Gaza Strip has been a failure. Barely 7,000 settlers have moved in, although there are 250,000 in the West Bank (and 200,000 in the occupied part of Jerusalem). Though they have taken over 40% of Gaza's land and use half its water, they are nothing compared with the million-and-a-half Palestinians crowded into the area. Providing security for settlers costs a huge amount of money and needs many soldiers, some of whom die doing this terrible job. Withdrawing from Gaza should be as much a relief for Israel as a sacrifice.

But the Israeli government is at pains to present the disengagement, especially abroad, as painful and deeply problematic. It exploits the extremist fanatics who have been demonstrating angrily against the plan, along with pseudo-fascist threats to assassinate Sharon as punishment for his "treason", to exaggerate its difficulties. So Israel can claim that withdrawing from Gaza is so traumatic that further disengagement - evacuating settlers from the West Bank - cannot be envisaged soon.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


Tensions between Hamas and Islamic Jihad

There has been a concerted effort in the Bush administration to think uncritically about terrorism. This is especially true in distinguishing and differentiating between different groups. Hizballah is no different from al-Qaeda which is no different from Hamas which is no different from Ansar al-Islam which is no different from the Chechens and on and on. Of course this is particularly true of those groups of a Muslim nature. The US media has done a very poor job of differentiating these groups as well and you have terms like "Islamic terror", "Islamic fundamentalism", "Jihadists", "Islamofascism", "Totalitarian Islam" (if I hear Peter Beinart say it one more time I'm going to explode), and so on floating about with no real attempt at taking a closer look. I don't think it's a helpful way to address the issue of terrorism, much less fight a "war on terror." In any case, this is my longwinded attempt at introducing this article by Arnon Regular (who I think is a great reporter) in Ha'aretz about recent tensions in the Palestinian territories between the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements. Much of the tension is a result of the media coverage (many in Hamas are angered at the way that they and Islamic Jihad are put on an even footing in much of the media even though Hamas is a much larger organization than Islamic Jihad). But also in the article is this gem:
Beyond the issue of the media, there is an ideological abyss between Hamas and Islamic Jihad. While Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, believes in social activity to educate society and create an Islamic rule, the Islamic Jihad has always believed in a violent campaign to take over power centers, and its social activities were marginal.
Well, if we cannot differentiate the two, that is a problem. Not that Hamas are somehow angels because they look better on paper than Islamic Jihad - it's not about that. Simply put, it's a fact that different problems require different solutions. Right now we seem to be creating more problems than solutions.


No Ramadan at Notre Dame

Although I'm sure many more people care about the football coaching change at Notre Dame, my eye was caught by this story that Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss Muslim scholar and professor, has decided to resign from his teaching position at Notre Dame. Of course, he was never able to take this position in the first place; he was denied entrance to the United States by the State Department, who invoked an anti-terrorism law. I hope we all feel safer now, right? For more background on Ramadan, read Abu Aardvark.


Problems resulting from drug trade do not disappear after election in Afghanistan

An article from Asia Times Online (credit to Aunt Deb for sending me this) does a very good job of explaining many of the problems that are a result of the booming drug economy in Afghanistan and the ineffective and potentially disastrous way that the US has (mis)handled the situation. Most recently, there have been reports of chemical spraying to eradicate poppy crops.
It was over the poppy fields in Nangarhar province, in villages abutting the Tora Bora mountains, that aerial spraying of chemicals kicked up a controversy recently. According to reports in the media, unidentified aircraft flew back and forth over poppy fields in Nangarhar spraying "a snow-like substance" - chemicals - on the crops. The chemicals have not only destroyed the poppy crop, but also ruined fruit and vegetables that were being cultivated there, besides affecting the health of villagers and their livestock. Hundreds of villagers have reportedly shown up at hospitals with skin ailments and breathing problems.

Not surprisingly, the dusting of the poppy crops with herbicide has triggered off immense anger among the villagers, who see the destruction of the poppy crops - their only source of income - as destruction of their livelihood. The poorer farmers now face economic ruin. Who is behind the chemical spraying of the crops is still unclear. The Karzai government insists that it is opposed to "aerial spraying as an instrument of eradication" of the poppy crop and "has not authorized any foreign entity, any foreign government, any foreign company, or anyone else to carry out aerial spraying".

Most Afghans point an accusing finger at the Americans or the British, but both countries have denied involvement in the spraying. The US Embassy in Kabul insists that the US government has "not conducted any aerial eradication [of the poppy crop], nor has it contracted or subcontracted anyone to do it on its behalf". It also denies knowing who carried out the spraying.

However, few in Afghanistan appear to be convinced by the US denial. After all, as pointed out by Hajji Din Muhammad, the governor of Nangarhar, "The Americans control the airspace of Afghanistan, and not even a bird can fly without them knowing."

Afghan officials have also pointed out that the Americans have been arguing for many months now in favor of chemical eradication of Afghanistan's poppy crops. This is a strategy they have used to tackle coca cultivation in Colombia, despite the anger it has triggered among the coca farmers, and they are keen to adopt that strategy in Afghanistan.
Of course, this is just a new twist on a problem that is already threatening Afghanistan and the region (not to mention the US). According to Antonio Maria Costa, director of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, "The fear that Afghanistan might degenerate into a narco-state is becoming a reality." And the approach taken by the US in Afghanistan seems not to have shed those flaws that have marred the US "war on drugs" previously.
Critics of the US-British approach have pointed out that in order to check the supply of narcotics to their countries they are targeting desperately poor farmers, while avoiding the political price that comes with taking stern action to tackle demand for drugs in their countries. Some have suggested action against those higher up in the narcotics trade chain. But this the Americans and the British have failed to do. Those who languish in Afghan jails for narcotics-related offences are the small-time peddlers, not the big players in the business. US forces have also ignored warlords' involvement in the opium trade in exchange for their help in fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
What a mess, what a mess.


"Oil For Money Scandal" just doesn't have the same ring to it, I guess

That must be the only reason why there isn't as much hype over the scandalously lax accounting of Iraqi oil export revenues under US oversight. According to this AFP story:
KMPG [the auditor of the Development Fund for Iraq] issued two reports this year covering the period from May 22, 2003 to June 28, 2004. According to IAMB [International Advisory and Monitoring Board], the auditor reported "a number of important weaknesses in the overall financial management system."

The irregularities included "an absence of control over oil extraction," frequent accounting inadequacies, lax financial controls, and improper contracting procedures "in particular the use of single-source contracting."

KPMG also found "several control weaknesses ... at the Iraqi spending ministries or the beneficiaries of resources" and that "documentation to support contracts was often incomplete or deficient," adding that it was "denied access to certain ministeries."

IAMB said the external auditing reported "that the CPA believes that an unknown quantity of petroleum and petroleum products was smuggled out of Iraq, especially in the early months of post-hostilities."
Oh, and you guys will never believe who has got their fists elbow deep in this money grab. No, seriously, it's Halliburton.
The board said it had requested the "special audits" after finding that "some contracts using DFI (Development Fund for Iraq) funds had been awarded to a Halliburton subsidiary without competitive bidding."

Monday, December 13, 2004


The largest olive tree in Italy - and possibly the world (e forse il mondo) with cat. (photo by my dad)


An olive press from 1745. (photo by my dad)


Analogizing the role of Hamas

An editorial in today's Daily Star compares the situation of Hamas in the Palestinian political situation to that of the ultra-right Israeli parties (UTJ, NRP, etc.). Pointing to the recent shakeup on the Israeli scene, the editorial warns that Hamas could face marginalization, as UTJ and NRP did when Sharon dumped the smaller far-right parties from his coalition and pulled Labor on board.
Hamas needs to be careful not to be assessed in world opinion as the Palestinian equivalent of the Israeli ultra right-wing. Even though Hamas already has a more than dubious reputation in the Western world, unfavorable comparisons with its Israeli counterparts at this point in time could be particularly damaging. Sharon is setting a precedent by marginalizing the radical settler movement - it is a precedent that could be adopted by, or forced on, the Palestinian body politic in the lead-up to January's presidential elections.

Demonstrating maturity and responsibility and a willingness to be included, and to include, in all Palestinian socio-political processes in their broadest senses, could be more important now than at any other time in Hamas' history. The organization must take into account the way the world's mainstream media simplify and sensationalize - whether specifically American or not, "CNN world" is a powerful opinion-former, and labels stick. The way that American bungling in Iraq has been turned into "an Iraqi problem" and "a Sunni problem" is a case in point.
Taking into account media simplification and sensationalization is of course valid advice. But there are some problems with the analogy offered in the editorial. First of all, the ultra-right Israeli parties are small. They are not insignificant, but comparing them to Hamas, the second largest political faction in the Palestinian territories, doesn't work. If Fatah is to play the role of Likud, Hamas is Labor (in terms of size and influence). And if we fit Hamas into the Labor role (still an imperfect analogy in so many ways, but stick with me on this), then I think Hamas can look to Labor's previous stint as part of a coalition government with Likud. If you care to remember, Labor was weakened by that to the point that they became an ineffective opposition party (Sharon was able to form a coalition government that excluded them) and are now forced to enter into a coalition with Sharon essentially on Sharon's terms.

I do not hope that Hamas will act as a rejectionist and obstructionist force in the possibility of some kind of peace agreement, but I think that there is a certain logic to their acting outside of the Palestinian Authority, their emphasis on building a solid grass-roots support, entering political races at a local and even parliamentary level, and not being too concerned with cozying up to Abu Mazin. And trying to entice them with talk of a softer, gentler CNN image is not going to work, I don't think.

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