Arab Spring

A barren tree, once full of life
Stands leafless, brown ice in gloom
A barren tree, once full of strife
Stands not a spark, not a flower in bloom
A barren tree, once full of promise
Stands in sorrow, a promise but for tomorrow
As for today, not a leaf dares there stay

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Israel Lobby

The Arab-Israeli conflict does seem like an intractable conflict. A country is established as a Jewish majority nation in the Middle of Palestine, an existing country with an Arab majority consisting of Christians and Muslims.

Today as it stands, 5.5 million Jews and 5.7 million Arabs live in historic Palestine, between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean. There are only two possible solutions that are viable alternatives to the current situation of occupation and apartheid, as named by many observers, Jews and gentiles, including former President Jimmy Carter who, himself, gave Israel its most prized posession, peace with Egypt.

The first solution is a one state solution with Christian and Muslim Arabs living with Jews in one state that combines Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza into one large nation that is home to both Palestinians and Jews. The one state solution is supported by the majority of Arabs and Palestinians, but is a no deal to Israelis and World Jewry for the reason that the new state would be majority Arab.

The second solution is a two state solution where the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem form the Palestinian state. This would result in two states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, one Jewish, one Palestinian with large minorities of Arabs and Jews respectively.

The reasons that induce one to conclude that the Pro-Israel lobby is too powerful in the United States are evident. For the last fourty years, the Arabs of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, which now total 4.3 million people, have the been the only people on earth with no citizenship to any country. They have no rights, nor representation, nor self-determination or any freedom that is associated with a soverign people nor are they given these rights as full citizens of Israel.

The United States has supported this state of affairs despite its obvious moral shortcomings and illegal trappings, precisely because of a strong pro-Israel domestic lobby. Furthermore, American interests would no more explain the American policy in the Middle East than morality does.

US interest would lie at the very least in a peaceful Middle East, composed of a secured Israel and a free Palestine. However, even through the Oslo years, and definitely before and since, settlement building and settler colonization of the West Bank has been going strong. The number of settlers between 1967 and 1990 is 90 thousand settlers. During the Oslo years, between 1991 and 2000, the number of settlers increased to 250,000. Since the settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have reached up to 450,000. This number approaches ten percent of Israel's Jewish population. One can no longer claim that settlers are a fringe group. The United States has never weighed heavily against Israel for its settlement policy and the two presidents that tried, Jimmy Carter and George HP Bush did not get re-elected.

The answer is not to do away with lobbies or to outlaw the Pro-Israel lobby but to awaken average Americans to the real costs incurred in their financial and military support of the state of Israel against Palestinians and the entire Middle East.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Democracy or Terror

Now that we have been riding this democracy wave for sometime the least we can do is to acknowledge it when it stares us right in the face. This democracy wave comes ashore, not in the form of our good friend Musharraf, but in the flow of journalists, judges, lawyers and human rights advocates getting clubbed by his stooges in the streets of Islamabad, Karachi and Rawalpindi.

It is the moment of truth and we must put our money where our collective mouth is, which has been decisively in democracy and for good reason. Beside the obviously expedient use of democracy to advance our interests like this administration’s justification of the Iraq war, we really do believe in the moderating effect of democracy and its unstoppable tide through history.

Unstoppable because empowered people everywhere will wish to control their own destiny rather than have it be decided by a general who, needless to say, has his own interests at heart. It is imperative that when a country finally reaches this state of self-determination, we are standing with it and not holding the millstones that were once tied tightly around its neck. It is for this reason that our support in the tune of billions of dollars to Despot Musharraf is at once morally bankrupt and strategically reckless.

However, even if our fast-paced nation cannot fathom such longterm politicking, we can rest assured that is also dangerous in the very near future. The Musharraf basket is a tattered one indeed and our whole alliance with such a strategic country should not rest on the fortune and fate of one widely unpopular man. Supporting the strong civil society in Pakistan, on the other hand, will ensure us a place at the table with the inevitably approaching new Pakistani government.

Today’s Pakistan provides important insight into many other Muslim countries, which is where democracy’s moderating effect comes into view. Musharraf’s Pakistan has been an incubator of extremism and radicalization, mostly from the northwest region of the country. Musharraf’s army cannot defeat half the country but a consensus government in Islamabad can surely coerce them into order and peace. Musharraf’s Achilles’ heel is his illegitimacy; he cannot ask for law and order and jail the lawyers and judges.

As in Turkey, democracy will act as a moderating force in Pakistan, which is good for us and for our NATO allies in Afghanistan. The Turkish Islamists succeeded in winning the elections but they quickly learned to talk less about religion and more about economics and so they won the elections again and Turkey is better for it. In their reign, Turkey has become less xenophobic, less nationalist, less militaristic and more tolerant. In Iran, on the other hand, the Islamists have alienated their constituents by talking too much religion and too little food on the table.

Pakistan now has a chance to be another Turkey in the Middle East. Its vibrant media and strong judiciary have shown themselves capable of confronting a dictator and they will be the standard bearers of Pakistan’s democracy and its protectors against corruption and militarism. Moderate Islamists and secularists are our best bets against extremists from Morocco and Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Our choices are clear: either we support democracy and its moderates or stand with the dictators, helping them tend to their incubators of radicalization and terror.

Where Wilsonian Idealism and Realpolitik Meet

The United States faces formidable challenges to its national interests in the Middle East today and in the decades to come. If the United States is to continue playing its powerful role in global politics, it must consolidate its influence in this strategic and central region. It is safe to say that the United States has alienated the Middle East’s citizens with its recent policies and that even the friendly regimes cannot work with us without compromising their already threadbare legitimacy. Monumental tasks such as fighting terrorism, containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and securing energy resources would be unachievable without reliable regional allies. While Israel is a strong ally, its use in driving US foreign policy in the region is limited as was evident in the two Iraq wars and now in the tense standoff with Iran.

Historically, the United States like its colonial predecessors has bought the needed support in the Middle East or coerced it out of the ruling elites. While this strategy of supporting pliant dictators and monarchs has worked for the United States and its interests in the region, it has also delivered astonishing setbacks, the epitome of which is the September 11 attacks on US soil. The realist calculus propelling our foreign policy in the Arab world has led to the aid of friendly regimes and the containment of hostile or even independent ones, unconditional support for Israel, and the intermittent strikes against regimes which were thought to harbor terrorists such as Libya, Sudan and Iraq. This Realpolitik was recklessly abandoned by the second Bush administration precisely because of the September 11 attacks, which made it abundantly clear that terrorism has become a global phenomenon with dire ramifications. To address the terror predicament, the root causes of terror must be addressed.

The root causes of terror are evident, Palestine and a dearth of democracy. Any opinion poll in the region before September 11, 2001 or since will show strong opposition to US policy vis-à-vis Israel/Palestine and its support of Arab dictators. And despite his initial rhetoric of the “they hate us because we’re free” variety, President Bush was clear about what he thought in a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy in 2003: the democratization strategy “is to help change the conditions that give rise to extremism and terror, especially in the broader Middle East.” Changing the map of the Middle East through democracy was conjured up by many analysts and administration officials as a persuasive justification for the Iraq war, mostly after the invasion showed there were no weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam and Al-Qaeda would have been unlikely bedfellows anyway. And thus the invasion of Iraq was justified, after the fact, by a strong push of democratization that was strongly resisted by the ruling elites in the Middle East.

The United States’ pressure on the regional dictators worked. Egypt held parliamentary elections, and Mubarak even amended the constitution to allow, incredibly, a multi-candidate presidential campaign in May 2005. Elections were held in the Palestinian territories, for the Egyptian parliament and throughout the region, even Saudi Arabia allowed local councils to be elected for the first time. This democratization effort ground to a halt, however, as the results of these elections came out. Hamas wins in Palestine. The Muslim Brotherhood quintuples its seats in the Egyptian Parliament. The Bush administration weakened by the Republican Party’s defeat at the Congressional elections, worried about an assertive Iran, disoriented by an Iraq mired in conflict, and chastised by the Realpolitik paleoconservatives retreated from its ideological machinations to the relief of the Arab dictators and the chagrin of Arab civil society.

As it were, the neoconservatives were right about one thing: democracy in the Middle East is an important American goal per se. More importantly, however, is that it is a realistic and effective approach in fighting terror and gaining credibility with the citizens of the region. The problem was the execution. Bringing democracy to Iraq by an American invasion was destined to fail. Even the most homogenous and pro-American country would have not democratized easily in those conditions, let alone a country with many religions and ethnicities and whose population is very distrustful of American intentions. Democratization of many other Arab countries would have been far easier and much less fraught with danger. Pressure on Egypt, Jordan and Morocco would have yielded much better dividends as these regimes are largely dependent on the United States for support. The wave of democratization efforts in the Middle East after the invasion of Iraq would have been much more effective were it not for the invasion of Iraq, which empowered Iran, destabilized Iraq and sapped American credibility throughout the Arab world. Ironically, the neoconservatives thwarted their own agenda. The invasion of Iraq made it much harder for the US to support democratization efforts in the region.

The United States must develop a strategy to maintain its influence in the Middle East without expending an exorbitant price in blood and treasure. Its goals of defeating terrorism, neutralizing Iran, and securing the energy resources of the region are achievable but need long-term engagement for an enduring solution not quick, cosmetic fixes. Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and promoting Arab democracy will go a long way to accomplishing these goals. Standing on the right side of history with democracy, the United States will earn valuable dividends from Arab civil society and future democratic governments indebted to the United States. Hamas’ and Hizbullah’s raison d’etre will vanish with the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict and so will Iran’s influence in Palestine and Lebanon. Here, at this moment in history, Realpolitik and Wilsonian idealism intersect. It is both in the United States’ interest and its moral obligation to support democracy in the Middle East and end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a rising China and a resurgent Russia eye the Middle East for an opportunity to step in, the United States must actualize economical and expedient avenues to maintain its prominence in the region.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Idealism Not Delusion

Supporting democracy in the Middle East should be a priority for the United States as it is, not only a moral obligation, but strategically astute. The conservative backlash against the Bush administration’s short-lived freedom agenda is now in full force. The paleoconservatives joined with the now powerful moderates, liberals and libertarians to give the neoconservatives a thrashing. As a knowledgeable scholar on the Middle East put it to me, “The United States’ interest in the region lies in stopping terrorism and protecting the energy sources from the unstable Persian Gulf, exporting democracy is not our business.” The Iraq war was an experiment of dishing out democracy to a country by fiat and democracy was the point, at least according to its proponents. Given the sundry reasons touted before the war justifying its imminence, it is easy to be skeptical about the real motive of the catastrophic engagement. What is easy to see is that the Iraq war was not primarily about democracy in the Middle East and if it were, a case of an apology more damning than the crime, it demonstrates the level of ignorance of the perpetrators about all things Middle Eastern.

Why attack Iraq, a country over which we have very little leverage, when we pay the Egyptian dictatorship more than 3 billion dollars a year, the majority of which goes to fortifying the police state? Why not pressure Jordan, as it is the third highest recipient of military aid after Israel and Egypt? Why not pressure Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the highest terrorist exporting countries to liberalize politically and economically as to provide room for dissent and debate so their citizens don’t have to settle for the proverbial “Arab basement”? Why attack Iraq, a country who is a shadow of its previous self, already fragile and fragmented by no-fly zones, with a traumatized population, which has lived through two wars followed by 12 years of UN sanctions, unless, the invasion had nothing to do with democracy at all. In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Michael Gerson writes in defense of neoconservative idealism and questions the attractiveness of traditional conservatism when “it begins to question the importance or existence of moral ideals in politics and foreign policy,” but he does not address why Iraq was the prime target of this “democracy agenda”. For neoconservatives and neoconservatism to be taken seriously, they must address this important question: was it ignorance and incompetence or duplicity that led us to Baghdad? But we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Exporting democracy may not be our business, but impeding its progress is immoral, dangerous and costly.

It is no accident that within the brief period following the Iraq war and ending abruptly at the Israel-Lebanon war of 2006 that Arab human rights groups, media, professional associations and political organizations mobilized citizens, taking advantage of the relative freedom provided by American pressure on the dictators and monarchs of the region. Within that two-year period a veritable spring of ideas and self-expression took place, especially in countries dependent on the United States for legitimacy, namely, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states. Egypt, where a third of the Arab World’s 300 million citizens live is a case in point. Its dictatorship is largely subsidized by the United States and it is highly sensitive to American pressure. In 2004, the secular movement, Kifaya, sprung up and mobilized Egyptians in mass demonstrations and joined forces with another secular party, AlGhad, both calling for free elections and an end to the emergency laws. In 2005, the Egyptian constitution was changed to allow contested elections rather than the usual referendum on Mubarak and in the same year, parliamentary elections were held, though deeply flawed and marred by government violence, the Muslim Brotherhood quintupled its seats in parliament. In all the aforementioned countries reliant on US support, whether financial or intelligence-based, similar democratic initiatives took place.

Ironically, the American “democracy agenda” for the Middle East came to an abrupt halt because of a disintegrating Iraq. As any seasoned analyst would have predicted, with Iraq in shambles and therefore a strengthened Iran extending its influence into the Levant, the United States needed to recollect its terribly de-legitimized regimes and prop them up more firmly. But it needs not end this way. The United States can gain credibility by upholding a moral stance of standing with forces of democracy instead of ignoring Egypt’s imprisonment of Ayman Nour, a secularist, pro-democracy, human rights activist and a former presidential candidate against Husni Mubarak. The Neoconservatives were right about calling for democracy in the Middle East, although they were wrong about exporting it, a discrepancy due to their ulterior motives. Standing firmly on the side of democracy, the United States will be walking on the side of history. It will also shore the dismal opinion of the United States in Muslim countries, which, contrary to the “clash-o-civilization” arguments, is a direct reaction to American foreign policy in the region. And although Hamas and Hizbullah may not feel differently about Israel until a peace deal, democratization in the Arab world will undoubtedly reduce the global current of terrorism and extremism. As Arabs have more legitimate forms of government, better avenues of expression and assured participation in the political process, terrorism will gain less credence.

Finally, democratization of the Middle East may be important for the United States in confronting Iran. Iran has a considerable following in the Arab World because it is viewed as a counterbalance to the United States in the region. The United States is viewed as cynical and hypocritical, championing democracy while financing despotism. A United States practicing what it preaches may be less opposed in the region. Of course, the Middle East will not know stability fully until the Israeli-Arab conflict is resolved but democracy and peace in Palestine need not be coupled. Resolution of that conflict will also deprive Iran of its emotive power. Ultimately, the neoconservatives were all buzz and no bite or as the late Ann Richards said of President Bush, “All hat and no cattle”. The next push for democracy in the Middle East has to be a concerted and stubborn effort, rooted in American idealism and future interests.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The United States, Israel and Democracy

In an opinion piece to the Washington Post ( content/article/2007/09/20/AR2007092001959.html), Michael Gerson reflexively charged John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt with anti-Semitism for authoring the newly published “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”. In his piece, he quotes them as writing ‘the "Israeli government and pro-Israel groups" have shaped President Bush's "grand scheme for reordering the Middle East." He then goes on to show that the pro-Israel Lobby as well as Israel are both opposed to Bush’s democratization efforts in the Middle East and thus Mearsheimer and Walt must be wrong. But the authors’ assertion is, in fact, diametrical to Gerson’s presentation of their views. Mearsheimer and Walt make it clear that the Israel Lobby and the neoconservatives, which overlap considerably, both pushed for an invasion of Iraq to protect Israel’s supremacy in the region.
Gerson's commentary is disingenuous and purposefully misleading, confusing different trends during the Iraq war and immediately thereafter to create a fog in the collective memory as to what has occurred. The pro-Isreal lobby consisting of AIPAC and the many neoconservatives that have worked in this administration was at the forefront of the war on Iraq. This is Mearsheimer and Walt's main assertion. The attack on Iraq was viewed by the neocons as the emasculation of another Arab country, perhaps, the most threatening to Israel. Famous words "the road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad". Talk of democracy by the Bush administration didn't start but half a year into the war when it was apparent that the sundry reasons given for the invasion of Iraq were nonexistent. No weapons of mass destruction, no nuclear program, no threat to American interests, the Bush administration began to tout its pro-democracy credentials. But even that has quickly stopped, at the behest of AIPAC and the Israel Lobby, when Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood made gains in their respective elections.
Precisely because of the Israel Lobby, the United States stands against democracy in every Arab country and props up important Arab regimes such as Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco with financial support as well as intelligence vital to their survival. Democratic Arab movements, both secular and Islamist, have been crushed by Arab autocrats with the help of the United States, this too arguably for Israel’s benefit. The pro-Israel lobby knows that a democratically elected Arab government can never sit idly by as Israel occupies 5 million Palestinians and subject them to mass imprisonment and starvation.
The United States support for Israel is not about a moral obligation or even a realpolitik calculation. The Palestinians have been occupied for the last 40 years by a powerful army and in full view of the international community. The synergistic mix of the conflict in the Middle East and US support of Arab Autocrats has had a detrimental effect to American interests in the Middle East and beyond.
Mr. Gerson is right about Israel and the lobby being against democracy in the Middle East but he is wrong about the reasons why the United States invaded Iraq and the timing of the pretext of democracy. The United States has always been theoretically for democracy but this administration’s actions speak louder and its special relationships with the Mubaraks, Abdullahs, and Musharrafs of the world belie a much more cynical agenda.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

In Defense of Jimmy Carter

Former President Jimmy Carter’s “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” instigated a flurry of vicious criticism from Israeli sympathizers from across the American political spectrum upon its publication in November 2006. Although his critics encompassed a broad range from the political classes as well as activists and academicians, they were the usual faith-based Israel apologists that seek to cement the “irreproachable Israel” mantra that impelled Jimmy Carter to write his book. Much of the criticism consisted of ad hominem attacks on Jimmy Carter’s character and his new found hate of Israel. As Carter, himself, stated in a speech at Brandeis University, he has been labeled a liar, a plagiarist, an anti-Semite, a bigot and a coward. All this for stating the obvious and that which has been stated many times: the system of Jewish-only settlements, Jewish-only roads, road-blocks in Palestinian cities and a wall that snakes its way through the West Bank, at times surrounding entire cities, amounts to apartheid. Such use of the word apartheid to describe Israel’s actions in the West Bank, while may be controversial here, is not elsewhere including in Israel but as Carter points out in “Palestine” and in subsequent opinion pieces, the debate over Israel’s thwarting of international law through its occupation of Palestinian lands is carried out everywhere, including in Israel, but rarely in American media or the American halls of power. Carter’s book carefully recounts the history and context of the conflict but his main focus remains in the issue of settlements, demonstrating his belief that it is the most formidable obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Jimmy Carter is not a new comer to the Middle East, and especially the Arab-Israeli conflict. His contribution to Israel’s security is the greatest gift any American President has produced before him or since. In 1978, through his determination and despite the two parties to the conflict, he brought Egypt and Israel together in the historic Camp David peace agreement that guaranteed Israel’s security in the western front and effectively disengaged Egypt, the most populous Arab country and where a third of all Arabs live, from the Arab-Israeli conflict. In “Palestine”, Jimmy Carter states that the terms of the Camp David Accords clearly prohibited the building of any settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. As if this were not enough to drive his point home, he also notes that “In 1980, UN Resolution 465 (Appendix 5), calling on Israel to dismantle existing settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, was passed unanimously.” Despite his criticism of Israel’s actions in the occupied territories, he was quick to pour lavish praise on Israel’s democracy within its 1948 borders and the “degree of freedom” in the society from the Kenesset to the media. He paints starkly disparate tableaus of Israel in its 1948 borders and Israel in the occupied territories. Essentially, Israel has become a state within a state, the inner one democratic, secular, and free, the outer one dictatorial, fanatic and oppressive.

In choosing the settlements as the focus of his book, Jimmy Carter pinpoints the core issue in the conflict: land. He quotes Ariel Sharon as saying as late as 1996 that “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours…Everything we don’t grab will go to them.” This statement was made by Ariel Sharon, who was to become prime minister of Israel in 2001, six years into Israel’s peace process with the Palestinians that started with the Madrid talks in 1991. A central issue here is whether Israel will allow the formation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem as UN Resolution 242 and 338 as well as the Madrid talks and the Oslo Accords stipulate. But as to sow no doubt about Israel’s settlement policy, Carter states that in the years Clinton was in office, from 1993 to 2000, “there was a 90 percent growth in the number of settlers in the occupied territories, with the greatest increase during the administration of Prime Minister Ehud Barak,” Barak being the Labor Prime Minister. Another way to look at it is at the end of 2000, there were 225,000 settlers in the occupied territories up from 78,000 in 1991: a whopping 288% increase during the peace process years. As Carter points out, only 20% of the settlers were to be evacuated in the best offer received by the Palestinians in the year 2000, leaving more than 180,000 settlers in more than 209 fortified settlements in the stillborn state of Palestine. Needless to say the peace process foundered and in the American press the Palestinians, and specifically PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat, were blamed for their intransigence.

Jimmy Carter seemed especially affected by the failure of the Oslo peace accords and of its immediate aftermath. He meticulously documents the events of March 2001 after Ariel Sharon is elected prime minister of Israel. On March 27, a suicide bomber kills 30 Israelis during a Passover holiday in Netanya, Israel. The next day, on March 28, the twenty-two member nations of the Arab League, after a long debate, unanimously endorsed a Saudi resolution calling for normal relations between Israel and all Arab nations if Israel complies with UN resolutions 194 and 242. Jimmy Carter specifies, “Asked how ‘normal relations’ were defined, the Saudis responded, ‘We envision a relationship between the Arab countries and Israel that is exactly like the relationship between the Arab countries and any other state.’” The following day, on March 29, Yasir Arafat’s office compound in Ramallah was destroyed by Israel, leaving only a few rooms where Arafat was imprisoned until his death in November of 2004. According to Jimmy Carter, Arafat was not the only Palestinian prisoner of Israel; about 630,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned since 1967 which is more than 20% of the Palestinian population of the occupied territories.

Almost none of these facts were disputed or even discussed in the barrage of criticism that came from American political and academic circles. Instead platitudes such as Carter’s alleged disregard for Israel’s security needs were lobbed at the former President, although Carter was criticizing Israel’s settlement building and not calling for its imminent withdrawal from the territories. No one expects Israel to leave the territories without making peace with the neighborhood but no one expects Israel to leave the territories when it has 300,000 settlers in permanent settlements therein. Many critics raised the specter of the Holocaust and its effect on Jewish political identity, but Carter never questioned the existence of the Jewish state nor belittled its importance to the Jews. Almost all reviewers completely sidestepped the issue of settlements and parried the main questions, about Jewish settlements, Palestinian imprisonment and peace, raised by the book.

Finally many reviewers took issue with the title of the book which evokes images of the South African Apartheid state. As stated earlier this analogy is not new nor does it take much imagination to see that Jews and Arabs living in a state of “apartness” in the occupied territories with Jews having better homes, better roads and more of the water constitutes apartheid. In fact in September 2006, the editorial board of Haaretz, Israel’s leading newspaper, stated, “the apartheid regime in the territories remains intact; millions of Palestinians are living without rights, freedom of movement or a livelihood, under the yoke of ongoing Israeli occupation.” While it may not be agreed upon in Israel that the occupation at this point constitutes apartheid, it can be safely stated in Israel by its leading daily without an ensuing furor. Nelson Mandela, the first president of post-Apartheid South Africa, himself, stated in an address to the Palestinian Assembly in 1999 that “The histories of our two peoples correspond in such painful and poignant ways that I intensely feel myself at home amongst my compatriots.” Furthermore in 2002, in a speech in the United States the South African Bishop Desmond Tutu said he observed “the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.” Even Yossi Beilin, an Israeli Kenesset member, couldn’t resist the word choice though he was stung by it: “Somewhere down the line — and symbolically speaking, that line may be crossed the day that a minority of Jews will rule a majority of Palestinians west of the Jordan River — the destructive nature of occupation will turn Israel into a pariah state, not unlike South Africa under apartheid.”

That line is perhaps already crossed. According to Israeli and Palestinian census figures there are 5.3 million Jews in Israel and 1.4, 2.4 and 1.6 million Arabs in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, which amounts to 5.3 Jews and 5.4 Arabs west of the Jordan river. Perhaps in reminding us about the dangers of apartheid, Jimmy Carter is trying to preserve the Jewish nature of Israel which it cannot maintain without leaving the occupied territories and allowing the creation of a Palestinian state. The only other options are a binational state with an Arab majority or apartheid.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Resisting the Urge to Purge

Once again Democrats are protesting moves by the Bush administration to change events in Iraq without coming up with a viable alternative. This time Democrats are steadily uniting against an increase of troops in Iraq, while Democratic congressmen and women are promising stiff resistance to Bush’s policy shift. For the past six years, the Democrats seem to be dancing awkwardly to the wrong tune. During the summer of 2002 and leading to the invasion of Iraq, when the Democrats should have protested, even out right obstructed, the administration’s plans, they voted for and abetted the misguided war of choice waged by the Neocons. Since then the Democrats have been in a state of utter confusion and have not united around any policy proposal pertaining to Iraq. The reason for this confusion is that the Democrat’s pivotal moment in Iraq has come and left as they failed to mount an opposition against the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Now that the United States is in Iraq, proposals such as John Martha’s troop withdrawal and even a phased troop withdrawal are no longer an option.

Beside the obvious moral obligations for staying in Iraq and preventing an all out civil war for which it is partially responsible, the United States has even more compelling economic and political reasons to stay in Iraq. First, Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites are ready to descend into a bloodbath whose repercussions may easily spread to other Sunni-Shiite fault lines in the region in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and Bahrain. The spreading of sectarian schism in the Persian Gulf would have dire economic consequences, which would definitely affect the global economy as well as global security. Add to this unfortunate tableau a rising Shiite Iran that is extending its influence all the way to Hizbullah, Hamas and even Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as well as an increasingly defensive Israel and a besieged Palestinian population. Withdrawing American troops from Iraq is not a solution given that the United States would most definitely have to go back into a more dangerous situation to impede the ensuing chaos as it boils over.

Proposing a troop increase is not as ridiculous as some detractors insist, nor is Iraq as hopeless as it seems. Securing Iraq’s citizens, as well as its museums, libraries and infrastructure is what should have been done at the onset of this regrettable war. Instead, the Neocons decided to embark on a Rumsfeldian war on the slim, which as it turns out is an unqualified failure. Without sufficient troops to secure the infrastructure of Iraq, its cultural heritage or even its citizens, the country quickly disintegrated. Having dissolved the Iraqi Army and police, the US administration in Iraq naively relied on local militias which, sectarian in nature and hard to control, are largely responsible for the frightening calamity that is Iraq. A troop increase can also be reconciled with the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group which did not propose an immediate troop withdrawal for the reasons outlined above. It did insist on a diplomatic track to go along with the military strategy to help Iraqi Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish political groups to forge a political agreement on key issues such as federalism and the distribution of oil wealth.

In a dual diplomatic strategy, the ISG also outlined a regional effort at Israeli-Arab peace to accompany internal Iraqi reconciliation. This dual strategy may prove to be the most important part of the ISG proposal. In 2002, the Neocons haughtily predicted that the “road to Jerusalem goes though Baghdad” implying a sort of subjugation of any residual Arab resistance in stubborn Baghdad, enabling the United States and Israel to impose a peace deal on the Palestinians. Unfortunately for the Neocons and for Israel, the defeat of Saddam has spawned a more threatening and more credible menace in the form of Iran. Now the ISG seems to suggest that the road to Baghdad goes through Jerusalem, and that maybe so, because the United States now is as radioactive as a Russian Spy Agency and it may take such a bold peace accord in the Middle East to enable Arab countries to work closely with the United States in pacifying Iraq. Furthermore, peace in the Holy Land will deprive Iran of its two important patrons, Hizbullah and Hamas, whose raison-d’etre is Israel’s occupation of Arab lands, as well as bring back Syria to the Arab fold away from the tutelage of Iran. This dual strategy of diplomacy within and without Iraq can deal Tehran a triple blow, depriving it of Iraq, Syria, and militant groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas.

As Democrats offer the President snide remarks about “resisting the urge to surge”, they, themselves, may be advised to resist the urge to purge. Iraq’s invasion was a mistake and the execution of the occupation was a sham. Nonetheless, leaving Iraq now is a false choice and a false economy. Whatever tax dollars are saved and however many American lives are spared will have to be reinvested many times over to contain a widening conflict. The United States will have to contain the mess it has created. Better do it now in Iraq than deal with it in a year all across the Persian Gulf.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Trouble with Oriana (Edited Version Published in "LA Weekly")

The first line of Brendan Bernhard’s article “The Fallaci Code” states “Is Muslim immigration to Europe a conspiracy?” This is the question that Mr. Bernhard seriously asks and sets out to answer by using Oriana Fallaci’s book, The Force of Reason. Oriana Fallaci, a woman to whom age has not been kind, comes across as belligerent and uninformed. In reading her book, I found it, unlike its name, utterly unreasonable. It is an endless, inchoate, illogical rant attempting to answer a question she never explicitly asks but that Brendan Bernhard states for her in his review, namely, “How did Europe become home to an estimated 20 million Muslims in a mere three decades?”

Twenty million, a grossly exaggerated estimate, sounds like a heap of people but in fact that is only 4% of Europe’s 459 million citizens, according to the CIA fact book. To put it in perspective, the United States 2003 census estimates that Hispanics constitute 14% of the population while African Americans comprise 13%, which makes the United States a quarter non-White, not to mention Asians, Arabs, Africans, and Indians. Yet, poor Oriana Fallaci is having a temper tantrum over the fact that Europe is now 96% Christian (i.e. White). What is even more interesting is her assertion that a Muslim presence of 4% in the European continent threatens the Christian character of Europe. She cites the fact that Europeans churches are empty while more mosques are being built, which is hardly a reflection of Islam’s “ferocious colonization of Europe,” but rather Europeans’ desire for less religion.

Beginning from the first chapter, Fallaci’s fear mongering does not end until an epilogue that even Mr. Bernhard thought is shameless. Her descriptions of Muslim conquests of the Middle East and Europe are filled with such gore that it makes Candide’s treacherous trek through the same region seem like a pleasure cruise. Literally on the second page of the book she writes, “the armies of the Crescent Moon invaded Christian Syria and Christian Palestine… they invaded Christian Egypt and overran Christian Maghreb. That is, the present Tunisia and Algeria and Morocco. They landed in the most Catholic Iberian Peninsula, took possession of Portugal and Spain where despite the Pelayos and the Cid Capeadors and the other warriors engaged in the Reconquest they remained for no less than eight centuries.” What? Alas she doesn’t even bother to tell us how Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Spain became Christian.

Wasn’t it her ancestors, the Romans, who conquered North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe and made them Christian? She doesn’t even explain to us, despite “Islam’s brutality”, how Spain remained under Muslim rule for 800 years while the vast majority of its population maintained their Christian beliefs, never made to convert to Islam. She also fails to mention that Cordoba in Muslim Spain was the largest and most prosperous city in Europe, although, she does quote, with contempt, the Spanish longing for their Golden Age which culminated in their discovery of the New World, mere decades after the retreat of the Muslim armies from the Iberian peninsula. Catholic Spain arrived to the New World and named this beautiful state, the province of the Caliph: California.

After frightening the reader out of his wits by the 4% Islamic “re-colonization” of Europe, she then proceeds to argue against all historical facts about Islamic contributions to the world, which Mr. Bernhard finds “amusing”. She argues obsessively about who invented the sherbet! What? Yes it is an Arabic word which means drink but who cares, Arabs invented Algebra and learned how to distill Alcohol, both Arabic words. Islamic and Arab contributions to medicine, mathematics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, physics, literature, and philosophy are well documented but then again Oriana Fallaci is not well read.

Her immediate and most important aim, however, is not to discredit Islamic civilization or even to reveal its “brutality” but to save her dear Europe. And so she gets back to her tired tirade about the Islamic invasion, occupation and colonization of Europe by the faithful four percent. Here is where the Flaubertian surrealism begins.

“There is the biggest conspiracy that modern history has created. The most squalid plot that through ideological fraud, cultural indecency, moral prostitution, deception, our time has produced… By the collaborationists and better yet the traitors who invented the lie of Pacifism. By the hypocrites who invented the fraud of Humanitarianism.” Oriana Fallaci, the martyr, fighting against Europe, all of it, with its humanitarianists, pacifists, politicians, intellectuals, Christians, Muslims and Jews. She alone knows what transpires. “The biggest conspiracy” in modern history is so convoluted, so incoherent, so incomprehensible that I am not sure I can do it justice, but I attempt. It goes something like this…

First the Arabs and Muslims want to take over the world, naturally. They start out by taking Europe. The Arab heads of state make a deal with their European counterparts, providing them with Arab laborers as well as free oil. What? Yeah but it gets better. European intellectuals, academia, as well as media are “complicit” and spread lies such as the great contributions of Islamic civilization. The politicians are also complicit as they sell the European continent to the highest bidder, Arabs. The European political Left and the Right are just as guilty for they “play for the same team. They are the same team.” Islamic extremists are also somehow involved, as well as secular Palestinians dedicated to the establishment of Palestine. Muslims get shipped in droves from Muslim countries to colonize Europe and they have kids and they ask for election rights. The Europeans tow the Muslim line on everything because the 4% says so.

Never mind that Europeans pay about $6 a gallon for gas, which is hardly free. Never mind that most immigrants came to Europe in the sixties and seventies from former European colonies in North Africa, like Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Senegal, Sudan, Egypt and the Congo to do jobs that Europeans did not want to do. Never mind that none of these Muslim countries have any oil. Never mind that most of today’s European “immigrant” Muslims are not immigrant at all but first and second generation citizens as European as Oriana is. Never mind that the whole premise for the paranoia and conspiracy theories is a 4% Muslim population. Apparently Brendan Bernhard didn’t mind.

Could it just be that Muslims are just like other human beings on this planet? Could it be that Senegalese, Nigerian, Egyptian, Pakistani, Palestinian, Turkish and Indian Muslim immigrants are not all in cahoots? Could it be that they are just looking for jobs in a continent that has a vibrant economy not unlike Europeans who have descended on the Persian Gulf in droves? Could it be that Muslim immigrants in Europe are searching for a better life, not unlike Russian, Serbian, Romanian, Italian, French, German, British, American Christian immigrants working in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait, and India?

No Oriana Fallaci did not ask these questions and, in fairness, nor did Mr. Bernhard, the impartial reviewer of her work. Ironically, she, herself, is an immigrant, who lives in New York, a city that has welcomed thousands of her compatriots over the last two centuries.

Nonetheless, there is a lesson to be learned from this book. In spite of its teeth-gnashing, unimaginative prose; in spite of its intolerable misuse of English grammar; in spite of the work’s disdain for facts; in spite of the detail that she has not a single reference to which she attributes her spewed “facts” such as her assertion that the marble “Ten Commandments: the genesis of our moral principles” were removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court because of Muslim protests!; in spite of its hallucinating, paranoid zeal the book reveals much about the author and the nature of extremists. Oriana Fallaci is no different than the Islamists and jihadists that she purportedly stands to fight. Like the jihadists who want to take the Middle East back to its earlier glory where things were simpler and before globalization made the Middle East a virtual melting pot of religions, ethnicities and nationalities, so too does Oriana Fallaci want to take Europe to its medieval homogenous days, to a purer Christian Europe, not stained by its 4% Muslims, its immigrants and its Jews.

Like the Jihadists who exploit Abu Ghraib to paint the West as savage and perverted, she uses terrorism to paint the entire Islamic world with broad strokes. Like the jihadists whose hate spills over from Westerners, to Muslims who oppose them, to everything that is modern, so too does Oriana’s hate spread from Muslims, to Jews, to politicians, to academicians, and to all Europeans who disagree. And so beneath the anti-terrorism veneer, Islamophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism, readily bubble up to the surface in gushes so violent and incredible that they say more than her conspiracy theories can ever explain.

On discussing the law suits brought against her in Italy, France and Switzerland by European human rights groups, Oriana Fallaci states, “the trial was triggered by the Movement Against Racism (MRAP), but also by the complaint filed by the Jews of the LICRA (International League Against Racism and Antisemitism).” As if LICRA Jews should not be able to sue this full-blooded Italian. In describing a highly critical review of her book, fittingly named “Anatomy of an Abject Book”, published by Le Point, a major French magazine, she, again, employs racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. She admonishes Le Point for publishing “the prosecutorial comments of journalists, psychoanalysts, philosophers, or politologists, not seldom, with Arab names. Rather often with Jewish names.” Apparently, Oriana takes commentators seriously only if they were White European Christians who agree with her…..

Contrary to Brendan Bernhard’s view of the epilogue (“she could have done without”), it is the most amusing chapter of the book. She pulls off such a dramatic and no less impressive coup de theatre, where she is burned on the cross by the Europeans that she is trying to save and the sneering 4% who scream Arabic words. She dies in her very own “auto-da-fe”, an ancient Christian ceremony where heretics are purged. Ironically, auto-da-fes were how hundreds of Spanish Jews perished in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries after the retreat of the Arabs from the Iberian peninsula. Yes, she too, like the jihadists, is a martyr, against whom the world conspires. And yes, Brendan Bernhard’s last line in his review is, “The Force of Reason, at the very least, is a welcome and necessary antidote to the prevailing intellectual atmosphere”. Oh, really? Makes you wonder what kind of atmosphere Mr. Bernhard wishes to replace it with.