Thursday, August 31, 2006

In Response To The "Inevitable" Failure Of The Islamists

It has been suggested by many that Islamist political movements are doomed to fail in the end, just as the communist world eventually failed. Some suggest this means that they should be allowed to win power at the ballot box in the Arab world and that they'll end up shooting themselves in the foot anyhow. Others say they are inherently dangerous and since they'll fail anyways should not be allowed to come to power. I penned a few lines on the topic recently in an email and have copied below.


That said, I think this now stereotypical line of “let the Islamists win because they are doomed to fail anyways” is not necessarily true. A first gut reaction would be to say that is just an old time Arab secularist or westernized elite expressing wishful thinking. But I have to admit that while that may or may not be true, such a comment reflects my own prejudices and focuses on the messenger when in reality they do have a fair argument that deserves to be addressed.

To that end, I would encourage everyone to read Baheyya’s excellent postings on the topic ( and most recently). The Ikhwan in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, Hizbullah in Lebanon, etc. are each locally unique organizations, but that in and of itself is very telling since it shows they are not monolithic ideologues (as the utterly ignorant US leadership believes and constantly blathers on about as if they were little Stalin’s or Mao’s in the making) but an organic part of these nations who respond to local needs. These are Islamist organizations that have built genuine grassroots support by providing, not by terrorizing, *and* very crucially have come to recognize that they are not the only game in town and need to work within a broader national framework of compromise. I suspect Ibrahim recognizes this which is why he is not scared at the thought of them taking power. Where I would differ is in the notion that they will automatically fail. They certainly could. But their reputation for being far less corrupt, their track-record of providing services on the ground, and their views of foreign policy which come much closer to what most people consider a genuine reflection of the national (wa6ani and qawmi) interest all to me suggest they could do quite well in power and be very effective in genuinely meeting people’s needs.

Right now we see Israel and Fatah in Palestine, Israel in Lebanon (with the connivance of Hariri Inc. as As’ad Abu Khalil denigrates them), and Mubarak in Egypt are trying to create the old secular liberal self-fulfilling prophecy of inevitable failure: all these entrenched regimes are trying to tolerate granting them enough power to make people think the Islamists are responsible for their well-being but also trying in the process to bloody them and cut off enough real power such that they will be able to blame them for the ills of society which the secularists and outside powers are actually far more to blame for. I don’t see most people falling for it (though in Palestine a hard-nosed assessment by the public that Israeli/American disrespect for democracy makes it impossible for Hamas to rule effectively at the time being seems a growing feeling). They know the games these regimes play.

The sad thing is that the deadly decade of the 90s and the violent periods of secular-Islamist violence might have been greatly moderated if the secularists and the westerners (France and America in particular) had allowed the democratic process to work in Algeria in 1991. The FIS embodied many of these same trends – grassroots organization, effective provision of services, actual experience governing at the local level, and a willingness to abide by the big picture rules of democracy. The Algerian ruling clique and the French would absolutely deny this was true of the FIS, I disagree. I am convinced if they had been allowed to govern after winning in a fair election that we would have seen the first genuine and effective Islamist democratic government in the Arab world. It would have had warts as well, but it would have stood out as an example of how secularists and Islamists do not have to cut each others throats (literally). Instead the military intervened with French and American backing and over 100,000 deaths later Algeria is only barely limping out of its second great national trauma with no great gains to show (at least the first time they got independence).

I’m not so foolish as to think that Islamists will govern perfectly, but given the corruption and betrayal of national interests which the current regimes have produced (the fruit of never taking their slogans to improve lives seriously and instead focusing on preserving their own privilege and seeking help from abroad rather than their own people to do it), given the track record for effective governance and less corruption the populist Islamist movements have establish, and given the genuine desire among Arab publics to not simply flip to another dictatorship, Egypt, Palestine, and to a lesser extent Lebanon (where sectarian divisions make the picture much more complicated) all could serve as examples to the broader world of Islamist democrats. I am far more wary however of Iraq where the lack of political maturity (due to the rapid and bloody emergence from Saddam caused by the American occupation rather than an evolutionary path) and now the civil war mean that even Islamist parties with grassroots support are simply too sectarian-minded to act in a broad-minded way. In Syria as well, were the regime to topple, the lack of an experienced opposition (secular or Islamist) would more likely mean bloodletting between religious, secular, and sectarian forces than a model of Islamist democracy. All the more proof that top-down change imposed by tyrants (whether domestic dictators popular or not such as Nasser or Asad, or brutal foreign occupations such as the British, French, Americans, or Israelis) rarely produces a positive trend for the long term. Evolution and the long hard slogging work of building the foundations of a successful modern economy and political system are what are needed. The empty slogans of freedom fries or souls and blood redeeming the latest great leader don’t get anyone anywhere.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Palestinian Hip-Hop Group 'Dam': "Who's The Terrorist"

Ok, I admit it, I've discovered YouTube big time :) Palestinian hip-hop groups have been getting a bit more attention in the western press of late, I don't know how popular these guys really are in the territories. I imagine in a place like Ramallah where there are a lot of Palestinian-Americans that they've got something of a following.

This is called "Who's The Terrorist" from a group called Dam (pronounced more like "dumb" in English and meaning "blood" in Arabic - Bible readers will recall the word from "Akeldama" or the "field of blood" in the related Aramaic which Judas' 30 pieces of silver were used to purchase after he committed suicide). I think it comes across well in Arabic, don't know how it sounds to only-English speakers who have to go from the subtitles, but the video footage and lyrics tell a strong story:

A couple Palestinian-American hip-hop groups include the Philistines and Iron Sheik.

This is a trailer to a documentary on Palestinian hip-hop called Slingshot Hip Hop which shows a bunch of different groups in Gaza, the West Bank, and inside Israel (one of the Gaza guys must have spent a lot of time in Egypt given his strong Egyptian accent):

Ha'aretz's Gideon Levy: "The occupation never stays still"

Gideon Levy (who I linked to in this post) here discusses a few basic points of the brutality of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians.

Everyday Humiliation: Checkpoints

These are the sorts of daily humiliations Israeli troops inflict upon Palestinians but which rarely make headlines. In this example from occupied Hebron Israeli soldiers block children from going to school then beat one boy and a female teacher for trying to get to school and then finally try to have lessons at the Israeli roadblock. Tear gas is eventually used against the children and teachers. Imagine if this sort of thing was part of your everyday reality...and nobody cared...and they even blamed you for getting angry about it.

In this video an (apparently, guessing from the name and accent) Arab-American activist and an Israeli reserve soldier speak out on the humiliations and hardships inflicted on Palestinians at Israeli military checkpoints on their land. Good too because it shows several specific incidents of Palestinians trying to get to ordinary places and being brusquely dismissed by gun-toting Israeli soldiers speaking rudely in bad Arabic ("rukhi min wadi nar" or "go from wadi nar" in badly Hebrew-accented Arabic, wadi an-nar being an extremely long roundabout way to get out of Bethlehem and into Jerusalem which is normally a ten minute drive or so but which takes hours this way - highlighting again how the goal is not to actually even block Palestinians from getting in, simply to make their lives miserable in the process - all items I know both from having been there and from my Palestinian friends who live in the Bethlehem/Beit Sahour/Beit Jala area).

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ha'aretz's Amira Hass "the occupier defines justice"

Amira Hass is one of the finest writers in Israel on the occupation of the Palestinians. If she writes it, read it. She's the sort of Israeli who first made Arab novelists back in the 60s begin to acknowledge that there were "good" Israelis (Ghassan Kanafani's early depictions come to mind) and not just an amorphous blob of pure occupying evil. Folks such as Amira are the type who remind people in the Arab world that there are good people everywhere and that this is fundamentally a political (i.e., solvable) conflict and not some sort of ingrained "thousands of years" cultural or religious war. Would that Americans and Israelis would see the countless others in the Arab world who represent the same thing, who point to injustice not as a means of revenge but in the genuine belief that correcting that injustice can make real peace and human development possible. There are common interests on both sides of the line for those who will come to their senses. Here's her latest:

The occupier defines justice

By Amira Hass

On Jerusalem's Jabotinsky Street, opposite the President's Residence, a medium-sized plaque is fixed on a locked gate, enclosing a broad building and a lovely garden: "This building was the location of the British Mandate Government's High Military Court, which held the trials of the Hebrew resistance fighters from the Haganah, Etzel and Lehi." The sign bears the emblems of the Jerusalem municipality and the three resistance organizations. It further notes: "The resistance fighters refused to acknowledge the authority of the court to judge them, and asked to be recognized as prisoners of war."

The speaker of the Palestinian Authority's parliament, who was arrested two weeks ago by the Israel Defense Forces, also refused to acknowledge the authority of the Military Court to judge him. Obviously the two latest detainees, whose arrest was deemed by Israel to be the appropriate solution to its shortcomings in releasing kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, will make the same declaration. Nasser A-Shaer, the Palestinian education minister and deputy prime minister, and Mahmoud Ramahi, chief whip of the Palestinian Legislative Council, were arrested on Saturday and Sunday. Incidentally, the Palestinians have lately ceased using the verb "arrested" in regards to the arrests of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers. Instead they use the verb "abducted."

These three detainees/abducted join about 10,000 other Palestinian prisoners and detainees. As with the prisoners of the Hebrew resistance, who saw themselves as POWs regardless of their actions (killing British soldiers or Arab civilians), some Palestinians request that their prisoners be declared POWs. Others prefer the definition of political prisoners. Let's let the definitions rest. In any case, from the offense to the jailing, Israel, as an occupying force, plays around with the definitions as it sees fit.

On Sunday, at 4:30 A.M., IDF soldiers shot and killed a worker, Jalal Uda, 26, and injured three other Palestinian civilians. This happened not far from the Howara checkpoint, south of Nablus. Palestinian newspapers referred to it as the "crime scene." The young men rode a taxi in a road bypassing the checkpoints. For the last several weeks the army has again forbid young men under age 32 from leaving Nablus. But people have to make a living, and thousands are looking for hidden routes. An offense punishable by death, so it seems. The soldiers acted as prosecutor, judge and executioner. According to the rules of occupation, when soldiers kill Palestinian civilians, they and those who sent them are never criminals, suspects, accused or convicts. The brigadier general who limits the age of those who exit the Nablus compound, by virtue of his belonging to the "Defense Army" can also not be considered a criminal, suspect or convict.

When a Palestinian kills an Israeli - soldier or civilian - his name, picture and details of his indictment will be published. He will automatically be condemned to life in jail, and his prime minister or the leader of his organization will be considered responsible and hence a target for arrest or assassination. The soldiers who kill Palestinian civilians are sheltering under the wide apron of the occupation army. Their names will not be known in public, and their prime minister and commanders will not be deemed accountable.

The Palestinian detainees are led to a military court: The same military establishment that occupies and destroys and suppresses the civilian population is the one that determines that to resist occupation - even by popular demonstrations and waving flags, not only by killing and bearing arms - is a crime. It is the one to prosecute, and it is the one to judge. Its judges are loyal to the interest of defending the occupier and the settler.

Allegedly every Palestinian is tried, convicted and jailed as a private person who committed a criminal offense. But a sharp discrimination in the conditions of imprisonment proves that the Palestinian security prisoner is punished not as an individual, but as a representative of a group, as part of its overall suppression. Contrary to international law, the majority of Palestinian prisoners and detainees are not held in the occupied territory, but rather inside Israel. Contrary to popular myth, Israel does not respect the right to regular family visits.

The army does its best to disrupt the visitation schedule, using various security and technical excuses. Only relations of the first degree (parents, siblings and children) are allowed to visit the prisoners, but hundreds of them have not had the privilege of any visits for several years. The right to make daily use of a telephone is given to the most dangerous of criminal prisoners, and is denied from Palestinian security prisoners, among them citizens and residents of Israel. This is done via a weak and unconvincing excuse of a security establishment that has advanced and effective surveillance devices. The path of sentence reduction and clemency is open to the Jew (especially when he is a settler) and is almost hermetically shut to the Palestinian.

It is no wonder that the Palestinians support every action - such as kidnapping soldiers - that tries to break the rules of this discrimination game. Every Palestinian prisoner's personal history is an expression of the freedom Israel allows itself in the implanting of an extreme subculture of double standard, discriminating blood from blood, human being from human being, nation from nation.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Latest Arabic Web Polls - 21 Aug 2006

Just to reiterate, what I find fascinating about these web polls is not that they give a statistically accurate view of all regional public opinion, but that they highlight the views and biases of those who read these particular websites. While (like many web polls in the US) they frequently ask loaded questions, I found the most interesting ones the times where they actually ask a question that a normally monolithic group is divided on. Those aren't the most common, but they are interesting when they pop up. Anyhow, here's some of the latest Arabic polls (my translations).


Do you expect Israel to abide by the cessation of hostilities in Lebanon?

Yes - 4.3% - 3196 votes
No - 95.7% - 71846 votes

***** (Saudi owned, closest competitor to Al-Jazeera, though Jazeera stomped all over them in the media popularity contest that the Lebanon war became)

What's the best scenario for the future of Hizbullah?

Remaining as it is - 61.54%
Changing to an unarmed political party - 19.67%
It's complete disbandment - 18.78%

97566 votes total

***** (Saudi owned "liberal" - I use the term loosely)

When do you expect a new war to break out in the region?

After a year - 77% - 3466 votes
After 3 years - 9% - 422 votes
More than 3 years - 14% 618 votes

***** (used to be an independent Palestinian daily, now it's more officially connected to the PA and Fatah)

Do you believe that setting up a national unity government [my comment: there's a big attempt right now to form a joint Hamas-Fatah government again to heal internal Palestinian rifts and hopefully get the sanctions on the Palestinian territories lifted, but both sides continue to play hardball] will get the Palestinian people out of the current crisis?

Yes - 42.45% - 537 votes
No - 49.96% - 632 votes
I don't know - 7.59% - 96 votes


Who in your opinion is the victor?

Hizbullah - 75% - 3483 votes
Israel - 9% - 398 votes
Neither of them - 16% 746 votes


Just a few samples. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (strongly Arab nationalist paper based in London) has a new poll but no significant voters yet. I'll post more another time, and hopefully find some more representative Islamist and Arab nationalist voices.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Gideon Levy on right vs left in Israel

Israel has always chosen the right's approach, through armament, settlement, and hunkering down behind a wall, clinging to the territories and their residents though brutal military force and taking pleasure in the graces of a failed and ephemeral American administration. Nothing endangers Israel's existence more than this approach.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Does Israel Commit Ethnic Cleansing?

[ The man in the picture is a Palestinian refugee of the Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948, his leg with the missing foot says "The war of 1948". He is thinking "Because I sacrificed my foot, I won't sacrifice my key ]

ethnic cleansing: The systematic elimination of an ethnic group or groups from a region or society, as by deportation, forced emigration, or genocide.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

A friend suggested that "ethnic cleansing" may not be the appropriate term for what Israel does to the Palestinians. The idea being that this is more in line with say the Yugoslav wars of the 90s with mass graves, rapes, mass expulsions, etc.

The reality is, the term is appropriate, although Israeli ethnic cleansing comes in waves with varying degrees of severity and a broad range of tools. 1948 certainly saw the full range of ethnic cleansing - massacres, mass graves, entire populations forced to flee en masse, looting, dispossession, rapes (yes, many of my friends who are supporters of Israel refuse to believe Israeli soldiers raped Palestinian women, but it did occur - see Avi Shlaim's "The Iron Wall" for a few brief mentions, I'll have to go dig up other references but they abound in other sources I read many years ago for those diligent enough to research a topic that Israelis and their supporters have long tried to bury). The massacre at Deir Yassin was certainly one of the most famous of these attrocities (though by no means the only one):

In total, about 400 Palestinian villages were wiped off the map by Israel in 1948:

In total, somewhere between 700,000 and a million refugees were created as the Israelis led primarily by Ben Gurion (George Washington this man was not, he was far more Slobodan Milosovic) deliberately "pushed the Arabs into the sea":

If you speak Arabic, you can see almost 200 oral history video interviews of 1948 refugees at this URL:

These people are pretty much forgotten by everyone outside of the Middle East. But in the Arab world they and the keys they still hold to their houses remain a daily reality everyone sees and knows. Palestinian families almost all have at least 2 (and sometimes more) of the same painful stories - family members who were ethnically cleansed in 1948 and family members who were killed or tortured by the Israelis in the two Intifadas.

Here is another example of ethnic cleansing (about 50 pictures to scroll through, though the main points can be seen in the first dozen or so). This was the biblical village of Emmaus. Israel occupied it in 1967, promptly ethnically cleansed it of its inhabitants, razed it to the ground, planted a mini-forest to cover it up, turned it into a "nature preserve", and now settlements such as Modi'in are encroaching upon it and will probably shortly swallow it up:

Well, getting a bit late now, far more can be said on this topic and I will in the future. But in a nutshell, besides for the violent methods above, Israel also uses slower methods of ethnic cleansing in between its violent outbursts:

  • Settlers kicking Palestinians out of their homes and taking them over (as in Hebron for example).
  • Unscrupulous rich settler-supporters bribing equally unscrupulous Palestinian landlords who sell housing and land to the settlers and in return receive enough money to run off abroad. The residents of the houses and land who frequently have lived in the units for generations but were not well off enough to purchase them are then left homeless.
  • Settlements built on Palestinian agricultural land vital for economic survival of the villages, thus "encouraging" emmigration.
  • Settlements that literally surround Palestinian homes and neighborhoods. Roads and other infrastructure for the settlers then cuts off the ability to get in and out and makes life so hard that emmigration rates increase because people simply cannot live anymore. Houses are then frequently either demolished, or land is otherwise confiscated and taken over by Israeli settlers.
  • House demolitions against "illegal" Palestinian structures. They are only "illegal" in that Israeli authorities never granted them a building permit because Israeli authorities 99% of the time refuse to grant these permits to Palestinians. Palestinians who need to build to house their extended families are left with no choice but to go ahead and build anyways, and then are frequently forced to see their homes demolished. Meanwhile, Israeli settlers squat on their land, are retroactively granted "permits" and build entire neighborhoods under the watchful guard of Israeli soldiers.
  • Military checkpoints by the hundreds make life so miserable and hard for Palestinians that they cannot live normally and emmigration becomes the only means to survive for some.

Again, more can be said, but there's a starter. Israel forcibly and systematically tries to remove those of Palestinian ethnicity so that Israelis can take over their land. At times it is overt and bloody, other times it is quieter (at least to the outside world) and bureaucratic. It meets the dictionary definition of ethnic cleansing with ease.

On 20th century China and the 21st century Middle East

I’ve been reading a biography of Mao Tse-Tung called “Mao: The Unknown Story” (the book clearly has its strong biases against Mao but is exhaustingly well-researched with huge amounts of primary source material behind it which give its arguments strong credibility). Seemingly far-removed from the Middle East, but I have to say while I knew things had been bad in China in the past century, I never realized just how horrendous things were. Communists, Nationalists, the Emperor’s men, local warlords, Westerners, Japanese and others were just as bad and actually far worse than Zarqawi and his ilk. Beheadings, torture, public executions by stabbing, millions forced to kill their neighbors and friends or families, mob trampling, disembowelment, slicing off genitals, running rusty wires through various painful body parts and dragging people around, etc, etc. Over 70 million died at Mao’s hand in non-war periods alone. Add in the wars, the killings by other communists and all the other parties I just listed, and I can only presume double, triple, or more than that number died in the 19th and 20th centuries in China.

And yet…I don’t see any of the right-wingers who talk about Islam or Arab culture or terrorism being the problem saying that China has a cultural problem. Chinese culture remains Chinese culture (of course it has changed in the past century, but I don’t think anyone would argue China is any less Chinese). China has its problems as we do, yet they’ve managed to move on in a big way on many fronts. So why do all these right-wingers seem to think Arabs are somehow innately different from other human beings? It just supports my argument: none of this is about culture or religion or “terrorism”, it’s about major political, social, and economic problems. Once China started sorting those out, they began moving forward. Westerners and Soviets had to learn to quit trying to impose their will on China and then after some serious pain China began to move forward once it began (de facto at least even if not in rhetoric) to recognize the deadly errors they themselves had also made.

The same can happen for the Middle East. But like China, a major prerequisite will be for Westerners (read the US and Israel) to learn to back off and stop trying to impose their will by force. It didn’t work in China, it won’t work in the Middle East. In China it helped produce a century of revolution, death, and turmoil that the country is only in the last few decades rising beyond. It’s done the same to the Middle East and we can only hope the US and Israel will learn to stop using force so that the Middle East can rise as well. The progressive forces of democracy, entrepreneurialism, and free thought all exist in the Middle East, but they won’t necessarily come from the parties the US and Israel wants them to. True progress requires allowing the region to progress in its own way, learning from its own mistakes, and outsiders acting as friends giving advice and an occasional hand (primarily when asked), not acting as heavy-handed, domineering military and economic forces.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The life and death of Selwa Wehbe

A week ago the body of a woman clutching a baby was found in this bombed apartment block in Beirut; the image was printed across the world. But who was she? By tracking down surviving members of her family, Clancy Chassay has managed to piece together her life - and how she died with her three children and husband by her side...

Meanwhile, in Baghdad ...

Maybe despair brings clarity, or maybe complete failure at something you never really cared about in the first place allows a touch of honesty. Either way, for once I find myself in near total agreement with a New York Times editorial:

As everyone with a television is aware, Lebanon has just suffered through a terrible month, with more than 1,000 people killed, most of them innocent civilians. But Iraq has suffered through an even worse month. Since June, more than 3,000 Iraqis have been killed each month, and the rate continues to rise. While Lebanon is now trying to pick up the pieces, Iraq is falling apart at an accelerating pace.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Latest Al-Arabiya Web Poll

Hassan Nasrallah's agreement to the deployment of the Lebanese Army in the South is:

A tactical position to get out of the crisis - 28.46%
An announcement of surrender to Israeli terms - 10.87%
In accordance with Hizbullah's position regarding Lebanese national dialogue - 60.67%

Total voters: 13904

Latest Jazeera Web Poll

In which of the two sides' favor did the war in Lebanon end?

Hizbullah - 84.3% - 26542 votes
Israel - 15.7% - 4934 votes

The US role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

If you want to know more about why the US gets blamed so much and always seems so involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, read this book:

Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on US Middle East Policy by Kathleen Christison

Click here to purchase
Former CIA analyst Kathleen Christison looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an often ignored but vital angle: how the conflict is viewed by US policymakers. Starting in the late 19th century and going US administration by US administration, she examines how Washington's policies have been a critical factor in the development of the conflict. In effect, she lays out how this is not a binary Israeli-Palestinian problem, but in fact a triangle involving the Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans. A century of deep sympathy for the Israeli perspective, but near constant ignoring and denigration of the Palestinian viewpoint in Washington has helped to fuel rather than calm the conflict in the Holy Land. For American readers who wonder why the United States often gets so much blame in the Arab world for what happens to the Palestinians, this book is a clear-eyed explanation of the issue.

Palestine-Israel 101 Stuff

I'm being a bit lazy here in that I don't really have the time right now to put together a 101 level presentation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and proposed solutions. So instead I'm going to point you to another group that's put something semi-decent together. It misses some things as all 101s must do, but this is a good place to start. So, without further ado, check out the American Task Force on Palestine's powerpoint presentation entitled Palestine-Israel 101: The Two State Solution.

And what would this conflict be without maps, maps, maps, o endless maps! For those I'll point you to several places:

Just some basic introductory information on the conflict, but this gives a decent starting point.

Why are Arabs so angry?

Why are Arabs so angry? It seems such a perplexing question to so many people. Complicated theories about brainwashing, fascism, extremism, suicide ideologies, them being a different breed of human being, etc. are proposed to try and create an explanation. Might I suggest a return to Occam's Razor? The simplest explanation is usually the best. And since a picture is worth 1000 words, consider the following.

How did you feel when you saw this picture the first time? I was pretty angry.

Now consider this picture:

Pretty similar huh? It was taken yesterday in Beirut. How would you feel if you were seeing it? Not hard, we've seen it in America and we've felt it. Now consider these facts:
  • This is only one of hundreds of such scenes in Lebanon.
  • Hundreds of children have died in these bombings.
  • This isn't the first time, in fact it's been a regular occurrence in modern Arab history. Imagine if 9/11 reoccurred in the US every few years, or even more often.
  • The Lebanese and the rest of the Arab world know both who perpetrated the attack (Israel), and who provided the weapons and diplomatic cover for the perpetrators (the US).
How would you feel? Probably pretty angry huh?

It's not right in any direction, we have to stop trying to pretend this is irrational hatred. It's quite rational, so we need to remove the rationale for the hatred. Stop Israeli and American attacks on Arab countries (including most importantly the attacks that are enforcing occupation), and Arab anger will cease too. Keep trying to use the same methods of bombing and shooting and you'll get more of the same angry results. It's pretty simple.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

European-US Rift Over Lebanon

The Asia Times outdoes itself again. They have had some of the best features on the Middle East for several years now (including Nir Rosen’s amazing reports from pre-destruction Fallujah), by combining professional journalism with a perspective from the global south. Here they do the best job of dissecting US-European relations in light of the Israeli war on Lebanon I have yet seen:

In truth, a number of UN diplomats concede that the battle between the US and France inside the Security Council only diverted the attention of both countries from the conflict in the Middle East. Getting Arab nations to sign on to the resolution was postponed in order to get the resolution agreed to. Nor, it seems, were the Lebanese consulted at all during the process. The resolution, in fact, seems to satisfy the French and Americans - but no one else, and so angered Arab diplomats that Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, denounced it publicly, while privately calling the resolution "a surrender document". A spokesman for Hezbollah in Beirut was even blunter, saying that the resolution was "dead on arrival". He added, "The French caved in to American and Israeli pressure. Israel gets to stay on our land. We are required to disarm. Why isn't an international force deployed in northern Israel? Our arms get cut off and the US gets to fly cluster munitions into Ben Gurion [Airport in Tel Aviv]. Just who do they think is winning this war?"

Sunday, August 06, 2006

What is Hizbullah saying about the war?

In the US we're basically only being shown one side of the current Israeli war on Lebanon. Nothing new, US media and politicians have long been overtly one-sided on anything related to the Arab world for reasons explained at the start of the blog in the postings entitled Part 1: Arab-Israeli Violence 101 and Part 2: Arab-Israeli Violence 101. However, what is actually quite new in this war is the presence of both credible Arab news sources that Arab publics trust (Arab publics used to ignore their own state media reports and instead rely on things like BBC radio) such as Al-Jazeera, and in this unique war's case an "official" media organ of the Arab combatants that is actually unusually reliable. That would be Hizbullah's al-Manar television and web site.

Now, don't get me wrong, al-Manar is an official organ of Hizbullah and makes no attempt to pretend it is anything but. That said, Hizbullah knows how badly discredited official Arab state media (and Arab state structures in general) are and so part of their strategy is to only make credible statements. They want to show that they are reliable in providing information so that the Lebanese and broader Arab publics will actually trust them. This is a hallmark of Hizbullah generally, they try to set realistic goals and explanations which stand in stark contrast to the empty promises and rhetoric of the Arab regimes (including and perhaps especially those whom the US labels "moderates" such as the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Saudi governments). The classic example of this was the 1967 war where Arab publics came out bitterly disillusioned when it emerged that the reports were false which Radio Cairo and others had been airing of their troops supposedly marching on Tel Aviv when they were in reality devastated on the ground before they could even move. Hizbullah - perhaps as Baheyya puts it because they are actually a genuine grassroots movement of the Lebanese Shi'ite community and not merely a handful of elites trying to win popularity through this and that political move - in contrast I would say exaggerates no more than the Israeli and US militaries and governments do, possibly less.

They also actually like to quote from Israeli sources - almost as if to say "look, we're not making this stuff up, even our enemies admit it". Thus, if Hizbullah announces they've inflicted XYZ casualties on the Israeli army somewhere, usually what one sees in the Israeli press and military is a brief period of no response which indicates something really did happen (i.e., no formal denial) and then a little while later a report from the Israelis that the incident did occur but with a slightly smaller casualty count. Yes there are discrepancies that show Hizbullah is probably exaggerating (or perhaps just announcing the maximum possible casualty count viewed from their fighters' angle much as the US and Israel frequently do), but in reality they're exaggerating no more and possibly even less than the Israelis who keep claiming massive advances on the ground (X% of rockets destroyed, X numbers of fighters killed, etc.). In fact, Israel's attempts to exaggerate or at least their own over-estimation of gains gives Hizbullah statements that they are being honest in their admission of their own losses even more credibility among their domestic audience.

Hizbullah's television station Al-Manar actually used to be viewable from the US via satellite dish before the top Israeli propaganda group in Washington (WINEP - the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, these were the guys that the Clinton Administration basically sold US Mideast Policy to with disastrous results in the end) decided to launch a crusade against Al-Manar. A young guy by the name of Avi Jorisch (decent personally but blindly pro-Israel and anti-Arab nationalist to the point of ignoring facts he doesn't like rather than trying to properly figure out what they mean) who speaks pretty good Arabic had managed to even visit Al-Manar studios several years ago. He wrote a small book while a fellow at WINEP which they published called "Beacon of Hatred" and then successfully went about Washington trying to get Al-Manar banned as a terrorist organization. One argument he used (it's silly and false, but he successfully used it) was that al-Manar was responsible for making the Palestinian Intifada and the Iraqi resistance more violent. He inflated al-Manar's importance to the Congress and Washington crowd in order to get it banned. In reality it is essentially a small niche media organization with only a small slice of the regional media market. They are important in that niche and because they have reporters who frequently "embed" with Hizbullah fighters ala the way US and Israeli media embed with their own troops their footage is often unique and carried by other stations (plus they air the main interviews with Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah which the regional and international media pick up on and rebroadcast). Now, don't get me wrong, there's some really distasteful stuff on al-Manar, some overtly racist. But to be fair, there is just as bad in Israeli and US media, some equally overtly racist just against Arabs instead of Jews that doesn't get banned. (For the record, I am staunchly against all racism towards all ethnic groups, and think all these TV stations in all these regions should be told to stop it.) However, rather than fix any of these problems, all Jorisch and WINEP's crusade accomplished was to score another partisan point while making it harder for serious analysts of the conflict to see what the other side was saying, making those trying to end the conflict that much blinder to what's really going on. But then WINEP and most of the pro-Israel and neocon organizations in the US are quite keen on seeing war continue rather than end in the erroneous belief that force rather than negotiation and genuine compromise are the solutions. In this regard, Hizbullah is remarkably moderate in comparison to Israel, having said from day one their goal is to negotiate a military-to-military exchange of prisoners and for the past decade having stuck assiduously to their agreement with Israel to only retaliate against Israel in proportion to the size of Israeli attacks. A fact which Israeli top military brass readily admit - though it was Hizbullah's very existence on their border which drove them batty enough to launch the current war regardless of any past proportionality. They didn't want *any* military organization to exist out there which could be an effective counter to them.

All this being just prelude to what I was planning to do when I started writing this: translate a few headlines from al-Manar's website so you can see the sort of language and headlines they run. The Israelis have been hacking the site during the current war so it's been spotty trying to get into it, but here's my rough and ready translation of the latest headlines on the site right now:
  • Breaking News: "The Israeli occupation announces the total number of Israeli soldiers killed since the beginning of the aggression has reached 58, in addition to 36 Israelis killed [they use a more "blank" Arabic term here but it is clear they are referring to civilians as opposed to the military count]"
  • Top headline: "13 Israeli soldiers killed and 18 others injured, 10 in critical condition in Hizbullah bombardment of northern regions."
  • Palestine/Military section top headline: "3 Israelis killed and 160 others wounded, some in critical condition, after more than 29 missiles fall on Haifa."
  • Lebanon/Military section top headline: "Confrontations continue all along the border villages, Islamic resistance fighters are giving the occupation army losses among its soldiers and military vehicles and preventing them from advancing"
  • Lebanon/Political section top headline: "President Berri: The Franco-American Resolution would sink Lebanon into domestic strife" [Berri is the secular Shi'ite head of the Lebanese parliament - he is from the Amal party/movement, not Hizbullah, but is acting as an informal go-between for Hizbullah and the outside world since western governments don't consider him tainted as a terrorist.]

So, as you can see, it's got it's jabs at the Israelis, but swap a couple labels and the headlines are remarkably similar in content to what one would find in much of the western press and certainly the mainstream Arab press. It is this very credibility which gives Hizbullah a leg up in this conflict which Israel hasn't figured out how to counter or even if it can. Indeed, the more the Israelis dismiss Hizbullah in their own rhetoric as plain old Qaeda-style terrorists (reading the Israeli media from left to right wing is quite surreal in these regards these days), while Hizbullah sounds to most of the Arab world like a very practical and realistic organization, the more Hizbullah gains support and credibility.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Jazeera Web Poll 5 Aug 2006

Thi is a pretty new web poll, few respondents so far, but here's the early stages of voting.

The position of some Arab regimes against Hizbullah is attributable to:

* Their fears of expanding Iranian influence - 8.7% - 87 votes
* In response to American pressure - 31.3% - 314 votes
* [Their desire to] Eliminate the region's resistance movement - 9.7% - 97 votes
* All of the above - 50.4% - 506 votes

Friday, August 04, 2006

If Anthony Shadid Writes It...

...You should read it. Here's one of his latest:

Three weeks into its war with Israel, Hezbollah has retained its presence in southern Lebanon, often the sole authority in devastated towns along the Israeli border. The militia is elusive, with few logistics, little hierarchy and less visibility. Even residents often say they don't know how the militiamen operate or are organized. Communication is by walkie-talkie, always in code, and sometimes messages are delivered by motorcycle. Weapons seem to be already in place across a terrain that fighters say they know intimately.

Saudi: Dammam and Qatif see Shi'a pro-Hizbullah protests

Jazeera is reporting that the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia has seen several protest marches by apparently mostly Shi’a in support of Hizbullah. As usual, this is less about Sunni-Shi’a splits (almost all Sunni and Shi’a are united these days in support of Hizbullah’s actions) and more about regimes being scared of any popular political action from any quarter which they can’t control. My admittedly imperfect translation without a dictionary handy below the link to the Arabic:

The Third of it’s Kind
Saudi Police Break Up Shi’ites Who Came Out In Qatif In Support Of Hizbullah

[picture caption: Saudi papers ignored the Dammam and Qatif Protests (AFP)]

The Saudi police late on Thursday prevented a number of Shi’a protestors from marching in the city of Qatif in the east of the kingdom in solidarity with Hizbullah and condemning Israel’s war on Lebanon.

The police set up checkpoints around the city to prevent the arrival of more protestors who came out into the streets for the third time in the last few days.

More than 2000 Shi’ites marched the day before yesterday in the city at the same time as another protest which hundreds participated in in Dammam repeating – according to a Saudi Shi’a internet site – chants of “No Shi’ites, No Sunnis, Islamic Unity” and also “O beloved Nasrallah, strike strike Tel Aviv”, and carrying the yellow flags of Hizbullah and pictures of its Secretary General Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah, before they broke up peacefully in the midst of a light security deployment.

The protests passed without Saudi papers referring to them, papers who had been among the first to criticize Hizbullah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers and described the operation as an adventure which didn’t consider the consequences.

Qatif is known as a political center for the Shi’a given the number of protests which it has seen in the last few decades. It witnessed large protests in which dozens were killed according to Shi’a activists in November 1979 after the victory of the Iranian Revolution. It also saw protests in 2002 in support of the Palestinian people which were marked by violence.

Source: Al-Jazeera + Reuters

Thursday, August 03, 2006

"The Ones Who Are Buried Alive Are Usually Safe From the Dogs"

An on the ground report of Israel's total destruction of the Hay el-Birki neighborhood of the village of Srifa.

"It was an unseemly end for 80- year-old Manaheel Jabr, flung over a bloodstained walll, grey hair falling around her shrunken black face, a collapsed ceiling pinning her down at the waist..."

"Lara Marlowe writes for the Irish Times, where this piece first appeared. There's nothing to stop US reporters from going to Srifa -- except doctrinal demands."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The last Israeli warriors for peace

Despite the war fever in Israel, there is a tiny long-dedicated core of genuine peace activists. Much of the "mainstream" peace movement has disappeared. For example Peace Now. How an organization with such a name can turn into wholehearted supporters of this barbarity is beyond me, but there you have it. However on the "far left" are groups like Ta'ayush and Gush Shalom who have not wavered and have been protesting the war inside Israel from the beginning. They are derided in Israel as nut cases and traitors, but Uri Avnery the leader of Gush Shalom has often been ahead of his time having been one of the first Israelis to meet openly with Yasser Arafat at the height of the siege of Beirut in 1982. Over a decade later he was more than vindicated as the Israelis entered into negotiations with Arafat and the PLO. He's an interesting character himself having fought in the 1948 war and then turning to journalism and peace activism (read more about his life here

Anyhow, this was the Gush Shalom response to the Qana Massacre:

"THE KANA MASSACRE -- A WAR CRIME!" Immediately after the news about the Kana Massacre became known today (July 30), spontaneous protest demonstrations started near the Ministry of Defense compound in Tel-Aviv. In the evening, a larger demonstration was held. In spite of the fact that there was hardly any prior notice, more then 200 demonstrators gathered, including activists of Gush Shalom, Hadash, Anarchists Against Walls, Ta'ayush and other organizations. This time, a group of Meretz member, who rebelled against their party leadership, was also present. They included former Meretz MKs Ya'el Dayan and Naomi Hazan. Also present were Hadash MK Dov Hinin and former MK Tamar Gojansky. Conspicuous by its absence was Peace Now. The director of this organization, which has ceased to exist as an active peace movement years ago, appears now in the Media as one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the war. When a journalist wrote by mistake that Peace Now had taken part in a demonstration, the director denied it vigorously. Meretz leaders Yossi Beilin, Haim Oron and the others, except MK Zahava Galon, also publicly supported the war. "Peretz, Peretz, don't worry / Bush will meet you at The Hague!" shouted the demonstrators through their megaphones, which could be clearly heard in the ministry compound. The Hague, of course, is the seat of the International Criminal Court. "Peretz, you have promised education and pensions / all you gave us is tanks and dead bodies!" - "Children want to live / both in Beirut and in Haifa!" - "Killing Children is a war crime!" - "Labor in government / brings only war!" - "Olmert's agreement with Bush: / War and occupation!" (All these rhyme in Hebrew.) "It is rank hypocrisy to assert that the Kana inhabitants have been warned to leave their homes," former MK Uri Avnery said. "From the first day of the war, our army has bombed the roads and whole families were killed on the way. They have concluded that it is safer to stay in a shelter at home than to move on the roads." Avnery added that a commander who bombs and shells an inhabited area must know such disasters are bound to happen." "The criminal returns to the scene of the crime," commented Gush Shalom spokesman Adam Keller, referring to the massacre that happened in Kana in 1996, when Shimon Peres started a war in Lebanon. "That massacre compelled Peres to break off his war. The conclusion is that we must stop this war at once, before it is too late." Opposite, a small counter-demonstration took place. Usually, the fascists of the Kahane group play this role, but this time they were Labor Party members, who support the war completely. In the course of the demonstration, a special unit of the riot police appeared and for a moment it seemed that they were about to attack the protesters, but they only drove them off the road. After two and a half weeks of suppressing every voice against the war, this demonstration was covered on TV and the radio. At the same time, demonstrations were held around the country, mostly by of Arab citizens. Click here to view pictures from the demo

Quotes From Lebanese Refugees

One particularly representative quote below. Faith in the future even in the darkest moments is a regular feature one finds among those whom Israel has dispossessed and attacked. The ability to remain positive keeps folks going. More at the hyperlink:

«بتنزل بنايات ستتعمّر، بتروح طرقات سنعمرها. بروح شهداء بدنا نكملها (المسيرة). المسيرة مستمرة. النصر آتٍ بإذن الله. النصر آت.»
“If buildings get destroyed they’re will be rebuilt. If roads perish we will reconstruct them. Martyrs pass away, we continue (the journey). The journey continues. The victory is coming, God willing. The victory is coming.”

Link to updates on the destruction of Lebanon

Maintained by a grassroots Lebanese NGO called Samidoun (the patient/stoic ones - Samid being a very meaningful word in contemporary Arabic refer to grace and patience under fire):

In addition to tracking the Israeli assault on their country, they are helping to provide aid and relief to the hundreds of thousands made homeless by the Israelis.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

You have to read this...

One of the best bloggers anywhere commenting on the Arab world is Baheyya. The focus is usually on Egypt, but comments on the rest of the region as well. This is the sort of person who gets what it is about: both genuine national independence, and genuine democracy. Bush and the Israelis are only offering cheap facades of both, what they really want is subservient states with pliant dictators who pretend to be democrats. Arabs aren't idiots and they see right through it. Baheyya is one of the most adept bloggers out there at dissecting these realities, not from an American, but from an Egyptian and Arab point of view. She believes in people power, genuine democracy, genuine judicial independence and separation of powers, and genuine national independence. She is no friend of American or Israeli scheming and bombing, but if either country were ever to come to its senses, these are the people who could teach them a thing or two about real democracy.

Check out her latest post, an absolutely fabulous piece making the point that contrary to US and Israeli labels as terrorists, Hamas and Hizbullah represent far more than just Arab-Israeli violence to extend to genuine democratic evolution in the region. And that they have staying power beyond anything Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt could have dreamed of because they are genuinely an extension *of* the people and not merely populists doing something *for* the people. A quote and then the link:

"These movements don’t just offer monetary loans, cleaned streets, affordable schools, and functioning hospitals. They offer the dignity and honour that comes from resistance, the same dignity and honour that motivated the anti-fascist resistance, the same dignity and honour that bolstered the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto. I want to know, does the Israeli government and its American enabler think they can extinguish this quest for human dignity with cluster-bombing, the destruction of infrastructure, and the killing of infants and toddlers?"

Her whole blog is worth reading through, even old posts take you on lessons through history and culture gained by a serious student of her own country and regions past and present. Even the best of western scholars simply never grew up reading and feeling the place the way someone for whom it is home did. Viva Baheyya!

This is from the blog of a Canadian (I think, she seems to have grown up partially in California) woman who married an Egyptian and has settled in the countryside there. Normally she’s totally non-political, but every once in a while she discusses regional events. If you’re more inclined to read about horse riding at the pyramid of Saqqara or how to raise birds and dogs with a bunch of Egyptian country folk, check out the other 99% of the blog. But I thought she did a good job of a putting a common sense spin on the war on Lebanon.

Current Arabic web polls

One of my goals is to give you a decent sense of what folks in the Arab world are feeling. There's no perfect way to do that, it'll just be snippets. An article, some musings on what I'm seeing and hearing, a poll, some pictures, a link to another blog, etc. Hopefully they'll help you. Right now there's obviously a lot of anger in the Arab world. Unfortunately that plays into a lot of stereotypes, but there's no getting around it right now, people are angry the way we were angry after 9/11 (I may end up overusing that example, it's one of the few I've found that seems to really make the point to Americans who don't quite get what all the fuss is about).

So, here's a few web polls that are out there right now as an example. They're not scientific obviously and reflect a skewed sampling population made up of the frequently like-minded people who visit the various websites, but they still tell us some important nuggets of information, especially those from popular websites like Frequently you'll get overwhelmingly lopsided responses. Those say something, but the more interesting ones are where there are split answers coming out of what is a presumably homogenous readership.

AlJazeera's website like the TV channel seems to attract a broad audience with a heavy Arab Nationalist and moderate Islamist stance. The current poll question is - "After the Qana Massacre do you support:"

A revengeful response from Hizbullah - 101,141 votes - 86.9%
A ceasefire - 15,284 votes - 13.1%

The website like the TV station is Saudi-owned, and like it's older newspaper cousins Al-Hayat and Ash-Sharaq Al-Awsat has decent standards but clearly reflects and sometimes pushes hard the Saudi official line. When these guys get bolder you can tell something is either pulling or pushing the Saudis out of their typical slumber. The current poll question is - "The direct effect of the second Qana Massacre will be:"

The publication of an international decision for an immediate ceasefire - 12.47%
The submission of the Lebanese side to Israeli demands - 3.68%
The continuation of the war with American support for Israel - 83.85%
Total voters - 9,894

Just a couple of brief notes, more in the future.