Two pieces on El-Baradei
I'm not an Arab, but sometimes I sound like one.
Anti-Islamic xenophobia has once again brought into vogue the accusations that Islam is spread by the sword and inherently violent and blah blah blah. The quick rejoinder from Muslims is "hey boys, Christianity has plenty of experience in spreading by the sword too". From Middle Age Crusaders eating the flesh of Muslims in Syria and Palestine, to Reconquista baptism-death-or-exile choices (or sometimes a combination) in Iberia, to the only slightly more subtle attempts to weld modern colonialism and mostly Protestant evangelizing in the 19th and 20th centuries, Christianity ain't free from the charge either. Truth is, one can point to episodes of both violent and peaceful spread of Islam and Christianity over the centuries, and in speaking in the broadest possible definitions of those religions, neither has a clean record. Both have examples of people of the most vile persuasions and other people of the purest hearts spreading their faiths.
Anyone who knows me or who has been reading my blog knows I have little (read no) tolerance for simplistic arguments pinning blame for the world's ills on religion and belief systems. Yes, religion is a player in the complex systems of life and society and can have positive and negative impacts, but it is one player among many and in most cases where people try to pin the blame on religion I see little more than brainless reductionism. That's why I put Bill Maher Religulous-type ranting in the same category as Salafist and Puritan and Kach-type extremism. It's a reflection of blindness to complexity, an unwillingness to even try to understand difficult issues in favor of dumbing things down. Yes, sometimes we need to cut through the fog and call a spade a spade, but it turns out that most of the world really is grey and we are far too eager to declare things black and white than reality would dictate.
Yet another example of how it is a lie to call Israel a democracy. Israel is only a "democracy" in the sense that Apartheid South Africa was a "democracy" - i.e., if you are of the ruling class' race, you have full rights, if you are not, your rights can and will be curtailed at any time depending on the degree of "danger" the ruling race sees in your actions. Here we see how even a memorial to a dead secular politician is considered "dangerous" enough to ban. If I haven't used enough scare quotes, just let me know, I have plenty more available :)
Spoke with a contact at the State Departments Near Eastern Affairs division just recently. He is someone I deeply respect, has long experience, is an uber-realist, and has no illusions about anyone Palestinian, Israeli, Lebanese, American, Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian or whatever. Which also means his upward career path is ultimately limited because he won't pay blind obeisance to the Israelis, insisting on (how novel) representing what he believes is best for American and broader human interests. Still his work is of such high quality analytically and managerially that nobody can (thankfully) get rid of him. Nothing in-depth, but a few notes from our conversation as I tried to get a sense of how things are looking at State in these first days of the Obama Administration:
I always struggle to know where to point people who just want a basic background on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I have reams and reams of books, websites, articles and such I can point them to, but they're either too complex, too over-simplified, too specialized, too de-personalized, assume too much knowledge, or otherwise don't really do the "101" job of explaining things with the right balance of providing sufficient information while not overwhelming.
Jews around the world often refer to the Righteous Among the Nations, those good people who stood up for humanity and saved the lives of many Jews during the Holocaust. I count at least one of my European relatives among them, a man who in my childhood I remember proudly displaying the items he'd stolen from Nazi soldiers (a helmet, a radio, a boot - he didn't have it anymore, but even a motorcycle) and telling how he had helped Jewish citizens of his country escape to safety during the occupation years. These righteous may have been relatively few in a time of sheer madness, but their goodness and their sacrifice is worthily remembered today.
So let's talk about Sderot, that town in Israel that the Israelis claim as the main symbol justifying starving 1.5 million dirt-poor civilian refugees in Gaza, murdering almost 1000 now (by the time I'm done typing maybe we'll be over that number) and wounding thousands more innocents while flattening entire neighborhoods and massacring entire families. Sderot is a symbol for the Israelis, the poor innocent town getting rocketed for supposedly no reason. But here's the thing: Israel wants us to believe that its cities and towns have no history before they supposedly showed up and made the desert bloom. Well, allow me to disabuse that notion.
As in most rounds of Israeli massacres of Palestinians, Arab musicians are coming out singing for the victims and decrying the brutality, and - crucially - the impotence and acquiescence of the Arab rulers. There is a long tradition of Arab musicians decrying their leaders betrayal of the Palestinian people. Um Kalthoum (probably the single most famous Arab singer of all time for those not familiar with her) famously hosted some of the Egyptian officers that the British stooge King Farouk had sent into Palestine with broken rusty rifles and insufficient numbers, as a deliberate show of disdain for the rulers.