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Egypt

31 Jan 2011

Having lived there for six years in the 90’s and having just visited last Spring, I am very concerned about the unrest in Egypt.  I expect that the official estimates of 100 dead are low.   And it is not over yet.  I am, perhaps over-optimistically, hoping and praying for a peaceful transition to a more democratic, more free, and more evenly prosperous country.

The demonstrations, the boiling-over anger at Mubarak – and even the violence and the looting – are understandable given the corruption, the gulf between rich and poor, the lack of a voice, and the fear (of the human-rights-abusing secret police) people have been living under for decades.  But, I believe that American foreign policy, to some extent, has also contributed to this public explosion of discontent and anger.  The US government has a history of supporting oppressive regimes based pretty much on self-interest – the old “he might be a SOB, but he’s our SOB” attitude.  In the past it has been based on fighting the communists or securing affordable oil, but now it seems the new justification for propping up undemocratic and oppressive regimes is the “threat” of extremist Islamic regimes.  (It is easy to over-play this threat by playing on the fear and anger already present in some segments of society.)   See, for example, the comments of some conservative, Republican political figures:

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/48405.html

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/01/28/amb-john-bolton-democracy-coming-eygpt/

I would not want to totally discount the possibility of extremist Islamic regimes coming to power, but the factors that determine how likely that would be are complex.  In any case, that is a separate (though related) argument from the question of whether supporting repressive “friendly” regimes is the best way to prevent the rise of extremist regimes.  In the following article another conservative Republican, Elliot Abrams, argues against Bolton, Santorum, and Huckabee.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/28/AR2011012803144_pf.html

While, from what I have read, I would strongly disagree with Abrams on almost every issue – especially his thoughts and positions on the Israel/Palestine conflict, I would agree with a lot of his analysis of the current situation in Egypt as expressed in this article:

Mubarak took the same tack for three decades. Ruling under an endless emergency law, he has crushed the moderate opposition while the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood has thrived underground and in the mosques. Mubarak in effect created a two-party system – his ruling National Democratic Party and the Brotherhood – and then defended the lack of democracy by saying a free election would bring the Islamists to power.

Of course, neither he nor we can know for sure what Egyptians really think; last fall’s parliamentary election was even more corrupt than the one in 2005. And sometimes the results of a first free election will find the moderates so poorly organized that extreme groups can eke out a victory… But we do know for sure that regimes that make moderate politics impossible make extremism far more likely. Rule by emergency decree long enough, and you end up creating a genuine emergency. And Egypt has one now.

He also quoted George W. Bush, “In the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.”  Abrams also asked, “And will our own government learn that dictatorships are never truly stable? For beneath the calm surface enforced by myriad security forces, the pressure for change only grows – and it may grow in extreme and violent forms when real debate and political competition are denied.”  We need to be very careful and “long-term thoughtful” about who we support and how we do it.

However, I want to come back to what has happened / is happening to the people of Egypt.  As I said, I am hoping and praying for a peaceful transition to a more democratic, more free, and more evenly prosperous country.  I would love to see this kind of a country for my Muslim and Christian friends (and others) in Egypt.

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Jewish Voice for Peace

25 Jan 2011

For a while I have wanted to mention Jewish organizations that are strongly working for a just peace in Israel / Palestine – and that strongly oppose the policies of the more recognized pro-settlement Jewish/Israeli individuals, organizations and lobbies.  I mentioned this very briefly in my previous post, Disturbed.  I just got an email from Jewish Voice for Peace (JVfP) which expresses some of my thoughts about the recent leak of documents related to peace negotiations.  I could not find a way to link to the letter online, so I have copied and pasted it below.  (I trust JVfP won’t mind me further disseminating the letter – if so, please let me know and I will remove it.)  Important note / disclaimer: My blogging about this letter does NOT mean that I necessarily agree with everything in the letter or with everything JVfP stands for, etc.  I do agree with the main ideas below, and I am very happy that there are significant numbers of Jewish/Israeli people who care deeply about the human rights of Palestinians and peace – and support / work for policies in concert with those values.  Also, see the four disclaimers on my previous post Disturbed.

Dear John ,

The recent release by Al Jazeera and the Guardian of some 16,000 documents related to nearly 20 years of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations sadly substantiates what Jewish Voice for Peace has said publicly for years- that the U.S. is not the neutral broker it claims to be.

The United States’ unconditional support for Israel has helped to perpetuate the occupation by promoting endless negotiations that have enabled Israel to expand settlements while claiming to work towards peace.

Israel’s lack of interest in ending the occupation and being a partner to peace
is now
nakedly revealed in documents which show its reaction to he Palestinian Authority’s unprecedented concessions, shocking because they far exceed the requirements of international law. Israel offered an intransigent ‘no’ to every concession, with the U.S. looking on in approval.

There is a chance, however, for the Obama Administration to differentiate itself from the ineffectual American actions revealed in the leaked documents.

Palestinians and their supporters have put forth a key resolution on the Israel-Palestine conflict that is now before the UN Security Council. Largely echoing stated U.S. policy, the resolution embraces negotiations, endorses the creation of a Palestinian state, and demands an immediate halt to Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But even though the resolution echoes U.S. policy, President Obama is under heavy pressure to veto the UN resolution from forces in Washington who want to protect the Israeli occupation.

Will you join Jewish Voice for Peace and Just Foreign Policy in urging President Obama to support the UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem?


Prominent former diplomats, including Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Ambassador James Dobbins, have written to President Obama, urging him to instruct our Ambassador to the United Nations to vote yes on this initiative, noting that it echoes U.S. policy.[1]

But sixteen Senators, led by New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, have urged Secretary of State Clinton to veto the resolution.[2]

It’s not an immutable law of the universe that the U.S. has to veto UN resolutions critical of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Indeed, last year, the U.S. promised the Palestinians to “consider allowing UN Security Council condemnation of any significant new Israeli settlement activity,” the Guardian reported. [3]

U.S. policy is at a cross-roads.

If the U.S. vetoes the UN resolution, it will signal implicit American support for illegal, Jewish-only settlements. Such support would be a departure from longstanding stated U.S. policy and would encourage accelerated settlement construction. A U.S. veto would also embolden the most reactionary forces in Israel, which have been escalating their efforts to silence Israeli dissent against the occupation.

This is a historic opportunity for President Obama to show leadership and back up the words of his speech in Cairo with deeds. Urge President Obama to support the UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Thank you for all you do to help bring about a change in U.S. policy,

Cecilie Surasky, Deputy Director
Sydney Levy, Director of Campaigns
Jewish Voice for Peace

References:

1. “Pickering, Hills, Sullivan, Beinart, Dobbins, More Ask Obama Administration to Support UN Resolution Condemning Illegal Israeli Settlements,” Steve Clemons, The Washington Note, Wednesday, Jan 19 2011, http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/2011/01/pickering_hills/
2. “UN Resolution on Israeli Settlements Puts Obama in a Diplomatic Bind,” Tony Karon Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011,
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2043326,00.html
3. “U.S. gives Abbas private assurances over Israeli settlements: Americans consider withholding veto protecting Israel at UN if building goes ahead at Ramat Shlomo,” Rory McCarthy, Guardian, Thursday 29 April 2010,
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/29/israel-settlement-building-peace-talks

Dear John ,

The recent release by Al Jazeera and the Guardian of some 16,000 documents related to nearly 20 years of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations sadly substantiates what Jewish Voice for Peace has said publicly for years- that the U.S. is not the neutral broker it claims to be.

The United States’ unconditional support for Israel has helped to perpetuate the occupation by promoting endless negotiations that have enabled Israel to expand settlements while claiming to work towards peace.

Israel’s lack of interest in ending the occupation and being a partner to peace
is now
nakedly revealed in documents which show its reaction to he Palestinian Authority’s unprecedented concessions, shocking because they far exceed the requirements of international law. Israel offered an intransigent ‘no’ to every concession, with the U.S. looking on in approval.

There is a chance, however, for the Obama Administration to differentiate itself from the ineffectual American actions revealed in the leaked documents.

Palestinians and their supporters have put forth a key resolution on the Israel-Palestine conflict that is now before the UN Security Council. Largely echoing stated U.S. policy, the resolution embraces negotiations, endorses the creation of a Palestinian state, and demands an immediate halt to Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But even though the resolution echoes U.S. policy, President Obama is under heavy pressure to veto the UN resolution from forces in Washington who want to protect the Israeli occupation.

Will you join Jewish Voice for Peace and Just Foreign Policy in urging President Obama to support the UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem?


Prominent former diplomats, including Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Ambassador James Dobbins, have written to President Obama, urging him to instruct our Ambassador to the United Nations to vote yes on this initiative, noting that it echoes U.S. policy.[1]

But sixteen Senators, led by New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, have urged Secretary of State Clinton to veto the resolution.[2]

It’s not an immutable law of the universe that the U.S. has to veto UN resolutions critical of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Indeed, last year, the U.S. promised the Palestinians to “consider allowing UN Security Council condemnation of any significant new Israeli settlement activity,” the Guardian reported. [3]

U.S. policy is at a cross-roads.

If the U.S. vetoes the UN resolution, it will signal implicit American support for illegal, Jewish-only settlements. Such support would be a departure from longstanding stated U.S. policy and would encourage accelerated settlement construction. A U.S. veto would also embolden the most reactionary forces in Israel, which have been escalating their efforts to silence Israeli dissent against the occupation.

This is a historic opportunity for President Obama to show leadership and back up the words of his speech in Cairo with deeds. Urge President Obama to support the UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Thank you for all you do to help bring about a change in U.S. policy,

Cecilie Surasky, Deputy Director
Sydney Levy, Director of Campaigns
Jewish Voice for Peace

References:

1. “Pickering, Hills, Sullivan, Beinart, Dobbins, More Ask Obama Administration to Support UN Resolution Condemning Illegal Israeli Settlements,” Steve Clemons, The Washington Note, Wednesday, Jan 19 2011, http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/2011/01/pickering_hills/
2. “UN Resolution on Israeli Settlements Puts Obama in a Diplomatic Bind,” Tony Karon Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011,
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2043326,00.html
3. “U.S. gives Abbas private assurances over Israeli settlements: Americans consider withholding veto protecting Israel at UN if building goes ahead at Ramat Shlomo,” Rory McCarthy, Guardian, Thursday 29 April 2010,
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/29/israel-settlement-building-peace-talks

Disturbed

21 Jan 2011

Reading the following two articles really disturbed me.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/08/world/middleeast/08mideast.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/20/world/middleeast/20israel.html

First, let me assure / remind you of four things:

  1. I deplore all violence, especially violence against innocent civilians.
  2. I realize (and constantly seek to help others understand) that the Israel/Palestine conflict is a very complex problem with a long and violent history.
  3. Criticizing one side does NOT mean exonerating the other side for the wrongs they have perpetrated.  NOR does this criticism assert or imply any kind of moral equivalence.  (Moral calculus is very difficult to do – it involves tricky equations like “to whom much is given, much is required”.  Thus, most of us don’t do it – opting rather for the simpler “my side is good, the other side is bad”.)
  4. I do tend to speak or write in a way that is critical of the Israeli-settler perspective on this conflict*.   Surely, this is partially because of my life, experience, acquaintances, friendships, etc. in the Arab world.  However, it is also the case that many (but not all) of my friends and acquaintances generally have more opportunity to hear the perspectives of and the arguments for the Israeli-settler side.  In the spirit of Proverbs 18.17, (“The first to speak in court sounds right – until the cross-examination begins.”) I want to offer them another perspective.

Anyway, these news stories bothered me.  First, the sheer terror, tragedy, and loss experienced by Omar’s wife and family is incalculable.

But more disturbing to me is the actions of this elite, highly trained group of Israeli soldiers, the initial and later response by the military establishment, and the military culture that allowed this to happen (including both explicit aspects like “rules of engagement”, and tacit attitudes and values of which we see troubling hints).  I say this is more disturbing to me, not to denigrate in any way the tragic loss experienced by Omar’s family, but because if this “culture” is not truly acknowledged as a systemic problem by Israel, and something is done about it, this tragedy will be repeated – further fueling the conflict.

I don’t have time to explain in detail the three things I mention above, hopefully if you read the news stories, you will recognize the things I am referring to.  I want to highlight just one thing.  Highly trained, specialized troops stormed an apartment and woke a sleeping man.  We will probably never know exactly what happened.  Early, initial reports that Omar rushed at the soldiers seems to be contradicted by the physical evidence at the scene.  However, the first soldier to shoot Omar merely needed to testify that Omar made  “suspicious movement that caused [him] to feel that his life was threatened”  in order to be considered to be acting legally under the rules of engagement.

How would you react to being woken by heavily armed soldiers violently breaking into your home/bedroom?  What “suspicious movement” might you make in your shock and fear?  What movement could you make that could NOT in some way be interpreted by an aggressive, antagonistic soldier as “suspicious”?  It seems to me that the bar set by the IDF for legally killing someone is pretty low – scarily low.  Especially for a military that loves to proclaim that it is the “most moral army in the world”.

*I say Israeli-settler perspective, because there are many Israeli / Jewish perspectives on this conflict.

Busy

21 Jan 2011

I guess I have been busy as I haven’t  posted since August.  In December, I successfully completed my first semester of course work for my PhD in English Studies at Illinios State University.  It was a lot of work.  And then semester / Christmas break was busy getting other stuff done – and fun with my brother and family visiting.  Now I am 2 weeks into my second semester which looks like it will be just as busy.

Imam Rauf: Mosque planner has been mostly silent during noisy debate

23 Aug 2010

Imam Rauf: Mosque planner has been mostly silent during noisy debate -Washington Post – Annotated – See excerpts (bulleted) after my comments in the Read more.

The more I learn about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the more strange the whole situation seems. I would think his liberal interpretations of Islam – what Sharia law really is/should be, role of women, etc. would make him more unpopular with traditional, conservative Muslims, than with Americans. The way that some American conservatives are taking and twisting or misusing his nuanced statements is depressing and reveals, not an interest in truth, but an interest in supporting “my side” and attacking “the other”.  Remaining silent when faced with overwhelming opposition, giving nuanced answers that can be twisted, and being an impractical idealist may make him a poor PR guy, but they do not make him a supporter of extremism or violence.  See also the article I posted yesterday about him. Read more…

Feisal Abdul Rauf’s Balancing Act in Mosque Furor – NYTimes.com

23 Aug 2010

Feisal Abdul Rauf’s Balancing Act in Mosque Furor – NYTimes.comAnnotated – See excerpts (bulleted) after my comments in the Read more.

Good background on Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the “ground zero mosque”.  Some friends have been asking me about the leaders of the “ground zero mosque” and their views and statements about extremist Islam, terrorism, etc.  I think this article gives a good picture of this imam.  Read more…

More on the “Mosque at Ground Zero”

14 Aug 2010

Scott just commented on my previous post about the “Mosque at Ground Zero” or Cordoba House. He was troubled by the selective reporting of the Christian sources he had read which had not mentioned that the Muslims building the mosque were seeking to repudiate radical Islam.

I agree with Scott’s concern about these sources.  However, what is more troubling to me is that there are some Christian sources who DO mention this, but then immediately dismiss it with an argument like this: Read more…