Posts about Mideast

Fearing for Israel

I am coming to fear for the fate of Israel. Iran and Syria, through Hezbollah, are testing the world to see whether they can, in the dream of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wipe Israel off the face of the map. And the world is not responding. Oh, we’re hearing calls for a cease-fire — which leaves Hezbollah still rewarded for its aggression — but even so, no one is stepping up to stand in the way of that fire. From much of Europe and the American left, we’re hearing talk about Israel’s “disproportionate use of force” in what I think is just the PC way to oppose Israel.

Hear David Rowan, editor of London’s Jewish Chronicle, in The Times of London:

Had Hezbollah’s two main sponsors cast any doubt on their determination to wipe Israel off the map, maybe the current military onslaught would have been less acceptable to the 80 or 90 per cent of Israeli voters who last week offered Olmert their backing. Yet for all Olmert’s bold pledges to “destroy every terrorist infrastructure everywhere”, if his military commanders continue to act with only American and wavering British governmental support, while showing the world too little apparent concern for Lebanese civilian deaths, the worry here is that he will only weaken further his nation’s strategic interests, and its longer-term security, as fashionable discourse from talk show to dinner party questions ever more openly Israel’s moral right to exist.

Let that last phrase echo for a moment: “fashionable discourse from talk show to dinner party questions ever more openly Israel’s moral right to exist.”

The reason Israel must exist is Europe. I am delighted to see Timothy Garton Ash say just that in an eloquent and wise column in today’s Guardian.

Yet observing European responses to the current conflict, I want to insist on Europe’s own strong claim to be among the earliest causes. The Russian pogroms of 1881; the French mob chanting “à bas les juifs” as Captain Dreyfus was stripped of his epaulettes at the École Militaire; the festering anti-semitism of Austria around 1900, shaping the young Adolf Hitler; all the way to the Holocaust of European Jewry and the waves of anti-semitism that convulsed parts of Europe in its immediate aftermath. It was that history of increasingly radical European rejection, from the 1880s to the 1940s, that produced the driving force for political Zionism, Jewish emigration to Palestine and eventually the creation of the state of Israel. . . .

Does it follow that Europeans have a special obligation to get involved in trying to secure a peace settlement in which the state of Israel can live in secure frontiers next to a viable Palestinian state? I think it does. . . . Even if you don’t accept this argument from historical and moral responsibility, Europe’s vital interests are plainly at stake: oil, nuclear proliferation and the potential reaction among our alienated Muslim minorities, to name but three. . .

How Europeans speak and write about the position of the Jews in the region to which Europeans drove them is also a matter of our own self-definition. We should weigh every word.

If we — Americans and Europeans, liberals and conservatives — allow Israel as a safe haven and as a nation to be destroyed, whether by ceaseless terrorism or by Iranian nuclear bomb, and if we allow the world to continue to be terrorized by the fanatics who now attack not only Israel but also other nations, then this will be the shameful legacy of our generation.

: LATER: I know it may be red meat to some of you, but see also John Podhoretz’ column this week on PC war:

What if liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?

What if the universalist idea of liberal democracy – the idea that all people are created equal – has sunk in so deeply that we no longer assign special value to the lives and interests of our own people as opposed to those in other countries?

What if this triumph of universalism is demonstrated by the Left’s insistence that American and Israeli military actions marked by an extraordinary concern for preventing civilian casualties are in fact unacceptably brutal? And is also apparent in the Right’s claim that a war against a country has nothing to do with the people but only with that country’s leaders?

Can any war be won when this is the nature of the discussion in the countries fighting the war? Can any war be won when one of the combatants voluntarily limits itself in this manner?

Could World War II have been won by Britain and the United States if the two countries did not have it in them to firebomb Dresden and nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki? . . .

s this the horrifying paradox of 21st century warfare? If Israel and the United States cannot be defeated militarily in any conventional sense, have our foes discovered a new way to win? Are they seeking victory through demoralization alone – by daring us to match them in barbarity and knowing we will fail?

Are we becoming unwitting participants in their victory and our defeat? Can it be that the moral greatness of our civilization – its astonishing focus on the value of the individual above all – is endangering the future of our civilization as well?

Haven’t we learned that the other side — those extremists — use what’s best about us against us? Haven’t we learned that we have a common foe?

: And someone just told me to look up a column by Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler, that appeared in the New York Observer more than four years ago warning harshly of the second Holocaust. Here is a quote from an edited version that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle:

We have to examine the dynamic going on in the mind of Europe at this moment: a dynamic that suggests that Europeans, on some deep if not entirely conscious level, are willing to be complicit in the murder of the Jews again. . . .

And so there is a need to blame someone else for the shame of “European civilization.” To blame the victim. To blame the Jews. The more European nations can focus one-sidedly on the Israeli response to terror and not to the terror itself, the more they can portray the Jews as the real villains, the more salve to their collective conscience for their complicity in collective mass murder in the past. . . .

If Israel were to act with true ruthlessness to end the suicide bombings, they would tell the prospective bombers – who go to their deaths expecting that their families will celebrate their mass murders with a subsidized party and reap lucrative financial rewards courtesy of the Saudis and Saddam – that their families instead will share the exact same fate of the people the bombers blow up. That might put a crimp into the recruiting and the partying over dead Jewish children. But the Israelis won’t do that, and that is why there’s likely to be a second Holocaust. Not because the Israelis are acting without restraint, but because they are, so far, still acting with restraint despite the massacres making their country uninhabitable.

Rosenbaum wrote a followup column in this week’s March in the Observer.

: And now see Howard Kurtz contemplating why liberal bloggers seem to be saying so little about Israel.

The world’s bravest reporters

Australian Broadcasting’s Media Report radio show/podcast has a spectacular report this week on the brave reporters who are building Afghanistan’s own journalism, free speech, and free society despite very real danger. Listen here; read here.

The host, Gerald Tooth, begins with Tolo TV’s 6:30 Report, an investigative show that has “taken on war-lords, drug-lords, paedophile rings, corruption in the Supreme Court, and the country’s difficult relationship with Pakistan.” The show’s star reporter is only 23 and he is fearless. Masood Qiam is the real Gunga Dan. Some excerpts from the interview:

Qiam: You know, in Afghanistan, in the last four years, media progress is good, but we still have a lot of problems in the law, in media law. And in parliament we often come up against MPs, who despite making the law, don’t understand media law…. For example, when an MP slapped our cameraman in parliament, and when we asked him why, he said, ‘It’s my right to slap a cameraman, as an MP’. And this is an example of an MP that doesn’t know the law, or know how to behave with a journalist. Also there are many journalists who don’t know what their rights are when it comes to media law….

The MPs are already scared of Tolo TV cameramen because previously we broadcast footage of MPs falling asleep in parliament, and of another one picking his nose. So we were already unpopular.

That’s almost funny — imagine Tom DeLay slapping a reporter (I’m sure he has) — but, of course, the enemies of democracy in Afghanistan have worse weapons than fists.

But, of course, it is more serious than that. It’s about the essence of the law being formed in Afghanistan:

Qiam: I was called before the Supreme Court to answer a charge of defamation after we did a story revealing corruption within the court. While I was in court, they threatened me, and said if it’s proved that you have defamed the head of the Supreme Court, Maolari Shinwari, you’ll be jailed for two years, and it shocked me. . . .

Later in the interview, he talked about the efforts at intimidation that came as a result of the Supreme Court investigations, including demonstrations against the station:

Qiam: Because the Supreme Court head is the President of the Islamic Scholars’ Council, and that Council is in every part of Afghanistan, working with the mullahs, and when they saw the report about the corruption in the Supreme Court and the weakness of the head of the court, they’re angry, and they start to demonstrate against Tolo TV. And three or four times now the head of the Supreme Court has asked the President, Hamid Karzai, to stop Tolo TV. He thinks we’re against Islam, or we are against our culture, and that’s wrong.

Tooth: And you covered the demonstration?

Qiam: Yes, it’s a reality, and we have to broadcast the reality of what our people think about us, and whatever the problem, they have to know that.

Now there’s transparency. Qiam spoke more about intimidation and fear:

I’m not afraid of anyone, and I think this is necessary to make our society good, and for the progress of democracy and freedom of speech. . . .

There are two types of people in public life in our new democracy. There are those who are ready to be interviewed by us, and we are not afraid of them because they believe in media, and they believe in freedom of speech and they will never threaten us. Then there are people who are not ready to be interviewed by us, who have their fingers in corruption and drugs, and we’re afraid of those people because they’re very dangerous for the people, and also for the journalists. And they are the ones we worry about attacking us when our backs are turned.

This from a man who, Tooth says, has received death threats for every story he has aired. Says Qiam:

Threats against my life are not such a big issue. For 23 years I grew up here. I was here under the Communists and under the Mujahadeen, with the Taliban. For us, life is always full of risks. The most fearful thing for me is not death threats to us; yes, we are afraid of these people to some extent, but most of all as journalists, we’re afraid of the Parliament. In Parliament there are MPs who will limit our activities by issuing laws that will confine us into four walls and will stop us from asking open questions. And when we ask them about their intentions to bring in harsher media laws, they just give vague and evasive answers. So we’re afraid that they are planning to bring in laws that will completely limit our activities. That’s what hurts me, and I think that’s what’s dangerous for Afghanistan.

Let me explain again that threats like slapping and beating are not a real threat. It’s a threat, but not too serious for us. It’s not a serious threat that can stop us from working. But the most serious and frequent threat is to limit our activities by law.

My other fear is that the government starts to ignore our reports and not react to them. Ignoring our reports is the biggest way they can hurt us. This is the threat, this is dangerous for us, this is painful, when your job is not effective, this is dangerous. I think it’s going to be like American democracy, the media is free to say anything, but the government is deaf to them.

Note that last line well.

Tooth next talks to Malalai Joya, a 28-year-old woman and member of Parliament who stood up and told various of her fellow MPs that they were warlords who should be jailed. This is what led to the shoving match with Qiam’s camera crew, above. And then Tooth interviews Shukria Barakzai, 35, another MP and a journalist who started a weekly women’s magazine. Read or listen to it all and hear the raw nerves of journalism’s birth in a nation.

Bridge blogging

Here is Hossein Derakhshan’s BBC account of his visit to Israel as an Iranian blogger.

Having been born and raised in a religious, pro-revolution atmosphere in Tehran, like many others from my generation, I knew nothing about Israel except that they were “a declining group of Jews who constantly conspire to kill Muslim and forcefully capture their lands”.

That’s why for us Israel never existed except when Friday prayers would finish their “death to” chants with Israel. Everywhere else, even on maps, Tel Aviv was the capital of the “Zionist Regime” or “Occupied Palestine”….

The reaction from Iranians was surprisingly positive. Of the several hundred comments I received from my readers inside or outside Iran, most of them were quite supportive, saying they believed it was a good step towards peace and understanding…. However, only a few known bloggers dared linking to the material on my blog, which was already filtered by the Iranian government, or mentioning the visit….

Shot by al-Qaeda

The Times of London carries an excerpt from a most dramatic account by BBC correspondent Frank Gardner of his shooting by al-Qaeda thugs in Saudi Arabia.

“No! Don’t do this!” I shouted instinctively in Arabic.

He pulled out a long-barrelled pistol. Oh my God, I thought, this cannot be happening.

I ran for my life, sprinting away from our van and into the deeply conservative quarter of Al-Suwaidi. There was a loud crack behind me and I felt something sting my shoulder. I didn’t know it then but the bullet passed clean through, hitting the shoulder bone on the way….

Instead of the neatly arranged headdresses with a sharp crease in the middle worn by ordinary urban Saudis, these men wore theirs wound tightly round their foreheads like a bandage. It was the isaaba, the dress worn by jihadi fighters who consider they are about to go into battle, the same style worn by the 9/11 suicidal hijackers in their video testimonies and by Mohammed Siddique Khan, the leader of the July 7 London bombers, in his posthumously released video warning to the West.

I realised then that I was doomed. These men were no casual, have-a-go amateurs; they were the real thing, a hardcore Al-Qaeda terror cell bent on attacking their government, killing westerners and “cleansing the Arabian peninsula of infidels”.

In that instant I glimpsed faces driven by pure hatred and fanaticism. I pleaded with them in Arabic, as so many hostages have done in Iraq, while they held a brief discussion as to what to do with me. It did not take long. They responded to my pleas by opening fire once more….

For the past few years I had tried hard to explain the complexities of the Middle East and the thinking behind the Al-Qaeda phenomenon to western and international audiences. And this was my reward? A bunch of bullets in the guts from men who had convinced themselves they were killing in the cause of Islam. It just did not seem right….

A cloud’s lining

Amos Oz says on Comment is Free that the rise of Hamas could be good news.

s there anything the new centre-left Israeli government can do for peace, as long as Hamas does not want any peace with Israel? It can “take the issue upstairs” – talk to the bully’s parents, as it were. In our case, the bully’s family is the Arab League, which in 2000 adopted a peace plan….

It is not unthinkable that a deal between the pragmatic Israeli and Arab governments can be reached – and then brought before the Palestinians for a referendum. … Instead of Israeli disengagement – bound to leave many issues open and bleeding – we can work with Egypt and Saudi Arabia for a lasting peace.

Brokeback desert

Brian Whitaker, Middle East editor of The Guardian, says at CommFree that Brokeback Mountain tells a story that’s most relevant to the Arab world — if only it could be told there: “Western audiences who see the film can view it as a portrayal of gay life in the bad old days of the 50s and 60s. For Arabs, on the other hand, it’s a portrayal of the reality now.”

What to do about Iraq

Last week, at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, I asked the left what its solution is to Iraq, arguing that “just as you cannot abandon the Iraqis to this mess we got them into, you cannot abandon policy to those who made the mess.” Some, quite predictably, dismissed this.

But not Brian Whitaker, Middle East editor of The Guardian. In a long and, predictably, thoughtful response on the third anniversary of the start of war, he argues that I’m right to challenge the left to offer its solutions, but he fears there is no solution short of waiting out 15 years of war.

Tempting as it may be to suggest that those who got us into this mess should get us out of it, Jeff is basically right. If we leave it to them the chances are that they will only lead us deeper into the mire, so it’s reasonable to ask opponents of the war (and anyone else, for that matter) how they would proceed from here.

Demanding to know how they would actually solve Iraq is a different matter, however. The question implies that a solution does exist, if only someone could come up with the necessary bright idea. What this demonstrates, I fear, is that the hawks, even liberal ones like Jeff, are still failing to understand the real nature of the conflict, otherwise they would see that there is no solution.

If this sounds like a way of evading the question, it isn’t meant to be. Patients may demand a cure from their doctors, just as Jeff does with Iraq, but sometimes the doctors can’t help. Once we have got over that hurdle and admitted that there is no known cure for Iraq we can start to think rationally about what to do next.

One of the items on Whitaker’s lines on his to-do list is to initiate “criminal proceedings against Bush, Blair and their cohorts” to give “a strong, clear signal.” And, preditably, he brings the matter back to Israel and the Palestinians. That is quickly reaching the level of cant.

Otherwise, I find Whitaker argument unpleasant but compelling:

The US-led invasion unleashed ethnic and sectarian rivalries that the Ba’athist regime had kept bottled up – brutally – for decades. Assuming that Iraq does not totally disintegrate (though that is a distinct possibility), we can reasonably expect the war will take between 10 and 20 years to run its course. A midway point between these two figures would be 15 years – the length of the Lebanese civil war, which is quite a useful comparison….

The Iraqi war will end when the parties involved have fought themselves to a standstill, either through exhaustion or by reaching a stalemate. That doesn’t necessarily mean the underlying issues will be resolved by fighting but the power struggle will eventually shift – as it did in Lebanon – from the military to the political sphere.

Though the shift may still be a decade or more away, any framework of political institutions that can be preserved in the meantime will be useful when the time comes. For that reason, if no other, we should try to keep the parliament and some semblance of a government running, but let’s not pretend there is a democracy in the making.

As the war takes its tragic but now inevitable course inside Iraq, our first concern must be to stop it spreading beyond the country’s borders. In particular, we must do everything we can to prevent Iraq’s internal rivalries – between Sunni, Shia, Kurdish etc – from infecting the rest of the region. This is an increasingly urgent problem.

More readers added their responses at Comment is Free. Among them, Leon Green suggests: “The United Nations in my view is the answer. Hand over control (with the Iraqi ‘government’ on the steering group) to the UN.” James Hamilton responds:

1. You are going to need a very large number of peacekeepers, probably in the hundreds of thousands, and you are going to have to train them in their work, which will take 2-3 years …

2. If the UN is going to be running Iraq’s assets in trust, then it is going to have to undergo considerable reform itself to avoid any hint of a repeat of the Oil For Food fiasco….

3. You might not like the record of “western” superpowers, but you would probably admit that they’ve made a better fist of Afghanistan than the Russians did, and that the continued state of Chechnya is an argument against looking to non-Western powers for better consequences. …

Read the rest at Comment is Free, including many who argue that I set the wrong rule. I said that just getting the hell out of there is not the answer.

Here at Buzzmachine, there were more comments, some with venom, which I wish wouldn’t happen but I’m not so unrealistic as to assume that’s possible. But Andrew Tyndall has a wise response:

Imagine militias escalating current death squad activity into all-out sectarian warfare. Image if the Shiite militias of the Interior Ministry start fighting one another on faultlines such as maximal-vs-regional power, or various degrees of clerical control.

If those dangers are realistic, then the current US policy of arming and training local army and police forces is a recipe for disaster. All that does is make all potential sides in such civil conflict even more skilled at killing.

Yet that policy — arming and training — is announced as the essential pre-requisite for withdrawal….

If the cause of the violence in Iraq is resistance against foreign occupation, then the principled thing is for the occupier to leave.

If the cause is sectarian vendettas, then the principled thing is for the occupier to step into the middle.

If the cause is terrorist cells seeking to disrupt civil society, then the principled thing is for the occupier to help arm and train the government.

If the cause is warlordism, then the principled thing is for the occupier to help defuse and disarm all factions, including those operating, for the time being, under government colors.

Well this is the horns of a dilemma!

Robert Feinman says:

If you assume, as I do, that the goals of the invasion were:

1. Establish permanent bases in Iraq to replace those lost in Saudi Arabia

2. Install a client government that will agree to favorable oil deals

3. Intimidate surrounding Arab states

4. Limit China’s ability to purchase mid-east oil

Then future US policy is clear.

1. The permanent bases are almost complete. Murtha’s misunderstood suggestion about withdrawal wasn’t from Iraq, but just to the bases.

2. The client government is still a work in progress.

3. Arab states have become more compliant, especially Syria and Libya

4. China is now making oil deals in much less favorable places because of lack of access to prime oil nations….

There’s much more.

We can’t end the war now. Leaving doesn’t end the war. The solution, whatever it is, is not as simple as a bumpersticker.

The point is, this is what we must be discussing now: future tense over — not instead of — past tense.

The cartoon about the cartoons

Telegraph staff blogger Anton La Guardia reports on the pathetic concern of the Danish Union of Journalists in the matter of those cartoons:

One would assume that Danish journalists would be eagerly seeking international support for cartoonists facing death threats because of their drawings of the Prophet Mohammed, or perhaps pledging solidarity with Muslim journalists in trouble with their authorities for reproducing them.

But no, the Danish union’s central worry, as set out in a statement translated into English on its website, concentrates on the question of money and the infringement of the cartoonists’ copyright.

Magnanimously, the union declares that it has “decided not to take legal action against the many media which have reproduced the cartoons without permission”.

They’re requiring payment of 250 euros per cartoon, not to go to the cartoonists but to a prize for cartoonists facing social issues. Like rioting and killing over cartoons?

: La Guardia also reports on what is happening to journalists in the Muslim world who have dared run the cartoons:

One of the first was Jihad al-Momani, who published three of the caricatures with a commentary which said: “World’s Muslims, be logical. Which one do you think damages Islam more? These cartoons or the scene of a suicide bomber who blows himself up outside a wedding ceremony in Amman, or the kidnappers that slaughters their victims before the cameras?”

The irrationality of the affair has, if anything, got worse. Momani was first sacked as editor of Jordan’s Shihan magazine, and then arrested. He is now on bail pending charges of “harming religious feelings”.

Similar news has come out in snippets, for instance in this story from al-Jazeera. At the last count at least nine journalists in Muslim countries – Algeria, Jordan, Yemen and Malaysia – have felt the heavy hand of officialdom.