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RAMZY BAROUD: Generalizing Tunisia

January 21, 2011 Comments off

The following column is reprinted with permission from Ramzy Baroud.

Generalizing Tunisia
©  Ramzy Baroud
January 21, 2011

When faced with problems, most authoritarian regimes maintain a policy of rigidity when the appropriate response would be flexibility, political wisdom and concessions. This policy gives authoritarian leaders their ability to control their populations to serve the interests of a few individuals and political and military elites. It can also, however, usher their downfall, for populations can only be oppressed, controlled and punished to a point.

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, who controlled his population with an iron fist since his arrival to the presidential palace in 1987, must have crossed that point. He was forced to flee the country amid the angry chants of thousands of Tunisians, fed up with growing unemployment, soaring inflation, government corruption, violent crackdowns and lack of political freedom. These mounting frustrations led to relentless protests throughout the country. The government’s subsequent crackdowns only stirred emotions beyond any crowd control strategy, and eventually Ben Ali’s plane left to seek refuge outside his own country.

The upheaval in Tunisia is certainly worthy of all the headlines, media commentary and official statements it has generated. But many of these reactions contain generalizations that hype expectations, worsen an already terrible situation and provoke misguided policies. Indeed, the current political storm, dubbed both the “Youth Intifada” and the “Jasmine Revolution”, has inspired many interpretations. Some commentators wished to see the popular uprising as a prelude to an essentially anti-Arab regimes phenomenon that will strike elsewhere as well, while others placed it within a non-Arab context, noting that popular uprisings are growing in countries that struggle with rising food prices. Even al-Qaeda had a take on the situation, trying to score points to find a place in the looming political void.

Many commentators have focused on the Arab identity of Tunisia to find correlations elsewhere. Hadeel al-Shalchi’s Associated Press article “Arab activists hope Tunisia uprising brings change,” presented the uprising within an Arab context. Reporting from Cairo, she wrote of the growing optimism among those whom she dubbed “Arab activists” that other Arab leaders will share the fate of Ben Ali if they don’t ease their grip on power. Hossam Bahgat is one such activist. He told AP, “I feel like we are a giant step closer to our own liberation… What’s significant about Tunisia is that literally days ago the regime seemed unshakeable, and then eventually democracy prevailed without a single Western state lifting a finger.”

True, both Tunisia and Egypt are Arab countries with many similarities, but expecting a repeat of a scenario that was uniquely Tunisian and implicitly suggesting that Western states serve as harbingers of democracy is illusory, to stay the least.

Now that Ben Ali is out of the picture, Western governments are cautiously lining up behind the Tunisian uprising, but hardly with the same enthusiasm of their support of the Iranian riots of June 2009. British Foreign Secretary William Hague merely denounced the unrest, calling for “restraint from all sides.” He stated, “I condemn the violence and call on the Tunisian authorities to do all they can to resolve the situation peacefully.” U.S. President Barack Obama added, “I urge all parties to maintain calm and avoid violence, and call on the Tunisian government to respect human rights, and to hold free and fair elections in the near future.”

Clichéd statements aside, both the U.S. and the U.K. must fear the repercussions of a popular uprising in an area so close to the heart of American-British interests in the Middle East. Both countries are careful not to appear to oppose democratic reforms, even if they are forced to disown their friends in the region. Their response is largely representative of official responses from many Western capitals – the very capitals that lauded Tunisia as a model for how Arab countries can help win the war on terror.

One must not let confusing media headlines sideline the fact that neither the U.S. nor the U.K. had Tunisia on their radar for circumventing democracy or violating human rights. Ben Ali was celebrated as an icon of moderation, notwithstanding his atypical Arab stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime was not the type that required much chastising. It was the benign kind that allowed a tiny space for secular opposition while cracking down on any Islamic opposition group. For 23 years, such practice was barely problematic, for it served the interests of both Ben Ali and various Western powers. The countless calls for respect of human rights from international and local organizations were mostly unheeded. Washington and London rarely found that irksome.

Now that the Tunisian people’s fight for rights has taken a sharp turn, many of us find it difficult to examine the specific context of this case without delving into dangerous generalizations. Western governments now speak of democracy in the region – as if there were ever a genuine concern; commentators speak of the next regime to fall – as if every Arab country is a duplication of another; and technology bloggers are celebrating another ‘twitter revolution.’

Perhaps generalizations make things more interesting. Tunisia, after all, is a small country, and most people know little about it aside from the fact that it’s a cheap tourist destination – thus the need to place it within a more gripping context. Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is using the opportunity to read the Tunisian uprising in a unique way. The AQIM leader, Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, has called for the overthrowing of the “corrupt, criminal and tyrannical” regimes in both Tunisia and Algeria and the instatement of al-Sharia law. This call has promoted American commentators to warn of the future Islamization of Tunisia and will likely result in Western intervention to ensure that another “moderate” regime succeeds the one that just fled.

There is no harm in expanding a popular experience to understand the world at large and its conflicts. But in the case of Tunisia, it seems that the country is largely understood within a multilayer of contexts, thus becoming devoid of any political, cultural or socio-economic uniqueness. Understanding Tunisia as just another “Arab regime”, another possible podium for al-Qaeda’s violence, is convenient but also unhelpful to any cohesive understanding of the situation there and the events that are likely to follow.

[End.]
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Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist, author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com.

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RAMZY BAROUD: More than a bribe for Israel

November 23, 2010 Comments off

The following column is reprinted with permission from Ramzy Baroud.

More than a bribe for Israel
©  Ramzy Baroud
November 23, 2010

The Middle East policies of U.S. President Barack Obama may well prove the most detrimental in history so far, surpassing even the rightwing policies of President George W. Bush.

Even those who warned against the overt optimism which accompanied Obama’s arrival to the White House must now be stunned to see how low the U.S. president will go to appease Israel – all under the dangerous logic of needing to keep the peace process moving forward.

Former Middle East peace diplomat Aaron David Miller argued in ‘Foreign Policy’ magazine that “any advance in the excruciatingly painful world of Arab-Israeli negotiations is significant.” He further claimed: “The Obama administration deserves much credit for keeping the Israelis, Palestinians, and key Arab states on board during some very tough times. The U.S. president has seized on this issue and isn’t giving up – a central requirement for success.”

But at what price, Mr. Miller? And wouldn’t you agree that one party’s success can also mean another’s utter and miserable failure?

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton reportedly spent eight hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only to persuade him to accept one of the most generous bribes ever bestowed by the United States on any foreign power. The agreement includes the sale of $3 billion worth of U.S. military aircrafts (in addition to the billions in annual aid packages), a blanket veto of any U.N. Security Council resolution deemed unfavourable to Israel, and the removal of East Jerusalem from any settlement freeze equation (thus condoning the illegal occupation of the city and the undergoing ethnic cleansing). But even more dangerous than all of these is “a written American promise that this will be the last time President Obama asks the Israelis to halt settlement construction through official channels.”

Significant. Achievement. Success. Are these really the right terms to describe the latest harrowing scandal? Even the term ‘bribe’, which is abundantly used to describe American generosity, isn’t quite adequate here. Bribes have defined the relationship between the ever-generous White House and the quisling Congress to win favour with the ever-demanding Israel and its growingly belligerent Washington lobby. It is not the concept of bribery that should shock us, but the magnitude of the bribe, and the fact that it is presented by a man who positioned himself as a peacemaker (and actually became certified as one, courtesy of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee).

Equally shocking is the meager return that Obama is expected to receive for hard-earned U.S. taxpayers’ dollars. According to the Atlantic Sentinel, this will be “a measly three month extension of the settlement moratorium that originally expired in late September.”

Acknowledging from the onset that these are mere “mid-term maneuvers”, Noah Feldman, writing in the New York Times, asks the question: “Can Obama succeed where so many others have not?” He preludes his answer with: “Israel and the Palestinian Authority will not, of course, make things easy.”

Seriously, Mr. Feldman?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose mandate has already expired, must be living the most humiliating and difficult moments of his not so distinguished career. At one stage he had hoped that the advent of President Obama would spare him and his authority further embarrassment. Imagining the president would side with his ‘moderate’ position, he placed all his eggs in the Obama basket, even bidding against the democratically elected government of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

He went as far as to halt an international investigation into Israeli crimes in the recent Israeli war on Gaza so that not to frustrate Netanyahu’s government or upset the pro-Israeli sensibilities in the U.S. Congress.

True, Abbas tried to appear as a confident and self-assertive leader at times. He asked for a chance to think about the resumption of peace talks, conditioned his acceptance on Israeli actions that never really actualised, and finally sought the help of the Arab League, a beleaguered and muted organisation without any political mandate.

How did Abbas and his authority make things ‘difficult’ for the U.S., Mr. Feldman? Would any self-respecting government agree to concessions that are made on its behalf without the opportunity to offer its own input? This is exactly what the P.A. has repeatedly done under Abbas. Mind-boggling. U.S. generously hands Palestinian rights to Israel on a silver platter, and the far-right mentality, which now governs Israeli mainstream politics and society, still finds it unacceptable.

But aside from this arrogant Israeli response, and the U.S. media’s attempts to find the positive in Obama’s latest scandal, one question must be raised. What happens now that Obama has finally shown he really is no different from his predecessors? That the United States has lost control of its own foreign policy in the Middle East? That, frankly, Netanyahu has proved more resilient, more steadfast, and more resourceful than the American president?

Shall we go on making the same argument, over and over again, or has the time finally arrived for Palestinians to think outside the American box? Can Arabs finally venture off to seek other partners and allies in the region and around the world who understand the link between peace, political stability, and economic prosperity? It may perhaps be time for them to further their relationship with Turkey, to reach out to Latin America, to demand accountability from Europe and to try to understand and engage China.

The latest U.S. elections have showed that the Obama hype has run its course in the U.S. itself. One can only hope that Palestinians, Arabs and their friends will realise that it was all indeed a hype – before it’s too late.

[End.]
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Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist, author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com.

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RAMZY BAROUD: A Gandhian approach to Middle East?

October 21, 2010 Comments off

The following column is reprinted with permission from Ramzy Baroud.

A Gandhian approach to Middle East?
©  Ramzy Baroud
October 21, 2010

An American activist once gave me a book she wrote detailing her experiences in Palestine. The largely visual volume documented her journey of the occupied West Bank, rife with barbered wires, checkpoints, soldiers and tanks. It also highlighted how Palestinians resisted the occupation peacefully, in contrast to the prevalent media depictions linking Palestinian resistance to violence.

More recently, I received a book glorifying non-violent resistance, and which referred to self-proclaimed Palestinian fighters who renounced violence as “converts”. The book elaborated on several wondrous examples of how these “conversions” came about. Apparently a key factor was the discovery that not all Israelis supported the military occupation. The fighters realised that an environment that allowed both Israelis and Palestinians to work together would be best for Palestinians seeking other, more effective means of liberation.

An American priest also explained to me how non-violent resistance is happening on an impressive scale. He showed me brochures he had obtained during a visit to a Bethlehem organisation, which teaches youth the perils of violence and the wisdom of non-violence. The organisation and its founders run seminars and workshops and invite speakers from Europe and the United States to share their knowledge on the subject with the (mostly refugee) students. Every so often, an article, video or book surfaces with a similar message: Palestinians are being taught non-violence; Palestinians are responding positively to the teachings of non-violence. As for progressive and Leftist media and audiences, stories praising non-violence are electrifying, for they ignite a sense of hope that a less violent way is possible, that the teachings of Gandhi are not only relevant to India, in a specific time and space, but throughout the world, anytime.

These depictions repeatedly invite the question: where is the Palestinian Gandhi? Then, they invite the answer: a Palestinian Gandhi already exists, in numerous West Bank villages bordering the Israeli Apartheid Wall, which peacefully confront carnivorous Israeli bulldozers as they eat up Palestinian land.

In a statement marking a recent visit announcement by the group of Elders to the Middle East, India’s Ela Bhatt, a ‘Gandhian advocate of non-violence’, explained her role in The Elders’ latest mission: “I will be pleased to return to the Middle East to show the Elders’ support for all those engaged in creative, non-violent resistance to the occupation – both Israelis and Palestinians.” For some, the emphasis on non-violent resistance is a successful media strategy.

For others, ideological and spiritual convictions are the driving forces behind their involvement in the non-violence campaign, which is reportedly raging in the West Bank. These realisations seem to be largely lead by Western advocates.

On the Palestinian side, the non-violent brand is also useful. It has provided an outlet for many who were engaged in armed resistance, especially during the Second Palestinian Intifada. Some fighters, affiliated with the Fatah movement, for example, have become involved in art and theater, after hauling automatic rifles and topping Israel’s most wanted list for years. Politically, the term is used by the West Bank government as a platform that would allow for the continued use of the word moqawama, Arabic for resistance, but without committing to a costly armed struggle, which would certainly not go down well if adopted by the non-elected government deemed ‘moderate’ by both Israel and the United States.

Whether in subtle or overt ways, armed resistance in Palestine is always condemned. Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah government repeatedly referred to it as ‘futile’. Some insist it is a counterproductive strategy. Others find it morally indefensible.

The problem with the non-violence bandwagon is that it is grossly misrepresentative of the reality on the ground. It also takes the focus away from the violence imparted by the Israeli occupation – in its routine and lethal use in the West Bank, and the untold savagery in Gaza – and places it solely on the shoulders of the Palestinians. As for the gross misrepresentation of reality, Palestinians have used mass non-violent resistance for generations – as early as the long strike of 1936. Non-violent resistance has been and continues to be the bread and butter of Palestinian moqawama, from the time of British colonialism to the Israeli occupation. At the same time, some Palestinians fought violently as well, compelled by a great sense of urgency and the extreme violence applied against them by their oppressors. It is similar to the way many Indians fought violently, even during the time that Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas were in full bloom.

Those who reduce and simplify India’s history of anti-colonial struggle are doing the same to Palestinians.

Misreading history often leads to an erroneous assessment of the present, and thus a flawed prescription for the future. For some, Palestinians cannot possibly get it right, whether they respond to oppression non-violently, violently, with political defiance or with utter submissiveness. The onus will always be on them to come up with solution, and do so creatively and in ways that suit our Western sensibilities and our often selective interpretations of Gandhi’s teachings. Violence and non-violence are mostly collective decisions that are shaped and driven by specific political and socio-economic conditions and contexts. Unfortunately, the violence of the occupier has a tremendous role in creating and manipulating these conditions. It is unsurprising that the Second Palestinian Uprising was much more violent than the first, and that violent resistance in Palestine gained a huge boost after the victory scored by the Lebanese resistance in 2000, and again in 2006.

These factors must be contemplated seriously and with humility, and their complexity should be taken into account before any judgments are made. No oppressed nation should be faced with the demands that Palestinians constantly face. There may well be a thousand Palestinian Gandhis. There may be none. Frankly, it shouldn’t matter. Only the unique experience of the Palestinian people and their genuine struggle for freedom could yield what Palestinians as a collective deem appropriate for their own. This is what happened with the people of India, France, Algeria and South Africa, and many others nations that sought and eventually attained their freedom.

[End.]
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Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist, author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com.

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Ramzy Baroud: Real causes of terror

October 6, 2010 Comments off

The following column is reprinted with permission from Ramzy Baroud.

Real causes of terror
©  Ramzy Baroud
October 6, 2010

On September 30, within the time frame of a few hours, an accused man reportedly confessed to terrorism charges in Germany, the terrorism threat level was raised in Sweden, and former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich lengthily discussed ‘suicidal jihadists’ in a speech he made in Denver.

Although it was tacitly understood that U.S. president Barack Obama has distanced himself from his predecessor’s indefinite war objectives – embodied in the ill-defined ‘war on terror’ – the chances are the dreadful term ‘terrorism’ is not going not leave us alone anytime soon.

Regardless of its alleged French roots – dating back to the French revolution of the late 18th century – ‘terrorism’ is very much a political term and very much a recent one. U.S. officials, especially those vying for political office, are very generous in their use of this word. But others – from the most authoritarian, dictatorial regimes to Scandinavian democracies – have also developed a special affinity to it. Evoking a threat of terrorism is a very clever way to achieve political galvanisation, as it creates a sharp and unmistakable delineation between us – the human, civilized and ‘democratic’ – and the inhuman and barbaric others. When the term ‘terrorism’ is unleashed, there are no half positions, no middle grounds, no grey areas.

Thus, Gingrich could not have formulated a better entrance to the foreign policy debate than to position himself as America’s saviour – not only from the terrorists, whoever they are, and wherever they are – but also from America’s incompetent leadership since the attacks of September 11, 2001. According to Gingrich, George W. Bush should have replaced all of his government’s security apparatus following the dreadful attacks, and Barack Obama should have done the same following the bomb scare over Detroit in late 2009.

The rightwing politician also conveniently linked Iran to terrorism, coined new terminologies, fondly recalled the ‘peaceful’ defeat of communism, derided everyone who doesn’t agree with him, and continued to refuse to disclose whether he is planning to run for office in 2012. Americans have been long familiar with Gingrich’s emblematic rants. But they are also afraid of terrorism. They have been told that terrorism is anything but a political coinage and endeavour; in fact it is ultimately about a bomb and two wires, one green and one red. Every aspiring politician poses as the one who knows exactly which wire to cut. Gingrich moulds the threat in any way he finds politically useful. Then he exaggerates the concocted threat and promises to cut the right wire in order to increase his chances at elections. All of this is fear-mongering at its best. It’s unlikely that Gingrich is actually interested in bringing the terrorist threat to an end. What truly inspires his politicking is the fact that he can sustain his intolerant, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, pro-war and exclusivist American agenda using one simple, yet loaded phrase: ‘terrorism’.

The Denver Post reported on Gingrich’s speech on October 1: “Gingrich… call(ed) Iran ‘a regime of suicide bombers’ and demand(ed) tough sanctions against China if it won’t help contain Tehran… As suicidal jihadists, Gingrich said, Iranian leaders believe their dead martyrs go to heaven and Israelis ‘go to hell,’ so they win….. ‘It’s impossible to deter them. What are you going to threaten?’ Gingrich said the need for tougher terrorism measures includes the U.S. border with Mexico. ‘Think of all the money and effort spent to screen for terrorists at airports,’ Gingrich said, ‘on the assumption our opponents can’t rent a truck in Mexico.'”

It’s incredible how such a demagogue managed to squeeze his entire political program in a few words: containing Iran, punishing China, curtailing immigration, isolating Mexico, taking stricter measures at home to combat whatever threat, real or imagined, that pops into his head. All of this is declared under the guise of fighting terrorism.

Since September 11, the anti-terror infrastructure in American has grown beyond belief. The media reports on numerous, unbridled offices, organisations and outlets, manned by thousands of men and women all dedicated to ‘fighting terror’. It’s a thriving business, and comprises a huge chunk of the country’s budget. There are many thousands of counterterrorism experts, analysts and others who claim to be hell-bent on eradicating terrorism, although it is the very existence of terrorism that guarantees their livelihood, bonuses and healthcare coverage. Because of this, the definition of what is terrorist and what is not is also expanding, becoming in the process much murkier and less decipherable. Still, Gingrich would like more to be done. He joked and ranted about the Homeland Security officials and their failure to protect the country from the terrorist menace. Are they now supposed to eagerly await Gingrich’s arrival to right this historical wrong?

Not all of Gingrich’s Denver audience was amused. Five protesters were hauled outside the Opera house as they yelled: “Newt is the New World Order” and “The war on terror is a lie!” These were the supposed ‘wackos’. Some would even go as far as accuse them of being terrorist-sympathizers, another way of enlarging the circle and cracking down on anyone who dares question the wisdom of this random and largely politicised approach to countering terrorism.

In Dying to Win: Why Suicide Terrorists Do It, an exhaustive study on the issue of suicide terrorism, Australian author Robert A. Pape writes: “The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world’s religions. In fact, the leading instigators of suicide attacks are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly opposed to religion.”

One of his seemingly novel conclusions was: “Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.”

No, Mr. Gingrich, terrorism is not a term you simply lob at your enemies for cheap political gains. It’s a real problem, with real roots and real casualties. And like any problem, it needs to be properly understood, realistically assessed and wisely confronted.

[End.]
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Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist, author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com.

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RAMZY BAROUD: Regarding U.S. Muslims: A Misguided Debate

September 17, 2010 Comments off

The following column is reprinted with permission from Ramzy Baroud.

Regarding U.S. Muslims:  A Misguided Debate
©  Ramzy Baroud
September 16, 2010

Laurie Goodstein’s article, ‘American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?’ was intended as a sympathetic reading of the concerns of U.S. Muslim communities facing increasing levels of hostility and fear. While generally insightful and sensibly written, the article also highlights the very misconceptions that riddle the bizarre debate pitting American Muslims against much of the government, the mainstream media and most of the general public.

This is how Goodstein lays the ground for her discussion: “For nine years after the attacks of Sept. 11, many American Muslims made concerted efforts to build relationships with non-Muslims, to make it clear they abhor terrorism, to educate people about Islam and to participate in interfaith service projects. They took satisfaction in the observations by many scholars that Muslims in America were more successful and assimilated than Muslims in Europe.” (New York Times, September 5, 2010)

This argument is not Goodstein’s alone, but one repeated by many in the media, the general public, and even among American Muslims themselves. The insinuation of the above context is misleading, and the timeline is selective.

True, it largely depends on who you ask, but there seems to be more than one timeline in this narrative. The mainstream interpretation envisages the conflict as beginning with the hideous bombings on September 11, 2001. All that has happened since becomes justified with the claim that ‘Muslims’ started it. These same ‘Muslims’, some argue, are now twisting the knife by wanting to build a mosque not too far from Ground Zero, and they must be stopped. The media fan the flames of this fear, while unknown, attention-hungry zealots propose to burn the holy book of Islam. Scheming rightwing politicians jump on board, fiery media commentators go wild with speculations, and the public grow increasingly terrified of what the Muslims might do. Even the sensible among all of these groups advise Muslims to basically try to make themselves more likable, to assimilate and fit in better.

That timeline and logic may be omnipresent in mainstream society in the U.S., but many on the fringes dare to challenge it. More, throughout Muslim-majority countries, in fact most of the world, September 11, 2001 was one station, however bloody, among many equally bloody episodes that defined the relationship between Muslims and the United States. Again, it all depends on who you ask. An Iraqi might locate the origin of hostilities with the Iraq war of 1990-91, and the deadly sanctions that followed, taking millions of civilian lives over the next decade. Some Muslims might cite the U.S. military presence in holy Muslim lands, or their intervention in Muslim countries’ affairs. They may also point to the U.S. government’s support of vile and brutal regimes around the world.

But the vast majority, while acknowledging all of these, will refer to the genesis of all hostilities – before Saddam Hussein existed on the map of Arab politics, and before Osama bin Laden led Arab fighters in Afghanistan, with the direct support of the U.S., to defeat the Soviets. It is the tragedy in Palestine that has continued to pain Muslims everywhere, regardless of their background, politics or geographic location. They know that without U.S. help, Israel would have no other option but to extend its hand to whatever peace offer enjoys international consensus. With every Palestinian killed, an American flag is burned, since the relationship has been delineated with immense clarity for decades. When U.S. General David Petraeus argued last March that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was fomenting anti-American sentiment, he spoke as a military man stating a fact. He was right, although many continue to ignore his remarks at their own peril.

True, timelines can be selective, but empathy requires one to understand another’s perspective and not just one’s own.

The Florida Priest on a mission to burn the Koran needs to see past his own terrible prejudices. Media commentators need to stop pigeonholing Muslims, and realize that there is no such thing as a Muslim polity in America. There is no truth to the idea that all Muslims hold the same religious values and political aspirations which are at constant odds with ‘American values’, and which need to be amended in order to make peace with their ‘new’ surroundings.

Needless to say, talks of ‘assimilation’ are misguided. Muslims have lived in the United States for generations and have become an essential part of American life. Millions of U.S. Muslims are also African American. Do they too need to assimilate? And if not, should we divide American Muslims into groups based on ethnic background, skin color, or some other criterion?

One cannot offer simple recipes by calling on the general public to adopt this belief or ditch another. Public opinion is formulated through a complex process in which the media is a major player. However, it is essential that one remembers that history is much more encompassing and cannot be hostage to our diktats and priorities. Such selective understanding will surely result in a limited understanding of the world and its shared future, and thus a misguided course of action.

That said, Muslims must not fall into the trap of victimhood, and start dividing the world into good and evil, the West and Muslims, and so on. How could one make such generalized claims and still remain critical of the notion of a ‘clash of civilizations’? It remains that many Americans who have a negative perception of Muslims are not motivated by ideological convictions or religious zealotry. Most American clergy are not Koran-burning hateful priests, and not all media pundits are Bill O’Reilly.

There is no question that the conflict remains largely political. Misconceptions and misperceptions, manipulated by ill-intentioned politicians, media cohorts and substantiated by violence and war will not be resolved overnight. However, hundreds of interfaith dialogues and conferences will not change much as long as American armies continue to roam Muslim countries, support Israel and back corrupt leaders. Reducing the issue by signaling out a Muslim community in this country and then calling on frightened and fragmented communities to ‘make more effort’ is unfair and simply futile.

[End.]
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Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist, author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com.

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Ramzy Baroud: Welcome to smart bombs

July 6, 2010 Comments off

The following column is reprinted with permission from Ramzy Baroud.

Welcome to smart bombs
©  Ramzy Baroud
July 6, 2010

Cluster bombs are in the news again, thanks to a recent report from Amnesty International. The human rights agency has confirmed that 35 women and children were killed following the latest U.S. attacks on an alleged al-Qaeda hideout in Yemen.

Initially, there were attempts to bury the story, and Yemen officially denied that civilians were killed as a result of the December 17 attack in southern Yemen. However, it has been impossible to conceal what is now considered the largest loss of life in one single U.S. attack in the country. If the civilian casualties were indeed a miscalculation on the part of the U.S. military, there should no longer be any doubt about the fact that cluster munitions are far too dangerous a weapon to be utilised in war. And they certainly have no place whatsoever in civilian areas. The human casualties are too large to justify. Yemen is not alone. Gaza, Lebanon and Afghanistan are also stark examples of the untold loss and suffering caused by cluster bombs.

Meanwhile, the unrepentant Israeli army will not consider dropping the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas altogether. Instead it is pondering ways to make them ‘safer’. The Jerusalem Post reported on July 2 that the army “has carried out a series of tests with a bomblet that has a specially designed self-destruct mechanism which dramatically reduces the amount of unexploded ordnance.” During the Israeli onslaught in Lebanon in 2006, Israel fired millions of bomblets. Aside from the immediate devastation and causalities, unexploded ordnance continues to victimise Lebanon’s civilians, most of whom are children. Dozens of lives have been lost since the end of this war.

In Gaza, the same terrible scenario was repeated between 2008 and 2009. Unlike Lebanon, however, trapped Palestinians in Gaza had nowhere to go. Now Israel is anticipating another war with the Lebanese resistance. In preparation for this, an Israeli PR campaign is already underway. It seeks to convince public opinion that Israel is doing its utmost to avoid civilian casualties. “Ahead of a potential new conflict with Hezbollah, the IDF has decided to evaluate the M85 bomblet manufactured by the Israeli Military Industries,” reports the Jerusalem Post. Of course, Israel’s friends will be pleased by the initial successes of the Israeli army testing.

Under pressure to ratify the agreement, these countries are only too eager to offer a ‘safer’ version of current cluster bomb models. This would help not only to maintain the huge profits generated from this morally abhorrent business, it would also hopefully quell growing criticism by civil society and other world governments.

In December 2008, the United States, Russia and China, among others, sent a terrible message to the rest of the world. They refused to take part in the historic signing of the treaty that banned the production and use of cluster bombs.

In a world that is plagued by war, military occupation and terrorism, the involvement of the great military powers in signing and ratifying the agreement would have signaled – if only symbolically – the willingness of these countries to spare civilians’ unjustifiable deaths and the lasting scars of war. Fortunately, the refusal didn’t completely impede an international agreement. The incessant activism of many conscientious individuals and organisations came to fruition on December 3 and 4 in Oslo, Norway, when ninety-three countries signed a treaty banning the weapon.

Not surprisingly, the U.S., Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan – a group that includes the biggest makers and users of the weapon – neither attended the Ireland negotiations of May 2008, and nor did they show any interest in signing the agreement in Oslo.

Most countries that have signed the accords are not involved in any active military conflict. They are also not in any way benefiting from the lucrative cluster munition industry.

But without the involvement of the major producers and active users of the weapon, the Oslo ceremony remained largely symbolic. However, there is nothing symbolic about the pain and bitter losses experienced by the many victims of cluster bombs.

According to the group Handicap International, a third of cluster-bomb victims are children.

Equally alarming, 98 per cent of the weapon’s overall victims are civilians. The group estimates that about 100,000 people have been maimed or killed by cluster bombs around the world since 1965.

Unlike conventional weapons, cluster bomblets survive for many years, luring little children with their attractive appearance. Children often mistake the bomblets for candy or toys.

Recently, some encouraging news emerged from the Netherlands. Maxime Verhagen, Minister of Foreign Affairs, urged his country’s House of Representatives to ratify the Convention, which bans the production, possessions and use of such munitions. The ban leaves no room for any misguided interpretations and does not care for the Israeli army’s experimentations. In his speech, Verhagen claimed, “Cluster munitions are unreliable and imprecise, and their use poses a grave danger to the civilian population… Years after a conflict has ended, people – especially children – can fall victim to unexploded submunition from cluster bombs.”

To date, the agreement has been signed by 106 countries and ratified by 36 – and will enter into force on August 1, despite the fact that the big players refuse to take part. The Netherlands’ push is certainly a step in the right direction. But much more remains to be done.

The onus is also on civil societies in countries that are yet to ratify the agreement or sign it in the first place. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” This holds as true in the issue of cluster bombs, as in any other where human rights are violated and ignored.

[End.]
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Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist, author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com.

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