রবিবার, ২৫ অক্টোবর, ২০০৯

War, negation and Muslim identity revisited & More...

A Muslim writer begins an article with, 'who says the campaign for animal rights was started in the West ..' She goes on to argue that Islam provided the original treatise on the humane treatment of animals. Her case was poorly constructed, inadequately executed, although the essence of her idea was to a degree, accurate. Islamic tradition has indeed laid a foundation, with clear boundaries regarding the humane treatment of animals.

But why did the author, like so many others, choose to turn what should have been a constructive argument, into a diatribe? Was it necessary to charge Western discourses, resorting to the ever predictable classification of “us and them”, instead of trying to find a common cause?

The same point can be made regarding other discussions, whether pertaining to human rights (women’s rights in particular), the environment, labor rights, and many others.

In her defense, Amirah Sulaiman was simply following an existing pattern, commonly used to delineate one’s cultural or religious progression, at the expense of another.

But it’s more than that, it’s also a defense mechanism, a haunting reminder that the alleged civilizational clash, although more imagined and politicized, than real, pervades many aspects of our perception of ourselves and of others.

Among Muslim intellectuals, as in societies, this paradigm is omnipresent.

Cultural animosity, collective defensiveness, racism (and Orientalism), among other overriding cultural trends existed long before distained U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East became the defining norm, before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. But these events emboldened existing arguments on both sides, with Muslims solidifying as a collective victim, and the U.S., from a Muslim point of view, seen as a vulgar, but true representation of the West.

Of course, Muslims and Islam had their own ominous representations in the U.S., thus ‘Western’ media, culture and psyche – the dagger wielding bearded man, who abuses women, whenever he takes time away from blowing up infidels. As comical as I intended this to sound, as disturbingly true such a depiction is in the minds of many.

Iran and U.S. not fated to be enemies forever

  • Interview with Stephen Kinzer by Kourosh Ziabari

The post-election episodes that have taken place in Iran, which continue to occupy front-page headlines of world newspapers, have perplexed and mystified many.

Although the dissidents who continue to defy the government’s call for an end to the protests over the June 12 presidential election have failed to provide hard proof that the election was rigged in favor of the incumbent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, their suspicions are reasonable and their right to speak out against a perceived wrong unquestionable.

On the other hand, there are those who allege interference by foreign powers attempting to fuel unrest and destabilize the government with the eventual goal of regime change in mind, suspicions which are also not unreasonable given the historical record, which contains no shortage of precedents for similar actions.

The 1953 CIA-orchestrated coup d’etat that overthrew Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh was one such example, well remembered in Iran but often purged from U.S. accounts and unknown among much of the American public.

Stephen Kinzer has done much to remedy this with his book All the Shah’s Men, which documents events leading up to and following the coup in extraordinary detail. An award-winning journalist for the New York Times, Kinzer was at one time also the paper’s bureau chief in Istanbul, and has received an honorary doctorate for his lifelong contribution to journalism.

Stephen Kinzer generously set aside time from his busy schedule, which includes work writing a new book on realpolitik in the Middle East set to come out early next year, to join me in an interview for Foreign Policy Journal to try to clear up some of the ambiguities surrounding Iran’s disputed election and to share his view of the events that have followed and the controversy that has captured the world’s attention.

Israeli firms accused of profiting off Holocaust
  • Families battle for assets in court

Israel’s second largest bank will be forced to defend itself in court in the coming weeks over claims it is withholding tens of millions of dollars in “lost” accounts belonging to Jews who died in the Nazi death camps.

Bank Leumi has denied it holds any such funds despite a parliamentary committee revealing in 2004 that the bank owes at least $75 million to the families of several thousand Holocaust victims.

Analysts said the bank’s role is only the tip of an iceberg in which Israeli companies and state bodies could be found to have withheld billions of dollars invested by Holocaust victims in the country -- dwarfing the high-profile reparations payouts from such European countries as Switzerland.

“All I want is justice,” said David Hillinger, 73, whose grandfather, Aaron, died in Auschwitz, a Nazi camp in Poland. Lawyers are demanding reparations of $100,000 for Bank Leumi accounts held by his father and grandfather.

The allegations against Bank Leumi surfaced more than a decade ago following research by Yossi Katz, an Israeli historian.

He uncovered bank correspondence in the immediate wake of the Second World War in which it cited “commercial secrecy” as grounds for refusing to divulge the names of account holders who had been killed in the Holocaust.

“I was shocked,” said Dr Katz, from Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. “My first reaction was: ‘My God, this isn’t Switzerland!’ ”

In 1998, following widespread censure, Swiss banks agreed to pay $1.25 billion in reparations after they there were accused of having profited from the dormant accounts of Holocaust victims.

Dr Katz’s revelations led to the establishment of a parliamentary committee in 2000 to investigate the behaviour of Israel’s banks. Its report came to light belatedly in 2004 after Bank Leumi put pressure on the government to prevent publication.

Investigators found thousands of dormant accounts belonging to Holocaust victims in several banks, though the lion’s share were located at Bank Leumi. Obstructions from Leumi meant many other account holders had probably not been identified, the investigators warned.

The parliamentary committee originally estimated the accounts it had located to be worth more than $160m, using the valuation formula applied to the Swiss banks. But under pressure from Leumi and the government, it later reduced the figure by more than half.

A restitution company was created in 2006 to search for account holders and return the assets to their families.

Meital Noy, a spokeswoman for the company, said it had been forced to begin legal proceedings after Bank Leumi had continued to claim that its findings were “baseless”.

The bank paid $5m two years ago in what it says was a “goodwill gesture”. Ms Noy called the payment “a joke”. She said 3,500 families, most of them in Israel, were seeking reparations from Bank Leumi.

The bank was further embarrassed by revelations in 2007 that one per cent of its shares -- worth about $80 million -- belonged to tens of thousands of Jews killed during the Holocaust.

Mr Hillinger, who was born in Belgium in 1936 and spent the Second Wold War hiding in southern France, today lives in Petah Tikva in central Israel.

He said before the outbreak of war his father and grandfather had invested money in the Anglo-Palestine Bank, the forerunner of Leumi, in the hope it would gain them a visa to what was then British-ruled Palestine.

Although his parents escaped the death camps, his grandparents were sent to Auschwitz and died in the gas chambers shortly after arrival.

বুধবার, ৩০ সেপ্টেম্বর, ২০০৯

Gaza disowned & a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida....

Each day the evidence piles up - highlighted by the unconvincing (and self-incriminating) rants of Dick Cheney.

Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said, "the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 -- well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion -- its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida." [Washington Note, May 13, 2009]

Journalist Paul Krugman said of the mounting evidence: "Let's say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link.

"There's a word for this: it's evil." [Paul Krugman Blog, May 14, 2009]

Is there something more painful for Americans than hearing that illegal CIA methods caused the deaths of dozens upon dozens of detainees, inflicted pain on hundreds of others, and that this brutality that had nothing to do with national security?

Yes -- learning it was done to validate one of the leading lies that sent us to war. First British Intelligence's “Downing Street Memo” to Prime Minister Tony Blair revealed, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the [Bush] policy.”

Now Sen. Carl Levin's 263-page Armed Services Committee report (approved by pro-Iraq War Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman) fills in more blanks. Levin says our top political officials were “driven” to install this torture program.

“They'd say it was to get more information. But they were desperate to find a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq,” Levin told columnist Frank Rich. [New York Times, April 26, 2009]

Sure, al-Qaeda glorifies martyrdom and plays by no known rules. But our authorizing torture and accepting its lies is about us. It is about Americans who went along with “kick some ass,” “bring 'em on,” and “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Under orders from top officials our CIA water boarded one man 183 times and another 83 [hardly proof that it works!]. It sent mentally ill Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi to a foreign prison where he was tortured and locked in a small box for 17 hours until he expanded on his earlier coerced claims of a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

By 2004, al-Libi had recanted his statement and the CIA had acknowledged that it was false. But not before Secretary of State Colin Powell in February 2003 used his words -- “a senior terrorist operative” divulged “how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda” -- to justify the Iraq invasion to the UN Security Council and the world.

The recently released “torture memos” providing legal cover for "harsh interrogations" were written during al-Libi’s his ordeal. [This month, Libi died suddenly in his Libyan prison "an apparent suicide.”]

First, we have to admit that torture worked (albeit not in the way that Dick Cheney asserts). It produced a narrative used to frighten Americans and justify a war of aggression that President Bush wanted to wage.

It also worked in other ways. It recruited untold numbers into the ranks of al-Qaeda, made a mockery of U.S. claims to moral leadership, and now places U.S. soldiers and civilians in danger.

The program's “bad apples” were not the few U.S. jailers who have served prison time for the Abu Ghraib abuses, but our top leaders. They’re the ones who discussed, issued or signed off on illegal orders and ignored dissenting lawyers.

Waterboarding is torture, a crime that violates international and U.S. laws. Crimes are more than mistakes. Americans who violate traffic laws face the wheels of justice. What about those who violate human rights?

Gaza disowned
  • “Gaza is not on the Pope’s itinerary, nor will it be. There will be no change in these plans. But I’ll say it very clearly, the Pope is absolutely not going to Gaza.”

Such were the astounding comments made by the Pope’s spokesman in Israel, Wadie Abunasser, prior to Pope Benedict XVI visiting Palestine and Israel.

As if there was no massacre in Gaza, no families entirely slaughtered, no human rights violated to match the record of the most grisly of crimes in modern history. As if Gaza were a mere irritant in the annals of human suffering. More, as if there were no Catholic flock in Gaza. To clarify, there are actually nearly 2,000 Catholics in Gaza, apparently not important enough for the ‘cut’.

Now, there are a lot of important religious sites to see around the Holy Land, lots of old churches, stones, ruins and the like…sites of much more significance, such as the Western Wall, the Holy Sepulcher and so on… far more important than visiting the site of a fresh massacre, where the stench of rotting bodies - laid to rest beneath a tomb consisting of the rubble of their own homes - has just faded. Such sites are apparently of little import to the Holy See. Rather, there are memorials to victims of greater standing, in shrines of superior grandeur, such as Yad Vashem…now, that’s something to see.

On a trip that was apparently dedicated to promoting “reconciliation”, it is baffling that Pope Benedict made little mention of the Israeli occupation of Palestine as a source of discord. Imagine that. But what he did say was, “Allow me to make this appeal to all the peoples of these lands: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the viscous circle of violence.”

As if he was imploring two nations with common grievances, with mutually strong armies and nuclear arsenals. As if he were exhorting two peoples, both of which have access to clean water, both of which are properly nourished and educated. Or to put it another way, as if both peoples face the daily threat of their house being toppled while they are held up inside by an occupying army, as if both peoples face the daily threat of arrest, extra-judicial execution, the humiliation of curfews and checkpoints.

The Vatican needs some serious introspection. It ought to replace its highly politicized and, frankly, questionable apologies, with an earnest apology to oppressed people, who might have little political worth. The Pope should apologize to Palestinians and to Gazans in particular for failing to appreciate the seriousness of their plight, for cozying up to the very Israeli leaders who champion the suffering in Gaza, and fail to console the very victim of their onslaught.

More, as an institution that has garnered the reputation of advocating social justice throughout the world in recent years, the Catholic Church must abandon its current course, cowering before Israeli leaders, its Holy Father imparting such smug condescension on a nation that has endured a slow and gradual process of genocide for the past six decades.