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.

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