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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Al Jazeera Polls

One wonders why the dinosaurs who run al-Jazeera are miffed over the work of the UN commission investigating the Hariri murder. A poll on its website claims that 82 per cent of 30,000 "persons" (should be clicks) doubt the integrity of "international investigation comissions."

The website puts the poll in the context of the ongoing investigation by a UN commission into the Hariri murder (though it didn't specify) AND, get this, the "track record of such missions in monitoring the situation in Darfur." (the poll did not ask people to make that connection, it's only the editor's mind that did).

Al-Jazeera's website editor felt confident to further insult our intelligence and pander to conspiracy theorists by reminding us of another poll conducted in June (are we to assume the same sample of people participated?) in which 88.4 per cent of participants believed these commissions served the interests of super powers.


America deserves better

Bush on the Katrina disaster:

As we flew here today, I also asked the pilot to fly over the Gulf Coast region so I could see firsthand the scope and magnitude of the devastation. The vast majority of New Orleans, Louisiana, is under water. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses are beyond repair. A lot of the Mississippi Gulf Coast has been completely destroyed. Mobile is flooded.

We are dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history, and
that's why I've called the Cabinet together. The people in the affected regions expect the federal government to work with the state government and local government with an effective response.

This recovery will take a long time. This recovery will take years.

Tell us something we don't know. We all have television.

Meanwhile, Chavez was not impressed.

"That man, the king of vacations ... the king of vacations in his ranch said nothing but, you have to flee, and didn't say how ... that cowboy, the cowboy mentality," said Chavez, offering to send cheap fuel and aid to the disaster area.

Some Context: (courtesy of AP)

Bush, who may visit the area later in the week, cut short his working vacation in Texas by two days — even though aides have long contended that his duties are uninterrupted when he spends time at his ranch in nearby Crawford, which has White House-level communications capability.

Vice President Dick Cheney participated in the video conference from Wyoming, and White House chief of staff Andy Card was on line from Maine. Other top officials participated from Washington.

On his way to Washington, Bush had Air Force One fly low over the hurricane-ravaged area. His plane flew over New Orleans at about 2,500, and it descended even further, to about 1,700 feet, over Mississippi. Bush surveyed the damage from a couch near the left front of the plane. The plane flew over New Orleans and saw the Superdome, downtown areas and outlying neighborhoods, then traveled along the coast to Mobile before turning north toward Washington.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan quoted Bush as saying, "It's devastating, it's got to be doubly devastating on the ground." Among other things, the president saw an amusement park with the tops of wrecked rides protruding over bridges covered by water. McClellan said that after viewing one particularly hard hit coastal community, the president noted: "It's totally wiped out."

America deserves better than this.

But Miqdad explained!

Syria's offficial news agency, August 28. (SANA- the first A stands for Arab):

The current Security Council fuss on cooperation with the International
Investigation Committee is meant to show Syria as hindering the work of the
committee while some leaked information from close sources to the international
investigator Mihlis said that Israel and Jordan were very cooperative with
Mihlis demands in addition to a large number of Lebanese witnesses.

Meantime, US Representative to the U.N. John Bolton did not hesitate to name
Syria as the one which didn’t respond promptly and efficiently to Bolton’s
demands describing Syria’s position as unacceptable.

But Miqdad explained to the UN Security Council that, “it is in Syria’s interest to have all the facts regarding Hariri’s assassination surfaced, and Syria is ready to cooperate with the international investigators until all the facts are clear.”
SIGH... Need I comment?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Past Theories on Hariri's Murder

On February 24, when others were blogging and I was coping with being so far from home, I wrote this to a friend. It's somewhat naive in places but I was very distraught still.

You are probably following the latest developments in Lebanon. I never
thought they would kill him. I and probably hundreds of thousands of Lebanese
are still in shock and in disbelief. Is he truly dead? I don’t think anybody
ever underestimated him or his role in rebuilding the country. But really, he
was everybody’s safety net since that war was brought to an end. I remember
seeing him in a Syrian hotel in the late 80s, meeting with what was left of the
Lebanese parliament then. He had been working diligently to bring those people
together. I remember seeing him, Jumblat and others. It was at the Sheraton in
Damascus where we were staying, or maybe I should say hiding? My father had
negotiated a cheap rate thanks to friends of his to allow us to stay here until
things calmed down in Beirut. I don’t have fond memories of Syria. I hated it
there. You always felt somebody was watching you- those white Peugeots that
served as the mokhabarat terror vehicles were constantly roaming the otherwise
beautiful streets of Damascus. I met Hariri a couple of times after that. The
last time was at a Future TV dinner in his palace in Beirut. I shook hands with
him- he seemed cold and distant, and very tired. But I saw him all the time. On
TV, in pictures, and everywhere you looked in downtown Beirut. It was his and
his presence could be felt at all times... Having said that, I never idolized
him. He was a business man, and he believed that money could buy everything. His optimism was overwhelming and at times naïve. I don’t know what he knew that I don’t know so I can’t allow myself to judge him now that his secrets are buried with him. Politics in Lebanese were never transparent.

Now who killed him? So many people asked me for my “gut feeling”. How should I know? I think people want to believe it was the Syrians. A Kuwaiti newspaper even published the names of those Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officers who carried it out. Why so stupid an act? My work on the Sabra and Shatila massacre taught me that intelligence agencies never follow what you and I know as logic. What seems illogical sometimes is the logical choice for them. Sometimes they mess up, but sometimes they concoct clever games. Someone in Syria’s intelligence agency might have thought of two possible scenarios that could follow Hariri’s assassination:

The world would never believe Syria would be stupid enough to carry it out. The Lebanese would point the finger at Israel, or better, some fundamentalist organization which can be easily created to serve as a cover. Unlikely outcome but Good for Syria nevertheless.

More likely scenario. There will be public uproar and international pressure will increase. Syria will be accused of the murder and will be forced to withdraw from Lebanon. Considering that Syria was going to withdraw ANYWAY due to American and French pressure secretly supported by Hariri, Syria should never leave Lebanon for Hariri and his clan to run. Hariri and the opposition would steer it in a direction more in line politically with France and to an extent, the US plan for the region. With Hariri gone, the opposition will never be strong enough to
unite and if it did unite, it will, sooner or later, disintegrate and self destruct. Hariri’s death can only unite Lebanese people for a short period of time and then they will eventually return to their usual squabbling. If Hariri could not unite them in his life, his death will surely not cause long term miracles. After all, one cannot underestimate Hizbullah, Berri and the Shias, who will never turn against Syria. The Sunnis and the Maronites can never challenge the Shias' new acquired power- this is not 1943, the Shias are no longer the passive majority. Hariri’s death might appear catastrophic to Syria in the aftermath of the assassination, but the long term benefits are there. Since Syria will withdraw anyway, it should not leave behind a Lebanon with Hariri type connections to the world. A divided Lebanon has always helped Israel, and now it will help Syria.

Wild but who knows! There is also the possibility that it was a CIA/Mossad thing. Hariri’s death would push the country politically in their direction. Hizbullah would lose the Syrian umbrella and it will be forced to disarm. Syria would be completely surrounded- Iraq, Israel and an anti Syrian Lebanon. Hariri might be the US’s best friend, but he is more useful as a dead man. His assassination is the only event that will trigger a chain reaction in that country and possibly in the region. Syria would have to withdraw and Israel/US will finally dominate the region. Iran would be dealt with next.

It is hard to believe that Hariri’s death served both US and Syrian interests. But when many appear to benefit, then they are probably all guilty. Only one needs to pull the trigger, but they all allowed it to happen. His best friends and his enemies killed him. Future TV has this new slogan: He died for Lebanon. No, he was a pawn in an international game of chess. External factors again? Oh well, I am Lebanese aren’t I? Maybe this time it is true that external events do at least shape Lebanon’s history.

Al-Jazeera and Qandil

Meanwhile, al-Jazeera is flabbergasted that its favorite talking head, loud Syrian mouthpiece Nassir Qandil, was implicated. His stupid I-will-tell-them- all-I-know-but-it's-an-international- conspiracy speech that he gave on his way from Damascus to detention is being aired ad nauseam.

The fall of Lebanon's mukhabarat

Excerpts from a Daily Star editorial on the detention of the security officials and their accomplices in Hariri's murder:

The relief comes from knowing that someone is finally holding the country's security chiefs, whom many suspected of involvement in the Hariri assassination, accountable to the rule of law...

One of the major impediments to democratization in the larger Arab world has been the dreaded mukhabarat - the overbearing military and security apparatuses that figure so prominently in Arab political life. Through exploitation of power, threats and intimidation, this pervasive arm of the Arab state has often limited the ability of citizens to demand reform, political freedoms and civil rights. Through the mukhabarat, opposition can be silenced and political enemies can be either jailed or eliminated. So the fact that Lebanon's security apparatus is being held accountable for its possible crimes can be viewed as a promising sign of democratic progress.

It is at least promising that we no longer feel the need to be subservient to the circumstances of authoritarianism. It may not turn out to be a "glorious day" when the truth is revealed and there may be even more instability in the future, but at least we no longer have to suffer in silence.

Read it in full here.

The Truth is OUT?

According to Future TV’s al- Tahkeek Min Ajel Lubnan (Investigation for Lebanon):

Former general security chief Jamil al-Sayed, ex-military intelligence boss Raymond Azar and former internal security head Ali al-Hajj and presidential guard commander Mustafa Hamdan held meetings prior to the assassination to plan and coordinate the blast that killed Hariri. Together they picked the site of the crime.

Former MP Nassir Qandil also reportedly had sent a memo to the Syrian leadership recommending the “liquidation” of Hariri on grounds he could "win the elections."

Mehlis, the head of the UN team, finished the interrogation of the five suspects. The file is now in the hands of the Lebanese judiciary. The German prosecutor recommended they be charged and arrested for planning and executing the murder of prime minister Rafik Hariri and 20 others.

Syrian officials, meanwhile, continue to refuse face-to-face to interviews. The UN security council is meeting tonight to discuss the issue.

More soon.

Lebanon detains pro-Syrian officials over Hariri murder

OK, so AFP is calling it an "arrest" and other agencies "detention." The Arabic sources say "summoned for questioning as suspects."

Regardless, this seems to support the theory that Syria and its proxies did it.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Hotel Journalism

You might not notice it, but at the bottom of every New York Times article that carries a Baghdad dateline something like this appears:

Reporting for this article was contributed by Ali Adeeb, Khalid al-Ansary, Thaier Aldaami and Omar Osama from Baghdad, Fakher Haider from Basra, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Kirkuk, Mosul and Najaf.

What does this mean? It means the New York Times reporters, like most western news organizations "reporting from Baghdad", never really ventured out of their fortified hotel room to actually report on what's happening. They instead relied on local reporters who have the guts (and probably the appearance) to "safely" walk and report from the streets of Baghdad. That's why I find it so hard to read these articles. They quote all these people they never really interviewed themselves.

Robert Fisk, one of the few western journalists who does his own street reporting describes it best:

I head off to the Palestine Hotel where one of the largest Western news agencies has its headquarters. I take the lift to an upper floor only to be met by a guard and a vast steel wall which blocks off the hotel corridor. He searches me, sends in my card and after a few minutes an Iraqi guard stares at me through a grille and opens an iron door.

I enter to find another vast steel wall in front of me. Once he has clanged the outer door shut, the inner door is opened and I am in the grotty old hotel corridor.

The reporters are sitting in a fuggy room with a small window from which they can see the Tigris river. One of the American staff admits he has not been outside "for months". An Arab reporter does their street reporting; an American travels around Iraq - but only as an "embed" with US troops. No American journalists from this bureau travel the streets of Baghdad. This is not hotel journalism, as I once described it. This is prison journalism.

I don't want to be a reporter in Baghdad right now, so I can't really say I blame them.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Good Morning New York Times!

The New York Times cock has risen:

Most Americans believed that their country had invaded Iraq to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, but we know now that those weapons did not exist. If we had all known then what we know now, the invasion would have been stopped by a popular outcry, no matter what other motives the president and his advisers may have had.

It is also very clear, although the president has done his level best to muddy the picture, that Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11. Mr. Bush's insistence on making that link, over and over, is irresponsible. In fact, it was the American-led invasion that turned Iraq into a haven for Islamist extremists.

Some may wonder why I am so angry at the the New York Times. It's all about timing, people, and their timing to criticise this president is off by more than two years. When we took to the street protesting this war, we all knew what the Times has JUST found out (arrogant folks take longer to convince). Is anybody going to fire Judith Miller? So what if she's in jail. So what if the Times changed editors and issued an apology for being a lousy paper during the buildup to the war. That apology does not give them the right to criticise this country's foreign policy or tell Iraqis that their US sponsored constitution sucks eggs and discriminates against women and reeks of Islamic law.

I will only rest when the Times and the Sulzbergers who own it issue an apology to the Iraqi people for a war they failed to see was based on a lie because of arrogance and bad judgement. And why finally discover the lie now? Could it be they waited until Bush's approval ratings fell to a record low (lower than Nixon's during Watergate)? Does it sell copies now to allow repressed reporters criticise this administration? Are Iraqi lives still so worthless here that publishing an apology to Iraq could hurt circulation?

I am trying very hard not to turn this blog into an Angry Arab type blog.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Iraq's constitution and the New York Times wisdom

On Monday night, the Iraqi constitutional committee submitted a draft constitution to the national assembly despite vocal Arab Sunni opposition to some of its provisions. The parliament will vote and most likely pass the draft later this week. Optimistic observers think Arab Sunnis could still be convinced to accept a constitution that defines the country as Islamic rather than Arab, and a federal system that distributes oil revenues according to population size in each province. The US reportedly put great pressure on the Shia and the Kurds to reach a quick compromise and meet the extended deadline. The Arab Sunnis, thought to "form the backbone of the insurgency" as it is popular to say these days, refused to stick to the deadline and apparently wanted more time to bargain (nevermind that poor and helpless Iraqi citizens continue to get blown up by an idiot and truly terrorist insurgency and screwed by a corrupt government of illiterate brutes).

But oh wait. Displeased with the hastiness in submitting the draft, the New York Times today lashed out at the Bush administration for letting "an arbitrary deadline trump its responsibility to promote inclusiveness, women's rights and the rule of law. "

The editorial tries to make a few good points. One of them is

The draft got to the assembly ahead of this latest deadline, a week later than Washington wanted, only by sidelining until almost the last moment the Sunni Arabs who had so painstakingly been added to the drafting group earlier this year. Since the Bush administration has promoted the constitution as a way to drain support from Sunni insurgents, this exclusionary move was reckless and indefensible.

It continues:

The Sunnis overwhelmingly favor a strong central government. With them out of the negotiations, the theocratically inclined Shiites and the separatist-minded Kurds found it easy to cut a deal that favored their narrow interests at national expense. The draft would reportedly allow the Kurds to reinforce their autonomy under a weak federal government. The religious Shiites pushed to enshrine Islam in the constitution and the legal system, all the way up through the Supreme court.

Now, I am no fan of theocratic regimes, but what is it exactly that ticks the New York Times? Using terms like "narrow interests", "Separatist-minded Kurds," and "religious shiites" is a very stupid and reductionist way of looking at the situation. Sure, blame it on the Iran-loving Shia whom the Times think want another Iran in Iraq. And may the world collapse if Islam is mentioned as one source of legislation.

The problem is NOT THERE.

The problem is that the New York Times editorial section editor is not aware of Iraq's history with centralised government and autocratic centres of power. He/she also cannot complain about what direction the constitution takes, especially when this very paper is responsible for advocating regime change in Iraq. If the majority of people in Iraq reach a consensus that secular minded people like us hate, then too bad for us. The problem is that, like the US administration, which I actually believe is, for the first time, is right in urging those leaders to get it over with and reach a compromise-- the problem is that people like the writer of that editorial and another related breed of Middle East "experts" think that Iraqis can live and breath American demoracy at the first sight of a tank. They pretend to know what is good for them, and this in their minds excludes a document that mentions that wretched religion... Islam!

Whoever wrote that editorial should read the Iraqi press. People couldn't care less about some definition in a constitution that is bound to become symbolic anyway, as it is in many, many countries, including this one. Iraqis care about their economy, security, and electricity supply. And unlike the editors at the Times, they do want to get it over with quickly, that dull constitution business.

So please, Mr or Ms New York Times editor, with your infinite wisdom and nationbuilding expertise, do tell us what kind of constitution works best for Iraq, that nation that was glued together by force and that is disintegrating thanks to that same force that I shall not name. And while you're at it, set a time limit for it all. But kindly be mindful that Iraqis are expiring fast.

Americans continue dying in Iraq, but their mission creeps steadily downward. The nonexistent weapons of mass destruction dropped out of the picture long ago. Now the United States seems ready to walk away from its fine words about helping the Iraqis create a beacon of freedom, harmony and democracy for the Middle East. All that remains to be seen is whether the White House has become so desperate for an excuse to declare victory that it will settle for an Iranian-style Shiite theocracy.

Did I hear nonexistent weapons of mass destruction? Where is Judith Miller when you need her? Oh right, she is in jail.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Explosion in Lebanon injures four

"Bombing Terror returns to Lebanon" headlined the Daily Star on Tuesday, in reference to the explosion near a shopping centre and a hotel in Zalqa.

The bomb resembles the series of explosions that targeted other Christian areas since the February assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14.

This raises to ten the number of explosions since Hariri's assassination. The culprits are still unknown. Or are they...

UPDATE: According to As-Safir, ten minutes before the blast, a car was seen stopping some 400m from the site of the explosion. Three men, one holding a briefcase stepped out and headed towards the Centre Moussa parking garage. A fourth man, the driver, stayed in the car, engine running. When the three men returned to the car they were without the briefcase, and the car moved to another spot but remained in the area until the time of the explosion...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Post 1967 Israel and the writing of history

Tom Segev in Ha'aretz on the Gaza withdrawal:

Nobody described the evacuation as an opportunity, with hope. By not doing so, the broadcasts missed the real drama, namely that Israeli society is now attempting to rescue itself from the historic mistake it made almost 40 years ago, and is trying to find the way back to a different Zionist tradition.

This is a fascinating story about a kulturkampf that did not begin in 1967, but gradually intensified after the Six-Day War. Central to it is the question of what true Zionism is, and what price Zionism is willing to pay for the fulfillment of its dream...

Whoever writes the history of the four decades since the Six-Day War is liable to describe an era of delusion and fantasy, arrogance and oppression, in the spirit of nationalist-religious, messianic and racist Zionism, which is reflected in the settlements.

So who do you think will write that history? And will it be written that way?

Friday, August 19, 2005

The New York Times, Gaza withdrawal and the UN partition plan

What is it with the New York Times and accuracy? An editorial on 18 August gave a "historical reality check" on the Gaza withdrawal. According to the Times, Gaza

was never part of the Zionist state intended by the United Nations partition plan that led to the establishment of Israel in 1948. At that point, five Arab nations immediately attacked the new nation, but Gaza wasn't even part of the territory Israel got in signing truces in 1949. It became the home of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing Israel, and Israel's armistice with Egypt in 1949 put it under Egyptian rule.

A more accurate statement would point out the fact that the partition plan which many inside the beltway mistakingly believe led to the establishment of Israel not only did not include Gaza and the West Bank, it also did not inlcude many parts of what is now Israel. And before somebody points out that Palestinians and Arabs rejected the plan and attacked, ummm,... then non existent Israel, Jewish leaders like Ben Gurion rejected the plan too because they wanted the whole of mandate Palestine (and Eretz Israel). I should also mention the many massacres that zionist gangs and militias like the irgun and the stern committed AFTER THE PARTITION PLAN and BEFORE THE WAR in order to drive people out of their villages.

Here is the partition plan. Note how it gives 498,000 Jews 56.47% of mandate Palestine and 807,000 Arabs 43.53%.

It is the New York Times that needs a historical reality check!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Army style fate

A "coalition" humvee flattened a teenage boy in Baghdad. Don't expect to read this anywhere else. Here are excerpts from an article by Robert Fisk.

In this part of Baghdad, you avoid both the insurgents and the Americans - if you are lucky. Yassin al-Sammerai was not. On 14 July, the second grade schoolboy had gone to spend the night with two college friends and - this being a city without electricity in the hottest month of the year - they decided to spend the night sleeping in the front garden. Let his broken 65 year-old father Selim take up the story, for he’s the one who still cannot believe his son is dead - or what the Americans told him afterwards.

"It was three-thirty in the morning and they were all asleep, Yassin and his friends Fahed and Walid Khaled. There was an American patrol outside and then suddenly, a Bradley armoured vehicle burst through the gate and wall and drove over Yassin. You know how heavy these things are. He died instantly. But the Americans didn’t know what they’d done. He was lying crushed under the vehicle for 17 minutes. Um Khaled, his friends’ mother, kept shouting in Arabic: "There is a boy under this vehicle."

According to Selim al-Sammerai, the Americans’ first reaction was to put handcuffs on the two other boys.

...The Americans came back with an officer two days later," Selim al-Sammerai continues. "They offered us compensation. I refused. I lost my son, I told the officer. ’I don’t want the money - I don’t think the money will bring back my son.’ That’s what I told the American.

There is a long silence in the room. But Selim, who is still crying, insists on speaking again.

"I told the American officer: ’You have killed the innocent and such things will lead the people to destroy you and the people will make a revolution against you. You said you had come to liberate us from the previous regime. But you are destroying our walls and doors.’"

I suddenly realise that Selim al-Sammerai has straightened up on his seat and his voice is rising in strength. "Do you know what the American said to me? He said, ’This is fate.’ I looked at him and I said, ’I am very faithful in the fate of God - but not in the fate of which you speak.’"

Read the full article here.

Where is the middle ground?

I think the US has a completely different concept of time and space. Let me explain.

This is the place that people claim they are from or live in without actually coming from it or living in it. Where I come from, which is Lebanon, if you say you're from Beirut then you live there, and most probably were born in that city. Sometimes you are even asked about your neigborhood or street (usually to identify your religion and sect). Here, I tell people I live in DC, but I really mean the metro area, or the area inside the beltway. We don't visit DC that often, but even this blog says I'm located there. If I were to tell people I really lived in Bethesda or Maryland it would not have the same impact and would cause them confusion.

When I first met my wife, and before we were together, I often heard her say she was from Baltimore. Sometimes she said DC. After marriage, or maybe while we were dating, I found out her parents really lived in a small town in northern Maryland that's 30 min from the city of Baltimore, about 1.5 hours from DC. To me that would be equivalent to saying I was from Sidon or Tripoli when I am really from Beirut, which is almost a blasphemy.

This brings me to an important issue. Space here is taken for granted. There is so much of it and people don't care if they had to drive for hours to get to work or for a meal (or claim it as place of origin!). For a long time my wife wondered why I became irritable whenever we drove to Baltimore or Virginia or another location that requires taking gigantic highways and spending a long time in the car just to meet people for dinner. It makes no sense to me. Although I have been slowly adjusting to the concept, I still find it to be an incredible waste of time and energy.

I think when people have too much space and they start to take it for granted and not think much of distance tarveled, they lose all sense of the passage of time. Why drive for hours on a highway packed with speeding cars driving like robots at intimidating speeds, just to arrive at a restaurant that requires you to wait even longer for a table, then pay a shitload of money for mediocre food? Can't we all live closer to one another? Do I have to lose nerve cells for conversations and meals that could have been had at a more comfortable distance??

But I guess when in Rome... do as they do. So I will try to get used to it. It's times like that when I miss home the most. Lebanon does not have comfortable roads and people drive like maniacs (and I hate them for it). But there is the knowledge that space is more compact and arriving at destinations is dependent on bad road conditions rather than vastness of space. Something about the abundance of space creates an unsettling feeling in me. In the past, long drives meant special trips you made on weekends when you knew it was a one time thing and that you had to start the trip back early to avoid traffic. You very seldom drove for hours to visit someone then drove back on the same day as if you were visiting your neighbours. It's not unusual here to still be in another state after midnight. While many here find that normal, I get very nervous and start thinking I was missing my flight or the last train home.

Things could have been worse, I guess. This post, one could argue, could be a waste of time and space. But who knows, maybe one day I will find a kind of "middle ground of time and space" between Beirut and "DC".

Friday, August 12, 2005

Our lord the flag

I am finally in an office with a window. It didn't matter that the view consists mostly of a busy highway, I desperately needed natural light. After 8 months of working in a windowless office, I deserved this promotion!

Also in my view, a fluttering US flag. Big enough to lord over the strip of grass and trees that it governs with an imposing and intimidating pride that only an Arab immigrant like me can see and feel. I still remember the day my wife dropped me off to interview here. The building, with its flag and somewhat isolated location intimidated me more than the interview itself. There was another US flag hanging on the wall of the reception area that greeted me as I asked for my interviewer. All I could feel at the time was guilt. I had done nothing wrong... but I still felt guilty. I missed home, and I dreaded being there.

Fast forward 8 months. I don't notice the small flag at reception anymore. In fact, I can't tell you without walking out of my room if the flag is still there greeting visitors. But our "lord the flag" is now in my field of vision all the time, waving, resting, then waving again.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Hijacking the cause

I am still disturbed by an article by Professor Saree Makdisi titled “Is their bombing worse than ours?” The article expresses equal outrage at the bombings and the “unthinking reactions in the United States and Britain to those disgusting attacks.”

Here are excerpts:

The usual self-congratulatory contrast between ''our'' civilization and ''their'' barbarism has set the stage for a cycle of moralistic inquiries into the motivations of suicide bombers and the supposed duty of ''good'' Muslims to restrain ''bad'' ones.

Suicide bombing is merely a tactic used by those who lack other means of delivering explosives. What happened in London occurs every time a U.S. or British warplane unloads its bombs on an Iraqi village.

American and British media have devoted hours to wondering what would drive a seemingly normal young Muslim to destroy himself and others. No one asked what would cause a seemingly normal young Christian or Jew to strap himself into a warplane and drop bombs on a village, knowing full well his bombs will kill civilians (and, of course, soldiers).

Because ''our'' way of killing is dressed up in smart uniforms and shiny weapons and cloaked in the language of grand causes, we place it on a different moral plane than ''theirs.''

Peaceful protest, persuasion, demonstration, negotiation or remonstration haven't made a dent in the single-minded U.S. and British policy. If all legitimate forms of dissent go unheeded, illegitimate forms will be turned to instead. Some people will resort to violence, which does not produce the desired result but may give vent to the inhumanity with which they have been treated for so long. Paine was right: People who are treated brutally will finally turn into brutes.

And because I don’t want to quote him out of context, Professor Makdisi did write that this is a war “between one form of zealotry and another, one form of ignorance and another, one form of barbarism and another. More of the same will not yield solutions.”

I agree that we all need to think and act as human beings, not unthinking brutes as he put it. I also agree that Muslims should not be put on the defensive, because the majority of us have nothing to do with these fanatics, nor did we ever fund/help create them. I also know and agree that British and American planes and policies have killed and maimed many.

But what disturbs about this article is how it implies that the terrorists are victims or dissenters turned into suicide bombers.

Those Pakistanis and Somalis, those so called Arab Afghanis, Saudis and Jordanians (etc), some of whom are not old enough to have lived the injustice they claim to fight, nor really know what it’s like to live under the brutal Israeli occupation and watch your years get eaten by wars and proxy conflicts – those people who have declared a jihad in the name of the oppressed majority (which they kill too) have nothing to do with us and should not be considered part of the reaction to an injustice that is not theirs to claim!

I am not impressed when Bin Laden cites the Israeli invasion of Lebanon as motivation for the September 11 attacks. Bin Laden is not how many of us want to get back at our oppressors. Their method is not ours, neither is their ideology. Nobody made Osama our king, caliph or spokesman.

So no, suicide bombings committed by those fanatics is not an illegitimate form practiced by those who have exhausted other peaceful forms of protest. Because we, who actually took to the street and worked hard over the years to convince and persuade, are not to be equated with those who don’t even speak our language or share our history. They have hijacked our cause, and the damage might be irreversible.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Iran and Hizbullah arming the Iraq insurgency? Huh?

Please help me understand an article published by the New York Times on August 6.

The lead says:
Many of the new, more sophisticated roadside bombs used to attack American and government forces in Iraq have been designed in Iran and shipped in from there, United States military and intelligence officials said Friday, raising the prospect of increased foreign help for Iraqi insurgents.

The article continues:
Unlike the improvised explosive devices devised from Iraq's vast stockpiles of missiles, artillery shells and other arms, the new weapons are specially designed to destroy armored vehicles, military bomb experts say.

The same article quotes "American officials" as saying there is no evidence Iranian government is involved. "Middle East specialists" then told the writer of the article that the idea of Iran and Hizbullah (earlier in the article the weapons used against the US army were found similar to those used by Hizbullah against the Israelis) helping the insurgency was nonsensical.

Iran's protégés are in control in Iraq right now, yet these weapons are going to people fighting Iran's protégés," said Kenneth Katzman, a Persian Gulf expert at the Congressional Research Service and a former Middle East analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency.

That makes no sense to me. I will ignore the part in the last quote which is further evidence of how the US administration is shooting itself in the foot by replacing a dictatorship with a theocracy.

According to the article, American commanders are baffled by how explosives used by shia in Basra against the coalition are migrating to the Sunni areas.

What do we have here? "Porous borders" with Syria and Iran. Insurgents, terrorists, fighters-- whatever you want to call them-- are having a field day infiltrating borders made porous after the so called "liberation" and blowing up soldiers and innocent civilians.

We also have weapons and explosives skipping ethnic and sectarian boundaries. All is fair in war. It is not impossible to come to the conclusion that a few impoverished shia, giving up on the "coalition" promises of a better future, are making handsome profits by selling explosives to their Sunni bretheren. Having lived the Lebanese war, I do not put it past arms dealers. And it's not like the Iraqis are seeing any of the billions of dollars generated from oil sale.

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