Monthly Archives: February 2003

[Iraq Series Article II]

[Iraq Series Article II]

Progressiveness: The Creation of a New World

One of the many reasons floated for why the US should not attack Iraq is that it would set a bad example to the rest of the world, and give a legal precedent for unprovoked attacks. Although the logic here seems sound, there is a different way to interpret the ramifications of such an attack on international law: a war of liberation on Iraq would set the precedent that the democratic world will do what it takes to protect the freedoms and liberties of the peoples of the world from the brutal oppression of dictators and tyrannical regimes.
As it is, we are living in an international system that is perfectly fine with the fact that a large part of the nations of the world are living under autocratic rule. That is, as the international system is today, each country is supposed to mind it’s own business and stay out of the relationships between tyrannical states and their people, no matter how brutal those regimes might be. This logic was the reason that the United States stayed out of World War II until the very last minute, when it could excuse it’s declaration of war on an unprovoked attack by Japan, and expand that declaration of war against the Japanese’s allies, the Germans. A delay that cost millions of Jewish, Gypsy, Catholic, and Homosexual lives, among others.
The Vietnam War further justified this logic. Enlisted to fight in a war they did not agree with, students around the United States set out to protest, employing their democratic right to influence the government through civil action. Needless to say, they were successfully, and they came to the conclusion that every War is unjustifiable and to be prevented.
But then the world changed. The fall of the Soviet Union led to the liberation of hundreds of millions of people in Eastern Europe and Asia from what was an autocratic, dictatorial state. Some states, such as those in Eastern Europe, decided that they had enough of tyranny and instituted liberal democracies based upon the model that the United States and Great Britain represented. Ethnic battles erupted around the world in areas that were frozen for half a century by either American or Soviet power, and then came Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia proved for the first time in this international system that democracies can make a difference if they intervene in alien ethnic conflicts. The US saved the lives of millions of Muslims from the Serbian armies of Milosevic, and those progressives with their eyes open from all sides of the political spectrum realized that intervention might just be the best thing for human rights. And, as Shimon Peres has pointed out, the fact that the bombing of Kosovo was carried out without an UN Security Council decision did not take away from its legitimacy.
As Mark Malloch-Brown, the director of the United Nations Development Program said at a lecture at Columbia University, a new breed of internationalists has developed: the Development Hawks. These Hawks believe that no stone should be left unturned in the quest for universal human rights, and that we as the developed world must also not be afraid of dealing with what will come out from under those stones. Such is the case with the war on Iraq.
We of the developed, democratic world have the chance to make it clear to the rest of the tyrannical and repressive world that we will longer be silent. We will no longer sit still and watch as people are brutally repressed, murdered, and silenced, for no reason other than to keep a party in power. As Zainab Al-Suwail, an Iraqi woman that escaped Iraqi and recently wrote for the LA Times, points out, the people want to be liberated. Every person is born free, and yet all over the world they live in chains because we do nothing to stop their enslavement.
This war in Iraq will send a very clear message to the remaining tyrannies in the world that democracies are on the march, and that we will not stop until Universal Human Rights are afforded to every man, woman and child. And if we back out, if we give in to a thirteenth year of inspections (that haven’t helped any in the previous twelve years) we will be strengthening the tyrannical world by confirming its legitimacy.
Tyranny must not be made legitimate.

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The World Turns Around

It has become necessary to address the Iraq issue from the more academic side, as so many intelligent people have been given only parts of the picture concerning the question of war in Iraq, and only those parts that oppose such a war. As an ardent supporter of the liberation of Iraq, for what I will show to be humanitarian and democratic reasons, I thought to bring a few of the facts concerning the situation to bare, leaving the reader to do with them what he or she wishes. The following series of articles will deal with the geopolitical situation surrounding the Iraqi controversy, and, although these article neither pretend to give all of the information on the situation, nor take on the ambitious goal of convincing people to suddenly become pro-liberation, I hope they will serve to inform those who oppose the war about the other side of the story, shine light unto the fact that decent people have decent reasons for supporting the liberation of Iraq, and give anti-War warriors a reason to think twice about their reasons for so opposing military action.
I decided to take on this task by breaking up the issue into smaller issues, each one dealt with in a separate article. This first article deals with the assumption that the entire world is against the war. The second article deals with the assumption that American action in Iraq will set a bad precedent for the international system. The third will deal with the assumption that action in Iraq will do harm to the Iraqi people in specific, and the Arab or Muslim peoples in general. The fourth article will summarize and pose the question of the future of the geopolitical international order.


Article I: Old-Axis Motives

First of all to the notion that the world is against the US and its policies: yes, two of the largest European powers have done everything in their power to oppose a military action in Iraq, and yes, they are joined by what is left of the former Soviet superpower, but why does that suddenly become the “whole world?” To think that France and Germany, the two historic warmongers of Europe responsible for the past two World Wars suddenly represent the majority of world opinion, is, in my eyes, to be rather Eurocentric. Or even just plain racist. To say that Europe is the decider of world opinion is to discount the nearly two-thirds of the world population in Asia alone, populations that have neither opposed the war, nor openly supported it.
But even if we are to not count these three billion people, it is simply not true that all of Europe opposes the war. Most people seem not to be aware that by now 19 European countries (including Spain, Portugal, Italy, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, the Czech Republic, etc.), actually do support the taking of action, and have been so upset by the Franco-Prussian hijacking of the European body politic that they went above and beyond the norms of political expression by publicly expressing their support for the war in Iraq in a press-release. The leaders of these 19 countries had to use this public means of expression because they have been effectively forgotten by the world community, their voices silenced by what is now popularly referred to as “Old Europe.”
As Josef Joffe, the editor of the German weekly Die Zeit points out in the New York Times, the statement issued by the countries that their “goal is to safeguard world peace and security by ensuring that this regime gives up its weapons of mass destruction. Our governments have a common responsibility to face this threat” really is a diplomatic way to say “We are not amused that Paris and Berlin are trying to gang up on the United States in the name of Europe.” Worse off, France has recently threatened the potential new-EU members that they might not be admitted if they back America. It is interesting to note that all of these future EU members, Eastern European States, stand shoulder to shoulder with the US on the issue, saying that they know how the Iraqi people feel since they themselves lived under an oppressive tyranny.
And we should not forget that “Old Europe” has very dubious motives for preventing a war in Iraq. First, France and Iraq had a very special relationship, one that resulted in Chirac calling Saddam “my brother,” and the building of the Osiraq nuclear reactor, which Israel destroyed. Next, German scientists, or more specifically chemists, have been working with Iraq on the development of chemical weapons for decades. That could be the answer to where all of the Nazi chemical weapons specialists went after the war, and why Germany is so adamantly opposed to the removal of Saddam Hussein.
It is also quite interesting to point out that Germany and France are the two great powers of the Axis in European theater of the Second World War, and that the leadership of both of these countries have been greatly influenced by the war, in ways that are not so apparent. Although it is true that France and Germany have tried to come to terms with the war, and with the genocide that they and their populations actively carried out, the war did not turn them into moral powers overnight: France continued with its hold over Algeria, killing over one million people, and displacing over 2 million, and this doesn’t even take into account France’s on-going occupation of the lands of over three different peoples. Germany hasn’t done much better: turning its xenophobic sights on its internal Turkish/Muslim population, Germany remains a Christian country that severly limits the public practice of Islam; Germany also publically bargained with Palestinian terrorist groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s, going so far as to stage an airplane hijaking to give them an excuse to release terrorists in their custody (for more information about that, see Alan Dershowitz’s book Why Terrorism Works)
As for the third adamant anti-War nation, Belgium, it should be enough to mention that it is, well, Belgium. The major thing is has in common with France and Germany is its history as one of the countries that willingly fell to the Nazis, and that enthusiastically gave over their own citizens, who happened to be Jews. It should be noted that Belgium is one of those countries that never cared much for opposing tyranny, especially not when it is in its interests. And just to remove any doubt that Belgium might be a moral nation motivated by moral standards, one should remember that Belgium was more than a willing bystander to the genocide of Jews, carried out the brutal genocides in Africa after the War (and as David Levitz points out, we should not forget the genocide of 8-10 million Africans the Belgians carried out during their colonial days in Africa, amounting to 600,000 deaths a year). So, when reviewing Belgium’s history, it seems off that it feels it still has the right to judge and convict Ariel Sharon for not stopping the Lebanese Phallangists from carrying out Sabra and Shatilla. Sharon was wrong to not intervene, very wrong, but that does not give the right to Belgium to try him.
Lastly, Russia has more than ever to gain from the continuation of the current impasse: just ten days ago, on February 8th, Russia set up a joint oil and as company with Syria, the main smuggler of Iraqi oil. Syria, which shares a border and Ba’athist ideology with Iraqi, has earned millions from the past decade’s embargo on Iraq through smuggling oil from Iraqi over the under-regulated overland routes. It has used this money to develop its own unconventional weapons capabilities, which it sees as its only advantage over Israel. Thing is, now Russia wants in on the game, and the timing is perfect: while the world is busy with trying to inspect Sadaam’s regime, no one will be looking for oil-smugglers. The timing for Iraq is perfect too: it has been fortunate enough to purchase the influence of a veto-wielding Security Council member; in domestic politics it would be called ‘bribery,’ in international politics it is called ‘looking out for national interests.’
Is the US looking out for national interests too? Undoubtedly–that’s politics. The important question is which interests it is looking out for, and it can be said directly that the US interest is not oil. No, if the US would want oil it would take the opposite course of action: it would make a deal with Saddam’s government and raise the sanctions. If one looks at all of the facts, at all of the motives, and especially at the National Security Strategy and the writings of the Pentagon advisors such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, the interest seems to be a Pax Americana whose main staple is a world of democracy and free-markets, a world where America will be free to remove trade barriers and fully let-loose its economy. Whether or not you agree with those motives, the point is that the world as a whole does not disagree with action in Iraq. Taking all of this into account, it seems that it is Old Europe that is becoming isolated, and not the other way around.

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Free Palestine, Not Iraq

Free Palestine, Not Iraq

It is especially confusing to me how some people can, in the same sentence, call for the freeing of Palestine through armed struggle or international intervention, and the stopping of any such struggle or intervention in Iraq.
One of the numerous examples of what my brother Tal calls the “close-minded liberal paradox” is a recent posting to the Columbia Student Solidarity Network that read: “We Shall Not Be Moved. STOP THE WAR ON IRAQ! END THE OCCUPATION OF PALESTINE! JOIN US as we support Palestine in the February 15 anti-war demonstration. Supporters of Palestinian rights will march together as part of New York City’s action on this international day of solidarity against the war on Iraq.”
It would be clear if these people would support both the freedom of Palestine and the freedom of Iraq, that I could understand: democracy and equal rights certainly should be afforded to each and every human being, regardless of race, color, gender, creed or religion. But it seems that while the protesters care a lot about the rights of the Palestinians, they do not care much about the rights of the Iraqis.
Sure, they say that they are trying to protect the Iraqi people from a war that could cost thousands of their lives, but I would hope that most of their leadership, and maybe the intelligent or literate ones about them, realize that Sadaam Hussein has used the last two decades of his reign to oppress and murder tens of thousands of his own citizens. I would also hope that these people realize that Sadaam has moved to ascertain that his son Uday will take the mantel of leadership after him, and that Uday has an even bloodier record, if that is possible, than that of his father.
And, almost needless to say, Iraq directly funds terror. Iraq is rather proud of it’s record: it has raised the payment it gives as a reward to families of suicide bombers from $10,000 to $25,000, and calls for legions of mayrters to attack Western targets. It should be pointed out that he does not fund Palestinian democratic institutions, nor does it help out “victims of Israeli aggression;” He funds suicide bombers, plain and simple. This fact alone ties the conflicts together at their root, and makes one question whether opposing the overthrow of Sadaam is also to agree with his continued policies of funding terror.
So it would seem that a realistic person would see the situation, and realize that the Iraqis need a whole lot of saving too. It would seem that, if you were worried about human rights abuses you would be a lot more worried about the strengthening of a Hussein Dynasty in Iraq, just as Syria already has its Asad Dynasty, and Egypt is moving towards installing it’s Mubarak II.
Yet that is the definition of “closed-minded liberalism:” the inability to see past post-colonialist constructs, and the application of antiquated social lenses, such as imperialism and colonialism, to a different world with different values. According to the post-colonialist mind, the Jews, because of the color of their skin and their most recent region of origin, will always be colonists, and, therefore, the people living beside them will always be their victims. No matter that there are a quarter-of-a-billion Arabs, with little to no difference in language, culture or history, living directly besides them.
Iraq, on the other hand, does not fit into this post-colonialist category of imperialism. Although Tikrit–the village of the Hussein clan–is a bit north, it is not north enough to be Europe, and, therefore, he can do whatever he wants, and none of it will be worthy of intervention.
The saving grace is, paradoxically, that the neo-conservatives in the Pentagon, including Wolfowitz and Perle, care more about human-rights than do all of these self-proclaimed human-rights activists from the liberal left. In the words of Charles Moore in the UK’s Telegraph “As in Palestine, so in Iraq, the hawks reject the idea implicit in the views of the chancelleries of Europe that the only people who can effectively run the place are evil bastards. They think that the four million Iraqi exiles and most of the people still living in the place would like the chance of a civil society and, with help, could start building one.” So while these Righty Hawks save Iraq, the Lefty Doves will “not be moved” to do any saving themselves. I hope history will make them ashamed for not acting sooner, just as it did with the Holocaust.

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I stand together with

I stand together with the American people and the Jewish people in mourning over the Columbia space shuttle disaster. May their memories be blessed, and their families be strengthened.
[the following article was published by the Columbia Spectator on Feb. 3, 2003]

We Are All Columbia

Saturday morning, while most of us were still sleeping, the human race once again awoke to a tragedy that painfully reminded us of the fragility of the human condition. Seeing the families of the astronauts waiting for their loved ones, for their husbands and wives, for their mothers and fathers who would never return home was a jolting reminder of the sanctity of individual human life. Tragedies such as this also challenge us to set aside our differences for a moment and focus on the ties that bind us together as a community and on our potential if united.
We are all Columbia. We are all hurtling through space, searching the unknown for that glimmer of truth that will make our mission all worth it. It is because of this common purpose that we should look through the dark smoke of the tragedy and see how the character of the crew of the Columbia space shuttle is reminiscent in its diversity and international character to the crew of our Columbia University, and its example should shine as a beacon of light.
This particular mission, which the Indian Times called the “most diverse space mission ever,” represented the beauty of the democratic enterprise and the heights to which we can ascend when we work together. Alongside Col. Rick Husband, Dr. David Brown, and Cmdr. William McCool flew the African-American Lt. Col. Michael Anderson, Dr. Laurel Clark, the Indian Dr. Kalpana Chawla–who became the first Indian to go to space in 1997–and the first Israeli astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon.
Ramon was the son of Holocaust survivors, who are still alive today and who awaited his return in Israel. Ramon, who as The New York Times noted in its editorial on the tragedy “represented the desperate desire of his tortured nation to be part of peaceful progress, to achieve great things in endeavors apart from the perpetual crisis that Israel endures,” was carrying with him a picture of the Earth as seen from the moon, drawn by a Jewish boy during the Holocaust in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. This picture served as a reminder to himself, to his nation, and to the entire human race that we can, in the span of a single lifetime, rise from the darkest depths of evil to the glory of the stars.
We here at Columbia University share this same mission, the mission the crew of the Columbia gave their lives for: the pursuit of knowledge for the betterment of the human condition. Even though our feet are planted firmly on the ground, we should remember that our pursuit is no less dangerous and no less significant.
Our pursuit is no less dangerous because ideas fostered and spread by institutions such as our University can lead to serious consequences. There is no question that the University must advocate and defend the right to free thought and speech, but we should remain conscious of the possible dangers: this past century’s experience with Fascism and the Leninist and Maoist variants of Communism, to say the least, is proof enough that ideas can grow legs and arms and ravage the earth. Especially in this age of information, when ideas and rumors can spread with unprecedented speed, we should be ever-vigilant, remembering the responsibility that is our burden as members of the educated community to strive to show a balanced picture of the world, one not based on ideological convictions but rather on empathy, respect for every individual human life, and the pursuit of knowledge for the betterment of all humankind.
We can and must confront this danger directly by shouldering the responsibility and diffusing it through dialogue. One such example of the healthy pursuit of knowledge and understanding through dialogue that can and should be the norm at Columbia is the Middle East Initiative, a student-run project that brings together both sides on the Israeli-Palestinian debate.
Our pursuit of knowledge is no less significant because our exploration of metaphysical space can result in the creation of a whole new world, a new era for humankind. We here at Columbia University have the potential to change the world from one where the majority lives under the rule of tyrannies and over one billion live in conditions of hunger to one where the individual rights and well-being of humans become the first priority of the rest of humankind.
We’ve already put one foot in the right direction. The creation of the Earth Institute–the first major institution to focus on the interdisciplinary quest for sustainable development in the new millennium–and the recruitment of Jeffrey Sachs to run it have unbelievable potential to usher in a new way of looking at the world. Yet we should not stop there. To utilize our potential, all of Columbia’s departments, institutes, and centers would need to lay aside ideologies and politics that divide and focus instead on those that unite. We at Columbia should take advantage of our central location in New York to serve not as a platform for polemics but as a meeting ground for conflict resolution and as a springboard to a new and better world.

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