Monthly Archives: November 2003

Can you say Bias?

This speaks for itself: the NYTimes wrote the following headline: Israeli Troops Kill Three Fleeing Palestinians.
Definition of Fleeing by Merriam Webster: “to run away often from danger or evil”
Who were these Palestinians who ran away from evil? “Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip Wednesday killed three Palestinians who were apparently planned to set up an ambush on a road used by Jewish settlers, Israeli military sources said. Israeli soldiers spotted four men, at least two of them armed, heading after nightfall toward the Kissufim road, leading to the Gush Katif group of settlements in the southern Gaza Strip, the sources said.”
No, that headline wasn’t misleading…

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Arab Democracy

In my last article, Hearts and Minds, I noted that “the last publication that quoted [Saad Eddin] Ibrahim [the Egyptian Democracy activist] was The Wall Street Journal, a conservative paper.” To strengthen my point, the Wall Street Journal has published an essay by Mr. Ibrahim today, called “Reviving Mideastern Democracy” and subtitled “We Arabs need the West’s help to usher in a new Liberal Age.” Here is a nice section:

In the Middle Ages there used to be something called the Silk Road, which was an overland trade route that ran from the Atlantic shores of Morocco to the Great Wall of China. It was a famous path, steeped in lore and plied by picturesque caravans. When I heard of Prof. Aghajari and then of dissidents in Tunisia also languishing in jail, another picture popped into my head: The romantic Silk Road of yesteryear has in our time become a kind of Despots’ Alley or Tyrants’ Row, with various sorts of unfree governments lying end-to-end on the map from Beijing right on through to North Africa.
But then I reflected some more and thought, in all these storied lands there are people who are working for the same things that I am working for. Whatever might happen–whether prison or even death might await us–we could all feel that we were part of a larger freedom struggle whose value and significance humbled us even while they lifted us up.
I’ve never believed anything more strongly in my life. This is not just about Egypt, or the Middle East, or the Arab peoples–this is a global struggle, a battle for the world. Those who are carrying it on in countries and regions such as mine need the help of citizens in mature democracies. Reach out to us, engage us in dialogue, give us a hand if and when you can, and let our message be heard in the West so our culture and our religion will not be unjustly condemned as intrinsically against freedom and democracy, because they are not.

Now, when will the New York Review of Books prove me wrong? Or are they the people Mr. Ibrahim writes about, who do not believe that the Arabs can handle democracy?

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Event on Turkey at Columbia

We at Columbia are very lucky, in these disturbing times of violence, to have a scholar of Turkey coming to explain the background and steps taken following the horrible violence there.
Soner Cagaptay, the head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Turkish Research Program, will be speaking to us about current events and more at a lecture entitled, “Turkey between Europe, the Middle East and the U.S: ally, model, or what?” The lecture, part of the lecture series, “The Struggle for Human Rights and America’s role in the World” which I founded along with Jennifer Thorpe of SU4A, will explore the issues surrounding Turkish-American and Turkish-EU relations during this time of the War on Terror, Turkey’s relationship with Israel, how these relations might compete, and also the idea of Turkey as a democratic model for the Middle East.
The event is cosponsored by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Columbia Students United for America, the Columbia Political Union, and Columbia’s Turkish Student’s Association.
Date: Nov. 24th
Time: 8pm
Place: Columbia University, Hamilton 504
Hope to see you there.

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Hearts and Minds

[The following column was printed in the Columbia Spectator today.]
There are a number of wars raging around the world right now, but none of them are more important or more pivotal than the war for the hearts and minds of the Muslim/Arab world. And we are losing.
We, not they. We, the educated citizens of this great democracy, know that words and ideas have great power, enabling the few to harness the collective energy of the many, and yet we have forfeited the debate with militant Islamism. Most of us do no more than watch or criticize the Bush administration as Islamism strengthens its position as the dominant force in the Middle East. At present, the liberal community has become so engrossed in its hatred of the current administration that it either chooses to sit on the sidelines of the war of ideas between Islamism and democracy or, in some cases, it has allowed the enemy of its perceived enemy to become its de facto friend.
“Let’s not speak about Bush,” said Paul Berman, a noted intellectual and author of, most recently, Terror and Liberalism. “Let’s speak about Bush’s critics.” Speaking last week at the inaugural event of the “Struggle for Human Rights and America’s Role in the World” lecture series at Columbia, he continued, “The New York Review of Books in the 1970s and ’80s took up the cause of the East Bloc Dissidents. It made it its mission to champion these people.” But, he noted, “Nowadays no magazine is promoting the dissident Muslim intellectuals. Who has written about the dissident Iranians? Which of Bush’s critics say, ‘We’re against Bush, but we are in favor of [Egyptian democratic activist] Saad Eddin Ibrahim?'”

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Abu Ahva Found!

I literally have tears in my eyes as I type these words: I think I have found Abu Ahva, and he is alive and well and public in the United States. As I had written before, actually in my first published article at Columbia, “the Arab world has produced a number of people named Abu Jihad (roughly translated, father of the struggle) but not one Abu Ahva (father of brotherhood)?”
For years I have searched to find some hope, some light, some segment of the Palestinian population that might truly yearn for peace above all demands and make compromise its guiding principle.
And here he comes. Ray Hanania, a Palestinian American journalist, activist and former national president of the Palestinian American Congress, has founded an organization called Palestinians for Peace Now, who calls Palestinians to join “If you believe – really believe in compromise with Israel based on land-for-peace. Agreeing to recognize Israel does not mean that we have to give up our souls, or our individual views of history. But it does mean that we look ahead, not backwards, and find a way to end the conflict based on compromise not violence, hatred or rejection of what is right and moral.”
There is hope. There is a partner. Now all we have to do is grow these elements in both societies and peace will be possible.

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Peter’s Point

A comment to my Open Letter to Friedman by someone who calls himself Peter made me realize that I did not explain myself well enough in my disagreement with Friedman, so here it goes:
Yes, Israel is one of the oppressed of the region, if only because of its relative size in comparison to those states who are in a state of War with it. Fine, Israel’s military strength was proven again and again, but the fact of the matter is that Israel’s 6 Million are hardly a match for the 1.3 Billion that Mahathir reminded us are intent on opposing it.
Mahathir’s speech made public what was only hinted at before: even countries as disconnected from the Israel/Palestine arena such as Malaysia view the Jews as enemies. Quoting Mahathir, “The 1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews. There must be a way. And we can only find a way if we stop to think, to assess our weaknesses and our strengths, to plan, to strategise and then to counter-attack. [sic]”
So yes, I do consider Israel amongst the oppressed in the Middle East, along with the Kurds, the Turkomen in Syria and Iraq, the Assyrians, the Copts, the Berbers…the list goes on. Each of these ancient peoples is either being dominated or in a battle against domination by a colonialist power which has solidified its empire over the region in the past 1400 years.
Second, about Iran and those other countries that are not directly affected by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict–what I meant by my words was that the conflict is being used by the tyrannies in the region to justify their existence, and that if the conflict ends, they will have to find a new way to justify their iron-grip. Thus, anti-Semitism might rise, not fall, as the goal would be the full destruction of the Jewish state instead of the creation of a Palestinian one.
How can I prove this? Look at the aid sent by the countries in question for civilian projects in Palestine. It dwarfs in comparison to the under-the-table aid sent to terrorist groups, and the declared support for the policies of “resistance.” That includes aid sent during the Oslo years, where the world truly believed that the Palestinian Authority was the best vehicle towards statehood. So, no matter if “the Palestinians themselves will be calling for other support and activities and resources: the economic reconstruction and political development of their nation,” as Peter writes, it is simply not in the interest of the tyrannies of the region to give it to them. More proof? Look at how well they treat their own people.
All of the situations which Peter then cites, “post-Franco Spain, post-apartheid South Africa, and recent developments in Northern Ireland,” are not comparable to the Palestinian issue. In none of the above mentioned conflicts was there an entire consortium of countries which declared war against the other party of the conflict with the expressed purpose of wiping that country off the map, and none of the above conflicts were used as justification for continued oppression of peoples outside of the conflict area. So sorry, Peter, it seems your argument has gone “haywire.” And so has Friedman’s.

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Open Letter to Thomas Friedman

Mr. Friedman,
I truly to respect you and the great majority of your work, but your last column, A Saudi-Israeli Deal, is certainly not one of your best.
To say that Israel cannot solve the problem of anti-Semitism without Saudi help makes sense, since they do fund and propagate enormously copious amounts of anti-Semitic literature among their worldwide network of Mosques and Madrassas. But to suggest that such anti-Semitism will be “extinguished” by a solution to the conflict is simply short-sighted, and, sorry to say, naive.
Iran has nothing to loose or gain from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and yet it adopted the slogans of “Free Palestine” along with every other Middle Eastern nation. Why? Not because of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians–far worse treatment occurs in any one of the Arab or Muslim countries save a select few. No, the reason they and the other tyrannies adopted anti-Semitism as a national cause is that it justifies their iron-fisted existence. That need for justification will grow even stronger once and if a settlement is reached.
What Israel and the people of the other oppressed people of region need is not for the Saudi government to buy time, but for the Saudi government to fall, or rather disband itself, and create a democratic state to direct the peoples passions towards progress and not terrorism.

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