muslims, politics, war on terror

A Great (Political) Neutering

Published on The Islamic Monthly on November 25th, 2014

Every problem that afflicts the Muslim world calls out desperately for enlightened Muslim activism. Yet it can be convincingly argued that Western Muslim communities have become politically castrated in the post-9/11 era. Organizations are afraid to lose their charitable status as governments implement rigorous auditing procedures, while those who want nothing more than normal, decent lives are afraid of ending up on some no-fly list, unable to land that big job at that big firm.

This self-perpetuating quiescence occurs at a time when places like Canada and other “5-Eyes”nations (the other four being the US, Australia, New Zealand and the UK) are tabling ever more invasive security measures. Fear-mongering politicians use the “Islamic State” and “homegrown terrorism” to get what they want while civic pushback, though not insignificant, is still relatively outmatched.

But the question Muslims should be asking is, “What are all these security measures aiming at?”

Which communities are going to bear the brunt of such surveillance?

There are several candidates, but a blind person can tell that the easiest target these days are Muslims who have no interest in defending themselves politically. Obama may have rhetorically dropped the “War on Terror” title, but his administration has arguably been much more active in rolling back civil liberties than his GOP predecessor.

Canadian politics seem headed down that same road. Extra policing and surveillance will surely be applied to Muslim communities after the Harper administration gets its new anti-terror laws passed by a Tory parliamentary majority.

The problem is that there’s no real evidence to suggest that the Muslim response to these developments will be anything more than tepid.

To be sure, there are some groups who’re picking up the slack, but it’s hard to conclude that they have the material backing of larger community sectors. For all the talk about victimhood, Palestine, the War on Terror, etc., which have all become major themes of discussion in the Muslim world, people don’t want to put their money where their mouth is. The result is a set of deformed communal tendencies that often contradict each other.

Take this latest Tariq Ramadan beef with the Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) conference organizers. It’s created a schism in the Muslim community Canada (and beyond), especially for those who attend the convention regularly and admire Ramadan (who thinks RIS is politically inept for inviting scholars who apparently support the Sisi regime in Egypt). It’s a fair debate with real implications, but the scope of its effects is internal (much like insider-baseball). Internal is about the only kind of political controversy that the community wants to engage with. Anything that defends against real outside threats that affect everyone on a local level is not so exciting, it seems. Why act against Stephen Harper, surveillance, over-policing, and demonization when bickering about whether some conference should/shouldn’t invite some Swiss scholar is so much more fun (and so much easier)?

Therein lies the curious, oxymoronic (a)political behavior of Western Muslims (especially in Canada): gung-ho about its own internal beefs while refusing real engagement with actual political threats from those in power. The former, however substantive, is comfortable and familiar. The latter is hard work and puts people’s reputations on the line. That’s why when it came to the emblematic issue of Omar Khadr’s repatriation, the former child soldier’s Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, got on every podium he could to literally yell “Where are you?” to the Muslims. It turns out Khadr’s stronger allies were progressive atheists and Christians.

There’s a lot of talk about sticking together, communalism, and justice when it comes to Western Muslims (who, arguably, are most free to practice their religion). That’s not a bad thing. Frustration and anger should lead to action, but action is the operative term here. For all this talk about who is speaking for (thanks Shaykh bin Affleck!) or against (Bill Maher, etc.) Muslims, the only thing that ever really matters is whether or not Muslims speak out for each other. In which case the Muslims have failed substantially, leading any outside observer to conclude that Islam isn’t much glue when it comes to binding people together for justice. (Though it’d be inspiring to be proven wrong!)

Someone once told me that Islam is the greatest source of human connection God has ever given humanity. I believe him, but only in spite of all the evidence available to me. In other words, I believe him in theory. In practice, failure to consider the shortcomings of human nature results in a rejection of reality. If Western Muslims continue to reject the reality around them in favor of class privilege, we’ll be bringing the temple down on our own heads.

Photo Credit: Hector de Pereda

[http://www.theislamicmonthly.com/a-great-political-neutering/]

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international affairs, middle east, obama, politics

Amid the Cease-Fires, a Broken Peace Process

Published by the American Conservative Magazine on August 5th, 2014

Following yet another ill-fated push at a settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the latest Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip has been marked by the making and breaking of cease-fires, the latest reportedly starting this morning. The human toll has been devastating—overwhelmingly so for the Palestinians. Over 1,700 Palestinians and 60 Israelis have died (so far) in the 28-day operation, overtaking the death toll of “Operation Cast Lead” (2008-09), which lasted 22 days. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for yet another inquiry into what it sees as “possible war crimes,” just like it did for “Operation Cast Lead” (2008-09), which produced the Goldstone Report. Israel’s global image is suffering as the Palestinian dead mount.

Whatever the long-term consequences of this latest episode in the most protracted military occupation in modern history, many Israelis may very well come to see Netanyahu’s rejection of the latest peace plan, led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, as a missed opportunity.

Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s leading correspondents, spoke to numerous senior U.S. officials who were involved in the latest Kerry-led push. Barnea’s conversations with these officials provide a rather clear picture of what Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas was willing to concede to his Israeli counterparts:

He [Abbas] agreed to a demilitarized state; he agreed to the border outline so 80 percent of settlers would continue living in Israeli territory; he agreed for Israel to keep security sensitive areas (mostly in the Jordan Valley – NB) for five years, and then the United States would take over. He accepted the fact that in the Israeli perception, the Palestinians would never be trustworthy.

He also agreed that the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty, and agreed that the return of Palestinians to Israel would depend on Israeli willingness. ‘Israel won’t be flooded with refugees,’ he promised.

In other words, Abbas and the P.A. gave away the house. They conceded key settlement blocs, the Jewish parts of East Jerusalem, and the Palestinian right of return. A two-state solution based on U.N. Resolution 242, 338, and 194 would not have included such concessions to Israel.

Still, Netanyahu said no, demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and that Israel maintain “complete control over the territories.” Then, Israel’s Housing and Construction Ministry, headed by Uri Ariel (“an extremist who opposes any agreement with the Palestinians,” according to Barnea), announced the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem by 700 housing units. The entire Kerry process fell apart, and Abbas began to focus on forming a unity government with Hamas.

This act of national reconciliation, by which Hamas essentially adopted Abbas’ program for dealing with Israel, was what ultimately provoked the latest punishment of Gaza. Hamas provided no repudiation of Mahmoud Abbas’ concessions after moving into reconciliation. Despite its awful charter, Hamas has, according to a 2009 report by the United States Institute of Peace, sent Israel “repeated signals” that it is willing to accept peaceful co-existence in a two-state resolution of the conflict based on international law.

None of this was good enough for the Netanyahu government. Netanyahu’s administration then used the deaths of three Israeli teenagers this past June as a pretext to raid the West Bank, killing five Palestinians and arresting hundreds. This resulted in a barrage of rockets from Hamas about a month after the West Bank raid began, precipitating the current Israeli operation.

Noted U.S. scholar Norman Finkelstein has pointed out in his authoritative account of Operation Cast Lead that, according to Israeli political strategist Avner Yaniv, Israel is reacting violently to what he calls the Palestinians’ “peace offensive.” Yaniv used the phrase in his book Dilemmas of Security (1987) to characterize the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in 1982. According to Yaniv, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) at that time, led by Yasser Arafat, was contemplating a two-state solution with the Israelis. The problem was that nobody in Israel wanted to allow for the creation of a viable Palestinian state. So, in September 1981, Israel made plans to invade Lebanon, where the PLO was based at the time. The war that ensued put a stop to any possibilities for serious negotiations.

As history continues to repeat itself in the 21st century, Israel’s track record of bad timing calls into question its willingness to negotiate in good faith. The Kerry process, insofar as the Barnea piece (among other “leaks”) reveals, already favored the Israeli desire to permanently swallow up crucial parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The occupation and the planned, permanent annexation of Palestinian land both constitute crimes under international law. According to “Article 49” of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Moreover, the Palestinians were essentially leaving the refugees’ right to return (as per U.N.S.C. Resolution 194) up to Israel’s “willingness.” With Abbas and the P.A. making substantial concessions, and Hamas being backed into a corner financially and politically, the Israelis could have accepted the Kerry-brokered deal. It was an offer that clearly favored Israel. Instead, the world witnessed yet another incursion into Gaza.

If Israel is given the chance to permanently annex parts of the West Bank and push the ever-growing Palestinian population into cantons, then it can expect a much more desperate, perhaps violent, Palestinian response. If that moment arrives, then Israelis may very well regret not taking the Kerry deal when it was on the table. It won’t just have to deal with rudimentary Hamas rockets then, but also with the roughly two million Palestinians currently living in the West Bank who will be forced into an even more desperate situation.

So why didn’t Netanyahu and the Israelis simply say “yes” to such a complimentary deal? The answer, according to the American negotiators, can be found in Israel’s desire to expand settlements. Israel approved plans for nearly 14,000 new settler homes during the nine months it was involved in peace talks with the Palestinians. The entire military occupation, including all settlements, covers about 40 percent of the West Bank. Evidently, Israel’s broader ambition includes the permanent seizure of the land that it currently occupies.

Once Israel implements even more “facts on the ground,” it may very well go back to the negotiating table, and, along with a weak Palestinian Authority, accept a U.S.-brokered deal that includes all the original concessions. At that point, any Palestinian movement for self-determination will be hampered by the Palestinian Authority’s acceptance of a deal that clearly overlooks it.

[http://www.theamericanconservative.com/amid-the-cease-fires-a-broken-peace-process/]

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international affairs, politics

The Dangers of Naïve Diplomacy

Published on April 17th, 2014 by The American Conservative

When Russian soldiers descended into the Ukrainian province of Crimea last month, many observers rightly rebuked the move as a precursor to eventual annexation. They condemned the deployment as illegal, dangerous, and capable of sparking a much larger conflict. Still, some of these spectators took things a step further and saw an opportunity to condemn what they observed as an intrinsic duplicity to the global peace movement.

The loudest participants argue that the antiwar left shows its hypocrisy by not getting on the streets to protest Vladimir Putin’s aggression. They ask: if hundreds of thousands of people showed up on the streets of Western cities to protest the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, then why can’t Ukrainians get the same show of international support?

Take Nick Cohen, writing for the conservative British magazine The Spectator, who says that Ukrainians “should be glad that they do not have the support of the relativist left” because of its “pliable” politics. Or take The National Post’s Andrew Coyne, who goes on to condemn the apparently spineless left for being “pacifists” who have become the “PR reps” of tyrants.

There’s no doubt that Russia’s actions amount to an illegal encroachment on Ukraine’s sovereignty. Historian Timothy Snyder explains that Putin’s broader strategic objective is to have Ukraine join something called the “Eurasian Union,” which is essentially a group of authoritarians and dictators banding together to preserve their regional hegemony.

That sounds very unappetizing, but unlike what Cohen and Coyne seem to suggest, just because millions of leftists aren’t filling the streets doesn’t then mean they all endorse Russian expansionism. In fact, there has been quite enough knee-jerk moralism and grand, sweeping rhetoric already escalating Ukraine’s crisis. The peace movement’s resources are limited, and it’s simply not possible to have colossal protests whenever a conflict arises. Not to mention that it’s probably not in Ukraine’s interests to amplify anti-Russia messaging right now. It’s also hard to imagine any commentator, Cohen and Coyne included, showing the same level of outrage if the left failed to protest for, say, the island nation of Palau, if any of its larger neighbors decided to invade it. This kind of selectivity says much more about the ideological framework through which commentators like Cohen look at the world than it does about the left.

Ukraine, of course, is not Palau. The aggressor here is Russia, a chief geopolitical actor in the world whose global agenda doesn’t always align with that of the U.S. and its closer allies. Palau and its neighbors are not symbols of a larger global rivalry in the way that Ukraine and Russia are. Russia still symbolizes opposition to the “Western world” for many in the American political establishment who prefer to remain stubbornly connected to the outdated narratives of the Cold War. As the Soviet Union was perceived to impede the progress of liberal capitalism and democracy throughout the world, Putin’s Russia now disrupts the “unipolar moment,” when the U.S. should be free to project its overwhelming power for global goodness. Or so the (neoconservative) story goes.

In truth, Ukraine is caught between this broader, global rivalry. The admirable impulse of its people to attain a more just country is dwarfed by the ideological myopia of both Russia and the U.S. In the melodramatic narratives that have come to dominate the way the mainstream discusses this crisis, Ukraine’s democratic will should be backed by the ultimate purveyor of freedom in the world, the United States. With its help, plucky little Ukraine will escape Putin’s clutches and go on to enjoy the perks of the European Union, and maybe even NATO.

But reality is different. In the real world, Viktor Yanukovych’s Ukraine has long been a strategic partner of Russia. It was a country still within Putin’s limited sphere of regional influence. If it goes, then Russia loses. Russian interests are at stake, and so it must act to protect them. This, above all, remains the primary impediment to Ukraine’s democratic goals. Did the U.S. State Department not recognize it? If it did, then why did it not apply a reality-based diplomacy that reminded the Euromaidan movement to avoid making Russia feel like a loser in all this?

As John Mearsheimer notes in his New York Times op-ed, Russia “drew a line in the sand” when NATO announced in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia will become members. The Russians already watched Poland and the Baltic states accede. Ukraine was simply a step too far. Putin, as it turns out, would rather not tolerate NATO expansion right up to his doorstep. An excuse to act was all he needed. Euromaidan’s success in throwing out Yanukovych provided that excuse.

Now, Ukraine’s sovereignty remains violated. Instead of advising caution, the U.S. took a more activist approach, symbolized by Victoria Nuland’s handing out of cookies to protestors in Kiev’s Independence Square, the epicenter of the Euromaidan movement. As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Nuland decided not to warn the protestors that they may be making a strategic error by forcing Yanukovych out instead of voting him out. The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, also failed to take a more strategic approach, instead calling the ouster of Yanukovych “a day for the history books.” The failure to see the Russia’s reaction to all this as incredibly relevant to Ukraine’s chances of maintaining a sovereign, democratic state has a lot to do with where the crisis is today.

An establishment still nostalgic for the thinking and rhetoric of the Cold War may present Ukraine’s well-being as the West’s primary concern. But the inability to see all this from Russia’s perspective has ruined Ukraine’s chances for a smooth transition out of Russia’s immediate sphere of influence. This is the same kind of naïve and sentimental idealism that characterizes many of America’s ill-conceived forays into the world, including those in the Middle East. It is of course directly related to the neoconservative view of global influence: project American power, whatever it takes. Vladimir Putin is playing the same game, responding in kind to the aggressive expansionism of Russia’s rivals.

The truth, of course, is that plenty of people have expressed distaste for all aggressive interventions, be it by Russia or the United States, or anyone else for that matter. In addition to a Crimea firmly in Putin’s clutches, the Ukrainian interim government and major political parties (who will contend in a general election next month) are chock-full of candidates with their own records of corruption. The far-right Svoboda party now has five ministerial posts in this interim regime, including deputy prime minister and prosecutor general. The leader of the neo-nazi Right Sector party, Dmytro Yarosh, is now Ukraine’s deputy national security chief.

Now hawkish Cold Warriors within the United States are calling for NATO forces to be deployed into Western Ukraine, or at least on it’s border with Poland. U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, has been given a mandate to draw up plans to counter Russia’s move and “reassure NATO members nearest Russia that other alliance countries have their back.” Breedlove says that he wouldn’t “write off the involvement of any nation, to include the United States.”

If that happens, Russia will almost certainly declare and execute an official invasion into eastern Ukraine. What follows such a disaster is anyone’s guess.

[http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-dangers-of-naive-diplomacy/]

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obama, politics

Obama and the Nature of Democracy

Preface

Nelson Mandela makes the candid admission in his popular autobiography Long Walk to Freedom that, post-Robben Island, he preferred dealing with the straightforward racism of P.W. Botha than the two-faced diplomacy of F.W. de Klerk, whose forked tongue caused the first black South African president many-a-headache.

Botha was 11 years the head of the rightwing National Party, rejected the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and refused to testify. De Klerk ended up sharing the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela.

The arc of history is littered with figures whose popular reputation shields a hidden past of sins.

Many of them, like de Klerk, are generally viewed today as champions of “liberal” values and cool, centrist “objectivity”: Woodrow Wilson (who supported a new world order of peaceful nations states!), Winston Churchill (who led the free world against Hitler! And Won!), John F. Kennedy (who faced down Khrushchev and Castro, and slept with Marilyn Monroe!), Bill Clinton (who delivered a rare surplus, and slept with…many people!!), etc.

A few decades from now, Barack Obama will be added to that list. In fact, there’s really no reason why we can’t throw him on top of the heap right this moment.

Obamabot Deception V. 2012

People more or less acknowledge that Obama couldn’t deliver much of what he “promised,” which, for those of us with a working memory, wasn’t very much.

Obama will not stop dealing in the dark with those who hold real power: corporation and Wallstreet. For starters, his “Grand Bargain” with the Republicans will see Medicare, Medicaid, and social security cut in exchange for modest tax hikes on the rich. Did America vote for this? Probably not. Does Obama care? No.

But my real point is this:

Those who supported him pre-2009 were told time and time again by acutely critical observers that Obama’s deeds as President won’t really match his rhetoric. The warnings were passed off as pessimistic and judgmental. Today, those same supporters, without shame, turn to the cameras and tell the rest of us almost exactly what we told them from the very beginning: that (1) Obama’s rhetoric is hollow, that (2) real politics is about pushing Obama to do the right thing, and that (3) despite what kind of person Obama is, he will experience serious structural constraints as President.

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Now shameless Obamabots want to play it cool by stressing point (3) in order to say, “Hey, Obama’s only human, don’t be so harsh, he’s just another politician and we need to push him.” It’s the most shameless about-face in American political history.

Obama’s minions use this technique to shield him from further criticism. Now that Obama has won, the one thing he’s going to need from skeptics and supporters alike is pressure. He needs it because (1) mass criticism in institutionalized form will push him to do the right thing, and (2) the best way to guarantee your irrelevance is to back a politician unconditionally: your concerns will not be taken seriously by that candidate since you’re going to vote for him/her anyway.

One interesting-if-trivial case in point too good to not point out is the actor Olivia Wilde.

There’s really nothing in the world more reprehensible than a celebrity being passed off as some sort of figure who selflessly juggles his/her busy schedule to care for the world. All the while, those who do the real work: those who organize the rallies, who put up the posters, sends out the mail, and campaigns out in the cold, remain faceless. Their names will never be recorded in history books.

Obama thanked Wilde personally on the phone in 2007 for travelling Iowa in support of his first presidential campaign.  She gushed in an interview saying how she was “squealing” for 15 seconds out of sheer star-struck excitement, while thinking she had hung up.

Then, a few months ago, on The Hour, Wilde, with a straight face, explained that although she’s disappointed, Obama is still a smart guy, so instead of criticizing him, everyone should just focus on changing the political circumstances instead. This conveniently asserts the obvious while shielding Obama and his blindest supporters from accountability. Celebrity culture, as vapid as it is, can be an accurate reflection of the decayed nature of our public conciousness.

Those who were smart enough not to be emotionally and intellectually manipulated by Obamamania have every right to recall the profoundly stupid political discourse pedaled by the ‘bots leading up to 2009. It’s to remind everyone that staying critical and asserting pressure are virtues when it comes to making change. The opposite: handing a politician what he or she wants, unconditionally, is nothing but a variant of whoring.

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middle east, muslims, politics

No-Fly Zone in Libya: let us be clear

What is “liberal intervention” but a deceptively labelled concept meant for making military intrusion possible? The abstract idea of a utopic and humanitarian bouquet of bombs and missiles may be easy to imagine in a world filled with disinformation, but history has taught us that such pseudo-events do not exist. Remember the former Yugoslavia? Remember Iraq and Afghanistan? Those who tell us that Libya 2011 is “unique” embrace the overbearing clichés  churned out by the corporate media.

Libyans must determine their own fate. If a no-fly zone is unquestionably what the rebelling Libyans want, then so be it. But let us harbour no illusions and tell it like it is. Full stop. A no-fly zone imposed upon Libya will be a serious, multifaceted, military operation controlled by the United States and its lapdog, the United Kingdom (perhaps also France). Russia and China have both expressed serious reservations. Thus, the usual suspects have returned, as have the vague “responsibility to protect” (R2P) non-ideologies they espouse. It is like a bad dream recurring over and over again.

The top-dogs of the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Central command, Robert Gates and General James Mattis respectively, have both concurred that the implementation of a no-fly zone means—without any doubt—the destruction of Libya’s air defenses. This appears to be a standard prerequisite for the sending of any jets from a “protecting power”. Getting the United Nations to back a no-fly zone is tough enough, given the reservations by Russia and China, but certain international agreements (rules of engagement) will have to also be addressed, just so the forces controlling the air do not shoot at each other—or a civilian airliner for that matter.

The implementation of a no-fly zone is also commonly perceived as a reduction of violence. This is not true. First of all, it is ludicrous to say that Qaddafi’s instruments of death are confined by the air. His usage of mercenaries (mainly as snipers) is infamous by now. Second, a no-fly zone would mean more—not less—planes and missiles flying through the skies. What will this do to the surrounding areas?  If the Qaddafi air force is as formidable as some R2P apologists will have it, then a battle in the skies will ensue. What will this mean for the people on the ground? Anti-aircraft weaponry also includes missiles shot from the ground, operated by their corresponding personnel. This means U.S.-U.K.-France troops directly on the ground in Libya. What will become of them when—God-willing—Qaddafi is ousted?

Furthermore, how serious is Qaddafi’s aerial power—actually? The official numbers are 227 fighter aircrafts and 35 attack helicopters. It is certainly a scary tally, and should not be underestimated. However, let us again be clear. Most Western countries have their planes repaired, maintained, and serviced around half of the time. The rate is astronomically higher in Libya. So far, not more than a few planes have attacked the rebels. The bombardment of Brega, a key oil port in eastern Libya (quite close to Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte), was carried out by a single jet that dropped all but two bombs. Military and air force analysts have noted that “lone-wolf” operations are extremely rare to begin with, due to high risk, not to mention only to drop two bombs. This is the closest real indication of the Libyan air force one can get thus far. It means that either the Libyan air force has some seriously disenchanted pilots (the two bombs dropped on Brega were—according to some eye-witnesses—purposely off-target, and left no casualties), or that the fleet is so deficient that no more than one or two planes can get in the air at one time.

Given these ramifications, how desirable is a no-fly zone? Suffice it to say that a more serious assessment of Qaddafi’s military power will have to be done by the media (a difficult proposal given that the international media in Libya is  under lock-down and cannot move freely).

Wahid Burshan, a Libyan political analyst and activist, has expressed that “taking Libyan air defenses out…and things like that…in order for them [the U.S./U.K.-France] to manage the skies…could be problematic. The Libyan people may consider that hostile and it may tip the point to Qaddafi’s favour.” Burshan also pointed out on Al Jazeera English’s Inside Story that the military in Libya is not always 100% pro-Qaddafi, and seriously antagonizing the army may not be the best strategy. It may be useful to remember the two Libyan pilots who defected from the Qaddafi camp in February and landed their planes in Malta after a refusal to obey orders and bomb fellow Libyans.

At best, it seems that the Libyan people are divided on the idea of a U.S.-U.K.-France imposed no-fly zone. Based on all the information one can gather from rather opaque reports coming out of Libya, a no-fly zone may not be worth it right now—but a better assessment may be available to us and the people of Libya in the future.

Note that serious reservations for a no-fly zone as of now is not grounded in the opinion that it simply will not work. It may work, especially given Libya’s weak defenses. Rather, serious reservations arise out of several concerns: (1) once Western powers are involved in the Libyan revolution, they are involved in that revolution’s future outcomes—and the future of Libya—Qaddafi or no Qaddafi, (2) the information regarding the will of the Libyans themselves is extremely opaque, and a serious cost-benefit decision has yet to be made by Libyans, and (3) despite some calls not to compare Libya’s situation to other similar (proposed) interventions previously, serious analysts take into account the past behaviour of Western powers.

On that last point, let us just say that suspicion is a much understated sentiment as of now. Given that Prime Minister Cameron recently returned from a trip selling arms to his Gulf despot friends, the principle motivation for this R2P inspired spirit of intervention is just too hard to take seriously.

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middle east, muslims, obama, politics

Nemesis in Egypt

Published on: The Canadian Charger, February 10th, 2011
[http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=781]

When Hosni Mubarak steps down from power in the near future, as I am sure he will, it will be a day that marks the beginning of a new era—one where no one can ever tell me again that serious political change is not possible. In fact, thanks to the determination of those in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, etc., that era has most likely already begun.

Regardless of all the obvious geopolitical implications, the current revolts in the Middle East lay waste to those in the Western world who believe political change is mostly a pipe dream. Those in Egypt, who understand the power of collective demonstration, put to death the craven belief that real change is only possible through the collaborating and backing of those in power.

The Egyptians get it. They are not afraid to use the language of class warfare. Those who showed up to form the mammoth crowds in Tahrir Square do not fear separating and antagonizing themselves vis a vis those who own the country. The rest of us, sitting at home, tolerating the cowardly presence of the Obamas, Harpers, Sarkozys, and Berlesconis, watch—green with envy—at the monumental fall of one of the Middle East’s most lasting dictators.

What will it take for those in the United States and Canada to leave behind their trepidation for a “Day of Rage?” When will we have realized that the Egyptians, always at the butt of some idiotic comment regarding the Muslim Brotherhood or fundamentalist Islam, just schooled the rest of us in a lesson on democracy? Embarassed, our leaders cannot escape the inevitability of looking stupid when they struggle to “balance” support for an oppressive regime along with lip-service for “democratic aspirations”. The fight is against tyranny, and the emperors have been stripped stark naked.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry reached deep into its sleeves and unleashed waves of paid thugs and prisoners to pose as “pro-Mubarak” demonstrators. Armed with live ammunition, Molotov cocktails, and knives, they killed hundreds of pro-democracy activists while injuring thousands more. The Mubarak establishment, in a last bid to stay in power, has attempted to transform a peaceful movement into a pulsating mob—and Tahrir Square into a war zone. They failed. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians returned the very next day to hold the “Day of Departure,” another major push to dismantle the Mubarak-centered Egyptian regime. The Egyptians remain steadfast to this very day.

The poor of Egypt, living on less than two dollars a day, have showed the rest of the world what it means to channel a radicalized existence into productive action. Their example and their martyrdom will undoubtedly usher in a new Middle East, one not so amiable towards the United States. And if the fruits of their labour eventually ripen into serious elections, those who achieve power may very well carry a substantial amount of Islamic colouring. Those of us in the West need to learn that the Egyptians do not see us the way we see ourselves. In their eyes, we are not harbingers of a proud democratic tradition. We have no legitimacy or authority to “guide” the decisions of those in the Middle East. No matter what regime replaces that of Mubarak’s, it will certainly embody the response to the chaos and suffering the West has brought upon the Middle East in the past decades. The more we ignore this fact, the more painful the backlash will be.

We in the West spoke to the Arab and Muslim world in the language of power and force. Now, they are speaking back. The secular Arab regimes, backed by the United States, have appeared before the people as the grandest of failures—accented especially by the impotence of the Palestinian Authority and their beloved “peace process”. I suspect that the rise of powerful Islamic forces will now take over, a transition that seems as inevitable as rain. True, unlike the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Egyptian revolts are not led by clerical forces. There is no Ayatollah Khomeini as the figurehead. The Muslim Brotherhood, a late comer in the recent revolts, is forced to speak in the language of cosmopolitan and progressive aspirations. However, if free and fair elections do take place as a result of further upheaval in Egypt, it is hard to not see the Muslim Brotherhood claiming a large piece of the political pie. And why shouldn’t they—as the leading oppositional force in Egypt?

The anachronistic language of Pan-Arabism in the Nasserite hue (and the original Baathists) has become a farce. It has been co-opted by the corrupt and authoritarian secular regimes in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, etc. Communism allows little room for religion, and globalized capitalism in the corporate sense has only enriched the elite. Islam is, whether one likes it or not, the remaining element. The fatal courage of Hamas and Hezbollah is attractive not because they are religious, but because they embody serious aspirations for self-determination. People are attracted to them because they vow to fight back. Egyptians and the rest of the Arab/Muslim world are tired of being crushed under a mass of appealing rhetoric and failed policies.

The death of the Mubarak regime will most likely mean the withering away of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and, hopefully, the opening of the Rafah border—a crucial opening into the Gaza Strip currently under a brutal blockade by Israel. The United States, already compromised in the region, will lose further cooperation from the countries that once guaranteed its interests in the Middle East. The intelligence agencies of the region will most likely dampen their current relationship with the CIA. Israel will be left with no allies in the Middle East—and perhaps not in the rest of the world.

The Middle East, if things go the way of the protestors in Egypt (and I’m sure they will), will have achieved dignity and self determination without the help of those of us in the West. They demonstrated with flying colors that they can speak the language that we thought we spoke so well. Their actions render us mute. As we gaze at the sacrifice and determination of those in Egypt, we have to accept the ironic shame that the protestors now reflect at us. Compared to them, we are sheep. While they tirelessly and unabashedly shake the roots of a brutal regime, we settle for piecemeal change within a system headed by an administration that despises its own people.

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middle east, politics

The Palestine Papers and the End of the “Peace Process”

Al Jazeera English, from January 23rd– 26th, 2011, released the details of over 1,700 leaked confidential documents regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. The manner in which AJE received this largest-ever leak is undisclosed. The documents include meeting minutes, memos, presentations, strategic papers, etc.  Dubbed “The Palestine Papers”, the documents are supposed to shed light on the following, as presented on the AJE website:

  • the Palestinian Authority’s willingness to concede illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, and to be “creative” about the status of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount;
  • the compromises the Palestinian Authority was prepared to make on refugees and the right of return;
  • details of the PA’s security cooperation with Israel;
  • and private exchanges between Palestinian and American negotiators in late 2009, when the Goldstone Report was being discussed at the United Nations.

AJE has perused through these documents, redacted overtly sensitive content, and will not be naming their sources.

Perhaps the most explosive of the revelations that have come out is the fact that, according to the leaked meeting minutes of a [pdf] trilateral meeting in 2008, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was willing to concede illegal settlements in Jerusalem to Israel. Saeb Erekat was the chief Palestinian negotiator at the time, and Ahmed Qurei was prime minister. The meeting also involved Tzipi Livni on the Israeli side, as well as then American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Erekat stated that the PA was willing to give up the illegally occupied Israeli settlements of French Hill, Ramat Alon, Ramat Shlomo, Gilo, and Talpiot, as well as the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s old city. Those areas contain around 120,000 Jewish settlers, and it seems that Erekat was willing to prolong the list. The proposed concession was unprecedented, given the deeply contentious nature of East Jerusalem.

The offered concessions were rejected by the Israeli side, mainly because the PA was not willing to give up other significantly sized settlements such as Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel.

Furthermore, in an [pdf] October 2009 meeting with the US Middle East Envoy headed by George Mitchell, Erekat proposed a geographical division of Jerusalem’s Old City, with control of the Jewish Quarter and “part of the Armenian Quarter” going to the Israelis. This would mean that Israeli would control a significant part of East Jerusalem. Furthermore, Erekat was willing to give control of the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) to oversight of an international committee:

Erekat: “It’s solved. You have the Clinton Parameters formula. For the Old City sovereignty for Palestine, except the Jewish quarter and part of the Armenian quarter … the Haram can be left to be discussed – there are creative ways, having a body or a committee, having undertakings for example not to dig [excavations under the Al Aqsa mosque]. The only thing I cannot do is convert to Zionism.”

Schwartz: To confirm to Sen. Mitchell, [this is] your private idea …

Erekat: This conversation is in my private capacity.

Schwartz: We’ve heard the idea from others. So you’re not the first to raise it.

Erekat: Others are not the chief negotiator of the PLO.

Saeb Erekat then went on to sum up nature of the PA’s propositions:

“Israelis want the two-state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians. What is in that paper gives them the biggest Yerushalaim [Jerusalem] in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarised state…what more can I give?”

Given the highly charged emotions toward the Haram al-Sharif, it is utterly shocking for many to see that the PA, specifically Erekat, was willing to concede its status to non-Palestinian parties. It should not be forgotten that according to UN Resolution 242, the whole of East Jerusalem is to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. In other words, international law and the 1967 borders clearly show that the Haram al-Sharif is within the occupied Palestinian territories.

This is just a sliver of the huge trove of documents that Al Jazeera has publicized regarding the conflict. Key documents have been released subsequently in the last week or so, which have revealed equally explosive facts. The complete archive of documents can be found at the newly launched Al Jazeera Transparency Unit, which seems to be a Wikileaks-inspired web function that allows for the uploading of content by willing sources.

It is now clear that the Israelis have no legitimacy when they say that no Palestinian counterparts can be found in “negotiations for peace”. The Palestine Papers reveal clearly that the Palestinian Authority leadership is absolutely desperate for some sort of settlement, and will offer extreme concessions to achieve “peace”. In return, the PA repeatedly get their offers brushed aside by Israel, with very little objection from the United States.

In other words, the so called “Oslo peace process” needs an official funeral service. The Palestinian people will not accept anything less than a full state with recognition and execution regarding the right of return issue. Israel will not be venturing into that type of territory whatsoever. Furthermore, the United States simply cannot play the role of an honest broker, and will not allow a serious discussion on final status issues (refugees, Jerusalem, borders, settlements).

In short, given the present circumstances in the Middle East, it seems that the American hegemon is losing its footing in the region. The U.S. is mired in a serious quagmire in Afghanistan. Iraq, which is still suffering serious violence (although not at the 2006-2007 levels), will be deferring to Iran for the next few years at least. Iran, on the other hand, is now a regional superpower. Israel, for obvious reasons, is a liability to long-term U.S. goals in the region. Finally, the recent uprisings throughout the Middle East (especially in Tunisia and Egypt) threaten to oust decade-long U.S. supported puppet regimes.

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