DAWN - Opinion; July 21, 2006

Published July 21, 2006

Salaam America

By Tahir Mirza

THE latest Israeli aggression against Lebanon and the Palestinians has resulted in immense human suffering. But it should also help put some things in clearer perspective. One is the basic nature of the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The Hezbollah and Hamas are viewed as adventurist reactionary groups that sanction suicide bombings and are motivated by religious bigotry. Getting into a debate about the nature of the two movements at this stage can only cloud the real issue, which is that the present carnage is just another manifestation of the age-old battle between the forces of imperialism and colonialism on one side and the refusal of many of those oppressed by these forces to accept the status quo on the other. Arguing over the political complexion of the organisations resisting American/Israeli designs in the Middle East can only strengthen the former.

It is particularly important to understand the essential nature of the Israeli state at this time when the G-8, the United Nations and some Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia, believe that it is Hezbollah that has precipitated the present crisis in Lebanon and that Hamas is to blame for the punishment inflicted by Israel on Gaza. The West has generally backed the Israeli action as “self-defence” while branding Palestinian and Lebanese resistance as terrorism. This categorisation has continued to be at the root of the Middle East crisis. The Palestine Liberation Organisation, too, was not so long ago and till it was virtually decapitated, described as a terrorist group.

If this “self-defence” takes the form of strafing the villagers of Marwaheen in southern Lebanon fleeing to Syria after being explicitly told to vacate the area by the Israeli military itself or if a bridge is blown up while civilians were crossing it, no one bothers to call it aggression or savagery or terrorism. All that Israel is told, politely, is that its response should not be “disproportionate” — it can kill a few, but not hundreds; destroy some houses, but not raze entire localities; it can target facilities used by the resistance, but not indiscriminately blow up bridges and roads.

The result is that, apart from the civilian casualties suffered, Lebanon’s infrastructure has been reduced to rubble and Beirut airport severely damaged. The Lebanese finance minister has pointed out that direct losses due to the destruction, particularly the destruction of infrastructure, have reached $400 million to $500 million.

This is why Israel was planted in the heart of the Arab world in the first place as a colonial-settler state — to control the Middle East and its resources. With the Soviet Union gone, the game has been played with reckless impunity and even the pretence of even-handedness has been abandoned. Under the Bush administration, Israel’s constant attempts to weaken the Arabs and Palestinians paved the way for the Anglo-US invasion of Iraq. It has been reported that as far back as in 1996, a group of allegedly cerebral pro-Israeli Americans had advocated removing Saddam Hussein from power as a prelude to wiping out Hezbollah and cornering Syria and Iran.

We might well be seeing in current events the beginning of the final assault on whatever Arab resistance that remains. Robert Fisk, that outstandingly independent writer on the Middle East, is reported to have said at a recent Columbia University event that in the US press, “the occupied Palestinian territories become disputed territories, a colony becomes a settlement or an outpost. We are constantly degrading the reasons for Palestinian anger. The purpose of this kind of journalism is to diminish the real reasons behind the Middle East conflict”.

It is important that the “real reasons” are kept in mind; otherwise we will get carried away by trying to balance the forces of aggression with the forces of resistance and ignore the fundamental fact of Israel as an extension of western, now largely American, hegemonism. If we don’t learn this lesson even after witnessing the seizure and destruction of Iraq, then truly our sight has been blinded. It is also in this light that we should view all efforts by some Pakistani lobbies to open lines of communication with the Israelis, saying that this would benefit us in trade and commerce and perhaps military development.

Ironically, in the war on terrorism, the terrorist state of Israel becomes a paragon of virtue. Its withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 and its dismantling of Jewish settlements in Gaza last year were presented by Israel’s apologists as peace moves when, as the World Socialist Website has just pointed out, these were “in fact part of a strategy to unilaterally draw Israel’s borders, annexing a large part of the West Bank and all of Jerusalem, and leaving the Palestinians with discontinuous rump territories that could never form the basis of a viable state”.

What happens to the region and the world in this process of raping the Middle East is of no concern to US policymakers. Indeed, their naivete would be seen as breathtaking if it were not so maliciously motivated. At the Moscow G-8 summit, President Bush told President Putin that while it was wrong to expect Russia to look like the United States, it was his (Bush’s) “desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq, where there is a free press and free religion ... and a lot of people in our country would hope Russia would do the same thing.”

The retort from President Putin was quick in coming: “We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly.” The stupidity of any one to present Iraq in its current state as a model of democracy where there is a free press and “free religion” really defies understanding. But, then, Israel is also often cited as the only democratic state in the Middle East. This particular cobweb also needs to be cleared.

What kind of a democracy can be found in an entity artificially created in a region belonging to others, which is settled overwhelmingly by people from other lands, is then provided with all-out western military and economic support and let loose to occupy more land and terrorise and economically immobilise the original inhabitants?

But what is to be done? No country can stand up to America in the given situation. There was hope once that “old Europe” would offer some resistance to the Bush administration’s interventionist strategic objectives, but the expansion eastward of the European bloc has put paid to those hopes: the countries of “new Europe”, mostly former Soviet bloc countries, are too beholden to Washington to dare utter even a squeak. Russia may yet emerge as a counterbalancing force along with China, but both have domestic preoccupations that do not promise any active international role for the time being.

We have just seen how weak the Arab League is, and how the regimes in place in the Arab world today do not want anyone to rock the boat for them. Best to leave Hezbollah and Hamas to get their just deserts, they say; just let’s dole out a few million to help Lebanon rebuild.

The United Nations is the only place where some movement towards sanity can be made, but Mr Kofi Annan is a lame duck secretary-general and he has just been rubbished by both President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, with the latter caught saying on Monday: “What does he (Kofi Annan) think? He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine, if he gets a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the right way, he’s done it. That’s what this whole thing is about. It’s the same with Iran.”

But of course the Bush-Blair combination would not want anything to turn out fine till the Lebanese government is brought to its knees and turns against Hezbollah. Physically eliminating any resistance, rather than tackling it politically, is now the major plank of western diplomacy. A ceasefire, followed perhaps by an exchange of prisoners, will leave Hezbollah in place and in a position to claim victory. But that is not what Washington and London would like.

The idea of an international peace-keeping force in Lebanon, despite the experience with Unifil, suggests itself as the most feasible temporary measure. But ultimately the international community other than the US, which consistently refuses to understand the connection, has to realise the link between Lebanon and the unresolved Palestine question with its inherent elements of dispossession and occupation and to make a distinction between the two.

It is this political distinction that is important, not the religious one that confuses our political-religious parties who have discovered America only now and were more than happy to go along with it in the days of the Cold War and the Vietnam War and during all of Washington’s subversive activities in Latin America.

Meanwhile, what can ordinary mortals do except say “Salaam America” and rush to enter into long-lasting strategic partnerships with it?

‘Awkward’ truths about Palestine

By Muhammad Ali Siddiqi

THERE are two very awkward facts about the Israeli-Palestinian phenomenon — awkward for those who today adopt, or pretend to adopt, a high moral ground on the issue. The first awkwardness is the historical truth that it was only during Muslim rule that Palestine enjoyed uninterrupted peace and harmony among Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Religious conflict began the moment Europeans set their feet on the holy land. No history book says anything to the contrary.

Until the first Crusade came to Palestine, there is no record of any conflict between Muslims, Christians and Jews in the holy land. Slaughters began the day Muslim rule ended. The first taste of European rule came during the closing stages of the 11th century, for when the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem (1099), they massacred not only Muslims but all Jews.

Eighty-eight years later Saladin took Jerusalem (1187). His humanism, universally recognised, need not be retold. He brought the Jews back to the holy city. They lived in peace, enjoyed access to Jewish holy places, and had full freedom to practise their religion. This fact is admitted by all western scholars — but not by Israel’s first line of defence, the western media.

Turkish rule did not begin with the Ottoman conquest (1516). The pre-Ottoman era, too, was Turkish. Saladin’s soldiery was 100 per cent Turkish, and the Ayubites, his successors, relied on Turkish soldiers. Baybers, who defeated the Mongols at Ainul Jalut (1260), was a Kipchaq Turk from Ukraine, and it was he who finally wound up the remnants of the Crusader states. There is no evidence that Jews or Christians were harmed in any way under his rule, or there was any conflict between the Jews, Muslims and Christians of Palestine.

Under Ottoman rule, which ended in 1917 when Gen Edmund Allenby took Jerusalem, all the three Palestinian communities had lived in peace. The moment European rule began, religious conflict, marked this time by the eviction of local Arabs (Muslim and Christian), began in earnest with the full might of the British empire at the disposal of the Zionist settlers. There is no historical evidence that during the 11 centuries of Muslim rule, the Jewish community was ever persecuted, evicted from its ancestral homes and farms and forced to leave Palestine.

Incidentally, Jewish settlements had begun even before the British conquest, because the Ottoman empire and Germany enjoyed friendly relations and the sultan agreed to the settlement of German Jews on a modest scale in Palestine. However, because of corruption and misrule towards the fag end of the Ottoman empire, more Jewish families settled than were authorised by Constantinople. Thus, the first riot between Palestinians and European settlers took place in the village of Petach-Teva in 1886, when Palestine was still under Ottoman rule. What caused the riot was the arrival of Europeans in the holy land.

The Balfour declaration, paved the way for the second arrival of Europeans into the holy land. Since then, Palestine has not had a moment of peace and has been suffering nothing but mass evictions, religious persecution, slaughters and a Nazi-style attempt to achieve a demographic change by the deployment of the most despicable means — permanent occupation of Arab lands, diversion of water resources from Arab orchards and villages to Jewish kibbutzim, felling olive and citrus trees to rob the Palestinians of their sources of livelihood, destruction of Arab farms by acquiring land for Jewish settlements and buildings highways and roads that ploughed through Arab villages and farms.

The second “awkwardness” concerns not just the Jews in Palestine but the Jewish community worldwide. Throughout Muslim lands, the Jews lived in peace and freedom in sharp contrast to the Christian world’s unabashed persecution of the Jewish minority for 2,000 years.

In fact, even the most biased of western writers have not come up with allegations of Muslim persecution of Jews during the Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Seljuk or Ottoman rule. (The expulsion of Jews from the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century was in battle conditions during Islam’s early wars, and concerned less than one per cent of the world’s Jewish community, for the majority of Jews were then in Europe, and what today are the states of Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Morocco.)

The most brilliant period of Muslim-Jewish coexistence was Arab Spain, which, as history records, turned out to be the most fertile soil for the cultural flowering of the Jewish genius, which produced outstanding philosophers, grammarians, mathematicians, biblical scholars and poets. It is not just that the greatest of Jewish thinkers, Maimonides, who was born in Spain, was a doctor at Saladin’s court; Jews were co-sharers of the peace, prosperity and cultural and scientific brilliance that Muslim Spain was.

When the end came and Frederick completed the ‘Reconquista’, Jews were slaughtered as much as Muslims. Thousands of those who had converted to Christianity were burnt at the stakes for secretly observing Judaic rituals, and a mass burning of Jewish books took place (circa 1498). As the Jews fled, they found refuge in Islamic lands, for it was the Ottoman empire which offered asylum to the Jews fleeing persecution in Christian Spain. Israel and Turkey officially observed the 500th anniversary of this event when Israeli President Ezer Weizmann went to Turkey to celebrate the occasion.

As against this, there was nothing but misery, persecution and ghettoes for the Jews of Europe. Long before Hitler, King Edward I of England (ruled 1272-1307) asked the Jews to wear the Star of David on their dress, and throughout the Crusades, which raged for two centuries, it was accepted by rulers and people of Europe alike that Crusaders would rob and plunder Jewish homes and shops for providing for their journey to the holy land. The fate of the Jews in Germany and eastern Europe in mediaeval times is a story unto itself. The Zionist movement basically emerged as a reaction to the persecution of Jews in Russia and eastern Europe.

The point to note is that this Jew-baiting was not something specific to the mediaeval times — as western apologists would have us believe; this persecution continued well into the 20th century, for it was again in the thirties and forties in modern and “civilised” Europe that six million Jews were put to death in gas chambers and their bodies burnt in Krupps’ ovens. Muslims can raise their heads with pride: they have done no such evil deed.

Deir Yassin, Sabra-Chatilla, Jenin and now whatever is going on in the occupied territories and Lebanon make us ask: is this the way in which the Jews must express their appreciation to the Muslim world for giving them a thousand years of peace and happiness in their lands?

TAILPIECE: Somehow, the European religious psyche is simply incapable of accepting religious plurality for Palestine. This is astonishing. What is going on in Europe today, because of immigrations, is a slow development of religious pluralism. If the Europeans had gone into Palestine in the 11th century and later in the 20th century with such a background perhaps there would have been fewer slaughters.

A moral relativism

THE pages of British newspapers last week reverberated in two directions: demands for tougher crackdowns on crime followed by complaints about overzealous parking enforcement. Attitudes to breaking the law, it seems, depends on the law being broken — a moral relativism that is usually not looked upon so kindly by those on the right.

The parking furore followed the parliamentary transport committee’s report on the confused and arbitrary nature of council parking policies. Yet they are a legitimate and necessary part of modern urban transport policy and traffic control, while unchecked illegal parking can cause costly disruption. That is little comfort, though, to anyone who has received a fine after a brief dash into a school or shop — and who feels resentful to the official issuing the penalty notice.

But parking attendants are people too. The MPs’ report noted that assaults on parking attendants are exacerbated by media coverage making them into hate figures.

The British Parking Association points out that attendants are “generally poorly paid in poor conditions”, often earning around five pounds an hour. The simple solution is to pay them more, train them better and allow them some discretion in issuing tickets.

—The Guardian, London



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