Rabbi Lerner’s reaction to the Obama brilliant speech.
Rabbi Michael Lerner’s commentary to President Obama.March 21, 2013
An editorial preface from Rabbi Michael Lerner in the Tikkun publication:
If only Obama could go beyond the brilliant principles he articulated today to Israelis in Jerusalem—to follow through with action based on those principles!!!
Obama had an amazing opportunity to paint a detailed picture of what a peace agreement could look like between Israelis and Palestinians. Very few Palestinians or Israelis have ever heard one of their leaders present such a vision in a way that seemed detailed enough to be plausible.
Instead, President Obama stayed at a very general level—urging people to not fear, reminding them that they are not alone. And those reminders were brilliantly done, and very important. The best was when he asked Israelis to imagine themselves into the consciousness of Palestinians living under occupation—for this alone, Obama deserves our thanks.
But even so, doing what he did can’t break through the consciousness that has been daily shaped by a distorted picture of what is possible, drawn for them by the settlers and right-wing extremists who today run the Israeli government.
This was the moment for the US to say, “here is a plan that can work” and lay it out. I’ve done that in my book Embracing Israel/Palestine (North Atlantic Books, 2012), and when I met personally with Obama in 2006 he agreed with much of that plan.
But Israelis and Palestinians have never been told by the US, “here is what you have to give up and here is what you will get,” and then followed through and laid out the plan. Without that, the words eventually and in retrospect will seem as hollow as Obama’s speech about democracy in Egypt which was then followed by Obama not supporting the Egyptian people when they went to the streets to overthrow their dictator Mubarak.
A U.S. backed plan will not only have to include an economically and politically viable Palestinian state on at least 95% of the 22% of pre-48 Palestine that was left to the Palestinian people after that first war—and trade of 4-5% of the land of the West Bank to Israel in exchange for equally valuable land given to the new Palestinian state. It will ALSO have to include Palestinians allowing Jewish settlers to stay on the West Bank and settle wherever they wish, but only as law-abiding citizens of a Palestinian state who have given up their Israeli citizenship and have accepted an Israeli declaration that it will not interfere with the judicial process inside Palestine if the new state prosecutes those who have illegally seized the personal property and land of Palestinians. It will have to include Israelis acknowledging partial (not full) responsibility for Palestinian refugees, and allowing 20,000 per year—each year for the next 30 years—to return to Israel and live in Israeli housing provided to them on the same basis Israel provides housing for new Jewish immigrants (20,000 a year being a number small enough to not threaten a Jewish majority, but large enough to be a strong symbolic statement of caring for Palestinian refugees). The Arab world will have to acknowledge its responsibility for the one million Jews who fled Arab lands in fear of their lives in response to anti-Zionist riots and murders that terrified the Jews who fled—and provide reparations, just as the international community and Israel will have to join in funding reparations for the Palestinian people who lost their homes, and at a level sufficient to make Palestine a thriving economy and not just one dependent on Israeli jobs. And all sides will have to join with generous support from the international community to fund an international force to work with both the Israeli and Palestinian police forces to repress extremists on both sides who will resort to violence to prevent the implementation of any agreement and to enforce an end to the teaching of hatred in the media and classrooms of both Israel and Palestine.
Without that kind of a concrete vision (and there’s more detailed in Embracing Israel/Palestine), the call for hope and trust will fall on deaf ears. Netanyahu may agree to negotiations, but not to substantive concessions. Only a clear plan from the US would change that, and Obama flubbed the opportunity to present such a plan.
And yet, speaking to the deep fears of the Israeli people is exactly what is needed, and he did it brilliantly. But it won’t change anything until the US is willing to paint the picture of a viable peace agreement with major concessions form each side, and to energetically push for it.
So what is Obama willing to push for energetically? Legitimation of a first strike against Iran for the sin of having the nuclear weapons that Israel and the US already have at much higher levels than Iran could likely achieve. This doctrine will backfire in the long run against both Israel and the US. His most concrete point was not about peace-making, but about war-making against Iran, once again signaling that Israel could take this (illegal by international law and stupid by common sense) first strike and have the full military backing of the US. That approach will do far more damage to the security of the US than anything Jonathan Pollard did, and yet Pollard remains in jail when its time to give him clemency (though I detest his politics). By suddenly discrediting the whole notion of nuclear deterrence, Obama has made Israel and the US less secure. There will come a day when other countries will use the same logic to defend a first strike against Israel or the US. Yet deterrence has worked well in the even worse dictatorships of the Soviet Union, and the Iranian leadership understands that using nuclear weapons would lead to Iran being wiped out as a country by a massive Israeli nuclear counter-attack. Iran is not Nazi Germany, and its leaders are far more interested in perpetuating an Islamic state than ended it in one moment of nuclear war. We ask friends to stop friends from driving when drunk—can’t we expect Obama to ask Israelis to not follow a path that might someday lead to the people of the world ganging up on Israel for this violation of international law?
So even though Obama was saying he spoke as a friend, it was not really what a friend needs to do. A friend needs to stand up against self-destructive behavior. Even if Israel “gets away with” a first strike, backed by the U.S. military, it will earn for itself the enmity of people around the world who rightly fear that such a precedent, which already led to the disastrous Iraq war, will set other countries into believing that they too have a right to take first strikes against countries whom they believe MIGHT at some future time use their weapons in a destructive manner. Moreover, we at Tikkun wish to see the oppressive and dictatorial and hate-generating regime in Iran overthrown by its own people, and an Israeli strike will have the opposite effect, forcing Iranians to rally around its own government and giving the Islamic dictatorship the credential of being the representative of all Iranian nationalists while isolating the forces that wish to overthrow it.
And yet, what Obama did do, in trying to speak to the need for feeling safe that so shapes Israeli consciousness, was done brilliantly, a great first step. Unfortunately, given Obama’s track record on human rights and peace, it is unlikely that the next necessary steps will be forthcoming. So we can appreciate the good, including pushing the peace process back into public consciousness in Israel, but notice and bemoan a huge opportunity lost at the moment before the new Israeli government consolidates itself around Netanyahu-sponsored intransigence.
—Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor Tikkun RabbiLerner.firstname.lastname@example.org
‘I Speak to You as a Friend …’
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Published: March 21, 2013, THE NEW YORK TIMES.
Related: In Israel, Obama Seeks to Offer Reassurance of ‘Unbreakable Bonds’ (March 21, 2013)
Four years ago, President Obama used his Middle East trip to reach out to the Arab world and try to build a new basis for regional understanding to replace the Bush administration’s post-Sept. 11 policies of fear and vengeance. Mr. Obama failed; skipping Israel and pursuing a poorly conceived peace initiative backfired.
Now, Mr. Obama has made Israel the first overseas trip of his second term. If young Israelis held power, their enthusiastic reaction to his inspiring speech in Jerusalem on Thursday would bode well for making progress toward a two-state solution. But they don’t, and despite Mr. Obama’s much-needed recommitment to peace efforts, he has not yet offered a clear-cut plan for moving forward.
The speech did offer rhetoric that was eloquent and politically astute. It was replete with biblical and cultural references as Mr. Obama tried to do what many had faulted him for not doing previously, connecting with Israelis on an emotional basis and persuading them that he would defend them if necessary, including against an Iranian nuclear weapon. He spoke of the centuries of suffering and exile that Jews had experienced and said that like his own daughters, the children of the border town of Sderot deserve to sleep at night without worrying that Hamas will fire rockets from Gaza.
We should note that rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel on Thursday — a reckless and provocative act — while the Israelis showed good faith by avoiding the sorts of defiant acts, like announcing new settlements, that have marred American visits in the past.
Mr. Obama invoked values and dreams shared by Americans, Israelis and Palestinians, including the idea that “people deserve to be free in a land of their own.” He also spoke bluntly about what’s at stake if the status quo persists, given that the Palestinian population on the West Bank and international frustration with Israel are both growing and the Arab world is in turmoil.
Will Mr. Obama also take the risks that will be needed to be a credible mediator and nudge the parties forward? His new secretary of state, John Kerry, is eager to begin and will be in Israel this weekend, but will he have the space to conduct real diplomacy? And is there a sense of urgency on anyone’s part? In recent years, Israel has built so many settlements that the options for finding a two-state solution are dwindling.
Mr. Obama spent four years tweaking his relationship with Israel. On Thursday, he said “peace is possible.” The question is: How much will he, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority invest to make it happen?
Sergey Biryukov and David Faiman of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Israel National Solar Energy Center, developed a – Dusting Off Solar Panels With an Electric Charge Sytem – to be used immediately by the evolving Solar Energy industry in the Arab Desert Lands.
An ongoing review of President Obama’s Comet swiping the Middle East and what next. This first Update includes the brilliant Obama Jerusalem Speech of March 21, 2013 (by coincidence the Summer Equinox of Spring Renewal, Nowruz, and Passover), Rabbi Michael Lerner’s reaction, and Uri Avnery’s pre-speech draft.
In Jerusalem – March 20, 2013:
In Jerusalem – March 21, 2013 – In the Binyanei Haumah – to the People of Israel and the Arab World as well – before an audience of Israeli students and others.
(Obama’s full speech and Rabbi Michael Lerner’s reaction included in this posting.)
Obama’s charm offensive was the top story in today’s Israeli papers, which decidedly agreed: it was a success! But on the tough subjects, Maariv reports that there were no understandings between the US President and the Israeli Prime Minister on the red line for Iran.
It began working almost as soon as he stepped off the plane. When Obama gave his arrival speech on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport, he broke the hostile image he had among Israelis. He began by declaring what he didn’t in his 2009 Cairo speech: that Jews have a 3000-year connection to the land of Israel. This has long been a sore point between Israelis and Obama. Indeed, even the pro-settler party chairman of Habayit Hayehudi, Naftali Bennett, said so afterward. Israel Hayom wrote that many observers consider it a reversal of his Cairo speech – in which he said that Israel was born from the Holocaust. Morevoer, he didn’t even mention a Palestinian state, whereas both President Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu both did. Netanyahu called the visit a “historic moment” and thanked Obama profusely for his support of Israel.
The sense of warmth and lack of formality was highlighted in the Israeli media. Walking down the red carpet Obama took off his jacket and was followed by Netanyahu. The photo of the two of them jacketless was on the front page of all the papers, noting the casual friendliness between them. Even better were the jokes. Instructed to follow the red lines marked on the floor at the airport, Obama jokingly referred to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “He’s always talking about red lines.” Netanyahu answered: “It was carefully planned.” See the video here of the best of Obama’s airport comments. Also, you can hear his fairly long exchange with Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, who also said he believes he will soon be prime minister. At the airport the operators of the Iron Dome anti-missile battery awaited him and said afterwards they were moved by Obama’s ‘warmth.’ Ynet reported that there was criticism from the US media, which said his visit was symbolic, not substantial. They called his visit a photo-op.
But commentators say Obama’s goal is to make the Israelis like him so that later he can convince them to make peace (see commentary below.) Atlantic magazine columnist, Jeffrey Goldberg told Haaretz+ that Obama is using his visit to ‘create the space to combat Israeli policy.’ He also said that ‘The president is a faithful representative of those American liberals who love Israel but don’t quite understand the path Israel is taking.’ Later, at Peres’ official residence, Obama even charmed Israeli kids who sang to him upon his arrival.
Full text of Obama’s BRILLIANT speech in Jerusalem – March 21, 2013 – The Spring Equinox – A TIME OF RENEWAL:
“So long as there is a United States of America, ah-tem lo lah-vahd” (you are not alone). “
The full text of U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech to Israeli students in Jerusalem on March 21, 2013.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you so much. Well, it is a great honor to be with you here in Jerusalem, and I’m so grateful for the welcome that I’ve received from the people of Israel. Thank you. I bring with me the support of the American people — and the friendship that binds us together.
Over the last two days, I’ve reaffirmed the bonds between our countries with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. I’ve borne witness to the ancient history of the Jewish people at the Shrine of the Book, and I’ve seen Israel’s shining future in your scientists and your entrepreneurs. This is a nation of museums and patents, timeless holy sites and ground-breaking innovation. Only in Israel could you see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the place where the technology on board the Mars Rover originated at the same time.
But what I’ve most looked forward to is the ability to speak directly to you, the Israeli people — especially so many young people who are here today — to talk about the history that brought us here today, and the future that you will make in the years to come.
Now, I know that in Israel’s vibrant democracy, every word, every gesture is carefully scrutinized But I want to clear something up just so you know — any drama between me and my friend, Bibi, over the years was just a plot to create material for Eretz Nehederet. That’s the only thing that was going on. We just wanted to make sure the writers had good material.
I also know that I come to Israel on the eve of a sacred holiday — the celebration of Passover. And that is where I would like to begin today.
Just a few days from now, Jews here in Israel and around the world will sit with family and friends at the Seder table, and celebrate with songs, wine and symbolic foods. After enjoying Seders with family and friends in Chicago and on the campaign trail, I’m proud that I’ve now brought this tradition into the White House. I did so because I wanted my daughters to experience the Haggadah, and the story at the center of Passover that makes this time of year so powerful.
It’s a story of centuries of slavery, and years of wandering in the desert; a story of perseverance amidst persecution, and faith in God and the Torah. It’s a story about finding freedom in your own land. And for the Jewish people, this story is central to who you’ve become. But it’s also a story that holds within it the universal human experience, with all of its suffering, but also all of its salvation.
It’s a part of the three great religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — that trace their origins to Abraham, and see Jerusalem as sacred. And it’s a story that’s inspired communities across the globe, including me and my fellow Americans.
In the United States — a nation made up of people who crossed oceans to start anew — we’re naturally drawn to the idea of finding freedom in our land. To African Americans, the story of the Exodus was perhaps the central story, the most powerful image about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity — a tale that was carried from slavery through the Civil Rights Movement into today.
For generations, this promise helped people weather poverty and persecution, while holding on to the hope that a better day was on the horizon. For me, personally, growing up in far-flung parts of the world and without firm roots, the story spoke to a yearning within every human being for a home.
Of course, even as we draw strength from the story of God’s will and His gift of freedom expressed on Passover, we also know that here on Earth we must bear our responsibilities in an imperfect world. That means accepting our measure of sacrifice and struggle, just like previous generations. It means us working through generation after generation on behalf of that ideal of freedom.
As Dr. Martin Luther King said on the day before he was killed, “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” So just as Joshua carried on after Moses, the work goes on for all of you, the Joshua Generation, for justice and dignity; for opportunity and freedom.
For the Jewish people, the journey to the promise of the State of Israel wound through countless generations. It involved centuries of suffering and exile, prejudice and pogroms and even genocide. Through it all, the Jewish people sustained their unique identity and traditions, as well as a longing to return home. And while Jews achieved extraordinary success in many parts of the world, the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea — to be a free people in your homeland. That’s why I believe that Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea — the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.
Over the last 65 years, when Israel has been at its best, Israelis have demonstrated that responsibility does not end when you reach the promised land, it only begins. And so Israel has been a refuge for the diaspora — welcoming Jews from Europe, from the former Soviet Union, from Ethiopia, from North Africa.
Israel has built a prosperous nation — through kibbutzeem that made the desert bloom, business that broadened the middle class, innovators who reached new frontiers, from the smallest microchip to the orbits of space. Israel has established a thriving democracy, with a spirited civil society and proud political parties, and a tireless free press, and a lively public debate -– “lively” may even be an understatement.
And Israel has achieved all this even as it’s overcome relentless threats to its security — through the courage of the Israel Defense Forces, and the citizenry that is so resilient in the face of terror.
This is the story of Israel. This is the work that has brought the dreams of so many generations to life. And every step of the way, Israel has built unbreakable bonds of friendship with my country, the United States of America.
Those ties began only 11 minutes after Israeli independence, when the United States was the first nation to recognize the State of Israel. As President Truman said in explaining his decision to recognize Israel, he said, “I believe it has a glorious future before it not just as another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.” And since then, we’ve built a friendship that advances our shared interests.
Together, we share a commitment to security for our citizens and the stability of the Middle East and North Africa. Together, we share a focus on advancing economic growth around the globe, and strengthening the middle class within our own countries. Together, we share a stake in the success of democracy.
But the source of our friendship extends beyond mere interests, just as it has transcended political parties and individual leaders. America is a nation of immigrants. America is strengthened by diversity. America is enriched by faith. We are governed not simply by men and women, but by laws. We’re fueled by entrepreneurship and innovation, and we are defined by a democratic discourse that allows each generation to reimagine and renew our union once more. So in Israel, we see values that we share, even as we recognize what makes us different. That is an essential part of our bond.
Now, I stand here today mindful that for both our nations, these are some complicated times. We have difficult issues to work through within our own countries, and we face dangers and upheaval around the world. And when I look at young people within the United States, I think about the choices that they must make in their lives to define who we’ll be as a nation in this 21st century, particularly as we emerge from two wars and the worst recession since the Great Depression.
But part of the reason I like talking to young people is because no matter how great the challenges are, their idealism, their energy, their ambition always gives me hope.
And I see the same spirit in the young people here today. I believe that you will shape our future. And given the ties between our countries, I believe your future is bound to ours. (Audience interruption.)
No, no — this is part of the lively debate that we talked about. This is good. You know, I have to say we actually arranged for that, because it made me feel at home. I wouldn’t feel comfortable if I didn’t have at least one heckler.
I’d like to focus on how we — and when I say “we,” in particular young people — can work together to make progress in three areas that will define our times — security, peace and prosperity.
Let me begin with security. I’m proud that the security relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger. Never. More exercises between our militaries; more exchanges among our political and military and intelligence officials than ever before; the largest program to date to help you retain your qualitative military edge. These are the facts. These aren’t my opinions, these are facts. But, to me, this is not simply measured on a balance sheet. I know that here, in Israel, security is something personal.
Here’s what I think about when I consider these issues. When I consider Israel’s security, I think about children like Osher Twito, who I met in Sderot — children the same age as my own daughters who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live.
That reality is why we’ve invested in the Iron Dome system to save countless lives — because those children deserve to sleep better at night That’s why we’ve made it clear, time and again, that Israel cannot accept rocket attacks from Gaza, and we have stood up for Israel’s right to defend itself. And that’s why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.
When I think about Israel’s security, I think about five Israelis who boarded a bus in Bulgaria, who were blown up because of where they came from; robbed of the ability to live, and love, and raise families. That’s why every country that values justice should call Hezbollah what it truly is — a terrorist organization. Because the world cannot tolerate an organization that murders innocent civilians, stockpiles rockets to shoot at cities, and supports the massacre of men and women and children in Syria right now.
The fact that Hezbollah’s ally — the Assad regime — has stockpiles of chemical weapons only heightens the urgency. We will continue to cooperate closely to guard against that danger. I’ve made it clear to Bashar al-Assad and all who follow his orders: We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists. The world is watching; we will hold you accountable.
The Syrian people have the right to be freed from the grip of a dictator who would rather kill his own people than relinquish power. Assad must go so that Syria’s future can begin. Because true stability in Syria depends upon establishing a government that is responsible to its people — one that protects all communities within its borders, while making peace with countries beyond them.
These are the things I think about when I think about Israel’s security. When I consider Israel’s security, I also think about a people who have a living memory of the Holocaust, faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iranian government that has called for Israel’s destruction. It’s no wonder Israelis view this as an existential threat.
But this is not simply a challenge for Israel — it is a danger for the entire world, including the United States. A nuclear-armed Iran would raise the risk of nuclear terrorism. It would undermine the non-proliferation regime. It would spark an arms race in a volatile region. And it would embolden a government that has shown no respect for the rights of its own people or the responsibilities of nations.
That’s why America has built a coalition to increase the cost to Iran of failing to meet their obligations. The Iranian government is now under more pressure than ever before, and that pressure is increasing. It is isolated. Its economy is in dire straits. Its leadership is divided. And its position — in the region, and the world — has only grown weaker.
I do believe that all of us have an interest in resolving this issue peacefully. Strong and principled diplomacy is the best way to ensure that the Iranian government forsakes nuclear weapons. Peace is far more preferable to war. And the inevitable costs, the unintended consequences that would come with war means that we have to do everything we can to try to resolve this diplomatically. Because of the cooperation between our governments, we know that there remains time to pursue a diplomatic resolution. That’s what America will do, with clear eyes — working with a world that’s united, and with the sense of urgency that’s required.
But Iran must know this time is not unlimited. And I’ve made the position of the United States of America clear: Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained, and as President, I’ve said all options are on the table for achieving our objectives. America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
For young Israelis, I know that these issues of security are rooted in an experience that is even more fundamental than the pressing threat of the day. You live in a neighborhood where many of your neighbors have rejected the right of your nation to exist. Your grandparents had to risk their lives and all that they had to make a place for themselves in this world. Your parents lived through war after war to ensure the survival of the Jewish state. Your children grow up knowing that people they’ve never met may hate them because of who they are, in a region that is full of turmoil and changing underneath your feet.
So that’s what I think about when Israel is faced with these challenges –- that sense of an Israel that is surrounded by many in this region who still reject it, and many in the world who refuse to accept it. And that’s why the security of the Jewish people in Israel is so important. It cannot be taken for granted.
But make no mistake — those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist, they might as well reject the earth beneath them or the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere. And today, I want to tell you — particularly the young people — so that there’s no mistake here, so long as there is a United States of America — Atem lo levad. You are not alone.
The question is what kind of future Israel will look forward to. Israel is not going anywhere — but especially for the young people in this audience, the question is what does its future hold? And that brings me to the subject of peace.
I know Israel has taken risks for peace. Brave leaders — Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin — reached treaties with two of your neighbors. You made credible proposals to the Palestinians at Annapolis. You withdrew from Gaza and Lebanon, and then faced terror and rockets. Across the region, you’ve extended a hand of friendship and all too often you’ve been confronted with rejection and, in some cases, the ugly reality of anti-Semitism. So I believe that the Israeli people do want peace, and I also understand why too many Israelis — maybe an increasing number, maybe a lot of young people here today — are skeptical that it can be achieved.
But today, Israel is at a crossroads. It can be tempting to put aside the frustrations and sacrifices that come with the pursuit of peace, particularly when Iron Dome repels rockets, barriers keep out suicide bombers. There’s so many other pressing issues that demand your attention. And I know that only Israelis can make the fundamental decisions about your country’s future. I recognize that.
I also know, by the way, that not everyone in this hall will agree with what I have to say about peace. I recognize that there are those who are not simply skeptical about peace, but question its underlying premise, have a different vision for Israel’s future. And that’s part of a democracy. That’s part of the discourse between our two countries. I recognize that. But I also believe it’s important to be open and honest, especially with your friends. I also believe that.
Politically, given the strong bipartisan support for Israel in America, the easiest thing for me to do would be to put this issue aside — just express unconditional support for whatever Israel decides to do — that would be the easiest political path. But I want you to know that I speak to you as a friend who is deeply concerned and committed to your future, and I ask you to consider three points.
First, peace is necessary. I believe that. I believe that peace is the only path to true security. You have the opportunity to be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine. That is true.
There are other factors involved. Given the frustration in the international community about this conflict, Israel needs to reverse an undertow of isolation. And given the march of technology, the only way to truly protect the Israeli people over the long term is through the absence of war. Because no wall is high enough and no Iron Dome is strong enough or perfect enough to stop every enemy that is intent on doing so from inflicting harm.
And this truth is more pronounced given the changes sweeping the Arab world. I understand that with the uncertainty in the region — people in the streets, changes in leadership, the rise of non-secular parties in politics — it’s tempting to turn inward, because the situation outside of Israel seems so chaotic. But this is precisely the time to respond to the wave of revolution with a resolve and commitment for peace. Because as more governments respond to popular will, the days when Israel could seek peace simply with a handful of autocratic leaders, those days are over. Peace will have to be made among peoples, not just governments.
No one — no single step can change overnight what lies in the hearts and minds of millions. No single step is going to erase years of history and propaganda. But progress with the Palestinians is a powerful way to begin, while sidelining extremists who thrive on conflict and thrive on division. It would make a difference.
So peace is necessary. But peace is also just. Peace is also just. There is no question that Israel has faced Palestinian factions who turned to terror, leaders who missed historic opportunities. That is all true. And that’s why security must be at the center of any agreement. And there is no question that the only path to peace is through negotiations — which is why, despite the criticism we’ve received, the United States will oppose unilateral efforts to bypass negotiations through the United Nations. It has to be done by the parties. But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, their right to justice, must also be recognized.
Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own. Living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements not just of those young people but their parents, their grandparents, every single day. It’s not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It’s not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; or restricting a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or displace Palestinian families from their homes Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.
I’m going off script here for a second, but before I came here, I met with a group of young Palestinians from the age of 15 to 22. And talking to them, they weren’t that different from my daughters. They weren’t that different from your daughters or sons. I honestly believe that if any Israeli parent sat down with those kids, they’d say,
I want these kids to succeed; I want them to prosper. I want them to have opportunities just like my kids do. I believe that’s what Israeli parents would want for these kids if they had a chance to listen to them and talk to them. I believe that.
Now, only you can determine what kind of democracy you will have. But remember that as you make these decisions, you will define not simply the future of your relationship with the Palestinians — you will define the future of Israel as well.
As Ariel Sharon said — I’m quoting him — “It is impossible to have a Jewish democratic state, at the same time to control all of Eretz Israel. If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all.” Or, from a different perspective, I think of what the novelist David Grossman said shortly after losing his son, as he described the necessity of peace — “A peace of no choice” he said, “must be approached with the same determination and creativity as one approaches a war of no choice.”
Now, Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with anyone who is dedicated to its destruction. But while I know you have had differences with the Palestinian Authority, I genuinely believe that you do have a true partner in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. I believe that. And they have a track record to prove it. Over the last few years, they have built institutions and maintained security on the West Bank in ways that few could have imagined just a few years ago. So many Palestinians — including young people — have rejected violence as a means of achieving their aspirations.
There is an opportunity there, there’s a window — which brings me to my third point: Peace is possible. It is possible. I’m not saying it’s guaranteed. I can’t even say that it is more likely than not. But it is possible. I know it doesn’t seem that way. There are always going to be reasons to avoid risk. There are costs for failure. There will always be extremists who provide an excuse not to act.
I know there must be something exhausting about endless talks about talks, and daily controversies, and just the grinding status quo. And I’m sure there’s a temptation just to say, “Ah, enough. Let me focus on my small corner of the world and my family and my job and what I can control.” But it’s possible.
Negotiations will be necessary, but there’s little secret about where they must lead — two states for two peoples. Two states for two peoples.
There will be differences about how to get there. There are going to be hard choices along the way. Arab states must adapt to a world that has changed. The days when they could condemn Israel to distract their people from a lack of opportunity, or government corruption or mismanagement — those days need to be over. Now is the time for the Arab world to take steps toward normalizing relations with Israel.
Meanwhile, Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security. Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable with real borders that have to be drawn.
I’ve suggested principles on territory and security that I believe can be the basis for these talks. But for the moment, put aside the plans and the process. I ask you, instead, to think about what can be done to build trust between people.
Four years ago, I stood in Cairo in front of an audience of young people — politically, religiously, they must seem a world away. But the things they want, they’re not so different from what the young people here want. They want the ability to make their own decisions and to get an education, get a good job; to worship God in their own way; to get married; to raise a family. The same is true of those young Palestinians that I met with this morning. The same is true for young Palestinians who yearn for a better life in Gaza.
That’s where peace begins — not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people. Not just in some carefully designed process, but in the daily connections — that sense of empathy that takes place among those who live together in this land and in this sacred city of Jerusalem.
And let me say this as a politician — I can promise you this, political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.
I know this is possible. Look to the bridges being built in business and civil society by some of you here today. Look at the young people who’ve not yet learned a reason to mistrust, or those young people who’ve learned to overcome a legacy of mistrust that they inherited from their parents, because they simply recognize that we hold more hopes in common than fears that drive us apart. Your voices must be louder than those who would drown out hope. Your hopes must light the way forward.
Look to a future in which Jews and Muslims and Christians can all live in peace and greater prosperity in this Holy Land. Believe in that. And most of all, look to the future that you want for your own children — a future in which a Jewish, democratic, vibrant state is protected and accepted for this time and for all time.
There will be many who say this change is not possible, but remember this — Israel is the most powerful country in this region. Israel has the unshakeable support of the most powerful country in the world. Israel is not going anywhere. Israel has the wisdom to see the world as it is, but — this is in your nature — Israel also has the courage to see the world as it should be.
Ben Gurion once said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” Sometimes, the greatest miracle is recognizing that the world can change. That’s a lesson that the world has learned from the Jewish people.
And that brings me to the final area that I’ll focus on: prosperity, and Israel’s broader role in the world. I know that all the talk about security and peace can sometimes seem to dominate the headlines, but that’s not where people live. And every day, even amidst the threats that you face, Israelis are defining themselves by the opportunities that you’re creating.
Through talent and hard work, Israelis have put this small country at the forefront of the global economy.
Israelis understand the value of education and have produced 10 Nobel laureates. Israelis understand the power of invention, and your universities educate engineers and inventors. And that spirit has led to economic growth and human progress — solar power and electric cars, bandages and prosthetic limbs that save lives, stem cell research and new drugs that treat disease, cell phones and computer technology that changed the way people around the world live.
So if people want to see the future of the world economy, they should look at Tel Aviv, home to hundreds of start-ups and research centers. Israelis are so active on social media that every day seemed to bring a different Facebook campaign about where I should give this speech.
That innovation is just as important to the relationship between the United States and Israel as our security cooperation. Our first free trade agreement in the world was reached with Israel, nearly three decades ago. Today the trade between our two countries is at $40 billion every year. More importantly, that partnership is creating new products and medical treatments; it’s pushing new frontiers of science and exploration.
That’s the kind of relationship that Israel should have — and could have — with every country in the world. Already, we see how that innovation could reshape this region. There’s a program here in Jerusalem that brings together young Israelis and Palestinians to learn vital skills in technology and business. An Israeli and Palestinian have started a venture capital fund to finance Palestinian start-ups. Over 100 high-tech companies have found a home on the West Bank — which speaks to the talent and entrepreneurial spirit of the Palestinian people.
One of the great ironies of what’s happening in the broader region is that so much of what people are yearning for — education, entrepreneurship, the ability to start a business without paying a bribe, the ability to connect to the global economy — those are things that can be found here in Israel. This should be a hub for thriving regional trade, and an engine for opportunity.
Israel is already a center for innovation that helps power the global economy. And I believe that all of that potential for prosperity can be enhanced with greater security, enhanced with lasting peace.
Here, in this small strip of land that has been the center of so much of the world’s history, so much triumph and so much tragedy, Israelis have built something that few could have imagined 65 years ago. Tomorrow, I will pay tribute to that history — at the grave of Herzl, a man who had the foresight to see the future of the Jewish people had to be reconnected to their past; at the grave of Rabin, who understood that Israel’s victories in war had to be followed by the battles for peace; at Yad Vashem, where the world is reminded of the cloud of evil that can descend on the Jewish people and all of humanity if we ever fail to be vigilant.
We bear all that history on our shoulders. We carry all that history in our hearts. Today, as we face the twilight of Israel’s founding generation, you — the young people of Israel — must now claim its future. It falls to you to write the next chapter in the great story of this great nation.
And as the President of a country that you can count on as your greatest friend — I am confident that you can help us find the promise in the days that lie ahead. And as a man who’s been inspired in my own life by that timeless calling within the Jewish experience — tikkun olam -) — I am hopeful that we can draw upon what’s best in ourselves to meet the challenges that will come; to win the battles for peace in the wake of so much war; and to do the work of repairing this world. That’s your job.
That’s my job. That’s the task of all of us.
May God bless you. May God bless Israel. May God bless the United States of America. Toda raba. Thank you.
Were the two most important Islamist leaders of the Sahara killed? What was the part of France and Japan in the fight to exterminate the rebels that became active when the Algerian military coup tried to stop Islamists from taking over the government by the elective process.
What does the following mean when viewing what we got to call the Arab Spring and the dichotomy between twigs of democracy hope and trunks of solid Middle Ages religious zeal?
Al-Qaida loses key leader in Africa
Mastermind of Algeria attack ‘killed in Mali.’
AP, Kyodo, The Japan Times on-line, March 4, 2o13
N’DJAMENA – Chad’s military chief announced late Saturday that his troops deployed in northern Mali had killed Moktar Belmoktar, the terrorist who orchestrated the attack on a natural gas plant in Algeria that left 36 foreigners dead.
Local officials in Kidal, the northern town that is being used as the base for the military operation, cast doubt on the assertion, saying Chadian officials are attempting to score a PR victory to make up for the significant losses they have suffered in recent days.
Belmoktar’s profile soared after the mid-January attack and mass hostage-taking on a huge Algerian gas plant, during which 10 Japanese employees of engineering firm JGC Corp. were killed. His purported death comes a day after Chad’s president said his troops had killed Abou Zeid, the other main al-Qaida commander operating in northern Mali.
If both deaths are confirmed, it would mean that the international intervention in Mali had succeeded in decapitating two of the pillars of al-Qaida in the Sahara.
“Chad’s armed forces in Mali have completely destroyed a base used by jihadists and narcotraffickers in the Adrar and Ifoghas mountains” of northern Mali, Chief of Staff Gen. Zakaria Ngobongue said. “The provisional toll is as follows: Several terrorists killed, including Moktar Belmoktar.”
The French military moved into Mali on Jan. 11 to push back militants linked to Belmoktar and Abou Zeid and other extremist groups who had imposed harsh Islamic rule in the north of the vast country and who were seen as an international terrorist threat.
France is trying to rally other African troops to help in the military campaign, since Mali’s military is weak and poor. Chadian troops have offered the most robust reinforcement.
In Paris, French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said he had “no information” on the possibility that Belmoktar was dead. The Foreign Ministry refused to confirm the report.
Belmoktar, an Algerian, is believed to be in his 40s, and like his intermittent partner, Abou Zeid, he began on the path to terrorism after Algeria’s secular government voided the 1991 election won by an Islamic party. Both men joined the Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, and later its offshoot, the GSPC, a group that carried out suicide bombings on Algerian government targets.
Around 2003, both men crossed into Mali, where they began a lucrative kidnapping business, snatching European tourists, aid workers, government employees and even diplomats and holding them for ransom.
The Algerian terrorist cell amassed a significant war chest, and joined the al-Qaida fold in 2006, renaming itself al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Belmoktar claims he trained in Afghanistan in the 1990s, including in one of Osama bin Laden’s camps. It was there that he reportedly lost an eye, earning him the nickname “Laaouar,” Arabic for “one-eyed.”
Until last December, Belmoktar and Abou Zeid headed separate brigades under the flag of al-Qaida’s chapter in the Sahara. But after reports of infighting between the two, Belmoktar peeled off, announcing the creation of his own terrorist unit, still loyal to the al-Qaida ideology but separate from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
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‘Darker Sides’: The Vast Islamist Sanctuary of ‘Sahelistan.’
By Paul Hyacinthe Mben, Jan Puhl and Thilo Thielke
This article originally appeared in German in issue 5/2013 (January 28, 2013) of DER SPIEGEL and reached us via UNWire.
There is an old church in the Niger River town of Diabaly. It was built in the days when Mali was still a colony known as French Sudan. The stone cross on the gable of the church had never bothered anyone since the French left 50 years ago and Mali became independent, even though some 90 percent of Malians are Muslim.
Now, what is left of the cross lies scattered on the ground. For the Islamists who overran Diabaly two weeks ago, bringing down the stone symbol was worth a bazooka round. They also smashed the altar and toppled wooden statuettes of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.
But their reign of terror in Diabaly lasted only a few days — until the French returned. Acting on orders of French President François Hollande, French troops fired on the Islamists’ pickup trucks from the air, striking them one at a time with apparent surgical precision. According to local residents, not a single civilian died in the airstrikes.
By Tuesday morning, the last of the extremist fighters had disappeared into the bush, fleeing on foot in small groups, likely headed north.
The church has been declared off-limits, for fear that it may have been booby-trapped by the Islamists. But the colonel in charge of the French troops in the area, a muscular man with close-cropped hair, says proudly: “Diabaly is safe again.”
France’s advance northward continued through the weekend, with the military announcing they had seized control of both Gao and, on Monday morning, Timbuktu. Just as they had in Diabaly, the Islamists melted away in front of the advancing force. But they will not disappear entirely.
Larger than All of Europe
Northern Mali is just one part of the vast hinterland in which the Islamists can hide. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius refers to the rocky and sandy desert, spanning 7,500 kilometers (about 4,700 miles) from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east, as “Sahelistan.” The Sahel zone is larger than all of Europe and so impassable that no power in the world can fully control it. The French have deployed all of 2,400 troops to the region, the Germans have contributed two transport planes.
Sahelistan is the new front in the global fight against violent Islamists. Should other countries — Germany or Britain, for example — join the French with ground troops, it is quite possible that the West will become just as entrenched there as it has in the other front against global terror: Afghanistan.
The Sahel zone is a lawless region. It begins in the southern part of the Maghreb region of North Africa, where the power of the Arab countries begins to fade, and where the already weak sub-Saharan countries like Mali, Niger and Chad were never able to gain a foothold. It is a no-man’s land honeycombed with smugglers’ roads and drug routes, an El Dorado for the lawless and fanatics.
The war has become increasingly brutal. Although an Islamist faction from Kidal in northern Mali announced on Wednesday that it was willing to negotiate, there was also news of atrocities committed by the Malian army, which reportedly killed at least 30 people as it advanced northward. Eyewitnesses say that people were shot to death at the bus terminal in the central Malian town of Sévaré. An army lieutenant made no secret of his hatred for the insurgents, saying: “They were Islamists. We’re killing them. If we don’t they will kill us.”
After the Arab spring and the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, many hoped that terrorism could finally be drawing to a close. But even former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi once predicted that chaos and holy war would erupt if he were toppled. “Bin Laden’s people would take over the country,” Gadhafi said.
Now it is becoming apparent that his prophecy applies to even larger swathes of the desert. The crisis in northern Mali and the ensuing bloodbath at the natural gas plant in Algeria are only two indications. In northern Niger, Islamists are targeting white foreigners, hoping to kidnap them and extort ransom money. In northern Nigeria, fighters with the Islamist sect Boko Haram attacked yet another town last week. They shot and killed 18 people, including a number of hunters who had been selling game there, and then disappeared again. Muslims consider the flesh of bush animals to be impure.
‘One of the Darker Sides’
On Sept. 11 of last year, Islamists murdered US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three embassy employees in the Libyan city of Benghazi. Last Thursday, Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands withdrew their citizens from Libya, fearing new attacks.
In Sudan’s embattled Darfur region, militias hired by the Islamist junta were harassing the local population until recently. And in Somalia, Kenyan and Ugandan soldiers are trying to drive back the fundamentalist Al-Shabaab militants.
Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group referred to it as “one of the darker sides of the Arab uprisings,” in a recent conversation with the New York Times. “Their peaceful nature may have damaged al-Qaida and its allies ideologically, but logistically, in terms of the new porousness of borders, the expansion of ungoverned areas, the proliferation of weapons, the disorganization of police and security services in all these countries — it’s been a real boon to jihadists.”
Islamism in the Sahel zone is backward and modern at the same time, ideologically rigid and perversely pragmatic. In Timbuktu, fanatics are cutting off the hands and heads of criminals, and yet the Islamists have become wealthy by taking over the cocaine and weapons business, as well as human trafficking operations.
Sahelistan’s new masters are forging alliances with local insurgents and internationally operating jihadists. In Mali, they took over the unrecognized state of Azawad, formed after a Tuareg rebellion in April 2012 — a relatively easy task, after many Tuareg switched sides and joined the ranks of the Islamists. Ansar Dine, the largest Islamist group with its roughly 1,500 fighters, consists largely of Tuareg tribesmen.
After Islamists had captured the Malian city of Gao in June 2012, journalist Malick Aliou Maïga observed delegations of bearded men going to see the new rulers almost daily. “They were supporters from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Qatar. They were bringing money.”
Cynical Political Opportunist
Al-Qaida and its splinter groups in Sahelistan are no longer under the command of a charismatic leader like Osama bin Laden. Instead, they have many commanders, including ruthless fighters like Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who is held responsible for the attack at the In Amenas natural gas plant, the largest terrorist incident since the 2008 Mumbai attacks. In Mali, there is Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghaly, a cynical political opportunist.
These people pose an enormous threat in West Africa. Neighboring countries like Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast have only recently emerged from civil wars and could plunge back into chaos at any time. It stands to reason that members of the West African economic community ECOWAS were the first to join France by deploying troops to Mali, beginning with a contingent of 1,750 soldiers.
General Carter Ham, commander of the US Army’s Africa Command, told the Telegraph that the “growing linkage, network collaboration, organization and synchronization” among the various terrorist groups in the region is what “poses the greatest threat to regional stability and ultimately to Europe.”
Only one border separates Mali’s extremists from the Mediterranean, the 1,376-kilometer border between Mali and Algeria. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 75, still controls Algeria with an iron fist. Nevertheless, Algeria is the birthplace of Salafism in the Maghreb region, the radical Muslim school of thought that many extremist groups, including Al-Qaida, invoke today.
In the late 1980s, the regime permitted the first Islamist party in the region, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). When the FIS seemed headed for victory in the 1991 elections, there was a military coup. The FIS then went underground and fought a brutal war of terror against Algiers that claimed up to 200,000 lives.
The combatants who became radicalized at the time include Abdelmalek Droukdel, born in northern Algeria in 1970. As an adolescent, Droukdel joined the mujahedin and fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. Upon his return, Droukdel and others formed the “Salafist Group for Call and Combat,” which is now called “Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb” (AQIM). The group has long since moved beyond its original goal of overthrowing the government in Algiers. Instead, its leaders dream of establishing a caliphate across all of Sahelistan.
Not Particularly Successful
Droukdel’s fiercest adversary is the Algerian intelligence chief, Mohammed Mediène, trained by the KGB in the former Soviet Union. He has headed the fight against the Islamists for years and takes an unrelenting approach that categorically excludes negotiating with terrorists.
Mediène is a difficult partner for the West. He was likely the one responsible for ordering the Algerian army to storm the natural gas plant in the desert in the week before last. Algerian special forces opened fire on the terrorists, despite the risk to the lives of hundreds of hostages. The assault ended in the deaths of about 40 foreign hostages.
In the other countries of the Sahel zone, however, regular military forces tend to be on the losing end against Islamist insurgents. A year ago, the Ansar Dine extremists overran the Malian army within only a few weeks. The troops in the region are all as weak and corrupt as the countries that deploy them. They are poorly equipped and the soldiers suffer from poor morale, partly because the men must often wait months for their pay.
The US is seeking to arm the countries in the region to combat the threat from the desert with a secret US government program called “Creek Sand.” Washington has stationed small aircraft in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, and at various other strategically important locations in the region. The Pilatus PC-12 aircraft are unarmed but filled with state-of-the-art surveillance technology. The information they gather as they fly over the desert is meant to help local military leaders in the hunt for terrorists, but the program has not been particularly successful thus far.
Whether brutal military action, such as that which took place in Algeria, will deter Islamists is also disputed. The countries of Sahelistan are among the poorest in the world, and the region is regularly plagued by famine. “A young person from there has no chance of leading a good life,” says deposed Malian President Amadou Touré.
‘You Don’t Even Recognize Them’
The terrorists, on the other hand, are comparatively well off, offering young men a monthly salary of about €90 ($121). Each recruit also receives a Kalashnikov, daily meals and a modicum of power over the rest of the population.
Shortly after recruitment, the new fighters are sent to training camps called Katibas, many of them in northern Mali and along the eastern border with Mauritania. In addition to receiving training with machine guns and hand grenades, the recruits also study the Koran. “You don’t even recognize them when they come back from there,” says a Tuareg tribesman in Bamako.
Experts say that the Islamist fighters in Mali are generally better equipped and better fed than government soldiers. They have rocket-propelled grenades, SA-7 rockets and other modern weaponry. Their main weapons are the poor man’s tanks known as “technicals” — pickup trucks with heavy machine guns mounted on the bed, and bags of ammunition hanging off the sides for the fighters on foot.
After the collapse of the Libyan regime, most of the weapons and ammunition were stolen from Gadhafi’s weapons stores, mostly by the dictator’s former Tuareg mercenaries. Fresh supplies of ordnance aren’t a problem either, now that Africa’s Islamists are hoarding many millions of dollars.
A little over three years ago, Malian police officers made a strange discovery in northern Mali: a Boeing 727, parked in the middle of the desert, without seats but apparently equipped for carrying cargo. It was found that the plane was registered in Guinea-Bissau and had taken off from Venezuela.
The find confirmed the authorities’ fears that South American cocaine cartels are sending large quantities of drugs to West Africa, sometimes using aircraft. Gangs that cooperate with the Islamists then take the drugs to the Mediterranean region. The business is said to have generated billions in profits.
‘Throats Are Slit Like Chickens’
Kidnappings are the Islamists’ second financing mainstay. “Many Western countries pay enormous sums to jihadists,” scoffs Omar Ould Hamaha, an Islamist commander who feels so safe in the western Sahara that he can sometimes even be reached by phone. Experts estimate that AQIM has raked in €100 million in ransom money in recent years.
About half of the kidnappings have ended violently. Boko Haram terrorists murdered a German engineer in northern Nigeria a year ago, and French engineers are often targeted. France depends on Niger for uranium and the state-owned nuclear conglomerate Areva is mining there on a large scale. It’s impossible to completely protect Areva’s employees. Two years ago, kidnappers even ventured into the dusty Nigerien capital Niamey, where they kidnapped two Frenchmen from a restaurant.
For the victims, being kidnapped usually marks the beginning of an ordeal lasting months or even years. To shake off pursuers, the Islamists constantly move their hostages across hundreds of kilometers of desert, either in the beds of their pickup trucks or in marches that can last weeks. Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler titled his book about his time in the hands of extremists “A Season in Hell.”Fowler was released in April 2009, after 130 days in captivity. Ottawa denies having paid ransom money. The Frenchmen kidnapped in Niamey, however, died when a French special forces unit tried to liberate them. “At the slightest sign of an attack, the prisoners throats are slit like chickens,” says Islamist leader Hamaha.
At least seven European hostages are currently waiting somewhere in the desert to be rescued — at least that’s what security forces hope. Islamists have threatened to kill them all, as revenge for the air strikes France has now launched in Mali.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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Abu Dhabi’s Sustainability Week – Green Prophet Was There!!!
UNSG Ban Ki-moon, who has difficulty doing business with the permanent missions in New York, finds it much more promissing when he travels to Davos, Switzerland. From Davos the UNSG also Addressed by video the Commemoration of the Holocaust and of Rescuers – those few that refused to denny their own humanity.
Take for instance the problem called Syria that after 60,000 people killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced, during 2011-2012 continuing now in the same way - or a two years of disaster – still does not move the UN Security Council seat-holders to find a way to control the centripetal forces in that Member State.
Arriving to Davos on Thursday morning – to the World Economic Forum – first action of Mr. Ban Ki-moon took was to deliver a special address focusing on Syria and the African Sahel region. The address was noticed by governments, business, and civil society. A unity must be found that allows meaningful action and humanitarian and political efforts must be given security cover. He met the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in this context. He also spoke at a meeting on water resources and connected the events in the North Africa – Middle East MENA States to active effects of drought and Climate Change and people migration that spill over to neighboring States that also suffer from environmental degradation.
On the one end of this arc of destruction – by fighting people and by disaster creating activities elsewhere – Mr. Ban Ki-moon met with the Prime Minister of Lebanon – H.E. Mr. Najib Milkati, and a large group of US Members of Congress from the Republican Party – Messrs. Eric Cantor (Virginia), Jeff Fortenberry (Nebraska), Mario Diaz-Balart (Florida), Darrell Issa (Californis), and Ms Kay Granger (Texas). With this unusual group questions of Human Rights and UN reform were as important as the Middle East Peace Process between Israel and its neighbors, as the unrest in the Sahel region on the other side of the MENA arc of destruction and its neighbors of the Horn of Africa, Central Africa, and West Africa.
Regarding Mali, Mr. Ban warned that the crisis is deepening with repeated reports of sexual violence, child soldiers, and reprisals by the Malian army against Tuareg and Arab populations. The African story repeats itself now also in the Western part of the Sahel. A toxic mix of poverty, extreme climatic conditions, weak institutions, drug smuggling, and the easy availability of weapons, is causing now also in this rather new region the dangerous insecurity we know from the other parts of MENA and its neighboring States.
The UNSG came to Davos in order to tell to whoever will listen that the problems of Mali engulf 18 million people of the Sahel, and if we want to address the problems – the whole set of problems will have to be addressed. Ditto when looking at Darfur and the region stretching into the Horn of Africa.
Mr. Ban took a look also at Egypt and Bahrain and expressed his wishes that these two States do not regress into difficult situations as well.
Regarding Mr. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq misadventure into Kuwait, the UN panel allocated from Iraq funds the equivalent of $1.3 billion as reparations to Kuwait.
While the UNSG was making these presentations to leaders, academics, and business tycoons in Davos, his Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Mr.Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal presented the Ban Ki-moon video address to the 2013 International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, in the UN General Assembly Hall at the New York City Headquarters of the UN. This year’s Memorial Ceremony was held under the secondary title: “THE COURAGE TO CARE.”
The Holocaust, though a very special event without anything in human history to compare it with, according to Mr. Jan Karski, one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” by the Jerusalem Yad Vashem, for his efforts to inform the World of the extermination of the Jews activities of the Nazis of the German Reich, ought nevertheless be remembered when watching crimes performed in full TV light before our eyes and right in front of us.
Jan Karski was awarded posthumously, by President Obama in 2012, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. and the UN lobby has now an exhibit on display about him as his book “Story of a Secret State” was released this year with details of US inaction while he provided information of what was going on in Europe during WWII. He started out as a Polish Nationalist, but even though faced with the dismemberment of the Polish State – he recognized that what was happening to the Jews was immensely worse.
The US Lobby is displaying as well material about the Holocaust, the extermination machine and the Righteous people who even by saving the life of just one Jew – got themselves the right to be considered as if they saved the whole world. Considering that the UN is ever so often visited by Holocaust deniers, and the UN continuously watching crimes being committed by member States – the event at Headquarters was at least just as important, if not more, as what the UNSG was trying to achieve in Davos.
We bring thus the text of the UNSG video presentation to those assembled at the UN General Assembly Hall on Friday, January 25, 2013.
25 January 2013
Secretary-General, in Memorial Message for Holocaust Victims Day, Hails‘Unsung Heroes’ Who Risked All to Help Targets of Persecution.
The original title was:
VIDEO MESSAGE ON THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF COMMEMORATION IN MEMORY OF THE VICTIMS OF THE HOLOCAUST.
Airing 25 January 2013
It is a great pleasure to greet all the good friends of the United Nations who have gathered for this observance of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. I welcome in particular the Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans who have joined this solemn ceremony.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Courage is a rare and precious commodity. Today, we celebrate those who had the courage to care. Throughout the Second World War, Jews, Roma and Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war and others who failed to conform to Hitler’s perverted ideology of Aryan perfection were systematically murdered in death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau.
But some were able to avoid the slaughter. They escaped because a few brave souls risked their lives and their families to rescue Jews and other victims of persecution from almost certain death. Some sheltered the intended victims in their homes; others helped families to obtain safe passage.
Some of the accounts of the rescuers have achieved iconic prominence. But many are known only to those whose lives were saved. This year’s observance is meant to give those unsung heroes the regard they deserve. I thank the Righteous among the Nations Programme at Yad Vashem, which is celebrating its fiftieth year, for identifying and rewarding them. The Holocaust and the United Nations programme has produced an education package on the rescuers that will be used in classrooms around the world.
I also congratulate another crucial partner, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, on its twentieth anniversary. Its theme of “Never Again: What You Do Matters” resonates deeply.
Acts of genocide illustrate the depths of evil to which individuals and whole societies can descend. But the examples of the brave men and women we celebrate today also demonstrate the capacity of humankind for remarkable good, even during the darkest of days.
On this International Day, let us remember all the innocent people who lost their lives during the Holocaust. And let us be inspired by those who had the courage to care — the ordinary people who took extraordinary steps to defend human dignity. Their example is as relevant today as ever.
In a world where extremist acts of violence and hatred capture the headlines on an almost daily basis, we must remain ever vigilant. Let us all have the courage to care, so we can build a safer, better world today.
The League of Arab States urges Arab Israelis to vote in Israel’s elections – their reason may be unfriendly but THIS IS AN ALL-STATES RECOGNITION DE FACTO OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL – and that is a good start. If the Arab citizens vote they could win up to 20% of the Knesset seats and form a voting bloc to impact the formation of a stable ruling coalition.
We have read of the death of 23 foreigners and many more Algerians in the fight between Algeria’s secular generals and the Islamist take-over of gas fields in this OPEC-member Nation. Had the industrialized countries made themselves independent of the slavery to the petroleum use in their economies – this would not have happened and, who-knows, perhaps there would not have been an Al-Qaeda either. But, nevertheless, considering the world we live in, and the dependence on oil and gas imported from the Islamic countries that benefits only the ruling few of those countries, all we can afford to do now is applaud the resolute handling of the resultant marauders.
We thus applaud the unilateral decisiveness of the Algerians, the decision of France to bomb in Mali and to lead the West Africans and hopefully some of the Maghreb Arabs as well, while we applaud as well the retreat of the West from Iraq and Afghanistan. This because the West did it all wrong in the above two countries, while Algeria and France did it right this time. With Al-Qaeda you do not negotiate – but you also should not go into a country just because of its oil. Had the US just overthrown Saddam and left the Iraqis handle their own affairs without staying in the country, that would have been fine – but the US went there for the oil, and forgot Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan while thinking only of potential pipelines for Central Asian oil. This created only more Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda clones.
And some of the West’s hadwringing as reported from Bamako, Mali:
Although the Algerian government declared an end to the militants’ siege, the authorities believed that a handful of jihadists were most likely hiding somewhere in the sprawling complex and said that troops were hunting for them.
The details of the desert standoff and the final battle for the plant remained murky on Saturday night — as did information about which hostages died and how — with even the White House suggesting that it was unclear what had happened. In a brief statement released early Saturday night the president said his administration would “remain in close touch with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place.”
The British defense minister, Philip Hammond, called the loss of life “appalling and unacceptable” after reports that up to seven hostages were killed in the final hours of the hostage crisis, and he said that the leaders of the attack would be tracked down. The Algerian government said that 32 militants had been killed since Wednesday, although it cautioned that its casualty counts were provisional.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who appeared with Mr. Hammond at a news conference in London, said he did not yet have reliable information about the fate of the Americans at the facility, although a senior Algerian official said two had been found “safe and sound.”
What little information trickled out was as harrowing as what had come in the days before, when some hostages who had managed to escape told of workers being forced to wear explosives. They also said that there were several summary executions and that some workers had died in the military’s initial rescue attempt.
On Saturday, Algerian officials reported that some bodies found by troops who rushed into the industrial complex were charred beyond recognition, making it difficult to distinguish between the captors and the captured. Two were assumed to be workers because they were handcuffed.
The Algerian government has been relatively silent since the start of the crisis, releasing few details. The Algerian government faced withering international criticism for rushing ahead with its first assault on the militants on Thursday even as governments whose citizens were trapped inside the plant pleaded for more time, fearing that rescue attempts might lead to workers dying. The Algerians responded by saying they had a better understanding of how to handle militants after fighting Islamist insurgents for years.
On Saturday, it was unclear who killed the last hostages. Initial reports from Algerian state news media said that seven workers had been executed during the army’s raid, but the senior government official and another high-level official, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, later said the number killed and the cause were unknown. The early reports also said 11 militants were killed, but later information suggested that some may have blown themselves up.
Whatever the goal, the message of the militant takeover of the gas complex, in a country that has perhaps the world’s toughest record for dealing with terrorists, seemed clear, at least to Algerian officials: the Islamist ministate in northern Mali, now under assault by French and Malian forces, has given a new boost to transnational terrorism. The brigade of some 32 Islamists that took the plant was multinational, Algerian officials said — with only three Algerians in the group.
“We have indications that they originated from northern Mali,” one of the senior officials said. “They want to establish a terrorist state.”
A Mali-based Algerian jihadist with ties to Al Qaeda, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has claimed responsibility through spokesmen — and is blamed by the Algerians — for masterminding the raid.
The militants who attacked the plant said it was in retaliation for the French troops sweeping into Mali this month to stop an advance of Islamist rebels south toward the capital, although they later said they had been planning an attack in Algeria for some time. The group that attacked the plant, thought to be based in Gao, Mali, was previously little known and had splintered last year from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Qaeda’s North African branch.
The gas plant is operated by Sonatrach, Norway’s Statoil and BP of Britain.
BUT MUCH BETTER REPORTING FROM ISRAEL - Ynet.com
Algerian assault ends crisis, 23 hostages dead
Special forces storm natural gas complex in final assault that ends crisis; 23 hostages, 32 kidnappers killed
News Analysis – The New York Times
The French Way of War
Loic Venance/Agence France-Presse — GettyImages
Soldiers from the French Foreign Legion rehearsing in July for the Bastille Day parade down the Champs-Élysées.
Published on The New York Times on-line: January 19, 2013
Related - Africa Must Take Lead in Mali, France Says (January 20, 2013)
IN 1966, the French president, Charles de Gaulle, war hero and general nuisance in Allied eyes, wrote President Lyndon B. Johnson to announce that France was pulling out of full membership in NATO and would expel NATO headquarters from France.
“France is determined to regain on her whole territory the full exercise of her sovereignty, at present diminished by the permanent presence of allied military elements or by the use which is made of her airspace; to cease her participation in the integrated commands; and no longer to place her forces at the disposal of NATO,” de Gaulle wrote.
After the humiliating capitulation to the Nazis, a tremendous shock to a prideful and martial France, it was not especially surprising that de Gaulle should seek to restore France to a place at the top table of nations, capable of defending its own interests with its own means at its own pace and pleasure.
Even today, as French troops intervene in Mali, the French take pride in their military capacity and in their independence of action. French forces still march every year down the Champs-Élysées on Bastille Day, a military celebration unparalleled in the West. France has nuclear weapons and is the only country, other than the United States, with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. And even as Paris has slowly reconciled itself to full NATO membership, France has maintained its ability to send troops and equipment quickly to large parts of the globe, and it should soon overtake an austerity-minded Britain as the world’s fourth largest military spender, after the United States, China and Russia.
“The French, who are so gloomy and pessimistic about the situation in the country and the economy, have at least one reason to be proud of what their country can achieve,” Jean-David Levitte, the diplomatic adviser to former President Nicolas Sarkozy and the former ambassador to both the United States and the United Nations, told me. “We still have a foreign policy, a capacity to act beyond our borders, a capacity to make a difference.”
France cannot do everything on its own, Mr. Levitte freely acknowledges. “But if you don’t have the military means to act, you don’t have a foreign policy,” he said.
The French are willing to intervene militarily, but on the basis of new conditions, which differ, French officials argue, from the old colonial habits and traditions known as “Françafrique.”
In Mali, as they did in 2011 in Libya and in Ivory Coast, the French have intervened on the basis of a direct request for help from a legitimate government, the support of regional African groupings like the African Union and a resolution from the United Nations Security Council.
Even in Mali, France means to act multilaterally, even if it is leading from the front, as it did in Libya, in the name of saving an ally and helping the Sahel region combat the spread of radical Islamists, some of them foreign jihadists, strongly connected to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
So far, the decisive intervention by the French president, François Hollande, has been popular. A survey published on Wednesday by BVA for Le Parisien found that 75 percent of the French supported Mr. Hollande’s decision to take rapid military action against Islamist rebels in Mali, despite the risks, compared with 66 percent support for intervention in Libya last year and 55 percent for Afghanistan in 2001. An earlier poll on Monday for IFOP found that 63 percent backed Mr. Hollande’s decision.
More striking, perhaps, the consensus among the political elite has been unanimously supportive, says Bruno Tertrais, a defense analyst at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “The French people are ready to support a military operation as long as the objectives are clear and seem legitimate,” he told me. While stopping the Islamist advance on Bamako, Mali’s capital, is such a goal, he went on to say, “if it were a matter of an operation to reconquer the north of Mali, the perception would have been different.”
The French have an all-volunteer military, which distances the population further from the cost of war and makes soldiers “less visible to the populace at large,” notes Sébastien Jakubowski, a sociologist at the University of Lille who studies the army. It has also made the army more popular, with an approval rating of between 80 and 90 percent, he says.
But in another change from the past, the French expect that a decision to use the military will be based on clear moral criteria, Mr. Jakubowski said. And the French take some pride in playing a leading role from a moral foundation, even if French national interests are also at play, pushing other allies to act.
Mr. Jakubowski cited an interview in Le Figaro on Jan. 3 with the American neoconservative historian Robert Kagan, whose study of American and European attitudes toward the use of force, comparing America to Mars and Europe to Venus, was much caricatured but highly influential.
In the interview, and later to me, Mr. Kagan praised the French for their willingness to use force in the pursuit of legitimate goals, even if they may not always have sufficient means to accomplish them. “Nobody asks France to be at the forefront of military interventions, but the willingness of the French to take the initiative is positive,” he said. “I have a new philosophy: If the French are ready to go, we should go.”
But the French also understand that their military limitations are real, and they are far better off acting with others, even if not always with Washington. Paris has been a constant prod to other European countries, and to the European Union itself, to develop better military capacities.
“We think it is absolutely necessary for other European countries to do what we do,” Mr. Levitte said. “Otherwise there will be a kind of strategic irrelevance of Europe as a whole.” It should be obvious, he said, that the United States has other priorities and is concentrating on Asia, and need not act everywhere. “So if we are both independent and true allies of the United States we should be in a position to act when need be.”
Steven Erlanger is the Paris bureau chief of The New York Times.
Jihadists’ Surge in North Africa Reveals Grim Side of Arab Spring.
Published, The New York Times on-line: January 19, 2013
WASHINGTON — As the uprising closed in around him, the Libyan dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi warned that if he fell, chaos and holy war would overtake North Africa. “Bin Laden’s people would come to impose ransoms by land and sea,” he told reporters. “We will go back to the time of Redbeard, of pirates, of Ottomans imposing ransoms on boats.”
Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2009. His warnings before his 2011 ouster and death sounded melodramatic, but proved prescient as the area has become easier for jihadists to operate in.
In recent days, that unhinged prophecy has acquired a grim new currency. In Mali, French paratroopers arrived this month to battle an advancing force of jihadi fighters who already control an area twice the size of Germany. In Algeria, a one-eyed Islamist bandit organized the brazen takeover of an international gas facility, taking hostages that included more than 40 Americans and Europeans.
Coming just four months after an American ambassador was killed by jihadists in Libya, those assaults have contributed to a sense that North Africa — long a dormant backwater for Al Qaeda — is turning into another zone of dangerous instability, much like Syria, site of an increasingly bloody civil war. The mayhem in this vast desert region has many roots, but it is also a sobering reminder that the euphoric toppling of dictators in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt has come at a price.
“It’s one of the darker sides of the Arab uprisings,” said Robert Malley, the Middle East and North Africa director at the International Crisis Group. “Their peaceful nature may have damaged Al Qaeda and its allies ideologically, but logistically, in terms of the new porousness of borders, the expansion of ungoverned areas, the proliferation of weapons, the disorganization of police and security services in all these countries — it’s been a real boon to jihadists.”
The crisis in Mali is not likely to end soon, with the militants ensconcing themselves among local people and digging fortifications. It could also test the fragile new governments of Libya and its neighbors, in a region where any Western military intervention arouses bitter colonial memories and provides a rallying cry for Islamists.
And it comes as world powers struggle with civil war in Syria, where another Arab autocrat is warning about the furies that could be unleashed if he falls.
Even as Obama administration officials vowed to hunt down the hostage-takers in Algeria, they faced the added challenge of a dauntingly complex jihadist landscape across North Africa that belies the easy label of “Al Qaeda,” with multiple factions operating among overlapping ethnic groups, clans and criminal networks.
Efforts to identify and punish those responsible for the attack in Benghazi, Libya, where Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed in September, have bogged down amid similar confusion. The independent review panel investigating the Benghazi attack faulted American spy agencies as failing to understand the region’s “many militias, which are constantly dissolving, splitting apart and reforming.”
Although there have been hints of cross-border alliances among the militants, such links appear to be fleeting. And their targets are often those of opportunity, as they appear to have been in Benghazi and at the gas facility in Algeria.
In the longer term, the Obama administration and many analysts are divided about what kind of threat the explosion of Islamist militancy across North Africa poses to the United States. Some have called for a more active American role, noting that the hostage-taking in Algeria demonstrates how hard it can be to avoid entanglement.
Others warn against too muscular a response. “It puts a transnational framework on top of what is fundamentally a set of local concerns, and we risk making ourselves more of an enemy than we would otherwise be,” said Paul R. Pillar of Georgetown University, a former C.I.A. analyst.
In a sense, both the hostage crisis in Algeria and the battle raging in Mali are consequences of the fall of Colonel Qaddafi in 2011. Like other strongmen in the region, Colonel Qaddafi had mostly kept in check his country’s various ethnic and tribal factions, either by brutally suppressing them or by co-opting them to fight for his government. He acted as a lid, keeping volatile elements repressed. Once that lid was removed, and the borders that had been enforced by powerful governments became more porous, there was greater freedom for various groups — whether rebels, jihadists or criminals — to join up and make common cause.
In Mali, for instance, there are the Tuaregs, a nomadic people ethnically distinct both from Arabs, who make up the nations to the north, and the Africans who inhabit southern Mali and control the national government. They fought for Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, then streamed back across the border after his fall, banding together with Islamist groups to form a far more formidable fighting force. They brought with them heavy weapons and a new determination to overthrow the Malian government, which they had battled off and on for decades in a largely secular struggle for greater autonomy.
Even the Algeria gas field attack — which took place near the Libyan border, and may have involved Libyan fighters — reflects the chaos that has prevailed in Libya for the past two years.
Yet Colonel Qaddafi’s fall was only the tipping point, some analysts say, in a region where chaos has been on the rise for years, and men who fight under the banner of jihad have built up enormous reserves of cash through smuggling and other criminal activities. If the rhetoric of the Islamic militants now fighting across North Africa is about holy war, the reality is often closer to a battle among competing gangsters in a region where government authority has long been paper-thin.
Among those figures, two names stand out: Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the warlord who led the attack on the Algerian gas field, and Abdelhamid Abu Zeid, a leader of Al Qaeda’s North African branch.
“The driving force behind jihadism in the Sahara region is the competition between Abu Zeid and Belmokhtar,” said Jean-Pierre Filiu, a Middle East analyst at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris.
Mr. Belmokhtar has generated millions of dollars for the Qaeda group through the kidnapping of Westerners and the smuggling of tobacco, which earned him one of his nicknames, “Mr. Marlboro.” But Mr. Belmokhtar bridles under authority, and last year his rival forced him out of the organization, Mr. Filiu said.
“Belmokhtar has now retaliated by organizing the Algeria gas field attack, and it is a kind of masterstroke — he has proved his ability,” Mr. Filiu said.
Both men are from Algeria, a breeding ground of Islamic extremism. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, as the regional branch is known, originated with Algerian Islamists who fought against their government during the bloody civil conflict of the 1990s in that country.
Algeria’s authoritarian government is now seen as a crucial intermediary by France and other Western countries in dealing with Islamist militants in North Africa. But the Algerians have shown reluctance to become too involved in a broad military campaign that could be very risky for them. International action against the Islamist takeover in northern Mali could push the militants back into southern Algeria, where they started. That would undo years of bloody struggle by Algeria’s military forces, which largely succeeded in pushing the jihadists outside their borders.
The Algerians also have little patience with what they see as Western naïveté about the Arab spring, analysts say.
“Their attitude was, ‘Please don’t intervene in Libya or you will create another Iraq on our border,’ ” said Geoff D. Porter, an Algeria expert and founder of North Africa Risk Consulting, which advises investors in the region. “And then, ‘Please don’t intervene in Mali or you will create a mess on our other border.’ But they were dismissed as nervous Nellies, and now Algeria says to the West: ‘Goddamn it, we told you so.’ ”
Although French military forces are now fighting alongside the Malian Army, plans to retake the lawless zone of northern Mali have for the past year largely focused on training an African fighting force, and trying to peel off some of the more amenable elements among the insurgents with negotiations.
Some in Mali and the West had invested hopes in Iyad Ag Ghali, a Tuareg who leads Ansar Dine, or Defenders of the Faith, one of the main Islamist groups. Mr. Ghali, who is said to be opportunistic, was an ideological link between the hard-line Islamists of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the more secular nationalist Tuareg group, known as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.
But so far negotiations have led nowhere, leaving the Malian authorities and their Western interlocutors with little to fall back on besides armed force.
David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting from Cairo, and Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt from Washington.
Up to 800.000 darker skin people are today slaves in Mauritania – a country of 3.5 million. Mauritania was now elected to Vice Presidency of the UN Human Rights Council – the official warden of the Declaration of Human Rights. A Medal of Shame to the voting Africans at the UN!
Revolution is female: the uprising of women in the Arab world
Sara Abbas 2 December 2012
The Arabic word for revolution, thawra, has a female gender. So does the word ’huriya (freedom), and so does the word intifada (uprising). Sara Abbas talks to the social media revolutionaries behind The Uprising of Women in the Arab World, a facebook group that is taking patriarchy head-on.
Yalda Younes, Diala Haidar, Farah Barqawi and Sally Zohney are four friends who are united in mission though separated by geography. Yalda (34) is a dancer and one of the founders of Lebanon’s Laïque Pride march. She lives in Paris. A fellow Lebanese, Diala (28), is a physicist by training and an activist by inclination. She resides in Beirut, along with Farah (27), a Palestinian relief worker with an avid interest in writing and the theatre. Sally (27) is a UN worker and rights campaigner who uses storytelling to challenge patriarchal ideas about women. She lives in her hometown of Cairo.
Like many others, the young women were captivated by the uprisings that swept the Middle East and North Africa last year. The moment was a poignant one for Arab feminists. Though few outside the Arab world know it, women’s radicalism in the region has long and deep roots that span more than a century. As the uprisings unfolded across the region, this legacy was there for all to see. Women stood not only in defiance of brutal dictatorships, but also cultural norms that many times encouraged, and in some cases enforced, women’s exclusion from the public sphere.
Yet, the euphoria following Mubarak’s fall had barely subsided when disturbing reports began to surface. In Egypt, women who had gathered in Tahrir square to commemorate the first international women’s day following the revolution, were, as Hania Sholkamy has reported “attacked, harassed, ridiculed, shouted down and ultimately chased out of the square.” In the months that followed, women protestors would be arrested and subjected to virginity tests, intimidation, and trial by military tribunals. In Tunisia, the future of the country’s famously progressive laws that safeguarded women’s rights was suddenly uncertain. As Deniz Kandiyoti wrote in June, questions on the prospects for gender justice post the Arab-Spring uprisings “are receiving increasingly disquieting answers.”
In Paris, Yalda Younes decided enough was enough. Conscious that social media had played a critical role as a mobilizing tool in the uprisings, she decided to utilize it in support of Arab women’s struggles for equal rights. The goal of the Facebook page was not to simply raise awareness; it was also to create a platform for solidarity with women activists, who may have felt isolated in their individual struggles all over the region. In October of 2011, she launched the “Uprising of Women in the Arab World” on Facebook. One year later, in October 2012, Yalda and her collaborators, Farah, Diala and Sally, launched a campaign to commemorate the page’s one-year anniversary, and to draw attention to the issues at its heart.
The premise was simple: post a picture of yourself that starts with the phrase, “I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because…”, then fill in the blanks. The photos began trickling in. Soon, the site was inundated. The page’s membership grew exponentially – from approximately 20,000 at the beginning of the campaign, to close to 80,000 today. Women and men, young and old, from Morocco to Syria and everywhere in between, posted photos of themselves holding banners. Some used the banners to cover their faces. Others showed them proudly. Others still revealed only their eyes.
Despite the positive reaction to the campaign, it has not been free from controversy, much of which has centered on a young woman called Dana Bakdounis. The one time veiled-Dana posted a photo of herself holding a banner that read: “I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because for 20 years, I was not allowed to feel the wind in my hair and on my body.” The photograph generated an intense reaction and hundreds of comments, some supportive, others outraged. Shortly after my interview with the campaign’s organizers, Facebook removed the photo, citing a number of complaints it received that the photo was “offensive”.
The organizers have fought back against what they perceived as censorship, and have pressed on with their photo campaign. They have also since experimented with various means of communication, including street graffiti and a “Tell your Story” campaign launched on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I spoke to the four organizers about movement-building in the Arab world, the challenges facing women’s rights in the region, and why they feel social media can be a dynamic force for change in Arab society.
How did you meet and decide to collaborate?
Yalda: We met through Facebook. I added a lot of friends as administrators to the page, and by coincidence those friends recommended Diala.
Farah: Both Diala and Yalda worked alone until February . Then Diala talked to me about it, and I brought Sally in soon after. Sally and I had studied together at Cairo University.
Though the page has been there for more than a year, it really “exploded” in October. Why?
Farah: In February  we had around 3,000 members. Around 1st October, 20,000. The first reason for this is our diversity. When the team grew, there was a better grasp of the events happening in the Arab world. Each of us brought her own dimension and her own interests, and that made it more interesting to people. The second reason was the things that had happened mainly in Egypt and Tunisia after the revolution…We noticed that even revolutionary guys, who saw women fighting beside them, well, after they reaped the success (or semi-success) of the revolution, they tried to marginalize the women. They said “Thank you. You can go back to your ‘normal’ life now. We’ll take over from here. Stay at home, and don’t go to the streets after 8pm”. And then the Samira Ibrahim trial began against the army officers. It was the kind of news that made every Arab woman angry…this made the page grow, because we made it clear that we do not, and cannot forget.
Diala: Part of the page’s success was also due to the fact that we dared to tackle controversial topics related to women’s status that are known to be as a taboo in the region. We questioned all the stone written social and religious doctrines. This raised the number of our supporters, because people are yearning to have those forbidden debates openly.
Yalda: The greatest inspiration for the page were women of the Arab Spring, like Samira Ibrahim, like Fadwa Suleiman, Tawakkul Karman, Manal Al-Sharif, Zainab Al-Khawaja. Also, we do it for the Moroccan girl, Amina El-Filali who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist. We wanted to honor these women and to give them the place that they deserve, because they were not honored enough in the revolution. But also to show that they can be an inspiration to us.
Why did you decide to launch a social media network, as opposed to an NGO, or some other mechanism?
Yalda: The initial idea was inspired by the unprecedented solidarity the Arab Spring created created among Arab citizens…What I’m interested in is the networking with people, and what these new social media technologies offer us. I don’t really have a lot of faith unfortunately in NGOs, nor in political organizations. I’m interested in how you can create something with somebody you didn’t know, without money. This is what the Lebanese Laïque Pride is about, we’ve done it for three years in a row now without money, even though people have proposed to fund it. Having no money demands commitment and real engagement… In the long term what is needed in the Arab world and in the world more broadly is more activism, but more activism of the “personality”. You can be part of a political group or an NGO but be passive. It’s more interesting to have nothing in exchange and to do it as a duty. Social media gives us that opportunity- to connect on something where we have the same views but without ego, because [the medium] is more anonymous than mainstream politics.
Do you agree with Mona Eltahawy that “they hate us”?
Farah. No, I don’t agree. I don’t think men hate us per se. I think they just don’t understand us, or historically were not allowed to understand us. Maybe it’s to do with the education system in the Arab world; we are taught to memorize things. And what you memorize from watching [others] everyday, is what you do, and what you copy until your daughters and sons do it all over again.
Diala: First I want to state my respect and appreciation to Mona Eltahawy’s approach and activism, though I don’t agree with everything she mentioned in her article. It is true that many men do hate women, but misogyny is a widespread phenomenon that is not limited to Arab societies. It’s not bound to a culture or a religion, but is rather more complicated than that because women’s denigration is multi-layered. But we have to admit to ourselves that woman-hating is widely spread in our societies where it is coupled with a feeling of shame and disgrace towards women. One of the Yemeni women who participated in our campaign for instance used her full name in an act of rebellion, just to oppose her brother, who is ashamed of saying her name, or his mother’s, in public. When we think of a woman as a “hurma” (that is something not to be seen or violated) it means that we are objectifying and thus dehumanizing her. This is where all the hate starts.
Yalda: There are no “they” and “us”. The campaign proves that there are many men in solidarity with us and that some women are patriarchal also.
Why did you pick the word intifada rather than thawra (revolution)?
Yalda: The reason I used it is because the word intifada [alludes to] being “fed up.” There’s a boiling pan, and it’s pouring over. And with the word revolution, the question is, against whom? Our fathers? The other reason for using intifada is that it is more political. Usually, the excuse we hear when we ask for women’s rights is that we have priorities. It’s not time to talk about this; we have a country to liberate or to build or whatever. The personal liberties are put aside. So I think it was interesting to reappropriate this word and make it more human. The banner of a woman who posted from Palestine says it well. She wrote, I am with the women’s uprising because my country is under occupation, but all some men care about it is whistling at me when I pass them in the street.
An impressive number of men have joined your campaign, including men from Saudi Arabia and other countries that, going by stereotypes, we would not expect to be particularly supportive of women’s rights.
Elias from LebanonSally: My personal experience in the revolution has taught me that for a long time, men in our societies underestimated the strength of women, and saw them at times as something to be protected and put behind closed doors… It’s overwhelming how real this issue [of men’s solidarity] is. It’s not just the two or three friends we know, or the network we personally have. It’s men, as you said, from countries like Saudi Arabia where we didn’t expect support. The point of our page is not to address women specifically and say that women are victims, rather that we have to challenge each other and keep pushing the barriers placed on us by our societies, both as women and as men.
The pioneers of social media activism in the Arab world, such as Kulina Khaled Said (We are all Khaled Said), always had a dynamic relationship with the street. The two fed off each other. Do you see this site as moving from the virtual space to the streets? And is that even a goal?
Sally: The campaign is more than online. It is strong in challenging preconceptions and stereotypes. It’s interesting that a veiled woman who posts her photo gets a lot of reaction from people prejudiced against her, who then comment and say: can’t you see from your picture that you’re not free? Your clothing proves it. The woman responds, defends herself, and so on. There’s a constructive conversation.
Yalda: Extremists visit the page a lot to spread religion, or to say, “be careful, this page is western”, using the excuse that a woman has nail polish on, or whatever totally ridiculous thing they can think of. What’s interesting is that the page is allowing people from different horizons and opposite views to talk, people who would never have this discussion in the street because they just wouldn’t meet, or because they wouldn’t dare to, or because [the woman] would be in danger of being physically aggressed. This is a safe and secular place to have these conversations, and the conversations are long. It’s not a virtual thing. Having a dialogue can be very difficult and it is very much needed.
You called on people to show their faces when they post. Why?
Diala: We’re just trying to push the limits. We know that this is a sensitive issue that can be life threatening in some countries. But change comes with a risk. If we want to start an uprising, we first have to have the courage to uncover our identities. This is where everything begins after the fear barrier falls apart…
There is much anxiety about women’s rights in the transitions that have followed the uprisings, particularly when it comes to Egypt.
Sally: State violence against female revolutionaries started in the 1960s, but it did not get a lot of attention… after SCAF (the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces) took power on 11 February , this policy, as a tactic, became clear. The officers would tell women: you are bitches, you are prostitutes, we are going to do x and y to you because you’re not respectable. (I’m not sure because they were taught so, or whether they actually believe it.) In terms of the virginity tests, most of the girls that were picked up on March 9th  were from outside Cairo. They came from conservative backgrounds…So when one of them is put behind bars or subjected to a [virginity] test, either she won’t be able to tell her family, because she won’t get support, or she will speak up like Samira [Ibrahim], but face all those people that will accuse her of having lost her honor, and that will try to make a liar out of her. No one in the media wanted to speak about Samira’s case; I personally approached all those that I knew, and they told me it was a red line. This shows the dominance of this mentality, which plays on women’s honor, and that looks to shame women into silence…. After SCAF left and the Muslim Brotherhood took over, the game became to play on the theory of values and religion, that women shouldn’t be in certain places. Salafism is widespread, and the Islamic current in general is strong. The media is also centralized. You see these issues in the constitution-writing process now taking place…In the draft we’ve seen so far, article 36 says that we will rely on Sharia laws when it comes to women’s rights. Which interpretation of Sharia is being used is not clear. This is the only article in the entire constitution that mentions the principles of Sharia. The entire constitutional committee, which is mostly from the Brotherhood, supports the article, save for 10 members. The committee has said that we will negotiate on anything in the constitution save this article.
President Mohammed Morsi has announced that a referendum on the draft constitution will be held on 15th December……
Eurozone jobless rate climbs to record 11.7%: EU
German parliament approves aid for Greece
Brazil grew a paltry 0.6 percent in third quarter
Japan Industrial Output Rises 1.8% In October
Kuwaiti Voters Head to Polls to Elect National Assembly Members Over 400,000 Kuwaiti voters headed to the polls early Saturday in the country’s five constituencies to choose 50 National Assembly …
Axel Michaelova has opened in Zurich Perspectives GmbH that will advocate the Arab OPEC (OAPEC or AOPEC) take a more positive position to UNFCCC at the COP 18 meeting on home court at Doha, Qatar, November 26 – December 7, 2012. The UN has moved THE WORLD ENERGY FORUM to Dubai in October 2012.
This is the first article that reaches us from PERSPECTIVES GmbH, Zurich, and it seems intended to save UNFCCC in the Post-Rio atmosphere when we see the UN reach out to novel ways of dealing with CO2 emissions. These new attempts do not call for decisions by consensus that were easily defeated by a feisty Saudi representative.
The simple fact that future generations of Saudis could benefit from a Saudi cooperation with those that tried to decrease the Global use of oil by inserting an oil use decrease for the common good, was anathema to the present robbers of the Saudi National resource – also to the corporations in the US and elsewhere that do business with them.
Will a budding middle class change the Gulf States as it is changing the Financial BRICs? Will there be young Princes that are ready to join global progressive thinking and be patriotic at the same time? If so, Perspectives might become the greatest Madison Avenue PR company, and it is good they put their office in Zurich.
The Changing Role of the Gulf OPEC States in the UNFCCC – new paper in Climate Policy Perspectives series -
in the run-up to COP 18 in Doha, Axel Michaelowa and Mari Luomi put a spotlight on climate policy of the Gulf states: Given surging domestic energy consumption that is increasingly threatening oil and gas export revenues, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are initiating multiple experiments to improve energy efficiency and introduce renewable energy.
Cautious signals of a more constructive engagement of the Gulf Cooperation Council states in the international climate policy regime are emerging.
The resulting opportunities for constructive and innovative dialogues should not be wasted.
Climate diplomacy should try to strengthen the position of those groups that support new domestic energy policies. Technical support for Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) pilot projects by the EU and other progressive countries in the climate regime could serve as a catalyst for creating sustained synergies between new energy and climate policies in the Gulf region.
World Energy Forum 2012
The World Energy Forum, which is being held for the first time outside UN Headquarters in New York, seeks to bring together world leaders, international organizations, financial institutions and other stakeholders to discuss progress towards cleaner, safer and more sustainable energy as well as how to achieve universal access to modern energy services. As 2012 has been designated as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, one of the main objectives of the Forum is to chart a roadmap for a sustainable energy mix that can fuel global economic and social development.
dates: 22-24 October 2012 location: Dubai (Dubai), United Arab Emirates contact: World Energy Forum Administration
Indonesia’s Lessons for the Middle East and North Africa and other Emerging Democracies.
September 28, 2012
CREDIT: CIA – The World Factbook
This paper was first published by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada and is posted by The New York based Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs.
Please go to the link -
As Jeremic (Former Foreign Minister of Serbia) Talks Sovereignty, What of Egypt and Kosovo, Budget from Serbia?
By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, October 3 — The UN seems to make even articulate people bland, and to turn everything into buzzwords and cliches. So it seemed at Vuk Jeremic’s first press conference as President of the UN General Assembly.
His deputy spokesman chose only five question — by the end of which, the obvious word “Kosovo” had not once been said.
Only on the seventh and last pre-drinks questions was the word broached. Jeremic answered indirectly, saying that just as he fought “for five and a half years” as Serbian foreign minister for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia, now he would fight for those things for the whole world. Is that a message to the proponents of Azawad in Northern Mali? Inner City Press has covered Mali’s on-again, then off-again recognition of Kosovo.
More pertinently, is it true as buzzed at the UN that the “new” Egypt may move to recognize Kosovo? What if anything could a PGA (President of the UN General Asembly) try to do?
Inner City Press covered — and called — Jeremic’s election as General Assembly President, and when the media in Serbia contacted it for stories about Jeremic’s budget, Inner City Press also asked Jeremic’s predecessor how much Qatar had spent (this was never answered).
But now one wants to know if it is true that the request to and contribution of Serbia is down to $1.5 million, and what will be the actual budgets of the office.
Wednesday these questions were not taken, nor more generic ones about mediation and the G-20. Team Jeremic offered drinks and cheese cubes to the correspondents, but that time might have been better spent on answering these questions. Perhaps in the future they will be answered.
UN Statement Calls for Restraint From Turkey and Syria, SC Prez Tells ICP
By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, October 4 — On the UN Security Council’s press statement on Akcakale in Turkey, what changed in the 22 hours between the silence procedure being broken by Russia and the statement’s read-out by Council President Gert Rosenthal on Thursday evening?
Mostly the inserting of nine final words: “The members of the Security Council called for restraint.”
Inner City Press asked Ambassador Rosenthal, once he had read out the statement, whether it would be fair to read this as a call for restraint by Turkey as well, or just Syria.
“Both,” Rosenthal said. He confirmed that a separate draft press statement on bombings in Aleppo is under the Council’s “silence procedure” until 10 am on Friday. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the press that one Council member had extended silence until then. But would it be further extended?
There were a few other minor changes from the initial Azerbaijani (or “Ottoman”) draft and the one agreed to: the first draft expressed condolences first to the Government of Turkey then to the families of the victims; this was reversed in the final statement. Also a reference to “international peace and security” was removed.
Some drew a link from the negotiations to an upcoming visit to Turkey by Russian president Putin on October 14. Others speculated about some other deal being reached.
In the run-up to the passing, a well placed diplomat told Inner City Press of passing the press statement, “If they can do it to keep Turkey quiet, good.” But will it?
As France Spins 2-Step on Mali, ECOWAS Frustration, What of Algeria and Chad?
By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, October 4 — When Thursday’s Mali consultations of the UN Security Council broken up near 5 pm, French Ambassador Gerard Araud emerged and confirmed that France would circulate a draft resolution shortly (in a day or two) but NOT yet to deploy ECOWAS forces.
Why the delay? Araud twice said, we’ve been waiting for some time for details from ECOWAS. He said the resolution might specify, deliver the delays in 30 days or as soon as possible.
Inner City Press asked Araud, what about Mali neighbors which are not members of ECOWAS, like Mauritania and Algeria?
Araud replied that any and all countries are invited to be involved. He mentioned the European Union, then circled back to Chad.
But again, what about Algeria? The country has long opposed interventions, especially involving former colonialism France. While pretending not to take the lead or play any special role on Mali, it was Araud who came to the stakeout; it is France which is drafting.
Then again, MUJAO in Northern Mali last month executed an Algerian diplomat. Araud said that there is unanimity in the Council on Mali, and afterward Cote d’Ivoire Ambassador Bamba, who was not allowed in the meeting, emphasized to the press that at the Sahel meeting at the UN during General Debate week, there was a strong political demand a resolution authorizing force.
But what about the neighbors, which are not members of ECOWAS?
At UN, Syria Praises Jeremic as Heavyweight, Critiqus Qatari Ex-PGA
By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, October 4 — Syria UN Ambassador Bashir Ja’afari had many duels with Qatar’s Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser while the latter was President of the General Assembly, culminating in UN Television being turned off when Ja’afari spoke.
On October 4, on UNTV, Inner City Press asked Ja’afari about new PGA Vuk Jeremic and about Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser. Video here, from Minute 14:09.
Ja’afari lashed out at Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, and praised Jeremic as a “heavyweight.” Later it was noted that Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser repeatedly offered UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a private jet to travel for free.
Ban has since named Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser as High Representative on the Alliance of Civilizations.
By contrast, Ja’afari told Inner City Press:
“I think the former PGA harmed his personal reputation, the credibility of his country’s policy and the United Nations by misusing his mandate and the very important podium of the General Assembly. I think that he tried to use the national agenda of his country and to dictate this national agenda on the Member States as a whole…
“You may remember the procedural and political mistakes he made towards the point of view of my country as well as toward myself. In these wrongdoing, procedural and political, he crossed the line. He wasn’t diplomat. He didn’t act responsibly.
“In one of these meetings, the former PGA stopped the translation one time, and stopped recording the session, for the first time since 1945. He on many occasion manipulated the rules and procedure of the session and meetings of the General Assembly.
“The new PGA will be by all means different in his approach, his analysis, from former PGA. He is a real heavyweight, a trouble shooter, a professional diplomat… I guess that he will not fall in the same trap in which the former PGA had fallen.
My minister met with the new PGA and they discussed the best ways to help Syria, Government and people, to achieve national dialogue and to implement the Kofi Annan Six Point Plan as well as other instruments adopted by consensus with regard the Syrian crisis. We look forward to working with him very closely.”
Wole Soyinka tells it as it is – at the UN before the opening of the 67 Session of the General Assembly – RELIGION AGAINST HUMANITY. A Nobel Prize Winner for literature – on a UNESCO Panel on the Culture of Peace.
Intervention by Wole Soyinka, Member of UNESCO’s International High Panel, at the 2012 Conference on the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence, United Nations Hdqrs, New York, Sept. 21 2012
RELIGION AGAINST HUMANITY.
To such a degree has Religion fueled conflict, complicated politics, retarded social development and impaired human relations across the world, that one is often tempted to propose that Religion is innately an enemy of Humanity, if not indeed of itself a crime against Humanity. Certainly it cannot be denied that Religion has proved again and again a spur, a motivator, and a justification for the commission of some of the most horrifying crimes against humanity, despite its fervent affirmations of peace. Let us however steer away from hyperbolic propositions and simply settle for this moderating moral imperative: that it is time that the world adopt a position that refuses to countenance Religion as an acceptable justification for, excuse or extenuation of – crimes against humanity.
While it should be mandatory that states justify their place as members of a world community by educating their citizens on the entitlement of religion to a place within society, and the obligations of mutual acceptance and respect, it should be deemed unacceptable that the world is held to ransom for the uneducated conduct of a few, and placed in a condition of fear, apprehension, leading to a culture of appeasement. There are critical issues of human well-being and survival that deserve the undivided attention of leaders all over the world. Let us recall that it is not anti-islamists who have lately desecrated and destroyed – and with such fiendish self-righteousness – the tombs of Moslem saints in Timbuktoo, most notoriously the mausoleum of the Imam Moussa al-Khadin, declared a world heritage under the protection of UNESCO and accorded pride of place in African patrimony . The orientation – backed by declarations – of these violators leaves us with a foreboding that the invaluable library treasures of Timbuktoo may be next.
The truth, alas, is that the science fiction archetype of the mad scientist who craves to dominate the world has been replaced by the mad cleric who can only conceive of the world in his own image, proudly flaunting Bond’s Double-0-7 credentials – Licensed to Kill. The sooner national leaders and genuine religious leaders understand this, and admit that no nation has any lack of its own dangerous loonies, be they known as Ansar-Dine of Mali, or Terry Jones of Florida, the earlier they will turn their attention to real issues truly deserving human priority. These cited clerics and their ilk are descendants of the ancient line of iconoclasts of Islamic, christian and other religious moulds who have destroyed the antecedent spirituality and divine emblems of the African peoples over centuries. Adherents of those African religions, who remain passionately attached to their beliefs, all the way across the Atlantic – in Brazil and across other parts of Latin America – have not taken to wreaking vengeance on their presumed violators in far off lands.
These emulators are still at work on the continent, most devastatingly in Somalia, with my own nation Nigeria catching up with mind-boggling rapidity and intensity. Places of worship are primary targets, followed by institutes of education. Innocent humanity, eking out their miserable livelihood, are being blown to pieces, presumably to relieve them of their misery. Schools and school pupils are assailed in religion fueled orgies, measured, deliberate and deadly. The hands of the clock of progress and social development have been arrested, then reversed in widening swathes of the Nigerian landscape. As if the resources of the nation were not already stretched to breaking point, they must now also be diverted to anticipating the consequences – as in numerous nations around the world – that would predictably follow the cinematic obscenities of a new entrant into the ranks of religious denigrators, who turns out – irony of ironies – to have originated from the African continent.
In sensible families, while every possible effort is made to smooth the passage of children through life, children are taught to understand that life is not a seamless robe of many splendours, but prone to the possibility of being besmirched by the unexpected, and unpredictable. A solid core of confidence in one’s moral and spiritual choices is thus sufficient to withstand external assaults from sudden and hostile forces. That principle of personality development is every bit as essential as the education that inculcates respect for the belief systems and practices of others. The most intense ethical education, including severe social sanctions, has not eradicated material corruption, exploitation, child defilement and murders in society, not even deterrents such as capital punishment. How then can anyone presume that there shall be no violations of the ideal state of religious tolerance to which we all aspire, or demand that the world stand still, cover its head in sackcloth and ashes, grovel in self-abasement or else prepare itself for earthly pestilence for failure to anticipate the occasional penetration of their self ascribed carapace of inviolability.
It is time to demand a sense of proportion, and realism. Communication advance has made it possible for both good and evil to transcend boundaries virtually at the speed of light, and for the spores of hatred to travel just as fast, and as widely as the seeds of harmony. The world should not continue to acquiesce in the brutal culture of extremism that demands the impossible – control of the conduct of millions in their individual spheres, under different laws, usages, cultures and indeed – degrees of sanity.
What gives hope is the very special capacity of man for dialogue, and that arbiter is foreclosed, or endures interminable postponements as long as one side arrogates to itself the right to respond to a pebble thrown by an infantile hand in Papua New Guinea with attempts to demolish the Rock of Gibraltar. I use the word ‘infantile’ deliberately, because these alleged insults to religion are no different from the infantile scribble we encounter in public toilets, the product of infantilism and retarded development. We have learnt to ignore, and walk away from them. They should not be answered by equally infantile responses that are however incendiary and homicidal in dimension, and largely directed against the innocent, since the originating hand is usually, in any case, beyond reach. With the remorseless march of technology, we shall all be caught in a spiral of reprisals, tailored to wound, to draw virtual blood. The other side responds with real blood and gore, also clotting up the path to rational discourse. What we are witnesses to in recent times is that such proceeding is being accorded legitimacy on the grounds of religious sensibility. It is pathetic to demand what cannot be guaranteed. It is futile to attempt to rein in technology: the solution is to use that very technology to correct noxious conceptions in the minds of the perpetrators of abuse, and educate the ignorant.
I speak as one from a nation whose normal diet of economic disparity, corruption, marginalization, ethnic and political cleavages has been further compounded by the ascendancy of religious jingoism. It is a lamentable retrogression from the nearly forgotten state of harmonious coexistence that I lived and enjoyed as a child. One takes consolation in the fact that some of us did not wait to sound warnings until the plague of religious extremism entered our borders. Our concerns began and were articulated as a concern for others, still at remote distances. Now that the largest black habitation on the globe has joined the club of religious terror under the portentous name, Boko Haram – which means ‘The Book is Taboo’ - we can morally demand help from others, but we only find them drowning in the rhetoric and rites of anger and/or contrition. Today it is the heritage and humanity of Timbuktoo. And tomorrow? The African continent must take back Mali – not later but – right now. The cost of further delay will be incalculable, and devastating.
The spiral of reprisals now appears to have been launched, what with the recent news that a French editor has also entered the lists with a fresh album of offensive cartoons. To break that spiral, there must be dialogue of frank, mature minds. Instant, comprehensive solutions do not exist, only the arduous, painstaking path of dialogue, whose multi-textured demands are not beyond the innovative, as opposed to the emotive capacity, of cultured societies. So let that moving feast of regional dialogues – which was inaugurated by former President Khatami of Iran in these very chambers – be reinforced, emboldened, and even-handed. The destination should be a moratorium, but for this to be strong and enduring, it must be voluntary, based on a will to understanding and mental re-orientation, not on menace, self-righteous indictments and destructive emotionalism. Perhaps we may yet rescue Religion from its ultimate indictment: conscription into the ranks of provable enemies of Humanity.
Sept. 21, 2012, United Nations Hdqrs, New York.
WOKE SOYINKA was awarded the The Nobel Prize in Literature 1986.
From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1986, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1987:
Wole Soyinka was born on 13 July 1934 at Abeokuta, near Ibadan in western Nigeria. After preparatory university studies in 1954 at Government College in Ibadan, he continued at the University of Leeds, where, later, in 1973, he took his doctorate. During the six years spent in England, he was a dramaturgist at the Royal Court Theatre in London 1958-1959. In 1960, he was awarded a Rockefeller bursary and returned to Nigeria to study African drama. At the same time, he taught drama and literature at various universities in Ibadan, Lagos, and Ife, where, since 1975, he has been professor of comparative literature. In 1960, he founded the theatre group, “The 1960 Masks” and in 1964, the “Orisun Theatre Company”, in which he has produced his own plays and taken part as actor. He has periodically been visiting professor at the universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, and Yale.
During the civil war in Nigeria, Soyinka appealed in an article for cease-fire. For this he was arrested in 1967, accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels, and was held as a political prisoner for 22 months until 1969. Soyinka has published about 20 works: drama, novels and poetry. He writes in English and his literary language is marked by great scope and richness of words.
As dramatist, Soyinka has been influenced by, among others, the Irish writer, J.M. Synge, but links up with the traditional popular African theatre with its combination of dance, music, and action. He bases his writing on the mythology of his own tribe-the Yoruba-with Ogun, the god of iron and war, at the centre. He wrote his first plays during his time in London, The Swamp Dwellers and The Lion and the Jewel (a light comedy), which were performed at Ibadan in 1958 and 1959 and were published in 1963. Later, satirical comedies are The Trial of Brother Jero (performed in 1960, publ. 1963) with its sequel, Jero’s Metamorphosis (performed 1974, publ. 1973), A Dance of the ForestsKongi’s Harvest (performed 1965, publ. 1967) and Madmen and Specialists (performed 1970, publ. 1971). Among Soyinka’s serious philosophic plays are (apart from “The Swamp Dwellers“) The Strong Breed (performed 1966, publ. 1963), The Road ( 1965) and Death and the King’s Horseman (performed 1976, publ. 1975). In The Bacchae of Euripides (1973), he has rewritten the Bacchae for the African stage and in Opera Wonyosi (performed 1977, publ. 1981), bases himself on John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera and Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera. Soyinka’s latest dramatic works are A Play of Giants (1984) and Requiem for a Futurologist (1985).
Soyinka’s poems, which show a close connection to his plays, are collected in Idanre, and Other Poems (1967), Poems from Prison (1969), A Shuttle in the Crypt (1972) the long poem Ogun Abibiman (1976) and Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems (1988).
Soyinka has strongly criticized many Nigerian military dictators, especially late General Sanni Abacha, as well as other political tyrannies, including the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. Much of his writing has been concerned with “the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the colour of the foot that wears it”. During the regime of General Sani Abacha (1993–1998), Soyinka escaped from Nigeria via the “Nadeco Route” on motorcycle. Living abroad, mainly in the United States, he was a professor first at Cornell University and then at Emory University in Atlanta, where in 1996 he was appointed Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts. Abacha proclaimed a death sentence against him “in absentia”. With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, Soyinka returned to his nation. He has also taught at Oxford, Harvard and Yale.
From 1975 to 1999, he was a Professor of Comparative Literature at the Obafemi Awolowo University, then called the University of Ife. With civilian rule restored in 1999, he was made professor emeritus. Soyinka has been a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In the fall of 2007 he was appointed Professor in Residence at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, US.
A New York Times Op-Ed Columnist.
Exploiting the Prophet.
Published: September 22, 2012
“PISS CHRIST,” a famous photograph partly financed by taxpayers, depicted a crucifix immersed in what the artist said was his own urine. But conservative Christians did not riot on the Washington Mall.
“The Book of Mormon,” a huge hit on Broadway, mocks the church’s beliefs as hocus-pocus. But Mormons haven’t burned down any theaters.
So why do parts of the Islamic world erupt in violence over insults to the Prophet Muhammad?
Let me try to address that indelicate question, and a related one: Should we curb the freedom to insult religions that are twitchy?
First, a few caveats. For starters, television images can magnify (and empower) crazies. In Libya, the few jihadis who killed Ambassador Chris Stevens were vastly outnumbered by the throngs of Libyan mourners who apologized afterward.
Remember also that it’s not just Muslims who periodically go berserk, but everybody — particularly in societies with large numbers of poorly educated young men. Upheavals are often more about demography than about religion: the best predictor of civil conflict is the share of a population that is aged 15 to 24. In the 19th century, when the United States brimmed with poorly educated young men, Protestants rioted against Catholics.
For much of the postwar period, it was the secular nationalists in the Middle East who were seen as the extremists, while Islam was seen as a calming influence. That’s why Israel helped nurture Hamas in Gaza.
That said, for a self-described “religion of peace,” Islam does claim a lot of lives.
In conservative Muslim countries, sensitivities sometimes seem ludicrous. I once covered a Pakistani college teacher who was imprisoned and threatened with execution for speculating that the Prophet Muhammad’s parents weren’t Muslims. (They couldn’t have been, since Islam began with him.)
I think a few things are going on. The first is that many Muslim countries lack a tradition of free speech, and see ridicule of the prophet as part of a larger narrative of the West’s invading or humiliating the Islamic world. People in these countries sometimes also have an addled view of how the United States handles blasphemy.
A Pakistani imam, Abdul Wahid Qasmi, once told me that President Bill Clinton burned to death scores of Americans for criticizing Jesus. If America can execute blasphemers, he said, why can’t Pakistan?
I challenged him, and he plucked an Urdu-language book off his shelf, thumbed through it, and began reading triumphantly about the 1993 raid on David Koresh’s cult in Waco, Tex.
More broadly, this is less about offensive videos than about a political war unfolding in the Muslim world. Extremist Muslims like Salafis see themselves as unfairly marginalized, and they hope to exploit this issue to embarrass their governments and win public support. This is a political struggle, not just a religious battle — and we’re pawns.
But it would be a mistake to back off and censor our kooks. The freedom to be an imbecile is one of our core values.
In any case, there will always be other insults. As some leading Muslims have noted, Islam has to learn to shrug them off.
“Why should we feel danger from anything?” Nasr Hamid Abu Zyad, one of the Islamic world’s greatest theologians, said before his death in 2010. “Thousands of books are written against Muhammad. Thousands of books are written against Jesus. O.K., all these thousands of books did not destroy the faith.”
A group called Muslims for Progressive Values noted a story in Islamic tradition in which Muhammad was tormented by a woman who put thorns in his path and went so far as to hurl manure at his head as he prayed. Yet Muhammad responded patiently and tolerantly. When she fell sick, he visited her home to wish her well.
For his time, Muhammad was socially progressive, and that’s a thread that reformers want to recapture. Mahmoud Salem, the Egyptian blogger better known as Sandmonkey, wrote that violent protests were “more damaging to Islam’s reputation than a thousand so-called ‘Islam-attacking films.’ ”
He suggested that Egyptians forthrightly condemn Islamic fundamentalists as “a bunch of shrill, patriarchal, misogynistic, violent extremists who are using Islam as a cover for their behavior.”
Are extremists hijacking the Arab Spring? They’re trying to, but this is just the opening chapter in a long drama. Some Eastern European countries, like Romania and Hungary, are still wobbly more than two decades after their democratic revolutions. Maybe the closest parallel to the Arab Spring is the 1998 revolution in Indonesia, where it took years for Islamic extremism to subside.
My bet is that we’ll see more turbulence in the Arab world, but that countries like Egypt and Tunisia and Libya won’t fall over a cliff. A revolution isn’t an event, but a process.
The Independent (UK) – Revealed: inside story of US envoy’s assassination.
by Kim Sengupta – Friday, September 14, 2012
In short – the movie was the excuse, the attack was planned as a reminder to 9/11. The action is all over the Islamic world and the movie harks back to old religious enmities as the alleged movie-maker is a Coptic Christian. This might be seen as a film-short or preview of what the Islamic World has to contend with when lid of the freedom of expression deniers of the dictatorial kind has been removed.
The killings of the US ambassador to Libya and three of his staff were likely to have been the result of a serious and continuing security breach, The Independent can reveal.
American officials believe the attack was planned, but Chris Stevens had been back in the country only a short while and the details of his visit to Benghazi, where he and his staff died, were meant to be confidential.
The US administration is now facing a crisis in Libya. Sensitive documents have gone missing from the consulate in Benghazi and the supposedly secret location of the “safe house” in the city, where the staff had retreated, came under sustained mortar attack. Other such refuges across the country are no longer deemed “safe”.
Some of the missing papers from the consulate are said to list names of Libyans who are working with Americans, putting them potentially at risk from extremist groups, while some of the other documents are said to relate to oil contracts.
According to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and “lockdown”, under which movement is severely restricted.
Mr Stevens had been on a visit to Germany, Austria and Sweden and had just returned to Libya when the Benghazi trip took place with the US embassy’s security staff deciding that the trip could be undertaken safely.
Eight Americans, some from the military, were wounded in the attack which claimed the lives of Mr Stevens, Sean Smith, an information officer, and two US Marines. All staff from Benghazi have now been moved to the capital, Tripoli, and those whose work is deemed to be non-essential may be flown out of Libya.
In the meantime a Marine Corps FAST Anti-Terrorism Reaction Team has already arrived in the country from a base in Spain and other personnel are believed to be on the way. Additional units have been put on standby to move to other states where their presence may be needed in the outbreak of anti-American fury triggered by publicity about a film which demeaned the Prophet Mohamed.
A mob of several hundred stormed the US embassy in the Yemeni capital Sanaa yesterday. Other missions which have been put on special alert include almost all those in the Middle East, as well as in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Armenia, Burundi and Zambia.
Senior officials are increasingly convinced, however, that the ferocious nature of the Benghazi attack, in which rocket-propelled grenades were used, indicated it was not the result of spontaneous anger due to the video, called Innocence of Muslims. Patrick Kennedy, Under-Secretary at the State Department, said he was convinced the assault was planned due to its extensive nature and the proliferation of weapons.
There is growing belief that the attack was in revenge for the killing in a drone strike in Pakistan of Mohammed Hassan Qaed, an al-Qa’ida operative who was, as his nom-de-guerre Abu Yahya al-Libi suggests, from Libya, and timed for the anniversary of the 11 September attacks.
Senator Bill Nelson, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: “I am asking my colleagues on the committee to immediately investigate what role al-Qa’ida or its affiliates may have played in the attack and to take appropriate action.”
According to security sources the consulate had been given a “health check” in preparation for any violence connected to the 9/11 anniversary. In the event, the perimeter was breached within 15 minutes of an angry crowd starting to attack it at around 10pm on Tuesday night. There was, according to witnesses, little defence put up by the 30 or more local guards meant to protect the staff. Ali Fetori, a 59-year-old accountant who lives near by, said: “The security people just all ran away and the people in charge were the young men with guns and bombs.”
Wissam Buhmeid, the commander of the Tripoli government-sanctioned Libya’s Shield Brigade, effectively a police force for Benghazi, maintained that it was anger over the Mohamed video which made the guards abandon their post. “There were definitely people from the security forces who let the attack happen because they were themselves offended by the film; they would absolutely put their loyalty to the Prophet over the consulate. The deaths are all nothing compared to insulting the Prophet.”
Mr Stevens, it is believed, was left in the building by the rest of the staff after they failed to find him in dense smoke caused by a blaze which had engulfed the building. He was discovered lying unconscious by local people and taken to a hospital, the Benghazi Medical Centre, where, according to a doctor, Ziad Abu Ziad, he died from smoke inhalation.
An eight-strong American rescue team was sent from Tripoli and taken by troops under Captain Fathi al- Obeidi, of the February 17 Brigade, to the secret safe house to extract around 40 US staff. The building then came under fire from heavy weapons. “I don’t know how they found the place to carry out the attack. It was planned, the accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any ordinary revolutionaries,” said Captain Obeidi. “It began to rain down on us, about six mortars fell directly on the path to the villa.”
Libyan reinforcements eventually arrived, and the attack ended. News had arrived of Mr Stevens, and his body was picked up from the hospital and taken back to Tripoli with the other dead and the survivors.
Mr Stevens’ mother, Mary Commanday, spoke of her son yesterday. “He did love what he did, and he did a very good job with it. He could have done a lot of other things, but this was his passion. I have a hole in my heart,” she said.
Global anger: The protests spread
The furore across the Middle East over the controversial film about the Prophet Mohamed is now threatening to get out of control. In Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, yesterday around 5,000 demonstrators attacked the US embassy, leaving at least 15 people injured. Young protesters, shouted: “We sacrifice ourselves for you, Messenger of God,” smashed windows of the security offices and burned at least five cars, witnesses said.
Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi yesterday condemned the attack in Benghazi that killed the US ambassador. In a speech in Brussels, Mr Morsi said he had spoken to President Obama and condemned “in the clearest terms” the Tuesday attacks. Despite this, and possibly playing to a domestic audience, President Obama said yesterday that “I don’t think we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy”.
Demonstrators in Cairo attacked the mission on Tuesday evening and protests have continued since.
Militants said the anti-Islamic film “will put all the American interests Iraq in danger” and called on Muslims everywhere to “face our joint enemy”, as protesters in Baghdad burned American flags yesterday. The warning from the Iranian-backed group Asaib Ahl al-Haq came as demonstrators demanded the closure of the US embassy in the capital.
Islamists warned they may “besiege” the US embassy in Dhaka after security forces stopped around 1,000 protesters marching to the building. The Khelafat Andolon group called for bigger protests as demonstrators threw their fists in the air, burned the flag and chanted anti-US slogans.
There was a Hamas-organised protest in Gaza City, and as many as 100 Arab Israelis took to the streets in Tel Aviv. In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai postponed a trip to Norway, fearing violence. Officials in Pakistan said they “expected protests”. Protesters in Tunis burnt US flags.
QUOTATION OF THE DAY of the New York Times: “The weak job market should concern every American.” – Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, who announced that the central bank would buy large quantities of mortgage bonds, and potentially other assets, until the job market improves substantially.
and The NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL:
Belated Response From Egypt – Is this friendship? President Morsi of Egypt waited until Thursday before condemning the deaths of 4 Americans in Libya and promising to protect embassies in Cairo.