Author Archives: newmiddleeast
By Rannie Amiri – CounterPunch
Bahrain has one of the most advanced medical systems in the Middle East, the best ICT sector in the region and the fastest growing economy in the Arab world.
But despite all these accomplishments, the country seems to be missing just one little thing: a doctor who can identify signs of torture.
– Benjamin Joffe-Walt writing for Change.org, 12 November 2010
February 14th was Bahrain’s turn for its “day of rage” against the striking social, political and economic inequities found in the tiny island kingdom. For those familiar with its modern history, however, they know there was no need to dub it such; Bahrainis have long raged against policies of exclusion, marginalization and sectarianism embodied in al-Khalifa family rule.
To fully appreciate Bahrain’s inherent volatility, it is important to understand both its demographics and political structure. These have been detailed in past essays which new readers can review. Briefly, of 1.2 million people in the Persian Gulf nation, only about 530,000 are Bahraini nationals. Of these, at least 70 percent are Shia Muslims. The king, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and the al-Khalifa dynasty that has ruled Bahrain for two centuries, are Sunni Muslims.
If meaningful, representative, democratic institutions were present in the country, the sectarian incongruity would be a mere footnote. Unfortunately, that is far from the case. The civil, political and human rights of Shia citizens have been trampled on for decades by the monarchy. This wholly belies the claim that Bahrain is a beacon of democracy and reform among Persian Gulf nations (a notion likewise promulgated by its stalwart ally, the United States).
The notorious citizenship laws—giving non-Bahraini Sunnis expedited citizenship and voting rights in a backdoor attempt to alter the state’s confessional makeup—is one of many examples of how the monarchy has long bred resentment and anger among the majority population.
The disenfranchised, poverty-stricken Shia hold no significant positions in government. Although they comprise 80 percent of the labor force, they are absent from the public sector. They are completely unrepresented in the security services: of the 1,000 employed in the National Security Apparatus, more than two-thirds are non-Bahraini (Jordanians, Egyptians, Pakistanis etc.) and overwhelmingly Sunni. Bahraini Shias constitute less than five percent of the NSA and occupy only low-level positions or act as paid informants.
The paramilitary Special Security Forces operates under the supervision of the NSA and numbers 20,000—90 percent of whom are non-Bahraini. The SSF does not include a single Bahraini Shia officer.
These security forces, housed in Manama’s upscale neighborhoods of course, are routinely unleashed on Bahraini Shia protesting their lot—imported henchmen serving to oppress the king’s subjects.
Last summer, the government rounded up dozens of human rights workers, religious leaders and opposition figures who demanded an end to the regime’s habitual use of torture. Twenty-five were charged with “contacting foreign organizations and providing them with false and misleading information about the kingdom.” Half were charged with attempting to stage a coup. . In total, 450 have been arrested, including the well-known pro-democracy blogger Ali Abdulemam.
Claiming they were tortured by security forces before being put on trial, the government’s expert medical examiner concluded the bruises, wounds, cuts and burns found on detainees’ bodied were not the result of torture.
Indeed, its specter looms over all those who oppose al-Khalifa rule.
In February 2010, Human Rights Watch released a landmark report titled “Torture Redux: The Revival of Physical Coercion during Interrogations in Bahrain.” It chronicles the routine use of torture and degrading treatment for the purpose of extracting confessions from political opponents. The organization’s 2011 World Report reaffirms the practice continues. Even more disturbing, Bahraini children have not been spared physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the secret police.
But choosing Feb. 14 as Bahrain’s day of rage was not done randomly. It marked the tenth anniversary of the referendum on the National Action Charter, which Sheikh Hamad promised would transform the Kingdom into a constitutional monarchy, and the ninth anniversary of the 2002 constitution purportedly enacting it.
It was all for show. Despite Bahrain’s elected parliament, real power lies with the upper house Shura Council. The Shura Council has the authority to approve or rescind any legislation passed by the lower house Council of Representatives. Shura members, unsurprisingly, are directly appointed by the king.
Monday’s protestors, who acted peacefully by all accounts, were met by riot police using live ammunition. Scores were injured. The uprising’s first martyr, 27-year-old Ali Abdul Hadi Mushaima, was killed by a gunshot wound to the back. At his funeral procession Tuesday, security forces fatally shot Fadel Salman al-Matrouk, 31, a mourner who had gathered with others in front of the hospital where Mushaima died.
Sensing the potential for unrest, the king granted each Bahraini family $2,650 in cash before protests even began. After Mushaima and al-Matrook’s deaths, he went on television to express his regret and promise an investigation into their deaths. As in Egypt, the regime’s actions woefully lagged behind events on the ground.
Thousands of Bahrainis occupied Manama’s Pearl Roundabout Tuesday and Wednesday, with the youth at the helm. They chanted, “No Shiites, no Sunnis, only Bahrainis.” Tents were set up and preparations were made for a long peaceful encampment.
Early Thursday morning, while protestors slept, the situation took an ugly, violent turn. Riot police stormed through the camp, killing four and injuring 100. Sixty people are reported missing (numbers at the time of this writing, all likely to increase). Tanks were out in full force as hundreds flooded into hospitals. Manama is now in lock-down.
Statements of those present come from an AP report:
“They were beating me so hard I could no longer see. There was so much blood running from my head … I was yelling, ‘I’m a doctor. I’m a doctor.’ But they didn’t stop.”
“We yelled, ‘We are peaceful! Peaceful!’ The women and children were attacked just like the rest of us … They moved in as soon as the media left us. They knew what they’re doing.”
“Then all of a sudden the square was filled with tear gas clouds. Our women were screaming. … What kind of ruler does this to his people? There were women and children with us!”
Bahrainis’ demands are clear: the resignation of Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa—who has governed since 1971—to be replaced by an elected premier, the release of all political prisoners, a new constitution, an end to the systematic discrimination against Shias and all forms of sectarianism, repeal of the citizenship laws, fairness in distribution of jobs and housing, freedom of the press and religion, and an end to torture.
The al-Khalifa monarchy and its imported mercenaries are at a crossroads. The protestors’ demands are reasonable and legitimate. The king would be wise to accede to them before overthrow of the entire regime becomes their only acceptable alternative. After Thursday’s violent crackdown against unarmed civilians, there may now be no other option.
By Brian Napoletano – Palestine Chronicle
Imperial conquests have always had their ideological justifications. Even in earlier ages, exterminating a people, exploiting their resources, stealing their lands, and enslaving their children were generally non-starters when it came to firing up the local populace for another military campaign. Accordingly, the Romans “civilized” the barbarians, the Spanish conquistadores “brought the gospel” to the “New World,” and the English were “shining the light of civilization” on the Indian subcontinent. Although most history books tend to minimize the genocide and slavery that accompanied Europe’s string of conquests (including North America), few have any illusions about the true objectives of Rome, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, and other countries’ imperial adventures. Similarly, when future students of history read about the mission undertaken by the US government to “spread democracy” at the dawn of the twenty-first century, they too will most likely understand its true motives far better than most of the intellectuals and analysts who frequently appear in the news media today.
The recent democratic revolution in Egypt provides a number of insights into the gap between the US government’s ostensible and actual commitments to democracy in Northern Africa and Western Asia. According to most accounts in the popular media, Washington’s enthusiasm for the revolution was tempered by its desire for “stability” in the region. Specifically, US officials, according to this framing of the revolution, wanted to support the democratic revolution, but had to consider what sort of message such support would send to their other allies in the region. Underlying this explanation is the fact that the US is allied to a number of regimes that are not democratic, and may soon be facing popular uprising similar to the one that took place in Egypt.
An alternative interpretation of Washington’s response to the Egyptian revolution, however, suggests that US officials have no desire to see democracy establish itself in the North Africa or West Asia, their public pronouncements—repeated endlessly by the major news media—notwithstanding. While this interpretation is not likely to appear in the New York Times or the Washington Post, it is far more consistent with the available evidence and the historical record than is the one based on a stability-democracy trade-off. The essence of this alternative is that what US officials call democracy, and therefore would like to see established in Egypt and the rest of the region, bears only a superficial resemblance to democracy proper, or the form of democracy that was embodied in the Egyptian revolution.
Insofar as democracy is defined in its literal sense, it entails public participation in the important decisions that affect everyone’s lives, a government that is responsive to the will of the majority while simultaneously respecting the rights of the minority to try to gain majority support through unrestricted speech, dissent, and equal access to the press, a respect for individual dignity, and a commitment to creating the conditions that will allow each member of society to develop her potential to his own satisfaction. Insofar as this form of democracy can be considered a means instead of an end, it is a means by which each individual expresses her individual sovereignty, and it is a process through which society learns to govern itself. Its basic principles are, for the most part, consistent with those contained (in various forms) in the US Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and corresponding treaties on social, economic, civil, and political rights, and in most textbooks on government and society.
US and other policymakers, however, consider such a definition of democracy naïve at best, and in most cases consider it dangerously misguided. They adhere to an alternative definition of democracy as a means by which a prescribed set of policies is legitimized with a public mandate. In this form of democracy, most of the policies and programs that actually affect the public are moved out of the democratic realm and into the economic market, where authoritarian institutions dominate the decision-making process with little to no democratic accountability. Instead, the production of goods and services is determined by a layer of technocrats whose primary objective is to maximize the bottom line, while a layer of bureaucrats ensures that the transfer of public resources from state institutions to the private sector is not disrupted by a change in political leadership.
One of the defining features of this ersatz version of democracy is how little influence the public actually has on the most important decisions that affect everyone’s lives. From issues that affect the rights of minorities… to widespread social issues, such as the provision of health care and the allocation of public resources, the public is virtually excluded from the decision-making process. On the other hand, periodic elections are typically a key component of this formal democracy, and popular governments to which the US is opposed (e.g. Hamas and the Patido Socialista Unido de Venezuela) are frequently accused of subverting, fixing, or not even holding elections. As the recent presidential election in the United States illustrated, however, the outcomes of elections in the formal version of democracy have very little bearing on the economic and social policies and programs adopted by the state.
Politicians frequently conflate the “popular” and the “formal” definitions of democracy, and the popular media rarely, if ever, challenge this equivocation. As a result, commentators must then invent elaborate explanations to account for the disparity between Washington’s professed democratic values and the seemingly anti-democratic policies it implements. The Egyptian revolution, however, offers an example of a popular democratic movement that defies Washington’s moribund political model and the reforms it offers as palliatives.
By most accounts, the popular uprising in Egypt formed in response to the Mubarak regime’s failure to meet the criteria of popular democracy. The overwhelming majority of the country was unified behind a simple desideratum: Mubarak’s immediate resignation. The Obama administration initially sided with Mubarak. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who considers Mubarak a family friend, was among the first US officials to comment on the situation, and emphasized that Mubarak’s regime was an important US ally that had consistently helped the US maintain “stability” in the region.
In the 28 January speech that he coordinated with Mubarak, Obama condescendingly reminded the protesters that they had “a responsibility to express themselves peacefully,” regardless of the violence inflicted on them by the country’s US-trained and equipped security and military forces. Although Obama offered nothing more than vacuous statements about Egypt’s future, promised no specific reforms, and evinced no commitment to backing the protesters’ demands, Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung claimed at the end of January that the Obama administration had “firmly aligned itself … with the protest movement that has overtaken Egypt” by “calling for an ‘orderly transition’ to a more representative government.” the administration merely called on Mubarak to implement cosmetic reforms, while protesters were demanding his immediate resignation.
As late into the revolution as 7 February, the LA Times was reporting that the administration had “dampened” its “sense of urgency” regarding a transition from Mubarak’s regime, and instead “aligned itself with power-brokers such as new Vice President Omar Suleiman, who are urging a more stable, if much slower, move to real [i.e. formal] democracy.” The Times described this policy as consistent with the Obama administration’s “goal of maintaining stability in the Middle East,” even at the expense of democracy. Meanwhile, Obama’s “crisis envoy” to Egypt, Frank Wisner—a longtime advocate for and personal friend of Mubarak—openly called for Mubarak to retain power in Egypt, a statement to which the Obama administration responded by claiming that Wisner was only speaking in his “private capacity.”
Once the protesters finally forced Mubarak out of office the White House performed a volte-face. In his carefully worded response to Mubarak’s resignation, Obama congratulated the Egyptian people on toppling the regime, and announced that the US government stands “ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary, and asked for, to pursue a credible transition to a democracy.”
Obama did not, however, apologize to the Egyptian people for the military and political support, including some of the weapons and training used against the protesters themselves, that the US government had been giving to Mubarak for several years.
Self-identified “realists” and other key elements of the US foreign policy establishment have largely praised the Obama administration’s “balanced” response to the Egyptian revolution. Most of the media have portrayed the US government as having refrained from direct involvement in or obstruction of the revolution, and have praised Obama for maintaining a delicate balance between the need for “regional stability,” which consists largely of regimes willing to tolerate—and frequently facilitate—Israeli apartheid and US “counter-terrorism” operations, on the one hand, and the desire to promote the spread of democracy on the other. This prompted the Obama administration to adopt, according to the narrative, a non-interventionist approach to the protest, which was the best the US could do under the circumstances.
While this narrative has won praise for Obama among both hawks and doves, it neglects two important factors: that funding for the training and equipment used by the same police, security, and military forces that were arresting, “disappearing,” and torturing protesters was provided by US taxpayers, and that the US and other governments’ habit of backing dictators—which has been almost universally condemned by the public and by international human rights organizations—has been identified as the key source of much of the anger directed at the US for more than 50 years, yet the habit continues.
Despite the acknowledged absence of any democratic credibility, the Egyptian government was the largest single recipient of US military and other aid after that other paragon of democracy in the region, Israel. Moreover, most of this aid had little to do with encouraging democracy or protecting the Egyptian people from Mubarak’s human rights abuses—Obama had actually cut funds for democracy-promotion initiatives from $50 million to $20 million in 2008, and cut aid to Egyptian civil society from $32 million to $7 million. Even without these cuts, these investments in democracy promotion programs (which are themselves frequently co-opted by the CIA to serve as propaganda platforms) and civil society comprised an insignificant proportion of the roughly $1.5-2 billion that the Egyptian government received from the US annually, principally in the form of military aid.
Egypt’s security forces have a long tradition of collaboration with US intelligence and police agencies, and Egypt was the US government’s initial partner in the illegal “extraordinary rendition” program that started under the Clinton administration. Moreover, recent embassy cables released by WikiLeaks confirm that the FBI has been supplying training and intelligence, including visits to the FBI’s training center in Quantico, Virginia, to Egypt’s repressive SSIS. The tear gas canisters and concussion grenades that police used against the protesters provided further evidence of US support, as many of them still bore their US manufacturing identifications.
While Obama praised the Egyptian military on behalf of the soldiers who refused to open fire on civilians, he failed to mention the officers who had issued such orders. He also failed to mention reports carried by the Guardian that Human Rights Watch has documented 119 arrests of pro-democracy activists, that the organization believes that many more have been “disappeared,” and that HRW’s Daniel Williams has expressed concerns that Mubarak’s resignation could be eclipsed by the US-trained military’s recent foray into torture and political repression.
The torture sessions that accompanied the “interrogation” of protesters arrested by the military, which receives approximately $1.5 billion in US aid annually, led many to conclude that the primary objective was intimidation rather than the identification of foreign instigators, particularly as pro-government protesters who were arrested by the military were handed over to the police and then released. The numerous accounts of torture and abuse by the Egyptian military that have begun to emerge contrast sharply with Obama and the media’s portrayal of soldiers as impartial observers to the unrest and as buffers between Mubarak’s hired thugs and the protesters.
While a number of media reports acknowledged US aid to the Mubarak regime, most of them portrayed Washington as having been placed in a “difficult situation” by the uprising, and continued to describe US backing for dictators like Mubarak as a “necessary evil” in light of the need to maintain “stability” in the region. Very few, however, offered further details on what is embodied in a stability important enough to merit military and political aid to a regime that routinely violates basic human rights, beyond explaining that such stability involves a level of repression severe enough to keep the population intimidated, but not so severe that it triggers a revolution.
One of the more convincing explanations of why such stability is so important to US policymakers was offered by the political scientist Vijay Prashad in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!. According to Prashad, the stability that Mubarak imposed on Egypt was valuable to the US for three reasons (which he described as two pillars, one of which I have separated into two parts): Mubarak’s willingness to participate in the CIA’s illegal extraordinary rendition program and other “counter-terrorism” operations allowed the US to pursue its geopolitical objective of projecting hegemony over the region, his role as Washington’s apologist in a region that is both rich in natural resources and where US foreign policy has created widespread resentment among the public reduced the risk of political backlash to US economic and trade policies in the region, and his willingness to uphold the Egypt-Israel treaty of 1979 ensured that Israeli apartheid would not face a united challenge among the Arab nations. When journalists such as the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson refer to the “political vacuum” created by Mubarak’s resignation and the need to retain stability, they are primarily referring to Washington’s hopes that whoever replaces Mubarak will continue to maintain these three features of Israeli policy.
This “necessary evil” of backing brutal dictators because they uphold US interests and of blocking efforts to establish democracy has been a consistent feature of US foreign policy worldwide, and was already identified by the US National Security Council in 1958 as one of the primary reasons for the animosity towards the US that some in the Middle East evince. More than 50 years later, the popular uprising against Mubarak revealed a remarkable continuity in US policy. Unable to continue attributing this “pragmatic” doctrine to the “Soviet threat,” apologists now invoke the threat of “international terrorism” as the justification for Washington’s attachment to various dictators and repressive regimes. In the Middle East alone, the list of regimes that have received US backing, despite their hostility to human rights and basic democratic principles, includes Mohammad Rezâ Shâh Pahlavi in Iran, Saddam Hussein in Iraq (until he tried to assassinate the elder Bush), Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya, Hussein bin Talal and Abdullah II bin al-Hussein in Jordan, Camille Nimr Chamoun in Lebanon, every Israeli regime from David Ben-Gurion to Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied Palestinian territories, and countless others.
Just as analysts in 1958 cautioned that Washington’s intimate relationships with brutal dictators was more likely to foster the growth of Stalinism than to deter it, contemporary analysts such as Michael Scheuer—a former CIA analyst and one of the architects of the extraordinary rendition program—have repeatedly warned that continued support for repressive regimes in the Middle East is more likely to trigger even more violent terrorist attacks than it is to deter them. This suggests that something other than the security of the US public is motivating Washington’s policies.
An erroneous conclusion frequently drawn regarding the reasons for US policies in North Africa and West Asia is that the Zionist lobby is responsible for the invidious policies endorsed by Washington. While Israel’s unmatched influence on US policy could explain some of the disregard for the rights of Palestinians, it fails to explain the consistency with which the US has backed dictatorships in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, and ignores the fact that Washington has demonstrated that it will readily cut off Israel’s political and military support should Israeli actions be deemed inimical to Washington’s overriding political and economic interests.
A more accurate characterization of Washington’s attitude is that maintaining Israel as an extension of US hegemony and the most powerful military force in the region is consistent with US geopolitical objectives. Washington’s insouciant disregard for the interests of the majority of the Arab population is consistent with its attitude toward other regions of strategic interest, such as South and Central America and Southeast Asia. US policymakers tolerate Israeli apartheid because the strategic advantages of retaining Israel as a subaltern state outweigh the deleterious effects that such backing has on US prestige. As examples such as Cuba, Venezuela, Vietnam, Russia, and others have demonstrated, the US government can easily turn a population against itself even when Israel’s not involved.
Moreover, providing military aid to Israel has proven to be exceptionally lucrative for US weapons contractors. Whatever influence the Zionist lobby might wield, it pales in comparison to the money and influence wielded by corporations such as General Electric, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. A number of other corporations, including Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard , and the Bobcat Company, also profit from the Israeli occupation by providing armored bulldozers to the Israeli Defense Forces, security systems, construction materials, and other resources to expand and entrench the illegal settlements.
In essence, the US government has repeatedly failed to push Israel into making peace with Palestinian people primarily because the Washington has no significant vested interest in doing so. While support for Israel’s apartheid government has done little to endear the US to much of the Arab population, Israel remains a loyal client state dependent on US military aid and political backing, and therefore a useful projection of US foreign policy in the region.
Discussions of US national security tend to be more frank than other political presentations, and offer more specific insights into what Washington means by “stability” in a given region. A consistent theme in US foreign policy and national security throughout the twentieth (and twenty-first) century has been has been cheap access to “raw materials” and “foreign markets.” Similarly, the US’ primary economic competitors, Europe and China, also require the same access for their firms to remain competitive. Hence, the economic competition between companies in these regions translates into a global geopolitical struggle for control over the world’s energy and agricultural resources. As a region abundant in the former and situated at a crossroads between Asia, Europe, and Africa, the Middle East has been a center of such struggle for decades. Accordingly, Washington is willing to tolerate Israeli apartheid and any other anti-democratic governments if doing so allows it to exert more control over the region’s energy resources than its principal competitors.
The media frequently confuse this issue by conflating the need to control the Middle East’s energy resources with the US’ economic dependence on inexpensive petroleum. However, the US does not need Middle Eastern oil for its own consumption—most (almost 60%) of the refined petroleum imported into the US from its 15 largest suppliers is actually provided by Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and other American countries, while only 22% comes from the Middle East (including Algeria). The need to control the flow of oil from the Middle East is more closely related to China and Europe’s dependence on the region’s oil supply, and the competitive economic relationship between the three regions, than to outright dependence on the supply by the US. While it is a bit of an oversimplification, the truth is stretched far less by suggesting that the US backs dictatorial regimes in the Middle East so that its companies can out-compete those of Europe and China than it is by suggesting that the US is actually concerned with promoting the spread of popular democracy in the region.
As the Obama administration’s response to the Egyptian revolution indicates, the US government does not support the growth or spread of popular democracy. While they do favor a system that maintains a veneer of democratic legitimacy through periodic elections, the absence of such legitimacy does not preclude a steady supply of US weapons and training. Essentially, democracy is acceptable insofar as it does not threaten the interests or power of the US’ dominant economic institutions. Consequently, Washington would much rather have seen Mubarak undertake superficial reforms to remain in power than an open revolution, and is already advising its other allies in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and elsewhere to undertake the former and stave off the latter.
The public is not always pacified by such reforms, however, and as living conditions continue to deteriorate for the poorest segments of society worldwide, challenges to US hegemony can be expected to occur more frequently. When such threats have arisen in the past, Washington has openly embraced dictatorships before conceding to the people of the Northern Africa, Western Asia, or any other region the right to determine their own destiny. In contrast to narratives that portray it as an impartial observer to Egypt’s revolution, the US government had been working for years to prevent the Egyptian government from becoming democratic. That the Egyptian people succeeded in spite of Washington’s efforts is a testimony to their strength and determination.
If democracy is to survive in Egypt, then it must also be allowed to thrive elsewhere. While the revolution has drawn attention to the gap between official rhetoric and US policies, it cannot be expected to significantly alter Washington’s attitude by itself. Instead, such change will require a concerted effort by the US public.
Accordingly, the ultimate outcome of the Egyptian revolution also depends on the willingness of the people of the US and its allies to follow their Egyptian counterparts’ example and demand popular democracy in their own countries. Only then can they hope to achieve more just and humane foreign policies that respect democracy, protect human rights and other basic standards, and subordinate economic considerations to the needs of the public.
Brian Napoletano is a member of the International Socialist Organization and the former Public Relations officer for Purdue University Students for Justice in Palestine.
Top U.S. intelligence officials, facing criticism in Congress, on Wednesday defended their agencies’ reporting on the recent upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt but pledged to do better in the future.
“Specific triggers for how and when instability would lead to the collapse of various regimes cannot always be known or predicted,” James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
“What intelligence can do in such cases is reduce, but certainly not completely eliminate, uncertainty for decision-makers. But we are not clairvoyant.”
CIA Director Leon Panetta said his agency has set up a 35-member task force to examine how future unrest in sensitive regions could erupt and to assess potential outcomes.
Much more attention will be paid to how the Internet and social media can spark and affect protest movements, they said, although Panetta cautioned about the vast new piles of data that experts must pore over.
“The real challenge is … going through the diversity of languages, going through the different sites that are out there,” he said. “This involves a tremendous amount of analysis.”
U.S. spy agencies have been criticized in the past for not knitting together reports that could have given warning of major events, ranging from the collapse of the Soviet Union to al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.
In the case of September 11 and, more recently, the failed bombing of a U.S. airliner in December 2009, investigations showed U.S. agencies collected clues that could have disrupted the attacks well in advance but failed to connect the dots.
Tunisia was not ‘Top 10′ Concern’
Senior officials have strongly denied there were any intelligence failures over the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt — despite criticism from some lawmakers that the agencies’ reports were sometimes less informative than news stories.
The two spy chiefs acknowledged U.S. agencies offered little if any advance warning when unrest erupted in Tunisia in January. But Clapper, who supervises 16 frontline spy agencies and serves as President Barack Obama’s chief intelligence adviser, pointed to the limits of spycraft.
“We’re not like Sherman Williams paint. We don’t cover the earth equally. So frankly Tunisia was probably not up there on our top 10 countries that we were watching closely,” Clapper said. “Obviously we are going to work on that.”
Two sources who routinely read analytical papers by U.S. intelligence agencies said it would be unfair to criticize them for not being able to predict how the initial events in Tunisia would set off a chain reaction that, within days, would lead to the collapse of its government and the exile of its president.
But the sources said they were disappointed at the material generated after the Tunisian government fell, which tried to consider implications for other countries, particularly Egypt.
A senior U.S. intelligence official refuted the criticism, telling Reuters that in the 10 days between the collapse of the Tunisian government and the eruption of protests in Egypt, U.S. agencies produced many reports “that examined the implications for the Middle East and elsewhere around the world.”
Some of the papers, the official said, went only to the president and a small group of senior officials. Others were more widely distributed to officials authorized to read highly classified intelligence materials.
By Kathleen Christison – CounterPunch
About ten days ago I had a particularly interesting discussion about Israel and its relationship to U.S. policy in the Middle East and to the events swirling there now, in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. My interlocutor is one of the most astute commentators, particularly on U.S. policy, in the alternative media, but he made it clear that, to his mind, Israel does not play a role of any notable relevance to what the United States is doing in the region.
I would say that he has a bit of a blind spot about Israel — a not uncommon phenomenon among progressive thinkers. But perhaps the current turmoil in the region will ultimately open his eyes and those of others who minimize Israel’s centrality to U.S. policy. Recent events unfolding in Egypt and surrounding Wikileaks-released State Department cables and al-Jazeera-released Palestinian papers dealing with Palestinian-Israeli talks are demonstrating graphically, as no other series of events probably ever has, that the United States does what it does in the Middle East in great measure because of Israel — to protect and safeguard Israel from Arab neighbors who object to its treatment of its Palestinian subjects, from Muslims with similar grievances, from criticism of Israel’s military exploits against neighboring states, from the ire of other states still threatened by Israel, from governments in the region that challenge Israel’s nuclear monopoly or attempt to develop their own arsenals to defend against Israel.
It is instructive to remember that Egypt is important to the United States almost entirely because it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and helps guarantee Israel’s security, guarding its western border, helping its military assaults on other Arab countries, closing the tunnels into Gaza through which Hamas smuggles some weapons and the Gazan population obtains food and other essentials, undermining Hamas’s rule in Gaza. The United States also regards Egypt as an important cog in the machine of its “war on terror” and its war on Islamic radicalism, a collaboration also closely linked to Israel’s security interests.
Egypt is obviously important in the region in its own right. Its size and strategic location guarantee that it will always have considerable influence in Middle East politics, and it has long been the heart of Arab culture, even without U.S. help. The last three weeks of the Egyptian people’s struggle for democracy have further enhanced its importance, capturing the imagination of people around the world (with the exception of many, perhaps the majority, in Israel and among the curmudgeonly right in the United States, including Israel’s U.S. supporters).
But the fundamental reality is that the United States would not have the close military, political, and economic relationship it has had with Egypt for the last thirty-plus years were it not for the fact that Egypt is friendly with Israel and the fact that, in the words of Middle East expert Rashid Khalidi, Egypt has always acquiesced “in Israel’s regional hegemony.” The $1.5 billion annually in military aid, and the $28 billion in economic and development assistance across the last 35 years would not have been given had not Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar Sadat virtually begged for and then finally signed a peace treaty with Israel that removed Egypt, the largest Arab military force, as a threat to Israel, abandoning the Palestinians and the other Arab parties to their own devices. With Egypt out of the picture and indeed often assisting, Israel has been free to launch military assaults on several of its neighbors, including Lebanon twice and Gaza and the West Bank repeatedly, and free to expand settlements, absorb Palestinian territory, and severely oppress Palestinians without fear of retaliation or even significant disagreement from any Arab army.
Israeli commentator Aluf Benn has pointed out furthermore that, with Mubarak in office, Israel could always feel safe about its western flank if it were to attack Iran, but now Israel will not dare attack when it can no longer rely on Egypt’s “tacit agreement to its actions.” Whoever replaces Mubarak would, by this reasoning, be too concerned about popular rage if he were to collaborate with Israel. “Without Mubarak, there is no Israeli attack on Iran.”
For Israel and therefore for the United States, the U.S. investment of billions in Egypt over the years has been well worth the cost. The loss of the “stability” that Egypt provided — meaning Israel’s loss of certainty that it remained the secure regional dominant power — has been a huge game-changer for Israeli and U.S. strategic calculations.
Before the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the United States never considered that Egypt was quite the strategic asset that it became when it surrendered its military capability in the interests of Israel. The same can be said about the United States’ relations with several other Arab states. Its involvement in Lebanon over the years — including its effort to remove Syrian forces from Lebanon — has been almost entirely linked to Israel’s interests there. The fallout from Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon still reverberates: in response to the invasion, the United States sent a contingent of Marines, which became involved in direct fighting with Lebanese factions, leading in turn to a devastating bombing of Marine headquarters that killed 241 U.S. personnel in 1983; Hizbullah, representing a besieged Shiite population in southern Lebanon, arose as a direct result of Israel’s invasion; the spate of kidnappings of U.S. personnel by Hizbullah throughout the 1980s grew out of hostility to the U.S. because of its support for Israel; Israel withdrew from a two-decade-long occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, leaving behind a strengthened Hizbullah; continued conflict along the border led to Israel’s brutal assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, which failed to defeat the Islamic organization or undermine its popularity; and as a result, the United States has for years pursued efforts to undermine Hizbullah and, essentially, to maintain Lebanon as an Israeli sinecure.
Jordan has been a minor U.S. ally for decades, but its conclusion of a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 enhanced its standing in U.S. eyes and gained the small state on Israel’s eastern border additional U.S. military and economic aid. The State Department’s official profile of Jordan relates the U.S. rationale for its good relationship with Jordan more or less directly to Israel, although without ever mentioning Israel: “U.S. policy seeks to reinforce Jordan’s commitment to peace, stability, and moderation. The peace process and Jordan’s opposition to terrorism parallel and indirectly assist wider U.S. interests. Accordingly, through economic and military assistance and through close political cooperation, the United States has helped Jordan maintain its stability and prosperity.” The allusions to “reinforcing” Jordan’s commitment to “peace, stability, and moderation” and to maintaining Jordan’s “stability and prosperity” are obvious references to helping keep the area, and particularly Israel’s border, quiet. Just as clearly, “indirectly assist[ing] wider U.S. interests” refers to the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security interests. “Moderation” in State Department jargon is a code word for a pro-Israeli stance; “stability” is code for a secure environment that benefits Israel primarily.
It is safe to say that neither Lebanon nor Jordan would be at all as important to the United States if it were not considered necessary to keep each of these bordering countries in a stable, quiescent state for Israel’s security. The same situation does not apply in Saudi Arabia, where the U.S. has vital oil interests quite apart from Israel’s concerns. But at the same time, it is the case that the U.S. has managed to tame any Saudi impulse to speak out on behalf of the Palestinians, or any other Arabs under Israeli siege, and align the Saudis at least implicitly on the Israeli side of most issues, whether this is the 2006 attack on Lebanon or the 2008-2009 assault on Gaza or the supposed threat from Iran. The day when the Saudis were angry enough with United States over its support for Israel to impose an oil embargo, as occurred in 1973, is long over.
The recent Wikileaks releases of State Department cables and particularly al-Jazeera’s release of a raft of Palestinian documents dealing with negotiations over the last decade also demonstrate with striking clarity how hard the United States works, and has always worked, to help Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating process. U.S. support for Israel has never been a secret, becoming less and less so in recent years, but the leaked documents provide the most dramatic picture yet of the United States’ total disdain for all Palestinian negotiating demands and its complete helplessness in the face of Israeli refusal to make concessions. It is striking to note from these papers that the U.S. role as “Israel’s lawyer” — a description coined by Aaron David Miller after his involvement in negotiations during the Clinton era — is the same whether the administration is Bill Clinton’s or George W. Bush’s or Barack Obama’s. Israel’s interests and demands always prevail.
Beyond the Arab world, U.S. policy on Iran is dictated more or less totally by Israel. The pressure to attack Iran — either a U.S. attack or U.S. support for an Israeli attack — which has been brought to bear for most of the eight years since the start of the war on Iraq, has come entirely from Israel and its supporters in the United States. This pressure is quite open and impossible to deny the way Israel’s pressure for the attack on Iraq has been. If the United States ever does become involved in a military assault on Iran either directly or through backing up Israel, this will be because Israel wanted it; if there is no attack, this will most likely be, as Aluf Benn surmises, because Israel got cold feet in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution.
Israel, and the desire to ensure its regional hegemony, also played a substantial role in leading the United States into war in Iraq, although this view is a harder sell and a much more controversial position among progressives and conservatives alike than is anything else about U.S.-Israel-Arab relationships.
My progressive interlocutor, for instance — who has strongly opposed the U.S. adventure in Iraq, equally strongly opposes any possibility of an attack on Iran, and was undoubtedly uncomfortable with U.S. vacillation about pressing for Mubarak’s departure — disagreed totally with my suggestion that Israel and its neocon supporters were a factor in getting the United States into the Iraq war. Early in our discussion, he talked at length about the neocons, their erstwhile think tank, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and the overriding neocon-PNAC interest in advancing U.S. global hegemony, and he made the point that when George W. Bush came to power, an entire think tank was moved into the administration. But, despite this recognition of neocon objectives and the success they enjoyed in advancing them, he would not agree that PNAC and the neocons were as much interested in advancing Israel’s regional hegemony as they were in furthering U.S. imperialism.
When, on the other hand, I observed that not only had Bush moved a think tank into the administration, he had also effectively moved the Israel lobby, or its then most active wing, into the highest rungs of his administration’s policymaking councils, my friend readily agreed: oh, of course, he asserted quite vigorously, they — meaning the neocons — “are all Likudniks.” There is some kind of disconnect here, which he seemed not to notice: although, on the one hand, he acknowledged the neocons’ very close connection to Israel, he does not on the other hand agree that the neocons did anything in a policy sense for Israel. As if they had checked their pro-Israel sympathies at the doors of the White House and the Pentagon when they officially became policymakers. As if they had discarded their own long history of pro-Israel advocacy and the policy guidance that many of them had long been giving to Israeli leaders — guidance that included an actual advisory written for the Israeli government in 1996 to move against Iraq.
It has been clear to most analysts for years, even decades, that the United States favors Israel, but this reality has never been revealed so explicitly until recent events laid the relationship bare, and laid bare the fact that Israel is at the center of virtually every move the United States makes in the region. There has long been a taboo on talking about these realities, a taboo that has tied the tongues of people like my interlocutor. People do not mention Israel because they might be called anti-Semitic, they might be attacked as “singling out” Israel for criticism; the media fail to discuss Israel and what it does around the Middle East and, most directly, to the Palestinians who live under its rule because this might provoke angry letters to the editor and cancelled subscriptions by Israel supporters. Congressmen will not endanger campaign funds by talking honestly about Israel. And so Israel is taken off everyone’s radar screen. Progressives may “mention Israel in passing,” as my friend told me, but they do no more. Ultimately, because no one talks about it, everyone stops even thinking about Israel as the prime mover behind so many U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East.
It is time we began noticing. Everyone in the Middle East already notices, as the Egyptian revolution has just made clear. And probably everyone throughout the world also notices. We should begin listening to the world’s people, not to their leaders, who tell us what they think we want to hear.
Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and the author of several books on the Palestinian situation, including Palestine in Pieces, co-authored with her late husband Bill Christison. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: World Bulletin
Protesters in Bahrain, inspired by revolts that have toppled Arab rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, poured into the Gulf island kingdom’s capital on Wednesday to mourn a demonstrator killed in clashes with security forces.
Over a thousand joined a funeral procession for the man, who was shot dead on Tuesday when fighting broke out at the burial of another protester. Some 2,000 were camped out at a major road junction in the centre of Manama, hoping to emulate the rallies on Cairo’s Tahrir Square and demanding a change of government.
The Interior Ministry has promised to take legal action over the two deaths if it finds police used “unjustifiable” force.
Bahrainis have a history of protest and the current unrest, in its third day, has been driven by familiar complaints of economic hardships, lack of political freedoms and sectarian discrimination.
“The people demand the fall of the regime!” protesters chanted as men pounded their chests in rhythm, a mourning gesture which is distinctive to the Shi’ite branch of Islam.
Though itself only a minor oil exporter, Bahrain’s stability is important for neighbouring Saudi Arabia, a key supporter of Bahrain’s royal family and where key oilfields are home to an oppressed and occasionally restive Shi’ite minority.
Bahrain is also a hub for banking and financial services in the Gulf and is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
“King sorrow over deaths”
Sheikh Khalifa, the king’s uncle, has governed the Gulf Arab state since its independence in 1971.
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa expressed sorrow over the deaths on Monday and Tuesday morning and ordered the formation of a committee to investigate them.
King Hamad offered in a televised address on Tuesday afternoon his condolences to the families of the victims.
The special committee will be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Jawwad Al-Arayyedh and will determine the reasons behind the regretful incidents, the king said in his speech broadcast by Bahrain Television.
King Hamad said that he would ask Parliament to look into the events and recommend the necessary legislation to address the issue in the interest of the homeland
“We will request the legislative body to look into this phenomenon and to suggest proposals required to address it for the interest of the nation and citizens,” King Hamad said.
Protesters want the removal of the prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has governed since British rule ended in 1971.
For now, they have not sought change at the very top — his nephew King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has ultimate control over the 1.3 million people in Bahrain, half of them foreigners.
“We are requesting our rights in a peaceful way,” said Bakr Akil, a 20 year-old student. He wore a sheet stained with red ink which he said showed he was willing to die for freedom.
Women dressed in black abaya cloaks followed the procession with their own chants calling for peace and Bahraini unity.
Near the protest site at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout, police kept their distance, massing on a nearby dirt lot in dozens of cars. The Interior Ministry said roads were all open on the island, which, at 750 sq.km, is about the size of Singapore.
“Talks with govt”
The main opposition group Wefaq, which boycotted parliament in protest at the clampdown by the security forces, said it would hold talks with the government on Wednesday.
“We support the people here. We are not the decision makers,” said Ibrahim Mattar, a Wefaq parliamentarian who had joined the funeral procession.
“The people are the decision makers,” Mattar said, adding that Wefaq would call for direct election of the prime minister.
Bahrain was considered the most vulnerable among Gulf Arab states to popular unrest in a region where, in an unwritten pact, rulers have traded a share of their oil wealth for political submission. Discontent has been expressed in sporadic unrest since the mid-1990s, well before popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt emboldened activists across the region.
Activists also want the release of political prisoners, which the government has promised, and a new constitution.
Bahrain had offered cash payouts of around 1,000 dinars ($2,650) per family in the run-up to this week’s protests.
Source: Yesh Din
Yesh Din released today a data sheet on its monitoring of Police investigations of offenses against Palestinians.
The data sheet includes findings based on 642 investigation files opened in recent years by the Judea and Samaria police, based on complaints filed by Palestinian citizens of the West Bank, that Yesh Din has been following.
The findings show that only 9 percent out of 642 investigations which Yesh Din is monitoring, have resulted in indictments filed against defendants. The clear majority of investigations – more than 90 percent – are closed on grounds that suggest that the investigation has failed.
The percentage of failed investigations is exceptionally high in the case of investigations into offenses of violence against Palestinians and damage to their property. 78 percent of violence cases and 93 percent of cases of damage to property were closed on grounds that suggest that those investigations have failed.
These findings indicate that the State of Israel is not fulfilling its obligation to maintain an effective law enforcement mechanism on Israeli citizens who commit offenses, among them grave offenses, against Palestinian citizens in the territories it occupies.
According to Yesh Din’s research department, the findings suggest a chronic failure of investigations, especially in cases pertaining to violence and damage to property. Since only a fraction of the cases result in indictments, there is a very slim chance that complaints filed by Palestinians for violence or property offenses carried out by Israelis will result in indictments.
Since it was founded in 2005, Yesh Din has been maintaining a database of cases in which Israeli citizens were involved in acts of violence, theft or damage to property against unarmed Palestinian civilians. Yesh Din monitors investigations and provides legal representation to complainants. The monitoring is carried out in order to gauge whether the State of Israel – via the Israeli Judea and Samaria Police – is fulfilling its obligation to protect Palestinian citizens and their property.
Yesh Din’s monitoring constitutes the only source of findings regarding the outcomes of investigations into such offenses, as no formal Israeli official holds complete data about these types of investigations, or their results.
Download: Full Datasheet
By M. Shahid Alam – Dissident Voice
More than eight years after dismantling the Taliban, the United States is still mired in Afghanistan. Indeed, last October it launched a much-hyped ‘surge’ to prevent a second Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, not imminent yet, but eminently possible.
The first dismantling of the Taliban was a cakewalk.
In 2001, the United States quickly and decisively defeated the Taliban, killed, captured or scattered their fighters, and handed over the running of Afghanistan to their rivals, mostly Uzbeks and Tajiks from the Northern Alliance.
Unaware of Pashtoon history, American commentators were pleased at the smashing victory of their military, convinced that they had consigned the Taliban to history’s graveyard.
Instead, the Taliban came back from the dead. Within months of their near-total destruction, they had regained morale, regrouped, organized, trained, and returned to fight what they saw as a foreign occupation of their country. Slowly, tenaciously they continued to build on their gains, and by 2008 they were dreaming of taking back the country they had lost in 2001.
Could this really happen? That only time will tell, but prospects for the Taliban today look better than at any time since November 2001.
In 2001, the United States had captured Afghanistan with the loss of only twelve of its own troops. Last year it lost 316 soldiers, and the British lost another 108. The numbers speak for themselves.
The United States had occupied Afghanistan with 9000 troops. When Obama took office in January 2009, these numbers had climbed to 30,000. In October, US troop strength in Afghanistan had more than doubled. This does not include tens of thousands of foreign contractors and some 200,000 Afghan troops armed and trained by the Americans.
Yet, NATO could not deter the Taliban advance.
That is when President Obama ordered a troop surge. US troop strength will soon reach 100,000. At the same time, the United States is inviting Taliban fighters to defect in return for bribes. In tandem, President Karzai – for the umpteenth time – is offering amnesty to defecting Taliban fighters. So far, there have been no high-ranking defections.
Can the United States defeat these men – returned from the dead – it calls terrorists? It is a vital question. It should be, since the United States claims that if the Taliban come back, Afghanistan will again become a haven for Al-Qaida, their training ground and launching pad for future attacks against Western targets.
How did the Taliban stage this comeback?
Simply, the answer is: by finding strength in their handicaps. If you had compared the defeated Taliban in December 2001 to the Mujahidin in 1980, you would conclude that history had closed its books on them irrevocably.
The Mujahidin brought several advantages to their fight. All Afghan ethnicities opposed the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. They had financial, military and political support from all the Western powers. President Reagan honored them as freedom-fighters. They also had support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. In addition, tens of thousands of foreign fighters would join the Afghan Mujahidin.
In comparison, Taliban prospects looked quite dismal after their rout in November 2001. Nearly all the factors that favored the Mujahidin worked against the Taliban. Taliban support was confined mostly to one Afghan ethnicity, the Pashtoons. In the United States and its European allies, they faced a more formidable opponent than the Mujahidin did in the Soviet Union.
There was not a single Muslim country that could support the return of the Taliban: the US forbade it. Worst of all, the Pakistani military, partly for lucre and partly under US pressure, threw its forces against the Taliban. Under the circumstances, few Muslim fighters from outside Pakistan have joined the Taliban.
Their goose was cooked: or so it seemed.
Nevertheless, the Taliban defied these odds, and now, some eight years later, they have taken positions in nearly every Afghan province, with shadow governments in most of them. Is it possible to reverse the gains that Taliban have made in the face of nearly impossible odds?
What can the US do to weaken the Taliban? They have few vulnerabilities because the United States has been so effective in denying them any help from external sources. They have built their gains almost exclusively on their own strengths: and these are harder to take away.
What then are some of these strengths? Unlike the Mujahidin, the Afghan resistance against the United States is less fractious. The Taliban make up the bulk of the resistance. Other groups – led by Haqqani and Hekmatyaar – are much smaller. The Afghan resistance has a central leadership that the Mujahidin never had.
Unlike the Mujahidin, the Taliban do not have the technology to knock out the helicopters, drones or jets that attack them from the air. On the ground, however, they have technology the Mujahidin did not have. They have acquired suicide vests and, more importantly, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) developed by the resistance in Iraq. Indeed, the Taliban claim to have improved upon the IEDs they acquired from Iraq.
Notwithstanding their apparent lack of sophistication, the Taliban leadership have proved to be savvy in their use of videos, CDs, FM radio stations, and the internet to publicize their gains, build morale, and mobilize recruits.
Despite the satellites, drones, spies on the ground, and prize money for their capture, much of the Taliban leadership has evaded capture. In particular, Mulla Omar remains a ghost. He has not been seen or interviewed since 2001. Yet he remains in touch with his commanders through human couriers.
Afghanistan’s corrupt government is another Taliban asset. They have spawned a tiny class of Afghan nouveau riche battened by drug money, government contracts and cronyism. President Karzai implicates the US occupation in the blatant corruption of his own government.
It appears that there is little that the United States can do to neutralize these elusive advantages. Instead, it tries to blame and shift the burden of the war on Pakistan. It continues to pressure and bribe Pakistan’s rulers to mount full-scale military operations against the Taliban support network in Pakistan.
More and more, Pakistan’s military leaders have been caving under these pressures, escalating their wars against their own population. This has provoked a backlash. A new faction of the Taliban has emerged to launch deadly attacks against military and civilian targets in Pakistan. These attacks are destabilizing Pakistan. In turn, the US uses these attacks to push Pakistani rulers into greater capitulation to its demands.
In addition, President Obama has dramatically escalated drone attacks against the Taliban support network in Pakistan. In tandem, Pakistan too has been launching more massive air and ground attacks against their hideouts. However, none of this has deterred the escalating Taliban attacks against NATO and Afghan forces.
No one suggests that the Taliban can match the credentials of America’s freedom fighters in the late eighteenth century. The latter were committed to the proposition that all men are created equal, barring a few rarely mentioned exceptions. The Taliban are zealots and misogynists, but only a tad more so than the Mujahidin whom the West embraced as freedom fighters.
The West celebrated the Mujahidin’s victory over the Soviets. The same people, fighting under a different name, have now pushed the United States into a costly stalemate. Will the US prolong this stalemate, and push Pakistan too over the brink? Or will it accept the fait accompli the Taliban have created for them, accept its losses, and save itself from greater embarrassment in the future?
Once or twice, the United States has retreated from unwinnable wars and survived. It is likely that the ‘surge’ is primarily a political move to try to pass off the retreat from Afghanistan as another ‘mission accomplished.’ Let’s hope that this stratagem works somehow, because the alternative is likely to be much worse for all parties involved in this unwinnable war.
By Bouthaina Shaaban – CounterPunch
Despite the technological effects with which the director of Avatar crams his movie, the reason behind its popularity is not only these technological effects but the themes which touch every human conscience. This is in addition to the symbolism of the movie concerning the conflict between peoples and their invaders – from Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine. The source of all these conflicts is, as usual, the greed which is usually masked by other pretexts and justifications.
Through Avatar I lived the story of the Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghan and Lebanese peoples and the wars waged against them; where the West treats these peoples as if they were the children of the “Navi” tribe with their blue clothes in their planet Pandora.
Settlers landed on planet Pandora driven by the greed for its wealth. Their calculations were focused on the material gains which they can only get through possessing the land and its natural resources. To be able to do that they had either to kill or expel the Navi who are tied to their land, nature, holy tree and their customs which show equal respect to human life and nature, in bleak contrast to the attitude of the invading settlers who mock sanctities and human respect for nature. They only see the things which give them large amounts of money.
This contrast between the values of two cultures is at the essence of the creation of Israel. For seventy years, it has killed the Palestinians on a daily basis, Judaized their holy places, settled their land, confiscated their water, uprooted their trees, mocked their beliefs, their commitment to their land and their way of life. Those who created this settlement armed it to the teeth with hatred, and provided it with weapons of mass destruction.
The movie needs only the Navi natives of planet Pandora to raise the Palestinian flag and the invaders to carry the Israeli flag to become a detailed reading of the Israeli settlement of Palestine with modern cinematic techniques, but also with symbolic nuance that illustrates the nature of this conflict.
I suggest that demonstrators against Israeli occupation wear the blue shirts of the Navi tribe in order to make it easier for westerners to understand their cause. Invaders always target the people’s beliefs and holy places; that is why Israel is committing another robbery by confiscating Islamic holy places in the Sanctuary of Abraham (al-Haram al-Ibrahimi) in Hebron, Bilal Mosque, which like al-Aqsa Mosque, are branches of the holy tree for hundreds of millions of Muslims who defend them in as much as they defend their land.
The media machine divides people into two types: the first is definitely a native, strictly a Muslim Arab; and the second is the Israeli settler who cannot be touched by the charge of terrorism even if he committed the most heinous terrorist crime in full sight of the whole world. Otherwise, how can we explain that Muslims are accused of terrorism and assassinated on mere suspicion, while those who converged in Dubai from different capitals of the world, armed with cutting edge technology and equipped with European and Australian passports to carry out a terrorist operation are not accused of terrorism?
Avatar tells the story of the natives of planet Pandora and shows the injustice meted out by the greedy invaders against the Navi people. Who would dare produce a movie about Palestine which tells the story of Arabs’ struggle for justice and freedom on planet earth and for salvation from the oppression of Israeli settlers and their biblical pretexts.
By Chafiq Jaredah – Conflicts Forum
It is appropriate to adopt caution, and to beware making hasty analysis, when it comes to passing judgment on problematic issues, whose dimensions, meanings and significance are unclear: One such issue that falls into this zone requiring caution and patience is the discourse centred around what is known as Political Islam.
Hence, what do we mean by Political Islam? Is the term exclusively linked to the knowledge derived from Islam as a faith – as distinguished, in its reading and interpretation, from the Islam of worship and Da’wa (Islamic ‘Call’) and another component that is political, and which largely is based on the game of conflicting and common interests? Or, is it a historiography of the era that followed the fall of the Ottoman State, and the outbreak of conflicts in the region between the ruling authorities, and certain ideological and religious trends that led to the broader Islamic rising, represented by the emergence of Islamic movements?
Is Political Islam an expression of severance between the Islamic movements and the traditional religious institutions – be they the scientific universities, or the statutory councils affiliated with the ruling regimes in the region? What is clear is that each explanation and descriptive label has its own distinguishing characteristics; and consequently, carries in its wake, its own special conception that gives definition to its particularity. But in distinguishing between Islam as source of worship and its political orientation is mere superficiality, given that Islam is essentially based on a comprehensive system that incorporates both the personal, as well as the political affairs, of the individual human being and the community of which he is a part. The establishment community and political administration in the Mohammedan Prophetic Message were given a similar status to prayer when The Prophet said: “Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish worship… (Sura Hajj, verse 41).
This is a key concept grasped in the Islamic interpretations of the Holy Qur’an to the extent that the so-called traditional Islamists have dealt with the political dimensions as an Islamic whole, even though they differentiated, at the practical level, between the originality of the theoretical interest in politics in Islam; and on questions of political practice, such as: how should the Muslim deal with the ruler – be he just or unjust? Is the criteria the ruler’s competence at Tashreeh (law making); or the ruler’s quality of justice and his traits? What is the required system? Khilafat? Imamite? Emirate? Sultanate? Or other types?
This debate coincided with a discussion between ‘ends’, which may be described as Islamic, and the ‘means’ that lead to achieving that ‘end’, such as establishing the state, the party or the movement – which constitute temporal issues, rather than religious matters. This distinction, as such, however, does not mean that such temporal issues are unimportant, or do not constitute obligations, for what is meant by the ‘temporal’ here is that which is subject to changes and is adaptable – according to interests, realities and circumstance.
This apart, politics stands as a norm expressing Islamic principles within current historical ‘time’: any flaw in this norm will deeply affect the other doctrinal, ethical, and legal aspects – for it is not possible, according to Islam, for the individual to become ‘perfect’ outside of the framework of the community and the administrative, political and ethical order. More than that, the Sharia cannot be complete; nor can worship be ‘perfect’ unless they march in step with the system of political governance. Aspects of financial giving, such as zakat (almsgiving) and khoms (fifth), should be seen as a political system whose intent is the fulfilling of both society’s civil and humanitarian needs. In addition, the verdicts of the judiciary are legal rulings that cannot be appropriately implemented unless there is an administrative procedure that possesses authority and therefore has a political existence.
Thus, the followers of traditional or official Islam would not deny the role of politics and worldly affairs as being of an interest to Islam; they may, nevertheless, argue that in the manner and timing of political activity, Islamic movements have tended to pursue their interest in politics firstly; and, only later, and secondly, have focussed on actualising the political work, action and commitment within their own movements. This has extended even – in their charting their course – to believing that worshipping Allah cannot be perfect, until and unless, these movements establish a state of divine justice on earth.
This latter notion underlies the theory of divine governance, which was based on several concepts:
A. Authority rests with Allah alone; Allah is the source of law-making, and He, be He exalted, is the only source of legitimacy.
B. Any ruling made – other than which Allah has revealed – has no legitimacy.
C. Acquiescence to any ruling – whether or not it is just – coming from outside of the religious legitimacy amounts to tacit acceptance of despotism.
D. Accordingly, any link to corrupt society or an illegitimate system must be rejected: It demands that we should rebel against such a society and system.
E. The only possible solution is to exert efforts to establish an Islamic state – even if by force. Any political or Da’wa (Proselytising) activity, other than for this objective, is a waste of time. Silence in the face of injustice, is tantamount to acquiescence of a corrupted and corrupting system.
This theory has influenced the Sunni Islamic movements such as Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbu-Tahrir (Liberation Party), Al-Jamaa al-Islamia (Islamic Group), along with their offshoots in Islamic countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey, or Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It has, furthermore, influenced Shi’a Islamic movements such as Hizbu Dawa al-Islami (the Islamic Call Party), Monazamat al-Amal al-Islami (Islamic Action Organization) and other groups in Gulf and Arab countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and others.
This theory has come to distinguish between what we can call the Islamic revival era and its reformist thought which was inaugurated by Jamal-Deen al-Afghani, Mohammed Abdo, Rasheed Rida and their disciples, in addition to the era of the Islamic movements or what some like to call the Haraki (Activist) Islam which was initiated in 1929 with martyr Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt, whose though was extended by two key intellectual figures:
The first of which was Sayed Qutb, who was hanged following an order from Jamal Abdel Nasser. It was his book Maalem fi Tariq (‘Milestones’), in which Qutb underlined the need to establish an Islamic society and governance combined with his rejection of all un-Islamic models that was extensively quoted at his trial. As usual, such ideas have deep impact when coupled with sacrifice, blood and martyrdom: They turn from ideas into schools of thinking that become the models for later generations. Later, Qutb’s ideas were extended by Abu al-A’la al-Mawdudi of Pakistan, al-Mustalahat al-Arbaa fil-Quran el-Karim (the Four Terms in the Holy Quran) in which he dealt with the meaning of the Divine governance in a way that intersected with Ma’lem fi Tariq.
This established the idea of Islamic governance stimulating fierce debate, until events intervened:
1. The 1967 war, and the spread of frustration in the Arab street – coupled with the concern over the nationalist and leftist influence in the region. These two elements fuelled scepticism of the nationalist and leftist currents, which increasingly were seen to be either conspiracies; or the ‘games’ of nations.
2. The loss of prestige of nationalism in Arab states after the war and a return to the Za’im (traditional leader) model of despotism directed against one’s own people. This led people to look for genuine choice in their lives: one of the most important of these choices was to turn to Islam.
3. The impact of the Palestinian cause on the Arab and Islamic conscience which led to a greater awareness of the conflict as a cause for the entire Arab World – especially after Israel’s invasion of Lebanese territories and its occupation of the capital Beirut.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 prompted some Islamic movements or groups to engage in serious armed resistance, which demanded real sacrifice, and which did not hesitate to spare the Occupation Forces. Later – 1987 – the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, emerged in Palestine. Although the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon was Shi’i; whereas, the Islamic Resistance in Palestine was Sunni, the unity of cause, the closeness of the geography, the common history and a shared enemy, created the catalyst towards a trans-sectarian experience. It launched a new consciousness based on this shared resistance experience, rather than on prior conceptions and prejudices.
It is remarkable to note when considering these two movements that:
A. They have not become involved in conflict with their own communities; but rather have remained focussed on Israel. This suggests that their cause is not one of confronting injustice – as is the case with most movements – but to resist occupation. This has given them the characteristic of national liberation movements.
B. They have sought, through resistance, to couple Islam to a nationalist project. The experience of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon has enjoyed an additional factor – its adaptation to the pluralist reality that distinguishes Lebanon as a country.
C. The two movements have been able to present a unity of cause, whilst maintaining organizational diversity and whilst exercising a national role.
D. The movements have become windows into the Islamic world – including countries such as Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, and Pakistan. In order to do this, they have disregarded the confessional [Sunni-Shi’i] divide; indeed, one can even say that they have managed to step past regimes and establish relationships with the peoples in the region.
E. They represent the rare example of movements that have ignored confessional and sectarian differences,
F. And which have achievements in battles, liberation of land in 2000, and victories over the Israeli invasions of 2006 and 2008, to their credit. These successes have spread a positive culture of achievement, self-confidence and a rehabilitation of the history of resistance such that the Arab and Islamic street has recovered much of its self-confidence and therefore its readiness to place trust in these movements.
4. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran: It is widely-known that Iran adopts Shi’i Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), a fiqh that has for a long time been absent, due to pressures and crises, from the work of constructing a state and a society – until, that is, Imam Khomeini (may Allah sanctify his soul) came with the Wilayatul-Faqih (the Jurist’s Guardianship) doctrine, which proposed:
First: Although the Sharia is the source of governance – legitimacy of that governance cannot be assured unless the people’s consent also is obtained. This is so, because the will of people is the religious and natural doorway to the establishment of Islamic governance. In this aspect, there is a deliberate coupling of the sacred and the temporal in the principles underpinning an Islamic state.
Second: The notion of the Ummah (Community of Believers) as the frame-work in which the political structures are built, does not invalidate commitment to national borders; rather, effective law-making is seen to be one that respects the national characteristics and aspirations – provided that this nationalist particularity does not begin to mould the religious interest. This is because the apostolic vision in Islam extends to the human being in his or her capacity as a human, rather than as a representative of any one nation.
Third: The criterion by which society, life and states is viewed, is founded on the basis of seeing the ‘good’ in them. It is not to label them as Jahilia (pre-Islamic society) or Takfir (to label as infidel); rather it affirms that true infidelity, at the political level, is injustice and aggression. Therefore, there can be no objection to openness to international relations – provided these relations are based on the interests of nations and peoples. This contrasts with the principles on which many Islamic movements and parties were founded.
5. A few months after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, an incident occurred in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, when Juhaiman al-Utaibi led a revolt against the king and against the regime of Saudi Arabia. This act of defiance opened a window – for general Sunni Islamic movements, as well as some Salafi movements, to act outside of the legal framework of order in consequence to the introduction of the US army into Saudi Arabia, and the regime’s subsequent silence on this event. For certain of these movements, matters came to a head when the US occupied the state of Iraq.
6. Then we have the events of September 11 2001, when al-Qaeda, which is led by Saudi Osama bin Laden and his right-hand man, the Egyptian Ayman A-Zawaheri launched the attack on the US. The Afghanistan-based organization was under the protection of Mulla Omar, the leader of the Taliban movement that observed the Hanafi Fiqh (jurisprudence) while adopting, as al-Qaeda, the Salafi vision that understood politics, as well as Jihad, within a specific and defined meaning, based on:
– The frustration arising from the experience of the Islamic Brotherhood movements: This has paved the way for movements, in Egypt and elsewhere, to adopt armed action – by movements such as al-Jamaa al-Islamiya in Egypt, Pakistan and Algeria; the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement that executed Anwar a-Sadat; the Takfir and Hijra (immigration) movements and many others. Ayman a-Zawaheri has lived the experiences of these movements. He met bin Laden in Afghanistan. It is known that the latter was a student of the Salafi leader and theorist Abdallah Azzam, who led the Arab groups in the Afghanistan war against the Soviets and who was martyred in mysterious circumstances.
All this has paved the way for a compound vision emerging that has mixed Salafism with the revisionist thought of the movements emerging from the Brotherhood, which was already committed to the notion of Islamic governance.
– Salafism has also been defined by a deviation from the authority of the religious or legitimate establishment and by the emergence of individuals who embarked on fatwa (religious rulings) which issued in a arbitrary, and sometimes even whimsical, fashion – thus making some of these movements form what (it has been agreed amongst them to be called) ‘fatwa councils’. This has made it possible to create new religious marjaiat (religious authorities) outside the framework of the historic ones, thus allowing, some chaos which has been amply demonstrated in Iraq – through the correspondence between Abu Mus’ab a-Zarqawi, Samir al-Maqdisi and Ayman a-Zawaheri. The latter two – as may be recalled – condemned a-Zarqawi’s behavior for failing to submit his actions to a fatwa council. There were even cases in which a group had two authorities: the emir, and the Faqih (jurist). We might observe in a city or a village, or even a neighbourhood in Iraq more than one group having its own emir and faqih.
– Salafism has also been characterised by violent acts emanating from a severe confessional (Sunni-Shia) mentality, and the extreme whimsical attitudes that we observed earlier that recognised neither pact nor honour – so that the norm, as far as they are concerned, has become one that anyone who disagreed with them, is against them, – be he Muslim or non-Muslim; unjust or just; ruler or ruled. The entire social, civil and religious structure was targeted as the intention became manifest: the use force and slaughter against all infidels. And people were labelled as ‘infidels’ merely for disagreeing with the emir or his particular group.
– It has also been identified by its propensity to attract bands of immigrants from the west in order to benefit from their scientific expertise. These immigrants lived in isolation in the western societies from which they came. They have proved unable, due to their upbringing, to adapt to life in the west; or to be in reconciliation with it: therefore they have used their scientific and technical minds and skills to create terror in western countries. This is an outlook which they have brought with them to Arab and Islamic countries, and which was turned against western interests – until finally agreement emerged, amongst Salafists, that the conflict must be focused on:
– either confronting the west and its worldwide interests, for it represented the origin of the problem,
– establishing the khilafat state. If the concept had not succeed in Afghanistan, it was to be established in one of the Arab countries. This was justified on the grounds that the establishment of a khilafat in the Arab world would topple other Arab regimes in favour of the khilafat state. This state would then launch a conflict against the west. This is the reason behind the large-scale security and military shift of Salafi movements into Iraq.
– or; it should be focused on confronting the sectarian [Sunni-Shia] and religious obstacles to the achievement of a khilafat. Hence were the horrible acts carried out by a-Zarqawi and his followers against the Shia, certain Sunnis, and Christians.
Here we are, today, facing three different classifications of Islamic movements:
Type one: the traditional institutions, especially those affiliated with the authority and that regard that submission to the ruler as a necessary issue. These have become institutions with marginal influence their peoples, and on the conscience of Islamic movements.
Type Two: the political Islamist movement, which I believe, applies most to the Islamist Salafi and Dawa (call unto Islam) movements that consider seizing power as their ultimate norm and objective. These are movements that have turned, in a great deal of their activism, into violent movements that adopt the policy of force as their chosen methodology, and,
Type Three: the Islamic resistance: these are movements concerned with rejecting and resisting occupation. As far as they are concerned, the objective framework is social activism, not power. Consequently, they are more of liberation movements than revolutionary, or ones committed to the overthrow of established order.
The importance of recognising the characteristics of the three principal types is essential and necessary. In my opinion these three currents will see a great deal of friction and reconciliation efforts before they can settle on common convictions. Finally, I do believe that tyranny and occupation represent the ultimate justification for using, and resorting to violence, in order to resolve problems.