Showing posts from March, 2008

The West Bank: 50 checkpoints down, 530 more to go

In The New York Times of March 31, 2008, Helene Cooper writes in “Israel Agrees to Ease Access for Palestinians” that Israel agreed to remove 50 checkpoints and roadblocks from the West Bank and Gaza.

This is a baby step in the right direction- a step that needs a major push by the US.
Israel has done very little and needs to do a lot more. A lot more is needed to increase the numbers of the moderates that believe that peace is possible after all.

My late father- in- law hailed from El Bireh in the West Bank. My wife, often and despite the Israeli- created inconveniences and obstacles, visits there. I have never been there. A few years ago she was there for her brother’s wedding. When she got back she told me how harsh Palestinians’ life is under the forty-year Israeli occupation.

The Israeli occupation visits many hardships on the almost defenseless, colonized, and occupied Palestinians. One of the major hardship is the checkpoints and roadblocks. There are so many of them. They create l…

The Leader of JAM lectures on soccer

The US is helping the Iraqi government face down the Sadrist militia (Jaysh al Mahdi or JAM). Dealing with the Sadr group, which is represented in the Iraqi parliament, has been a challenge to the US. There is a video of Moqtada Sadr on youtube that might help understand why the US finds it difficult to reason with the group.

In this clip Mr. Sadr argues that the hugely popular sport, soccer, is forbidden in Islam.

He states:

"Shariah forbids soccer…The West creates these things— why a grown up Muslim man runs after a ball?
Why run after a lowly target, the so-called goal?
Why not run after high and noble goals? Why not run after a path leading to God’s blessing? Israel and the Jews do you see them playing soccer like we do? Have Israel or the US won any international trophies in soccer? No! they make us indulge in soccer, smoking, singing, watching haram/forbidden satellite programs, while they turn to science.
Are they better than us? If you…

Jordan's Islamic Front False Witness on Lebanon

There is a joke about the mental patient who goes to the psychiatrist for help. The patient can’t stop thinking of sex. Everything is sex to him. So the doctor starts showing him pictures and asking him what does he associates the pictures with. The patient answers” sex” for everything. The doctor is frustrated and ask the patient how is it that all his answers are about sex. The patient responds: “it’s not my fault; you are the one showing me all the dirty pictures.” [ I heard this joke from the character of Bob in the classic comedy What About Bob].
When it comes to Lebanon, Jordan’s Islamic Action Front is the mental patient and the unhealthy obsession is the US.
The King of Jordan has made crystal clear statements about Lebanon, supporting the international tribunal and the government of PM Fouad Saniora. Jordan’s Islamists go out of their way to disagree for "ideological purity."
The Islamic Action Front, as to Lebanon, in a press release asked the Arab Summit to:
“…end th…

President Assad: Let the Political Prisoners Go

Syria is an Arab country that is hosting the Arab Summit.
Syria is also an Arab country that has thousands of Arab political prisoners: Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, and others.
The Lebanese have been the most vocal on the issue of their political prisoners. Prime Minister Saniora pointedly and honorably raised the issue in his Summit address. But there are others.
For endless painful years they linger in the prisons of the dizzying alphabet soup of Syrian intelligence services. At the same time, Syria alleges to be holding the banner of Arabism of unity, freedom, and socialism!
Freedom, yes, freedom!
The Arab leaders should demand that Syria translate its inflated rhetoric of Arab brotherhood and unity into action. The prisoners, many who have been thrown in prison to be forgotten, should be released to be free or to serve the balance of their sentence in their home countries.
It is time to end the agony of the prisoners' families who don't know if their children are dead or …

The Damascus Summit:

The Syrian government refused to air Mr. Saniora’s speech to the attendees of this year’s low –profile Arab Summit.
This is a mistake reminiscent of the refusal of the Syrian-imposed President of Lebanon, Emile Lahoud, of airing the address of PA President Yasser Arafat. At the time Mr. Arafat was imprisoned in Ramallah by Israeli troops. Similarly, Mr. Saniora is surrounded by Syria’s allies who wish him the same end that Israel imposed on PA President Arafat. External pressures stopped Israel from storming Arafat’s compound and arresting or killing him. Saniora is surrounded too- surrounded by [tents donated for humanitarian reasons now used for political reasons] the Syro-Iranian axis groups. They would storm the Ministerial compound had it not been for serious external and internal pressures.
One of the things that Lebanon and Palestine have in common is the fact that the Syrian regime thinks of them as lowly spheres of influence that should have the independence of a mukhtar/mayo…

Iraq and the Sectarian Militias: Only If

One can only hope that it is true that the Iraqi government is taking on the militias.
It is not possible to have the rule of law, or even the appearance of it, with private armies running amok. It is even harder to have the dignity of a state when the militias are sectarian and the minions of foreign regimes.

Looking back one wonders how things in Iraq would have turned out if, in the aftermath of the brilliant military conquest, the militias were disbanded and the Iraqi army reconstituted and strengthened.
Would there have been the nihlist alQaeda, with its hate and thirst for blood ideology, in Iraq offering itself as a protector of the Sunnis? Would it have had any appeal of significance?

Much of the bloodshed and chaos would have been avoided. Only if.

Spitzer Brings Back Memory of Two Hours with the Johns

The sex scandal of Eliot Spitzer reminded me of the few solicitation cases I handled. Particularly one case. My client, a married man in his late forties, living away from his wife and children, was caught soliciting a prostitute. The “prostitute” was an undercover police officer. My client screamed entrapment since the alleged “prostitute” was really good looking and therefore hard for a red blooded man like him to say no to. I told him while I completely understand his point, that defense would not fly in court.
When he was arrested his car was impounded. He had to pay a few hundred dollars to reclaim it. It’s a lot more than he would have had to pay for the sought after service. There is money for everyone in the prostitution business-the workers, the lawyers and the government as well. Counties bring in money from forfeiture of the vehicle used to advance the crime even if the car belonged to the unknowing wife, girlfriend or a George Fox.
Since my client had rudimentary command of …

Kilpatrick: Undone by Age and Advisors?

Mayor Kilpatrick stands charged of violating criminal laws.
Too bad for him and the city.
I moved to Michigan in 2000 and started practicing law in 2001.
I occasionally handled cases at Detroit’s 36 district court. I have noticed positive changes that happened under the leadership of Mr. Kilpatrick. As a graduate student who commutes to Wayne State in Detroit I also noticed the changes in the city. The man deserves credit for the developments in the city and the new confidence in the city.
He finds himself in this painful situation because of his age and some of the people around him. There is a logic for setting a minimum age for public office. With age usually come experience, wisdom, and balance. Mr. Kilpatrick is an ambitious young man who had a lot of potential.
Politics is not for the faint hearted. Ambition requires risk taking and he is a risk taker. But too much risk is foolhardy- there is a lot one can do but would be crazy or foolish to do. Political office brings power. Powerfu…

Mr. Cheney Goes to Jerusalem

Vice President Dick Cheney, on his visit to the Middle East, made strong statements on the extremists and on the stalled peace process.
He correctly singled out the extremists’ camp in Gaza, Syria and Iran and the need to confront them.
He also stated that peace requires “tremendous effort” and “painful concessions on both sides.”
To deal effectively with the extremists, the reality on the ground has to be changed and the moderates have to be empowered. It is not enough to confront those who leverage the misery of the Palestinians for their own political agendas. It is important to change the Palestinian reality on the ground- a reality that presents ample opportunity to the extremists. One only hopes that Mr. Cheney was as forceful on the peace part of the equation as he was on the confronting extremists' theme.

Iraq After Five Years-The Failure of "Sunni Defeat" and the Chance for Building Democracy

The US invaded Iraq, removed the regime of Saddam Hussein, and promised a democracy that would serve as a model for the Arab world.
It is a well-intended but a naïve project since to build democracy you need democrats and a democratic mindset. Undemocratic regimes breed oppositions that are not themselves democratic. The national atmosphere is not conducive to breeding democratic tendencies.
The regime of Saddam Hussein was, until the sanctions period, a staunchly Arab nationalist secular regime. This regime dealt harshly with opponents of the regime especially the Islamists, the Shia and the Sunnis. While Saddam Hussein himself was a Sunni Muslim, it was not a Sunni Muslim regime in any meaningful way. The most wanted from the regime of Saddam were at least 40% Shia officials. Another evidence of the falsity of the “Sunni regime” label is the fact that the Kurds, themselves Sunnis, were also at odds with the regime.
The US promoted the war as a democracy project. Others promoted it, or …

Vali Nasr, the Shia Revival and President Nasser of Egypt

I am often asked to explain the differences between the Sunnis and the Shia.
A small book that does a good job of laying out the differences is Dr. Vali Nasr’s The Shia Revival. The book has a good chapter- length discussion of the differences that is very useful to grasp the differences between the two groups.
But I think Dr. Nasr is too pessimistic in his presentation and focuses too much on the negative in the history of the two groups.
However, the most unfair treatment in his book is that of Arab nationalism. It is caricatured as a Sunni ideology despite the fact that the key text of Arab nationalism, The Arab Awakening , is written by George Antonious, an Arab Christian, and that the Baath ideology is primarily Michel Aflaq’s creation, another Arab Christian.
Dr. Nasr seems to refuse to see any positive in Arab nationalism. For example, Dr. Nasr argues that one period where the differences of the Shia and Sunnis was deemphasized was a time of reaction to secularism. He writes that “…

Hariri Murder Suspect Twists Lebanon Country Report

The State Department’s Lebanon Country Report on human rights practices for the year 2007 issued on March 11, 2008 reads in the section“Arrest and Detention":
"At year's end four Lebanese generals, who in 2005 the UNIIIC arrested and declared as suspects in the assassination of former PM Rafiq Hariri, remained in custody. According to an August 28 Daily Star report, one of the detainees, General Security Major General Sayyed, reported that State Prosecutor Said Mirza informed UN Chief Investigator Brammertz that "local political considerations" were the cause for their continued detention without charges.”

Mr. Sayed, a detainee with an active press office, had his “press office” issue a statement that completely twisted the Report. Sayyed’s office states that the Annual Country Report described Sayyed’s detention as unlawful and that the US named political intervention as a factor in the unlawful detention.

There is an Arabic saying that the guilty in their deeds …

Kamal Jumblatt

Kamal Jumblatt. A member of the small but influential Druze minority was assassinated on March 16, 1977.
His murder was, as Al-Shiraa wrote last year, a part of a scheme to incite sectarian violence and position the Syrian regime as a force for law and order in Lebanon. Typical Syrian regime behavior. It creates conflicts and offers itself as a restorer of order in a game of open blackmail that has sub zero regard for human lives.
Kamal Jumblatt is one of the victims of this regime, a man that regime deemed too dangerous to remian alive.
Jumblatt's loss is a loss to Lebanon, the Arab world and all humanity. From a small village in Lebanon he rose to national and global prominence. A politician, a philosopher, a mystic, a writer, he was all, and did all well.
One of his timeless legacies is his belief in the importance of human freedom. In his writings he strongly criticized communism and the rigid quasi-fascist ideology of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SNNP), mainly on the basi…

The Other Denounced Occupier of Arab Land- Iran and the UAE Islands

Despite all the rhetoric of the Iranian regime, it remains, along with Israel, an occupier of Arab lands.
The Iranians invited themselves to the Arab Gulf Summit and now want to be invited to the Arab Summit in Damascus. It we are inviting Iran we might as well invite Israel since both occupy Arab lands- and, in Israel's favor, at least we have a peace process with the Israelis and Iran refuses even a process to discuss its occupation of Arab land. Arab countries should translate their rhetoric on the occupation of the UAE islands into action. Maybe the regime in Tehran would have enough sense to end its occupation and colonization of UAE territory.
Below is a letter from the Arab League that summarizes the issue well.

Letter dated 13 March 2006 from the
Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council

Pursuant to Article 54 of the Charter of the United Nations, I have the honour to transmit to you herewith a decis…

Syria and Lebanon: Let's Talk Normal

Syria and Lebanon have to be two of the closest countries in the world. But they do not have diplomatic relations, yet.
There is so much interdependence and connections between the two. This interdependence between the two would have made them good neighbors were it not for the behavior and attitude of the Syrian regime.
The two peoples get along well. They have extensive relations, family and business. But unfortunately for both countries, the Syrian regime does not accept, more accurately “swallow,” the fact that Lebanon is an independent country- with a flag and all the other symbols of statehood.
The Syrian regime thinks of Lebanon as a province of Syria rather than as a modern nation-state. For some reason the statehood of Lebanon is a reality that is not sinking in the minds of the ruling clique of Damascus.
Apologists for this denial of reality resort to a selective and superficial reading of history and how the West “divided us.” The historical record does not settle this matter. …

Qatar Gets Its First Catholic Church

Today in Qatar the first Catholic church opens its doors. Again tiny Qatar makes big news.
The land the church was built on was donated by the impressive Prince of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifeh al- Thani. Prince Hamad is the same visionary that gave the world al-Jazeera, a TV station that revolutionized the TV news business in the Arab world.
This is a great step that some see as going against established cultural practices. However, it is a step forward toward more religious tolerance that is true to the letter and spirit of Islam. For many years hundreds of thousands of Christian expatriates living in Qatar had to worship in private places. The sensitivity toward building a Christian house of worship, or any non- traditional Islamic one for that matter, is a cultural and not religious issue. Islam itself, in an unequivocal Koranic verse, advocates no compulsion in religion. Therefore, freedom to worship according to one’s beliefs should be allowed and it should be the standard in de…

Talal Chahine and the Hizbullah- A Community Question?

The famed La Shish Middle Eastern restaurant chain built by Lebanese Shia immigrant Talal Shahin was closed recently. The Free Press story written by David Shenfelter and Niraj Warikoo emphasized that the demise of the chain was caused primarily by the government’s labeling the owner a “terrorist sympathizer” for alleged support of the Hizbullah, a group the US classifies as a terrorist organization.
Talal Chahine, a prominent figure in Dearborn, is not known to be a religious person or a hard liner in any way. The government alleges that he broke tax laws. But his case was not labeled as a criminal tax case. The picture of him sitting next to Sayed Fadlallah, the alleged one-time spiritual leader of Hizbullah made the government accuse him of being a Hizbullah sympathizer and his criminal tax case a terror-related case.
The choice of the label “sympathizer” is interesting. The label “sympathizer” is not a legal term. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sympathize as “to be in accord or …

Iran and the US: Where Adm. Fallon Went Wrong

Admiral Fallon, the top US commander in the Middle East resigned.
It’s good that he resigned and what he said could only hurt US national interests and the cause of peace.
His statements that challenged the President are improper. He is a soldier and soldiers follow orders. In a democracy the civilian officials make foreign policy decisions and war decisions. Not the men in uniform no matter how high ranking they are.
Esquire writing that he is “brazenly challenging his commander in chief” regarding a possible war with Iran is just plain constitutionally wrong. Again because he is a soldier and Mr. Bush is his commander in chief and soldiers do not brazenly challenge” their commander in chief- not publicly, at least
Gen. Fallon does not want the US involved in more wars. This is a good mindset for soldiers. But Iran is an aspiring regional power that stands accused of supporting the enemies of the US- financially and otherwise. Mixed messages can only embolden this adversary. Adm. Fallon …

Israel Aids and Abets the Extremists

Israel declared that it plans to build hundreds of homes in the occupied lands of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The moderate Abbas government called this action a blow to peace.
It’s more than that.
It’s a giant boost to the radicals and extremists and another Israeli blow to the moderates.
The world wants the moderates in charge in the Arab world. Israel wants extremists in charge. While its words indicate otherwise, Israel’s actions allow only this reasonable reading.
The building of more Jewish-only housing on Palestinian occupied land is part of the Israeli scheme to empower the radicals. It is a fitting next step to the barbaric attack on the civilians in Gaza- meant to inflame and harden Arab and Muslim opinion by promising the Palestinians, of all things, a Holocaust.
Both steps are meant to boost the extremists and weaken the moderates.
Only one conclusion from these two steps- Israel does not want peace.
Israel wants the extremists to win so that there is no pressure to give bac…

On Iran- Ideology and National Interest

Iran is a pragmatic country that is aspiring for a regional role but uses ideology to achieve this role. Despite its hard rhetoric, it is seeking recognition of a dominant role in the Middle East, alongside Israel and the US.
This is the gist of Treacherous Alliances- the secret dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States by Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council.

The zealot pro- Israel advocates call anyone who criticises Israel an anti- Semite. The Iranians and their tribe of followers call those who criticise their policies a Nassibi {this is a vintage label in its anachronism], an enemy of Ahl al Bayt (family of the Prophet), or a Baathist. This accusation can not be levied against Parsi.( The Iranians, though, can come up with a self-hating label to those Iranians who say disagreeable things, like Parsi does).

Anyway- Parsi writes that Iran “uses ideology to achieve hard headed national interest objectives, rather than sacrifice national interests on …

The Shia and Hizbullah: What explains the Appeal?

It has long seemed odd how Hizbullah appeals to the Shiites, of all classes, backgrounds and degrees of religiosity.
I have come across Shiites who have married outside the faith, have no connection to Shiism in any way other than their heritage, rooting for Hizbullah and some getting emotionally scarred by any criticism of the group which the US classifies as a foreign terrorist organization
This has puzzled me and others.
The Lebanese Shiites are a rural community with about 85% of them living in the underdeveloped areas of South Lebanon and the Bekaa.
My friend Professor Imad Salamey of the Lebanese American University (LAU aka BUC) of Beirut co-wrote an article emphasizing that economic issues have played a major role in the appeal of the group to the Shiites who live mainly in underdeveloped areas or in the largely impoverished suburbs of Beirut called Dahyeh.
Along the same thinking, Mr. Ahmad al Asaad, the son of the previous Speaker of the Parliament, Kamel al Assad, in his recent …

The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

The Lebanese secular al Safeer newspaper.
The Lebanese leftist/ secular/communist Al Akhbar
Both called the individual who attacked the Jewish religious school in Jerusalem a “shaheed” or martyr.

When Arab seculars and communists, in addition to Islamists, call this person a martyr, it is further proof that the conflict is, not surprisingly, a political conflict between Jewish nationalism and Palestinian nationalism- not a religious conflict.

Neither party in this conflict is respecting international law. It's a fact regardless of who has the big guns- and it's Israel who has the big guns here.

Noncombatants continue to suffer.

divine tragedy and divine comedy

The ongoing bloodshed in Palestine is a divine tragedy.

The celerations of "divine victories" a divine comedy.

The puppeteers in Damascus and Tehran- only a similar "divine victory" for them, like Gaza's and Lebanon's, would be divine justice.

Enemies of Freedom Unite!- Arab communists and their Radical Islamist bedfellows

It has been a mystery to me- why do many Arab Communists attack Arab liberals.
Why do they support Islamists of all stripes: radical, half- radical, extremist, terrorist, of any and all flavors and incarnations.
Come one, come all- rain or shine. Support is what you get.
You see Arab communists, for example, attacking the legacy of PM Rafic Hariri. You wonder-The late PM Rafic Hariri and his thinking would let them speak their minds. The radical Islamists they support would pull what the late Ayatollah Khomeini pulled on their friends in the Iranian communist party. The radicals would blow them up or shoot them up. The liberals would let them speak as they do. How active is the Iranian communist party these days?
The communists are not afraid of the liberals harming them. They know that no one with a machine gun would be hiding to kill them for attacking a liberal. It is always safe to attack liberals- but we all know what happens to those who attack the others.
So attack they do- enjoyin…

The Persian Cat that Roared

I read today that Iran is sending a warship to the Mediterranean to show support for its allies.

Iran sending a message to the West! With all the support of Israel and Iran could not defeat Saddam's Iraq in an 8- year bloody war. Eight years fighting a smaller country and Iran could not win.
Iran is a country that loves superlatives with everything that is Persian. Even the Shah's name was king of kings. But the reality is that Iran is a country whose people have to deal with corruptiona and lack of freedom- the same handicaps that other less developed nations have.
The Iranian pistachio and carpet economy would make them another struggling corrupt and unfree country if it were not for oil. An awareness of their size can only serve the cause of peace.

Suehaila Amen

On March 3, 2008, our state resident Islamophobe, Debbie Schlussel wrote:
“And, to make matters worse, Wal-Mart hired Suehaila Amen, an openly anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, pro-Hezbollah Shi'ite Muslim to give ethnic sensitivity training to Wal-Mart employees. Yup, an anti-Semite supporter of Islamic terrorists giving sensitivity training. Sounds about right.”
Anti- Semitic? Please, she is a Lebanese Arab. As Semitic as you can get. And we all know she does not hate herself.
Anti-Israel? Yes- anti occupation, checkpoints, targeted killings, illegal flights over Lebanon, collective punishment, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee or be evicted from their homes, having the longest ongoing occupation in the world, that of the West Bank and Gaza- among other bad acts. What else is there to “love” about Israel!
Suehaila Amen! Again- a member of the community pays a price for political participation.
And she admires the success of Hizbullah in chasing Israel out of Lebanon. What a crime! If sh…

Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Prize winner, was interviewed by Emily Parker of the Wall Street Journal in “Subprime Lender” March 1-2, 2008.
Parker writes in “Subprime Lender”:
‘“They said we are destroying their religion because we are giving money to women.”
Some protested that women shouldn’t work outside, or get involved with money. The man, the argument goes is supposed to be the breadwinner of the family. Mr. Yunus told his critics to go back and study Islamic history. “The prophet’s first job was to work for a woman [Khadijah], who was a businesswoman,” he explains. Some critics said that in Islam, women are not supposed to go out. Mr. Yunus response? ‘That’s not true. In Islamic history women were everywhere. “’