Thursday, February 26, 2009

Saving Turkey from Its Old Self: More US, Less Europe

Turkey needs to be saved from itself. It can be saved by having the United States as its model for a modern secular state, and not any European country.

The late visionary leader Mustapha Kemal Ataturk wanted to build a modern Turkey from the ashes of the collapsed empire. He looked West for a model of what a modern state looks like. He emulated the strict secularism of Europe.

Turkey has changed and many Turks are increasingly more observant. The harsh Turkish secularism has the state banning women wearing headscarves from college campuses. Contrast that with the US justice department suing a school district to enforce the right of a Muslim teenager to wear a headscarf to school. I was at the CAIR annual convention in DC a few month ago when representative Keith Ellison alluded to this rather odd reality.

The US Constitution first amendment establishment clause has been read to mandate a separation of state and religion- the free excercise clause guarantees freedom of worship.

Americans are more religious than Europeans. The American approach to religion in the public sphere is more sophisticated and nuanced than the European almost fundamentalist secular approach to religion in the public sphere.

For Turkey to save itself, it needs to reinvent itself and its secular creed by becoming more American and less European.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lebanon and the Palestinian Refugees: Ill treatment Creates a Time Bomb?

The scandalously ill treatment of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon continues unchecked. Despite all the emotional support for Gaza, the Palestinian situation in Lebanon continues to be miserable. The excuses given by the Lebanese political figures are the national consensus on rejection of naturalization of these refugees and protecting the right of return. Only politicians that are raised on pure sectarianism would accept these excuses as justification for violating human rights and norms of decency in dealing with the refugees.

The Syrian’s Brother is the Lebanese’s Threat
The late President of the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat was asked about the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and he responded that there are Palestinian refugees in the whole world, not only in Lebanon, and that when a solution is found to the refugee issue, those of Lebanon are first in line. Despite this assurance, the Lebanese sectarian regime continues in its criminal policy that continues to violate international norms and human decency in its treatment of the refugees. Only in Lebanon are the refugees so mistreated. Compare the ill treatment in Lebanon to the Syrian treatment. Syria, which the superficially Westernized/sectarian to the core Lebanese call all the names in the book, extends all rights to its refugees- except voting and citizenship. This is true to Syria’s longstanding commitment to Arab unity and solidarity. The Palestinian is treated as a brother and a cause and not as a burden and a threat. Incidentally the sectarian regime of Lebanon perceives the refugees the same way that Israel thinks of the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship- a burden and a threat.

Shooting Lebanon in the Foot
But this ill treatment in Lebanon is a misguided policy. It is a policy that is a threat to the stability of Lebanon. In a report issued on February 19 entitled “Nurturing Instability: Lebanon's Palestinian Refugee Camps,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a warning to Lebanon about this ill treatment and provided recommendations to the government of Lebanon.

Deprivation Creates a Time Bomb
The ICG aptly describes the Palestinian refugees as a time bomb. “Marginalised, deprived of basic political and economic rights, trapped in the camps, bereft of realistic prospects, heavily armed and standing atop multiple fault lines – inter-Lebanese, inter-Palestinian and inter-Arab – the refugee population constitutes a time bomb. Until the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved, a comprehensive approach is required that clarifies the Palestinians’ status, formally excludes their permanent settlement in Lebanon, significantly improves their living conditions and, through better Lebanese-Palestinian and inter-Palestinian coordination, enhances camp management.”

The Lebanese State’s Shameful Distinction
The ICG report spared no punches. “The Lebanese state distinguished itself by shameful treatment of its refugee population. Today, the refugee question is intricately related to Lebanon’s sectarian divisions. Palestinians are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims and, as the prospect of any significant return of refugees – most of whom have never set foot in their former homeland – to Israel diminishes, fear has revived of their permanent settlement or naturalisation (tawtin) in Lebanon, which would affect the confessional balance. The Christian leadership in particular has played on such apprehension, deploying it as a tool to mobilise its base. In turn, successive governments have enacted measures to foreclose any such possibility, notably by ensuring that refugees live in extremely precarious conditions. Refugee camps are denied basic public services; Palestinians face severe employment restrictions; and, more recently, have been denied property rights.”

Denial of Property Rights
Recently the Al- Akhbar Lebanese newspaper, the only Lebanese paper that pays attention to Palestinian grievances and has been exposing the vile duplicity of love of Palestine and ill treatment of its refugees, had an article on the crisis of refugees unable to inherit the property left to them by their family members. The Palestinian refugees are not allowed to own real property. Even those refugees who hold the citizenship of a third country are not allowed to own real property in Lebanon. The descendants of a deceased Palestinian cannot inherit the real property of their deceased family members.

ICG Recommendations or International Complaints
The ICG issued a number of recommendations to the government of Lebanon. It urged it to:
“1. Adopt a law clearly defining and delimiting the notion of settlement/naturalisation (tawtin) that will
a) restrict tawtin to the acquisition of Lebanese citizenship and/or the right to vote; and
b) provide Palestinian refugees with all fundamental rights short of tawtin, including the right to work and to own property.”
It is doubtful that the confessional elite would heed the call of the ICG. Only action at international tribunals raising the issue of violations of international laws and norms has a hope of making any change to these policies.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

When Hate and the F Word Can Lead to Prison

The first amendment protects speech. However, this freedom has important limitations. A former State department official and an Arab American from Michigan learned about these limitations the hard way in 2008.

In "Ex-Diplomat Sentenced for Anti-Arab Threats," Carrie Johnson wrote in the Washington Post of July 12, 2008: 'A retired Foreign Service officer was sentenced yesterday to one year in prison for making threats against Arab American Institute President James Zogby and other employees there. W. Patrick Syring, 50, who served two tours in Beirut during his 25-year State Department career, pleaded guilty to violating civil rights laws. The charges stem from messages he left at AAI in the midst of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah."The only good Arab is a dead Arab," Syring said in a profanity-laden July 2006 voice-mail message delivered to AAI, which promotes Arab American participation in elections and policy issues. After federal prosecutors in the District accused him of intimidating the workers based on their national origin, Syring sent an incendiary message to a television station where Zogby had been interviewed. In the March 2008 e-mail, Syring repeated some of the language from his phone call and accused Zogby of "promoting the interest of Hezbollah, Hamas and Arab terror."The move prompted the government to withdraw its initial plea offer of no prison time, according to court records. Earlier this year, after the latter incident, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly declared Syring in violation of the terms of his release and ordered him to report to the D.C. jail, where he has spent the last four months. Under the terms of yesterday's sentence, the Arlington resident also must perform 100 hours of community service and pay a $10,000 fine."There is no room in our society for the intolerance of other races or national origins, particularly by those who hold positions in the government," said U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor.'

Another person to get penalized for using hate speech is a member of the Dearborn community who was convicted for sending threatening e-mails to a Michigan blogger, Debbie Schlussel, a blogger deemed by the Muslim and Arab communities an anti- Arab anti-Muslim bigot. Schlussel has been using her blog to promote and defend, in a zeal tantamount to idol worship, Israel and its convicted and unconvicted spies, as well as to attack Arabs and Muslim, especially the activists in the community, using tactics and language reminiscent of the Nazis and the late terrorist Meir Kahane.

The two incriminating emails sent to Schlussel stated:

These two emails got the sender in serious trouble.
The defendant pled to the charge of interference with a federally protected activity, 18USC 245 (b) (2) (c) that has a statutory maximum penalties of one year imprisonment and $ 100, 000 fine.

The elements of this offense are:

1. defendant used force or threat of force;
2. defendant willfully injured, intimidated, or interfered with a person, or attempted to do so
3. defendant acted because of the victim's religion; and
4. defendant acted because of the victim was engaged in the federally-protected right of enjoying employment by a private employer.
The plea agreement read "on or about August 22, 06 defendant sent two emails to a Jewish woman as part of her employment writes blogs and speaks on topics that include Arab American and Muslim affairs."