Saturday, June 19, 2010

Understanding the failure of the Lebanese parliament to pass legislation ending the terrible treatment of the Palestinian refugees

The scandalous division in the Lebanese parliament over the bills ending policies of discrimination in housing ownership and employment came up in a phone conversation I had with a relative of mine, a Palestinian refugee from Syria. My relative was puzzled by the treatment of the refugees in Lebanon and by what happened in the parliament. The country of his family's forced refuge, Syria, gives the refugees all the rights Syrians have except the right to vote and to run for office. The world has moved away from such blatant discrimination, how could those who speak of democracy, human rights shamelessly act the way they did he asked?

Any Muslim, any Arab but not a Palestinian Muslim

This phone conversation got me thinking of a situation that puzzled a friend of mine from Dearborn, a Muslim Palestinian attorney born in the US whose parents were from the West Bank, with no ties to Lebanon. Learning that Lebanon was seeking basketball players from overseas, this man wanted to take a break after law school and play basketball in Lebanon. He asked for my help. I called a Christian Lebanese friend of mine of Palestinian origin and asked him to help. He said his cousin works in recruitment of basketball talent and he would see what he could do. Then almost as an afterthought he asked me where is this player from. I told him he is an American born to a Palestinian Muslim family from the West Bank. There was an awkward silence. "It won't work," he said.. A Muslim American of any other nationality would do, he said. A Christian Palestinian would do but not a Muslim Palestinian even if he and his family have nothing to do with Lebanon. "Sorry."

Christian Lebanese and the Palestinians

Why a Christian Palestinian would be acceptable but not a Muslim one? If the Christian Lebanese right wing still has a vendetta from the civil war, why would a Christian Palestinian be ok and not a Muslim one, if the issue is the Palestinians as a people? This mystery is demystified by two interactions I had. On a flight from Amman to Beirut I was sitting next to a Lebanese Christina man. Our small talk, predictably, ended in politics. We talked about the war and the aftermath. We spoke about the different players in the civil war. To my surprise when he spoke about Palestinians he meant Muslim Palestinians. To him the Christian Palestinians were not "Palestinians." This realization is validated by the treatment of Christian Palestinians during the civil war. I once asked a Christian Palestinian friend who lived in the Christian sector of the city if the Christian militias bothered his family. He told me not at all. He thought a little bit and said the neighbors sometimes mocked his grandfather's Palestinian dialect. But that was it. He was accepted in Christian Lebanon. Even the few Christian Palestinians who were not naturalized were accepted in the turf of the Lebanese Christian right.

The beginning and end of the war

Began with a myth ended with a myth

The civil war of Lebanon that broke out in the 1970s began with a myth and ended with a myth. The war began with the myth/blatant lie that the Palestinians want to "take over" Lebanon. It ended with the grand lie/the founding lie of the Taif Republic that the Lebanese are innocent from the war and its atrocities and it's all the Palestinians' fault. The Lebanese Christian right wing needed a convenient enemy that does not draw attention to Lebanese vicious disputes and conflicts- so during the war they chose to have the Palestinians as the public face of the enemy.

More importantly, the Lebanese civil war ended by an imposed Syrian peace on the feuding Lebanese factions. Unwilling to examine the war period, or to have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to bring the civil war's many Lebanese war criminals to account, official Lebanon chose to "let bygones be bygones" as the late President Elias el Hrawi put it. But the masses and the youth who did not live the war needed a war narrative, a villain and a hero. The right-wing Christian narrative that carried the day was that the Palestinian was the villain and the Lebanese people the innocent victim of the "wars of others." Vindictive policies toward the Palestinians followed.

Christian Lebanon and Muslim Lebanon

At the heart of the division over the issue of the Palestinian refugees basic rights is an existential question regarding Lebanon itself as a polity. Whose Lebanon is it? I worked in California with a Lebanese Christian of Syrian origin. He said that the religious divide in Lebanon is sickening. He related how in college a Christian Lebanese girl one time stated that she is annoyed by how "Muslims are acting as if they owned Lebanon." My secular Syrian nationalist friend replied to her that Christians too act as if they own Lebanon. She replied, without hesitation, we do! Lebanese media report that the Palestinian issue divided the Lebanese in parliament along communal religious lines. The reality is that the Lebanese are divided along religious lines and the treatment of the Palestinians is a manifestation of this awful division. If the Lebanese truly believed and acted as if Lebanon is their country, regardless of sect and religion, these bills would not have been before parliament at all. The Palestinians would have been dealt with decently and honorably from their day one of forced refuge in Lebanon. They haven't and the Lebanese have to look at themselves in the mirror to know why. Stop pretending.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

End the Siege on Palestine- in Lebanon

Official Lebanon policy on the Palestinian refugees: Undermining Palestine and feeding the global terror network

The siege on Gaza and the Israeli assault on the Turkish humanitarian relief ship has brought world attention to the suffering of the besieged Palestinians in the Gaza strip. After Hamas won the Palestinian elections the Israelis with, Arab and international collusion, imposed a criminal siege designed to punish Gaza’s civilians for voting for Hamas. The Israelis are just professional liars when they say the siege is designed to stop the flow of arms. The siege is designed, just like the war on Gaza and the war on Lebanon in 2006, to break the will to resist occupation and Israeli hegemony. The Wall Street Journal reported on 6/10/2010 that in response to developments after the piracy and massacre at sea of the humanitarian workers, Israel allowed formerly banned items such as potato chips, spices, and cookies.

Official Lebanon undermines Palestinian nationalism
Government policy feeds the global terror network
The plight of the Palestinian refugees is well known. The Palestinian association for human rights (Witness) has documented the violations, harassment and discrimination that the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon endure on the hands of the Lebanese sectarian regime (www.pahrw.org). The Palestinians are denied the right to work in almost all occupations; they can not inherit, among other limitations and violations of basic rights and decency. Cut off from employment opportunities, isolated and besieged by Lebanese security forces and military, the refugees suffer high unemployment and live off an informal economy, private foreign aid and NGO support all of which have been dwindling. The issue of the plight of the Palestinians has been discussed as a human rights issue. It goes beyond that. It is an issue of importance to the Palestinian nationalism project and to international security/the global war on terror. Lebanon’s policy on the refugees is undermining Palestinian nationalism and feeding the global terror network. It should not continue unchallenged.

Everyday Jihad in Ain El Hilweh

The Lebanese Christian right wing and its like minded Muslim allies are obsessed with the Palestinian refugees and the “islands of lawlessness” in Palestinian refugee camps. What these right wingers, with a history of massacres and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as well as their own countrymen on the basis of sect, fail to admit is that the Palestinians in Lebanon, and the Palestinian cause is being transformed due to policies that they have out of foolishness and bigotry put in place. The policy of mistreatment, marginalization and pure unadulterated hate has taken a toll on Palestinian nationalism and the global war on terror. In Everyday Jihad: The rise of militant Islam among Palestinians in Lebanon, Bernard Rougier writes about the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and the rise of “militant Islam” among them. Mr. Rougier spent four years studying the Islamists in Ain el Hilweh, the largest Palestinian camp in Lebanon with 35,000 inhabitants. Mr. Rougier concludes that a “new religious ideology took root in this Palestinian environment" in Ain el Hilweh that made it “a recruitment site [for global jihad] and a retreat for hunted down in countries of origin.” This development is not good for anyone- neither Lebanon, nor the Palestinians and the rest of the world.

From secular democratic nationalism to global terror networks
The US supplants Israel as the focus of grievance and violence

Mr. Rougier’s focus is not on the Islamist Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. These groups are nationalist in their agenda and are relatively moderate. The book focuses on groups that have been inspired by the rhetoric of Al-Qa’ida and have joined the informal network of “global jihad” against the “unbelievers.” These militants are engaged in “a religious, global warfare for the victory of Islam against unbelievers. These militant Islamists situate themselves within the international Jihadist network and identify with the rhetoric of al-Qa'ida.” Rougier considers Hamas and Islamic Jihad not part of the “global Jihad” but part of the “national Palestinian space.” He adds that there are "religious figures who expended much of their energy dissolving the national Palestinian community the PLO had worked to crystallize since its creation” To those groups “history ceased to be an experience of national dispossession and became instead one more link in the chain of Muslim people victimized by the Kuffar (unbelievers) since Mustafa Kemal abolished the Muslim caliphate in 1924.” He notes that “[I]t was no accident that a video aired by al –Qa’ida in September 2006 showed a young Saudi-one of nineteen operatives who died on September 11 dedicating a poem to “Abu Mahjin the Palestinian,” the main leader of the Ain al Hilweh jihadist network...” To these groups the US has supplanted Israel as the enemy and the “embrace of violent terrorist tactics more aggressive and enthusiastic.” The siege on the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has made this transformation possible.

US policy change needed
Ambassador Feltman’s friends must stop feeding the global terror network

The US has dealt with this threat by trying to upgrade the capabilities of the Lebanese security apparatus. This is not the best way to deal with the threat. What is needed is a change in the circumstances created by official Lebanon that have transformed Ain El Hilweh into the recruiting ground and retreat for “global jihadists.” The US needs to engage the moderate forces of Hamas and Islamic jihad, groups who are nationalist and not part of the global terror networks targeting the US and are best positioned to counter the radical groups. Official Lebanon has to be persuaded to change its policies that have played into the hands of the recruiters and theorists of the global terror networks. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs is very close to those forces that are behind the policies that transformed Ain El Hilweh into what it has become. Instead of spending resources and armaments on Lebanon’s security apparatus with the hope that the networks could be stopped, the US is better off changing the environment that has helped create the problem. It is time to test the friendship of Mr. Feltman’s so-called “Cedar Revolutionaries” by asking them to change policies that feed the global terror network.

Conspiracy of silence on the siege on Gaza-Conspiracy of silence on the siege of the Lebanon refugees

Those who support the Palestinian cause should mobilize to change Palestinian reality in Lebanon. The immense pressures official Lebanon puts on the refugees are undermining the Palestinian project. Those who support the Palestinian national project should see the contradiction in shaming the world for its silence on the siege of Gaza while they themselves are silent on the siege of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gaining Zionist Approval, Losing Islam

What good is it to gain Zionist approval but lose Islam’s soul?
Saying no to Muslim Zionism

In April of this year the American Arab anti- Discrimination Committee (ADC)- Michigan sponsored the Uniform Periodic Review event at Wayne State University. At that event one non- Arab Muslim leader asked a question and made a comment that seemed to be wrong in their logic and premises. The question was why the US government is refusing to give a “clean list” of Muslim charities that American Muslims can safely donate to. The comment was a response to a Palestine- related question. The comment was that Muslims have "many issues" and should not focus only on the issue of Palestine or be seen only from that angle.
Betrayal by appeasement: Asking the axis of evil Cheney-Rumsfeld-AIPAC where to give the Zakat?

The flawed thinking behind the question and the comment is clear to those who are familiar with the challenges that are facing American Arabs and Muslims in the United States after the biggest ever gift that was ever given to the Israel lobby- the 9/11 attacks; a gift that greatly facilitated the process of demonizing American Arabs and Muslims. The thought that the administration of George W. Bush, for example, would determine where the Zakat is spent is reprehensible to the overwhelming majority of Muslims who have seen that administration reckless attitude to Muslims. Who would want to hand their Zakat to groups handpicked by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and other members of the neo- con gang? Who wants politicians, any politicians, telling them where their Zakat money goes? Is that what Zakat is about? When the government decides where your money goes, it is called taxation not the exercise of first amendment rights to free exercise of religion.
American Muslims for Palestine

As to the issue of Palestine, it is true that American Muslims have many issues more than Palestine. However, the sense of American Muslims, with a few exceptions, is that the suffering of the Palestinians is a Muslim cause of utmost importance. It is true that the campaign against American Muslims is motivated by the fact that the Muslim community cares about Palestine and is translating this commitment into real support for the persecuted Palestinians- activism and donations. Muslims do not believe this support is optional. A Muslim longtime activist once told me that of all the Muslims in the world the Palestinians are the most deserving of Muslim help. That is powerful. Mainstream Muslim thinking is that one be truly Muslim without caring about the Palestinians and the alAqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Not a Jewish problem, or a pro- Israel problem
It's an Afrikaner problem

Those who think that Muslims should play it safe by distancing themselves from "politics", that is avoid the issue of Palestine in the hope that the aggressive Afrikaner Zionists that professor Mearsheimer talked about in his lecture in the Palestine Center in DC have to be aware of what kind of bargain they are asked to make. As a reminder, what Mearsheimer did in that lecture is divide the Jewish community into three groups- the righteous Jews, the Afrikaners and the middle group. The Afrikaners are the ones who are engaging in an unholy war against Muslim Americans. The problem that American Muslims are having is not the result of the effort of American Jews and/or even the effort of the supporters of Israel for that matter. The problem is the Afrikaners, not the Jews, and not the Israel supporters. The Afrikaners are the most vicious, the loudest, the most hateful and the most poisonous. An example of righteous Jews is The Jewish magazine The Forward which editorialized in support of the building of the mosque near Ground Zero. An example of Afrikaner Jews is Bret Stephens of the Journal.
WSJ Afrikaner View

Afrikaner Bret Stephens writes the "global view" column in the Journal, a column that if honesty was valued by Stephens would instead be called Zionist Afrikaner View. Mr. Stephens wrote in the Journal of May 25, 2010, “[T]he mosque at ground zero” a piece of pure poison and treachery that is greatly instructive as to the magnitude of the challenge facing American Muslims and the price that those who seek appeasement of the Afrikaners have to pay for safety.

Afrikaner Zionists are not asking for American Muslims to be neutral. They are not asking that they not help feed the Palestinians. They are asking for the impossible as a ticket to acceptance to the American mainstream that Muslims are eager to be part of. They are not only asking that Muslims who want to be accepted as acceptable “moderate” American Muslim worry about Muslims anywhere in the worked except in Palestine, they want a pledge of allegiance to Zionism and a lot more compromises/sacrifices that go to the traditional practice of the faith and the basic freedoms that individuals enjoy in this country. Here is what Stephens wrote:
"Muslims in New York want to build a mosque and cultural center near ground Zero. As a confidence building measure for those of us who live in the neighborhood, it would help if the pair voluntarily answered some questions about the nature of their beliefs. A sampler:
Who perpetrated the attacks of 9/11, and what was their religion?
Are suicide attacks or to her forms of violent jihad are acceptable under any circumstances, including against American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Does Israel have the right to exist as a Jewish state?
Do they agree with the state department’s designation of Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations?
What aspects of Shariah law, if any, do they repudiate?
Will their center invite the input and participation of Muslim gay and lesbian groups?
Do they consider the Muslim Brotherhood to be extreme?
What influence will any foreign funding of Cordoba House have on its programs or on the literature it distributes?
Finally, it is worth asking Mr. Rauf and Ms Khan the broader question of how they think about tolerance itself. In the case of the famous Muhammad cartoons “moderate” Muslims typically make the case while free speech has its place, the sensitivities of the Muslim community should be respected. But tolerance can't just be a one-way street, and sensitivity is not the preserve of Muslims alone… will they return the favor by hosting an exhibition of the prophet? "

One hopes that those American Muslims who campaign on the platform of appease for safety and avoid Palestine at all cost read Stephens well: among other "gems," repudiate Shariah, an exhibition of the prophet, and the cherry on the cake, the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state with all that it entails to the previous and the future ethnic cleansing of non-Jews from mandatory Palestine.
What good is it for American Muslims to gain Zionist approval yet forfeit Islam?