Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Lebanese Law and Women’s rights- I

Lebanese Law and Women’s rights- I
The issue of Lebanese law and women often comes up in American courts in matters involving Lebanese American litigants. A review of material published by the Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering* and Human Rights Watch** helps shed light on important questions. Below are commonly asked questions and their answers.
1. Is Lebanon a Muslim country? Lebanon is a Muslim- majority- country. About 30% Shia, 30% Sunni and 30% Christian and 10% other minorities such as the Druze.  Demographically, Lebanon is a Muslim country. The Christians dispute these numbers arguing that counting all the Lebanese in the diaspora makes Lebanon a Christian- majority country. But fact is, as to those Lebanese living in Lebanon that have Lebanon as the place of their habitual residence, the majority are Muslims.

2. Is Lebanon then just like Saudi Arabia or Jordan as to its being a Muslim country? Lebanon is a Republic. It is not an Islamic republic. In many countries in the world, the state has an official religion. Lebanon has no official religion-it is secular in that important sense. Article 9 of the Lebanese Constitution*** reads: “There shall be absolute freedom of conscience. The state in rendering homage to the God Almighty shall respect all religions and creeds and shall guarantees [sic], under its protection the free exercise of all religious rites provided that public order is not disturbed. It shall also guarantees [sic] that the personal status and religious interests of the population, to whatever religious sect they belong, shall be respected.” The provision about respecting all creeds and their personal status and religious interests has produced the complexity that characterizes Lebanon as to the various communities and the law.

3. How does Lebanon respect these religious interests of the recognized communities? Lebanon has 15 recognized confessional groups that are allowed to run their personal status matters such as family law matters- marriage, divorce, custody, support, etc. They have their own courts and their own judges. They have the authority of the law to make important decisions that affect the lives of the Lebanese from birth to death. The state uses its force to execute the decisions of the religious courts.

4. How does that work? Does it work? It depends on whom you ask. The system has a number of stakeholders with divergent interests.  Obviously the clergy like it and want it. They consider the legal authority they have a precious and fundamental right that cannot be alienated. On the other hand, the secular, the leftists, human rights activists and others consider the confessional personal status system a problem since they discriminate against women and for other reasons.

5. Why is the confessional system that is as old as Lebanon seen as problematic? It is seen as preventing the emergence of a unified Lebanese populace. They consider these religious courts as islands of law keeping people separate and apart preventing the emergence of a Lebanese identity and consciousness.  The state does not provide civil marriage in Lebanon- even atheists who want to marry in Lebanon have to have the clergy officiate their marriage. The religious courts have jurisdiction over all family law matters. Islamic courts also have jurisdiction over inheritance matters.  Couples from different confessional minorities have to choose  either the bride’s or the groom’s religious authorities to officiate the marriage. Then that court will have jurisdiction on all matters arising from that marriage. So if a Maronite wants to marry a Sunni it is either the Maronite Church or the Sunni religious court that marries them. But if they leave the country and marry civilly, the state recognizes the marriage just as it recognizes any marriage that takes place in Lebanon. Quite a few Lebanese travel to Cyprus, which is a less than an hour flight from Beirut, to get married civilly. The general principle is that a marriage valid where it was held is valid everywhere else. Accordingly, their marriage is valid in Lebanon.

6. If a couple marries civilly in Cyprus or in another country, and they decide to end the marriage, do they have to go to the confessional courts? No. They go to Lebanese civil court. And the principles of Conflict of Law require that the Lebanese court apply the law of the jurisdiction where the valid marriage was held.

7. Are women disadvantaged in confessional courts? Yes, they are. There is no equality of the sexes in religious law, across the board. There are Lebanese women who are pushing a reform agenda as to the treatment of women under Lebanese law. Simply put, women are not equal to men under the personal status laws of the confessional groups and this causes injustice to the women. This inequality is not limited to religious law, it also extends to secular law in matters such as domestic violence, spousal rape, the nationality law and adultery law.

8. What is the Lebanese women’s argument for challenging the legal status quo? The Lebanese Constitution itself, Article 7 and Article 8.  Article 7 promises equality to all Lebanese. Article 7 reads: “All Lebanese shall be equal before the law. They shall equally enjoy civil and political rights and shall equally be bound by public obligations and duties without any distinction.” The Lebanese, women and men, are largely equal before civil courts. But not before the confessional courts, Christian or Islamic. Also, the state engages in a number of practices that the women’s rights activists consider state violence against women.

9. The U.S. Declaration of Independence states that all men have the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, does Lebanon promise the same? The activists lobbying for change of the status quo make arguments based on Article 8 of the Lebanese Constitution. Article 8 reads: “Individual liberty is guaranteed and protected by law. No one may be arrested, imprisoned, or kept in custody except according to the provisions of the law. No offense may be established or penalty imposed except by law.” The women argue that Lebanese law that takes away their liberties violates Article 8 of the Constitution.
* http://www.rdflwomen.org/eng/
** https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/01/19/unequal-and-unprotected/womens-rights-under-lebanese-personal-status-laws

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Interview with Imad Hamad, American Human Rights Council Executive Director

The American Human Rights Council (AHRC) is holding its annual banquet on Thursday May 18. I interviewed Mr. Imad Hamad with questions about the banquet and about AHRC. Below are excerpts.

Q: Another year, another banquet. What are the highlights of this year’s banquet?

A: This year we are having our third banquet. We are awarding remarkable individuals from diverse backgrounds for their work advancing human rights. We expect a strong turnout, a full house- just like last year. Last year we had over 800 attendees. This year we have a special guest whose appearance is a great honor for the banquet.

Q: Human rights is a new type of advocacy in Arab and Muslim circles, does this present a challenge to AHRC?

A: It used to present a serious challenge. Before AHRC, I advocated for years for civil rights and civil liberties, locally, nationally and internationally. Advocacy for civil rights and liberties has been around for so many years that almost everyone understands the concept and the work. Human rights advocacy in Arab and Muslim circles is relatively new. When we started AHRC many people would ask me: What are human rights? How are they different from civil rights and civil liberties? We don’t get these questions anymore and I consider that a benchmark of success.  Human rights are largely God-given rights or natural rights while civil rights are largely man-made rights. That’s a key distinction here. Our goal at AHRC is to create a culture of awareness of and respect for human rights. The fact that people know what we do and understand it is a measure of our success.

Q: Do you still do civil rights work?

A: Yes, very often we have a case where an individual would insist that we get involved and help them. It’s not our primary goal but we don’t see a conflict- human rights are inclusive of civil rights. We are selective in which cases we get involved in. One constraint is capacity- our office is very small staffed. We have a high success rates in our involvement in civil rights matters. Constructive professional credible engagement is the key to our success. We have an open door policy if we can’t help them, we direct them to where help could be obtained.

 Q: You are based in Dearborn. How would you respond to someone saying that AHRC is yet another Dearborn organization added to a myriad of others?

A: Our office is in Dearborn. We are part of the Dearborn/Detroit organizational network. We are proud to be based in the great city of Dearborn. But we are not a parochial organization- our focus is local, national and global. Take our board for example and compare to other organizations’ boards. Our board is impressive in its diversity and talents. 90% of our board is outside Dearborn. Our awardees and banquet attendees are also very diverse and not limited to Michigan.

Q: What are the biggest human rights challenges of this year?

A: Syria and Yemen by far are the most challenging. There are also ongoing crises in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition to the domestic challenges that drastically increased due to the new political era in the United States.

Q: How has the challenge of sectarianism affected your work?

A: Sectarianism exists overseas and in the US as well. It is a universal challenge. We stay true to our mission- human rights. We advocate for human rights regardless of the identity of the victim and the identity of the perpetrator. Human rights are about our common humanity.

Q: Is funding an issue- What we hear from secular activists is that there is strong religious giving in the Arab and Muslim American community while secular organizations struggle. Is that still true?

A: To a large extent yes. You always see new religious centers being built and added. These institutions are important. But what we don’t see the support needed to keep secular organizations advancing missions that help everyone- including the religious. It is relatively easy to get money to build a religious center or to dig a well or feed the needy but harder to get contributions to secular organizations. We advocate for everyone- we help everyone. Everyone should contribute.

Q: You have a prisoners’ rights program, how does it work?

A: We advocate for the religious rights of prisoners with the Michigan Department of Corrections- the Ramadan issue for example. Muslim prisoners need to be accommodated as to meal time during the month of fasting. We have succeeded in improving Michigan’s accommodation of the fast of the inmates. This issue continues to be a challenge and requires more work.  We also partner with a great Michigan based charity, Life for Relief and Development (LIFE), in providing family gift to inmates. We complement the work of other organizations in this area. What counts to us is helping people not the credit for it.

Q: You worked at one time on government-community engagement. Are you still involved in that?

A: I still believe in the community-law enforcement partnership model that provides a channel for dialogue that builds trust- genuine dialogue and partnership. But take Detroit now. I was the co-founder, along with the former US Attorney Jeff Collins, right after the national tragedy of September 11 attacks, of  BRIDGES. BRIDGES is a premier law enforcement- community forum that I co-chaired until 2013. I was invited nationally and internationally to speak about BRIDGES. Now, sadly, you hear many are questioning the integrity of the process itself- it has lost its inclusivity. Those who are allowed to participate in it are chosen on the basis of who knows who and other ill- defined criteria. As a founder of BRIDGES, I urge all, especially the government stakeholders, to objectively reassess and evaluate the engagement process.

Q: What do you think needs to be done with BRIDGES?

A: The value of engagement is measured by keeping it an inclusive body that is not mandated or governed by parochial, irrelevant to the forum, political agendas and limitations. This is a forum of dialogue to all and it should include all the stakeholders- not only those who are of politically convenient. These days this engagement is direly needed given the many divisions we see and the challenges the community, the country and indeed the whole world faces. Time is overdue to return it to its original mission. BRIDGES is valuable and a model of community-law enforcement engagement. It has to be restored to its old inclusive self. Otherwise, it is perceived that the government stakeholders are taking sides in small community politics and community rivalries that are irrelevant to the process. The government stakeholders have to be careful not to be perceived as taking sides in internal community disputes.

Q. The DHS Secretary visited Dearborn about a month ago. What happened there?

A: That meeting was a good example of dialogue done wrong. Key voices were excluded- it defeats the purpose. AHRC and others were excluded from the meeting. This violates the letter and the spirit of BRIDGES. Many people feel the same way.  I feel I have an obligation to speak out on this issue since I am a co-founder of BRIDGES.

Q: How is AHRC’s relationship with the media?

A: The media is crucial to our message and they have been great. We have a great relationship. AHRC is often sought for comment on matters related to human rights. I also write a guest column on human rights matters in the Detroit News. Our voice is definitely heard.

Q. What challenges do you see for NGO work in the Arab and Muslim American community?

A: There is a need for a strategic plan. There is some progress but we still see that our work overall is reactive and crisis driven. We need to respect specialization. We can’t all be doing everything at the same time regardless of our mission. We should complement each other’s work. The Muslim Ban issue brought us all on the same page, but what happens after a crisis fades? We need a strategic plan.

Q: What are you thankful for?

A: The donors, the board, the supporters and the volunteers. Our board consists of diverse talented people who are vital to our success. The young interns we have are extraordinary and reassure us that the future is promising.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Syrian conflict and Hezbollah: Are there winners in the Syrian conflict?

The Syrian conflict and Hezbollah: Are there winners in the Syrian conflict?*

The Wall Street Journal is one of America’s finest papers. It is also the paper with the biggest paid circulation. Even those who are liberal and not fond of its editorial policies have to admit that the reporting is professional, objective and accurate. There is a so-called Chinese wall between editorial writing and news writing.

Inaccurate and Unbalanced

On the Middle East, the Journal has good writers that have written deep and incisive pieces on the region. Understandably, Syria and Iraq get the bulk of the attention in Middle East reporting. One of the Journal’s reporters in the region is Maria Abi Habib. Recently, she wrote a piece on the Syrian conflict. Her thesis was that Hezbollah is the winner in the Syrian conflict. It seemed as if it was written by Hezbollah's PR department to raise the morale of its fighters and its core constituency.

The page one article by Maria Abi-Habib was entitled “A winner in Syria’s civil war: Hezbollah,” and it appeared in the paper of April 3, 2017. Abi-Habib article was an inaccurate and unbalanced report that overlooked the major losses and challenges Hezbollah is confronted with due to its immersion in the Syrian quagmire. Abi-Habib claimed that the intervention in the conflict strengthened the group. Far from strengthening it, the involvement has been costing it dearly and has weakened it.

Iran’s franchise

 In her article, Abi-Habib repeated a widespread myth in Middle East studies. She stated as settled fact that Hezbollah was founded in the 1980s to “fight Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon.” That is completely not true. The group was founded by Iran in its effort to export its revolution in the Arab world. Before Hezbollah the leading Shiite political group in Lebanon was the Amal Movement, founded by Sayed Musa al Sadr. The Amal Movement, beginning with Sayed Musa, allied itself with the Syrian regime. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard were providing military training and indoctrination of Shiites in the Bekaa valley. Amal, while not antagonistic to Iran, valued its Lebanese and Arab identity and refused to become an Iranian proxy. There are two excellent books on Lebanese Shiites that must be read by those who care to understand the community- one is Fouad Ajami’s The Vanished Imam and Shi'ite Lebanon: Transnational Religion and the Making of National Identities by Roschanack Shaery-Eisenlohr. Eisenlohr’s is especially useful in understanding the political dynamics of the Shiite community and its complicated relationship with Iran.

The myth of the Israeli occupation as the reason for the existence of the group is also belied by the fact that Iran has set up other Hezbollah franchises in the Arab world in countries that never had an Israeli occupation. The only successful franchise was in Lebanon due to the weakness of the state and the nature of the Lebanese political system. The Israeli occupation provided a pretext to build the capacity of the group to the level that it is today.
Iran: Ideology, weapons and funds

The group had no choice but to intervene in Syria. The strategic decision was taken by Iran. There was no room for dissent since the group gets its ideology, weapons and funding from the Iranian regime that is led by an infallible leader. Important Lebanese voices have spoken against the group’s involvement in the Syrian war. Former top security official and former Justice minister Ashraf Rifi warned the group that involvement in the Syrian war is akin to committing suicide and invites retaliation against the Lebanese by the Syrian opposition. A former leader of the group, Sobhi Tofaili, also criticized the group with very strong language. 
Constrained finances, ballooning liabilities

Abi-Habib claims that the group is the “winner” of Syria’s war and “has grown stronger fighting Syrian rebels.” Far from it. Thousands of its fighters have been killed or injured in Syria, many permanently disabled. Hezbollah is on the hook financially to provide for the families of its war dead and injured while facing dwindling financial resources. As far back as 2015 Newsweek reported on the group’s financial difficulties: ‘"Now our family only gets half of the medical care and medicine that we need,” she says. "This used to come every month without any problems, but today we are suffering." She’s not the only one. As critics continue to blast the party for the war in Syria, the slowdown has also led to a gradual reduction in social services, along with payments to Lebanese political allies. One Druze politician allied with Hezbollah used to receive $60,000 per month from the group, according to Khalil and a Lebanese political source close to the party. Today he gets just $20,000 each month. Both claim that another Lebanese politician used to get a monthly stipend of $40,000 but now must settle for $15,000.’

It has steadily gotten worse for the group. The arrest of its major financier Kassim Tajideen and his extradition to the US is part of several successful and effective measures to clamp down on its finances. This increased financial pressure coincides with increasing financial liabilities due to the Syria war- not a recipe for strength. Also, in addition to the thousands of dead and injured, the group has lost top operational commanders in Syria including Imad Moghnieh and his successor Mustapha Badreddine.   

The biggest Loser: Soft power

Most importantly the group has lost its soft power in the Arab and Muslim world. The group used to be immensely popular but after its involvement in Syria there was a tidal shift in Arab opinion away from the group and not just among the viewers of al Jazeera. A testament to this loss of soft power is the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council classifying it as a terrorist group and clamping down on its financial supporters and many others in its core constituency.

There are simply no winners in the Syrian quagmire. 
*A part of this entry appeared as a letter to the editor in The Wall Street Journal of April 13, 2017.
Abi Habib's article:



Thursday, March 23, 2017

Israel and the ESCWA report

Israel and the ESCWA report: The case of the Israeli crime of apartheid in Palestine
The single most important document on Palestine today*

Professor Virginia  Tilley

Professor Richard Falk

The honorable Rima Khalaf resigned from her position as the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) amid a controversy about a report published by ESCWA. Ms Khalaf held her position at the UN from 2010 to 2017. She decided to resign rather than remove the report as ordered by the Secretary General of the UN António Guterres. The report made Israel and its supporters angry, and for good reasons. The report cost Khalaf her job, its removal “earned” Guterres another term at the UN.

The report, Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid, is a relatively short document- 65 pages only. But it is the single most important document on Palestine today. In this document, the authors Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley argue, on the basis of law and facts, that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. In addition to providing the facts and the law to make their case, they also provide recommendations for dealing with the ongoing crime against the Palestinian people.

Apartheid can be used as a slur, as an insult and as a rhetorical jab. But this is not how serious scholars Falk and Tilley use it. They make a case firmly based on international law and undisputed facts. The word apartheid has been used by others to describe the reality in Palestine but the timeless and priceless contribution of the authors is their laying out the case methodically based on law and facts. This document is a must read for all supporters of human rights and Palestinian rights. The document must be read, understood and distributed widely by supporters of human rights. The writers have done the hard work for all the activists on Palestine by bringing up the counter arguments of Israel and its supporters and succinctly defeating these arguments.

The UN has the copyright to this document. The UN published it. However, it is not official UN policy. The document’s disclaimer reads: “The findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its officials or Member States.” Despite that disclaimer, the fact that the report was published by the UN carries a lot of moral authority, legitimacy and credibility and these attributes are precisely what Israel could not accept, especially that the authors identify apartheid as a crime in international law, just like genocide is. 

Supporters of human rights for Palestinians should share the report widely. The authors of the report, Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, should be invited to speak about the report and help educate the American public on Israel’s ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people. 

Below are excerpts from the report:

In sum, this study was motivated by the desire to promote compliance with international human rights law, uphold and strengthen international criminal law, and ensure that the collective responsibilities of the United Nations and its Member States with regard to crimes against humanity are fulfilled. More concretely, it aims to see the core commitments of the international community to upholding international law applied to the case of the Palestinian people, in defence of its rights under international law, including the right of self-determination

This report concludes that Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole. Aware of the seriousness of this allegation, the authors of the report conclude that available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.

This report finds that the strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people is the principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime. It first examines Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid how the history of war, partition, de jure and de facto annexation and prolonged occupation in Palestine has led to the Palestinian people being divided into different geographic regions administered by distinct sets of law. This fragmentation operates to stabilize the Israeli regime of racial domination over the Palestinians and to weaken the will and capacity of the Palestinian people to mount a unified and effective resistance. Different methods are deployed depending on where Palestinians live. This is the core means by which Israel enforces apartheid and at the same time impedes international recognition of how the system works as a complementary whole to comprise an apartheid regime. Since 1967, Palestinians as a people have lived in what the report refers to as four “domains”, in which the fragments of the Palestinian population are ostensibly treated differently but share in common the racial oppression that results from the apartheid regime. Those domains are:

 1. Civil law, with special restrictions, governing Palestinians who live as citizens of Israel; 2. Permanent residency law governing Palestinians living in the city of Jerusalem; 3. Military law governing Palestinians, including those in refugee camps, living since 1967 under conditions of belligerent occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; 4. Policy to preclude the return of Palestinians, whether refugees or exiles, living outside territory under Israel’s control.

[Below is one counterargument they deal]
Consistency with international practice: The Israeli doctrine of maintaining a Jewish majority, enabling the Jewish people to have its own nation-State, is consistent with the behaviour of States around the world, such as France, which express the self-determination of their respective ethnic nations. It is therefore unfair and exceptional treatment — and implicitly anti-Semitic — to target Israel as an apartheid State when it is only doing the same.
This common argument derives from miscasting how national identities function in modern nation States. In France, for example, anyone holding French citizenship, regardless of whether they are indigenous or of immigrant origin, are equal members of the French nation and enjoy equal rights. According to the Supreme Court, Israel is not the State of the “Israeli nation” but of the “Jewish nation”.86 Collective rights in Israeli law are explicitly conferred on Jews as a people and on no other collective identity: national rights for Jews, embedded in such laws as the Law of Return and the Citizenship Law (discussed above) do not extend to any other group under Israeli rule. Hence, racial-nationalist privileges are embedded in the legal and doctrinal foundations of the State. That is exceptional and would meet with opprobrium in any other country (as it did in apartheid South Africa)

Link to the report:

*Published in Forum and Link 3/23/2017

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

President Trump’s immigration executive order, law and politics: Questions and Answers

President Trump’s immigration executive order, law and politics: Questions and Answers
A community united, building broad coalitions, can push back*

President Trump issued an immigration executive order that caused a lot of controversy, even turmoil at airports. Why did he pass this order? Why did the judges rule against Trump? What does the future hold for Muslim Americans?  Below are commonly asked questions and their answers.

-What is an executive order? 

An executive order is an order issued by the President of the United States to the executive branch officers directing them to engage in a particular action. The legal authority for it comes from the inherent authority of the position of the President of the United States or from statutory authority given to him by Congress. This order has the force of law.

- What is the controversial immigration executive order about? 

This order suspended all refugee admission for 120 days, suspended the admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely, and suspended the entry of all aliens from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days.

-Why did President Trump issue this order? 

The official Trump line is that the order is needed to keep the country safe from terror.  The wording of the order cites the 9/11 attacks. However, many see it as a fulfillment of a campaign promise. During his campaign he called for a ban on Muslims entering the US and flatly stated “Islam hates us.” Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani stated that Trump asked how he could legally ban Muslims from entering the US. Trump also told a Christian broadcasting station that the ban does not apply to Christians. The US also assured Israel that the ban does not apply to Jews from these countries. Therefore, it is a Muslim ban in all but name.

- Why was there pushback from the American public?  

There was a humanitarian crisis on US soil, a crisis that one usually sees on TV in other countries. Families separated, individuals turned away at airports or detained not because of what they did but because of who they are as members of a religious group.  Immigrants are so an integral part of American society and even Americans not directly impacted by immigration are indirectly impacted in important ways. The actions of the President were perceived as going against American values- against core American values and the Constitution.  Many Americans thought the measures that Trump took were unconstitutional and un-American. America does not use a religious test for citizenship or admission to the country. 

-Why was there pushback from the courts? How could the courts side with foreigners against the President of the United States? 

 The courts did not side with foreigners against the President. They sided with the law and the Constitution. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952 authorizes the President to suspend “the entry of any class of aliens” whose entry “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.” The judicial standard of review here is the rational basis test- the lowest standard of review.  Judge Robart during oral argument asked for evidence that the executive order was based on facts not fiction.  The government had no facts to justify the suspension. Their basic argument was that Trump is the President of the United States and his actions in that area are basically unreviewable. But, the President is not above the Constitution. The judiciary branch is a co-equal branch to the executive and legislative branch. They have a final say on what is constitutional and what is not. And insulting judges does not help.  Trump stated: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law- enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned.”  This insult has shocked the public and the judiciary and did not help Trump’s case at all. Interestingly, all the court events so far have been preliminary- courts have not studied the merits yet. But the judges were convinced that the plaintiffs are likely to win on the merits and that not ordering a stop to the president’s order would cause irreparable harm to the plaintiffs.

-Trump said he is issuing another order. What do you expect to happen?

The Wall Street Journal attributed Trump’s losses in the courts to the executive order being “conceived in secret, sloppily written and overbroad, and sprung on a confused public.”  These are all factors that contributed to  Trump’s judicial ignominious defeats but the real reason for the loss is whether the order is based on facts or on fiction, on facts or on biases and prejudices. Judges read the newspapers, watch the news and have access to Twitter. They knew the real reason for the ban and the Trump administration did not even bother to manufacture facts to justify the order.  My sense is that the judiciary is more wary as to the administration’s antics and they will scrutinize closely any future order.

- Are you optimistic about the future? 

Americans, by definition, are optimistic people. Islam requires us to be optimistic- otherwise we have lost faith in God. But being optimistic is not the same as being naïve and unprepared. We are in treacherous times and we should expect anything from a President Trump. But, the reality that Trump has declared the media an “enemy” and insulted the judiciary invigorates the media and the judiciary.

- Do you think Arab and Muslim Americans are up to this challenge? 

Yes, they can push back hard it they organize and let go of petty politics and form coalitions with the broader American society. American Muslims are merely 1% of the US population, this underscores the importance of coalition making with sympathetic segments of the US population. But, there were no Muslims in the US Congress before the 9/11 attacks- now there are two- one elected in 2006 and the other in 2008. This underscores the importance of political participation- from the simple act of voting to running for office.    

-What do you think of the Arab and Muslim American community in Detroit?

The Detroit Arab and Muslim American community is on the radar of every anti- Muslim anti-Arab bigot in the US. The high profile of the community, as stated by others, is a blessing and a curse. First, importing conflict from overseas will not help bring the Arab and Muslim American communities together. Second, there are voices in the community that are struggling to remain relevant so they stir the pot of division to get attention. One of these voices, Osama Siblani, has a newspaper that he uses as a tool to advance his control the way the Soviets used Pravda.  Siblani wants to run the community as a Middle Eastern dictatorship, a fiefdom- and he is known as a cheerleader for dictatorships in the Middle East.  Just last week Osama’s paper resurrected a writer, Mohmed Ozeir, from the past to attack prominent voices in the Arab American community. One of the people attacked told me he and others attacked by Ozeir had done much more than he had ever done to the community himself and Ozeir in particular is in no position to judge others.  My source noted that Ozeir is an excellent writer but is one of Osama’s frenemies and Osama provided him a platform to sow division in the community. My source asked rhetorically: What has Ozeir himself done to the community when he could? Again, you ask yourself why? Why sow hatred and division? The community faces extraordinary challenges and does not need manufactured conflict driven by ego and petty personal agendas. 

* Will appear in the Forum and Link, 2/23/2017, www.forumandlink.com.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

America and Iran: Taking “death to America” “too literally"

Ayatollah Shirazi

America’s relationship with the theocracy in Iran is complicated. While Iran always makes anti-American noises, reality is more complicated.

In his book, Dining with al Qaeda, published in 2010 Hugh Pope, a British reporter who used to write for The Wall Street Journal, relates an instructive episode on Iran’s attitude to the US, in Pope’s words:       

The slogan appeared on the compound wall of Khamenei’s representative in Shiraz, Ayatollah Mohieddin Haeri Shirazi, who kept his offices in a jumble of box-like concrete constructions softened by palms and eucalyptus trees.
          The ayatollah was mocking my reporter’s need for neat categorizations, and he tossed his chaff into the chair with a trouble-loving twinkle in his eyes. He clearly did not often have the chance to address “the West.” He moved to a subject close to his heart: Why, why did America not realize that Iran was its friend?

          Surprised at this turn in the conversation, I mumbled something about Americans finding it hard to think well of a country that kept saying “Death to America.”
          “Oh, Americans take all that stuff far too literally!” said the ayatollah, happily hitting his stride. “It’s just propaganda. We are at war after all. The difference between Americans and us, though, is that we are only waging a war of words. How many Americans did we kill? None. But in our war with Iraq the Americans were helping the Iraqis use chemical weapons, you were selling the Iraqis Phantoms and Mirages.”
75 – 76

The Soviet role in one of the most bloody chapters in Palestinian history: The Abu Musa rebellion

Abu Musa

The demise of the Soviet Union is considered by some Palestinians as a major setback for the Palestine cause since the Soviets supported them and the US supported Israel. The history of the Soviets is more complicated. The USSR played a role in one of the bloodiest episodes in Palestinian history: The rebellion of Abu Musa.

In Dining with al –Qaeda, Hugh Pope, a well-known reporter with a long experience in the Middle East related the following, in his words:

A few days later she took me across town to the compound housing the Soviet embassy. It looked  then like many U.S. embassies look today, surrounded by high concrete walls and solid metal gates The guards were expecting us and ushered us in, deeper and deeper, until we reached a building with a plaque announcing it to be the Soviet-Palestinian Friendship Society. There, waiting for us, was a dignified gentleman with silver hair, a military uniform, and a cravat.
          His name was Colonel Mousa Abu Mousa, and he was something in the PLO. I’d never heard of him, but I tried to keep my cool, partly because the embassy had put in a minder to watch over our conversation, and mostly because I didn’t want to be mocked afterward by Slobodanka for any ignorance. Abu Mousa soon got my attention, however, shocking me by denouncing Yasser Arafat as a traitor to the Palestinian cause and insisting that Arafat intended to betray the Arabs by doing a separate peace deal with Israel. (Such plans were indeed afoot with Jordan at the time.) He, Abu Mousa, was now raising the flag of rebellion against Arafat. This new defender of the purity of the Palestinian cause would prevent imperialist America buying off the Palestinians like it had bought off Egypt with the gift of a billion dollars per year.
          I didn’t think to ask: Why are you doing this in a Soviet embassy building? Why are we doing this in front of a KGB minder?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Interview with internationally renowned cookbook author Hadia Zebib Khanafer:

The Arab world is in the news for its dysfunctional politics. There are ongoing wars in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Iraq. There is the Arab-Israeli conflict with Israel continuing to take Palestinian lands while the people of Gaza live in a big prison. While Middle Eastern politics maybe unsavory, there is a consensus that the food is not only savory but healthy as well. 

The Forum and Link reached out to renowned Lebanese cookbook author, Hadia Zebib Khanafer, with questions about Lebanese cuisine and her two successful cookbooks.*

Forum & Link: Please introduce yourself to readers?

Hadia Zebib Khanafer: I am the author of “Sofra ‘Amra” and “Hadia, Lebanese Style Recipes.” I also have my own blog called Hadia’s Lebanese Cuisine and I’m a passionate self-trained cook.
I grew up in Beirut and I came from a family of fantastic cooks. Currently I reside in Congo/Kinshasa with my husband. I am a mother of three great young men. I value the ritual of gathering with my family, friends and loved ones around a dinner table.

You have written two cooking books. When did they come out and what motivated you to write them?

I released my first cookbook in Arabic in April 2003. The second expanded edition came out in April 2007. The idea of translating my book to English for non- Arabic speakers was always on my mind. Hadia (Lebanese Style Recipes) was released in December 2014.
For many years, I have entertained dinner guests with delightful recipes where with time I acquired a reputation for being a good cook, so I began to think what it would be like to put my recipes in a book.  I started to collect the recipes after the encouragement of my husband, family and friends telling I should write a cookbook. And that's how the journey began.

Is your book focused on Lebanese cuisine?

The book has the familiar Lebanese recipes that readers expect to find in restaurants and markets, but there is a lot more than that in the book. In addition to the wide variety of the Lebanese recipes, the book features a diverse compilation of recipes from around the world. I was blessed to have been able to travel far and wide with my family, and those travels have inspired my cooking. The book features 600 recipes, mostly from Lebanon, but from other parts of the world as well.

Is cooking an art or a science? Can anyone be a good cook?

Cooking is both art and science.  I believe anyone can cook. It is a skill that can be learned, developed and over time with practice be perfected. I know not all people have the same level of passion about cooking, but I tell you, you don’t have to be a Michelin star chef to create wonderful dishes. All you need is fresh ingredients and a few basic techniques that can be mastered with practice.

What advice do you give to the novice cook?

Know your limits, start with the basics and slowly build your skills. You can never be a good cook without some serious failures. The more you practice the better you are going to be.

What is your cooking philosophy?

Use fresh produce, eat vegetables and fruits that are seasonal, cook from scratch, be open to different cuisines, use your senses - and the most important ingredient is the love for those you are cooking for.

In this day and age people are busy. Why do you think it is important to cook at home instead of simply eating out?

Though eating out every now and then is fun, food at home is healthier and more nutritious. Home cooking creates an environment that brings family conversations around a dinner table. Good home cooking can be soothing to the heart, body and soul. Besides, most foods served at restaurants have high amounts of calories and eating out is always going to be considerably more expensive.

What are the keys to success as a cook?

Believe in yourself, be organized, keep learning, be passionate and improve and practice to refine your skills.

Are you an active on social media? Do you have a YouTube channel?

To a certain extent, yes I am active, especially on Facebook. And yes, I recently launched my Youtube channel.

What is your favorite restaurant in Lebanon?

I have many: Mounir in Brumana (Lebanese), Babel Bay (seafood), Sultan Ibrahim (seafood), Mayrig (Armenian), and Couqley (French).

What advice do you give to those who enjoy good food but find cooking intimidating?

Try recipes other people have created. Count on reliable straightforward cookbooks such as mine- I have written my book in a way accessible to the novice cook. And, it is always good to read a recipe before you begin cooking. Be calm and composed and remember that cooking is like anything in life - the more you practice, the better you will become.

What is your favorite recipe for a quick and healthy meal?

Lebanese-style spaghetti with yogurt. All you need is to sauté the garlic with olive oil, add to the yogurt, adjust salt to your taste and smother over the spaghetti et voila that’s it.  It’s budget friendly and healthy.

* Interview is published in the Forum and Link of 1/26/2017. www.forumandlink.com.