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March 2011

Vol 11, No 03

QUIT GADDAFI QUIT! By Chandra Muzaffar

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hat will it take to coerce Muammar Gaddafi to relinquish power? As I pen these thoughts on the 28th of February 2011, media channels are reporting that Gaddafi has lost control over large swathes of his country of 6.4 million people. The popular uprising against his 41 year-old rule has spread rapidly from Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, to the outskirts of the capital, Tripoli, Gaddafi’s last bastion. Rather than surrender to the people’s will, the erratic despot has chosen to cling on to the last vestige of power abetted by elements in the armed forces, his special security units, mercenaries imported from various countries, and of course, his family members. In this regard, it is significant that a large number of senior military personnel, civilian administrators, cabinet ministers and diplomats have already defected to the side of the protesters. It is partly because of the defection of military personnel that many protesters are now armed to the teeth. Consequently, there have been bloody battles between pro and anti Gaddafi groups in various parts of Libya. The United Nations estimates that at least 2000 people have died in what is, to

all intents and purposes, a civil war. The UN Security Council has unanimously agreed to impose travel and asset sanctions on Gaddafi and his close aides. It has also adopted an arms embargo and referred the ruling elite to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation and prosecution for the killing of civilians. These are moves targeted at Gaddafi and his coterie, as they should be, and will not hurt the general populace. If these measures do not work, past and present heads of state and government who are known to be on friendly terms with Gaddafi should try to persuade him to stop killing his people and to step down. The President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, are some possibilities. Gaddafi may have to be assured that if he heeds the people’s wishes immediately, they may still remember him for some of his outstanding accomplishments in the first two decades of his rule — accomplishments such as the closure of the huge American air-base

in Libya in 1970; his nationalisation of oil; the pivotal role he played in the reorganisation of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) which enabled it to emerge as a powerful cartel challenging Western dominance over the oil industry; his massive manmade river project to irrigate desert land; his housing schemes for the low-income segment of society; and other infrastructure programmes. But right from the outset — the rhetoric about decentralisation of authority and the establishment of grassroots’ revolutionary committees and congresses notwithstanding— Gaddafi adopted a highly personalised, autocratic approach to power. He was synonymous with the State. Organised state structures with their own authority just could not emerge under his autocratic rule. This is why I suppose he once boasted that Libya was the first society in history where the state had withered away! One of the consequences of this was the chaos that prevailed at various levels of society, a bit of which I experienced when I was in Tripoli in April 1980 for lectures that did not take place.

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STATEMENT

ARTICLES

PAKISTAN’S BLASPHEMY LAW: A SIGN OF BLISS OR CATASTROPHE?........Reports about

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TO S TAVE O FF REVOLUTION WITH CASH...............................P 3

Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law have become a focal

.THE UNITED STATES STANDS ALONE

point in the international media............................Page 2

I SRAEL IN THE UN S ECURITY COUNCIL.........................................................P 5

ARTICLES .BAHRAIN FACES ITS FACELESS..........................P 3

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continued from page 1 Personalised, autocratic rule gave rise to mammoth corruption and nepotism. Given Libya’s huge oil wealth, one is not surprised — in the absence of any notion of accountability and transparency — why this twin evil flourished. By the late nineties, Gaddafi’s family was so deeply entrenched in the vortex of power that the approval of one of his sons or daughter had become mandatory for all major business deals, at the domestic and international levels. The family’s business interests may be one of the reasons why Gaddafi is hell-bent on remaining in power. This brings us back to the question I posed at the beginning. If Gaddafi refuses to leave in spite of UN Security Council resolutions and advice from his friends, what other option is available? Some American political leaders like John McCain, Joseph Lieberman and Paul Wolfowitz have suggested direct NATO military intervention. This would be foolish as it is dangerous. Military action on the part of the US and Europe will revive painful memories of Western colonialism and neo-colonial designs against Libya. It will only strengthen

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Gaddafi’s hand and undermine the legitimacy of the anti-Gaddafi struggle. NATO military intervention which will lead inevitably to occupation will have a catastrophic impact upon the Arab uprising as a whole that is still unfolding in various parts of the region. Besides, the people in the region will see through the stark hypocrisy of such intervention. If protecting lives is their concern, why is it that no Western power lifted a finger to save the Palestinians of Gaza when the Israeli army was slaughtering a defenceless population in January 2009? If the US and Britain are so traumatised by the killing of civilians, why did they invade Iraq in 2003, an invasion which subsequently led to the massacre of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis? It is obvious that it is not Libyan lives that the likes of McCain, Lieberman and Wolfowitz want to save. If military action is being contemplated, it is mainly because the centres of power in the West are fixated upon Libya’s oil. Next to Saudi Arabia, Libya is the major supplier of oil to Europe. The current turmoil in Libya has already pushed up the price of the commodity to 108 US dollars a barrel.

S T A T E M E N T Market analysts fear that if the flow of oil from Libya stops, oil prices may hit 200 dollars a barrel. This will have severe repercussions for the industrialised economies of the West and economies everywhere. It has also been argued that compared to other important oil-exporting countries, only about 60% of Libya’s oil wealth has been exploited so far. This enhances its attractiveness for those who seek to control global oil in order to perpetuate their global hegemony. This is yet another compelling reason — the protection of the sovereignty of his own nation — why Gaddafi should quit immediately. It would be ironic if because of his stubbornness he unwittingly opens the door to some nefarious neo-colonial intruder. The Libyan and Arab people, and indeed all those who cherish their freedom and independence, will not forgive Gaddafi. 28 February, 2011

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is the President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) and Professor of Global Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

STATEMENTS PAKISTAN’S BLASPHEMY LAW: A SIGN OF BLISS OR CATASTROPHE? Reports about Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law have become a focal point in the international media. It is natural for the international media to view this issue so seriously mainly because of the way the Pakistani leadership, both the government and the opposition, has been giving it such importance. It is as if this law constitutes the complete teachings of Islam and without this law Islam will not survive in the world today. The prime minister has claimed that, “a Muslim cannot have two opinions on the blasphemy law and being a descendant of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), he cannot even think of amending

it.”1 The opposition, including a number of religiously oriented political parties, has also adopted a similar position on the law. Although Pakistani politicians and religious leaders hope to achieve divine bliss through this law, it is bound to create a catastrophe. In our opinion, it constitutes sheer exploitation of the law in the name of Islam and its Prophet. Circumstances in Pakistan clearly suggest that it is not the law, but the execution of the law which has created a volatile situation in the country. Our knowledge of history tells us that letters are not always capable of ensuring the purpose of the law. That is why history

has coined the phrase “letter and spirit.” This is most relevant in the application of law, and especially in Pakistan where, according to reports, many people belonging to minority communities have been harassed under the guise of this law. Mistreatment of the poor and weak has occurred in every society throughout history, but when it is done in the guise of religion, it naturally causes horror. Certain followers of religion, however, view any criticism of this horror as religion-phobia. In the case of Pakistan it would be called Islamophobia which, of course, is in abundance around us

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continued from page 2 today. But shouldn’t one raise the question whether the way this law is being manipulated would indeed create fear among the minority communities? What would be the rationale for supporting a murderer? Love for the Prophet? A Prophet who was known for his love and kindness for the weak and destitute? A Prophet who went to visit an adversary when he came to know that the woman (a Jewess) who used to place trash on his pathway was ill and counseled her? The woman was so moved by the behavior of the Prophet that she immediately accepted Islam. Does the blasphemy law in any way reflect teachings of the Prophet? In our opinion, if the upholders of the blasphemy law believe that they hold the truth, let them allow the truth to manifest itself through their behavior. It is shocking to see people demonstrating in favor of a murderer who committed the crime in the guise of protecting the Prophet’s honor. Politicians, both from the government and the opposition, seem to have been persuaded by political expediency. Even lawyers are reported to have offered free service to the murderer, and now, according to newspaper reports, the law enforcing agencies cannot find a prosecutor for the case. This is

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completely unacceptable by any standard of Islamic behavior. Is there no room for a balanced view of Islam in contemporary Pakistan? According to the British newspaper, the Guardian, Javed Ahmad Ghamdi, an independent scholar from Lahore who held the view that there is no justification for a blasphemy law in the light of the Qur’an and Prophet’s teachings, is alleged to have fled from Pakistan because of his views on that law and other similar issues related to Islamic teachings. One of his followers, Dr. Farooq Ahmad, was gunned down by extremists a few months ago. What is happening to Pakistan? A nation established more than half a century ago with the dream that Muslims would regain their past civilization in the modern world by reviving Islamic teachings. Does the current state of affairs in Pakistan embody any sign of that noble dream? This question is related to the issue of patience, pluralism, freedom of speech and respect for human dignity. This issue also raises the question of the fundamental purpose of religion. In history religions have been the backbone of all civilizations. No civilization would have been possible without peace. Islam in particular, which literally means peace, not only established peace under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W); it also laid down the foundation

of a glorious civilization. Is the situation in Pakistan contributing to the establishment of peace? How could one expect to establish peace if the minorities do not feel secure? How could a nation contribute to peace if the majority of the population goes for wild emotionalism in the face of minor provocations? It is high time that the so-called Islamists in Pakistan in particular look at the situation in Egypt where their enemies are trying to create panic amongst the general public by suggesting that if the current people’s revolution in Egypt succeeds their counterparts will take over and impose their version of Islam on the people. The Islamists in Pakistan should know very well that Islam is not confined to the boundaries of Pakistan. Neither is Islamophobia. It goes without saying that the picture of Islam that the Islamists depict in Pakistan will have an impact on the rest of the world. 1

The Prime Minister claims to be a Syed;

thus implying that he is a descendant of the Prophet.

Dr. Abdullah Al Ahsan, Vice-President, International Movement for a Just World (JUST) and Professor of History, International Islamic University, Malaysia. 9 February, 2011

ARTICLES BAHRAIN FACES ITS FACELESS By Dan Lieberman

T he first reports came by email on February 14, two days before media and the U.S State Department acknowledged government attacks on the innocent Bahraini Shi’i. Hello, I was at a peaceful protest and people were chanting legitimate demands asking for parliament, constitution, basic human rights, and etc... Out of nowhere, riot police then came charging down attacking the protesters with rubber bullets, tear gas and sound bombs.

Despite foreign journalists present at the scene, more and more violence is being used at the moment. Officials need to be aware of the situation. International media must be told of this unfair, unjust situation of peaceful protesters being attacked by frequent violence. The emails continued for several days, more frequently and with increasing despair. Finally on the February 17 night, police killed several protestors and wounded hundreds of those who were sleeping in tents in Pearl Square.

What is the reality of this once again suppression of a persecuted majority in an Arab nation? Due to the attacks being upon Shi’i, the aggression gains added importance. The Shi’is are unique. In Bahrain, they “have limited opportunities in the public sector, and are even more excluded in the military, where no Shi’is hold important positions, even if Shi’is serve as normal soldiers.” Persecuted in Saudi Arabia, second-rate citizens in Saddam Hussein’s

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continued from page 3 Iraq and present day Bahrain, where they are a majority, and downtrodden when the Maronites controlled Lebanon’s politics, the Shi’i have never been a favored group in societies, and international communities have ignored their plights. Why? The reason is not religious. The masses of Islam are no different from the masses of Protestants, they don’t care to whom and how their neighbor prays. Creating a conflict between opposing groups creates havoc and a reason to maintain control. By prompting, promoting and provoking a Sunni/Shi’i divide, western nations have contributed to preventing Arab nations from evolving into democratic, egalitarian and stable states. The Sunni/Shi’i divide, portrayed as a religious conflict, is actually an economic conflict. Similar to Northern Ireland, where Irish Catholics protested against their second-class citizenship and economic persecution by English Protestants, the deprived Shi’i minorities (majority in Bahrain) have legitimately protested their economic subservience – for decades. During these decades, the United States played a significant role in the continued repression of the followers of Ali. While supporting Saddam Hussein before the Gulf War, encouraging the Maronite and Sunnis in Lebanon, and having close relationships with Saudi Arabian and Bahrain monarchies, the U.S. government ignored the legitimate grievances of the Shi’i and implicitly allowed these grievances to erupt into challenges. Adding to the total collapse of U.S. policy, the U.S. has been antagonistic to Hezbollah, the organization that led the Shi’i to achieve equality in Lebanon, and despite contrary western propaganda, enabled Lebanon to evolve to a more democratic, egalitarian and stable state. American polices have forced Shi’i to turn to benefactors who will assist them in their plight. After soul mates from Iran naturally respond, the U.S. then accuses Iran of meddling and controlling, and exporting terrorism. Anti-Shi’i is one of

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the most punishing of the anti-isms and is aggravated by a western world that excuses nefarious anti-shi’i policies. Recognition of the rights of the Shi’i will diminish the Sunni/Shi’i divide. Iran and Saudi Arabia most represent the divide, with each nation fearing that the other nation wants to overthrow its government. U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia and U.S. administrations close relations with the Kingdom supports Iran’s arguments. Arab hostility to Iran occurs from the Islamic Republic’s disregard of its Sunni minority and its contentious attitude to the Gulf states, its claims on Island territories and its supposed assistance to a rebellious Shi’i. Middle East stability dictates reconciliation between the Arab world and Iran, between Sunnis and Shiites, and specifically between Saudi Arabia and Iran. By cooperating, Iran and Saudi Arabia can stabilize the Middle East. This does not mean that the two authoritarian nations should be excused for suppression of internal democratic movements and be able to avoid responsibility towards their own peoples. Nor does it mean that their accord should be allowed to prompt an arrangement that subverts other nations or constructs an anti-American coalition. It only means that, by peculiarities of international politics, these nations happen to have significant power to resolve a crushing situation. The world should be aware of this unique power and use it to advantage. Trace the situation. It emerges from U.S. failures, which predict a U.S. loss of influence, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims will create a political vacuum, which will be filled by oil rich Iran and very oil rich Saudi Arabia, which merits a repair of the Sunni and Shi’i divide, and then leads to Middle East peace and stability. Support of autocratic monarchies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf state nations has strengthened these regimes and delayed them from extending sufficient freedoms to their populations, including Shi’i. The latter ethnicity is important

A R T I C L E S because U.S. proclamations of freedom of religion and minority rights, except for Iraq, are rarely applied to the Shi’i - just the opposite - the victimized and mostly powerless Shi’i, who have been attacked by Sunnis from India to Saudi Arabia, are constantly and falsely portrayed as aggressive, terrorist prone and always ready to seize control. This depiction disguises government corruption, reinforces Sunni domination and exaggerates a Sunni/Shi’i divide that seeks amelioration. Bahrain is now a crucial focus for rights of Arab peoples. The outcome of the events in Peal Square will portend the future of the Middle East and influence the political situation in Iraq. A sectarian government in Iraq increases the probability of a continuous and crushing civil war between the Shiites and Sunnis. The strife could undermine and consume the opposing Islamic states; Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. A stable and non-sectarian Iraq at their borders relieves these states of responsibility to assist opposing factions and limits charges of neglecting brethren from attack. A non-sectarian government serves as a buffer between Shiite Iran and Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. Is cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia far-fetched? Major problems exist between Iran and the Arab states — territorial disputes, threats of closing the Straits of Hormuz, Arab states’ alliances with the United States, claims that Iran supports a Shi’i uprising in Bahrain, and the Sunni/Shi’i divide. Nevertheless, previous events indicated that Iran and Saudi Arabia intended to diminish antagonisms and more eagerly cooperate in stabilizing their Middle East. On March 4, 2007, the Iranian president and Saudi leaders had official talks in which they “pledged to fight the spread of sectarian strife in the Middle East, which was the biggest danger facing the region.” Following this meeting, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, on Oct.4, 2007, highlighted what he has said is the emergence of a “power vacuum

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continued from page 4 in the region,” and indicated Iran’s readiness to fill that vacuum, while encouraging cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia to achieve that goal. On August 18, 2008, seven Arab countries, including Kuwait, announced their intentions to reopen their embassies in Baghdad. The Arab Interim Parliament (AIP), which has been active in addressing Arab Nations’ social and economic affairs, stated on August 25, 2000, “it was examining a proposal to have its chairman hold a dialogue between the Arab and Iranian nations.”

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A series of economic agreements between Iran and the Gulf states demonstrated a recognized dependence. London-based economic weekly MEED reported on August 3, 2008 that UAE-based Quest Energy and an Iranian company are developing a project to build a 1,000 megawatt power plant in Iran. On August 17, 2008, the Saudi Press Agency reported that “Iran signed a deal to export gas to Oman that could open new export routes well beyond the neighboring Arab state.” A Bahrain that evolves into a nonsectarian and independent democracy

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A R T I C L E S initiates a hopeful path to stabilization of the entire Middle East. This task will fail if the western world does not recognize its role in aggravating the problems of the Arab world. Instead of inciting division and hatred, and juggling Middle East lives to favor their own interests, isn’t it preferable that western agencies and governments encourage a Shi’i/Sunni rapport? Start with Bahrain. 22 February, 2011 Dan Lieberman is editor of Alternative Insight, a monthly web-based newsletter. Source: Countercurrents.org

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By Tarek El-Tablawy As Saudi Arabia’s 86-year-old monarch returned home from back surgery, his government tried to get ahead of potential unrest in the oil-rich country Wednesday by announcing an unprecedented economic package that will provide Saudis interest-free home loans, unemployment assistance and sweeping debt forgiveness. The total cost was estimated at 135 billion Saudi riyals ($36 billion), but this was not largesse. Saudi Arabia clearly wants no part of the revolts and bloodshed sweeping the already unsettled Arab world. Saudi officials are “pumping in huge amounts of money into areas where it will have an obvious trickle-down by addressing issues like housing shortages,” said John Sfakianakis, chief economist for the Riyadh, Saudi Arabiabased Banque Saudi Fransi. “It has, really, a social welfare purpose to it.” The most prominent step was the injection of 40 billion riyals ($10.7 billion) into a fund that provides interest-free loans for Saudis to buy or build homes. The move could help reduce an 18-year waiting list for Saudis to qualify for a loan, Sfakianakis said. Another 15 billion riyals ($4 billion) was being put into the General Housing Authority’s budget, while the Saudi Credit & Savings Bank was to get 30 billion riyals ($8 billion) in capital. The

bank provides loans for marriage and setting up a business, among other things, and is supported by the Saudi government. Other measures included a 15 percent cost of living adjustment for government workers, a year of unemployment assistance for youth and nearly doubling to 15 individuals the size of families that are eligible for state aid. The government also will write off the debts of people who had borrowed from the development fund and later died. While Saudi Arabia has been mostly spared the unrest rippling through the Middle East, a robust protest movement has risen up in its tiny neighbor, Bahrain, which like others around the region is centered on calls for representative government and relief from poverty and unemployment. There are no government figures in Saudi Arabia that provide a national income breakdown, but analysts estimate that there are over 450,000 jobless in the country. Despite the stereotype of rich Saudis driving SUVs, large swaths of the population rely on government help and live in government-provided housing. The nation has a rapidly growing population of youths — about two-thirds of the population is under 29 — many of whom are chaffing under the harsh religious rules that keep the sexes largely segregated.

A Facebook page calling for a “March 11 Revolution of Longing” in Saudi Arabia has begun attracting hundreds of viewers. A message posted on the page calls for “the ousting of the regime” and lists demands including the election of a ruler and members of the advisory assembly known as the Shura Council. King Abdullah returned to the situation Wednesday after spending three months in the United States and Morocco getting treatment for a bad back. The economic sweeteners were announced before his plane landed. The unrest in Bahrain, a Gulf Cooperation Council member state, is what has most worried Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab nations. Their worries, in turn, translate into concerns in the broader global oil market since most of those nations are key OPEC members. Saudi Arabia, alone, sits atop the world’s largest proven reserves of conventional crude. A disruption in crude supplies from the Gulf would make the current, twoyear-high levels of over $100 per barrel, appear cheap. Oil prices have already spiked because of Libya’s unrest. Investment bank Goldman Sachs said in a research report that the Bahrain protests spotlight how the Gulf states are also vulnerable, noting that the unrest in the island nation and in Libya “increase the

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continued from page 5 risks of major supply disruptions.” While analysts largely discount the kind of wide-scale protests in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates that have rocked the rest of the Arab world, and it’s not possible to know if the Facebook campaign has much support from within Saudi Arabia — leaders need to pay attention to the issues raised by the demonstrators, they say. Abdullah, viewed as a reformer, has sought to address similar complaints before. He has worked to ensure that the government has first and final say on all religious edicts — a step aimed at weeding out the conflicting and often increasingly austere messages put forward by competing clerics.

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He has also set up a coed postgraduate university, and is pushing hard to complete a series of megaprojects to help diversify the country’s economic base and provide jobs for young Saudis. Boosting the financing for development and housing funds will help address a key gripe of many Saudis, and the cost of living adjustment will help offset inflation in the kingdom, which stood at about 5.3 percent in January. Banque Saudi-Fransi, in a research note released late Wednesday, said the country is trying to stem the spiraling cost of housing by building 200,000 new units per year through 2014. But few other Arab nations have had much success in using money to quash the protests. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

A R T I C L E S offered it as a carrot in the first days of the protests, but was ousted shortly thereafter. The 15 percent pay and pension raise he promised, however, remains in effect for public sector employees. Others, like Jordan and Yemen have looked to boost subsidies, and Jordan is reviving a government body that ensures the prices of basic commodities are within reach of the poor. But Jordan, like other Arab countries where the protests are still ongoing, is not in the clear, and Saudi Arabia’s leaders are watching closely, hoping to stave off a contagion within their borders. 24 February, 2011 Tarek El-Tablawi is a reporter for The Associated Press Source: The Associated Press

THE UNITED STATES STANDS ALONE WITH ISRAEL IN THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL By Richard Falk

In what appears to be as close to a consensus as the world community can ever hope to achieve, the United States reluctantly stood its ground on behalf of Israel and on February 18, 2011 vetoed a resolution on the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that was supported by all 14 of the other members of the UN Security Council. The resolution was also sponsored by 130 member countries before being presented to the Council. In the face of such near unanimity the United States might have been expected to accord some respect for the views of every leading government in the world, including all of its closest European allies, and to have had the good grace to at least abstain from the vote. Indeed, such an obstructive use of the veto builds a case for its elimination, or at least the placement of restrictions on its use. Why should an overwhelming majority of member countries be held hostage to the geopolitical whims of Washington, or in some other situation, an outlier member trying to shield itself or its ally from a Security Council decision enjoying overwhelming support? Of course this

American veto is not some idiosyncratic whim, but is an expression of the sorry pro-Israeli realities of domestic politics, suggesting that it is Israel that is the real holder of the veto in this situation, and the U.S. Congress and the Israeli Lobby are merely designated as the enforcers. Susan Rice, the American chief representative in the Security Council, appeared to admit as much when she lamely explained that the casting of the veto on this text “should not be misunderstood to mean support for settlement construction,” adding that, on the contrary, the United States “rejects in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.” Why then? The formal answer given is that the United States, agreeing with Israel, believes that only in the context of direct negotiations can the issue of settlements be addressed alongside other unresolved matters such as refugees, borders, and the status of Jerusalem. This seems absurdly arrogant, and geopolitically humiliating. If the 14 other members of the Security Council believe that Israeli should be censured for continuing to build unlawful settlements,

and that no negotiations can proceed until it ceases, then it would seem that a united front would be the most effective posture to resumed negotiations. This is especially so here as it is a no-brainer to realize that every additional settlement unit authorized and constructed makes it less likely that a truly independent and viable Palestinian state can ever be brought into being, and that there exists the slightest intention on the Israeli side to do so. In view of this feverish Israeli effort to create still more facts on the ground, for the Israelis to contend that negotiations should resume without preconditions, is to hope that the Palestinian Authority will play the fool forever. After all for more than 43 years the Israelis have been whittling away at the substance of the two state consensus embodied in unanimous Security Council Resolution 242 (1967), contending at every phase of the faux peace process that an agreement must incorporate ‘subsequent developments,’ that is, unlawful settlements, ethnic cleansing. In the end, the Israelis may turn out to have

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continued from page 6 been more clever by half, creating an irresistible momentum toward the establishment of a single secular democratic state of Palestine that upholds human rights for both peoples and brings to an end the Zionist project of an exclusive ‘Jewish state.’ With great historic irony, such an outcome would seem to complete the circle of fire ignited by Lord Balfour’s secret 1917 promise to the Zionist movement of ‘a Jewish homeland’ in historic Palestine, a process that caused a Palestinian catastrophe along the way and brought war and bloodshed to the region. The disingenuousness of the Israeli position was confirmed by the recent publication of the Palestine Papers that showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that even when the Palestinian Authorities caved in on such crucial issues as Jerusalem, settlements, and refugees, their Israeli counterparts, including the supposedly more moderate predecessors to the Netanyahu leadership, displayed no interest in reaching even an agreement so heavily weighted in Tel Aviv’s favour. What seems inescapable from any careful reading of these negotiating positions behind closed doors during the prior decade is that the public negotiations are a sham designed to buy time for Israel to complete its illegal dirty work of de facto annexation in the West Bank, a position it has long adopted in the form of Israeli de jure annexation of the entire expanded city of Jerusalem in defiance of the will of the international community and the understanding of international law, objectively considered. To contend that stopping the unlawful encroachments of continuing settlement activity on occupied Palestinian territory, an assessment that even the United States does not question substantively, is an inappropriate Palestinian demand seems so excessive as to humiliate any Palestinian representatives that stooped so low as to accept it. Equally so, is the Israeli claim that this demand has not been made in the past, which to the extent accurate, is not an argument against freezing further settlement activity, but a

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disturbing comment on Palestinian complacency in relation to their failure to insist upon respect for their rights under international law. In the context of this latest incident in the Security Council, the Palestinian Authority deserves praise for holding firm, and not folding under U.S. pressure, which was strongly applied, including reported warnings from President Obama

by phone to President Mahmoud Abbas of adverse ‘repercussions’ if the text calling for an end to illegal settlement building was brought before the Security Council for a vote. Obviously, the United States Government realized its predicament. It did not want to be so isolated and embarrassed in this way, finding itself caught between its international exposure as willing to support even the most unreasonable Israeli defiance of the UN and its domestic vulnerability to a pro-Israeli backlash in the event that it failed to do Israel’s bidding in this matter of largely symbolic importance. We should not forget that had the Security Council resolution been adopted, there is not the slightest prospect that Israel would have curtailed, let alone frozen, its settlement plans. Israel has defied a near unanimous vote (with, hardly a surprise, the U.S. judge casting the lone negative vote among the 15 judges) of the World Court in 2004 on the unlawfulness of the settlement wall. Here, an American dissent could not bring Israel in from the cold of its refusal to abide by this ruling as thankfully there is no veto power in judicial settings. In that instance of the wall, Israel wasted no time denouncing the advisory opinion of the highest UN judicial body, declaring its

A R T I C L E S refusal to obey this clear finding that the wall built on occupied Palestinian territory should be dismantled forthwith and Palestinians compensated for any harm done. Instead, despite brave non-violent Palestinian resistance, work continues to this day on finishing the wall. With respect to the settlements it is no wonder that American diplomacy wanted to avoid blocking an assertion of unlawfulness that it was on record as agreeing to, a fact awkwardly acknowledged by Ambassador Rice in the debate, knowing that the resolution would not have the slightest behavioural impact on Israel in any event. It should be noticed that as much as Israel defies the UN and international law, it still cashes in its most expensive diplomatic chips to avoid censure whenever possible. I believe that this is an important, although unacknowledged, Israeli recognition of the legitimizing role of international law and the UN. It is also connected with an increasing Palestinian reliance on soft power, especially its BDS campaign. This partial shift in Palestinian tactics worries Israel. In the last several months Israeli think tanks close to the government refer to as ‘the delegitimation project’ with growing anxiety. This approach of the Palestinian Global Solidarity Movement is what I have been calling a Legitimacy War. For the last several years it is being waged and won by the Palestinians, joining the struggles of those living under occupation and in exile. On the PA side there was reported anxiety that withdrawing the resolution in this atmosphere would amount to what was derisively referred to as a possible ‘Goldstone 2,’ a reference to the inexcusable effort by the Palestinian Authority back in October 2009 to have consideration of the Goldstone Report deferred for several months by the Human Rights Council as a prelude to its institutional burial, which has now more or less taken place thanks to American pressures behind the scene. It has even been suggested that had the PA withdrawn the resolution Abbas would

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continued from page 7 have been driven from power by an angry popular backlash among the Palestinian populace. In this sense, the PA was, like the United States, squeezed from both sides: by the Americans and by their own people. Of course, in the background of this incident at the UN are the tumultuous developments taking place throughout the region, which are all adverse to Israel and all promising in relation to the Palestinian struggle even though many uncertainties exist. It is not only the antiautocrat upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt, the outcome of which is still not clear from the perspective of genuine regime

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for seven years before leaving her order and going to Oxford. Today, she is amongst the most renowned theologians and has written numerous bestsellers on the great religions and their founders. She is one of the 18 leading group members of the Alliance of Civilizations, an initiative of the former UN General Secretary, Kofi Anan, whose purpose is to fight extremism and further dialogue between the western and Islamic worlds. She talks here to the German journalist, Andrea Bistrich, about politics, religion, extremism and commonalities. ANDREA BISTRICH: 9/11 has become the symbol of major, insurmountable hostilities between Islam and the West. After the attacks many Americans asked: “Why do they hate us?” And experts in numerous round-table talks debated if Islam is an inherently violent religion. Is this so? KAREN ARMSTRONG: Certainly not. There is far more violence in the Bible than in the Qur’an; the idea that Islam imposed itself by the sword is a Western fiction, fabricated during the time of the Crusades when, in fact, it was Western Christians who were fighting brutal holy wars against Islam. The Qur’an forbids aggressive warfare and permits war only in self-defence; the moment the enemy sues for peace, the Qur’an insists that Muslims must lay down their arms and

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change as distinct from recasting the role of dictatorial leader, but the wider regional developments. These include the political rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Turkish diplomacy that refuses to tow the Washington line, the failure of American interventionary diplomacy in Iraq, and the beleaguered authoritarian governments in the region some of whom are likely to give more active support on behalf of Palestinian goals to shore up their own faltering domestic legitimacy in relation to their own people. In many ways, the failed Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity is a rather trivial event in the broader setting of the underlying

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accept whatever terms are offered, even if they are disadvantageous. Later, Muslim law forbade Muslims to attack a country where Muslims were permitted to practice their faith freely; the killing of civilians was prohibited, as were the destruction of property and the use of fire in warfare. A B: The sense of polarization has been sharpened by recent controversies — the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, over the Pope’s remarks about Islam, over whether face-veils hinder integration. All these things have set relations between Islam and the West on edge. Harvard-Professor Samuel Huntington introduced the theory of a “clash of civilizations” we are witnessing today. Does such a fundamental incompatibility between the “Christian West” and the “Muslim World” indeed exist? K A: The divisions in our world are not the result of religion or of culture, but are politically based. There is an imbalance of power in the world, and the powerless are beginning to challenge the hegemony of the Great Powers, declaring their independence of them — often using religious language to do so. A lot of what we call “fundamentalism” can often be seen as a religious form of nationalism, an assertion of identity. The old 19thcentury European nationalist ideal has become tarnished and has always been

A R T I C L E S conflict. At the same time it is a significant show of the play of forces that are operative in Washington and Ramallah, and above all, it is an unseemly display of the influence Israel wields with respect to the Obama Administration. Is it not time that the United States revisited its Declaration of Independence or began to treat the 4th of July as a day of mourning? 23 February, 2011 Richard Falk is an international relations and law scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years. He is also on the JUST International Advisory Panel. Source: Richardfalk.wordpress.com

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foreign to the Middle East. In the Muslim world people are redefining themselves according to their religion in an attempt to return to their roots after the great colonialist disruption. A B: What has made Fundamentalism, seemingly, so predominant today? K A: The militant piety that we call “fundamentalism” erupted in every single major world faith in the course of the twentieth century. There is fundamentalist Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, as well as fundamentalist Islam. Of the three monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — Islam was the last to develop a fundamentalist strain during the 1960s. Fundamentalism represents a revolt against secular modern society, which separates religion and politics. Wherever a Western secularist government is established, a religious counterculturalist protest movement rises up alongside it in conscious rejection. Fundamentalists want to bring God/religion from the sidelines to which they have been relegated in modern culture and back to centre stage. All fundamentalism is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation: whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, fundamentalists are convinced that secular or liberal society wants to wipe them out. This is not paranoia: Jewish

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continued from page 8 fundamentalism took two major strides forward, one after the Nazi Holocaust, the second after the Yom Kippur War of 1973. In some parts of the Middle East, secularism was established so rapidly and aggressively that it was experienced as a lethal assault. A B: The fact that fundamentalism is also a phenomenon in politics was stressed only recently by former US president Jimmy Carter when he voiced his concerns over the increasing merging of religion and state in the Bush administration, and the element of fundamentalism in the White House. Carter sees that traits of religious fundamentalists are also applicable to neo-conservatives. There seems to be a major controversy between, on the one hand, so called hard-liners or conservatives and, on the other, the progressives. Is this a typical phenomenon of today’s world? K A: The United States is not alone in this. Yes, there is a new intolerance and aggression in Europe too as well as in Muslim countries and the Middle East. Culture is always, and has always been contested. There are always people who have a different view of their country and are ready to fight for it. American Christian fundamentalists are not in favour of democracy; and it is true that many of the Neo-Cons, many of whom incline towards this fundamentalism, have very hard-line, limited views. These are dangerous and difficult times and when people are frightened they tend to retreat into ideological ghettos and build new barriers against the “other”. Democracy is really what religious people call “a state of grace.” It is an ideal that is rarely achieved, that has constantly to be reaffirmed, lest it be lost. And it is very difficult to fulfil. We are all Americans and Europeans— falling short of the democratic ideal during the so called “war against terror.” A B: Could you specify the political reasons that you identified as the chief causes of the growing divide between Muslim and Western societies?

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K A: In the Middle East, modernization has been impeded by the Arab/Israeli conflict, which has become symbolic to Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists and is the bleeding heart of the problem. Unless a just political solution can be found that is satisfactory to everybody¸ there is no hope of peace. There is also the problem of oil, which has made some of these countries the target of Western greed. In the West, in order to preserve our strategic position and cheap oil supply, we have often supported rulers such as the shahs of Iran, the Saudis and, initially, Saddam Hussein, who have established dictatorial regimes which suppressed any normal opposition. The only place where people felt free to express their distress has been the mosque. The modern world has been very violent. Between 1914 and 1945, seventy million people died in Europe as a result of war. We should not be surprised that modern religion has become violent too; it often mimics the violence preached by secular politicians. Most of the violence and terror that concerns us in the Muslim world has grown up in regions where warfare, displacement and conflict have been traumatic and have even become chronic: the Middle East, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir. A B: In regard to the Arab — Israeli conflict you have said that for Muslims it has become, “a symbol of their impotence in the modern world.” What does that really mean? K A: The Arab-Israeli conflict began, on both sides, as a purely secular conflict about a land. Zionism began as a rebellion against religious Judaism and at the outset most Orthodox rabbis condemned Zionism as a blasphemous secularization of the Land of Israel, one of the most sacred symbols of Judaism. Similarly the ideology of the PLO was secular — many of the Palestinians, of course, are Christian. But unfortunately the conflict was allowed to fester; on both sides the conflict became sacralized and, therefore, far more difficult to sort out.

A R T I C L E S In most fundamentalist movements, certain issues acquire symbolic value and come to represent everything that is wrong with modernity. In Judaism, the secular state of Israel has inspired every single fundamentalist movement, because it represents so graphically the penetration of the secular ethos into Jewish religious life. Some Jewish fundamentalists are passionately for the state of Israel and see it as sacred and holy; involvement in Israeli politics is a sacred act of tikkun, restoration of the world; making a settlement in the occupied territories is also an act of tikkun and some believe that it will hasten the coming of the Messiah. But the ultraOrthodox Jews are often against the state of Israel: some see it as an evil abomination (Jews are supposed to wait for the Messiah to restore a religious state in the Holy Land) and others regard it as purely neutral and hold aloof from it as far as they can. Many Jews too see Israel as a phoenix rising out of the ashes of Auschwitz — and have found it a way of coping with the Shoah. But for many Muslims the plight of the Palestinians represents everything that is wrong with the modern world. The fact that in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians could lose their homes with the apparent approval of the world symbolizes the impotence of Islam in the modern world vis-à-vis the West. The Qur’an teaches that if Muslims live justly and decently, their societies will prosper because they will be in tune with the fundamental laws of the universe. Islam was always a religion of success, going from one triumph to another, but Muslims have been able to make no headway against the secular West and the plight of the Palestinians epitomizes this impotence. Jerusalem is also the third holiest place in the Islamic world, and when Muslims see their sacred shrines on the Haram alSharif [the Noble Sanctuary, also known as Temple Mount]surrounded by the towering Israeli settlements and feel that their holy city is slipping daily from their grasp, this symbolizes their beleaguered identity. However it is important to note

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continued from page 9 that the Palestinians only adopted a religiously articulated ideology relatively late-long after Islamic fundamentalism had become a force in countries such as Egypt or Pakistan. Their resistance movement remained secular in ethos until the first intifada in 1987. And it is also important to note that Hamas, for example, is very different from a movement like al-Qaeda, which has global ambitions. Hamas is a resistance movement; it does not attack Americans or British but concentrates on attacking the occupying power. It is yet another instance of “fundamentalism” as a religious form of nationalism. The Arab Israeli conflict has also become pivotal to Christian fundamentalists in the United States. The Christian Right believes that unless the Jews are in their land, fulfilling the ancient prophecies, Christ cannot return in glory in the Second Coming. So they are passionate Zionists; but this ideology is also anti-Semitic, because in the Last Days they believe that the Antichrist will massacre the Jews in the Holy Land if they do not accept baptism. A B: Do you think the West has some responsibility for what is happening in Palestine? K A: Western people have a responsibility for everybody who is suffering in the world. We are among the richest and most powerful countries and cannot morally or religiously stand by and witness poverty, dispossession or injustice, whether that is happening in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya or Africa. But Western people have a particular responsibility for the Arab-Israeli situation. In the Balfour Declaration (1917), Britain approved of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and ignored the aspirations and plight of the native Palestinians. And today the United States supports Israel economically and politically and also tends to ignore the plight of the Palestinians. This is dangerous, because the Palestinians are not going to go away, and unless a solution is found that promises security to the Israelis and gives political

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independence and security to the dispossessed Palestinians, there is no hope for world peace. AB: In addition, you have stressed the importance of a “triple vision” — the ability to view the conflict from the perspective of the Islamic, Jewish and Christian communities. Could you explain this view? KA: The three religions of Abraham — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — can and should be viewed as one religious tradition that went in three different directions. I have always tried to see them in this way; none is superior to any of the others. Each has its own particular genius; each its own particular flaws. Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God and share the same moral values. In the book A History of God, I tried to show that throughout their history, Jews, Christians and Muslims have asked the same kind of questions about God and have reached remarkably similar solutions — so that there are Jewish and Muslim versions of the incarnation, for example, and very similar notions of prophecy. In The Battle for God, I tried to show how similar the fundamentalist movements are in all three faiths. Jews, however, have always found it difficult to accept the later faiths of Christianity and Islam; Christianity has always had an uneasy relationship with Judaism, the parent faith, and has seen Islam as a blasphemous imitation of revelation. The Qur’an, however, has a positive view of both Judaism and Christianity and constantly asserts that Muhammad did not come to cancel out the faiths of “the People of the Book”: you cannot be a Muslim unless you also revere the prophets Abraham, David, Noah, Moses and Jesus — whom the Muslims regard as prophets — as in fact do many of the New Testament writers. Luke’s gospel calls Jesus a prophet from start to finish; the idea that Jesus was divine was a later development, often misunderstood by Christians. Unfortunately, however, religious people like to see themselves as having a monopoly on truth; they see that they

A R T I C L E S alone are the one true faith. But this is egotism and has nothing to do with true religion, which is about the abandonment of the ego. Too often it seems that religious people are not necessarily more compassionate, more tolerant, more peaceful or more spiritual than others. America, for example, is a very religious country, and at the same time it is the most unequal socially and economically. What does this say about the purpose of religion? The world religions all insist that the one, single test of any type of religiosity is that it must issue in practical compassion. They have nearly all developed a version of the Golden Rule: “Do not do to others what you would not have done to you.” This demands that we look into our own hearts, discover what it is that gives us pain and then refuse, under any circumstances, to inflict that pain on anybody else. Compassion demands that we “feel with” the other; that we dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there. This is the bedrock message of the Qur’an, of the New Testament (“I can have faith that moves mountains,” says St. Paul, “but if I lack charity it profits me nothing.”). Rabbi Hillel, the older contemporary of Jesus, defined the Golden Rule as the essence of Judaism: everything else, he said, was “commentary.” We have exactly the same teaching in Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism and Buddhism. I have tried to show this in one of my most recent books, The Great Transformation. The traditions all insist that it is not enough simply to show compassion to your own group. You must have what the Chinese call jian ai, concern for everybody. Or as Jewish law puts it: “Honour the stranger love your enemies,” said Jesus: if you simply love your own kind, this is purely self-interest and a form of group egotism. The traditions also insist that it is the daily, hourly practice of compassion — not the adoption of the correct “beliefs” or the correct sexuality — that will bring us into

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continued from page 10 the presence of what is called God, Nirvana, Brahman or the Dao. Religion is thus inseparable from altruism. So why aren’t religious people compassionate? What does that say about them? Compassion is not a popular virtue. Many religious people prefer to be right rather than compassionate. They don’t want to give up their egos. They want religion to give them a little mild uplift once a week so that they can return to their ordinary selfish lives, unscathed by the demands of their tradition. Religion is hard work; not many people do it well. But are secularists any better? Many secularists would subscribe to the compassionate ideal but are just as selfish as religious people. The failure of religious people to be compassionate doesn’t tell us something about religion, but about human nature. Religion is a method: you have to put it into practice to discover its truth. But, unfortunately, not many people do. Islam and the West A B: Discussing Western ideas of justice and democracy in the Middle East, British foreign correspondent of The Independent, Robert Fisk, says: “We keep on saying that Arabs ... would like some of our shiny, brittle democracy, that they’d like freedom from the secret police and freedom from the dictatorswho we largely put there. But they would also like freedom from us. And they want justice, which is sometimes more important than ‘democracy’”. Does the West need to realize that Muslims can run a modern state, but it is perhaps not the kind of democracy we want to see? K A: As Muslim intellectuals made clear, Islam is quite compatible with democracy, but unfortunately democracy has acquired a bad name in many Muslim countries. It seems that the West has said consistently: we believe in freedom and democracy, but you have to be ruled by dictators like the shahs or Saddam Hussein. There seems to have been a double standard. Robert Fisk is right: when I was in Pakistan recently and quoted Mr Bush — “They hate our

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freedom!”— the whole audience roared with laughter. Democracy cannot be imposed by armies and tanks and coercion. The modern spirit has two essential ingredients; if these are not present, no matter how many fighter jets, computers or skyscrapers you have, your country is not really “modern”. The first of these is independence. The modernization of Europe from 16th to the 20th century was punctuated by declarations of independence on all fronts: religious, intellectual, political, economic. People demanded freedom to think, invent, and create as they chose. The second quality is innovation as we modernized in the West: we were always creating something new; there was a dynamism and excitement to the process, even though it was often traumatic. But in the Muslim world, modernity did not come with independence but with colonial subjugation; and still Muslims are not free, because the Western powers are often controlling their politics behind the scenes to secure the oil supply etc. Instead of independence there has been an unhealthy dependence and loss of freedom. Unless people feel free, any “democracy” is going to be superficial and flawed. And modernity did not come with innovation to the Muslims: because we were so far ahead, they could only copy us. So instead of innovation you have imitation. We also know in our own lives that it is difficult — even impossible — to be creative when we feel under attack. Muslims often feel on the defensive and that makes it difficult to modernize and democratize creatively — especially when there are troops, tanks and occupying forces on the streets. A B: Do you see any common ground between Western world and Islam? K A: This will only be possible if the political issues are resolved. There is great common ground between the ideals of Islam and the modern Western ideal, and many Muslims have long realized this. At the beginning of the twentieth century, almost every single Muslim intellectual was in love with the West and

A R T I C L E S wanted their countries to look just like Britain and France. Some even said that the West was more “Islamic” than the unmodernized Muslim countries, because in their modern economies they were able to come closer to the essential teaching of the Koran, which preaches the importance of social justice and equity. At this time, Muslims recognized the modern, democratic West as deeply congenial. In 1906, Muslim clerics campaigned alongside secularist intellectuals in Iran for representational government and constitutional rule. When they achieved their goal, the grand ayatollah said that the new constitution was the next best thing to the coming of the Shiite Messiah, because it would limit the tyranny of the shah and that was a project worthy of every Muslim. Unfortunately the British then discovered oil in Iran and never let the new parliament function freely. Muslims became disenchanted with the West as a result of Western foreign policy: Suez, Israel/Palestine, Western support of corrupt regimes, and so on. A B: What is needed from a very practical point of view to bridge the gap? What would you advise our leaders — our politicians and governments? K A: A revised foreign policy. A solution in Israel/Palestine that gives security to the Israelis and justice and autonomy to the Palestinians. No more support of corrupt, dictatorial regimes. A just solution to the unfolding horror in Iraq, which has been a “wonderful” help to groups like Al-Qaeda, playing right into their hands. No more situations like Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. Money poured into Afghanistan and Palestine. A solution to Kashmir. No more shortterm solutions for cheap oil. In Iraq and in Lebanon last summer we saw that our big armies are no longer viable against guerrilla and terror attacks. Diplomacy is essential. But suspicion of the West is now so entrenched that it may be too late. 14 November, 2007 Andrea Bistrich is a journalist based in Munich, Germany Source: Countercurrents.org


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Just Commentary March 2011