Saturday, November 10, 2007

Al-Dura and the 'Public Secret' of Middle East Journalism

Al-Dura and the 'Public Secret' of Middle East Journalism

November 10, 2007 1:00 AM

Hooray for Pallywood?

The evidence emerging from the ongoing Al Dura trial in France indicates that Western journalists are fully aware that some of the footage they use in their reports Mideast conflict is staged, charges Richard Landes. When confronted with the pervasive evidence of staging in the case of Al Dura, the reaction of France 2, which ran the story, has been essentially that "everybody does it."

by Richard Landes
In the summer of 2006, Reuters News Agency, humiliated when bloggers caught them duped by obvious photographic manipulation, fired both the photographer and the chief of their photographic bureau. They then removed all the photographer's photos from their news archive. In so doing, they acted decisively in punishing two of the cardinal sins of modern journalism: "creating evidence" and getting duped by created evidence.
These principles – i.e., the ethics of a free press – go so deep, that Westerners apparently have difficulty imagining that others might not share our commitments. Thus few people believe claims that footage of Muhammad al Dura, the twelve year old boy allegedly gunned down by Israelis at Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000, was staged. Charles Enderlin, the correspondent for France2 who presented the tale to the world, derisively and successfully dismisses such claims as a conspiracy theory as ludicrous as those about 9-11. How absurd: Palestinian journalists would not do such a thing; and if they did, the Western media would catch it. To this day, most journalists still ask, "Who killed al Dura?" not, "Was he killed in the footage we see?"


The last time we see al Dura on Talal's camera: He holds his hand over his eyes not his allegedly deadly stomach wound. He lifts his up his arm and looks around. Enderlin had already declared him dead in an earlier scene, and (therefore?) cut this scene from his broadcast.

And yet, one of the major differences between Western journalism and self-styled "Islamic media men" emerges on just this issue of the permissibility of staging the news and attitudes towards what constitutes honest information. According to the Islamic Mass Media Charter (Jakarta, 1980), the sacred task of Muslim media men [sic], is on the one hand to protect the Umma from "imminent dangers," indeed to "censor all materials," towards that end, and on the other, "To combat Zionism and its colonialist policy of creating settlements as well as its ruthless suppression of the Palestinian people."
So when asked why he had inserted unconnected footage of an Israeli soldier firing a rifle into the Al Dura sequence in order to make it look like the Israelis had killed the boy in cold blood, an official of PA TV responded:

These are forms of artistic expression, but all of this serves to convey the truth… We never forget our higher journalistic principles to which we are committed of relating the truth and nothing but the truth.

When Talal abu Rahmah received an award for his footage of Muhammad al Dura in Morocco in 2001, he told a reporter, "I went into journalism to carry on the fight for my people."
These remarks serve as an important prelude to considering the France2 rushes that will be shown in court in Paris on November 14 in the Enderlin France2 vs. Philippe Karsenty defamation case. These tapes were filmed by Talal abu Rahmah on September 30, 2000, and for seven years, Enderlin has claimed that the tapes prove him right and show the boy in such unbearable death throes that he cut them out of his report. But several experts who have seen the tapes (this author included) claim that the only scene of al Dura that Enderlin cut was the final scene where he seems alive and well; and still more disturbingly the rest of the rushes are filled with staged scenes. Indeed there seems to be a kind of "public secret" at work on the Arab "street": people fake injury, others evacuate them hurriedly (and without stretchers) past Palestinian cameramen like Talal, who use Western video equipment to record these improvised scenes. Pallywood: the Palestinian movie industry.
Which brings us to a problem more complex than the fairly straightforward observation that Palestinian journalists play by a different set of rules in which this kind of manipulation of the "truth" is entirely legitimate. What do Western journalists do with these products of propaganda? Do they know these are fakes or are they fooled? Do they tell the cameramen working for them and using their equipment that filming such staged scenes is unethical and unacceptable? And if they do, why do cameramen who have worked for them for years – Talal worked for Enderlin for over a decade when he took these rushes – continue to film these scenes. And how often do our journalists run this staged footage as real news?
Here the evidence provided by the Al Dura affair suggests that, in some sense, journalists are "in" on the public secret. When representatives of France2 were confronted with the pervasive evidence of staging in Talal's footage, they both responded the same way. "Oh, they always do that, it's a cultural thing," said Enderlin to me in Jerusalem. "Yes Monsieur, but, you know, it's always like that," said Didier Eppelbaum to Denis Jeambar, Daniel Leconte, and Luc Rosenzweig in Paris.
As an echo of this astonishing private complacency, Clément Weill-Raynal of France3 made a comment to a journalist that he meant as a criticism of Karsenty: "Karsenty is so shocked that fake images were used and edited in Gaza, but this happens all the time everywhere on television and no TV journalist in the field or a film editor would be shocked."
The implications of this remark undermine its very use in his argument: How can Karsenty defame Enderlin by accusing him of using staged footage when, as Clément Weill-Raynal here admits, everybody does it? Is it wrong to do this? And if so, why does Weill-Raynal criticize Karsenty for blowing the whistle? If not, where's the defamation?
We may have stumbled here onto the very nature of public secrets and the value of a good reputation: everyone can cheat so long as no one is caught. It's okay for the insiders to know, but the effectiveness of the (mis)information depends on the public not knowing. As Daniel Leconte reproached Eppelbaum: "the media may know [about this staging], but the public doesn't." Indeed, the public must not know. CNN advertises itself as "The Most Trusted Name in News," not because it struggles against the influences, like access journalism, that destroy trustworthiness, but because it knows how important trust is to their audience public consumers of news. Thus, even if Western journalists use staged footage regularly, they cannot admit it. And, if denial doesn't work, then, apparently, the next move is to say, "it's nothing; everyone does it."
An incident at Ramallah, however, suggests that Western journalists have systematically submitted to Palestinian demands that they practice Palestinian journalism. On October 12, 2000, to cries of "Revenge for the blood of Muhammad al Dura," Palestinian men tore to pieces the bodies of two Israeli reservists. Aware of the potential damage, Palestinians attacked any journalist taking pictures. And yet, one Italian crew working for a private news station, at great risk to their lives, smuggled out the footage. Eager to avoid being blamed, the representative of Italy's "official television station RAI" wrote to the PA that his station would never do such a thing,
…because we always respect (will continue to respect) the journalistic procedures with the Palestinian Authority for (journalistic) work in Palestine
Just what are these "journalistic procedures"? Do they resemble the rules of the Jakarta charter, including the censorship of anything damaging to the Palestinian cause (no matter how true), and publication of anything damaging to the Israeli cause (no matter how inauthentic)? The PA, apparently unaware that this is not how journalism should be done in the West, published the letter.
But on the side where modern journalism allegedly reigns, such revelations were profoundly embarrassing: even the normally timid Israeli government "temporarily suspended" the press card of Roberto Cristiano, and no one in the normally aggressive Western media objected. Cristiano had violated the basic rule of Western journalism's omerta, and openly admitted shameful practices. The public consumer of Mainstream Media (MSM) "news" needs to ask, "How many journalists adhere to these Palestinian rules, and how much does that adherence distort, even invert, our understanding of what goes on in this interminable conflict? Can we afford this "public secret"?
Nor can we expect the MSM to discuss this willingly. On the contrary, awareness of the importance of trust often enough leads journalists to hide their mistakes rather than admit and learn from them. As a French friend put it to me: "No one admits publicly to mistakes in France. It's a sign of weakness." While these are the rules of honor-shame culture, civil society depends on having people prefer honesty to saving face, no matter how painful that may be. And while we cannot expect people to volunteer for public humiliation, we can and must insist that there are limits to both individual and corporate efforts to resist correction.
This is Charles Enderlin's problem with the al Dura case. He has, with his eagerness to get the scoop, foisted upon an unsuspecting world, a nuclear bomb in the world of information warfare. As Bob Simon put it (wmv file), to the background of a medley of Pallywood images: "In modern warfare, one picture is worth a thousand weapons." And no image has done more to inspire the desire for violent revenge and global Jihad than this "icon of hatred" (wmv file) To admit his mistakes, to release the public from this image's thrall and alert us to the possibility that such colossal errors not only occur, but go years without correction, would destroy Enderlin's career.
Moreover, Enderlin's failure, at this point, seven years later, implicates the larger MSM who, with their refusal to even allow the critique to air, protect him. This dilemma may partly explain why the MSM in France has scarcely mentioned this case; why they had nothing to say about the initial trial until Karsenty lost, at which point they leapt into print to reassure the public that the image choc of the Intifada "was not staged." Enderlin, after all, is not some Palestinian hack, even if he trusts and therefore regularly channels the work of such "journalists." He is perhaps the best known and most widely trusted European correspondent in the Middle East. Surely, as a Jew and an Israeli, he would not report false stories that blackened his own country's name. They must be true.
More ominously, just as Al Dura represents a "higher truth" for Muslims — a justification for hatred, a call to revenge — so does it carry symbolic freight with Europeans. Catherine Nay, a respected news anchor for Europe1, welcomed the image:

The Death of Muhammad cancels out, erases that of the Jewish child, his hands in the air from the SS in the Warsaw Ghetto.


From Ramsey Clark's International Action website.

How ironic! The Europeans use an image produced by those who admire the Nazis and dream of genocidal victory over the Jews, to erase their own guilt over the Holocaust. In so doing, Europe has "atoned" for its sins against the Jews by empowering its Muslim extremists.
So not to admit such mistakes, destroys the very fabric of the civil society that allows a free press. In the long history of blood libels, no people have benefited from embracing the twisted hatreds they evoked.
At what point does self-protection become self-destruction, not only for the journalists who deny their errors no matter how costly, but for the public that believes them? As an Israeli journalist remarked: "Every day I have to walk the fine line between loyalty to my sources and loyalty to my audience." How grievously have our journalists betrayed us, their audience, for the sake of finding favor in the eyes of their sources?
Palestinian journalists, in their own ethical declarations, argue that their role is to defend their cause and weaken its enemies. Journalism for them is war by other means; the media, a theater of war. Honesty and fairness do not intrude on this ethical prescription, but merely present a requirement for versimilitude designed to deceive susceptible Western audiences and incite Muslim rage.
In this clash of journalistic cultures, how often has the Western media played the "useful idiots" to Palestinian demands. How often have they presented Palestinian "truths" to us as "news"? And if they have done so as often and as destructively as Pallywood and its greatest success, the Al Dura Affair, suggests, how much longer will they persist?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The end of the Fatah?

An astute commentary from asharqalawsat, Fatah and Hamas: The Division Continues…, that indicates the end of the Fatah
Many have told Asharq Al-Awsat that Fatah is without leadership and can no longer be considered an organization today. Fatah loyalist Brigadier Yousef al Sharqawi said, "No one is leading Fatah, it is without a head, a headless body that walks alone."
"Or," he amended, "perhaps it is a body with multiple heads," and as though he just remembered something, he said, "Fatah is gone."
Like others before him, al Sharqawi maintains that Fatah died with Yasser Arafat. Others uphold that although Fatah is the Palestinian Authority, it does not wield any control over it, but that's another story. Some believe that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad and the ministers he appointed do not represent Fatah; in fact, observers believe that Fayad is headed towards a confrontation with Fatah, as some among the movement's leadership have been saying. There are those who consider this to be the impending second coup in Ramallah.
According to a Fatah loyalist, "Today, Fayad is a national requirement but he will soon no longer be," indicating that all the important and influential posts are occupied by officials that are not part of Fatah. This fact was pointed out by the Israeli newspaper 'Haaretz', which also added that a dispute was starting to come to light between Abbas and Fayad over the formation of a Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) that is independent from Fatah and "not affiliated to any political party". This is something that many in the Fatah leadership will regard as a blow. And yet, it was Abbas who granted powers to Fayad, something which he has denied Hamas.
Various Palestinian politicians, including businessman Munib al Masri and First Deputy Speaker of PLC, Hassan Khreisheh, are currently discussing the formation of new [political] parties as an alternative to Fatah and Hamas. This move has received the blessing of President Abbas himself. Some cite the Israeli Kadima party as an example, which was able to "seize power from the historic Likud and Labor parties."
Does Israel really have a peace partner? Will Fatah be superseded, or will it be swamped by the Hamas? In Hamas too, there is ferment - mostly movement toward extremism, and disciplining those who hint of negotiations:
The resignation of former cabinet's spokesperson Ghazi Hamd although denied by Hamas was confirmed by reliable sources within the movement who said that he had indeed resigned in protest against the movement's policy.
The controversy has deeply manifested itself with Hamd's evasion of the media and his keeping a low profile and staying at home. Despite the fact that Hamas has dispelled rumors about a rift with Hamd or that he was dismissed by the movement after making statements that Hamas was negotiating with Israel, Fawzi Barhoum, the Hamas spokesman told Asharq Al-Awsat that, "he [Hamd] still has our respect but he is at home now." The movement's official statement pointed towards the fact that it expressed a personal difference, not one that was held by the movement.
Like Hamd, Ahmed Yousef, Haniyeh's advisor has also disappeared from the scene lately. Some sources within the movement had severely criticized Yousef for his declared statements and positions, some going further to describe them as "Fatah-inclined".
Although Hamas has publicly and overtly denied the existence of growing rifts; inevitably, hidden cracks are starting to become apparent. Recently, differences have been surfacing between the Hamas leadership in Gaza and that in the West Bank.
Political science analyst Abdul Sattar Qasim upholds that "Hamas, unlike Fatah, is a hierarchal organization; it adopts an extremist attitude and does not accept or listen to other opinions."
Never many dull moments in the Middle East.
Ami Isseroff

The Iranian view

This is the Iranian "narrative" or side of the story, as told by their foreign minister It contains many delightful tidbits. For example:
Consider my country, Iran, which has not invaded any country in the past 250 years. After decades of struggle against dictatorship and foreign domination, we secured our freedom and independence in 1979 by establishing a political system of our own choosing. But instead of establishing friendly relations with Iran based on this new reality, the United States has consistently sought to restore its domination, even providing massive diplomatic, financial and military support to Saddam Hussein in his war against my country during the 1980's.
Pity the poor and peaceful Iranians, victims of the USA imperialist Zionist warmongers! Is it barely possible that US antipathy to Iran was somehow related to the kidnapping of US diplomats? Not likely, is it? Could it be thought perhaps, that the US didn't take kindly to the Ayatollahs' characterization of the US as the "Great Satan?" Perish the thought. And of course, the US should have been delighted by the crowds at organized demonstrations, screaming "Death to America." Obviously, Iran held out the hand of dialogue and friendship, and it was spurned by those evil Americans.
Ami Isseroff
Iran's quest for a just global order
By Manouchehr Mottaki
Commentary by
Thursday, November 08, 2007 
A major shortcoming in today's world is the persistence of a zero-sum sense of geopolitics. The world expected something different in the post-Cold War era to promote peace and stability. Instead, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, momentum swung toward a "global war on terror" that, in practice, became the rationale for maintaining a Cold War mentality and supporting strategies of pre-emptive war and regime change that have intensified insecurity, instability and international terrorism.
Consider my country, Iran, which has not invaded any country in the past 250 years. After decades of struggle against dictatorship and foreign domination, we secured our freedom and independence in 1979 by establishing a political system of our own choosing. But instead of establishing friendly relations with Iran based on this new reality, the United States has consistently sought to restore its domination, even providing massive diplomatic, financial and military support to Saddam Hussein in his war against my country during the 1980's.
The current dispute over Iran's peaceful and legal nuclear program is part of this pattern, replete with unfounded accusations, double standards, and moral and legal inconsistency, all hidden behind the alleged threat of proliferation. But Iran's peaceful nuclear program originates from the late 1960s and 1970s. Iran's energy demand will exceed its supply, possibly reducing or even eliminating its oil export capacity in the near future. Thus, Iran urgently needs to produce 20,000 megawatts of nuclear power by 2020.
As long ago as 1973, the US government itself saw that Iran would need nuclear power. Indeed, the US expected that Iran would be capable of generating 20,000 megawatts by 1994. Despite the encouragement of Iran's civil nuclear program by the US, Britain, Germany, and France, they all ultimately reneged on their contractual commitments after our revolution in 1979. Today, some of these governments are even questioning Iran's need for nuclear energy - a matter that was obvious to them 30 years ago.
Iran does not need nuclear weapons to protect its regional interests, and such weapons have no place in Iran's security strategy. It seeks to win the confidence of its neighbors and has remained within the confines of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified that there has been no diversion of Iran's civil nuclear program to weapons development. Iran has even proposed regional and multinational participation in its uranium enrichment facilities - only to be met by resounding silence from the Western powers.
Meanwhile, US policy toward nuclear non-proliferation and the NPT regime is a case in point of double standards and the lack of sensitivity to other countries' security concerns. While the US seeks to use unilateral and unlawful pressure to preclude Iran's legitimate right to peaceful nuclear energy, it has assisted in developing Israel's nuclear capabilities. Indeed, the US has acted as a buffer to insulate Israel - whose prime minister has boasted about its nuclear weapons - from any international scrutiny, while ignoring calls by Iran and other countries to create a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone.

With regard to international terrorism, Iran, as a victim of terrorism, condemns it in all its forms. But the same double standards are apparent here. The US has used and is still using extremist organizations to promote its foreign policy goals.
This could be said of US conduct with regard to Al-Qaeda's precursors in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and of its current dealings with terrorist groups such as the People's Mujahadeen Organization (MKO), and the Kurdish PEJAK and PKK. The MKO, which was once on Saddam Hussein's payroll and responsible for the loss of many innocent lives in Iran and Iraq, is now under the protection of the US government in Iraq and operates freely in the US itself.
Iran has always considered regional stability to be in the vital interest of its own security and development. Our efforts to establish a regional security and cooperation arrangement in the Persian Gulf date back to 1986, at the height of the war with Iraq. We have continued to pursue these initiatives in the post-Saddam era, engaging in confidence-building measures with our immediate neighbors in order to offset extra-regional agitations.
Iran currently applies the same policy considerations to Iraq and Afghanistan, despite its opposition to the US-led invasions of these countries. Iran has established excellent relations with post-Taliban Afghanistan and post-Saddam Iraq, and the most senior officials of both countries consistently reject US allegations of Iranian interference. These accusations are designed to portray Iran as a threat to regional stability and frighten other countries into creating an anti-Iran coalition, with the aim of diverting attention from the consequences of failed US policies not only in Iraq, but also in Lebanon and with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The world deserves better. A just global order must be defined in terms of peace and security, alleviation of poverty, a fairer distribution of wealth, better protection of the environment, and respect for local cultural particularities. We can build a global order based on justice, one that negates the current unipolar order by developing tolerance for diversity instead of seeking imposition and assimilation. Such an order will be culturally inclusive and less hegemonic, encompassing states, non-state actors and social groups to minimize violence and maximize economic well-being.
Erich Fromm, the late German psychologist and philosopher, once said that "history is a graveyard of cultures that came to their catastrophic ends because of their incapacity for planned and rational voluntary reaction to challenges." We cannot predict our fate, but we can be certain that security will only come through real solidarity and global partnership.

Manouchehr Mottaki is foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Lebanon's Dual Crisis

INSS Insight November 8, 2007 No. 34


Lebanon's Dual Crisis

Mark A. Heller

Humor, especially black humor, sometimes captures political reality even better than the most incisive analysis. According to a joke popular in some circles in Lebanon, an ambulance on the way to the hospital signifies one of two things: another bombing of an anti-Syrian personality or another Shi'ite baby about to be born. The two possibilities represent, respectively, the focus of Lebanon's near-term government crisis, whose outcome is uncertain, and the essence of its longer-term identity crisis, whose outcome is virtually foreordained.

The current political crisis revolves around the efforts of a Hizbullah-led and Syrian-supported alliance to paralyze or overthrow the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and, more specifically, to ensure that pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose (extended) term of office expires at the end of November, is succeeded by a candidate equally amenable to Syria (and Hizbullah). According to the constitution of Lebanon, the President (who must be a Maronite Christian) is elected by the 128 members of the National Assembly. In the first ballot, a two-thirds majority is required but after that an absolute majority (i.e., 65) is sufficient. The so-called March 14 coalition which sustains Siniora's government holds 68 seats, theoretically enough to prevail on a second ballot, but the inability of the two sides to settle on an agreed candidate, coupled with the threat of the opposition to boycott proceedings and take more severe actions if a president unacceptable to them is elected by a narrow majority, has caused the presidential vote to be postponed twice, most recently in the last week of October. The next scheduled vote is on November 12, just 12 days before Lahoud is obliged to leave the Presidential Palace.

But that is not the only reason for the sense of urgency. Since the last parliamentary election in 2005, the majority coalition has shrunk due to the assassination of at least five anti-Syrian Deputies (along with several other prominent anti-Syrian politicians and public personalities). The latest victim was Antoine Ghanem, whose killing led others in the March 14 coalition to take even more rigorous security measures, restrict their movements, and even go into hiding. Syrian has strenuously denied any involvement in these killings, but the fact that the wave of violence has touched only those in the anti-Syrian camp reinforces the suspicion that the longer the ballot is postponed, the more likely it is be decided by bullets and bombs; according to Saad al-Hariri, leader of the March 14 parliamentary coalition and son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, both he and Siniora are currently the targets of a Syrian plot.

Some last minute compromise may yet emerge, and much speculation focuses on General Michel Suleiman, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. If there is no agreement, the deadlocked presidential vote will precipitate perhaps the most severe political crisis since the end of the Lebanese civil war. At best, it could lead to the establishment of parallel governments – perhaps following Lahoud's "emergency" extension of his own term -- and the end of even the pretense of a (re-)united country. At worst, it could ignite another civil war, for which certain elements are already preparing. But even if the stalemate is somehow broken, it will only postpone Lebanon's identity crisis, which is grounded in longer-term socio-political trends.

The most important of these is the demographic shift in favor of Shi'ites. Because of confessional sensitivities, no census has been taken in Lebanon since 1932. But it is universally acknowledged that the Muslim population, and particularly its Shi'ite component, has been constantly growing at the expense of the Christian (and especially Maronite) population – because of both higher birth rates among Shi'ites and higher emigration rates among Christians. According to one source, some 100,000 Christians have submitted visa applications to foreign embassies just since the end the war in summer 2006; if they are not leaving, they are at least preparing the possibility of doing so.

These trends were explicitly acknowledged in the post-civil war reforms that enlarged the parliament and replaced the previous 6:5 ratio favoring Christians with the principle of Muslim-Christian equality (despite the fact that Muslims are already widely assumed to outnumber Christians by about 60:40). Perhaps just as significantly, they were implicitly acknowledged in shifting political alliances. Until the mid-1970s, the major axis of conflict in Lebanon involved Maronites and Sunnis. Each camp had satellites and clients from other confessional groups, but it was that antagonism which lay at the heart of the civil war, in which Shi'ites were more often spectators than active belligerents. Since the 1990s, the Shi'ites have been the most assertive and coherent political force in Lebanon, and while politicians from other confessional groups – especially Maronite leader Michel Aoun -- have made common cause with them for tactical purposes, the emerging power of the Shi'ites, expressed most forcefully in Hizbullah, has driven most major Maronite and Sunni actors together in what looks, through the prism of the last civil war, like a marriage of convenience but may actually be a mutual survival pact.

Whatever form that alliance may take, it is unlikely to be more than a holding operation given longer-term demographic trends. Absent some dramatic change, the Shi'ites will increasingly put their stamp on Lebanon as a whole, and extrapolation of current reality implies that Shi'ite predominance will mean Hizbullah predominance. That outcome, however, is not necessarily foreordained. After all, Hizbullah's current agenda has not always resonated among Shi'ites in Lebanon. For many years, Shi'ites were, if not politically quiescent, then inclined to non-confessional approaches (including that of the Communists) that promised them more equitable representation in or at least better treatment at the hands of the Lebanese state. More recently, Hizbullah's radical Islamism and defiance have appealed as the most effective vehicle to achieve those goals, and Hizbullah has also been able to use material resources with which the state could not compete to cultivate further support. It is not inconceivable that the ideological appeal of Hizbullah to Shi'ites will diminish when some of its programmatic promises are fulfilled. It is even more certain that Hizbullah's capacities will diminish if its sources of inspiration and resources in Iran and Syria dry up due to changes in Iranian and Syrian policies and/or regimes. Thus, Lebanon's domestic politics will continue to be influenced by developments elsewhere in the region.



Israel and Iranian Nukes: Another Canard from Times Online?

The quote:
A claim by President Ahmadinejad that Iran has 3,000 working uranium-enriching centrifuges sent a tremor across the world yesterday amid fears that Israel would respond by bombing the country's nuclear facilities.
Presumably, nobody was worried about Iran building nuclear weapons. They were only worried that Israel might try to prevent that. Thus far, nobody has produced any credible evidence that Israel has a workable military plan to strike Iran. All the scenarios that have been leaked have been based on science fiction speculations about Israeli tactical nuclear cruise missiles that nobody knows exist, and fighter aircraft capable of travelling twice the distance of an F15i with extra fuel tanks without refueling.
The article notes:
The US and Western allies believe that Iran is using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover for weapon development. Tehran says that it merely wants to generate electricity.
The article fails to note that Iran has the second largest reserves of natural gas in the world, from which it could generate sufficient electricity for the next 200 or 300 years, and that Iran was offered, by the EU and Saudi Arabia, a scheme to enrich uranium safely under international supervision. Iran turned down all these offers. The article also fails to note that suspicions about Iran's nuclear program were aroused because Iran concealed its centrifuge factory in Natanz as a "watch factory" and concealed its heavy water reactor at Arak as well. The latter is capable of producing fissionable plutonium for a bomb, and a similar model was used by India for just that purpose.
The article states that:
Mr Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off themap".
This is literally false, as Juan Cole pointed out. Mr. Ahmadinejad did say that the Ayatollah Khomeini wanted "a world without Zionism and without America." Mr. Ahmadinejad said these worthy goals were achievable. So it is not about Israel really, but about the United States and Jews. In Iran and much of the Muslim world, "Zionist" is often synonymous with "Jew."
The article states that:
Military sources in Washington said that the existence of such a large number could be a "tipping point", triggering an Israeli air strike. The Pentagon is reluctant to take military action against Iran, but officials say that Israel is a "different matter". Amid the international uproar, British MPs who were to have toured the nuclear facility were backing out of their Iran trip.
What "military sources" might those be? Could they be two private officers airing their opinions in a Washington bar? What "officials" said that Israel is a "different matter." Does anyone seriously think that Israel  has the capacity or will take the risk of attacking Iran without Western backup? What will Israel do about the possibility of retaliation by Iran with massive missile attacks, or attacks launched by the Hezbollah?
An Israeli attack is not impossible, but unlikely. An Iranian bomb is a much more likely prospect, yet it is not bally-hood in the same way as the Israeli attack that would prevent it.  The entire hysteria over putative US and Israeli intervention is typical of biased Middle East reporting. It is intended to distract attention from the real issue, which is Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons and ambitions for regional hegemony.
Ami Isseroff
US fears Israeli strike against Iran over latest nuclear claim
Tom Baldwin in Washington, James Hider in Jerusalem and Francis Elliott,
Deputy Political Editor
The Times [UK] November 8, 2007
A claim by President Ahmadinejad that Iran has 3,000 working uranium-enriching centrifuges sent a tremor across the world yesterday amid fears that Israel would respond by bombing the country's nuclear facilities.

Military sources in Washington said that the existence of such a large number could be a "tipping point", triggering an Israeli air strike. The Pentagon is reluctant to take military action against Iran, but officials say that Israel is a "different matter". Amid the international uproar, British MPs who were to have toured the nuclear facility were backing out of their Iran trip.

Even before President Ahmadinejad's announcement, a US defence official told The Times yesterday: "Israel could do something when they get to around 3,000 working centrifuges. The Pentagon is minded to wait a little longer." US experts say 3,000 machines running for long periods could make enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb within a year.

Israel responded by serving notice that it would not tolerate a nuclear Iran. "Talks never did, and never will, stop rockets," said Ehud Barak, the Defence Minister, after talks with the security cabinet.

The US and Western allies believe that Iran is using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover for weapon development. Tehran says that it merely wants to generate electricity.

Concern about Israel's intentions has been heightened by its recent air strike on a suspected nuclear plant in Syria. In 1981 Israel destroyed Saddam Hussein's Iraqi nuclear reactor, and as the sole - if undeclared - nuclear power in the region, it now considers Iran the most serious threat to its security. Mr Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off themap".

Efraim Inbar, of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, said that the figure of 3,000 centrifuges would signal the ability of Israel's arch-foe to produce the nuclear material needed for a warhead. "I wouldn't be surprised if we do something if the international community leaves us alone," he said. "I think we [Israel] are preparing for it. For Israel this is a critical technological moment."

Tehran says it plans to expand its enrichment programme to up to 54,000 centrifuges at Natanz in central Iran, which would amount to
industrial-scale uranium enrichment.

Mr Ahmadinejad, speaking yesterday at a rally, said that UN sanctions had failed to halt uranium enrichment. "The world must know that this nation will not give up one iota of its nuclear rights . . . if they think they can get concessions from this nation, they are badly mistaken," he said. He has in the past claimed that Iran succeeded in installing the 3,000 centrifuges at its uranium enrichment facility but yesterday's speech was the first time he had said all of them were now operational.

The International Atomic Energy Authority recently put the figure at closer to 2,000, with another 650 being tested. The IAEA said yesterday: "We will be publishing a report next week. We will not make any comment about this until then." Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, is shortly to report on Iran's willingness to give up uranium enrichment in exchange for political and trade incentives.

In London, at least five members of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee were refusing to take part in the planned trip to Iran, arguing that it would hand the regime a propaganda coup. The visit, to begin on Sunday, would be the first by a select committee since 15 British Service personnel were held in March. That incident and evidence that the regime is supporting insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq and planning to build a nuclear bomb has strained relations with Britain.

About eight MPs, from all three main parties, are still planning to spend four days in Iran next week.

Eric Illsley, a Labour MP who is one of those to have pulled out, said: "I really don't fancy having pictures of me next to an Iranian nuclear facility beamed around the world."

- Intelligence agencies have begun to vet all foreign postgraduates applying to study sensitive scientific subjects in Britain. The aim is to prevent Iranian students getting expertise in fields related to producing weapons of mass destruction. Sixty Iranians have been refused university places this year.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Islam and democracy don't mix, says Muslim Leader

Democracy is not an Islamic means. Democracy runs counter to Islam, because it emphasizes the sovereignty of the people, whereas Islam emphasizes the sovereignty of Allah.
These are not the words of an islamophobic Zionazi neocon imperialist warmonger. The are spoken by the head of the "moderate" Muslim brotherhood in Indonesia, Abu BakrAl Ba'shir.
Ami Isseroff
Special Dispatch-Jihad & Terrorism Studies Project
November 8, 2007
No. 1761
Leader of Indonesian Jama'a Islamiyya Abu Bakr Al-Ba'shir:
I Support Bombings in America, But Not in the Muslim World
The following are excerpts from an interview with Abu Bakr Ba'shir, spiritual leader of Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya in Indonesia, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on October 26, 2007.
"Democracy Runs Counter to Islam, Because it Emphasizes the Sovereignty of the People, Whereas Islam Emphasizes the Sovereignty of Allah"
Abu Bakr Ba'shir: "The path taken by many political parties in their effort to establish an Islamic regime is not the right path, because these parties adopt democracy. Democracy is not an Islamic means. Democracy runs counter to Islam, because it emphasizes the sovereignty of the people, whereas Islam emphasizes the sovereignty of Allah. Thus, if we are to submit to the law of Allah, Muslims have no choice but to say: 'We hear and obey.' In democracy, Allah's commands may be open to discussion, and if we agree with them, we accept them, but if we do not agree with them, we reject them. Herein lies the flaw. Therefore, as long as the Islamic political parties endeavor to adhere to Islam by means of democracy, they will not achieve their goal."
"Jihad should be waged in places where there is war. Bombings in places where there is no war is not a good thing."
Interviewer: "So you are against bombings in Arab and Islamic countries, as well as Western countries, if they target civilians?"
We Are Duty-Bound to Establish an Islamic State, and the Muslims Are Duty-Bound to Live in an Islamic Country"
Abu Bakr Ba'shir: "In my opinion, it was wrong to carry out the bombings in Morocco, for example. I am against the bombings in Indonesia, particularly in Bali, because Indonesia is not in a state of war. In my opinion, one should be fighting the infidels in Indonesia by means of Jihad of the tongue – by preaching. Nevertheless, I'm still convinced that [the bombers] are mujahideen, not terrorists, but I believe they were wrong in their judgment."
"I do not accept their concept of independent judgment, unless the bombing is carried out in the countries of the infidels who declared war against the Muslims, such as America. America has declared war on the Muslims, and therefore, we are permitted to carry out bombings there, because they are the ones who declared war against the Muslims. Herein lies the problem."
"It is a duty... We are duty-bound to establish an Islamic state, and the Muslims are duty-bound to live in an Islamic country. Muslims are forbidden to live in an infidel country. Sheik Fawzan Al-Fawzan issued a fatwa forbidding Muslims to live in the countries of the infidels. That is why we are committed to establishing an Islamic state. The path that the Prophet Muhammad bid us to take is the path of preaching and Jihad. Waging Jihad is the proper conduct. That is why it is essential to establish an Islamic state by means of preaching and Jihad. We have tried to do this in Indonesia, by committing ourselves to Islamic preaching."
"I Support Osama bin Laden, as Long as he Wages Jihad For the Sake of Allah"
Interviewer: "So in fact, you support Osama Bin Laden?"
Abu Bakr Ba'shir: "I support Osama Bin Laden, as long as he wages Jihad for the sake of Allah, in order to implement the law of Allah. At times, I may disagree with his independent judgment regarding bombings."
Interviewer: "Bombings where?"
Abu Bakr Ba'shir: "In places where war is not being waged, where people who have nothing to do with these things may be harmed."
 To view this clip




Limited number of Iranian dissidents be they minorities or students continue to be arrested and executed. Here is some of the latest:

Sheema Kalbasi reports:

"8 Arab-Iranians are to be executed. Among them is Faleh Abdullah al-Mansouri, a Dutch national and UNHCR-registered refugee was deported to Iran by the Syrian authorities in May 2006. Al-Mansouri is currently being tortured in Section 209, a notorious prison run by the Ministry of Intelligence. He was sentenced to death while in exile and is likely to be executed in Iran. Three more are sentenced to life. One of them is Hamzeh Savari who was arrested at the age of eighteen and two of his brothers were executed last year."

AFP reports:

Iranian authorities have arrested student leader Ali Azizi, who is a senior member of the main Islamic students' association, his mother told the ISNA news agency on Tuesday. . . .

Dozens of Iranian students held a new protest on Sunday calling for the release of three detained colleagues and shouting slogans against officials, ISNA reported.

The demonstration at the management faculty of Tehran University was the third since the three students from Amir Kabir University were given jail sentences of up to three years last month. . . .

The ISNA report said the latest protest was also aimed at the arrest of another three colleagues at a similar demonstration the previous week at Alameh Tabatabai University in the capital.

It is not too late to avoid war with Iran. With help Iranian dissidents can still do the job. That is the argument forwarded by Georgetown University professor Raymond Tanter in Le Figaro . Indeed, he pleads "Mister Sarkozy, convince Bush to help the Iranian opposition:

There are three major options for President Sarkozy to discuss with President Bush: diplomacy, military action, and an Iranian solution through empowering the Iranian people via their main democratic opposition. The more Europe stresses a diplomatic option that is failing, the more it would increase the prospect for Washington to select the military option, which Europe correctly wants to avoid. To avoid a nuclear armed Iran or war, both the United States and Europe have a common interest to emphasize the third solution, or the Iranian solution. The role that the Iranian opposition can play could be very significant in an Iranian solution.

A 2006 study by the Washington-based think tank, the Iran Policy Committee compared public attention paid by Tehran to various opposition groups. The Mujahadeen-e Khalq (PMOI) represents the most credible threat to the extremist regime in Tehran. The IPC found that the Iranian regime's official positions referred to the PMOI is 350 percent more than all other groups combined.

The EU and the US can realize their latent leverage over the Iranian regime by recognizing the independent Iranian opposition groups, in particular the Mujahadeen-e Khalq. The EU and the US can do so by lifting the terrorist designation of the PMOI. President Sarkozy has an opportunity to help President Bush move in that direction. Now is the time to reinforce the unilateral American sanctions against the Iranian regime with a common EU-American approach. Alexis de Tocqueville would be proud to see a President of France advancing the cause of French-American relations, reinforcing diplomacy, and preventing war.

He would, indeed. But may I suggest that to succeed Iranians willing to act MUST believe the US/EU are serious and that they will not be left holding the bag or more accurately buried in another mass grave.

Let me elaborate: these are the most read articles in today's Tehran Times:

1. Iran will study any offer guaranteeing its nuclear rights: Hosseini
  • Hosseini shrugged off the foreign media propaganda about a possible U.S. attack against Iran, adding, "The region is not ready to tolerate a new crisis and the United States is not able to carry out such a thing."
    2. Enemies can not withstand Iran's power: Army commander
  • 3. Iran concerned over security situation in Afghanistan
  • 4. World Bank snubs inquiry, vows a big loan to Iran
  • The World Bank is defying requests from an influential congressman to stall nearly $900 million in loans to Iran.
  • 5. Iran opens two consulates in northern Iraq
  • 6. U.S. military in Iraq says to release 9 Iranians
  • Yes, of course, Tehran Times is trying to convince potential dissidents not to act. But, you must admit that the West provides them with some excellent ammunition!

    On November 17, a young Iranian French film maker hiding in the French embassy is supposed to go on trial for discovering a mass grave in the outskirts of Tehran:

    It all began in December 2006. Solouki arrived in Iran to film a documentary about the burial traditions of Iran's religious minority communities, such as Armenian Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. . . .

    But while filming, Solouki says she stumbled on an area at the Khavaran Cemetery on Tehran's outskirts that caught her attention. She described it as "totally different" from the other parts she had filmed. Asked whether she was referring to a mass grave of people summarily executed in 1988, she said, "Yes."

    How many people were buried there has never been established, but estimates by Iranians and outsiders generally put the number above 2,800. Most of those killed were opposition leftists and mujahedin members who were taken from jail and summarily executed. Solouki says the authorities may believe that she intended to make a film critical of the mass executions, which took place in the summer and fall of 1988.

    On February 17, police stormed Solouki's residence in Tehran and arrested her, saying they had learned that she had filmed the mass graves. Solouki says her documentary at the time had yet to be filmed, and that none of the equipment seized from her gave any indication of the film's content. So she is being accused, she says, of harboring "presumed intentions" to produce antiestablishment propaganda.

    To sum up, the stakes for Iranian dissidents could not be higher. If the West is waiting for Iranians to provide the solution, the West must prevaricating and demonstrate that it means business and therefore can be trusted. At the moment, if I were a potential Iranian dissident, I would be far from convinced.

    Reform Party of Syria answers questions by Israelis

    It is their point of view, that should be heard, though we may not agree with their analysis.
    Ami Isseroff
    In Responses to Questions by Israelis on the Omedia Web Site
    Washington DC, October 27, 2007/Omedia - Farid Ghadry/ -- The "Free Syria" Project on Omedia sponsored by both the Reform Party of Syria and Omedia has generated quite a stir, some positive and some not so positive as I can tell from your letters and concerns. We are delighted to see this dialogue take place, which represent the baby steps necessary to build a bridge of common goals based on goodwill and the free will to express oneself in an atmosphere of co-existence and acceptance of the opinions and aspirations of people who are different than you.
    I just want to add another note that I feel is important. Many of my Syrian compatriots and supporters asked me why did RPS and Omedia arrange for this "Syrian Opposition" corner? With so many problems inside Syria and so much to do, why Israel? The answer lies in understanding the mechanics of an oppressive regime that has developed a strategy of survival to include stifling liberties of Syrians and spreading hate against Israelis in an attempt to target an enemy, which the regime needs in order to continue justifying its stifling of liberties. The Syrian government argues that Assad is resisting the enemy and now is not the time to seek justice or freedom. Our strategy has two purposes: 1) To really build understanding between the Syrian and the Israeli public and, 2) To upset the strategy of resistance by showing Syrians that communications with all of Syria's neighbors is possible and that the resistance strategy carried forth by Assad has but one purpose: To keep the Assad family in power against all odds, humane or otherwise.
    On to the Q&A.
    Q. Do you represent a true opposition to Assad, in the sense that you can be a viable political alternative?
    A. We consider any opposition, and not just RPS, who wish to see a free Syria governed by a democratic government and respectful of the rule of law as a viable alternative to the Assad regime. However, the true alternative to the regime is not any one party or one man, but the true alternative is freedom and democracy. Once democracy is established in Syria, as is in Israel, and respected by all, then the Syrian opposition would have achieved its goals.
    Q. Isn't Israel safer, when a dictator in Damascus saves Syria from the Extreme Islamists taking over?
    A. There is this myth that somehow is being circulated, and has been circulating for a long time by the Assad regime and its supporters in the State of Israel, that the alternative to Assad are extremists. The Muslim Brotherhood is mentioned often as an example of that extremism, even though 50% of all Muslims in Syria belong to the Sufi Order (Sufism represents moderation in Islam). The Grand Mufti of Syria named Hassoon is a Sufi. He has met with Jewish leaders around the world and is representative of Sunni Muslims in Syria.
    I think, in a post 9/11 world, it is our responsibility and yours to visit and analyze this question and not simply repeat the rhetoric of the Assad regime like parrots. If we all agree that people seek freedom the way they seek to breathe oxygen, then I think you would also agree that as long as freedom is missing, people will look for alternatives. In Syria, a political alternative is unimaginable given the tight control the Assad regime exerts over Syrians. Instead, Syrians turn to religion for answers because the Assad regime cannot stop them. There is nothing wrong in people turning to God for answers; in fact, we humans have always had the curiosity and the intellect to question our motives on earth. But when we turn to God in search of relief from misery, and on the way fall in the hands of people who have interpreted the Koran to suit their political goals, then we are allowing to instill political Islam into Arab societies. In other words, oppression is the direct feeder of political Islam and lack of freedom cannot be an excuse any longer.
    The longer Assad stays in power, the more Islamic the Syrian society becomes. The Bin Ladens of the world did not exist some thirty years ago but today they are a dime a dozen. Anyone in Israel who supports the continuation of the Assad regime is indeed permitting the continuation of political Islam to gain momentum and become far more dangerous in the future. Furthermore, I do not believe that Assad can contain this phenomenon and sooner or later, it will come back to haunt Syrians and all of Syria's neighbors.
    It also behooves the Israeli society to truly analyze what are the alternatives and how Syrians are willing, with the help of the international community, to construct a transitional period to democracy with a bullet-proof mean by which that transition takes place void of violence. That is the real challenge ahead of us. Allowing Assad to remain in power is like giving-up before one even tries and if that is not acceptable to the Syrian opposition it should not be acceptable either to those who advance humanity by giving freedom a chance.
    Q. Aren't you naïve about the possibility of overthrowing Bashar now?
    A. Who would have thought that the Ukraine would become free? or Georgia? or that the Soviet Empire would falter and fall or that 90 countries would become democratic up from 20 countries prior to WWII? Who would have believed that the Apartheid system in South Africa, with all its power and ruthlessness, would yield to the rule of the majority? Creators of pioneering ideas are called visionaries when they succeed and naive prior to their success.
    If you, like us, believe in the power of the people and the power of human rights and freedom, you would also believe that one day you will make a difference. This is not a question of choice but rather a question of duty.
    When I was in Israel, and on my way to the Golan Height to visit accompanied by MK Yuval Steinitz, Dr. Hussein Saado, and Nir Boms, I observed, at rest stops, many Israeli soldiers heading to the Golan. To some, it is a question of choice but to many, it is also a question of duty. This is how Syrians feel about freedom and human rights in Syria.
    There is a saying that goes: "All good things come to an end". I would add to it:" and all bad things come to a sooner end". The Assad regime has lasted almost 45 years and must come to its end soon because it has yielded nothing but misery, oppression, economic deprivation, and corruption. The only good thing that supporters used to say about Assad was that the regime is secular and will protect the region from extremism. As we have seen in Iraq, with irrefutable proof, the Assad regime, with Iran, have become the most important financiers and supporters of terrorism. There is no one good reason for this regime to stay in power. NOT ONE. Yet, fear from the unknown is driving policy makers to resist the idea of regime change in Syria. However, I believe that fear will dissipate the moment we realize that the Assad regime is worse than any imaginable alternative. How can it be worse than supporting al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and creating Fatah al-Islam and so many others waiting to spring to action in one part of the Levant or other? Enough resistance, enough terror, enough violence. We want to develop our economy and like you try and provide better standards of living to our people. Syria will always be dangerous as long as it is weak and the moment our economy develops, our competitiveness will be expressed not on a battlefield but in trade and balance sheets.  
    Q. What about the Golan Heights? How can this issue be resolved?
    A. The Golan Heights is a land that belongs to Syria and it is imperative that it is returned to Syria in a peaceful manner. However, it is also important for Syrians to realize that there is a price to be paid to get the Golan back and also to understand how Israelis feel about their security and why in the first place the Golan was occupied and annexed on Dec. 14, 1981.
    This is a subject that RPS is preparing a White Paper on that we intend to publish in the next coming months. The main jest of the idea is that once Syria becomes democratic, Israel will have little to fear because our politicians become accountable to the people and therefore, will be unwilling to engage Syria in military adventurism that would revoke the people's votes in the next round of elections (i.e. this includes starting wars). This, in our opinion, covers about 20% of the security requirements between the two countries. The other 80% will come with time, trust-building mechanisms to be established on the Golan, and most important to allow Israelis citizens the choice to remain on lands they already own but whose taxes would have to be paid to a democratic Syrian government. We, Syrians, do not see any scenario under which Israelis would leave the lands they have helped build and whose income to Syria via taxation is more precious than the pan-Arabist grandstanding we usually hear through slogans and chants by the Ba'ath Party in Syria. Israelis living on Syrian soil and paying taxes to Syria is the best protection both of our countries can have by commingling economic interests with security interests. Down the road, we see the Golan become a major international center by either building a Middle East Olympic city or some other international attraction in order to create an atmosphere free from politics and assist in building a culture of camaraderie and understanding. Nothing like sports to bring the people together.
    Q. Are you an authentic Arab opposition, or just an imitation of westernized image of the way an opposition should look?
    A. Most Syrians living abroad will tell you that they do so because of lack of opportunities and lack of freedom in their homeland. The fact that many of us live abroad was never a question of choice but rather a question of necessity or forced into exile as many Syrians will tell you. But having lived in the US for many years, one learns important lessons about governance, accountability, and transparency. Elements one would wish Syria would be rich with.
    As one of the many opposition figures living in the Diaspora, we blend the old with the new, for a formula that throughout history has changed the courses of many countries. I am reminded of a book I read by the prominent Professor Bernard Lewis called: "What went wrong" in which he discusses the Ottoman Empire's last 300 years in power and its lack of interest in exchanging ideas and literature, culture and intellect, with the western world; all the meanwhile, the western world was thirsty for knowledge and would send orientalists constantly visiting the four corners of the Ottoman empire in search for the new and the innovative. The consequence is that the region has suffered tremendous backwardness that resulted in deficiencies on a scale that we, Arabs, are paying a dear price for today. The Turks, through an extraordinary man named Ataturk, were able to grasp and correct these deficiencies in their 1921 Constitution, changing to Latin alphabet, etc.. to re-integrate themselves with the west the result of which we see today with Turkey enjoying political and economic freedoms able to improve the standards of living of its people.
    We, dissidents living in the west, together with the Syrian dissident community inside Syria can and will be able, having learned the ways to success to economic prosperity from well tested western models, to help usher that knowledge and know-how with no reservations or bias while taking into consideration our rich culture and heritage. So although we have not lived in our homeland for many years, our value system is still connected to that Homeland in the same manner of how Jews feel affinity for the State of Israel.
    Q. Aren't you more popular in Washington than in Syria, helping the Bush agenda of forcing democracy on a not so-ready peoples of the Middle East? The same way Chalabi was for Iraq?
    A. We believe this is another way of looking at the prism of the work of the Syrian dissidents. As far as our popularity is concerned, let me answer it this way. It is not something we embrace or encourage but the reality on the ground always projects the truest sensibilities of the Syrian street. The Assad regime belongs to the Alawite minority of Syria, which at best, accounts for about 9% of the population. 70% of the population belongs to the Sunni Muslim community of which I am a part of. Our popularity is self-evident in how we are perceived even though we try hard to discourage this notion of ethnic loyalty.
    In Syria today, there is a minority Alawite government oppressing the majority, which happens to be the Sunni Muslim community. This formula for disaster cannot last for a long time. There will be a time when the majority, under such oppressive measures, will rise to earn its freedom and the right to rule. But unlike Assad, a minority that rules the majority with an iron fist, our vision for a rule by the majority does not mean neglecting the minorities. It is important to realize that a future majority rule comes with more responsibilities than one can imagine. As someone who belongs to that majority, it is my duty not only to protect the minorities but to insure that they prosper under special conditions. In other words, I know that the majority Muslim community will prosper because our representation in the government will create the conducive environments for that prosperity but what is very important is to insure that the minorities prosper as much if not more because their survival and prosperity would mean survival and prosperity for all of Syria. Syria is rich because Syria is diverse and that diversity must be protected at all costs. This is a major cornerstone of our vision for Syria.
    As far as the people not being ready, one has to weigh this argument against the one we made in answering one of the questions above, which essentially facilitates and accelerates the Islamization of the society. The answer lies in-between and not in a sudden knee-jerk action, be it military or otherwise, to democracy via the right to vote. This transition process has been engineered by the Syrian opposition and its blueprint permits the building of a strong civil society and the time necessary to realize one's freedom. What is needed now is the critical mass necessary for the international community to help Syrians implement the blueprint in a peaceful manner. That has not happened yet but soon it will because we have no choice but to consider the tough choices. More on the blueprint in the next question.
    Q. Are the Syrians ready for a democratic system? Isn't it dangerous to hold an experiment in Democracy that might end up in chaos, as it did in Iraq for so long?
    A. This is a very good question considering not only Iraq, which I believe turned into chaos because of Syrian and Iranian terror and also because of dramatic American mistakes in its perception of the Iraqi people, but also how Hamas came to power and the suffering the Sderot people of Israel are going through for that failed experiment.
    Syria's ethnic make-up today has created the opportunities for a dictatorship to control our political life but Syria's ethnic make-up is also an opportunity that has yet to be explored. The Alawites are central to that opportunity. Here is what I believe is a good blueprint for change in Syria.
    Today in Syria, the Alawites control the army as well as the intelligence services. This is a very similar condition as to what is already a fait accompli in Turkey where the Ahlevies (Not to be confused with the Syrian Alawites as people but similar in secular behavior and anti extreme Islamist tendencies) have much power within the ranks of the Turkish Army. The obvious benefits are that the Alawites are committed to secularism in general and they already hold the reigns of power in Damascus.
    We foresee a scenario by which the Alawites will remain in control of the Syrian armed forces and a democratically-committed transitional government is established by the Syrian opposition in consultation with all the different groups, unions, tribes, etc.. of Syria. The main tasks of this transitional government are to forge a New Constitution and to permit the Syrian civil society to grow and prosper under its protection to prepare the Syrian street for elections in a post-transitional stage. Meanwhile, the control over the Syrian armed forces, exercised by the Alawites, will insure that violence is muted, that the Islamists are not given free reign to intimidate or attempt to hijack the government, that the work of the free transitional government is enforced, and that no revenge act can be taken against them by over-zealous Syrians. The Alawites should remain in control of the armed forces as long as is needed to protect the Syrian Constitution and our nascent democracy.
    Under these conditions, Syria will have a chance to create an environment that fulfills all the requirements for a transition to democracy. There are three important issues that we must protect: 1) That the transitional government is truly transitional and no politicians, after this transitional period, is allowed to be elected for some years after the termination of its work (to be decided constitutionally) and 2) That the Alawites in control of the armed forces will commit themselves to democracy without a shadow of a doubt and, 3) That the international community will provide total financial support for Syria to insure that no one group or political entity forges financial alliances with other countries in the region. Under this scenario, I see international guarantees governing those three conditions to be signed by all.
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