Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Syrian Liberal: 'Not a Single Ray of Hope' in Arab World

MEMRI Special Dispatch - No. 2684 December 9, 2009 No. 2684 
Syrian Liberal: 'Not a Single Ray of Hope' in Arab World
In an article in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai, Syrian liberal Zein Al-Shami lamented the state of the Arab world, saying that instead of taking care of its acute problems, it is preoccupied with petty and oppressive practices that only confirm stereotyped opinions about it.
Following are excerpts from the article:[1]
We "Wish In Our Hearts That We Were Not Arab Citizens"
"As we follow the latest reports from the Arab world... and compare them to reports from other countries and societies, we feel so much frustration and shame that all of us wish in our hearts that we were not Arab citizens. This sad [fact] reflects the general deterioration that prevails in our countries.
"In Lebanon, we spent months waiting for the birth of the national unity government. With all that is said about its civilized people and rich culture, and with all the Arab, regional and international 'interest' [that has been focused] on it, we wonder how Lebanon managed to function so [long] without a government."
Lebanon's Citizen Sees "Syria, Iran, France, America and Saudi Arabia as... Hold[ing the Key to] His Present and Future"
"It is very disappointing that the formation of a government is sabotaged by arguments about who will be appointed to which ministerial position and which party or stream will get which [ministerial] portfolio. A Lebanese [citizen] feels great pain that the political future [of his country] depends on agreements between foreign [elements] and on the influential countries in the region. And it is very sad that the Lebanese [citizen] sees Syria, Iran, France, America and Saudi Arabia as sources of advice and authority and as the ones who dictate the distribution of portfolios [in his government], and [believes] that they hold [the key to] his present and future, more than his fellow Lebanese [citizen] who lives in his neighborhood or in a nearby village."
"The World is... Preoccupied with the Trial of Journalist Lubna Al-Hussein" in Sudan
"Let's drop the issue of Lebanon, since [attempting] to follow its internal politics would cause even a scientist of Einstein's [caliber] to have a stroke...
"Turning to Sudan, for example, we discover amazing things. Despite the disturbing problems [afflicting] this large country - from Darfur and [the troubles in] the south to the drought that periodically strikes it - the world is unfortunately preoccupied with the trial of journalist Lubna Al-Hussein.[2] Her trial has blotted out [all of Sudan's problems] and has caused [the world] to focus on the trousers she wore...
"We must say that in this trial, which occupied world public opinion for a short while, the Sudanese court won a resounding victory by confirming all the stereotypes about the Arabs and Muslims, for example that they oppress women and think that their honor resides in the woman's body and [depends on] the extent, type and shape of the garments she wears. This [situation] is indeed shameful considering the considerable progress made by women in other parts of the world, in the fields of science, politics, and art. Many other countries and peoples laugh when they hear... how the Arabs forget all their political and economic problems, their poverty and their backwardness, in order to focus on a woman's clothing and its impact on their honor."
Somali Extremists "Forgot All of Somalia's Problems..." - And Flogged a Woman for Wearing a Bra
"Not far from Sudan, in Somalia, there recently emerged a movement called Shabab Al-Somal [i.e., Al-Shabab Al-Mujahideen], which controls large parts in the center and south [of the country], and in them enforces strict laws banning movies, plays, dancing, soccer games, and all types of music, including mobile phone ringtones. And that's not all. Recently, these extremists did a peculiar thing: they caught a Somali woman and flogged her in public for wearing a bra. They announced loud and clear that wearing a bra contravenes [the precepts of] the religion because it constitutes deception and fraud.
"Once again, they unfortunately forgot all of Somalia's problems - the division, the drought, and the internal wars. They forgot all of Islam's noteworthy achievements and focused on women, on the weakest sector in a backward society, so as to prove once again just how far the Arabs are from what is happening in the [rest of] the world."
Hamas "Is Preoccupied With Forcing Women to Wear the Hijab" in Gaza
"[The same thing] is happening in Hamastan [i.e. Hamas-controlled Gaza], where the [Hamas] movement is forcing all the Gaza residents to [live by] its laws and opinions - [as though] it has already achieved its great national goal of reconciliation with its rival, Fatah, and as though it has already liberated all the Palestinian lands from the Israeli occupation, and solved the problems of unemployment, poverty and hunger that are crushing the Gazan population.
"It is strange that a political movement - whose political goals and plans are presumably aimed at liberating the Palestinians and their land - is preoccupied with forcing women to wear the hijab in school, in court and on the beach. In fact, Hamas is lately issuing laws pertaining to women that are not much different from those of Shabab Al-Somal, including a law that forbids a girl or a woman to sit on a motorcycle behind a man, even if he is her brother, father or husband - because, according to Hamas, this contravenes [Muslim] tradition."
In Kuwait, "Voices Call On Women MPs to Wear the Veil"
"Turning to Kuwait, we occasionally hear voices calling on women MPs to wear the veil. It is encouraging to find that in Kuwait there is opposition to calls of this sort, as part of political and social activism under the banner of the struggle between the past and future, or between tradition and modernism."
In "Secular" Syria, First Graders Learn Islam - "When They Do Not [Yet] Know the Difference Between a Muslim, a Christian, a Shi'ite, and a Druze"
"Even in Syria, a secular state, the authorities have recently introduced a [Muslim] textbook on religion into the first-grade curriculum, even though the classrooms are shared by pupils from different faiths, sects and religious streams. [The pupils are exposed to this textbook] at an age when they do not know the difference between a Muslim, a Christian, a Shi'ite and a Druze. Instead of preparing a unified religious curriculum appropriate to [all] religious cultures, the [Syrian] Culture Ministry is fostering the children's awareness of discriminatory sectarianism - something that was foreign to the previous generations."
"There is Not a Single Ray of Hope [in the Arab World]"
"In Iraq, Libya, Egypt and other Arab states, the situation is [even] worse.
"There is not a single ray of hope [in the Arab world]."
[1] Al-Rai (Kuwait), October 22, 2009.
[2] A Sudanese journalist and activist who was prosecuted in July 2009 for wearing trousers.

A childrens' peace fable - by a child

This little story should make everyone who is serious about peace in the Middle East think deeply about what it means and how to achieve it.
"When the Shark and the Fish First Met"

A small and gentle fish was swimming in the middle of a peaceful ocean. All of a sudden, the fish saw a shark that wanted to devour him.

He then began to swim very quickly, but so did the shark.
Suddenly the fish stopped and called to the shark:
"Why do you want to devour me? We can play together!"
The shark thought and thought and said:
"Okay- fine: Let's play hide and seek."
The shark and fish played all day long, until the sun went down.
In the evening, the shark returned to his home.
His mother asked:
"How was your day, my dear shark? How many animals did you devour today?"
The shark answered: "Today I didn't devour any animals, but I played with an animal called FISH."
"That fish is an animal we eat. Don't play with it!" said the shark's mother.
At the home of the fish, the same thing happened. "How are you, little fish? How was it today in the sea?" asked the fish's mother.
The fish answered: "Today I played with an animal called SHARK."
"That shark is the animal that devoured your father and your brother. Don't play with that animal," answered the mother.
The next day in the middle of the ocean, neither the shark nor the fish were there.
They didn't meet for many days, weeks and even months.
Then, one day they met. Each one immediately ran back to his mother and once again they didn't meet for days, weeks and months.
After a whole year passed, the shark went out for a nice swim and so did the fish. For a third time, they met and then the shark said: "You are my enemy, but maybe we can make peace?"
The little fish said: "Okay."
They played secretly for days, weeks and months, until one day the shark and fish went to the fish's mother and spoke together with her. Then they did the same thing with the shark's mother; and from that same day the sharks and the fish live in peace.
Gilad Shalit,
Class 5b
Maale Hagalil Elementary School
Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Islamist thugs in 2006 and has been held in captivity to be ransomed against a list of about a thousand terrorists, including the notorious Marwan Barghouti, initiator of the second Intifada and responsible for numerous murders.
Do you still think the US should pressure Israel to ease the blockade of Gaza?
Ami Isseroff

Israel Deputy FM Danny Ayalon: An Open Letter to the Arab World

This letter was published in Arabic in the London Arab daily As-Sharq al-Awsat.

An Open Letter to the Arab World
By Danny Ayalon

Since the reestablishment of our state, Israeli leaders have sought peace with their Arab neighbors. Our Declaration of Independence, Israel's founding document that expressed our hopes and dreams reads, "We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help." These words are as true today as when they were first written in 1948. Sadly, sixty one year later, only two nations, Jordan and Egypt, have accepted these principles and made peace with the Jewish State.

Since the reestablishment of our state, Israeli leaders have sought peace with their Arab neighbors. Our Declaration of Independence, Israel's founding document that expressed our hopes and dreams reads, "We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help." These words are as true today as when they were first written in 1948. Sadly, sixty one year later, only two nations, Jordan and Egypt, have accepted these principles and made peace with the Jewish State.

Recently the Israeli government has made significant steps to restart negotiations with the Palestinians and reach out to the Arab world. In his Bar-Ilan speech in June, Prime Minister Netanyahu clearly stated his acceptance of a Palestinians state living side by side in peace and security with the State of Israel. My government has removed hundreds of roadblocks to improve access and movement for Palestinians and has assisted the facilitation of economic developments in the West Bank, through close cooperation with international parties to expedite projects and remove bottlenecks.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a right-wing government has, in an unprecedented move, declared it would refrain from building new settlements in the West Bank. All of these moves taken together amply demonstrate Israel's willingness for peace.

This Israeli government is also committed to extend a hand to all of our Arab neighbors, its leaders and its citizens, to join together to face some of the major challenges facing us all in the coming years.

 For the first time in many years, we find ourselves on the same side in seeking to quell and defeat the forces of extremism and destruction in our region. While many see the threat from Iran directed solely at Israel, we in the region know differently. Together, we understand the menace that emanates from the extremist regime in Tehran. A regime that seeks to export its extremist ideology across the region and beyond, while arming terrorist groups that seek to destabilize moderate Sunni regimes and aiming for hegemonic control of the Middle East and far beyond.

 The Iranian regime has many tentacles spread out across the region sowing destruction and despair amongst the people. The enemy of the people of Lebanon is not Israel, but Hizbullah. The enemy of the Palestinian people is not Israel, but Hamas. The enemy of the Egyptian people is not Israel, but militant Islamist opposition groups. All of these groups, and many others, receive their commands from Iran, who wish to control and suppress any aspirations the region has towards freedom and advancement.

 Iran seeks to hold an entire region, including its own people, to ransom and keep it engaged in conflicts orchestrated and directed from Tehran. Whether it is in Morocco, Iraq or Yemen, Iran is constantly interfering with Arab sovereignty for their own nefarious gain. Israel and its Sunni neighbors alike are in the sights of Khameini, Ahmadinejad and their minions.

 If Iran is able to attain nuclear weapons, the situation becomes inexplicably and inexorably worse. The Iranian regime has demonstrated that if feels unrestricted in its ability to dominate our region, a nuclear umbrella will only embolden its acolytes to act unrestrained to the detriment of us all. Only together can we face this threat and remove it.

Another issue that entails mutual political will to overcome is the threat of climate change to our region. Many reports and organizations are pinpointing the Middle East as an area that will suffer gravely as rain falls even more infrequently and temperatures rise.

Recently, the leading international scholars on climate change met in Copenhagen and released an important report on this issue. They claimed that climate change will exacerbate conflicts and increase strains and violence among competing groups. We are already witnessing water rights and growing desertification as underlying reasons for the intensification of conflicts in our region.

"Making the desert bloom" has been a core component of the Zionist ethos and successes throughout the decades. Israel has been able to turn desert into arable land and barren landscapes into forests. We constantly share our agricultural miracles with our friends in Africa and Asia and it is for this reason that many countries of the developing world have sought partnership with Israel in addressing their own agricultural challenges.

However, as Israel's founding fathers wrote in 1948, Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East. Our partners in peace, Jordan and Egypt, and especially the Palestinian Authority, bear witness to our endeavors in this direction. Israel has actively cooperated with Egypt on the "Mubarak Project" for the establishment of an irrigation demonstration system in Nubariya and annually trains hundreds of Jordanians in Israel in fields such as sustainable eco-friendly agricultural methods.

For us to be able to face these and many other challenges, we need to break with the paradigms of the past. The Jewish People are here because of our historical, legal, moral and national rights.

Those naysayers who can not countenance a Jewish political presence in the region will doom all of us to many more decades of conflict and instability. It is time for courageous leaders to emanate from the Arab world as did Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979 and Jordan's King Hussein in 1994 and recognize that peaceful coexistence is far better for all of our people than enduring conflict and enmity.

We recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative is an important document, and is welcomed in Israel as a crack in the denial of an Arab recognition of Israel. However, like the Palestinian Authority's dictates to Israel on the peace process, it remains frozen in 1993.

Since the historic handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn, Israel has taken major strides both politically and strategically towards the Palestinian position.

Both in 2000 at Camp David and in 2008 during the Annapolis process, Israeli prime ministers offered the Palestinians everything possible for peace and on both occasions the Palestinian leadership rejected these offers.  The Palestinian Authority, like the Arab Peace Initiative, is still holding to its maximalist positions and has not moved an inch towards Israel since 1993. These positions are obviously untenable for peace and reflect a worldview that ignores Israel's significant gestures and seeks to enforce a solution that will mean the end of the Jewish State. Recent Palestinian and Arab League declarations only enforce this view.

It is surely time to look to the future and break with former intransigencies to create a better future for all the people of the region. Israel has gone very far and is prepared to do its part, but we must be met by a willing partner. Without this, the region is doomed to more conflict and will negate the unity of purpose in the Middle East that is necessary to face the mounting challenges from without and within. 

Danny Ayalon is the Israel Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs


Smoking gun of Iran's nuclear weapons project?

Sensational and scary news. According to the report, Iran is building a neutron initiator. That would be the smoking gun of Iran's nuclear weapons project - if it is authenticated. This is from the Times of London however, the people who brought you the Israeli "ethnobomb" canard and countless stories about the Israeli attack on Iran that was just about to happen, but never did. It is not the most reliable source, but it cannot be ignored.
Ami Isseroff
Confidential intelligence documents obtained by The Times show that Iran is working on testing a key final component of a nuclear bomb.

The notes, from Iran's most sensitive military nuclear project, describe a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the component of a nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion. Foreign intelligence agencies date them to early 2007, four years after Iran was thought to have suspended its weapons programme.

An Asian intelligence source last week confirmed to The Times that his country also believed that weapons work was being carried out as recently as 2007 — specifically, work on a neutron initiator.

The technical document describes the use of a neutron source, uranium deuteride, which independent experts confirm has no possible civilian or military use other than in a nuclear weapon. Uranium deuteride is the material used in Pakistan's bomb, from where Iran obtained its blueprint.

"Although Iran might claim that this work is for civil purposes, there is no civil application," said David Albright, a physicist and president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, which has analysed hundreds of pages of documents related to the Iranian programme. "This is a very strong indicator of weapons work."

The documents have been seen by intelligence agencies from several Western countries, including Britain. A senior source at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that they had been passed to the UN's nuclear watchdog.

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said yesterday: "We do not comment on intelligence, but our concerns about Iran's nuclear programme are clear. Obviously this document, if authentic, raises serious questions about Iran's intentions."

Responding to The Times' findings, an Israeli government spokesperson said: "Israel is increasingly concerned about the state of the Iranian nuclear programme and the real intentions that may lie behind it."

The revelation coincides with growing international concern about Iran's nuclear programme. Tehran insists that it wants to build a civilian nuclear industry to generate power, but critics suspect that the regime is intent on diverting the technology to build an atomic bomb.

In September, Iran was forced to admit that it was constructing a secret uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qom. President Ahmadinejad then claimed that he wanted to build ten such sites. Over the weekend Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian Foreign Minister, said that Iran needed up to 15 nuclear power plants to meet its energy needs, despite the country's huge oil and gas reserves.

Publication of the nuclear documents will increase pressure for tougher UN sanctions against Iran, which are due to be discussed this week. But the latest leaks in a long series of allegations against Iran will also be seized on by hawks in Israel and the US, who support a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities before the country can build its first warhead.

Mark Fitzpatrick, senior fellow for non-proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said: "The most shattering conclusion is that, if this was an effort that began in 2007, it could be a casus belli. If Iran is working on weapons, it means there is no diplomatic solution."

The Times had the documents, which were originally written in Farsi, translated into English and had the translation separately verified by two Farsi speakers. While much of the language is technical, it is clear that the Iranians are intent on concealing their nuclear military work behind legitimate civilian research.

The fallout could be explosive, especially in Washington, where it is likely to invite questions about President Obama's groundbreaking outreach to Iran. The papers provide the first evidence which suggests that Iran has pursued weapons studies after 2003 and may actively be doing so today — if the four-year plan continued as envisaged.

A 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate concluded that weapons work was suspended in 2003 and officials said with "moderate confidence" that it had not resumed by mid-2007. Britain, Germany and France, however, believe that weapons work had already resumed by then.

Western intelligence sources say that by 2003 Iran had already assembled the technical know-how it needed to build a bomb, but had yet to complete the necessary testing to be sure such a device would work. Iran also lacked sufficient fissile material to fuel a bomb and still does — although it is technically capable of producing weapons-grade uranium should its leaders take the political decision to do so.

The documents detail a plan for tests to determine whether the device works — without detonating an explosion leaving traces of uranium detectable by the outside world. If such traces were found, they would be taken as irreversible evidence of Iran's intention to become a nuclear-armed power.

Experts say that, if the 2007 date is correct, the documents are the strongest indicator yet of a continuing nuclear weapons programme in Iran. Iran has long denied a military dimension to its nuclear programme, claiming its nuclear activities are solely focused on the production of energy for civilian use.

Mr Fitzpatrick said: "Is this the smoking gun? That's the question people should be asking. It looks like the smoking gun. This is smoking uranium."

Harassment Across Arab World Drives Women Inside

Harassment Across Arab World Drives Women Inside

Women in Arab world driven inside by sexual harassment, says 1st regional conference on topic
The Associated Press
The sexual harassment of women in the streets, schools and work places of the Arab World is driving them to cover up and confine themselves to their homes, said activists at the first-ever regional conference addressing the once taboo topic.
Activists from 17 countries across the region met in Cairo for a two-day conference ending Monday and concluded that harassment was unchecked across the region because laws don't punish it, women don't report it and the authorities ignore it.
The harassment, including groping and verbal abuse, appears to be designed to drive women out of public spaces and seems to happen regardless of what they are wearing, they said.
Amal Madbouli, who wears the conservative face veil or niqab, told The Associated Press that despite her dress, she is harassed and described how a man came after her in the streets of her neighborhood.
"He hissed at me and kept asking me if I wanted to go with him to a quieter area, and to give him my phone number," said Madbouli, a mother of two. "This is a national security issue. I am a mother, and I want to be reassured when my daughters go out on the streets."
Statistics on harassment in the region have until recently been nonexistent, but a series of studies presented at the conference hinted at the widespread nature of the problem.
As many as 90 percent of Yemeni women say they have been harassed, while in Egypt, out of a sample of 1,000, 83 percent reported being verbally or physically abused.
A study in Lebanon reported that more than 30 percent of women said they had been harassed there.
"We are facing a phenomena that is limiting women's right to move ... and is threatening women's participation in all walks of life," said Nehad Abul Komsan, an Egyptian activist who organized the event with funding from the U.N. and the Swedish development agency.
Open discussion of the harassment issue first emerged in Egypt three years ago, after blogs gave broad publicity to amateur videos showing men assaulting women in downtown Cairo during a major Muslim holiday.
The public outcry sparked an unprecedented public acknowledgment of the problem and drove the Egyptian government to consider two draft bills addressing sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment, including verbal and physical assault, has been specifically criminalized in only half a dozen Arab countries. Most of the 22 Arab states only outlaw overtly violent acts like rape, according to a study by Abul Komsan.
Participants at the conference said men are threatened by an increasingly active female labor force, with conservatives laying the blame for harassment on women's dress and behavior.
In Syria, men from traditional homes go shopping in the market place instead of female family members to spare them harassment, said Sherifa Zuhur, a Lebanese-American academic at the conference.
Abul Komsan described how one of the victims of harassment she interviewed told her she had taken on the full-face veil to stave off the hassle.
"She told me 'I have put on the niqab. By God, what more can I do so they leave me alone,'" she said, quoting the woman. Some even said they were reconsidering going to work or school because of the constant harassment in the streets and on public transpiration.
But even in Yemen, where nearly all women are covered from head to toe, activist Amal Basha said 90 percent of women in a published study she conducted reported harassment, specifically pinching.
"The religious leaders are always blaming the women, making them live in a constant state of fear because out there, someone is following them," she said.
If a harassment case is reported in Yemen, Basha added, traditional leaders interfere to cover it up, remove the evidence or terrorize the victim.
In Saudi Arabia, another country where women cover themselves completely and are nearly totally segregated from men in public life, women report harassment as well, according to Saudi activist Majid al-Eissa.
His organization, the National Family Safety Program, has been helping draft a law criminalizing violence against women in the conservative kingdom, where flirting can often cross the line into outright assault. Discussion of the law begins Tuesday.
"It will take time especially in this part of the world to absorb the gender mixture and the role each gender can play in society," he said. "We are coping with changes (of modern life), except in our minds."