Reflections on the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt
March 14, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 25
I was briefly a political prisoner of the regime of Tunisia’s now-deposed President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali—which I hope will convince my readers that I’m not carrying water for him, or for his similarly deposed Egyptian fellow dictator, Hosni Mubarak, when I say that the nearly eight weeks I spent last summer in the North African ummah (Tunisia and Egypt, to be specific) filled me with the opposite of the euphoric optimism that now seems to be the hallmark of both liberal and conservative commentary on the “jasmine revolution” uprisings in both countries.
Granted, my “imprisonment” by Ben Ali heavies lasted only about five minutes, and it consisted of being frog-marched out of the immigration-control center at the Tunis-Carthage International Airport, where I had just arrived and then filled out a standard form, by two sleek-suited, shaven-headed undercover police officers who suddenly appeared out of nowhere to express disbelief that I was in the country legitimately.
In fact, my purpose in visiting Tunisia in late June could not have been more innocent. I had been chosen, finishing up a doctorate in medieval studies, to join 15 other lucky scholars in a five-and-a-half-week National Endowment for the Humanities-funded seminar in Tunis. We were to study and discuss the autobiographical writings of two Christian saints who had lived in the adjacent city of Carthage during the early first millennium when the area was a prosperous Roman province: Augustine, whose Confessions included a famously lust-plagued sojourn in the city during the late 4th century, and Perpetua, a young mother martyred along with her slave-companion Felicitas in the arena at Carthage in 203 a.d.
The cops wanted to know what I was doing in Tunisia. My brain mashed by the near-sleepless night that is a fixture of transatlantic flights, I stammered something about “U.S. government” and “seminar.” They demanded proof. Bleary-eyed and feeling filthy in the intense North African heat, I fished inside my bag for the only evidence I had: a rumpled printout of a batch email that the professor in charge of the seminar had sent to the rest of us instructing us what we were to do on arriving at the airport. My mind congealed with panic, not over the prospect of, say, being thrown into a fetid Tunisian jail or being tortured with electrodes, but over what I was going to tell the folks back home—my husband, my mother, my friends, to whom I had boasted shamelessly all spring about being selected for the seminar—when I was put right back onto a plane headed for America after less than a half-hour in the country. I was supposed to fly from Tunis to Cairo at the end of the seminar to meet my husband for a two-week Egyptian vacation—so now what?
Fortunately for me, I remembered that a young Tunisian university student hired to help out the seminar’s participants—I’ll call him “Houssein” in order to protect his privacy in these uncertain times for his country—was supposed to meet us in the airport waiting room and find taxis for us. Soon enough, two Tunisian cops attired in Armani knockoffs were escorting me from immigration control to the chaotic outer room, filled with veiled Tunisian women and their suitcases, baskets, and offspring, where—oh, bliss!—there he was with his “NEH” placard. Bless you, Houssein! He and the two cops had a brief conversation in Arabic, and then the policemen were suddenly gone, vanished into the crowd whence they had mysteriously emerged. Later I figured out what I had done to provoke their attention: In the blank for “occupation” on the immigration-control form, I had written down “writer.” Why not? It was how I had financed my stint in graduate school. That was the last time I was so honest. When asked my occupation on forms at hotels in Tunisia where our seminar group stayed, and also at the hotels that my husband and I booked in Egypt, I substituted the more innocuous word “editor.”
I like to think egotistically that I was under steady surveillance by Ben Ali’s gendarmes wondering whether I would write up some piece of riveting journalism that would break the back of the supreme leader’s rule. This was highly unlikely, although on one occasion, when I was taking the rickety train from downtown Tunis to La Marsa, the onetime summer base of the Turkish beys who ruled Tunisia for centuries but now a cigarette butt-strewn proletarian public beach on the Mediterranean (and a favorite destination of our NEH group in efforts to escape the murderous heat by plunging into water), I joked to one of my fellow academics about “El Presidente for Life,” my nickname for Ben Ali, who had, via rigged elections, been in charge of Tunisia from 1987 until his flight from the country on January 14. Within seconds of my jest—and I’m sure this was sheer coincidence—two more of those close-cropped undercover cops in their Italianate suits materialized inside our car.
When our group visited the mosaic-floored remains of 4th-century Roman villas in Carthage (villas that Augustine might have visited), we were instructed not to train our cameras north onto Ben Ali’s enormous and well-guarded seaside presidential palace. Images of the bespectacled Ben Ali, looking suspiciously younger than his 74 years, were everywhere in Tunisia: on roadside billboards, on posters plastered onto walls, in conspicuously posted photographs in shops and restaurants (probably regarded by their proprietors as a wise move in maintaining good relations with bribe-seekers among local authorities), and daily on the front page of La Presse de Tunisie, a French-language newspaper delivered to our hotel that we regarded as a worthless propaganda sheet, although it has become noticeably independent since Ben Ali’s departure.
The hotel that lodged the seminar was close to downtown Tunis, and when I wasn’t prepping for seminar sessions or traveling with the group on bumpy bus excursions to the impressive Roman ruins that dot rural Tunisia (which under its Roman administrative name, Africa Proconsularis, had been the economic, political, and cultural center of Roman North Africa for 600 years), I had plenty of time to stroll the sidewalks during the day, often by myself.
Before the January uprising that frightened away most visitors, Tunisia had marketed itself as a cheap tourist destination for Western Europeans, mostly French, Spanish, and Italians. The tourists tended to isolate themselves in the beach resorts along the Mediterranean coast of Tunis (the picturesque blue-shuttered town of Sidi Bou Said was a favorite), venturing into the city itself only to visit the Bardo Museum, a former bey’s palace distant from downtown that houses a huge collection of Roman mosaics, and the rabbit-warren Tunis medina that dates from the Arab conquest of North Africa during the 7th century but whose aggressive souk merchants mainly hawked cheesy made-in-China souvenirs. So I had the city of Tunis to myself, as far as tourists are concerned. I learned how to pick my way down sidewalks cluttered and chittering with breeze-blown trash and crowded with shoppers and the unemployed, to maneuver through warp-speed, blindingly lethal traffic at intersections (run for it and don’t look sideways!), and to negotiate a rattletrap municipal trolley system where I was usually the only non-hijab-wearing woman and non-Arabic speaker in the wobbling, jam-packed cars.
There were draconian unwritten rules to abide by. During the day I was able to wander alone anywhere I felt like. Tunisian women were almost never by themselves on the streets, of course; they were always accompanied on shopping expeditions by their friends, their female relatives, their husbands, or their children. But I was a Westerner, and as long as I abided by the dress code for Westerners—covered shoulders, covered knees—I was free enough. Eating by myself seemed a different story, and I didn’t try it. Cafés were off-limits entirely, except for a handful of sidewalk places that catered to tourists. Cafés were the exclusive domain of men—men who whiled away hours with tiny coffee cups and sheesha pipes because, well, Tunisia’s unemployment rate is 13 percent and the cafés and their camaraderie were, among other things, day jobs for men with no gainful employment in their lives.
It was not wise for a woman to venture out alone after dark, not because of danger (violent crime was almost nonexistent) but because of the social opprobrium leveled at you by the men, still sitting in the cafés as you walked down a sidewalk where there were no women whatsoever because the women are now inside their homes. More opprobrium awaited those females who ventured, say, into a shawarma joint wearing above-the-knee sundresses that would be unexceptional on a summer day in America—as happened to the daughter of one of my seminar-mates and her friend. Going to the beach by yourself was also a mistake. I tried it once, and although I was born in the Pleistocene Era, I was nonetheless stalked by a young local who probably thought I might want to pay for a Shirley Valentine experience. And even if you were accompanied to the beach by a female friend, it could be hazardous to swim by yourself if you are young and female and fair-skinned, even if you are attired in the most modest of one-piece bathing suits, as one of my fellow scholars discovered. She could not place a toe into the Mediterranean without being surrounded on all sides by local men—because the beach in the Islamic world, being a public place, is the domain of men, just as the cafés are the domain of men. When I read the reports about the mob sexual assault of CBS reporter Lara Logan in Tahrir Square, I thought: Her crime was that she was a blonde Westerner in the Dar al-Islam.
My husband and I similarly found ourselves nearly the only Westerners on the streets of workaday downtown Cairo after we made the mistake—or so it seemed at the time—of advance-booking a room in a perfectly decent and clean pension run by two Frenchwomen atop a rickety office building, except that (as we discovered) Cairo, outside of its most upscale venues, does not have properly functioning plumbing and sewage systems. We were only a five-minute walk from Tahrir Square and the five-star hotels along the Nile that flank it, and we wondered why we hadn’t just checked into the Semiramis InterContinental, where we spent a great deal of time using the restrooms and eating lunch during Ramadan because hardly any freestanding restaurants were open. Later, we were grateful that we had chosen our penny-pinching accommodations, because we were forced to see, as I had come to see on my rambles in Tunis, exactly what the everyday Islamic world is like, the world pullulating just underneath the highly educated and highly secularized elite socioeconomic patina that forms the sole contact that most tourists, diplomats, NGO apparatchiks, journalists, and intellectuals have with the Islamic world.
It’s not surprising that there’s so much optimistic reporting that ordinary Muslims “yearn” for freedom, democracy, human rights, and to be just like the West. But outside the touristed enclaves of cosmopolitanism, I saw just the opposite: societies that were obstinately Islamic in the face of efforts by leaders with vast state-police apparatuses at their disposal to shove them into secular modernity. Indeed, the ordinary Muslims of Tunisia and Egypt seemed determined to be more Muslim than ever, some 50 or 60 years after policies of aggressive Westernization in both countries had been put into place. I could sort of understand why the Ben Ali-loyal airport cops had greeted my arrival in Tunis so heavy-handedly. They probably saw themselves as a thin Armani line between civilization as they knew it and a rolling low-key jihad that threatened to sweep it away and substitute in its place an ominous Muslim near-theocracy.
Cairo, outside of some gracefully ornamented medieval mosques, even older Coptic churches, and a handful of lovely parks, is an architectural and urban-planning disaster. The morning view from our hotel room consisted of an unrelieved vista of yellowed and decrepit office and apartment towers jutting into a furnace-like haze that passed for a sky. There were no trees to be seen, no birds to be heard singing. Generally speaking, Cairo, with its population of almost 7 million, ringed by fetid suburbs, some with unpaved streets that house another 10 million, looked like Mordor—or like the post-apocalyptic trash-skyscrapers in the movie Wall-E.
Tunis, by contrast, was a beautiful city, or at least the tired remains of a once-beautiful city, because it had largely been laid out and constructed by the French, who occupied Tunisia as a protectorate from 1881 to 1956. Until the 19th century, Tunis was merely its cramped medina: a walled maze of narrow streets and overhanging buildings surrounding the enormous 9th-century Zitouna Mosque. The French constructed a nouvelle ville: broad boulevards, palm-studded parks, grand hotels, an opera house, block after block of exuberantly adorned civic and apartment buildings with fanciful façades, tall louvered windows, and wrought-iron balconies. Half a century after independence, nearly all are in an advanced state of decay, and Tunis itself has sprawled outward to grow into a metropolitan area of 2.3 million. As in Cairo, litter was everywhere, although not quite so much of it. Our NEH headquarters hotel, for example, was located in what passed for an upscale neighborhood adjacent to the huge and impressively neglected Parc du Belvedere (the Central Park of Tunis and another French creation), but only a block away from its porte-cochère, blocking the sidewalk in front of a once-lovely, now abandoned and overgrown colonial gingerbread mansion, was a permanent refuse midden composting odoriferously in July temperatures that usually approached or exceeded one hundred degrees. It was apparently the garbage dump for another hotel down the street.
Tunisia, like Egypt and other parts of the Arab world that became independent during the rapid decolonialization of the 1950s and 1960s, adopted what might be called a Kemalist mode of governance: a combination of the aggressive promotion of secularism and modernity, hypertrophied nationalism, and one-party rule enforced by a large and powerful military (or in Tunisia’s case, a state police apparatus) that characterized the regime of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, whose presence and party dominated Turkey throughout much of the 20th century. Atatürk, although technically a Muslim, despised the traditional Islam that most Turks practiced; he deemed it retrograde and potentially insurrectionary and strove to tamp down, if not outright ban, many of its religious, cultural, and institutional manifestations. So, with a socialist flair, did Habib Bourguiba, the Ho Chi Minh of Tunisia, a Sorbonne-educated revolutionary who became Tunisia’s first president (in fact Tunisia’s only president before Ben Ali) after independence. Bourguiba nationalized the mosques, got rid of the sharia courts, and instituted strict government monitoring of the content of imams’ sermons (a policy pioneered by Atatürk and also used by Mubarak and his Egyptian presidential predecessors, Anwar Sadat and Gamal Nasser). A self-proclaimed champion of women’s rights, Bourguiba abolished polygamy, banned the hijab in schools and tried to phase it out elsewhere, and opened higher education to females. Alarmed by Tunisia’s rising population, he also instituted quasi-mandatory birth control.
Bourguiba’s brand of nationalism was also, Janus-like, militantly anti-Western and especially anti-French. Nearly all of the 150,000 or so French who had lived in Tunisia before independence quickly left the country when it became clear they were no longer wanted. So did nearly all of the 100,000 Italians, mostly Sicilians, whose ancestors had emigrated to Tunisia during the 19th century to farm for the French, and most of the 100,000 resident Jews, some of whose families had lived in Tunisia since the Middle Ages. Their lives were made uncomfortable by Tunisia’s Islamic-world alignment against Israel (the Palestine Liberation Organization headquartered itself in Tunis during the 1980s). The imposing synagogue on the Avenue de la Liberté, once the center of a thriving urban Jewish community, had its doors open for worship on -Saturday mornings (guarded by Ben Ali’s police), but I never saw anyone enter or leave.
Christianity enjoyed official tolerance as an obsolete foreign relic useful to tourists and Christian sub-Saharan Africans working for banks and diplomatic entities. During the 1960s Bourguiba had entered into an agreement with the Vatican that allowed his government to seize the vast majority of the properties—churches, schools, monasteries, convents—that the Catholic church had built in Tunisia during the French years. The alternative, as a Catholic priest there informed me, had been for Bourguiba’s government to seize 100 percent. Catholicism had flourished in Tunisia under French occupation because of its association with Augustine, other church fathers, and the martyrs. Indeed, French missionary priests were the first archaeological excavators of Roman Carthage. Now, everywhere you looked were testimonials to determined de-Christianization: the massive cathedral of St. Louis (the 13th-century French king who died near Tunis while on crusade) standing atop Byrsa Hill in Carthage shorn of its crosses and turned into a concert hall, a chapel built by the French under the excavated amphitheater to commemorate the deaths of Felicitas and Perpetua that is missing its religious furnishings. One of the few surviving Catholic churches in Tunis houses a school that is now completely Islamic, its curriculum set by the government. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” the Carthaginian theologian Tertullian wrote during the early 3rd century. I had to wonder about that.
Bourguiba tried to create a new national myth for Tunisia that skipped over the Romans, the Christians, and the French with their evocations of colonialism: that Tunisians were the cultural descendants of the Phoenicians, who had settled Carthage during the 9th century b.c. and fought a losing battle against the Romans for supremacy over the Western Mediterranean. Tunisia’s beautiful currency and coinage bear images of Hannibal, who crossed the Alps with his elephants, his father, and Dido (under her Greek name, Elissa), the Carthaginian queen and tragic heroine of Virgil’s Aeneid. It is likely that most Tunisians knew little and cared less about this glorious Phoenician past, much as the Cairenes who beheaded mummies and made off with antiquities during the mayhem at Tahrir Square were uninterested in the pharaohs, except insofar as they generated tourist revenue. (There is something deliciously ironic about the plight of the flamboyant Zawi Hawass, antiquities minister under Mubarak, who has made a career out of trying to guilt-trip supposedly imperialist Western governments into repatriating the head of Nefertiti and other pharaonic treasures and is now under pressure to resign from his post as a Western stooge.)
What Bourguiba paradoxically created was a Muslim monoculture (Tunisia is now 98 percent Muslim) that his police could barely control. There were a series of radical-Islamic uprisings in Tunisia during the 1970s and 1980s fueled by widespread resentment of his efforts to water down and Westernize the faith. After the last one, in 1987, when Bourguiba planned to execute several rebels convicted of plotting to overthrow his government, Ben Ali, then serving as prime minister, seized power, declared his aged predecessor senile, and put him out to pasture in the coastal city of Monastir. Bourguiba died in 2000 at age 96 and was rewarded with a handsome tomb.
His secularization campaign had parallels in Egypt. Nasser, deeming the residence of such “foreigners” as Greeks and Jews (not to mention Western European expats)in his newly created nation inconsistent with the Arab identity he bestowed upon it, drove out populations that had resided in Egypt for more than two millennia. Those who visit Alexandria these days and expect to find any but the faintest traces of the cosmopolitan seaport that fueled the poems of Constantine Cavafy and Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet are in for a surprise. There are almost no Jews left in Egypt. The centuries-old and—at least until the recent uprising—meticulously maintained Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo’s Coptic quarter cannot draw the minyan of ten men required for holding Jewish services. It’s a de facto museum.
In Tunisia the signs were similar. Bourguiba, toward the last years of his presidency, seemed to realize that socialism was not the economic answer in a small, oil-free country of 10 million that is mostly Sahara desert, with an attractive coastline and a narrow fertile littoral that supports wheat fields (not enough to feed the country), olive groves, and wine-grapes (thanks to the French). He and Ben Ali began to try to lure a few Western capitalist enterprises into Tunisia, and the road to the Tunis-Carthage airport is now flanked by outposts of high-tech firms. Ben Ali turned over swaths of coastal land to developers for five-star beach resorts, infuriating leftists who complained that ordinary Tunisians could not afford to stay there (and at least in the case of Ben Ali, probably enriching himself in the process). As for Bourguiba’s best-laid birth-control plans—well, the median age in Tunisia is 29. That’s a bit older than Egypt’s median age of 24 (in a country of 80 million), where there are no official constraints on large families, but it skews low compared with the West (a median age of 37 in America and 39 in Britain). The unemployment crisis in Tunisia is a youth-unemployment crisis. Even last summer, when a brutally enforced civic peace clamped together a populace that was either fatalistically resigned or primed to resume the religio-political battles of the 1980s, I worried about young Houssein and the master’s degree he was pursuing with the hope of securing a teaching job that might pay around $1,400 a month. The main post office in Tunis (another piece of fine French civic architecture) was always jammed with Tunisians mailing food packages to their relatives who had to leave the country to find work in France.
I also wondered on my walks where all those emancipated women were that Bourguiba’s modernization blitz had promised would materialize. After more than 50 years of official campaigning against the hijab if not forbidding it outright (Bourguiba called it an “odious rag”), at least half of Tunisian women were covering their hair. That was in downtown Tunis; in the countryside the percentage was close to 100, many of the women wrapped in a Berber veil that folded around the entire body. In Egypt, even in Cairo and Alexandria, almost the only local women who went veil-less on the streets were Coptic Christians. Many married Egyptian women went all the way and curtained themselves from head to toe in black, their shrouded faces an almost comical contrast to their Western-attired husbands and their small children in kidwear that could have been bought at an American shopping mall.
Those hijab-wearers weren’t grannies, but, rather, young and pretty girls, many of them university students, who had turned Islamic dress into something chic and figure-flattering: a long-sleeved, close-fitting, high-necked jersey topped by an overblouse or tunic and worn with skinny jeans or a long slim skirt. The hijabs themselves were Scheherazade headdresses: gossamer-light and ornamented with sequins, bling, and glittery little crowns. The hijab and its male equivalent, the lightly stubbled chin that satisfies Muhammad’s injunction in the Koran that good Muslim men wear beards, were ubiquitous among young people in both countries. In that self-presentation they were finding and expressing identity, distinguishing themselves from a West that they deemed decadent and unholy: the tourists in their shorts and miniskirts and tiny tops. They have resacralized an existence that they believe was forcibly taken away from them by their own Westernizing, secularizing dictators. I’m certain that in some elite and very wealthy sectors of North African society a different ethos prevails. I would occasionally catch a glimpse of this parallel Islamic universe that seemed to exist in exclusive suburbs far from city centers: dark-haired, bikini-clad girls on the upscale beach at Gammarth in Tunisia riding camels for hire and flirting with sheesha-smoking young men with plenty of leisure, a nail salon that I frequented whose bareheaded female customers wore elegant slacks and high heels, a billboard depicting a female newscaster who looked like a ringer for Katie Couric. But that was not the world in which the overwhelming majority of the people lived, even in the most sophisticated of their capital cities.
No one can predict what’s going to happen next in Tunisia, Egypt, or anywhere else in the Islamic world. The sudden reappearance of the Muslim Brotherhood on Egypt’s political scene is troubling, and one of the byproducts of an Islamic monoculture is persecution of Christians. Christianity may have been nearly eradicated in Tunisia, but Copts account for 10 percent of Egypt’s population. No one talks much about them right now, and the New Year’s Eve bombing that left 23 of them dead in an Alexandria church seems to have been already forgotten. It is not that many ordinary Muslims aren’t admirable, likable people making do and living sociably with very little. I enjoyed the small and courteous commercial encounters I had with Tunisians: adding dinars to my cell-phone card, for example, or visiting the bedraggled zoo animals at the Parc du Belvedere. During Ramadan in Egypt, every night was a festival of families picnicking outdoors with their children overjoyed at the gluttonous breaking of the fast. It was just that they were different from us. They were living in their own world, and it is a world that is not necessarily friendly to ours.
Charlotte Allen is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s Minding the Campus website.
The Clever Propaganda Film Julian Schnabel Made For His Palestinian Arab Lola Lola Shown At U.N.
A film soon to be distributed by Harvey Weinstein, who knows nothing about either the film's falseness or why it was made by smitten silly Julian Schnabel, I alerted readers at NER long ago about Schnabel's scandalous effort.
Pro-Palestinian film takes center stage in UN hall, despite Israel's opposition
Delegates and envoys of member nations have been invited to view the debut of Miral, a film based on Palestinian writer Rula Jebreal's novel about an orphan girl growing up in East Jerusalem during the Intifada.
A pro-Palestinian film will be screened at the United Nations General Assembly Hall on Monday night, despite Israel's vehement opposition.
Delegates and envoys of member nations have been invited to view the debut of Miral, a film based on Palestinian writer Rula Jebreal's novel about an orphan girl growing up in East Jerusalem during the Intifada. The movie includes a number of scenes depicting Israel Defense Forces acting cruelly against the Palestinian population.
Swiss diplomat Joseph Deiss, the current president of the GA, had initiated the event and approved the screening in the plenum hall. Israeli diplomats had approached him and demanded that he rescind the plans, but Deiss denied their request on the grounds that the film was a story about peace.
In an interview with Haaretz, the deputy chief of Israel's delegation to the UN, Haim Waxman, called the whole matter a "scandal."
"This is a clearly political and one-sided film, which advances the Palestinian agenda," Waxman told Haaretz. "It is difficult to understand the intolerable ease with which the decision was made to screen a commercial film in the GA hall – something which it itself is unusual and unacceptable."
Waxman, who sent a letter of complaint to Deiss over the matter, called the matter a "severe incident" undertaken by "a very senior member of the organization's echelon, who by nature of his position is obligated to clarify irascibly and without bias the content which he chooses to present to the United Nations."
Waxman added that over the course of efforts to prevent the screening of the film, senior UN officials were asked whether they could remember any previous times when a political film was screened in the GA hall – and none could.
"We respect the filmmakers' freedom of expression, but it clear that this is an attempt to advance the Palestinian agenda," he said.
The fact that the film was being debuted in the GA hall meant that it would be given "central stage, again, to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which already receives too much attention at the UN," added Waxman.
Jubreal and the Jewish American director Julian Schnabel will take part in a panel discussion following the screening of the film.
Emmanuel Rath, an esteemed teacher in a local Gymnasium, falls heavily for Lola Lola, and in the end is ruined. In the original movie he is played by Emil Jannings and the fatale femme, the demi-mondaine meuf, by Marlene Dietrich..
Many remakes of that movie are made every day, all over the world. I can think of one or two right now.
In one such current remake, the part of Emmanuel Rath is played, and rather comically too, by the American painter Julian Schnabel. The role of Marlene Dietrich is played by a very goodlooking Arab girl, Rula Jebreal, a "Palestinian," who does a wonderful job in promoting anti-Israel views. I think she should be grateful to all those kidnapped and enslaved Circassian and Georgian beauties in her background who contributed more than their mite to her mixture. Schnabel, smitten and playing the Professor Rath role to the grim hilt, has recently been in Israel making what was to be more propaganda for the cause -- Jebreal apparently leads him around by the nose. Or some equivalent thereof. And he can do so much for her, as sugar daddy and movie maker. I wonder if he ever has second thoughts.
Lola Lola and Professor Rath can be found at the Venice Film Festival here.
Then there is Vittorio Sgarbi with Vittoria Risi at the same festival. But Sgarbi is not Lionello Venturi, and Vittoria Risi is not Moana Pozzi. I knew Moana Pozzi. Moana Pozzi was a friend of mine. And Vittoria Risi, you are no Moana Pozzi. And besides, Sgarbi of course is just clowning for the cameras, and in any case, whatever he's doing or not doing with her, there are no nauseating propagandistic consequences of which we need take note.
Here Are Some Countries Where The Loss Of Civilian Life Cries Out For Foreign Intervention
The reports from Libya over the past week describe epic battles for cities -- practically Stalingradian in their scope, one would think, from their breathless description, battles in which it always turns out, if you bother to read the whole article, in which as many as 12, or 20, or 30 people died.
In Syria a tiny (12%) minority, the Alawites, has for longer than Qaddafy rule over others, especially the Sunni Muslims who have tried before to revolt, but in Hama the father of the current dictator surrounded the city with tanks, and massacred (let's just this once refrain from using the currently-ubiquitous word "genocide," shall we?) and killed between 20,000 and 40,000 civilians.
Syria is a member of the Arab League, that a few days ago unanimously called for a "No-Fly Zone" (to be enforced by whom?) against Qaddafy in Libya.
In Yemen a dictator Al i Saleh has ruled for more than 30 years, suppressing rebellions -- Shi'a Houthi rebels in the north, "left-wing" fighters for independence in the south, disaffected subjects of his dictatorship in the middle --by sending in troops to massacre as many of the enemy as he can. With the Houthis, he had the help of Saudi troops who participated in the shelling of civilian populations. How many people do you think, over the past 35 years of his rule, Ali Saleh has killed?
Yemen's absolute dictator, Ali Saleh, who recently has been on the receiving end of hundreds of millions of American dollars, because he is -- like the I.S.I. and Pakistani army -- our "ally" in the "war on terror." Or at least that's what those who make our policies, the dimwits who keep being led by the nose as they ignore, fearfully, the nature of Islam, keep telling themselves -- and us too. Today Ali Saleh's troops, who have been crushing rebellions now here and now there,in just one incident shot dead 35 protesters and wounded hundreds.
Yemen is a member of the Arab League, that a few days ago unanimously called for a "No-Fly Zone" (to be enforced by whom?) against Qaddafy in Libya.
Saudi Arabia has been ruled by a single family since the 1920s, a family that renamed Arabia after itself, and proceeded to help itself to a great deal of the national wealth. Since 1973 alone, it has helped itself, that family, with its tens of thousands of princes and princelings and princelettes, to more than a trillion dollars.
The Saudis have never hesitated to imprison and torture even Westerners for the slightest infractin of the Saudi rules; they have even imprisoned and tortured Western doctors, on pretexts, but have never been brought to account. They rule by fear and by bribery, and they stave off foreign investigation of their methods -- as with their bribery of foreign officials in practically every major Western land -- by fear (of "offending the Saudis" and thus endangering, supposedly, the steady supply ofoil) and bribery (this keeps on, non-stop, among a small army of Western hirelings).
Saudi Arabia is a member of the Arab League, that a few days ago unanimously called for a "No-Fly Zone" (to be enforced by whom?) against Qaddafy in Libya.
What about the Sudan, or at least the large part the Arabs still hold. When those who call themselves Muslim Arabs controlled the whole country, they were responsible for the deaths of 2.5 million black African Christians and animists in the south, and another 400,000 non-Arab black African Muslims in Darfur, a region that remains under their control.
Sudan is a member of the Arab League, that a few days ago unanimously called for a "No-Fly Zone" (to be enforced by whom?) against Qaddafy in Libya.
Should I go on? Would you like to hear a little about Bahrain? What about our steadfast friend and ally, on whose makeover we have spent two trillion dollars during the last eight years, Iraq? What about wonderful Algeria, with its Bill-of-Rights-observant military? What about Morocco, where all the bad old ways of King Hassan V -- you know, with the seizure and torture of opponents who are sent to rot in prisons in the Sahara -- of course are gone forever? What about wonderful Jordan, whose king allows his high-stepping mediagenic wife (a "Palestinian") and Queen Noor too, widow of King Hussein, to spend millions on themselves every year, in a country kept afloat by American aid, and special trade status, without which Jordan would sink. What about Kuwait, where the Shi'a are kept down, so far without needing the intervention of Saudi or other troops? Or the Emirates, whiose various ruling families win headlines in the West for their spectacular spending of national wealth, and -- for some - their most unpleasant treatment of members of their retinue, Arab or Western?
And what about sinking Somalia, whose representative apparently voted to grandly allow the West to set up a "No-Fly Zone"?
Oh, I don't have time, I don't have space. You get the idea.
LONDON (AP) — A British judge sentenced a former British Airways computer specialist to 30 years in jail Friday for plotting with U.S.-born extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki to kill hundreds of people by blowing up a U.S.-bound plane.
Calling the offenses "of the utmost gravity," Justice David Calvert-Smith recommended in his sentencing that Karim be automatically deported from Britain after completing his sentence.
While Calvert-Smith noted that he considered Karim more "of a follower than a leader," the judge said Karim "worked incessantly to further terrorist purposes" despite his quiet lifestyle. "You are and were a committed jihadist," the judge told Karim at London's Woolwich Crown Court.
The judge on Friday praised detectives for their painstaking work decrypting coded messages found on Karim's computer. Prosecutors had said that in heavily encrypted exchanges, Al-Awlaki quizzed Karim about details of security flaws and urged the aspiring terrorist to train as a flight attendant to assist plans to use suicide bombers or mail bombs to take down U.S.-bound flights.
"Our highest priority is in the U.S.," al-Awlaki told Karim in an encrypted message, thought by police to have been sent in February 2010. "The question is, with the people you have, is it possible to get a package, or a person with a package, onboard a flight heading to the U.S.?"
A few days ago in The Wall Street Journal Paul Wolfowitz began his article on Libya this way:
"One has to be morally blind not to be moved by the spectacle of brave Libyans standing up to Moammar Gadhafi's tanks and bombs and mercenaries"
But what if one had a sense that those "brave Libyans" were themselves -- save for a very small group, now living in the West (and Wolfowitz may have met,or read, practically every member of that group, beginning with Hashem Matar) -- not very pleasant people, who did not wish Americans, or Westerners well. And what if we thought that the Qaddafy family, or at least the sons, had at long last understood they could no longer afford to misbehave and were likely to be less harmful to Western interests, as permanent outcasts from the Arab League and the Camp of Islam And what if we had had the advantage, now, of viewing the eight years of the Iraq folly (a country aboutwhich Paul Wolfowitz was both badly misinformed -- in part by his Arab girlfriend -- himself, and the cause of misinformation in other men), with all of its squandering of men, money, materiel, and morale, and ten years of being able to make sense of a similar squanderig in Afghanistan, where even now much-bemedalled General Petraeus keeps building that Bridge Over The River Kwat, without stopping to think about what it all means?
Wolfowitz can't do this. Nor can many others among those who called for intervention in Iraq. Not Leon Wieseltier or Bernard-Henri Levy or the editors of National Review. They were all supporters of the Iraq venture, even after early 2004, when Saddam Hussein had been captured, his sons killed, his regime in ruins, and, most important, as David Kay announced in January or February of that year, a complete scouring of Iraq showed no signs of an ongoing WMD project or of any such weapons from previous efforts.
They can't do it, can't connect the Libyan business with Iraq, and Afghanistan, because they would have to recognize their own folly. And since they have continued in that folly for so many years, they don't dare. They just can't do it. Everything would crumble.
Video: Opponents of leader Moammar Gaddafi were celebrating after the U.N. Security Council voted to authorize a no-fly zone over Libya. But he claimed the council had no mandate, and his supporters remained defiant.
MANAMA, Bahrain — Bahrain on Friday tore down the defining monument, the pearl at the center of Pearl Square, in a symbolic end to the popular protests put down by the government. The official news agency described the razing as a facelift.
It was one more strike at the movement, part of a chain of events that, in a matter of days, turned Bahrain from a symbol of hopeful pro-democratic protest into one of violent repression.
On Friday, the family of Ahmed Farhan, 30, who was killed on Tuesday by security forces in Sitra, an island south of the capital, received the body of their son, with its shotgun pellet wounds to the back and gaping hole in the skull. The family had been trying to bring him home to this activist Shiite village and bury him here, but permission was withheld.
In Bahrain, the Arab spring turned to winter in less than a week. Martial law was declared on Tuesday. It is now illegal to hold rallies. Tanks remain outside the central hospital and Saudi troops are here as back-up. Still, on Friday the Farhan family buried their son and, despite the ban on protests and gatherings, some 5,000 people helped them do it in their home village of Sitra. The village, once an island, is now linked to the mainland by landfill and causeway. It turned into a sea of raised fists and tearful wailing, piety and political indignation, the core of what has been driving the Bahraini protests since mid-February.
The Farhan family is poor, like many in this village, and like many of the 70 percent of the country that is Shiite. Ahmed Farhan, who never married, lived with his family in a ramshackle structure around a courtyard, having lost his job as a fisherman some years ago after harbor construction made fishing impossible. He was taking part in a protest demonstration when he was killed.
The battle to turn this kingdom into a democracy has also been a battle of class and ethnicity — poor majority Shiites against the Sunni elite and royal family. It is also an international struggle, with Saudi Arabia on one side, Iran on the other.
Mr. Farhan’s body arrived hours after it was scheduled and came in a van owned by a local aluminum kitchen supply company. The authorities had claimed they had no driver to bring it back so the family had to ask neighbors at the last minute for it to be fetched.
The body was swathed in white cloth, the face exposed, the skull covered in netting to hide the terrible wound. The enormous bullet removed from his head was shown around. As the body was slid from the van, there were shouts of “God is great.” It was washed and placed in a coffin draped in the Bahraini flag and covered with his photographs. Posters of the martyr were widely distributed.
“There is no god but God,” those watching repeatedly chanted.
Prayers were recited outside the mosque attached to the cemetery. Hundreds of men crowded the main street. Women, draped nearly uniformly in black, stood to one side.
After praise of God and his prophet, the leader turned to politics. “Down with the Khalifas!” he shouted of the Bahraini royal family, to thunderous repetition. “Occupation forces out! Death to the Saudis! Death to Khalifa! Freedom for Bahrain!”
They added: “With our soul and our blood, we will redeem you, o martyr.”
A military helicopter circled high in the sky and at the village entrance, troops and tanks awaited trouble. None came.
Shiite preachers at noon prayer across this island kingdom called for ongoing nonviolence. “The peaceful approach has been our choice since day one,” Sheik Issa Qassem, the top Shiite clergyman here, said in his sermon. But rage and fear are spreading fast and nonviolence is likely to be a victim.
Basel Hamad, a 35-year-old information technology manager, lives in Sitra as did his parents and grandparents and he took part in the funeral march on Friday. He has three daughters and is wondering whether to move to Europe given what has happened in recent days.
“When this started, I thought the king would accept the changes,” he said. “Now the people are very angry.”
Ali Hbel, a taxi driver injured in the police action at Pearl Square on Wednesday, was also at the funeral. He showed his splintered arm from the injury and pointed simultaneously at the coffin of Mr. Farhan and said, “This is not going to go for free.”
Muslims Allied With Al Qaeda Ridicule Qaddafy's Threat To The West That He Might Ally Himself With Them
From Asharq Al-Awsat:
slamist fundamentalists ridicule Gaddafi's threat of Al Qaeda alliance Friday 18 March 2011 Asharq Al-Awsat
London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Islamist fundamentalist and Al Qaeda affiliated websites played down the possibility of the Libyan regime allying with the Al Qaeda organization, as threatened by Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi should the West attack his country. In fact one fundamentalist Islamist website with ties to the Al Qaeda organization responded to Gaddafi's recent speech with a threat, saying that "the only thing that Al Qaeda has for Gaddafi is Al-Zarqawi's knife", in a reference to the former leader of the Al Qaeda in Iraq organization Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a US air strike in Iraq in 2006.
In an interview with Milan-based daily newspaper "Il Giornale", the Libyan leader said that if the West "behaves with us, as they did in Iraq, then Libya will leave the international alliance against terrorist" adding that "we will then ally ourselves with Al Qaeda and declare a holy war." In response to this, an Islamist on the Al Qaeda affiliated "Islamic Shemagh" website – whose slogan is "to the descendants of Omar Mukhtar…destroy them [the Libyan regime]" – posted the following message in response to this, "Gaddafi is playing dumb!"
One of Al Qaeda's most prominent ideologues, and the most senior Libyan in the terrorist organization, Abu Yahya al-Libi, also recently posted a video attacking Colonel Gaddafi and calling on the Libyan people to continue their revolution and overthrow his regime. Al-Libi said "the Libyan people have suffered at the hands of Gaddafi for more than 40 years…he used the Libyans as a testing ground for his violent, rambling, and rotten thoughts." He also warned the Libyan people that "retreating will mean decades of harsher oppression and greater injustice than what you have endured." In his speech, al-Libi accused Gaddafi of "spreading corruption" and "giving his children control of the country and its finances" saying that the Gaddafi family have been acting "as if they own everything [in the country]."
Whilst another Al Qaeda ideologue, Salafist Jihadist Sheikh Hussein Bin Mahmoud, gave a speech in which he said that no intelligent person can deny that Colonel Gaddafi is "crazy and foolish." He added that Gaddafi did not possess the intelligence or intellect to plan or manage the battle against the people of Libya, and he described the Gaddafi children as following in their father's footsteps. Sheikh Hussein Bin Mahmoud also criticized Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, describing him as being "as stupid as his father" and similarly unable to plan or manage a war. As for the recent victories achieved by the Libyan army against the protests, Bin Mahmoud said that the Libyan regime most likely had foreign military advisors planning and managing the war on its behalf, and he repeated unconfirmed rumors that Israeli, British, or even Italian military advisors are in Libya, aiding the Gaddafi regime. The Al Qaeda ideologue stressed that it is clear that Gaddafi and his family could not be responsible for the recent Libyan military victories against the rebels, but rather that these were thanks to military minds hired by the Gaddafi regime, in the same way that the Libyan regime had hired African mercenaries to fight on his behalf, utilizing Libyan public funds.
For his part, the well-known Libyan Islamist Noman Benotman, who recently joined the London-based Islamic think-tank the Quilliam Foundation, told Asharq Al-Awsat that "essentially, there is a state of enmity between the Gaddafi regime and Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda has issued several statements calling on the Libyan people to fight and overthrow the Libyan Colonel." However Benotman added that if there is any future cooperation between the two parties, this could perhaps be seen in "the Libyan regime overlooking Al Qaeda movement inside Libyan territory, and perhaps providing them with arms via a third party."
Whilst well-known Islamist Al Qassam – an alias – expressed his surprise at the Libyan army's recent victories over the rebels, driving them back to their stronghold in Benghazi. He said "it is said and unpleasant news…what we have seen and heard over the pat few days with regards to Gaddafi forces returning to some cities [that were previously held by the rebels]." He asked "what is happening? In the beginning of the Libyan revolution, the rebels achieved consecutive victories, gaining control of city after city, whilst the Libyan army leadership was divided, and in addition to this many Libyan ambassadors outside of the country quickly resigned and declared their support for the opposition. However over the past 4 days, all of this has stopped and the Gaddafi forces have begun to recover its strength, so what is happening?"
Al Qassam also said that he believed that Gaddafi was holding the families of some of his senior military officers, and pilots, hostage, to ensure that they do not flee. He said that the evidence of this is that in the early stages of the uprising the Libyan Air Force was reluctant to attack the protestors, with pilots fleeing the country in some cases, however Gaddafi's aerial campaign against the rebels following this has continued and intensified, and that the reason for this is perhaps because Gaddafi is holding the Libyan pilots' families hostage.
Whilst another Islamist said "Gaddafi is taking his final breaths…for by shedding the blood of the people of Libya he ensures that the conflict remains alive, and that the land which had been drowned in blood does not die." He added that "Libya has tasted the blood of Omar Mukhtar and his rebels, and this ended with the Italians being kicked out…and today it is tasting the blood of the [anti-Gaddafi] martyrs."
The Egyptian military have received in the past 30 years about $40 billion dollars from Amercian taxpayers (along with another $40 billion in economic aid that provided the Rais with the Res for his Family-and-Friends corruption). -- as part of the American reward to Egypt for gracefully agrreeing to receive the entire Sinai from Israel, together with the oilfields, and the three modern airfields, and the roads, and the rest of the tourist infrastructure, that the Israelis had built during the dozen years they held onto the Sinai that, for the second time, they had won in a war of self-defense.
Egypt shares a long border with Libya. The Libyan government is preoccupied with holding onto Tripoli and eastery Libya; it can hardly move as far as the east, to guard its border with Egypt. Egypt has that $40 billion in American military aid -- and is always trying to get, American officers confirm, the very latest and most advanced equipment.
But Egypt has never yet used any of its military for a purpose that the Americans would find appealing. Nasser, for example, not only made war on Israel (the only certain ally the Americans have, in the wide swath of territory from Western Europe to South Korea and Japan and Australia), but sent his pilots and MIGS to bomb helpless Christian (Ibo) villagers during the Biafra War from 1967 to 1969. He sent an Egyptian expeditionary force to help the forces called "Marxist" in Yemen fight the Saudi-backed Royalists in the mid-1960s. Under Sadat, Egypt's military had only Israel in its sites. And under Mubarak, when the vast American aid program started, the war planinng - with Israel as the intended target -- remained unchanged.
Oh, Egypt did send a tiny contingent of troops to Saudi Arabia, after Iraq invaded Kuwait. And though they were militarily insignifcant, Egypt managed to exploit the West -- the credulous Americans above all -- to be richly rewarded. How richly? This is what you can find on-line:
"... when the US was hunting for a military alliance to force Iraq out of Kuwait, Egypt's president joined without hesitation. After the war, his reward was that America, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, and Europe forgave Egypt around $14 billion of debt."
Now the Arab League unanimously asked for a No-Fly Zone to be imposed on Libya. But the Arab League also said it opposed military intervention. What does this mean? Are those who are to risk their lives not to have their task made easier by having troops on the ground destroying air-defense systems and other weapons systems?
And the Arab League did not say who should impose that No-Fly Zone. There was not a word about the Arabs themselves doing something. Instead, it was a signal that the West not only could -- the Arab League grandly gave its permission -- but must, impose that No-Fly Zone. And the miscalculating machiavels of the Quai d'Orsay (Alain Juppe has been as arabophile as they come, just as William Hague has been, over many years) managed to inveigle the Americans to participate in this folly -- I suppose some Europeans must have regarded this with satisfaction, as a kind of payback for the Americans inveigling the Europeans to particpate in the Afghanistan and Iraq fiascos.
But at least Secretary Gates, and Senator Lugar, and others in Washington have made clear that they will insist that the Arabs participate, so that this does not become one more Western effort to rescue the Arabs and Muslims from the assorted despots who rule over them. The widespread existence of such despots is not the fault of the West, but reflects, rather, the Obedience to Authority that Islam, from family life to the organization of society, naturally encourages. Despotism is the natural condition of Muslim states and societies, and is absent only a few places, such as Lebanon. where the powerful and once-large Christian community in Lebanon, and Turkey, where Atatruk put in place the systematic constraints on Islam as a social and political force known today as Kemalism, or Indonesia, where the fact that Islam conquered not by the sword but by milder means meant that a great deal of the original non-Islamic culture, the easygoing Hindu and Buddhist aspects of Indonesia (some of them appropriated by local Muslims, as V. S. Naipaul notes in "Among the Believers"), also serve to constrain Islam and the despotism that Muslim societies naturally favor.
So why can't the Egyptian army, the Egyptian air force, be told it must participate -- or the Americans, the British, the French -- will not? Put the Arab League, and more importantly put Egypt, to the test. They've got to do something with all that military equipment other than prepare for a future war with Israel.
In the Cargo Cult of Islam, good things simply drop from the powerful planes that the Westerners -- hated, forever, to be sure, as Infidels, but exploited to the fullest extent possible -- fly overhead. And among those Good Things are not only the mysterious advanced technological gewgaws that for some reason the West, and East, know how to produce but Muslim states do not, but also such dimly-grasped things as "freedom" and "democracy." For just how dimly grasped, see Bernard Lewis's "The Political Language of Islam."
Here's a video of Benghazi last night. You can find many more at Youtube, such as this one, taken today, after Friday Prayers. . Some of them -- I saw the originals -- have been sanitized, with Allahu-Akbars taken out, and Qur'an-waving removed. Can't frighten the women, the children, the horses. Must pretend this "Arab Spring" is just like the Prague Spring. Or, better still, like the American colonists meeting in Philadelphia in July 1776. No real difference. People Are The Same The Whole World Over. And They All Want The Same Thing.
Stick with that line. It will spare you the need to think.
Shi'a In Iraq Protest Over Sunni Crackdown In Bahrain
From the New York Times:
Iraqi Shiites Protest Bahrain Crackdown
By TIM ARANGO
BAGHDAD – In the southern port city of Basra, the slums of Sadr City, the divided city of Kirkuk in the north and other areas across Iraq, followers of Moktada al-Sadr, the populist Shiite cleric, flooded the streets after Friday prayers to denounce the violence unleashed on Shiite demonstrators in Bahrain and the presence of Saudi troops there.
In Kirkuk demonstrators chanted slogans against Saudi Arabia, asking why, if it can send troops to Bahrain, it hasn’t sent an army to “free Palestine,” while a preacher in a mosque in Sadr City, the vast Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, said volunteers were ready to go to Bahrain to help their fellow Shiites.
Saudi troops rolled into Bahrain Tuesday to help quash the demonstrations there. They moved in as part of a force of 2,000 under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council, an alliance of Sunni rulers.
“No, No to America! No, no to Israel! No, no to the occupier!” the preacher, Sayid Muhanad al-Moussawi, exhorted his followers. Sheik Maytham al-Jumairi, a member of the Bahraini opposition, took part in the Sadr City demonstrations, saying, “there are real massacres in Bahrain, it is a bath of blood.”
The protests were a show of Shiite solidarity against the Sunni ruling class of Bahrain with echoes of Iraq’s own sectarian history – the American invasion here upended decades of oppression by a Sunni government over an impoverished Shiite majority – but the demonstrations were also weighted with deeper meaning for Iraq’s own current politics.
In his ability to move his supporters from the mosque to the street, Mr. Sadr is perhaps the most pivotal Iraqi public figure aside from the prime minister, and the Friday protests were another signal to the political class here of Mr. Sadr’s power. Members of parliament affiliated with Mr. Sadr, who once led an anti-American insurgency and whose militia fought the Iraqi army as recently as 2008, were instrumental in ending the months-long deadlock after last year’s election. In January Mr. Sadr returned to Iraq from his exile in Iran, although he has since gone back to Qum, Iran, to carry on his religious studies. Last month, when thousands of protesters decried corruption and demanded better services, including basics like electricity, in gatherings inspired by the protests in Egypt and Tunisia and organized in part on Facebook, Mr. Sadr told his supporters to give the government time, and they stayed off the streets.
Instead, Mr. Sadr gave the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki six months to improve services before he would direct his supporters to demonstrate against the government. “By slogans, by speech, Moktada is able to push people,” said Ibrahim al-Sumydai, an Iraqi political analyst.
The political nightmare for Mr. Maliki, who largely owes his second term as prime minister to the support of the Sadrist bloc, is mobs of Sadr supporters demonstrating against the Iraqi government.
“We’d find maybe a million people demonstrating against the Iraqi government,” said Mr. Sumydai.
Mr. Sadr’s political power and his steadfast anti-Americanism – to this day Sadrist lawmakers refuse to speak with American diplomats – has also complicated negotiations between the United States government and Mr. Maliki over what the American role will be in Iraq after the end of 2011, when all American troops are scheduled to leave. The conundrum is this: most diplomats and security officials on both sides agree that Iraq will still need American forces for training and advising well beyond 2011, but it is so politically risky for Mr. Maliki to maintain an American presence that he may not ask for one, as he must under the current security agreement that binds the two nations.
The upshot is that domestic politics here has severely hampered negotiations over the future Iraqi-American relationship.
The protests across Iraq on Friday, which has lately become a day for protest as well as prayer across the Middle East, appeared to eclipse, at least in sheer size, the large demonstration last month that was billed as a “Day of Rage.” The protests in Iraq on Friday were largely peaceful.
The issue of Bahrain has exposed Iraq’s still-evident sectarian tensions. Sunni mosques were largely silent on the issue Friday, and in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, perhaps a few hundred gathered to demand the release of detainees, but they were dispersed by security forces for not having permission to gather.
Both sides seized on the sectarian implications of Bahrain: In the holy Shiite city of Najaf, in southern Iraq, an estimated 3,000 people gathered, some of them chanting, “Saudi is a signal for sectarianism!”
Sheik Ali Hulael, a preacher at a Sunni mosque in Anbar, criticized the pro-Bahrain demonstrations as being motivated by sectarianism and described them as a diversion from the issues facing Iraq. “The timing of these demonstrations in Iraq now is really bad,” he said. “The situation can really be escalated again in Iraq if they do not put an end to it.”
On January 27, 2011, designated by the UN as "Holocaust Memorial Day,” 400 rabbis placed an ad in the Wall Street Journal in the form of an open letter to Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of the News Corporation, requesting that Glenn Beck be “sanctioned” for “his unscrupulous attacks on a survivor of the Holocaust” (George Soros) and that Roger Ailes, president of the Fox News Channel, apologize for his insensitivity in asserting that NPR is “the left-wing of Nazism” and for saying that there are “some left-wing rabbis who basically don’t think that anybody can use the word Holocaust on the air.” Undoubtedly, there is insensitivity in characterizing one’s political opponents as Nazis. Israelis are rightly indignant when Palestinians and their allies, both Muslim and non-Muslim, characterize them as such. Nevertheless, the description by 400 rabbis of George Soros as a Holocaust survivor is, to say the least, astounding. Soros has publicly admitted collaborating with the Nazis at age 14 to stay alive, an understandable motive. Nevertheless, Soros was no Holocaust survivor. If readers wish to get a glimpse of what it was like to be a Holocaust survivor, I suggest they reread Elie Wiesel’s harrowing memoir, Night.
Although one can possibly understand Soros’s behavior in Nazi-occupied, Jew-hunting Budapest, Soros himself has described those years as “the most exciting time of my life.”[i] He has also reported that, “The early stages of the Russian occupation were as exciting and interesting-in many ways even more interesting and adventurous-than the German occupation…”[ii] Can anyone imagine Elie Wiesel, a genuine Holocaust survivor, uttering such sentiments? One might also ask why 400 rabbis would offer even an implicit defense of Soros against Glenn Beck’s attack, given Soros’s lifelong hostility to Israel and his publicly stated disdain for the Jewish religion. A multi-billionaire financier, during one period, 1994 to 2000, Soros contributed no less than $2.4 billion to, among others, institutions and causes in China, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, the Czech Republic, and the Republic of Georgia. At the same time, his attitude toward the State of Israel has been consistently negative. He told New Yorker writer, Connie Bruck, “'I don't deny the Jews their right to a national existence -- but I don't want to be part of it." [iii] Clearly, Glenn Beck, Roger Ailes, and Rupert Murdoch, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, have given more support to Israel than Soros. Moreover, Soros recently accused Israel of being “the main stumbling block” to American attempts to foster Egypt’s “public demand for dignity and democracy” which he suggested was embodied in the partnership of Mohamad El-Baradei and the newly moderate Muslim Brotherhood.[iv]
Finally, there is the issue of the ad’s sponsor, the Jewish Funds for Justice. In 2009, the organization received a grant from Soros’s Open Society Institute in the amount of $150,000; in 2010 the organization received $200,000 “To support the Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing, a national intermediary that increases funding for youth organizing groups and develops strategies to promote to funders the importance of investment in the leadership of low-income youth of color in social justice organizing.”
Undoubtedly, there are elements in American society that regard as urgent “social justice organizing” of the “leadership of low-income youth of color.” Nevertheless, this writer is old enough to recall the use of religious organizations, both Christian and Jewish, by left-wing radicals and their politically somnolent fellow travellers for their own purposes. In view of the multiplicity of hazards confronting Israel and America at this time, can the stated objective of the grant or the expenditure of funds for a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal be regarded as a prudent allocation of resources? I would guess that many of the rabbinic signatories to the letter are among the politically somnolent and have been taken.
[i]Michael T. Kaufman, Soros: The Life and Times of a Messianic Billionaire (New York: Albert A. Knopf, 2002), p. 48.
From Ibn Masood (ra) who said that the Prophet (ØµÙ„Ù‰ Ø§Ù„Ù„Ù‡ Ø¹Ù„ÙŠÙ‡ ÙˆØ³Ù„Ù…) said: "Among that which reached the people from the words of the earlier prophethood: 'If you feel no shame, then do whatever you wish.'"
We can't have people doing whatever they wish. For verily... yea, verily - I'll use the sub-Biblical babble that Muslims stole from us - we must all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, do whatever Mohammed wisheth.
As for Mohammed, he pleaseth himself, and Allah knows best how to please him. As his child-wife Aisha, made wise beyond her years, said:
"It seems to me that your Lord hastens to satisfy your desire."
Sam Dagher reports from Libya that renewed assaults against rebel-held towns suggest the fighting continues despite Gadhafi's declaration of a cease-fire earlier Friday. Plus, Jerry Seib on whether the U.S. will get drawn into a fight with Libya.
Libya's foreign minister Friday said the country will abide by the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for military action against Col. Moammar Gadhafi's forces and will implement an immediate cease-fire, though reports of renewed assaults against rebel-held towns suggest the fighting continues.
"My country will try to deal with this resolution," Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa told reporters in Tripoli as he read from a prepared statement.
Patrick Baz/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Libyan rebels celebrated in Benghazi Thursday after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.
"According to article 25 of the [U.N.] charter and considering that Libya is a member of the U.N., then it is bound to accept the Security Council resolution and has decided an immediate ceasefire and the cessation of all military operations."
The Arab League, not the U.S., should be responsible for containing Moammar Gadhafi's ambitions in Libya, Council on Foreign Relations President Emeritus Leslie Gelb says. In the "Big Interview" with the Journal's John Bussey, Gelb also warns against deepening U.S. involvement in that country.
Mr. Koussa said the government was also willing to enter "dialogue" with all parties without offering more details or indicating whether this would include rebels and opposition figures now fighting the regime and calling for its overthrow.
The statement given by Mr. Koussa, a hardliner who is part of Col. Gadhafi's inner circle, marks a dramatic shift in the regime's tone after days of warnings that it will crush all its internal and external enemies.
But it remains unclear to what extent Col. Gadhafi's regime will abide by the ceasefire on the ground given that most areas are off-limit to journalists and even U.N. humanitarian teams who have visited the country over the past week.
Nathan Hodge joins Kelly Evans and Evan Newmark for a discussion on the likely next step for the U.S. and Europe in Libya now that the United Nations has authorized military action.
Earlier, several residents affiliated with the rebels in Misrata, about 130 miles east of Tripoli, said Col. Gadhafi's forces renewed their assault on Friday morning using heavy artillery.
They said government forces stationed on the outskirts made several incursions into the city center starting at about 8 a.m. local time prompting clashes with rebels.
"It's now street battles inside the city," said one man with the rebel movement. He said pro-government snipers were stationed on rooftops on Tripoli Street on the city's western fringes.
News of the assault on Misrata came as the international community addresses the next steps following the U.N. resolution.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday Col. Gadhafi must stop his troops from advancing on rebel-held cities and cease hostilities that endanger civilians.
"Gadhafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiyah, and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas."
President Obama said the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately, and that the U.S. will be part of an international coalition, although it will not deploy ground troops into Libya.
Mr. Obama said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Paris Saturday for a meeting with European allies and other partners about the enforcement of the U.N. resolution
Earlier Friday, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain has begun to deploy aircraft to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya, and Qatar announced it would join the mission, becoming the first Arab nation to participate.
The U.K., which along with France pushed aggressively for U.N. action, said it will deploy Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets as well as refueling and surveillance aircraft, and told Parliament there was a "clear and unequivocal legal basis for the deployment of U.K. forces and military assets."
Qatar, the wealthy Gulf nation that is home to the Al Jazeera Arab news network and has been seen as an robust champion of international intervention to stop bloodshed in Libya, didn't specify what role it would take in the military operations, in a statement published by the official Qatar News Agency early Friday.
"Qatar decided to take part in the international efforts aimed at stopping the bloodshed and protecting civilians in Libya," the statement said.
Diplomats involved in the drafting of the U.N. Security Council resolution have said that they expected Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and perhaps Saudi Arabia and Jordan to all take part in enforcing the no-fly zone.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization decided Friday that conditions had been met for its involvement in military action against Libya, and said it would continue planning to this end.
Not everyone in Libya welcomed Gadhafi's declaration of cease-fire Friday. Sam Dagher in Tripoli talks to Simon Constable about what the cease-fire really means for Libya's civil war and how it's being perceived in there.
However, diplomats said the alliance had taken no formal decision to get involved, though a number of NATO countries, including France, Spain and Britain, have said they would. Meetings by the alliance's decision making body—the North Atlantic Council, which comprises ambassadors to NATO of the alliance's 28 member governments--would likely continue into the weekend.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO " is now completing planning in order to be ready to take appropriate action."
In a response to the U.N. action, Libya closed its airspace to all traffic, according to a statement from Europe's air traffic control agency reported by the Associated Press.
Mr. Koussa said his government was dismayed by the fact that the resolution authorized the use of military force against his country and called for the implementation of a no-fly zone that also covered commercial flights.
European and U.S. officials said military operations could begin quickly, as fear increased that Col. Gadhafi could move aggressively to retake Benghazi.
Developments in Libya Friday suggest Col. Gadhafi's forces are still launching attacks.
Libya's Foreign Minister Koussa refused to take questions from reporters Friday about fresh fighting in the coastal city of Misrata and reports that pro-Gadhafi forces there were preventing ambulances from evacuating casualties.
A doctor at Misrata's complex of clinics which has been turned into a field hospital said there were at least 12 fatalities from Friday's violence including four government soldiers. He said government forces were shooting randomly at civilians and preventing ambulance crews from operating.
He said a four-year-old girl, Aisha Misbah Suweib, was killed on Thursday along with her grandfather and uncle after government forces shot at the vehicle they were boarding in an area known as Al-Karzaz, southeast of Misrata.
Government forces had raided the family's home looking for Aisha's father who is with rebel movement but could not find him, according to the doctor and other residents familiar with the incident. The family then decided to leave fearing that government forces would come again but they were shot at as they were driving out.
The doctor said that another man who was severely wounded in another incident in Al-Karzaz on Thursday could only be reached nine hours after he was hit and that he had to be carried on foot for about a mile in the direction of the hospital.
SANA, Yemen — Yemen’s pro-democracy protests exploded into violence on Friday, as government supporters opened fire on demonstrators in the capital, killing at least 45 people and wounding more than 200. The bloodshed failed to disperse the angry throng of protesters, the largest seen so far in a month of steadily rising demonstrations calling for Mr. Saleh’s ouster.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh declared a state of emergency shortly after the shootings, denying that security forces had been involved and promising a full investigation. The state news agency said the state of emergency would last 30 days.
The shootings seemed certain to provoke more violence in Yemen’s tribal society, and analysts said they could further weaken Mr. Saleh, whose rivals have already used the protests to undermine him. Although the United States has voiced sympathy for pro-democracy protesters here and elsewhere in the Arab world, it has special concerns about the stability of Yemen, a strife-torn country that is home to one of Al Qaeda’s most active branches and has been an American ally in the fight against terrorism.
Protesters have been killed here in recent weeks, but the violence on Friday dwarfed that seen in earlier clashes. There were different accounts of how the shooting started; most Yemenis are armed. Some said it began with a fight between protesters and residents near Sana University — known as a pro-Saleh neighborhood — who have been trying for days to build barriers to protect their homes. Others said men in plain clothes began burning protesters’ tents to stop the protests from expanding further.
If the government was responsible, it would appear to have taken up the same playbook that Libya and Bahrain followed this week, using overwhelming force against protesters. “It seems like people saw what happened in Bahrain and thought you could do the same here,” said one high-ranking Yemeni official, who said he did not know who was responsible for the outbreak. “But in Yemen it is going to be very bad — a disaster,” he added. “This will change everything, because the people killed have tribes.”
At a news conference in Sana, Mr. Saleh claimed that the clashes on Friday were between “citizens and demonstrators” and that “the police were not present and did not open fire.”
President Obama condemned violence in a written statement that called on President Saleh “to adhere to his public pledge to allow demonstrations to take place peacefully.” He added: “Those responsible for today’s violence must be held accountable.”
The death toll rose through the afternoon as some of the more than 200 people who were wounded by gunfire, or by rocks hurled by government supporters, succumbed to their injuries, according to the doctor, Muhammed Rizq, and others at a makeshift hospital near the protest site. The majority of those killed had been shot in the head or neck, doctors said.
Despite the heavy toll, the protesters in Sana kept control of a lengthening portion of Ring Road, which stretches from Sana University to a central highway overpass, as the shooting appeared to halt in the middle of the afternoon.
The security forces that had massed at the protest’s south end then began to pull back into the city center, firing tear gas as hundreds of protesters gave chase, hurling rocks. People in apartments overlooking the action tossed onions down to the protesters for them to use to relieve the effects of the tear gas.
Before the shooting, the protest had swelled to tens of thousands of people and stretched for a mile from its center at Sana University.
The violence began almost immediately after the protesters’ noon prayers, conducted en masse in the street. As they rose from prayer, government supporters in plain clothes opened fire from rooftops and windows that southern end of the protest, while security forces fired guns and a water cannon, apparently in an effort to keep demonstrators from moving further into the center of the capital.
A heavy cloud of black smoke floated over the downtown commercial district at the southern end of the demonstration as government supporters burned protesters’ tents shortly before shooting started.
Though many moved north along Ring Road and away from the fighting, a crowd of mostly tribal men from the outskirts of the capital stood firm. A man walked through the crowd with a microphone yelling, “Peaceful, peaceful! Don’t be afraid of the bullets!”
Then the shooting appeared to stop, and the security forces withdrew about a mile down the wet, rock-strewn road.
Scores of injured men were carried in bloody blankets through the crowd of protesters to a mosque that had been turned into a makeshift hospital, with the dead and wounded lying on its floor. Many of the wounded appeared to have been hurt by rocks as well as bullets.
Some of the men in the protest raided buildings where gunmen had been seen. The men peeked out of windows and flashed peace signs to indicate to the crowd below that they were not, themselves, snipers. Flames erupted from a building said to have housed a sniper.
In several raids at a far edge of the protest, men said to be snipers were caught and beaten by angry demonstrators. Protesters pulled one suspected sniper from an apartment overlooking the demonstration, and said that they found military uniforms and Defense Ministry identification in the apartment. They then put a green military uniform on the end of a stick and paraded it around the demonstration area.
With the violence spreading, many people in central Sana took cover. “Today is the worst day; this is a new Qaddafi,” said Khalil al-Zekry, who hunkered down in his video shop along the protest route.
Tensions have increased in the capital. Clashes broke out last weekend at the continuing sit-in near the university. But during those clashes, the security forces generally used tear gas and fired into the air rather than at protesters.
In an attempt to quell opposition, Mr. Saleh has offered concessions, including a promise not to run for a new term in 2013 and a proposal to hand over some powers to Parliament. But demonstrators and the political opposition have rejected his proposals, out of suspicion that Mr. Saleh, an American ally in the fight against terrorism, would find a way to extend his 32-year-rule once protests subsided.
A coalition of Yemeni opposition parties called the JMP issued a statement condemning the violence, and said “this horrendous massacre” will not “discourage our people from continuing the struggle.” The group said that it held “Mr. Saleh and his family and everyone who participated fully responsible” and called on Yemeni military officers and soldiers to refuse to participate in violence against Yemeni citizens. A key factor in the success of protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt was the reluctance of those countries’ armies to turn their guns on civilians.
Before Friday, at least 40 protesters had been killed in weeks of demonstrations across the country. Most of those deaths occurred in the restive southern port city of Aden, where protests have focused on seceding from the nation rather forcing Mr. Saleh from power.
One of those killed on Friday in Sana was Jamal al-Sharaabi, a photographer for Al Masdar, an independent weekly. The Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate has counted more than 50 attacks on journalists in Yemen since the unrest began, but Mr. Al-Sharaabi was the first to be killed, the news agency said.
Ibrahim Raja, an accountant who protested against Mr. Saleh’s rule on Friday but then fled the violence, stressed the peaceful nature of the demonstrations in the capital, opening his coat to show that he had no weapon. The Yemeni population, among the poorest in the Arab world, is also among the most heavily armed.
“All of us have a weapon in house,” he said. “None of us have our weapons here.”
Another protester, Abdul-Ghani Soliman, said he was not surprised by the violence.
“I actually expect more than this, because freedom requires martyrs,” said Mr. Soliman, an unemployed tribesman from outside Sana. “This will continue, and it will grow.”
In recent years, small groups of Moroccan Berber activists, particularly younger people, have challenged the enforced silence regarding Israel, expressing an interest in both the state of Israel and Jewish history, including the Holocaust. They even linked this interest to the alleged historic connections between Jews and Berbers in ancient times, including the initial resistance to Arab conquerors by the Kahina, a supposedly Jewish-Berber queen, and the multilayered, more recent relations existing until the mass departure of Jews for Israel in the 1950s and 1960s from Berber villages and towns.
The Berber flag represents the pre-Islamic indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. In pre-Islamic times, there were Christian, Jewish, and polytheist Berbers. Most present-day Berbers are Muslims.
How has this extraordinary phenomenon come to pass, and what are its possible consequences? In the past, Berber activists maintained a strict separation between their struggle for political and social rights and the Arab-Israeli conflict even if there were those who quietly admired Israel's achievements. By contrast, some members of the present generation of activists and intellectuals view Israel as a partner in adversity—a vibrant, anti-pan-Arab force mirroring their own opposition to Arab-Islamic hegemony and the subjugation of the Berber language and culture—which could help, however tacitly, in their struggle for official recognition and against Morocco's burgeoning Islamist movement.
Islamist Currents and Public Opinion
Notwithstanding Morocco's benign and positive image in the West, polling data in recent years shows considerable support for Islamist and anti-Western positions. While only a small percentage of Moroccans expressed support for al-Qaeda's attacks on U.S. civilians, and 64 percent held a favorable view of the American people, most Moroccans believed that the United States was seeking to weaken Islam and spread Christianity in the region, with 72 percent supporting al-Qaeda's goal to force U.S. withdrawal from Muslim countries. Almost the same number of people believed that the United States or Israel, rather than al-Qaeda, was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and large majorities approved of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf.
In addition, 76 percent of Moroccans favored the imposition of strict Shari'a or Islamic law; 64 percent supported keeping Western values out of Islamic countries; and 61 percent stated that being Muslim was their most important identity as opposed to only 25 percent who declared their Moroccan identity most important. Eight-five percent of people stated that their primary reaction when watching a movie about the Holocaust was resentment over the sympathy that it generated for Israel and Jews at the expense of Palestinians and Arabs; over 50 percent believed that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a positive development for the region while only a small percentage thought that the outcome would be negative.
This Islamist current, embodied by both the Justice and Development Party (PJD), which accepts the supremacy of the Moroccan monarchy as enshrined in the country's constitution and holds 14 percent of the seats in parliament, as well as the officially banned but grudgingly tolerated Justice and Charity movement, seeks the Islamization of society and, ultimately, of the state.
The Berber Movement and the Jews
The other side of the ideological divide is comprised of a variety of political parties and civic groups, some with explicitly Western-liberal orientations, others less so. One of them is the Amazigh (literally "free men") or Berber culture movement, which advocates the recognition of the Berber underpinnings of Moroccan culture and calls for remedial steps, including constitutional change, particularly with regard to recognizing their language, Tamazight, as an official state language. An estimated 40-45 percent of Morocco's 32 million-strong population speak one of the three main Berber dialects; in Algeria, the estimated numbers are 20-25 percent; in Libya, 8-9 percent; in Tunisia, 1-5 percent.
The Berber component of Moroccan identity has already been given official recognition by the state as it seeks to address at least some of the movement's symbolic and material grievances in order to maintain a balance of forces within the Moroccan political fabric. Islamists and pan-Arabists have repeatedly clashed with Berber activists in recent months, mainly through polemical exchanges in a variety of media outlets. The specifics have varied, but they have had a common theme: Jews and Israel.
From the Islamist and pan-Arab perspective, this should come as no surprise. Hostility to Zionism, which all too often has morphed into anti-Semitism and Holocaust belittlement and even denial, has long been instrumental for many opposition groups and Arab regimes seeking to mobilize public opinion.
The Berber engagement in the debate, by contrast, is far less self-evident given their past evasion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Initial indications of these changing attitudes were afforded by the 2007 announcements of plans to create two complementary Berber-Jewish friendship associations in the Souss region of southwestern Morocco, the region where, according to tradition, Jews first settled after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. Their purpose, said one of the founders, was to promote the various aspects of Morocco's cultural heritage—Berber, Jewish, African, and Arab; disseminate the culture of coexistence and respect of the "other" while rejecting violence and intolerance toward others; give real standing to the Berber and Hebrew languages inside Morocco, in order to make it a homeland for all, and to build bridges with Moroccan Jews, both inside the country (approximately 3,000) and overseas, particularly "Amazigh Jews in various countries."
Although support for contacts with Israel was not explicitly expressed, the announcements immediately provoked sharp reactions from a number of Moroccan associations supporting the Palestinian cause and opposing U.S. actions in Iraq. They also prompted a heated debate on Iran's Arabic-language al-Alam television channel between the veteran militant Berber activist Ahmed Adghirni and an Algerian writer hostile to both Israel and North African Jews, whom he claimed were utterly foreign to the region and eager collaborators with French colonialism.
One year later, another Berber-Jewish friendship association, "Memoire Collective," was founded, this time in Morocco's northern coastal city of al-Hoceima. Led by Muhammad Moha, the association's declared focus was the need to struggle against anti-Semitism in Morocco as part of the larger need to promote individual rights, tolerance, and democracy. Moha was prompted to create the association in response to attacks by leftist, pan-Arab, and Islamist groups when his daughter and another Moroccan teenager participated in an international youth seminar at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum. The association's creation drew further harsh responses, including the intimidation of the family of the other teenager who had joined Moha's daughter in Jerusalem. Moha was demonstratively expelled from the leftist group to which he had belonged, al-Nahj al-Dimuqrati (Democratic Path), for "crossing all of the party's red lines in contributing to the normalization [of relations] with Israel" while al-Tajdid, the newspaper of the Islamist PJD, even accused Moha of receiving €300,000 from Israel in order to set up the organization and called for acts of violence against him.
Berberist Views on Israel
Israel's military operation against Hamas forces in Gaza in the winter of 2008-09 sparked another round of polemics and mutual invective between Morocco's Islamists and Berber movement figures. A commentator in al-Tajdid castigated Amazigh associations for not joining in the series of demonstrations held in solidarity with the Palestinians, wondering what was behind their failure to condemn Israel. One of the Berber movement's leading intellectuals, Ahmed Asid, replied caustically that no one had the right to question their identification and solidarity with the Palestinians, yet with the Islamist and pan-Arab currents in Morocco having a complete monopoly on organizing the demonstrations, the Berbers had no choice but to avoid them, not least since the protests had contained both anti-Jewish as well as ethnic Arab themes, which the Berber movement completely rejected.
In November 2009, Yad Vashem became a more explicit site for Berber activism against the prevailing pan-Arab and Islamist currents in their own society and in the region when an 18-member delegation of the movement's educators and advocates participated in a week-long educational seminar there. One of their declared purposes was to begin incorporating the study of the Holocaust and its lessons into the Moroccan school curriculum, a subject that has been almost entirely neglected. Beyond that, though, it was clear that the visit was designed to openly challenge the conventional taboos regarding contact with Israel.
The matter quickly became public knowledge and provoked a number of articles in the Moroccan press, many of them negative. But space was also given to delegation members to defend themselves, an indication of Morocco's increasingly pluralist and competitive press. One of them, Boubker Outaadit, a Berber activist for more than fifteen years, who had been involved in the formation of one of the Berber-Jewish friendship associations, was interviewed by a Moroccan weekly news magazine against the backdrop of the Israeli, Moroccan, and Amazigh flags, a picture that was worth a thousand words. Defending the educational and humanitarian value of the seminar, he declared the participants' readiness to answer those critics who "traded in foreign problems … such as the Palestinian issue," which could not be classified as a Moroccan national problem. The Arab-Israeli conflict, he declared, could have been settled sixty years earlier had the Arab side not rejected the right of the Jewish people to return to their land and defend it. Another, Abdellah Benhssi, justified the delegation's visit in terms of furthering the promotion of tolerance and universal brotherhood and the rejection of fanaticism and racism, universal values which, he said, both the Amazigh and Israeli cultural systems shared. In a lengthy and trenchant analysis, the Moroccan scholar Muhammad Elmedlaoui, who actually deplored what he viewed as the Yad Vashem visit's use of the Holocaust for political purposes, nonetheless characterized the anti-Amazigh diatribes emanating from certain Moroccan urban nationalist circles as constituting an updated version of the older, unfair branding of Berbers as collaborators with French colonialism. These attacks, he said, were essentially an alibi being used to promote a certain cultural vision for the country.
Anti-Semitism Rears Its Ugly Head
Recent months have been marked by a number of incidents that further sharpened the contours of the debate. On March 17-20, a high-profile conference designed to promote the memory and heritage of Moroccan Jewry as part of the larger Moroccan fabric was held in the southern coastal town of Essaouira. One participant was Andrei Azoulay, one of Moroccan Jewry's most prominent figures, an Essaouiran native son and long-time financial adviser to both the late King Hassan and his son, King Muhammad VI. Currently the president of the Anna Lindh Foundation, Azoulay, a self-defined "Arab Jew," has been active for decades in promoting Palestinian rights within the context of overall Arab-Israeli peace. Ten days later, members of the local branch of the Moroccan Association for the Defense of Human Rights (AMDH) organized anti-Israel demonstrations that included a brazen, verbal attack on Azoulay, chanting "Hada Ar, Hada Ar, Khwi l'Blad Ya Mustashar" (Shame, shame. Leave the country, counselor). This was not the first time that the king's adviser had been charged with disloyalty to Morocco: Some months earlier, during the visit of former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni to the Tangier MedDays 2009 conference, Khalid Soufyani, a lawyer and self-promoting president of the National Association for the Resistance in Iraq and Palestine, had declared that Azoulay had to choose between being Moroccan and being "Zionist."
Similar slogans were voiced against a local Israeli-Moroccan businessman, Noam Nir, who responded with a letter of complaint to AMDH, which was ignored. Following an additional confrontation in late July, Nir filed a defamation suit against three AMDH officials, accusing the organization of anti-Semitism, particularly in light of the attacks against Azoulay. Further demonstrations were held outside of Nir's restaurant, in which he was accused of espionage and personally threatened, and another round of press attacks on him ensued. AMDH vigorously denied the anti-Semitism charge. However, as is often the case, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are easily conflated in the Moroccan discourse, a fact that an AMDH official himself acknowledged to an American journalist. For example, Soufyani has led a number of anti-Israeli protests in which demonstrators chanted "Khaybar Khaybar Ya Yahud, Jaysh Muhammad Sa-ya'ud" (Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, Muhammad's army will return), referring to the Qur'an's account of Muhammad's destruction of the Jewish community of Khaybar. And in late May 2010, Soufyani headed up a new organization in Morocco, made up of a cross-section of Islamists and pan-Arabists, which rejected all forms of normalization with Israel and reportedly circulated a black list of some twenty-five Moroccans who supported normalization.
The authorities and the Moroccan Jewish leadership adopted a low profile regarding the affair. But Berber activists in the area, some of whom had participated in the visit to Yad Vashem, came to Nir's defense, organizing a small solidarity demonstration in Essaouira and publishing articles in support of his actions and in condemnation of AMDH and its parent political party, the left-of-center Socialist Union of Popular Forces. The Simon Wiesenthal Center also voiced its concern, calling on the governor of Essaouira not to respond to AMDH's calls to halt the judicial proceedings.
The Fight for Berber Rights
The coda to this account of the ongoing contestation between Berber activists and their opponents was actually triggered by the author of these lines. In August 2010, the Portuguese Institute of International Relations published an analysis of mine on the prospects and limitations of Israel's relations with the Maghreb states. It included a brief mention of the Berber factor in Morocco and the Maghreb in general, including the affinity among some members of the movement toward Jews and even Israel. It also referred to its primary opponents, the Islamist and pan-Arab currents, for whom rejection of any semblance of normalization with Israel is a sacred principle.
This academic analysis was picked up in a wildly distorted form by the pan-Arab and Moroccan media, from al-Jazeera television to al-Quds al-Arabi, and the Istiqlal Party's al-Alam, which announced the existence of an Israeli "plan," drawn up by the Moshe Dayan Center (this author's home institute at Tel Aviv University) to promote Israel's "penetration" of the Maghreb through the manipulation of the Berber movement. The reports touched off yet another round of heated exchanges in the Moroccan press and various Internet talk forums. To its credit, one liberal French-language Moroccan weekly, Actuel, sought me out for a response and printed the full text of my answers to their questions. A special section of the monthly Le Monde Amazigh included the interview, translated into Arabic, along with a number of articles rebuffing the accusation that the Berbers were a tool of the Zionist movement. The real purpose behind the campaign, said Berber activists, was to divert attention from a concurrent damning report by the U.N.'s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Issued on August 25, the committee took the Moroccan state to task for its failure to recognize the Berber language as an official language and called on it to ensure that the Berbers would not be subject to discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment and health services. It also recommended that the state give special attention to the development of Berber-inhabited regions and ensure that Moroccan Berbers have the choice to give Berber names to their children, a long-running issue for the Amazigh movement.
However amorphous, the Berber movement's core demand in both Morocco and Algeria is clear-cut: state recognition of the Berber demographic, historical, and cultural underpinnings of North Africa; constitutional recognition of Tamazight as an official language of the state; and remedial economic, social, cultural, and educational measures to begin redressing decades of neglect and injustice.
In both countries, the authorities have made some gestures toward the movement with the Moroccan monarchy, in particular, legitimizing Berber culture as an integral part of the Moroccan patrimony even as it tries to contain it within acceptable parameters. Given that the essential parameters of Moroccan political life remain circumscribed, these competing movements are engaged in a kind of para-politics, limited in their capabilities but nonetheless energetically pursuing the reshaping of Moroccan society in their preferred images. It is in this context that the debates regarding Israel, Zionism, and the status of Moroccan Jewry, both past and present, are taking place. However secondary to the main issues facing Morocco, they are clearly hot button subjects for political activists, being useful as a mobilizing tool, especially for the Islamists while Berber militancy has now reached the point where activists are willing and able to verbally give as good as they get. With Morocco's evolution toward greater political openness moving forward, however unevenly, this public dynamic of contention will bear watching.
Bruce Maddy-Weitzman is the Marcia Israel Senior Research Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. His book The Berber Identity Movement and the Challenge to North African States will be published by the University of Texas Press in 2011.
Qatar Sends Troops To Suppress "Pro-Democracy Protestors" In Bahrain But Supports "Pro-Democracy Protestors" In Libya
The Al-Thani rulers of Qatar, just like the television station Al Jazeera that they harbor and support, does not exhibit moral consistency. The one guiding light is the need to promote the general Arab and Muslim worldview and, of course, the wellbeing of the Al-Thani family. It will be interesting to see how Al Jazeera handles the Qatari soldiers sent in to supprt the crackdown on the Shi'a majority in Bahrain.
A lesson for those who are still, like the adolescent American diplomats, treating the real U.N. as if it were a Model U.N., and even appear to believe in something they call "the international community."
Here's the story on Qatar supplying troops to join the Saudis and Emiratis in Bahrain (with Kuwait's naval contribution bringing up the rear):
Qatar has sent troops to Bahrain: official
(AFP) – March 19, 2011
DOHA — Qatari troops are part of the Gulf forces deployed to Bahrain to put down Shiite-led protests against the Sunni dynasty there, said a Qatari military official.
"The duty of the Qatari force participating in the Peninsula Shield force is to contribute in restoring order and security" in Bahrain, Qatar news agency QNA quoted Colonel Abdullah Al-Hajri as saying late Thursday.
This is the first official confirmation of Qatar's contribution to Gulf troops in Bahrain.
"As a Qatari force we are receiving our orders from the head of the joint Peninsula Shield Force. There are no Qatari forces outside the Peninsula Shield" in Bahrain, Hajri said.
Earlier this week, more than 1,000 Saudi troops and around 500 Emirati troops entered the strategic Gulf kingdom, home to the US Fifth Fleet.
The move was met with strong criticism from Iran and followed by Tehran and Manama withdrawing their respective ambassadors.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the situation in Bahrain "alarming" after about 16 people were killed in violence there and criticised Washington's Gulf state allies for heading down "the wrong track" of military intervention.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also warned Bahrain that its crackdown on anti-government protesters might be breaking international law after his human rights chief spoke of "shocking and illegal" abuses.
Dissidents had been rounded up at gunpoint in midnight raids and armed police stood outside Manama's main hospital on Thursday, amid reports the authorities were beating doctors and denying treatment to the wounded.
Opposition protesters are demanding far-reaching democratic reform in the mainly Shiite country which has been ruled by a Sunni Muslim dynasty for more than 200 years.
King Hamad has offered dialogue and a new, empowered parliament among other reforms but the opposition refuses to sit down to talks before the government resigns.
The king on Tuesday declared a three-month state of emergency in the country after the Gulf troops arrived.
Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama is trying to limit the United States' role in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya to support aircraft only and is very reluctant to commit any offensive U.S. firepower, a senior U.S. official familiar with the military planning discussions said Friday.
"We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no-fly zone," the president said in a nationally televised statement about U.S. military action. [especially those "Arab partners" -- let them do whatever they want, and let an enraged Libyan populace, whipped up against them, fight back at those they are now calling "the Arabs"]
"The president chose his words deliberately and carefully, and you should be guided by them," the official said. "He is very sensitive that this not be a U.S. operation. We are part of it. And of course, we by nature of our superior capabilities have a lead and leadership role to play. But we are part of it and expect a lot from our partners," the official said.
Asked about the "unique capabilities" the president talked about contributing, the official said that at least for now, they would not involve combat fighters or bombers but instead would include AWACS, intelligence-gathering drones and other intelligence assets, and refueling and air traffic control.
Defense officials said, "Don't just think of a no-fly zone as American pilots flying American fighter jets." They also emphasized how the U.S. could use radar planes to coordinate air traffic control, to guide fighter jets from other countries to conduct air strikes.
They also talked about signal-jamming aircraft that could disrupt Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's ability to communicate with his forces.
The U.S. official said that the U.S. might use cruise missiles and that although the president was very reluctant to commit to any offensive U.S. weapons, he understands that it is likely the U.S. will be called on to do so.