Sunday, October 30, 2005

Iran's Useful Reminder

Jim Hoagland at the Washington Post points out how President Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel statements serve as a Useful Reminder of the true nature of the Iranian regime and indeed of what the U.S. is fighting in the Middle East. He says:
Most Valuable Politician of the year? How about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who has surged ahead for the 2005 MVP award in the few months he has been in office? He reminds a distracted world at crucial moments of the true nature of Iran's regime, of the abiding source of conflict in the Middle East and of the deeper meaning of global terrorism.

Racial and religious hatreds are at the core of these phenomena - and at the heart of Ahmadinejad's pledges to see Israel "wiped off the map" and to ensure that Arabs who recognize the Jewish state "burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury." His statements were reported in laudatory terms by Iranian state-run television Wednesday.

For Hoagland, the new thing is that the Europeans have denounced the statements of Ahmadinejad:
Even though the Persian chauvinists who took power in Tehran in 1979 have been more discreet in public in recent years, it is not news that they hate both Jews and Arabs - or that the sentiment is returned. If novelty there was, it lay in statements of condemnation that European governments issued as the inflammatory remarks spread around the globe.

Britain, France and Germany raced to distance themselves from Ahmadinejad's double-barreled anti-Semitic blast. They have been negotiating with his regime in hopes of rehabilitating it. A spiteful and belligerent speech the Iranian leader gave at the United Nations in mid-September had already signaled the enormousness of their task. But they persisted. Now even Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, perhaps the coldest and most uncaring fish in international diplomacy, feels compelled to mutter that the Iranian firebrand's statements were "unacceptable."

He then turns to an example of hope in the Middle East - Iraqi Kurdistan.
The fates of Nazi Germany and Vichy France are not the only lessons available to Iranians - or for that matter to Israelis or Americans - of the bitter fruits of preaching and practicing racial hatred. In neighboring Iraq, a regime that committed genocide against the Kurdish tribesmen of the north and persecuted Shiite Arabs in the south lies in ruins and seems incapable of rising again.

Because Saddam Hussein would not leave them in the peace and isolation of their mountain redoubt, Iraq's Kurds went to war against Baghdad three decades ago. They deliberately set in motion the chain of events that were to bring an American invasion force to Baghdad to overthrow the dictator in 2003. While he could not foresee exactly how it would happen, the late Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani told me in 1972 that it would. I was skeptical; he was right.

No political outcome can balance the scales of personal grief and loss brought by the loss of 2,000 and more American service personnel in Iraq since the invasion began. Human lives cannot be measured and counted as instruments or integers of policy or politics.

So the fact that Kurds live in freedom today from racial pogroms directed at them from Baghdad -- in large part because of U.S. protection and sacrifice -- can assuage no mother's grief or friend's anger over U.S. casualties. But neither can the positive change that American actions have brought simply be dismissed or ignored.

Barzani's son, Massoud, visited the White House last week to thank the American nation, through President Bush, for those sacrifices and to reiterate the Kurds' commitment to staying in a "federal" Iraq that institutionalizes their autonomy -- and survival. Federalism for the Kurds is not some legalistic ploy to maximize their share of oil reserves, or a thumb to stick in Arab eyes in revenge. It is a chance to live and to let live.

We shouldn't forget that we've actually accomplished something good in Iraq - allowing the Kurds to live freely, rather than at the mercy of Saddam Hussein.

More on Iran

This editorial, Contrived Fury, in the Arab News (published in Saudi Arabia - referral from The Religious Policeman) is an interesting comment on the Iranian President's call to "wipe Israel off the map."

The editorial points out that "Four years ago, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, regarded by the West as a moderate, called for the nuclear annihilation of Israel. The West did not blink an eye. Ever since the 1979 revolution, Iran has been consistently and vehemently anti-Israel. The rest of the world has known it and lived with it. It lived with the knowledge because it also knew that Iran was not in a position to wipe Israel off the map and that the words were mere rhetoric from those who wanted to give their people something other than their failures to think about. The rest of the world too has been happy to live with the knowledge that most Muslims and Arabs would prefer that Israel did not exist. But it does exist. It is a question of accepting reality."

As this editorial states, it is not as if the current Iranian President invented the Iranian threats against Israel. And it is interesting the evidence the editorial brings about Rafsanjani, who is the head of the "Expediency Council" in Iran. In a May 25, 2005 article about the upcoming Iranian elections (in which Ahmadinejad was elected), Neil Macfarquhar of the New York Times says, "Mr. Rafsanjani is a staunch supporter of Iran's developing its nuclear capacity for electric power, medical applications and other uses, but says he opposes nuclear weapons. That contrasts with a sermon at a Friday Prayer in 2001, however, in which he suggested that just one nuclear bomb could solve the problem of Israel's threatening the region with its own nuclear arsenal."

This New York Times article describes how western leaders seem to regard Rafsanjani -
Mr. Ahmadinejad's principal rival for power, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president who was defeated by Mr. Ahmadinejad in the election, continues to hold considerable power as leader of the nation's Expediency Council, which was created in 1988 to help resolve contentious legislative issues. The Europeans have been negotiating with envoys loyal to Mr. Rafsanjani for the last two years and hope that they or others like them will re-emerge in the future.

Indeed in the last few weeks, Iran's ruling clerics, who still hold most of the power, have moved to strip the presidency of some of its authority over international diplomacy and hand it over to the Expediency Council under Mr. Rafsanjani. If there is any hope in the West for a diplomatic solution, it thus rests with this turn of events.

Now, since Rafsanjani essentially said the same thing as Ahmadinejad, then why should we be getting particularly upset at what Ahmadinejad just said - it doesn't represent a change in what the Iranian government would like to do. Perhaps the problem is simply, as the Arab News editorial says, that negotiations with the Iranian government over their nuclear weapons development have reached a critical point, and this statement points out once again how radical and dangerous the Iranian regime is.

A few years ago, in the late 1990's, when I had a postdoctoral fellowship at the Society of Fellows at Columbia University, Salman Rushdie came to speak. Rushdie still had to travel secretly and was protected by guards everywhere he went. We were invited to hear him speak by special letters and had to put our names on a list in order to be allowed into the hall where he was speaking. We also were not supposed to tell anyone that we were going to hear him speak, since his visit to New York was supposed to be a secret. When entering the hall, we had to show identification and our bags were searched. His talk was actually a conversation with Edward Said, then professor at Columbia. I also heard him the next day, when he came to the Society of Fellows to speak to graduate students. I knew that he was there because when I tried to enter the building, several NYPD officers were there as the security for Rushdie, and I had to prove that I had a legitimate reason to enter the building.

One thing I remember Rushdie saying - that the Iranian regime tried to present itself as reasonable to people in the West, that on the surface there were people in the regime who tried to present Iran as a regime like any other, but that we should not believe them - the regime was still as radical as under Ayatollah Khomeini. This is the same regime that (probably) ordered the bombings of the Israeli embassy and the Jewish community organization building in Argentina. If Iran is today restrained from trying to act out its threats to Israel, that does not mean that given the opportunity, the regime would not try to destroy Israel.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Dateline Spandau

Imagine how Human Rights Watch, and other pundits, might have reacted to a trial of Hitler, ca. 1946 - Dateline Spandau, October 1946.

An excerpt from this exercise in alternative history: “Human rights groups have expressed concerns. A Human Rights Watch report says the Berlin trial ‘runs the risk of violating international standards for fair trials’. Amnesty International has sent three delegates to Berlin to ensure that Adolf Hitler receives a fair trial, and to oppose the death penalty if he is found guilty.”

Fomenting hatred against the Jewish people

And if my previous posts today have not sufficiently depressed you about the spread of anti-semitism today - take a look at this posting from Norman Geras, about anti-semitic videos shown in Iranian and Jordanian television, and also anti-semitic brochures distributed at the Frankfurt Book Fair (happening right now). They included the Protocols and an abridgement of the "International Jew" by Henry Ford. See this article on the Frankfurt Book Fair: The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I had been under the impression that it was illegal to disseminate such literature in Germany, so I'm kind of surprised that the police did not seize these books.

Suicide bombing in Israel

Earlier today, an Islamic Jihad terrorist killed 5 Israelis in a suicide bombing in Hadera. Three of the victims have already been identified: Michael Koifman, Sabicha Nissim and Pirchiya Machluf. 30 people were wounded in the attack.

Mirty's Place

A moving post at Mirty's Place on the difficulties of being a Jew. She says:
Other things come back too. I remember now why it is hard to be a Jew. Not because of the many customs and laws, but because of the pain. It’s hard to read about young Israelis gunned down alongside a road outside Jerusalem, to see the photos of their beautiful, shining faces. It’s hard to face the hatred that inflates our enemies. The news from Israel is so often bad. Beyond bad; heartbreaking. James Joyce wrote: “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.” But we know there is no escape. Our history is indeed a nightmare, a revelation of the darkest pits of human evil. It’s hard to carry that weight. It’s hard to watch my husband clean his plate at every meal, and wonder if he does that because his father was starved in Auschwitz. That is a lot of pain to carry. It is hard to be a Jew. It’s hard to care and feel so much.

I joked about the statement of the President of Iran in the previous post, but really, it's quite frightening to hear. I have good friends, whom I love dearly, living in Israel, and many relatives - and this man wants to wipe them all out! He's not seeking justice for the Palestinians - he's seeking mass murder.

It is a sobering return to reality after the splendid silliness of Simchat Torah services last night and today. I was one of the leyners for Bereshit (5th, 6th, and 7th days), and inbetween each day people in the congregation sang songs and acted out each day's creations. At the end, for the maftir reading (which outlines the sacrifices to be brought on the day, were the Temple still standing), we set up a grill & little stuffed rams were placed on it, next to some Triscuits (representing the grain offering). The two people who received Hatan Torah and Hatan Bereshit smiled with pleasure at the honor.

The other event I always mark on Simchat Torah is my mother's yahrzeit. She died on October 21 / Tishrei 23 in 1981 - 24 years ago. I was only 25 at the time, and it was devastating - and changed my life.

Our friends, the Iranians

As a post-holiday welcome to reality, Iran's President Says Israel Must Be 'Wiped Off the Map' - New York Times. He spoke at a "to an audience of about 4,000 student at a program called The World without Zionism, in preparation for an annual anti-Israel demonstration held on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan."

He continued by saying:
"The establishment of Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world," Mr. Ahmadinejad said, the news agency reported. "The skirmishes in the occupied land are part of the war of destiny. The outcome of hundreds of years of war will be defined in Palestinian land."

One wonders what is the identity of the "world oppressor" that he mentions....

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Justice in Baghdad

Once again, Anne Applebaum writes an important op-ed piece, this time on Justice in Baghdad, on the Iraqi trial of Saddam Hussein. I must say, I've been astonished and disgusted that human rights groups like Human Rights Watch have seemed to be more concerned with Saddam's rights as a defendant than they are in the necessity to hold these trials and expose what he did to the people of Iraq. They seem more worried about the possibility that Saddam might be executed at the end of these trials than they are in bringing out the truth of the atrocities he committed.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Africa May Face Risk for Bird Flu

As I feared, Africa May Face Risk for Bird Flu.
"One of our major concerns is now the potential spread of avian influenza through migratory birds to North and Eastern Africa," said Dr. Joseph Domenech, the chief veterinary officer at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which monitors the spread of the disease in animals.

If the disease touches down there, it could well become widespread in the environment and on farms before it is even detected, he said.

Also, because in poorer African nations people live in close proximity with animals, such a situation would provide a dangerous crucible for the mixing or the bird and human viruses, vastly increasing the risk that the avian virus could gain the ability to readily spread among humans.

"The close proximity between people and animals and insufficient surveillance and disease control capability in eastern African countries create an ideal breeding ground for the virus," Dr. Domenech said.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Asian Avian Flu Confirmed as Killer of Birds in Turkey

This article on the spread of avian flu to birds in Turkey mentions at the end the possible consequences if it spread to Africa: "Dr. Jutzi also said the disease would be much more difficult to control if it reached Africa - as it was in Asia - because poorer countries often lacked the disease surveillance capacity and health systems to orchestrate a swift response." The horrifying possibility this suggestion opens up is that if the bird flu spreads to Africa, and mutates so that it can be spread between humans (not just from bird to human), that it would first strike in African countries already reeling from civil war and genocide (e.g., Sudan), poor crops (e.g., Niger), abysmally poor governance (e.g., Zimbabwe), malaria, and AIDS (all over sub-Saharan Africa).

Monday, October 10, 2005

Peace is not the answer

An inspiring op-ed piece by William Shawcross on the limited vision of the anti-war movement and the necessity to stay in Iraq.

You did not see in those demonstrations, after all, many banners reading, "Support Iraq's New Constitution," "No to Jihad" or "Stop Suicide Bombers." The crimes committed daily against the Iraqi people by other Arabs who wish to re-enslave them seem to be of little interest to Michael Moore, Jane Fonda and their followers. Rage against the daily assaults on children, women, anyone, by Islamo-fascists and ordinary national fascists is not fashionable. Only alleged American crimes are cool to decry.

It's hard to think of a more graphic illustration of the horror the U.S.-led coalition is fighting in Iraq than the mass murder on Sept. 26, in which terrorists disguised as policemen (a New York Times headline called these butchers "fighters") burst into a primary school in Iskandaria, south of Baghdad, seized five teachers (all Shiites) and shot them dead. Children stood weeping through this atrocity.

Why do crimes like this make so little impression on those Americans and Europeans who want the coalition to abandon Iraq? The demonstrators think of themselves as moral, but it is hard to think of any policy more amoral than abandoning Iraq to such an enemy.


Read the whole thing.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Sokwanele - Zvakwana - Enough is Enough

Really, is there no end to the suffering of the people of Africa under horrendous rulers? In this case, in Zimbabwe, not in Sudan. A reporter reveals the ongoing starvation in rural areas of Zimbabwe as a result of Robert Mugabe's insane policies, which have led to runaway inflation, devastating lack of fuel, and a situation in which Zimbabwe needs to import food (it used to be a food exporter). Mugabe kicked out NGO's that were feeding people, and now they have nothing left to eat. He's thrown all sorts of street vendors and poor people out of the poor neighborhoods of the cities - hundreds of thousands of people who now have nothing to live on. Why aren't we crying to the skies about this horrible situation too!

On a slightly more hopeful note, Nicholas Kristof has a fine article in today's New York Times about citizen activism on the genocide in Darfur. (I reprint the entire article here - it's only available to NY Times subscribers otherwise).

A year ago, a group of Swarthmore students decided to take on an unusual extracurricular activity: stopping genocide. Mark Hanis, one of the students, is Jewish and all four of his grandparents survived the Holocaust. He was troubled by the way generations of Americans acquiesced in one genocide after another - only to apologize afterward and pledge "Never Again." So Mr. Hanis and fellow students started to raise money to help provide security to stop the slaughter in Darfur. In particular, they wanted to help pay for African Union peacekeepers. Their Genocide Intervention Fund has now raised $250,000 and is about to hand over the first installment to the leaders of the African Union. The money may be used to pay for female African police officers to protect Darfur women from being raped. The Genocide Intervention Fund now has an all-star cast, including the backing of former White House officials, generals, and celebrities like Mia Farrow and Don Cheadle. Its spokeswoman, a Rwandan genocide survivor who is now a Swarthmore sophomore, introduced Bill Clinton at a student conference. It has opened a Washington office and is lobbying for the bipartisan Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which calls for sanctions on Sudan and a no-fly zone. "We do lobby days, where we arrange for people to come to Washington to meet their Congressional offices and say, 'I've put $20 down to protect the people of Darfur. What are you doing?' " said Mr. Hanis, who graduated recently.

So far more than 100 colleges have raised money for the fund (www.genocideinterventionfund), and universities have become the center of the movement to stop the slaughter. A group started at Georgetown, Stand (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur), has chapters nationwide and across Canada, and Harvard led a divestment effort by having its endowment sell stock in companies that support the Sudanese government. In the long term, the organizers hope to encourage more education about genocide in American schools - California and a few other states have passed laws that public schools must include education about genocide - and to bolster an early warning system so that the world will respond to atrocities more promptly. "We're getting smarter at this," Mr. Hanis said. "We're building a permanent political constituency against genocide." He paused and added soberly: "Of course, there are lives lost every day."

So while President Bush is proving wimpish on genocide, the response of many ordinary Americans like Mr. Hanis has been inspiring. Aside from students, the leaders in the effort include Jewish and Armenian groups (the word genocide has special resonance for both) and religious groups. In Dallas, Temple Emanu-El started Dolls for Darfur, which has made thousands of tiny paper dolls representing the victims of Darfur. It has sent them to senators and is preparing "advocacy kits" to help people lobby for a sterner American response to the genocide (see Dolls for Darfur).

Then there are the big-hearted folks at Ginghamsburg Church, a large Methodist church in Tipp City, Ohio. After the pastor, Mike Slaughter, read about atrocities in Darfur, he decided to ask the congregation to spend only half as much on Christmas presents last year as they planned, and to donate the rest to victims in Darfur. The result, along with other fund-raising efforts, was $327,000 in donations; the congregation is planning the same campaign this Christmas. The money is being used to keep children alive and safe in South Darfur. "We recognize that this is only a pittance in the face of the entire crisis in Darfur," says Karen Smith, director of operations for the church. "However, if we can successfully engage other churches across the U.S. in this call so that they issue the same challenge to their constituents, the impact could truly be God-sized."

During the Holocaust, when Franklin Roosevelt was as uninterested in genocide as George W. Bush is today, Arthur Koestler referred to those who demanded action as "the screamers." Today, Mr. Hanis, Ms. Smith and others like them are "the screamers," and if it weren't for them the death toll in Darfur would be even higher. Countless thousands of survivors sitting in refugee camps owe their lives to screams coming from places like Swarthmore or Ginghamsburg.So out of the miasma of horror that is Darfur, something uplifting is taking place. Ordinary Americans are finding creative ways to respond to the slaughter, so that they personally inject meaning into those traditionally hollow words: Never Again.


At Ithaca College, students have organized a local chapter of STAND and sponsored their first vigil last week, on October 6, which was a day to fast for Darfur. I went and said a few words. It was very moving to see students actually caring and organizing about Darfur. They are planning more activities, including a showing of Hotel Rwanda.